PACKET RAT

The cyberrodent strikes back at the love worm, but it then turns on him

R. Fink

The Rat returned bright and early to his office after a strenuous weekend supervising a delegation of tradesmen called in to resolve certain household appliance problems.

Surprisingly, his Microsoft Outlook e-mail box was brimming over with fan mail.

Or at least it looked that way from the headers-messages from a bevy of government executives, all bearing the affectionate subject line 'ILOVEYOU.'

But after skimming the lines of the alleged billets-doux, the whiskered one perceived that an insidious Melissa-like mail worm must be at work.

He hadn't done anything to endear himself to anyone, and if he had, it would have been a lapse of judgment on his part.

Sure enough, closer examination revealed an attachment enclosing a virulent script file posing as a profession of love.

The Rat was all too familiar with this brand of emotional manipulation. It reminded him of the love notes passed to him in Morse code while he was laboring in his apprenticeship as a young telegraph hacker. All of them had been cruel hoaxes.

'Ada Byron Lovelace, you mean-spirited vixen,' he spat. 'You and Babbage are still in my kill file!'

Grimly he brought up the administrative console. 'Better clip Cupid's wings before the unwashed masses arrive,' he muttered.

A high-priority e-mail went out posthaste to the entire agency with the imperative subject line, 'DO NOT OPEN ANYTHING CALLED 'ILOVEYOU.' '

The unloved cyberrodent updated the log-in scripts for all departments to display a pop-up warning about the attack.'Then he set his handy server-side filters to intercept any additional messages.

Only after every possible protection was engaged did he retire with the enclosure to a detached workstation to find out how it worked.

'We covered everything,' he boasted to an acolyte. 'Only complete dolts would click on that enclosure, anyway.'

Of course, the rest of the day was a complete disaster.



Drawn like lemmings to the sea as if compelled by the Rat's warnings, users logged in wave after wave, opening ILOVEYOU and unleashing the enclosed script worm on the agency's servers like gypsy moth caterpillars on a virgin deciduous forest.

The help desk was swamped with calls. The mail servers slowed to a crawl under the flood of internal message traffic.

Although the Rat's finely tuned filters caught most of the bad messages coming into the mail gateway, the damage was done from within as more and more users disregarded three layers of warnings and opened the message regardless.

By lunchtime, the Rat had written a vaccine program and prepared it for distribution. But it was too late to prevent a server meltdown.

'Bring 'em all down,' the Rat ordered. His faithful followers pulled the plugs of the agency's internal mail servers so that their hard drives wouldn't crash.

After the network wires had been given sufficient time to cool off, the Rat deployed his vaccine. The mail servers were brought back up, and the repair script finally went forth attached to another agencywide e-mail.

To make sure everyone installed it, he wrote in the subject line, 'Don't click on this.' And naturally, everyone did.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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