Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Phone Scam

So, the other week, my mother-in-law arrived (to drop off los niƱjos) in a state of high dudgeon about her laptop. It had been infected, or compromised, or been turned traitor: she had been informed so by telephone technical support.

Telephone technical support had phoned her up, unsolicited, to advise her of this fact mind you. They made her type in some commands which proved her laptop was now malevolent, and offered to fix it for £49.99. They sent her off to some website which provided some supporting evidence.

So, of course, I said "BRING IT FORTH AND PLACE IT BEFORE ME" in that kind of welcoming customer-friendly way us geeks have.

I remember the laptop well - when she got it I had put Firefox 0.7 on it, and deleted the Internet Explorer icon. When I got it back later in the week I remembered I had also added another shortcut to Firefox with the Internet Explorer icon, just in case anyone told her to "click the blue 'e'", as no doubt these phone scammers said: as far as I know, though, this laptop has never suffered from virus problems, despite my mother-in-law's understandable cluelessness about the intricacies of things computering. If it has then I haven't been asked to fix them: admittedly, I see that random-looking software (DVD rip etc) has been installed so she has probably been lucky if none of that has had a malicious payload, but at least the phone scammers couldn't get her to IE her way to a nasty infection - it wouldn't have to be a 0day, as laptop was stuck in 2007 as far as updates are concerned.

I looked in the Run box's list of previous commands and found what the scammers had used to persuade her that the laptop had turned against her:

temp spyware
prefetch unwanted

Both of these consist of two parts - the first is a valid directory in Windows, and the second is a value-loaded term indicating the presence of such banality - sorry, 'evil' - that only £49.99 can restore it's electric virginity.

So, typing 'temp spyware' opens the Windows\Temp directory, and the meaningless second word is ignored: and likewise Prefetch Unwanted just shows the content of the Windows\Prefetch directory. Quite effective, though, as all the files in these directories are likely to have gnomic names and be log files or have the clunky 'unknown' icon, and they're going to open in Icon view as that's the default and defaults don't change with 90% of users. (Note - I made that figure up)

So, I have the laptop, and it's dead meat with in 48 hours: it died while being updated, I think XP Service Pack 3 was the last straw. It started blue-screening constantly: at first I thought that finally after 8 years System Restore was actually going to do something useful for me, but then it started beeping really loudly when it was powered on (bit like an ingress alert, except it doesn't have one: it has a battery beep, but I don't think that was it) and then a silent boom and now it won't power on at all. Either it was on it's way out already and the activity of being updated freaked it out so much it died, or the scammers who phoned up my mother-in-law have remote psychic computer destroying powers. Edit: it didn't die in the end - I put Hannah Montana linux on it and it's in a cupboard somewhere. Although it may be dead by now.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

On The Occasion Of An England Football Match Played In Dnepropetrovsk Only Being Available To Watch On The Internet

And when his work is done -
Ha ha! - begins the fun.
From Dnepropetrovsk
To Petropavlovsk,
By way of Iliysk,
And Novorossiysk,
To Alexandrovsk to Akmolinsk
To Tomsk to Omsk
To Pinsk to Minsk
To me the match will run,
Yes, to me the match will run!

And then I watch
By morning, night,
And afternoon,
And pretty soon
My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed,
When they find out I watched it first!
Apologies to Tom Lehrer

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Blast From The Past

Can you name the year?

Election looming - check

Unpopular, unelected Prime Minister taking the country into recession - check

Opposition ahead in the polls for 3 years leading up to the election - check

Just had a war with Iraq - check

Impending tax rate of 50% for the highest earners - check. (*)

That's right, 1992. Government returned to power against the odds, five more years, ker-ching. A lot of disappointed people.

A couple of 2009 Tory policies caught my eye - no stamp duty for first time buyers up to a purchase value of £250,000 and no inheritance tax up to a property value of £1,000,000. One thing about the Tories, they always look after their own people - which is why they love high interest rates, because this is good for people with lots of cash in the bank. After all, how many first time buyers spending a quarter of a million pounds, or their parents in a million pound house, or their grandparents with thousands of pounds squirrelled away are going to vote anything other than Tory? Fortunately for them, most of the rest of us seem to have forgotten how much the Tories fucked the economy between 1979 and 1997. For any of you youngsters who don't remember - on 16 September 1992 the newly-returned Tory government raised interest rates from the current 12% to 15% to try and stop currency traders raping the pound. They failed, and in the meantime, my take-home salary no longer covered my mortgage payment. I'm going to look into transferring to a fixed rate mortgage myself, if such things still exist.

(Nitpicker's corner: In 1992, the Labour opposition proposed a 50% tax rate on people earning over £40,000: in 2009, the Conservative opposition announced they would not repeal Labour's proposed increase of tax to 50% on incomes over £150,000)

(References: 1992 election, Gulf War, Labour Conference 1991, Labour Party Manifesto 1992, Black Wednesday)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

New TV

(Sorry for all the TV jargon in this post)

I bought a Panasonic TH42PX80B TV the other day - a 42" 720i plasma beast. My old CRT TV lasted me more than a decade and it wasn't broken, but wifely pressure saw me splashing out.

I do like it - a good picture, a decent remote, and I've bought a component video cable for my Wii, and it turns out my crappy old £30 DVD player is a Panasonic too (who knew?) so the DVD controls on the TV remote control work. I was thinking of buying a new DVD player with decent hardware upscaling and an HDMI out but I don't think I'll bother now (even though they're only £50 now). I've seen Blu-Ray in our local Sony shop (me and Mr Boy pop in there on Saturdays to watch 5 or 10 minutes of Blu_Ray WALL-E but they're too expensive for me (the players, not the disks.) WALL-E looks just great on Blu-Ray, extremely crisp and great colours. Incidentally, the first time I watched it, I forgot it was animated for the first half because it's so beautifully done..

Anyway, my point is, while I was shopping around to find the best TV at the best price I came across something I haven't seen before - websites purporting to sell TVs and computers cheaper than everyone else, which are just scammers.

At first, I thought I wanted a TV capable of 1080p (which is the highest HD quality) so I looked at the Panasonic TH-46PZ80B. A 46" monster, it's £900 from Amazon including shipping, which was more than I wanted to spend. So I looked on Froogle, as you do, ordered by lowest price first, and I found a site called UnionTechPC (which doesn't seem to be in the Froogle results now). Quite a bit cheaper - but when I registered it only accepted Western Union payments. Ah, Western Union, the scammer's friend - you send money, the scammer withdraws the money, no goods are ever shipped: Western Union is only good for transactions between trusted parties, as they themselves know. Plus, no SSL on the checkout page, very suspicious. A quick search finds this page and this page. You'll notice if you view those pages - or if you register at UnionTechPC - that they are now accepting credit card payments, of course no goods will be received and you just gave your card details and security code to a bunch of scamming scum.

So there you go: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Google the name of the website you're thinking of buying on, or if you can't find anything post on somewhere like the AVForums to see if, at least, anyone has successfully bought from the website. Doing a WHOIS search (which tells you who owns the website) is a good idea too: see the results for UnionTechPC: hmm, registered in January this year, the contact is a person not an organisation, the contact address is a PO box, dodgy, dodgy and dodgier. Just because they offer credit card payments is not an accreditation (though if they don't it's fairly obvious they're not legitimate) as above. Be careful out there..