Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Conficker worm causing loss of business productivity, but is it the worm’s fault?

by Larry Geller

Worm Tomorrow, April 1, is the day that the Conficker worm is supposed to start turning. Wouldn’t the joke be on us if it started, say, a day early?

Anyway, everyone with a Windows computer should take a moment to consider whether some action is needed. Home users will probably Google around, find a way to test their systems or maybe run one of the removal tools, and that will be that (if all the patches are installed—it feels something like going to the doctor every week to get vaccinated against some new disease that’s out there).

Businesses with networks and employees walking around with USB memory sticks have more of a chore. Some IT specialist has to deal with every computer and every device that is or could be connected.

And this is just one worm.

I cannot believe the loss of productivity to business that the vulnerability of these Windows systems is causing.

Notice that I did not say “loss of productivity that viruses or worms are causing.” At some point, I think we need to recognize that the system architecture itself is defective, that it allows alien code to infiltrate the operating system, and that chasing these infections one by one is an incredible waste of time. As we see with this one, the worms are getting more and more clever, but we are not.

There is an alternative. Just imagine for a moment that operating systems could not be infected. This is possible. The giant time sharing computers, dinosaurs that they were, had learned to protect themselves completely. They would not have been successful if any one of the 600+ users running simultaneously inside them could have taken down the system. Microsoft/Intel have chosen not to implement that technology.

Even without being a geek, you know that many programs install themselves into the Windows/system32 directory, for example. Why is that allowed? We, as users, are both powerless and clueless as to what those bits of code can or will do.

Any program can read or write to any area of the disk or memory, pretty much, because the hardware does not separate and protect system areas. If you have a Vista system you’re supposed to be better protected, but in practice, a program asks you a couple of times if it can go ahead, you say yes, and then you have no idea what it is doing while you stare at the screen. That’s not great security.

I first wrote about this at least in 2006. My article was picked up around the web, though it had no effect, it seems. (Just try to get an article critical of Windows/Intel architecture published today.) I got into IEEEs newsletter, Robin Good’s popular website, and even into blogs like the one on Computer World. But programs still install themselves into system directories.

Until big business speaks up and holds Microsoft and Intel accountable for the loss of productivity that these worms, viruses and other forms of code are allowed to cause, we home and small-business users will suffer along with the big guys.

Anyway, protect your computer. Some of the websites mentioned in newspaper articles will be overloaded, but don’t give up.


I wouldn't be totally surprised if the Conficker worm turned out to be an "April Fool's Joke," but of course doing nothing still isn't worth the risk

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