MonthOctober 2004

Oh, *now* I understand why people mount DDOS attacks

Pardon me being self-indulgent on the blog comment spam thing again. At the time of writing, there have been 768 attempts since about midnight on Wednesday to post spam comments here. They’re all from Trojanned PCs, from different IPs (if you try to post a comment and get redirected mysteriously, your machine was possibly used to try to post here; its IP is automatically added to a do-not-comment list). So I can’t just ban the IP.

The annoying thing is that they’re also all for the same site, or group of sites. Which leaves one wondering: should I just feel triumphant? Or angry about this relentless waste of my resources? I have to say it’s hard to feel triumphant, seeing the seemingly endless list of auto-blocked comments, and the indifference with which the post attempts are made. One just feels like mounting a denial-of-service against the would-be advertised sites.

Go on, you spamming gits. Pay me $3,000 and you can put the ad here with my approval. Or is that too much like legally-sanctioned work?

Update 16:11: closer examination showed that the overwhelming majority of attempts were coming from just three computers, at Verio’s network. Added those three to .htaccess (the Apache file that would be better named “bouncer in sunglasses”). End of problem – 1460 attempts since last Wednesday – for now.

Why are comment spammers using the ‘Jakarta Commons-HttpClient/2.0.1’ client?

Ho hum. For techies only. While you’re reading this, probably the server is being irked by a comment spammer trying to post comments to point to a card-playing site.

They don’t appear (150-odd in 5 hours). I’ve tweaked the plugin which simply deletes them at once to report the http_user_agent that’s trying to post them. This gives ‘Jakarta Commons-HttpClient/2.0.1′ and reports that the http_connection_status (usually “stay open’ for normal connections, I think) is ‘close’.

Here’s the Google search: it’s an Apache program. Anyone got an idea why and how comment spammers are up to this? Nothing much turns up on this. Or am I the first to notice it, which seems astronomically unlikely?

Cash machine fraudsters use convincing “add-on” on ATMs

Verrry interesting tale in the Guardian’s Jobs & Money section about “Fraudsters go Underground” – basically, fitting a small and colour-matched plastic slot over the place where your card should go in the ATM.

Police say these cloning devices usually come with a pinhole camera. The device records the user’s card details, while the camera films the PIN number. Once the crooks have the card details, it is relatively easy to produce a cloned copy of the card which can access money from individual bank accounts. Police say cloned cash cards can be ready for use within an hour of details being obtained. The beauty of the crime is individuals are unaware that their card has been copied and that thousands of pounds may be disappearing from accounts.

Scared yet? The photos (only in print, it seems, unless someone wants to send a link) were very convincing, showing the “before and after” at Hammersmith tube station.

More interesting scams in general from Jobs&Money at

Dear Alanis Morissette, this is what is meant by ‘irony’

Nice report by Jo Best at on how the UK government sexed down its report this week which admitted that this Linux stuff could be, well, OK for use in the public sector. From time to time. (The report is here.)

And how were the alterations made visible? By using the “Track Changes” function of .. Microsoft Word. First it shows who had their fingers on the Iraq dossier. Then it even catches out Microsoft itself.

Truly, those whom the gods would destroy, they first provide with the world’s most overspecified text editor.

Apres nous, le deluge: Times to go tabloid from Monday

The Times is going tabloid across the UK from Monday – which is certain to mean a boost in sales for the Daily Telegraph. Compared to The Independent, which went fully compact (as we are pleased to call it) earlier this year, The Times has many more older readers; and its broadsheet definitely had more content than its tabloid.

That’s a key difference from The Indie’s tabl..compact version. It was a remarkable piece of alchemy, but the broadsheet Indie and its smaller sibling had precisely the same content. So you could be sure that if you couldn’t get one, you weren’t missing anything by getting the other. And the circulation has kept going up.

By contrast, The Times has a lot of people who like their broadsheet (my father being one) who I think will not be pleased by being forced to take the smaller one, which has never pulled off its design together; it still has an inelegant, knife-and-fork look. (This is not me knocking for the sake of rivalry; if I thought The TImesloid looked better, I would certainly say so.)

So I think on Monday the Daily Telegraph, still the most authoritative daily in terms of news coverage, will see a boost in sales that will bring smiles to the Barclay Brothers’ faces. No doubt they’re already ordering a larger print run.

What the US needs now: a strong third party

Watching the BBC’s Question Time, which is coming from the US, in a move that the producers no doubt thought would be smart – with Michael Moore, David Frum (ex-GWB speechwriter), coupla other Americans, and the UK’s Richard Littlejohn; the latter usually thought of as a corrosive commentator. In this company, particularly the audience’s, Littlejohn is just drowned out, too nice to bother with.

It’s awful. Nasty, vituperative, bitter, divisive, a dialogue of the deaf. The audience cheers and jeers, and the reason why the whole debate is so sterile – in the manner of razed ground – is that there’s only two sides. Heads or tails, black or white. There’s no credible third party offering the risk of an alternative, in the way that the Liberal Democrats do in the UK, able to call the bluff on both parties, and win votes from either. People are on one side or the other.

Sometimes, it turns out, you need a fence.

We apologise for the lack of a front page earlier…

This was due to me messing up some characters in my editing of the Three Strikes Plugin which has been sorely tested today by a comment spammer who for the past 18 hours has been hitting the site about every four minutes trying to advertise hold-’em poker. Look, pal, buy an advert and we’ll see about it, OK?

Meanwhile the plugin thwarted them all, and I’ve edited it so that if it blocks a comment and emails you, there’s a clickable link to look up where in the world the PC doing it is. I’ll aim to post it sometime. (Email or comment if you’re desperate for it. Or see the Strikes Plugin page – I posted my bit of the code near the bottom.) And maybe write a version that incorporates the Spammer Tar Pit. Make his Trojanned PCs wait. (I’ll call it “Three Strikes And You’re Into The Tar Pit”.)

..and later, some other idiot has taken over trying to advertisie something I can’t even figure out. Look, your attempts at comment spamming don’t work, OK? Stop wasting your money on the Trojanned zombie networks.

“The state of Windows”

Bill Palmer usually uses a Mac; then last weekend he went to a friend’s house, and ended up using his friend’s one-year-old PC with Windows XP and SP2 installed.

Oh, and 34 pieces of spy/ad/who-knows-what-ware. An interesting tale: read it in full. Certainly I didn’t know it was that bad. But I don’t let the Windows machine I have on the Net. (One question this article doesn’t answer is whether the guy had antivirus software etc going. But then, neither does Bill..)

Cor, baby, that’s really.. very small on this phone

Ah, witness another idea that’s not going to go very far. (Is this me doing stop energy? Anyhow.)

Excited press release from mobile network 3: History will be made on 2 November as [rock band] Rooster perform what will be the UK's first gig broadcast live to third-generation mobile users.

Er, what? I mean, history, sure, but rather in the style of making history by stacking a million one-pence coins on each other, as in, sure you can do it but what’s the point?

Read on for more detail: 3 is offering 1,000 places to fans of the band to watch the ground-breaking gig live on their 3 mobile, with highlights of the 45 minute performance and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage then made available for download by over 1.2 million 3 customers. The gig, since you’re wondering, is going to be at London’s ICA.

So let’s get this straight: 3 is offering these lucky, lucky people the chance to watch a gig in the tiny video screen of a mobile phone?? Exactly how pointless would that feel? Will the video be able to follow the band’s movement? And what’s the sound quality going to be like?

It reminds me very strongly of the period back in, oh, 2000 or so when performers like Madonna and Elton John were doing online gigs paid for by wannabe “content ISPs” like MSN. And look now – everybody watches gigs on their computer every day, don’t they? Nobody bothers going to Glastonbury, and the TV channels don’t show it, because… oh no hang on.

And so it will be with “gigs to your mobile”. And that’s assuming they can even find 1,000 people who are (1) Rooster fans and (b) own a video mobile. If you get four or five crowded around a single phone, things could get ugly.

Pausing radio, and the hidden things in our rivers, lakes and streams

This week’s Independent Science and Technology features are up: I’ve reviewed the PURE Digital Bug, which I have to say I like very much – digital radio you can pause and record – while Peter Marren gives you an insight into the hidden beasts in our lakes, rivers and streams.

Update Thurs: reader Steve Green points out that my article about The Bug has two errors: MPEG-2 is a *less* efficient codec than MP3; and “pausing” live radio could be done with analogue too, if manufacturers had the will. More detail in the comments to this post.