Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Information of Freedom

Blechta at the keyboard, wearing dark glasses and typing in a darkened room somewhere in the bowels of an anonymous government building somewhere.

Donis wrote an interesting entry on December 22nd, and since I was incommunicado (being in a place with only dial-up and very cantankerous Windows computer), I couldn't really respond to it. In itself, it's an historical document. How times have changed indeed!

I'm certainly being overly obvious when I say that computers have changed everything. I think, in North America at least, it would be easier to count the number of homes that don't have a PC with an Internet connection. The thing happy computer users don't realize is how much their little machines hold about who they really are. Anytime we send emails or go to websites, we leave a trail. There are people out there who can (and sometimes do) find out anything you share or do.

Also, if your computer is online, it can be hacked into. Don't ever forget that one. I don't care what sort of firewall you have, if someone wants in, they'll get in. Your emails can (and might well be) read on their way through the Internet.

That's all pretty sobering, isn't it?

Here's something else I found out recently: your computer's hard drive can be read even after you've erased it. I'm not talking about chucking the directory, leaving all the information on the HD disconnected but still present. I'm talking about someone being able to go into an HD that's been completely erased and harvesting information as if nothing was ever done.

The reason I found out this little fact is that we're getting rid of some old computers at the graphic design studio where I work. We have a program that will write scrambled info to the entire disk not once, not twice but up to thirty-five times. (US government rules state that DOD computers must be "zeroed" at least 8 times) to be considered unreadable.)

For most of us, that's not a problem. We all probably have some things on our PCs we'd rather not have someone else see, but it wouldn't get our butts thrown in jail. But what if we did? How many people knew that a supposedly erased hard drive could easily be read by someone with the equipment and knowledge?

What about paper shredders to keep people from harvesting information about you from your trash? Do you have one of those shredders that does the long strips? Have you ever looked at the way they come out of the machine into the basket beneath? If someone wanted badly enough to harvest the information, it really wouldn't take much work. That's why governments use document shredders that turn pages into confetti.

Now here's the real mind-blower. The same governments also have the ability to assemble that confetti back into documents again -- if they want to take the considerable time and computing power to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. They have sophisticated capabilities to scan each tiny piece, then run all those scans through a program that can eventually assemble the scraps into "possible" documents. A friend of mine has seen it done.

In a very real sense, there isn't anything someone couldn't find out about you if they wanted to. You wouldn't even know they were doing it.

I think there might be a crime novel in here somewhere...

As a wind up to this, what do you readers have to say about computers? I want a very basic, gut reaction here: do you feel computers and the Internet have been a good thing for mankind or something more sinister? (As writers, they've made our job more easy and more difficult. It's easier to produce that novel, but it also allows more people to write that novel they've always talked about. Ask any publisher. They are now absolutely flooded with manuscripts or requests to read manuscripts and that's also due to computers.)

So what say you? Thumbs up? Or down?


Vicki Delany said...

Thumbs up from me. Remember that I made my living from computers, and a very comfortable living as well. Plus, you know, Rick, where my eldest daughter Caroline is living now. I communicate with her regularly, and she sends pics. When I lived in South Africa, I remember how difficult it was to talk LONG DISTANCE!!!! to Canada once a year - on Christmas day.

Rick Blechta said...

In thinking about this further, I wonder if maybe we should view connectivity a bit differently. It might be a very good idea security-wise to not have our computers connected to the Internet at all times. We could just plug it in when we want to send or receive something.

As for my "other job", I certainly wouldn't want to do graphic design like they did in the "olde days". Man, that was a tedious process!

I guess like anything, using computers has an upside and a downside. How many of humankind's advances are immediately turned to bad uses? Actually, I can't think of one at the moment...

Vicki Delany said...


Rick Blechta said...

Vicki, Vicki, Vicki...

One of the worst!

Fireworks = gun powder!!!

Vicki Delany said...

You said you couldn't think of one example (of being turned to bad uses). So I immediately thought of fireworks (ie gunpowder). Oh, you were being sarcastic!