Packet Rat: The Rat seeks shelter from the storm

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

The month's knockout round of Internet security threats bred a bunker mentality around the Rat's command cubicle. As most of his agency's users meandered through their workdays in blissful ignorance, the cyberrodent and his minions had been at their battle stations for weeks'and the work showed no sign of easing up.

The convergence of multiple security nightmares created, as the folks in the Defense Department might put it, 'a blended threat,' and what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration might term 'the perfect storm.'

The whiskered one has dubbed it a royal pain in the posterior. He hasn't been so wound up since the Cuban missile crisis'the last time people were running around and screaming, 'Zero warning time!'

Of course, this is slightly different. People can't channel their paranoia into building bomb shelters as they did in the 1960s. On a recent high-water-mark day, the Rat counted an average of 150 unsolicited e-mail messages per user per day getting caught by his filter.

That didn't even include the invitations to join Orkut, the social networking service started by an engineer at that has become all the rage. These days, however, few people want to admit that an anthropomorphic rodent is their trusted friend.

Blacklisting the spammer domains hadn't helped: The Rat found a chief source of the agency's spam was a notebook PC belonging to a field engineer.

The engineer confessed to playing an online game after hours and clicking a button that was supposed to notify him automatically of the current high score. Instead, it downloaded about 10G of porn onto his hard drive and scraped his mailbox for addresses.

The Rat's revenge was swift. The field engineer now gets his e-mail from a terminal session on an old 386SX luggable computer with a 1,200-baud modem that the Rat had kept around for just occasions.

'We call it the e-stockade,' he explained to the hapless slide-rule jockey.

With so much spam coming in, there was no way (short of frequent electrical shocks) to get users to check their amassed quarantined messages. And then came the latest bad news from Redmond, Wash. On Feb. 10, Microsoft Corp. announced two major security holes in Windows.
Then two days later, the company confirmed that a chunk of source code for Windows 2000 and NT 4.0 had escaped into the wild.

'I suppose there's a bright side to all this,' the Rat mused as he poured himself more coffee in the kitchenette.

'We're getting all the bugs worked out of our security tools?' the acolyte inquired.
'No. I have an excuse to miss the finale of 'My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance.' '

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

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