Despite two decades of evolution, we are still vulnerable to all kinds of malicious attacks by people who want to extort money from us or who have sheer malice as their motivation, but the news isn't all bad; the World wide Web, the cause of much malice, is also the solution.
Today, I came home to find my wife struggling with a piece of ransomware, "System Security 2008." She had been fooled by the urgent nature of the message and had got herself caught in the loop and finally realized that she had been the victim of a hoax attack.
This would not be a problem on a well-run corporate network; system security would have protected against it. However, many of us work with home users, and it occurred to me that people who do not have specialist knowledge are easy prey to these bloodsuckers. She realized what had happened and waited for me to come home and sort it out. I have Spybot S&D and the latest version of AVG running on all our home PCs, and these tools were more than a match for this malware.
The incident was soon resolved, but it got me thinking: PCs running Windows in its many guises are ubiquitous across the entire globe yet they are still unable to cope with such simple attacks unless the user has a modicum of technical knowledge. There are millions of "ordinary" home users who want to use PCs, like my wife does, for general Web browsing and shopping without the fear of clicking on the wrong link and infecting themselves with these nasty applications, though if someone could come up with a system to stop her shopping online on her days off, I would be most grateful and considerably richer.
The PC will never be truly user friendly until all these kinds of attacks are a thing of the past. The very nature of the World Wide Web means that anyone, anywhere can use it, and this means that there will always be the same balance of good guys and bad guys as you would find in any walk of life. It is easy to pretend to be someone else on the Net. I personally have adopted the guise of an overweight, bald, middle-aged Englishman while in reality I am a twenty-five-year-old, six-foot Adonis from Sweden. These people who try to extort money from unwary users are playing a role in just the same way, pretending to be helpful when all they are doing is getting their hands on your money.
Fortunately, for every one of the bad guys, there are many more good ones who fight a constant battle against such abuses. They work out solutions and post them for anyone to use. The Web will truly come of age when society itself does, when we can trust our fellow humans and share what we know in an atmosphere of openness and trust.
The Internet has gone a long way, in my view, to bringing this day nearer. Yes, we are all bombarded daily with rubbish and ridiculous requests for assistance in emptying secret bank accounts in Nigeria, and some might say that anyone daft enough to fall for such a scam deserves all they get, but with cooperation and education we can build a world that leaves such people with nowhere to hide.
TechRepublic's User Support newsletter, delivered Tuesday and Friday, features blogs, tips, and white papers designed for IT support pros. Automatically sign up today!