Top 10 Tech Scares of the Decade

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Year: 2000

Predicted outcome: Not applicable

Actual outcome: Over 50 million computers infected; over $5.5 billion in damages

The ILOVEYOU virus was a computer worm that spread via e-mail. Similar to other e-mail worms, the virus required that users run the executable file (written in Visual Basic Scripting, or VBS). To induce victims to do so, the worm disguised itself as a text file by putting .TXT into its name; when people saw that the file was called "LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.vbs," they thought they were opening a harmless text file.

Once the victim opened the file, the worm would send copies of the e-mail to the first 50 contacts in the user's Windows Address Book, and then make changes to the system (it would overwrite a number of files, including all .JPG and .DOC files, with copies of itself).

The ILOVEYOU virus was particularly effective for two reasons: It was sent from "safe" senders (those already in the recipient's address book), and the file resembled a text file. As a result, the virus managed to reach an estimated 50 million computers (only Windows computers were affected) and cause an estimated $5.5 billion in damages--the Pentagon, the CIA, and the British Parliament all had to shut down their e-mail systems.

Just a day after the virus started spreading, police in the Philippines arrested two computer programming students. Unfortunately, the authorities were unable to convict the two of any crime, as there was no law, at the time, against writing malicious code.

7. Technology Crashes Planes

Years: 2000-Present

Predicted outcome: Planes falling out of the sky

Actual outcome: Lies

That's right, the TSA will take away your bottled water and your nail file, but they'll let you keep your smartphone--despite the fact that the in-flight crew will warn all passengers to turn off their cell phones for the duration of the flight or face dire consequences.

There has never been any documented case of a cell phone causing interference with a plane's navigation system. Obviously--do you really think that they'd let everybody waltz onto a 500-ton metal aircraft with a potential bomb in their pocket? That would certainly make terrorists' jobs a lot easier.

8. Witty Worm

Year: 2004

Predicted outcome: Not applicable

Actual outcome: First worm to carry a destructive payload; infected 12,000 machines

Destructive malware
The Witty worm, first detected in 2004, was an important, scary computer virus for a number of reasons--namely, it was the first worm to carry a malicious "payload" that slowly destroyed the host computers it infected.

Although Witty infected only about 12,000 machines--none of them home PCs--the worm was still a pretty big deal. It exploited a hole in Internet Security Systems firewall and security software packages, and it spread rapidly just days after the vulnerability was announced. The worm was called the "Witty" worm because the payload featured the phrase "(^.^) insert witty message here (^.^)."

The worm was particularly frightening for network administrators because it infected computers that should have been more secure (because of the ISS software).

9. Koobface

Years: 2008-Present (new variants)

Predicted outcome: Not applicable

Actual outcome: Still not dead

Facebook infection
Koobface, introduced in 2008, is a computer worm that targets social networking Websites. It can infect all three of the major operating systems--Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (to a limited extent)--and can gain username/password information, but not financial information, from infected computers.

"Koobface" infects users via Facebook messages. Unlike some worms, Koobface requires some effort on the part of the user in order for it to infect a computer. First, it delivers a Facebook message with a link from the account of an infected user. The potential victim must then click on the link, download a file (usually disguised as an update to Adobe Flash Player), and then run the file. If they do so, Koobface can infect the computer and use it to send more messages.

Koobface has infected an estimated 500,000 computers, and it spreads easily because it sends messages to "friends" of infected Facebook users, usually with tantalizing, legitimate-sounding subject lines such as "Spring Break Bikini Mud-Jello Wrestling Youtube Video LOL!!!"

10. 2012

Year: 2012

Predicted outcome: End of the world; end of bad movies starring John Cusack

Actual outcome: ???

2012 Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of
The year 2012 is (at least, according to some people) the last year in a 5125-year cycle on the Mesoamerican (Mayan) Long Count calendar. More specifically, December 21, 2012, is the last day of the cycle.

The date is not only the final date in a 5125-year cycle, it's also full of ones and twos--and we know how superstitious the world is when it comes to numbers. So naturally, people speculate that everything from the Apocalypse to a spiritual awakening to absolutely nada will happen in 2012, despite the fact that the Mayans themselves are pretty unconcerned.

If the world does end, that probably means the end of technology as we know it. If it doesn't, though, we have Windows 8, laser heads-up displays in cars, and maybe a Verizon iPhone to look forward to.

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