Tag Archives: EarthLink Inc.

The Secret Behind Google’s Success: The Instant Massage

Google’s profits are indeed impressive, and if my local newspaper (no link available, I’m afraid) is right, it’s clear clear why: the company is offering a service no right-minded person could refuse:

But the introduction of new products, such as instant massaging, and upgrades to existing services, such as mapping, helped Google attract more summer traffic than anticipated, executives said during a conference call yesterday.

This seems to have emanated from an AP story, carried by The Seattle Times and Canoe Money, both of which either fixed the typo or else didn’t create the error (no way of easily telling whether the error was in the original copy, or whether my local paper ran an ageing spellchecker over the word to create the fluff.)

Instant massaging is actually not that uncommon.  3G UK’s JustYak Chat “brings the popular Internet Instant Massaging to the mobile world” (a press release that hasn’t been fixed in two and a half years. Does no one proofread these things?) In fact Google offers “about 535” entries for instant massaging, only one or two of which seem to deliver what they promise. (IWantOneOfThose.com points to the USB Massager, which I’ve long touted as a serious peripheral.)

In fact instant massaging has a pedigree. It throws up 27 matches on Factiva, including this comment from Charles Gibson on ABC Good Morning America on June 20 (sorry, no links for these as Factiva is a subscription only service. You’ll just have to take my word for it):

Are cell phones, instant massaging, and multi-tasking giving us all Attention Deficit Disorder? Yes, is the answer.

I can well imagine. Instant gratification always was the enemy of concentration. Or this from the UK’s Birmingham Post on Nov 17 2004 in its Anniversaries section, which goes some way to explain why British workers are using more paper, but still leaves us wanting to know more:

2001: A study showed that paper consumption in British offices had increased by 40 per cent with the advent of emails, faxes and instant massaging.

Then there was the report of a local man exactly a year earlier in the Providence Journal arrested for online harrassment, or “cyberstalking”. The paper explains:

Cyberstalking is a misdemeanor charge that involves harassment via e-mail or instant massaging, according to the state police.

Indeed. People leaping upon strangers in public and on the Internet, delivering instant backrubs should definitely be stopped before it gets out of hand. (Sorry.) But then again, maybe this explains AOL’s difficult times. Back in August 1999, according to CNNfn’s Moneyline, AOL was doing its bit to make online a more pleasurable place to be, as a transcript of the show has host Stuart Varney explaining:

America Online is pushing to make its popular instant massaging feature an Internet standard. And in the process, out-muscle Microsoft. For the first time, AOL will let other Internet service providers use the massaging systems: EarthLink and MindSpring. The deal lifted shares of Earthlink 4 1/2. Mindspring rallied nearly three. And AOL edged up nearly a dollar.

Only a dollar? Microsoft clearly lacked the technique and strength necessary to make backrubs an Internet standard. EarthLink and MindSpring (the names carry different connotations now, knowing they were more focusing as much on massages as messages) clearly were 100% behind this initiative.

One can’t help but wonder, though, what the transcribers and stenographers made of what they were writing when they wrote ‘massaging’ rather than ‘messaging’; take, for example, this transcript from September 1998 Congressional Testimony by John Bastian, Chief Executive Officer of Security Software Systems, a company offering “computer software solutions designed to protect children on-line”. His testimony on the dangers of life online was otherwise impeccably recorded by the Congressional stenographer, except this bit:

Thousands of explicit web sites exist with millions of pages of pornographic material. Most are easily accessed by a few clicks of a mouse. But sites are only a portion of the sexually explicit areas. E-mail, chat rooms, news-groups and Instant massaging can be virtual playground for the sexual predators and pedophiles.

Makes the Internet sound an even scarier place than it already is. Maybe we’re better off that AOL failed in its vision, and that Google may not, after all, be reaping huge profits from instant physical therapy.

The Demise of the Anti-phishing Toolbar?

Must confess I missed this when it first kicked in, but could it be the nail in the ‘anti-phishing toolbar’ coffin? EarthLink lands a win, according to ZDNet, after being sued by a bank incorrectly flagged as a phishing website:

EarthLink had warned its customers who installed a free “ScamBlocker” toolbar–and visited AssociatedBank.com–that the Web site was “potentially fraudulent” and said that they should “not continue to this potentially risky site.”

The warning was wrong. Associated Bank, headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., with more than 300 locations in the Midwest, operated a legitimate Web site.

EarthLink got off the hook because they bought their list of dodgy websites from a third party. But who? The articles I’ve read don’t mention who it was. And how could the third party have judged a bank to be a phishing website?

I’ve not been a fan of most of these toolbars because I don’t think they do a good job of warning the user of dodgy websites. as my tests a few months back indicated. But to be honest it didn’t occur to me that these toolbars would create false positives. Bizarre.

Why Did EarthLink Drop Charges?

What’s the story behind EarthLink’s decision to drop charges in part of the Alabama Spammer spam case? The Atlanta Business Chronicle yesterday said:

Atlanta-based EarthLink dismissed charges against Alyx Sachs and Albert Ahdoot and said it believes the two were victims of a massive and sophisticated campaign of identity theft and that they were unaware of and had no role in spamming. In January 2005, EarthLink scored a legal victory against the Alabama Spammers.

That must have been quite a campaign to dupe EarthLink, who one assumes are quite good at sorting their wheat from their chaff. The press release itself leaves no doubt that EarthLink feels the two are on the good side of the email marketing fence:

“Sachs and Ahdoot are considered professionals in legitimate internet marketing and recognized leaders in web based advertising,” says their attorney, Paul Sigelman. “Their dismissal is a clean triumph of truth for legitimate Internet ad agencies.”

Earthlink noted that after careful evaluation, it believes Alyx Sachs and Albert Ahdoot are by their own company policies diligent in enforcing maintenance of a spam-free Internet Ad business and prohibit the sending of unsolicited commercial email.

Sachs and her company (I think it was Netglobalmarketing, but the domain has expired) were the subject of a NYT piece in April 2003, and legal threats against Techdirt shortly thereafter after a reader of the site published the duo’s contact details (further discussed on Slashdot).

Ahdoot seems to have been near the top of the SpamHaus list of top (alleged) spammers, but is now nowhere to be found. I can see an interesting tale lurking behind this. How can one be a ‘top spammer’ one day and then the victim of massive identity theft the next?

The Anti-Phishing Toolbars That Didn’t

Here are the results of the toolbars that didn’t work out for me. Remember, the attack is clever enough to appear as a legitimate website in the URL box. The question is: Will the toolbar realise that’s not the only source of data appearing on the webpage?

 Charterone3

Earthlink’s Scamblocker toolbar came out neutral: The text reads While we can’t guarantee that this Web page is safe, ScamBlocker found no evidence that indicates fraud or Internet scam. Of course, neutral really isn’t good enough.

Earthlink1

Corestreet’s Spoofstick took a pretty straightforward punt on the site, and in doing so got it wrong too:

Charterone2

Other toolbars that threw up green lights were SpoofGuard and InspectorBrown:

Others

As mentioned in the previous post, Netcraft’s Antiphishing Toolbar spotted there was a problem. The text reads The page you are trying to visit has been blocked by the Netcraft Toolbar because it is believed to be part of a fraudulent phishing attack…. Are you sure you want to visit the page?

Netcraft

So, congratulations Netcraft. For the others, when I did this research I asked for some comment but so far have received invititations to chat but no detailed replies to my questions, except from InspectorBrown, which I’ve posted here. (Neither has the bank in question replied to my emailed questions.) If I do hear more I’ll pass it on.

I should point out that all of the toolbars are free, and could be regarded as altruistic efforts to halt the phishing plague. But I still believe that unless such tools offer really good protection against the inventiveness of phishers, they merely lull users into a false sense of security. If you want to fight the phishers, you’ve got to be smarter than this.

Spyware? Not My Problem, Says Business

Maybe the problem of Internet security isn’t educating users to be more vigilant, it’s about persuading companies that there is a problem.

A survey (PDF file) released today by California-based Secure Computing Corporation found that that “only 25 percent of businesses recognized spyware as a major problem”. This despite studies that show spyware is a problem: A study by EarthLink, for example, showed that the average PC has 28 spyware programs, while a report by Dell found that spyware accounts for 12 percent of all PC desktop support calls. Today’s survey, meanwhile, reported that 70 percent of respondents saw spyware as either no problem or a minor problem.

The same with file-sharing: 90 percent of businesses saw file-sharing software as not a major problem, and a surprising 40 percent saw it as “no problem.” Same results with instant messaging and personal e-mail accounts 90 percent saw IM as no problem or a minor problem, and 80 percent felt personal e-mail accounts were no problem or a minor problem.

(I tend to see IM and personal email as not so much a security problem as a productivity one, and even then it depends what they’re doing on it. IM can be an excellent way to share information that benefits the user professionally, as can email. But there do need to be security safeguards in place.)

Anyways, it does seem pretty shocking that companies still don’t understand the dangers of spyware. Maybe when more targeted spyware brings a rival company to its knees through massive corporate data loss, espionage or draining its accounts they’ll take more notice.

Email Marketers Peer Into Your Inbox

Email marketers can now peer into your inbox to see whether their emails are getting through.

ExactTarget, an Indianopolis-based company that “delivers on-demand email software solutions for permission- based email marketing” to companies like The Home Depot, General Mills, Scotts and Bristol-Myers Squibb is now offering a service that peers into users’ inboxes at their local ISP to check whether their email marketing newsletters are getting through or getting binned as spam. The product: Inbox Detective.

According to ExactTarget, more than 20 percent of legitimate email never gets through spam filters — numbers, as Chris Baggott, co-founder and chief marketing officer of ExactTarget puts it, that “should be unacceptable to a marketer.”

The ExactTarget Inbox Detective, allows marketers “to peer into the Inbox at the top 21 ISPs to get a quick snapshot of their actual delivery rates”. From there marketers can “track what percentage of email is reaching the inbox, which are being redirected to the bulk folder and which are being discarded.” All this can be done “in real-time, so problem areas can be identified and adjustments can be made.”

Another thing the Inbox Detective does is “keep emails away from content filters, which are the most widely used spam prevention technique, and also often erroneously catch legitimate permission email”. This it does by analysing “email content against major spam filters and black lists before sending”, so the marketer can “receive real-time advice on what content changes are needed to maximize email delivery”.

While I can quite understand that there are lots of legitimate email marketing companies out there, and lots of companies trying to run legitimate email newsletters, the Inbox Detective, as described in the ExactTarget press release, raises some troubling questions about the privacy of users’ inboxes at their ISP.

And, if ExactTarget can peer into inboxes of email providers such as Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, MSN, Earthlink, Comcast, AT&T and RoadRunner, who else might be able to?

More Anti-Phishing Tools

Here are a couple more tools designed to thwart phishers:

  • EarthLink, a U.S. Internet provider, has today added something called ScamBlocker to its Toolbar, and made it available to all users, not just subscribers. ScamBlocker will “alert you before you enter a Web page that’s on our list of fraudulent sites”.
  • SpoofGuard, from a team at Stanford University, works the same way, via “a traffic light in your browser toolbar that turns from green to yellow to red as you navigate to a spoof site. If you try to enter sensitive information into a form from a spoof site, SpoofGuard will save your data and warn you. SpoofGuard warnings occur when alarm indicators reach a level that depends on parameters that are set by the user.”

Both only work with Internet Explorer. ScamBlocker relies on EarthLink updating its list of fraudulent sites, quite an undertaking given the number and variety of scams now in operation. SpoofGuard does more sophisticated checks, against previous sites you may have visited, as inspecting the link visited for signs of tricks used by known phishing attacks.

SpoofGuard makes more sense in a way. But my worries about both are that a) they create a false sense of security among users, who may be tempted not to run their own checks on links if the toolbars don’t throw up any warning flags, and b) phishers will quickly render them obsolete by figuring out ways around them.

That shouldn’t stop you trying out these tools. Anything is better than nothing. Of course, if you’ve already read about phishing chances are you’re not going to click on a link in an email you don’t trust anyway.

Are Spam Lawsuits A Waste Of Time?

Not everyone thinks the big boys are on the right track by pursuing spammers in the courts.

Postini, ‘the industry’s leading provider of email security and management for the enterprise’, says spam “cannot be solved by lawsuits and legislation alone”.

America Online, Microsoft, Earthlink and Yahoo announced on Wednesday that they had filed numerous civil lawsuits against spammers, charging them with violating the provisions of the two-month-old CAN-SPAM Act. Steve Kahan, corporate vice president for Postini, says, “We believe these law suits will only succeed against small unsophisticated spammers, while doing little to stop the overwhelming amount of spam clogging corporate America’s email boxes. We hope these lawsuits do not give people running email systems a false sense of security.”

Postini says that since CAN-SPAM it “has seen no reduction in the amount of spam directed at its customers”: 75-80% of all messages are spam, viruses and other malicious email. On March 3, Postini recorded its highest spam day ever, blocking 103,193,573 spam messages.

Of course, Postini would say all this. “We make sure our 2600 enterprise customers and ISP’s don’t have a spam problem,” says Kahan. “There’s no need for them to spend money suing spammers because we keep them totally protected.” But what about the rest of us, who don’t have an ISP willing to pony up for this kind of service?

That said, Postini are probably right about the lawsuits. Spam is processed outside the U.S. and other territories getting tough on spam. The only way to close down spammers, in my view, is to go after the people using their services. Spammers don’t sell the goods, they just market them.

Big Boys To Get Tough On Spam Together?

The big players are about to get tough on spam. Maybe.

An announcement on behalf of America Online, EarthLink, Microsoft, and Yahoo!, four leading e-mail providers and founders of the anti-spam industry alliance formed a year ago, says they will “make a joint announcement regarding the results of its first industry collaboration aimed at stopping spam at its source”. The statement said nothing else, apart from the fact the press conference will be held at 10:30 a.m. EST / 7:30 a.m. PST at the St. Regis Hotel in             Washington, D.C.

Internetnews.com reckons it might be a good reflection of cooperation between the big four. Although they’ve been talking for some time together, ”most of the actions taken by these players are independent motions to establish themselves as the heavyweight”.

 ”If they have managed to actually coordinate and cooperate among themselves in an effort to advance the fight against spam, that’s wonderful,” internetnews.com quotes Anne P. Mitchell, CEO of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy, an organization that consults with business and government, as saying.

Spammers And Crime, Continued

The ISP bites back.

EarthLink , an Internet service provider, has announced legal action against a multi-state spam ring called the Alabama Spammers. The 16 individuals and corporations allegedly sent out more than 250 million illegal junk emails and “represent a technically sophisticated criminal organization that engaged in a massive scheme of theft, spamming and spoofing.” The lawsuit alleges that the defendants used a hierarchy of falsified names, false addresses and non-existent corporate entities to disguise the identities of individuals involved.

Earthlink’s allegations make the group sound pretty scary. “To further hide their identities, the defendants used spam emails to direct people to dynamically-hosted Web sites that would disappear after advertising a product.” In its lawsuit, EarthLink is charging the defendants with violating federal and state laws, including federal and state civil RICO laws, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Georgia Computer Systems Protection Act. The lawsuit also alleges that the defendants used stolen or falsified credit cards, identity theft, banking fraud and other illegal activities to fraudulently purchase Internet accounts and send out their junk emails.

It’s not the first time Earthlink have gone after spammers, and, as Techdirt points out, they’re not the only ones to do so. And it’s probably no bad thing. If what Earthlink alleges is true, there’s a clear link here between spammers and crime which needs to be investigated and exposed.