Keep Your Friends Close and Your Facebook Friends Closer

November 29, 2008

During this holiday season when (hopefully) we are in the company of our friends and family, it might be a good time to double-check that your friends on your social networking sites really are the friends you think they are.

ComputerWorld columnist Mike Elgan has an eye-opening piece on how the people who claim to be your friend could very easily just be pretending to be someone that you know.

In principle, it is a very simple scam, for those people who are on multiple social networking sites. Basically, a person puts out some arbitrary friend requests just to start gaining access to information. This is actually the weakest part of this chain of lies. If you never accept requests from people you don’t know, and encourage your friends to do likewise, a lot less of this data will get out. However, there are people who will be friends with anyone who asks them, so you have to assume that some of your friends could have shady friends.

Next, the scammer will grab data from one site and create an identical profile on the other using the information they have already gathered. Since there is no way to differentiate between your real friend on Myspace and the scammer on Facebook who has all the Myspace data, you accept them as a friend.

This is where the real danger comes in, because the scammer now has access to you. You think they are your friend, but really they are waiting in Nigeria for you to send them some money to “bail them out of prison” or any number of very scary scenarios.

The real defense for these types of scams are the most fundamental things to keep in mind wherever you go on the internet.

1. Be very careful about what data you are putting out for other people to get.

2. Verify everything before you send money to anybody, anywhere, especially Nigeria. 🙂

3. It might be a good idea to call your friend up before meeting them alone at a bar somewhere.

As always, be safe and be smart online.

Really Delete Your Hard Drive

November 22, 2008

Have you ever wondered where your data goes after you drop a file in the “Recycle Bin” in Windows and you empty out? The answer, really, is nowhere. It is still sitting there on your hard drive waiting to get written over again. What the Windows deletion process really does is eliminate the index file for it. The index file on the hard drive contains the information of where each file is located on the hard drive. No index data for your file doesn’t mean that your file has been deleted. If you never write to that section of the hard drive, it is still sitting there waiting there possibly to be recovered, by anyone who happens upon it.

As a New York Times article pointed out a couple years ago, one of the most important times to consider this fact is when you are selling or discarding your old computers. If you aren’t careful, all of that potentially sensitive personal data can be recovered. So what’s a Techeap user to do?

The New York Times article recommends DBan, which comes highly recommended on the net, but you want to be very careful with that program because it will delete your entire hard drive. I recommend starting with a nice program I found on CNET’s download section, called Eraser. This I would recommend as your first line of defense when you have sensitive data you want off your machine. Simply drag the files you want deleted into the program, use the menu function for run all, and the program will blast those section of the hard drive with 1s and 0s until the data is unrecoverable.

Both of these programs are good options and it is even more important given some new data (no pun intended) from a study reported in Science Daily. Only a third of hard drives that end up in the secondary market have had their data sufficiently deleted. This is pretty scary, considering the researchers found that many of these drive did have data sensitive to the companies or people who had owned the drives previously. It’s your data make sure you protect it.

Spam Wins

November 16, 2008

I used to blame people buying things foolishly for spam. People get these poorly worded, almost oddly poetic, sales pitches and go ambling off to buy whatever was being sold.

I got a bit of a wake-up call from a BBC story on how many sales are being made for each of those messages that are going out. Spammers make money even when as few as 1 in 12.5 million people respond to an e-mail. With such low costs for the spammers, I feel like there isn’t much hope to put an end to this epidemic on the internet.

The LA Times also has an interesting story on one possible successful approach to at least taking a small chunk out of spam, which they say is over 90% of e-mail traffic. This is about 180 billion spam messages a day. Before I get to the solutions though, the enormity of the problems is striking if you look at the ramifications of these figures. Assuming the figures the BBC states are correct, there are almost 15,000 profitable spam e-mails sent out a day. If we were to assume that each of these successful e-mails earned about $50 each, (an admittedly wild guess on my part, but a reasonable figure given some of the Nigerian’s scams end up earning thousands) we would be talking about over $700,000 a day being made on the internet in this method. Clearly, spam will not be going away without a fight.

The LA Times article says that spam traffic is down about two-thirds after researchers started going after mainstream Internet Service Providers who it seems were letting some pretty shady activities happen in this country. While the article acknowledges that this is a temporary victory at best, I have mixed feelings about its success. I’m glad to see action taking, but the most likely result of a crackdown like this is that the spammers will move to different countries to places where techniques like this will not work. It seems like this could end up in a vicious cycle of escalation without a promising end in site.

In short, as spammers survive, spammers win.

Sorry there aren’t a lot of tips in this entry for you, but I hope you’ll be glad to have a little more knowledge of the economics of spam.

Rick-Roll Prevention

November 12, 2008

If you are an experience web surfer, odds are you’ve clicked on a linked and ended up seeing this video on Youtube. Rigging a link so that it sends you to this video is called a Rick Roll. You are being “rolled” into a Rick Astley video. In the near-instant comedic shelf lives of internet humor, this sort of technique has become a bit passe, but it does still happen from time to time. Also, sometimes links are unintentionally directed at different content from what you are expecting. Or sometimes this is completely intentional in order to try to infect your computer with malware.

Today, I have a new tool to share with you that can help prevent this sort of thing from happening to you. The origin of this tip is from the VideoSurf blog, so you can check out their explanation. I did, however, want to expend on a couple of the things they talked about there.

First, this does require that you use Firefox and you will have to install an add-on called GreaseMonkey. GreaseMonkey is a very cool little addition that will allow you to install script that will pre-render pages in a variety of different ways. VideoSurf’s script will show you a preview of a video on the search pages of Google, Youtube or Yahoo. In this way, you can actually see the video without having to click on it. This is how you’ll be protected from the dreaded Rick-roll.

However, it is worth mentioning that for each of these scripts that you add on to your GreaseMonkey, you are going to increase the loading time of each page. In this sense, it is a bit of a trade-off to decide what functions are going to be worthwhile in your web browsing. Also, once you are used to a set of pre-rendered webpages, it is a little hard to go back to a regular browser without all the little add-ons you’ve built up for yourself.

I would recommend trying a few. Lifehacker has a very nice list of some of their favorites, and I hope to give you some more in a later post as I start to experiment with them.

Historic Times Call for Historic Measures

November 5, 2008

On this day following the election of the first African-American President, it somehow seemed appropriate to discuss a couple of interesting online ways that you can preserve some of your thoughts and content for release many years from now.

The first and most interesting is something called Keo. This is a project to send a container into space for 50,000 years with vast amounts of data are etched onto glass disks. Now, the cool thing about this project is that you can include up to 4 pages of content to be sent up. They have a very interesting FAQ on how this will actually work. Right now the deadline to have your content included is December 31, 2009, so you have a little bit of time to get your content uploaded on to the site.

Some people might argue that an election be a minor point to consider 50,000 years from now, but I think it might be interesting to see the transfer of governmental power was done.

For something with a bit shorter time frame to be aware of is an internet time capsule that was done by Yahoo that is set to be open in 2025. It is already closed, so more data can be added to it, but if you added to it originally and forgot about it (like I did), you can see the countdown running down.

Even shorter than that is a service offered by PhotoJojo called aptly Time Capsule. While I have not used it myself, it says that they will send you two pictures from your Flickr account to your e-mail that you have taken over a year ago. If you have a large collection of pictures that you don’t get to look at often, this is a good way to remember some of the great (or not so great shots) that you have taken. Flickr, but the way, it is a highly regarded photo hosting service where you can keep an impressive number of pictures online for free, and even more for a fee. They have a number of good features that may be worth checking out for you.

If you have any ideas for other ways to preserve your historic thoughts, let me know in the comments.