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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

Your firm has enough clock watchers already

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Tuesday, 21 December 1999

"LEARNING FROM THE on-line battlefield, our researchers drew the inspiration for cracking this complex problem before the arrival of 2000," crowed mi2g flunky D.K. Matai. His hirelings wrote a program dubbed Clock Fortress to keep an eye on a PC's realtime clock.

PCs didn't come with realtime clocks in the 1980s. Accountants booted up every morning to "Tue 1-1-80"...

Why guard a computer clock? Obviously, the fate of the worldwide financial community must ride on it. Read mi2g's press release for details.

I personally don't need Clock Fortress. First, my PCs don't get attacked -- especially not the way mi2g fears. Second, I don't want to consume processor speed just to check a realtime clock "nearly 20 times a second" to see if something happened after the fact. (I seek out evil code before it attacks me, thank you very much.)

Finally, I rely on a freeware product called Dimension 4 when I want genuine realtime clock accuracy. Each of my computers (except for one laptop) launches it via the "StartUp" group as part of the Windows boot sequence. Dimension 4 retrieves the absolute current time of day from various atomic clocks on the Internet.

If I should ever need continuous clock accuracy, I'd simply add Dimension 4 to the Windows Task Scheduler. Paranoid mi2g clients could synchronize the realtime clock every minute if they wished. (And for a lot less than what mi2g charges, I'll bet!)

Hang on for a second (pun intended) while I check the accuracy of my laptop ... Dimension 4 corrected a 32.53s deviation on 11/24/99; this morning it corrected an 85.84s deviation. Wow, do you think an evil hacker tried to corrupt my stock trades?

I question whether an accurate realtime clock makes a difference to the clear majority of PCs in the worldwide financial community. Those institutions journalize transactions based on a master clock, not based on the arbitrary date-time stamp of every subordinate computer which generates a journal entry.

As for a clock-related threat to software licenses... it can only affect those who use time-limited software. (I don't. Do you?) And, of course, those computers would need to get attacked. I'd consider it ironic if, say, an antivirus or firewall license terminated early because the software failed to detect a clock-manipulating virus.

I said it before and I'll say it again. Only mi2g can protect you from an unconfirmed virus which sets your clock two weeks ahead.

Hmmm. My reliance on Dimension 4 for accurate timekeeping could itself trigger a Clock Fortress alarm condition. Every time. After the fact. Setting company computers at bootup to match a master network clock could also trigger an alarm condition. Every time. After the fact.

I hope Clock Fortress at least knows well enough to recognize when Win9x switches to/from Daylight Savings...