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Welcome to the latest Actrix customer newsletter. By co-incidence again, there seems to be a bit of a spam theme running through this month's edition.
I've had a lot of feedback from customers this month about increased levels of spam. I inquired with the help desk (and remember I don't work directly for Actrix anymore, so I'm not always up with the latest happenings) and they inform me that the problem is simply due to the sheer volume of spam that's out there at the moment. The Actrix spam filters are working fine, and if you check your Spam folder (via My Actrix on the home page) you should see that a vast amount is indeed being caught. Check out the letter from Peter in the Forum section.
It's probably a good idea to check your Spam folder once a week or so (anything in it is deleted after seven days). Filters can never be perfect and there is a the remote chance that something legitimate will get misdirected there.
There's also a little information on some of the tricks spammers use to evade filters in the Scam of the month article below, revealing just what the filters are up against, and why it is difficult to catch it all.
Most people know someone who knows someone who raves about Skype, the Internet phone software that lets you ring the other side of the world for practically nothing. But what is it exactly? Is it really free? Is it all as scary and techy as it sounds?
Skype is the best known and most widely used of a number of Internet telephony programs available. In New Zealand about 180,000 people are already using it, and there are 22 million registered users world wide.
Skype uses what's known as "Voice Over Internet Protocol" or VOIP (pronounced "voyp") for short. Your phone conversation travels back and forth through your computer and across the Internet as a series of ones and zeroes in much the same way an e-mail or web page would travel.
Getting Set Up
Skype can be downloaded from www.skype.com. It's just under 10 megabytes and is completely free. You can avoid having to download it if you purchase one of the many IP phones that come with the program bundled on a CD.
Set-up isn't scary, and takes just a minute or two. Click install, agree to the license, choose a nickname and you're underway. A quick and easy user guide is invoked automatically, and within minutes you'll be talking online.
One neat and helpful feature is that you immediately get to make a test call to a recording service that may save you some embarrassment by allowing you to check your set-up before you try and make a call. You can do this over and over until you are sure everything is plugged in right and working properly. Lots of other help is provided at the Skype website in the form of user guides and FAQs, but it's all pretty intuitive from the outset.
A default install is all you need to get going, but when you're feeling more confident and adventurous, there are lots of settings and customisation possibilities. You can, for example, add a picture of yourself to the My Sky Pictures folder that now magically appears in My Documents. You can then use the Edit profile menu to select that picture to display in the Skype console of others you speak to.
Finding people to talk to is a snap. If you know someone's Skype nickname or their e-mail address, you can quickly look them up in the built in Skype directory, and call them with a single mouse click. You can also set yourself to SkypeMe mode which allows anyone to find and call you. This might be a wonderful idea for the bored or overly gregarious, but be prepared to receive calls from nutters, obnoxious kids, and possibly even foreign women looking for New Zealand husbands.
The Gear You'll Need
At its simplest, the only hardware you need is a headset that has a built in mike and earphones. These can be purchased for under $30.00, but if you want something a little more flash and functional, an IP phone is the way to go. These start at around $35 (check Dick Smith Electronics), but if you want to spend a couple hundred or more, you can get some pretty neat phones that can handle both your Skype and landline calls, and which have enough features to keep you occupied with the manual for days!
You can also use Skype with a video camera so people can see as well as hear you, though this will increase the amount of Internet traffic you use, and may reduce your sound quality.
Broadband is certainly recommended for Skype. Results tend to vary widely for dialup users as their connections are much more prone to fluctuations in line quality and the way that traffic is routed between ISPs.
How Skype Can Save You Money
There are no charges for using the Skype service over the Internet, so it’s not hard to see how Skype makes fiscal sense if you regularly talk to far-flung friends and family. As long as both parties have Skype installed, you could talk across the Internet as long as you liked and only have to worry about your broadband traffic charges.
It makes a lot of sense for businesses to use Skype for point to point calls, even if they're just across town, as doing so avoids the per minute charges on business lines that quickly add up. Currently in New Zealand, about 30% of businesses use Skype for this very reason. If you're in business, you may want to do some quick math around the cost of your Internet traffic compared to what Skype may save you on phone line charges. How much traffic Skype uses will vary, but even at its best (3Kb/second), a six minute conversation will use up nearly a megabyte.
Skype can also be used to connect to normal landline phones and to mobiles if you choose to use the SkypeOut service that comes as part of the program, but these calls do cost. Charges are determined solely by the location you’re calling, so a call to a Wellington landline would cost the same whether it was made from Auckland, Austria or Arkansas.
SkypeOut to most places is just under 4 cents per minute (€0.017) You can log in to the Skype web site once you have your software up and running and use your plastic to purchase €10.00 blocks of Skype credit.
SkypeIn, on the other hand gives you your own phone number anywhere in the world for people to call you. That means your daughter in New York can get a local New Zealand number, so that calling her is just a local call routed through Skype back to the U.S. SkypeIn costs you around $30 for three months.
Skype is not designed to replace your existing phone service, and if you're starting to think along those lines, our advice is don't. For a start your computer would always need to be on and running Skype if you were to receive calls. Skype will not work for making emergency calls to our 111 service.
This month we'll have a quick look at what's called the "Pump and dump scam". I get a number of these in my inbox each month. Most are poorly written, rife with spelling errors, and look like they've been designed by pre-schoolers. Nevertheless, people all around the world fall victim to them.
The "Pump and dump scam" works by encouraging armchair investors to put a heap of their cash into a particular firm's stock. The scammers put out millions of spam e-mails containing bogus insider information abut how stock values for this particular firm are about to surge.
The scammers have bought stock in the firm at low prices, and their goal is to quickly inflate interest in order to ramp up share prices so they can sell at a profit before the inevitable crash and burn. Meanwhile those duped are left holding possibly worthless shares.
Most of these scams are thought to take place without the knowledge of firms that are the subject of the scams, and Sophos reports that pump-and-dump stock campaigns currently account for approximately 15 percent of all spam, up from 0.8 percent in January 2005.
It's obviously big business, and worth the work the scammers put into it. If only these people used their ingenuity and powers in the interests of niceness...
Anyway, you can see a typical "Pump and dump scam" e-mail here. You'll notice a couple of things. Firstly, all the information about the company in question - LINTL or LITL, depending on which is the spelling error - is actually an image. It's a picture of text, rather than text itself. This makes it much harder for a spam filter to detect what the message is really about because it can't use key words to assign a "spam score" to the e-mail.
However, spam filters are wise to the fact that a lot of spam comes as images, and they will be suspicious of any e-mail that is just a large image. Therefore the scammers have added a heap of random actual text to the bottom of the e-mail. This random text will have nothing to do with anything spam-related, so it won't alert the spam filters. Spam filters are looking for frequent use of words like erection, Cialis and lottery. In our example, there's a lot of random text about Google. The filters see text and an image (and they don't actually read an e-mail so they can't tell whether or not its sensible) and let it through.
Have a look at your Spam folder by logging into My Actrix (www.actrix.co.nz) and you'll probably find a few of these that have been caught because the random text itself or the characteristics of the image have been identified. You can be sure, however, that the spam-scammers are rotating the random text and changing the nature of the image frequently, too, in a further effort to stay ahead of spam filters. Therefore there are always going to be some that get through.
If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send me an e-mail with the word "Forum" in the subject line. I'll try and get an answer to you by return e-mail, and will also post the answer here for the benefit of others who may have a similar question or problem. By the same token, if you read something here and think you may have something to suggest, please feel more than free. Please also note that questions and answers may also turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).
Geoff writes: Hi Ed, Out of curiosity of course, does Actrix have a policy on user privacy protection when it comes to the anti-piracy software in use by nzFact (see http://stuff.co.nz/stuff/0,2106,3777308a11,00.html)?
Hi Geoff, It's easy enough in most cases for people to identify an IP address on the Internet, but only the ISP has records of who actually is or was using an IP Address at any given time. Everybody connected to the Internet has an IP address. As an ISP we receive a steady stream of inquiries from all sorts of people who want to know which of our customers was using a particular IP Address at a time they believe something unlawful was occurring. Most commonly these inquiries come from the police, but they also come from Internal Affairs, the recording industry and lawyers.
While Actrix doesn't condone unlawful behaviour on the Internet, we also believe a user's right to privacy is of paramount importance, as is the presumption of innocence. We will release what information we have about user behaviour online in two circumstances. Firstly, we'll release information about you to you, and to you alone (not to your lawyer) if you request it, if we have it, and if we can get it to you without having to tie a technician up for hours.
Secondly, we'll release it to the police or to Internal affairs (but we do carry out checks to ensure the inquiry genuinely is from law enforcement).
In cases where we were approached by the recording industry we do not provide personal details. However, if they provide us with credible evidence that one of our customers is using the net to commit acts of piracy or infringe on copyright, we will take action ourselves, either warning the customer, or closing their account immediately, depending on the seriousness of what they're doing. As stated, we believe in the right to privacy, but that doesn't mean we want our network used for illegal activity.
Norm writes: I have new problem with the receipt of emails. The messages do not come to the top of my inbox, but sometimes appear in the middle or anywhere in the inbox of already read messages, or even in the deleted column. Can you advise how to clear this nuisance?
Hi Norm, and thanks for your e-mail. I'll assume you're using Outlook or Outlook Express as your e-mail software.
I'm not sure about e-mails ending up in the deleted column or what that means, but I can tell you that you can alter the order in which messages are displayed by clicking on the grey header at the top of each column (From, To, Subject, received, etc). If you click From, for example, all your messages will be displayed in alphabetical order according to who they are from. If you click it again, they'll be displayed in reverse-alphabetical order. Perhaps you've inadvertently clicked the From header so your e-mails are no longer displaying in time order.
Click Received, and this should make Outlook Express display them at the top again according to the order in which they were received. Click Received again if you want them displayed in reverse order. Have a bit of a play around by clicking the various headers to see what the effects are.
Outlook Express also allows you to customise what columns there are. If you right-click on one of the grey headers, and then left click on "Columns," you'll find you can add and remove different ways to sort your e-mail. You can also change the order of whatever columns are there by click-dragging them horizontally.
I hope that helps.
Peter writes: Hi Rob, Just a note of appreciation to the Actrix team for the efficacy of the spam filter. I went straight to the web site this morning to see if there was any garbage in the Inbox before downloading and was delighted to find there was none - but there was a whopping 112 sitting in the Spam Folder for disposal.
That speaks volumes for the Actrix filtering system and I am sure I'm not alone in wishing to express a sincere thanks to all concerned. Your next newsletter might be an appropriate avenue. Kind Regards, Peter
Hi Peter, and thanks for taking the time to write and say so. Those readers wanting to check their own spam folders should log in to My Actrix on our homepage (www.actrix.co.nz) and choose Web Mail and Spam Folder.
Roscoe writes: When logging in to "My Actrix" the auto complete feature gives me options for my user name including versions I have misspelled. Can you remind me how to clear the record of previous entries if I want to?
Hi Roscoe, I think what you're looking for is Internet Explorer's "Clear auto-complete" function. You can find this under Tools, then Internet Options. Go to the Content tab and click AutoComplete under Personal Information. There's a "Clear Forms" button in there you can click that should purge the lot for you.
Interesting sites (Click the picture links to access the sites)
Please note: Actrix supplies links to these sites for your interest and possible use. We cannot endorse or take any responsibility for their contents.
Got a site you think would be neat to share with other readers? Click here to e-mail and let me know!
http://stevenscreek.com/goodies/calories.shtml - How many hours per day do you spend sleeping, sitting, and exercising in various ways? Put a few figures into the fields along with your age and gender and find out how many calories you burn in a normal day.
|Google Image Labeler
http://images.google.com/imagelabeler/ - How does Google label all those images? Well, one of the ways is by asking for your help. "You'll be randomly paired with a partner who's online and using the feature. Over a 90-second period, you and your partner will be shown the same set of images and asked to provide as many labels as possible to describe each image you see. When your label matches your partner's label, you'll earn some points and move on to the next image until time runs out."
|Watch the earth breathe
www.breathingearth.net/ - "Welcome to Breathing Earth. This presentation displays the carbon dioxide emission levels of every country in the world, as well as their birth and death rates - all in real time." Every effort has been made to ensure the presentation uses the most accurate and up-to-date data available.
|Things We Will Never
See On Star Trek
http://winn.com/bs/st-never.html - The captain has to make a difficult decision about a less advanced people which is made a great deal easier by the Starfleet Prime Directive. Some of the crew visits the holodeck and it works properly. The crew of the Enterprise discovers a totally new lifeform, which later turns out to be a rather well-known old life-form wearing a funny hat. Troi is able to explain her accent. And so many more!
http://www.imaginationcubed.com/Imagine?aIsOldDrawing=Y - This is a neat little tool that would often have come in handy at manager's meetings when we couldn't find a spare whiteboard. You can choose from an array of tools, stamps and colours just like with a real whiteboard, and when you're finished you can print out what you've done just like with those big flash printable whiteboards.
|The Book of Clichés
http://utopia.knoware.nl/users/sybev/cliche/ - "The Book of Clichés lists phrases to say in times of trouble in a number of categories. It all started when I was in an unpleasant situation for a while, and found myself saying things like listed here, apparently in order to convince myself of something. I was not sure if it helped, but I realised that there are phrases for most of the painful situations."
|Daily Lit by E-mail
http://dailylit.com/ - "Do you spend hours each day reading email but [not] find the time to read books? DailyLit brings books right into your inbox in convenient small messages that take less than 5 minutes to read." Each book is in the public domain, and they have a reasonable selection to browse and choose from.
So You Wanna?
http://www.soyouwanna.com/ - So You Wanna is a website that teaches you how to do all the things nobody taught you in school. There are all sorts of categories to sift through, and you may well discover a whole lot of things that you didn't even realise you could have not learned at school. Whether you want to leanr how to play poker, write a business plan or get a sex change, you'll find direction here.
|5 Years on - 101 Questions about 9/11
http://tumeke.blogspot.com/2006/09/5-years-on-101-questions-about-911_11.html - This New Zealand blog site lists 101 interesting questions about the September 11 attacks in the U.S. But just to show we're balanced, here's an essay by Phil Molé of the Skeptics Society refuting some of the conspiracy theories: http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/06-09-11.html.
|Bizarre deaths in History
www.pastfinders.net/bizarre%20deaths.htm - Did you know that Aeschylus died when an eagle dropped a turtle on his head, or that Francis bacon died stuffing snow into a chicken. Well now you do!
Music download deal bypasses NZ: Revenue will come from advertisements featured on the website, although questions remain over how the artists featured will be paid. Click here for more.
Internet 'bullet train' launched: Universities and research organisations have hopped on to a super-high speed internet "bullet train" while most New Zealanders are still on a railcar stopping at all stations. Click here for more.
Spam okay if not for profit: A select committee has recommended a major change to the Government's anti-spam bill, suggesting anyone should be able to send unsolicited emails that are of an entirely non-commercial nature and need not desist even if asked to do so by the recipient. Click here for more.
First-day funk as parliament's new website fails initial public test: Parliament’s brand-new website suffered an embarrassing failure on its first day, despite performing faultlessly in tests, according to a spokesman for the company that developed the website, Terabyte. Click here for more.
Justice finally served online: The wheels of justice turned slowly, but the Justice Ministry is finally publishing High Court, Appeals Court and Supreme Court decisions on its website as a matter of course. Click here for more.
Air NZ looks at inflight internet options: Air New Zealand has begun surveying passengers to see if they are keen to use cellphones and access e-mail and the internet on planes. Click here for more.
Safety first for kids on the net: Hector Protector, to give him his full name, is an animated bottlenose dolphin; his "world" is a collection of high-quality educational resources to help keep children aged three to 10 safe when they are online. Click here for more.
Don't hold your breath for iTunes here: A spokeswoman for Apple Australia, Fiona Martin, said that while the sole iTunes music store in Australia has been open for just under a year, she had no information about a New Zealand equivalent. Click here for more.
Online Kiwis tricked into laundering dirty money: An online scam fooled Kiwi Internet users into allowing their bank accounts to be used in an international money-laundering scheme. Click here for more.
NY Times blocks UK readers from terrorism story: A New York Times decision to block British online readers from seeing a story about London terrorism suspects raises new questions on restricting the flow of information in the internet age, legal and media experts say. Click here for more.
The Firefox, IE Race to The Finish: Mozilla is a step closer to the final release of Firefox 2.0 today, with the official release of Beta 2. Click here for more.
Ye olde Google News: Stories from the 1700s: The goal of the service is to allow users to explore history as it unfolded," said Anurag Acharya, a top Google engineer who helped develop the news archive search. Click here for more.
YouTube's Lonelygirl15 outed as a phoney: For three months now, the confessional videos of an American teenager broadcasting from her bedroom have transfixed thousands of regulars on the YouTube video-sharing site. Click here for more.
Life lessons in virtual adultery: So to keep an eye on their loved ones, some spouses are paying real money to in-game detectives, to snoop on the character or avatar used by their real world partner. Click here for more.
Anti-spam crusaders slapped with $11.7m judgement: A US court has ordered anti-spam organisation Spamhaus to pay $11.7m in damages for "illegally" listing email marketing firm e360insight as an affiliate of a known spammer... Click here for more.
Spam 'research project' run by spammers?: Antivirus firm Sophos suspects that spammers have, under the guise of a 'sociological research project', been harvesting e-mail addresses for future campaigns. Click here for more.
Jealous girlfriend held in MySpace.com murder plot: A 22-year-old woman was arrested after authorities say she tried to hire someone to kill another woman whose photo appeared on her boyfriend's MySpace.com Web page. Click here for more.
Armageddon website puts apocalypse on hold: Those among you who are increasingly concerned that the end of the world is indeed nigh - as evidenced by natural disaster, war, plague, famine and the increasingly unpredictable behaviour of Naomi Campbell... Click here for more.
Old British phone books go online: People searching their ancestry have been given an online boost after British Telecom launched more than one hundred years of their phone books on the web. Click here for more.
Our house is a very very very run-down house: "I had to fight dirty ... I threw sand in its eye, knee-capped it with a pipe, and stabbed it in the face." Welcome to the entertaining world of home improvement blogs. Click here for more.
Will Citizendium become Wikipedia 2.0?: The long-term viability of online encyclopedia Wikipedia has once again been thrust into the spotlight after one of its founders launched a new knowledge sharing wiki project called Citizendium. Click here for more.
Internet's future in 2020 debated: The internet will be a thriving, low-cost network of billions of devices by 2020, says a major survey of leading technology thinkers. Click here for more.
Could you be addicted to the internet?: Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is one of the new psychopathologies of the internet era. Click here for more.
Lovers use net for revenge: Spurned lovers are taking revenge on their ex-partners by posting sexually explicit pictures and videos of them on websites, internet safety specialists warn. Click here for more.
Criminals flocking to the internet: Criminals are increasingly trying to trick citizens into giving them their bank account details, according to a new survey which showed such "phishing" attempts almost doubled in the first six months. Click here for more.
Spam trail uncovers junk empire: An investigation into a seemingly routine series of spam messages has revealed how sophisticated the business of online crime has become. Click here for more.
'Adware' attack on privacy tool: Software that claimed to provide increased privacy whilst surfing the web has been criticised by computer experts and the blogging community. Click here for more.
Concerns over security software: There are many ways to provide security, one of which is to keep harmful elements away from those parts or people they may want to damage. Exclusion is often the only way society can defend itself. Click here for more.
No guarantees when it comes to Web privacy: Can people really tell what I search for over the Internet? You may be searching from the privacy of your home, but when it comes to just about anything online, there's no guarantee of privacy. Click here for more.
Internet crime to hit homes hard: Home computer users are now the favourite targets of hi-tech criminals, reveals research. Click here for more.
Microsoft sues British spammer for Hotmail breach: Microsoft has won what it described as the largest reported civil award against a spammer in Europe. The software giant says it won a court order requiring spammer Paul Fox to pay £45,000. Click here for more.
Browser flaw seen on porn sites: Microsoft has issued warnings about a serious flaw in Internet Explorer that allows attackers to hijack a PC via the popular browser. Click here for more.
Open Source Windows Clone Coming Soon?: It is quite unlikely that any of us will ever see an open source version of Microsoft Windows in our lifetimes. Or is it? Click here for more.
Firefox 2.0 Beta Tweaking Its Look: Firefox 2.0 Beta 2 introduces a visual refresh for the Firefox browser. Click here for more.
IE For Linux?: Internet Explorer has been the dominant Web browser (almost) since the birth of the Web. It runs on Microsoft's Windows and on Apple's Mac, but it has never been officially supported on Linux. Click here for more.
Linux wins over new fans: Linux is shedding its hard-core techie image in a bid to woo ordinary human beings seeking an easy-to-use operating system that can be downloaded for free. Click here for more.
Just how buggy is Firefox?: Security researchers that carried out a code analysis of popular open source browser Firefox using automated tools, have discovered scores of potential defects and security vulnerabilities despite coming to the conclusion that the software was generally well written. Click here for more.
Is PHP The Cure For The 'Broken' Web?: "The Web is pretty much broken, we can all go home now," Lerdorf said somewhat sarcastically to the capacity crowd. "Luckily most people don't realize that it's broken." Click here for more.
Linux Developers Reject GPLv3: A who's who list of the top Linux kernel developers has joined Torvalds in rejection of the proposed GPLv3. If it ain't broke don't fix it, they say. Click here for more.
Noisy worshippers outed by website: A website "naming and shaming" noisy churches has received an overwhelming response, according to its creators. Click here for more.
Desperate Catholics find "rent-a-priest" online: They turn to a web site with 2,500 Catholic priests in a national database known as "God's Yellow Pages." Click here for more.
Three-year-old buys pink convertible on eBay: Jack Neal briefly became the proud owner of a pink convertible car after he managed to buy it for 9,000 pounds ($NZ25,900) on the Internet despite being only three years old. Click here for more.
Each month we dredge through our archives to pull out stories from the Actrix Newsletter of exactly five years ago. Sometimes these stories will show just how much the net has changed in such a short time, and sometimes they'll be included just because they're interesting.
Attacks from the heart of the net: As the security improves on one part of the internet, malicious hackers are changing their tactics to take advantage of lapses elsewhere. Click here for more.
Of Mixed Messages, Linux and XP: Members of the Linux community are mostly apathetic toward the Microsoft XP launch, including leading development companies Red Hat and Ximian. Click here for more.
ICANN Stifling Public's Voice?: Despite what critics call overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the committee formed to determine how the Internet should be run finds that less, not more, individual representation is needed at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Click here for more.
Thanks again for reading the Actrix newsletter. Feedback can be sent to me via the e-mail address listed below. Please limit this to comments/suggestions regarding the newsletter. Non-forum requests for support should go to the Actrix Help Desk (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to the Accounts Department (email@example.com).