Virus Strains

J Square Humboldt

What we need is the Dewey Decimal System to go digital ...

Specifically, someone needs to coax their keepers into putting some logical order into how computer viruses are sorted.

Recently, warnings abounded about the Kama Sutra virus quickly proliferating cyberspace, joining the Grew.A and Nyxem.E as serious threats to computer file security. However, only those who took a closer look at these strains were able to discover that they all had something in common.

They were virtually the same virus.

There is uniformity in the library world when it comes to catalogging the millions of books contained therein, thanks to Dewey. The weather service administrators do their bit for personnification by breathing a bit of nefarious charm into the tropical storms they track by assigning them names in alphabetical order each year. They key to both of these facts is that someone devised a universal means of identifying something that assists the general public in dealing with it.

The time is rapidly approaching when someone needs to step forward and put some order into the villainous world of computer infections.

New viruses arise so suddenly and spread so quickly that those whose job it is to seek and destroy them have little time to muse over what to name them. With Kama Sutra, for instance, its file-destroying program seemed to be spread by junk e-mail enticements to visit porn sites. The news media ran with that theme and gave it a headline-grabbing handle; Kama Sutra, of course, is the legendary lovemaking guide compiled to classify the creativity of ancient Hindu hedonism.

Geeks, however, have their own perspective when they put a spin on things. Just as banks need to have stately names, spyware apparently needs to carry Matrix-like titles to make them appear darker, more foreboding and a worthy challenge. After all, who amongst them would want to quash the Kama Sutra? Wouldn't that confirm the geek image as a cyber-eunuch?

Thus, titles like Grew.A and Nyxem.E are coined to look so much more imposing and in need of professional assistance to eradicate.

F-Secure is a Finnish virus fighter and widely acclaimed to be one of the best of its kind on the market. Their stature is such that when they identify an intrusive program, others notice and accept the name they give it. In this case, F-Secure saw the program shared code and techniques with cetain file-destroying predecessors, so they went with 'Nyxem.E,' derived from the acronym for the New York Mercentile Exchange, whose web site was targeted by the initial culprit.

Other vendors took note that this program destroyed files instead of overloading websites with fake traffic. Using a logic known only to one of the backroom gnomes in their employ, this meant that 'Grew.A' was the most appropriate description. I can only think that asking for a clarification for that decision would cause most of us as much of a headache as trying to remove the program after it has hit our computers.

Anyway, in these trying times of terrorism alerts, if nobody else is willing to tackle the task of virus classification, those rock-lifters and cobweb-sweepers at the USA Department of Homeland Security are prepared to step into the fray. They have devised a system of virus naming through the Common Malware Enumeration, or CME. Outbreaks are assigned a random number, which in this case turned out to be '24.'

We'll see if such a system captures teh public's imagination.

This is an important point, because if a unified virus identification system is to be effective, it has to immediately raise a general awareness so that the virus' spread can be better contained.

If nothing else, 'Kama Sutra' generated enough clicks to quickly spread the word that a cyber-invader was on the prowl. Once named as such, a program that had been circulating for weeks, but was set to destroy files only on the third day of each month, finally came to the public's attention. That gave vendors time to update their products and warn customers.

Incidentally, this strain is known to corrupt documents using the most common file types, including '.doc,' '.pdf' and '.zip.' It affects most versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system, which caused them to issue the most widely-heeded warning of the problem.

Given the recent animosity-filled anti-trust suit brought by the American government against the software giant, it does seem like their efforts to raise the awareness of this virus has necessitated that they become the proverbial strange bedfellows.

It's only appropriate that something named Kama Sutra would bring them together. It's inevitable that they would find themselves in this position. The task now is for them and everyone else to agree upon what to call it.
About the Author
2005 All rights reserved
Square Humboldt is the featured columnist at Longer Life's website, which provides information designed to improve the quality of living. He's at

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