By George Smith Klez comes ever in the rearward of fashion. Repeatedly dubbed the most
common virus ever in recent reports from on-line newsmongers, it has yet to
break into print in any interesting way.
A box of news clippings near my desk, most taken from the front pages of
daily newspapers, proclaim the arrival of Melissa, Loveletter, Code Red,
Nimda and even Kournikova. However, nothing for Klez or its equally
press-shy older brother, SirCam.
Even the National Infrastructure Protection Center, a usually reliable
source for high impact alarms and panics on wandering malware, was unusually
reticent over this big event in computer virus history. Sure, Klez made the
front page of the NIPC Web site, but it was way down the list, well below
things like the Spida worm which the organization noted was dangerous
because "it copies the password file and the network configuration of the
infected machine and sends the information elsewhere via e-mail." Klez,
too, snatches e-document rubbish off the infected and sends it willy-nilly
around the Net but this lacks the alluring quality inherent in the phrase
Even in the most recent issue of NIPC's "Cybernotes" publication, Klez
faired poorly. A sentence or two on it lies buried beneath pages and pages
of errata on software vulnerabilities, patches and bugs that only someone
profoundly mentally ill would consider wading through.
Why so lacking in virus celebrity?
Maybe because Klez simply has no lobbyists -- no one to get in the face of
the media and screech that it's bringing on the collapse of the Net. It has
no one willing to recommend to the National Security Council that the
country ought to be disconnected from the Net as a cleansing precaution, as
It also has to do with class. Code Red and Nimda struck at system
administrators and those who consider themselves to be guardians of the Net
infrastructure. Klez, on the other hand, is the computer disease of
commoners -- the Net lower middle and under classes. Celebrity viruses
exploit security flaws uncovered by Net security gurus. Unrewarded Klez only
exploits flaws in the minds of the masses -- bugs in the wetware no one has
FIFTEEN MINUTES OF THE MUNDANE. The front page worms lend themselves to academic discussions on the
vulnerability of the Net infrastructure. The powerlessness of current
anti-virus and anti-worm measures figures heavily in these exercises,
specifically the inability to react quickly before the next worm overruns
the world. There is even a name for this non-existent master virus of the
future: the Warhol worm, so dubbed because it is said to have the power to
infect all vulnerable computers worldwide in fifteen minutes.
Klez, SirCam and other persistent mass-mailers, however, only lend
themselves to discussions in computer help forums. In them, the much
put-upon salvage workers don't have the luxury of the academic salon to
indulge in abstract thought about the damn thing. The never-ending arrival
of infected users (or just users who are on the receiving end of the virus
spam) forces them into serial cutting, pasting and reposting of canned
advice on how to find, and maybe even use, free Klez removal software.
Perhaps it is a state of affairs that does not translate well onto the
front page of newspapers.
In any case, the powerlessness of anti-virus measures is not an issue.
Instead, the inability to do anything about the hard cases who always get
Klez and its spinoffs makes the job unending and unappealing.
Knowing this, the enterprising virus-writer could aim to eclipse the Warhol
worm. This would entail scanning for that segment of the population that
fell to Klez, perhaps by using sucker spam. Those who click on some really
brain-dead come-on go on a "to hit" list. Probes could be performed
stealthily and in increments, until a truly monstrous reservoir of potential
targets was accumulated. Then it would be time to fire the virus knowing
full well that since it, like Klez, was infecting the type of user
immaterial to those who watch for Code Reds, Loveletters and Nimdas, it
would fly under the radar of all except the anti-virus software developers.
In honor of the real Warhol, it could be called the Dallesandro worm, after
a B-level actor who hangs around way longer than fifteen minutes, just like
Klez, always reaching a vast ocean of the chronically befuddled, an audience
unlikely to make noise to the minders of the Net infrastructure, the media
or the government.
Please don't be snobs, people. Give the virus its due. Klez for Prez! SecurityFocus Online columnist George Smith is Editor-at-Large for VMYTHS
and founder of the Crypt Newsletter. He has written extensively on viruses,
the genesis of techno-legends and the impact of both on society. His work
has appeared in publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal, the
Village Voice and the National Academy of Science's Issues in Science &
Technology, among others.