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Cyber alerts are phishing magnet, says Senator

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Senator Chuck Schumer has described the Department of Homeland Security's new 'cyber alerts' as a magnet for phishing expeditions and virus writers.

On Wednesday the Department sprang into action and issued its first Cyber Alert - warning users of the "SCObig" virus that had been causing havoc with email systems since Sunday afternoon.

"Details about this new variant are still emerging, but it has been validated as spreading," the Homeland Security boffins told us yesterday, as most users were entered the fourth day of cleaning up after SCObig.

Alert may not be the right word for this class of information. Our dictionary defines alert as "to notify of approaching danger or action", rather than issue a post-facto reminder 72 hours after the event.

If you build it, they will come, said Schumer:

"What DHS did today was essentially challenge computer hackers all over the world to put a virus into an email that mimics the DHS email warnings," said the Senator. "If I were a betting man, I'd put a few dollars down that the next virus that clogs computer networks is going to be transmitted through an email that looks like one of these DHS email alerts. This flaw is exacerbated by the fact that without any kind of requirement mandating ISPs and other companies to report the discovery of viruses, these warnings will likely come after a virus has stated spreading out of control."

The ARP wardens over at the Department hit back, arguing that the alerts were cryptographically signed.

Senator has adopted populist tech causes before, to a mixed reception. He demanded that Microsoft postpone the launch of Windows XP until he was satisfied that that third-party utility vendors were given equal billing, and backed an ill-advised "opt-out" list for junk email. He's made better calls with consumer cellphone issues, introducing a "Bill of Rights" for long-suffering subscribers, and conducting research into hidden charges on phone bills. A survey of plans in his home state New York showed that carriers' true bills ranged from $6.47 (Nextel) to $19.81 (Verizon) more per month than advertised. ®

External Links

Schumer slams ARP patrol
"... validated as spreading" [Homeland Security]

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