Commentary > Wastler's Wanderings
As the Worm turns
Enough prevention, it's time to get corporal in the anti-virus effort.
August 20, 2003: 2:26 PM EDT

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Which is better for the folks who created this week's crop of worms ... a 2x4 party or electroshock?

One of our producers is pushing the 2x4 option...a group of people armed with lumber beat the miscreant for a while. I kind of like the idea of a few volts torquing through the little criminal's body. Hey, he or she was already pretty twisted, right? They can just twist a little more. Perhaps they'll remember the dance the next time they decide to tap out some malicious computer code.

Sure, this is partly frustration speaking. The producer in question (ironically, the archetypal liberal) got hit bad a few days ago by MSBlaster -- the worm that crashes your computer in a self-righteous protest against Microsoft.

And the office here in general got whacked by the SoBig.F virus -- a self-generating virus that spams and spams and spams. One reporter got over 4,600 useless e-mails overnight. I'm sure the "Good Worm" put in some kind of appearance, we just don't know about it yet.

People could have avoided the MSBlaster worm if they just downloaded a patch (cyber speak for something-to-plug-a-hole-in-our-program) from Microsoft, which the software giant made available over a month ago.

And cane corporate criminals too!!!

"This was a known flaw in Windows, it was very easy to exploit," Lance Ulanoff, executive editor of, said on the FlipSide. "Now, it shouldn't have been easy because Microsoft told us about it a month ago, and then what did everyone do? Nothing."

Of course Microsoft didn't make a big to-do over the patch. It gave it the same level of advertisement it typically gives all its patches...many of which are relevant only to tech heads and sound like gooblydegook to the rest of us. But anything more would have attracted attention to the flaw, so it was a little Catch-22 for the company.

Nevertheless, people might not have known just how much of a problem was there.

Other reasons for avoiding the patch?

Hey, who wants to go through the rigamorole of downloading patches when there are games to play, sites to cruise, and music to play.

But repeated crashes via MSBlaster changed many minds and sent them scrambling to the Microsoft fix-it site.

"We're seeing an uptick in (patch) traffic," said Stephen Toulouse, a Microsoft spokesman. He also indicated that "millions" of folks were opting for the automatic updating feature the company offers -- so you don't have to think about updating your software, the computer does it for you.

Fine, but that's not helping with the SoBig.F virus, is it? It's a new one, so you have to update your anti-virus stuff. Sigh.

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Yes, there's always another problem on the Internet horizon...even if you can get people to adopt the fixes that are available. People lock their doors late at night too. They can still be robbed.

These virus attacks are crime, plain and simple. And like crime, it's going to take a combination of prevention and deterrence.

The latest round of worms has got people locking their doors, so to speak. But I don't think we have the deterrence.

It's hard to catch these folks. And when you do, the punishment seems a little light. The guy who unleashed the Melissa virus (way back in 1999) ultimately got a 20-month jail term and a $2,500 fine. His little bug cost business an estimated $80 million.

It's not enough. So what do you think -- 2x4s or electroshock?  Top of page

Allen Wastler is Managing Editor of CNN/Money and a commentator on CNNfn. He can be e-mailed at

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