Friday, April 10, 2009

Another small victory for freedom over Big Brother!

I'm not usually one to support socialism, but... Congratulations, French Socialist Party!

A bill that would have created the world's first government agency devoted to tracking Internet activity and punishing Internet piracy was unexpectedly defeated in the French National Assembly yesterday, primarily by members of the Socialist Party who had opposed the bill from its inception.

I personally find this a bit odd since the French Socialist Party, like all democratic socialist parties, tends to be in favor of government regulation. I'm not usually one to support socialism (which may be my biggest understatement of the day), but in this case I don't care. For today, at least, I have nothing but love for the Parti Socialiste.

Of course, the defeat of the bill might have been helped a little by the National Assembly being nearly empty at the time, since the bill was expected to be passed with little opposition. The vote was 21-15. The Assemblée Nationale has 577 members, so it seems apathy won the day.

While the bill will almost certainly be brought before the legislature again, it's good to see that a few legislators are still championing freedom and common sense. After all, the measures enacted by this bill would have been easily bypassed simply by using public Wi-Fi hotspots, an anonymous proxy, Tor, or any of the other commonly used methods of ensuring Internet anonymity. And it wouldn't have done a thing to stop streaming of pirated media, which is becoming fairly popular.

As I said previously, I think we may be taking the wrong approach when it comes to intellectual property. Certainly the current measures used to curb piracy are largely ineffective. Of course, that's in no small part because those making the laws often don't fully understand the technical issues involved. Hopefully, the French legislators will wizen up a bit by the time this bill again rears it's dumb, ugly head. If it is passed, it would set a dangerous precedent for other nations to follow suit with equally misguided and ineffective Big Brother Internet monitoring agencies.

Listen up, my French friends — the freedom of the Internet is resting on your shoulders.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Symantec's Antivirus Secret?: Linux!

I know this is April Fool's Day, but I assure you this post is legit...

I don't normally watch 60 Minutes. I did see a few segments of 20/20 a couple of weeks ago that were fairly interesting, but I generally avoid news commentary programs altogether. I simply prefer unbiased news, and don't feel like I need some talking head interpreting the news for me. 60 Minutes, however, grabbed my attention a few days ago with a report called "The Internet is Infected". The report focused on the Conficker worm, which it called "one of the most dangerous threats ever", and its primary source was Steve Trilling, a vice president of Symantec, the company that develops Norton Anti-Virus.

Which, if you ask me, is a bit like asking Tylenol about headaches, or Allstate about driving without car insurance. If you'll notice, not once did the report say that Conficker only targets Windows computers, or that computers running Mac OS X or Linux are unaffected. Either 60 Minutes is completely ignorant of any other operating system other than Windows (which is actually a faint possibility), or it intentionally misled viewers into thinking all computers are at risk for the sake of ratings — and possibly advertising revenue from Symantec. Symantec isn't exactly an unbiased source, since it makes more money when people are more concerned about viruses. Of course they're going to say that Conficker is a serious threat. If CBS had gone to, for example, the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team or Carnegie Mellon University's Computer Emergency Response Team for its information, the report would probably have been a bit more helpful, and certainly less biased.

The Conficker virus is fairly widespread and could potentially cause some problems depending on the instructions sent to it by its designers (which, by the way, is apparently scheduled for today). But Windows users are actually fairly safe as long as they follow a couple of very basic steps to secure their systems: use automatic updates to get the most current patches for Windows, and run an up-to-date anti-virus application such as AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition, Avira, or Avast. If you're already infected, most major anti-virus applications including AVG, McAfee, Norton, and Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool can remove Conflicker. Mac and Linux users don't have to be concerned at all, of course, since Conficker simply doesn't affect those operating systems.

But that's not really the point of this post.

Watch the 60 Minutes report, and pause it at 3:03. Now take a close look at the monitor on the right. That's right, folks... Symantec uses Ubuntu Linux! Don't believe me? To the right is a screencap of the report at 3:50. That's certainly the Gnome desktop environment, and you can just make out the Ubuntu logo on the menubar in the top left corner.

Now why would Symantec use Linux, when less than 30 Linux viruses have ever been identified, and none of those are currently a threat? Compare that to the 461 Windows viruses currently active out of over 100,000 known, with new viruses being identified daily. Maybe — just maybe — Symantec isn't completely confident that their own product will protect their systems if they use Windows.

To be fair, Symantec does produce anti-virus software for Linux — but it's part of Symantec AntiVirus, primarily designed for corporate users and servers. Symantec doesn't make a Linux version of the desktop-oriented Norton AntiVirus. And yet they apparently use Linux desktops. If Symantec uses Linux desktops, it seems like they'd make a Linux version of Norton if Linux actually needed anti-virus software, doesn't it?