Computer Geek

Musings about technology, computer books and software.

June 26, 2005


If you hate having to register at a news site just to read one article, check out this website. Just enter the address and it gives you one of several login and password combinations. I've used it a bit and it seems to work with most sites.

Firefox users might want to get the BugMeNot extension to make it even easier to use. Then you just have to right-click at a login in box at a website requiring login and choose BugMeNot to generate a login and password, which are both then pasted into the boxes.

Slamming spam the Industry Canada way

ComputerWorld Canada is a weekly newspaper that I receive. This article was interesting. Evidently, Industry Canada was using a free tool (not mentioned which) to block spam and it was only succeeding in catching 21 per cent of the spam. Now they're using a tool which is a modification of the Bell Brightmail solution (they use it for blocking spam to their customers) and it blocks more than 90 per cent of all spam, boosting productivity.

What I find amazing is that Industry Canada was using a spam tool that only caught 21% of the spam! It must've been written in the early 1990s. Eek. Heck, using the mail client in Mozilla would've gotten them over 85% spam blocking with only a couple of weeks of training. I'm sure that Thunderbird would be just as good. At the server end, they could've used Spam Assassin.

June 24, 2005 Writer vs. Microsoft Word

Here's a thorough review of Version 2 Writer as compared to Word 2003. The author writes:

Both are adequate for most users' purposes, so I focused on functions that power users are likely to want:

Bulleted and numbered lists
Headers and footers
Indexes and tables of content
Conditional text
Master documents
Drawing tools
Unique features

June 19, 2005

OS Security: Linux vs. Windows

Much has been said about the security of Linux vs. Windows. Some columnists have noted that Linux tends to have had more patches released for it in the last year than XP. I won't argue that point. But I will argue that you can judge security based simply based on the cumulative number of patches.

First, you're basing apples with oranges. The typical Linux distribution (Red Hat, Fedora, SUSE, Mandrake, etc.) contains a lot more software than does Windows. To be fair, you'd have to compare Windows XP with all the programs you get in typical Linux distro such as a CD burning program, office software, SSH server, web server, ftp server, anti-spam software, photo editor, etc.

Secondly, you need to compare the severity of Windows vulnerabilities with those of Linux. Not all vunerabilities can be treated the same - they're not. A typical Windows vulnerability tends to be much more serious than a Linux one. Don't believe me? Take a look at the recent list of patches (see the link). Here's a quick analysis:

Of the ten recent vulnerabilities, three are rated as Serious and are capable of "remote code execution". If you're running with administrator privileges (and by default, every Windows XP user is), that gives a remote attacker the ability to take over your system. Four other vulnerabilities are rated only as Important. However, they also allow for remote code execution. The last three are rated as Moderate. So of the 10 recent patches, 2/3 of them could allow an attacker to take over your system.

Several vendors have issued a common statement pointing out this very flaw in the Forester study Is Linux more secure than Windows?

Linux has vulnerabilities that are found that can execute remote code, but only with the privileges of that application with that vulnerability. Unless you're using Linspire, you don't run Linux with root privileges. So anything you execute doesn't have the authority to corrupt or infect the OS or run other processes it doesn't normally have access to (like running code to change other code).

Spam Kings: Book Review

Spam Kings by Brian McWilliams and published by O'Reilly calls itself "The Real Story behind the High-Rolling Hucksters pushing porn, pills and @*#?% Enlargements".

Written like a high-tech cat-mouse game, Spam Kings tells a riveting story of many of the biggest online peddlers of spam and the the computer activists trying to stop them. The personalities themselves and their motivations make for fascinating reading.

Some of the most interesting sections detail the rise of a neo-nazi who became a millionaire selling penis enlargement pills and a computer newbie who joined and anti-spam activist community to track down and punish spammers like him. As spammers and activists taunt each other over email, the newsgroups and instant messaging, the spam industry grows, threats and counter-threats boil over and history is made.

Along with these two major players, you'll read about others who peddled pills as cures for cancer, stock scams, diet pills and pirated software. Surprisingly, not even all the spammers are in it for the money as one man searches for videos of men tickling themselves!

The books is also revealing in that the line between spammers and anti-spammers isn't always clear as some cross over.

Though it's a large read, at 333 pages in hardcover, Spam Kings was difficult to put down. I highly recommend it.