What I learned from Anna Kournikova

I certainly didn’t learn anything about tennis from her. What I did learn is that in certain areas, computer training gets trumped by human nature, just about every time. In the words of Robert Heinlein, “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It only wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

Many moons ago, there was a computer virus called Melissa that required users to open up an attachment to an email. There was this big sturm und drang all over the place in corporations and offices and the media all over the country about not opening email attachments you weren’t expecting. Big push on this. Not three months later, the Anna Kournikova virus comes to town where you have to do the same thing, open the attachment.

These viruses (virii?) used classic, hard core, brute force, social engineering. Melissa was also known as the I love You virus, where you received an email purportedly from someone who loved you and they sent you something nice. The Anna Kournikova virus was much simpler – it promised nude photos. You can’t get more basic than that, now can you?

What it taught me is that people are not very good at learning something in the virtual world and applying it in the virtual world. They thought these two things were different, while every network admin in the world saw these as exactly the same thing. This is not something that gets trained very well. Some people get it, most people don’t.

What this means to me is that I am loath to teach computer users too much about their computers because it ends up not being a good use of any one’s time. If something is important to them or their jobs, they will find a way to do it. That might include asking me – and that is great!! I am there in a shot for training like that. But if it is a conference room full of people who are required to do it, the only thing anyone gets out of it is possibly the free sandwiches and soda.

I am not saying that people can’t be taught computers; I am saying that most people will figure it out on their own, or not. They have to have the first step of motivation and action. Without that, training is pretty much a waste.

As far as viruses and spam are concerned, I have three levels of virus protection enforced on email, and two on everything else. There is no user intervention. I don’t tell them what or how I deal with viruses unless an individual asks.

Tom

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