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Telecom Wants An End To Free Internet Calls
Having failed to impose a per-minute charge on Internet calls once before when the 0867 fiasco erupted, Telecom is again calling for relief from its free local calling obligations under the Kiwi Share. They claim it will be good for us in the end.

Note: This column represents the opinions of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact
Who Cut Off Telecom's Phone? 29 April 2002 Edition
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Million $ Ideas
At last, the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook are revealed for all to see!
Click To See
As regular Aardvark readers are aware, the style of this column is that I often shoot from the lip and ask questions afterwards.

Those who are at the sharp end of my cyber-pen often complain that I should have contacted them for comment before publishing the story in which they were featured -- and you might be tempted to ask "yeah, why not?"

Well perhaps the events of last Friday will explain everything...

Late last week an Aardvark reader contacted me with information that revealed a security flaw in the system used to provide WAP email access through Telecom's cellular network.

As I sat down to research and write a piece on this story I thought that it would be prudent to contact Telecom NZ's "Media Relations" people and get some official comment on the problem.

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Based on recent stats, a sponsor could expect to have their branding delivered around a million times a year to an extremely well targeted audience of (mainly Kiwi) internet/IT professionals and hard-core Net users.

If you're brave enough to be Aardvark's exclusive sponsor for a year, or if you're a reader who'd like to voice your opinion on the matter then please contact me

Of course the first thing I did was visit the Telecom Corporate website to get the necessary phone number.

After a little poking around I found this page with what appeared to be the necessary contact information.

However, ringing the phone number which says "we are available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day" produced a number unobtainable tone. Yes -- the number had been disconnected -- oh dear!

Never mind, I figured that surely the media relations people of the nation's largest Telco would respond rapidly to an email sent to the address on that page. At around 10:15am I sent off the email -- advising that I wanted urgent comment on a security issue affecting part of their cellular services.

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Guess what -- I never did get a reply, or even an acknowledgement to that email.

Not to be thwarted so easily, I rang Telecom's "catch-all" number, 123 and asked to speak to media-relations.

The operator gave me two numbers -- one for Mary Parker and another for Andrew Bristol.

Ringing Mary Parker's number simply told me that she was on leave and that I should ring Andrew.

When I rang Andrew Bristol's number I discovered that, like so many corporate employees, he had his voicemail firewall operating at full strength. I was given the option of leaving a message or trying his cellphone.

Since this was urgent, I rang his cellphone.

You guessed it -- voicemail again.

All I could do was leave a couple of messages outlining the story and asking Andrew to contact me urgently.

So here I am, sitting on quite a hot story but time is ticking away and, despite significant effort on my part, nobody in Telecom's PR/media-relations department is taking or returning my calls.

After giving them two hours to get back to me I gave up and wrote the story anyway -- perhaps they all had other priorities -- who knows?

Because I have to pay the bills some how, I sold the story to ZDNet in Australia.

Given that this was an issue so critical that (once the story was published) it forced Telecom to actually shut down the WAP email service, surely someone's backside should severely dusted over this tardiness within Telecom PR?

And how embarrassing is it that a mere Internet commentator had to point out that their 24/7 phone had been disconnected?

Telecom's Andrew Bristol did eventually contact me late Friday afternoon, better late than never I guess.

However, when it comes to PR lameness, Telecom is in good company.

Last week I also received a press release from an agency who (at least for the time being) shall remain nameless.

This PR company has sent me a number of releases in the past and, every time, they've used a Microsoft Word document attached to an email. Being the nice guy I am, I've asked them nicely to please resend the material as plain text in the body of an email -- and they've apologised, promising never to repeat their faux pas -- but they do.

Why am I such an evil sod that I won't accept press releases in MS Word format?

Well I could suggest that MS Word is not an official Internet standard, or I could point out that I don't have MS Word installed on my Internet-connected PC -- but the main reason is that I'm not dumb enough to receive unsolicited files in any format that might carry a virus, trojan or other security risk.

And, if you think MS Word is a "safe" way to communicate -- please check out the story in the headlines section below and take a quick look at Microsoft's long (and growing) history of security gaffes.

Then there was the horrible PR gaffe that Renaissance made a few weeks ago which saw them flooding the emailboxes of many poor sods with multiple copies of a huge PDF attachment.

It sounds as if PR people could do with their own PR department to help dodge some of these bullets eh?

MPs and PRs Have A Lot In Common
In light of the latest revelation regarding the insecurity of MS Word as a communications tool, perhaps we should rattle a few cages in parliament.

The fact that so many of our MPs still seem addicted to using MS Word as their preferred format for email must surely be an incredible worry. Someone in the parliamentary IT department should demand, in the interests of national security, that all MPs and government employees use email in a safe and secure manner. This means outlawing the use of MS Word attachments to convey information that could more safely be sent as plain text in the body of an email.

Have Your Say
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Security Alerts
Security flaw in Microsoft Office for Mac (CNet - 18/04/2002)

A trio of MS-Office security vulns (TheReg - 10/04/2002)

Two new "critical" bugs patched in IE (ZDNet - 01/04/2002)

Second Java hole poses Windows risk (CNet - 20/03/2002)

Microsoft offers patch for Java software (CNet - 06/03/2002)

Virus Alerts
New Klez worm squirms across Internet (CNet - 18/04/2002)

Aphex E-mail Worm Has A Way With IRC, Instant Messenger (NewsBytes - 11/04/2002)

'Bill Clinton' Worm Gets Around (NewsBytes - 22/03/2002)

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