The Conficker Syndrome, Salvationware, And The Real Matrix

Jan 19, 2009   //   by Hackadelic   //   Blog, Featured  //  No Comments

Say What?Remember in “The Matrix” when Morpheus says to Neo:

What is the Matrix? Control.

Now, we might not live inside a matrix (and even if we did, we wouldn’t know it, so it wouldn’t make a difference), but much of the ado we are facing, especially in the mass media, is just about that: Control.

Note: If you’re just looking for concrete measures against the Conficker virus, jump to chapter “Pulling The Tooth”.

Control And Fear

The one state of mind absolutely most receptive for control is fear. Humans, as all other animals, are programmed by nature to immediately react to threat. Fear is the chemical message that sets our body, our whole metabolism in an alarm condition in the face of threat. Fear makes our whole biology transform into a device focused on only one thing: overcoming that threat.

In the process, our “operating system” starts engaging dormant sub-systems for threat situations, while suspending others to make resources available. Unfortunately, the latter include much of our ratio, logic, and ethics.Why Me

What a perfect condition for someone who will make the promise to save us! Wouldn’t you do anything to be among the saved ones? And wouldn’t you let him do anything?

That is the essence of control. Build up a threat scenario, then make the salvation promise. It always worked. It always will.

Unless…

… you can tell apart real from false threats.

Ways Out Of Fear

And that brings it down to the one thing we can oppose fear.

It’s not courage.

It’s knowledge. Information. And the capability to think for yourself, based on that information.

I can see clearly nowOnce you know how things work, once you know what’s behind the scenes, fear loses substance, and vanishes.

A hot burner is a threat, but I bet you’re not afraid of cookers. That is because you know (more or less) what’s behind the scenes. This puts you in the position to self-responsibly and sovereignly deal with “cooker situations”.

Why would that be any different with, say, computer viruses?

The Conficker FUD

Currently, horror news are spread massively about a virus called Conficker. There are claims of 9 million infected computers, a number rapidly increasing.1

Now, is that not a delicious threat scenario? Who is going to offer us salvation this time?

Interestingly enough, all those news are free of any background information about the virus, or computer viruses in general. You could say, they are not designed to transport knowledge (the really helpful information). They are designed to transport FUD. The message is clear: Everybody, start being afraid! You are under (yet another) threat.

usual suspectsAdmittedly, there is some “advice” about reducing the risk. Mainly the usual suspects: “Get the latest updates from Microsoft”.2 Or: “Buy the latest Anti-Virus software.” But none of the advices puts you in a position to really deal with computer viruses. Not anywhere as self-responsibly and sovereignly as you deal with cookers. The “usual suspects approach”, namely getting the newest of the new of patches and whatnot, doesn’t really solve the problem. You’re still running in a vicious circle, and already all out of breath, you’re told to hurry and catch up.

But instead of installing more software (that can introduce vulnerabilities of own), how about doing the opposite – and removing some?

Pulling The Tooth

Here’s what they say about Conficker:

The Conficker worm’s main exploit vector is by buffer overflowing unpatched versions of Windows Server services, which is represented by the Workstation and Server services, and svchost.exe processes.

Los AngelesSo open your task manager, go to the “Services” tab, click on the “Services” button to fire up the service manager, and find the services “Server” and “Workstation Service”. Are they active? I bet they are. Do you need them? If that’s your private computer you are staring at right now, you probably don’t. Take a deep breath, and shut them down.

Did you notice what happened? Nothing. Your computer happily continued to operate.

Want them removed permanently? Win+R to fire up the run dialog, and run msconfig. (You’ll need admin privileges for this.) Switch to the “Services” tab, and uncheck “Server” and “Workstation Services”. Uncheck “Terminal Configuration”, too, because it requires the “Server” service. And while you’re at that, consider unchecking “Terminal Services” altogether. (I did. And there’s more useless stuff you can kick off.)

Now you not only got rid of the vulnerabilities inside those services. You have also released valuable CPU and memory resources, which are now available to you, instead of being permanently occupied by dangerous but useless3 pieces of your operating system.

Note that I do not recommend against updating. By all means, do! But eliminate first!

Old Lessons, Never Learned

Y2K Bug

Remember the Y2K horror scenarios? Y2K did impose a real problem in some areas, but by a flood of FUD the world has been made to believe civilization would cease on Dec. 31 2000 at 11:59 pm, unless they did those really urgent (though expensive, but hey, safety has it’s price) upgrades. Billions of dollars changed hands, not out of real necessity, but out of disinformation.

Back then, I used to work with a fairly small company for which Y2K did not represent any issue whatsoever. We knew it, so we could just smile at all the “offers” for “urgent Y2K upgrades”. But many other small companies were in the same position with regard to hard- and software equipment, but didn’t have the in-house knowledge to decide for themselves, so they had to trust “the experts”.

The best thing about Y2K was, as with any false threat, that people had no immediate reason to complain afterwards. They paid a lot of money, and civilization as we knew it survived. Fair enough. Why complain? It didn’t matter that survival could have been free, for many of them.

Conclusion

What we are facing is an extraordinary kind of merchandise: Salvationware.

No price is too high, and no sacrifice is too big for salvationware. Indeed, there’s no business like salvation business.

So, my dear friend, and occasional reader of my blog, take this advice in the good spirit in which it is given:

Stop fearing! Start thinking!

Stay informed! Don’t belive the FUD! And always remember:

Fear is the enemy of the mind.

  1. Fortunately, this is disputed. See same article: “This number is considered unlikely. SecureWorks also thinks the number is doubtful” []
  2. Ironically the same company which introduced the security breach, thereby making a Conficker possible in the first place. []
  3. to you []

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