Samba Parti

I'm feeling a little jaded this morning. Today is one of those special days that starts with an inbox full of viruses. One in particular, received six times, carries the message, "Attention: Immediate Action Required for MSN and Windows Messenger Users" and carries a little payload called 'W32Minmail.' - Just the thing to start my day. To add to my fun, there is even a message from the administrator of my own domain – which happens to be me - telling me that my email address is about to expire and that I should “Read the attached message”. No thank you, because this one happens to be loaded too, according to Norton anti-virus, which has safely quarantined it.

Now, I wasn't born yesterday but some people working in government IT may have been. This month, Brazilian hackers 'visited' a number of local government websites and vandalised them with anti-government messages and digital graffiti. Ironically, the websites in question had failed to apply a 'critical' web server patch for Microsoft's Internet Information Server - I won't say which - that has been available for some time. The result, acute embarrassment at county hall and local eGovernment information delivered with rich Portuguese adjectives.

It’s a mess. A week ago, Blaster wreaked havoc and cost millions in terms of lost productivity and when you aren’t fighting the forest fires, and then you have to watch out for the booby traps that litter your inbox every working day. Much of the time however, the damage is self inflicted, in the sense that basic security in the shape of patches or anti-virus software is freely available but the evidence clearly demonstrates that a significant percentage of the end-user population simply don’t bother. As a message, advocating safe computing is about as effective as encouraging safe sex, because people continue to ignore the dangers of today’s computing environment, whether it’s teenage chatrooms, web server exploits or viruses.

All of us need to accept that we are living in a war zone and not the cosy new digital world we see advertised on television and seen on the shelves at PC World. People buy PCs like they buy Playstations and televisions. It’s a commodity, which in this case, offers a window to a world of previously undreamed of possibilities and information resources. But when people encounter Internet crime, which is a regular fact of life on today’s information superhighway, it still seems to come as a surprise, rather like a well-know celebrity keeping a £1 million worth of jewellery in her home and expecting it to be safe in the Britain of the 21st century. The reality of the Internet is closer to the world of Tony Martin and perhaps a PC sale should start with the firewall and the anti-virus software and end with the processor, instead of the opposite.

When SQL- Slammer appeared earlier in the year, I predicted that it wouldn’t be the first ‘firestorm’ of 2003. Two really big incidents a year now seem to be the norm and perhaps we won’t see a repeat performance until the New Year. Blaster however could have been much worse than it was and like SQL-Slammer, it should have been a lesson to everyone, from IT Director to silver surfer. Unfortunately, it won’t be. I can predict, once again and with some confidence, that within ten months there will be another nasty surprise, which once again will have BBC Breakfast worrying about the end of the world – over to you Dermot - . The Internet will shudder for a while and millions of pounds will be lost as production servers are taken down and patched once again with code that has been sitting around for some time with ‘Critical Windows Update’ written on the front in large red letters.

It’s a mystery to me but I’m sure it all works out in the end.


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