Whither the Wild Wild Web? (2)

Steven J. Searle

Web Master, TRON Web

September 11 turned out to be one of those days that I will not easily forgot. No, not Tuesday, September 11, 2001, but Saturday, September 11, 2004. On that day I began the long, hard task of wiping my hard disk clean with Personal Media Corporation's Disk Shredder software--an excellent piece of software for the job it turned out--and reinstalling Windows XP, which got so infested with adware and spyware that I couldn't even open the control panels to make system settings. The reason the system got infested with all this stuff was that the firewall, which was buried four layers down in the system settings panels, was not turned on, although I thought that the computer had been delivered to me with the firewall engaged as a default setting. I did, of course, use Norton AntiVirus software, and I updated it regularly, in fact daily, but the attacks from the Web overwhelmed it, and eventually some sort of malware established itself in the initialization files, which means mean only one thing--you need to reinstall, and you need to do it as soon as possible.

According to Microsoft, it should take only an hour or two to reinstall your system software and applications, which is probably true if you do it all the time, but it took me several days and a few attempts before I got it right. One of the first problems I encountered was more adware that infected the hard disk while I was reinstalling the system software. How did I know this? Well, if you reinstall and immediately get pop-up advertisements for "free gay space," then you can be pretty sure your system is reinfected. Thus I had to put Personal Media's Disk Shredder into action again to wipe the hard disk clean once more. It finally took a call to my local ISP to find out how to reinstall Windows XP when you're connected to a broadband line. You do your primary reinstall with your cable modem disconnected, and then after engaging your firewall you reconnect to the Internet to download drivers and system updates. The ISP tech guy told me where to find the firewall panel, and once I engaged it all the SND/RCV flickering* my cable modem used to do stopped.

As many of my readers can probably guess, the main reason I use a Windows XP-based computer is so that I can use Personal Media's BTRON3-specification Cho Kanji 4 operating system from a separate partition. Since there are no hackers who know anything about the BTRON operating system, there is no SND/RCV flickering even without a firewall, which gives the user a wonderful feeling of safety while surfing the Web and downloading virus infested spam e-mails. Another amazing thing about BTRON is that you can create a partition for it and install the system and bundled applications in less time than is required to download Microsoft's system updates. Connecting to the Web and setting up your e-mail is also accomplish in a flash. On the Windows partition you have to do this through a "wizard," which sometimes confuses the user with its queries. As a result of these fine features, I now download all my e-mail on the Cho Kanji 4 partition and then transfer to the Windows XP side as required, e.g., to open an MS Word document or a PhotoShop graphic file.

There are several reasons that Microsoft's operating system is so vulnerable to hacking. One is that is an extremely well documented operated system that has lots of powerful development tools available for it; and since it is the leading personal computer operating system, large numbers of programmers have to read those documents and gain proficiency with those development tools, including programmers with nefarious motives. Another reason is that it is a huge operating system that is better described as a general purpose operating system rather than a personal computer operating system. How do you protect a castle that is tens of miles in circumference and has dozens of entrances, some of which might have been left open? A small operating system that runs a limited number of applications is something that can ultimately be distributed as firmware, which is why we don't hear about hackers hijacking the processors used in consumer electronics devices. As networks get larger, it is the smaller operating systems that will have the advantage.

Since the various iterations of Microsoft's Windows operating system are literally the backbone of personal computing on the Wild Wild Web in the U.S. and Europe, the success of for-profit business activities on the Web are ultimately dependent on how successful Microsoft is at plugging the security holes in its operating system, which includes the Internet Explorer Web browser. In my case, for example, my bank here in Tokyo allows me to do banking via the Web, but since there are keystroke loggers that can surreptitiously infest my Windows partition and log my banking details, I would never use a personal computer to do banking. In fact, I don't even trust other banks' ATMs, and so I walk out to my bank's ATM once or twice a month to get the cash to pay my bills and do my shopping. If I were asked to give some advice to Bill Gates on security and business on the Wild Wild Web, I'd tell him to think small and to think TRON. His company is now taking part in the T-Engine project, so doing the latter doesn't require radical changes at this point.


* What I mean here is the send and receive flickering that occurs even though the user is not making inputs via either the keyboard or the mouse. While this sending and receiving could merely be the Windows XP automatic update function or an application update function in operation, it could, on the other hand, be adware or spyware reporting back to its masters, or maybe even somebody making use of your unused processing power in the background for his/her own ends. To alleviate user concerns, what Windows XP should be equipped with is a logging function that informs the user what network interactions have taken place automatically in the background. In fact, such a function would probably be very useful in ferreting out adware and spyware that has been planted on the user's hard disk. I know, I know, Microsoft probably wants to spy on you too, which is not to mention government intelligence agencies and media conglomerates, and so such a background logging function has little chance of seeing the light of day. But it's a nice thought to entertain, isn't it?