To defeat your enemy, you need its name. This has long been a sore point among anti-malware companies, who have consistently failed to cooperate in deciding what to call their prey. That's not a great deal of help to users and IT managers, who not only have to work out what sort of infection they've got but how to refer to it when selecting the cure — often having to make up their own names, at least at first. It's as if biology were stuck in the 18th century before Linnaeus came up with the binomial system that makes us Homo sapiens and the average virus writer Fuligo septica.
There have been efforts to rectify this for almost as long as there have been viruses, with many people proposing a nomenclature that parallels the efforts of the biologists. All have failed amid indifference or bickering. The latest attempt has much going for it, including simplicity — it asks merely that the companies decide on a common index number for each attack. Online databases can do the rest.
Typically, the anti-malware industry has responded to the proposal with a wide range of conflicting opinions — if there is a being more naturally disputatious than a malware expert, science has yet to discover it. Some say that the whole idea is pointless and confusing, others that it doesn't go far enough. There's no problem with a new idea provoking debate, but the quality of the logic deployed isn't always satisfying.
We see the similarly wide range of opinions with uncertain motivation when other contentious yet important areas are discussed, such as the potential for mobile-centric malware. Too often, it is easy to believe proposals are commercial imperatives dressed up as objective analyses, a process that shows a certain lack of respect to the user. That does the anti-malware industry little credit.
A common and universal reference system would be a valuable and credible demonstration that these companies are prepared to work together and with their users for the greater good. We can't afford to overlook any technique that will help us fight back more efficiently — and give us the chance to let the enemy know that even if we don't know what they're called we've at least got their number.