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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Experts: 'shut down the entire Internet as a precaution'

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Wednesday, 19 September 2001 As read by the author (MP3) SHUTTING DOWN EVERY military computer as a precaution wasn't enough for the experts. Reformatting every hard disk as a precaution wasn't good enough for them, either. Now the experts want to shut down the entire Internet (again!) as a precaution.
"Dear Internet user, the Nimda virus might slow down the Internet. We want to shut down the Internet as a precaution. We'll send an email when you can safely turn your PC back on..."
Newsbytes reporter Brian McWilliams floored me[1] when he filed the following story:
A powerful coalition of U.S. government and industry groups contemplated advising citizens to stay off the Internet completely to avoid being infected by Nimda. In a private conference call conducted [18 Sep 01], members of the coalition — which includes representatives of such government organizations as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Justice, as well as corporations including Microsoft, UUnet, and Network Associates — expressed concern that the new worm could cause serious damage if not stopped promptly... Because Nimda is a complex worm that can infect both servers and desktop Windows computers with any of at least four different means, some members of the group suggested simplifying their warning about Nimda. "If you browse an infected Web site, you could become infected. That's most likely to scare them into patching their software," suggested one government security expert attending the call. But that notion was quickly shot down. "You're going to cause unmitigated hell. Sites like Amazon and eBay are going to say you people are creating panic and pandemonium," cautioned one official.
First things first. The idea of a precautionary disconnect is as absurd now as it was in 1999 when it first grew fashionable. But to tell everyone to disconnect as a precaution — man, how preposterous can you get? "Dear Internet user, the Nimda virus might slow down the Internet. We want to shut down the Internet as a precaution. Better safe than sorry! We'll send an email when you can safely turn your PC back on..." I hope you can see the stupidity here. Why doesn't Network Associates shut down their website as a precaution? Why doesn't Symantec shut down their website as a precaution? Why doesn't Microsoft shut down their website as a precaution? Why doesn't CNN shut down their website as a precaution? Why don't we here at Vmyths shut down our website as a precaution? Heck, why doesn't APBNews shut down their website as a precaution? If you ask me, they should follow in the footsteps of the world's most retreat-prone military.
Only the U.S. military shuts down these days as a precaution. Why doesn't Network Associates or Microsoft or CNN or Amazon.com or eBay do the same? Whatever happened to the phrase "better safe than sorry"?
And why doesn't the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center shut down their website as a precaution? Those guys can't even protect themselves from viruses like Nimda! They strike me as the perfect candidates for a precautionary disconnect. Go ahead, G-guys: pull the plug. We're, uh, right behind you. Lead the way...
SECOND THINGS SECOND. I wish I knew the name of the latter unnamed official in McWilliams' story. He gets my vote in the "sanity" category. And I wish I knew the name of the former unnamed official — so I could ridicule him. Uh-oh, another hysterical Nimda warning landed in my mailbox. Time for me to stop writing. I feel a sudden urge to invoke a precautionary disconn