DNSChanger hype reveals media’s fearmongering technophobia

‘I don’t know about you, but I had a relaxing summer Monday this week’

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You probably heard about the DNSChanger malware, but you didn’t hear it from me.

Last weekend, thousands of newspapers gravely foretold of a coming digital doomsday that would be upon us in a matter of hours. Monday, July 9th was to be the day the Internet plunged into “blackout” darkness. It was a twist on the same paranoid soothsaying we’ve been hearing since the no-show Y2k bug. But this time it was really, really, really going to happen, since no lesser authority than the FBI had issued a warning saying so.

I don’t know about you, but I had a relaxing summer Monday, some of it spent online. The DNSChanger malware may indeed have inconvenienced some people, but for 99.99999% of us, yesterday was just another day on the Internet. Unsurprisingly, few news outlets publicized the absolute normalcy of life online yesterday.

The problem with virus and malware news stories is that they typically originate with press releases distributed by computer security companies like McAfee and Symantec, whose business models rely on keeping the world in a constant state of digital paranoia. Many newspapers simply re-write these releases and call them articles, but some go to the trouble of contacting an “Internet security expert” or two. Of course, Internet security experts also rely on keeping the world in a constant state of digital paranoia.  Ask them at any time whether or not we should be afraid, and they will assure you that we should be very, very afraid.

It’s time for the media to grow up about computing. Technology plays too big a role in public life for news organizations to behave like bipolar lunatics, forever bouncing between uncritical praise for Apple’s Next Big Thing and untempered hysteria over the Next Big Threat.

There are indeed threats to the open Internet. Cyberwarfare, state surveillance, corporate control and censorship are among them. They are worthy of constant attention and regular coverage, and they rarely hinge on all-or-nothing, make-or-break doomsday scenarios.

Follow Jesse Brown on Twitter @jessebrown




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DNSChanger hype reveals media’s fearmongering technophobia

  1. In fact most journalists aren’t very well versed in anything except journalism. Technology can join the long list of topics that aren’t covered well in the media including law (this column’s worrywarting on internet posting defamation liability a case in point!), medicine and probably a host of other things.

    • True. If one went solely by tech reporters’…. reports, one would think no one makes documents or analyzes data at work anymore, or that they all do it on smartphones.

    • Shoot, journalists don’t even understand electricity, how can we expect them to report on anything any more technologically advanced than shoelaces?

  2. It’s an old Hollywood tradition…..mad scientists and things attacking us. Aliens, computers, DNA, robots…

    Eventually they get around to likeable aliens, computers that play games, robots that vacuum your rugs…..but in the meantime, remember…. all tech is dangerous and you should be very afraid…..

  3. I realize this was a non-event, however is Jesse correct in his assertion that not a single Canadian had the virus?

    • The U.S. estimate was that about 9 000 Canadian computers would be affected.

      • I think the question is, were they actually affected?

        • Well also 99.99999% leaves only 0.00001% affected, and 0.00001% of all Canadians is less than half a person.

          • I think I know that guy!

          • He’s only half the man he used to be.

  4. Of course the follow-on is viruses offered as fixes in phishing messages.

  5. All that has changed since the wwwrevolution is that now my morning radio station program rips and reads newspaper artticles about the Internet instead of ripping and reading articles about TV.
    That means there are two “oh-no-guard-your-kids-and-wallet features followed by one “report” on so-called “viral” videos. (they always seem to “go viral” presumably from some initial non-infectious state)

    Oh and I’m urged to check their Facebook page 12 times per hour, interspersed with public safety warnings about texting and driving.

  6. I would like to point out that the Y2K “bug” was a no-show because thousands of programmers like myself spent a large amount of their time fixing it. From mid-1998 to mid-1999, roughly 80% of my time at work was devoted to fixing that issue.

    • That is absolutely correct. Work on the issue started as early as 1993. Yet the majority of people today believe it was a hoax. Anyone who was a programmer or DBA in the late 1990s will say exactly what you said: it most assuredly was NOT a joke. And in fact, most knowledgeable people in the industry were, by late 1998, trying to calm down the paranoia, telling people that “yes it’s potentially a huge problem, but we’re well on our way to fixing it.” The media preferred to fear-monger, then point fingers and scream HOAX!!! when planes failed to fall from the sky. And the sheeple bought it. They’re still buying it.

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