Ouch, That's Gotta Hurt!

FTLComm - Tisdale - April 14, 2001

(Warning this is a true story, a story of violence and computer brutality,
not recommended reading by people with a weak stomach


web sites

Don is a hard working professional who spends a lot of time each day using his computer as part of his work. As a teacher and in charge of a computer lab he is concerned that his students do not wander into inappropriate web sites and he thought he should take a look at some of the many types of software that are available to protect a computer from accessing sites that are not exactly what the school system had intended for educational purposes.




As mentioned, Don is a very busy man and did not give the CyberPatrol web site a lot of thought. He downloaded the software and read the "read me" file that explained that the software was $79 US and this included a listing of web sites that it would protect or prevent visiting from with the computer it was install upon. When Don noticed that the "Free" demo he had downloaded was good for only fourteen days he decided not to install it but just go on about his business.



refused to

On Thursday morning Don was finishing up a very important project that involved provincial grant money and was pleased to have that done with. After lunch he went to his computer to check on his new web site and see that it looked right and low and behold Don's computer refused to connect to the Internet.




Now we can make excuses for Don, about him being busy and not looking over the CyberPatrol web site carefully but the facts of the matter are clear. Downloading software into your computer is a serious matter and though we do it routinely it should not be done without due care and attention. The people at SurfControl, the makers of CyberPatrol from Massachusetts have clearly explained on their web site the power and capability of their software, they have ample warnings about what it can and will do.




Because we have come to rely upon software of all kinds to be our servants we must realise that there are some things about the way your computer works that are sacred. When you think about it, the usefulness of your computer stems from the control you have over it and if you install software that somehow restricts your control you are limiting what it can and will do. All sorts of security software like "Folder Bolt", "At Ease" and "Fool Proof" have been made to protect computer systems from possible damage by ill-informed users making mistakes. Similarly, computer system "firewalls" that are designed to prevent incursions from the Internet invading your machine lay on means to protect your system from damage, but software designed to prevent you or anyone using your computer on sites that are deemed inappropriate must be weighed with considerable apprehension.




Don failed, he did not think through what he was doing and even though he said he did not install the software, he did download it and one way or another it had begun to function with, or without, his intent to use it. On SurfControl's web site they clearly explain that since CyberPatrol is security software that if you download the demo software and decide not to purchase it at the end of the fourteen days it will automatically prevent your computer from accessing the Internet. Were this to have been the only consequence to Don this would not be as serious a matter.



Don, you're

So here it is 4:00PM on Thursday afternoon 7:00 in Massachusetts home of SurfControl who's offices are closed for the long Easter weekend. Don calls them up and is greeted with a recorded message. He calls up FTLComm for assistance and research is done to see if there is a solution and they call Don back "Don, you're screwed." What Don had done was a natural reaction when he discovered that the downloaded software had disabled his ability to use the Internet he simply took the software and tossed it into the trash.




SurfControl, in writing its security software, had designed CyberPatrol for this exact scenario and when it was discarded a routine kicked in disabling the computer's Internet access, after all it was security software designed to prevent inappropriate use of that computer and some kid was not going to be able to defeat it by merely discarding the application. Friday morning.




Accepting the fact that he could not use the Internet Don went ahead and finished up some work he had from school and called FTLComm to see if there was any further developments with regard to a work around. Short of reformatting his disk drive and installing a new system and reinstalling all his software it looked like he would just have to wait until SurfControl replied to FTLComm's e-mail requesting a password that would enable Don to "uninstall" CyberPatrol. Accepting his fate Don rebooted his system.



no longer

At this point his computer was rendered totally and completely useless. Damage to the system had occurred and the computer was no longer functional at any level. We will not know until Tuesday what can be done to recover Don's computer system and restore it to functionality, but we do know it will entail a lot of costly time (estimated two hours to replace system and reinstall software).




There is a moral to this story, oh yes more than just make sure you read the instructions, anyone could go to the SurfControl site and download security software for their computer and they may or may not read to see about the dangers involved, but consider first the base line in this story. Security of any kind implies that you are going to install software that limits, not expands your computer's functionality. Computers that have limited ability are limited, do you want a limited machine? If you don't want you computer to work install something like "NetNanny" or "CyberPatrol", but if you want it to work just keep an eye on all users of your machine.



Religious persecution

There is a school system in this province that has a very large computer system including servers network and terminals. The administrators of this computer network are people with strong religious convictions and fear the work of the devil, Satanism and witchcraft. They have installed on this system security software that is design to block access to any web site with words like those with witch craft, Satanism, etc. The result is that students attempting to study the middle ages where thousands of women were hunted down and murdered in "witch hunts" can not do so. Religious persecution of any kind is a very dangerous thing and considering this issue we can see the good intentioned religious zealots of today reaching back in time and assisting that fanatics who blamed crop failure, famine and disease on the women of their society just because they wanted someone to blame.