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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Let slip the dogs of virus war, part 3

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Thursday, 1 November 2001

As read by the author (MP3) CONGRESS AND THE statecommonwealth of Virginia seem to be fixated on the idea of a "virus war." I'll cover the topic as only I can.

The antivirus industry will benefit from a virus war in the short term — but the cartel will lose its stranglehold on antivirus technology in the long term.

A couple of obvious problems come to mind when you think of a virus war. For one thing, how would you control a virus so it doesn't attack your own computers or those of an ally? Experts beat all of the obvious horses to death years ago, and Congress now beats those dead horses in the experts' absence. 'Nuff said.

Instead, let's delve into a topic the virus experts don't bother to discuss. It goes back to the very concept of warfare, where one or more defensive armies struggle against one or more aggressor armies. An aggressor launches an attack — say, against an industrial center — and a defender makes every effort to protect their home turf (or their allies' turf).

But guess what? We don't rely on armies to protect our computers from viruses. We hire private security guards to protect our sovereign PCs. You know them as antivirus vendors.

Part 3: 'there can be only one'

WAR BREEDS FEAR. Fear breeds hysteria. Hysteria breeds money.

The antivirus cartel has thrived on virus hysteria for its entire existence and it maintains an iron grip on virus defense around the globe. Therefore, I conjecture the cartel would benefit immensely from a virus war. They'll earn big money by protecting all of the helpless non-combatant armies around the world. Except for China, of course: they alone can protect citizens' PCs without turning to the antivirus industry.

But don't worry: the cartel wants to turn Beijing into a bunch of addicts, too.

However, I strongly believe only one virus war could break out with the antivirus industry in control of all nation-state defenses. Spy agencies will quickly seek out the many security holes in antivirus software. Governments will recognize the vulnerabilities of outsourced virus protection when they see enemies (a) using non-cartel antivirus products and (b) swamping antivirus vendors' websites with denial-of-service attacks. Cyber-generals will want antivirus experts who wear BDUs, not business suits. They'll want experts who swear to uphold & defend the Constitution against all enemies, cartel or domestic.

Panicky users will overwhelm antivirus vendors' websites, too, when they constantly hit the "update" button during a virus war. Governments & businesses will dismiss the "addictive update model" (the industry's #1 cash cow) as an intolerable bottleneck and they'll overlay it with innovative technologies. The media may finally begin to report on the critical flaw in current antivirus technology (a flaw we didn't always have).

Cyber-generals will see the vulnerabilities of outsourced protection if a virus war breaks out. They'll want antivirus experts who wear BDUs, not business suits.

This leads to an interesting paradox. The antivirus industry would benefit immensely from a virus war in the short term — but the cartel would ultimately lose its stranglehold on antivirus technology in the long term.

To avoid this paradox, the cartel might (a) seek to hype the threat of a virus war for its profit value yet (b) strive to keep the world body from staging a true virus war. It's probably just a coincidence, but I should note the cartel already provides "advisors" at no charge to the security apparatus of every major addicted nation-state client and every major international body (e.g. the "G8" bureaucracy).

From a corporate perspective, the cartel might try to use its status as government advisors to join a promising information-sharing group which bans antivirus vendors from their own ranks. Indeed, the cartel might even ask a government agency to silence critics in the name of national securi-- oops, time for me to end this column! I don't need another late-night visit from the feds if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I can't wait to see battlefields strewn with crippled PCs and smoldering mousepads. If it will finally advance the state of the art in antivirus software, then I'm all for it. Tell China to let slip the dogs of virus war! I'll gladly donate 27 pixels to the U.S. war chest. At my signal, unleash Kournikova.

I love the smell of burning breadboard. It smells like ... victory.

[Editor's note: Vmyths makes an ironic living from the very hysteria we seek to destroy. We, too, would benefit immensely from a virus war.]