Viral opportunity

Amusing sideshows to the SoBig - Blaster circus.

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I love the smell of computer virus in the morning. It smells like opportunity!

But not victory.

Opportunity in the sense that it gives me an opening to heckle anti-virus services over another idiot's 'solution': a notification that a forged message not from you contained a virus.

"The e-mail message you sent to [Bloor@Stenchcorp.com] contained the virus SoBig.F."

How helpful! A security feature, designed by someone who knew computer viruses forge addresses, which adds to the deluge hitting the mailbox. So, if by some freak of nature you weren't getting enough copies of SoBig to entertain you, you had bounce messages caused by a dimwitted geek's plan to stop it taking up the slack.

For Microsoft, last week also meant opportunity.

Blaster opened the door for an advertising campaign which admonished us to "install antivirus software and ensure it's up-to-date" and "use [Windows Update] to get and keep your PC up-to-date".

Since it came in the newspaper, you could read it while SoBig was keeping your mailbox up-to-date with 300 copies of itself. Newspapers, you know, are updated every day, and only on Sundays do they come with lots of extra crap - like coupons - that fall out on the floor and make a mess.

Microsoft repeated the ad, too, so you were sure not to miss it. But now it only looked forlorn, still mentioning Blaster while 350 copies of that other "biggest e-mail virus of all time" were... well, you know the routine.

Memo to Microsoft: stop all ads of this nature. Since they are not "updating" the masses in any productive way, persistence will create the impression you're cynics using the opportunity for largely cosmetic purposes.

Look, Windows Update, as a winning strategy, is a failure. Don't stay in denial about it and nurse your neurosis. Realise the train has left the station.

Dear Trustworthy Bill and lieutenants, here's what you can do to rid yourself of the enthusiasm for Windows Update and build a wee bit of good will with users on the side.

Offer cash money incentives every time someone uses Update. And when an Update doesn't take or breaks something, use PayPal to disburse funds from you to Windows Updaters. Price it like the stuff on Redpaper - a dime, 15 cents, a quarter, half-a-buck, maybe even a few bucks sometimes. Work it out.

Not everyone will bang at your door for micropayments but, trust me on this, you'll get sick of Windows Update fast and, who knows, maybe it will incentivise less mistakes. In any case, it will generate lots of free publicity. I can see the headline: "Microsoft to pay for errors!"

"In a breathtaking new cybersecurity plan, Microsoft has unveiled..."

And while we're continuing on the thread of computer viruses and the smell of opportunity, let's consider the Nachi virus guy.

Another pal of computer-using mankind, a Samaritan so outraged over the rampage of Blaster he unleashed a 'good' virus to beat it into submission.

Someone who thought he was godly, someone of such intellectual power he could rush-produce a cure that would never cause a bit of trouble on millions of computers worldwide.

Microsoft must hire him at once! We are saved! Or maybe not, because "a company in Japan, where Nachi was spreading quickly, reported that its network crashed," according to the newspaper.


Here's the alternative thought on the subject: The Nachi guy smelled computer virus in the morning and took the Blaster opportunity. Itching to release a virus, Blaster was a convenience for the Nachi writer.

Do you think the 'good virus' plea would make a good legal strategy?

"Judge, I am sorry for crashing networks. I made a mistake in planning my good virus tool. I am guilty only of incompetence and a desire to help people."

Take note, it could be the germ of an idea.

Finally, a word from the troops overseas. (But first a moment to delete one hundred copies of SoBig from the mailbox.)

On station at a sprawling airbase near the Great Ziggurat of Ur in Iraq, my geek friend sends a postcard, not an e-mail. There's no Blaster, no SoBig yet - just the desert.

"It is so hot, our pens leak."

Writing fast as the dust blows by, "Actual conversation yesterday ... 'Got any useful skills?'" [From the CO.]

"Just computers, I'm a nerd." The CO rolled his eyes.

"Know this - computer security doesn't mean squat in a sandstorm." ®

George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. He also edits the Crypt Newsletter and has written extensively on viruses, the genesis of techno-legends and the impact of both on society.

Copyright © 2003;

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