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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Rob Rosenberger

Computer Economics, Inc. revisited

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Sunday, 18 March 2001

COMPUTER ECONOMICS, INC. recently updated their absurdly accurate damage toll for the ILoveYou virus. A January press release from VP Michael Erbschloe announced a new impact estimate of $8.7 billion, worldwide. His year-end total for virus incidents "around the world amounted to $17.1 billion in 2000."

ILoveYou beat out all other viruses combined if you take these numbers at face value. Erbschloe's firm concocted another mathematical atrocity if you ask me.

I like to search for patterns in hysteria — so let's look at how Computer Economics' ILoveYou estimates evolved over time. See if you notice a pattern in their {ahem} authoritative figures:

It looks like Computer Economics, Inc. used the function
f(x) = 2.7 + 2x
to calculate ILoveYou's global impact.

  • 5 May: $2.7 billion* and 45 million casualties
  • 8 May: $4.7 billion (no revised casualties)
  • 9 May: $6.7 billion (no revised casualties)
  • 5 Jan: $8.7 billion (no revised casualties)

(I rounded up the first estimate from an absurdly accurate $2.61 billion.) Do you see a pattern here? It looks like Computer Economics used the function

f(x) = 2.7 + 2x
to calculate ILoveYou's global impact. Simple, eh? f(0) = $2.7 billion, f(1) = $4.7 billion, f(2) = $6.7 billion, f(3) = $8.7 billion, ... The firm's yearly totals look just as bogus: $12.1 billion for 1999, $17.1 billion for 2000...

Again, do you see a pattern here?

Computer Economics never revealed how they came up with "45 million" casualties one day after ILoveYou started its rampage. They never explained how they assessed worldwide impacts with an accuracy of ±$10 million. My scathing editorials forced the company to issue a spin-control press release which didn't reveal a thing — it simply urged reporters to trust them.

I predicted Computer Economics would "declare another virus damage figure" for ILoveYou on 31 May 2000. "Few can resist the aphrodisiac of free publicity," I observed. Yes yes yes, it took seven months longer to come true — because the company failed to revise its estimate on that date as promised.

Go on, call me vain: I believe my prediction forced Computer Economics onto the sidelines for the rest of 2000. Their press release index shows they issued nothing after they went into spin control. I take full credit for their embarrassment.

I'll pay $2.7 hundred to the first student who produces a report/study Erbschloe graded D+ or lower.

I also take credit for pushing mi2g onto the sidelines in the second half of 2000. But let's not digress.

I CAN SUMMARIZE Computer Economics in two words: "publicity stunt."

Whoops, I need to revise my word count. I can summarize them in three words: "blatant publicity stunt." Whoops, I need to revise my word count. I can summarize them in four words: "blatantly obvious publicity stunt." Whoops, I need to revise my word count...

Erbschloe would flunk if he tried the same thing in an Economics 101 course. "Where's your supporting data, young man, and how did you acquire it? Which extrapolation model did you use? Why does every ILoveYou estimate end in .7 billion? Why does each yearly estimate end in .1 billion? Worldwide damages rose, yet worldwide casualties remained steady at 45 million from Day One. Shall I continue?"

You know, I'll bet Erbschloe taught economics at some point in his career. Wouldn't you like to see how he grades students? I'll pay $2.7 hundred to the first person who produces an economic report/study (not a test) Erbschloe graded D+ or lower. I want a photocopy of the paper and a photocopy of his syllabus. I promise your identity will remain confidential.