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Watching the watchers

Computer viruses and hackers are a problem, but is it possible that the cure – a pantheon of companies selling anti-virus software and security companies – are exaggerating the threat in order to profit from our fears? Think about it.

Computer viruses and hackers are a problem, but is it possible that the cure – a pantheon of companies selling anti-virus software and security companies – are exaggerating the threat in order to profit from our fears?

Think about it. It seems that every week another virus is making the rounds, infecting thousands, and sometimes even hundreds of thousands of users. Typically a security patch is created, and most or all of the infected computers are repaired within a few days.

No harm done, usually, but it does make you realize how vulnerable you are to a cyber attack. What if a virus deleted your files? What if somebody read your emails? And what if the author of the virus somehow managed to get ahold of your credit card number after you bought that rare collection of Star Trek memorabilia on eBay last year?

It’s only human to put up barriers to keep our private lives private. A thief breaks into your house in the middle of the night and steals your Betamax, a ten pound ham and your dad’s good whiskey (true story) and the first word that pops into your head is ‘violated!’ We got a house alarm because of that incident, terrifying our cats and annoying the neighbours for the next ten years. And the thief or thieves? They didn’t take our new Beta (why Dad, why?), but they did come back six months later to take the ski rack off our car.

Computer crimes have the same effect on people. How many users went out and bought anti-virus and security software after hearing about one of these computer viruses?

Fear sells. And if you want to keep selling, spreading fear ultimately becomes part of your business model.

One Internet crusader has made it his life’s work to debunk the widely held fears and misconceptions about viruses, which he feels are blown out of proportion just to sell software. His name is Rob Rosenberger and he’s the brains and vitriol behind Vmyths, the original FUD site – FUD standing for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, an accepted marketing term that the marketers don’t want you to know exists.

Rosenberger is going away for a little while. Not to jail, but to serve in the Persian Gulf – he’s in the CIA in some top secret capacity, and doesn’t like to talk about that. For a long while, and possibly forever, Vmyths won’t be updated. A site sponsor would help, but so far Rosenberger’s project is self-financed and he won’t accept advertising from Virus software companies because he wants to remain objective.

According to an article in WIRED Magazine (, his departure is a blow to the anti-FUD forces.

Here’s a quote from Rosenberger in that article – "The computer security industry is a media circus. It’s filled with clowns who want to siphon billions of dollars of counterterrorism funds so the Keystone Cops can shield us from Osama bin Virus. Prostitute pundits stand fearlessly on the corners of New York City and compare cyberterrorism to real terrorism. They stand fearlessly on the corners of Washington, D.C. and compare ‘cyberwar’ to real war. They pull numbers out of thin air and tell whoppers with a perfectly straight face. They want us to blame everything but them when they fail to do what we pay them for."

For an interesting read, and a skeptical perspective on Internet viruses and security, visit

Spam strikes back

Most Internet people think of spam as unsolicited emails, those pesky little ads that clog our inboxes daily.

But what about Spam©, the square tin of canned meat that has its own cult following?

Obviously the big "S" Spam is none to happy about little "s" spam because of the negative connotation attached – whatever the twerps on Madison Avenue may tell you, there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Still, Hormel Foods, which produces Spam, say they don’t have a problem with the use of their product name to refer to unsolicited emails – but they are not going to stand for any challenges to their big "S" copyright.

Last week Hormel filed a pair of legal challenges under U.S. Patent and Trademark laws to convince a Seattle software company, Spam Arrest, to stop using its legally registered name.

Spam Arrest says it will fight Hormel, arguing that Spam and spam are two different things and that customers do know the difference.


Laptops fly off the shelves

For the first time in the history of personal computers, notebook computer sales in May surpassed the desktop computer market.

According to NPD Group, a computer research company, notebooks accounted for 54 per cent of $500 million in retail computer sales.

Notebook sales crossed the 25 per cent mark for the first time in January, 2002.

Nobody is sure why portables are outselling desktops, but there are a few theories bouncing around.

The first has to do with technology – laptops finally have huge storage, affordable DVD/CD-RW drives, and top-end processors. The wireless Internet is growing, and you can get easily get connected to the Web in hotel rooms, airplanes, and other venues. The screens are also better than in the past, rivaling the flat screens that are being sold with desktops.

Another reason has to do with corporate culture. People are spending more time at work than in the past, and want to be able to take their work home at night. Sad, but true.

Price is another factor, with the cost of high-end laptops dropping considerably over the past couple of years. The difference between laptops and desktops in price and performance is not as dramatic as it once was.

For some tech freaks, new technology in hardware and software also allows for more synergy between laptops, desktops, PDA’s and cell phones than ever before.

There’s another theory that has also been given some weight – the issue of space. More people are living alone these days, cramming their belongings into smaller and smaller apartments. Laptops are often the practical choice.