Computer Knowledge Newsletter – February 1998 Issue

In This Issue:

Virus News

Excel Virus XF/Paix.A. A new French Excel virus is reported to attack Excel spreadsheets. The virus itself is not so much the problem as is the attack mechanism the virus uses. Current Excel viruses use Visual Basic Modules. XF/Paix.A actually uses formulas in Excel itself instead of VB Modules. As this is a new approach for Excel viruses it’s important that you have current anti-virus software. Older versions may not be looking for this attack mechanism.

General Security

Data Preservation. We’ve talked about backups before. But, the question comes up: how long will those backups last and can you access the data when you need it? Consider computers just five years ago. Having a 1.2MB 5.25-inch floppy drive was common. If you saved your backups to 1.2MB floppy disks could you easily recover that data today? Consider another situation that happened to me. I needed to go back and access a copy of Turbo Pascal 3.0 in order to compile some source code. I did not have a copy on my hard disk; nor did I have a copy on any backups available to me (at the time I used that version I had one of the original IBM PCs and a 20MB Bernoulli drive for mass storage). But, I did have the original floppy disks and an old 486 with a 5.25-inch floppy drive and 3.5-inch floppy drive. I figured I’d just copy from one to the other and then use the smaller disk to transfer files to my current computer. I started the transfer but after several files copied over I heard this strange grinding sound. Stopped everything and on looking at the 5.25-inch floppy noticed that the oxide had come off in several spots! I was lucky. The compiler had transferred and the example files were the only things I lost; but it could have been much worse.

On the national level, some researchers needed to go back and obtain historical data from saved tapes. The first problem they ran into was finding a tape player that would read the tapes. The second problem they encountered was similar to mine: the tapes were deteriorating; even though they had been stored in optimal conditions.

When planning your backup strategy, be certain to take into account archival storage. Even CDs will only last around ten years or so before they start to degrade. You also need to store access software with the archived data. Plus, consider the media. Right now, electronic media simply does not have the storage lifetime of, say, acid-free paper (you can still read the Constitution). Before you laugh, consider that there are companies right now developing archival storage of digital data on paper (ala barcodes). Using modern techniques a significant amount of data can actually be stored on a single piece of paper.

Security Alarms. The buildup of cracking attempts on corporate networks has stimulated the market for intrusion detection systems. Computer Knowledge is not is a position to evaluate such systems, but if this is of interest to you take a look at products from Network Associates, Axent Technologies, Internet Security Systems, Intrusion Detection, Inc., Trusted Information Systems, and The WheelGroup.

Information of Interest

JavaScript Y2K Problem. Just when you thought your year 2000 problems were under control, the February 1998 issue of Boardwatch Magazine that both Netscape and Microsoft have changed their implementation of JavaScript date manipulation and the change renders old JavaScript date code invalid when 2000 rolls around. In previous versions of JavaScript implementations the getYear() function returned the year minus 1900. When the date turned to year 2000 the function returned 100 (2000-1900).

In Netscape’s 3.0 and Microsoft’s 4.0 browsers the funtion changed. Now getYear() returns the year minus 1900 for years that start with 19xx, but when the date turns 2000 the function returns 2000. So, if you have JavaScripts that add back the 1900 to a getYear() result in order to show a full four-digit date they are going to break when 2000 rolls around.

But, that’s not all. The ECMAScript specification (the controlling specification for JavaScript) requires getYear() to return dates before 1900 as a negative number (e.g., 1800 would be represented as -100). The problem is that not all implementations of JavaScript do this; some treat dates before 1900 like dates after 2000: they return the actual four-digit year.

Take this into account when you program with JavaScript and include the appropriate tests. One suggested in the magazine includes:

today = new Date()
theYear = today.getYear()
if (theYear 1000) {theYear = theYear+1900}

which should work at least back to 1000 and as far forward as 2999 in older browsers and 9999 in current browsers.

And, take heart. A new function getFullYear() is in IE 4.0 and Navigator 4.04. If you think all your customers will have updated browsers you can just use that function and not worry about it.

Are we having fun with Y2K yet?

Blind Spam. Are you getting more spam addressed to odd addresses hitting your servers? If so, your domain may have been added to the list of blind spammers who make up random E-mail addresses banking on the “typing monkeys” theory where if you send out enough blind E-mail, some will hit a legitimate address. The problem with this approach is that when under attack from blind spam systems can actually crash. Fixing these problems costs companies time and money.

There is not much you can do about it on the individual level; just be aware that the practice of using dictionaries to make up E-mail addresses for spam lists is out there.

In closing: Stay dry (the USA left coast certainly has not)!