by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
July 31, 2001
In the last five days I've gotten about 40 email messages containing the SIRCAM virus. None of them -- nor any of the hundreds of viruses that came before it -- damaged my computer because they all came to shell accounts. Those are text-only email accounts used by a lot of Net professionals that speed up most email processing.
The Subject: headers of the messages may have been different, but the message inside all had the same stupid line: "I send you this file in order to have your advice."
Thanks to the lousy grammar, millions of people who might have been infected (if they still use MS Word after all the other hacks) were spared, and they are probably readier now to get a new word processing program (I like WordPad, myself).
I also use a German anti-virus program called Anti-Vir, available for free to personal users at http://www.free-av.com, that has posted an update for SIRCAM and picks infected files out of my Eudora mail reader while I do more interesting things.
A couple of weeks ago, AntiVir searched 53,000 files on my hard drive and found 13 infected -- and that was before SIRCAM was released. Those virus varieties had been sitting on my hard drive anywhere from a few days to several years.
Another, Munga Junga, is currently installed in my autoexec.bat, and tells me it has killed my hard drive before mercifully dropping out of the loop and letting Windows load. It is the only one that has ever slipped by me, and did so with an intriguing Subject: header.
That was before tonight's anticipated release of the Code Red virus, the one that defaces Websites with the words, "Hacked by Chinese!" That virus -- or more properly, worm -- hit 350,000 computers on July 19 and for eight days straight barraged the White House Website with so many messages its IP address had to be changed.
This second launch, a delayed bomb of sorts, will come at 8 p.m. EST tonight from computers it infected weeks earlier -- servers that use Microsoft NT and Microsoft 2000 operating systems and have IIS Webserver software. That software is automatically installed on many computers, and many who have the virus don't know it.
There are all sorts of computer viruses and they do all sorts of things. Many are harmless, and a few are even fun, but many can wipe out years of work in the blink of an eye. There are Federal laws against the malicious propagation of viruses but most are spread automatically. As far as I can tell, most authors of the malicious viruses are never caught.
My own intuition is that we need a kind of Internet DNA, an indisputable tracer of messages that will unfailing identify the original author of a virus; that is technically possible only with Word right now, I believe, but could be ubiquitous in the future.
All that would be required to defeat it, of course, is to create the virus with another person's computer, but someone who does that in physical space is always vulnerable -- it's hard to type when you're wearing gloves.
But what would happen if someone devised a virus to bring down totalitarian governments? Who would want them to be exposed to harm for doing so?
There is another dimension of the virus phenomenon that troubles me. Currently, the messages I receive are from total strangers, and often seem to be of quite private.
Why was my address in their Outlook Express address books in the first place?
One virus-bearing message I got today concerned someone's "termination;" another, three or four days ago, had a lot of information about Sen. Fred Thompson's agenda for a two-day trip to San Francisco, including cell phone numbers for him and his staff.
I recognized the name of press person Liz Chenoweth, and called a cell phone I thought was hers (it had a rather mysterious message) to let her know the Senator's agenda had been distributed.
I was wondering what would happen if someone sent out a virus that didn't put you at risk when you opened such email. Who knows what you might find out? I might have gotten some insight into the "termination" and been able to help avoid it, if I was so disposed. That gave me an idea.
Among the millions of Internet users are hundreds of thousands of journalists for daily newspapers, radio and tv stations, online news sites, magazines, weekly newspapers and industry newsletters. If the virus-makers still believe information ought to be free, maybe they could make their hacks a little more interesting by making other people's forwarded messages more easily readable, even while forwarding ours.
But a lot of hackers don't care about freedom at all; in fact, many of them seem to be computer pros who want to make some political point on behalf of their pals in the Politburo, the ones who shoot people down in cold blood for speaking freely, and toss thousands into jail for practicing their religion, and carve the kidneys out of political prisoners to sell on the black market.
Therefore, I would suggest not an Intenret DNA, after all, but a counter-virus, one that would flood Chinese computers with the voices of freedom and dissent. Two ought to be able to play this game, after all.
For Jeff Massoll, wherever he is.