CNN.com’s use of Octoshape puts readers on edge

Dennis o'reilly By Dennis O’Reilly

Last week’s Top Story on CNN.com prompting visitors to install an application named Octoshape application hit home with many readers who had been stung by the program.

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The backlash is directed at the sneaky nature of the Octoshape installation rather than against P2P technology, which can benefit users and providers alike when correctly implemented.

When it comes to applying new technology, there’s a right way and a wrong way. People who inadvertently installed the Octoshape peer-to-peer application prior to watching CNN.com’s live video stream of President Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20 bumped head-first into the wrong way.

Among the victims of CNN.com’s drive-by download was a reader named Ron:
  • “Thanks for the great article on Octoshape. I became aware that something was running but was not able to discover what app was the culprit ’til your article on CNN’s adding of Octoshape for the live stream on Jan 20.

    “I watch CNN for a number of reasons and never felt the need to be concerned about what they might add to my system. You have opened my eyes to the methods that can be used to compromise an individual PC. Great article. This is the type of article I keep an eye out for when I get your newsletter.”
As the story by WS editorial director Brian Livingston pointed out, there’s nothing new about P2P. As with so many technologies, the key to winning customers over to the idea of sharing their bandwidth is being up-front about how P2P will be implemented and — most importantly — how to turn it off.

Reader Tim Monk provides a U.K. perspective on a service that is much more considerate in its use of P2P:
  • “I read [last week's Top Story] with some interest. Over this side of the pond, I’ve been using the British Broadcasting Corporation’s iPlayer (making much of their extensive produced-for-TV content across all their channels) since mid-2007. As one would tend to expect, their approach was from the beginning peer-to-peer based using Kontiki, but this was relatively clearly explained before signing up and could be easily opted out of at setup or any time later.

    “The opportunity of swift availability of the latest episodes and the openness about the P2P nature meant that I often felt happy to be a good citizen and help other users, as they helped me — I could see all the connected machines in the TCP list supplying me on [Sysinternals'] Process Explorer. (Thanks, Windows Secrets!)

    “Interestingly, although many U.K. ISPs run capacity-restricted packages, the main backlash was not about P2P, but from the ISPs about capacity and from users about DRM [digital rights management]. So the latest versions of the BBC iPlayer turn their back on P2P and also offer multiple platforms for on-demand or for download. Over here, we think the BBC has responded creatively as a public service provider in the face of sniping from the Rupert Murdoch–owned media channels.

    “This [BBC] blog entry provides some background on the new changes, avoiding Octoshape-type issues experienced with Kontiki.”
Big media companies such as CNN don’t always get technology right the first time, but we trust that with a little forethought and a lot of listening to customers, they’ll get it right eventually.

To unstick a disc, a deep freeze beats butane

Last week’s Known Issues column included a tip from reader Scotty Burrous, describing how he revived a failed hard drive in his mother’s computer by applying butane to the device’s bearing. Several readers wrote in to remind us of a drive troubleshooting trick that goes way, way back. Yaakov Laks explains his technique thusly:
  • “A few years ago, I came back from a month away to find my HD making odd noises. I figured that the pivot or the bearings had gotten stuck somehow. I also thought that cooling might shrink the clogged pivot and the thing might rotate long enough for me to save the data.

    “I took the HD out of the desktop computer, wrapped it with a few layers of polyethylene, and let it freeze for 24 hours in the deep freezer. I then removed only the interface side and immediately connected it to the computer. It worked for three years after the cold shock.

    “I left the polyethylene wrapping on the HD for a few hours until any condensation risk was eliminated. Since then, I’ve done it two more times when called to rescue friends’ failing HDs. It worked OK once and didn’t help the other time. I believe that this is much less risky than butane.”
Update: Microsoft does a U-turn on Win7 UAC

Microsoft had a change of heart last week, the day after Woody Leonhard’s column described the company’s reluctance to fix a security weakness affecting user Account Control in the forthcoming Windows 7. Woody reported on researcher Long Zheng’s discovery of a simple way that a Trojan horse could disable UAC in Win7.

Yesterday, Windows Secrets’ paid subscribers received an update from Woody that explained the reasons for Microsoft’s big 180 on Win7′s UAC settings. We’ve made the original article and Woody’s follow-up available to all subscribers, free and paid.

As Woody points out, perhaps the best news is that the incident shows a new willingness on Microsoft’s part to listen to the Windows community and respond immediately to their concerns. We can only hope this isn’t a one-off!

Readers Ron, Tim, and Yaakov will each receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of their choice for sending tips we printed. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

The Known Issues column brings you readers’ comments on our recent articles. Dennis O’Reilly is technical editor of WindowsSecrets.com.
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