Cybernaut 

Watching the watchers

Computer viruses and hackers are a problem, but is it possible that the cure – a pantheon of companies selling anti-virus software and security companies – are exaggerating the threat in order to profit from our fears?

Think about it. It seems that every week another virus is making the rounds, infecting thousands, and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of users. Typically a security patch is created, and most or all of the infected computers are repaired within a few days.

No harm done, usually, but it does make you realize how vulnerable you are to a cyber attack. What if a virus deleted your files? What if somebody read your emails? And what if the author of the virus somehow managed to get ahold of your credit card number after you bought that rare collection of Star Trek memorabilia on eBay last year?

It’s only human to put up barriers to keep our private lives private. A thief breaks into your house in the middle of the night and steals your Betamax, a ten pound ham and your dad’s good whiskey (true story) and the first word that pops into your head is ‘violated!’ We got a house alarm because of that incident, terrifying our cats and annoying the neighbours for the next ten years. And the thief or thieves? They didn’t take our new Beta (why Dad, why?), but they did come back six months later to take the ski rack off our car.

Computer crimes have the same effect on people. How many users went out and bought anti-virus and security software after hearing about one of these computer viruses?

Fear sells. And if you want to keep selling, spreading fear ultimately becomes part of your business model.

One Internet crusader has made it his life’s work to debunk the widely held fears and misconceptions about viruses, which he feels are blown out of proportion just to sell software. His name is Rob Rosenberger and he’s the brains and vitriol behind Vmyths, the original FUD site – FUD standing for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, an accepted marketing term that the marketers don’t want you to know exists.

Rosenberger is going away for a little while. Not to jail, but to serve in the Persian Gulf – he’s in the CIA in some top secret capacity, and doesn’t like to talk about that. For a long while, and possibly forever, Vmyths won’t be updated. A site sponsor would help, but so far Rosenberger’s project is self-financed and he won’t accept advertising from Virus software companies because he wants to remain objective.

According to an article in WIRED Magazine (www.wired.com), his departure is a blow to the anti-FUD forces.

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