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On Halloween, "The Mangler 2.0" virus took over my TV. It's a horror movie from Artisan Entertainment now available on VHS and DVD. The screenplay was written in nine whole days, bragged the credits.

It was just like real life.

First off, there is this rich girl, Jo. She's angry at her never-home pop so she puts a virus into his corporate network.

You can tell she knows that what she's doing is wrong even while driven by the evil compulsion. It's the purple lipstick, invasion of company property after midnight and the cat-burglar wear that give it away.

Although only a caricature, Jo rates more respect than ninny Jan de Wit, the spreader of the Kournikova virus. He asked a Dutch court to swallow the idea that he didn't mean to cause damage when he sent the virus worldwide in a Usenet newsgroup in February 2001.

De Wit got 150 hours of community service for it, six days and change, and appealed that on the claim -- try not to laugh -- that it might hurt his career as a computer store clerk, The Register reported.

The court proved immune to these piteous cries and upheld the sentence, anyway.

By way of contrast, Englishman Chris Pile was served eighteen months in a UK big house in 1995 for spreading a crummy MS-DOS virus called "Smeg." The Independent described Pile as "a mad and reclusive boffin who wreaked havoc on computer systems." "[You] cannot expect lenient treatment," said the English judge on the case. Pile obviously just didn't have the right pull.

But back to the Mangler's Jo, who received about the same as de Wit but much less than Pile for her computer virus devilment.

For this trouble in The Mangler 2.0, Jo gets sent to a boarding school, named the Royal Collegiate College or something, run by Lance Henricksen.

Henricksen has installed a SCADA system which controls the networked campus through smart chips embedded in everything. Much like actual practice, this commercial-off-the-shelf product is being "beta-tested" by the civilians before the U.S. military buys it by the gross.

You know that's a recipe for disaster, and straight off one of Jo's equally shady pals defaces headmaster Henricksen's likeness on the school's web page!

"I used to be quite a practical joker in my youth, too," he growls, "but this I cannot ignore."

A Mangled Web

Jo loses her field trip rights and has to spend the weekend at the school, kind of like doing community service. In recidivist fashion she checks into The Hacker Gal chat room, an unhappy hacker nexus, and grabs a copy of Mangler 2.0, a virus promised to bring pain and humiliation to enemies. She's so bad she sneaks the virus into the school system through Henricksen's computer while he's out of the office. (There's a hidden message here for de Wit's court.)

About the only character in the movie with an ounce of brains is the school's French Quebec chef, a fellow deeply suspicious of his desktop computer. "Tabernac! I will keel you!" he swears at it.

For being frank, Mangler 2.0 traps him in the meat freezer by jamming the electronic lock.

At this point, The Mangler 2.0 swerves wildly into the world of Richard Clarke and Howard Schmidt.

Clarke has repeated many times that the electricity can be turned off by cyber-attack and that if this happens, people will die. The writer of the flick must have had been paying attention to the man because Mangler 2.0 turns off the lights at the school and that's when people begin to die.

The first guy to go is the janitor, a porno fiend, who is killed off-screen by a computerized hedge-trimmer.

And while there were no traffic lights or pacemakers to malfunction, Howard Schmidt would still be pleased because appliances linked to the network were misfiring everywhere. At one point, a student is parboiled when a hot water pipe is opened on him, which -- in miniature -- is kind of like the story in the Washington Post earlier this year about a hacker who might have been able to open a dam.

The only unrealistic thing about The Mangler 2.0 was that the most buxom girl on the cast was caught in her bikini underwear in the natatorium when the virus hit. Then she had to run around with her shirt off for the rest of the movie. That would never happen.

Don't ask how it ended. I was so scared I fainted dead away before the finish.

© 2002 SecurityFocus.com, all rights reserved.

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