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Paranoia Rules Okay? 7 February 2001 Edition
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On a slow-news day, Wired.com has lead with a story that, on the face of it might send a chill down your spine as you listen to the long list of security flaws in the technology from which the Net is assembled.

It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and agree and, on many occasions this column has also lamented the sorry state of the Net from the perspective of security and robustness -- but today I'm playing devil's advocate.

Readers Say
(updated hourly)

Paranoia Rules Okay... - Hank

E-mail bugs... - Tom

Have Your Say

Yes, sure, there are security problems on the Net. As Wired quite rightly points out, crackers have been having a field-day and the rapid spread of viruses and trojans raises the chances that your computer will become the victim of a cyber-break-in.

However, as I've pointed out before -- the Internet is increasingly growing to reflect the "real world" so cyber-vandalism, theft and break-ins should not be considered an unusual part of human behaviour.

Just recently we saw a number of local business websites (including Microsoft NZ and Epson NZ) get hit by a gang of crackers. They left their calling card by replacing the company's front page with their own little taunting prose. My question must be -- during that same period, how many NZ businesses were broken into or had their buildings "tagged" by vandals?

Then there was the news that Bind, one of the most critical pieces of software controlling the Internet had a significant security flaw in it which could be exploited by suitably aware crackers. One can't help but wonder at the same time how many executives left their briefcases, packed with valuable documents, in the boot of their car in a public place without stopping to think that a skilled thief could easily steal it in less than 20 seconds due to the lax security mechanisms in some vehicles.

But what about this new Javascript exploit that might see copies of your important email messages covertly sent to some third party? Well let me ask you -- do you have a padlock on the mailbox at the top of your driveway? Not many people do, and if you don't then your correspondence is available for anyone to read if they want to carry those letters away.

What about those viruses though?

Well do you take sensible precautions around your home to prevent infection from bacterial and viral diseases? Do you wash your hands after you go to the toilet? Store cooked and uncooked foods separately in the refrigerator? Avoid kissing or rubbing noses (note the culturally sensitive, treaty-conformant inclusion there) with people who are obviously suffering from a cold or the flu?

Yes, it's true -- life on the Net is very much an analog of real life and, just like the real thing, there will always be some level of risk when you connect your computer to the Internet.

Don't get paranoid -- get sensible.

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Security Alerts
Group Warns Against E-Mail Wiretap (AP - 6/02/2001)

Multiple Vulnerabilities in BIND (CERT - 29/01/2001)

Windows Media Player 7 opens system for hackers (IDG - 18/01/2001t)

Net worm hobbles Linux servers ZDNet - 18/01/2001)

Interbase Server Contains Compiled-in Back Door Account (CERT - 10/01/2001)

AIM Flaw Could Open Users' Computers to Attack (InternetNews)

Virus Alerts
Melissa-X disguised as Mac doc (ZDNet - 22/01/2001)

Kriz virus makes return appearance (ZDNet)

Tool to beat killer Xmas virus promised (IDG)

Virus: Snow White not so innocent ZDNet

Wild Worm With Pro-Linux Message (Wired)

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Copyright © 2001, Bruce Simpson, free republication rights available on request

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