Down side of battling web viruses

April 01, 1999

This is an excerpt of a Los Angeles Times editorial that was published yesterday:

THE MOST prolific family of biological viruses -- the one that causes the common cold -- evolved over millions of years by way of gradual DNA mutations. By contrast, Melissa, which since Friday has become the most prolific computer virus ever, appears to have been written hastily by a young computer hacker.

And yet, despite its humble origin and primitive design, Melissa's crashing of corporate Microsoft-based e-mail systems has undermined worker productivity as handily as any winter bug.

Corporate information system managers say they have now cleaned up most of Melissa's damage, but the virus has raised anew some tough questions. That's because the same systems that could battle future viruses could also threaten two of the Web's cherished principles: Open exchange of ideas. Melissa's main victims have been those companies that stayed truest to the Internet's original spirit by creating unencumbered networks in which e-mails travel freely and speedily without filters or "firewalls."

Personal privacy. Law enforcement officials, along with many information system managers, have long asked computer manufacturers to embed "unique identifiers" in computer chips so that e-mails and other transmissions would carry an electronic signature. Computer hackers and other cyber criminals could be easily tracked down.

It's obvious there's no perfect cure for virus problems. But this latest attack is a useful reminder that we need to find some imperfect, interim answers soon.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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