VB2008: Experts take flight… to Ottawa


It’s a sign of getting older that time seems to race past more quickly with every year. It’s hard to believe that it’s a full 12 months since I was feasting on schnitzels in Vienna, where the good guys of the anti-virus industry had gathered for the Virus Bulletin conference.

But those strudel-filled nights are just a distant memory now, as the great and the good of the anti-virus industry have been drawn to the Westin Hotel in Ottawa, not far from the parliament buildings, for three days of conferences and discussions about all things malware and spam.

I flew in this afternoon, to find the plane brimming over with anti-virus luminaries. Within spitting distance of my economy seat I spied experts from MessageLabs, IBM, Microsoft, Kaspersky, McAfee, Sophos, and the organising committee from Virus Bulletin itself. It occurred to me that if the organised criminal gangs responsible for so much of the malware and spam today were to grow to adopt the tactics of James Bond’s adversaries at SMERSH, then they would probably plot to shoot flights like this out of the sky. As it was, the only sign of sabotage was a broken toilet at the back of the aircraft that resulted in a few long queues.

Meanwhile, the rumours of stone-age in-flight entertainment turned out to be baseless, as Air Canada did us proud in what seemed like a newly refurbished plane with touch screen TVs in the back of the headrests even for those of us stuck in cockroach class, and power point and USB chargers to feed all of our gadgets.

The conference proper doesn’t begin until Wednesday when Virus Bulletin editor Helen Martin cuts the ribbon and declares proceedings open, but that doesn’t mean that people will have their feet up until then. If you take a close look you’ll find anti-malware researchers and testing bodies taking advantage of the convergence of experts to hold meetings behind closed doors, discussing the industry issues that face us all, and help us work more effectively together behind the scenes.

Yes, it’s a very competitive industry – but it’s remarkable how well the techies from the different companies get on with each other. The sales and marketroids of the different vendors may not like each other, but the programmers and analysts genuinely do enjoy eachother’s company in the main, and the opportunity to share stories of obfuscated code and buffer overflows over a beer.