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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Alas, Palm Pilot! I knew its horror-ratio...

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Wednesday, 30 August 2000 I BURIED MY Palm Pilot yesterday in the back yard. {sniffle} I videotaped the funeral ceremony if you want to watch it. Everybody in the antivirus business flew to Iowa just to stand by my side. The governor of Rhode Island even loaned me his podium for the event.
"Once again, a program capable of affecting mobile devices has been hyped as a virus. In reality, we still have yet to see a malicious program capable of self-replication on a mobile platform."
ZDNN reporter Rob Lemos delivered the first touching eulogy. "The carefree days for the Palm handheld are over," he noted with a tear in his eye. "A Trojan horse — a program that poses as a beneficial application, yet does something completely different — is making its way through the underground circles of Palm users." Dow Jones reporter Marcelo Prince strode up to the podium next. "It was only a matter of time," he intoned. "A malicious virus-like program that targets handheld devices has been discovered by several antivirus software makers." Prince's grief overtook him momentarily but he quickly regained his composure. (What a troop.) "Its existence shows that virus writers are moving beyond personal computers to wireless devices," he sobbed. A Reuters reporter whose name I didn't catch also eulogized my little Palm Pilot. You could see the anger in his face. "Destructive viruses, worms and what-nots are not just raiding personal and network computers anymore," he thundered from the podium. The deadly Trojan "freely enters handheld devices ... and destroys other games and programs that users have added." ("Freely enters"?) An unnamed M2 copyboy rose from the pews with important details. "A Swede is reportedly behind a new virus designed specifically to hit hand-held computers such as the Palm Pilot," he declared. Associated Press writer D. Ian Hopper leaned over to console me: "the author of the program says he didn't mean for it to go public and that he's helping antivirus companies detect it." Antivirus vendors stepped up to the podium in an effort to soothe my pain. Trend Micro's director of public educatio-- {cough cough} Pardon me. I'm, uh, still reeling from the death of my Palm Pilot. Anyway, Trend Micro's director of public educa-- {cough cough} Pardon me again. A dignitary from Trend Micro wept openly and said the new plague "portends a grim future for Internet appliances... The [virus writers'] society wants publicity, so I have to think that a Palm virus is not far behind." A dignitary from McAfee.com comforted mourners by announcing "[ours is] the first and only anti-virus software to protect against the world's first wireless Trojan." Murmurs rose as other vendors reacted to his statement. Dignitaries from Symantec, Trend Micro, and Computer Associates whispered how they, too, protect users -- and it's at least the seventh known Trojan — but they didn't want to make a scene at the funeral.
So a naïve Swedish college teacher wrote a Trojan for the Palm Pilot. Big deal. People don't throw away PCs just to avoid the virus threat. Why, then, would they throw away Palm Pilots?
No, the scene-stealing came when British soccer fanatic Graham Cluley started heckling from the back pews. "A Trojan horse which deletes applications on the Palm operating system poses little threat to computer users," the Sophos hooligan yelled. Why, he asked, did I bury a perfectly good handheld when I could simply re-sync it? I broke down in tears at this point. I admitted the batteries died and I couldn't find the recharger. "Once again," Cluley shouted, "a program capable of affecting mobile devices has been hyped as a virus. In reality, we still have yet to see a malicious program capable of self-replication on a mobile platform." Reporters & competitors booed Cluley as ushers tossed him out of my back yard. "Good riddance," a vendor said as he put a comforting hand on my shoulder. "You'll sleep better knowing antivirus heroes patrol the information superhighway. We'll find these killers." The man who wrote the Trojan — Aaron Ardiri, a Swede indeed! — called me after the funeral to extend condolences and to plead for forgiveness. "The whole purpose of my 'research' was to investigate anti-cracking, and assist developers to stop cracking," he explained. "The problem is that I trusted others not to distribute this." Ardiri wanted to do more to console me, but his teaching schedule at the University of Gavle prevented a lengthy phone call. I resent being called a hacker (even by a naïve Swede), but grief clouds my judgment right now. Perhaps I'll understand his rationalization in due time. Life goes on; I'll get over the death of my Palm Pilot someday. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to lay some papers on the kitchen floor for a new pet. My wife brought home a Sony Clié!
OKAY, ENOUGH SATIRE. Does this Trojan signal the death of PDAs and smart cell phones? You know me: I make a living out of saying "no."
Go on, enjoy your Palm Pilot — the carefree days won't end for another 50,000 viruses or so.
So a naïve Swedish college teacher wrote a Trojan for the Palm Pilot. Big deal. People don't throw away PCs in favor of Mac or Linux just to avoid the virus threat. (Okay, the U.S. Army did it once, but they later realized their stupidity.) Why, then, would people throw away Palm Pilots? I repeat myself from a previous rant:
The world's computing desire hasn't faltered after 14 years and 50,000+ viruses. We went right back to normal after Melissa, after Chernobyl, after ExploreZip, after MiniZip, after BubbleBoy, after ILoveYou, after NewLove, and after KillerRésumé. Even the glorious Y2K hysteria barely made us blink.
I stated the obvious, yet you'd never know it from all this hand-wringing. Go on, enjoy your Palm Pilot — the carefree days won't end for another 50,000 viruses or so. Unless you live in Sweden.