The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, September 15, 2003

The rapid spread of the SoBig/Blaster worm recently gave rise to the question of whether the average person has any business monkeying around on the Internet. Failure to install patches, leaving ports wide open, eschewing firewalls and virus protection... the list of transgressions against Mr. and Ms. Average Computer User goes on and on. Virus writers rely on the fairly unsophisticated nature of the casual surfer to help along the spread of all those wicked wares.

How do you stop all these irresponsible reprobates? You propose the implementation of a licensing system, whereby anyone wanting access to the online world must first pass some sort of certifying tests.

First off, the chances of this happening are nil. The Web has become such an ingrained part of the United States' media and information structure that there's no way to not have wide-open access to it. Even homeless people are expected to be able to get to a public library computer to get information to help themselves (if they're so inclined). Plus, there's no way to enforce something like this on a worldwide level, and the lack of universality on this makes it pointless. So the argument is largely academic.

Beyond that, it's interesting to consider the approach that resulted in this idea: Basically, it places the bulk of the blame for all the virus-caused havoc that sweeps through the Net on the enduser. Not everyone agrees with this. You could argue that the ultimate blame lies with companies that fail to build in enough security and proper default settings into their software; and since the ubiquitous Microsoft operating system and programs are the most frequent targets, the Big Redmond Machine is the one that gets the most flack for the frequent messes that happen.

Who's more to blame? While it's impossible to devise a 100 percent secure system, I think MS deserves a lot of the criticism it's getting. How many patches is it going to release this year alone? Rather than rushing its next OS out the door, which seems to be its modus operandi, it should take security and accessibility issues into account the very first thing.