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MessageLabs calls it quits

Monday, December 31, 2007 Posted: 8:47 AM EST (1347 GMT)
The hallways are quiet at MessageLabs. The once bustling computer security firm has been whittled down to only the most senior management. Co-founder Ben White is removing a "Happy New Year" sign from the front office. "There's no secretary left to take it down for me," he says with a frown.

A court won't legally dissolve the firm until the Queen's birthday in April, but the end has come for Her Majesty's email guardians. "We handed out the first round of pink slips to our salaried employees on Good Friday," explains human resource manager Chris Tottman. "The last round of pink slips came out on Boxing Day for the few salaried employees who didn't abandon ship."

Chief security analyst Mark Sunner sits in a back room, putting stamps on envelopes addressed to their twelve remaining clients. "We call them the 'dirty dozen' holdouts," he says. "When I'm done with this, I'll go help (chief financial officer Stephen) Chandler," he mutters. "He's stuffing our accounting files into boxes for archival purposes."

"I predicted all of this back in 2001," Sunner goes on to say. "I told everyone the Internet could become unusable as a means of communication if the rate of email virus outbreaks continued to escalate. I said the volume of infected mail circulating could become so great that people without sufficient protection would simply stop using email by 2007. And that's exactly what happened."

"Every email today now contains a virus," Sunner goes on to say. "Every corporate negotiation, every military communication, and every weekly newsletter. Every email alert from every antivirus vendor now carries a virus, too. MessageLabs simply could not keep up with the onslaught."

Adrian Chamberlain, the firm's CEO, walks into the room and picks up the conversation where Sunner left off. "While the Internet has not collapsed, it has certainly ceased to be usable as a safe and credible means of communication for business and home users," he says. "Computer networks have ground to a halt because of the overwhelming volume of infected material circulating. It's an onslaught." Chamberlain then reaches for a toolbox and tells Sunner, "I need to dismantle the desk you're sitting at."

In its heyday, MessageLabs was one of the most powerful forces in the fight against viruses. They protected clients' networks from viruses, spam, spyware, and other inappropriate content. "We even had an unrivaled 100% guarantee against known and unknown email viruses," Chamberlain sighs. "But those days are gone. We just can't keep up with the onslaught."

"Onslaught" is the word of the day at MessageLabs. "I wish we could have kept up with the onslaught," says chief software architect Paul Fletcher. "We standardized our products in ways that made the rest of the industry jealous," he observes, "but our standards didn't hold up against the chaotic evolution of malicious software. We couldn't stem the onslaught."

The company's "imagineer," Alex Shipp, slips in with a note for the CEO. "Your wife called," he says quietly. "She insists that you come home and explain to the kids why they need to attend public school." Chamberlain stuffs the note into his pocket. "Kids today," he says to no one in particular. "Take a silver spoon out of their mouth and they think it's the end of their little world."

"I probably got hurt the most by this onslaught," says Shipp. "It destroyed my ability to imagine the Internet as a useful means of communication." And his prospects for a new job are looking grim. "Who needs an imagineer who can't imagine?"

Rick Brown is sitting in a chair with a laptop on his knees. "I'm mooching some wireless service from the company next door," he admits. Formerly the head of global sales, he is now tasked with selling the firm's domain name on eBay. "I'm praying we don't get sniped," he says. "We need the cash." Suddenly, he's yelling down the hallway to Sunner. "Mark, my wireless connection got hit by an email virus, can you help?"

Sunner's reply is simple and to the point. "Sorry, you're on your own."

(Original non-parody version of this story published here.)