Saturday, February 23, 2008

New "virus" alert...

Today I received an e-mail from my grandfather, asking if an e-mail he had received was legitimate. That e-mail referred to a virus that is going around...except that it is actually a hoax! I thought I'd share the e-mail and my response about it, since if you only look it up quickly you'll probably think that it is actually true!

E-mail that has been going around starting this month:

Subject: computer virus alert

Hi All,
I checked with Norton Anti-Virus, and they are gearing up for this virus! I checked, and it is for real!! Get this E-mail message sent around to your contacts ASAP. PLEASE FORWARD THIS WARNING AMONG FRIENDS, FAMILY AND CONTACTS! You should be alert during the next few days. Do not open any message with an attachment entitled 'POSTCARD,' regardless of who sent it to you. It is a virus which opens A POSTCARD IMAGE, which 'burns' the whole hard disc C of your computer. This virus will be received from someone who has your e-mail address in his/her contact list. This is the reason why you need to send this e-mail to all your contacts. It is better to receive this message 25 times than to receive the virus and open it. If you receive a mail called 'POSTCARD,' even though sent to you by a friend, do not open it! Shut down your computer immediately. This is the worst virus announced by CNN. It has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever. This virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there is no repair yet for this kind of virus. This virus simply destroys the Zero Sector of the Hard Disc, where the vital information is kept.


OK. So that is possibly even tells you to check out snopes! Of course it does have the capital letters and bad advice (shut down your computer immediately), so that's a first clue that it could be spam. After doing some quick research (and knowing about actual postcard threats going around already), here is my response:

OK. So there are spam e-mails pretending to be postcard e-mails, that are an actual threat. So don’t follow links in an e-mail claiming to be a postcard sent from a friend or family member unless it says that person’s actual name and/or e-mail address. Those websites will put a virus on your computer. HOWEVER, the e-mail below is actually a hoax e-mail referring to a non-existent virus that is sent as an attachment in an e-mail. Here is a (legitimate and reliable) website about the e-mail you received:

The result ( )referring to postcard viruses is actually referring to the type I mentioned in the previous paragraph, where there is a link to a fake postcard site pretending to be an actual postcard site. The e-mail below is referring to an attachment virus from a friend, which is very different....and as I mentioned above, this virus does not exist.

The one thing you SHOULD always be careful about is opening attachments from people you don’t know, as I mentioned in my last e-mail, as well as following links in e-mails you can’t verify to be from the expected source. But there is no current virus attachment named “postcard” that will wipe your hard drive (in fact, most viruses now-a-days steal your information instead of removing it anyway). Also, shutting down your computer after ignoring such an e-mail serves no purpose….so even if there was such a virus going around (and there’s not!!), the below instructions are not completely right.

So don't fall for it! I'm very proud of my grandfather for checking on whether or not it was true before forwarding it to everyone, I hope that the rest of the world starts to do that as well!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Girls and Math

In Computer Science we talk a lot about why girls shy away from math, computers, etc. even when they are obviously good at it. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out ways to encourage them to pursue math and science, which includes trying to break stereotypes, talking about the many great careers that exist with computers, and giving them opportunities to try out many computer related activities. Not to mention all of the research on the topic. Still, the numbers of women in CS undergraduate programs in the USA is dropping.

I think the above comic helps illustrate some of the problems that we face. Often, girls and women are judged not as a single person, but as representative of their entire gender. As the comic shows, if a male does something wrong another male will assume it's because he is stupid; if a woman does the same thing wrong, that same male will assume it is because all women are stupid. This happens very often, which seems to not only put unnecessary pressure on women, but also gives people a skewed view of how people perform on a task.

As far as the pressure is concerned, women often feel less confident about their abilities even when they are doing just as well as (or better than) the males in their class. Especially with the low numbers of female students, they can easily feel like they don't belong, or that they are singled out and judged more than the men. Some women do not feel this way, but even one woman who feels this way is too many. With the added pressure of feeling like you represent all of your gender, this can be incredibly daunting.

So, what can we do to fix the problem? I wish I had the answer. I think the best beginning is to make people more aware of these tendencies. Maybe we if we talk about how we judge others more with younger people (college freshmen at the latest), they will be aware of it and try to fix it within themselves. It would be great to help make professors aware of this as they can (and do) make this problem worse as well. Not forcing women to represent all of woman-kind with every move they make, and just letting them be who they are themselves, would be great improvement for women in Computer Science.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hello Samsung i760, Goodbye Treo 650!

Around Black Friday I finally bought a new phone called the Samsung i760, after looking for about 6 months for a phone I really liked. For the past few years I've owned a Treo 650, so this is not my first hefty cellphone, or my first touchscreen phone. It is, however, my first Windows Mobile phone.

closed Samsung phone

The hardware was one of the first things that made the phone seem attractive to me. With the Treo I had the QWERTY keyboard always at my fingertips, although the buttons were rather small. It was a useful phone but not entirely attractive or "cool." Only tech geeks said "ooooo" when they saw it. However, the Samsung looks sleek despite its size (although it is slightly smaller than the Treo!). It's a smooth black, with no antenna sticking out the top. The best part: it slides open. Not up like the Chocolate phones, but sideways...and when it slides, you find a nice QWERTY keyboard with comfortable keys inside! The screen even flips around so that you can hold the phone horizontally to type. Not only is this incredibly "cool," but it is also very useful; I have a decent sized screen without squishing the keyboard, but I also just have numbers on the main part for when I'm just using it as a phone! The phone is so fun, I love it! Sure, the LG Voyager and enV phones from Verizon both also flip open, but they only have a tiny screen to use with the keyboard.

opened Samsung phone

Did I mention that it also has a 1.3 megapixel camera with a flash, as well as a battery that lasts me days even when I use it?? Or that it also came with an extended battery that is supposed to last even longer? The battery power is similar to what I enjoyed with the Treo, although since the battery is thinner it fits easier into my purse for when I want to carry an extra.

Of course, one the main reasons I got this phone as well is the fact that it's Windows Mobile, and I haven't been disappointed. I had many problems coaxing my Treo into syncing with my laptop, to the point where I just gave up and didn't sync for months. With Vista, I just plug my phone into the laptop (my laptop doesn't have Bluetooth built-in), open the Mobile Device Center, and it happens. No fights, no plugging and unplugging, no failure. It just works. Hallelujah!

Another great part aspect of the software is that the user interface is MUCH BETTER than the Palm interface. I don't need pretty graphics on my phone, but it sure does make using it a lot more fun! It also helps that I can customize my main screen to show my upcoming calendar appointments, tasks, missed calls, etc. I never had these types of options before! Now it's easy to see exactly where I'm supposed to be. Not to mention that I now have the wide world of Windows Mobile software at my fingertips! I even have a development kit for windows mobile from years ago, so it would actually be fairly straight forward to make my own!

Of course, the phone is not perfect, and some of the downfalls are so frustrating at times that I wonder for a few seconds why I bought it. For instance, the call button is on the side of the phone, approximately where one holds the phone when talking on it. If this button is pushed, it is not ignored, but instead starts doing this horrible beeping sound that interrupts the call so that neither person can hear the other. There is no way to stop this sound that I have found so far, but instead you must wait it out for about 10 seconds. So far that has not happened on any extremely important calls, but I'm just waiting for the day when it does and the person hangs up on me. The other little thing that annoys me is that it takes a microSD card instead of a standard SD card; for some people this is not a problem, but I have SD cards out the a**, whereas I have no microSD cards lying around. I've yet to make myself spend more money to get one.

Minor annoyances also include the fact that it doesn't flip screen layout as well as the iPhone does, as the screen is always vertical when it's open and horizontal when it's closed. But I can live with that!

So, moral of the story? Sometimes waiting for the right new phone is the best decision, because eventually something will come along that makes you really really happy.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Let's talk about Fish

I receive a lot of junk e-mail which is not surprising considering I have multiple websites with different e-mail addresses on each; I'm an e-mail farmer's dream. It drives me crazy though that other people tend to make simple mistakes in trusting the e-mail they receive and are thus very susceptible to phishing schemes. For those that don't know, a phishing e-mail is one whose sole purpose is to steal your information by tricking you into entering it at their website. The website usually purports to be a well-known business, but is at an incorrect web address.

I would like to share a single piece of very simple junk mail (a phishing scam) that almost seems legit, and talk about why it's not:

Dear NAVY Federal Credit Union Member,

You have one new message at NAVY Federal Credit Union.

INBOX ( 1 )

From: NAVY Federal Credit Union Customer Service Date: 02/04/2008 Subject: Navy Account Suspended

In order to read this message please click on the link:

Thank You

NAVY Online Banking Mail Security Team

Copyright © 2008, NAVY Federal Credit Union. All rights reserved.

There are many reasons not to believe this e-mail. For starters, if you don't have a NFCU account it's obviously trash; but let's assume the recipient does in fact have such an account. Overall it may seem fairly normal, as they want you to go to the website to see your message, as many legitimate bank e-mails also require. Another flag may be the fact that it claims your account is suspended, which is a usual trick of phishing e-mails, as they want to grab your attention in such a way that you click out of fear or worry.

Yet another flag is the website address. I think regular e-mail users highly underestimate the importance of the website address and what it can tell you. There are many clues in that line alone that it is not a legitimate e-mail: the website is not the one you would expect, with instead of; the address includes "upload" and "files"; and the last folder is "navy". The combination of these address facts should clue you in that the website will probably be designed to look like the NCFU website but will not be real!

Of course this particular e-mail was particularly bad as the address is obvious in the text. Often the website address that shows up in the e-mail (if it is rich text or HTML e-mail) will be different than where the link actually goes; think of this as putting a "click here" message that links to a website. Thus you should always go to the website of the business that is supposedly contacting you by googling for their website, finding the website via your bookmarks, or using a website address you otherwise know to be correct. If everyone did this, phishing schemes would completely fail!

If you want examples of some of these other situations and some more basic tips, try Recongizing Phishing Scams, by Microsoft.