Well, Maybe Not…


So maybe Peter Torr’s claims address some things that will never be resolved. Ultimately, you will never be able to fully trust anything. There is always some chink in the armor – which is why nobody ever guarantees that anything will be 100% secure.

Torr’s blog posts basically create fear, uncertainty and doubt about all binaries in general. But what is complete bullshit is that he pinpoints firefox as the source of this problem, when in fact he is merely questioning software distribution as a whole – which is something Microsoft has struggled with and still has not solved.

In the end, security is just an idea. It is even more a feeling than an idea. The sense of security is what gives consumers confidence in a product. The truth is that in most cases a reasonable sense of security is all anyone ever wants – true security is almost unattainable. You are always vulnerable to something.

To some, that is an alarming thing. But when you look at the definition of vulnerable, you begin to realize that the only way to be truly safe is to not be open. And, yes, in a way that philosophy is in direct conflict with the nature of the web and the nature of open source development.

Microsoft can safely assume that security means closing all doors, since that is what their business philosophy pretty much encourages. “Close all doors and capitalize on the bottleneck” would probably be their philosophy. Not only do they want you to be scared, they want you to pay to be safe. There is a lot of money to be made there.

I think the correct approach to security with software is the same as in real life. Use common sense, and when that isn’t enough make efforts to educate yourself. Don’t leave your keys in the car. Don’t leave your doors unlocked. Don’t trust strangers.

Of note is the fact that in real life most severe crimes are caused by someone you know. This is because trust opens you to harm. When discussing a central signing agency like Verisign, etc. you have to consider that if you empower a central point of trust it becomes a central point of failure. If you trust Verisign to handle all of your stuff, you become ignorant, and it becomes likely that something will fly in under the Verisign blanket and hurt you.

None of that means you have to live your electronic lives in fear of everything out there. Just be safe, man. Keep informed, don’t download random shit, don’t trust sites you aren’t familiar with, etc.

A part of that, ironically, is not trusting Microsoft, which is something Peter surely doesn’t mention in his article. Not using IE has been a great way to secure your computer. Not using Outlook Express is a great way to avoid complications with mail. Not using XP is the best way to avoid damage caused by viruses, etc.

Overall, you will never be safe, but you can do things to decrease the probability of being “attacked”. If you follow common backup procedures, then the worst case scenario is that you lose a night of reformatting your system drive. Surely it isn’t worth living in fear of the unknown for that.

Security is just a feeling, and if you accept that you are on the road to being secure.