Explaining why software keeps needing to be patched.
I was out to dinner with some friends the other night when the topic of Viruses came up. A friend asked why we need to keep patching our OS. Wouldn’t all the holes be patched eventually? I explained that despite the thousands of person hours that go into developing the software, and the thousands of person hours that go into testing (both from the manufacturer and those doing beta testing), there are inevitably situations which were not for seen. Especially when you consider that there are ump-teen thousands of third party products (both hardware and software) that can be added to the mix in various combinations and permutations. Then, when you add feature updates (and fix patches), you produce even more options which may not have been originally considered.
4-2: The History of Super Mario Bros.’ Most Infamous Level
The video about Super Mario Bros. referenced in this article.
Easter Egg in Word 97: Pinball
How to play pinball in an early version of MS Word
Please remember that the InfoLine is free to distribute to your friends and family.
Later that evening, I stumbled across a youtube video about Super Mario Brothers and the infamous level 4-2. Yeah, I didn’t know anything about it either since I don’t play Mario, but it got my attention (oooh, flashy colors), and then it struck me that it was the perfect way to explain the problem with holes being discovered in software which then become exploited.
The video is fairly long (over 20 min), but you don’t have to watch all of it to get the gist. I’ll give you the executive summary:
The first discovery that Mario players made is that there is a hidden shortcut designed into the game that enables you to skip levels 5-7. This is what used to be known as an Easter Egg: a hidden surprise planted by the developers. These first started in games but then were sometimes added to main stream business software (Word 97 had a whole pinball game built into it).
The next discovery made by Mario players about level 4-2 is that there is a second hidden shortcut just after the first one. This second shortcut can be manipulated to take you through to level 8, but faster (which was important for those using Mario as a timed race). Whereas the first discovered route was planned by the developers, this one was not.
As the years went by (yes, these guys continued to play the same game for years), more “quirks” were discovered in the game, allowing players to “break the rules” originally intended by the developers. For instance, by jumping forward against a particular wall and then immediately moving left, you could “clip into” a wall, allowing Mario to run through the brick wall, reducing his time through the level.
Now imagine these players were instead spending their time continuously trying to break the Windows or MAC OS operating systems. Click here, try that, run this program on top of that one… Eventually, they would certainly find unintentional consequences. And the nefarious actors that spend there time this way, do find such loop holes. The Holy Grail is to find a way into a secure machine with admin privileges.
This video outlines a few examples discovered after many years of trying against a static game (no updates were ever made to the original code). In the case of modern operating systems, the code is frequently changed… through additional software drivers, updates with new features and even low level code on the computer’s motherboard. When problems are discovered, they are usually fixed with patches, which, you guessed it, introduces new code.
So, even though an operating system has been out for many years, it still requires regular patches. So please keep your computers patched, to help protect against all those discovered vulnerabilities.
If you have questions about this, please let us know and we will be happy to assist you.