Innovative ways to fool people

'Your data or your life'

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Full details are still scarce, but somehow the authorities were alerted in time and the big pinch was prevented. You still have to admire the brazenness of the criminals who dreamt this up, and shake your head at the lousy physical security practiced at the London branch of Sumitomo Mitsui.

The bank is pretty sure it won't see a repeat of this particular crime again, by the way, as they've adopted a low tech solution to a high tech problem. Now, the connectors of all keyboards are superglued to the backs of their PCs. Got a bad keyboard? Dude, you're gettin' a Dell!

Ruthless people...and your data

The practice of holding valuable people or objects for ransom stretches back into the earliest records of human history. Recently, though, the internet has allowed criminals to hold things for ransom without the need for their physical presence. Dubbed "ransomware," this is a new type of Trojan horse that, once run by a patsy, threatens the loss of data unless money is coughed up...fast.

In March, Cryzip appeared. Cryzip archives the victim's Word, Excel, PDF, and JPEG files into a zip file protected by a password known only to the miscreant. Instructions are provided that order the unfortunate computer user to pay $300 using one of 99 E-Gold accounts to obtain the decryption password. While I'm sure that many of my readers would roll their sleeves up and gladly jump into the challenge of breaking the password used to generate that zip file, you will definitely agree that this would freak out most normal computer Windows users.<

Ransom-A is even newer, and it introduces a new wrinkle: once run, Ransom-A freezes the computer. A message pops up, informing the poor sucker that he must send $10.99 via Western Union, or a file will be deleted every 30 minutes. Your first thought might be, "Only $10.99? Man, crackers are working cheap these days!", but you have to admit that this would completely terrify Mom and Dad. What would they do?

The internet has made it easy to keep in touch, share files, and now, hold people's computers hostage from a continent away. I'll be interested to see what new ransom schemes appear in the coming years.

Troll Day Afternoon

Now this is clever. Recently I've been discussing virtual worlds and virtual property in several of the courses I teach at Washington University in St Louis. My students and I have looked at the economies that have developed in response to the ownership of property in virtual worlds. For instance, Edward Castronova, the leading scholar on this issue (read his exceptional Synthetic Worlds : The Business and Culture of Online Games for more on this topic), calculated back in 2001 that the GNP of Norrath, the virtual world of EverQuest, was about $135m, making it the 79th wealthiest nation on earth ... or not.

In fact, there are many instances of people who make their day-to-day living buying virtual property that exists only in online game worlds - magical swords, huge castles, gold pieces, even the very characters that users play - and then reselling them to other players on eBay or other auction sites for real dollars and cents. Julian Dibbell (another fascinating writer on this subject) made $1,000 in three weeks selling items from the game Ultima Online. In his best month he made $3,917, which works out to about $47,000 a year, which ain't too bad for stuff that doesn't really exist. But that's nothing compared to some of the real high-rollers.

Jennifer Grinnell sells digital clothing and "skins" to players in the Second Life video game. It's now a full-time job that nets her over four times what she earned as a furniture delivery dispatcher in Michigan. Anshe Chung buys up island properties in Second Life and then rents out space to other players, who build virtual homes and businesses on them. She makes more than $150,000 a year as a virtual landlord. This same idea led Jon Jacobs to spend $100,000 USD - yes, that's 100 large ones in real US dollars - on a space station in the game Project Entropia. His purchase gives Jacobs the right to set taxes on mining and hunting inside the game, as well as collect a fee from the lucky company that buys the space station naming rights. And that doesn't even include all the money he'll make selling shopping mall deeds, plots of "land," and ads on the billboards that dot the station's interior.

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