REBOL Technologies

True danger of viruses and worms

Carl Sassenrath, CTO
REBOL Technologies
31-Mar-2009 17:07 GMT

Article #0405
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Whenever I hear about new computer viruses and worms on the attack, my mind drifts back a few decades...

As a young OS kernel engineer at Hewlett Packard's Computer Systems Division, we had some core principles of computer science, known by all on the team, that we strictly applied to our operating system designs.

For example, code, data, and stack segments where isolated; that is "firewalled". They were separate, hardware enforced areas of the memory map. You could not overflow a stack buffer into the code segment as a way to hijack the CPU. You'd segment fault first, and besides, the VM would not even let you map stack access into code segments.

In addition, code segments were read-only. During execution, you didn't get to write into a code segment for any reason whatsoever. If you tried, the memory system would throw an exception faster than it could load the next instruction. (Only the highly privileged loader module could write a code segment, and while it did, it was just a data segment - you couldn't jump the CPU over to it.)

That was 1980, folks.

I can see some of you old-timers shaking your heads, "yep, that's how we did it." It didn't matter if you were an IBM-er, CDC-er, DEC-er, or Burroughs-er. You knew the principles. HP didn't invent most of those concepts. They were the well established, accepted design practices of the day.

So, here we are 29 years later...

And, we are all worried about the "conflicker worm"... in actuality, a threat that shouldn't even exist.

And, what's the true danger here, is it really the worm? Companies, big and small, make a lot of money on these viruses and worms. OS companies, virus protection companies, computer system vendors, network operators and IT consultants... all win huge when a worm wrecks havoc on the net.

Yes, I have to admit, I'm getting a bit jaded with age. You think there will be cure to the disease when patches make a lot more money? It's not just software. Do you think cancer will be cured when medicine makes billions on partial treatments?

What's a computer user to do?

Fortunately, there are alternatives, but you have to be willing to jump ship from your Windows insecurity blanket.

I'm not concerned about conflicker affecting my Mac OS X or various Linux boxes. I think you guru folks know why. Although not perfect, those are more or less real operating systems built on some of those principles of the 1970's and 80's. (Old-timers: let's not debate here if Unix derivatives are real OSes... let's just admit that they are widespread now, ok?)

Again, sorry if this sounds like I've spent too much time racking the wine barrels in the basement. Maybe it's all just par for the course these days... the way our technologies, industries, banks, and governments are headed. (Well, actually, they've pretty much already arrived.)

Or, as I've learned long ago (from lawyers, if I dare say):

It's not what you once knew to be the truth, it's what you pretend to know now that really matters.

Well, personally, I don't buy that brand of dog food. But, the unaware eat it up. So, maybe I'm not the only one who's jaded?

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