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Microsoft Lawsuit Blamed for Computer Viruses

We have so many computer viruses and worms today because Microsoft essentially won the lawsuit which accused the company of stifling competition. This means that virtually all PCs use the same Windows operating system and thus share the same vulnerabilities, which can be easily passed on to other computers. Only the minority of Mac users escape. And companies that block spam are giving up because of a "zombie attack" by spammers.

During the Clinton administration, Microsoft was convicted of trying to keep out competition, but under pro-business Bush, they won on appeal. A Computer and Communications Industry Association report says that security problems created by Microsoft are a direct result of the company's business practices, which are designed to keep out competitors rather than intruders. "Their goal is to facilitate lock-in of Microsoft products," says Bruce Schneier, of Counterpane Internet Security.

Danny Penman writes in New Scientist that the CCIA report says Microsoft?s dominance in PC operating systems has created a "monoculture" that allows viruses to spread. This lack of diversity allows even simple viruses, that take only a few minutes to create, to disrupt computers worldwide.

"Nature does not put up with monocultures because they are too easy to attack," says Daniel Geer of the security company AtStake. "If everything looks just alike?it will promptly be punished."

It's hard to tell which is the biggest headache, viruses or spam. The volume of spam has gotten so large that even professional spam-blockers are giving up. Mike Brunker writes in msnbc.com that the Monkeys.com and Blackhole.compu.net "block lists," which are used by Internet service providers and businesses to filter out spam before it reaches end users, are both abandoning their services.

Block lists are being bombarded by attacks from a "zombie army" of thousands of spam-sending computers. Hackers use virus-infected e-mail to take control of the computers of unknowing users who haven't installed firewalls or anti-virus software. Some people believe that the recent "sobig" family of viruses may have actually been "recruiting" computers for the zombie army.

Ron Guilmette of Monkeys.com says he "underestimated both the enemy?s level of sophistication, and also the enemy's level of brute malevolence." He says his computers were hit by attacks from "more than 10,000 machines" that lasted for 10 days beginning on Aug. 19 and then started up again last week. "All of these services are now under criminal attack, which is premeditated and financially driven," he says. "It's all-out warfare and the bad guys have broken out the nuclear weapons."

Bill Larson, of Compu-net, says someone was forging company e-mail addresses on spam, causing so many thousands of messages to "bounce" back, they threatened to overwhelm their e-mail servers. He also was flooded with thousands of complaints from people who thought the spam had originated with his company.

"There's not much doubt in my mind that the various attacks are the work of the same person or organization," says Julian Haight of SpamCop.net, which has been under attack since July.

The attacks are going on worldwide. Steve Linford, of Britain's Spamhaus.org, says, "We're usually under attack from 5,000 to 10,000 servers at once. They?re extremely large attacks that would bring down just about anything."

Guilmette contacted the FBI, but got no help. He says, "If www.whitehouse.gov had been under attack for 10 days, you can bet your ass that the big providers would have gone to the lower level ISPs and asked them to shut off the machines that were part of the zombie army that was doing the attacking. In my case they told me all I could do was try to ride it out and hope for the best."

Only history will tell us if we should have hit Microsoft harder. Find out what other strange lessons we've learned from the past by going to our history-making sale.

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