The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Wednesday, 03 December 2003]

RATs in the house

A report by Sophos, an antispam and antivirus company, is getting a lot of attention on the web today. According to the report, fully one third of spam is spread by computers infected with a Remote Access Trojan (RAT). With the spread of broadband, always-on internet connectivity, more and more machines are becoming infected, largely due to the fact that most people have no idea how to secure their boxen.

The report doesn’t really talk about solutions, but there is one that’s obvious: All PCs should ship in a locked-down state. Obviously that won’t help when Joe Sixpack downloads a file scarfing program that installs some evil software on his computer, but I’d be willing to bet that most of the current zombie machines were just never secured in the first place.

Yes, this will mean that Joe Sixpack will have to go through some headaches to open up his machine, but you know what? We’re way past the time when Joe Sixpack was the only victim of his box being owned.

This also ties in to the recent Dell announcement that they will no longer support spyware removal. According to Dell:Use of spyware removal software may conflict with user license agreements of other applications installed on your system. Please consult your user license agreements for further information. Dell does not endorse the use of spyware removal software and cannot provide support on these products.Which makes a lot of sense for Dell in that they avoid two problems in one fell swoop: 1) Any legal issues, as stated; and 2) The huge cost of phone support for helping people get rid of the evil little things.

A lot of this most is likely also due to the horrid lack of access controls in Windows. Most people run their machines as Administrator, just because it’s a massive headache to have to log out from a user account and then log in as Administrator just to install some software. I really, really hope Microsoft is going to roll in some fundamental changes in Windows XP SP2. These kinds of problems cannot wait for the release of Longhorn, whenever that will be.

Why pick on Microsoft when an ignorant user can wreak havoc on any operating system? Nobless oblige. When you have 95% of the market, your poor decisions hurt the most people even if, as in the case of spam, they happen to be innocent bystanders.

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