Mail is not dead yet – (SPAM)

An odd thing happened to me over the weekend. I received my first ever letter from Dar Es Salaam, postmarked 12 November 2010.charles taylor jnr It was from Charles Taylor Jnr. the infamous son of the former dictator of Liberia, Charles Taylor. It promised me 30% of $177,000,000 or a shade over $50 million dollars, and all I have to do is fax my contact details to a number in London to get the ball rolling.

A few things just jumped out at me. I was amazed that someone would waste an 800 Tanzanian shilling stamp (about 50¢) to send me SPAM. I had thought that SPAM was limited to email given the cost of paper and stamps. The letter was sent from Tanzania which last time I looked was on the other side of Africa and about 4,650 miles (7,500 kilometers) from London. I also wondered what made the spammers pick me out of the 350 million people in the US, at least they just had my old address (we moved about four months ago). A scan of the letter itself is appended below.

I guess the absolute giveaway was the mention of a meeting on the 19th of November, 2009 in London attended by Charles Taylor Jnr. Trouble is you can’t be in two places at once and at that time he was well into his first year of a 97 year prison sentence, for torture and summary executions in Liberia, in a US prison. [link]. I think I will have to make my first $50 million some other way.

Double click on the image below to view.

Charles Taylor letter fuzzy

Be very careful in the coffee shop–someone is compromising your privacy.

I am not usually one to forward on emails describing the latest virus and what you need to do about it, but when I saw this snippet on our local ABC affiliate I was alarmed.  It describes a Firefox extension that allows anyone to capture and reuse cookies for unencrypted sessions such as facebook and twitter.  A short video of firesheep shows off its power and everyone’s exposure.

Now it should be noted that ‘cookie capture’ is nothing new but firesheep changes the game by making it available to virtually anyone. To see its potential for harm the video at the KOMO TV  link shows what happens when firesheep is used in a typical Seattle coffee house.

The motive behind this extension is to point out how vulnerable we are to having our privacy violated and not even know about it. The authors point out correctly that the major websites have known about this security hole for years, to really fix it websites HTTPS_Everywhere_new_logoneed to move to always on encryption and not just for the initial logon. One of the actions, you can take is to install an extension for Firefox distributed by the EFF called HTTPS Everywhere that forces all of your sessions to be encrypted. It works with the major web sites.

There are a number of other precautions that can also be taken to reduce your exposure to session hijacking a.k.a. side jacking. from the KOMO TV article.

    • Always log off sites not just close your browser. Cookies can have a life of their own unless you take steps to prevent it. (some sites are better than others in this regard)
    • Using a virtual private network will also prevent Firesheep from capturing your network traffic.
    • Look for an “https” in the address bar of the website you’re visiting. It should be there when you log into the website, but if it’s not there after you’ve logged in, anything you send could be easily hijacked by someone using Firesheep.
    • Sites that keep an “https” in the address bar during the entire session are using encryption and cannot be accessed with Firesheep. Banks and other financial institutions commonly use “https” for the user’s entire online session.
    • If you are on an open and unsecured Wi-Fi or wired network, do not go to sites that require a login to access your information. Looking at sites that require no action on your part should not compromise your privacy.
    • Beware that any communication you send over an unsecured Wi-Fi network has the potential of being viewed by anyone else on that network.

    So is there a silver lining to Firesheep?, I think so the publicity may force sites to follow GMAIL’S lead an institute encryption throughout the session and if you want to track your kids activities on facebook and twitter etc.  while they are on your home network, you now can.

    Some questions that have occurred to me that I have no idea about.

    1. What about Wi-Fi on airplanes?
    2. Firesheep has been downloaded over 750,000 times, how many of those are just curious and how many are nefarious?
    3. What do I do about Chrome and Internet Explorer?

    We’re on the map.

    Hey, I can see my house from here!

    In the space of seven days, Google Street View showed my house to the world, and the Ordinance Survey man came to visit me and asked if he could take GPS readings from my property so that the next publication of the OS would include my house as a little black dot.  A curious juxtaposition, I thought.  The wife is unimpressed with Google.  The man with the van, on the other hand, and the big GPS stick (why does he need such a big stick?  I have a GPS thingy in my blackberry!) is strangely welcome, an established component of the firmament.  I am under orders to write to Google, and demand that they remove our property from their heinous project forthwith.  The reason?  Discomfort. And, frankly, that’s enough.

    Google Street View is an interesting project.  there’s significant investment going into it.  Ultra loyal investors are actually questioning the return on investment (though recent results silenced them).  It’s all a part of a future vision – Google doesn’t do things the normal way.  Business cases are actually not normal – because Google is creating assets, and an infrastructure, and a platform, for a world that doesn’t exist yet.  Google is managing for change, and therefore the rules that apply today simply will not apply tomorrow.  Therefore, how can you apply today’s rules (i.e. a business case)?  And it is not easy.  Indeed, Google may be approaching the end of its road in terms of genuine innovation, as a function of scale.

    Google began life as an innovator.  A silicon valley startup, it was brash, unashamedly different, innovating (and therefore exciting!).  As an early public company, it was ridiculously profitable, as its search advertising business accelerated through growth targets like they were a joke.  That accelerated profit led to little scrutiny of its other businesses.  If you make $100m in a quarter, and invest $10m in hokey projects, that’s ok.   And that pretty much continued, even through the YouTube acquisition.  The pressure’s on now though to make YouTube profitable in a conventional sense – i.e. through reselling media and doing deals with media houses – and that’s where the vision starts to wear.

    The YouTube project direction is interesting for two reasons – first, because it goes against Google’s basic model.  Google is free, and that’s important.  Free is being compromised by this and other proposed projects.   The second reason that it’s important is that there is a sense that Google is bowing to market pressure to support the media sector.  Google is no longer redefining segments, but supporting a consensus view of markets.  Google has reached a scale where it can make or break industries.  It has already done that with segments – like email, satnav – but now it is genuinely threatening an entire industry, media.  It could potentially do the same with telco, and the net neutrality debate is well underway.  Suddenly we are starting to see artificial brakes being applied to the innovation machine.

    Making or breaking industries is expensive.  Therefore it is not really something that startups can do – or at least it’s really hard.  Segments can be changed or compromised by startups, but not entire industries.   So maybe Google is finally reaching a crescendo in innovation.  Maybe it’s reached the point where Google needs now to bed down its core business for a few years, and leave the innovation to others. Google’s time as a leader of innovation, essentially, is done.  Apple had two phases (Mac / iPod), but it needed to be near-crippled in order to earn the second.  Microsoft had one (Windows/Office).  IBM’s largely been a follower of innovation, notwithstanding the patent record.

    Copying after a fashion

    Came across a TEDxUSC (University of Southern California) talk by Johanna Blakely (link). She discusses the differences in approach between the fashion industry, where there is very little intellectual property protection, no copyright protection, no patent protection and only trademark protection (the reason for logo chic).

    She focuses on the statement often used by the music and video industry to justify copyright -

    Without ownership there is no incentive to innovate

    One has to only look at Lady Gaga’s latest outfit to see the absurdity of that statement. lady-gaga-queen Fashion designers can sample and remix to their hearts content without any fear that they are impinging on someone else’s copyrighted work. This freedom of action has led to a ‘culture of copying’ a.k.a. a trend and fuelled the rise and success of the fashion industry.

    But this effect does not only apply to fashion. Jokes and recipes can not be copyrighted (good news to all those e-mail forwarders amongst us). For comedians, the result has been the rise of a new style of comic, when everyone can use (and reuse) the same one-liners, comedians with personas (Seinfeld for example) become the new norm.

    The kicker in the talk is when she compares the revenue of low IP industries (food, automobiles, fashion, furniture) with that of high IP industries (film, books, music).

    Blakely TEDxUSC Gross sales

    Makes you think, doesn’t it?

    A copy of her charts (with some awesome fashion statements) can be found at the following link.

    The Googlification of Everything Part 73: Television

    The fifteen foot factor explained (Anthony's feeble attempt at Google-cool by using animation).

    Google launched Google TV last night.  Their video (see below)  is graphically cool.  I really like the way they communicate – they define cool so many times.  But TV isn’t just a channel like they think it is.  TV is an institution.  It’s furniture.  It’s immovable.  That’s ok though, Google have not moved it.  We’re still watching the TV, and the fifteen foot factor has not been eliminated.

    What’s still the problem, however, is that Google are acting on the instinct that has bedeviled attempts to connect the Internet and TV.  This is what I call the moron paradigm.  The moron paradigm is a little like Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a metaphor for the dumbing down of society, as TV and mass communications began to drive lowest common denominator type social development across America.  We don’t so much shows, as watch TV.  We may have a cellophane wrapped trilogy of “The Godfather” sitting in a drawer in the lumber room, but if “two” is on TV (as Tony Soprano may have put it), we’ll get in the popcorn and finish dinner before it starts.  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s part of the moron paradigm.

    Continue reading

    Common Sense and Copyright (300 years and counting)

    Last week’s Economist had a leader titled “Copyright and wrong” inspired by the signing of the three hundredth anniversary of the original act.  The leader discussed how the the concept of copyright has changed from its original concept of balancing  “incentive to create” with “society’s free access to knowledge and art”. It did this by protecting books from privacy (14 years plus another 14 years if the author was still alive).no to 95

    As the Economist so eloquently states,  with the US now granting copyright holders 95 years of protection and other countries enacting similar legislation, it is time to restore the balance.

    When you see a term of 95 years, it is clear that the benefit has very little to do with providing incentive to author’s to create works but much to do with heirs and companies created to monetarily exploit the works under the protection of very long copyright.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am all for allowing an author to derive benefit by  controlling their work’s dissemination (and/or derivative works) during their lifetime or for even 5 years beyond.  I just think that allowing that protection to pass to heirs and/or corporations for such an inordinately long time is wrong. Accidents of happenstance that could benefit society and not the lucky few. Culture and knowledge should not be restricted.

    The Economist suggests a return to 28 years. They are right on.