All entries for March 2005

March 13, 2005

The Holidays Have Begun!

And boy, are things depressing. Everything. It's all so depressing. I found myself browsing through bookshops today, watching other people walk aimlessly around me. All of a sudden, Barber's Adagio for Strings comes on, like an unending scream of existential agony, a cry of the universe for something too terribly profound, too great in its overwhelming horror…

And then the jingle came on, followed by the typical instructions to buy more, consume more. Etc etc. I wanted to weep.

Am I the only one who hates holidays? Seriously. I think of the guy in the Shawshank Redemption, the guy who was so institutionalised that once freed, he killed himself because he could not adapt to the outside world. I won't suggest that I'm gonna kill myself, or anything as bathetic that, but maybe it's true of some of us. We like the regime. The schedule. Deep down, we are all cattle on the stampede, and when the rest of the herd leaves us, we struggle and chase our tails and despair of the metaphorically circling lions.

Why do we have holidays? What do we expect of holidays? It's not like we believe in them anymore. The weeks when we leave our normal schedules behind are no better than the ones we spend in the daily Grind. Santa Claus has long been shot down and squeezed dry by numerous sickening feature films. Easter, already dubious from the beginning (oh come on! We are supposed to see a supreme act of child abuse as evidence of el Supremo's love?) is now choked with over-sweetened chocolate and the fur of millions of cute easter bunnies. And if we look at the world, we can see that the world doesn't care. War doesn't halt because we are on holiday. Millions of people don't stop dying of disease because we go take a break. When we take our noses off the grindstone, what do we see?

Admit it. If you disagree, why are you wasting time reading this blog?

(BTW, the Bun-Bun pic is from Sluggy Freelance, a reasonably cool web-comic I've been looking through the archives of, while I plan my vengeance upon the world.)

March 03, 2005

Anti–Virus Makers and the Dark Side of the Force

Writing about web page

Really. It's a revelation. I suppose most of us think that anti-virus makers are just good people, guardians of our hard-disks against the horrible orc-like hordes of virus writers waiting in the cyber-abyss. People that have our welfare at stake, people who are almost infinitely wise, and generally cuddly.

Haven't you seen Lord of the Rings, that great piece of 21st century cinematography? Didn't understand the hidden warning, of the threat that looms like Mumak'il in the distance? (Think treason of Isengard. Don't get it? Never mind.)

So, news today:

Symantec has won a patent for technology that uses scripts to perform partial scans of files for malware, as opposed to scanning the whole file, or a preset portion of the file.

The case itself is pretty irrelevant. The technology is only of benefit in terms of performance for stuff like email scans – which of course matters, but not hugely. Symantec may not even enforce this patent. Of course, there is room in the legal jargon to widen the scope of the patent, but it can be seen as pretty limited.

What is significant is that Symantec has chosen to engage in patent wars, and it's first skirmish has brought it success. What is additionally significant is that in no way will this patent help the consumer – the average computer users. What is hugely significant is that it sends out the clear signal that Symantec considers the antivirus industry to be one based on the idea of profit, and edging out competition, rather than providing the best level of service.

I'm generalising hugely, of course. Feel free to denounce this as rampant paranoia. Because it probably is. But there is nothing special about today's patent. Symantec could have chosen to patent anything. And it may well be possible for it, and other security companies to utilise software patents for far more abusive ends. It is very likely that one day, a patent will be granted for something which is in fact critical, something which slipped past the eyes of non-technical lawyers who are in charge of the patenting process.

Consider the following scenario:

  1. Generic AV company gets a patent for a certain specific type of search algorithm. This algorithm is entirely its own invention, and has not been previously seen. So it would get granted.

  2. Virus writers read up on the algorithm – patents are always published, digest the legalese, and write viruses which can only be detected by the patented algorithm. They then release the viruses.

  3. The AV company uses the patented technology in its own software to deactivate these viruses, whilst still allowing them to spread. And they enforce their patents to prevent their competitors from writing software that does the same job.

  4. Checkmate.

In the space of weeks, the company can reach a situation where (in countries where software patents exists) its products have to be installed on every computer. It would have a complete monopoly, be free to charge as much as it wishes for a product that everyone would need. It would be more powerful than Microsoft. It would be free to load up its 'antivirus' with advertising, spyware, backdoor programs…

I mean, think of how much power we have granted to anti-virus companies over the years:

  • We've allowed them automatic controls over our internet connections.
  • We've allowed them to download files to our computers and to transmit data without asking.
  • We've allowed them priviledged access over the entirity of our hard disks.
  • We've allowed them to run as a background layer to our normal processes – so that they control what we can and can't run.
  • The leaders of these companies sit on the highest committees and regulatory bodies.
  • We follow all of their advisories to the letter, without thought or question.

If it wasn't for the fact that their software is non-harmful – even neccessary, the anti-viruses would be almost viruses themselves. Probably, of course, nothing would happen. Probably we won't have AV companies turning into Evil Extortion Groups anytime soon.

I mean, what alternative do we have? We can't stop using anti-viruses, not in this day and age. There is no way out. There is no way out. There is no way…

In other news, Bill Gates has been made a honorary knight commander by the Queen. You may weep freely now.

March 2005

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