THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
It’s fair to say that I do not always agree with the guests who appear on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. But when someone has an interesting point of view, I’m happy to let them have their say, while at the same time I reserve the right to express my disagreements.
That takes us to an occasional guest on the show, outspoken commentator Joe Wilcox, with whom I’ve sparred on several occasions. Joe tends to express viewpoints that are on the opposite end of not just conventional wisdom, but what other commentators, even those highly respected, have expressed.
Take, for example, the Logitech Revue, one of the first set top box wannabes to use Google TV. Now this product has earned (if you can call it that) the rating as one of the worst products to be examined in 2010 by Walt Mossberg, of the Wall Street Journal. While I don’t always agree with Mossberg, this is one product that does appear to have its teething problems. Indeed, there’s already some controversy, witness Logitech’s recent denial of a published report that Google has asked them to stop shipping the Revue until some serious software bugs are ironed out. Despite that, Joe says he loves it, and he’s entitled to his opinion. But you can see where he tends to take positions with which one can readily disagree.
In another segment, we featured industry analyst Stephen Baker, of the NPD Group, who looked at the hits and misses of 2010. Does 3D TV even have a chance of succeeding in the near future?
Consumer technology columnist Rob Pegoraro, of the Washington Post, joined us to attempt to separate the fact from the fiction on the controversial net neutrality issue. Depending on your political persuasion, it’s either a decent set of consumer protections, or an insidious attempt by the FCC to take over the Internet.
Rob also examined other top tech industry topics for 2010.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien joins Gene to present plasma physicist Dr. John Brandenburg, author of the forthcoming book, “Life and Death on Mars: The New Mars Synthesis.” Discover fascinating facts and theories about the amazing history of the Red Planet.
Coming January 9, 2011: Co-host Christopher O’Brien joins Gene to present the return of nuclear physicist and UFO authority Stanton T. Friedman, who will cover not just the history of research into the enigma, but the possibilities that, at long last, we might be finding the evidence needed to convince mainstream science that they are real.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
MAC VIRUS FEAR MONGERS ARE UP TO THEIR USUAL TRICKS
In one of this cute and funny Mac versus PC ads, which are sadly no longer being produced, the Mac personification, as portrayed by actor Justin Long, reminded the PC (as portrayed by John Hodgman), that there are over 100,000 Windows viruses, but not on the Mac.
Now this particular phrase became controversial, because you could take away different interpretations. Did he mean that the Mac simply didn’t have over 100,000 viruses, or that it had no viruses? If the latter, Apple’s ad agency was giving out erroneous information. Even though the number of Mac OS X viruses are small, there have been some, although there’s no evidence of any widespread outbreak.
At least not yet!
Therein lies the issue. The Mac OS X Public Beta came out over a decade ago. As the Mac platform has become more popular over the years, security experts, and representatives from security software companies, have reminded us again and again that serious malware outbreaks will come real soon now. Maybe so, but that largely depends on your definition of what “soon” really means.
If they are simply trying to be realistic, I suppose they might have a point. The sky may not be falling, but surely more and more attention is being paid by Internet criminals on the Mac platform. If Mac users are careless, or remain oblivious to potential threats, I suppose infections can occur.
But not yet!
Yes, there have been various and sundry proofs of concept, quite often confined to the test labs of a security software company, or an independent security researcher. What’s more, Apple periodically releases security fixes for Mac OS X and the iOS, often bundled in a regular maintenance update. This clearly means that they do not regard Macs and iOS gear as immune to malware.
Indeed, Apple has been known to recommend that Mac users consider running security software to provide the added ounce of protection. Certainly, if there was a widespread malware outbreak, you could be infected before you get around to installing software to protect you, since the damage might already have been done.
But security software has earned a nasty reputation of using excessive system resources, or perhaps creating incompatibilities that cause endless irritation at the price of gaining protection. Perhaps, though the products I’ve tried, such as Intego’s VirusBarrier, seem pretty benign when it comes to their impact on my various Macs. In saying that, however, the real question is whether what it does can provide some useful benefits right here and now.
The real answer is that I’m not yet certain. Aside from those lab tests, there have been Trojan Horse infections, which accomplish their dirty work by social engineering. You have to download and run some sort of app for them to do their thing. If you are simply cautious about downloading files from unknown sources, and skeptical about files that may be unwittingly forwarded by a friend or relative, you’ll probably be safe from any unsavory symptoms.
Yet another possible source of infection might result if someone gains control of your Mac or iOS device. But usually this would require hands-on hacking, although I suppose someone can break in via your Wi-Fi network and then login to your Mac. However, using smart passwords for both will generally make that task extremely difficult. A “smart password” is simply one that contains a mixture of upper and lower case letters and random numbers. Don’t even think of using your birth date, or the name of a relative or pet. Those are the passwords that are most easily cracked.
When it comes to devising passwords, Cisco has it right with the Cisco Connect app used to interface with some of their routers, such as the Linksys E3000 I acquired last week. Not only do they create a friendly network name, but they generate random but extremely powerful passwords for you to use. Indeed, if you stick with these defaults, your Wi-Fi network ought to be pretty secure. Apple should do as well with the default setup for your AirPort or Time Capsule.
The limitation in Cisco’s setup comes to play when you select their “Advanced” option for more sophisticated settings, which takes you to the old fashioned and supremely obtuse Web-based interface they’ve used for years on their products. I had to go there twice; the first time when I needed to switch the channel from “Auto” to Channel 11 to get decent Wi-Fi coverage in my new apartment. The second was to set up Port Forwarding to allow the adapter for the Internet phone company I use, Phone Power, to function reliably behind the router. Were it not for the simple instructions the provider offers on their site, I imagine customers will find the process to be unduly complicated.
But returning to the issue of Mac security, yes the sky may be falling some day, but crying wolf too often will only end up making Apple’s customers too complacent, and thus vulnerable when and if the real outbreak arrives.
Should you use virus protection software? I suppose there’s no harm, and if things get really nasty on the Mac platform, you’ll be reasonably safe. That is, assuming that the security companies catch the infection early on and devise strong protection against it.
A RELATIVELY SIMPLE HOME SECURITY SOLUTION
After moving to a new apartment, I began to wonder about home security. Don’t forget those frequent stories about burglary rings described in lurid headlines in the local papers and local TV newscasters. There are also those ubiquitous ads that employ fear and suspicion to get you to sign up with a security company.
They don’t use very much imagination in their promotions either. You see someone at home, usually a woman — which raises the sexist specter — who is doing her routine chores when someone breaks into her home. The alarm goes off, the friendly security monitoring service calls up, and calms the frightened person by assuring her that help is on the way.
The message is clear. If your home is invaded by burglars, you want to be safe and secure, which means buying that company’s product.
Now I’m not about to attack a company’s legitimate efforts to generate business, but some of the ads you see can be downright deceptive, and I’ll give you an example.
Upon moving to our new residence, I contacted ADT, perhaps the largest burglar alarm company in the U.S., and asked about a wireless package, so I wouldn’t have to contend with someone installing wires in the walls, and then having to pay to remove them upon moving. Indeed, the rental office strongly recommended a wireless solution.
The typical offer, $99 installation, plus a monthly monitoring fee, didn’t apply to wireless systems. Suddenly I was quoted fees of up to $499 “installation,” which merely involved plugging in a main control console, and using double-sided tape to attach sensors to the doors and windows. Clearly there had to be a more affordable solution.
I was also not pleased with ADT when, after telling them I wasn’t about to accept their offer, they kept making unsolicited phone calls for several days until I told them I would report them to the appropriate authorities. The calls stopped real fast.
After doing a little online sleuthing — which is what I should have done at the outset — I ran across LifeShield Security, a Pennsylvania-based company that seemed particularly savvy about wireless security systems and online access. The fact that LifeShield had been written up on such places as PCWorld, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal seemed doubly encouraging.
LifeShield’s hardware relies on your broadband connection for communication between their servers and your system. There’s also a provision for a backup hookup to a landline telephone, in case your Internet or power goes down. You don’t have to damage the walls, and, in theory, the sensors connected by tape are readily removed when it comes time for you to move to another home.
Their ordering scheme is relatively simple. You can choose from an “Essentials” kit, retailing at $199 as of this writing, or a more comprehensive “Home” kit, at $299, which ads a Keychain Remote, extra sensors, and a Grid Extender to expand the reach of the wireless system.
LifeShield’s sends you the bundle of your choice on a 30-day free trial. If you decide to keep the package, the credit card you use during the initial ordering process is charged. For standard 24/7 monitoring, you also pay $29.99 a month, compared to ADT’s fee of $43.99. This monitoring service comes without a contract, meaning you’re not stuck with a bill for the next 12 or 24 months if the system doesn’t suit your needs on the long haul.
The initial setup process was fairly simple, with a few glitches along the way. For one thing, LifeShield sent me the “Essentials” kit rather than the “Home” package I selected by mistake, but they sent me the missing components via overnight carrier. I also needed to talk to their friendly telephone support people to handle a few complications in installing the sensors on the front door and windows.
Of course, the proof will be in the pudding, but I hope I never have to confront that situation. At least I get a discount on my tenant’s insurance because I installed a security system, and I hope I’ll won’t have to take that phone call from the monitoring service.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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