Holiday time is a bit weird in my family. My brother Gus is the Equipment Manager for the New York Jets (yeah, I know ... tough game last weekend), so we can't celebrate Festivus ... uh, I mean Chrismakkuh until after the football season is over for his team. That means that a bad year for the Jets means Chrismakkuh in January, while a good year for New York's cooler football team spells gift-giving in Chez Granneman in February. That means that I officially have not celebrated the holidays yet, which also means that I can still let the fine readers of SecurityFocus know my holiday wishes for 2007. So here they are, in no particular order.
Although I'd love to start by wishing for the public drawing and quartering of the $#@%^&'s that are responsible for the biblical flood of spam that's been inundating our inboxes over the last several months, I can't really do that, due to my ethics in regard to capital punishment and the fact that it can't really happen. I'm trying to stick to realistic wishes here, and much as I'd love to see spammers receive draconian punishments for their scummy deeds, I'll have to give this one a pass.
Securing data has to become a bigger goal than ever. In the area of personal data, I'm hoping that more people will secure their laptops so we don't see any more of the ridiculous data losses that were suffered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ernst & Young, and way too many others. Microsoft's new BitLocker technology is a nice step in this direction, although there are plenty of other solutions available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux users.
I've written several times about the unbelievably poor security found in the electronic voting machines used in American elections. It seems that more citizens are waking up to the dangers of the devices made by Diebold, ES&S, and others. This is a great sign, and I hope that it continues, to the point at which Congress mandates changes that will either radically improve the security of voting machines, or, better yet, provide for a better, safer method of voting.
So-called "intellectual property" is becoming a larger issue as our society moves inexorably from analog to digital storage, and it continues to spark frustration and abuse due to perhaps greed and short-sightedness of media companies, their lawyers, and their willing stooges in the technology industry. I'm hoping that more people have to struggle with Digital Restrictions Managment this year, in the music they "legally" download, in the next-gen DVD movies they try to play on their new HD-TVs, in the e-books they attempt to view.
Anyone who's read my columns knows that I'm no fan of DRM, so why do I wish this? Simple - the more consumers who have to wrestle with the hassles and problems of DRM, the more they will realize how much DRM sucks, the further they will complain, the less they will buy, and the faster that DRM in consumer products will die a much-deserved and little-mourned death.
And in this regard, I hope that the FSF's "Defective by Design" campaign continues chuggin' along, keeping the issue alive and acting as the agent provocateurs that we need.
The mess we're in with patents, especially software patents, is another big problem, and while it's going to take longer to fix that one, I'm hoping that we can make progress this year. Certainly many members of the software industry realize the scope of the hornet's nest, as can be seen in an excellent collection of slides from a conference titled "Software Patents: A Time for Change?" (and thanks to Jim Rapoza and his excellent article at eWeek for the link). The rejection of software patents by the European Commission in May was a great step, and has just made things safer and easier for software developers in Europe.
Unfortunately, American developers and companies still have a hell of a problem to deal with.<br/> <br/> There are lots of dedicated groups doing yeoman's work in the area of intellectual "property," groups that deserve your attention, support, and yes, money. These include the Free Software Foundation, Creative Commons, the ACLU, Public Knowledge, and the EFF. Look 'em up!
Moving from IP to our computers, I'm hopeful that competition will continue to blossom in 2007. Little things, like the continuing spread of Firefox and Thunderbird, are heartening. In the operating system arena, we should all hope that Linux and Mac OS X continue attracting users, if for no other reason than keeping Microsoft on its toes and because choice is almost always a good thing. Even better, the more people running alternative operating systems, the fewer machines there are to make up the massive botnets that haunt the Net.
How bad is it? Well, in the first half of 2006, Symantec found 57,000 active bots per day; overall, 4.7 million computers were used in various botnets.
With those really bad numbers in mind, let's hope that operating systems like OpenBSD, PC-BSD, Fedora, Ubuntu, and Slackware (and yes, Mac OS X) see further releases in 2007 and continue to provide powerful, innovative, and safe alternatives to the status quo OS.
Note that I'm ignoring SUSE thanks to their ill-advised slap in the face called a patent "pledge" with Microsoft signed earlier this year. Don't you know what happens to blues singers who sign agreements at the crossroads, SUSE? They do alright for a while, but they ultimately suffer a steep price that they always regret paying. Bad move, SUSE.
Moving from software to data, there's no web site I've used more this last year than Wikipedia.
Yeah, I know that you can't rely 100% on what it says, but it's a fantastic first place to go when you want to learn about a new topic, and it has information on things that you just can't find anywhere else. I'm hoping that it continues its growth during 2007, and also works to improve the quality of its articles.
Finally, I'd like to thank the makers of the hardware and software that I've used over the course of the last year, technologies that have made my life and work easier and more productive. Ubuntu continues as my favorite Linux distro, but in October I bought a MacBook Pro, my first Mac in 11 years, and wow. Just wow.
The MBP is the best laptop I've ever owned, hardware-wise, and Mac OS X is a joy to use. Mac OS X is basically Unix with Apple's shiny goodness on top of it, but the fact that I can also use MacPorts (the former Darwin Ports) and install and run a huge number of Unix and Linux apps, that CrossOver Mac means I can run the most widely-used Windows programs, and that the awesome Parallels virtualization software allows me to run Windows XP and Linux - all at the same time! - means that I can run just about any piece of software for any OS on the same machine. That, my friends, is sheer nerd computing heaven.
When it comes to software, SSH is something I use every day, and I'm constantly discovering new uses for this fantastic tool. Skype is my IM and file transfer tool of choice thanks to its built-in automatic encryption. BitTorrent is easily the best way to download ISO images of Linux distros as well as other enormous files.
I don't like spyware, so I use Firefox, and I don't like macro viruses, so I use OpenOffice.org or NeoOffice, and I don't like spam or viruses that automatically run when you open an email, so I use Thunderbird. That these apps (with the noted exception of Skype) are all open source is just the icing on the cake.<br/>
And here's a biggie: I give lots of presentations to students and to business groups, and now that I'm using a Mac laptop, I have the killer combination of Keynote and the Apple Remote available to me, the best presentation tools I've ever used. If you have to stand up and give talks as part of your job, you owe it to yourself to check out Keynote - it's that good.
It's still early in 2007, but I'm optimistic about the upcoming year. I know I'll probably be disappointed somehow, and I'm sure I'll end up smacking my forehead from disgust or amazement at several security issues over the next twelve months, but a guy can still hope, can't he? And I know I'll have fun at my family's Chrismukkah celebration in a few weeks. It's too late for the Jets this year, unfortunately, but there's always next season!
Scott Granneman teaches at Washington University in St. Louis, consults for WebSanity, and writes for SecurityFocus and Linux Magazine. His latest book, Hacking Knoppix, is in stores now.
This article originally appeared in Security Focus.
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