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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Basic fact checking

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Friday, 10 November 2000
MAN:  "YOUR PC definitely had the BadTimes virus. I suspect it used email as its transmission vector. I started with a FORMAT command to clean the virus, then I ran FDISK to lay down a new master boot record. After that it was just a matter of loading a fresh copy of your operating system and all of your application programs. You should be good to go now."
Woman:  "(gasp) But... my data is gone!"
Man:  "Well, if you didn't have backups when I got here, then it wouldn't have made a difference anyway. This BadTimes critter is aptly named."
Woman:  "Wow. How long have you been fighting computer viruses?"
Man:  "Well, I'm not really a virus expert. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night..."
A commercial like this would beat all those political ads I put up with over the last few months. Let's hope it appears on AdCritic or TrailerVision someday.
Perhaps credulous emails are part of a natural learning curve for Internet users. I just hope debate moderators ascend the curve before the next election cycle...
Speaking of politics... I started writing this editorial on election day while flying to (you guessed it) Washington, D.C. I wound up reading a good story about email in TWA's Ambassador magazine. Freelance writer Susannah Clark submitted her work by email, of course. She explained:
The downside to this convenience, however, is a fact of e-life: the overflowing inbox. Some people — and we all know them — send everything and anything on to everyone, just because they can: bigoted, bawdy or just plain bad jokes and stories; or fake messages (did you get the phony Wobbler virus warning or the e-mail allegedly from Victoria's Secret saying you would receive a gift certificate if you forwarded the message to nine additional victims?). And it's not just our friends who are inflicting this pain...
Clark went on to question if "perhaps these e-mail errors are just part of a learning curve, necessary to navigate as we rediscover the craft of written communication." Let's hope so, if only for the sake of New York's newly elected senator. In case you missed it, candidate Hillary Clinton and her opponent went on the record last month to oppose a mythical email tax. During a debate. On live TV. All thanks to a credulous email. Okay, okay, I shouldn't pick on Madame PresidSenator or her opponent — actually, debate moderator Marcia Kramer fell for it. The Bernard Shaw wannabee failed to do basic fact checking when voters submitted questions by email. D'oh! "Kramer was not aware that there is no such bill," TV station WCBS said in a statement. Perhaps you remember when Bill Clinton, our computer-in-chief, called for more pornography during a live CNN Internet broadcast. Ha! A classic. Yet I should note Bill's modera-- oops, the previous hotlink points to a CNN story written by Ian Christopher McCaleb. He forgot to mention the incident, so try this hotlink instead. Anyway, I should note Bill's moderator got whacked by a prankster, whereas Hillary's moderator got duped by a well-meaning voter. If I had to look stupid, I'd pick "whacked" over "duped" any day. Kramer learned her lesson the hard way. So perhaps credulous emails are part of a natural learning curve for Internet users. I just hope debate moderators ascend the curve before the next election cycle.
Memo to Marcia Kramer: "gullible" doesn't appear in the dictionary. I checked.
But I regret to say the media doesn't have a lock on gullibility. Man, you should hear some of the urban legends computer security experts spout as fact. At computer security conferences, no less. Sometimes right before/after I lecture about exactly this problem! Vmyths.com exists partly because some "experts" fail to do basic fact checking. (They also make up statistics for the media's benefit, but let's not digress.) Both the media and computer security experts stake their reputations on accuracy, right? Repeat after me: "basic fact checking, basic fact checking, basic fact checking, basic fact checking..."