Worst phishing attempt ever

I received an email today purporting to be from Bank of America asking me to reconfirm my account information for online banking.

Naturally, I would have approached such an email cautiously in any event. I’m familiar with “phishing” scams: Someone sends you an email that appears to be from a trusted institution with a link that appears to be to that trusted institution’s website, and asks you to log in and provide some essential security information. Only the email’s actually from an identity thief and the trusted institution’s website is a clever phony. After you plug in your information, the identity thief will use it to log into the real site, or others, and engage in all sorts of mischief.

But this is the sloppiest attempt I’ve ever seen. The punctuation and formatting were awful, to begin with. How awful? Here’s a sample:

Dear Customer,

Account Requires Complete Profile Update, 

We have recently detected that different computer user had attempted gaining 
access to your Online account, 

and multiple password was attempted with your user ID. 

It is now necessary to re-confirm your account information to us. 

If this process is not completed within 24-48 hours. 

We will be forced to suspend your Account Online Access as it may have been used 

for fraudulent purposes. 

Sentence fragments. Strange line breaks. Strange capitalization. English-as-a-second-language phrasing. Nothing about the email seemed legitimate. The phisher didn’t even bother to download a Bank of America graphic to give the email the slightest hint of authenticity.

He couldn’t even use a real copyright symbol. The last line read: (C) 2014 Bank of America Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

But the real topper was this: There was no link to a phishy website. Instead, there was an attachment called Secure Form.html. Because, yeah, that’s how a multi-billion-dollar company like Bank of America rolls.

Yep. This was a complete and total phishing fail.

Cutting the cable

“Rescue Me” is what planted the seed for me. I’d never watched the engaging drama when if first aired, but a few months back I started watching it on Netflix Instant Watch through my AppleTV. It was an intriguing show, and it got me thinking about how much good TV I’ve never seen that’s now available at the touch of a button. I remember thinking that the Screenwriters Guild is in trouble. A writers’ strike will never have the same impact. There’s enough good television already available through Netflix and Hulu Plus to last a lifetime.

It was a short leap from there to wondering why we kept paying for cable TV. My family doesn’t watch much regular TV. My wife and I mostly watch movies and the Daily Show. My son watches cartoons on Netflix. I’m a Walking Dead fan and have been watching Season 2 of Game of Thrones on DVD. None of us are into televised sports, except maybe the Super Bowl, which I watch mostly for the commercials. Most of my television viewing lately has been catching up on series that I didn’t watch when they originally aired: Rescue Me, Breaking Bad, Mad Men.

I called up the cable company and asked how much it would chop off our monthly bill to shut down the TV and just keep Internet service. I was shocked when the operator told me it would save us about $100 a month. That’s with no premium channels. A subscription to Hulu Plus will cost about $8 a month and give us access to The Daily Show and a bunch of other television shows. We’re already paying for Netflix. The Walking Dead just wrapped up its season. When it starts up again, I’ll be able to get a season pass from iTunes for less than $50 — about half a month’s worth of cable for a season’s worth of episodes.

So we cut the cable. So far, the main impact is we no longer have a clock in the living room.

Though I will admit that last night, after a long day of work and driving and a long weekend working on the basement, I was tired and brain dead. When I sat down to veg in front of the TV, I didn’t really want to scroll through all the choices on Netflix or Hulu to find something to watch. What I really wanted was to channel surf. See if some movie I’ve seen a hundred times before (Roadhouse, Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard) was on. Something I could watch without thinking about it. Sure, I could have streamed any of those movies from my home computer, but that required more deliberation than I felt like exerting.

Yeah, there’s tons of great TV on Netflix, but I wasn’t in the mood for great TV. I was in the mood for mindless surfing. I settled on watching an episode of the old Mission Impossible television series.

I can’t say that I won’t miss cable at all. I’m sure, though, that I’ll figure out an alternative to mindless channel surfing.

A few days after I took the cable boxes back to Cox, I got a text from a friend of mine. He’d just started working for Cox, and one of his first jobs was switching off my television. “Small world,” he said. My thought was that he was probably going to have plenty of work to keep him busy.

At least for awhile.

The cable television industry — like the music industry, like the publishing industry, like the newspaper industry — has failed to adapt, to give customers what they want, how they want it, at a reasonable price. Lots of people are figuring out there’s an alternative.

Now if only there was more competition for high-speed Internet service.

What kind of fresh Web weirdness is this?

I’ve been having insurmountable issues with an audio/MIDI interface for my computer. I posted something about it in the Apple Support forums a few months back. I’ve continued to try to solve the issue, unsuccessfully. Recently, while doing a web search on the issue, I came across this posting on what appears to be a message board in India. At first, I was excited. This person appeared to have the same problem I did, and even took some of the same steps to resolve it. But as I read further, it got too strange. It wasn’t a similar problem, it was an identical problem. He didn’t take similar steps to solve it; he took the same exact steps in the same exact sequence.

I’ve written about poorly written link-bait before, but this is different. Someone appears to have run the thread on the Apple Support forum through an online translator, or something. Check out the two initial posts side-by-side:

ORIGINAL:

I bought a Tascam US-800 audio/MIDI interface to replace the US-122 that quit working when I installed Lion (it only has 32-bit drivers).

I’m using it with Garageband. It works fine when I first start up/restart the computer, but when I go back to it after a time, it doesn’t work. Neither the MIDI nor audio work, though the US-800 shows up both in System preferences and GB prefs. The signal light for the audio channel I’m using lights up, so the US-800 is getting signal, but it does not seem to be passing it on. If I unplug the USB and plug it back in, the US-800 disappears from both prefs (after a warning from GB) and doesn’t return until a complete system restart.

Anyone else having this issue? Any thoughts on resolving it?

Thanks.

COPY:

I bought a Tascam US-800 interface for audio / MIDI to replace the US-122 that stopped functioning when I installed lion.

I’m using it with Garageband. It works fine the first time you start / restart the computer, but when I return to it after a while, does not work. Neither audio nor MIDI work. If I disconnect the USB and plug the 800 U.S. It fades away from both Preferences and does not return to a full system reboot. Does anybody else have this trouble? Anyone here who can assist me to overcome this trouble.

Follow the two threads, and the similarities continue. Replies from other users are also mirrored. They are not exact, but close. The differences sound like someone struggling with English as a second language. For instance, “I’m not using any of the digital ins or outs, and I’ve played with the clock settings, but with no success,”  becomes “I’m not using any of the digital in or exits and played with the clock settings, although without achievement.” Another oddity, one user posted the initial question, but a different user posted follow-ups. You have to join the forum to see other posts by users – a step I am definitely not going to take, but this tends to confirm that the forum is manufactured. I’ve poked around some, and the forum full of posts. I have no idea if they’re all copies from other places, but I would assume so.

So, does anyone have any idea why someone would go to the trouble of recreating posts like this? Is it link-bait, or some sort of strange phishing scheme designed to get people to sign up to the forum? All I know is it’s very peculiar.

Siri’s great, when she’s available

My iPhone 4S arrived Friday. Along with iOS 5, it makes for a significant improvement to the iPhone experience. My favorite new features are a drastically improved notifications system, an excellent camera and the “personal assistant” that comes with the 4S, known as Siri.

I recommend the iOS 5 upgrade for anyone with an iPhone or iPad. It’s free, after all, and will really improve the user experience. But the camera and Siri are available only on the 4S, which is not, alas, free. The camera is great: 8 megapixels, f/2.4 aperture, five lens system with an integrated IR filter. I’ve really been impressed with the shots it can capture.

It’s also easier to get to: Double-click the home button when the phone’s locked, and a camera icon will show up next to the unlock slider. Click on that, and it takes you right to the camera, which comes up far more quickly that the iPhone 4. Once you’ve taken the first shot, you can take subsequent snaps a half-second apart – again, a significant improvement over the iPhone 4.

Siri is the feature everyone’s talking about, though, and she is, indeed, very cool. When she works, that is. Though the Apple online press has oddly not been reporting it, Siri’s servers have been subject to some serious downtime as more people have gotten their hands on the 4S. I tried to use it from around 11 o’clock this morning until mid-afternoon without success.

Siri, you see, depends on a network connection and access to Apple’s servers to perform the actual magic of translating your speech into something she can understand, and then to respond. If those servers are down or their capacity is maxed out, Siri will just say something along the line of, “Uh oh. Something’s wrong. Can you try again?” Or, maybe the somewhat more helpful, “I’m having trouble connecting with the network.” Read more of this post

The coolest piece of tech I’ve seen in a while

I remember back in the day when I was excited to get a tape deck in my car that featured auto-reverse. That gave me a full 90-minutes – two entire album’s worth! – of uninterrupted music. Then came the six-disc, trunk-mounted CD changer. Hours of uninterrupted music that even included a shuffle function so songs from all six – six! – albums would play in random order.

These days, I’ve got my iPhone, which has nearly 3,000 songs stored on it – literally days’ worth of music that I carry in my pocket. All I had to do when I got in the car was plug in a single cable (a Kensington LiquidAUX) that went to the charger, which had a cord that went into the auxiliary input for my car stereo. What could possibly be easier?

When the Kensington cable started becoming unreliable – after three full years of solid service – I found out. I ordered the New Potato TuneLink Auto. It’s similar to the Kensington in several ways. A cord from the unit that plugs into the charger goes straight into the auxiliary input for the car stereo. There’s a USB outlet that will connect to the iPhone dock, but only for charging. For music, the dock cable is completely unnecessary. The TuneLink pairs up with the iPhone via BlueTooth. That’s cool, but pretty unremarkable these days. What makes the TuneLink exceptional is how the free app you install on your phone works in the background. It elevates the TuneLink from cool to pure magic.

When you get in your car and start it, the TuneLink turns on and automatically pairs with your phone. That activates the app, which starts playing music where you left off. You never have to touch the phone. When you turn the car off, the music stops. (Auto Connect and Auto Start can be turned on and off in the app settings.)

The TuneLink app links up to the music app on the iPhone using AirPlay, so you can control the music either through the regular app or through the TuneLink app.

Sound quality is superb. I’m not an audiophile by any means, but I can’t tell any difference between a wired connection and TuneLink’s Bluetooth connection. If you have more sensitive ears, you might be able to hear some of the compression the Bluetooth stereo standard utilizes, but I can’t. By the way, even if you attach the charger to the iPhone, TuneLink still uses Bluetooth to transmit the music.

If your car stereo doesn’t have an auxiliary input, you can still use TuneLink, which also manages to fit an FM transmitter into its tiny package. The settings are controlled through the app, which will recommend the clearest channels available depending on your location. I haven’t tried the transmitter, but I know that even the best FM transmitter won’t match a wired connection. Still, if you don’t have an auxiliary input, this will at least get your music pumping through your stereo – without a single cord.

TuneLink also has an Android version.

TuneLink provides rock solid Bluetooth performance, but its real trick is the capability the app brings to let you enjoy your music when you get in the car without ever taking your iPhone out of your pocket.

Nothing can go wrong … go wrong … go wrong …

Google wants to turn the highways over to robotic drivers. Speaking at the Maker Faire 2011 Saturday, Sebastian Thrun, a Google scientist and Stanford University professor, said robotic cars that drive themselves would make far more efficient decisions and allow far more cars to pack highways with far more cars without slowing down.

“Think about the car as a medium of mass transit: So, what if our highway-train of the future meant you go on the highway, and there’s a train of very close-driving cars with very low wind drag, fantastic capacity, is twice as efficient as possible as today, and so there is no congestion anymore?” Thrun said.

I’ve long dreamed of a car that would drive itself. Just think if you could tell your car where to go, and it would take care of getting you there. You could read a book, talk to a friend, play a video game – whatever you want, while the electronic chauffeur got you where you’re going. Shoot, on a long trip, you could take a nap.

There is resistance to the idea, of course. Some people don’t trust computers to drive safely. Software glitches could cause horrible accidents.

Me? I’d take a computer over most of the drivers I see on the roads today.

No presumption of innocence on eBay

So I was clearing out some stuff in my home office recently and came across a retail copy of OS X 10.3 that I had bought several years back. I had all three discs, plus the development tools disk. Just for the heck of it, I checked eBay to see if anyone was selling that version and, if so, what it was bringing in. Sure enough, there were a few copies for sale, and they were attracting enough bids I thought it would be worth listing – which I did.

A few days later, I got a notice from eBay that my auction had been pulled because they had received a complaint from the Business Software Alliance claiming the software “offered for sale is in violation of an enforceable license agreement, which constitutes a copyright infringement.”

I am not pleased. This was a retail copy, legally purchased. It is no longer installed on any computer. Reselling ought to be perfectly legal. I’ve written both BSA and eBay to express my displeasure. I don’t like – and don’t engage in – software piracy. People ought to get paid for their creative and technical work. I also don’t like that eBay pulled my auction without contacting me or investigating the claim of copyright infringement. There was no presumption of innocence. In fact, the opposite.

Update: I heard back from BSA, and apparently the issue is that I no longer have the original documentation. I’m probably out of luck. For the record, I’ve never needed documentation to install a Mac OS. Has anyone else?

Ok, this is creepy

I just found out I’ve had a stalker since last June that I didn’t know about it. Worse, the stalker has been right in my pocket most of that time:

It turns out that your iPhone is keeping a record of everywhere you’ve been since June. This data is stored on your phone (or iPad) and computer, easily available to anyone who gets their hands on it. Why? Apple won’t say. We’re creeped out.

I’m creeped out, too. I downloaded the program designed by the security researchers who discovered the tracking, and, sure enough, every place I’ve been with my iPhone is laid out on the map it generates. Creepy, creepy, creepy.

Apple needs to explain why the iPhone has been keeping a record of this data, whether it has been disseminated beyond individuals’ iPhones and computers, and what, if anything, the company plans on doing with the data.

Oh, and how to turn it off.