Cleverer and cleverer

| emacs, family

My mom called me in a panic. “I just got this message from info AT saying that my e-mail account has been suspended.”

I grumbled. Yet another notice. Our e-mail had recently been suspended
because people weren't deleting their old mail. I had just spent a few
days with ipowerweb tech support and
Adphoto employees working out the
issues. Another notice? I was going to track down and scold the errant

_After_ helping my sister, who paged me to come down so that I could
help her with the market study along the highway. And meeting my
friends. And tracking down that planner bug. ARGH!

My mom poked her head into the Internet room. “SACHA, fix my e-mail

Informal tech support people the world over know that when moms use
that tone of voice, everything else gets bumped down the priority

I trudged over to her Mac and brought up the Ipowerweb help support.

Kathy called to follow up. My mom picked up the phone and said,
“Sacha's here fixing my e-mail.”

“No no no, I'm just going to show you how to ask for help. Where's the

“Why don't you fix it first and then you can teach me how to ask for
help next time?”

“I _can't_ fix it. It's up to the Ipowerweb people. Where's the
message? Okay. Hmm. Temporarily suspended… check account details…”
I didn't catch any typos during my cursory glance, but it didn't feel
like the other notices we'd gotten from Ipowerweb. The message felt
wrong. I read further. “Adphoto Support Team… Wait a minute, we
don't _have_ an Adphoto Support Team.” I looked up. Sure enough, there
was an attachment named “” just begging to be opened.

“So what's wrong with my e-mail?”

“Nothing,” I replied, disgusted. I reread the message. Clever of them
to work the first part of the domain into the message. “It's one of
those fake messages with attachments.”

“Wait! How do I tell which ones are real and which aren't?”

How do I explain that feeling of something being wrong? It's a blink moment.

  • Messages that ask you to look at attachments are immediately
    suspicious, even if they come from someone you know. Most worms fake
    the From: address to be someone you might now. Write the person who
    supposedly sent you the message and ask if that's really the
    intended attachment.
  • Don't click on random links, too. This could open you up to more spam
    or attacks that exploit browser vulnerabilities.
  • If the message says it comes from an automated system and you
    shouldn't bother replying, see if there's a human somewhere you can
    get in touch with.
  • Tech announcements shouldn't be coming from info AT,
    but rather an ipowerweb account. This is particularly true when
    they're announcements I don't remember making.
  • Make life easier for other people. If you send an attachment or link
    to someone else, include enough outside-the-computer information to
    let the other person know you're human. For example, you could give
    some details about the job just finished.

I've had to enable e-mail access from the PCs. I've made the employees
promise not to click on strange links or attachments, and Internet
access is restricted to a set of government websites and the Adphoto
website itself. That should provide us with some modicum of protection
because there's no way for them to establish a direct connection to
the outside.

With social engineers getting cleverer and cleverer, though, will that
be enough?

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