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11th August 1997
Email Vendetta Spam
Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE) has been the subject of this column on several previous occasions - but there's a sinister new use for UCE that has surfaced in the past week or two.

Last week two US companies have suffered from "Vendetta Emails".

"What is a Vendetta Email?" you ask..

Well it seems that if you want to ruin someone's business, or at least cause them a great deal of inconvenience, all you have to do is send a UCE in their name and wait for an angered Net-public to harass them.

Last week this happened to a poor unfortunate Florida businessman who found his phone lines and computer clogged with calls and emails from disgruntled Net users who were complaining about a message that was sent out bearing his phone number. The email - which reached as far as NZ, told recipients that their order for pornographic video tapes had been received and would be billed to their credit card unless they rang the phone number given.

Naturally Mr Hovland, the victim of this hoax was inundated with messages from confused and irate Net users.

Later in the Week, Samsung USA was victim to a similar fraud when a UCE was sent out in their name. To complicate the matter even further - it is believed that all those who complained to Samsung about the alleged UCE were further spammed by someone representing themselves as Samsung's lawyers.

What does this all mean?

Time to sign your email?
Perhaps it's about time that the industry as a whole moved towards the regular use of digital signatures on email messages.

Without a digital signature it becomes quite trivial to send a message in the name of another person or organisation - and this should be of concern to all who do business on the Net. Of course in this day of high-res scanners and 1440dpi colour printers it's also pretty easy to send bogus mail through the postal system - but such letters are usually accompanied by a physical signature which can act as proof of sender.

It's also a lot easier to send out thousands or even millions of copies of an email with a forged address than it is to post the same number of forged postal items - hence the reason we should be moving very quickly towards a consistent digital signature standard.

The systems offered by PGP are probably the most widely accepted public key encryption and digital signing systems in use today and therefore represent the defacto standard. For non-commercial users, the PGP product is free and if you're a commercial user it's just US$49 (on special at US$39 until August 15th).

It seems strange that some businesses are afraid to risk a few thousand dollars worth of business over the Net using secure encryption, yet they they seem unconcerned that they're not including proof of identity with their important email communications.

Maybe the time has come?

proof of ID needed

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Another good idea
Fuzzy Domains?
Everyone reading this should already be aware of SearchNZ, probably the best search engine around for locating information on the NZ Web.

Kim Hendrikse is one smart cookie and when looking for an edge in the already crowded Web search-engine market, recognised that it made more sense to create a new product than try to compete with the "big boys" with yet another search engine. The result, a fuzzy-search engine and the SearchNZ site, which has become the first-choice of most savvy NZ Net users when searching for local Web sites.

Well now Kim's added his fuzziness to the task of searching for information on domain names - which is a good thing since some companies have domain names which aren't always easy to guess.

Danny De Hek (part 3)
Seems that recent criticism of Danny's professional claims have hit a nerve. He's now toned down his own Web page, simply claiming now to be nothing more than "one of New Zealand's Leading Internet Consultants" (still a questionable title) and "a famous Internet Consultant" which he certainly is in light of recent publicity given here and by Dr Stir.

getting better
A test of honour?
Anyone for some cheap software?
According to my best recollection, vendors are allowed to make honest mistakes when pricing their products. The advertised price is (in legalese) an invitation to treat; a starting point from which negotiation can commence. A vendor is not obliged to sell you (or anyone) anything they advertise - at any price.

What happens however when the purchase is made over the Internet?

When is the actual purchase contract sealed and the deal become non-negotiable?

Certainly there have been several documented instances of US companies accidentally posting ridiculously low prices for products and then sticking by them. One case in particular saw a company sell a number of brand new 17" monitors for US$27 through their Web-site, until the mistake was noticed and the prices on the Web site corrected. Whether their upholding the sales contract was a legal necessity or simply goodwill, the fact remains - to their infinite credit that they didn't attempt to opt out of the deal.

I have a feeling that the same thing is about to happen here in New Zealand. A quick troll around the Microsoft NZ Upgrade Centre shows that they're selling Access'97 (the full edition - not the upgrade) for just $129 whereas I believe the real price is $429+GST.

If you rush out and buy from the Microsoft Shop, your transaction will be accepted by the computer - so you may well have a legal right to force them to honour the deal.

But wait... if they've made an honest mistake then they won't have to stick to the deal will they? Probably not - but *I* know that they've been aware of the incorrect price posted on the Web site for some time yet have not changed it - what do you call that?

So.. if you're looking to test the business ethics of the newest shareholder in Apple and you want a cheap copy of Access'97 - you know where to go.

I Can't Believe It's True!

NOTE: As is often the case with the ICBIT section, the problem was fixed very quickly. In this case, the DNS entry for the Dick Smith site was incorrectly set-up which meant attempts to access the web site were met with "DNS entry not found" errors. It now appears to be working. Still, there must have been a lot of disappointed people over the weekend. (Maybe they did contact Danny?).

There's a new NZ-produced Internet program on TV called @XTRA. As the name might suggest, it's sponsored by Xtra - but also in the list of primary sponsors is Dick Smith Electronics (DSE). Part of this week's programme even came from their Manukau Superstore where we got to see some PCs and modems suitable for using on the Net.

Like all savvy computer companies, DSE advertises the URL for its Web site on the programme it sponsors. Here it is, click it and see exactly why *you* should go to them for Internet hardware, software and advice:


Come on guys.. if you need a Web site, I know where you can find a "Famous Internet Consultant" :-)

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