What does a pet bird have to do with Internet pirates? Find out below.
I mentioned a couple weeks ago that a young cockatiel had joined the family. She's still a youngster whose main interest is chewing on things. So far she's eaten — or at least tried to eat — paper towels, pencils, Kleenex, plastic twist-ties, jewellery, my glasses, the paint on her toys, books and magazines, stray coins, my bra strap , the mobile phone, my favourite chair and the wall behind it. About the only thing she turns up her nose at is the expensive gourmet bird chow that I buy for her.
I'm thinking of changing her name to 'Hoover'.
Originally I'd named her Jack — after Cap'n Jack Sparrow, my favourite Pirate of the Caribbean — because the staff at the pet store thought she was a boy. She's every bit as rambunctious as the boy
birds, and she's cut quite a swathe among them, but after a couple of months I became suspicious because she hadn't picked up the male cockatiel song-and-dance routine or even mustered up a good wolf whistle. And she hasn't moulted into the normal male plumage. Young grey cockatiels all have polka-dots on the undersides of their wings and striped tail feathers, but the males correct this sartorial faux pas as they mature. The females, however, remain in fancy duds all their lives.
So, he is a she. It's just as well. If she ever learned to talk — which is very unlikely given her gender — her first phrase would be 'argh don't eat that'.
Not only does she give new meaning to the word 'omnivore', she has decided that it's her God-given right to spend her time perched on my shoulder. We're the unlikeliest-looking pair ever to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day, her in her striped pantaloons and me in
whatever garb isn't in the laundry basket. Aaaarrr, matey, and shiver me timbers! Don't be letting th' parrot near the doubloons, matey, or she'll be eatin' 'em! Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of, um, diet Coke.
Talk Like a Pirate Day falls on a Sunday this year, which means this scurvy dog'll be sittin' at th' computer prayin'1 over another Running with Scissors article an' fendin' off the latest attempts at piracy by those scurvy hacker-dogs that be tryin' to board my browser an' hijack it to one o' them porn sites full o' studly men and loose wenches, aaaarrrrr!
Real Information Alert!
According to my mates, er, colleagues, in the computer security industry, it's no longer enough to have up-to-date anti-virus and firewall software on your computer. Earlier this summer, they issued warnings about security holes in Internet Explorer (IE) that the bad guys knew about and were exploiting. If you visited a compromised Web site, the dirty dogs boarded your machine in the form of keyloggers and other malicious software and made off with your personal information. They didn't ask 'please', and they didn't say 'thank you'.
I'd like to load up th' cannons, mate, an' fire a good 'un upside their yardarms, by Jolly Roger!
Anyway, I've switched over to Firefox, which is a beta version of Mozilla's latest-and-greatest browser. It's a freebie, as is Mozilla's original browser called, aptly, Mozilla. There are a number of other free browsers available on the Web, such as Netscape (remember Netscape?) and Opera. Firefox has a few quirks — it is beta software, after all — and it's caused a few minor bellyaches (my pop-up blocker doesn't work with it), but these small annoyances pale when compared to having my personal information sent to the Russian mafia. (No, I'm not kidding about the Russian mafia.)
What's worrisome about this is the speed with which the bad guys will exploit a security hole. Viruses or worms can appear on or before the day that information about the vulnerability is released (known in the biz as a 'zero-day exploit'). Computer security experts have also run tests to see how quickly an unpatched Windows machine3 would be infected after it was connected to the Internet. The average time was 20 minutes, not even long enough for a user to download and install the patches. That's just scary.
What's also worrying is that the average computer user doesn't keep up with the goings-on in the hacker and computer security communities. He finds out when the computer locks up, or his browser keeps displaying girls in compromising situations, or his bank account is drained.
Unfortunately, the average user is going to have to become something of a computer security expert himself if he wants to sail the Internet seas without being hijacked. Switching browsers; keeping your anti-virus and firewall software up-to-date; not falling for the latest e-mail scams: these all help make you safer. But there is no such thing as completely safe computing. The best you can do is to become a difficult target and to let the pirates go after easier prey.
Now, if youse fine ladies and gents will excuse me, there be this parrot tryin' to eat th' computer's cables (mebbe I'll name her 'Internet Buster 1.0') so I'd best be sailin' off to the fridge an' git the wee girlie her dinner. Aaarrrrrr!
Here be some more information for the curious.
browser flaw prompts security warning
- Microsoft patches three 'critical' IE security holes
- Dealing with zero-day exploits
- CERT Coordination Center: a good source of up-to-the-minute information on Internet security issues