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Security

+ - Security Technology Doesn't Work

Submitted by time961
time961 (618278) writes "At least that's the message in Information Week's October 11 cover story, Outgunned: How Security Tech Is Failing Us. Probably not news to many Slashdot readers, but among the many entertaining statistics are:

79% of respondents said that they had been victims of malware that evaded their AV measures. How? Automated, point-and-click obfuscation technology for virus creators is a big part of it. And the 10 million new malware examples McAfee sees every year are only the tip of the iceberg these days.

A best-case evaluation of "vulnerability assessment tools" says that they find only 20-30% of flaws, and that real-world tests would probably be worse.

92% of information losses involve databases, yet very little budget is spent on DBMS security. Even better, 70% of respondents said they were assessing database security, but 64% of those same respondents said they didn't know how they were doing so.

For the mainstream press, it's pretty remarkable to see an article suggesting that most of the security industry is a sham, peddling outdated products that cost a lot, add lots of overhead, and accomplish nothing of value."

Communications

+ - Will telephone calls ever get better?

Submitted by time961
time961 (618278) writes "Older readers may remember a time when telephone calls sounded good. The engineering genius of Bell Labs allowed telephone companies to wrest exceptional results from the meager 3 KHz of allotted bandwidth: calls were crisp and quiet with no time lag, the parties could talk simultaneously, and quality was, roughly, related to distance: when I called my next door neighbor, my electrons zipped downtown at nearly the speed of light and zipped right back out again. Eventually, even transcontinental long-distance worked very well--remember when Sprint advertised their Fiber Optic Network by saying "You can hear a pin drop"?

Of course, that was when telephones connected one individual person in one place to another individual in an equally fixed location, using hardwired equipment that could do nothing more (or less) than place and receive calls. Today, we have a myriad of telephone-related services, some unimagined 25 years ago: ubiquitous mobile phones, speakerphones everywhere, calls placed by computer, trivial conference calling, etc. And we get many of these services at amazingly low prices, or even for free. However, it seems like communication quality has plummeted as variety has expanded. Theodore Vail must be spinning in his grave.

For example, people are embracing the "mobile only" lifestyle, yet voice quality from one cellphone to another is often abysmal. This is understandable, say, if both parties are outside in noisy environments, but it's only a little better when both are in quiet, empty rooms--it still sounds like we're gargling marbles. Worse, if we try to talk over each other, all is lost, and we have to wait a second or two before trying to speak again (unless the call gets randomly dropped, in which case the wait is longer). It's not as bad as CB radio, but it's sure not like hearing a pin dropping. Even local calls, apparently between landlines, are worse. I may have a hard copper connection back to my central office, but by the time my voice has been digitized, turned into packets, and sent through routers in East Overshoe, Nebraska before finally getting back to my neighbor's "Triple Play" cable modem phone, it, too, is a low-quality, noisy, choppy imitation of what the Bell System once provided. And speakerphones--what is it with high-ranking executives who, alone in their empty offices, say "I'm gonna put you on speaker" and then end up sounding like they're in a submarine? Are they seeking plausible deniability on the grounds that the other party couldn't actually understand what they said?

But that's all whining for background. My question is, is this situation inevitable? Can it get better? Will it? Are we just in a period where new technologies haven't quite been tamed, much as the early steamship era was punctuated by boiler explosions? Or is the tradeoff of service variety for quality something that can't be avoided (or undone)? Obviously, there's a huge collection of technologies underlying modern telecommunications, and they operate and interact in complex and mysterious ways, so no one factor is to blame. But is that technology even capable of providing good voice quality? What are the technical roadblocks? Is it primarily an economic issue? What are the economic obstacles? Conversation is such a basic human activity, it seems important to have the technology work better."
Microsoft

+ - Office 2003SP3: Old file formats, now unavailable! 3

Submitted by
time961
time961 writes "In Service Pack 3 for Office 2003, Microsoft has disabled support for many older file formats, so if you have old Word, Excel, 1-2-3, Quattro, or Corel Draw documents, watch out! They did this because the old formats are "less secure", which actually makes some sense, but only if you got the files from some untrustworthy source.

Naturally, they did this by default, and then documented a mind-bogglingly complex workaround (KB 938810) rather than providing a user interface for adjusting it, or even a set of awkward "Do you really want to do this?" dialog boxes to click through. And, of course, because these are, after all, old file formats, many users will encounter the problem only months or years after the software change, while groping around in dusty and now-inaccessible archives.

One of the better aspects of Office is its extensive compatibility mechanisms for old file formats. At least the support isn't completely gone—it's just really hard to use. Security is important, but there are better ways to fulfill this goal.

This was also covered by the Windows Secrets newsletter, although I can't find a story URL for it."

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