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A Sobering Milestone

I can foresee a day when we're nostalgic about commercially-motivated spammers and mass-mailing-worms.

I get jaded about virus and worm stories. Each day seems to bring a new watershed in rate of infection, purpose, or technique. Sober is the worm du jour: It appeared sometime during the week of May 2, spread widely and rapidly, and this week started to download updates to itself. The latest variant, Sober.Q, is being used to spread "hate speech."

So let's count the milestones: Rapid spread; remote control; use for propaganda. None all that impressive anymore, on their own. But put together, they're like seeing someone walk down the street wearing sandals with black socks: It's just another sign of the end times. It's depressing.

But Seriously, Folks: Using mass-mailing worms to spread propaganda really is something to take notice of. It's a truism that spam is just about too cheap to meter, as exemplified by the fact that it's not cost effective for a spammer to even care whether most of his messages get through, much less whether you're trying to sell cialis to a woman; it was only a matter of time before the marketers of ideology grokked the significance of that fact and started using it to virtualize their lightpost handbills.

Self-updating zombie mass-mailing worms are the computing equivalent of a bio-weapon: (mind-bogglingly) cheap, effective, and devilishly hard to kill. Previously, they've been used for a rationally-accessible goal: Making money. Now, they're being used for goals that are comprehensible only in terms of the ideologies that drive their purveyors.

Still more proof, as though we needed it, that markets are dangerously deficient metaphors for understanding human social behavior.

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