Editorial: Paying for it

Pass the Panadol. This Love Bug, Mother's Day gift - whatever its mutant and copycat offspring are called, is a pain in the proverbial. I arrived at work the morning after it launched itself from the Philippines to hear mutterings about how this digital parasite had hit the CSIRO and trashed IDG Netherlands' picture library. I was very impressed to find that our own IT crew had already dropped a Vet update into my e-mail inbox. About an hour later another memo (not from the IT crew) arrived saying ‘this bug only hits Microsoft Outlook, so there's no need to worry as we're a Notes shop'. Great, er - I mean, what a shame, we had better ring some Outlook customers to find how they're managing this headache. If IDG Netherlands' picture library was trashed, then they can't be using Notes, methinks. For balance, I brief the journalists that we must also cover the angle of vulnerabilities in rival products.

A couple of days later I find that .jpg images have been wiped from various desktop systems, including the mugshots on our graphic designer's PC which were taken for my editorial column. Another Vet update is dispatched and I execute that one. It finds one infected file. By the measure of time wasted, our IS manager and his offsider spent a tedious 20 hours on the problem over the first couple of days. Every staff member has spent 10 to 30 minutes executing Vet patches (depending on mail server speed at the time). Eventually I will have to put aside an hour or two to redo the column photography. We got off relatively lightly, but still the business loss adds up.

Dubbed "Melissa on steroids", VBS.Ilove-You/VBS.LoveLetter, delivered a global repair bill estimated anywhere from $1 billion to a staggering $25 billion, way in excess of Melissa's damage estimated at $80 million. Even organisations that headed off the threat suffered a loss if they took the protective measure of shutting down their mail servers. The virus was automatically distributed via the recipient's address book in Microsoft Outlook (by exploiting the Windows Scripting Host macro language tool) - good enough for it to hit an estimated 70 per cent of Australian companies. As some Notes shops will attest, running an e-mail client other than Outlook was no sure protection since the attachment would be launched by Explorer, and be on its way to infecting VBS, VBE, JS, JPAG, JPEG, MP3 and MP2 files, among others.

That coding as simple as this love bug can cause so much loss raises alarm about the quality of measures generally taken against virus attacks. Whether it's inherent weaknesses in many antivirus products, slack corporate e-mail procedures, or vulnerability through some other crack, it's hard to argue with the security industry insider who claims that businesses are way behind in putting the best in Internet security technologies and procedural policies in place. The arrests in Manila won't change this requirement one iota.


Editor in chief

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