Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Anonymous email like no other

28/07/2010 1 comment



Like many, I often have to give details of a valid email address, to which I will be sent the login details I need for a particular service.  I know that many times this will lead to lots of spam as my details are passed or sold on.  To that end I have a number of ‘throw away’ email accounts, which I have setup to be used just for this purpose.  It works well, but I have often wondered if there is a better alternative – and there is.

I have found Mailinator.  This is far from a standard email.  To begin with you do not need to register to use the account.  You can use any name you wish, they say every possible name has already been registered (of course not).  Your choice of name is important, more later.  There is no security, none of the email accounts on the system has a password, and you can look at other people’s email.  Perhaps I am not selling it to you correctly, lets go through a scenario and see how it works.

I would like to register at a site in order to download a piece of software, let’s call the site Pancea Software.  As part of the registration I must provide a valid email address to which they will send my password and link to use the site.  No problem, I just give my email address as  Having, registered to download the software with Panacea Software I visit  In the top left of the page I type in the name I used, and click ‘Go’.  The system shows me any emails for that account, and I can collect my new password and link to the download area of Panacea Software.

The email address at Mailinator, which you just created and instantly used, will only hold a maximum of ten emails and will automatically delete them after ‘a few hours’.  What about your choice of name (I said I would come back to this).  This could be a problem if you use the name ‘’.  There will be several thousand other ‘bob’s out there using the same account.  Try to choose something unique, and chances are your emails will be long deleted before anyone else finds them.

So, back to our scenario.  When registering your email address with Panacea Software you chose to use  It is extremely unlikely that anyone else will be using that name, or will come across it accidentally. But, I hear you cry, your login ID and password for Panacea Software is potentially available for others to see.  First, you would not use this system for your bank account or anything which was vital.  Second, you now log in to your account at Panacea Software and change the password they sent you.

Three other things to note.  All attachments are stripped from incoming emails, other domains can be used (if mailinator becomes better known) and you are unable to send from this account (just receive).

Why use Mailinator ? As they say on their web site, “Give it out. Use it in web forms.  Post it on forums.  Use it any time you need an email address, but don’t want to be slowed down by the sign-up process or spammed for eternity.”  You were able to instantly create an email account, as there was no lengthy registration process, it created an email address which you don’t care what happens to it (you don’t own it after all) and it was a case of create, use and throw away.

Categories: Internet, Security

It’s all on the cards

26/04/2010 Leave a comment

Credit Card Theft

Credit Card Theft

Ahead of the Infosecurity Conference in London later this month, they have released a report which makes sobering reading.  It states that 44% of Londoners have suffered bank card fraud.  24% of Londoners have had their identity stolen.

  1. The most common reported method (27%) said their details had been stolen through websites or e-mail.
  2. The second most common method (20%) said they lost their details during face-to-face transactions.
  3. Being conned over the phone was the third most likely place to have details stolen with 15% of details being stolen in this way.
Some of the other ways that details were taken included cashpoint machines, online banking and letters being intercepted in the post.  Most of the affected (58%) were targeted in the UK, but 42% said the fraud happened to them while they were overseas.
The average amount stolen was £1 148 with 37% of the victims reporting they did not get the money refunded by their bank.  People who lost more than £5 000 stood a better chance of getting a refund, 91% were successful.  However, if the amount was less than £100 then only 41% received a refund.
Interestingly, only 28% of the victims thought they were to blame for the fraud.  Twice I have had my credit card skimmed, whilst abroad, and I would say I was at fault.  Now, My card is never taken from me in restaurants – I have given up the foolish practice of just handing it to a waiter to pay the bill, sitting contentedly whilst my card is taken behind a cash desk.
Categories: Crime, Internet

Happy birthday YouTube

24/04/2010 Leave a comment

YouTube Logo

YouTube Logo

Most five year olds would be described as a child.  However, YouTube has rapidly grown and developed in to a mature tool for change.  Change?

It has changed ordinary individuals in to stars, granting them their Warhol fifteen minutes of fame.  It has changed advertising, introducing us to viral marketing.  It has changed broadcasting, allowing any of us to set up our own YouTube ‘channel’.  For a visual medium, it has also changed music.

Famously it has changed the way we communicate, in one well-publicised case – how we complain.  David Carroll, a Canadian musician travelled with United Airlines and during the journey his guitar was broken.  Receiving little in the way of an apology, let alone compensation, he decided to compose a song about his trials and tribulations, and post it on YouTube.  The result?  The share price took a dive and £117m ($180m) was wiped off their value.  Click on the link in the bottom right of this page to watch Dave Carroll.

The first video was uploaded on to the internet at 8.27pm on Saturday 23 April 2005 and lasted just 19 seconds.  Now, in the two months more video is uploaded to YouTube than if all the major US broadcasters had been broadcasting 24hrs a day, 365 days a week, since 1948.  It is the third most visited website in the world, (after Google and Facebook).  We were slow to discover it in the UK.  The first mention of You Tube in the British press was in November 2005.  That month, shortly before YouTube was boosted for the first time by investment from a venture-capitalist, the site showed 2m videos a day. Two months later, it broadcast 25m. Today it is well over 1bn.

The three founders, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim saw a handsome return on their investment when Google bought YouTube in a deal worth US$1.65bn in October 2006 – just sixteen months after the first video was uploaded.  The most popular videos have been watched in excess of 180 million times, achieving a penetration not achieved by other media.  YouTube already provides HD video and 3D.  I wonder if the founders thought that the original 19sec film about elephants at San Diego Zoo was the start of a revolution?

Categories: Internet, Media

Tweets to be archived for history

23/04/2010 Leave a comment

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

About a month ago I wrote how much of our digital records were being lost to history,  For that reason I was very pleased to read that Twitter are donating their digital archive of public tweets to the Library of Congress.

This archive is not an insignificant amount of data.  It is suggested that some 50 million tweets are sent every day, from people around the world.  Twitter are going to donate all public tweets since Twitter started in 2006, to the present.  This will be several billion tweets.  They include the first ever tweet, from the company’s co-founder and the tweet posted by President Obama about winning the election.  This move is very much in line with the Library’s record of gathering the accounts of ordinary individuals throughout their history.

The Library has been collecting materials from the web since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000. Today the Library holds more than 167 terabytes of web-based information, including legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office and websites of Members of Congress. In addition, the Library leads the congressionally mandated National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, which is pursuing a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content, especially information that is created in digital form only, for current and future generations.

They are to be applauded for their efforts, and lets hope that other national libraries are doing the same, or much of our history stored in digital format will be lost forever.

Categories: Internet, Media

It’s not what you type, but how you type it

27/03/2010 Leave a comment

Cyber Security

Cyber Security

Research by Prof Roy Maxion of Carnegie Mellon University claims to be able to tell a great deal about a person by the way they type.  His research claims that “As soon as you type ten numbers or letters he can work out your sex, your culture, your age and whether you have any hand injuries.”  He believes that this can be achieved with a 95% accuracy.

In the UK, where Prof Maxion is an Associate Professor at the University of Newcastle,  it is hoped research based on these findings will be able to identify paedophiles posing as children on social networking sites.   Phil Butler, head of the university’s Cyber Crime and Computer Security department and a former Northumbria Police Detective chief inspector, believes the new technique has the potential for being a valuable weapon in their arsenal.   He states, “We’re looking at the application of the research, particularly in relation to internet grooming. If children are talking to each other on Windows Live or MSN Messenger, we are looking at ways of providing the chatroom moderators with the technology to be able to see whether an adult is on there by the way they type.”

The university is planning to submit a proposal to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to fund further research. It is thought the technology could also be used to prevent fraud at devices such as cash machines.

Categories: Internet, Security

Digital preservation and the digital archaeologist

13/03/2010 Leave a comment

Digital Archaeology

Digital Archaeology

We can read written materials from thousands of years ago.  Their physical nature and careful preservation means they will be available to generations to come.

The rate at which digital technology is  moving means that formats are created and either abandoned or superseded at an alarming rate.  Without careful, and expensive digital preservation, we are in danger of entering a “digital dark age”.  Digital preservation is required for analogue materials which have been digitised and materials that were created, or “born”, in digital format.

Our heritage has been presented on many different materials, including stone, vellum, bamboo, silk, paper etc. However, huge amounts of contemporary information exists in digital forms, including emails, blogs, social networking websites, web photo albums, and sites which change their content over time.  Ironically, old media such as paper is far more persistent than CD or DVD.  The former will last six decades before showing any signs of deterioration, whilst the life expectancy of optical discs (even if stored correctly) can be as little as twenty years.  A greater problem comes when such materials only exist somewhere out there in the digital cloud.

The challenge comes in storing such materials in a way that allows us to easily find them again, and in a form which can still be read in the future.  The former can be achieved by the use of meta tags.  One system which has been suggested is METS ( Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard).  METS uses XML to describe the hierarchical structure of digital library objects, the names and locations of the files which constitute the objects and the associated metadata. We also have the Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS) and the reference model (ISO 14721:2003).

The last significant threat is that of the obsolescence of the equipment required for the retrieval and playback of digital media.  When a software or decoding technology is abandoned, or a hardware device is no longer in production, records created under the environment of such technologies are at great risk of loss, simply because they are not tangible any more.  Those of us of a certain age will remember the pioneering Doomsday Project by the BBC in 1986.  It created a digital version of the Doomsday Book (an 11th Century census of England), stored on laserdiscs in the LaserVision Read Only Memory (LV-ROM) format, read by a Philips VP415 “Domesday Player” and an Acorn BBC Master computer.  The project represented the contributions of one million people.  Even at the time the UK’s National Data Archive were informed that the technology used was short lived, but they failed to preserve the material effectively.

A famous example is with NASA, whose early space records were suffering from a “Digital Dark Age” challenge.  For over a decade, magnetic tapes from the 1976 Viking landings on Mars were unprocessed. When later analyzed, the data were unreadable as they were in an unknown format and the original programmers had either died or left NASA.  The images were eventually extracted through many months of puzzling through the data and examining how the recording machines functioned.

In essence, if you want media to still be there in a thousand years from now, you can not rely on electronics to achieve it for you.

A quiet announcement from Google(UK)

11/03/2010 Leave a comment

Street View UK

Street View UK

I came across this by accident.  Today (11th March) Google announced they have finished driving up and down every road and street in the UK with their 360 degree cameras.

This means that their street-view facility on Google Maps is complete.  I live in the least densely populated county in England and Wales and was pleasantly surprised to see just how comprehensive their coverage has been.   They even managed to capture my village in one of those rare occasions, a dry and sunny day in Wales.

How long before all this photographic data is incorporated in to sat-nav applications?

Categories: Computing, Internet