A spring cleaning for security

The state of the security union

Same security problems, different day

Pity the trend toward intelligence isn't sweeping the entire security sphere. The problem with tracking stupid information-security tricks is that they're legion -- and boringly repetitive. From recent news on background checks that rely on hocus-pocus truth meters to on-the-ground realities of client security software that can't even function properly, we keep revisiting essentially the same ground.

It's no news that anti-virus software vendors can't keep their reactive tools effective against the onslaught of new threats, and that the effectiveness of preventive tools suffers because under-informed users will connect to any available networks and click "Allow" whenever they can.

The good news on the desktop, however, is that Microsoft may put a lot of security snake-oil vendors out of business by doing what Apple did a few years ago: performing a ground-up rewrite of the flagship operating system in a far more secure manner, and box the old sickly insecure stuff in a virtual machine.

There might be a temptation to follow the lead of the "Wine Is Not an Emulator" (WINE) project on Linux -- re-implementing the Windows API in a way that performs well yet simply doesn't support most virus and Trojan vectors -- but with Microsoft's historical drive for features over security, it's doubtful they could pull it off. On the other hand, it's a safe bet that Redmond egos will prevent any attempt to duplicate WINE. If they can't overcome the usual features bias, skipping the effort altogether would be wisest.

On the other hand, some entities still don't get it -- the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), for instance. RIAA continues to try to prop up a dying business model and backfill the lost security control from failed Digital Rights Management technologies in the courts, serving blanket "John Doe" subpoenas to universities and suing unemployed single parents and the homeless. Even if some of the cases have merit -- surely some of those people actually were sharing music files without permission of the copyright owners -- the legal maneuvering only hardens whatever public sympathy is left for those in the non-creative areas of the music industry.

Many have long held that the RIAA's legal tactics regarding intellectual property settlement demands were thoroughly immoral if not illegal. Recent legal protests and reasonable-sounding countersuits assert that RIAA maybe violating the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act by crossing the line into extortion and fraud.

Given enough subpoena attempts, the RIAA is bound to encounter someone like Kurt Denke from Blue Jean Cables. Denke received a cease-and-desist letter recently from Monster Cables -- known for sending out such messages rather promiscuously and settling with the panicked recipients -- and responded with a 3,275-word salvo as only a former lawyer can: "Not only am I unintimidated by litigation; I sometimes rather miss it." While Monster Cables is no RIAA, their freewheeling intimidation using the court system appears to be backfiring in glorious fashion. Maybe next year RIAA will pick on a Kurt instead of a Jammie Thomas.

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Jon Espenschied

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