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Computer Security: Animal or plant?


Have you ever wondered about the purpose of the “Animal Shelter for Computer Mice” set up on the lawn in front of the CERN Data Centre? Put in place more than 10 years ago and resurrected once, it is intended as a monument to pure and perfect computer protection, as well as being a refuge for orphaned computer mice that constitute a primary risk to your computer and your computing account*.

Coupled with human curiosity ─ and as a CERN staff member or user you should be overflowing with such curiosity ─ just one innocent click of your computer mouse can put your digital life in danger. One click, to get malware installed. One click, to compromise your laptop. One click, to lose all your documents and data. One click, to hand over access to your account to some malicious person. Digital life gone. R.I.P. Game over. And game over for the Organization, too. Hence, we repeatedly warn people to “STOP ─ THINK ─  DON’T CLICK” when faced with unrelated URLs, unsolicited links or unexpected attachments (see here, here, here and there). Clicking is risky. And your computer mouse is a dangerous collaborator.  

Recently, however, we’ve been informed that it’s not only computer mice that pose a threat to your digital well-being. No, trackpads do, too:

“I write to you with the greatest urgency. Dutifully following CERN’s advice (like any self-respecting scientist), I have disconnected my mouse and sent it to the animal shelter. Yet, I find myself still at risk of clicking. Sacrilegiously, my laptop has a trackpad. I feel that it is my calling in life to raise the alarm when it comes to trackpads allowing for clicking. It is an utter torment. While I have discovered this relationship, I have failed to find potential solutions. It would seem, now that mice have been banished to the shelters, trackpads are going to take over the world. Given CERN’s successful de-micing campaign, I request you – again with the highest urgency – to help us find a solution against the scourge that trackpads now represent.”

Right this sender is. Indeed, trackpads are just as dangerous as computer mice. One click, and your digital life is gone. However, digging deeper into the biology of IT, we have come to the conclusion that trackpads are not the concern of the animal shelter ... as they are not animals but plants. Computer mice move and, hence, like any other moving object, can be considered animals. Your trackpad does not move at all and is hence, based on the aforementioned definition, a plant. Unfortunately, CERN has not yet created a specific garden for trackpad plants...

For the moment, therefore, we urge any concerned scientist who fears a computer security problem caused by trackpads ─ combined with their own inherent curiosity ─ to reinforce “STOP ─ THINK ─  DON'T CLICK” by putting (at their own risk!) a big thick sticker over their trackpad or covering the trackpad with a layer of glue, Nutella or, better, Vegemite. 

Whatever you do, make “STOP ─ THINK ─  DON'T CLICK” your mantra when browsing the web, opening emails or faced with links and URLs. Pause for a second in order to protect your digital life and your work for CERN. “STOP ─ THINK ─ DON'T CLICK”, with either your trackpad or your mouse. Thank you.


*Computer mice continue to be accepted at the shelter.


Do you want to learn more about computer security incidents and issues at CERN? Follow our Monthly Report. For further information, questions or help, check our website or contact us at Computer.Security@cern.ch.