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Friday, May 30, 2008

Comcast: Answer the Phone When Hackers Call

The one sure way to get in trouble is to ignore computer programmers who offer unsolicited solutions to technology problems.

Comcast found that out the hard way this week when hackers -- who found security holes in the cable company's computer network -- tried to offer that information to them. Instead of listening, the company ignored the warnings and then found themselves on the barrel-end of a hacked website.

At first blush, it's easy to see why Comcast would be honked off. Some smart-alecky kids were poking around their network. Companies don't like that. Particularly companies that have gone out of their way to control and restrict access to their distribution network (and who are used to government regulated monopolies).

When people tinker with a network, bad things can happen.

This weekend, Revision3 -- an Internet television company -- was shut down by an anti-piracy group that mistakenly identified the business as a delivery system for stolen movies.

The FBI is investigating Media Defender, the company that "accidentally" shut down Revision3, but it illustrates why unwanted "help" is considered bad in the corporate world.

So Comcast is understandably irked that these kids went ahead and showed how someone could easily shut down the website.

But there's a distinction between these two stories, one that is hard to understand unless you get the history of technology. Computer programmers are steadfast in their belief that computer code should be elegant and efficient. If it's not -- for instance, if there are security holes -- good coders MUST fix it.

In other words, the hackers who took down Comcast's site are labeled as bad because they pointed out a flaw in a system and then illustrated how it could be fixed without doing any damage to Comcast's business; meanwhile, a legitimate anti-piracy company shuttered a legitimate television network by -- quite possibly illegally -- shutting down its network using a similar, but more lethal, tactic.

Who benefits more in this scenario, Comcast or Revision3?

Likely Comcast, which now has a more secure environment because of the coders need to fix flaws.

So the lesson learned: pick up the phone when the hackers call and beware of companies who spend all their time monitoring what you do.

By Brad at 12:36 PM | Comments (0)

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