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Truth about computer security hysteria
Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

No, seriously — how do you top Chernobyl?

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Friday, 28 May 1999

A PRESS RELEASE from Central Command & Kaspersky Labs now claims "the Chernobyl virus was the most advertised computer virus this century." Ah, how soon we forget Peter Norton's full-page ad for a free Michelangelo scanner seven years ago. How soon we forget the blatant pitches surrounding Melissa just two months ago.

Reporters built up a resistance to virus hype. It takes more these days to sway them — and there's the rub. Antivirus vendors must find an increasingly powerful simile, metaphor, analogy, or term. The "boy who cried wolf" problem now grows faster as it grows worse.

Hmmm. "This century" seems a little long for computer virus advertising, don't you think?

The press release goes on to describe Emperor, a more insidious clone of Chernobyl (itself just a clone of CIH). This new beast "carries even more deadly capacity" than the virus which supposedly destroyed a million PCs and it "promises to infect more computers."

This kind of hype began more than a decade ago; it represents nothing new in and of itself. It took a looooong time, but the media as a whole can better distinguish virus hype from real news. Their fetish for juicy virus stories waned a little (thanks in no small part to repeated media fiascoes). Antivirus vendors yearn for the "good ol' days" when software reviews grew on trees and editorial ink flowed like tapwater. It now takes more hype to create valuable free publicity.

And there's the rub. Antivirus vendors now need an increasingly powerful simile, metaphor, analogy, or term. Call it a "media advisory" instead of a press release. Name the virus after a dead princess, or rename it if it strikes on the anniversary of a nuclear disaster. Describe the virus as "more deadly than" any current record-holder and "promise" it will infect even more computers. Exploit triskadekaphobia whenever possible.

Identify sovereign territories by name where at least one user surfs the Internet. Scour Roget's for words related to "devastate" and phrases related to "life-saving." Let minor typos serve as a testament to your haste to alarmalert the world.

This leads to a very important question. "How can you top a hardware-damaging virus which wiped out a million computers on the 13th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident?" Central Command & Kaspersky Labs seek the answer to this question...


DON'T GET ME wrong — everyone uses metaphors & similes. (I wrote "software reviews grew on trees [metaphor] and editorial ink flowed like tapwater [simile]" just so I could point it out here.) Everyone offers an important-sounding yet irrelevant fact. Everyone exaggerates. typos creep in. Analogies break down.

So what sets antivirus vendors apart from the rest? They rely on fear to sell an absolutely necessary product. Why does their virus hype grow worse? The media built up a resistance to virus hype. The "boy who cried wolf" problem now grows faster as it grows worse.

This leads to a very important question. "How can you top a hardware-damaging virus which wiped out a million computers on the 13th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident?"

Central Command & Kaspersky Labs seek the answer to this question...