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Archive for June 1st, 2009

The Luke Method

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The Luke Method for Computer Security: Unplug your computer, take out any battery back-up power, and let it sit like a rock.

When I first met Susan, she was working part-time for Luke, who ran a computer business out of a little shop in a local strip mall. When “Crash” – as she all-too-appropriately nicknamed the desktop computer she was using at the time – began suffering motherboard meltdown, naturally Susan took the equipment to her employer . . . again, and then again when it still wouldn’t work, and then again and again and again. Each time charged for Luke’s work without getting back a computer that worked.

When all else failed, Luke finally offered to simply purchase Crash from her . . . for a price that – when added to all she had spent for work that had not worked – would have amounted to the same deal as if she had paid him to take the computer off her hands in the first place, essentially paying him a fee to not be wasting her time.

She donated Crash to the Boy Scouts instead.

As ludicrous as Luke’s idea of a good price was, even more outrageous was his philosphy on how to maintain computer security. Susan would encounter a problem – which we did finally figure out to be related to a malfunctioning motherboard, i.e., hardware-based, not software-related – and Luke would say, “Don’t use the Internet, and you won’t have problems.” So she’d cut back her use of the Internet to the bare-bones, completely innocuous websites, and he would say, “Well, don’t use AOL Internet Messenger, and you won’t have problems.” Then, “Well, don’t use e-mail, and you won’t have problems.” Then even getting as ridiculously stupid as Apple commercials are, trying to bullshit her into believing, “Well, if you don’t use Word, you won’t have problems,” and “Well, if you don’t use Windows, you won’t have problems.” Little by little cutting out every possible thing the computer might be doing when its motherboard would blow up, until essentially she would have arrived at the essence of the Luke Method: Don’t use your computer, and your computer won’t have problems.

We laugh – and in no small part, we laugh because he was charging his customers for such expert fix-it know-how – but the Luke Method can at least be used as the farthest extreme of a ranking for computer activities that are more secure or less secure. For example, the following list represents some of my own initial impressions, with rankings running from 0 for zero exposure and zero risk (but of course also zero utility and zero use), representing strict application of the Luke Method, all the way to 100 for complete exposure and absolute risk (representing complete freedom for only the nano-second it will take before your computer goes belly up to a virus or some other attack). Notice that the two extremities of this list loop around to the same result: in either instance, you lose use of your computer.

0 The Luke Method – Turn your computer off, unplug it, and never turn it on again. Guarantee: Your computer will never crash nor be infected with any virus. Result: zero use of your computer.
5 Avoid All External Contact – Luke is unrealistic, but technically correct: avoid all Internet use whatsoever, and you will need no firewalls, no anti-virus software. Of course, we had computer viruses spreading to our equipment long before the Internet – to reach for minimum risk, you must also not load any files from diskettes, from flash drives, from any external source whatsoever without first scanning for the nasties. Result: You have a sophisticated typewriter, not really what we’d think of as a modern computer.
10 Super Security-Conscious – It’s possible to overload your computer so tightly with firewalls and anti-virus anti-popup anti-cookie software and operating system security updates and all manner of other protective gear, that your computer will run almost as sluggishly as near the high end of this ranking. Technically, the strongest anti-virus software packages are almost as bad as the viruses they supposedly protect from, the only difference being that you give them a piece of your bank account up front by paying for the anti-virus software, instead of letting them steal access to your bank account itself. In mob-infested neighborhoods, we call that a protection racket. It’s also very near the Luke Method end of the scale: you turn over the majority of your computing power to the protection software, hoping it hands you back sufficient computing power to conduct the rest of your computer use in some relative semblance of peace.
50 Shared Computer Use – Don’t be the only person to use your computer. I place this computer practice midway down my personal ranking, because in a sense it can be thought of so, representing the “balance” of two or more users of your computer. Unfortunately, the risks and exposures do not average out among the users; rather, the security level for all will be the security level of the worst. For example, take two users: one strictly uses the Luke Method itself and stops using the computer whatsoever, but the other user goes to the farthest extreme; the result will be an infected computer that neither can use. We can’t all selfishly own and control a computer completely to one individual, but sharing a computer does demand shared responsibility, shared awareness of the risks, shared respect for the other users’ security.
55 Type Your URLs – Nobody, even the best court stenographer, is immune from keyboard mistakes. Make a mistake when you type in an URL you wish to visit, and all too frequently you don’t just get a not-found message; rather, you can run smack into the arms of an Internet rodent who has anticipated the typing error. Worst instance of this one: try to visit your bank’s website by typing in its URL incorrectly, and you’re begging to be robbed. Best is to visit your trusted websites only via trusted links, creating such links as favorites after the very rare times when you very very very very carefully type in the correct URL.
60 Check out Links Suggested by Stangers – You meet a kind stranger who suggests on his LiveJournal or Facebook that there’s some picture or video or other content that you really really really must see, just click right here. Ooops, time to flush out your computer again and feed it antibiotics to rid it of unwanted viruses and other deadly content. Better thing to do: don’t.
70 Pop-Up Temptations – A pop-up ad interrupts your surfing, warning you that your computer is at risk, wouldn’t you like to have your computer scanned for problems and protected from future risks. Click to accept the pop-up’s offer, and you’ve quite likely just done the exact opposite, inviting the vampire through your computer’s front door.
80 Visit Internet Gaming Websites – See the porn site comments further down in this ranking. Gambling websites and other gaming sites are generally not quite as venal as the porn, but their basic character is much the same: leave without becoming an addicted paying customer, and you risk leaving with an unwanted guest on your computer; pay, and the only relief they will grant is that the unwanted guest might not destroy as long as you continue to pay.
90 Visit Internet Porn Websites – Even the typical porn website that offers supposedly free content is highly dangerous. The standard porn distributor doesn’t really wish to crash your computer, since that threatens to remove a paying customer from coming through the door. But they do know that even a paying customer is likely to get addicted enough to pay to come back, even if that means battling unwanted junk piled onto your computer. And forget it if you’ve simply peeked through their free content and try to leave without getting hooked – count on it, as surely as swimming in a cesspool without a gas mask: you leave the site with a nasty kissoff for failing to pay up.
95 Run E-Mail Attachments from Strangers – Any e-mail from any unknown source should always be deleted without even opening the e-mail itself, much less running any attached software. Guarantee: Any software attached to strange e-mail has one goal and one goal only. Run that software, and you may have to fix a hell of a lot more than your computer, starting with your phone number and your bank account and in the worst scenarios even extending as far as your home address and even your own name.
100 Piss Off an Internet Rodent – By any of the previous high-ranked methods or by any other activities, get on the bad side of a person who has evil intentions and zero morals. Whether out of sour grapes or because it was their intention all along, the rodent will target your computer for destruction. Guarantee: Even with anti-virus equipment, firewalls, and other protection, your computer will inevitably suffer the consequence of the rodent’s attack. Result: zero use of your computer.

As I’ve hinted, although i scoff at what Luke himself advised, generally speaking I consider my own computer use and Internet use to be far closer to the Luke Method than to the high end of these rankings. Nobody but I use my own equipment. I surf only a very small number of Internet websites, almost all of those maintained by governmental agencies, and all of those accessed through links vs typing in the URL. I rarely use e-mail, and then only from people I have long trusted. I install no new software except from the absolute most trusted sources.

Like how it’s sad that airline hijackings and school shootings and other crimes we’ve suffered in modern society have robbed us of personal and social freedoms, so too it is a shame we do not have as much freedom with our computers that we ought to have. But all in all, Luke’s foolishness did possess an ounce of wisdom: if we lock our doors at night and set the house alarm, we can usually sleep with a degree of peace.

Written by macheide

1 June 2009 at 5:48 am

Posted in macheide

Toilet Humor

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Around 2am this morning, we used our hotel room toilet, then remained awake chatting. Lucky we didn’t immediately fall asleep, as would have been more usual, since then we likely would not have wondered what that dripping sound was.

Turned out that the toilet tank had refilled with water that was very warm, about as warm as a McDonald’s cup of coffee. And that the ceramic tank, previously very cool, had reacted to the new temperature by cracking almost completely down one side. Water was leaking rapidly, flooding the floor, then the tank would refill with more warm water and continue leaking. Making matters worse, the shutoff valve for the tank’s refill pipe was missing, so we couldn’t stop the problem. (Well, actually we could have stopped the leak, if I had immediately flushed the toilet again to completely empty out the tank, then had held the flush down coninuously until the maintenance man arrived; but I didn’t think of that until later, and certainly I would not have wanted to miss my sleep by doing that all morning long.)

Although we obviously couldn’t do without a toilet, we saw no reason to pack up and move rooms at that hour of the morning. If we needed a toilet for the remainder of the morning, we could always tromp down to the lobby’s public restrooms.

But checking the sink and shower revealed that nothing was giving us any cold water. Every single drop was hot!! Knowing of no reason that our room should be singled out, that perhaps the sole thing making us unique was that we might might have been the only ones so far to be up at the 2am hour for a bathroom break, I had concerns of the entire hotel eventually flooding as room by room used their toilets. So I visited the front desk to warn them of the warm water situation. The night clerk didn’t seem to get it and there was no engineer on hand to look into the problem, so I returned to a sleep troubled by visions of waking to longs lines of angry customers filling the halls. (But visions which gave way to very nightmarish dreams of Regina breaking up into small cubes of flesh.)

But woke to find that who-knows-why-but we apparently were the only ones who suffered this strange liquid heat wave. But Mariott isn’t like AT&T or IBM or American Airlines or Delta: no, generally speaking Mariott seems to realize that it is in the business of keeping its customers happy. Which in this instance means that the remainder of our stay will be in an upgraded room, something they call a King Suite. This being just a Courtyard Mariott, that doesn’t mean the same as when Mariott’s Wardman Hotel once made up a lesser inconvenience by giving me a night in an executive suite, complete with its own conference room, its own kitchen suitable for feeding a dozen or more, a room and balcony large enough to host entertain several dozen with the room’s grand piano, and a bedroom and bathroom one might be happy dying in. No, here it means that we have two TVs, one in the sitting room that now is separate from the bedroom, a small kitchen area that includes a microwave, and other minor upgrades in basic amenities . . . somewhat curiously, with a smaller bathroom, but that bathroom having a toilet that hasn’t yet cracked.

bumper sticker [] - adrien

Written by macheide

1 June 2009 at 3:15 am

Posted in Adrien