Norton Thinks They're Special or Something

The funny thing about computer security companies is that they have to know how to do the crimes to be able to prevent them. So, when Norton puts out a little "informational campaign" like this one, it worries me.

Norton wants you to know how much your online identity is worth to black market salesman. So they put out this little questionnaire about your general Internet habits and an estimate of how much money you think is in your bank accounts. They then give you an estimate of how much you're worth, and how much the black market will pay for your identity.

I clicked through the questionnaire, and came to the bothersome conclusion that I would be worth about 10 bucks.

And then I laughed at myself (in an office setting, unfortunately) for being a moron.

Begin Rant

This is the basic idea of the questionnaire: Let's educate the public on cyber-security by telling them what happens when you give strangers your personal information. How are we going to do that? Let's ask them for their personal information! And guess what? They'll give us everything we want to know because we're the "good guys." We couldn't possibly have an ulterior motive for wanting this valuable data. No, we're just being good public servants. We really want the people of the Interwebs to know how much they're worth on the black market. Because that knowledge will be useful to them. It will help them be more careful by not giving websites their personal information.

Are you starting to understand how evil this is?

Not only are you giving a stranger the amount of money in your bank accounts, but all they're giving back to you is a dollar amount that isn't even backed up with facts. There's no way to verify that Norton is telling you the truth. I mean, have they actually tried selling your identity on the market? That would make sense. But seriously, Norton, why should I believe you? Even if they were telling you the truth, who cares? Why is that information important to me? Should I go hide under a table now? Should I cancel all my credit cards, close out my bank accounts, turn off my computer, and take up an Amish lifestyle? Why are you telling me this? I am not safer because of it.

Just to further the point, I took the questionnaire again and told them I have zero dollars in any bank account or credit card and I surf the web like a normal person, aware of the dangers but sharing relevant information to trusted sites. I was worth $1700 but I would be sold for $33. When I put in my estimated actual bank values, but was a little more cautious about the Interwebs, I was worth about 500 and sold for 10. Sounds kinda wrong. And the best result was when I was the perfect citizen of the Interwebs, no data online, no money spent online, not even an email address. This is what the result was:
Your risk Rating is Low.

This means you're taking th right steps.

You might have a lot of data living online, and you're playing safely with it. But you can never be too careful. Move on to the next page to learn more about your value to a cybercriminal and how you can stop cybercrime from happening to you.
So, basically, no matter how perfect you are, you will still need Norton to tell you how much danger you're in and how they can save you from cyberdamnation.

Norton has two goals here:

  1. Sell you their product - They are a for-profit business, just by the by. Scare tactics are one of the best ways to sell product. Ask any marketing professional (except for the one's that disagree, obviously). The end of the questionnaire is all about which Norton product will slow your computer down the most is the best one for protecting your systems. Now that you're good and scared, you'll buy anything, because you're officially gullible (look, it says so on the ceiling!).
  2. Data Mining - You've gotta love the irony of the whole thing. It's beautiful, really. The questionnaire that warns people of how much they are (or aren't) worth by telling them the value of personal information is collecting data that will be put into one huge database that will be worth a whole lot of money. Instead of letting Norton steal your data for fun and profit, you're just giving it to them when they ask for it. This data will most likely be used to better target the right market demographic when selling their wares. Security firms around the globe would kill for this kind of data. But giving Norton money for it would probably suffice.
They're conniving little villains, but they're really good. Like I said, they got me good. If they can get the Ruler of the Interwebs....I fear nobody is safe.


The Video Game Industry Just Won

The music industry has been around since music has been played. Its power is unmatched, its influence unrivaled. The behemoth corporations AMG, Sony, Warner, and EMI have battled endlessly in the American pursuit of profit, and they have verily succeeded. In the wake of the era of digital distribution, no artist was safe from the Industry titans' pressure to conform or die. Box sets on iTunes became commonplace for anyone serious about their listeners. Piracy went rampant, causing shakeups and controversies unsolved to this day.

All except for one. One band didn't give in. One band decided they wouldn't let their precious music into the hands of the digital monster. Time and time again, money has been thrown at this band, impossible amounts of money, all just to get them to go digital. Politics and in-fighting obstructed the process even further and eventually people assumed it was never going to happen.

That band would be the Beatles. And the Video Game Industry is reaping the profits of their digital future.
The Beatles: Rock Band was released yesterday to critical acclaim and huge sales. It would be the first time the rights to The Beatles' music would be given to a digital distributor such as a video game publisher. Not only is the music available, but previously unreleased studio conversation and an unreleased Christmas record laid down in 1963 has been released as an unlockable.

This is a humongous and epic victory for the video game industry and it is a great flexing of muscles, showing the other entertainment outlets that video games are a force to be afraid of. If they can get the Beatles to embrace digital distribution, then nothing is impossible.

Congratulations to Harmonix on putting this out successfully, and I hope gamers around the world are reveling in the success of this industry.


I Got Punched In the Face

So, I'm walking down the street, minding my own business, doing my own thing, being a cliche, when a big man in a suit walks (or should I say lumbers) towards me.

"Apologize now or I punch you in the face."

"For what?"

The man stands there silently, glaring, getting ready to punch me in the face.

"Ok, Ok, I'm sorry. I'll never do it again. I promise. Now, can I get on with my life?"

"Hmm...let me think. No"

And then I was punched in the face.

As I lay on the asphalt writhing in painful agony, I begged my assailant for some answers.

"Please, just tell me what I did, I promise I won't do it again!! I really didn't mean any harm!"

"It's too late. You've been punched in the face. I can't really take that back. But I will tell you this. You see this book here?" He threw a tome of vast humongitude full of legalese down on the ground right in front of my face. "You definitely broke one of these rules. I can't tell you which one, but it doesn't make a difference. They're all cardinal sins, and honestly, you should be happy I didn't stab you. In the face. You're such a horrible person, that's probably what you deserved."

As he walked away from me into the sun, he stopped and turned his head towards my limp and lifeless body.

"Oh, by the way, don't try to contact me or anyone I work for about this incident. It is futile. Nobody has answers for you. You must understand that we have everybody's interests in mind. If you do try and circumvent the system, we will hunt you and your family to the edges of the Earth and we will kill you."

"In the face."

Ok, so maybe it didn't happen exactly that way. It's pretty close though. If you replace "me" with "my blog", "my face" with "Google Adsense", and "Big Suit man" with "Google", the story is still true.

Yes, I've been permanently banned from Google Adsense. No, I have no idea why. No, they gave me no warning or explanation other than "your account poses a significant risk to our advertisers' financial interests." If you are one of the 2.5 readers that frequent my site every day, then you know this to be quite ridiculous. So, when Google gave me a chance to appeal the ban, I thought Ok, maybe they have a soul after all. Alas, they have no soul. A week and a half after I sent in the appeal, I got a polite little email from Google saying "we got your appeal, and frankly, we don't care. Cry about it."

You know, normally, when a website is doing something wrong, the offended party sends some kind of cease and desist letter which says something along the lines of "Stop or we'll be forced to take action." Because sometimes people really do make mistakes. They don't mean anything by it, and if reminded, they will stop. Google decided to go the evil route. They disable your account, and then make you cry to get it back. Maybe. If they're in a good mood.

And it's not like the things you can do wrong are all that cardinal. If you post a picture that someone gave permission for you to use, but it turns out that person stole the picture, banned. If a stranger clicks on an ad on your site too many times, and you don't report it, banned. If you even reference the idea of influencing users to click on ads, banned. If you change the color of the Adsense box on your own, banned. If you change the font, banned. I'm not saying these things are OK to do. But at least give me a warning before you destroy my blog's income. The Terms and Conditions are very broad, sometimes vague, and are often changed without warning.

I don't know what Google has against me. I honestly don't want to break the rules, and it's not like I'm a big enough site to actually be able to abuse anything. All they've done is put a bad taste in my mouth. My views of Google have certainly been tarnished because of this. It's not because my account was disabled (It wasn't like I was making big bucks or anything). It just seems like an evil policy. It goes against Google's image of being fair, being for the people, and being human. It instead puts Google in the corporate light it tries so hard to shy away from. All they are is a huge data farm with huge profits. Maybe they really are no different than any corporation in that they care only about the bottom line. It's sad, but I'm afraid it's true. I'm losing faith in the human face of Google. It's inspiring me to make a search engine that gives legal information on how to sue evil corporations. I'll call it Soooogle. I'll show them. (That had nothing to do with my point, but I thought it was funny. There, it makes sense now.)

So that's it. No more Google Ads for me. I still don't know why. And my face still hurts.


Windows 7, Our Savior?

Much has been said on Windows 7 (known as the "The Savior" among Vista users), and the general populace seems to like it. This is obviously music to Microsoft's ears, as many believe this OS to be the infamous software company's last desperate stand after the embarrassment, shame and tears that followed Vista through its beleaguered life. Some would say that Microsoft will soon become irrelevant if this OS fails (I disagree, but that's not for here). Come Oct. 22 (known as "The Seventh Coming" or just plain "Rapture") the users will indeed pass judgement on Windows 7, and its fate will be sealed.

At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Proponents of the new OS admire the new look and feel, the new tightness of the GUI. They heap praise on the various user interface enhancements, the start menu, the taskbar, and the uber-hip backgrounds. The hardware works this time around, and users don't need speed machines to get Windows 7 running smoothly. This is all good and well, but let me ask you this: As the system administrator of a 1000+ user IT infrastructure, do you really give a flying flapjack about the new taskbar? How about the new ways you can preview files? What about the Aero Peek GUI?

Didn't think so.

This is my issue with you, Windows 7. You may be solving all the problems that plagued Vista, and that's great. We love you for it. But there's a reason we never left XP, and it's not because we hated Vista (we did). XP works. It may not be the prettiest OS on the block, it may not have the biggest and the bestest features, but it has been a steady, reliable, and faithful companion to IT professionals through the years. It has consistently been able to meet the IT needs of businesses everywhere, and it still does. Businesses don't need slick graphics, fancy toolbars, or upgraded Freecell (I'm particularly excited about that one, though). Businesses need control, reliability, and speed. All of which XP is still faithfully supplying to this very day.

Users may herald Windows 7 as the Seventh Coming, but its true judgement will be at the hands of sys admins at large corporations. Home users are only a fraction of Windows' market. if Microsoft will come out of this release truly redeemed, they are going to have to impress the IT Pros. And that won't be easy.

You see, XP was easy. When faced with the choices of Windows 98, NT4, 2000, or even ME, switching to XP was a no-brainer. The back-end networking and security features that are the basis of IT infrastructures today were implemented well for the first time in XP. The integration with Windows Server 2003 that we also depend heavily on for things like Active Directory, VPN, Exchange (Outlook), was also revamped and overhauled in XP. It also included the option of a software firewall. While it did have a rocky start, and every big OS is going to have a rocky start, it matured quickly to be the OS of choice for businesses around the globe. It basically forced Novell out of the market, and IE took over as the default Internet Browser for the world. Now that it's been a few years, and XP is only more entrenched in the market, it's going to take a whole lot more than fancy graphics and driver updates to uproot the stable foundation that XP built.

The strategy that Windows 7 is employing to target that demographic is to re-introduce the Vista enterprise features that nobody used because they were in Vista, and to show off some new enterprise features that aren't groundbreaking, but safe.

BitLocker- This was a security feature in Vista that encrypted entire partitions with AES encryption (that's a strong one). In a corporate environment, this would go a long way in securing data beyond the basic NTFS encryption methods and permissions. With Windows 7, this capability will be extended to removable media such as flash drives, enabling this protection for remote and travelling users.

DirectAccess - one of the biggest complaints we get from users is that they can't get on to the VPN. Unfortunately, there's very little we can do from our end because the problem is typically their Internet connection. They have to work with their ISP to get it working. Even if it does work, it can be slow when sharing VPN with regular Internet. DirectAccess is a server implemented alternative to VPN that uses a regular Internet connection (using IPsec IPv6 or, if unavailable, IPv6 tunneled through IPv4 and SSL) to access network intranet resources. The DirectAccess server runs on the edge of the network and acts as a gateway to remote users. It's an interesting idea. I don't know if the performance increase is worth the purchase of a new server, but i guess time will tell.

AppLocker - The bane of all System Administration is user installed software. They are typically the cause of all evil and Windows 7 hopes to better enable the IT pro to control the deadly sin. AppLocker is basically a whitelist of downloads and applications that a user is allowed to install and/or configure. This is much more secure than a blacklist of things they can't do, and more thorough as well.

There a few others, and they are all pretty cool, but I still fall back to my original argument. These things are improvements, sure, but they aren't revolutionizing the OS like XP did. Windows 7 adds some nice touches here and there to enterprise IT management. But is it really worth the cost of implementation when you already have a stable, powerful OS, that MS will officially support against 2014? To completely destroy a saying, if it ain't broke, don't upgrade. If IT managers don't need the "cool" parts of the new OS (they don't), then Windows 7 will a lot more innovating to do if it really wants to be resurrected and proclaimed savior of mankind (and it does really want that).