Friday, January 21, 2005

An apology to Walt Mossberg (re "conventional wisdom")

An apology to Walt Mossberg (re "conventional wisdom")

I've had an educational day since I posted my "conventional wisdom" comment about Walt Mossberg's article yesterday. He sent some useful and constructive comments via email, and some of my security-focused Burton Group colleagues also shared valuable insights about the relative virus risks on Mac OS X and Windows.

I apologize for the "conventional wisdom" slight and, while no OS is perfect, I now agree with Walt Mossberg (quoting from our email exchange), that "There has never been a successful virus (one that actually attacked real people's computers, outside of a lab, and spread from machine to machine) for OS X." I originally took issue with his use of "never," but as far as I can determine he is indeed correct (this does not mean, of course, that there won't be issues in the future, or that Mac OS X users don't need to be mindful of security best practices; he also noted, via email, "My 'never' was never predictive.").

Coincidentally, I'm currently working on a Burton Group report on blogs, wikis, and related subject areas. In part because of this encounter, I added the following to my recommendations section (note it's draft mode and subject to considerable improvement from my BG editors...):

Stay Circumspect: Verba Volant, Scripta Manent

Blogs and wikis make it very easy to capture and publish information on the Internet and in more constrained contexts such as intranet workspace discussion forums. The Latin phrase above is often translated into English as “The spoken word evaporates, the written word remains” (the phrase is literally translated as “"spoken words fly away, written words remain"), and it’s sage advice, especially in an era when anything published on the Internet is likely to be both saved indefinitely and readily searchable.

Even “security through obscurity,” such as using obscure Web site names and page addresses, is a porous plan as hypertext tools (e.g., automatic trackback reference generation) increasingly can bring even content intended for small, private audiences into the purview of automated searching/indexing services. Blog and wiki authors need to be mindful of the fact that document-based discourse is a very different context from other modes of interpersonal communication, and that what you say can and probably will be used against you, if you say it imprecisely (fraught with potential for misinterpretation and perhaps zealous overreaction) or in a way that constitutes defamation (inviting legal recourse).

Incidentally, even the context for the Latin adage in the header of this section needs to be reconsidered, in these days of podcasting, smartphones and other inexpensive devices that can be used to record conversations (and later transfer recordings to computers, whence they can be readily published), and multi-person, real-time, automated speech transcription software: even spoken words can no longer be assumed to evaporate.

Note that I do not mean to imply I was trying to obscure anything in my blog (nor have I ever, in my ~5 years of blogging); the recommendation addresses the broader blog/wiki beyond context, but the feedback on my "conventional wisdom" error was a timely reminder of the need to focus on precision/economy/etc. of expression in blogging (and other async communication/collaboration contexts).
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