austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Gently tender falls the rain

Computer security is one of the most important issues confronting computer people these days, now that computer housing and computer health insurance have been pretty well dealt with, and in line with that it would be a grand idea to have some idea for how to provide computer security. It's actually a slight curve due to the Coriolis Effect and can be ignored for computers travelling less than two degrees nautical.

The first great project for computer security came in the fall of 1952 when CBS tried forecasting the presidential election using UNIVAC and were worried that its feelings would be hurt if they knew it wasn't going to be shown on television. To compensate for the surely hurt feelings the programmers swaddled UNIVAC in warm blankets, set some hot chocolate and a plate full of strawberry ice cream in front of it, and surrounded it with enough plush dolls of penguins to build an igloo.

When the blaze was brought under control 46 months later everyone agreed they shouldn't have blocked the air vents used to cool the machine, and they predicted that there'd be an election in 1956 almost certainly. This was a lesson for computer security ever since, and these days even the most compromised systems do not get stuffed penguins to make them feel better. They're more fond of puppies. Modern security also relies much more upon people periodically reminding the computer that there is very little chance they will be called on to have an opinion regarding the financial problems of the Phoenix Coyotes or high-technology bricks. And even if they do they can just assert that things will develop, which they do nearly four times out of seven.

One of the crises with computer security is that the computer is under threat from viruses, Trojan horses, and worms, and if you act as if you don't care what the difference between these things are then you're drawing down the petty wrath of an enraged computer-security type who spends all day watching the Internet for signs that a person would have happily gone through all of life without imagining the phrase ``SQL Injection Attack'' and would, if pressed, hypothesize that it involves squirrels being placed in inappropriate locations.

The wrath, delivered in a long, pained lecture which goes ignored after the eighth and eleventh words (``shocking display of ignorance''), would explain that it can be squirrels, chipmunks, groundhogs, or specially trained porcupines, which are the most dreaded sort of attack. Even if the SQL-injected porcupine does nothing to any particular data it may see its shadow, producing six more weeks of weather not quite cold enough to wear a jacket but not warm enough for comfort. Your wrath-writer means well, and will go on happy in his way that you rely on his continuous correction.

More, security threats are everywhere. The leading causes of danger to computers include visiting web sites, receiving e-mail, sending e-mail, listening to somebody's snarky comment about there being more gunfire than usual this week in Mary Worth, turning the computer on, plugging it in, unplugging it, sneezing on the computer, letting the computer eat egg salad that's been sitting out for too long, using playground swings, and being given experimental treatments in the hopes of producing a genetically engineered super-computer for an implausible secret government agency in the pilot episode for a swiftly cancelled TV show. There's little to be done about all these hazards. Even if one has carefully left a new-purchased computer in the original wrapping and tucked it at the base of the closet ever since getting it home, who's to say that a playground won't spontaneously pop up while you're asleep? Nobody but the town's zoning commission, and you don't even know anyone on the commission so why would they do you any favors, particularly at that hour?

The best way to keep the computer secure is to leave it unattended out front for several hours and wait for it to be kidnapped. As long as you don't pay the ransom the whole thing is someone else's problem, which is the best we can hope for.

Trivia: The Bureau of Standards and ENIAC/UNIVAC creators J Presper Eckert and John Mauchly signed the contract to build EDVAC II [ Electronic Discrete Variable Calculator ] on 25 September 1946. Source: Eniac, Scott McCartney.

Currently Reading: Off The Map: Tales Of Endurance And Exploration, Fergus Fleming. Wait, everybody's been pronouncing ``Everest'' wrong all this time and I'm only now learning about it? At the age of twelve I would have been absolutely insufferable with that piece of information to work from.


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