E-tales: RU ADCTD?

If counselling in the 21st century isn't online, it's not anywhere. Smokers can these days be reminded by text message that what they are doing is very bad for them, and those addicted to booze and drugs can now also get online help.

If counselling in the 21st century isn’t online, it’s not anywhere. Smokers can these days be reminded by text message that what they are doing is very bad for them, and those addicted to booze and drugs can now also get online help. The famous Hanmer Clinic (now all over the place and not just north of Christchurch) has teamed up with Instep and eGetgoing.com to offer support and treatment over the internet. Anonymity, convenience — you can even gain access by laptop or in the car — and reasonable cost; surely what the internet’s made for? Test your addiction here. Just don’t blame all the IT functions you have to attend.

Grounding script kiddies

In calling for public comment on sentencing levels for computer-related crime, the US government’s Sentencing Commission (USSC) has questioned whether the severity of sentence should depend on “the level of sophistication and planning” involved in the crime.

Presumably they are hinting at higher sentences for cleverer hackers who plan.

We are reminded of an advertisement once run by an insurance company showing a comprehensively wrecked living room. The tagline was something like: “If you’re scared of professional burglars, wait till the amateurs pay you a visit.”

We have the feeling a number of IT managers and company bosses would see their computer systems in the same light, and might want the sentencing adjusted the other way.

Charge like a bull

“Dear Customer, This is to inform you that your order has been approved and is awaiting shipping...”

So reads the email a Computerworld staffer received last week from Microsoft. It had him puzzled for a few seconds; he couldn’t remember ordering any physical product from the company.

Reading a few lines down, he realised it related to a helpdesk request he placed the previous week (charged, as usual, at $35) seeking a remedy for the nasty problem of a “corrupt user profile” in Windows XP Professional. Incidentally, the advice wasn’t too helpful; after a long pause to “look that one up”, the helpdesk technician advised moving some files around. That restored some of our man’s missing applications to the desktop, but when he next rebooted, the profile came up “corrupt” again. Eventually he just created a new profile, hooked in all the needed applications and managed to find and move the contents of the MyDocuments folder from the corrupted profile. Email boxes (non-MS mail client)? Don’t ask.

Over the weekend, he received a survey call on behalf of Microsoft. “On a scale of 1 to 9, how would you rate...” Microsoft got a fair number of 3s and 4s.

He still wonders what they’re shipping him. Maybe a manual with the real answer in it.

Bad Korea move

North Korea may be a nuclear power, but it has yet to launch a decent website. News website slate.msn.com reports that the home page for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is so bad that people think it is a hoax. It features poor navigation and English such as “the USA is creating an energetic crisis”, and lacks any statements or documents from government sources. However, www.korea-dpr.com offers e-commerce — the sale of stamps showing “Korea’s Famous Mountains” and promises an upcoming “e-library” featuring speeches from the Dear Leader and Great Leader. There’s great news such as “The great leader Kim Il Sung will always be with us!!” and the opportunity to download the KFA hymn (the song of national defence) in MP3.

If the site seems like a fanzine, that’s because it is, says Slate.com, having been built in Barcelona by 20-something IT contractor Alejandro Cao de Benos, who regularly visits the Stalinist state. Despite claiming 6000 visits a day, the Texas-hosted website is perhaps the only country homepage not visible to its citizens, because inside North Korea local intranets aren’t allowed to plug into the internet’s corrupting content.

Fault line

One of the more dubious benefits of the Christmas-New Year break is that it affords plenty of time to stress-test the home computer, with frequent use and installation of some of those new applications.

As well as the problem of the disappearing XP profile alluded to above, one of our staffers got a strange error message when trying to access a website that had previously worked; a message seemingly questioning the competence of his ISP.

“Access Control Violation,” it read: “Forbidden — 20:p. Traffic from the IP [number suppressed to protect the innocent] has been blocked. This is because [nnn.nnn.nnn.nnn] is a known open proxy and a security risk to this site. Please contact your network administrator to get this fixed.”

Imagine our man’s mood: one-third irritation with the ISP and the website, one-third sniffing a good story and one-third suspecting the site proprietors had it wrong. Surely after all the warnings directed at unthinking home users and small businesses, a major ISP wouldn’t have left such a hole.

Emails were promptly fired off to the webmaster and the ISP helpdesk.

Strangely, the ISP didn’t vociferously defend itself and demand to know which spamcop had reported it. It merely told the user that the IP address in question was that of a cache (as was the case with last year’s blocking of CDNow — see Block brings CDnot for Paradise users) and that, like Telstra-Clear on that occasion, it could simply remove the site’s address from the cache, forcing it to communicate with the main server.

Meanwhile, however, the site proprietors had changed their tune; the user had been blocked, they said, because someone else had been trying to use his ID code and password at the same time, indicating that our man had told others his password. Well, if you’re going to hand out insults, may as well spread them around.

We’re still puzzled as to how a duplicate access to the site’s secure server shows up as an error message reporting a “known open proxy” at the ISP. But never mind, simple solution; the site in question has just lost a customer.

Unless, of course, a hacker is creating this little dose of mayhem. A singularly pointless kind of interference, but then a lot of them are.

Open secret

It is something Computerworld has previously confirmed, but a couple of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students have well and truly reminded us that discarded computers often contain confidential information.

Students Simson Garfinkel and Abhi Shelat bought 158 disk drives on eBay and from other sources (must have good summer jobs), finding 129 were functional and little or no attempt had been made to erase information on 28 of them. One drive from an Illinois ATM machine contained a year’s worth of financial transactions. Another contained 5000 credit card numbers, while others divulged medical records and gigabytes of personal email and pornography. Only 12 had been properly cleaned.

Forensic analysts told BBC Online that reformatting a disk does not empty it, and users should apply wiping software that is found readily and cheaply on the internet. “Or alternatively they could hit it with a mallet,” said one.

Murder, she coded

The FBI is keen to clear up those niggling old cases. It’s using pop-up banner ads — not likely to be a popular move — featuring the FBI’s Top 10 most wanted list on sites owned by Spanish-owned global internet operator Terra Lycos. Previously the Top 10 was only displayed on the FBI homepage.

The first criminal exposed in the ads is James “Whitey” Bulger, a lovely chap who’s being sought on charges including murder, racketeering, extortion and money laundering.

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