Delicious spam!

Once more, a post about spam. Why? Because I have one more interesting email in my spam-box, sent by someone who clearly is confused by the whole topic. So, here’s the email, with some annotations:

spam-1486041897301

Why is it spam? Because Google Apps/GMail says it is. And google is often right in these things. And as I don’t know Adam Collier, nor see any name of his company, it clearly seems like spam to me too, from some wannabe web developer in India looking for customers without understanding the rules.

Why  from India? Well, the English writing is more British than American. The writing style is similar to how Indian spam is generally written, with only single-line paragraphs. The skill set used is also very common among Indian developers. The extreme politeness in the writing also is similar to what you see in mostly Asian countries, as people there are generally more polite. Then of course, it mentions India in the email too so that wasn’t difficult.

First of all, this email was sent from a genuine, free email address like those offered by Outlook, Gmail and Yahoo. I’m not going to say if it’s Outlook or not as I allow this guy some anonymity, even though his name is probably fake and the address already closed for sending spam. But for me that’s the first sign of spam. If it is sent from a free mail provider then you should make sure you know the sender before continuing! As usual, check the sender first for every email you receive!

Next is the address to where it was sent. While it seems to be my “info” account, it just isn’t! It was received by the account I used for my registrar and used in my domain registration where it is visible in the WhoIs information, including my name and some other details. The “info” address happens to be the address of some other website, who has also received this email. My address was actually part of the BCC header so other recipients would not see that I had received it. Smart, but it is to be expected from mass mailers as they would really piss off a lot of people if they only use the TO or CC fields, as many people tend to ‘Reply to all’ on spam messages, making even more spam.

So they got my address from the WhoIs database. So they should have known my name too! They just can’t use it as this is a mass email that’s probably sent to hundreds or even more people.As this spammer doesn’t seem to use any mass mailer application, I suspect that he just collected a lot of email addresses from interesting-looking domains and just mailed to them all from Outlook so the amount of recipients is likely to be hundreds, maybe thousands. Not the millions that more experienced spammers will use.

Interesting is how he’s called a webmanager in his email address while calling himself an online marketing manager in the email. No name for his business so maybe he doesn’t even have a real business. This could be a simple PHP developer who is trying to make a freelance web development business and is hoping to get some customers so he can expand his business. He might have a few friends who are also doing development and likely is a student at Computer Science classes in India who wants to put his lessons to the Test. This doesn’t look like a hardcore spammer, even though he is spamming. He’s more a lightweight spammer.

The prices he mentions are very reasonable. Then again, he basically uses standard frameworks like WordPress, Joomla, Magento and Drupal to build those sites which is generally not too much work. I call these “Do not expect too much from us” prices.

There is one major alert in all this, though. The grey line mentions a “Payment Gateway” which you should immediately distrust! Why? Because this developer is probably setting up this payment gateway and might have control over it later on. He could be siphoning off some of the payments made through it or even at one point empty all the money collected and put it in his own bank account! Good luck getting your money back!

Well, he could be honest but you should not take that risk to begin with…

It is interesting to see that he also provides Android and IOS applications. He seems to be specialized in PHP so he would need to know Swift or Objective-C to do the IOS development and Java for the Android development. Or have some other programming environment that allows him to develop for both platforms. He might be using Visual Studio with Xamarin which would allow him to focus on different platforms. Or he has friends who specialized in app development.

At the bottom of his email he tells you that this isn’t spam and that he actually hates spam. So if you aren’t interested you should just reply to him so he can confirm that your email address exists and is in use so he won’t be sending emails to it. Wait… Why does he need that? People who aren’t interested generally won’t respond! So he might actually be collecting confirmations for other purposes…

Anyways, it shows that many spammers are generally amateurs, not knowing what they’re doing. Some might work for some business and think they can promote it this way while others are just freelance developers trying to find a work in the current market. Both will generally learn that these kinds of emails are spam and generally end up being blacklisted or loose their free email account. The problem is not that they really want to spam people, but they are misguided in thinking that you can just send emails to everyone as part of their marketing strategy!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way! If you send these kinds of messages unsolicited then you are spamming. If you seek new customers then you should start by registering your own domain name and provide proper information about yourself. Use your own domain name for sending emails and not some free provider and more important: use mailer software where people can subscribe and unsubscribe and only mail people who have subscribed! Also provide a simple web-based solution to unsubscribe as a link in your email. People might still consider it spam but at least the risks of being blacklisted becomes less as you’re conforming to the anti-spamming rules.

If you want to do proper business online then you need to be familiar with the rules. You should know about spam and how to avoid to becoming a spammer. You should have a clear profile of your business online, preferably under your own domain name. And you need to know about the legislations of the countries that you’re targeting like the cookie-laws and privacy laws in Europe. Thing is, if your site and services are targeting foreign nations then you are operating under their laws also! Never forget that!

And with that, this lesson ends…Marianne In Office.png

The need of security, part 3 of 3.

Azra Yilmaz Poses III

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Do we really need to hash data? And how do we use those hashed results? That is the current topic.

Hashing is a popular method to generate a key for a piece of data. This key can be used to check if the data is unmodified and thus still valid. It is often used as an index for data but also as a way to store passwords. The hashed value isn’t unique in general, though. It is often just a large number between a specific range of values. If this range happens to be 0 to 9, it would basically mean that any data will result in one of 10 values as identifier, so if we store 11 pieces of data as hashes, there will always be two pieces of data that generate the same hash value. And that’s called collisions.

There are various hashing algorithms that are created to have a large numerical range to avoid collisions. Chances of collisions are much bigger in smaller ranges. Many algorithms have also been created to generate a more evenly distribution of hash values which further reduces the chance of collisions.

So, let’s have a simple example. I will hash a positive number into a value between 0 and 9 by adding all digits to get a smaller number. I will repeat this for as long as the resulting number is larger than 9. So the value 654321 would be 6+5+4+3+2+1 or 21. That would become 2+1 thus the hash value would be 3. Unfortunately, this algorithm won’t divide all possible hash values equally. The value 0, will only occur when the original value is 0. Fortunately, the other numbers will be divided equally as can be proven by the following piece of code:

Snippet

using System;
 
namespace SimpleHash
{
    class Program
    {
        static int Hash(int value)
        {
            int result = 0;
            while (value > 0)
            {
                result += value % 10;
                value /= 10;
            }
            if (result >= 10) result = Hash(result);
            return result;
        }
 
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {
            int[] index = new int[10];
            for (int i = 0; i < 1000000; i++) { index[Hash(i)]++; }
            for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++) { Console.WriteLine("{0}: {1}", i, index[i]); }
            Console.ReadKey();
        }
    }
}

Well, it proves it only for the values up to a million, but it shows that 999,999 of the numbers will result in a value between 1 and 9 and only one in a value of 0, resulting in exactly 1 million values and 10 hash values.

As you can imagine, I use a hash to divide a large group of numbers in 10 smaller groups. This is practical when you need to search for data and if you have a bigger hash result. Imagine having 20 million unsorted records and a hash value that would be between 1 and 100,000. Normally, you would have to look through 20 million records but if they’re indexed by a hash value, you just calculate the hash for a piece of data and would only have to compare 200 records. That increases the performance, but at the cost of maintaining an index which you need to build. And the data needs to be an exact match, else the hash value will be different and you would not find it.

But we’re focusing on security now and the fact that you need to have a perfect match makes it a perfect way to check a password. Because you want to limit the amount of sensitive data, you should not want to store any passwords. If a user forgets a password, it can be reset but you should not be able to just tell them their current password. That’s a secret only the user should know.

Thus, by using a hash, you make sure the user provides the right password. But there is a risk of collisions so passwords like “Wodan5tr1ke$Again” and “123456” might actually result in the same hash value! So, the user thinks his password is secure, yet something almost everyone seems to have used as password will also unlock all treasures! That would be bad so you need two things to prevent this.

First of all, the hash algorithm needs to provide a huge range of possible values. The more, the better. If the result happens to be a 256-bit value then that would be great. Bigger numbers are even more welcome. The related math would be more complex but hashing algorithms don’t need to be fast anyways. Fast algorithms actually speed up brute-force attacks so with hashing, slower algorithms are better. The user can wait a second or two. But for a hacker, two seconds per attempt means he’ll spent weeks, months or longer just to try a million possible passwords through brute force.

Second of all, it is a good idea to filter all simple and easy to guess passwords and use a minimum length requirement together with an added complexity requirement like requiring upper and lower case letters together with a digit and special character. And users should not only pick a password that qualifies for these requirements but also when they enter a password, these checks should be performed before you check the hash value for the password. This way, even if a simple password collides with one of the more complex ones, it still will be denied since it doesn’t match the requirements.

Use regular expressions, if possible, for checking if a password matches all your requirements and please allow users to enter special characters and long passwords. I’ve seen too many sites which block the use of special characters and only use the first 6 characters for whatever reason, thus making their security a lot weaker. (And they also tend to store passwords in plain-text to add to the insult!)

Security is a serious business and you should never store more sensitive data than needed. Passwords should never be stored anyways. Only hashes.

If you want to make even a stronger password check, then concatenate the user name to the password. Convert the user name to upper case, though. (Or lower case) so the user name is case-insensitive. Don’t do the same with the password, though! The result of this will be that the username and password together will result in a hash value, so even if multiple people use the same password, they will still have different hashes.

Why is this important? It is because some passwords happen to be very common and if a hacker knows one such password, he could look in the database for similar hashes and he would know the proper passwords for those accounts too! By adding the user name, the hash will be different for every user,  even if they all use the same password. This trick is also often forgotten yet is simple enough to make your security a lot more secure.

You can also include the timestamp of when the user registered their account, their gender or other fixed data that won’t change after the account is created. Or if you allow users to change their account name, you would require them to provide their (new) password too, so you can calculate the new hash value.

The need of security, part 2 of 3.

Azra Yilmaz Poses II

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What is encryption and what do we need to encrypt? That is an important question that I hope to answer now.

Encryption is a way to protect sensitive data by making it harder to read the data. It basically has to prevent that people can look at it and immediately recognize it. Encryption is thus a very practical solution to hide data from plain view but it doesn’t stop machines from using a few extra steps to read your data again.

Encryption can be very simple. There’s the Caesar Cipher which basically shifts letters in the alphabet. In a time when most people were illiterate, this was actually a good solution. But nowadays, many people can decipher these texts without a lot of trouble. And some can do it just inside their heads without making notes. Still, some people still like to use ROT13 as a very simple encryption solution even though it’s almost similar to having no encryption at all. But combined with other encryption methods or even hashing methods, it could be making encrypted messages harder to read, because the input for the more complex encryption method has already a simple layer of encryption.

Encryption generally comes with a key. And while ROT13 and Caesar’s Cipher don’t seem to have one, you can still build one by creating a table that tells how each character gets translated. Than again, even the mathematical formula can be considered a key.

Having a single key will allow secret communications between two or more persons and thus keep data secure. Every person will receive a key and will be able to use it to decrypt any incoming messages. These are called symmetric-key algorithms and basically allows communication between multiple parties, where each member will be able to read all messages.

The biggest problem of using a single key is that the key might fall into the wrong hands, thus allowing more people access to the data than originally intended. That makes the use of a single key more dangerous in the long run but it is still practical for smaller sessions between multiple groups, as long as each member has a secure access to the proper key. And the key needs to be replaced often.

A single key could be used by chat applications where several people will join the chat. They would all retrieve a key from a central environment and thus be able to read all messages. But you should not store the information for a long time.

A single key can also be used to store sensitive data into a database, since you would only need a single key to read the data.

A more popular solution is an asymmetric-key algorithm or public-key algorithm. Here, you will have two keys, where you keep the private (master) key and give others the public key. The advantage of this system is that you can both encrypt and decrypt data with one of the two keys, but you can’t use the same key to reverse that action again. Thus it is very useful to send data into a single direction. Thus the private key encrypts data and you would need the public key to decrypt it. Or the public key encrypts data and you would need the private key to decrypt it.

Using two keys thus limits communication to a central hub and a group of people. Everything needs to be sent to the central hub and from there it can be broadcasted to the others. For a chat application it would be less useful since it means the central hub has to do more tasks. It needs to continuously decrypt and encrypt data, even if the hub doesn’t need to know the content of this data.

For things like email and secure web pages, two keys is practical, though. The mail or web server would give the public key to anyone who wants to connect to it so they can encrypt sensitive data before sending it to the server. And only the server can read it by using the private key. The server can then use the private key to encrypt new data and send it to the visitor, who will use the public key to decrypt the message again. Thus, you have secure communications between two parties.

Both methods have some very secure algorithms but also some drawbacks. Using a single key is risky if that key falls into the wrong hands. One way to solve this is by sending the single key using a two-key algorithm to the other side! That way, it is transferred in a secure way, as long as the key used by the receiver is secret enough. In general, that key should need to be a private key so only the recipient can read the single-key you’ve sent.

A single key is also useful when encrypting files and data inside databases since it would only require one key for both actions. Again, you would need to store the key in a secure way, which would again use a two-key algorithm. You would use a private key to encrypt the single key and include a public key in your application to decrypt this data again. You would also use that public key inside your applications only but it would allow you to use a single public key in multiple applications for access to the same data.

As I said, you need to limit access to data as much as possible. This generally means that you will be using various different keys for various purposes. Right now, many different encryption algorithms are already in use but most developers don’t even know if the algorithm they use is symmetrical or asymmetrical. Or maybe even a combination of both.

Algorithms like AES, Blowfish and RC4 are actually using a single key while systems like SSH, PGP and TLS are two-key algorithms. Single-key algorithms are often used for long-term storage of data, but the key would have additional security to avoid easy access to it. Two-key algorithms are often used for message systems, broadcasts and other forms of communication because it is meant to go into a single direction. You don’t want an application to store both a private key and matching public key because it makes encryption a bit more complex and would provide a hacker a way to get the complete pair.

And as I said, a single key allows easier communications between multiple participants without the need for a central hub to translate all messages. All the hub needs to do is create a symmetrical key and provide it to all participants so they can communicate with each other without even bothering the central hub. And once the key is deleted, no one would even be able to read this data anymore, thus destroying almost all traces of the data.

So, what solution would be best for your project? Well, for communications you have to decide if you use a central hub or not. The central hub could archive it all if it stays involved in all communications, but you might not always want this. If you can provide a single key to all participants then the hub won’t be needed afterwards.

For communications in one single direction, a two-key algorithm would be better, though. Both sides would send their public key to the other side and use this public key to send messages, which can only be decrypted by the private key which only one party has. It does mean that you actually have four keys, though. Two private keys and two public keys. But it happens to be very secure.

For data storage, using a single key is generally more practical, since applications will need this key to read the data. But this single key should be considered to be sensitive thus you need to encrypt it with a private key and use a public key as part of your application to decrypt the original key again.

In general, you should use encryption whenever you need to store sensitive data in a way that you can also retrieve it again. This is true for most data, but not always.

In the next part, I will explain hashing and why we use it.

The need of security, part 1 of 3.

Azra Yilmaz Poses I

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Of all the things developers have to handle, security tends to be a very important one. However, no one really likes security and we rather live in a society where you can leave your home while keeping your front door open. We generally don’t want to deal with security because it’s a nuisance!

The reality? We lock our doors, afraid that someone gets inside and steal things. Or worse, waits for us to return to kill us. We need it to protect ourselves since we’re living in a world where a few people have very bad intentions.  And we hate it because security costs money, since someone has to pay for the lock. And it takes time to use it, because locking and unlocking a door is still an extra action you need to take.

And when you’re developing software, you generally have the same problem! Security costs money and slows things down a bit. And it is also hard to explain to a client why they have to pay for security and why the security has to cost so much. Clients want the cheapest locks, yet expect their stuff is as safe as Fort Knox or even better.

The worse part of all security measures is that it’s never able to keep everyone out. A lock on your door won’t help if you still leave the window open. And if the window is locked, it is still glass that can be broken. The door can be kicked in too. There are always a lot of ways for the Bad People to get inside so what use is security anyways?

Well, the answer is simple: to slow down any would-be attacker so he can be detected and dealt with, and to make the break-in more expensive than the value of the loot stored inside. The latter means that the more valuable the loot is, the stronger your security needs to be. Fort Knox contains very valuable materials so it has a very strong security system with camera’s and lots of armed guards and extremely thick walls.

So, how does this all translate to software? Well, simple. The data is basically the loot that people are trying to get at. Legally, data isn’t property or doesn’t even has much legal protection so it can’t be stolen. However, data can be copyrighted or it can contain personal information about people. Or, in some cases, the data happens to be secrets that should not be exposed to the outside world. Examples of these three would be digital artwork, your name and bank account number or the formula for a deadly poison that can be made from basic household items.

Of all this data, copyrighted material is the most common item to protect, and this protection is made harder because this material is meant to be distributed. The movie and music industry is having a very hard time protecting all copyrighted material that they have and the same applies to photographers and other graphical artists. But also software developers. The main problem is that you want to distribute a product in return for payment and people are getting it without paying you. You could consider this lost profit, although if people had no option but pay for your product, they might not have wanted it in the first place. So the profit loss is hard to prove.

To protect this kind of material you will generally need some application that can handle the data that you’re publishing. For software, this would be easy because you would include additional code to your project that will check if the software has been legally installed or not. Often, this includes a serial number and additional license information and nowadays it tends to include calling a special web server to check if licenses are still valid.

For music and films, you can use a technique called DRM which works together with proper media players to make additional checks to see if the media copy happens to be from a legal source or not. But it would limit the use of your media to media players that support your DRM methods. And to get media players to support your DRM methods, you need to publish those methods and hope they’re secure enough. But DRM has already been bypassed by hackers many times so it has proven to be not as effective as people hoped.

And then there’s a simpler option. Add a copyright notice to the media. This is the main solution for artwork anyways, since there’s no DRM for just graphic images. You might make the image part of an executable but then you have to build your own picture viewer and users won’t be able to use your image. Not many people want to just see images, unless it is pornography. So you will have to support the basic image file formats, which are generally .JPG or .PNG for any image on the Internet. Or .GIF for animations. And you protect them by adding a warning in the form of a copyright notice. Thus, if someone is misusing your artwork and you discover the use of your art without a proper license, then you can start legal actions against the violator and claim damages. This would start by sending a bill and if they don’t pay, go to court and have a judge force them to pay.

But media like films, music and images tend to be hard to protect and often require going to court to protect your intellectual property. And you won’t always win such cases either.

Next on the list is sensitive, personal information. Things like usernames and passwords, for example. One important rule to remember is that usernames should always be encrypted and passwords should always be hashed. These are two different techniques to protect data and will be explained in the next parts.

But there is more sensitive data that might need to be stored and which would be valuable. An email address could be misused to spam people so that needs to be encrypted. Name, address and phone numbers can be used to look up people and annoy those people by ordering stuff all over the Internet and have it sent to their address. Or to make fake address changes to change their address to somewhere else, so they won’t receive any mail or other services. Or even to visit the address, wait until the people left the house and then break in. And what has happened in the past with addresses of young children is that a child molester learns of their address and goes to visit them to rape and/or kidnap them. So, this information is also sensitive and needs to be encrypted.

Other important information would be bank account information, medical data and employment history would be sensitive enough to have encrypted. Order information from visitors might also be sensitive if the items were expensive since those items would become interesting things to steal. You should basically evaluate every piece of information to determine if it needs to be encrypted or not. In case of doubts, encrypt it just to make it more secure.

Do keep in mind that you can often generate all kinds of reports about this personal data. A simple address list of all your customers, for example. Or the complete medical file of a patient. These documents are sensitive too and need to be protected, but they’re also just basic media like films and artwork so copies of those reports are hard to protect and often not protected by copyrights. So be very careful with report generators and have report contain warnings about how sensitive the data in it actually is. Also useful is to have a cover page included as the first page of a report, in case people will print it. The cover page would thus cover the content if the user keeps it closed. It’s not much protection but all small bits are useful and a cover page prevents easy reading by passer-by’s of the top page of the report.

Personal information is generally protected by privacy laws and thus misuse of personal information is often considered a criminal offense. This is unlike copyright violations, which are just civil offenses in general. But if you happen to be a source of leaking personal information, you and your company could be considered guilty of the same offense and will probably be forced to pay for damages and sometimes a large fine in case of clear negligence in protecting this data.

The last part of sensitive data tends to be ideas, trade secrets and more. In general, these are just media files like reports and thus hard to protect, although there are systems that could store specific data as personal data so you can limit access to it. Ideas and other similar data are often not copyrightable. You can’t get copyright on an idea. You can only get copyright over the document that explains your idea but anyone who hears about your idea can just use it. So if you find a solution for cleaner energy, anyone else could basically build your idea into something working and make profits from it without providing you any compensation. They don’t even have to say it was your idea!

Still, to protect ideas you can use a patent, which you will have to register in many countries just to protect your idea everywhere. Patents become open to the public so everyone will know about it and be able to use it, but they will need to compensate you for using your idea. And you can basically set any price you like. This system tends to be used by patent trolls in general, since they describe very generic ideas and then go after anyone who seems to use something very similar to their idea. They often claim an amount of damages that would be lower than the legal amount it would cost the accused to fight back, so they tend to get paid for this trolling. This is why many are calling for patent reforms to stop these patent trolls from abusing the system.

So, ideas are very sensitive. You generally don’t want to share them with the generic public since it would allow others to implement your ideas. Patents are a bit expensive and not always easy to protect. And you can’t patent everything anyways. Some patents will be refused because they’ve already been patented before. And yet you still need to share them with others so you can build the idea into a project. And for this, you would use a non-disclosure agreement or NDA.

An NDA is basically a contract to make sure you can share your idea with others and they won’t be allowed to share it with more people without your permission. And if your idea does get leaked, those others would have to compensate your financial losses due to leakage as mentioned in the NDA contract. It’s not very secure but it generally does prevent people from leaking your ideas.

Well, except for possible whistleblowers who might leak information about any illegal or immoral parts of your idea. For example, if your idea happens to be to blow up the subway in Amsterdam and have an NDA with a few other terrorists to help you then it becomes difficult when one of those others just walks to the police to report you and those who help you. The NDA just happens to be a contract and can be invalidated for many reasons, including the more obvious criminal actions that would relate to it.

But there are also so-called blacklists of things you can’t force in an NDA, depending on the country where you live. It is just a contract and thus handled by the Civil courts. And if the NDA violates the rights of those who sign it then it could be invalid. One such thing would be the right of free speech, where you would ban people from even discussing if your idea happens to be good or not.

Other sensitive information would be things like instructions on how to make explosives or business information about the future plans of Intel, which could influence the stock market. Some of this information could get you into deep trouble, including the Civil Court or Criminal Court as part of your troubles, resulting in fines and possibly imprisonment if they are leaked.

In general, sensitive information isn’t meant to be shared with lots of people so you should seriously limit access to such information. It should not be printed and you should not email this information either. The most secure location for this information would be on a computer with no internet connection but having a strong firewall that blocks most access methods would be good enough for many purposes.

So we have media, which is hard to protect because it is meant to be published. We have sensitive data which should not fall in the wrong hands for various reasons and we have personal data, which is basically a special case of sensitive data that relates to people and thus has additional laws as protection.

And the way to secure it is by posting warnings and limiting access to the data, which is difficult if it was meant to be published. But for those data that we want to keep private, we have two ways of protecting it next to limiting the physical access to this data.

To keep things private, you will need to have user accounts with passwords or other security keys to lock the data and limit access to it. And these user accounts are already sensitive data so you should start with protecting it here, already.

Of all the things software developers do, security happens to be the most complex and expensive part, since it doesn’t provide any returns on investments made. All it does is try to provide assurance that data will only be available for those who are meant to use it.

The two ways to protect data is through encryption and through hashing, which are two similar things, yet also differ in their purpose. I will discuss both in my next posts.

How you should NOT warn about phishing…

PostNL is well-known company in the Netherlands that specialized in delivering snail mail and packages. And recently, some spammers started mailing fake messages pretending to be PostNL for phishing purposes. So, PostNL responded with this Dutch message:

PhishingSince many of you probably don’t know what it says, it roughly translates into a warning about the spammers. Spammers are sending emails claiming a package could not be delivered and you’re asked to click on the provided link. When you do click that link, malware will be downloaded on your system. So, a pretty serious situation and they advice their customers to delete it immediately. And don’t click the link in the email!

And then the irony of this email. It has a link providing more information about this kind of phishing…

This, of course, will be quite helpful for those spammers who can now copy this exact email to send to everyone, since it looks quite reliable. They only have to adjust the link to their own malware link. PostNL is actually making people dumb this way. Don’t click other links but please do click this link. That’s just bad. A very nasty situation because they’re training people to click on links provided in their email, while people should never click on a link in an email. (Unless you’re 100% sure it’s a good link.)

Now, the big question: Why this link?

I did some research by clicking the link and ending up at http://subscriber.e-mark.nl/link[snip].html which redirected me to the PostNL website. (Just snipped the link in text, but it still links to the link I received.) So, what is Emark?

Well, Emark is a digital marketing solution, useful for companies that like to outsource such tasks. You can use their services to link to your CRM system and to send mass emails to your customers for all kinds of purposes. Like this warning. Problem is that those emails are sent through the Emark servers so aware customers will notice that PostNL did not mail it from their own systems. Which is one major warning sign for phishing emails. But other marks in the email do suggest it is a real message, not faked by a spammer. The link in the mail is the same domain as the sender, while spammers generally use different domains. And it was sent to the proper alias I use.

So, what is the long page name in the link? Well, that is easy. PostNL uses a CRM solution and that link will most likely contain a unique identifier for every customer in their system. Because I clicked that link, PostNL will now know that I’ve read this email including when I visited their warning page. (Me posting that link here will probably mess up their CRM system if every visitor here will click it! 🙂 Yeah, I’m Evil!) So now they know which customers are reading their emails and who will click the links provided. Normally, those would be the customers who will be more at risk for these kinds of phishing emails since they clicked a link even though they were warned not to.

But I might be mistaken but by doing this without informing the customer that their click will be registered, they might be in violation with the Dutch cookie law. They register that I’ve read a specific email and visited their webpage so they can also register my IP address. They also know when I clicked that link. And this data is linked to my PostNL account without me giving permission for this all. It’s not a very serious violation but still…

So, PostNL is searching for their dumb customers. Well, it seems that way to me. Time for me to report PostNL for phishing…

That’s not a proper way to deal with your customers and it also teaches them very bad habits!

 

Just a simple spam overview…

Here is an overview of my recent spambox:

More spam

And yeah, it’s time to complain about all my spam again. And what you’re seeing is what I see in my spambox. About 35 different messages received within less than 12 hours. Fortunately, they’re this many because they have been sent to multiple email addresses. Those addresses are all aliases for my mailbox, though.

The interesting one is the one about eFax. I did use eFax once, many years ago when I was working on software for PBX systems. (Has something to do with phones.) So those messages could be true if I would receive them on the proper alias. I did not, so they’re fake. Anything sent to the wrong alias is fake, unless proven otherwise. Also, I am unfamiliar with the phone number in the header and it refers to the British version of eFax, while I happened to use the Dutch version. That’s enough to tell me that these are really, really fake. It’s even funnier when you check out the link, which goes to eliteom.com which happens to be a gun sales website. So, their website has been hacked.

Still, some further investigations direct me to this IP address: 206.253.165.76. By using RobTex I end up at a login site for some shared hosting website running on ZPanel. Still doesn’t tell me much. It would seem the spammer has set up his own host somewhere but the link I found goes directly to a specific page, without a domain name. So, someone is using ZPanel and had their system hacked too. RobTex tells me the ZPanel host is registered by someone in Australia and hosted on servers in the USA. I might be wrong, though, but it seems that there are many layers to peel here.

Moving on, I see spam for fake medicines, a warning about a dangerous parasite that’s probably fake too, a strange invoice that’s clearly fake, some shaving solution, a few naughty messages that just contain links and are hoping I’m curious enough to click and a few more weird messages.

One type of spam is for Ruby Palace, a casino website that seems to hop around on the Internet. According to internet rumours, the registrar for Ruby Palace is located in India where they have no anti-spam laws so they can keep supporting this spammer. Again, RobTex is quite helpful here, telling me that the registrar operates in several countries but not India. So that rumour might not be true. It seems to be Australian, though. One thing to remember, though. Casino spam is offering you great profits, but they make even bigger profits from you spending your money there.

One strange email I received is from a former colleague which was sent to my LinkedIn address. That is, my new LinkedIn address because LinkedIn had already leaked my old one. A direct message to that account is very suspicious in my opinion so I’ve marked it as spam. I’ve anonymized the header to protect my and her privacy a bit. I wonder if Liz really sent this to me, although it does make some sense considering her current employer.

The message itself seems to want to exchange business referrals between members. This is done through a website called referralkey.com which seems a bit spamlike to me. Their unsubscribe page includes ads and they don’t appear to be very reliable. Still, I will just unsubscribe my LinkedIn address and if I continue to receive more spam om my LinkedIn account then I will know that LinkedIn has been hacked again

A few more spam messages, trying to sell me a funeral insurance or give me some interesting dating options. Interestingly enough, I get a lot of spam on an account I used for instantcheckmate.com and that shows you how risky it can be to just subscribe for any website. The use of aliases when subscribing is definitely good advice! Register your own domain, get a Google Apps account for one user and let Google manage your mailbox, including the many aliases you like to create. (Or pick another solution to manage lots of aliases.)

Funny… While writing this post I received two more spam messages…

The Celebrity Hacks…

Marianne SelfieFor those who are still hiding in some cave, there’s something going on called “The Fappening“. It’s a celebrity scandal that involve ‘selfies‘ taken by some famous people, most of them female and in various stages between clothed and fully nude. People claim that these celebrities should not have taken nude selfies to begin with but I strongly disagree with that opinion. People should just have respect for the privacy of others and this includes the privacy of celebrities.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where the price of a used tampon can be hundreds of dollars worth, if used by someone very famous, like Miley Cyrus or Jennifer Anniston. Preferably with a certificate explaining how it was retrieved and when it was used. Just no respect for their privacy, since people can earn lots of money with it. And that’s also true with these celebrity hacks.

To make matters worse, there are plenty of people out there who will make fake pictures of those celebrities. Some are very obviously fake. Others use a look-alike model to make the photo more real. But in this case, the photo’s seem to be mostly real pictures of those celebrities with maybe a few fake ones to make it appear an even bigger hack.

Now, telling celebrities to stop taking nudies (nude selfies) is like telling people to not use their right of free speech. It would violate their own freedom of expression. Why would the girl next-door be allowed to take nudies while Victoria Justice should not do so? Well, the girl next-door is not as interesting as a target than someone famous. Besides, thousands of girls (and boys) have ended up as victims of the same crime because they shared the nudie with their lover, and that lover would then publish the nudie once the relation ends. (Something called revenge porn.) But those pictures will maybe draw attention from 10 to 20 other viewers while a nudie of Ariana Grande would draw the attention of thousands, maybe even millions, of people.

Basically, exposing nudies of other people without their permission should be considered a criminal offense, almost as criminal as rape. (And as a copyright violation, but that’s generally a misdemeanor and often something for the Civil Court, not the Criminal Court.) So if your ex-lover uploads your nudie to a revenge porn site, he (or she) should be arrested and punished for it. And sites that allow this kind of revenge porn should be considered to be criminal organisations and anyone visiting them or uploading pictures to those sites should face criminal charges too. Harsh? Yes, but our modern society seems to require such hard actions against these offenders. Besides, there are plenty of legal ways to publish nudes. You just need the consent of the model, and plenty of models are willing to pose for such images.

Problem with the Fappening is that no one seems to know how the hacker(s) gained access to these selfies, although it is assumed that iCloud from Apple isn’t secure enough. Most celebrities seem to favour Apple products over Android products and all investigations seem to focus on the iCloud. Since the iPhone camera can synchronize any picture it takes with the cloud, it also explains how those photo’s ended up on the Internet in the first place. Thus, if an iCloud account is hacked, those photo’s can start roaming all over the Internet.

One cause of this leak is the insecurity of the iCloud. It seems as if the photos are stored without any form of encryption on the iCloud servers. I’m not 100% sure about that, but Apple has a good reason to not use encryption: decryption takes time and thus slows down the system. But I don’t know why the phone itself cannot do the encryption or decryption of those pictures.

Basically, the iCloud account would contain a private key and every device that is used to connect to this account will receive a private key, after the user requests for it. When this happens, an email should also be sent to the user account to warn her (or him) that a new public key has been generated. Thus, if a hacker gains access to the account, he will need the public key, which will warn the user.

This public key would then be used when the user is uploading or downloading photos. Thus, the encryption happens in the phone, not in the cloud. So if anyone has access to the cloud data, they still won’t be able to see the pictures. This will generate much more privacy for the user. Besides, the encryption could also happen within iTunes so the user can synchronize with her computer. And all data the user has should be encrypted before the iCloud receives it.

That would be an important security upgrade by Apple, but users should also take some steps to secure themselves. Perez Hilton has an expert naming a few options but I don’t fully agree with those. To start with, he advises that every celebrity start using a new email address. That’s just wrong, because they can’t throw away the old one.

A better option for celebrities is to register their own domain name. Most of them already have one anyways. Use this domain to generate a bunch of email aliases and use each alias for any specific contact or account that you have. For example, your address to register your iPhone would be apple.phone@example.com while your registration for Amazon would be amazon.com@example.com. Or, if you want to keep up some bookkeeping, just use random codes for every contact. For example, bb001@example.com for Apple and bb002@example.com for Amazon. (In which case you could apply filters that will label incoming emails based on those aliases.)

Maintaining your email aliases this way is quite easy with e.g. the services of Google. There are plenty of alternatives too, but I just like Google so I use them as example. All you need to do is to create one user account and connect it to your domain. If you want to give your lover, your mom or your children with their own accounts then just add a few more user accounts. And if you have some expert handling your ICT requirements, then let the expert have his own user account too. Your own account should be set up as a catch-all address and you could set it up to filter all incoming emails based on the alias that receives it. You will have to add each address in the settings of your email application too, so you can respond with that alias too, instead of your regular mail address.

Another advice is to strengthen your security questions. Please don’t do that. Security questions are just a crappy way to make people think they’re secure while it just opens an extra attack vector to your account. It’s easier to just answer these questions with about 20 random letters and quickly forget about them. Just make sure you don’t forget your password.

The third advise is similar to my advice of using a whole domain. The difference is that my option is still a single account and all your mail will be received by that single account. Thus, you can create a lot of aliases and still support them with ease. Creating multiple email accounts will become troublesome once you have over 20 of those accounts. Basically, it means that you have to check 20 accounts every day instead of just one…

And the last advice sucks if you’re a celebrity, but I have to agree with it. Still, if you want to be famous, you need people to talk about you so some private information needs to leak out. Or you should get some reputation as bad Diva or whatever, walking on stage in a dress made of meat, having your nipple pierced and filmed to show on YouTube or start dating a homeless person with a criminal record just to draw attention. (Sitting naked on a wrecking ball seems to help too…)

But other information, like the name of your dog, the names of your family members and even where you’re taking your date out for dinner are things that are better kept private. You can still have a big influence on the Internet without exposing much of your private information. Your fans will continue to follow you no matter how crazy you act online.

Do keep in mind that you need to uphold a large fan base if you want to continue to profit from your fame. Having these nudies exposed to the public is horrific, but it is also an opportunity to get more fame. For example, Paris Hilton made a sex video of herself and her lover that got exposed to the Internet. Before that happened, barely anyone knew her. But the attention of this scandal did increase her popularity and provided her a lot of new opportunities. Some of the actresses who have become victims are already trying to spin the event into new opportunities for the future. They are trying to still get something positive about all this negative attention.

Besides, beneath our clothes, we’re all naked. We all are sexual beings who often do silly things that are better left to our own private information. You, the victimized celebrities have done nothing wrong. The ones who took those pictures from your private accounts are the real criminals. They are the ones to blame, they are the ones who need to be punished for the whole thing…