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August 30, 2003
[ Update: Blaster Kid ]

 The high school senior Jeffrey Lee Parson, arrested Friday for allegedly launching a worldwide computer virus, is a loner who drives too fast, AP quotes neighbours as saying. Court papers said FBI and Secret Service agents searched Parson's Hopkins home on Aug. 19 and seized seven computers, which are still being analyzed.
In an interview with FBI Special Agent Eric Smithmier, Parson admitted modifying the original "Blaster" infection and creating a version known by a variety of different names, including "Blaster.B.," court papers said.

[ News: London Still Cool For Commercial Hotspots ]

 Is London ready for WiFi? ZDNet UK sets out, Michelin fashion, to investigate the capital's commercial hot spots and find out if Londoners are going mad for the technology or need to wake up and smell the coffee. Their conclusion: poorly advertised services, bad login procedures, no onsite help, and very little sign anyone is using the services available.

August 29, 2003
[ Mail: How Should Virus Writers Be Punished ]

 This from reader Mark N. Metz, CEO of Stop Piracy Now, Inc. I wrote about the just arrested teenager suspected of being the author of a variant of the Master worm: 'Can't help feeling sorry for the kid. He is going down." Mark has this to say:
You're kidding, right?  What if the kid's worm took down a hospital's emergency-room server with patient records, or took down a 911 call center in the middle of a frantic call? 
If the same kid poured gasoline on a hospital or a 911 call center and lit a match, everyone would understand that it's arson and it's a hideous felony. And it is critically important to recognize why arson is punished the way it is -- it puts people's lives in grave danger.  People die when other people do these kinds of destructive things.
The buildings in my analogy could be rebuilt just as servers can be rebuilt, but dead people can't.  If someone hasn't died yet from one of these computer vandals, it is a miracle that all of us should be thankful for.  The law needs to start taking these online crimes as seriously as they do the offline ones.
I don't feel one bit sorry for the kid.  They should throw the book at him.
Fair enough, Mark, and maybe I should have chosen my words better. Actually I was referring more to the fact that he knows he's about to be arrested and how that must feel. But also, if the guy is 18, I'm not sure he knew this was going to happen. I agree virus writers should be held responsible and punished. But how many viruses are unleashed on the world that don't get anywhere? Should virus writers be punished for the enormity of the result or for the fact they write a virus in the first place? I don't know the answer. Thoughts, anyone?

[ Update: Blaster B Suspect Is About To Be Arrested ]

 There must be at least one frightened teenager out there today. AP reports that U.S. investigators have identified a teenager as one author of a version of the Blaster worm and plan to arrest him early Friday (U.S. time). A witness reportedly saw the teen testing the infection and called authorities, an official said. The worm and its variants infected more than 500,000 computers worldwide.
The "Blaster.B" version of the infection, which began spreading Aug. 13, was remarkably similar to the original Blaster worm that first struck two days earlier; experts said the author made few changes, renaming the infecting-file from "msblast" to an anatomical reference. Can't help feeling sorry for the kid. He is going down.

[ News: 'RIAA Are Not Dumb' Shock ]

 The RIAA are not dumb. That's for sure. AP reports that court papers filed against a Brooklyn woman fighting efforts to identify her for allegedly sharing nearly 1,000 songs over the Internet, show that "using a surprisingly astute technical procedure, the Recording Industry Association of America examined song files on the woman's computer and traced their digital fingerprints back to the former Napster file-sharing service, which shut down in 2001 after a court ruled it violated copyright laws".
The RIAA's latest court papers describe in unprecedented detail some sophisticated forensic techniques used by its investigators. For example, the industry disclosed its use of a library of digital fingerprints, called "hashes," that it said can uniquely identify MP3 music files that had been traded on the Napster service as far back as May 2000. By comparing the fingerprints of music files on a person's computer against its library, the RIAA believes it can determine in some cases whether someone recorded a song from a legally purchased CD or downloaded it from someone else over the Internet. A sobering thought.

August 28, 2003
[ Handphones And The End of Lying ]

 Hate people lying to you over the phone? Your worries are a thing of the past with the Agile Lie Detector. It's software you download to your smart-phone: "Agile Lie Detector meassures the amount of stress caused by lying in a person's voice and displays this information in a graph in real-time. When using the headset Agile Lie Detector provides you with a visual indication of whether or not someone is lying to you."
I kinda like the disclaimer: "WARNING: This software is for entertainment purposes only. This product is not intended for covert use. You must disclose to subjects that they are being submitted to a lie detector test prior to any testing, failing to do so may be against the law in your jurisdiction and is a violation of the terms of use of this software." You can imagine the conversations:
A: Where are you honey?
B: (to background sound of techno music and male cheers) Er... at the office.
A: Mind if I submit you to a lie detector test on that, honey?
B: Er.... Yes. I mean no. Gotta go. Conference call.

[ News: Anti-spam Gaming Phone For The Hip ]

It's hard to be innovative in mobile phones these days but that doesn't stop Nokia from trying. Often the results are dreadful. Here's news of one that may not be: the Nokia 2300. Aimed squarely at young-minded, fun-loving people (who isn't?) in new growth markets such as China, India and Russia, the Nokia 2300 features an alarm clock, a calculator, an FM radio, three games and an internal hands-free speaker. It also stops spam.
There's also some changes to the keypad and navigating buttons, via "a new 4-way scroll with a Navi key" for fast messaging and gaming. Right scrolling provides a shortcut to the menus or options lists, allowing users to access features quickly or accomplish selected tasks without going through the complete menu sequence.
To help users monitor their mobile usage, the Nokia 2300 offers an in-call timer for checking the duration of a call, as well as an SMS counter to keep track of the number of text messages sent or received. The Nokia 2300 is also the first Nokia phone to enable users to filter out junk text messages from unwanted numbers.

[ A Sober Look At The Future Of Email ]

Here's an interesting, thorough look by Steve Outing at the problem of email as a form of publishing and how RSS feeds are likely to be the way forward. Makes you realise the extent of the damage wrought by spam.

August 27, 2003
[ News: Hotels Ban Phones, Sort Of ]

 From the very sizeable Cheapskate Hoteliers Dept comes a report (thanks textually.org) from Scotland of a mobile phone jamming scam, as exposed by the Daily Record. Businessman Ronnie McGuire, the paper says, is flooding Scotland with high-tech phone jammers that are illegal to use. Sold to hotels, restaurants, bars and bed and breakfasts, the devices emit radio waves which wipe out the signal to mobile phones, rendering them useless. Guests, unaware their signal has been sabotaged, are forced to use expensive hotel phone lines or call boxes.
McGuire is quoted as saying: "It comes up on their phone `no service' and people think there's no service in that area.
But it's best not to tell anyone you've got it because they might not be too happy." True, too true. Of course they must be great for a bit of peace and quiet.

[ News: Terra Lycos Invents Blogging ]

For those of you keen to emulate the runaway success of the loose wire blog, Terra Lycos , "the global Internet Group", are trumpeting their Tripod Blog Builder which this month won Editor's Choice from PC Magazine. "Every step of the way, we found Tripod Blog Builder a pleasure and easy to use," the rag gushed. "If you're just starting out and want a simple, good-looking blog, this is the way to go."
Revealing how little they know about blogging's roots, Terra Lycos reckons: "Blogging is not just for the political pundits and technical elite anymore. >From families and friends to clubs, teams and students, anyone can now publish on the Web with Tripod Blog Builder. We've transitioned blogs from a technology tool to a lifestyle accessory, adding features most requested by our millions of members." Er, no. Blogging has long been available to technoluddites like moi. I publish to mine via email, and you can't get much simpler than that. Sheesh, people who claim to have 'transitioned' something make me cranky.

[ Update: The Sleazy Side Of Virus-Stopping ]

 Further evidence of viruses being turned into advertising spam: MailWatch kindly informed me that a message sent in my name had SoBig F aboard: "MailWatch has scanned your e-mail message and determined it can not be delivered as originally sent," the message says.  As I've pointed out earlier, just because a virus appears to be from the sender, doesn't mean it is. You'd think MailWatch, being in the business, would know this.
The email then goes on to say that "MailWatch can help you avoid these problems in the future by scanning your e-mail for viruses, Spam and objectionable content. Visit http://www.MailWatch.com to read about the benefits of MailWatch." While I guess it's ok to send notification emails that a virus has been found, I think it's something else to turn it into a piece of gratuitous advertising. Especially one that misleads the average Joe into thinking they may be the source of viruses. Shape up, MailWatch. Don't add to the problem.

[ Update: A Sobig Primer ]

 From the Annoying And Pointless Email Notification Dept comes this: an automated alert from a website that doesn't quite get it. As you know, the Sobig virus/worm spreads like crazy because it raids people's address books and then fires off copies of itself to emails it finds there. But to confuse people into thinking the email is legitimate it uses those email addresses so that emails containing the worm appear to be from those people. So if you get infected and your Outlook address book contains the email addresses of Tom, Dick and Harry, those three guys will receive infected emails from you, but they're also likely to receive infected emails that appear to be from each other -- Tom from Dick, Dick from Harry, etc. It's called email spoofing. With me so far?
What it doesn't mean (and this is where webmasters need to wise up) is that Tom, Dick or Harry are actually infected. They don't need to have actually opened the infected email (and therefore allow Sobig into their machine) for infected emails to start appearing in their name. So, if you find you're getting weird bounced emails that appear to indicate you've been sending out copies of the Sobig worm ('The following message was undeliverable' or somesuch), you may not have been. It may have come from someone who's got your email address in their contact book. The problem is, of course, that you can't always tell who, because the email you receive may have been spoofed a dozen times before it got back to you.
All this is an inevitable side-effect of a fast propagating worm. Not much you can do about it. What frosts my shorts up is receiving automated emails such as the following:
################# VIRUS NOTIFICATION #################
A message you sent to
[email address of someone I've never heard of]
contains a virus or a worm, and was NOT delivered.

DATE:  Tue, 26 Aug 2003 11:22:45 --0400
SUBJECT: Re: Your application
VIRUS:  W32/Sobig-F
It is possible your computer is infected without your knowledge.
Please download a current virus scanner and check your computer.
Thank you.
This kind of email is, I'm afraid to say, just dumb. It's incorrect, it merely confuses people AND it adds to the circulating junk that Sobig has alrady created. Please, please, please, webmasters and anti-virus makers: don't include this kind of feature in your products or activate them. It's a waste of time and merely exposes how little you know about the nature of the problem.
And for the rest of you, don't freak out if you get an email like this. For sure, check your anti-virus software is up-to-date and regularly checking your PC. But don't automatically assume you're infected, just because some fool says you are.

August 25, 2003
[ Update: Microsoft Goes Soft in Thailand ]

 It'd be too much to suggest that Bill Gates reads my column, but Microsoft seem to be buying my idea (well not mine, really) that prices of their software should be geared to what local people can afford. IDG News Service's Taipei Bureau reports that the US software company has cut the price of its Windows operating system and Office application suite in Thailand. Quoting a report released by market analyst Gartner Inc (it's an Acrobat PDF file) Microsoft has reduced the cost of an Office and Windows package there for $40 and may do the same thing in China.
The move seems to be in the face of a government program which ended up selecting Red Hat Inc.'s Linux operating system and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice productivity suite when Microsoft did not at first participate. Windows XP in the U.S. sells for between $85 and $130, IDG says, while Office XP Professional sells for about $250.
All this can only be good news, and bad news -- eventually -- for pirates.

[ News: Norton Chips In ]

 I should have known, given the whole virus thing is big business, that if one company announces a new product, its rival down the street isn't likely to stay silent. Hot on the heels (or maybe before, who knows) of McAfee's upgrade to its VirusScan, Symantec Corp.announced Norton AntiVirus 2004, although tellingly it's not 'widely available' until early September. (Not trying to muddy McAfee's launch, are we lads?)
Norton AntiVirus 2004 takes a slightly different approach to the growing threat of worms, rather than viruses (worms jump aboard without the user doing anything like loading a file, while viruses depend on the user actually doing something). Norton AntiVirus 2004 will include scans for programs on the user's computer that can be used with malicious intent to compromise the security of a system, spy on the user's private data, or track users' online behavior. AntiVirus will identify and block these threats at the point of entry to the system, detecting the threats during scans of email and instant message attachments, or during scheduled or on-demand system scans. This seems a little different to McAfee, although on the surface this all doesn't sound that new. I'll take a closer look and get back to you.
Norton AntiVirus 2004 and Norton AntiVirus 2004 Professional will be available for an estimated retail price of US$49.95 and US$69.95

[ McAfee: The Worm Stops Here ]

 McAfee today have unveiled a new version of McAfee VirusScan, equipped with new features including an enhanced WormStopper, which automatically detects and alerts users when their systems are attempting to send email to an unusually large number of addresses. It also alerts users when the system attempts to send out too many single emails within a 30-second period, helping to ensure that new mass-mailing worms cannot spread without the knowledge of the user. Not a bad idea, and as far as I know, the first such product to offer this kind of feature.
McAfee VirusScan is available immediately for $34.95 on the company's website, http://www.mcafee.com/.

[ Update: Documents To Go For Dana ]

 Further to my review of the excellent Dana keyboard, its makers AlphaSmart, Inc. have announced they plan to offer a wide-screen version of DataViz's Documents To Go Professional as a bundled software option for new versions of Dana. Documents To Go enables Palm users to work with Microsoft Office documents, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
I found the Dana an excellent alternative for writing in certain conditions when you just want to get away from your desk, your office, your family, your town. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but with tools like Documents To Go, the lines between laptop and Dana tend to blur.

[ News: Handheld Classics For The Masses ]

 From the Classy Use of Technology Dept comes news of a handheld gadget actually doing something useful at a classical concert. AP reports (and thanks to Gizmodo for pointing it out) of the Concert Companion, designed by former Kansas City Symphony executive Roland Valliere, which displays "a sort of musical road map during a performance, cuing users' ears for, say, the oboes, muted cellos, or double basses."
A musician at the back of the hall, AP says, wirelessly turns the devices' digital pages from a laptop. Users can turn off the backlit devices at any time. The gadget has been tested by small groups at four performances, using off-the-shelf Sony Clie handheld computers. Excellent.

[ Update: X1 On Fire ]

 As if to reinforce my impression that X1 is grabbing the indexing and searching space once the preserve of Enfish, the Idealab company has just launched a beta edition of its next version. The full version should be out soon. New features:
* Improved Attachments tab (for Outlook and Eudora users only)
* Improved Eudora email support
* IMAP support
* Microsoft Exchange Public Folder support
* A media player in the View Pane of the Files tab
* Fast JPG viewer with auto-sizing
* Improved file-content indexing, including PDF Acrobat files. (Zip indexing is coming in days/weeks.) You'll have to re-index your files to take advantage of this new method. To do so, click the Options button and select "Re-index All Files" in the Files Search tab.
* Improved indexing status communication in the bottom status bar for Email and Files tabs
* Automatic import of IE favorites and history into X1 Favorites and History tabs.

[ Less Features, Less Bugs Please ]

 From the It's About Time Someone's Talking Sense Dept comes an interesting column by Sean Ammirati the founder and director of Avanti Strategies, who points out that in software, as in most things, less is more (and whose web site seems to take the concept to its furthest practical point).
Writing in InformationWeek he says that "although software companies would hate to admit it, most people don't use all the features of their products." Exactly. What wouldn't users like me give to have a new version of a program with less features, and less bugs? It's time for another column ranting about the ridiculous bugs of programs like Microsoft Encarta, Money and Office that somehow survive from version to version.

[ Update: Swappers Scared Off Swapping? ]

 Just as I thought, ordinary folk have been scared away from MP3 filesharing after the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)  started to get heavy a few months back. With record companies filing lawsuits against users of online file swapping services -- essentially folk swapping bootleg music via the Internet -- traffic at such sites seems to have dropped off by about a quarter.
The Register quotes market watcher NPD as calculating that 14.5 million US households downloaded music files in April. In May the figure fell to 12.7 million, and dropped to 10.4 million in June, the month the RIAA started getting heavy. On closer inspection, The Register says, the figures suggest that while hard-core downloaders are grabbing ever more tracks for themselves, more casual punters are holding fire.
This could all change. The RIAA last week pledged not to pursue small-scale downloaders, so could they all come swimming back? My tuppennies' worth: Let the small fry do it. It's a great way to check out new music. Most of them will then buy legit copies, if the price is right. For the big fish, they're easy to spot, and easy to prosecute.

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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