Thought for the day: Who gives a damn about security?

With thousands of businesses hit by the Slammer worm, Simon Moores finds himself in despair over the complacency that bedevils...

With thousands of businesses hit by the Slammer worm, Simon Moores finds himself in despair over the complacency that bedevils the IT industry.

I've been wearily casting my eye back on the security news of the past seven days.

There's SQL-Slammer of course, the biggest kick in the collective complacency since Code Red, which was cleverly timed to coincide with the birthday of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative and the bubbling Gatesian eulogy that accompanied it.

Of course, Slammer took advantage of a much older deficiency that Microsoft had patched in July, but reports suggest that at least a quarter of a million servers were involved in the distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) exploit. Apparently, 13,000 Bank of America ATMs were among the victims.

It's been a week of appalling examples of IT security everywhere you might look. We can only be thankful that Ozzie Bin Laden and his boys appear to prefer the more dramatic sound of loud bangs to the much simpler destruction of bits and bytes on which our society is really built.

I've had a preview of the most comprehensive figures yet for 2002 and we are increasingly looking like an industry on the brink of crisis - not simply because of the deficiencies of Microsoft or the Penguin - but because however hard the vendors or the authorities try, there's a good 30% to 40% of the web administrator population that can't be bothered to keep their servers patched and up to date. But Bank of America - I ask you?

One of my friends is so depressed by society's lack of serious attention to the problem that he's decided to emigrate to New Zealand and become a sheep. I can't blame him. The irony is that the people who read this column are most likely to be to be security conscious and so the least likely to be the victims of the next generation of blended threats which, we are warned, are just around the corner.

The problem however, is that the internet's very connectivity represents its greatest weakness where the likes of Slammer or Nimda are concerned, the force multiplication effect of tens of thousands of infected servers as part of a single denial-of-service exploit.

We are steadily losing the war in cyberspace and education isn't working. But what's the alternative? Shooting failing server administrators might, at first glance, be an attractive option, but it is unlikely to lift the cloud of apathy responsible for the mess we are in today.

The harsh reality facing us is that it will get worse before it gets any better. We can't depend on education and we have to depend on the suppliers to deliver a new generation of software with code that is bulletproof.

This then has to work its way down through the food chain, a process which will take at least five years, if not 10.

And, even then, there's bound to be someone in a position of strategic responsibility whose password will be "administrator".

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Zentelligence Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of the futurist writer, broadcaster and Computer Weekly columnist Simon Moores.

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