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Cybernaut

Apple loses its shine

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For years the one thing that all Internet viruses had in common with each other was the fact that they targeted PC’s.

Apple computers, comprising a scant five per cent of the home and office computer market, have generally been let off the hook by virus authors. The lack of attacks has led many people to believe that Apple systems are somehow safer, when in reality the spread of viruses probably has more to do with market share than software security.

That changed last week when the first Trojan horse virus took advantage of a security flaw in Apple’s OSX to create some minor havoc.

Called MP3Concept, the virus can get into your Apple computer through the iTunes music service. The virus was caught early by MacIntosh security firm Intego and no cases have been reported, but Apple acknowledged that there was a risk and that they were taking steps to repair the OSX security flaw that would have allowed the virus to spread through the Internet.

If you own an Apple and are concerned about this latest development, stay tuned at Apple’s security centre – www.info.apple.com/usen/security/

You should also sign up for e-mail security updates at http://lists.apple.com.

Deep impact or armageddon?

Pessimists around the world are celebrating the launch of a new Web page at the University of Arizona that allows you to project just how much damage the next asteroid to hit planet Earth might cause.

Asteroid collisions have shaped the physical and biological history of the world in the past, perhaps even triggering the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

While smaller objects bombard our planet pretty much around the clock, most of these either burn up in the atmosphere or are too small to do much damage. But it’s only a matter of time, say astronomers, before our planet will find itself on a collision course with a big enough asteroid to do some real damage.

Enter the Impact Effects Program created by researchers at the University of Arizona. They created what is essentially a calculator to determine the possible seismic, blast wave and thermal effects of different sized asteroids, as well as the size of the crater.

The first field on the list is Distance from Impact, followed by fields for Projectile Diameter and Projectile Density. Next is a field for Impact Velocity – you may have to do some research on this although the site’s creators do give you a range to work with.

Impact Angle (in degrees) is another parameter to consider – does the meteor hit us head-on, like Deep Impact or at an angle like Superman’s ship?

The last field is for Target Density – does the meteor strike the ocean, porous rock or solid rock?

The researchers studied hundreds of known meteor craters before coming up with a formula to determine just how bad an impact can be.

The good news is that NASA and partners expect to chart about 90 per cent of the large objects in our solar system that are capable of hitting the Earth by 2008. They also don’t expect another significant impact for a thousand years, which gives us plenty of time to develop some kind of laser contraption to blast it out of our path.

The bad news is the 10 per cent that the scientists will miss, and compelling evidence to suggest that large meteor events occur every 10,000 years or so whether we like it or not.

Either way, the collision calculator is an interesting toy.

I decided to see what would happen if an iron asteroid the size of a Canadian Football Field hit Whistler Village dead-on at the usual velocity of 17 kilometres a second.

According to Impact Effects, the impact would equal about 145 MegaTons of TNT, and a MegaTon is about a hundred times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The crater diameter would be about 2.92 kilometres. We would be incinerated in the collision, with a fireball about 1.6 km across that is about 8.9 times brighter than the sun.

People in Pemberton would feel an earthquake at 6.0 on the Richter Scale, and a wind blast less than two minutes later, as well as a short burst of intense radiation lasting about two seconds.

Sounds like fun, right? You betcha.

Go drop a few rocks of your own at www.lpl.arizona.edu/impacteffects/

Gmail puts your life on the line

After announcing plans to enter the free online e-mail market a few weeks ago, Google has satisfied most critics that the unprecedented one gigabyte of storage offered to users won’t come with any strings attached – spam, ads, or invasions of privacy. Because this is several hundred times more storage than is available at Hotmail or Yahoo, it was reasonable to assume that Google would want something in return for its investment.

Yes, there will be ads. Servers will scan e-mails to generate personalized ads for Gmail users, which they hope will pay for all of this storage for potentially hundreds of millions of users. But ads are only dangerous when they’re misleading, so this isn’t much of a threat to Gmail subscribers.

Now critics are worried that the gigabyte accounts will result in security issues. Because of their limited size, most people clean out their online e-mail accounts regularly to make space. As a result if someone got your password or somehow hacked into your account, there’s probably very little in there that could cause you serious problems.

Imagine what a hacker – or an investigator like a lawyer – could find out about you if you kept your e-mails for decades?

In addition, Google backs up everything that comes through its servers, including mail, which means your messages could be available years down the road even if you took the time to delete them.

No date for Gmail’s launch has been offered, but it could be as early as this fall.