Stick to the Facts,

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-02-10 Print this article Print

Please"> The mistaken report reminds me a lot of when a war breaks out; inevitably there are stories in the media that turn out to be utterly untrue. In the rush of things early in battle—in this case, the shock we all felt from the magnitude of the MyDoom.A attack—theres always clamoring even for rumors. Sometimes people make bad assumptions, and mistakes are made. Although this isnt surprising, we should expect better of the Department of Homeland Security.

Ill anticipate a lot of the reaction to this column by adding that it was perfectly reasonable and appropriate for US-CERT to issue an advisory about MyDoom.B and to express caution about it. I was also very concerned about it at the time. But it wasnt too long before I heard from several reliable sources of my own that MyDoom.B had no traction at all, at least as best as anyone could determine for sure.
Given such circumstances, I would think that an appropriate alert would say something like: "given the virulence and dangerous potential of MyDoom.A, and the new, dangerous techniques employed by MyDoom.B, we are concerned about the potential for rapid spread and consequent damage." This way theres no claim about anything that wasnt known to be true.
Now, I dont believe for a second that US-CERT simply made up the claim that it actually was spreading rapidly. But still it was a really important claim and it wasnt true. The incident made me scrutinize the site and alerts, and I noticed that old versions of the online alerts arent available. Better systems include not just a set of dates for revisions, but an actual change log. Shouldnt a system with government involvement be at least as transparent as the private ones available?

US-CERT intends to be authoritative, and thats a good thing. True, there are lots of places you can go for this information, yet they want to be the one that everyone can rely on. Even though I think were well-served by the variety of alert services, both for pay and free, Im rooting for US-CERT. Still, it will take a while before I get beyond this first impression. We can only hope that US-CERT addresses whatever that snafu was that caused them to stumble so badly right out of the gate.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Be sure to check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at for the latest security news, views and analysis. More from Larry Seltzer

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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