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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Military familes: ignore USAF's Y2K virus advice

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Thursday, 16 December 1999

THE U.S. AIR Force "Year 2000 Office" published a colorful, glossy, six-page pamphlet for military & civilian families. It recommends various "Y2K preparations" should anything go awry when the big chronometer rolls over. A section on "Home and Safety" includes this gem:

Computer Viruses. Due to the threat of viruses that may execute at midnight, New Year's Eve, and to lessen the chances for Y2K effects, consider turning off your computer before midnight and re-starting it after January 1.

Ignore the "lessen the chances for Y2K effects" part; it adds nothing important to a paragraph about viruses. The Air Force Year 2000 Office recommends a precautionary disconnect for military & civilian families' computers.

Logic, anyone? First, viruses trigger their payloads every day of the year. Anything a virus can do on New Year's Day, it can do on any other day. Second, we've added perhaps a dozen "Y2K viruses" to the 40,000+ viruses discovered in the last dozen years. Third, the very act of shutting down a computer on New Year's Eve could itself trigger a virus payload in theory. (Think about it.) Finally, if you fear a virus may reside on your computer, why not eradicate it with antivirus software?

(Yes: the very act of scanning for viruses could also trigger a virus payload in theory. I'd counter by asking why your theoretical computer got infected in the first place. Let's continue.)

Military families should ignore USAF's advice. It makes no sense to arbitrarily turn off your computer "just in case" a virus might attack it. Viruses can strike at any time, so you might as well turn off the PC for good.

It therefore makes no sense to turn off your computer at arbitrary times "just in case" some unknown Y2K virus might attack it. Military families should ignore USAF's advice for this reason. Viruses can strike at any time, so you might as well turn off your home PC for good. Go on, turn it off right now. We'll all miss you.

Okay, you get the message, but perhaps your supervisor doesn't. The next time you get a hot project, look at your watch and say "wow, that reminds me!" Shut down your computer and proclaim "you better shut yours down, too." (Daredevils like me will slap the on/off switch for added effect.) The obvious question will flow from your supervisor's lips. Answer: "a deadly virus might attack our computers in three minutes, so I shut down just in case. I'll handle your task when the potential threat subsides."

An NCOIC will get your point the first time. Academy grads might need a second dose. (Ha!)

On a positive note, the Air Force pamphlet goes on to say "the use of virus protection software on personal computers is always a prudent practice." I agree wholeheartedly. Military families can use certain antivirus products for free thanks to an "employee home use" clause in vendors' contracts. Ask your computer security designate for details.

Still, I hope military families ignore USAF's Y2K virus advice. Children do silly things to avoid monsters under the bed; adults shouldn't do silly things to avoid monsters under the keyboard.