Wednesday could be the day the computer virus Conficker wreaks havoc on millions of computers. Or the worm’s creators could be playing a bit of an April Fools’ joke on the cyber cops who are pursuing them. The Associated Press is reporting today that researchers think it is more likely to be the latter.

I’ve been keeping up with reports on Conficker in recent weeks, and chatting with K.C. Claffy, at the San Diego Supercomputer Center about the worm’s potential.

Today’s AP story says researchers believe that the April 1 launch date is “partly symbolic.” Here is an excerpt from the story:

[Wednesday is] when many of the poisoned machines will get more aggressive about “phoning home” to the worm’s creators over the Internet. When that happens, the bad guys behind the worm will be able to trigger the program to send spam, spread more infections, clog networks with traffic, or try to bring down Web sites.

Technically, this could cause havoc, but researchers who have been tracking Conficker say the date will probably come and go quietly. More likely, they say, the programming change that goes into effect April 1 is partly symbolic — an April Fools’ Day tweaking of Conficker’s pursuers, who for now have been able to prevent the worm from doing significant damage.

“I don’t think there will be a cataclysmic network event,” said Richard Wang, manager of the U.S. research division of security firm Sophos PLC. “It doesn’t make sense for the guys behind Conficker to cause a major network problem, because if they’re breaking parts of the Internet, they can’t make any money.”

CBS’s “60 Minutes” ran a story on Sunday that detailed the potential damage Conficker could do, and then goes into the general insecurity of the internet. It touched on some of the same issues my story in January on what we do and don’t know about the computer networks that run our lives.

Here is the piece:

DAVID WASHBURN

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