Friday, April 8

Eschew Obfuscation

Do you speak Geek?:

UK Internet users are failing to wise up to online scams and viruses in part because of the prevalent use of incomprehensible geeky jargon, such as 'phishing' and 'Trojans', to describe the threat. A Populus survey of over 1000 UK adults for the Internet Service Provider found that jargon terms such as 'phishing', 'rogue dialler', 'Trojan' and 'spyware' are a mystery to most Web users, despite being commonly used in connection to serious online security threats. The study finds that 84% of home Internet users do not understand the term 'phishing', while 61% could not define 'Trojan'. One in ten people thought spyware was technology used to keep an eye on unfaithful partners. More than a fifth of respondents do not know how to tackle online risks Will Smith, AOL's safety and security expert, says: "Some of the terms being bandied around are more suitable for a computer programmers convention than for people who want to go online at home. If Internet users can't understand the language used to describe these risks, they are going to find it hard to protect themselves from being ripped off." He says it is hardly surprising that people are becoming increasingly confused when it comes to Internet jargon, with new terms being introduced all the time. In the last few weeks, 'pharming' and 'keylogging' have entered the parlance, the latter hitting the headlines in reports about the attempted multi-million pound robbery from a large Japanese bank. The research was commissioned in support of the launch of an AOL Safety & Security Centre, which features plain English definitions of jargon terms and advice for users on guarding against threats.

Bully for AOL! Someone over there deserves a big fat promotion. The U.S. government's Plain language initiative is pretty much of a joke. You see a bit of lip service paid to it at the big consultancies now and again, but there's no enforcement power attached to it, so no one, as the old bumper stick has it, really feels the need to "eschew obfuscation."

I myself got paid a huge amount of money last year to rewrite an IT audit report in a way that removed the implication that the client--I can only say that it's a company that has been in the news for problems with information security that I myself do personal business with--would be in any way at fault when the ill-conceived system inevitably failed. I simply took all my researches into the vices of Engish prose and produced a Rumsfeldian formulation, using the language of epistemological skepticism, to describe the problem as one of not being able to be sure that problems were not being created--without implying that the occurence of failures was necessarily probable, in the sense that term is used in modal logic, using this flawed technically compliant but not optimal method.

There are some things that we don't know that we don't know.

The job got me kudos and earned me enough for an impromptu trip to Brazil, where I spent a week in a chic pousada in Paraty and a four-star hotel on Copacabana.

Should I feel guilty, using my powers for evil and profiting therefrom? Ah, well: What is truth?


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