Old habits die hard. New habits die harder

Filed Under: Malware, Privacy, Social networks, Spam

Humans are creatures of habit. These habits – even if pointless, annoying, or, in extreme cases, immoral and possibly unlawful – can become invisibly and almost intractably ingrained.

Many adults, for example, publicly masticate chewing gum almost continuously, even whilst involved in conversation. This ensures that those around them can enjoy the sounds and sights of a special sort of eating: that of a food group which apparently evades consumption. Do gum chewers think that they are somehow more groovy and alluring as a result? Do they imagine, even for a moment, that the authority of their words (or even just the quality of their diction) is improved in any way?

And taxi drivers routinely seem to imagine that a passenger will be more comfortable if they accelerate as hard as possible whenever they need to speed up, and if they always brake at a rate close to that of an emergency stop when slowing down [1].

If, like me, you've ever dared to ask offenders in the above categories if they wouldn't mind putting their habit on hold until later – perhaps when they have a more tolerant paying passenger, or when they are talking to someone who has never before seen a human mouth awash with saliva – then you'll know what response to expect.

You'll rarely get aggression, thankfully. But you'll even more rarely get actual acceptance. Instead, you'll be treated to a disrespectfully quizzical look, as though you're from another era, another planet, or even another species.

Sadly, many, if not most of us, have similar attitudes in respect of computer security.

Many of us thoughtlessly snap digital photos wherever we feel like it, yet quickly become aggrieved if someone in shot asks us not to do so. We tailgate our colleagues through controlled entrances, yet accuse them of being toadies if they confront us about it. We upload for public viewing "amusing" images which we know will embarrass a friend, yet make out they're a spoilsport if they object.

We travel to South East Asian countries with lax intellectual property laws, knowingly buy counterfeit goods, and bring them back into Australia as personal items, relying on a legal loophole which means we won't be prosecuted. We download and install anything and everything we like onto our PCs, yet blame the bank when our credit card details – or, worse, more intimate parts of our identity – are plundered by cybercriminals.

If we really mean to defeat those selfsame cybercriminals, then we must, collectively, lift our game.

If, as some developed economies are already concluding, internet access is a human right (or at least an increasing necessity for an increasing portion of our necessary dealings with government bureacuracy), then there is a concomitant responsibility on all of us to improve our online behaviour to suit the internet era.

By all means go on chewing gum. Go on driving like someone who's determined to give a resounding practical demonstration of the Central Limit Theorem.

But please don't behave like a clown online, since your buffoonery is highly likely to affect other people. As Ali G once said, "Respect."

[1] Note to taxi drivers with hybrid petrol/electric vehicles: a heavy right foot is a waste of your investment. To the many stab-and-jab Prius drivers in Vancouver, BC: take a vacation in Wellington, New Zealand. Learn how hybrid vehicles can delight customers and increase tips whilst significantly lowering costs. And, since someone else will be doing the driving, try some of Aotearoa's extraordinarily and affordably palatable wines!

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog