Having a blast

I've just got back from spending the afternoon and evening working the phones at Microsoft
Technical Support providing volunteer cover to help people with virus problems.

This week the MSBlast and Sobig viruses seem to have completely taken over. Even on
uninfected computers, access to web pages is slow and inboxes are swamped with e-mails
with dangerous payloads. Blaster is particularly nasty - it sits on machines watching
out for new machines to appear on the Internet and immediately sends out an RPC call
to make them shut themselves down again.

It's hard for us at Microsoft to keep up with the enormous demand for technical support,
so everyone in Redmond has been encouraged to consider helping out. It was a great
atmosphere. We had 45 minutes of training from a Support Engineer (who was very funny
- he ought to consider doing stand-up) and then were launched on an unsuspecting public.

It was a tremendously rewarding experience. It's been a while since I've been able
to have such direct customer contact - it was something I loved at SADiE. Somehow
you feel like you're actually managing to have an impact on someone's life in a very
practical way. The people I spoke to were extremely grateful - especially when they
realized we were volunteers. My calls were lasting about 45 minutes on average and
in that time you get to chat about all sorts of things - hopefully we can do something
to make people think of Microsoft as a caring company (which in my opinion it is)
rather than an evil monster.

Actually, no-one seemed to blame us at all, and every person I talked to could not
comprehend why someone would ever want create anything like the Blaster virus - and
I have to say I agree with them. There's nothing particularly clever about it; if
the vulnerability is well known it is scarily simple to put something together which
exploits it. One blog I read likened it to kids who go round throwing bricks through
windows just to prove to their friends how cool and tough they are. This guy through
one heck of a lot of bricks.

Most of the people I come into contact with during the course of my working life -
and personal life too - are reasonably computer literate and confident. Most of them
have broadband connections, and are savvy enough to go to windowsupdate.com and make
sure their machines are patched. However, the sorts of people I was talking to this
afternoon haven't turned their computer on all week. All they wanted to do is visit
priceline.com to look at airline ticket prices.

What scares me most is the thought that these people will just turn their computers
on, find that they don't work any more and then just stop bothering to use them. I
can really see this happening - people just don't care as much about using their PCs
as much as geeks like me would like to think. If these sorts of problems keep coming
up we're going to have to work hard to encourage the average person to keep investing
in home PCs.