Conficker: world's greatest April Fool's joke or 'digital Pearl Harbor'?
As worry builds over the expected April Fool's Day launch of the dreaded Conficker C computer worm, at least one technology expert in Canada is telling the world to relax.
Airplanes won't fall out of the sky, and your banking information is probably safe, says John Leishman, of Geeks on the Way, a North American computer-troubleshooting company based in Calgary.
"We used to dread when a new virus came out," Leishman told CBCNews.ca. "Our phones were overrun. Even though it was our business, it wasn't good for long-term corporate relations."
During those bad old days of viral infections, truly nasty things happened, he said. Computers were shut down, systems hacked, data wiped out.
"Now it's more ego driven, rather than maliciously driven," said Leishman. Data is no longer lost the way it used to be, because so many computer users have become wiser and anti-viral software better. However, he acknowledged it could be inconvenient having to deal with a computer worm, combined with the hassle of trying to figure out how to remove it.
Much as has been written and blogged about the Conficker worm. At least 12 million computers around the world have already been infected by it since autumn, and Microsoft has announced a $250,000 US reward for information leading to the capture of the Conficker authors. The French military has even grounded some of its fighter planes (something that surprised Leishman).
Turns off anti-viral software
CBC's technology analyst Jesse Hirsh said no one really knows what's going to happen on April 1, if anything at all. Conficker could be the equivalent of a "digital Pearl Harbor," he said. Or, it could be the world's biggest April Fool's joke, as postulated in the New York Times.
Conficker will work like this, says Hirsh. On April 1, the worm will wriggle into computers through weaknesses in the Windows operating system. (Worms don't come in attachments the way viruses do.) It will turn off any anti-viral software and then direct that computer to connect to 500 web URLs a day from among a group of 50,000. One of those thousands of URLs will contain instructions for what the computer is to do next.
"There's two likely scenarios. One is like an April Fool's joke, which will be a type of vandalism, say, targeting a famous website, but what really has security people worried is that millions of computers may direct themselves against the root servers, the arteries that allow the internet to flow freely," said Hirsh.
Microsoft has a tool that people can download that both identifies and removes Conficker, said Hirsh.