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Resources | Remember this when virus hysteria strikes

Reporters will give good publicity to antivirus products that fail to protect users from a virus
Antivirus software fails so often, and so spectacularly, that reporters overwhelmingly believe it must fail to protect users. Reporters will lavish their attention on products that needed an after-the-fact update to stop a new virus -- and they'll ignore antivirus products that did its job without an update. Years of hysterical media coverage has given antivirus firms an incentive to sell products that fail at the crucial moment when you need protection.
Someone will issue a guesstimate for worldwide monetary damages
Listen to this advice (MP3)
Media Axiom #1: all other things being equal, a guy with a number gets more airtime.
Virus experts have not yet developed statistically valid ways to gauge a virus attack -- and virus hysteria has thrived on this simple fact for 15 years. When a virus attack occurs, antivirus firms give reporters guesstimates. The press especially likes to report the cost of a catastrophe, and the antivirus industry obliges them -- by pulling dollar values out of thin air. A firm named "mi2g" creates valuable free publicity for itself by concocting worldwide virus damage guesstimates.
Panicky users will overwhelm antivirus websites
Listen to this advice (MP3) Antivirus firms literally suffer "distributed denial of service attacks" when customers (a) swarm their websites and (b) dial their support lines. Everybody wants an update when virus hysteria sweeps across the globe. Antivirus vendors will do everything in their power to support customers, but they can't provide updates all at once to the entire planet.
Watch out for 'False Authority Syndrome'
Listen to this advice (MP3) Reporters still often quote local computer store managers when a virus strikes the world. (Real virus experts don't list "cash register" as a recent job skill.) When reporters talk to antivirus vendors, they still often quote 'media representatives' instead of real virus experts. Don't take non-expert sources at face value -- and don't let yourself get carried away with 'False Authority Syndrome' when you speak to others.
Reporters will quote other reporters' stories as their primary sources of information
"Hand-me-down" news is a systemic problem in the computer security world. One original newswire can trigger reporters to write stories about that newswire, rather than investigate the story on their own. These reporters will often (but not always) call a source for a quote they can publish as their own. These derivative stories may convince other reporters to write about both the original newswire and its derivative story. Ironically, the "original" computer security newswire may itself be a hand-me-down based on a disguised press release.
Reporters will include pointless trivia about the virus
Listen to this advice (MP3) The media loves to write about viruses named for famous people or events. They also like to describe a virus writer's attire, lifestyle, or political views. Virus experts play to the media's fetish for juicy computer virus stories. Result: we hear about viruses named after Lady Di, or Anna Kournikova, or a Jerry Seinfeld character, or Bart Simpson, or the Chernobyl disaster. We hear about hackers who wear plastic bangles when they meet the U.S. president. None of this matters to antivirus software, though -- and it shouldn't matter to you.
Reporters will quote fearmongers as the 'voices of sanity'
Listen to this advice (MP3) When a virus begins spreading, reporters will ask the antivirus industry for predictions & quotes. And the industry's publicity hounds will oblige any reporter who calls. These quotes will fall into two general categories:
  1. those who predict the literal "meltdown" of the Internet and the death of computing as we know it;
  2. those who predict the Internet will suffer a worldwide catastrophe, but who believe we will someday recover from our deep wounds.
When the wolf-crying dies down, reporters will begin to write stories about why the virus failed to destroy the Internet as predicted. They'll ask the antivirus industry for follow-up quotes. And the industry's publicity hounds will oblige any reporter who calls. These quotes will fall into two general categories:
  1. those who congratulate the media for alerting everyone in time to save the Internet from its most recent pending catastrophe;
  2. those who congratulate the antivirus industry for working 'round-the-clock to find an antidote.
The media's follow-up stories will make fearmongers look like they were the 'voices of sanity' all along. The true critics of virus hysteria will see little or no media exposure.
Hysterical alerts may clog up your network
Listen to this advice (MP3) Many individuals & companies generated more emails about Melissa and ILoveYou and Kournikova and NakedWife and Nimda than those viruses generated on their own. Panicky employees can still topple robust email networks just by forwarding virus alerts to everyone in the company. Ask yourself if this latest virus hysteria caused the same problems for you. Did the virus itself clog up your network -- or did unbridled fear about the virus do it?
Don't ask why the virus attacked so quickly -- ask why it attacked at all
Listen to this advice (MP3) Didn't the experts learn anything when Melissa and Chernobyl burned the Internet to the ground in 1999? Didn't they learn their lessons when ILoveYou completely re-destroyed the Internet in 2000? If a virus expert says "we learned enough to react in minutes instead of hours," then you should ask why we still respond to viruses after the fact.
Face it: you're addicted to antivirus software
Listen to this advice (MP3) If an expert tells you to update your antivirus software at least weekly (i.e. at least 52 times per year) -- or if your firm forces your PC to check for antivirus updates every time you log onto the network -- you can counter with the following argument:
First you told us to install antivirus updates on a quarterly schedule. Then you told us to inject updates on a monthly basis. A few years ago you urged us to score a fix every week. In 1999 you warned us to inject our PCs with antivirus updates every single day. In 2000 you demanded we score a fix multiple times per day. I swear, you sound like a pusher and I feel like a drug addict.
If an expert proclaims you need antivirus software to protect you from a virus, you can counter with the following argument:
If we'd turned off automatic macro execution in Word before Melissa came along, then our PCs wouldn't have gotten infected. If we'd turned off Windows Visual Basic Scripting before ILoveYou came along, then our PCs wouldn't have gotten infected. This means our PCs could have protected us even when antivirus software failed to do its job. Perhaps we don't need to update our antivirus software so often -- maybe we really just need to update our antivirus experts.

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