LAW OFFICE COMPUTING
Ten years ago this column observed:
“It seems that every place you go in the last few months you hear people talking about the Internet. The vast majority of them know very little about it, but the Net's global characteristics are so intriguing that expanded knowledge runs the risk of interfering with the fantasy of a seamless electronic world without boundaries. In that fantasy world the Internet has broken down the walls created by language and culture and nationalism and rendered us instead into a homogenous world called cyberspace.
The fantasy is at once close to the mark and hopelessly naive. The Internet does connect us in many ways, but the protocols for accessing it are often arcane and difficult to use. The arcaneness of the Internet has been the principal barrier to its expansion to the masses of computer illiterates and semi-literates. Just as the intricacies of DOS for a decade kept the masses away from computers, so too have the text-based protocols of the Internet made access highly difficult. “ (Law Office Computing, May 1995)
In the month following, Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer 1.0 which was designed to compete with the Netscape Internet browser that had appeared in October 1994 under the code name "Mozilla." My academic complaint was thus answered by a fellow named Bill Gates who had just decided that the Internet was the real deal and who brought to the fight the resources of the Microsoft steamroller. Thus began a decade of rapid and dramatic technological change that created many new millionaires and billionaires and forever transformed the world economy. Almost all of that revolutionary development depended upon the communication technology introduced to the world by the Internet browsers that allowed ordinary folks like us to forgo the “the text-based protocols of the Internet [that] made access highly difficult.” Using a mouse click to take a quick trip to the Louvre was the key to the revolution and the world took to it with astounding speed.
One of the defining characteristics of the ensuing years was the development of many competitive software programs that were distributed free over the Internet in the hope that users would provide the developers with feedback and suggestions for improvement. That synergistic linking of developers and users propelled the advancement of information technology at a prodigious rate. A good part of the reason for that was the emerging “geek nation” whose Internet addiction fueled the flames of inovation. It seemed in those days that new and productive software programs appeared on a weekly basis. Geeks were able to produce a myriad of small programs that would perform mundane tasks with magical speed and accuracy. No sooner did a program appear than a competitor would respond and after a few years all were combined into a mature technology which was then purchased by Microsoft or one of the few other large software companies.
That process produced the Information Age and it continues today. But with it has come the three scourges that now threaten to profoundly impair if not destroyed much of the usefulness of the Internet.[INSERT ILLUSTRATION] Those three scourges are, of course, viruses, spam and spyware. But in the true tradition of the Internet the geek nation has responded and there are now emerging powerful tools for correcting the imbalance that has occurred. Most of them are free or very inexpensive. Here are a few of them.
Everybody ought to have a virus program by now. I use the McAffee (http://us.mcafee.com/) program but others such as Symantec http://www.symantec.com) and Sophos (www.sophos.com) are available for a reasonable fee. I particularly like the McAfee product because of the way it automatically updates itself. With new viruses coming in a torrent, the automatic update is a critical function of any modern anti-virus software. But the anti-virus software only focuses on viruses. Other kinds of “malware” require other solutions.
Qurb is a program that I have talked about before. While it does not solve the spam problem it can reduce the amount of spam you receive by 80 or 90%. Unlike many of the other spam protectors, Qurb never prevents an e-mail communication from reaching you without telling you precisely what it has done. I could not live without it and you can get a free trial copy at www.Qurb.com .
One good thing about spam is that at least you know when you get it. But there are other hidden programs that come to you in a variety of ways when you browse the Internet. Most of them are focused on providing a purveyor of something with information about you-- information like your browsing habits, your e-mail address, your computer’s IP address, and other such information. Even legitimate and prestigious publications such as the Wall Street Journal collect that kind of information from you without warning. Many of you will not care that such information is collected but many ardent libertarians object as a matter of principle. And even the most sanguine among us will object to secret collection of information such as your credit card or social security number. But since such information gathering is not revealed to you when it occurs it is hard to eradicate. Moreover, the secret tools that are planted on your computer’s hard drive are not obvious even when you look. Fortunately, geeks have come to the rescue. A free program called Ad-aware can be downloaded from www.lavasoftusa.com. Every Internet user should have Ad-aware on their computer. Even casual Internet users should run the program on a regular basis. Ad-aware will search your hard drive for those hidden programs and allow you to eradicate them with a mouse click. You will be amazed at how many of them you collect over short period of time. Ad-aware is very fast and the price (free) is right.
Some of these programs called spyware do not just passively collect information but in fact spy upon your computer use and proactively transfer that information to the collection source. Such surveillance tools allow a collector to monitor all kinds of activity on a computer, ranging from keystroke capture, snapshots, email logging, chat logging and virtually anything else that piques the interest of the collector. Another free program called SpyBot is designed to ferret out those spies. It is free and can be downloaded from www.safer-networking.org. I have found that Spybot and Ad-aware find different hidden programs and so I run them both about once a week. If you want to know more read Steve Gibson's seven point Code of Backchannel Conductat grc.com/oo/cbc.htm for the gory information.
Much of the spyware and adware comes when one of those annoying pop-up ads attracts enough attention that you actually succumb and click on it. If you cannot control the temptation, the best thing to do is to stop the pop-ups. The best thing I have found is the Google Toolbar popup tool which is available free from www.google.com .
I have found that if I am attentive about running these tools on a regular basis that in addition to protecting my privacy and lowering the level of my annoyance, my computer runs much smoother and faster. Moreover, I take great personal pleasure at finding and destroying these outrageous programs. It is really fun and takes but a moment of your time. Go forth and destroy evil—get the geeks’ revenge!
Put this in the middle if you want to use it:
The Growth of Spyware in Recent Months
The Growth of Spyware in Recent Months