The Best Gift for Non-Geeks That Isn’t On Their List (And They Won’t Appreciate, But Really Need)

Author’s Note: This was originally posted last year, but nothing ever changes: Backup Backup Backup Did I say backup yet? Backing up home computers used to be little more than a convenience to keep you from losing some old college papers. These days our entire family histories find life on our unreliable home computers. From digital photos of junior, to financial records in Quicken, to love letters in email, our computers store items in ephemeral 0s and 1s that used to be on paper in a box. Sure, paper isn’t perfect, but I suspect more of us have experienced hard drive crashes than house fires. Backup is really a pain, so I suggest prioritizing your efforts to focus on the most important stuff and to make it easy and seamless for your non-geek friends and family. In many cases your best bet is to get an external hard drive and some basic backup software (I use SuperDuper on my Mac, not sure what’s good these days on PCs, so recommendations in the comments appreciated). A bunch of the external drives now include basic software for free, and you can plug in the drive, install the software, and just check up on it every now and then. For digital photos I’ve started recommending the archive features of Photoshop Elements, Microsoft Digital Image Suite, and the like. The advantage here is they get a photo tool they can use for other purposes, while getting basic photo backup features. I just grabbed Photoshop Elements for my Father-in-Law and a bunch of blank CDs. My plan is, every few months, to burn an archive of his photos on CD and store them over at my place (we live 20 minutes away). No- backup isn’t fun or sexy, but today it’s very very necessary. I hear all too many stories of people losing valuable family photos due to a basic hard drive crash, virus, or whatever. Imagine losing ALL your baby pics, wedding pics, or Grandpa’s 80th birthday pics where he flashed back and called Grandma by the name of his long-forgotten French mistress from WWII inciting immediate, if lethargic, violence. Ah, Family. Good times. You really don’t want to let your family lose their memories, do you? It’s also a good idea to print really valuable photos. The rumors of paper’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Share:

Read Post

Mac vs. Windows Security- It’s a Whole New Game, and Doesn’t Matter

I’m about to tread, yet again, on religious ground. John Gruber, attacking an eWeek article, incited a response by Tom Ptacek over at Matasano. I suggest you read those articles, especially the Matasano response, because they highlight very clearly some of the technical differences between OS X and Windows Vista. I’ve been spending a lot of time, we’re talking a year or two, trying to decide if OS X is inherently more secure. I’m not a vulnerability researcher or OS developer, so I can’t dig in like Ptacek, but as an analyst I’m pretty good at weeding through the BS and I’m geeky enough to know what I’m talking about. OS X is more secure than my XP PC, but Vista changes everything. This is not your usual Windows. Tom’s response to Gruber focuses on Windows Vista, but Tom could have explained that more clearly. Gruber probably hasn’t hammered on a recently-released, barely-production-deployed OS so his arguments are tailored towards Vista. I think all the pundits need to be clear about which OS versions they are talking about. To a very real degree they are debating around each other- Tom focusing on Vista, and John on XP. This was something I was planning to write about after I got my hands on a non-beta copy to play with, but Tom beat me to the punch. OS X is more secure than XP for a variety of reasons, including the user account model, lack of SYSTEM, quiet network profile, some core code signing, and so on. That said, OS X was not designed with a secure development lifecycle, and does not include the advanced security features shipping in Vista. Not that Vista is perfect, but there are clear indications that the game may have changed. (And yes, I’ve simplified a lot) The Secure Development Lifecycle is far more than some marketing campaign. MS hammers their code harder than anyone… ANYONE else in development today. Independent review, multiple security code scanning engines, mandatory training, and dropping beta versions to hackers like free candy. I talk with a lot of vendors; many have good processes, but I haven’t found any major vendor that makes such an effort. Ignore XP- it never went through this process, but look at SQL Server 2005, one of the first major applications to go through this process. No vulnerabilities to date- just one shared-code flaw (XML Core Services). Vista is the first consumer OS to go through this process. Bugs will still be found, but I suspect far fewer than XP. Memory randomization- key code hops around in memory. This makes it incredibly hard for an attacker to point to system code, since the code always moves. No hardcoding addresses. This may be the most significant change in the OS security. C#, which will probably be the most common application language used on the Windows platform, uses memory virtualization, just like Java. Again, nothing’s perfect, but this means C# apps are much less likely to suffer some of the common families of flaws that have crippled Windows so far. The user privilege model is stronger, but not perfect. MS cut back a little here to keep some enterprise customers happy, but the improvements are still very real. Old code demanding admin access runs off virtual registries rather than corrupting the main system registry. Browser isolation- most major malware today on XP comes in email or over the browser (and half the email stuff uses the browser). IE 7 itself is stronger, and the browser runs in a more isolated and less privileged mode. I’m just running off other’s evaluations, so take it or leave it, but the hard-core researchers I know all tell me Vista is not the MS software we’re used to. Everything from the browser, to the kernel, to the programming languages used to build applications is significantly improved. And I haven’t even mentioned all the new security features, like a real 2-way firewall, PatchGuard, and so on. Will it all work? I don’t know, but I do know those who have hacked away at Vista come away impressed. So is Vista more secure than OS X? I think so, but we’ll still see more malware for Windows for a long time to come. And Apple has plenty of time to take some of the same security steps. Heck, with less ties to legacy applications Apple could probably jump ahead if they put their minds to it. Vista might see life on my Mac, but replacing my XP virtual machine. But with Vista now released we all need to be clear about which operating systems we’re discussing. On paper Vista has more security built in at a more fundamental level than OS X. But Vista is brand new, and we’ll have to watch the world kick the tires for a while. Apple needs to respond with similar features, where needed, if they are to compete in the security game. If they want to. The truth is, security is still not a major factor in most people’s OS choice. I’m sitting here saying I think Vista is more secure, but I don’t plan on switching off my Mac. Security is about being “good enough”. As the major target for attacks, “good enough” for Windows is significantly higher than “good enough” for Macs. Until Apple sees the same kinds of exploits on the same scale there will be little motivation for them to invest so deeply in security. The game isn’t over, but it’s definitely a different game than just a few weeks ago. Share:

Read Post

Totally Transparent Research is the embodiment of how we work at Securosis. It’s our core operating philosophy, our research policy, and a specific process. We initially developed it to help maintain objectivity while producing licensed research, but its benefits extend to all aspects of our business.

Going beyond Open Source Research, and a far cry from the traditional syndicated research model, we think it’s the best way to produce independent, objective, quality research.

Here’s how it works:

  • Content is developed ‘live’ on the blog. Primary research is generally released in pieces, as a series of posts, so we can digest and integrate feedback, making the end results much stronger than traditional “ivory tower” research.
  • Comments are enabled for posts. All comments are kept except for spam, personal insults of a clearly inflammatory nature, and completely off-topic content that distracts from the discussion. We welcome comments critical of the work, even if somewhat insulting to the authors. Really.
  • Anyone can comment, and no registration is required. Vendors or consultants with a relevant product or offering must properly identify themselves. While their comments won’t be deleted, the writer/moderator will “call out”, identify, and possibly ridicule vendors who fail to do so.
  • Vendors considering licensing the content are welcome to provide feedback, but it must be posted in the comments - just like everyone else. There is no back channel influence on the research findings or posts.
    Analysts must reply to comments and defend the research position, or agree to modify the content.
  • At the end of the post series, the analyst compiles the posts into a paper, presentation, or other delivery vehicle. Public comments/input factors into the research, where appropriate.
  • If the research is distributed as a paper, significant commenters/contributors are acknowledged in the opening of the report. If they did not post their real names, handles used for comments are listed. Commenters do not retain any rights to the report, but their contributions will be recognized.
  • All primary research will be released under a Creative Commons license. The current license is Non-Commercial, Attribution. The analyst, at their discretion, may add a Derivative Works or Share Alike condition.
  • Securosis primary research does not discuss specific vendors or specific products/offerings, unless used to provide context, contrast or to make a point (which is very very rare).
    Although quotes from published primary research (and published primary research only) may be used in press releases, said quotes may never mention a specific vendor, even if the vendor is mentioned in the source report. Securosis must approve any quote to appear in any vendor marketing collateral.
  • Final primary research will be posted on the blog with open comments.
  • Research will be updated periodically to reflect market realities, based on the discretion of the primary analyst. Updated research will be dated and given a version number.
    For research that cannot be developed using this model, such as complex principles or models that are unsuited for a series of blog posts, the content will be chunked up and posted at or before release of the paper to solicit public feedback, and provide an open venue for comments and criticisms.
  • In rare cases Securosis may write papers outside of the primary research agenda, but only if the end result can be non-biased and valuable to the user community to supplement industry-wide efforts or advances. A “Radically Transparent Research” process will be followed in developing these papers, where absolutely all materials are public at all stages of development, including communications (email, call notes).
    Only the free primary research released on our site can be licensed. We will not accept licensing fees on research we charge users to access.
  • All licensed research will be clearly labeled with the licensees. No licensed research will be released without indicating the sources of licensing fees. Again, there will be no back channel influence. We’re open and transparent about our revenue sources.

In essence, we develop all of our research out in the open, and not only seek public comments, but keep those comments indefinitely as a record of the research creation process. If you believe we are biased or not doing our homework, you can call us out on it and it will be there in the record. Our philosophy involves cracking open the research process, and using our readers to eliminate bias and enhance the quality of the work.

On the back end, here’s how we handle this approach with licensees:

  • Licensees may propose paper topics. The topic may be accepted if it is consistent with the Securosis research agenda and goals, but only if it can be covered without bias and will be valuable to the end user community.
  • Analysts produce research according to their own research agendas, and may offer licensing under the same objectivity requirements.
  • The potential licensee will be provided an outline of our research positions and the potential research product so they can determine if it is likely to meet their objectives.
  • Once the licensee agrees, development of the primary research content begins, following the Totally Transparent Research process as outlined above. At this point, there is no money exchanged.
  • Upon completion of the paper, the licensee will receive a release candidate to determine whether the final result still meets their needs.
  • If the content does not meet their needs, the licensee is not required to pay, and the research will be released without licensing or with alternate licensees.
  • Licensees may host and reuse the content for the length of the license (typically one year). This includes placing the content behind a registration process, posting on white paper networks, or translation into other languages. The research will always be hosted at Securosis for free without registration.

Here is the language we currently place in our research project agreements:

Content will be created independently of LICENSEE with no obligations for payment. Once content is complete, LICENSEE will have a 3 day review period to determine if the content meets corporate objectives. If the content is unsuitable, LICENSEE will not be obligated for any payment and Securosis is free to distribute the whitepaper without branding or with alternate licensees, and will not complete any associated webcasts for the declining LICENSEE. Content licensing, webcasts and payment are contingent on the content being acceptable to LICENSEE. This maintains objectivity while limiting the risk to LICENSEE. Securosis maintains all rights to the content and to include Securosis branding in addition to any licensee branding.

Even this process itself is open to criticism. If you have questions or comments, you can email us or comment on the blog.