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August 15, 2003
[ Update: Blaster Graph ]

 Network Associates say that over 1.2 million systems have been affected from the Lovsan/Blaster threat, also know as W32/Lovsan.worm which is continuing to spread at a steady rate and is infecting over 30,000 systems per hour during peak times. A detailed graph of the worm's progress can be found in http://www.hackerwatch.org/checkup/graph.asp.

[ News: The Ugly Truth About The Self-Checkout Lane ]

 I live in Indonesia, which teaches you tons about credit cards and how easy they are to get fraudulent with. But at least here they don't allow you to swan past security with riding lawn-mowers you haven't paid for. From the Sacramento Bee, a cautionary tale about the self-checkout lane in supermarkets where you swipe your credit card, wave a scanner over your goodies, and leave.
 
 
Speed and convenience, the paper says, have made the most basic fraud deterrent -- checking IDs -- nearly obsolete. Crooks know this, police say, and are abusing the technology with frequency. Sacramento County sheriff's detectives estimate they receive 140 cases of credit card fraud each month.
 
Another interesting snippet: Most credit card companies and retailers don't reveal their fraud numbers because if consumers knew how much fraud really occurs, they might lose faith in the credit system and the technology that accompanies it, said Stuart Taylor, vice president of VeriFone, the leading manufacturer of point-of-sale terminals. The company reports that payment systems fraud is growing at an alarming rate in many countries, including the United States.

August 14, 2003
[ News: Newsfeeds With Bite ]

 For those of you who haven't tried RSS feed, I'd suggest it's a great way to subscribe to newletters without too much hassle. But where is RSS going to go? PaidContent.org, the award-winning independent news blog, has launched its RSS version, reports Poynter.org. The feed will include ads, prompting the question: when will we see spam RSS? And how might that work?

[ Mail: Apple Chomps Spam ]

 This from reader Rulf Neigenfind about Windows, Macs and Spam: "You have certainly heard about the built-in mail client in Mac OS X that
comes with an AI equipped spam filter. This filter uses "adaptive latent semantic analysis" to identify junk mail and works amazingly well. Once more I can only state how lucky I am that I'm not forced to bear with Windows."
 
Thanks Rulf. I've tried the filter and while it's very good, I don't see it as vastly better than the Bayesian Filters available for Windows-based email. What's good, I guess, is that it comes preloaded, and it's very easy to use.

[ Update: Blasting the Worm ]

 From the guys at Security Magazine, an update on the Blaster worm, or LovSan, as they call it:
  • Malware writers have spawned multiple variants of the Lovsan worm, the most dangerous of which installs a remote-access Trojan on infected systems.
  • LovSan "is similar in magnitude to Code Red and Nimda, but its ramifications are much greater because it targets a wide range of
    Microsoft OSes instead of just Web servers," says Forrester analyst Michael Rasmussen.
  • "Pretty much the entire world will have to run the update to Windows XP and 2000," said David Perry, global director of education for antivirus software vendor Trend Micro. "I think it will take a year or more to get the word out to people."
  • Computer Economics estimates that Lovsan.A has already caused $500 million globally and $100 million in the U.S. in damages and lost productivity.
 

[ Software: Cut Out The Bull ]

 Here's an interesting download for ya: software from a consulting firm that scours your company's documents for 'biz-buzz' and suggests alternatives. It's called Bullfighter (get it?) from Deloitte Consulting and it's a plug-in that attaches itself to Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. I read about it in a NYT/IHT column by Randall Rothenberg, who describes himself as director of intellectual capital at Booz Allen Hamilton, another consulting firm.
 
 
I'm downloading it now. But I have to take issue with Rothenberg, who suggests that biz buzz is a legitimate construct that helps companies, sorry enterprises, communicate better within and without. That may be true in the upper echelons, where language is just another political tool. But what about the poor saps on the factory floor, struggling to figure what is going on in the company they work for, or folk like me who have to wade through piles of badly-written, jargon-laden press releases every day to figure out what companies are trying to say? Language that is not simple simply obfuscates. Hey, I just made that up. I think I'll run it past Bullfighter and see what he thinks of it.
 

[ News: Fired Up About Laundry Tags ]

 It's interesting to see how RFID -- the technology behind product tagging that I've banged on about here before -- enflames passions. News on ZDNET that chipmaker Texas Instruments has announced a wireless identity chip for clothing which can survive the dry cleaning process has unleashed dozens of comments, most of them about the potential for tracking folk and abusing their privacy.
 
The Laundry Transponder, from TI Radio Frequency Identification Systems, is a thin 13.56MHz radio frequency identification (RFID) chip with a circumference of 22mm that can be attached or sewn into fabric. Its plastic casing is capable of withstanding industrial cleaning processes, making it practical for dry cleaners to track items through to customer delivery, ZDNET says. But more interesting are the comments that follow the article (scroll down to the bottom to read them). Steel yourself for some forthright language.
 
What we need is a reasoned debate on both sides so everyone knows what they're dealing with. That may be about to happen, at least in the UK: ZDNET quotes Labour MP Tom Watson as saying he has submitted a motion for parliamentary debate on the regulation of RFID devices, and is confident that it will be debated in September.

[ Hardware: Notebook Chillout ]

 A problem I keep having with my notebook is that it catches fire a lot. Well, not actually on fire, but it gets very, very hot. Here's a possible solution: Antec's new Notebook Cooler.
 

 
Designed to draw a continual flow of cool air across the computer's hottest surface, Antec's Notebook Cooler fits underneath a laptop. Its aluminum surface helps conduct heat away from the system and its 388 ventilation holes keep a steady distribution of airflow from two 70mm fans. Cost? $39.95.

[ News: When An ATM Isn't An ATM ]

 From the These Thieves Are So Smart, Why Can't They Get A Real Job Dept comes a story about ATMs. The Canadian Press reports of a scam in Ontario where the bad guys have rigged a number of existing bank machines allowing them to make working copies of customers' debit cards by putting on a mask.
 
 
The thieves install a false front on an ATM machine for a few hours, painted identically to the actual front of the real machine.When a customer slides a debit card into the card slot on the false front, a small electronic device attached to the front reads all the information contained on the card. A tiny camera installed just above the machine's number pad videotapes customers as they type in their personal identification numbers. The thieves then produce their own magnetic cards containing identical information to customers' cards.

August 13, 2003
[ Update: Blasted? ]

 While the corporate and government damage wrought by the Blaster worm does not appear to be as bad as it first looked, ordinary users may be in trouble. (The worm uses other infected computers to try to attack more computers, all of which then try to attack part of the Microsoft website with a message calling on Bill Gates to "fix your software" -- a sentiment I can help agreeing with, even as I condemn the method of delivery. I've counted five separate assaults on my computer, one of them 145 times).
 
If you have been infected, don't defenestate yourself or your computer: it doesn't seem as if the worm actually erases data but it still could be a serious nuisance, and all evidence of it should be expunged as soon as you can. The best way may be to use Symantec's specially devised tool, which you can download for free from here. Then update your version of Windows, and update your anti-virus. Oh, and install a firewall. I recommend Zone Labs's Zone Alarm (yes, there's a free version, and Zone Labs say their products have thwarted the Blaster demon).
 
Some other links:
Microsoft on the matter (not particularly helpful)
Discussion about anti-virus manufacturers' 'slow' reaction to the worm
The Sophos alternative instructions for removing the worm
 
 

[ Update: A Successor to Sony Ericsson P800? ]

 Those of you who admired the Sony Ericsson P800 cellphone/camera/PDA but never got around to buying one, hang on until October. PMN Publications, a mobile newsletter, reports that Sony Ericsson is planning an upgraded version of the P800, featuring an enhanced digital camera, 65,000 colour screen and a slimmer form factor. It will be called either the P810 or P900.
 
 
One major European operator has scheduled availability for 1st October 2003.
 
I have to say that while I admired the screen and the look and feel of the software, I wasn't a convert to the P800. Too many things seemed to go wrong, and one user I spoke to reported having to return his unit three times before he got one that didn't crash. Other users, of course, love 'em.
 

August 12, 2003
[ News: Beware the Master Blaster ]

 Lots of warnings doing the rounds about a new worm -- called, variously, W32/Blaster-A Lovsan, MSBlaster or Poza -- which is designed to hijack computers which are then programmed to automatically launch a denial-of-service attack on the website "windowsupdate.com", from Saturday, August 16 onwards.  Ironically, this website, operated by Microsoft, is used to deliver software patches to Microsoft customers.
 
The Blaster worm does not spread via email, but does distribute itself via the internet looking for vulnerable computers that have not been patched against a security hole first reported by Microsoft in mid-July. Advice: make sure you have the latest Windows patches installed, and have your virus library up to date.

[ Software: Another Spam Service... ]

 Once more reinforcing the impression this is spamblog central, here's another product that promises to rid you of spam (99.5% of it to be precise). PrismEmail.com was launched today by Vault Information Services (VIS) -- it can be used with any operating system or email program, doesn't require that anything be installed on the user's computer, and works with the user's
existing email address such that no change in email address is necessary.
 
 
Spam is filtered by the server before being downloaded by the user. PrismEmail offers a 30-day free trial. Oh, and it also uses my favourite, Bayesian statistical filtering. Might be worth a try.

[ News: Beware The Password ]

 As if you didn't know it already, (and I've posted about this before) your Windows passwords are not safe. According to an article on TechExtreme, some Swiss researchers have published a paper detailing how to crack Windows computers protected by alphanumeric passwords in an average of 13.6 seconds.
 
Their approach can crack 99.9 percent of all alphanumerical passwords in 13.6 seconds, against a previous 101 seconds. The bottom line: When you can, include non-alphanumeric characters in your password, such as a question mark or a plus sign.

[ Software: A Way To Avoid The Messaging Nasties ]

 Do a lot of online chat, or instant messaging (IM)? If you do, you're as vulnerable to nasty folk trying to do nasty things to your computer as using email, including viruses, worms and other ways to get information from your PC, take over your PC or just to make it stop working.
 
 
The good news is that Zone Labs, who make the excellent Zone Alarm firewall (a firewall is a piece of software that tries to keep out some of these nasties), will today launch a product to specifically target IM threats to your computer. IMsecure Pro 1.0 IM traffic and blocks malicious code and spam, encrypts messages sent between IMsecure users and allows users to set rules on outgoing messages and block features such as file transfers and voice and video chats.
 
IMsecure Pro works with Yahoo's Messenger, Microsoft's MSN Messenger, and America Online's AOL Instant Messenger and costs $19.95. A free, dressed-down version of the product for personal and nonprofit users will be available by the end of the month. Given how useful Zone Alarm is, I'd keep an eye out for this. At the time of writing the product had not been posted.

August 11, 2003
[ News: Hard Times For The Hard Drive ]

 Just when you thought hard drives couldn't get any bigger.... they don't. Interesting piece called Midlife crisis for the hard drive by CNET's Ed Frauenheim says growth in hard drive capacity, after doubling annually during some periods, is beginning to slow "as engineers run into technological obstacles and many PC buyers feel they have more than enough space".
 
 
Speak for yourself: I have five hard drives now and still seem to be short.

[ Update: A Close Shave ]

 Further to my column about RFID, and the privacy issues of having tags attached to products that may contain more info about you than you'd like to know, a group called CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) is calling for a worldwide boycott of Gillette products since the company failed to renounce what they call "a Gillette Mach3 "smart shelf" spy system".
 
 
My two cents? I'm not sure a boycott is a good way to explore this issue, but if it helps get people talking, then so be it.

[ News: HP Means HapPy ]

 HP have gone crazy, announcing "a strategy to radically simplify technology to help people "enjoy more" - a move that extends HP's leadership in imaging, printing and home computing into the fast-growing digital photography and entertainment markets."
 
 
As part of this, they unveiled more than 100 consumer products including a see-through vertical scanner, whatever that is. Actually it looks quite cool. More here.
 
 

[ News: RFID Tags Could Save Us From Terror ]

 Further to my column a few weeks back about RFID, the little tags on merchandise that can tell retailers and others an awful lot of information about you, here's a story from WIRED about how food companies are trying to get the technology declared 'antiterrorist'.
 
 
"Facing increasing resistance and concerns about privacy," WIRED's Mark Baard writes, "the United States' largest food companies and retailers will try to win consumer approval for radio identification devices by portraying the technology as an essential tool for keeping the nation's food supply safe from terrorists." The basic idea is that the technology can help keep precise track of all goods and help in recall efforts should their products be contaminated or laced with poison during a terrorist attack.
 
For sure that could be useful. But it sounds to me like a back door to get the technology on every shelf, which smacks of dishonesty to me. Are terrorists going to start contaminating razor blades and wooly jumpers too?

[ News: A Laptop Tale ]

 A cautionary tale with happy ending from South Africa, courtesy of The Daily News. An American professor gets robbed of his laptop at gunpoint, having inexplicably failed to back up years of work on AIDS from his hard drive. He then tearfully relates his story to a journalist in the tiny hope that publicity may awake compassion in his muggers' hearts.
 
 
Bottom line: back up, back up, back up, especially before a trip (and don't carry the backup with you). Oh, and some muggers have a good side.

about loose wire
musings, snippets, grievances and links on personal technology by dow jones columnist jeremy wagstaff. I want to hear from users -- technology-related stories, complaints, thoughts, ideas, brickbats -- so please email me

my columns appear in
The Far Eastern Economic Review and
The Wall Street Journal Online.
both are owned by Dow Jones.

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