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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Virus hysteria exposes suicidal tendencies

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Sunday, 31 October 1999

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! DID your PC survive this year's rampage? Legend says teenage hackers sacrifice computers on this pagan holiday. No, really! I read it in an email. They put razors in candied appl-- er, I mean they slip viruses inside harmless-looking ping packets. And speaking of scary things...

Starlabs will postpone clients' email starting New Year's Eve. Reason: a Y2K virus might show up. Better safe than sorry!

The trend continues for precautionary disconnects. Email service provider Starlabs announced they will "quarantine" all message traffic starting New Year's Eve. It could affect the delivery of up to ten million emails. This decision will supposedly protect clients from unknown Y2K viruses.

Starlabs promotes itself as a reliable and secure email service. They use a combination of "three different virus scanners," yet it might not suffice on New Year's Eve. Starlabs therefore will deprive clients of email as a precaution. "Over the 24-hour quarantine period, Starlabs will analyse all virus-related activity ... to ascertain whether any Y2K viruses have materialised." Better safe than sorry, eh?

Talk about suicidal irony! An email service provider will stop providing email service as a safety precaution. Can you imagine if armies fought this way? "An unknown enemy might attack our position. A powerful unknown enemy might overwhelm our defenses. Sound the retreat!"

Man, I'd pounce on this if I worked for a competing firm. "Thanks for taking my call, Mr. Wilson! Did you know Starlabs will suspend your email in two months? Their own press release says they fear viruses which don't exist. I just want you to know our company won't get scared off the Internet by a bogeyman. Unlike Starlabs, we believe our virus fighters can do their job..."

This self-imposed denial of service won't truly impact most clients. ("Email? I'll be way too hung over.") However, network administrators and other "24/7 users" must find a workaround. They'll probably just open a freemail account. "To all: we won't get email on New Year's Eve thanks to Y2K. No, it's not our fault! If you need to reach me in a hurry, send it to tempwilson@hotmail.com."

At this point you might ask why Starlabs would quarantine all email. Why detain ASCII messages with non-executable attachments, for example? Starlabs' press release begins by claiming they'll postpone everything; they contradict themselves later on. "Customers will be able to specify the degree of security required... [Users can] screen selective mails, filtering just text, or keeping back certain attachments, such as executable files." Let's hope so.

By Starlabs' own logic, they should make "waiting periods" a permanent email security feature.

Oddly, Starlabs will only quarantine email during a 24hr period. Why don't they schedule it for 90hrs to cover the entire holiday weekend? (It still wouldn't truly impact most clients.) Indeed, by Starlabs' own logic, they should implement a permanent "waiting period" for security reasons. Rather than process an email in under two seconds (as advertised), they would postpone all deliveries for 2-3 days. "This quarantine will further reduce the chance of a virus getting past our three different virus scanners..."

So much for instant email delivery. ICQ looks better every day.

Starlabs clients should learn the names of those three antivirus products. You definitely don't want to rely on such untrustworthy software! Oh, and you might want to request a pro-rated bill for New Year's Eve.