Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Air Force Aims For Full Control Of Any And All Computers

Initially, this post was written for a different audience, but I believe it is something that should be of interest to mental health professionals. Although I have a love for computers, I also have a great distrust that anything transmitted from them is secure or private. We need to think of HIPAA requirements, electronic billing, chats with clients online or on the telephone, the elecronic medical record, and so on. Everything on the internet is forever, stored in memory somewhere, and accessible from more and more sources, legal or not A post on this topic geared specifically to the purpose of this blog will be done soon.

Does that read too much like a scare headline from the Far Left? It isn't. Wired News online reports that the US Air Force itself has made it. In an April 13, 2008 article by Noah Schachtman, it is stated that:

The Air Force wants a suite of hacker tools, to give it "access" to -- and "full control" of -- any kind of computer there is. And once the info warriors are in, the Air Force wants them to keep tabs on their "adversaries' information infrastructure completely undetected."

The US Air Force Cyber Command is already being developed. Its website has many articles, pictures, FAQ's, and a countdown timer to "phase one stand up" on October 1, 2008.

I have included links to both the Wired article and to the Air Force website to allow readers to judge for themselves where we are headed. Most of my regular readers know that I border on the paranoid in my responses to be watched by recording cameras at stoplights, at toll road transponder lanes, and on our streets and intersections. I strongly object to being listened to, phone tapped, having my mail read, or just generally being observed in any manner unless someone has reason to believe I am committing a crime or am planning one.

On the other side of this topic, I want my government to protect me - from criminals, from street muggers to multi-national corporate muggers, from enemies foreign and domestic, to preserve our constitution, and defend our land. I appreciate the brave people in the military services and in the public sectors who serve us and take care of us so well and who we too often take for granted.

At a deeply frightened level, I know that a current "World War III" would be fought like no other. China has demonstrated to us their ability to blind and disorient our spy and navigation satellites by shooting down one of their own. In turn, our "accidental" transport of six W80-1 variable yield live nuclear warheads From Minot AFB in ND to Barksdale AFB in LA was given much more publicity than I would expect any military organization to allow the media. I do not see these incidents as unique, or even highly significant in the bigger picture, of which the public sees only tiny fragments through a glass, darkly. If an enemy had unfettered access to any of the Internets or grids that control our distribution of electricity, natural gas, vehicle fuel, traffic and transportation flow, food and water distribution, public and military communications, financial tractions (commercial, investment, and banking,) ... well, you get the picture. Our nation would be brought to its knees in a grinding, chaotic halt. In a much more localized manner, the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) of a conventional atomic weapon or an "E-Bomb" destroys MOSFETs, FETs, transistors, and the like if not Faraday shielded, thus disabling electronic devices in the area of the explosion. The government and Military knows this in infinitely greater detail than do I.

On a personal, much less significant level, I have been affected wrongly by the same type of capabilities as are needed to defend our nation. I sold a car to a friend who ran through four "I-Pass" toll stops without paying. I received a ticket for four infractions, complete with a very clear picture of the back of the car with my plates still on it, and a statement that not being the driver was no excuse for not paying the tickets. In another incident, Medicare gave the Veterans Health Administration all of my personal and business information (including SSN, EIN, bank routing numbers, addresses, etc.) without any notification to me. I found this out when the VHA notified me that a portable hard drive with this information on it was missing. At least they had the decency to notify me and provide for one year of credit fraud alerts. I have no doubt that, despite the precautions I take personally, this type of information has been lost, discarded, or stolen far more times than I am aware. As a simple example of the laxity of transactions in the area of credit, I have written "Require Photo ID" on all my cards, along with my signature. It has been checked only once in approximately 10 years.

So what do we do and where do we go with this sort of information? I honestly do not know. The same technology that protects us can destroy us. The same types of devices that allow surveillance of criminals, terrorists, and enemy actions are easily able to be turned on a country's own law abiding citizens. It is, after all, so very much easier to listen in on our own cell phone conversations and take pictures of our own license plates than it is to definitely identify what is happening in an enemy's hardened military site or know if a satellite is armed and has military capabilities.


Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2008, Thomas A. Blood Ph.D.

"We realize our dilemma goes deeper than shortage of time; it is basically a problem of priorities. We confess, We have left undone those things that ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done." - Charles E. Hummel

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Vista vs XP, Continued

Since my recent post about the impending demise of Microsoft Windows XP, I have seen some articles which suggest that MS may continue to offer WinXP for sale, at least the Home version, for some time past the June 30, 2008 cutoff. Nothing certain, just hints and rumors.

A Computerworld article TechNet subscribers rip Microsoft over XP SP3 ‘farce', stated that Microsoft did not release the Service Pack I for Vista to developers as promised, and went on to say that they would not release the Service Pack III for XP until after Vista SP I was released. Much confusion is produced for developers as well as end users, here, as a Microsoft developer posted that Vista SP I would be available on May 2, 2008, only to have that page removed from his blog. The alleged logic in this is that Microsoft is putting its main effort into repairing Vista prior to updating XP. It also makes sense if a company is trying very hard to push consumers into using a new OS and abandoning an older (and better, in my opinion) OS, so further profit can be extracted.

Microsoft has pointed out the huge number of Vista OS sales that have occurred since its release as evidence of its popularity. Well, Duh. If Vista is the only Windows OS that one can obtain when one buys a new computer, of course its sales figures will look impressive. Only a very few, very small, "white box" computer makers continue to offer XP Pro SPII on their machines. Why do they do that? They make extremely fast gaming computers and XP works better.

As the dust settles somewhat, a few matters appear to have become clearer.

  • If you have to buy Vista, get the Home Premium version. Common wisdom has come to a consensus that it works the best of any of the Vista versions.
  • Don't try to "upgrade" a Vista machine to XP. It isn't worth the trouble, crashes, driver changes, and incompatibilities with some of your current software. Buying a new machine with Vista pre-installed eliminates many of these frustrations.
  • Vista does not seem to run nearly as well on laptops as on desktop machines, probably due to its greater demand on computer resources.
  • If everything you are now running is working well for your needs on XP, I would hold out for Microsoft's "OS 7," the next OS in the pipeline, which is rumored to have had its release date moved up from 2010 to sometime in 2009.
  • Finally, I would note that the Vista debacle is not Microsoft's intentional plan to irritate its users. With all the legal actions, interoperability problems, changes to changes, and patches to holes which were discovered by hackers even before Vista was officially released, etc., they have had a difficult time with it. It is simply my belief that they should not remove a well tested and working OS from availability before they have something better and more stable to offer. As the wise old barnstorming wing-walker would say it, "Don't leave holt of what ya got till ya got holt of somethin' else."

In the interim, my plan is to stay with XP Pro, buy a copy of XP Pro before it goes off the market, eventually buy a new CPU and install XP on it, but leave a bay open for another hard drive on which Vista can be installed (as a dual boot system) in case I'm wrong. That has happened to me once or twice before in 62 years.

Peace, Doc

Copyright © 2008, Thomas A. Blood, Ph.D.

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