Your computer might be at risk

by Rael Dornfest

I'm primarily a Mac user and have been since I first laid hands on back in 1984. That said, I've used every edition of the Windows operating system from the v 1.x (it ran from floppy, meaning you had to switch floppies when you wanted to use the calculator) to XP SP2. Warts and all, it's always had some interesting features--not enough to drive me from the Mac, although there was that time around Mac OS 8.x, but that's another story.

One of the most bizarre "features" I stumbled across after installing Windows XP SP 2 on the hand-hewn media PC I built over the holidays was the greeting it extends when first logging into your pristine PC:

"Your computer might be at risk."

No "Welcome to your Windows desktop, we hope you enjoy your stay"; just the offer of a tour and an ominous warning about your just-built computer's risky future.

To it's credit, it doesn't just warn you the one time. Each and every login (and sometimes in between) goes a little something like this:

Good morning, and welcome to Windows XP. You have 4 unread mail messages, 1 program running, and ... while I'm on the subject ... your computer might be at risk.

I mentioned this to friends and family and was utterly dumfounded by the downright accepting nature of their responses: "Oh, they just have to say that, don't they," "Just click the X and it goes away," "I just dropped mine off at my IT department and took care of it," "Yeah, it's saying you need to buy virus protection software; I got StopS**tHappening Deluxe.

Surely my operating system maker shouldn't be warning me there may well be potentially harmful holes in my desktop. Shouldn't they use any means at their disposal to plug these leaks?

Yesterday's announcements by Microsoft that they'll be providing free virus-removal and anti-spyware software and will be getting into the anti-virus business, while most likely seen by the general public as a reasonable move, spawned one response that particularly caught my eye. In a WSJ article, "Parsing Microsoft's Move
Into The Antivirus Market"
, A.G. Edwards & Sons analyst Kevin Buttigieg responds: "I think one of Microsoft's challenges is the fact that customers would be purchasing a Microsoft antivirus product in order to remedy a vulnerability in their Microsoft software. It's sort of like taking your car to the dealer for service."

This reflects a thought I'd had on responsible amelioration upon first encountering the "risk" pop-up. While including anti-virus software as part of Windows XP might be seen in a bad light given Microsoft's tenuous bundling position, offering a 100% off coupon for up to $x (where x is some reasonable approximation of the cost of industry-approved anti-virus software) would go a long way toward both protecting end-users and avoiding any "fox guarding the henhouse" issues.

And selection, purchase, discount, installation, and protection should all be part of product activation upon first Internet connection. We've all heard the (potentially exaggerated) tales of being infected on the way to buying protection. Suggesting protection at your convenience, when you decide it might just be worth $29.99 unfortunately means a morning-after approach for most newbies.

It occurs that the police slogan "to serve and protect" should, when it comes to software, be turned around: first protect, then serve.


2005-01-09 19:04:11
Yeah well. It's Microsoft's Department of Homecomputer Security.
2006-01-01 15:27:54
Rael, why is this posted in the future? Also, your RSS feed just flipped out and sent me every article as if it was new, about 400 of them.

Happy new year. :)