Software for idiots
You don't get to be world class overnight. England's soccer hooligans for example, far from being a bunch of boisterous teenage amateur thugs, are typically men in their thirties whose trouble-making skills have been acquired over a number of years. Likewise, though it may be comforting to think of the hacker as a spotty teenage nerd out for a bit of harmless fun, the average hacker is a much older, more dangerous character. Even so, hacking is still by and large the preserve of the mischief-maker rather than the outright villain, and it is in the former category we should place the perpetrators of the 350 daily attempts to penetrate the defences of the World Cup Web site. Exactly who is responsible is not known, though Glenn Hoddle was seen boarding the plane for France clutching a copy of the Happy Hacker's Handbook. Expect to see some small amendments to the scores to date: England 20, Romania 1.
All jolly good fun, but two recent attacks brought to Mole's attention by a security expert point to more sinister motives.
One was at the Pentagon, the military nerve-centre of the world's most influential nation, where a hacker recently obtained details of all of the critical computer systems, including network topologies and passwords.
This is fairly worrying but not as worrying as the virtual break-in at India's nuclear weapons agency where an intruder left with the results of the Indian government's latest round of N-bomb tests. This much has already made the papers, but there's more. According to Mole's source, who is in a position to know, the hackers later broke into a computer belonging to the Pakistani military and left a copy of the complete test results, a development that guarantees a healthy level of competition in the Indian sub-continent's race to Armageddon.
Any security system is only as strong as its weakest link, as the old cliche goes. Someone should tell Sun, whose newish E450 server comes with all the snazziest possible bits and pieces to guarantee that all of those critical corporate applications keep running in the face of disaster, including twin processors, a built-in RAID array and enough flashing lights to keep even the most demanding hardware lover satisfied. Naturally, there are also dual power supplies. This sensible precaution only works, of course, if each of these devices is connected to a different mains supply.
Exactly how Sun expects its customers to follow this simple expedient is unclear, because the E450 comes with a single power lead and no socket available for a second. In layman's terms, this means that if someone kicks the plug out, it's goodnight Irene.
Ask any self-respecting PR person what they want and chances are that "a captive audience" will come near the top of the list. It was with this in mind that Fujitsu carted a trainload of journalists to Paris last week for lunch with a side order of company propaganda. The hacks got more than they bargained for, though, when the Eurostar train got stuck in the tunnel halfway under the Channel. The train was marooned for an hour and a half with a total loss of electrical power which affected even the emergency lighting. Much to the delight of the Fujitsu PR folk, the only source of illumination available was the laptop bearing the slides for the marketing presentation due to be shown later. So bored were the members of the press corps by this time, that some of them may even have watched it, though they were almost certainly too inebriated to have learnt anything.
IBM Global Services has been advertising under the slogan "Our people.
Our best kept secret," but if you look carefully at the accompanying photograph you will see that one of the employees featured in the ad is wearing a yellow badge. As IBM camp-followers know, the yellow badge denotes a contractor not someone on the payroll. Perhaps whoever is responsible for the campaign can expect a similar change in contractual status.
In case you had forgotten, last week saw the launch of Windows 98. Despite the fact that there is nothing terribly significant or new about this latest Microsoft offering, the company's marketing department still has its leaden foot heavily on the pedal marked hype and the non-event was accompanied by all kinds of contrived celebrations including a UK launch party in the style of the Generation Game and a two-hour American-football style extravaganza in the US featuring tee-shirts, balloons, self-congratulation, and cheesy smiles. No doubt there was also a good deal of vomiting by citizens of the 88 US cities to which Bill Gates' keynote presentation was relayed by satellite, and who unwittingly turned on their televisions to find him bleating at them.
A Windows 98 launch party of a slightly different kind was organised by the supporters of Linux, who offered attendees the opportunity to fire a rocket with fins made from cut-up Windows 98 CDs. The organisers confessed that their Windows tribute was not entirely realistic: because the rockets were equipped with parachutes, they floated gently to earth. The real thing would have crashed unceremoniously.
Needless to say, Mole hasn't spent the past few days upgrading his feeble-minded IBM ThinkPad, but has it on good authority that the latest Windows lives up to expectations, not least under the heading of Never Overestimating the Intelligence of the Customer. According to the Maintenance Wizard in the Plus! add-on pack, "Windows can perform maintenance tasks only when your computer is on ..."
All Windows 98 and other Microsoft nonsense can be sent to Mole at the address at the top of this page. For Sun customers and those using Email, please remember that this will only work when your computer is plugged in.
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