Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

What You Don’t Know Is Bound To Hurt You


On the subject of inadequacies of operating systems: can anyone tell me why I can’t attach a note to any file on my computer to help me recall its reason for being? Even if I created it? (And, yes, I know I can do this for MS Word docs.) Never mind that we now (as Mac did back then) use long file names. Who says that a) these names are long enough to do the job and b) that this name is where all identifying information belongs?


Then we have the problem of identifying program files. We could rename them to something that has meaning, but I would never recommend renaming programs. However, attaching a note to the file name would accomplish the task. And don’t tell me this is a difficult thing to program; I could do it with my eyes closed and I haven’t programmed for years. And don’t tell me it’s a waste of space; we’ve got space to burn when it comes to additional text. So, again, I ask: Why not?


But there’s a more important point. Why do the files we download, especially program files, go out of their way to conceal their identification—not just their names but also their function? For that matter, it’s not only program files. All those other files the programs need to function (usually .DLL files in Windows) almost always have obscure names. This is usually not a problem when all these files are in (or under) the main program folder. But when they’re scattered all over your computer, how do you know what they are? Specifically, when you look (using Windows Task Manager) at the processes running at any given moment, most of the names are totally uninformative.


All of which goes back to my original question, slightly rephrased: Why don’t files have additional text for identification? And if they don’t, why couldn’t we add our own identifying text? For example, some time ago I found a task running that I could not identify nor even guess at its purpose or origin. Looked it up and discovered it was an essential component of my Zone Alarm firewall. But now I can’t recall its name, and I couldn’t add identifying text. So if I encounter it again, I’ll have to look it up again.


Of course, I’m leading up to a much larger question: Why is the meaning of so much of our computer’s activity intentionally hidden from us? I understand why software suppliers don’t want amateurs messing where they don’t belong. But creating this obscurity is the single greatest enabler of the malware malefactors. When so much is hidden, it makes it easier for the bad guys to join the invisible crowd.


Another example: right now on my machine, 25 out of the 44 listed processes have zero CPU time; that is, they are processes that were loaded but have never run! (This is over a three-hour period.) Add this to the difficulty of knowing, from their arcane names, what these processes do. I have no simple method of knowing if all these (shall we call them lurking?) processes are legitimate. Clearly, the software makers think we don’t have a “need to know.” Even if that means we’re less able to protect ourselves. And you probably thought it was your machine.

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