Sat, May 06, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: From e-mail, with love

The "ILOVEYOU" virus that swept around the globe these past two days seems to have spared Taiwan the worst of its damage. Nonetheless, not a few e-mail users and companies experienced troublesome loss of data. Moreover, it appears that the primary reason for the relatively light consequences was the simple fact that the virus hit during the evening; by the time most Taiwan users here had logged on, it had already made headlines elsewhere, allowing better warning time. In other words, had it triggered at a different time, its damage could easily have been much greater.

Worldwide, this virus seems to have already caused more damage than last year's Melissa virus, which makes this the most costly such event to date. The development of new virus techniques naturally advances as rapidly as other technological change. Considering the increasing reliance of the economy, the government, and indeed our society as a whole on computers and the Internet, it is only reasonable to assume that such outbreaks will become not only more common, but also more dangerous over time.

What are the specific lessons for Taiwan? First, it is clear that Taiwan's users, and especially businesses, ought to continue to upgrade their efforts to protect their important data. Although most of the burden can be carried by the burgeoning array of private computer security companies, the government has a role to play. An apt metaphor is the Weather Bureau: just as the government monitors weather conditions and provides reports to the public, it should begin to monitor cyberspace conditions. Just as when a typhoon emerges, it should issue appropriate warnings and suggestions.

Second, there is a potentially graver threat on the horizon, in the form of directed information warfare attacks from China. If a tortured prankster can cause millions of dollars of damage, the potential for intentional damage must be recognized as a legitimate national security threat. When Chinese hackers struck at Taiwan last year, they caused only a ripple, and the Ministry of National Defense assured us that its networks were not open to the Internet. Given the rapid changes in technologies, such precautions need to be continuously maintained and upgraded, and tested in simulations.

Third, Taiwan needs to put in place a legal framework for cyber crimes, not only to assign liability in the case of damage, but to make sure that, when a Taiwanese resident is the source of a damaging virus, he or she is duly punished. The differing fates of David Smith, creator of the Melissa virus, and Taiwan's most notorious hacker, Chen Ing-hao (陳盈豪) who wrote the Chernobyl virus -- which has recently reappeared -- is certainly illuminating. The former was sent to prison in the US, whereas the latter was feted in Taiwan's media as a hero, garnering a smart new job offer to boot.

Smith was prosecuted under the US Computer Abuse Act, which was enacted as far back as 1986. The fact that Taiwan still has no such law on its books risks the possibility of extreme international embarrassment. In addition, it would clearly be in Taiwan's interest to cooperate actively with law enforcement agencies overseas to investigate cross-border cases of computer crime (just as the US FBI and the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation are jointly investigating the current case).

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top