Technology Hoaxes Galore

Looking for insane uses of technology has given me no limit of mirth in the past. Whenever I need a good laugh, I’ll look at someone’s interpretive use of technology that couldn’t possibly ever work. Sometimes it makes for good entertainment, as in futuristic movies (where it can’t be proven that the technology won’t work that way someday), but some offenders just look silly.

I read an article some time ago and recently read it again today because it really did bring home the absurd use of technology in some situations. In this case, the author is pointing out the odd and nonsensical uses of technology in crime shows. You can read 6 Howlingly Unrealistic Hollywood Portrayals of Law Enforcement Using Computers for yourself to see if your favorite show makes obvious errors in computer use. The fact is that most people buy into these computer usage scenarios, even if they know better. There is a point where artistic license for the sake of making a show or movie entertaining ends and these shows definitely jump the shark. It would be just as easy to create a convincing scenario that might not be precisely true, but close enough to reality to make for a better program. (I recently did a review of Gravity—a movie that does the job right.)

However, you don’t have to look to the entertainment industry for examples of technology hoaxes (or gimmickry, such as Google Glass, that should be a hoax). The most recent example of such silliness is the Amazon.com plan to deliver packages less than five pounds via drone. A number of industry pundits enthusiastically embraced the technology—I’ll spare them the embarrassment of a public mention here. One person who wasn’t fooled in the least is John Dvorak who lampoons the attempt as nothing more than an advertizing stunt (and he does name names).

The act of perpetrating technology hoaxes isn’t new and you can count on more of them appearing in the future because people will remain gullible enough to believe them. (If I’m really concerned about a particular hoax, I’ll check it out on Hoax Busters or Snopes.com.) Using artistic license to explore what could be true is entertaining and definitely within the purview of good fiction. Purposely creating a hoax for the purpose of fooling the public into believing something that can’t ever work is something else.

At some point you have to point out the hoax for what it is. What is your view on technology hoaxes? Which technology assertions do you see as a potential hoax today? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Virus Scares and Hoaxes Galore

It seems as if the holiday season can bring out the worst in some people for whatever reason—I have never figured out why. My inbox is sometimes packed with e-mail from concerned readers about this hoax or that virus. I read about viruses and hoaxes galore online as well. It seems as if there is an upsurge every year in the number, variety, and severity of these complete wastes of time. In my book, the people who perpetuate these sorts of things are either ill-informed or simply sad. If all of the energy that goes into creating these scares would go instead into some productive use, I can’t even begin to imagine the benefit to mankind as a whole. Instead, we have readers running about like Chicken Little exclaiming that the sky is falling.

John Dvorak ran an article in his blog the other day entitled, “Did You Fall for the Facebook Hoax?” I’m not too thrilled about some of the language he used, but the information he provides is right on the mark. You can probably sum it up as, “Anything that sounds too good, weird, or evil to be true, probably isn’t.” Of course, most of us want to be sure that something really is a hoax, so it pays to check out Hoax Busters, VMyths, or Snopes.com, just to be certain. These sites track all of the current myths and hoaxes out there, so you can see the basis for that hoax that arrived in your e-mail this afternoon. The point is that hoaxes aren’t real and you shouldn’t believe them, even a little.

When it comes to viruses, you can be sure that the Internet is plagued with them. Tomorrow I fully expect to see an article about the next major virus that will take down the Internet after emptying every bank in the world of funds. Yes, civilization will cease to exist with the next virus created by the cracker (a black hat hacker who uses his/her skills for ill, rather than good) who works only at midnight in a darkened room above a garage.

The fact is that viruses are real, but crackers often attack the least prepared Web surfers just as any other thief attacks the unsuspecting person on the street. There are enough people who are ill prepared to work on the Internet that crackers really don’t have to worry about creating a truly devastating virus that will invade every network on the planet. For one thing, it’s a waste of the cracker’s time—for another, must viruses have a relatively short active life before someone comes along with a fix that prevents them from spreading. Crackers know this, so they create viruses that work well enough for the time they expect the virus to be active, and then the cracker moves on to something else.

In general, a computer system can be invaded by a virus at any time—just as you can get a cold at any time. You tend to catch colds when your bodily defenses are down. The same holds true for your computer. When you let your computer defenses down, it has a better chance of getting a virus. However, even with the best defenses, there is a small chance you could still get a virus, but being prepared significantly reduces the risks. Here are five things you can do to ensure you’re prepared for a virus attack.

 

  1. Keep your virus protection updated.
  2. Install all of the required patches for your operating system and applications.
  3. Don’t open an e-mail from someone you don’t know, no matter how tempting the message might be (remember Pandora’s Box).
  4. Don’t go to sites you don’t trust.
  5. Keep your browser locked down so that it doesn’t automatically execute code when you visit a site.  This means setting your browser to disable both JavaScript and Java support.  Most browsers have an exception list you can create for sites you trust, so these sites will continue to work as they always have.


When you follow these five guidelines, you have a very good chance of avoiding viruses on your computer. The next time you see an e-mail message containing a hoax or trying to get you excited about the latest virus that will take down the Internet, consider the fact that these sorts of messages have been going around the Internet for quite a long time now and we have yet to see a major Internet down time. Let me know your thoughts about viruses and hoaxes at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.