Posts Tagged ‘Bad Computers’

Spam - Email
Spam is the junk mail of the modern age. It’s completely unsolicited, highly annoying, and sent out to millions of people every few seconds. These emails include ads for porn sites, money making schemes, and some of the most useless products in existence. They also generally feature more bad spelling than a group of delinquent fourth graders who’ve just discovered the joys of text messaging.

This shady method is extremely popular with marketers because of the low operating costs involved. All you need is a list of email addresses, easily obtained from your local computer hacker, and you can send out a massive number of advertisements for herbal Viagra with a touch of a button! Your ISP will probably shut you down within a few hours, but you can simply use another one. This will also cost you a piece of your soul, but you undoubtedly got rid of that years ago.

So how pervasive is the problem? Over 90% of the email traffic on the web is made up of spam. This is to say nothing of the mobile phone spam, instant messaging spam, and blog spam. It’s also estimated that spam costs the United States over $13 billion a year, but that’s just the financial side. The time loss, bandwidth usage, and psychological damage incurred from discovering how it can ‘En1arge your Manh00d – G U A R A N T E D’ bears a horrible price all of its own.


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Spyware is not, sadly, the white tuxedo that James Bond wears whenever he goes out on a mission to stop a supervillain from using a diamond-powered satellite laser to destroy the world’s nuclear arsenal. It’s an incredibly sinister form of software that secretly installs itself on people’s computers without their knowledge, usually after they inadvertently click on a link or open a webpage. The result is slowed operating systems, altered computer settings, and television surveys that absolutely will not go away until the person tells them how much they like “CSI: Terra Haute”.

The dangers of spyware are far greater than hair pulled out and countless hours wasted, however. Keyloggers can be used to record a user’s keystrokes, so an unscrupulous hacker can steal passwords and credit card numbers. The spyware exploits security weaknesses in vulnerable computers to send out the information to anyone who knows where to look for it. Another kind of spyware targets modem users by switching the phone number they dial to a premium one that is oversees, resulting in phone bills that roughly equal the GNP of a small Latin American country.

Perhaps the most insidious form of spyware is the kind that tries to sell the user anti-spyware software. An infected computer begins receiving annoying pop-up ads and has their homepage redirected to a dubious site that informs them that their system has been compromised, and states that this unfortunate situation can be remedied by installing the Trust-Us-Not spyware software. Not too surprisingly, this often renders the computer even more inoperable, until they reach the point where they have to format the hard disk and start over from scratch.

Not that the author is bitter, mind you.

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When the first computers came about, space was a fairly limited commodity. They used punch cards for memory, and in order to save room, the programmers chose to designate chronological dates with a simple two number variable. The year 1964 would be represented as 64, and so forth. This all worked fine until the end of the century, when analysts suddenly realized a big problem. Computer systems were going to automatically switch from 99 to 00, and think (incorrectly) that it was the year 1900.

Did this really matter? Experts said yes, and predicted that nuclear power plants would fail, airplanes would fall out of the sky, and soda machines would start vindictively shooting their cans at people, just like in Maximum Overdrive. Unless something drastic was done, it would be the downfall of society as we knew it!

Approximately $100 billion dollars was thus spent to rectify the error. Computer programmers went through countless lines of codes, fixing the systems and adding backdoor programs so they could sneak in later to loot the companies, while ordinary people stocked up on canned goods and rifle ammunition in preparation of the mass chaos to come. The apocalypse clock ticked ever closer, and finally at 11:59 PM, December 31, 1999, the world held its collective breath…

And nothing happened. Despite the fact that numerous computers across the globe still possessed the fatal glitch, the end of the world did not occur. Life pretty much went on as normal, which essentially involved a bunch of people being unpleasant to each other, and is expected to continue as such until the year 10,000. That’s when the next problem is supposed to happen, due to the programmers foolishly choosing to use five digits for their Y2K complaint systems instead of six.

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There are a lot of bad scams to be found on the internet, but the Nigerian email swindles (also known as Advance Fee Fraud) are particularly devious. They’re certainly the most pervasive, with the United States losing an estimated $100 million a year through their malfeasance. They usually involve a low-ranking cabinet member who needs to get rid of a lot of cash in a hurry, and has just “happened” by sheer amazing coincidence to stumble upon the email holder in question. Here’s an example:

Dear Kindest Sir,

Having consulted with my colleagues in the Nigerian Chambers Of Commerce, I have the privilege to offer the transfer of $47,500,000.00 into your bank account. The above sum is the result of an over-invoiced contract that was commissioned and paid for by a foreign contractor over five years ago. This action was intentional, and has since been sitting in a suspense account at The Central Bank Of Nigeria Apex Bank.

I am now ready to transfer the funds overseas, and that is where you, my dear friend, come in. Civil servants are forbidden to operate foreign accounts, so I have sought out someone from your country who I believe to have impeccable morals. You! The total sum will be shared as follows: 70% for us, 25% for you and 5% for bribes incidental to the transfer.

The transfer is completely risk free on both sides! Really! I am a minister at the Nigerian International Trade Works In Transit, and if you find this proposal acceptable, please send me your bank account number, a photocopy of your driver’s license, your birth certificate, your telephone number, your PayPal password, every one of your credit card numbers (including the three digit sequence at the back), and a piece of letter-headed stationary that is stamped and signed.

Best Regards,

Name Withheld

Now, to any person with a modicum of intelligence, it’s pretty obvious that something fishy is going on here, but it turns out there’s a lot of people lacking said modicum who have lost their life savings to these scams. There are even a few people that have traveled all the way to Nigeria in order to pick up their money, only to be kidnapped by the spammers and ransomed back to their families. They normally wouldn’t be able to afford the payment, but they just heard about a great land deal in Florida that practically guarantees triple returns!

Variations on Advance Fee Fraud include:

– Charity Scams (Let’s exploit a horrible tragedy by swindling the charity!)
– Death in the Family Scams (Aunt Gertie died and I need an overseas account to get the inheritance!)
– Lottery Scams (I won the lottery but need help transferring the money!)
– Hitman Scams (Someone hired me to kill you but I won’t if you send me cash!)
-Stranded Missionary Scams (I’m trapped abroad and I need funds to get out of this godforsaken country!)
– Fraud Recovery Scams (Did you lose money to a Nigerian Email Scam? We’re here to help!)

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The blue screen of death is probably responsible for more nightmarish screams of anguish than anything else in the computer industry. This common system error is exactly what it sounds like: a giant blue screen, followed by a kernel error and several rows of nonsensical jabbering text. This typically occurs right before you’ve saved your thirty-page finance report to the database, and have no choice but to reboot the computer. The original system error, in which the disembodied head of Bill Gates appears and laughs maniacally at the user, was discontinued due to memory leaks.

The sheer horror of the blue screen of death is so great that several haikus have been written about it. To whit:

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.
— Peter Rothman

Seeing my great fault.
Through darkening blue windows.
I begin again.
— Chris Walsh

Everything is gone;
Your life’s work has been destroyed.
Squeeze trigger (yes/no)?
— David Carlson

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It’s happened to anyone who owns a computer. You’re surfing the internet, looking for that video of the cat falling off the television, when you click on a link and, instead of going to the website in question, a massive pop-up ad appears. If you’re lucky, it’s just a minor irritation that you can close and continue on to the feline hilarity, but more often than not, this action simply opens another pop-up, and then another one, until your taskbar has been cluttered with dozens of flashing advertisements offering herbal Viagra at amazing discount prices.

Most web users ignore the banner advertisements at the top of the screen, so pop-up ads force them to take a moment to look at the incredibly awesome deal in question. What this fails to take into account is the highly negative emotions which are transferred to the subject due to the intrusive nature of the ads. You generally don’t want people associating your product with torn shirts and screams of impotent rage. The fact that many pop-up ads attempt to infect the computers with spyware makes them even more dubious, but rest assured they’ll often provide a pop-up ad offering software to remove the offending programs at the same time.

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