Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 13/9/2004I'm back from SF, and a combination of too many pomegranate margaritas in the city itself and eleven hours hopping timezones in the back of a Virgin has left me in a state of slightly hallucinogenic euphoria. I'm far too well-padded to move more than an inch in any direction when strapped into my seat, so technology was my only comfort on the journey.

Monday 13/9/2004
I'm back from SF, and a combination of too many pomegranate margaritas in the city itself and eleven hours hopping timezones in the back of a Virgin has left me in a state of slightly hallucinogenic euphoria. I'm far too well-padded to move more than an inch in any direction when strapped into my seat, so technology was my only comfort on the journey. It failed: my iPod fell from the seatback, and despite trying to find it by sticking a camera between my knees and taking digital photographs of the floor it remained lost until Heathrow. You'd be amazed what's down there, though: I'm still not sure how the previous occupant of 51A had managed to leave a sneaker jammed behind the life jacket. They don't mention that in the safety briefing.

Back in the office, I'm at first inclined to blame my befuddlement when I read a report about a talking worm. Much coffee later the story remains: at least it's nothing to do with tequila. It's a logical development, I guess: why not roundly insult the victim in as many ways as possible while deleting their data?

This and other developments in the virus wars -- payloads now include pictures, source code and quite possibly instructions on mixing the perfect Martini -- lead to the sad conclusion that feature bloat has got to the digital vandals. When we're used to downloading 10MB Window patches, there's no reason that the virus writers should stint themselves. Expect to see multimedia presentations on the joys of living in Bulgaria -- or Brazil, seemingly the new epicenter for digital infection -- or perhaps a quick game of Galaxians to play while your data is expertly packaged up and dispatched to Paulo's Credit Card Laundry and Bank Account Boutique.

We should hit back with their own weapons. One of the things Intel talked about at IDF was PlanetLab, a testbed for new Internet tools that take a worldwide view of the infrastructure to help manage it. Malware is tracked by monitoring the way it spreads from site to site, with the information pooled and used to shut off the sources of infection -- it doesn't take much of a leap to see that those same sources could then be targeted with payloads of our own.

This is where we bring in the psychologists. Even hackers have heroes, albeit often cartoon figures with a propensity for peculiar sexual practices and big guns. We need to identify these and co-opt them for psychological warfare: only by persuading the creators of badness that they should abandon their ill-advised ways can we hope to stem the problem at source. Special manga animations should pop up while the worm creators are hard at work, distracting them and seeding doubt in their minds. Eventually, we can reprogram these social misfits and turn them into productive members of the online community -- database administrators, DRM salesmen, even Symantec marketing managers.

Harsh, but fair.

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