Adventures With Malware

I’ve been testing running Windows as a smart consumer for the last couple of years. Having bailed on attempts to run Linux without becoming a programmer; and having very little inclination to become a programmer just to run a computer as a user (although that mindset is slowly, ponderously, altering) I decided to just see if I can make Windows work in the limited fashion I’ve been using it of late.

Rather than installing 15 different programs to sniff all my information exchanges from the various networks I utilize as I have seen others do in the past, I decided that I would rely on the native scanners and firewalls that come with Windows now.

Confession time.

I don’t actually run Windows 8, 8.1 or whatever they’re calling the new Windows these days. Microsoft, cleverly figuring out that consumers skip every other release of their OS’s, have skipped calling their new 0S Windows 9 even though that should be the number on the release, and are calling it Windows 10.  Now, I haven’t figured out what version of Windows that Microsoft will deem LTS (long term support) next, so I’m not spending any of my limited funds on an OS that they put out simply to smother some fire that they inadvertently started.

I run what was on the system when it was sold to me (although I’m in the process of converting the laptop to Linux) and that version is Windows 7. I liked XP, stuck with it for as long as I could. XP was the last version of the OS that Microsoft deemed LTS, as was Windows 2000 before that.  Windows 7 has been a nice stable platform for several years, so I’ve stuck with it.

Starting in Windows 7 there were native malware and virus detectors.  If this wasn’t the first time, then it was definitely the first time I noticed them or was willing to rely on them.  Virus scanners seem to be in bed with malware writers of late; witness McAfee being offered on sites that are clearly on the fringe of respectability, when McAfee once upon a time was a legitimate virus scanner that I couldn’t live without.  Now if you rely on them or a Norton product, you’d be better off not finding the internet, if either of them actually let you on it.  So relying on a native Windows application that offered to screen malware and viruses seems as legitimate as actually paying someone else to keep your system virus free these days.

Realizing I was giving up ever visiting a porn site, or sharing a music file, video or anything more sophisticated than email, I set to work.  The native program in Windows was/is called Microsoft Security Essentials, and for the last two years, that has been the only program that I’ve run on this system that does anything related to malware screening or virus scanning.

When I go anywhere on the internet, I use a third party application to do it.  I never allow Windows to do anything aside from run programs which are native to this computer. This is a habit formed since I first started using Windows back in the 3.11 days.  Internet Exploder, er Explorer, has always been the most utilized vector for spreading malware, so I never use it on a website that I don’t trust completely.  Trust like the vault at my bank (and I don’t bank) So I use Firefox or Chrome, or whatever non-native browser that looks promising today, to go to websites.

Having been an MMO player for the last 5 years, I haven’t had a lot of use for porn or music anyway. MMO’s (Massive Multiplayer Online games) are notorious for sucking up all your free time.  The most challenging vector to manage, when dealing with online gaming, is how you get your addons updated. This is because every game has some cheat or other that you have to add to it in order to make it easy enough to complain about in online forums.  This process required a bit of legwork and investigation each time I changed addons or games.  There are addon managers that aren’t too shady, so if you are careful about what you click, read everything and check every toggle before you agree, you can generally lease your entire life to online games and not worry about anyone else stealing it.

Lately I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to have trouble reading.  This is the biggest challenge I face, being a compulsive reader.  Every now and then the eyes fail to track properly, the mind wanders and I miss a paragraph of text, forcing me to curse loudly, backtrack and start over.  Consequently I’ve taken to downloading a lot of content from Audible and various streaming media sites, taking care to make sure that the programs I’m using are pretty solid.

Most audio is only available if you buy it in advance. This is a battle I’ve been fighting since the days of MP3.com and corporate music’s foolish belief that they could stand in the way of file sharing.  To this day I strip audio that has restrictions on it, if I have a need to move it from some system that is recognized to one that is not.  Fortunately for Audible and my limited non-MMO free time, most of the systems I fiddle with these days are recognized by Audible or have Audible apps on them.  Consequently their heads-entirely-up-their-asses DRM remains on many of the latest works that I’ve purchased from them.  I don’t know why they still keep DRM on their files, Amazon has offered native unprotected MP3’s for years, which is why Amazon is about the only place I will buy music (rumor has it that iTunes now has unprotected MP3’s as well.  Too late Apple!) and Amazon now owns Audible.

But they do and I roll my eyes and live with the frustration.

Still, it presents an obstacle to sharing files with family members once you’ve purchased them.  Technically you can share them, according to Audible.  But you have to share them on systems that are recognized, and you have to authorize the hardware with the software, hold your mouth the right way, sacrifice your newborn and leave a pint of blood.  Just a bit of a hassle.

Consequently I have resisted buying audible content that I actually have credits for, if I know I’m going to want to share that content with family members later.  That resistance has now officially ended my Microsoft only malware testing period.

The Wife expressed an interest in a particular work recently. Having just given a pint of blood last week trying to share an Audible file, I went out and found an unprotected copy of the work she wanted, rather than try that again. I did notice some odd behavior in the dialogs, but that reading problem I mentioned caused me to miss exactly what the prompts said.

Hilarity ensued, if hilarity involves 30 plus hours of digging malware out by the roots.  Malware writers are a humorous bunch. They piggy-backed a lovely bit of work in on my foolishness.  Calls itself Unideal. But it’s not just Unideal. It’s also Youtubeadblocker and a few other names aside.  Installed itself as a false virus scanner under yet another name. Runs banner ads across websites sponsored by Robin Hood. Specifically places ads in areas that Ad Blocker takes ads out of.

What is the moral of this story?

I don’t think there is one.  File sharing was never a crime for me, because the things I share I either end up paying for anyway, or never would have paid for in the first place because it wasn’t something I wanted after listening to it once.  The one time I’ve been caught torrenting (by HBO) was the time I was a paid subscriber (won’t be doing that again) who couldn’t actually watch the programs I was paying for due to faulty transmission by my cable provider. If you enjoy HBOGO now, you should write me a thank you letter. That service exists because of people like me.

Were it not for DRM on Audible books, I would have simply used credits that I have on my Audible account to purchase the work my wife was interested in directly. But because of suspicion and doubt, the nagging insistence that if payment is not secured in advance no payment will be made, you must step outside of the protected boundaries of commerce and make back-alley deals with less than desirable types.

Were it not for the backwards nature of copyrighted works, and the DMCA that protects them, it would be possible to take material that the copyright owner has abandoned on a previous format, update it to current formats and be able to charge for the time and effort spent transcribing the material (a service which does have value) without opening oneself up to punishing fines for daring to think that abandoned works deserve to be preserved.

Perhaps there is a lesson here about keeping your software and hardware up to date, but as a disabled person living on a fixed income, it’s a bit much to ask me to purchase new hardware and software every few years just so I can keep current.  I have a test license for Windows 10 which has been made available to me, and in the next few days I may be testing that software after I get my second drive running a version of Linux I can count on.

Redefining Piracy

Huffington Post Tech artcile

I know I’m wasting my time here, because the entertainment giants have all stacked the decks in their favor and defined piracy as any activity that they don’t approve of, but just how many of these legally defined ‘pirates’ profit from their activity? Would have the money to pay for the entertainment that they share for free? How many people will have their abilities to function in today’s world hampered by these bumbling attempts to stop something that wouldn’t exist were the content simply made available when desired at a reasonable price?

Aren’t these media conglomerates simply shooting themselves in the foot, alienating potential future customers with harassment? The music industry has been forced to the table, and the low per-song price through iTunes and Amazon is the result of their capitulation to the new information reality we live in. The instantaneous access to information that the average user demands. The savviest of new bands now offer their music directly from their websites, and even offer free songs to draw people in. They do this because they know that their audiences want more access, more music, and they want it right now, not after they visit a store and make a purchase. Get your music from the source, cut out the middleman.

What piracy remains (musically) is the corporate properties that haven’t learned to play ball, want to charge more, won’t put their libraries online. Study after study has shown this; that if the content is available, people will pay for it. I balk at being forced to buy music libraries a third time (once on tape, once on disc, and again on unprotected mp3) I will still go to torrent sites to pick up copies of music that I’ve already paid for. However, with the emergence of remastered music that is of superior quality to CD, even I am admitting that I may have to buy the music again, for a fourth time.

No, the yelling and screaming about PIRACY! comes from the MPAA and corporate television entities these days. They just haven’t figured out that the game has changed yet. When the average movie goer starts boycotting corporate films and embraces independent content (something that is already beginning to occur) maybe they’ll figure it out.

If I download a song, never listen to it, and then delete it, have I profited? If I download a movie or television show, if I pay for a subscriber service, can’t access it, and then download a torrent copy of the exact show I already paid for, but then don’t watch or listen to any of it, have I stolen anything?The corporate property owners say you have, and you are a pirate. I’d simply like them to prove how the temporary existence of a file on a computer system represents anything other than a cost, not a benefit. If I can’t be shown to have even watched or listened to the files in question, but the files belong to the corporation that objects to their existence, I’d say they owe me storage fees for holding the information for me. But I’ll happily wave the fees and simply delete the files. Let’s see how many checks show up in the meantime.

Facebook status and comments added, edited and backdated to the blog. Summary paragraph added.

Can’t Pirate Starcraft II? Says who?

From Structured Dream

I just read a review by Matt Peckham mentioning the lack of free “pirated” versions of the long-anticipated game, StarCraft II, which he sums up as: “PC gaming 1, pirates 0”. In his view, “PC gaming” is pitted against players who want to play, but are resistant to being forced to pay $60 or more, in advance, to a secretive corporation, which is part of an even more secretive, corporate, profit-maximizing conglomerate.

Pirates 85, actually. That’s the count on thepiratebay.org for Starcraft II. I paid for my copy, as I pay for my WoW usage (I want to play on the official servers, not the private ones that are free) but it’s hardly the case that the game(s) can’t be pirated.

But I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The question then becomes, how do these entertainment employees make money if they can’t charge for their product? Fee for service (as in the WoW public servers) shouldn’t be a problem, but that’s what kept me from playing the game for years. What bothers me is they still charge for the game (and they still charge for 10 year old games on the battlenet site, BTW) even though they will charge you to use their servers as well. That feels like double billing to me.

Tax Funded Content Providers; Disenfranchising With DRM?

ABC is Australia’s Federal Government-funded public broadcaster, and has responsibilities under the ABC Act 1983 to provide services to the Australian people.The new ABC Shop has recently launched, with downloads of TV programs made available — but only to Windows users willing to install DRM-laden software on their computers.

read more | digg story

Like the BBC, Australia TV broadcasts are publicly funded, so they are essentially keeping access away from people who have already paid for the content. I’d love to see this fought out in court.

Game Distribution Systems; Steamrolled

Ran across an interesting article today Saving Progress: Impulse Buyer in which the author offers praise for Valve and their Steam game delivery system; and it’s ability to effortlessly deliver games to your desktop.

I’ll give the author points for identifying the reason that Valve promotes Steam, to the exclusion of all other methods of game installation. But he fails to unambiguously state what that reason is.

Profit Margin.

I’m a capitalist, I have no problem with profit. What I have a problem with is the continuing saga of limiting the usefulness of a product, even crippling same, for the explicit purposes of increasing profit margins; even when these actions limit the value of the product to the customer. DRM can come in many forms, and relying on Valve and Steam to continue to authorize a program’s use every time you start it will eventually end in your paying for the same game over and over again as their profit margin demands it.

Make no mistake about it, Steam is DRM. If you do not have an active online presence when installing the game from disc (those of us who continue the arcane practice of actually going to brick and mortar stores for our software) you will not be allowed to install, at all. No where on the packaging for The Orange Box or Half Life is this fact revealed, and good luck returning already opened software for a refund. That doesn’t happen, either.

Luckily (or maybe unluckily) we have high speed internet service, and so The Son was able to install his favorite programs and play them ad nauseum. Or he would be able to if Steam didn’t present me with a regular series of challenges based on arcane hardware limitations and failed upgrade problems.

After a few months of being Steamrolled, I’m declaring a moritorium on Steam controlled games in this household. I’ve had enough of re-installing and re-configuring, and then re-re-installing and re-re-configuring Valve games to last me for the rest of my life. The children keep asking me when I’m going to play Half-Life 2 (because, like Doom 3, they watched me play Half Life from the safety of the couch, where the monsters can’t get them. They want to continue the entertainment of watching dad scream in terror when the monsters start eating the back of his head) and my answer is a solid “never”. Never going to play it, because the frustation of making Steam work with Half-Life and the other Valve programs leaves little room for the entertainment that you are supposed to get from gaming. Never mind that I don’t want to get attached to a program that Valve could de-authorise whenever they please, for whatever reason they see fit.

I have a dream. I just want to be able to install a game, and then never have to worry about licensing again. If I were pirating…

[Copying without paying for software. Not really pirating. Pirating involves theft of value by force. Like taking your money and not giving you software that works, for example. Theft of my money is just as much piracy as continued use of a program you have not licensed properly]

…software, it would be that simple. I wouldn’t have to answer to the authors of the program when it came to methods of installation, numbers of installs, or online status when installing. That is what these games developers have to compete with when it comes to rolling out new software. The software may or may not work on my system, I may not get the bug patches, but the price (free) is right for that kind of risk. And I won’t have to listen to children beg me for the advertised games they don’t own, conveniently available through Steam.

No, Valve has found their version of an MMO (and World Of Warcraft, Blizzard’s premiere MMO, is experiencing astronomical profits) and they are milking it for all it’s worth. I just don’t have any need to be treated as a revenue source for game companies that really aren’t doing too bad after all.

The interesting part of the article was the information on other game companies intentions to compete with Steam for customers. Well, they might have one sitting right here.

Impulse claims to be much more open, in keeping with Stardock’s continuing policy of being DRM-free and rewarding the legitimate customer. Recent furores over invasive and overly protective piracy prevention tools has divided the industry, with some favoring the maximum effort possible to stop piracy, while the rest advocating a free system which does not punish the consumer. Stardock, being at the forefront of this movement, consistently promise to never restrict their customers in the name of reducing piracy. By distributing their games online via the same methods as those who steal games, Stardock is banking on the loyalty of their customers and the attractiveness of their product to survive. So far, it is working.

read more | digg story

It sounds good. But it only runs in Windows, a platform that I’ve vowed to abandon, for pretty much the same reasons I don’t approve of Steam. Too many hoops to jump through, too many limitations on what I can do, too much money for what I’m actually getting.

How about a cutting edge gaming system that is platform neutral, like Mozilla? No, I’m not happy about the state of gaming these days, and I don’t see much hope on the horizon. Still, it’s good that there are companies out there that realize treating customers like criminals is not the way to ingender loyalty amongst the endusers. Now lets see if they go the distance.

Amazon Un-box; Uninterested

Talk about false advertising. Got a message in the inbox promoting:

Amazon Unbox Holiday Treats: No-Cost, Exclusive, and Topselling Downloads

I don’t know how many people checked into this, but I’ve been intrigued for quite some time about the future of media on the internet, so I thought I would check it out.

First off, if you want to find the No-Cost portion of the advertisement, you have to dig pretty hard. Some of the No-Cost content is labeled, but you have to actually go several layers into the transaction before you can select the No-Cost portion of the content that you want to try out.

No-Cost isn’t really being truthful, either. Oh, it’s true you don’t have to pay anything, in the way of money up front; however, you have to submit to downloading their viewer (which has exclusive rights to play their content) and you can only play the content on one system; nor can you burn it to disk to play it on a standard DVD player. So if the system you download the content onto isn’t the one you want to finally play the content on, you’re out of luck, and into the Cost part of No-Cost if you want to actually view the content.

Never mind some of the horror stories circling the net about lost downloads and Tivo’s; I have a hard time believing that Amazon would not refund a transaction that didn’t end satisfactorily for the customer, but I’m not willing to hazard even a few bucks on the service until there is some process in place for allowing me to watch purchased material wherever and whenever I want.

[FYI Hollywood mogul types; this is what it means to ‘buy’ something. You get to use it the way you please; and, by the way, the Torrent files I download for free don’t have any restrictions on them. Yes, I haven’t purchased any rights when I download a torrent file, but I don’t appear to have any rights when I do put out cash for properly licensed material anyway, so I don’t see the downside for me; well, other than being hounded into the grave by bloodsucking corporate hacks with nothing better to do than punish their customers]

Until that time, when I have rights to use the material in a normal fashion (i.e. play it in the average video player, display it on the average TV screen) I’ll be sticking to purchasing plain old (used/cheap) DVD’s and ‘free’ torrent downloads.

My apologies if your children don’t get to attend Harvard because of this. My children might actually be able to attend college on the money I save (did I mention I was skipping out on the upgrade to HD-DVD/Blueray? There’s some major savings there) What an ironic turn of events.

The Beancounter Mentality

A quote from the Article iPhone & iPod: contain or disengage?“:

“Apple has to always remember that simply making money CANNOT be its point of existence. The point of any company should be to make customers want to give it money, NOT to get money from customers. It’s a subtle distinction that is the difference between good and evil.”

read more | digg story

This is a subtle but important error that most of corporate America commits, on a regular basis. Nothing longer than the end of the next quarter matters to the average accountant in a large corporation (which gets back to my previous observation about large corporations and innovation) I have watched this particular progression occur over and over in the corporate world, as the accountants convince the managers that their distorted view of the bottom line is the only view that counts.

…and then the finger pointing concerning who’s to blame for the company loosing market share begins.

Wal-mart begins selling DRM-free MP3s

The DRM dominos continue to fall with Wal-mart joining the DRM-free for all.

Engadget, Wal-mart begins selling DRM-free MP3s

From the Reuters story on the subject (also found on Yahoo):

Wal-Mart’s move into DRM-free downloads comes as major record labels debate whether dropping DRM will hurt digital music sales or encourage piracy. Copy protection software prevents unauthorized copying of a digital song bought from an online store, but it also limits where an owner can listen to it.

Apple founder and Chief Executive Steve Jobs has called on the music industry to allow online retailers like iTunes to sell songs without restrictions to give the digital music sector a boost and to give consumers what they want.

Universal, the world’s largest music label, said earlier this month that it was testing the sale of songs without copy-protection software and said vendors including Google Inc., Wal-Mart and Amazon.com Inc., would participate in the DRM-free trial.

EMI has also agreed to drop DRM, but the Sony BMG Music Entertainment venture of Sony Corp and Bertelsmann AG and Warner Music Group Corp are still testing the impact of such a move on digital music sales.


Mea culpa review 2017. Seriously, old self? What the heavenly fuck were you thinking? I need something for the blog just pretend you wrote the opening line? Listen you lazy old bastard, write or don’t post. That’s it, end of discussion. 

DRM: One More Time

I’ve been arguing DRM issues with several people of late. It’s a hot button for me. Several people have taken me to task for daring to disregard an agreement; I maintain it isn’t an agreement if I’m not given negotiating power, it’s a concession. The average user concedes that he is subject to corporate legal boilerplate if caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Case in point, iTunes has no legal basis on which to claim that I cannot modify my own files in any manner I deem necessary, but it’s in their contracts anyway. I can’t negotiate their unenforcible clauses out of the contract, so they remain in place. They’ll just have to catch me, I guess.


* Stealing Fair Use, Selling It Back to you

“Apparently, Hollywood believes that you should have to re-
purchase all your DVD movies a second time if you want to
watch them on your iPod.” That’s what we said last week,
commenting on the Paramount v. Load-N-Go lawsuit, in which
Hollywood studios claimed that it is illegal to rip a DVD to
put on a personal video player (PVP), even if you own the
DVD.

Well, this week the other shoe dropped. According to an
article in the New York Times:

“Customers who buy the physical DVD of Warner Brothers’
‘Superman Returns’ in a Wal-Mart store will have the option
of downloading a digital copy of the film to their portable
devices for $1.97, personal computer for $2.97, or both for
$3.97.”

So you buy the DVD, and if you want a copy on your PVP or
computer, you have to pay a second time. Despite the fact
that you bought the DVD, and you have a DVD drive in your
computer that is perfectly capable of making a personal-use
copy. Imagine if the record labels offered you this “deal”
for every CD you bought — pay us a few dollars extra, and
you can have a copy for your iPod. And a few more dollars,
if you want a copy on your computer, too! As LA Times
reporter Jon Healey puts it in his blog: “So from the
perspective of the studios and federal officials, consumers
have to pay for the privilege of doing the sorts of things
with DVDs that they’re accustomed to doing with CDs (and LPs
and cassettes).”

This latest bitter fruit from Hollywood is brought to you by
the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which treats
“protected” content (like the encrypted video on DVDs),
differently from “unprotected” content (like every audio and
video media format introduced before 1996). Thanks to the
DMCA, Hollywood believes fair use personal-use copies simply
do not exist when it comes to DVDs.

Let’s hope Congressman Rick Boucher is listening and will
reintroduce his DMCA reform bill first thing next year.

For this post and related links:

http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/10/13/309-10132006.html

To: Assignment Desk, Daybook Editor

Contact: Rory Davenport of Qorvis Communications, 202-448-9292 or rdavenport@qorvis.com

News Advisory:

What: Press conference to address issues related to online music distribution and erroneous piracy characterization by U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab.

When: October 17, 2006

4:30pm (London)

11:30am (Washington, New York)

8:30am (Los Angeles)

Where: Online

Special access will be granted to a reserved section on http://www.allofmp3.com

To participate, journalists must send an email to Rory Davenport at rdavenport@qorvis.com. Reporters will receive a confirmation email with the link to the press conference location. Only pre-registered reporters will have access to the press conference. Registration will close on Monday, October 16 at 8 pm (Washington time).

Subject: Mediaservices will address issues related to a business dispute with the major record labels over the online music site AllofMP3.com.

Universal (V), WarnerMusic (WMG), SonyBMG (SNE) and EMI (EMI.L) have repeatedly mischaracterized the company as part of a campaign to secure a more favorable royalty structure. Those companies and their agents, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have enlisted the British and U.S. governments as part of their business campaign.

Mediaservices is convinced that its business model is legitimate and that it maximizes demand for music and spurs consumers to buy more music. The company believes that everyone wins, record labels, artists and distribution companies when the market is broader and deeper. Relying on a handful of artists for the majority of sales is an outdated business model and recipe for disaster for the music industry.

Note: A transcript of the press conference will not be available.

Press

Contact: Rory Davenport, Qorvis Communications, 202-448-9292 or rdavenport@qorvis.com

http://www.usnewswire.com/