Using basic epidemiological practices and lessons learned completing a detailed computational study of the evolution of the influenza virus and its human host, post-graduate student Stephen Huff of the University of Houston developed a simple but robust web site for the distribution of safe, free software downloads - best of all, the service is free.
(PRWEB) June 5, 2010 -- We call them computer ‘viruses’ for a reason. Lacking a physiology (operating system) of their own, these short sequences of machine language or script are completely dependent upon their hosts for their functionality and replication, and they readily transfer from one infected organism (computer) to another via careless contact of some kind. Within the newly infected system they deliver their unpleasant payload, and then they replicate prolifically with the ultimate goal of attacking yet another unprotected system to continue the cycle of infection.
This is what genuine viruses like influenza do, as well, claims Stephen Huff, a computational microbiologist working to complete a doctorate at the University of Houston. “Comparing computer viruses to their biological counterparts, I find they are extremely similar. If you consider the need to reload or recover lost data or operating systems to be the ‘death’ of a computer, then the ‘morbidity’ and ‘mortality’ attributed to both infections is similar, too. In other words, both kinds of viruses cause a great deal of ‘sickness’ and ‘death’ every year.”
Like most computer users, Huff has encountered his share of malware and has come to loathe such applications passionately. A particularly vicious attack in 2008 resulted in the loss of several gigabytes of un-saved experimental data. “I was careless. I needed a free application to perform a one-time operation, and I Googled the key words ‘free software’. I should have added one more vital key word: ‘safe’.” Though he laughs now, it is the bittersweet humor of long-reconciled loss. Huff says he, of all people, should have known better.
In addition to being a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Huff is nearing completion of a four year computational study of the influenza virus and its evolutionary relationship to its human host. Completion of this complex project will earn him a doctorate in December of 2010. The experience has also taught him much about infectious human diseases, especially those caused by the tiniest of all threats: viruses. As with biological bugs, human society has developed multiple methods for dealing with unwholesome software. Collectively, these efforts mirror the epidemiological management of influenza, for example.
“It’s more than just vaccination of the individual citizen or installation of anti-malware software on the individual PC. The United Nations long ago established a global network of monitoring stations that collect, analyze and report on the presence of influenza infections as they occur. In this way, scientists all over the world can participate in the defense against dangerous emerging mutants like the strain that popped up in Mexico City during 2009. Though new, a similar process is developing for the identification and quarantine of Internet-borne malware.” The problem, says Huff, is that computer malware exploits active points of distribution, for which there is no equivalent available to the influenza virus. “Nobody is standing on the corner and intentionally passing out free samples of influenza, herpes or hepatitis, though anybody can find these diseases through careless contact, just the same.”
Eventually, Huff believes web sites that distribute software will be forced to carry some form of license or guarantee safeguarding the intentional distribution of malware, much in the same way that a city’s department of health and welfare ensures that restaurants operate in a safe and hygienic fashion. Unfortunately, that global regulatory agency does not exist, and the safety of available software downloads is currently left to the individual web master. Anticipation of this need inspired Huff's development of SafeFreeSoftware.com.
“One of the things that made fast-food restaurant chains so successful was their uniform cleanliness of operation. A person could stop at a familiar place and be assured of a consistently clean table, a polished floor and a scrubbed bathroom. When a person is looking to explore the latest audio, video or security software, or even if they just want to play a fun game or change the appearance of their business environment, they want the same kind of considerations. They want it safe. They want it clean. They want it now. For these reasons and more, I want SafeFreeSoftware.com to be the first domain name that comes to mind during every software search.”
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