Saturday, January 16, 2010

China and intrusive spyware - taking responsibility 

Google needs to step up and be aggressive in response to China's unacceptable activity.


Once again people are overlooking the obvious. This problem does not go away by being passive. The heart of this issue is a double whammy - the poor system control mechanisms in Microsoft Windows and the inability of users to force Microsoft to make change occur so they can take proactive charge of their machines.

But this can be changed and perhaps Google are the right folks to lead the way, adapting open source software (OSS) such as SpyBot to give people the control dashboard they need to prevent unauthorized hijacking of their computer.

I'm seeing two things here. First the task manager and system startup controls in Windows are inadequate for showing what is really running on your machine, and doublechecking that those processes are authenticated versions and not ones that have been tampered with. This should be simple for the user to crosscheck, and provide a clear catalogue of items - no unlabelled mystery processes.

Your machine should ship with this catalogue pre-configured for the factory installed software, so any changes and discrepancies are documented and logged.

Second IP addressing and network access. I do 99% of my internet access to in-country servers. I'm sure everyone else is similar, and hence I could easily run a background process that continually vets my DNS and IP outbound network connections and provides a pop-up alert for anything suspicious - with what process issued the request and to where the server is geographically located.

Attack is definitely always the best defense - and hence dashboard software of this nature, open source, would provide the maximum protection. Of course the "other side" would then attack that software itself to try and spoof it and fake it out - but at least you have a level playing field in that battle and a worldwide community of OSS developers on your side.

Right now what we have is uninformed users being at the mercy of these foreign agents who are exploiting what is a woeful and negligent situation created by Microsoft and their decisions about how Windows handles these issues. Unfortunately the US Government is tacitly acquessing to this situation also, because their own counter-espionage efforts would be negatively effected. Although you can be sure that the really bad guys out there are using sophisticated tools both hardware and encryption to prevent intrusions.

So for the ordinary users mentioned in the Washington Post article, the charities and activists groups with limited resources, this all needs to change. Microsoft and Google are you paying attention?

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