Column: Under the Wire

UNDER THE WIRE

From 26 June 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

You’re Fired

SMS, or text messaging, is great for staying in touch but isn’t so hot for conveying bad news. A recent spate of dismissals via SMS — staff of British insurer Accident Group, for example, were notified by administrators from PricewaterhouseCoopers that they were being laid off and would no longer be paid — raises interesting ethical and legal questions about the medium. The new chief executive of Britain’s Vodafone Group, Arun Sarin, is taking no chances: His contract says he cannot be fired via “electronic mail or any other electronic messaging service.”

More on Spam

If you need more evidence that spam is big business, try this: DoubleClick, better known for its on-line advertising strategies, on June 12 announced initiatives “to further differentiate legitimate marketing communications from spam.” Given that I’ve seen very little difference in tactics between spammers and “legitimate marketing communications” I don’t find this particularly reassuring. Here’s something else: CNET, an on-line magazine, reported last week on a legal dispute between two anti-spam software makers over patents for something called challenge-response technology, which allows an e-mail recipient to check out the sender to see if he’s [a] a person, and [b] the person he says he is. The recipient receives an e-mail asking for verification, and if the e-mail goes unanswered, the e-mail gets dumped. Nice idea, but not rocket science, in my view, and kind of time wasting. Still, Mailblocks and Spam Arrest have been slugging it out, at least until a Washington district court denied Mailblocks a preliminary injunction. I stick by my advice: Go with free software developed by people genuinely committed to ridding us of spam, not to making money out of it. My Bayesian Filters from POPFile are working wonders: In the past week only five bits of spam have reached my inbox. But if you want to try out commercial solutions, here are a couple: AlienCamel [www.aliencamel.com], allows you to select what e-mails you want to allow through, and Spam Slicer [www.spamslicer.com] provides each user with a virtual e-mail ID, so the user can tell where a spammer got his name and can block subsequent spam from that source even if the spammer changes his e-mail address.

Keep Out the Hackers

Talking of sleaze, Zone Labs Inc. [www.zonealarm] have just released a new version of their excellent ZoneAlarm firewall program. If you have a computer connected to the Internet then you should have a firewall, software that does its best to prevent ne’er-do-wells from getting in, either to steal pictures of your dog’s wedding, or to use your computer to attack other computers. ZoneAlarm Pro 4.0 improves its security features, including one that examines not just inbound but outbound e-mails for harmful file attachments — usually a kind of virus called a worm. Another innovation gathers data on suspected hackers, helping security experts to track and report them to their moms. ZoneAlarm Pro sells for $50; a free version of the earlier model is still available, and should be enough for us amateurs.

 

21. June 2003 by jeremy
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