1. Phone Numbers versus Email Addresses

    Posted March 27, 2015 in comment  |  No Comments so far

    Stowe Boyd has written a piece about email and how it needs to die.

    I broadly agree with the argument. The physical constraints of transport and logistics meant that postal or snail mail was never going to fundamentally progress beyond its initial model of a bunch of people relaying an object from one place to the other over a couple of days. But there’s no equivalent constraint that forces us to accept email as an unchanging model for digital communication. It is old-fashioned and has flaws so why not do better? Other tools exist that work better for specific use cases so why not use them? Let’s move past email when it doesn’t meet our needs, let’s forget about its anachronistic metaphors of inboxes and folders and carbon copies.

    There was, however, one assertion in Boyd’s piece that made me raise an eyebrow:

    In a mobile world, I expect the phone number will replace the email address.

    I really hope that doesn’t happen as it would feel like a huge backward step. You have to pay for a phone number. A phone number is assigned to a specific country. Phone numbers can only be provided by government-licenced telcos, an industry that’s so consolidated that consumers have little real choice. Phone numbers in and of themselves contain no information (apart from nationality, as mentioned above). You can’t choose your phone number.

    I could go on but I think those reasons alone should be convincing enough. Whatever the post-email form of unique digital identification is, let’s not allow it to be phone numbers!

  2. How to fight back against the cunning, dastardly new techniques of spam email

    Posted January 7, 2014 in office  |  1 Comment so far

    Everyone hates spam email. Do you remember when we used to get it all the time? Depraved demands for money would clog up my inbox as fast as I could delete them. What a nightmare.

    It was lucky, then, that spam filters came along and helped us win the war against spam. For many years those disgusting missives were absent from my inbox and I almost started to forget what it was like to receive one. Everything was great. Until recently.

    In the last few months, more and more of these unwanted emails have been evading my filters and infesting my inbox once again. It feels like we’re back to the dark days of spam. And the reason? The spammers have upped their game.

    One hallmark of the new generation of spam email is mimicking the writing style of colleagues and bosses. And worse still, the spammers are somehow able to make it look like they’re coming from my colleagues and bosses. It’s astounding. Here’s an early example.

    A cunningly disguised piece of spam

    A cunningly disguised piece of spam

    See how crafty this is? It just looks so authentic and it’s a lot like how my boss writes too, a far cry from the old days when it was easy to identify spam emails with all their rude words and grammatical errors. In fact I was so convinced it was real that I was about to send over the report. Luckily I realised what was going on and sent the email to the trash instead.

    But the spammers had some more tricks up their sleeve. The next wave of emails continued to sound like my workmates, but they started referring to earlier messages – “following up on my previous requests” and so on – which gave them an added sense of realism.

    I tried setting up filters to block these messages but they were too different, too diverse in their content, so I resorted to manually deleting them which was very time-consuming. It was fortunate that work had become fairly quiet, giving me several hours a day to clear out my inbox.

    Then the spammers unveiled their next trick: they started to email large PDF files, pretending they were reports for me to review.

    They think I was born yesterday

    They must think I was born yesterday

    Imagine I’d opened this spam attachment – a 7mb PDF large enough to contain millions of trojan viruses. My computer would have been so badly infected that a trip to Dignitas would have been the only option. I pressed the Delete key without hesitation.

    The attempts to infect my laptop and drain my bank account continued in earnest. PDFs, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets – the spammers flung everything they had at me. When these didn’t work, they hijacked my boss’s email again and adopted a radical new technique: they started sending meeting requests.

    I'll admit, this one nearly had me fooled

    I’ll admit, this one nearly had me fooled

    Attending a meeting with a professional spamming gang is ill-advised at the best of times. I rejected the invite, and the many others that followed, accompanying my responses with some well-chosen words in which I told the senders in no uncertain terms where to go.

    It’s not easy to fend off such persistent and innovative spammers. If you use the tips I’ve shared in this post I’m sure you’ll be safe. But now I have to stop writing – my boss is heading towards my desk and he’s looking pretty annoyed…