Spam Control! – Update

Spam Control!

Thanks to the guys at Windows Secrets (see their feed in the sidebar), I have a little more info on spam control. Mark Edwards provided a couple of links that I am going to pass on to you guys.

Before I do, though, I just want to say that once again, I have proven myself to be just a bit “dee dee deee”, because I didn’t think of it first. I’ve been using “dead” email addresses since the 90’s, and I never thought to create a site that provides, wait for it…… Temporary E-Mail addresses.

Yep, there’s at least a couple of sites out there that do just that. And here’s the great thing: you can make up a temporary address “on the fly”, without having to go and register for it first. Say you’re slipping around the web and you see this great thing you want to sign up for, a game or whatever. When you get to the part where they ask for a “valid” email address, you just make one up and type it in. The temp service automagically creates it for you on their server and you can go there to validate your subscription or whatever, and then forget about it.

Each of the two have different features, and what might work for one of you may not be what another one wants, so check them both out.

Temporary Inbox is maybe my favorite, mainly because of the extensions for Firefox. If you use the big blue “e”, they have a toolbar that fits in there. Same for Opera. These add-ons will automagically generate a random mailbox name for you, plus you can check that email with a single click of a button. (That’s alot easier than using Yahoo! or GMail…). The emails received at that box are deleted after 6 hours.
The other cool site is Mailinator. They give you the ability to put your mailinator inbox right on your website (if you have one). This way, you don’t even have to leave your site to check your mail. Again, your emails will be deleted after a few hours.

Remember, these email addresses are totally NOT secure. Anyone can read the emails sent there if they can guess your login and password. There is absolutely NO security in a service like this, except for the oblique security you get from not revealing your real address.

Check them both out. I think you will find one or both of them to be a great help in controlling the spam.

And let me recommend Windows Secrets newsletter as a great investment of time. The free version, which I have linked to in the sidebar, is good for learning alot of things you might not ever learn any other way. But the Paid version is great. There is always something to be learned in there, even for a guy like me, who’s been geeking around these things since windows were something to be looked through, not at.

I am Jon, and I still hate spam.

Spam! You Can Control It

Scourge of the Net

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember seeing for yourself the somewhat prophetic and funny skit by Monty Python. It’s estimated that probably 60% of email traffic is spam. Where does it all come from? If we all hate it, why is it there? Does it work? Why does it keep filling our inboxes, regardless of what we do? Is there anything that will keep it away?

Luckily, you can keep most of the spam from ever reaching you. There’s a cool little program you can use and it’s pretty much free. There’s nothing to download. You already have everything you need.

Signing Up For Spam

You may not realize it, but the ONLY reason you get spammed to death is: you sign up for it. You do it without thinking, over and over again. Ever sign up for something online? You got asked a bunch of questions, right? One of them amounted to a statement saying you read and agreed to their terms of service. Did you really read that? If you’re like the majority of us, you did not. You checked the box or clicked the button and got what you were after. And so did they.

They, in alot of cases, are interested in collecting your information to sell as part of a mailing list. Almost everybody is doing it nowadays. If you don’t believe me, just look at the ads on your browser next time you’re on the web. Chances are good they are specifically aimed at you, personally. There’s a reason for that, too.

The Social Connection

Seems like everybody has a MySpace account lately, or the social equivalent at a competing site. And, since the “purpose” there is to “network”, most people put alot of private data on the profiles. All this data is harvested and used by advertisers who pay MySpace for the use of it. Even the profiles marked as Private are used in this way. ( Private just means that your MySpaces pages can’t be viewed by the general public.) This is what “Social Networking” is all about. MySpace and Facebook and Twitter and all the others are nothing more than tools for advertising. And one type of advertising is, whether we like it or not, mass mailings, ie., spam.

I have a MySpace account, where I have maintained a poetry blog for most of this year. Before I opened the account, ads on my pc were pretty much random with a slight technology slant. Since starting the poetry blog, nearly all my ads are now dealing with poetry, writing contests, videos of poetry readings and Pat Benatar (I have one of her videos on my MySpace profile). I wonder what will happen when I move my poetry over to jonknight.us, where no ad mechanism resides?

Opting Out

The government was going to step in and help us all out a few years ago. They passed the CAN SPAM Act which required mass mailings to have a link at the bottom, the Opt Out link. This was supposed to be the mechanism that allowed consumers to remove themselves from mailing lists they had inadverdently been added to. It was assumed that only legitimate companies would add the links, and the scammers would not.

The legislation was enacted. All the legitimate mass mailers (?) promptly inserted their links. As a matter of fact, everybody started inserting the links. The scammers loved it, because they use more bandwidth than all the rest of us put together, and scammers or not, that costs money. Now they had a way to find out if the emails they were sending out were getting to a real person.

Every time you click an Unsubscribe Link in an email, you are verifying that yes, indeed, someone does actually use that email address. And your address just became five times more valuable. Because the current line of thinking in the Web 2.0 era, just as it was in the last century, is that mass mailings work.

Controlling Spam: It’s All Lies!

There is a way to control spam. I get, on average, less than 10 pieces of spam in a week. Believe me, that’s being generous. There are weeks on end that I receive absolutely no spam in my inbox at all. So I know this program works.

The program is lies. Lie to the spammers. Don’t fight them, misdirect them. And then watch your back. Let me explain.

How do we lie to the spammers? Well, this is my logic: I can’t talk you into never signing up for anything online, so I need to show you a way to do it without opening yourself up to constant spam. This is how: Open a web based email account that you never plan to use. Go to wherever.com and make one. Give it a name, something like YeOldSpamBox@wherever.com. Once you’ve got that done, just use that email address as your email during the sign up. Believe it or not, that’s pretty much the whole program. You might have to go into that email box to activate your new subscription or whatever, but then you can forget it. Well, until the next time you sign up for something, at least.

The biggest part of this is you. Be aware of what you’re doing. If the address bar in your browser turns red, and you’ve never seen it do that, PAY ATTENTION. If you get a warning from your antivirus program, PAY ATTENTION. Infections of all types nearly always carry as part of the payload some way of harvesting your email address as well as your address book.

Eliminating spam can’t be done overnight unless you just decide to start using a different email address. For some people this is an option, for others it’s not. If you can, try to get an email address that doesn’t depend on your service provider. A good idea is to purchase your own domain. Most hosting plans include email addresses at your domain. You would need to protect this email address like it was your driver’s license, and only use it with folks you are sure of. And if the rare piece of spam does get to you, never click the unsubscribe link. You can simply tell your Thunderbird EMail program, or whichever one you use, to mark all mail from that address as spam or junk. Now that there’s only a few pieces a week, that becomes a real option.

I am Jon, your host here at Wordout, and I don’t like spam.

Protect Yourself From Internet Threats? Easy!

(Note: This was originally published in 2005 and has been slightly edited for this presentation.)

The Basics

I am assuming you are using a Windows operating system.

First, make sure you have all the latest critical and high priority updates for whichever Windows you are using. There should be a “Windows Update” in one of the lists you can get to from the START button. Use it to get the critical and security updates you need. If you’ve never used it before, Microsoft will require you to install a couple of items first. You really have very little choice in the matter if you want your updates this way, so let them install and run their programs. After they scan your system, you will be given a choice on downloading and installing your updates. After the updates are installed, you will probably need to restart your computer.

Make sure you have a firewall installed and turned on. For general use, the included Windows firewall is adequate. If you even rarely visit “questionable” sites ( in your judgement), then you will need a more thorough firewall. If you are behind a router, make sure the router’s firewall is turned on. Regardless of the router, make sure you have a firewall installed on your pc that monitors both incoming and outgoing traffic. An intrusion attempt monitor is recommended. A good antivirus program is essential these days. Make sure you have it set to scan all incoming and outgoing emails, as well as inside of compressed files. It should also be able to detect the presence of rootkits on your system. It’s a good idea to scan every file on your system at least once a week. I scan my system every day at 430 am. To really protect your computer from the latest spyware threats, you’re going to need a spyware removal program. I once used Spybot – Search and Destroy, and have had great success with it. Although I use a different program now, I still keep Spybot S&D around for other functions it has built into it. Occasionally I find the need for another specialized program, Hijack This!, which is indispensable when removing some infestations. Each and every one of these programs, Windows, antivirus, spyware remover, and Hijack This!, need to be kept current. In other words, to make all this stuff work together and Really work, you will have to make yourself check for updates at least once a week. I check for updates on each of these plus the other main programs I use on a daily basis. If you don’t keep your programs up-to-date, you cannot protect yourself at all on the internet.

Okay, you say, I’m all set. Now what?

Becoming a Smaller Target

Nearly all viral threats are directed at Microsoft products, and for good reason. More computers on this planet use their software than any other software, mainly because it comes preinstalled on most computers when you buy them. This doesn’t make Microsoft or the products they make, bad. I personally am very grateful to Microsoft. Their business practice of “giving away” software helped make computers inexpensive enough to fuel the outrageous growth of the computer culture as a whole. They might not be the “best” guys, but I think they are at least some of the “good guys”.

The real bad guys are usually playing a “numbers game” when they release their latest nasty. They target known issues and security flaws in all software, but Microsoft products just give an easier payoff. Another way of looking at it is like this: Security on the internet can be looked at as a war zone. There are lots of little terrorists (the virus and spyware creators) who want to attack and do as much damage as possible with each effort. Microsoft is the biggest presence on the internet, and therefore the easiest to hit. So when the latest script kiddie comes out with a new bug, he will probably target everyone using Microsoft products to get the best bang for his effort. After all, he has a reputation to create.

Since we know that the next big outbreak will probably be targeted directly at Microsoft products, the easiest way to protect ourselves from this future threat is to find another product that works as well for us. There are pretty much two other choices for you. The first is Apple. The cost factor usually rules them out. Their machines are better, in my opinion, from a security standpoint. But the cost of an iMac is considerably more than a pc. So if you stick with a pc, the main competitor to Windows has been the several different variations of Linux ( an alternative to Windows). Some are free and some cost money. The free ones are pretty good, but you would want at least a little real guarantee of support for your operating system. That will cost money and it’s really hard to spend against something you aren’t sure is ever going to happen anyway. So, keep your Windows, and keep it updated at Windows Update.

Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird

And that big blue “e” on your desktop has always been there, free. How much will it cost to replace that thing? It seems like the most complicated thing on the whole computer! Well, honestly, Mozilla Firefox doesn’t cost you a penny. I have been using it since the middle of 2004 and would never use anything else. At first, the big blue “e” seemed fine to me except for the security problems. Nevertheless, I am old school and had always used Netscape. After using Firefox, I can just say that there is no other browser out there that can really compare. It’s fast, reliable, and what can I say, I Like it! Do you want a browser that will do what You want instead of what some geeks in Redmond want? After you install Firefox go to Firefox Central and customize it to your heart’s content. Extensions allow you to add features that you actually want, instead of yet another useless toolbar to clutter your screen. On mine, I have a constant feed for the weather (ForecastFox), an adblocker that gives me control over what ads I want to see, if any (Adblock), complete controls for my Winamp MP3 player (FoxyTunes), the ability to increase the size of the text or pictures on the screen, and constant news feeds via RSS from the BBC, CNN, ABC, Slashdot, and ESPN (LiveBookmarks), just to name a few. And anti phishing has been standard on it for awhile now. I can even make Firefox tell the internet that it’s Internet Explorer, so that sites that require IE will display properly.

Themes will give you the ability to change the way your browser looks and feels. My personal favorite is the Noia Extreme theme. There are lots to choose from. You will find one that’s just you.
The other main program from Microsoft that people use is Outlook Express, for email. Once again, just because I’d rather ride in a truck with a red cross on it than a bullseye, I recommend using a different product. The Thunderbird Email program from Mozilla is an excellent replacement. It has all the same features and more. Plus the extensions and themes for Thunderbird are available, as with all Mozilla products. There is even a fully functional calendar extension that rivals the full Microsoft program Outlook, so a Thunderbird download with the calendar extension is kind of like a free upgrade.

Lest you think this is just an ad for Mozilla, let me tell you truthfully: I believe in these two products. Firefox isn’t the only browser if you don’t want IE. There are several, and I’ve heard that even the free version of Opera rivals anything on the market. I have simply had a great experience with Firefox. Fewer worries and all that. And Thunderbird without any extensions is just the best email program I have ever used. I have a couple of extra buttons on mine to deal with junk mail more efficiently and that’s it.

Other Common Programs

Regardless of which browser or email you choose, you must keep them updated. In addition, there are several programs you use that you might not be familiar with. Adobe Reader, for viewing pdf files, Flash Player, Quicktime, Real Player, Sun Java. These are just a few of the programs that also need to be kept current. Even though they have built in updaters, some of them don’t remove the old versions from your computer, and that leaves you still vulnerable. So it’s up to you to protect yourself. Go into the Control Panel and select ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS. Look for more than one entry for each of these programs and uninstall the lowest numbered for each of them. If you don’t see an entry for one of them don’t worry, you probably have a different program to handle those files. For instance Windows Media Player will handle most video files so Real Player is not a necessity. Note that both Java and Adobe are notorious for leaving their old versions behind. Don’t remove all the entries. If you do some of the internet will either not work for you, or will look rather strange.

Use Good Judgement

One last thing: You can have an army of security between your pc and the internet, and it does no good whatsoever if you don’t exercise some good judgement out there. If you go to the “seedier” parts of the net, expect to catch something. Porn surfing? Expect to catch something. Downloading illegal files? Expect to catch something. It’s like this. The internet is just like where you live. There are places nearby you wouldn’t ever drive to, get out and hang about. For a variety of reasons it’s not in your best interests to go there. So don’t go there.

I am Jon, your host here at Wordout.

Obvious Solution To The FAQ Quagmire

Knee Deep In The Hooplah

OK, I have been about knee deep in the hooplah that is trying to administer a database over a network. To all you “real” sysadmins out there: I salute you. Having become a generalist rather than a specialist, there are certain skillsets that I am simply not very good at, and that is one of them.

As I sat down to publish my first “official” post here at the newest incarnation of Wordout, I realized that the post was better suited to the FAQ. And then it hit me, so obvious I laughed out loud. <edit> Evan coined a new term for the state I was in: Faquagmire </edit>

You see, one of the reasons I wanted to create the Frequently Asked Questions section was to have an easily searchable database of problems I come across in my day to day work. Most things are very repetitive in this business, but every now and then something comes up that I will only see once a year, maybe. Sometimes it’s a real bother to remember what I did to fix the problem. It would be nice to have a resource I can trust that’s available wherever I need it. And in the future, it could serve as a guide to any technicians I might hire. It could be a “how to” manual on keeping a pc running smoothly. Anyone could search it and find the same answers I use every day.

Dee Dee Deee
You might have seen somewhere on the site where I say I really like this WordPress engine. Evan says it too in one of his comments. It really is a good development tool to work with. It has features galore the first time you use it, and is very easily twisted and turned into something reasonably unique. Plus it has a great little Search function…..

Uhhh, that is The biggest part of a FAQ. Hmmm. If I create a category of post in Wordout, and call it (lessee here…) Uhhh, call it, “Frequently Asked Questions”, and then just put posts with questions as titles, wouldn’t that effectively become my FAQ? Plus, I will get the added benefit that anyone can post a comment about the solution, thereby giving me a feedback loop to aid in quality control of the posts in the future. As technology changes my FAQ would naturally try to keep up through the comment section.

So that is what will be, for now at least. I think it’s a good idea, plus I can deal with WordPress alot easier than MySQL.

I am Jon, your host here at Wordout.

Home Page Link Fixed

Thanks to Dawnie Duckie for pointing out that not only did the old home page at www.computergeekservices.net look yucky, but the Home link at Wordout didn’t even point there! I took the time today to make a leaner page there, getting rid of the drab old charcoal look completely. Of course, like everything else around here, it seems to be a work of perfection in progress.

Thanks Dawnie!

Keep them cards and letters comin….

Beta Testing

This site is now released for Beta testing to a select group of invitees (you know who you are!) . As you’re poking around in here, don’t forget to add the RSS to your Firefox. You don’t want to miss a thing…

Notes:

The FAQ Frequently Asked Questions still is not finished. It displays, and accepts questions… but still it doesn’t work.
The Comment Preview button is currently broken. The Submit comment button works.

For the next several days comments will be open. This means that anyone can leave a comment without registering. Once the Beta testing is completed, users will be required to be registered and logged on to leave a comment.

I’m trying to get the F-Secure® World Map over there to the right in that blank area. Currently waiting on a response from F-Secure to see if they will let me do that. (Here is a short 40 second video at YouTube showing the World Map in action.)

The aim of Wordout is to provide relevant news, facts and commentary on any facet of technology, computing and science in general. Many of the topics I covered before will be included, but current topics will be limited to these general interests. The site is public, and is primarily used by members of the On Call On Site™ program, a group of select business and residential customers of Computergeek Services.

Again, thanks… just place your comments on this post so I will see them.

jon

Coming Soon

Coming soon to your screen: Facts and Commentary on many things dealing with The Internet, Computers, Developing Technology, Earth & Space, Scary Stuff, and The Future!

Be sure to click the RSS feed link and add Wordout to your Firefox Bookmarks Toolbar so you don’t miss any of it!

Progress Report

Slowly bringing this thing together, folks….

I am thinking that by the end of the week, I should be able to start actually using the site for it’s intended purpose. Hopefully by the end of this day I will have the Internet Storm Center, Internet Traffic Report, and all the other little niceties you were used to seeing on the old site. Hopefully, I will also be adding some new graphics to the sidebar to give you even more “Net At A Glance” info.

Stay tuned for further developments.

The First Comment

For as long as I can deal with it, and as long as it works, the first comment will always need approval. After that, they will appear on the site when posted.

And with that, Wordout is back on the web.