Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Of hoaxes, scams and spam (Part 1)

Today's topic (the first of a series) is one that is close to my heart and needs to be put into the blogosphere to be distributed across the cyber firmament ad infinitum. But therein lies the problem. Ever since the invention of e-mail, the problem of what to do with unsolicited junk e-mail, known as spam, has become ever more acute. The problem may not seem like much to you, but it costs Internet service providers like AOL and AT&T millions of dollars a year to block spammers. These costs are then passed on to the end users and, like the incoming tide at a beach, the waves of spam keep pounding the shore with no end in sight. Legislation has been passed to deal with this crisis on a national and international scale, but daily mass unsolicited e-mails continue to find their way into our respective inboxes with no end in sight. Mass e-mails sent by spammers can be extremely cost effective; millions of addresses sent out at a time for a few hundred dollars. Anyone who has sent out commercial bulk mail knows that a one to two percent return is considered a successful campaign. For these spammers who continue to operate outside the law, it is a risk they are willing to take for money. And they are getting even more brazen. I speak from experience. Recently, one of these particularly devious hackers cracked my Hotmail account and used my own e-mail to send spam to my entire contact list. I have since changed the password to that account and the illegal, unwarranted e-mails have ceased, but the damage had already been done. This hacker could have done even more damage had he taken over my account and sent e-mails to family and friends insisting that he was me. For that reason, I caution everyone against keeping personal information ESPECIALLY passwords in e-mails stored on web-based providers like G-Mail, Hotmail or Yahoo. Make your passwords a little tougher by changing letters to numbers, adding an uppercase letter or a special character like a $ or a #, and never use less than six characters. Never make your significant other's, spouse's, child's or pet's name your password without those kinds of alterations. A good example would be "charlie" for a password. By simply altering it to read "ChArL1e" you have created a stronger password. Since all passwords are case sensitive, it's a good idea to use several uppercase letters, but the most important ones are not at the beginning or the end of the word, but in the middle, where hackers have more trouble guessing where uppercase letters might appear. One might use the similar or backwards-looking integers 1, 3, 7, 9 and 0 (zero) for i, e, l, g and o. Instead of an S, one might use an $ or employ an # instead of an h. There are all sorts of tricks to be used, but the point is to up the ante so that the hackers don't get the better of you. In upcoming blogs I will address the problem being exacerbated by end users and why we should fight the temptation to pass on unsolicited e-mails from loved ones and friends.
Political pause for the cause: Was Wisconsin the beginning of the end for the Clinton campaign? I remember seeing her poll numbers up by hefty percentage points a little over a week ago. The Obama Express seems to be picking up unbelievable momentum and I have little doubt that Ohio and Texas, crucial battlegrounds for Clinton to win at this late stage of the campaign, may provide less than the overwhelming mandate she is looking for. Meanwhile, McCain keeps adding to his delegate count and an interesting suggestion was made to me yesterday that speculates he might add billionaire New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg as a potential running mate once his nomination is assured. That would certainly enhance McCain's domestic economic package, although the last time a Jewish V-P was proposed (Lieberman in 2000), it didn't have as much impact as I would have surmised.

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