Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Modern Day Villain

We're saved. Sabu, also known as Hector, has helped the "good guys" nab the "evil doers" who are Anonymous. Anonymous is a large group of hackers that fight the power by crashing mainframes and exposing secrets of the: government agencies, big banks, Wall Street fat cats, and high profile religious organizations, among others. They are Robin Hood meets Fight Club meets Occupy meets Neo. The FBI has done us all a big favor. All noobs can rest easy. Surf the vast expanse that is the Internet with less trepidation. Press any button you want on your computer. Download what you want when you want from where ever you want. Open unsafe email attachments, Click on pop-up ads, and lick the bottom of your curbside trashcan.
Hold it. Don't do any of that.

FYI the Internet is not any safer now than it was 48 hours ago, and I'm about to tell you why.
1.) They only caught a handful of hackers. As it says on their website, Anonymous is "Legion, and we are many." Your neighbor's son could be Anonymous. Otto the bus driver, Jill the typing tutor, Joe the plumber. They are everywhere like V for Vendetta. A dirty dorm room with Ramen Noodles dripping from a half open cabinet on the edge of a desk glowing from the computer screen of a hunched over twit wearing a 4chan t-shirt can be the essence of Anonymous.
2.) Anonymous isn't after you unless you make more than $500,000 a year, take vacations to the Moon, or eat prawns for lunch at some Bel-Air buffet. Anyone eating prawns? No? Then... "Safe!" said the umpire. Big Brother doesn't like them. While trying to nab these modern day Robin Hoods the government is ignoring the nastiest computer villain of them all: Conficker. It's a superworm, and it's like nothing you've ever imagined.

But I will try to help you imagine it.

Close your eyes, WAIT NO! Keep reading, I mean.
Imagine if someone mailed you a letter, and on that letter was a little germ or virus. You catch the virus but nothing happens. You function in your life as normal, and that virus paves a nice little path to your cerebral cortex then sends out a signal to some mad scientist in Romania, And tells him that you are infected. You continue to function in your everyday life. Meanwhile, a similar letter is being sent to 10's of millions of others and they are being infected with the same virus. Everybody goes to sleep on a certain night and the mad scientist who created this virus decides that this is the night. He flips a switch in his dungeon science lab and laughs a maniacal laugh as he suddenly has control of you and millions of others. Using a microphone mounted to his laminated countertop, he can tell you to do anything and you have no choice but to do it because this virus has control of your brain - everyone's brain. So he tells them go run amok through Gotham City, burning giant piles of tires and eating candy corns. Then after everyone runs amok through Gotham City, burning giant piles of tires and eating candy corns, he flips the switch off and everyone goes back to their beds. They wake up the next morning with a stomach ache and the smell of burning rubber all around them, but everything else is normal. Now imagine that same thing happening with your computer and it all starts with an email you opened or a pop-ad you clicked on. That little virus or worm is called Conficker.

"What Conficker does is penetrate the core of the [operating system] of the computer and essentially turn over control of your computer to a remote controller...[That person] could then utilize all of these computers, including yours, that are connected. ... And you have effectively the largest, most powerful computer in the world," says Mark Bowden, author of Worm: The First Digital War. We're talking 10's of millions of computers all working together as a Galactus botnet to suck the technological world dry with it's giant self.

Worst case scenario it could crash the internet. So what? You won't be able to check your Facebook or buy doohickeys from eBay. Right? Well, unfortunately, we have decided to use the internet for everything, and by "everything," I mean, most things, and by "most things" I mean, only the important things, and by "important things," I mean technology. Air Traffic Control, medical communications, power grids, the Stock Market. Conficker could take it all down like a fire sale.

Don't worry though, there is a Superhero to this Super-villain. I recently heard an interview on NPR about a small group of computer genius's funded completely by Twinkies and Hot Pockets who are taking on this ominous Conficker worm. They are...wait for it...the Conficker Working Group (umm...okay...I guess the superhero name generator was broken that day.) Despite the yuppie name, these guys are actually making some headway. They think it started by some restless Ukrainians in South America, but they are struggling to get ahead of it. Check out Terry Gross's interview with Mark Bowden to hear a fascinating discussion of the implications of such an endeavor. Then come back.

So now that you have unsuccessfully prevented yourself from peeing in your pants for fear of being victim of such a worm, you can rest assured. I will tell you some symptoms of such an invasion and provide a link for a computer test to see whether your computer is affected. Here's a list of possible symptoms:
  • Account lockout policies being reset automatically. Translation: The password thingy is being weird.
  • Domain controllers respond slowly to client requests. Translation: Picture's of crocheted oven mitts take 1 hour to load.
  • System network gets unusually congested. This can be checked with network traffic chart on Windows Task Manager. Translation: Blah blah blah blah...can be checked with...blah blah blah...Manager.
  • High-port TCP and UDP P2P Activity Translation: A geek had a stroke.
  • Click here for more symptoms or here for a test to see whether your computer is infected.

If your computer is infected take it to a professional or set a video camera to record its antics 24/7 and see if you can film it rummaging through your fridge or smoking marijuana in the basement while you are sleeping. If that doesn't sound fun throw your computer off the back porch and go medieval on it, like the printer scene from Office Space. You'll have to get a new one, but hey, wasn't that fun.

If your computer is not infected consider yourself spared... this time, Mwuahahaha

Back in prehistoric days, before the alphabet and the first one and zero, cavemen worried about getting hit on the back of the head with clubs from fellow cavemen, trying to take their hot and hairy cavewomen, their stone wheels, their waterfront cave. We still fear caveman clubs and some of us fear hot and hairy cavewomen, but we still need to protect ourselves. One of the simplest things you can do is just log out of your computers and reboot them once a day, and for Pete's sake keep reading this blog. Next time your girlfriend asks you if you have protection say, "Of course, I read The Polar Bear Periodical."
The Polar Bear says, "Spread the word, stay protected and happy surfing everyone!"


Tech Editor - Dr. David Lauro
Language Editor - Dr. John Hines

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  2. Lori, I do remember you. those were some wild days. glad to hear your computer isn't infected, that will bode well for the future. however, it looks like your caps-lock is stuck. that might not bode well, seeing as how you are virtually yelling at me. ;-)