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Dateline: 8 May 2000 Early Edition
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Mr Virus-Writer -- The MEDIALOVESYOU
Hasn't the media had a field-day with the ILOVEYOU virus story?

Since Friday every single news bulletin has been punctuated with further information on the chaos and devastation that this email-borne virus has had on the world's computer infrastructure.

And, as is always the case, when they ran out of facts they started making things up and stretching the truth to breaking-point.

For example, if you were to believe the US CBS news service, you'd really believe that "the hacker broke into [a Philippine ISP] to gain world wide access."

My, my -- doesn't that sound sensational? Shame about the fact that he simply used a pre-paid Internet account and logged on quite legally isn't it?

Then there's the speculation over who the originator really is. Most of the wires are reporting that it's a 23 year old male from Manilla -- but there are other sources claiming the writer was a woman -- and one security "expert" has even popped up claiming to have recognised the fingerprint of a German hacker thought to be living in Australia.

The latest reports as of early this morning tend to confirm the 23-year-old Manilla male theory with Philippines police apparently preparing to execute an arrest warrant.

Yet another set of "experts" are (at long last) berating Microsoft for building their software on top of such a shabby (some would say non-existent) security model. Others have finally come to the realisation that Sun's Java platform offers vastly improved safety and security over Microsoft's totally insecure Active-X system.

And of course, as is always the case after a disaster, the scavengers were quick to capitalise on the suffering of others.

Locally, Telecom XTRA was firing off press releases and trying to get as much media coverage as it could by spouting off on how it was filtering email. Do they legally have a right to unilaterally block email?

Over the weekend my spam-trap addresses received no less than three unsolicited emails containing "valuable advice" on dealing with the ILOVEYOU bug. Of course after the dozen or so lines of "valuable advice" came several pages of "special offers" that would allow me to become financially independent without having to lift a finger. Of course, I was told, I shouldn't complain about this email because it wasn't spam -- it was "valuable advice" sent solely for my own benefit. Yeah sure!

So... as I predicted not so long ago, pre-paid Internet access is a wonderful tool for hackers and spammers.

Also, as I've said before on numerous occasions -- MS Outlook is not a secure email client and requires expert configuration and constant user vigilance to avoid infection by email-borne trojans and viruses.

A couple of users emailed me after my Friday column to say that the ILOVEYOU virus was not just restricted to Outlook but could affect any user who opened the attachment -- regardless of the email program used to receive it.

Of course they're right -- but it wouldn't spread from such a computer because it relies on the Outlook address book to find its next victims. In effect, it would be quarantined on that machine -- so I stand behind my claims that Outlook is a major threat to Internet security.

Another couple of readers said "What about Apple Macs? They're immune too!" -- but at least one publication thought they'd gain some hits by publishing a story titled Not all Macs immune to worm as they tried to squeeze the last ounce of mileage out of this story. In fact ZDNet managed to regurgitate the facts often enough to get 50 different "LOVE BUG" stories out in a little more than 48 hours.

On the bright side -- I guess we should be grateful that the effects of the ILOVEYOU virus were relatively mild compared to the destruction it could have inflicted on user's data.

Let's hope that PC users don't lapse back into casual complacency over the handling of email attachments too soon -- as they did after Melissa.

Free republic-ation rights available on request :-)

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