zero day worm
It will be a bug like this that will take the whole world down. For the
less computery types: a bug in all versions of windows prior to XPSP2
makes it possible for the bad guys to take over a windows machine if you
just view a specially crafted graphics file. A public exploit to do just
this has already been published.
That means anyone who uses the web, anyone who reads graphics-enabled
email, really anyone who uses the network at all is vulnerable to total
Security people have long feared the appearance of a "zero day" worm, a
worm that propagates at maximum speed and exploits a widely unpatched
vulnerability. The large majority of the internet, including millions of
machines that cannot be reached directly, could be under the control of
one or a few people in hours or even MINUTES. Imagine the first thing the
worm does after taking over a machine is insert itself in all the HTML
documents it can find and email itself to every address it can find.
There are many many companies that are reasonably well firewalled from
direct attack from the outside, but where people use windows machines
internally to use the Internet. Bam, they're dead. And once one machine
is infected it can attack all the others from the inside of the network,
which is much easier.
You can't even conceive of how bad it could get. Once it's loose it will
be impossible to reign in. Thousands of companies, government agencies,
even military branches could be completely paralyzed, all their internal
data compromised. Very few institutions would be safe.
I think this is one of the greatest dangers facing the civilized world
today. No joke. But people won't believe it until it happens. Imagine
all the fears about Y2K amplified dramatically, but this is much more real
than Y2K. Y2K was a very speculative concern because nobody really knew
how vulnerable we were. But there's no question about how widespread
unpatched windows systems are.