Tech Talk: Sampling Technology Mythology

Friday, May 9, 2014

Technical myths are like any other myths, a story with a compelling premise or particle of truth that is often embellished with untruths around it as it is told and retold. It doesn’t help that many of the tellers aren’t technical themselves.

I have been collecting myths and unanswered questions for this month’s Computer Q&A at the Commons.  It’s been a fertile area to explore thanks to your input. The following items have been shared by my clients and a number of you:

Myth: The Internet is so huge; no one will attack my computer. Besides, I have nothing to steal.”

Usually this is offered as a justification for not using a password, avoiding security precautions, or avoiding computer backups. The only truth here is that the Internet is really big place …. and more might have been true ten or fifteen years ago when malware threats were less prevalent or directed.

Today’s highly organized cybercriminals have software running 24/7, scanning millions of IP addresses (the number assigned to our Internet-connected systems) and looking for vulnerabilities (open ports, unpatched operating systems, etc.). In other words, they are looking for vulnerabilities system the same way a car prowler runs down a street, checking for unlocked vehicles.

That is why we use firewalls to close down ports, password protect our systems, and promptly apply security updates ... so the prowler doesn’t waste their time with our computer and moves on to a more vulnerable system. Since 14.5% of US computer users have an unpatched operating system (Secunia PSI Country Report for 2014, Q1, pdf), there are plenty of unlocked cars on the street.

The second part of this myth is that you have nothing worth stealing. Not true. Your computer or computing device supports your online shopping, financial dealings, social contacts, and parts of your identity. All can be discovered and used. Even if you don’t store anything on your computer, a hacked system can track your keystokes to discover passwords to take over your identity and trick your contacts into scams or just use your computer to attack other computers in a bot-net.

  • True or False: False  The truth is that preventing attacks is not as arduous as most people think, especially if they understand the potential threat.
  1. Use a strong password for your system and different passwords on your web site accounts
  2. Turn on Automatic Software Updates for Windows or Mac OS X.
  3. Use Tools like Personal Software Inspector (PSI) or Mac App Store to ensure your third-party applications are also up to date.

Myth: You should let your phone's battery drain before recharging.

There was a time when this was true. When Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cad) batteries were more commonly used in mobile phones, it was helpful to drain the battery so that the batteries would not maintain a memory effect of a partial discharge. This is behavior particular to Ni-Cads, and its more environmentally friendly cousin, nickel metal hydride (NiMH). However the most popular phone battery now is lithium-ion (Li-ion). Li-ion batteries do not have the memory effect and, in fact, lose some of their capability if you drain them completely.

  • True or False: False for today’s most popular phone power source, the Li-ion batteries; true for Ni-Cad or NiMH batteries that have been used in the past for phone batteries.

Myth: Putting your crashed hard drive in the freezer will allow you to get the data off of it.

As crazy as it sounds, there are an amazing number of success stories from people saying this actually works. Theories vary as well though there is general agreement that this doesn’t actually fix a drive, it may only make it usable for a few minutes, possibly enough time to get your most critical data off the drive.

That said, I do not recommend it it at all if the data on the drive is actually critical. Use a data recovery service instead if you don’t have backup copies available. The service can be costly but they can safely work on the drive in “clean room” conditions to get those prized documents or media files back. Local companies like Circle Hook Data Recovery or online services like DriveSavers are your best bet … certainly better than freezing your hard drive!

Of course, the least costly or risky method is to avoid the problem entirely by backing up that drive’s user data. You can either use built-in solutions like Time Machine or File History offered by the current OSes or third-party backup options for Windows and OS X

  • True or False: True as a temporary fix for some kind of disk failures, but not recommended for data recovery.

Have Computer or Technology myths you wish to explore?  Let me know share it with me at Your question may show up here on Tech Talk.

Or you can join me on May 18th at Third Place Commons in Town Center at Lake Forest Park as we discuss “Your Five Favorite Computer Myths Explored.” 


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