AS The worm turns
2003 was the Year of The Worm. Malicious programs spread around the world, slowing down internet connections and messing up computers.
Slammer, Blaster, and SoBig attacked millions of computers, forcing users to take antivirus software more seriously. About 7,000 viruses, worms, and Trojan horses popped up this year, but these three took most of the attention.
Microsoft was the main target of Blaster and SoBig. The company put up $250,000 rewards for each worm's author. So far, no one has collected. Investigators around the world are looking for the creators, but they're digging around in an anonymous underground that crosses countless borders.
Blaster inundated 1.2 million computers this summer, according to antivirus software maker Symantec. It knocked out a dispatching system at the Illinois State Police and closed Maryland's motor vehicle agency.
SoBig appeared a week after Blaster and some called it the fastest infection ever. The security company MessageLabs found one in every 17 e-mails contained the virus. It was programmed to self-destruct in mid-September.
All of the major worms and viruses targeted Windows machines, adding insult to Microsoft. Millions of people scrambled to upgrade their software with a steady stream of updates from headquarters. The software giant admitted last October that the attacks hurt its bottom line because distracted salespeople had trouble closing new deals.
Many bugs affect millions without a direct attack-whether or not Windows is running-because spammers use them to help send junk mail. MessageLabs estimates that two-thirds of spam is sent with help from viruses.
During 2003 a new word entered the vocabulary of millions and struck fear in the hearts of a few politicians and even some editors: blog. The word comes from web log, a new form of media made up of a series of journal entries on a website. A person who writes blogs is a blogger, and the totality of bloggers is the blogosphere.
Determined bloggers who sit at their computers all day have time and room to get stories started in a way beyond the interest or capacity of cable news networks. Newpapers and broadcasters can then push the stories, as they did early this year in rolling down a steep hill Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the majority leader accused of carrying concealed racism without a permit. (Democratic senators such as Robert Byrd of Virginia get a break here. And Democratic politicians such as Howard Dean, who has pressed for the Southern "bubba" vote, has used his own blog to good political effect.)
Bloggers in 2003 also howled successfully for the resignation of editors such as Howell Raines of The New York Times who speak out of both sides of their mouths. Blogs can harness the power of the internet by sending readers, via hyperlinks, to stories, sometimes written years before, that expose contradictions, memory faults, or outright lies. Instead of forcing news consumers to settle for a few inches of copy or two minutes of television footage, blogs can send those with eyes to rub on a constantly expanding search for more.
Confession: World now blogs, at www.worldmagblog.com.