Spreading Downadup via Sneaker-net

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Look around at the past week and you'll see that the big news is the latest Windows malware, a.k.a. Downadup, wreaking havoc around the globe. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I'm a Mac fan!

Anyway, this latest malware has the ability to spread via USB flash drives. Not a novel vector for proliferation, but it shows that the architects of digital disease realize there is widespread use of flash drives making them "useful" for passing viruses from PC to PC. This sneaker-net tactic reminded me of what happened in our office years ago and what led to my interest in computer security.

Back in the day (1992 to be exact) we had an office full of DOS based computers running proprietary software that we developed in-house. One of the women in the office had a mother who worked in a nearby laboratory where she was using Wordperfect for DOS. She brought in the disks (yes, they were floppy disks) and installed Worperfect on her computer. Unbeknownst to us, those disks were infected with the Michaelangelo virus.

Spreading via floppy disk, the virus quickly infected all the computers in our office. We usually did not allow workers to bring in "outside" software but made an exception in this case. Everything was great for many months while silently in the background the groundwork was being laid for the ticking time bomb about to explode. On March 6th of that year, as each of us booted up our PCs, we watched in horror as the virus destroyed the boot sectors of our hard drives. An IT software engineer buddy from Bell Labs came over and using Norton's Utilities he rebuilt the boot sectors and was able to retrieve "most" of the lost data, but nonetheless losses did occur.

This story, "Spreading Downadup via Sneaker-net" was originally published by Computerworld.

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