Home > Rants > It’s all about trust

It’s all about trust

We use computers for a lot of things today. In various forms from the desktop to the “Smartphone“.

At work, at home, for business, for pleasure, for education, for communication.

Never before has there been a single object that centered so much of our daily activity around it, intruded in to so many aspects of our life.

Yet, how many people ever stop to think: “Can I trust my computer?”

How many people even consider such a question as making sense? You trust (or don’t trust) people, but things?

Trouble is, we need to be able to trust our computers, not just to work and do what we need of them, but also to keep our secrets from strangers and protect our wealth from theft.

Most people, be they “simple” users who barely understand how to use their computer, or greatest of hackers who know precisely how everything works and how to make it do anything they want, trust their computers implicitly, to varying degrees.

But a computer is a collection of black boxes of two kinds: hardware and software.

They are “black boxes” for two reasons:

1. The people who produce them do their best to hide from us users what they do and how they work.

2. Majority of users don’t posses the knowledge to understand their workings even if they were revealed to them.

Number two is a matter for separate discussion, but as for reason number one: It can and should be avoided!

And this is why I use Free Software and open hardware whenever possible.

This way I can be as certain as possible that my computer (tablet / smartphone / thingamajig) does exactly what it promises and is under my control and not someone else’s.

The skeptics among you will probably say: “You couldn’t possibly read and evaluate every single line of code of every application you use, let alone go over schematics of your hardware.”

And that is true. But, I don’t need to. It is enough for me to know that my phone’s bootloader is not locked or encrypted which means I can update or replace my phone’s OS at any time.

It is enough for me to know that I do not have any “Treacherous computing” features in my PC which could lock me out of my own data at any moment.

Most important, I know my OS and its developers do not, and never will treat me as a thief.

I know this, because the code (and some of the specs) are out in the open. Because they are constantly inspected by thousands of eyes, and  because, people and companies that are involved in making these products are interested in making money by providing solutions, rather then just trying to extract it as best they can by providing a product which they continue to control even after you supposedly purchased it.

And, of course, I do not have to rely on this knowledge blindly. When true need arises, I can go and expect the source, or consult people I trust to look in to the guts of the thing and tell me if it’s safe and reliable.

Now, before you recommend that I put on a tin foil hat, consider this growing list of examples where people’s computers betrayed them, at the whim of their true masters:

And this list can, and probably will keep growing as long as people use closed, proprietery software running on locked devices.

As seen from the last example, even if a large part of your system is Free, as in the case of Android, a single crucial application like the Android Market which is not Free, can take your freedom away.

And next time, it may not be about a book or a feature for geeks, or some music CDs. It may be your life’s work that goes missing, a crucial report for work or school, precious family films or photographs that can not be recreated.

I am glad I found out about about free software before I suffered any such loss.

Free Software is not just about price or ideology or a way for developers to get their hands on some code. It’s about your freedom and security!

I trust the software I use, do you?

Trusted Computing from lafkon on Vimeo.

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