War on 'Love' Prevention Must Target Real Culprit

Recently, I heard Noam Chomsky cite a Rand Corp. study that shows that prevention and treatment of drug addiction is 23 times more effective than waging a war on drugs. Yet our money continues to pour unchecked into the police-industrial complex of drug interdiction, while the desire to prevent and cure drug addiction is viewed as liberal nutball-ism.

Albeit less bloody, the "I Love You" computer-virus scare reminds me of the country's ill-fated drug war. The response focuses on "whodunit" instead of prevention. We computer users cheer on the FBI to find the (maybe "dangerous teen") scoundrel who propagated it, while ignoring the most culpable party: Microsoft. By so doing, we miss the opportunity to prevent such a wide-scale catastrophe from re-occurring.

Every media story about the "Love" virus, as well as its copycats, should finger Microsoft. (I'm sure MSNBC will get right on it.) This exclusive Windows virus -- and most others, including last year's Melissa -- only spreads through Microsoft Windows and applications by targeting holes in that would-be "standard" operating system. It then spreads to other users via programming constructs in Visual Basic scripting technology embedded in the Outlook Express e-mail program. Many experts agree that few users want or need these scripting tools, especially as a default option in an Internet application, where security should be a top priority. Cynics suggest that industrious hackers use Visual Basic more often than any typical user sits down with an instruction manual and hours to kill writing scripts.

Most revolting is Microsoft's silence. On its Web site (www.microsoft.com), you'll see links to ad nauseum "innovation" rhetoric about why Big Brother is trampling helpless, little Microsoft. But in the immediate aftermath of the worst computer-virus outbreak in history, Microsoft did not tell users to, or how to, disengage that Visual Basic default. Instead, users should know better than to open an "I love you" message, Microsoft security manager Scott Culp told the Associated Press.

Big Tobacco comes to mind: It manufactures a fatal cancer epidemic, but blames the user for making the wrong choices. Or to use the drug analogy, it's the user's fault if she failed to turn off the "accept bags of cocaine from faceless criminals" option in the Preferences panel. Microsoft knows the pipeline is wide open, but makes no effort to clog it.

This week's Love-fest demonstrates that users and businesses are too reliant on Microsoft products - and that the Redmond company too often "innovates" mediocre solutions that serve its self-interest. The company promises products to "improve" our lives, users become Microsoft zombies, and smart saboteurs fills those pipelines with time bombs. Then Microsoft President Steve Ballmer assures us in TV ads that the company's predatory practices are "innovation."

Don't be fooled: Microsoft's "innovation" means proliferating its own myopic view - that is, that our computers are best served by mediocre Microsoft-only variants of existing technologies, where the true innovation is, often as not, making a feature not work with another company's often-superior offerings. It then shrugs when a smart hacker exploits its weaknesses, telling the dumb masses that it's our fault for not working around Microsoft's failings. Only the most hapless Microsoft apologist could argue that the company is an innocent bystander.

The best prevention is to lose the Microsoft addiction. As a Mac OS user, I'm immune from most viruses, except as they affect my clients' efficiency. The same exploitable holes just aren't there - and I'm perfectly compatible with my Windows-based colleagues (contrary to popular myth). The viruses I can get are spread through, yep, Microsoft Word macros. Alas, I must use Word - because the people who pay me do.

Other tips: Disable Visual Basic scripting and use any e-mail client other than Outlook. Never send or open unexpected attachments, even to/from friends and family. Save Word documents as Rich Text Format (.rtf) files before sending as attachments. Never open, send or forward spam e-mails. Stop sending or opening junk/joke mail.

Most vital, demand better Microsoft products - or switch. Then maybe we'll win this War on Love. E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

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