Viruses'now they are political

William Jackson

If anyone is wondering when information warfare will rear its ugly head, it's already happened.

Infowar hasn't come in the form of a cyber-Pearl Harbor, shutting down power grids and networks as doomsayers have predicted. It's been more subtle. Infowar is arriving as propaganda aimed at American hearts and minds rather than at the nation's critical infrastructure. So far, the attacks have been crude, low-cost Web site defacements, denial-of-service attacks and computer viruses.

The most recent was the Injustice worm, which carried a text payload that exhorted recipients to 'help us to stop the bloodshed' by Israeli security forces against Palestinians. The worm directed a recipient's browser to pro-Palestinian Web sites and mailed itself to the first 50 addresses in the recipient's Microsoft Outlook address books, as well as to 25 Israeli addresses.

I doubt that it generated much sympathy for the Palestinian cause, but the creators seem to have had some consideration for their targets. The worm updated a value in the Windows registry to ensure that each recipient got only one copy of the infected e-mail. For the Israeli addresses targeted with every copy, however, wide distribution would have equaled a denial-of-service attack.

By their very nature, worms and viruses are not good vehicles for favorable propaganda. They inspire only anger, frustration and an immediate effort to stop their spread.

Such random violence accomplishes little, but that hasn't stopped terrorists from using bombs and bullets.

The usual rules apply in stopping politically motivated computer terrorism: Keep antivirus engines updated, and don't open unexpected attachments. Of course, such precautions are no more likely to be universally adopted in the future than they have been in the past.

The best bet to stop new viruses and worms probably is software that monitors the behavior of the attachments floating about in systems. When a piece of code misbehaves, the software blocks it.

You might be far from trouble spots on the other side of the globe. But you could become a victim of the next flare-up in the Middle East, Europe, Asia or Latin America if you don't take precautions now.


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