Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact|
As regular Aardvark readers are aware, the style of this column is that
I often shoot from the lip and ask questions afterwards.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
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
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.
As another method of offsetting the cost of running this
site, I'm considering the use of sponsorship -- but would like some feedback.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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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