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September 2002, Week 4 -- Spy, Counterspy

 

 

  eBlaster

   The latest snooping software from SpectorSoft is "eBlaster," a hidden program that not only watches every keystroke on someone else's computer but automatically records and forwards their email to the watcher.

   SpectorSoft is one of a handful of companies that make what might be called surveillance software. The target market is business and the stated objective is for a manager to see what the employees actually do when they are at the company computers. Are they working or are they playing dungeons and dragons. (Lest you think this is too paranoid, it's worth noting that a study of Internet use by the U.S. Treasury Department found that over half of all Internet use by employees of the Internal Revenue Service was for personal, not job-related, reasons.)

 

   Once installed, "eBlaster" records all keystrokes, emails (received and sent), chat room conversations, instant messaging and web sites visited. Within seconds it sends this information to an email address of your choosing. If you don't want to spend your time pouring over all this stuff -- and who does? -- an activity summary is sent once an hour or once a day.

 

   The "eBlaster list price is $100 from their web site: www.spectorsoft.com. Under some conditions the spy software can be installed remotely, without the subject's knowledge. There would be legal problems with this, so tread carefully.

 

Counterspy

 

   Just as there is missile and anti-missile technology, software has been developed to counter the keystroke recording spy programs that have proliferated in the last couple of years.

 

   A $50 program called "SpyGuard" www.spyguard.com can detect spy software like programs from SpectorSoft and block it from sending information back to the spymaster or eliminate it completely. Ancillary functions include the deletion and shredding of confidential files and pictures, and erasing your Internet history and cache files.

 

   While there are also programs that detect and eliminate so-called "spyware," these are not the same thing. What is commonly called spyware is a kind of user preferences record that is used by advertisers to target potential customers. It is quite common and can be countered with programs like "AdAware" www.lavasoftusa.com.

 

Pure mathematics

  Mathematica

   A new release of Stephen Wolfram's "Mathematica" bears a stunning price but a stunning performance as well. This is the top of the line in graphical representation of mathematical formulae; the pictures alone are beautiful. It also trippingly runs off complex mathematical functions and solutions used in engineering and physics. The new version enhances the program's ability to send and receive data over the Internet and display the results of calculations.

   Those who know and have used this program are generally in awe of its power. Business users face a stiff price: $1,880. Academic pricing runs $895 for faculty, less for students, and a version for high school teachers is available for $195; the program is available for Windows and Macintosh. Web: www.wolfram.com.

 

   Wolfram is a highly respected mathematician from the University of Illinois and his recent book, "A New Kind of Science," $45, has generated a lot of commentary among scientists and academics. It is heavily concerned with programming and a specialized field called cellular automata. Readers new to the Mathematica program would find a lot of useful help from "The Mathematica Book," $50, by Stephen Wolfram.

 

Internuts

 

-- www.mlb.com  Major league baseball over the Internet. Log in and pay your $5 and you can watch any major league game "live" in any city. You first webcast is free, and if you're a baseball addict you can pay $10 a month for as many as you want. An interesting idea, which obviously could be extended to any sport; 30,000 logged on for the first game recently -- the New York Yankees vs. the Texas Rangers.

 

-- www.dnr.state.wi.us  The home site for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and a much more interesting place than you would think. Click on "eek" to get to the kind of odd environmental facts and stories kids like, such as blood-sucking lamprey eels. And be sure and click on the "jobs" section to read the story about a lady fish warden who hid in the woods all night in sub-freezing weather to catch an illegal angler at two o'clock in the morning.

Lady with Ermine

-- www.junkscience.com  Debunks scientific study results and the kind of conventional wisdom that often gets wide press coverage. A study of 90,000 nurses, for example, found no link between fat intake and heart disease. And an analysis of the famous Framingham, Mass., study of 5,200 men and women shows no link between high cholesterol levels and heart disease once past the age of 47.

-- http://artcyclopedia.com  A blockbuster site with an index of 1,200 other art sites and 32,000 links to 7,500 artists and 100,000 works. Some sites sell reproductions; prices seem reasonable.

 

 Maintaining Networks

 

Books

    "Troubleshooting, Maintaining & Repairing Networks," by Stephen Bigelow; $70, Osborne-McGraw/Hill www.osborne.com. A huge (972 pages) volume covering the care and feeding of networks for all major operating systems, including Linux. Author is well known in the field.

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.