DR. ACRONYM

Editor's note: this column finds the Doctor in his new permanent home here in Washington Technology's Netplex section.

Using brains to bust technomyths: The Doctor, in good faith, promised to more or less exhaust the topic of viruses, their genesis and genealogy. He promises this will be the last screed on the topic, unless something new rears its ugly head on the same front. Next week: Back to matters acronymial, and finishing up old business. The Doctor has a mailbag stretching at the seams, and wants to make sure his loyal readers feel like their missives aren't simply flying into the ozone.

Here's a letter of advice for anyone who has been wrangling with the outfall from the Good Times hoax (which seems, according to letters, to increase problems for lowly systems administrators in direct inverse proportion to the numbers of managers smart enough to understand the technology (or lack thereof) behind the hoax. As the Doctor noted before, a simple common-sense technology analysis would have revealed Good Times as a hoax long before things got weird out there in the cyberozone. To wit:

"Dear Doc: Viruses are not some form of magic. They are simply a piece of executable code that has to be run by someone. It is not possible for a virus to spread itself by E-mail in such a way that it can execute itself. A virus could be uuencoded and attached to an E-mail, but reading an E-mail is not executing an E-mail.

"The second point is that the claim about damaging the processor by putting it in an infinite loop is really pretty funny, except that people obviously believe it. What do processors do but loop? Maybe in the dim, dark ages of antiquity, when magnetic core memory allegedly vibrated when it was referenced, such damage was possible, but not now.

"Now, there is a hacker group from Australia called Vlad, which has tried to capitalize on the Good Times publicity, by releasing a stupid little virus in their latest hacker magazine (Vlad "The comments in the source code were designed to give the appearance of being the 'real' Good Times virus, but if anyone takes the time to examine the actual code, it soon becomes obvious that it is a simple file infector, which offers no real tricks or features other than a bit of encryption. The anti-virus community here and in Europe has agreed to call this virus GT-Spoof, so as to minimize future confusion.

"Another similar attempt to panic people happened recently when someone claiming to be CERT issued an 'official CERT advisory' warning of a Web virus that could run on all platforms and was undetectable by any anti-virus software, and recommending that all Web sites shut themselves down immediately. Fortunately, this one is so stupid, that almost no one has been taken in by it.

"The scary part of this whole episode is that it means that virus writers no longer even have to write a virus to cause some damage -- they just have to pretend to, and as long as people believe them, they are being effective. Signed, Roger Thompson [rogert@mindspring.com]"

Roger notes that he also has a forum on CompuServe devoted to viruses and the above-discussed topics - type, believe it or not, Go Doctor, which has nothing to do with your humble ol' Doc Ack. It does have to do with a product Roger sells, which we won't mention here because we don't do that sort of thing. Next week, we'll get back to acronym business and away from all this virus hoo-ha.

Don't get caught without viral vaccine - and take confidence in the Doctor to fill any prescription provided. E-mail the Doc with any queries viral and, of course, acronymial at brendler@

technews.com


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