US Reps question anti-virus companies' integrity

Tough day on Capitol Hill discussing the Love Bug

US Congressman Anthony Weiner (Democrat, New York) blasted the anti-virus software industry for being humiliated by the Love Bug in a five-minute tirade during House Science Subcommittee hearings this week.

"There's an industry here that's come up to deal with viruses, and this looks to me like a ground-ball virus. Frankly, this is an utter, abject failure of an industry that has sprung up to deal with these types of things," Weiner told anti-virus outfit McAfee's Sandra England.

But that was just a warm-up. He next cast doubt on the damage estimates, implying that they're deliberately inflated by the industry to increase interest in protective software. "I mean the numbers here are little bit absurd, you know, 'billions'. We don't know how much it cost; it might not have cost anybody anything," he observed dryly.

Progressively working himself up with his own rhetoric, he turned openly sarcastic. "A teenager in the Philippines whips the McAfee company so badly that you come before Congress and say, 'hundreds of millions of dollars in damage has been done, because, oh, we were so surprised it came across Outlook Express. We were shocked [to see that] it looked like Melissa...'"

"It isn't going to get any easier than this. I mean, [virus authors] aren't going to knock on your door with a disk [in hand] and say, 'this virus is going out on Monday morning,'" he said scornfully.

He hammered England relentlessly. "You're supposed to deal with viruses. What form do [viruses] usually come in? An announcement? A memo? They come in the form of something that you've got to anticipate from past experiences."

And then the kicker: "Why did your stock prices go up after this?"

Weiner suggested a simple, common-sense fix of his own, proposing that a pop-up window might be added to Outlook Express to warn users when they're about to send multiple copies of a message unwittingly. Hardly an insurmountable challenge, one would think, for a company that touts itself at the most innovative in the world.

Indeed, such a simple feature might have slowed the Love Bug's spread; and indeed, the Melissa experience might have suggested it a year ago. But security assurance outfit :ICSA.net's Chief Technology Officer Peter Tippett said that users should know better than to open an attachment from a known e-mail correspondent entitled 'I Love You'.

This did not win him a great deal of sympathy. Representative Gil Gutknecht (Republican, Minnesota) found it hard to believe that anyone would hold consumers responsible for trusting vulnerable software.

"We're responsible? If I'm a Senior at a university and I've got a semester's worth of notes and two term papers [looming], and somebody sends me an e-mail that says 'I love you,' I'm not supposed to open it?"

It is difficult to argue against the position that users deserve operating systems and applications that aren't vulnerable to such easy exploits. And of course if Windows, which represents over 85 percent of the market, were an open source product, we'd already have them. ®

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