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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Rob Rosenberger

Hysteria is a box with four corners

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Wednesday, 16 March 2005

I LOOK AT computer security hysteria as a box with four corners. Pardon me while I crank out yet another cheesy diagram:

The four corners of computer security hysteria

In one corner you'll find the media. These folks harbor a fetish for juicy computer virus stories — and they'll give free ink to any clown who talks a great story. Believe it or not, you can actually read about a narcissistic hacker in Indonesia who declared war against the United States, or a narcissistic hacker group in Russia that declared war against the United States, or a bunch of unorganized wannabees in China who waged war against the United States...

In another corner you'll find hackers & virus writers. These dweebs delusionally think they can declare war against the United States, and a willing media feeds their collective narcissistic personality disorder. Hackers & virus writers provide the backdrop of evil for our next two corners...

In a third corner you'll find computer security vendors dominated by the antivirus companies. These firms crave the media's free ink for marketing reasons. They want reporters to portray them as the cops of the Internet who fight the rampant crime out there. They also like to portray themselves as private investigators.

In the fourth corner you'll find the government. Certain agencies and high-ranking individuals exploit their credentials to legitimize the heinous threats posed by hackers & virus writers. Reporters bestow an air of authenticity to their stories whenever they cite government agencies or individuals. Government agencies can use their media exposure to increase their budgets, while high-ranking individuals can use it to beef up their résumés.

Okay, so now you know what I mean when I talk about "the four corners of hysteria." Let's digress with an anecdote.

Longtime Vmyths readers will recall I attended an antivirus roundtable meeting at the White House in December 2000. The agenda included adequate time for a discussion about virus hysteria. Jimmy Kuo (McAfee) and David Perry (Trend Micro) offered sage commentary from the industry's point of view; Sandy Sparks (DoE CIAC) offered sage commentary from the government's point of view.

Many people in the meeting nodded their heads at the idea of an education campaign to dispel virus hysteria. Then someone came up with a wild idea: "maybe we could teach computer users not to believe everything they read in the newspapers!" The industry offered to supply educational materials to the government so they could reprint it at taxpayers' expense.

YET NOBODY ASKED the computer virus hysteria expert for his take on the subject. I mentioned this to Sparks after the meeting. She blurted out the obvious question: "why on earth didn't you speak up?!?"

"Two-fourths of the problem was right there in that room," I told her, "trying to come up with ways to convince the public to ignore the hysteria they create. I was too busy enjoying the irony of it all."

Each of the four corners wants you to ignore the hysteria. They don't know well enough to stop the hysteria ... but they do want you to tune it out.