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Pandora's in-box.

From within our bunker at Designfax HQ, do I anxiously tender greetings to you for the month of March. "Great Scott!" you say, "is the magazine being taken over by hostile buyers, with advance troops marching briskly at the doorstep, slavering for a crack at your financials and your editorial mission?"

Were it only that simple. No, the enemy is the Great Plagues of our Technological Era--the Worm and the Virus. This morning's e-mail presented more than a half-dozen auspiciously suspicious postings, all of which I deleted quickly. By noon, the news wires were describing the latest offender as "a malicious program that spreads itself and installs a program that leaves an open door to infected computers," containing a "mail engine could send out 100 infected e-mail messages in 30 seconds." A few days later, many more would know this assault by the dark soubriquet "MyDoom."

I won't make small of the impact worms and viruses have in general, but in a communications company, they're like a broadside amidships. The cable that runs 'twixt my desktop altar and the nearest wall is my Library of Alexander and the runners from the battlefield. And, should a Nasty slip past the defenses and set up shop within the altar's digital recesses, my ability to function may not grind completely to a halt, but it would become akin to cooking a gallon of stew with a match. Engineers such as yourselves appreciate the complexities of this problem. Design is no longer just pen strokes on vellum; it now involves proposals, research links, downloadable subassembly drawings and shared documents. Disrupt the flow and it's all matchsticks and stew for you, too. To quote a favorite character, it's "like being nibbled to death by ducks."

Moreover, there's fallout created when mounting defenses against this stuff: the scramble to acquire software upgrades to drive away the latest virus, and the time spent distributing the upgrade throughout the company. Late last year, the "improvement" was nearly as bad as the disease in that case, a spare-blocker was installed here with the unfortunate side-effect of preventing the exchange of e-mail with established "friends-o'-Designfax." The time expended climbing out of that divot in our information superhighway, coupled with other improvements to our battlements, has subtracted manpower from other projects, like the On-line Whitepapers mid Tutorials of which I had written back in November. That hot-button at our website is still on its way may even be there as you read this editorial.

The spooky aspect is that it takes sophistication to mount an e-mail assault, a different tech-know-how than that used to install explosive devices in cars or around one's midsection. The virus designer profile tends more towards youth than geography or politics; perhaps a cocky cyberpunk a-swagger with the "Yeah, I can top that" attitude, the rogue marauder who likes to shake things up for the "cool" factor, for kicks. We know them.... they used to sit beside us in trig and in physics. They look a lot like us.

Perhaps on the positive side, hardly anyone is physically hurt by computer viruses--at least, for the present. The invaders are identified, the anti-virus programs quickly raised to avert further disaster. The concern is that, like the Great Northeastern US Blackout of 2003, critical infrastructures will be breeched, touching off a chain of events that will cause the loss of many lives. Temporary though they are, the viruses and worms are nuisances that divert dollars and time away from the work at hand, whether design, manufacturing or publishing. That's a powerful form of economic terrorism, in a world demanding goods delivered smoothly and inexpensively. Society, too, is reduced to looking over shoulders for the seen and the virtual threat. That great paranoia hangs out there, to be pondered standing in line at the airport, waiting while we are carefully screened alongside our possessions.

Or perhaps we should all just convert over to Macintosh systems ...
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Title Annotation:Up Front
Author:Mandel, Richard
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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