I think I have a problem here

February 6th, 2005 by Reinder

I am seriously considering canceling the Internet service at the studio, or at least opting out of my share of it.


When Jeroen and I got the ADSL connection at the studio about a year ago, it seemed like a great idea. Gone would be the days of putting the latest webcomic updates on a Zip disk (I have since forgotten where I put my Zip disks) and nipping home to post them from the home machine, of having to stay at home to be able to wrangle out the details of a Floor script through email, of having to rush home from the copy store to email a finished Floor page to Malmberg, of having to stop dead in my tracks because some research that needed doing had not in fact been done by scatterbrained old me. And I have been able to put a stop to all these hassles. But was it worth the distraction?
Since the studio PC broke down last week with a mysterious and intractable ailment, I've been able to draw three Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan pages in three afternoons while also dealing with little chores and problems around the house in the evenings (as well as taking the PC to the shop on Monday). I wrote a Floor script on Thursday, without needing to back-and-forth it with other writers as I'd done recently. I got the PC back from the shop on Friday, with no cause diagnosed - the PC just worked although they did have some advice regarding some software I had installed, specifically WindowBlinds. I hooked the PC up to its peripherals, uninstalled WindowBlinds and some other disused programs, and got back to work. One thing I didn't do, just yet, was plug in the ethernet cable. And guess what? By Saturday evening, I had colored in the page I had been working on when the PC quit on me, plus the three I had drawn since then, in 4 short, relaxed, focused work sessions totaling maybe 8 or 9 hours. Lately, that has been the amount of time it took me to color 2, barely. I'm too easily distracted by the need to check up on forums, Bloglines, email, IRC and MSN. Only when those things are removed from my presence can I resist them. And it may not be worth that to be able to post updates directly from the place where I produce them.

Plus, there's the ever-increasing worry about whether it is a good idea, anno 2005, to hook a Windows PC to the Internet in the first place. Via Pete Ashton, I read this horror story:

The DSL worked great. For about four minutes.

Then, something happened. Something attacked. Something swarmed her computer the instant she tried to move around online and the computer slowed and bogged and cluttered and crashed, and multiple restarts and debuggings and what-the-hells only brought up only a flood of nightmarish pop-up windows and terrifying error messages and massive system slowdowns and all manner of inexplicable claims of infestation of this worm and that Trojan horse and did we want to buy McAfee AntiVirus protection for $39.95?

Four minutes. And she was already DOA.

It's come to this. A fresh, unsecured Windows PC won't survive long enough on the Internet for the user to secure it. I think 4 minutes is an outlier; the average Internet Survival Time is a bit longer, something like 10 minutes. Also, most PCs won't be shut down by attacks - they will merely be used to consider the spread of viruses, worms and zombie attacks, and to send spam through open proxies using a makeshift mail server the worm installed. To stand a chance, you have to install a fresh firewall from CD and set Opera or Firefox or indeed anything that isn't IE as your default browser before you plug in that ethernet cable or switch on your modem. And then you'll have to update that firewall software first thing you do. That's a big hassle.
And even that won't keep you safe. Studio-mate Josje's computer couldn't run Internet Explorer for a few days, and we found that that was probably caused by a piece of malware that had tried to change her home page setting but had managed to break IE entirely. Or these may have been two different problems, but the bottom line is that something had slipped through her firewall and messed with her IE settings, recently. I installed Mozilla from a CD I had lying around and made that her default, but I don't think that will protect her from the stuff that's already in her machine, and neither of us have hours to spare to hunt that down.
So..... what to do? Maybe we should return to our plans of putting a dedicated internet machine in there? An old Mac, mini-Mac or linux PC that only does Internet things while our Windows PCs are strictly reserved for producing deliverables only? Or just give up the benefits of workplace internet altogether?
Answers on a postcard to reinder@despammed.com

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