Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why is SOPA bad?

Today is January 18th and the internet is exploding about SOPA... Google and Wikipedia are crying to tell people to do something about it. Well so whats the big deal... It is supposed to be for the good reasons right? Fight piracy and stuff you know...

What is SOPA?
I don't even know what it stands for, but the whole purpose seems to be limit the access of internet users to certain websites by forcing internet service providers to block these sites. Also there is whole lot about forcing big companies like google to exclude pirated content from their search results... not that it wasn't done already, they just want to streamline the process. So say there is a website piratedmusic.nom that illegally shares the music of Pop Star. Before SOPA what the Pop Star could do is file a thingy to say google, to exclude any results from priatedmusic.nom from appearing in the search results. Also they could sue the owners of the website, and if the owner happened to be in US or Canada chances are their website would go down... say in a month or something... one way or another, either the owner would close in fear of legal prosecution and loss reimbursement or the government would close it for them through court order. Now what happens if this site is registered in some third world country and the owner is friend of Borat living in some small village in Kazakstan? The search results would of course be excluded from google, but there is no chance that site would get closed, no matter how many lawyers or money the Pop Star has. Now what SOPA is trying to accomplish is that to allow Pop Star to send an email to the internet providers and have them block the access to piratedmusic.nom in a matter of hours or minutes.

Why it wouldn't work?
Now the computer guy in me is just laughing aloud... it's a dark evil laugh... The reason why it wouldn't work (at least in near future) is because the internet was built in a way to allow communicate 2 computers plugged on the internet no matter what obstacles are on their way. SOPA may block the access to piratedmusic.nom but anyone with basic understanding of how internet works would use the direct address of that site and would still be able to reach it. IP address anyone? Basically a dot separated combination of numbers.. like phone number. Now you'd ask why can't they block that too? Uh.. there is a lot of technical($$$$$$) problems with that and it would really violate your right of privacy. If blocking a site name would be similar to disconnecting someone's phone number from the call center so that you can't reach them, then blocking their direct(IP) address would be similar to tapping your phone to see who are you calling, and then disconnecting you based on that. And even if they eventually do that, there are so many ways around that... For someone determined to pirating working around this problem would be more of an enjoyable fun thing to do rather than a real obstacle.

So why is SOPA bad after all?
First of all it's inefficient in fight with piracy as I stated above. But the real concerning problem is that if SOPA becomes a reality the Internet providers and big companies like google would have to implement a global, streamlined lock-down mechanism to basically block any given website or computer on the internet. You'd think that US government has that capability already... websites hosted inside US - yes probably matter of a phone call, outside the country not really... In some cases it might be for them easier to bomb the communication point of the web server that provides a website than blocking it or hacking it... no joke. I am not anti-government or anything, just trying to present my understanding of facts. Also if you didn't know SOPA really would only affect US people... these blocked sites would be blocked only in US, while the rest of the world would still be able to access them without a problem. I am little afraid that once such powerful internet site blocking mechanism becomes a reality, these mechanisms may be misused one day to block websites like Wikileaks, etc... Who said government has the right to censor the information or prohibit someone's evening walks on the Pirate B...each... It's like preventing someone from walking on street at night, because they might be looking a robbery victim...

Why are the big internet companies against SOPA?
This is so obvious... Implementing the lock-down mechanisms to comply with SOPA would require enormous amount of money... The way I see it, the government always wanted such system in place, but it would never be economically reasonable to do it... But now given that all major movie and music companies are complaining about piracy and their author rights, and there is a chance to lay the hard work on the rich internet companies - why not? But that's really not the only reason... many big internet companies have engineer's spirit, and from scientific point of view something like SOPA is against the whole idea of the internet.

DISCLAIMER: This article presents a personal, pretty much careless opinion about the internet censorship legislation. For more technical information about SOPA do your own research! And think about it, and make your own judgments!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The very simple guide how to keep your PC and your digital identity safe - Part I

I am writing this guide because once in a while people I know would run into problems with viruses and other kinds of digital evil so I'm writing this guide to point 'em all to this article in future, and who knows maybe it would help some others on the internet. I am very lazy so I'll keep it short and as simple as I can. Generally keeping your PC safe and online stuff safe is extremely simple if you follow some extremely simple rules.

Part 1: Keeping your PC clean from viruses.

This part is intended pretty much for Windows users only, if your on Mac or Linux you are more safe against these. If you wan't to know more how to protect your Mac or Linux system just read on how to set proper user permissions for your system.

How do this viruses get into your computer:
Most of the viruses and malware come from the internet. General rule of safety is to download stuff/open email/etc. only from trusted sources. This is especially important when free stuff is concerned. There are millions of 'free' software out there which are malware and viruses in disguise. So if you want to download software do so from a trusted source, say something from Microsoft or Apple is pretty much guaranteed to be safe. Always pay attention to the address bar of your browser when you are downloading, make sure its the right website and not a 'mikrosoft.kom' or 'apple.pie'. If software you are about to download is from a company you never heard about, research it, check if it has a wikipedia article, check if it is ranked on websites like, or just put "TheAwesomeProgramYouWant is malware" in google search and see if anything will come up. By doing so you will eliminate 50% of virus threat that can come from the internet. Second virus threat from the internet comes from email attachments. You can't get a virus by just recieving it, but you can infect your computer if you open the email attachments. Every time you open an email attachment your pretty much tell your computer "I trust whatever is in there, and if will blow up my computer, so be it" <- and that's true about pretty much any other program you open your computer, most often you give it same level of control over your computer as you have... I got carried away, so email attachments - triple check from who the email came from, do you absolutely trust the sender? Generally text documents, images, spreadsheats are less likely to harm your computer, but you have to be able to distinguish between a program attachment and say image attachment before opening it. The good news is that most of the modern public email providers such as yahoo, gmail, gmx have built in virus scanners that scan the emails before you get them, but you can never be sure. So again, its all about trusting the sender of the email. Email viruses are I guess about 30%... or whateva% of virus threat for average internet user. The less common but yet very dangerous way of getting your computer sick is getting it infected from a flash drive or a CD that has been on someone else's computer. If the cd/usb flahs drive/memmory card is not your's, someone else has written on them than its better not to put em into your computer. Pictures/videos/audio are generally safe to copy from these, but the problem is that unlike with email attachments the virus can be sort of invisible for an unnarmed eye, they can be invisible, hidden, or affect your windows system before anyone knows it. I would probably be OK with a memmory card from friend's photo camera, but I would double check their flash drive with an antivirus before opening it. That's anothether 10%  of virus threats, and the last but not least are the viruses that spread through the local network, such as your home network or your office network, not the internet. The only good way to protect against these is to have your system firewall running. Just google "windows XYZ firewall" and learn how to check if it's on.

How to defend against viruses/malware/spyware etc.
1) Have your Windows updated! I can't stress enough how important is this. Always do windows updates whenever it asks you. Oh and if your are still on Windows XP or older then just forget about it... I know Windows XP is still corporate standard (as of December 2011) at many companies but really its just too old already. Move on to Windows 7. 
2) Have your Internet browser updated! Ok so unlike Windows which is preconfigured to run updates automatically your main favourite internet browser might not be, so check once in a while if your are running the latest version.
3) Have your every-day frequently running software updates. Such as office programs, email-client, instant messanger etc. 
4) Have a free decent antivirus program installed on your computer. Why free? well because since you are reading this article you are probably someone I care about so, I wouldn't want you to waste your money on something useless that just makes your computer run  2 times slower. As of today my recomendations are: Microsoft Security Essentials or Avast! There are plenty of other good ones but these two happend to be my favourites.
5) Have an emergency malware wiper instelled on your computer. Ok so antivirus protects your computer by constantly scanning it and tracking all programs you are using in real time, and surprise - it misses sometimes. So your computer gets infected and your antivirus is unaware. There are other sorts of protection software that specialize in quick scanning and recovering your system in on-demand fashion. Now go get Malwarebytes. The free version is all you need, just run whenver your computer is in trouble or you suspect it's been infected.