The Northern Spy
Spam, Security and Tygers*
Oh, the spam, the spam
So, you took the Spy's advice, purchased a domain name, then went out and found professional hosting for it. But within hours of putting up your Web Site, you started to get spam mail addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org or even to email@example.com. How do you avoid this situation, or deal with it once it happens?
1. Don't use the same username for the hosting account as you do for you main mail account. That is, if your mail account will be firstname.lastname@example.org, make your hosting account signon name something else like "notreallyme". Then, use the control panel your host supplies to set the "default" email addressee to
:fail: no such account here
Now, any mail not specifically addressed to an eMail account you set up on the account will be returned as undeliverable.
2. Don't put your eMail address in a readable form anywhere on your Web Site. That is, resist the temptation to have a link labelled "Contact Me" with the URL Mailto:email@example.com. Instead, either obfuscate the address as "me_AT_mydomain.com" (which a person can read and change appropriately but a site scanning robot looking for addresses cannot) OR use a form mail page to send you mail (provided by many control panels) OR set up a forum and ask your users to send you private messages on the forum.
Alas the Spy knows from the bitter experience of having his eMail addresses harvested for lo these thirty years that he should never have made them public, for he now gets 400-1000 junk mail messages a day but can't afford to change those addresses.
Other security measures.
Always use the secure version of your mail program (secure POP and secure SMTP or Webmail) and the secure version of FTP (SFTP) to access your site. Otherwise, anyone can "sniff" your connection and see your username and password plainly. Likewise, when accessing any web site (not just your own control panel) that asks you for a username and password, check to ensure the site is secure (padlock in the corner of your browser and using "https" at the top, rather than "http".
And, while we're on the subject of general security, never click on a link in an eMail message and then give personal information especially not if ostensibly asked by your bank, credit union, stockbroker, eBay, PayPal, web host (including WebNameHost) or even the "technical department" of your own web site. All such messages are fakes, and the URL you are directed to will not be what it appears in the message. This practice, called phishing, exists for the sole purpose of stealing identity information from you, so don' be fooled by what sounds to be a legitimate request to supply information. Legitimate businesses on the net don't do that.
How do you give information? Do so only at a web site you have at which you have previously opened an account. Type the name of the web site yourself rather than clicking on an eMail link. Look closely at the URL you get and make sure it is correct, not just nearly right. Look at the information already there and ensure it is what you yourself previously supplied before changing it. If in doubt, send eMail to the original contact to verify the information request. Never respond to any eMail offer, especially if it sounds too good to be true. It always is.
In the News
The Spy notes that the New York times has paid $410 million to purchase About.com, a search engine and information provider. Given the dominance of Google and runner-up Yahoo, one is tempted to wonder why, other than that the Times has too much money lying around.
Bytes of the Apple
Speaking of lots of money lying around, Apple has announced yet another record breaking quarter, this time racking up $290 million in profits on rapidly increasing iPod and Mac sales. They plan to release faster desktop machines shortly
OS X 10.4 (Tiger) went on sale April 29. This completes Apple's migration to 64-bit computing. (Anyone else remember when 16 bits was a big deal?) Only glitch in the process is a lawsuit from Tiger Direct, an online distributor, trying to stop the speeding cat. Seems TD has fallen from their formerly high Google ranking and wants a remedy. The Spy sympathizes but assumes Apple won't take this lion down.
New Tiger features include Spotlight, a searching utility to find material in folders and files quickly, and Dashboard, a reincarnation of the old System Nine desk accessories, those small, easily accessible programlets that did one or two things well and quickly. Full 64-bit processing means that computations involving large numbers will be much faster. At the same time, all the existing 32-bit applications should run unmodified, because of the way the G5 chip is constructed.
Also new is Automator, a work flow application to automate repetitive task without any programming. iChat AV offers improved video quality, and permits creation of a video chat with four people, or an audio chat with ten.
* Footnote in the middle
The title of this column is not intended to infringe on anyone's trademark, patent, copyright, other intellectual property rights, or otherwise initiate legal dyspepsia. Blake may sue, all others should chill.
More news that bites
Some pundits have said of Tiger that Windows users ought to check it out to see what will be in Microsoft's 64-bit Longhorn OS release. Others, the Spy included, doubt Microsoft will meet the current deadlines, even when more features are removed. It is beginning to appear that Longhorn will be a pale reflection of a Apple OS circa 2001 or earlier, not of Tiger. David Coursey of eWeek says " There's not much apparent today (wait until next year, I'm told, to see Longhorn all decked out) and what exists today looks shockingly like a Macintosh. I guess even Microsoft realized that it couldn't sell a new OS that was merely a bunch of fixes, though perhaps if it had we'd have those fixes by now."
Indeed, writing in Connected Home magazine, one-time Longhorn cheerleader Paul Thurrott writes: " Longhorn is in complete disarray and in danger of collapsing under its own weight: Since WinHEC 2004, Microsoft hasn't shipped a single public beta release of the product, which is now delayed until late 2006. Now, we get a new build of Longhorn, finally, but it's surprisingly similar to the version we got last year. In fact, it's almost less exciting, because it looks more like the existing Windows version--Windows XP--than the year-ago version did. You can literally see the backtracking."
Going the rumour rounds: The University of Texas plans to sue Microsoft for making the name "Longhorn" into a laughingstock.
It oughta be the law
These observations prompt the Spy to formalize a fifth law, one he's taught to Software Engineering students for over two decades:
Every sufficiently large monolithic project eventually becomes unusable, unmanageable, non-maintainable, and non-upgradable.
This incidentally has the following consequences, known as the Planning to Fail Corollaries:
(i) Sufficiently large proposed projects lacking a modular design will never be completed in the first place.
(ii) The more resources committed to an ill-planned project, the worse it gets before it dies.
(iii) In such cases, only statistical estimates can be made of the number of bugs.
The bottom feeder line
The MS case has not been helped by recent departures of several high ranking executives, who've been less then complementary about their old employer. Nor has it been helped by journalists using descriptors like "train wreck" and "death watch" when writing about MS. Reminds the Spy of the anti-Apple feeding frenzy among journalists a few years ago. Expect it to have the same effect--none. Survival in the computing business depends not on how friendly journalists are but on companies being able to continually reinvent themselves. Apple has done it, Microsoft can learn how.
--The Northern Spy
Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one of which was named best in the science fiction genre for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.
Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.
The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com
WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net
WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net
nameman : http://nameman.net
Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com
The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm
The Fourth Civilization (text): http://www.4civ.com/
Connected Home article: http://www.connectedhomemag.com/HomeOffice/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=46181Comments
eWeek article: http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1789336,00.asp