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Seen it all before?

Either the day after a Bank Holiday is the worst possible time to call any large company’s customer service desk or the latest Sasser worm is wreaking havoc quite freely around enterprise UK PLC.

I’m finally wrapping-up my house move to the coast and today, I’ve been calling through all those companies that appear as a monthly direct debit on my bank statement. For the last two years, I’ve been trying to aggregate as many as possible, so British Gas now provides electricity and gas, Vodafone channels my mobile, business and residential call charges and BT? Well BT, bless them, bills me for something called recurring charges but not phone calls.

Anyway, today being Tuesday, Vodafone tell me that they have a computer problem and recommend I call back Thursday and BT and British Gas seem a little slow, which is being kind.

Of course, it’s not as bad as Blaster, as most businesses learned a salutary lesson last August but Sasser continues to cause the kind of embarrassment that Microsoft could do without, even though it does appear not cause any permanent damage to files or machines; simply causing some PCs to repetitively crash and reboot, thought to be the result of dodgy programming by its author rather than an intentional ‘feature’.

You were warned say Microsoft, because it’s now three weeks since the company revealed the flaw that Sasser, a Windows function called Local Security Authority Subsystem Service and more than 150 million people successfully downloaded the security patch before this weekend's outbreak.

Interestingly enough, a recent experiment at the ANCL (Advanced Network Computing Laboratory) at the University had a series of clean Windows XP workstations connected to a live, non-firewalled Internet connection. It’s reported that over a dozen iterations, the average time for this workstation to be compromised by any malware exploit was three hours with the fastest measured time was 20 minutes. They experimenter’s concluded that “It’s not if they’ll find your vulnerable points anymore, it’s only how fast”

Two weeks ago, a story in Microsoft’s local paper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, quoted Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith as saying Microsoft "to date" has made no decision about whether to include antivirus in future Windows versions. With many computers unprotected, some might say it would be responsible for the company to incorporate antivirus capabilities into Windows. But doing so could give rise to claims over the competitive impact.

The reporter, Todd Bishop, followed-up the anti-virus debate with a poll last week and apparently 76.8% of the respondents believe that Microsoft should make anti-virus software a feature of Windows.

So consumers, in Seattle at least, want to see anti-virus as a component of Windows but the cynics out there are muttering that even if Microsoft were to risk taking on the combined might of the anti-virus industry, they rather doubt that this would solve the persistent problems of living in a self-inflicted software monoculture.

As Tuesday draws to its business close, I still can’t get through to the local council’s poll tax call centre and the bank on the corner where I withdrew a £100 at lunchtime confirms that they are having problems with a cashpoint that only gave me £40. Evidence of Sasser throttling Windows behind the scenes perhaps or simply evidence of a paranoid imagination?


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