Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Computers as Space Saving Devices?

Computers have changed our lives in countless big and small ways in the past fifteen years. The print media industry has taken some blows, as have the music business and retail. In the past I have written about the Internet as being a kind of "death star" media that comes along and destroys other medias.

This is overly dramatic of course, and not entirely accurate. The Internet doesn't really destroy other medias. It replaces them with something that's generally more convenient. Why have a shelf full of records and CDs for instance when you can download whatever you want and put it on your iPod. Why go to the bookstore when you can download the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel on your Kindle and start reading it immediately?

Obviously the Internet making things tough for the print world is nothing new. Magazines and newspapers have been closing up the shutters for the better part of ten years now. And the latest casualty of the online information revolution looks like it will be the Oxford English Dictionary.

Nigel Portwood, the publisher of the dictionary revealed the newest edition would likely be released only for the web. Speaking to the Sunday Times, Portwood was quoted as saying, "The print dictionary market is just disappearing. It's falling away by tens of percent a year."

Access to the digital edition of the publication costs $295.00 a year. That's not cheap, but think of the room you will now have on your shelf for all your books, CDs and . . . oh wait. Well, what exactly are we going to put on our shelves now that we're downloading all our books, music, movies and dictionaries?

If things keep heading the way they're going, the next industry to fall under threat from the Internet may not be related to the media or electronics at all. It may turn out to be the bookshelf industry.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Maintaining Vigilance in the Face of Big Brother

The Pentagon is currently working to establish new cyber-security initiatives to protect the Internet and in particular, US interests online. These initiatives come in the wake of a successful infiltration of the US military network that took place back in 2008.

That attack had its epicenter at a US military base in the Middle East where an infected flash drive was inserted into a US military laptop. Like a deadly SMERSH assassin in a James Bond movie, the malicious software on that flash drive uploaded itself and found its way into the network run by US Central Command.

Just was we must strike the difficult balance between protecting our national security and our civil liberties in the real world, we must also do so in the cyber-world. With more than one hundred foreign governments currently trying to find a way into our government and military networks we must indeed, as they used to say back in the Bush/Cheney era, "practice vigilance." However at the same time, as Americans, we aren't comfortable with the thought of our intelligence agencies acting like some kind of Internet "big brother."

Cyber-attacks are incapable of creating the kind of casualties a nuclear, chemical or biological attack could. But a cyber-9/11 could effectively turn our society over on its back like a turtle for any length of time.

PC World has described the Pentagon's new cyber-security initiatives as being, "part digital NATO, part digital civil defense and part Big Brother." In computers, as in the real world, how big a part "Big Brother" will ultimately play in our future security is an evolving question. Maybe it would be a good idea to regard the vigilance we practice as going both ways.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Tough Strain of Cyber-Flu

New statistics released by Symantec's Messagelabs division have revealed that more than 40 percent of the world's spam can be traced back to a single network of computers. The malware program operating on the infected network is known as the Rustock botnet.

Currently there are some 1.3 million computers infected with the Rustock botnet. That's down from April when there were around 2.5 million computers infected. At the time those computers were sending out approximately 43 billion spam e-mails a day. But like human viruses, computer viruses are also capable of mutating and adapting. Rustock has compensated for the reduction in the number of computers carrying it by upping its volume. Currently the virus is responsible for sending out around 46 million spam e-mails per day. Most of the spam Rustock is responsible for is pharmaceutical.

Like a stubborn strain of flu, Rustock has proved particularly difficult to eradicate. It was dealt a near-fatal blow back in 2008, when the notorious McColo ISP was cut off from the web. McColo was host to command and control servers for a number of botnets. But like the proverbial killer in the slasher film that never quite dies, Rustock managed to survive when McColo was briefly able to reconnect with the web.

Currently computer security professionals are looking for a way to effectively eradicate Rustock completely.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cameron Diaz and Leading Computers Astray

She may be America's sweetheart but actress Cameron Diaz has just earned the dubious distinction of being named the riskiest celebrity to search for online. Internet security firm, McAfee publishes an annual list of dangerous celebs to Google search and Miss Diaz has topped this year's list, beating out the likes of Julia Roberts and Jessica Biel.

So while computers themselves may not be easily lead astray, it would seem that their users are. And apparently cyber-criminals have determined that actresses make for effective bait when it comes to luring unsuspecting users to malicious websites.

And no matter whether it's the user or the computer who is lead astray, the outcome can be much the same; becoming infected with malware, spyware or some other form of computer virus.

This is why it's never a good idea to click onto a strange website. Not for Cameron Diaz, Jessica Biel, Megan Fox or any other celebrity hottie for that matter. If your computer becomes infected with malicious software if may become possible for criminals to steal your banking information, email password or other vital information.

So it seems that with computers, just as in life, giving in to temptation is not always in our best interests.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Slumlords of the Internet

As Internet domain registrar and content provider, Demand Media is preparing to go public on the stock market, it has suffered the dubious distinction of being called the worst ISP in the world by malware tracking group HostExploit. Demand Media is perhaps best known as the owner of such downmarket content sites as eHow, Livestrong and Trails.com. However the company also runs the second largest domain registration service in the world.

However, like the landlord of an apartment block full of crack dealers, Demand apparently has not been too picky about the tenants it rents to. According to HostExploit, the amount of malicious activity taking place on Demands networks is ten times more today than it was back in January.

You'd be tempted to give a company that makes helpful content such as "Hair Shows in Knoxville, Tennessee," available to the public, the benefit of the doubt. Yet it's noteworthy and perhaps suspicious that 35 percent of the fake pharmacy websites in the world are registered through Demand Media and its affiliate company, eNow.

So again, like the landlord that will rent to anyone willing to pay, it seems as if Demand Media doesn't really care where the money comes from, as long as the check finds it's way into the drop slot on the first of the month.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bad Flu Season Ahead for Computers

Cyber-security firm, McAfee has published a threat-assessment report for the second quarter of 2010. The report has revealed that the danger of being infected with computer malware viruses is at an all-time high.

The report's findings reveal that just as viruses which effect humans continue to evolve and adapt to medicine's attempts to thwart them, computer malware is evolving in much the same way. Of course the difference is that there is a human element behind computer borne viruses. From the look of things it appears that that human element is becoming ever-more astute.

A McAfee press release related to the threat-assessment, has stated that, "It's also obvious that cybercriminals are becoming more in tune with what the general public is passionate about from a technology perspective and using it to lure unsuspecting victims."

Like any good doctor advising patients on preventative measures to take during a particularly bad flu season, McAfee has issued their own prescription to the general public.

Among other things, McAfee's prescription urges organizations to test their own security measures by employing the same sorts of techniques employed by hackers. McAfee has also called for more education on the dangers of malware as well as more cooperation and sharing of information between cybersecurity professionals.