In this weeks Cybernaut 21 serious computer threats to consider and the one joke that everyone can agree on
Eye on Spyware
Contrary to what you might think, spyware is not a tuxedo or a two-way video wristwatch communicator with a built-in laser cutter.
While most people are familiar with computer hacking and viruses at least enough to know that they exist and are generally bad things spyware is seldom talked about when computer security is discussed.
It is a subcategory of a sneaky kind of software programs that are clandestinely taking up residence without your knowledge on your computer. Other program variations include adware, stealware and scumware.
Adware generally pops up ads when you are surfing the net, but few people realize that it exists on their computer because they assume that the ads were put there by the Web sites they are visiting.
When you click on a link from one site to another, stealware basically claims credit for the referral for a site you didnt even link from. Because a lot of advertising revenue is channelled to sites based on referrals, sites are stealing revenue from one another and without that revenue, a lot of small and independent sites might have to shut down.
Scumware alters the links on a Web page, redirecting users to porn, gambling and other e-commerce sites. You could click on a link to a site or story about one thing, and find yourself somewhere completely different. A common assumption is that the original Web site is guilty, but that isnt always the case.
Spyware is a little more dangerous than any of its dirty cousins because it collects and reports information on a computer users behaviour sometimes right down to your keystrokes.
According to a recent article in Time magazine, spyware is becoming a huge problem with more than a thousand variations in use.
How do you pick up spyware?
You download some of them when you download other programs from the Web. File sharing programs are famous for it.
You can also pick up spyware by accepting cookies through the Internet that allow you to access sites without the usual member name and password thing.
If youre a PC user and want to find out if you have any spies in your system, Lavasoft at www.lavasoftusa.com and download a program called Ad-Aware. Its free and effective, although there are now spyware programs out there that can turn it off.
If you use a Mac, then your best bet is Aladdin Systems Spring Cleaning, which will set up back around $70.
To find out whats out there, visit www.spychecker.com , www.spywareinfo.com , and www.cexx.org . All three have databases of spyware programs, plus advice on how to get them out of your system.
The top 20 security holes
While most serious computer users already have some form of antivirus software and firewall, the versatile operating systems and software programs of today have some serious chinks in their armour. Hackers and virus writers often find out about these vulnerabilities before the software companies do, and exploit them until the rest of us wise up.
The U.S. based SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security (SANS) Institute, in co-operation with the FBI, released a list of the top 20 known security holes in Windows and Unix operating systems and software at www.sans.org/top20/ that you might want to consider patching.
The SANS Institute explains every vulnerability in laymans terms, and what users have to do to fix them. If its a simple patch, you can follow a link to the download site. If some system configuration is required, instructions will walk you through it.
The funniest joke in the world
For the past three years, a British psychologist by the name of Dr. Richard Wiseman has been on a quest to find the funniest joke in the world that is the joke that most people, men and women of various nationalities and background, enjoyed the most.
He used the Web to conduct this social experiment, encouraging users to fill out a profile and rank jokes on a scale of one to 10. He also encouraged users to submit their own jokes, which were dutifully categorized according to their content, word puns with word puns, dirty jokes with dirty jokes.
Although the experiment has been concluded, it will take him a while to go through all the data before he can make any definitive statements about the nature of humour. However, the early data suggests some common, and often surprising, themes.
For example, the experiment discovered that men and women have different opinions of whats funny hardly news to men or women, but a compelling reason not to tell her the one about the lesbian dentist on the first date. Men prefer jokes where there is a loser or a victim, and also seem to prefer jokes that have violent or sexual content. Women prefer clean, clever jokes involving word play and unexpected twists. No surprises there, either.
One thing that was surprising is that Germans may finally be able to shed the perception that they are grim and humourless in the experiment, they laughed at almost everything equally.
For the winning joke, the runner up, and a look at the results complete with dozens of other favourite jokes, you can visit the site of the experiment at www.laughlab.co.uk .