Ezine Archives - 2001 - indevelopment.org

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I was sitting at work one day, quietly reading through an email when I found the link to ShieldsUP! If you've never been there before, it's a interactive website that tests the defenses of your computer. Around this time I'd only just begun to become aware of trojan programs like Back Orifice. I went in, performed the tests and found out that anyone with a little knowledge and a chunk of spare time could infiltrate my computer. I didn't like this.

A couple of months later, a little more time on my hands and a work of advice that information regarding Aureate Spyware could be found at grc.com initiated me to the work of Steve Gibson. I checked out the information, downloaded OptOut and decided to peruse the entire site. It was such a wealth of information that I asked its originator, Steve Gibson, if I could borrow some of his time...

Hi Grant
Thanks for the consent. While it would be great to do this over the phone, I hope you don't mind answering the questions via email.
No problem.

I was wondering where and when you got your start in computers and electronics?
I don't know why, but it's always been a fascination for me ... starting back when I was four years old. My father took a picture of me at age four which you can see here at the top of my online resume: http://grc.com/resume.htm. I was working on some "project" of some sort ... and I'm sure that I thought it was very important.

When did security begin to become an issue for you?
Last October I was working with an editor for PC World Magazine, helping him with a story he was working on about Internet security. That got me thinking about the issues involved, and I suddenly realized that I could instantly perform a cursory security check for anyone whose computer contacted my web server. So I dropped everything else that afternoon and built the entire ShieldsUP! web site over the course of the next five weeks.

What are the origins of grc.com?
Gibson Research Corp. is my second company. My first was Gibson Labs, which I sold to Atari Corp. after developing a high-performance light pen for the original Apple II home PC's. Atari wanted that technology, so they purchased the company. When the IBM PC first emerged onto the market it's Color Graphics display (CGA) flickered horribly when scrolling due to limitations in the hardware. So I created a product called "FlickerFree" and incorporated Gibson Research Corp. to publish that first PC product. FlickerFree succeeded in the market and allowed me the time to create SpinRite which really put my work on the map.

"ShieldsUP!" was my first introduction to your work. Do you find it alarming the number of net users that would say "firewhat?"
My feeling is that the Internet is still very much in its infancy. Users should NOT need to know about firewalls and should not be needing to worry about their system's security. That's like telling them that they'll need to generate their own electricity to power their machines, or string their own phone lines. It's ridiculous. But I believe it will all get sorted out within the next few years. Internet Security has now received enough attention that developing, marketing, and selling "Inherently Secure" PC's can finally become a selling point ... and before long I think we'll start seeing claims for "inherently secure PC's".

Your feelings on Aureate?
Please see: http://grc.com/oo/aureate.htm

Do you think the name change to Radiate was caused by the Adware exposť?
No. Fun as that idea is, I think that they recognized that "Aureate" was a really BAD name for the market-space they were occupying.

How much change will happen to the industry following the microsoft breakup verdict?
None. The verdict will be challenged and debated for years. And, as before with the previous consent-decree years ago, the damage is already done.

What system/s do you currently use?
I do all of my main work under NT4 since it's very difficult to crash the OS when my "work-in-progress code" goes haywire. I will DEFINITELY NOT be moving to W2K for several years, if ever. For access to USB and multimedia things I use Windows 98 (since I have many machines around me.) In general I hold back and avoid updating to the latest and greatest versions of things since most upgrades are just marketing motivated.

In your programs you like to emphasise how they've been created through assembly language. Is software bloat an unnecessary tax on computer resources?
I really object to the way software is being written today. It's sloppy and buggy and driven by marketing more than technology. I use assembly language for all of my work NOT because it really makes any sense, not because today's machines are bogged down by C and C++, but because assembly language requires the application of a software development and programming discipline which higher-level languages were specifically designed to free programmers from. But that freedom has been badly abused by the marketing-driven nature of the industry. Programmers who CAN write programs more quickly -- and MUCH more sloppily -- are now being forced to. But assembly language FORCES discipline and planning. It's the RIGHT way to create software. So that's all I use.

Do you support or experiment in any of the new breed of operating systems?
I would like to be playing with Linux or the Palm OS. But software for those platforms don't yet have the audience of Windows, and I want to work to affect the greatest number of people. So, for now, I'm staying with Windows.

If you could recommend one book or website to someone beginning to become conscious of internet security, what would it be?
Frankly, that's PRECISELY why I created my ShieldsUP site, and that's what I created it to be. If there was already a good alternative I wouldn't have bothered!

What was the last book you didn't finish?
A text titled Cognitive Neuroscience. I'm fascinated with many aspects of our presence here on the Earth.

How close are you to revealing "Project-X"?
There's no work going on in that direction, so it's still years away.

Finally: is there life on Mars?
Probably, but not very interesting life. As Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park: "Life Finds a Way." So I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are some little multi-cell things, but I don't expect much else. :)

I appreciate you taking time from your busy life to answer these questions.
This note has been sitting here, slowly growing, for many days. So I've determined that this will be the LAST time I agree to a textual interview ... it just takes MUCH too long. But I'm glad to have done this one.

I can't recommend a better place to start than the ShieldsUP! pages for a true account of how safe your computer is at this very moment. Once you've done that, stick around and have a look at grc.com. Make a coffee, smoke 'em if you've got 'em and spend some time there.

The iconic character "Mo" (shown above) is a registered trademark of Gibson Research Corporation, Laguna Hills, CA, USA.
Steve kindly let me use it.

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