Updated: April 1, 2009
Recently, there's been quite a lot of scare buzz reverberating across the Internet, carrying dark, gloomy messages of despair and destruction to the unknowing, frightened users. It seems everyone needs their share of drama. So here's mine.
However, unlike the harbingers of doom, I'm going to take a different stance. Instead of preaching of digital evil taking hold of our lives, I will try to rationalize and dispel some of the popular topics that seem to make headlines these days.
Bad things = popularity
I've already written this in my Ultimate guide to increasing website traffic. Bad things garner attention. People flock to bad things like flies to midden, out of some inexplicable masochistic, self-destructive need. Feed them fear and they'll gobble it while hating every minute of it.
An effective, popular way of getting people to read your articles is by writing prophetic pieces of quasi-journalism, without bothering to explain things in detail - and most importantly - deliberately (or unknowingly) omit the usually simple solutions. Twisting facts also helps. Delusional mis-perception of just about everything can also assist in creating doomsday essays. Let me give you a few incredible examples:
Oh noes, yet another worm. This is the darling of IT experts and would-be experts all over the planet, especially those in the security business. Even though Microsoft people have provided a patch to the particular vulnerability approx. 800 years ago, even though it takes as little as running a basic firewall to keep the Internet noise away, people all over the world worship this new devil.
It's not like you bought Ebola shampoo. It's just a bit of code misbehaving. Seriously. But the big problem is not the attention this little binary gets. It's the way attention is given. I can understand the fascination. But what about the cure? Most articles are busy interviewing this or that anti-virus vendor, who advertise their stunning detection capabilities, but no one bothers to point out the most important thing: How not to get infected.
As always, it is a simple thing. Patch, firewall, don't go about with your USB key plugging it into every USB orifice like a drunken sailor in Shanghai port. Speaking of Autorun feature that is enabled on most (Windows) operating systems, why for? Is it that difficult clicking on My computer, choosing the drive you want and then running the file you need? Autorun is like opening the door to your house and having the rooms fight over which one should let you enter first. As to firewall, it's this simple:
Writing about problems and not telling people what the solution is - it is as bad as creating the problem. You spread fear and give nothing useful in return. All for the sake of propaganda and increased traffic. Just like the regular news stool samples you get. By the way, it's April 1. The "experts" promised us a taste of apocalypse today. So far, it's no different than yesterday. And I have no spicy jokes, either.
Another gem. People are speaking of Firefox death now that Internet Explorer 8 is available and Chrome for Linux is almost available. I see a few logical and mathematical issues with this one.
The above sentence implies that Firefox users are merely using Firefox as a transition period until the other two browsers become available. If so, we're using every single piece of software until the next choice become available. Browser wise, I see no reason why happy Firefox users should switch to a new browser. Just because one (or two) came out?
Do you change your wife (you probably wish) every time a new neighbor moves over to your hood? Do you buy a new car every time a new model comes out? Do you change your favorite meal whenever someone cooks a new dish?
I believe most people are using certain software because they either have no idea an alternative exists or because they actually like the product. In this specific case, the first option is not exactly relevant - on the contrary - so I'm having a hard time believing that Firefox users are disgruntled time-bombs waiting to happen.
Something in the numbers eludes me. Firefox has been on the rise ever since it came out. Take a look at the browser statistics on W3schools.com. Chrome has been out since September and pretty much held steady since, slightly rising. Firefox has been rising too. Internet Explorer has been steadily declining.
Now, assuming the browser pie is a constant, i.e. 100%, if A goes up, B goes up and C goes down, then we can assume that A goes up on the expense of C, right? Aha! So Firefox goes up, Chrome goes up, Internet Explorer goes down, can you please try to guest the right answer:
- Chrome has risen on the expanse of Internet Explorer.
- Chrome has risen on the expanse of Firefox.
If you guessed (2), then you probably believe Firefox is dead, even though its usage is growing steadily and has been doing so for the past four years or so. Oh, the statistics!
Every once in a while, a bug is detected in a chip. And tinfoil fans all over the world start speaking about CIA-planted backdoors. Chip makers have secret agreements with spy agencies ... Please.
The reason there are bugs in chips is the same as with any other hardware/software: bugs will always exist. Given an infinite QA period, you might be able to find them all out. But since you only have a limited window to work on ironing firmware, software, hardware, and whateveware bugs, some are due to remain and be found later. As simple as that.
As someone who actually has access to this particular world, I find it highly amusing that people without any clue whatsoever about silicone-based chip industry attribute so much to semi-autistic, stammering code-monkeys burrowing in cubicles all around the globe.
Shut your machines now, before something happens. Seriously. Think about it. It is possible to remain 100% uninfected on Windows, even without anti-virus or patches or any other nonsense. Think about the magnitude of self-destruction you need to invest in to compromise your Linux boxes.
Linux malware? Okay. So? You can get infected as easily as on any other system. Simply install malicious programs. Nothing special about that. On the same note, if you do not install malicious programs, you don't get infected. The linear simplicity of this is staggering. Some people are so frightened by it that they must have at least three anti-virus monitors installed just to relax.
Security on Windows is a non-issue, ten times more so on Linux. It takes effort to do so, which proves how ardent computers users are around the world, considering their great success in ruining their hardware and software so efficiently. If a lowly unpatched Windows machine can run downloading adult material via P2P by using nothing more than its built-in firewallfor years, then I see no reason why any normal Linux distro can't do the same or more.
Some people out there would like you to believe that you need their holy products to keep machines uninfected, but all it takes is a bit of self-discipline. It's like AIDS. You really don't have to get infected, unless you must. And even then, you have to try hard. And you don't need any specialists helping you stay away from trouble. The same with software. And now, the big proof why bovine surplus is sold by the pound ...
Do you remember year 2000? Do you remember what the "expects" promised us? Because the date register had only two bytes rather than four, the turn of the millennium was going to bring total havoc to the world: trains would collide, powerplants would screech to a halt, blackouts across big cities, nuclear stations melting, ballistic missiles firing off in random directions ... All of these and more. And what happened? One big nothing, adorned with a capital F.
There could not have been a bigger digital crisis - although some people are planning one for 2037 or so. Conficker and PDF and Firefox and whatnot are all tiny specks of dust compared to this one. And what has actually happened? Not even a single Commodore 64 or a rusty XT machine failed to work. Not a single hiccup.
So please, relax, take things into proportion. Nothing special is going to happen, not today, not tomorrow, not any time soon. There's a greater chance your hard disk will die or you may suffer a minor Internet outage due to ISP problems rather than getting physically violated by mischievous digital code. If you are really terrified about computer security, read this article and stop worrying. On a side note ...
Mark Shuttleworth A.K.A. Stalin II
This is another favorite, although not strictly related. Attacking Mark's business model, personality and whatnot. Which brings me to a question: How many of you founded a startup company in early to mid 90s and then sold it for 600 million dollars? Exactly. Until you do, try to keep quiet.
There is finally someone in the Linux world who actually understands business, how to make money and increase market share, and we should all be thankful for that. It is not without a reason why 50% of Linux users choose Ubuntu and why it's the most popular distro. Those 50% of people are not wrong. Cave dwellers are. Let people who actually understand the real world do their magic.
You will have greater luck finding rabid squirrels in your backyard than waiting for the digital doomsday. Relax. Enjoy life. Nothing has changed, just a few titles of a few articles around the Web. The Internet is the same as it was yesterday.