Archive for December 2011
Last weekend, my computer caught a virus. Thanks to some Gateway computer features and the Cloud, it survived quite handily, back up and running with just about everything in place in less than 24 hours. This is how it all went down so you can learn from my experiences and perhaps protect your computer and avoid a disaster. Let’s start at the beginning…
My computer caught a virus
It was a mean one. It pretended to be a Windows anti-virus that dubbed all programs on my computer as “infected” and “unsafe,” preventing me from running any of them. This includes Firefox and my own anti-virus. Once my computer was held hostage, it asked me to scan my computer using this program, whereby from past experience I knew it would say that my computer was hideously compromised and the only way to fix it would be to hand over my credit card information to this fake Windows anti-virus.
I had encountered this virus before, or at least ones like it. Once on a friends computer and a second time on another computer of mine (used only for video watching). In both cases the OS had to be wiped. Unfortunately, this time, the computer was my work computer and main personal computer.
Knowing what I was up against, I immediately transferred my files over to my little netbook. Luckily I don’t have much saved on my computer. Just work documents. No photos, no videos, no music.
If I don’t save my photos, videos, and music on my computer, how do I survive? Obviously I have tons of photos – I am on Facebook. I listen to music – I am a young adult and I do fit some stereotypes. I love watching videos – again, I’m a young adult.
So why aren’t they on my computer?
Look to the clouds.
I host my photos on Facebook. It is the largest photo-sharing website, after all. Actually, most of my photos are shared in my Friends’ profiles. I don’t take many myself.
My music? Saved on Spotify. I love Spotify. I am not a paying member, mostly because I haven’t gotten around to it. But I will. Just wait.
Videos? Do I own DVDs? Not really. I watch movies and TV series on Netflix and Hulu. What DVDs I own are a historic artifact from when you couldn’t get anime without ordering online. Now I just go to Netflix and their ample Japanese animation library.
So when my computer got ill, I at least wasn’t loosing anything. It took me about an hour to transfer all files I couldn’t afford to lose to my netbook using a simple 250MB thumb drive that my father got for free years ago at a conference.
Okay, Gateway gets some credit
I don’t have a Windows 7 OS CD. Luckily, however, Gateway has a simple Factory Defaults setting that resets the entire computer to out-of-the-box newness. I just needed to start that and bam! I had a brand new old computer. It’s only a year old, but I didn’t want to buy a new one yet. This was perfect, and, really, it’s what saved my computer.
Once the computer had its amnesia, it forgot all about that virus. No more virus, no more danger. Unfortunately, it also forgot all the programs I had loaded on it over time. But no worries. I hadn’t paid for any of them.
I use Tweetdeck for Twitter, and that’s free. Skype for phone calls with family, and that’s free. I’ve already mentioned Spotify for music, and yes, that’s free, too. I use Chrome and Firefox to surf the net, free and free. I just spent a morning working off my netbook while I downloaded my main computer redownloaded all my favorite programs. Rather simple, actually.
But I don’t ever want this to happen again, to you either
In all, I discovered that my computer had a virus at about 10:30 pm last Sunday and had my computer back up and running with all integral programs by 11:am the next day. I haven’t moved all my files back, but that’s just me being lazy. I have rediscovered my netbook and just like using it more so the urgency to move the files has worn off.
That said, I don’t want this to happen again, so I’m going to do as my father has suggested: start using Virtual Box to surf the net. It’s from Oracle and it is free (like everything else I use, apparently). Basically, it runs a partitioned second OS on your computer that you can use to surf the net. If you download cookies and viruses during your surfing, you can just delete that partition without affecting the rest of your machine. It’s like having a disposable computer within your computer. Neat, huh?
Privacy is a big concern, particularly on Facebook. And for absolutely good reason, too. After all, I’m sure we all have those ex-friends we not only never want to see again, but would like to never see us again, too. Keeping who you want close, close and who you want far away as far away as possible is only natural.
That includes companies. These days there is a barter system going on with our private information. We like a brand’s page and allow them to see our demographics in exchange for potentially fun posts and, even better, free stuff. Sounds like a deal, as long as I’m the one who gets to okay it. This same barter is seen on Amazon, where the site learns what you like and makes, sometimes very astute, recommendations. But only when you’re signed in.
But, what about those cases when you’re not signed in. When you didn’t sign up for something and they’ve scraped your data from your Facebook profile? You didn’t sign up for it. I didn’t sign up for it. How can we avoid this danger?
But, is there really a privacy threat?
I mean, no doubt Facebook has privacy issues. Otherwise people wouldn’t be complaining left and right. I do not doubt this, and will not argue against it.
But I will point out that it’s incredibly difficult to get at your public data on Facebook by using the legal Open Graph API. I know because I tried to access my own public data and that of my friends through that API while not signed in. Here’s what I found:
Then just type in https://graph.facebook.com/ followed by that number into your browsers URL bar and – tadaa! You can see what is available publicly about you.
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t care if people know I’m female, speak American English, and thus assume I’m an American female. As far as my name goes, I use a pseudonym online, so have fun!
Notice that even if my privacy settings were to make everything public, they still wouldn’t show up with this public Open Graph API search. That’s because Facebook doesn’t use the word public here the same way that we do. The information displayed above is “public information.” But in order to get at the information I’ve shared with the world on my Facebook Profile, any application developer needs an “access token.”
To get an access token, Facebook’s developer website explains that an app must go through three stages: user authentication, app authorization, app authentication. User authentication is just verifying that the user is who he says he is, same for app authentication. App authorization, however, is that bit where we’re asked to allow the app access to various bits of our data.
“Public” does not mean “public”
Let’s back up a second. “Public” in the eyes of Facebook app developers is basic demographic information. “Public” in the eyes of you, me, and most consumers is the stuff we set as available for strangers to see on our profiles. Companies and other systematic organizations cannot even see what we allow complete and total strangers to see. At least through this API.
I’m actually a bit reassured by that.
Of course, I’m sure there are work-arounds, particularly for the less than legal. However, at least when it comes to companies trying to spy into my life using the Open Graph API, I can rest assured that it’s a bit more complicated than just searching my name with this tool and that if they want to legally pry into my life, I have to give them permission.
*Note: I am not a Privacy Expert. I just tweedled around with the Open Graph API and this is what I found. As I said, I’m sure that there are other ways to spy on us. I just don’t think this is one of them. So you should always set your privacy settings as high as possible!