RealTime IT News

Laboring Under a Virus Cloud

Traditionally, Labor Day weekend is the last chance of the year for IT pros to get away from their responsibilities and really enjoy themselves before the usual frenetic fall activities begin.

This year's holiday may be different. After all, when you're half-expecting an emergency call about a devastating virus attack bringing your network to a screeching halt, flipping burgers in your backyard offers scant relaxation. It's like trying to sleep with your eyes open.

But that's the state of the IT world these days, thanks to the increasing disruption and productivity drain caused by viruses and worms let into the wild by malicious hackers. The most recent attack, by the Sobig.F virus, created worldwide network chaos last week.

Sobig.F (and I doubt the F stands for Fun) was the fastest-spreading virus in the industry's history, according to many security experts. It flooded email servers and inboxes, triggering a nightmare for IT pros trying to stop the attack.

The volume of email bombarding my company's network increased tenfold last week, a crushing surge that slowed or stopped email traffic and required, for several days, the full attention of our talented IT experts.

Right there are two productivity drains -- the time lost by workers attempting to conduct routine business via email, and the time our IT pros were forced to devote to stemming the Sobig tide.

What that means, of course, is that other problems had to be pushed aside. For example, I was unable to dial in to our network last week when I was at a remote site. I finally reached our networking guru who, while (slightly) sympathetic, informed me about the extent of the virus attack and said he just couldn't help me at the moment. Two days later, I still was without a connection. It wasn't his fault; he had a far bigger problem on his hands.

When I returned home and finally was able to log on, I was greeted by 2,200 emails, of which nearly half were either carrying Sobig.F or informing me that my email (which I had never sent) contained the virus. It made me long for correspondence from my Nigerian friends and online Viagra distributors.

The total damage of Sobig.F in terms of lost productivity and commerce may never be precisely known. Business Week estimates that the Sobig.F toll ranged from $500 million to more than $1 billion in terms of lost productivity and missed sales opportunities.

What's worse, most experts predict similarly damaging attacks on the global network in the near future. This threat to business stability is forcing law enforcement officials, like IT professionals, to focus increased resources on nabbing perpetrators. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said this week it is confident it will capture those responsible for Sobig.F.

I hope the FBI is successful, but the truth is that only a small number of virus writers have been identified and apprehended. Many of them are quite adept at covering their tracks and creating false evidence trails.

Some people want to go beyond pursuing the perps to hold software manufacturers such as Microsoft legally liable. That, however, will require rewriting current product liability statutes, a solution that won't be readily embraced by Redmond's army of attorneys. In other words, don't hold your breath.

So we all should try our best to get away this Labor Day weekend. If you can afford to turn off your cell phone, do it. If you don't need to check email, don't. Unless there's an immediate crisis, there's no hurry. I promise the viruses will be waiting for us when we get back.