Clear Cutting and Sweeping Away

Yes, I know that I used this very same graphic in my last journal entry; but I felt that it might be appropriate to use it once again.

This past Thursday — yesterday, in fact — was supposed to be a fairly normal day at work. Install a few applications on my users’ computers, do some routine maintenance on a couple of other systems, make sure that the database is up to date. That sort of thing.

I opened up my mail program and saw a virus warning. Now, I’ve been fed too many scare stories of viruses with names like "Good Times" or "PenPals" to ever believe a virus warning that comes to me via e-mail. This new one was called "ILOVEYOU" and was supposed to do all kinds of horrible things to your computer: zap your hard drive, wipe your memory, eat your processor, seduce your dead grandmother, all of the horrible things that viruses which spread themselves through e-mail do.

Surprise, though: the ILOVEYOU virus turns out to be real. Within fifteen minutes getting the first warning about this virus, I received eight copies of a single message — subject line, "I LOVE YOU" — from a co-worker who had received the e-mail, opened it, and run the attachment. And within seconds after that, everyone of my users, not to mention every computer in the building, had received the same e-mail from the same co-worker. Some had received it eight times, like me; others had gotten up to fifteen copies of the damn thing.

Fortunately, I’d trained my users well, and all of the other Technical Support Coordinators in Human Resources had, too. No one else opened the attachment, so while everyone received multiple copies of the e-mail, no other computers were actually infected. I have a vague memory of running from user to user, instructing everyone to shut down Outlook, until we had an idea of what, exactly, this nasty little program would do.

To add to the confusion, the University is actually between anti-virus software site licenses. About 18 months ago, somewhere in the arcane machinations which control the bureaucracy of the University’s Information Technology division, someone decided that Dr. Solomon was no longer good for the University, and every department had to un-install Dr. Solomon and install Norton Anti-Virus. Now, recently, NAV has fallen into disfavor, and we must now all switch to McAffee. Except that when ILOVEYOU hit, our licenses for McAffee had not yet been completed and our licenses for NAV had all expired. So getting anti-virus protection for our computers was an exciting experience to say the least. All I personally have to say is that I’m very happy that I am not in the position where I would have had to repair a broken Exchange server.

Which, in my opinion, is where the bulk of our own problem lies. The Human Resources division, like — apparently — just about every other major business in the world, including the English Parliament and the United States Department of Defense, is hobbled with the Microsoft suite of Office applications. We’ve weeded out any sort of diversity in our network, and replaced all of the sturdy independent applications — like Eudora, WordPerfect, Netscape, and so on — with Microsoft’s Juggernaut, the Office 97 package. This is sort of like clear-cutting an ancient old-growth forest in the Pacific Northwest and replacing it all with acacia trees all bred from the same stock. Yes, technically, you’re replacing the wood; but your new forest is obscenely vulnerable to a single attack. In a computing environment, it’s nice to be able to reduce your tech support expenditures by paying people just to learn a single package, but there’s a price to pay for such unnecessary functionality. Without locating and disabling the obscure default setting needed to make the system truly useful (a feature which all Microsoft products share), you make your system vulnerable to just this sort of malicious attack.

The lesson to be learned here, is the variety and diversity, whether you’re working with a forest or with a computing environment, is good.

Cue segue. I’m going to draw a really ugly analogy between human emotions and old-growth rain forests and computer networking environments. Wish me luck.

Sometimes, upon the end of a relationship, we find ourselves desperately wishing to get together with someone who was Just Like My Last Love: someone who acts the same, who looks the same, who does the same things… Genetically identical to our last love. We figure, after all, that if such a person made us happy once before, then they will again.

At the end of my last relationship, I spent some time doing just that. I wanted to find someone who was just as attractive, just as intelligent, just as sexy, and so on. I wanted my next relationship to be very similar to the last one, if not exactly the same.

But if all of your relationships are identical, you open yourself up to all of the same hurts and problems again and again. We’ve all heard stories of the women or men who enter abusive and dangerous relationships over and over and over again, never learning their lesson, and so on. I’ve never fully understood the tendency myself, but after watching computer networks fail all over the world because they were, well, genetically identical, I think I see the sense: if all of your relationships are the same, then you don’t have to learn new coping techniques or ways of communicating. And, sadly, if you’re too full of pain, then you probably don’t even have the energy to learn these new techniques. In a way, it’s simply a matter of economics.

But by varying your relationships — by keeping yourself open to all possibilities, even ones that you thought had slipped you by years ago — you keep yourself flexible, you can continue to grow and learn and enjoy, and you find yourself better able to handle your newer relationships.

This is the theory at least. Take it for what it’s worth.

On a more pragmatic level, there is a new relationship in my own life. There are some similarities between this relationship and the one that I ended just recently. The new woman in my life is very intelligent, very attractive, very sexy, but in very different ways than the last. I hadn’t intended to enter into anything new — in fact, I had planned to stay away from all hints of any new relationships for at least a year. This came as a complete surprise to me, and it has, indeed, been a very pleasant one.

Change is good. Diversity is good. I don’t want to imply that the last woman in my life was a bad person in any way, of course, nor that novelty is the reason for my feelings now. Hell, I don’t want to draw any comparisons at all, or analyze anything too deeply. I just wanted to point out the benefits of keeping yourself open to variety, change, and new — or old — possibilities.

There’s very little talk in the way of diversifying our departmental network. We’re sticking with the Microsoft behemoth, keeping diversity at a minimum, maximizing our exposure to deadly attack; and when such attacks come (because they inevitably will), we’ll be terribly vulnerable. By sticking to just what we know, we’re putting ourselves in danger.

Well, perhaps I’m stretching. All I can really say is that while my department’s computing environment has been clear-cut, I’ve been swept away. We’ll see who lasts longer.


Here’s hoping that it will be less than three weeks until the next time…

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