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Computer Viruses

I Get More Than Youuuuuuuuuu Do, I Get More Than Youuuuuuuuuu Do

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 10, 2000.

Computer viruses are the product of geek vanity, to demonstrate how smart they are and how stupid we are. This is known, but what isn't commented upon is that their success is based on our vanity: look how many emails I get! I get so many, I have to complain about it in public so that everyone knows how many! I have been hit by only a couple of computer viruses or worms in my digitized existence. One was the Happy New Year worm, with the skyrockets. To my knowledge, that's all that happened: a graphic Happy New Year and a red firework display. Then, there was something more ominous, back at the beginning of my comprehension, and it took someone else to fix it and, miraculously enough, trace to a local person, which I thought right out of Mission Impossible. I still don't understand it or the wherewithals of how it was traced, but I know who to call if something like it happens again. But anyway, in short, computer viruses are not a big concern or part of my life. And I feel out of it.

I was watching the Philippine security goons on the news manhandle a terrified young man trying to talk on a cell phone, the whole thing caught on camera by the news teams from, one supposes, Manila. Then, for lack of evidence, the young man was later released and the Feds remain searching for the young man's lady friend and her sister. They are seriously considered the originators of the I Love You Virus, which clogged up the world's email system for several days and allowed computer geeks for hire to mouth ominous warnings about what could happen if they and people like them aren't hired as consultants to combat hackers and originators of viral infections. It is just as disgusting as our psychologists, who allow themselves to be interviewed after every tragedy, posing as experts of emotional trauma, and based upon their clothing and makeup using the whole thing as an unpaid advertisement not only for their own practice but for their profession's. What, precisely, was the horror wrought by the I Love You Virus, and how hard is it to defend against this foolishness?

The answer is: not much and quite easy. People are so in love with email - I am - that they will read virtually everything they get OR simply use the amount of email they get for bragging rights. Supposedly, the Pentagon, the English stock exchange, medical hospitals were all brought to a halt by people opening email saying "I Love You" in the subject line. Let me repeat, the Pentagon, stock exchange, hospitals. Call me an old farte, but gee, I for one would like to think that my employees are not reading mash notes on company time, on company computers, especially when they are employed with 1.) nuclear weapons, 2.) the world's finances, or 3.) correctly matching artery sections. In short, the problem is not email or viruses, but the pretend world that has been created around the office. Americans bemoan the hours they supposedly work every week, terrifying Europeans and Asians with their paid hours. Everyone likes this illusion, because if reinforces the notion of the Protestant work ethic and the myths of What Made America Great. I am not saying there aren't people who work long and hard; I am saying there aren't as many as we pretend. For what has happened is that America, the great nation of self serving statistics, has simply codified time spent away from home or at a place of business as "working," when in reality all that has happened is that our social lives have become so entrenched with our business life that they are inseparable. I have worked, as an enforced temporary worker, at many places in Boulder in the last half decade. My supervisors, almost without exception, would spend hours each day reading and answering email. What was their email? The equivalent of third class snail mail, windshield ads, self help advertisements, pointless memos for pointless meetings replicated in hard copy later in the day, and personal gossip; in short, crap that was either pretend work or had nothing whatever to do with it. These are the vehicles of most email viruses. If we are concerned about some pizza faced third world twelve year old bringing Symantec to its knees, here is the area to start to crack down. People emerge from their office email sessions as if they have just completed a book chapter or done something important. What they have mostly done is spend personal time someone else will pay for on equipment not their own. I get about four hundred emails a week. Some of you think that a trivial amount, others might go "wow."; Much of it is junk, politely, ads for everything from tax shelters to porn. Yes, I look. A large portion of it is from a website development forum I cannot get removed from, and I try, daily, and my mail is increased by their automated reply saying they have received my request. Some of it has to do with something I have said on the air or written, but not over five percent of it and often much less, not excluding zero. About fifty emails have to do with my job or company, some of them saying, in their entirety, "Thanks" or "Okay." I get maybe ten to twenty personal notes a week from family and friends. The rest is composed of jokes, chain letters, gunk. Yet I find myself, clicking away with carefully arched brow, sweating at my email labors as if it were work. I like to think I spend more time writing than most, and I put effort into it, but when I reduce the time spent on correspondence of importance, including email, to figures written down, it ain't much in a week. I am not a good candidate for a virus.

If the junk mail is eliminated, or greatly reduced, or simply ignored and deleted, almost all opportunity for mass viral infection is greatly reduced. If simple procedures like an anti-virus program is utilized for the potentially legitimate correspondence, the threat almost totally, but never quite, vanishes. Somehow, isn't that all simpler than congressional action, federal law, or Philippine goon squads inexplicably accompanied by news media raiding the barrios without sufficient evidence for arrest? The horror of email viruses may become like the war on drugs, punish the desperate or vindictive peasants but not the American buyers of their wares. People, especially Americans, like to feel important and get lots of email. That's the threat and vulnerability, our vanity, not the hackers'. And, by the by? I don't love you. I never have.