Unintended Consequences—Blackouts and Worms

By Michael Miller  |  Posted 2003-08-18 Print this article Print

Two of the nation's biggest networks got slammed this week. What lessons have we learned?

If ever a month proved the law of unintended consequences, August did. From the blackout that left millions of people in the northeastern and Midwestern US as well as parts of Canada out of power, to the Blaster worm that brought down hundreds of thousands (reports put the number at or near 300,000) of Windows machines, weve seen sure signs that technology sometimes bites back.

Im sure there will be weeks, if not months of speculation as to exactly what caused the blackout, and we may never know the precise answer. The problem appears to have started with a power station in the Midwest. But it is clear that despite being designed to spread power to lots of communities—in part to ensure that electricity would always be available—the power grid failed.

The basics of how the Blaster worm works and how it spread are better understood. But although Microsoft did have a patch ready, and the antivirus programs were primed to catch the malicious code, it still spread far faster than most people thought it would. In fact, one of our editors—someone who knew how to patch his system and even talked about the process on television—got hit with the worm, though his antivirus program stopped it from being a real problem.

This particular worm is especially nasty because it infects PCs running Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP (as well as Windows NT4 and Server 2003) by initiating a TCP session on one of several ports.

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Michael J. Miller is Executive Vice President and Editorial Director of Ziff Davis Media Inc., where he takes an active role in corporate editorial issues, helps identify new editorial needs in the marketplace and shapes the editorial process of every Ziff Davis Media publication.

He joined the company in 1991 as Editor-in-Chief of PC Magazine. Under Miller's supervision, PC Magazine has grown to have the largest readership of any technology publication in the world, at 5.9 million readers. He oversaw the redesign of PC Magazine, the launch of pcmag.com and an expansion of PC Magazine Labs, the largest computer testing lab run by any publication.

Prior to joining PC Magazine, Miller was editor-in-chief of InfoWorld, which he joined as executive editor in 1985. Previously, he was the West Coast Bureau Chief for Popular Computing, and Senior Editor for Building Design & Construction.

An experienced public speaker and veteran technology journalist, Miller has become the 'spokesperson' for the technology industry. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including being named to Medill's Alumni Hall of Achievement. In 2002, Mr. Miller was named the number one consumer/computer journalist by Technology Marketing magazine.

Mr. Miller holds a Master of Science degree in Journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.


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