January 07 Topics
Individual articles from Past Actrix Online Informers are
archived in alphabetical order.
January 07 Topics
January 07 Topics
Actrix Contact Info
Actrix Help Desk
Help Desk Hours
"Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal
by pack rats and vandalized nightly."
January 07 Topics
"If we are on a path of getting nowhere fast, technology is allowing us to get
nowhere faster and faster."
January 07 Topics
"Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think
we're being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I'm liable to be put away as insane for expressing that.
That's what's insane about it."
January 07 Topics
The Actrix Online Informer is published each 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.
All new name, but the same great taste! Welcome to the January 2007 edition, the first under our new name. We would like to wish all customers the very best for the holiday season and the new year. We thank you for your loyalty and custom over throughout 2006 in what is a very competitive and changing market.
We'll be open and working right through the break to help make sure you can stay electronically in touch with friends and family. The help desk will open normal hours most of the time (8am - 11pm). We'll be closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day, and will be closing early (7pm) on Christmas and New Year's Eve.
From here on, the Actrix Newsletter will be known as the Actrix Online Informer. It's great to have a better name at last. The only problem for us was that two customers suggested this name and we had to give away two first prizes to Brian and Lynn Lord, and to George Wright. We hope you enjoy your delivered Christmas hampers from New World, and six months of free Internet. Further consolation prizes of a month's free Internet have also been given to several others who suggested a name with the word "informer" in it. These were: Allistair Meikle, Bert Bunn, Anita Long, Jenifer Cartwright, Mark Emsley and Linda.
As I indicated last month, we had around 500 name submissions. It was really good to see so many customers get involved, and we really enjoyed reading some of the comments and suggestions that came through with the entries. Thanks you again to all who took the time to send something in! We really enjoyed this competition.
In an effort to provide a broader and more balanced range of services to our customers, Actrix has now launched Actrix Hardware. Please visit http://hardware.actrix.co.nz for a wide range of products at excellent prices.And check out the opening specials including 5% off as part of our opening sale. We're sure you will enjoy the online shopping experience.
Spam, sausage, spam, spam, bacon, tomato, and spam.....
In the famous Monty Python Spam sketch, the wonderful female impersonator Graham Chapman becomes increasingly agitated at her inability to order a breakfast not containing spam. "I don't want ANY spam!" she screams. But alas, even the Lobster Thermidor comes with a mandatory side-helping.
The most popular Internet lore says that unwanted or unsolicited e-mails came to be known as spam, because it's impossible to have the Internet without them. There are many competing stories, however, including that spamming originally referred to chatroom users in the early days of the net typing the word 'spam' over and over to drive away newcomers to the group. Others say spam is an acronym for "Stupid people's annoying messages", "Self-promoting advertising material", or even "Sh*t posing as messages".
Whichever of these is the real origin, the Monty Python version will always be preferred because the poor woman so prophetically and perfectly sums up how so many of us feel at times when we fire up our e-mail programme in the morning. One can almost hear the Vikings chanting in the background as e-mail after unwanted e-mail arrives, "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam...."
A lot has been written about spam both in the Actrix Newsletter in recent months, and around the web in general, and there are many conflicting statistics about how bad a problem it is. One thing is for certain. Spam is a plague of ever-burgeoning proportions, and, at least for the foreseeable future, it is here to stay.
This month we seek to sum up a lot of information about spam, and answer some basic questions about it in layperson's terms.
How did the spammers get my address in the first place?
Spammers 'harvest' e-mail addresses in a multitude of ways. The most common way is to send out little robot programs that trawl every website and newsgroup they can find recording every e-mail address they come across. They collect e-mails that have been forwarded to lots of people so they can copy out the e-mail addresses, and they offer free newsletters to anyone who will sign up with their e-mail address. Once they have the addresses, they are quickly sold and traded to other spammers. Sometimes they just set up a computer program to send their spam to a list of e-mail addresses made up of the most common user names and a particular ISP's domain name.
I clicked the link to unsubscribe, but it made no difference. Why is that?
Many spammers include an unsubscribe link in the e-mails, but this is just a trick. If you try to unsubscribe, you just confirm to them that they have a valid e-mail address. That makes you more valuable and even more likely to be sold or traded. Never reply to a spam e-mail either (even though sending back some well-chosen words of abuse may be tempting). It just achieves the same thing.
Sometimes I get spam e-mail that isn't addressed to me. Why is that?
It is very common for spammers to include lots of e-mail addresses in the 'To' field, the 'CC' (circulating or carbon copy) field and the 'BCC' (blind carbon or circulating copy) field of an e-mail. If your e-mail address has been included in the BCC field, it will turn up for you looking as if it was addressed to someone else. So, no, we haven't made a mistake and wrongly delivered someone else's e-mail to you.
Why do I sometimes get bounce messages coming to me for spam that I certainly never sent?
Spammers not only send spam to you. They also send spam from you. They don't want to deal with all the bounces their e-mails generate so they put someone else's address in the sending field of the e-mail. You'll usually find this happens in waves. Spammers will usually only use one fake sending address for a short time before they change it. It's all part of making themselves harder to trace.
Well, why can't they trace these guys and teach them a jolly good lesson? I thought you could tell where an e-mail comes from.
If only it were that simple. These days most spam comes from bot nets which are hard to trace. Bot nets are groups of ordinary user's computers that have been hijacked without their owner's knowledge. A special virus known as a Trojan is on their machine secretly sending out spam for its master while they surf the Internet blissfully unaware that they've become unknowing minions of an evil spamlord. This is why it is so important to have anti-virus software on your computer, and to scan your hard drive regularly. Individual machines that are part of a bot net are called 'zombies' and there are literally millions of them connected to the Internet at any one time.
Are spam e-mails dangerous?
In and of themselves, they rarely pose a danger. We're pretty good these days at catching attachment viruses before they get to you. Spam messages are only dangerous if you follow their instructions and click any links they contain. It is common for spam e-mails to pose as correspondence from your bank, for example. These 'phishing' e-mails ask you to go to a site and log in to fix up something that has gone horribly wrong with your account. But in reality, you’re taken to a fake site designed to capture your log in details. Make it a rule never to click a link in a spam e-mail of any sort.
Is it my imagination or did spam volumes go nuts for a while there over the last couple of months?
It's not your imagination. Spam volumes really have gone crazy. There are a number of reasons why spam volumes have increased. The first is that bot nets have become very big and very powerful. Some bot net barons claim to have a million machines under their control. Spammers have also become much cleverer at disguising their e-mails so that ISP spam filters can’t detect them. Lastly, the pump and dump scheme seems to be working very well for spammers, and as a result, more and more spammers are jumping on that bandwagon. In recent weeks, other ISPs were hit so hard that their mail servers went down completely, and their customers had mail delayed for days.
What's a pump and dump scam?
You may have noticed lots of spam e-mail lately encouraging you to invest in the stock of some company you’ve never heard of. Basically, the spammers have bought this stock cheaply. They’re hoping to 'pump' up interest and encourage as many suckers as possible to invest in the company so that the value of the stock will increase and they can sell and make a profit. When they do, the shares become worthless and those duped are left out of pocket. Usually, the company involved has not deliberately participated in the scheme.
Spam volumes have dropped again now though. Are the spammers all on holiday?
Absolutely not. Spam volumes are still higher than they've ever been. The Actrix techs have just put a lot of time and thought into designing the filters to better catch it. Spam volumes will always ebb and flow. Spammers will come up with new tricks and evade the filters for a while. Technicians will work out how to block it and volumes will die down again until the next round of new tricks surfaces. It's something that we're just going to have to live with to some extent.
Why on earth did this one spam come through. It clearly had the word 'Viagra' in the title.
As an ISP, and the agent for your electronic communications, we're actually in quite a difficult position when it comes to spam, and it's not always as easy to make rules that work in all situations. Around 75% of the e-mail that comes through our mail servers is caught as spam, so we're doing pretty well. If we turn up the filtering too high, the danger is that we’ll start filtering off legitimate e-mails along with the bad, which would be an even worse problem. Just imagine if a husband wrote an e-mail to his wife saying, "Don't forget to pick up my Viagra, and the real estate agent says we have to have the deposit in by 5 pm or we lose the house." If we blindly filtered off that e-mail just because it contained the word "Viagra", the domestic consequences for this hypothetical couple could have been pretty dire.
You can rest assured that we’re doing the best that we can, and we were quicker than most ISPs at getting on top of the last explosion.
Will changing my e-mail address help?
Well, yes, in the short term it will help, but probably not for long. It's an option if things have gotten so bad that you really can't stand it anymore, but before long spam will start finding its way to your new address as well. There are also a number of hassles involved with changing your e-mail address that might outweigh the advantages. These involve having to let your friends and correspondents know, and having to change your contact details at sites where you are a member such as TradeMe or PayPal.
So how do the spammers trick the filters?
Currently, the most common evasion technique is to send you an image of some text rather than text itself. A filter can look for certain patterns in written words and catch spam more easily that way, but it doesn’t have a human brain, and can’t actually read a picture. Lots of legitimate e-mails also have pictures in them, so the spam filter errs on the side of caution and lets the picture through. The spammers also change the size and name of the pictures they send very frequently so that filters can't learn to recognise them that way either.
Spammers also include random words of text in their e-mails. This reduces the ratio of known spam words in an e-mail making it harder for the filter to be sure. Because machines can't read and make sense of writing the way humans can, they can't tell sense from gibberish. Though they can do amazing calculations and assess an e-mail's spam likelihood in microseconds, they really aren't very literate in and of themselves.
So what does Actrix do with the spam it filters off?
Every e-mail that passes through our mail servers is assessed by the filters and assigned a points value according to how many 'spammish' characteristics it has. This will put it into one of three categories. If it receives very few points, it is likely to be a legitimate e-mail and it is allowed through to your mailbox. If it receives enough points to make us think it is probably spam, it will get filtered off into each individual customer's Spam folder where it will remain for one week before being completely obliterated. If it receives enough points to make it definitely spam, it is simply killed on the spot by the filters.
How can I check what's been filtered off to my spam folder?
It's easy. Go to the Actrix homepage at www.actrix.co.nx and log into My Actrix with your user name and password. Once inside, click on WebMail and Spam folder. Once inside WebMail, you can click the link to your Spam folder over on the left hand side. It is remotely impossible that our spam filters have filtered off a legitimate e-mail. So it does pay to check this one per week, especially if something you've been expecting hasn't arrived.
I am slightly insane and quite like spam and don't want you to filter my e-mail. Can I opt out of spam-filtering?
Sure. if you'd like to join what we call our "spam lover's list" you can turn of spam filtering yourself. Simply log into My Actrix, the choose Manage My Account/Configure Spam Filter, and disable it. It that's too much, just send an e-mail to email@example.com requesting that we cease filtering your mailbox. There is a very small number of user names currently on this list.
Do you guys still offer that CyberFilter thing, and what's that all about?
Yes we do. There's a fair bit of information about how it works on our website under Residential/Security/CyberFilter, and we won't duplicate all that here. It's a system that works according to customisable white, black and grey lists. if you have CyberFilter, no e-mail comes through to you unless the sending address is on your white list. E-mails from blacklisted addresses get bounced, and e-mail from anyone else receives a challenge e-mail automatically from our mail servers. These senders have to respond to that before their e-mail will come through to you, which is something spammers don't generally have time for.
CyberFilter probably works best in a domestic situation where you know where most of your e-mail will come from. It may not be the best solution for businesses where contact from unknown individuals is usually welcomed. The sort of challenge e-mail CyberFilter sends out may be a slight barrier to receiving new business.
Is there good software out there to help combat spam?
The popular Firefox browser has a companion email program known as Thunderbird (free at www.mozilla.com/en-US/thunderbird/). Thunderbird gets very good reviews, not only as a great email program, but also for its intelligent ability to learn about and filter off spam according to what you teach it.
If you're hesitant to change the e-mail programme you're used to, programs such as Cactus Spam Filter (free at www.codeode.com/spamfilter/) and Spam Bully (14 day trial www.spambully.com/) can interact with your e-mail program to do the same sort of thing.
One of the simplest approaches is to use something like MailWasher. Free at www.mailwasher.net/, MailWasher is a popular program developed in New Zealand which allows you to connect directly to your mailbox. You can then delete your spam before you open your email program to fully download your mail. Email Remover (free at http://www.email-remover.com/) does the same thing, but is even smaller and simpler to use.
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).
Kevin writes: Hi Rob, I received a spam email that was a re But the original message said it was from my email address. Could this mean one of these spammers has set me up as a botnet and if so is there a way of getting out of this?
Hi Kevin, No, this isn't a sign that you're part of a botnet. The spammer has just used your e-mail address as the 'from' setting in sending the spam. Anyone can put any address in that setting, and it doesn't mean that the spam has been sent from your computer. What you're experiencing is quite common, and not really a cause of concern except for the nuisance aspect.
While unlikely, it is entirely possible that your computer could be part of a botnet. The only way to be sure it's not is to use a reputable anti-virus program to scan your hard drive. This will pick up any trojan installed that might be sending out spam secretly via a back door. I wouldn't be worrying too much at this stage, though.
Maureen writes: I thought I would just say to you and your team how grateful I am that I am with Actrix and have the use of the Cyberfilter, I was away recently for 10 days and couldn't believe the amount of Spam that had collected in the Filter in that short time. So thank you all. I hope that you all have a peaceful and restful Christmas, and best wishes for the New Year. Regards, Maureen
Thanks Maureen for your kind words. We're very proud of our tech boys who put in some pretty long hours to get on top of the recent spam explosion. You'll probably find that volumes will still ebb and flow over time as spammers come up with new tricks to get around the latest filtering upgrades. It's a never-ending battle as this month's FAQ on spam shows!
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!
www.merriam-webster.com/info/06words.htm - Merriam-Webster's top ten words of the year for 2006 are out. This is interesting for people interested in words, or the relationship between language and culture. The words are chosen on the basis of votes cast by visitor's the the website. This top word for 2006 was newly coined in 2005. There is also a link to words of the year for the last few years.
|How to do stuff
www.wikihow.com/Special:Popularpages - Knowledge is power! how to run up a wall and flip, how to spin a pencil around your thumb, how to stop laughing at inappropriate times, how to guess someone's astrological sign... There's 500 of these!
www.dullmen.com - Are you ordinary and unexciting? Members of the Dull Men's Club certainly are, and they're not scared to admit it. This all-grey site celebrates the joys of being boring. There's no violence or scary scenes. You're even warned if a site linked to contains exclamation marks! What you do get is lots of information about allotment sheds, watching dehumidifiers dehumidify, and the tragedy of Tupperware museum closures.
| Honesty wallet test
http://wallettest.com/ - "100 wallets dropped in front of hidden cameras to test honesty... Each of the 100 wallets contained $2.10 in real money, a fake $50.00 gift certificate, some miscellaneous items and a clearly written ID card identifying the lost wallet's rightful owner. We were curious as to how honest people would be and wanted to see how different groups would compare to each other. For example, who would return the wallets more often... men or women? Young or old?"
| Fake your space
www.fakeyourspace.com/ - Do you need some online buddies? Fake Your Space sells friends on the socialising website MySpace. For NZ$1.45 per month you can have a gorgeous model for your best online friend, and write two comments a week for them to post on your MySpace page. You can even flirt with yourself through your imaginary friend, if you're into that. There are thousands of hunks and babes to choose from.
www.offthemark.com/xmas/xmas.htm - If your a fan of Larson's The Far Side, you'll probably also enjoy Mark Parisi's Off the Mark cartoons. Here's a whole lot of Christmas ones to help keep you from taking the festive season too seriously. Use the menu on the left to check out some non-Christmas cartoons.
http://www.eleceng.adelaide.edu.au/Personal/dabbott/imponderables.htm - If they're called imponderable, how come we're able to ponder them? Here's a collection of interesting questions from categories such as science, religion and philosophy. There's a wide range of topics, and there should be something to get just about anyone thinking a bit.
www.ferryhalim.com/orisinal/ - Sue Robb suggested this website featuring all sorts of little Flash games that are easy to play, quick to load and should keep you occupied for as long as you need occupying. In particular she's suggested the Gats game, but there are lots to choose from. Thanks Sue!
|Science, colour and you
http://vn247.net/flash/Color-and-Me.swf - Your choice of favourite colours for different objects reveals a lot about your personality. This game reveals your financial, fashionable, romantic and friendly traits. Oh yes it does!
|Astrology and driving
www.insurancehotline.com/a10.html - Not only does your choice of colours reveal your inner character, but your astrological sign can tell companies what sort of a driver you are. Oh yes it can! Lee Romanov has written a book about it so it must be true.
Kiwi close to selling off world: Wellington university student and website designer Hamish Laude has almost sold the world, one country at a time, after a successful Internet auction. Click here for more.
InternetNZ flays Telecom split model: The model for the operational separation of Telecom proposed by chairman Wayne Boyd in a recent letter to the government is "not one the industry or the Government can accept", according to InternetNZ. Click here for more.
Fears over copyright law change: Colin Jackson, president of non-profit society InternetNZ, calls the anti-circumvention clauses a "toxic provision" and warns they could be used to "suppress all kinds of legitimate valuable work and speech". Click here for more.
Apple launches iTunes in NZ: Apple has finally launched the New Zealand version of its iTunes music store, letting Kiwis download music legally to their iPods. Click here for more.
Teenager ran internet banking scam: A 16-year-old who police sent on a computer training course to improve his behaviour has admitted using a computer in an attempt to defraud banks of nearly $45,000. Click here for more.
Police build tool to search PCs: Police are developing tools that will let detectives trawl for evidence on the hard drives of computers without leaving their desks and without needing to alert suspects by seizing their computers. Click here for more.
1.25 million Kiwis shopping online: The number of New Zealanders shopping online is four times higher now than it was five years ago, a new survey shows. Click here for more.
ATM e-mail with pin number reversal a hoax: The e-mail advises people to reverse their pin number if robbers force them to withdraw money from an ATM machine. Click here for more.
Site to offer Kiwis chance to vent road rage: Two frustrated American commuters say they plan to set up in New Zealand a version of their US website for dobbing in errant motorists. Click here for more.
Email gangs bombard UK in 'spam wars': Criminal gangs using hijacked computers are behind a surge in unwanted emails peddling sex, drugs and stock tips in Britain. Click here for more.
Time to start archiving your email: A customer is blaming you for the lateness of a project, but four months ago you had an email from them confirming the deadline and you know there's still a week to go. So exactly where is that email? Click here for more.
US warns of possible Al Qaeda financial cyber attack: A person familiar with the warning and a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security - said the Islamic militant group aimed to penetrate and destroy the databases of the US stock market and banking websites. Click here for more.
Music download site targets teens: Music fans now have nine ways to download songs legally over the internet in New Zealand, Dick Smith Electronics becoming the latest to join the increasingly crowded party. Click here for more.
Ancient computer found on seabed: "This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely well..." Click here for more.
Email pioneer says breakthrough was too much trouble: The man who invented the internet's most popular email routing system says he would never have done it had he known how much trouble it was going to be. Click here for more.
Child-Modeling Site Owners Indicted: Two Florida men and a Web site corporation are facing multiple federal charges of conspiring to use a child-modeling site as a front for posing minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Click here for more.
Spam: now made in China: And viruses make a festive season appearance. Click here for more.
Study: 1 in 5 parents say kids online too much: About 80 percent of the children say the Internet is important for schoolwork, although three-quarters of the parents say grades have not gone up or down since they got Internet access. Click here for more.
Spam Doubles, Finding New Ways to Deliver Itself: Hearing from a lot of new friends lately? You know, the ones that write "It's me, Esmeralda," and tip you off to an obscure stock that is "poised to explode" or a great deal on prescription drugs. Click here for more.
ICANN Gives Asia Its Dot: The new .asia top-level domain will provide "a clear brand to reach and enrich the broad global community," according to the organization. Click here for more.
Papers battle online news sites: Newspapers are still not sure what to do about the internet, no matter how determined they are to prove wrong the doomsayers who claim they are dead. Click here for more.
If we all ignore spammers, they may go away: Stock offers, lottery wins, offers of partnerships from deposed Nigerian dictators, requests for information from banks you don't have an account with, and dozens of marriage proposals from girls called Lenka. Click here for more.
Internet spawns new addictions, claims UK mag: The internet has given birth to a quirky range of modern addictions and maladies, the British weekly New Scientist says in its Christmas issue. Click here for more.
Phishers Lurk For Firefox 2.0 Password Manager: "The underlying method was so obvious that it should have raised multiple warnings," Chapin continued. "There were none at all." Click here for more.
UN warns on password 'explosion': Growing use of the web is stripping people of their personal privacy, warns a UN agency report. Click here for more.
Broadband PCs attacked over 100 times a day: The first suspicious activity was detected within 20 seconds of being connected to the internet, he said. Click here for more.
Don't Open That Word File, Microsoft Warns: Microsoft warned folks to not open or save Word files from untrustworthy sources or unexpected files from trusted sources. Click here for more.
Internet gangs hire students for cybercrime: Some gangs have sponsored promising students from other disciplines to attend computer courses before planting them in businesses as "sleepers". Click here for more.
Cyber hijackers demand ransom: Hackers are hijacking free online email accounts, refusing to cede control unless the user pays them a ransom. Click here for more.
Internet Criminals to Step Up 'Cyberwar' in 2007: Computer hackers will open a new front in the multi-billion pound "cyberwar" in 2007, targeting mobile phones, instant messaging and community Web sites such as MySpace, security experts predict. Click here for more.
Website safety warning for parents: Parents are again being warned about the potential dangers of internet sites after a primary school found a current class photo had been posted on a site designed to put former friends in touch. Click here for more.
Real Phishing Tool Probes User Gullibility: One of the fastest growing problems in the battle against malware are e-mails that sucker the user into clicking on a link or executing a program without thinking twice. Click here for more.
Malware wars: Are hackers on top?: The money made from malware is eclipsing the revenue of anti-virus vendors, a leading net security vendor claims. Click here for more.
A quick tour around Windows Vista: The new version of the venerable Windows operating system has been more than five years in development and much hangs on its success. Click here for more.
MacBU: Sorry For Nothing: Microsoft developers last week inadvertently published a patch for Macintosh Office users that included untested security elements. Click here for more.
Unix 03: The Future or The Past?: Unix standardization efforts are ongoing. No that's not a misprint. Unix is far from dead, and efforts to provide a degree of standardization for the remaining Unix players may well be a lifeline. Click here for more.
Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz: You know ho Amazon shows public book reviews? Over 800 have people reviewed a gallon of milk. Hilariously. Click here for more.
Sex.com thief released from prison: And his Mexican lawyer shot the same day. 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.
Another new virus spreading fast: I really do find it hard to believe that I am sitting here, shortly after seven in the morning, writing about yet another email worm virus and the devastating consequences and effects thereof. Click here for more.
Wireless offices - a hacker boon?: Corporations across America are opening their doors to hackers when they set up wireless networks - or when their employees set them up behind their backs. Click here for more.
A Better Web Through Higher Math: Mathematicians are continuing to further the science of the Internet and help it become faster, more useful, and secure. 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to the Accounts Department (email@example.com).