Kissing the Dead

Just finished the final exam in my Unix Security class — three classes down, a fistful to go to complete my cert. Once again, learned a ton but feel like I just scratched the surface — security is a bottomless topic. In addition to the nuts and bolts stuff, great tangential discussions. One day, discussing the behavior of viruses and the significance of “laying low,” an analogy to the ebola virus:

The disease is often transmitted during funeral preparations in Congo which traditionally require relatives and friends to wash and kiss the dead body.

… and so entire villages are wiped out quickly — the local culture inadvertenly helps the virus to more efficiently kill its own host. If AIDS killed its host immediately, it would virtually be over — its long dormancy is what enables it to spread. Which helps explain why so few computer viruses are immediately destructive — if a virus formatted your hard drive the minute you contracted it, it wouldn’t have the chance to propagate. It wouldn’t become a “popular” virus.

Powerful: A theoretical virus that sits around on a corporate LAN and changes one digit in one randomly selected cell in one randomly selected Excel document per month. And nothing else. How long could such a virus evade detection? How much hair pulling would this cause? How soon before people stopped trusting Excel?

Music: Tom Waits :: Low Side Of The Road

2 Replies to “Kissing the Dead”

  1. I saw a similar suggestion in a Cringley article a few years back (a reader wrote it and he put it in his weekly post):

    “One can draw parallels with graffiti artists, or bacterial pathogens, or terrorists. But just to give one example – if *I* were to make a virus, I’d for damn sure do something INTERESTING like, for example, seek out every Excel spreadsheet on the hard drive and change ONE randomly-selected “2” to an “8”…And not crash, interfere with anything else, or otherwise attract attention, except to spread. It wouldn’t make CNN – at least, not right away – but once it did, the story would not be about how millions of people had trouble with e-mail. It would be more like how Merrill-Lynch had to declare bankruptcy.”

    Link to full article here: You’re A Freakin’ Moron, Bob.

  2. Nice sleuthing Les. It actually wasn’t clear when the prof raised the prospect whether it was his idea or a meme picked up elsewhere. Looks like the latter. It is an interesting idea…

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