Sunday, May 13, 2012

DNSChanger Virus & Trust on the Internet

I came across this forum in a CNET Newsletter which I subscribe to. The immediate issue on hand is the DNSChanger trojan. As discussed in this post, it is a nasty piece of malware that has infected not just PCs and Macs, but also routers and other network hardware. As mentioned on my post on the virus attacks on Macs, the culprits are not attention seeking hackers but an Estonian criminal gang that managed to steal $14 million from its victims. Although the FBI was able to catch the criminal gang and the rogue DNS server, they were unable to shut off the rogue servers immediately because this would result in the infected computers being suddenly cut off from the Internet. So instead the FBI "chose to keep the rogue DNS servers active and convert it to a legitimate DNS system for infected computers" and conduct an awareness campaign to alert users about this potential infection before shutting off the rogue DNS server. They plan to do this on July 9 2012.

For more information on how to address this issue, see:
The other aspect of this story relates to credibility on the Internet. "Barbara" submitted a classic "Dear Editor" letter to CNET which was the subject of the feed I received in my email. She did not know whether she should download the tools from and thought it could be a scam (see the first post at the top). Although she more than likely Googled (or Binged) the topic, she did not trust the results. Instead, she needed to turn to CNET as a "trusted intermediary" to verify that the tool the FBI was offering to clean the system was indeed legitimate. This illustrates a challenge for the new "here comes everybody" approach to the Internet enabled media: How do we verify claims on the Internet? Clay Shirky (who is the author of the book Here Come's Everybody) has analyzed how the Internet as a broadcast medium has made it possible to get one's news on events outside of the traditional mediums of print, television or radio, which were controlled by professional journalists. The implications of his analysis is that the previous monopoly that journalists had on broadcasting will be undermined by just regular people who can supplant such traditional media organizations through blogs, wikis and the like.  However, Barbara's concern about being duped by nefarious actors on the open Internet highlights how there continues to be a need for trusted institutions or individuals, such as CNET, to add credibility to news in order to effectively act on something such as the DNSChanger trojan.

This, however, does not mean that pre-existing business model of the media, which relied on its on monopoly on broadcast technology will continue to be viable. Changes will have to be made. For example, Encyclopedia Britannica was able to successfully shift from its previous model to of selling physical books to an online subscription model. In fact, 2012 will be the last year that they will be selling its iconic set of encyclopedias. More importantly, Encyclopedia's new approach is a good example of how people are willing to pay a premium for an "authenticated encyclopedia" instead of solely relying on the "free encyclopedia" Wikipedia. That being said, Encyclopedia Britannica's model may not work for traditional news outlet. As Jeff Jarvis,  professor in journalism at CUNY and author of "What would Google do?", points out on his post on the danger of pay walls, media organizations stand to lose audiences and therefore "Googlejuice" by adopting this approach. His post highlights the conundrum that media organizations find themselves in. Do they opt for the pay walls which are akin to the old way of doing things? Or do they embrace the "Googlejuice" and rely on online ads and greater user interaction? It will be interesting to see how this all gets sorted out.

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