Solar flare menaces scamming lungfish

Plus Symantec, Opera and hackers

Letters Lots to get through this week, so where better to start than with a story of a star-crossed lover (can you have just one?) who thought he'd met his match online. But, as they exchanged love notes, it became increasingly apparent that it was not true love at all, but a scam designed to do nothing other than extract large amounts of cash from our protagonist:

Fun article.

I'd like to add that isn't the only place can meet these "lovelies". I've had encounters with several from, and as I am a past poster to, I recognized what was going on and have played along with them.

The airfare scam is only one of their tricks. Another popular ploy is the "I can't get online and write to you, because I have no money. If you sent some money to the ISP, I can continue to write, and send pictures."

The pictures are "interesting", to say the least. Not what one normally sees on dating sites.....

Enjoyed the story.

Stay on it. You owe it to your readers.


I read this article with a big smile on my face. I've been targeted by this twice in recent weeks, once from and another from

The girl from and I have exchanged a whole series of emails where she professes to love me then kindly asks me to transfer 550 Euro's via Western Union.



Next, some sceptical responses to a Symantec assessment of the threat facing Mac and Firefox users. No doubt wanting to stir up a bit of controversy and grab a couple of headlines (job done, really), Symantec warned that security might not be as tight as everyone thinks in the land of non-IE web browsing:

The city Guard is convinced that the city needs more Guards! Especially in those places that have been, so far, free from attack (and therefore not hiring any Guards). In fact, the Guards anticipate more attacks in *those very places* to happen Any Time Now.

If I were a cynical sort given to suspicion, I might wonder if some of those attackers might be funded by... um... the Guard. Y'know, to make a point. Ends justifying the means and all.

Thank goodness it's not at all like the bad old days, when rumors were running rampant that the big Anti-Virus companies were paying for first exposure to "new" virii, in order to be the first to claim to kill it.

Qui custodiet ipsos custodes?


Mac sales a bit lax perhaps? I'm surprised they sell any software for OS X. It would be interesting to see how many Mac worms, trojans and virii Symantec have found actively out in the wild. My count is still zero.

Firefox may have had more vulnerabilities discovered than IE in the last six months, I don't know, I wasn't counting, but I suspect the effect of those vulnerabilities is less severe with Firefox than IE.

For example, a passenger aircraft can have a 'vulnerability' such as a landing wheel very slightly below pressure, or an entire wing off. Unless you're told how severe the problem is, Mr Pinckney's figures are about as much use as a German election.


More security-related complaints. This time in relation to our headline pun-foolery. Britain topped the zombie charts again, so we gave the piece a very witty "Eng-Land of the Dead" intro. Oh how we chortled:

I take it that though the report mentioned 'Britain' that there were no zombie PCs in Scotland. That must be more plausible reason than that of you being one of these stupid English gits who think Britain == England.

Och aye the noo,

Jimmy McJimmy MacJimmy Jimmyson

You're just being a killjoy, Jimmy McJimmy MacJimmy Jimmyson.

A proposal next. Someone thinks they might have the germ of an idea that could save Meg Whitman and eBay from losing fistfuls of cash on the Skype acquisition:

While I think you've missed the boat on the "lead generation" capabilities, I think Meg et al missed a wider market....

Skype would be great if part of either a "phone sex" operation, or as an adjunct of an "online" dating service. I'll leave the phone sex business plan to your already over-active imagination....

With respect to an online dating service you could use Skype to allow someone to actually talk to the other person, rather than use instant messaging. Or if you met someone in one of their chat rooms, you could always have them leave to go and have a voice conversation, one on one...

Either way, it goes back to the same point. On the internet, sex sells. ;-)


Ads on, ads off? Apart from sounding like a webmaster's version of the Karate Kid, this sums up the eternal dilemma of free (beer) software producers. So when Opera said version 9 would be ad free we were not surprised that the decision wasn't welcomed by all:

I bought version 7 (which allowed a free upgrade to version 8) and have mixed feelings Opera being free of charge. Presumably this will affect future major versions, so it's nice that version 9 will be free. On the other hand, I paid the developers real money to get a premium product, so now it doesn't seem quite so premium and it feels like all the Johnny-come-latelys will be free-loading from me and many others who decided Opera's developers were worth giving money to.

Remember, software that is free, as in beer, can only be free if the people who developed it were able to buy food, clothes and housing through other means. If those means are paid support, then there's an incentive to make the product a little less polished so that people will pay you to make the bugs go away.


How much will that ID card cost? Don't ask us, we're only journalists...

Your back-of-an-envelope calculations don't derive the cost of an ID card, but merely go in a circle. Badly.

The "badly" refers to the following sentence: "Since the Government state that there are about 20 per cent of the population not having a passport, it is possible to scale up the costs of Passport Agency costs for the 10 years by 20 per cent."

Actually, that should be 25% (20 / 80), so the cost of issuing everyone with a passport would be £5 bn.

The circle is achieved by canceling the cost of the passport, so that it plays no part whatsoever in the figure of 67.2 m cards derived. That figure is simply the turnover badly adjusted for universal issue (£4.8 bn) divided by the cost of a passport.

The only interesting part of the whole analysis is what happens if you adjust the figure correctly. 67.2 m x 5 / 4.8 is 70m, which allows us to estimate that 2.8 m people (about 4%) would need to have a lost, stolen or damaged passport replaced.


Another reason we can all hope that the government did not use this calculation is that there is a glaring error within. If 80% of people have a passport, and you want a costing for a full 100%, then you need to scale up your costs by 25% and NOT 20% as shown. For example, assume the cards cost £1 each and there are 100 people in the country. If 80 of them have passports, the total cost is £80. To get to the cost for the full 100 people, you need to add £20, which is 25% of £80.

Ask a 14-year old schoolkid ;o)


"Not only this - the calculation also assumes that the Passport Agency type database IS the same as ID Card database. This obviously can't be correct as the costs of the equipment needed by hospitals, police, public authorities, banks etc to access the database is obviously missing (eg when one registers with a GP, the cost of the GP equipment to perform the check does not feature in our calculation)."

Actually it can be correct: the cost of equipment to access the database could be negligible. You see, there's this thing called the Internet, which allows the connection of disparate networks (e.g, Passport Agency networks, hospital networks, police computer networks...) and it has this neat technology called SSL which allows data to be securely encrypted (assuming it's properly configured...) So all the PA would have to do is slap together a SSL-enabled web server in their DMZ with access to the database, and all the other agencies need to do is fire up their existing Internet connection....

Now if you're talking about equipment to scan the ID card, that may be a different story. Still, for next to nothing, the agencies in question could implement a carbon-based system where the ID card is scanned by dual variable-focus quasispherical light sensor matrices, processed by a neural network for character recognition, and then output to the PC through a standard mechanical ten-digit to binary matrix interface (i.e, read the card and type in the numbers.)

Alternately, the government could simply be planning to offset the additional equipment costs by charging businesses through the nose for the "graded" access you mention in the other article...


I may have spotted another thing the home office may have missed if you divide the £6.25bn by £93 to get the number of cards that could be issued. Then they are assuming that from the beginning of 2006 no one will get a passport. If anyone does then your £6.25bn for ID cards begins to come down a bit, so cards must go up.

If this is the standard of government calculations, can we get the LSE to check the budget, we might not have to pay any tax for the rest of the year, and whilst there at it can they also check the election results?


A survey last week revealed that Users are more likely to engage in risky internet behaviour at work because they reckon their IT department will protect them. Not regular BOFH readers, then...

May I offer a counterexample? I am a _lot_ more cautious about what websites I visit at work, because "work" requires me to use a Windows PC, and a browser with security set to "utter script-slut", to access internal content. At home, I use FreeBSD and Mac's and bail on websites that object to my security settings. Note to e-commerce folks: I suspect I am far from the only would-be customer who just clicks away from websites that require me to bend over as a condition of doing business.


How is exactly is 39% two in five people? Is one of the guys in the 61% slightly bigger than the others or has one of the 39% had a hand amputated or something? It's simple maths mate, two in five is 40% not 39%, come on, you can do better than that.


P.S. Can you start a new letters section for Pedant of the week?

If we were to do that, Lloyd, we'd have no time to write stories...

This week we ran a piece which argued, essentially, that hackers are bad, immoral people who go around mugging grannies of their life savings. Suffice it to say that this opinion did not go down well with many readers. We're not running most of the replies, because we don't have enough asterisks in the office stationery cupboard to make them safe for work. The following, however, sums up the general thrust of most of the arguments:


"The morals and ethics that govern our real world just do not exist online."

On which planet did you live? Have you ever heard any news at all? Never watched CNN? Maybe you should keep your hat on but turn on the brain.


Government says poor people are not being well served by e-government. You say: really? Gosh...

Thank God tax-payers' money is being spent on really useful stuff. Without a report such as this we would have no idea that homeless people are not getting full benefit from eGovernment services.

Because knowing that with no home, phone line or computer they cannot access the internet in the first place doesn't count.


Some rather large solar flares left the sun last week, headed for Earth. A small correction:

In regards to your article "Massive sunspot has Earth in its sights", the largest flare you say is recorded is an X28. This has recently been proven to be incorrect. The flare has been approximated as a category X40.

The scientific journal abstract with the relevant details can be found at the link here.



Thanks for the update on that.

And finally: the technicolour world of the Australian lungfish and what it can teach us about fashion:

When you say "humans can only detect three pigments", you should have said "most humans".

As well as the not insubstantial numbers of males who are partially colour-blind, there is evidence that some women, perhaps up to 10% of the female population, have a fourth pigment for a slightly different shade of blue. This means they can distinguish between shades of blue that men have no possible way of getting correct.

It makes a great excuse when the wife complains that you can't possibly wear that tie with that jacket !


Frankly, David, there is no excuse for putting that tie with that jacket...

More letters on Friday. ®

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