Nov 15 2004

Let’s give thanks for antivirus software that so often fails to do its job

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Each November in the U.S., we celebrate our triumph over the natives who once occupied our great land. We celebrate by slaughtering a large bird and replacing its innards with seasoned bread crumbs. Yummy!

Viruses spread largely be­cause anti­virus soft­ware fails us at the crucial mo­ment when we need it to work — yet we’ll blame the spread of viruses on every­thing except anti­virus soft­ware. What’s wrong with this picture?

“Get to the point, Rob. What does this have to do with computer security?” Hang on, I’ll get there. Don’t worry.

If you ask a midwest farmer to name the #1 pest animal other than insects, he might say “wild turkeys.” Farmers will swear they’ve seen turkeys devastate fields of crops. Well, guess what?

Purdue University conducted a two-year field study “to catch wild animals in the act of devouring crops,” says Rick Callahan of the Associated Press. “Deer and raccoons — not wild turkeys, as many farmers believe — are the greediest crop raiders,” Callahan reported:

The researchers staked out fields, using infrared cameras during their nighttime surveillance to catch the animals in action. Those cameras revealed largely nocturnal deer and raccoon gorging in the darkness, their mouths stuffed with leaves, soybeans or corn, said Gene Rhodes, a Purdue professor of wildlife ecology…

During the two growing seasons surveyed, not a single incident of crop damage by turkeys was found. Because the plump birds arrived at the scene hours after night-feeding deer and raccoon had fled, they were accused of guilt by association. “Turkeys are a highly visible species and sometimes it’s hard to match perception with reality,” Rhodes said [on 11 November]. “When you see them in the fields sometimes you assume they’re the ones doing the damage.”

Boy, was I wrong about deer! I always thought of them as a helpful species. I mean, they helped me get a new car every few years if you know what I mean. Thanks to Purdue’s research, I’ll never look at deer the same way again. Perhaps we should replace their innards with bread crumbs and leave the turkeys alone.

“Sometimes it’s hard to match perception with reality,” Rhodes said. His observation applies to the computer security world, too.

Computer viruses spread largely because antivirus software fails us at the crucial moment when we need it to work — yet we’ll blame the spread of viruses on everything except antivirus software. What’s wrong with this picture?

“Sometimes it’s hard to match perception with reality.” Think about your real computer virus problem the next time you stuff your mouth with can-shaped cranberry sauce and mashed-gourd pie…

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