The Plot

The recent World Wide Worm attack made me furious. I was getting two to three email attachments per minute through my commercial web site email address, now nearly seven years old, attachments that I had to painstakingly delete one by one every ten minutes. After hours of this, I noticed the peculiar repetition of return addresses, which I took to mean that the worm had replicated in only a limited number of computers, and I hoped that it would soon die out.

Next day, more of the same, only now I was getting bounces from various email servers as well, blaming me for the worm. What gives? Then I got one of those vicious attachments from my own business address, and I knew. Somebody who had my address in their address book had foolishly opened one of those attachments, maybe the one that seemed to come from Microsoft, and the thing had propagated itself with my name on it. In my extreme annoyance, I did not think about the bounced email notices, I simply deleted them along with the garbage.

About this time I started looking into spam-blocking services, but none seemed to meet my needs for a commercial account. I also made certain that my firewall software and my virus software were up to date, and I checked all of my software for contamination every two hours. My computer was clean, virus free, and although I noticed that attempts to break in had escalated from a hundred a day to thousands a day, my firewall was doing its job and all systems were working fine.

The thing finally fizzled out on the third day. I hadn’t kept track of the time I wasted, and I hadn’t lost anything else during the attack, so I forgot about it. But then I started having trouble sending and receiving email from regular correspondents. People were phoning, "Did you get my email?" No. And the email I sent was getting bounced back. Now what?

Conscientious guardians of email servers around the world were apparently picking out the return addresses on those worm attachments, and blocking those addresses on their servers. Once they’ve done it, you can’t even argue with them, because their server will bounce your argument. Once they’ve done it, your only chance to get through that server is to find somebody there who will listen to you on the phone. Good luck.

Annoyance provokes me into writing, maybe a safer reaction than some, so I got to thinking about writing a story. Here’s the plot. Mr. Big gathers all of his advisors around him and he says, "Boys, we gotta put an end to this Internet stuff, y’know, all this mail stuff. Any ideas?" The boys don’t have a clue, of course, but the old squinty-eyed one wearing grandpa glasses says, "Right! No problem! I know just the man." And they get the ball rolling that very night. A month later, an unemployed nuclear physicist in Novokazalinsk is toasting his buddies with California Chardonnay in his new apartment — while the rest of the world is struggling to defeat a new Internet virus.

Stupid story, maybe. Or maybe not. People create these programs. Why do they do it? Who is paying them? Who has what to gain by shutting down uncontrolled, unregulated, private, even secret, communication between free individuals? Who is the World Wide Worm?

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