Aug 09 2012

DNSchanger: yet another media flop

"For 99.99999% of us, [it] was just another day on the Internet..."
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Like the month of March, July’s horrifying DNSchanger “trojan worm virus” came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. The U.S. FBI warned all citizens of Earth they would hit a single “off” switch on 9 July, effectively causing a global “blackout” across the Internet. Forever. For everyone on the planet who failed (or refused) to visit one specific website. It was, quite literally, a cyberpocalypse of the FBI’s own design by the FBI’s own admission.

Or at least that’s how the media played it up.

“July 9th, for example, was the day that an estimated of 4 million innocent people across the world were supposed to get disconnected from the internet. At least that’s what media around the globe reported…”

Two years from now the experts will say “you had to be there,” but right now, with the global disaster still totally fresh in our minds, we all can fully appreciate the magnitude of the, uh…

Well, okay: I guess you had to be there. Just the other day I had to jar the memory of an “information assurance expert” before I could start probing his thoughts on DNSchanger. And we’re talking what, a month ago today?

If you subscribe to the Vmyths twitter feed, you got to see some hyleriously hysterical retweets in the hours leading up to the latest predicted ultimate cybergeddon. Then some reporters filed stories saying the DNSchanger “blackout” appeared unremarkable. Some experts came out of the woodwork to thank the FBI for doing so much to save the Internet—

—and then, uh … well, you know, that was it. The media circus ended. Folks just kind of went back to their daily routines. You know, like at the end of “An Inconvenient Truth” when people slowly got up from their seats during the credits and talked about, you know, maybe going out tomorrow after his shift ends at Sunglass Hut and her shift ends at Build-A-Bear.

On 10 July — the day after the FBI shut down their malicious DNS farm — all concern about DNSchanger died as suddenly as the millions thousands hundreds untold hordes of computers that died suddenly the day before. And we were left with deafening silence.

Well, okay: there was this one SOHO IT consultant who shook her pom-pons for the FBI. And, too, a CNet pundit clapped for the wolfmancrier. “Hype Hype, Horr-ay!” But no one really cared enough to follow their cheers. Indeed, their valiant uphill struggle in the face of global apathy reminded me of Al Yankovik’s role in Uncle Nutsy’s Clubhouse.

Once the media circus ended, it was left to those few skeptics who remained behind to critique it. Take MacLean’s tech pundit Jesse Brown for example:

“For 99.99999% of us, yesterday was just another day on the Internet. Unsurprisingly, few news outlets publicized the absolute normalcy of life online yesterday.”

Old-timey pundit Lawrence Magid, writing for the Huffington Post, did some basic math:

“There is no way to know the exact number of computers that were still infected on July 9. But even if you take a high estimate of 50,000 in the United States, that represents about one in 5,000 PCs. It’s no wonder a Comcast spokesperson told me that their customer support volume last Monday was no higher than a typical Monday.”

(Old-timey Vmyths readers will recall Magid’s role in the Michelangelo media fiasco of 1992. To his utmost credit, Magid recalled it for his own readers: “Sometimes I get the sense that the person interviewing me is a bit disappointed at my relatively relaxed attitude. I wasn’t always that way. In 1992, I was one of the journalists who quoted John McAfee when he said that millions of PCs would fail to startup on March 6 of that year — Michelangelo’s birthday. But the hype over the Michelangelo virus was far worse than its bite.”)

Every skeptic who sits on a conference panel will face a fearmonger who, at the end, puts on a voice of reason just long enough to say “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, and I think we should leave it to our audience to decide who’s right.”

Seems like a simple choice, eh? But in Decisions, decisions: the problem with “you decide,” author Sharon Hill explains:

“Asking an audience to decide on a choice is only fair if you are an honest broker of all the information available.”

How can you make a fair decision when antivirus firms talk in vague details about nameless clients who suffered unspecified damages? When computer security hotshots teach people to liewarp news stories to scare their bosses? When government bigwigs & military brass insist “I hate to say I know a secret, but…”?

How can you make a fair decision when fiction book authors claim they provide computer security advice to clandestine government agencies? When government bigwigs write fiction books about computer security because “there’s nothing unclassified that I can write about”? When reporters & columnists insinuate those fiction books are crystal balls overflowing with innate truths?

Honestly, folks. How can you make a fair decision about computer security when your information brokers aren’t being honest with you?

The columnists who’ve written for Vmyths over the years have always been honest with you. We’ve got our biases — don’t doubt us there! But we’re not trying to sell you a product or service. We’re not trying to hawk a book. We’re not vying to lecture at your next corporate or military seminar. Heck, right at the moment we don’t even run ads, and we never ran antivirus ads!

Vmyths offers you one thing: the truth with a dash of humor. We’ve received many awards, accolades, and global critical acclaim since 1988 (way back when this website was a single text file). I claim to wear one of the oldest “white hats” in the antivirus world, and I am the first U.S. military member to earn a medal for fighting computer security hysteria. If there’s anyone with real “combat” experience in computer security, it’s me — I use the truth as a weapon and I use Vmyths‘ reputation as a shield.

The fearmongers want you to choose them over the skeptics. The fearmongers manipulate the information you receive. And the fearmongers exploit your emotions to get their way.

Don’t fall for it, folks. There is no choice here. Our longtime readers know DNSchanger was a media flop for the exact same reason as every other computer security media flop since the 1980s. The names & dates change but it’s the same ol’ same ol’.