EDITORIAL: Opportunity clicks

EDITORIAL: Opportunity clicks

There's nothing like a virus scare to worry the IT manager collective, but for the channel it's simply another case of demand generation.

In this case, one of the most interesting stories doing the rounds last week was the W32/Gnuman.worm (alias Mandragore), which attacks users of the Gnutella file-sharing service.

The anti virus vendors claim it's the first virus to affect peer-to-peer communications which, if correct, could have profound implications on future development of the technology.

The story comes on the back of continued debate over the future of peer-to-peer operator Napster, which has incorrectly been attributed as the first real pioneer of the technology. (Most vendors would argue they have been working on it for years, and the likes of Sun and Intel recently made some announcements about their latest development efforts).

I read one commentator in the US calling the Napster-type crowd activities of the peer-to-peer technology for blatant copyright abuse. Given your letters this week (page 36), I don't think I'll counter any argument on that front.

And while we're still on the copyright/software licensing debate, it's worth noting the BSAA is back on the case again with NetRegistry the latest scalp. Everyone's a supporter of tough software licensing measures until you unwittingly find yourself paying the price for lax internal controls.

Anyway, the Gnutella-based virus has renewed my interest in the subject of file swapping. Suggestions have been made that this new virus will create a precedent for nastier versions which actually will inflict harm on your PC.

Their deceptive tactics are quite unique. While you can most often pick an e-mail-borne virus from the file extension (eg .vbs) or a well-publicised subject line like "I Love You", peer-to-peer viruses amongst music swappers will be harder to detect. You might think you're downloading a .MP3, but it could be disguised as an .exe file.

However, peer-to-peer technologies such as chat or messaging services, collaborative document or software development viewing tools, mailing lists, and online white-board discussions all fall into the same basket. These are real business technologies your customers deal with every day, with increasing regularity.

The trick, of course, is understanding that security systems must now cater for this type of distributed environment, rather than sticking your favourite anti-virus software on the centralised file and e-mail servers and walking away.

The vendors will no doubt have a field day developing and marketing a raft of new security solutions, but that's all good in my opinion. Anything that gives you an edge, and provides additional services you can offer to your existing customers has to be good.

Security is one of the hottest, most essential IT requirements of any business large or small. And for the channel, which is currently struggling with a very soft start to 2001, may I suggest security must be one of your tickets out of the sales slump.

Failing that, if you're an aspiring virus writer with a penchant for revenge on those illegal file swapping, software-stealing delinquents out there, the peer-to-peer world is your oyster.

Qualification: if you're a hapless Napster user struck down by a new peer-to-peer virus created as a result of my suggestion, don't blame me, I got the idea from a record company executive.

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