Monday, 24 February 2014

Signing the applet: what it is and why it matters

Many of you will have spent the past few weeks confronting a fairly terrifying warning on when logging into the game. And for some people, it simply doesn't work at all, or requires fiddling around setting up exceptions for apterous.org and all sorts of other junk.

So, good news: this has now come to an end! These warnings only apply to unsigned apps, and as of today, the apterous app is signed. You may have to click through some sort of warning one more time, but the warning is much less scary and even quite useful. After that, you should be good to go forever.

You can enjoy the benefits of this without having any idea what it means, but for the curious, here's a rough explanation. The game runs in your browser as a Java applet. (The details of what this means aren't particularly important, you can think of an applet as just a normal app like Microsoft Word or, err, Angry Birds, except that it runs inside Chrome or Internet Explorer or Firefox or whatever.) Unfortunately, over the last few years, Java applets have become a popular way for people to infect computers with malware (e.g. viruses, spyware, adware), so there's a real need to crack down on this sort of abuse. To this end, the latest version of Java made it much more difficult for applets to run in the browser. In particular, the applet must now be "signed". Signing an applet means attaching a real person's identity to the program before it can run, and these identities are verified very carefully by various companies around the world before they can be used. In the case of apterous, that real person is me. Then, if an applet turns out to be malware, you know exactly who to blame -- you have their real name, address, passport number, and many other details. That's enough to discourage most criminals, and should allow everyone else to make and run Java applets safely.

As noted, identities are verified very carefully and in my case this took several weeks due to the ridiculous amount of bureaucracy involved. It also costs a substantial amount in legal and administrative fees. But I think it's a good investment, and should put this irritating problem to rest for the foreseeable future. So, you're welcome!

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