How Dumb Is Too Dumb To Operate a Computer?

Over at <a href=""></a>, Petko D. Petkov makes it clear that computer users are the weak link in Internet security.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 26, 2007

2 Min Read

Over at, Petko D. Petkov makes it clear that computer users are the weak link in Internet security.

In a blog post, Petkov points out that the term "drive-by download," as defined by Wikipedia, doesn't quite work.Part of the definition Wikipedia offers is, "Download of spyware, a computer virus, or any kind of malware that happens without knowledge of the user. Drive-by downloads may happen by visiting a Web site, viewing an e-mail message, or by clicking on a deceptive popup window: the user clicks on the window in the mistaken belief that, for instance, it is an error report from his own PC or that it is an innocuous advertisement popup; in such cases, the 'supplier' may claim that the user 'consented' to the download though he was completely unaware of having initiated a malicious software download."

The problem with the term "drive-by download" is that it doesn't properly attribute blame to the user in cases where the user is initiating the download with a click.

Petkov's concern is more about whether Sun needs to rethink security for the Java Runtime, which allows signed applets to operate with the privileges of desktop applications.

But it's also worth asking whether computer users should be required to demonstrate some level of competence before being allowed to connect to the Internet. As Petkov says, users will approve anything just to get a game to run, for example. "This type of attack is by far the simplest to perform and does not rely on any particular kind of vulnerability," he said in his post.

Actually, there is a vulnerability: the computer user.

So what's to be done? We don't let patients with highly infectious diseases like tuberculosis travel on airplanes, or at least we don't in theory. Yet anyone can put an insecure computer on the Net and unwittingly help hackers and malware writers spread viruses and the like through unsafe computer use.

Admittedly, the disease metaphor isn't entirely apt and there's a big difference between spreading ebola and spreading spam and adware.

But surely computer use carries with it some responsibility not to make online life worse for others through negligence or ignorance.

Doesn't it?

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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