The Actrix Online Informer is published each month to help keep
Actrix customers up-to-date with what's happening on the Internet, and to
help ensure they have every opportunity to benefit from it.
Welcome to the June 2009 Actrix Online Informer!
Welcome to the June Actrix Online Informer. May has been a bit of a month in terms of spam and dodgy emails, so much of this Actrix Online Informer is dedicated to these matters. Problems like this are such a scourge, and one wonders how we'll be dealing with them, and whether they'll still be a problem in 20 years. In that vein, there's an interesting video from 1969 predicting what the Internet would look like in the 'A few more goodies from YouTube' section. Readers' Forum is a bit light this month as many of the emails sent in were about spam and phishing emails.
Anyway, I hope there's something of interest for you this time around. Feel free to drop me a line: email@example.com.
I suppose you've noticed the spam?
Judging from the amount of emails received by The Informer and by the help desk, customers are noticing that we've been deluged with spam in recent weeks. Unfortunately, most of it has been of a sexual nature. We regret this, and want to assure customers we hate it as much as they do. I thought I'd provide an update on what we're doing about it, and whether there's any light at the end of the tunnel.
Basically, the war against spam is an ongoing effort with both sides engaging in an arms race of sorts. The spammers change tactics and introduce new ideas to get past spam filters. Spam filtering software learns and catches up. Once spam is becoming successfully controlled, tactics are changed again, and so on ad finitum.
Lately spam levels have been higher than usual and new variations on the old tactic of sending spam as an image are being used. As spam filters aren't people, they find it difficult to analyse an image to understand what it may say, so other filtering techniques have to be employed, such as where they're coming from, what subject lines say, image size etc. In the meantime, technicians have to be really careful not to overdo the filtering rules or legitimate emails will start getting filtered off. And it's better to err on the side of caution; better you get the odd spam email, than your important business proposal gets filtered off because it had characteristics similar to current spam emails.
In our efforts to keep the tide of spam at bay we are currently in the midst of a major mail platform upgrade which includes significant updates to our spam filtering systems. One mail server has been upgraded and is performing very well, identifying close to 100% of spam correctly under test conditions. This new server has now been added to the pool which should result in some reduction in spam levels. Once the new system has been sufficiently tweaked and tested the remaining mail servers will be upgraded which should hopefully result in a very significant reduction in spam making it through to customers.
We appreciate your patience in the meantime, and all the spam samples that have been submitted. We hope to have the entire mail platform upgrade completed very soon. So there is some light at the end of the tunnel, but there's no real indication that the ongoing 'arms race' will end in the foreseeable future. Be assured we are catching a lot of it for now. When nine out of 10 emails on the Internet are spam (see Cyberspace News Snippets below), just imagine what the situation would be if the filters weren't in place!
There's been quite a rash of dodgy emails received by Actrix customers this month. One was a definite phishing attempt designed to get customers' passwords and personal details, and a few were just silly annoyances. I am not sure why May was the 2009 month for questionable emails, but it was.
Give us your details or you'll lose it all
The first started showing up around or shortly after 20 May and purported to come from the ACTRIX WEB MAIL TEAM. Now we don't actually have a dedicated Actrix web mail team, but our customers may have missed that first vital clue that this is a dodgy email. The message goes on to announce that "we" are upgrading our web mail service and that it will be shut down for 12 hours on 31 May for scheduled maintenance.
Okay, that sounds a little bit plausible, but then it goes on to say "we" will be deleting all web mail accounts to make room for new accounts, and implies that if you want to save your web mail email account, you need to reply to the email with your personal details, including your email address (from which they'll get your user name) and your password.
First of all this would be quite a stupid (and legally fraught) way to do business (announcing to customers you're going to delete their email unless they ask you not to). Secondly, we would never ask you to put your personal details and passwords in an email. Emails are as open as postcards when they travel across the Internet so they should never contain sensitive information. Secondly, all reputable companies make it a policy never to ask you for your password in email. That should be a red flag, whether an email appears to come from us, from your bank, from Trade Me or whatever.
You can be fairly sure that other ISPs have been hit with a similar scam. We have already set filters in place to catch this one, but if they change tactics and more get through, please delete the email. If you're the good-natured and trusting sort and have already replied with your personal details, please log in and change them as quickly as possible. Call our help desk on 0800 228749 if you need help doing that or further advice.
AAAAAA way to protect your friends
A customer contacted me recently about another email she'd received. This one said that a sure-fire way to protect your friends from a virus infection spreading to them from your computer is to add a new contact to your address book simply called 'A'. with aaaaaaa@aaaaa as the listed email address. Then when a worm infects your machine and tries to use your address book to spread itself, you'll immediately know because you receive a bounce from the non-existent aaaaaaa@aaaaa email address. This will alert you and you can take steps to rid yourself of the virus/worm.
This email has been around for a while. Though following this advice probably won't do any harm, it's basically rubbish and won’t work. It assumes viruses behave like humans and work systematically through address books. In fact they rarely behave that way, and most have their own mechanisms to find email addresses to send themselves on to.
Here's a page on the Urban Myths website that explains a little more about it. http://www.snopes.com/computer/virus/quickfix.asp. In fact, if you ever receive this sort of 'helpful advice' and want to know whether it's true, Urban myths (Snopes) is a great website you can use to check.
How to make you act like a virus
The next dodgy email a customer asked me about this month was a warning about a hacker named Simon Ashton who will try and contact you by email. This guy seems like quite the scary genius, because if you add him to your address book he will then be able to figure out your computer ID and hack into your system, and all of your friends' systems. This is unmitigated nonsense and doesn't make any sense at all, but it is designed to make you feel uneasy. To further your unease, it claims that this terrible news has just been announced by both Microsoft and Norton.
The fun really starts with this email when it encourages you to send the warning on to all the people in your address book and encourage them to send it on as well. A lot of people do send these emails on because they're not sure whether it's possible for someone to get access to your PC just because they're in your address book (it isn't) and they think it is better to be safe than sorry. Fair enough, but the irony is that in doing so, you have unwittingly acted like a virus yourself, sending the email out to everyone and trying to get them to send it on. That's the joke. Unfortunately, most people find emails like this really annoying. That's not a joke, especially if your name is legitimately Simon Ashton.
Microsoft wants to give you money
The next email I was asked about is one for the Tui billboards. Guess what, your email address has been drawn at random by Microsoft and AOL and they want to give you £500,000 which will somehow help ensure Internet Explorer remains the most widely used browser. To claim your prize, however, you need to email them back a whole lot of personal information about yourself. They don't ask for your user name, password or bank account number, but no doubt – if you're trusting enough to send them your name, address, phone number and a few other details – they'll be back in contact to ask more about you.
Who knows what their eventual plans are for all your personal information? It could be to lure you into handing over more, or it could be about eventual identity theft. The important thing is not to find out more by not replying. By all accounts Bill Gates seems to be a nice enough guy, but he's not going to give you ridiculous amounts of money for no good reason.
Spotting the scams
This month I also received offers from Russian women wanting to marry me (join the queue ladies and have your bank statements ready) and the usual emails about how I'm probably related to someone who has just died without an apparent heir, but customers haven't contacted me about these so I assume we're all 'onto' them.
Most of these types of emails are easy to spot if you know what to look for. An authentic email from Microsoft wouldn't have a copyright notice from 2006 in its footer. A warning about a terrible hacker or virus would know that Norton isn't a company. The company is Symantec and their product is called Norton. Valid emails from reputable companies aren't full of bad grammar and woeful sentence structure.
Those wanting to read more could try our series of recent articles on Internet-based scams.
Here we go again with a few more great YouTube videos. If you've seen something great on YouTube you think others would like to see, let me know and send me a link: firstname.lastname@example.org.
These videos have not been imbedded here so you will need to click the link below each one.
If you'd like to ask a question or request some help on any Actrix or Internet-related matter. Simply send us 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 turn up under the Helpful Tips section on the Actrix home page (www.actrix.co.nz).
Many forum emails this month were about spam and dodgy emails. See articles above.
Wendy writes: We are still on dial-up as are a number of our friends as our usage is less than 15 hours a month. We would all like to know why, with so many people switching to broadband, is dial-up getting slower. It should be faster with not so many using the service.
Hi Wendy, While I can’t fault your logic, the picture is a little more complicated. One cause of dialup slowness could be that there are too many users connected, but that is not a problem at Actrix. There are two other and likely cause of dialup slowness. The first is your local conditions, and the state of your phone line, or conditions between your house and the exchange. Things like faxes and nearby can also play havoc with dialup speed.
The second likely cause of dialup slowness is spyware. Most computers have some form or other of spyware on them. These programs are always trying to contact ‘home’ so they tend to use a lot of your bandwidth and this is especially noticeable on dialup.
One other consideration may or may not be relevant in this case. Internet experience these days can appear to be slower because web developers are now creating much larger sites that are designed for broadband users and often little consideration is given to those still on dial-up. For example, five years ago the standard most developers worked to was no more than 75Kb per page. These days the front page of a lot of websites can be 400Kb or more and, as a result, browsing these sites takes a lot longer on a dial-up connection.
In the end, it might be a good idea to give our help desk a call on 0800 228749. They may be able to help you track down the cause of the slowness and suggest ways of overcoming it.
Ron writes: Could you please tell me what requirements/features my computer must have to log on to live sport. E.g. do I need broadband?
Hi Ron, I'm not 100% sure whether by "live sport", you're referring to a specific service, but if you mean do you need broadband to watch live sport streamed over the Internet, then the answer is yes and no, and mostly yes. Dialup just doesn't have the speed to accommodate most live streaming which means your video stream will stop all the time while your computer downloads more video. You can deal with this to some extent by clicking pause and waiting for the whole stream to download before starting again, but that's going to become frustrating very quickly. If you're interested in pursuing broadband check out a recent article we ran about getting connected to broadband – in questions and answers.
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!
Ancient Chinese inventions
http://listverse.com/history/10-great-ancient-chinese-inventions/ – "It is well known that China has an ancient and glorious history, from the feudal periods ending in 222 BC through the three Imperial and Intermediate Eras, up to the Modern era – over 4000 years of dynastic reigns. It may also be well known that China is the source of many wonderful and useful inventions from spaghetti to gunpowder. These, however, are slightly different: Chinese inventions and developments that were not known to or adopted by the Western (European) world for many decades and sometimes centuries after they were common place in China."
17 foods with the most caloric bang for your buck
www.manolith.com/2009/04/19/17-foods-with-the-most-caloric-bang-for-your-buck/ – "Have you ever wondered what foods have the highest Caloric counts? Have you ever wondered what they foods had the highest calorie count per $1? Well, for the most part these are synonymous. The following is a list of some of the worst foods in the world for you – in health terms – as well as a breakdown of exactly how you get what you are paying for. After reading this, you'll mostly likely vow to never eat these menu items again." Thankfully, most of these items are only available in America.
Make your own Einstein image|
http://www.hetemeel.com/einsteinform.php – These things are pretty awesome and I can't think of a better use for the Internet. The photo is of Einstein writing on the board – something with and E and an MC in it. But you can substitute your own text and re-generate the image. Great for backing up that story you have about an afternoon with Einstein where he was so impressed that he wrote how awesome you were on his blackboard.
http://travellr.com/ – Travellr is a new service that allows travellers to connect with like-minded locals and past visitors to get relevant and personalised answers about places they are thinking of travelling to. It's a great example of how the Internet is making the world a smaller place, and a terrific idea over-all.
World War poster collection|
http://digital.library.unt.edu/browse/department/rarebooks/wwpc/ – "This collection includes more than 600 original World War I and World War II posters. The World War I posters include a number of French examples, while the World War II group consists primarily of American home front posters. War bonds, rationing, enlistment, security, and morale are all topics treated by these artworks. The collection includes posters by such famous artists as Normal Rockwell, Theodore Geisel (better known as Dr Seuss), and Boris Artzybasheff."
Ten sports stars and their bizarre pre-game rituals|
www.newscientist.com/article/dn17158-ten-sports-stars-and-their-bizarre-pregame-rituals.html – Who says obsessive compulsive disorders can't make you better at sport? Here are 10 examples famous sports stars have confessed to of the odd habits that help them stay focused. They were compiled by psychiatrist Thomas Newmark of Cooper University Hospital in New Jersey, and New Scientist staff.
The White House residence – third floor
www.whitehousemuseum.org/Floor3.htm – The third floor of the White House is where the Obama family relaxes. It used to be an attic and was once a dormitory for slaves. But these days it has been considerably revamped with all sorts of leisure rooms. The diagram gives you an overview which you can click to see pictures of the various rooms. More information about each room is provided when you click as well. Almost makes you want to be president! Almost...
http://crosstips.org/ – Are you a big crossword fan who hates being stumped? Crosstips is a dream come true. Enter the length of the word and fill in the known letters and voila, you get a list of possible words that could work for you. For example, what's a 8-letter word that starts with an I, ends with an r, and the third letter is f?
http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page – If you're a fan of the TV show Lost, then you're probably a pretty confused individual. Like every other avid watcher, you'll be wondering who's a goodie, who's a baddie, who the dickens Jacob is, and how all the pieces fit together. Lostpedia is for you. It has detailed plot summaries of every episode, and essays about every character and feature of the show (look under 'Characters' and 'Features' in the menu). Be warned that we're a little behind, so you may be tempted to read about episodes yet to screen here.
Are you smart enough to donate rice?|
http://freerice.com/index.php – This site asks you increasingly difficult vocabulary questions and donates 10 grains of rice towards world hunger for every one you get right (and be warned, they get hard pretty quickly!). Find out more about the project and how it works by clicking on FAQ.
What's been happening in the online world?
Internet's effects may be taught: The lasting effects of the internet on children's lives could soon be as big a part of the school health curriculum as sexuality, drug use and contraception. Click here for more.
Google rolls out search enhancements: Kiwi Google users will be the first to get their hands on some new advanced search tools. Click here for more.
$1 tractor auction heads to the wire: They have been "hanging on" for a week but the couple who put a tractor up for auction with a $1 reserve, with a farm thrown in for free, have just over two days to wait to see how much their gamble will be worth. Click here for more.
Health crash not caused by Conficker: A major server crash at the Ministry of Health had nothing to do with the Confickr worm that had earlier plagued the ministry, a spokesman says. Click here for more.
School lunches go online: Not many people consider starting a business in the midst of a recession, let alone being six months' pregnant as well, but Emma Griffin did. The 32-year-old Christchurch mother of three children started trialling Kids School Lunches at the beginning of the year, and is gearing up to expand the business. Click here for more.
Online shopping mall to showcase NZ's wares to the world : A Wellington company is about to start what last week's Entrepreneurial Summit ordered - a New Zealand Inc online shopping mall. Click here for more.
Facebook turns blind eye to racism: Facebook has again come under fire for ignoring racism on the site after it refused to ban controversial groups that deny the Holocaust. Click here for more.
Twitter 'not for sale': The popular micro-blogging and social networking service Twitter is not for sale, one of the company's founders said on TV. Click here for more.
Heat on internet bullies: Backyard bullies have moved into cyberspace with such speed and aggression that police, governments and lawyers are testing new ways of slowing their spread. Click here for more.
Comedian takes top Webby award: Comedian Jimmy Fallon, who put his act through a test drive on the internet before unveiling his late-night talk show on television, has won a Webby Award as the internet's "Person of the Year." Click here for more.
Susan Boyle in most watched videos of all time : US rapper Soulja Boy's Crank That music video is the most viewed viral web hit of all time, but in just three weeks Scottish singer Susan Boyle is well on her way to grabbing that crown, web analytics firm Visible Measures says. Click here for more.
Swine flu snake oil sites get roasted by FDA : The US Food and Drug Administration has found at least 20 websites that may be marketing products fraudulently with claims that they guard against or cure swine flu, an agency official said. Click here for more.
'Google killer' could change the internet forever: The biggest internet revolution for a generation will be unveiled this month with the launch of software that will understand questions and give specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never managed before. Click here for more.
Internet watchdog: Drop in child porn sites: The number of international websites showing sexual abuse of children has fallen by about 10 per cent, but the images on these sites are more violent, a British internet watchdog said. Click here for more.
Zombie computers 'on the rise': Twelve million computers have been hijacked by cyber-criminals and detected by security vendor McAfee since January, the firm has said. Click here for more.
Robot to create Facebook profile: Facebook could soon be helping bridge the divide between humans and robots. Researchers are giving a robot its own Facebook profile page to help foster meaningful relationships with people. Click here for more.
Hate goes viral on the internet: Militants and hate groups increasingly use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and YouTube as propaganda tools to recruit new members, according to a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Click here for more.
New search engine too nerdy?: Click here for more.
: When a free web service called WolframAlpha launches in the coming days, the general public will get to try a "computational knowledge engine" that has had technology insiders buzzing because of its oracle-like ability to spit out answers and make calculations. Click here for more.
Facebook bad for people skills: In a sketch from comedians Idiots of Ants, a man knocks on the door of a schoolmate from 20 years ago and tries to "friend" him. As the scene plays out, it becomes painfully apparent the two thirtysomethings have nothing in common Click here for more.
Don't believe everything you read: the great Wikipedia hoax : When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he was testing how our globalised, increasingly internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news. Click here for more.
Street View under fire in Japan: Google's Street View service suffered a second blow this week after numerous complaints in Japan forced the firm to start reshooting all the photos. Click here for more.
Net firms reject 'policing role': Internet service providers (ISPs) have rejected calls for them to police the net and cut off users who repeatedly file-share material unlawfully. Click here for more.
Google suffers major failure: Google suffered a significant outsge yesterday, with Google Search and Google News performance slowing to a crawl, while the trouble seemed to spread from Gmail to Google Maps and Google Reader. Click here for more.
Net a Source of Swine Flu (Mis)Information: There's some useful information about swine flu (or H1N1) on the Internet – and a tremendous volume of noise. Click here for more.
Muslim clerics deliver Facebook edict: Muslim clerics debating the exploding popularity of Facebook in Indonesia say followers can use the networking site to connect with friends or for work - but not to gossip or flirt. Click here for more.
1000 web users a day face disconnection under French law: A thousand French internet users a day could be taken off-line following approval of President Nicolas Sarkozy's pet project - an unprecedented law to cut the internet connections of people who repeatedly pirate music and movies. Click here for more.
Terrorist groups use Facebook as recruiting tool: Israel's internal intelligence service has urged the public to exercise caution when using Facebook, saying Arabs are trying to recruit spies on the popular social networking site. Click here for more.
All Options on the Table for News in the Net Age: With newspapers on the brink, debate in Washington open to nonprofit status, new payment models, and anything else that's not a bailout. Click here for more.
Parents warned of Wikiporn risk: Parents have been warned not to let children use the website Wikipedia unsupervised after an entry on a popular children's book was edited to contain pornographic material. Click here for more.
Spam volume increases despite swine flu: Nine in ten emails in circulation are spam, according to the latest stats from email security services outfit MessageLabs. Click here for more.
NZ lagging in sensitive data security: Small and medium-sized New Zealand companies are more susceptible to IT security breaches, including loss of confidential data, than similar organisations overseas, according to a global survey. Click here for more.
Credit card code to combat fraud: A credit card with a built-in display is being tested by Visa with the aim of reducing online fraud. The Emue Card generates and displays a unique code each time it is used. Click here for more.
Facebook users warned over renewed phishing assault: Facebook users are facing a new wave of phishing attacks following a previous barrage in April. Fraudulent messages from already compromised accounts on the social networking website attempt to trick users into handing over their login details Click here for more.
Researchers Seize Botnet, Peer Into Net's Dark Side: For 10 days, a UCSB team monitored a botnet known for stealing credit card data and bank account credentials. Click here for more.
Consumers Left in the Dark on Net Privacy: Experts may debate whether there's more than meets the eye in online data collection, but they agree that Internet users need education. Click here for more.
Keep your online passwords safe: Life used to be simple. We could visit a bank and sign for our money. When eftpos and ATMs appeared, our first passwords were four-digit Pin codes. Click here for more.
Study finds risk factors for girls online: A history of childhood abuse and use of a provocative online identity increase the risk that girls will be victimized by someone they meet on the Internet, according to a study appearing in the June issue of Pediatrics. Click here for more.
ID theft use of credit cards leaps: ID theft victims are much more likely to get hit with fraudulent charges on their credit cards or debit cards, according to a new study from the Identity Theft Resource Center that tracks the effects of ID theft. Click here for more.
Microsoft pulls the trigger on 5000 staff: When Microsoft announced its first-ever company wide layoffs, the software maker cut 1,400 of the jobs it said it would slash, with the rest coming over an 18-month period. Click here for more.
Mozilla mauls Microsoft on IE, Windows 7 bundle: Mozilla has issued a broadside against Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 7 operating system, by claiming it stifles the browser market and gives Redmond’s Internet Explorer an unfair advantage over its rivals. Click here for more.
Mozilla invites all comers on post-tab future: Having finally caught up to - and embraced - tabbed browsing in Internet Explorer, the ground could again be shifting for Microsoft. Mozilla Labs has launched a competition challenging developers to re-invent the whole idea of tabbed browsing to help return to a clean and usable interface. Click here for more.
: Click here for more.
Mac users safe no more: For the past two decades Macintosh users have been able to look with pity upon PC users struggling against torrents of computer viruses, trojans, worms, phishing and other assorted nastiness – what we now call malware. Click here for more.
Man delivers baby after YouTube tutorial: A father helped deliver his baby son after watching childbirth tutorials on YouTube. Marc Stephens said he had to act quickly when his wife Jo went into labour three weeks early, because she had a history of fast births with her previous children. Click here for more.
Nerds make the best lovers - survey: An anonymous study of 2000 British men and women puts IT nerds at the top of a list of lovers' occupations, The Sun newspaper reported. Click here for more.
Mum surfs net, then 3-year-old buys $20,000 digger: The parents of three-year-old Pipi Quinlan got a nasty shock when they found she had bought a $20,000 earth-moving digger on auction website Trade Me. 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.
Net-illiterate 'failing children': Internet-illiterate parents could leave their children on the wrong side of the digital divide, researchers have said. Click here for more.
The Internet, ranked No. 1, changed the world: Today, with a couple of clicks, you can go anywhere in the world without leaving your computer. Click here for more.
One in 20 'fall for online fraud': One in 20 UK internet users say they have lost money through online scams, research into spam emails suggests. Click here for more.
Americans are pants at password security: Two out three three people (180 of 272) approached in a downtown San Francisco street by researchers were happy to provide their password in exchange for a coffee gift card. Click here for more.
E-mails 'hurt IQ more than pot': Workers distracted by phone calls, e-mails and text messages suffer a greater loss of IQ than a person smoking marijuana, a British study shows. Click here for more.
Thanks again for reading the Actrix Online Informer. 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 (email@example.com) or to the Accounts Department (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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