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Entries in Technology (77)


MS Smartphone a Future SMS Spam Threat?

MS SmartphoneThe other day, it hit me. After an informal chat with several friends, I realized that at some point in the future, MS's new Smartphone platform has a good chance of to becoming the equivalent of Outlook to SMS inboxes. Let me explain.

Consider this: Microsoft is pushing their new "Smartphone" platform, which offers users combined PDA and phone functions. Okay, so this is nothing new -- the Handspring Treo and other devices have offered integrated features for quite a while now. The problem lies not in the features or capabilities of a communicator or smartphone, but in its strength of security.

I think this could be a big problem for the Smartphone platform. When you consider Microsoft's track record when it comes to security, particularly when you consider Microsoft's security record when it comes to Outlook, I'm already worried. If you're saying "No Mike, it's not going to happen" then just count the number of "Re: Thank you!" and other SoBig messages (with 100k attachments) that have clogged your inbox lately.

Now envision thousands of MS Smartphone users with hundreds of contacts in each of their Pocket Outlook address books -- one of which might be your own phone's SMS address. It would only take one hacker to develop a virus that attacks the Smartphone OS or Pocket Outlook to send virus laden emails or SMS messages to every contact in its address book. Unfortunately, I can easily imagine this scenario occurring.

Once this happens, how exactly would one clear their SMS inbox that's full of spam messages sent by your friendly MS Smartphone user? As far as I know SMS gateways are controlled by phone carriers. That means making phone calls to customer service and trying to explain the situation so that your SMS inbox could be cleared.

Next problem is, how do you stop SMS spam from from continuing? Can a carrier provide new SMS addresses to customers? I know my SMS inbox is tied to my mobile number. And once the MS Smartphone user gets your new SMS address, how long until the next virus spams you? Or would you simply shut down your inbox for good?

What's worse, you may have to pay for SMS spam you receive! In fact, pay $0.10 per received and sent SMS message on my carrier's network. SMS spam messages could really add up quick.

I was surprised to learn from my friend Andy in London that commercial SMS spam is actually quite a problem in Europe, because SMS and text messaging are so popular. From what I understand, companies get your SMS address when you sign up for contests, then send off promotional SMS messages once they know you're out there. Apparently, some users get so much commercial SMS spam that they practically stop checking their SMS inboxes or switch phone carriers.

So how long do you think it will be before we see SoBig-like viruses attacking SMS inboxes via MS Smartphones? I dunno, but I'd guess it could very well happen.

Now, I don't know if a hacker could feasibly develop a virus to attack MS Smartphones. I don't know if the MS Smarphone platform has an underlying scripting language like Visual Basic or if it has security holes like Outlook. But then again, just a few years ago, nobody really considered this a problem with Outlook, did they?



Outlook, Corporate IT, "Trustworthy" Computing & Reliability

Matt sent me a link today to Good Times, a very funny and pointed rant by John Gruber of Daring Fireball. John discusses the scourge of Outlook and Exchange, how IT departments put more emphasis on job security than on "Trustworthy" computing, and his solutions to the problem, which include making systems (Windows, Linux or Mac) truly reliable.

I love that John takes the time to step back and take a broader, common-sense look at computer reliability. Why do viruses and Outlook seem inseparable? Why don't corporate IT department CIOs and workers understand their systems better? Why we should require much more of IT people on system reliability. In short, he suggests IT people should be expected to make their systems as reliable as plumbing.

Here's a long, but hilarious quote from the article:

Imagine if the plumbing in corporate America worked with the same degree of reliability as their computer infrastructure. This would mean that individual sinks, urinals, and toilets would go out of order on a regular basis. Water from drinking fountains would turn brown, but, hey, that’s just how it is. Every few weeks, teenage pranksters from Hong Kong would overflow every toilet in the building, knocking them out of commission.

In response to these problems, large companies would have large in-house plumbing staffs, led by a CPO (chief plumbing officer) reporting directly to the CEO. New restroom equipment would be chosen by the same plumbing staff that is employed for maintenance, thus providing a nearly irresistible disincentive to choose reliable low-maintenance equipment from other vendors.

In fact, all of the plumbing comes from a single company based in the state of Washington. This company’s plumbing equipment is engineered such that it is extremely difficult to see how it actually works. The corporate plumbers are often equipped with certifications from this manufacturer, but they (the plumbers) in fact understand very little about how toilets and sinks truly work.

Woo hoo! Go read the whole thing! :-)


Cheap Internet Voice Calls

SIPphoneLast week on Gizmodo I came across the SIPphone, a desktop phone with an Ethernet jack instead of a regular phone jack -- a great idea for far away friends who both have broadband Internet service. Each phone has a set phone number, which other SIPphone callers can call to reach you.

The idea is this -- you and a far away friend split the cost of two SIPphones for $130. You keep one phone and send the other phone to the friend with whom you spend lots of cash calling with long distance. Great idea if you both have differing operating systems (say Windows and Mac OS) and make lots of calls. It'd be especially attractive for say one friend in the US and another in New Zealand, since in the long run it would save vs. international long distance.

Of course, if you're a Mac OS X user, iChat AV (in public beta, soon to be sold for $30) does pretty much the same thing with optional video capabilities. In fact, my friend Andy in London and I have just about weekly voice chats via iChat AV with pretty good sound quality, saving us tons of money over international long distance calls. I can tell you that it's a great feeling being able to call Andy whenever he's around and have a voice (or video) chat rather than pounding out an email.

Yahoo Messenger seems to at least offer voice chatting capabilities, but it's much more like a walkie-talkie instead of a regular telephone with full-duplex like iChat AV. Yuck! Yeah, it works but it's just another hassle... I want to have my service act just like my telephone does.

Which brings me back to the SIPphone. Yes it's a bit more costly than software for your Mac, PC or Linux box, but I see it as the kind of dedicated, nearly-brainless technology that just works. SIPphone is perfect for two or more computer users regardless of the OS they run and only depends on your cable connection: not your Mac, PC or Linux box, which for the right people, could be a perfect solution.


Good Thinking on Email

Last week I came across an older post from March 11th over at Lonnie Foster's weblog, which I really liked and wanted to share here. Lonnie's post linked to and talked about an Ole Eichhorn essay called The Tyranny of Email, about email's intrusion into our lives and how to deal with it.

I had already made a few changes in my own email patterns before reading Ole's essay, which have helped: setting less frequent schedules for checking, splitting my personal and work emails into two separate "accounts" (something you can do easily with Entourage on the Mac) and limiting my checking of email on weekends to once a day.

However, Eichhorn's essay suggests setting even more limits on your email and provides good reasoning for his ideas. Here's a teaser list of Eichhorn's suggestions:

1. Turn your email client off. Pick the moment at which you'll be interrupted.

2. Never criticize anyone in email, and avoid technical debates. Use face-to-face meetings or 'phone calls instead.

3. Be judicious in who you send email to, and who you copy on emails.

4. Observing some formality is important.

5. Don't hesitate to review and revise important emails.

6. Remember that email is a public and permanent record.

But don't just scan the above list! Be sure to read the whole essay, since Eichhorn provides much more detail on the reasons why and how to go about making practical changes. If you're curious about response to Ole's essay check out Tyranny Revisited.


My First Segway Ride... Almost

SegwayIt was Friday afternoon, and I was heading back to the office after a client meeting, when I glimpsed signs promoting Segway trial rides in a parking lot of a local shopping mall. Excited by the chance to see a Segway up close and maybe even have a go on one, I hung a left into the mall lot, and spent several minutes working my way back to the parking lot where I saw the signs.

It was much more of a hassle than I'd thought to find the Segway demo lot, as I had to wind my way around medians and across busy mall road intersections. Finally, I got close enough to see one of the promo signs, which read:

Segway Rides

$10 for 10 minutes

Oh man, forget that! I mean, if you want me to try a $5,000 Segway out and potentially buy one, I'm certainly not going to pay $10 just to try it for 10 minutes! I decided to pass up the opportunity, but not before getting close enough to see nobody out riding Segways except the demo staff.

I was even put off from stopping for a closer look because I figured the sales staff, desperate for a rider would probably try their darndest to rope me into riding one and I didn't have $10 burning a hole in my pocket. Besides, I couldn't afford to mess around too long, as I had plenty of work to do back at the office.

So, my opportunity to ride a Segway has come and gone for now. Hopefully I'll come across another chance to ride one of these things for no charge one day.

Maybe I'll reconsider at least having a closer look on the weekend, assuming the Segway folks are still offering demo rides. While I would like to ride one, even seeing one up close would be quite interesting. We'll see...

On a related note, if you have any interest in reading historical and up to date articles on the Segway, my friend Lorenz Szabo has compiled a collection of Segway articles from the web, into a nicely formatted Palm Reader document (203k). I must say it's really nice to have all these documents compiled about Segway, since it provides a longer term view of its history in one place. (thanks Lo!)