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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

God bless Americathe Internet

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Tuesday, 2 October 2001

As read by the author (MP3) SOME "CELEBRITY EXPERTS" started wrapping a patriotic flag around their computer security advice when terrorism struck last month. Your lax security no longer jeopardizes just yourself — now you jeopardize the United States of America and all She stands for.

Your lax security no longer jeopardizes just yourself — now you jeopardize the United States of America and all She stands for...

Shame on you for endangering your fellow Americans! Don't you care about freedom and democracy? Why, you're nothing but a ... a ... a ... yeah, that's what you are!

[Credit where due: I stole the insult from a Popeye cartoon.]

I could point out a couple of celebrity experts who wrapped patriotic flags around their computer security concerns. I'll focus on Steve Gibson in this column only because — well, because he was wrapped up in himself long before he enlisted in the Homeland Defense cyber-corps.

"There is a very real threat that our own personal computers could be turned against us"-- waitaminit, something doesn't feel right here.

Aha: my column needs some patriotic music to set the mood. Please listen to the Star Spangled Banner while you read this. Okay, now we can continue.

"There is a very real threat that our own personal computers could be turned against us and used to attack this nation and its people," Gibson passionately warned. "Any of the viruses and worms that have torn across the Internet could have been far more destructive than they were. The next one could be. The only thing missing has been intent. Today, no one can doubt the intent that exists."

Folks, I go on the record to defy Gibson's "no one can doubt" clause. A number of respected computer security experts dismiss outright the so-called "cyber-threat." They insist the "intent" only exists in fearmongers' minds. Some disbelievers, though, emailed me to say they don't have the guts to take a stand after last month's physical terrorism. One expert privately admitted he doesn't want to look callous or unpatriotic.

Gibson continued: "an infected and security-compromised computer can be used to ... actively attack our nation's critical Internet[1] infrastructure. Therefore, the vulnerabilities inherent in our personal and corporate computing systems represent a clear and present danger to this nation."

Memo to Bill Gates: Gibson means "Microsoft" when he talks about "inherent vulnerabilities."

Gibson then launched into the second part of his flag-waving speech. "What can YOU do? Not only must we ALL practice MUCH safer computing, but we must also preach it to our friends, family, and coworkers." He then provides a long list of patriotic things "YOU" can do to fight terrorists from the comfort of your den room.

For example, you can "sit everyone down to gently and carefully explain the serious responsibilities of safe Internet use[2] ... try to create a circle of pride and work together to safeguard the [family's] computing resource."


YES, GIBSON ACTUALLY used the "circle of pride" cliché. You can't get much more patriotic than that!

I ran out of Kleenex® while reading Gibson's patriotic cyber-speech. It would make a great Hollywood movie...

You'll find a circle-of-pride cliché in many Hollywood movies. My personal favorite is the scene in "Pale Rider" when The Preacher With No Name (Clint Eastwood) takes a sledgehammer to a boulder. His action inspires other men in the camp to join him. The men proudly circle the boulder and turn it to rubble. Then a terrorist (Richard Kiel) shows up, but The Preacher whips him into submission as the other men look on. Then everybody cheers in an emotional fit of pride.

(We do the same thing with antivirus software, you know. Think of Symantec as Clint Eastwood; think of a virus as Richard Kiel; and think of the people in your home or office as the men in the camp. I apologize for making such an obvious comparison, but ... well, at least I didn't compare it to a comedy.)

"Let's win this," Gibson implored at the end of his speech. "For the sake of yourself, your family, and your fellow Americans, let's all work to deny access to our computers to anyone who would use them for their own malicious purposes. Together, we can do it."

{sniffle} I ran out of Kleenex® while reading Gibson's patriotic cyber-speech. It would make a great Hollywood movie, you know.

Folks, in the final analysis, no computer security expert offers anything new in how you should protect your PC. They offer the same well-worn advice, except now they wrap it in a patriotic flag.

Patriotism plays on your emotions. Viruses & hacking are utterly logical threats. We here at Vmyths want you to protect your PCs because it's the logical thing to do — not because it suddenly turned into an emotional patriotic duty...