Revolver Map.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The origin of the computer virus, etc.

Article in PCLOS magazine:

Computer columnist Robert Cringely wrote, back in 2001:

"The wonder of all these Internet security problems is that they are continually labeled as 'e-mail viruses' or 'Internet worms', rather than the more correct designation of 'Windows viruses' or 'Microsoft Outlook viruses.' It is to the credit of the Microsoft public relations team that Redmond has somehow escaped blame, because nearly all the data security problems of recent years have been Windows-specific, taking advantage of the glaring security loopholes that exist in these Microsoft products."


In November of 2003, John Dvorak wrote:

"The [Outlook Express] product has been under fire since its release, and almost every major virus uses Outlook's open-door security policy to turn individual mailboxes into spam-o-matic emailing machines."


Several years have passed and those words still ring as true today as they did in 2003 - or 2001. Microsoft appears clearly unable or unwilling to clean up their software to the degree that it requires. Their frequent "critical updates" seem to be little more than sticking bandaids on a highway trauma victim. Even the much-vaunted "Patch Tuesdays" have been described as an invitation for the exploit writers to test and send out their next round of viruses and trojans.

The mainstream media virtually never makes the distinction between "computer" trojans/viruses and "Microsoft" trojans/viruses. Maybe the mainstream media doesn't know any better. Or maybe the mainstream media gets a heck of a lot of advertising revenue from Bill Gates.

In my view, it's this simple. Windows desktop and server PCs are a train wreck on the Internet that have caused literally billions of dollars of damage to computer users and businesses. That is not the cost of doing computer business. That is the cost of doing bad computer business.

Maybe you didn't know this - and that's not your fault. But the fact is, you were sold a PC that had severe security problems in the fundamental design of its software, and even worse problems in its default setup. If it weren't for the agreement you made in the form of the MS EULA (yes, you agreed to it) you might even have grounds for a class action lawsuit.

But it's time to wake up. Now you know better. And my message is simple - run something besides Windows, at least when you're connected to the Internet. Chances are, your machine can run both Windows and Linux. I'll even help you set it up. Use Linux to surf and do email. Run Windows for what it's safe for - playing games. With your network cable unplugged, please.

Or buy a Macintosh. But please, don't sit there and wonder why your inbox is flooded with spam while running five hidden tasks on your zombied Windows PC that is spreading viruses and flooding the Internet with even more spam without your permission or knowledge.

Ahh, but you have an antivirus program installed. Great. There's just one problem. The new hackers aren't bored kids sitting in their parent's basements playing at hacking your PC. The new hackers are highly trained, well-financed, professional criminals. Do you seriously think that they can't afford to buy a current copy of Norton/Symantec or McAfee and thoroughly test their trojans and viruses against the same antivirus you have? The easy accessibility of VM (virtual machine) software even leads to the possibility that some of the new trojans may have their own virtual machine, or exploit existing VM software and literally run Windows as a guest operating system - from which vantage point they would be impossible to detect from Windows, regardless of what kind of antivirus you're running.

And even at their best - at their absolute best, antivirus programs will always be a jump behind the bad guys . When a new virus is created it takes time to notice the virus; to report it to the antivirus companies, for the companies to dissect the virus and figure out how to identify it; then more time to figure out how to clean or disable it; then more time to add that to an update file and get that file distributed. We're talking quite a few days. How long does it take a virus to spread globally? Hours.

Are you afraid to learn how to use Linux or a MacIntosh? Don't be. Remember, you weren't born knowing Windows, and the transition is easier than you think. Personally, I'd be a LOT more afraid of passing out my credit card numbers, my social security number and my address. I'd be a LOT more afraid about giving out all my bank account information and passwords. I'd be a LOT more afraid of the FBI knocking at my door wanting to know about the illegal porn I've been emailing out.

Awwww, it couldn't be that bad, could it? Consider, in 2004, the Norwegian telco provider, Telenor shut down a server controlling a "bot-net" of 10,000 "zombie" PCs.

But 10,000 PCs - that's nothing, right? OK, how about this: In September of 2005, Dutch police arrested a trio controlling a zombied network of 1.5 million (yes, million) PCs - all Windows machines, every last one of them. And the zombie software is getting smarter - new zombies are using peer-to-peer technology and coordinating with multiple master servers. You can't just cut one head of the hydra and think you've killed it anymore.

It's 2007 now and the currents levels of spam, viruses and trojans points to even bigger networks. Much bigger. And none of the people using these millions of PCs even suspect anything is wrong with their computer. None of them have any reason to doubt that their antivirus protected them. None of them think for an instant that their machine is part of the problem. And neither do you.

Look at it this way. You worked hard. You saved. You bought your PC. You thought you owned it. But Bill Gates gave it away to some Ukrainian criminal organization. They're the ones running your PC, and the only reason you can use it at all is because you have their permission. And you still want to surf the web with Windows?

Be my guest. But when you get tired of wondering why your browser doesn't go where you want it to, when you get your fill of the slow machine that used to be fast, when you start wondering if your entire identity isn't for sale on a foreign website... give me a call.

Your Linux friend,


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