Major threat to your email

I just came across this story, from a few months ago. I’m surprised it didn’t get more play, because it’s much more serious than the run-of-the-mill software vulnerability story.

PC’s are not secure, and never have been. For most of us, that hasn’t been a big concern. We try to keep viruses and bots off our systems, either by avoiding Windows or by more iffy and difficult methods. But that’s mostly due to a desire to keep our systems running and be good network citizens. But the risk of a personal attack on your system has always been a long shot, because, despite the fact there are many people who could read your email, there’s little reason any of them would want to. The sets of people who know how, and people who would care to, are small enough that their intersection is probably zero.

That calculation has now changed. If there is someone who has a grudge against you, or some other motive to want to read your email or impersonate you, and that person knows how to buy stuff on the internet, you are now at serious risk.

I’ve talked before about how to make your email secure, but it’s difficult to do reliably, and the advice in the article is probably best. If you want to keep stuff secret, don’t put it on a computer, unless you’re an expert.

Climategate – sceptics come out

Damian Thompson says “I had no idea that so many mainstream politicians entertained doubts about the AGW thesis.”

That is why the event looks like it’s going to turn into a victory for the sceptics after all. It’s not that the leaked data and emails does all that much damage to the alarmists’ arguments. It didn’t need to: they weren’t that strong to begin with.

The case for global warming depends on positive feedback – in more ways than one. First, because the actual temperature change due to increased CO2 concentration is not worth worrying about, and can only be a problem if it produces weather changes that themselves create more warming – positive feedback. And secondly, because the electorate, reasonably, takes the scientists’ word about the seriousness of the problem, and responds by demanding that politicians demonstrate their concern about the problem, which they do by creating more opportunities for alarmist scientists, who then persuade the public even more of the need to demand more from the politicians…

So a key element in the forming of the AGW political consensus has been that people just accept what they’re told. That’s what anyone would expect – you’ve got to be a bit odd to start to delve into the details of atmospheric physics, weather station siting, dendrochronology, Regularized Expectation-Maximization calculations, just to check up the conclusions of the people who are actually qualified to talk about these things. If someone starts challenging the conventional wisdom by referring to all these technicalities, the only sensible thing is to ignore the technicalities and make a judgment based on the the trustworthiness and qualification of the competing authorities.

The leaked emails change that – not because the man in the street will say – “Oh my! There’s a perhaps somewhat disturbing compensation between indirect aerosol forcing and sensitivity across the CMIP3 models that defies the assumption of independence!”, but because he will see that the argument is not between robot white-coated paragons and a few scruffy nutters, but between two groups of real people, at least one of which must be wrong. That doesn’t change his mind, but it takes the pressure off, so that politicians who have not previously dared to express contrary opinions feel able to make themselves known. That in turn will stir up more doubt, and the positive feedback will move the issue back to being a legitimate debate, as it belongs to be.