Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Defragmentation Scareware wants your money

It's a scam: rogue software installs itself or lures unsuspecting users to install it. Then it "analyses" your system, generating a whole bunch of alarming messages about how your system is "critical", and then insists that you pay the authors for the full version to "fix" the problem. Once you pay, miracles happen: your system no longer has errors. Of course these messages were all bogus to begin with, and now that you have handed over your cash, they no longer appear.
This tactic is not new, but before it was done using fake "security" scanners, antivirus programs, or malware scanners. Now the authors have turned their attention to rogue defrag programs, as reported by GFI Labs and other web sites. I heard it first on the Security Now podcast #280:
... watch out for fraudulent defraggers.
That's the latest thing to happen. There's so many useful free software out there, it's not surprising that the bad guys are going to be mixing their own malware in with the good stuff.
So there's HDDRepair, HDDRescue, HDDPlus, UltraDefragger, ScanDisk, DefragExpress, and WinHDD have all been identified as bogus. They claim to be a free defragger to make your computer run faster, the way it used to. And who doesn't want that? What these things do, though, they're scareware. You run them; they actually do no defragging at all, but they apparently do something. And then they come back with a note that, oh ... you've got serious problems, baby. We're going to need another $20, or an initial $20, or more in some cases, to fix this problem. So again, this is going to catch a certain number of people who unwittingly download this and don't know any better.
What worries me is that this kind of scareware is likely to give defrag programs a bad name, in the same way that anti-spyware and registry scanners have been given a bad name. So, before you download any defrag software, check whether it is on this list and use the correct URL supplied. If it isn't on the list, report it, and use a trusted program instead.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My OUTsurance misunderstandings

I probably complain more than most, especially when I feel unjustly or unfairly treated. Hence my rant earlier this week about OUTsurance. What I can honestly say is that I'm embarrassed at how badly I got it wrong. And before you sceptics start asking difficult questions, no one has threatened me or asked me to remove my previous post. It is entirely voluntary, and is in response to the considerable efforts by two dedicated people: Kitso Seitshiro in claims and Peter Khan in management. Let me explain.
I first got upset because I understood my vehicle to be insured for approx R10,700 - a figure quoted verbally by the sales department, and confirmed by an assessor report. But the claims department insisted that the actual value of the vehicle is actually only R 8600. So something was "off", and I got very suspicious. It turns out that if you do an electronic lookup on the "TransUnion Auto Dealers Guide" you won't find my wife's 1988 VW Fox 1600 listed any more. It's listed instead in the more generic "Cars and Commercial Vehicles over 10 years old" category. Why their computer system doesn't reflect this is something that OUTsurance and TransUnion will have to figure out. TransUnion are already scratching their heads over this one. So what appeared to be different values from two different departments in the same company was a genuine mistake, not an evil conspiracy. Furthermore, I was quite impressed when management offered to use the higher value when sorting out the claim.
The next problem I faced was trying to get a copy of the "fine print" booklet, referred to as the Adobe Acrobat Portable Document"Personal Facility Booklet". Both the sales department and the claims department kept thinking I was referring to the insurance schedule, not the "green booklet". No one thought to say that it was on their web site all along. They were genuinely confused when I said "fine print" because there isn't any. No, really, there is no fine print. The principles and terms and conditions are written in plain language that even a programmer like me can understand, and the writing is big enough to read without a magnifying glass. Now if only some other insurance companies did that we'd all be better off. The only shortcoming of this approach is that it may err on the side of over-simplification. But still, 63 pages covering all kinds of insurance is pretty amazing.
I hate financial surprises, and the surprise I found was that if the repairs on a vehicle get close to or exceed the insured value, most people simply write off the wreck and get a new car. Our cars are old and cheap, and we wouldn't dream of scrapping a car that we could repair, because finding a replacement vehicle is going to be a financial nightmare. Call me a cheapskate, but I'd prefer to pay off my house than buy another car.
So what the claims department originally said was that rather than writing the vehicle off as scrap and selling the wreck on auction, they would pay out the equivalent "wreck" price (70% of the retail price) and allow us to keep the vehicle and repair it ourselves. I was disappointed that the car was worth so little, but not entirely surprised. They were actually trying to be helpful, but with all the other confusion about the costs I didn't see that. Now I do.
One lesson I have learnt: read the documents carefully. Every year they send out a letter informing us of the new premium values, but what had slipped my attention even though it is clearly written in full sight is that the excess increases as well. What started as R1000 ten years ago crept up to R2860. I have changed the policy to put it back at R1000, and don't mind the minor premium increase.
Another lesson: when you are insuring a cheap clunker you are mainly covering yourself if you hit something expensive, not if someone hits you. Old clunkers may be fully paid for, but they cost money to repair.
So now ask yourself this question: how many insurance company executives are willing to spend half an hour on the phone from 5.30 (i.e. WAY after office hours) to 6pm to sort out a misunderstanding and turn an irate but confused customer into a happy one? That's what Kitso and Peter did today. Plus they called me individually on Monday and Tuesday. Awesome.
I am now convinced that at no point was anyone trying to rip me off, and my frustration at their lack of understanding was simply that I was demanding to see "the fine print" when there really wasn't any. Hence their confusion and my frustration. It has eventually dawned on me that they were actually taking my complaint far more seriously than anyone could reasonably expect. Awesome.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Man's Best Friend

Thanks to Jeremy Nell for making my day with this one ;-)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stupidity is not a disability

I just had to take this picture. I saw it at a filling station on my way to our holiday destination. At many highway stops there are designated parkings for disabled drivers or passengers, but most of these spots are marked by the architect and the actual garage owners or managers just couldn't give a damn if brain-dead drivers park there instead.
I have seen fancy sports cars and taxis using these spots and no-one gives a damn if people on crutches or in wheelchairs have to struggle to get to the toilet or buy something. It's great to see at least one garage where the owner or manager actually cares. I'd love to put signs like this at other garages. Maybe I should just get my own wheel clamp and carry it around in the boot. Mmm ...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The WikiLeaks War


I found this interesting interview by Riz Khan formerly of CNN and now working at AlJazeera, called The WikiLeaks War. It would be great if other media were less shrill and spineless and asked more difficult questions like this.
What annoys me the most about the whole Wikileaks saga is how the US government can come out with rubbish about them "breaking the law" but they don't accuse the New York Times or the Guardian of precisely the same "crimes"? Why don't PayPal, MasterCard and Visa refuse to do business with these companies? What right do they have to arbitrarily cut off one of their customers? If they can do it to Wikileaks, they can do it to Google. A chilling thought.

Press Freedom is priceless. For everything else there's MasterCard ;-(
Update: Private Manning in solitary confinement for 6 months. That's the kind of thing that used to happen under Apartheid. Now it happens in the USA.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Homeland Security reveals its true purpose: stupidity

Despite vehement denials by the Washington regime, it seems that fascism is alive and well in the USA. How else could the "Department of Homeland Security", the euphemistically named department of domestic spying, lose the plot so badly?
In the same month that they decided to introduce invasive and unhealthy airport scanning equipment, they also decided it would be OK to randomly censor web sites around the world, cheerfully joining the same repressive regimes they criticise for internet censorship, like China. The screen shot above comes from www.torrent-finder.com, a site run by an Egyptian. No, it does not contain any "counterfeit goods" or copyrighted materials that I can see. You can now see his site at www.torrent-finder.info instead. I never realised it would be so easy to make the USA look so stupid.
There is an interesting article on "How to find the ip address of a seized website" and an update to your hosts file that lists 82 of "seized" web sites. This kind of behaviour gives the US a bad name, as if invading countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Vietnam and others hadn't already done so. Since when did these arrogant bastards think it was OK to censor the internet anyway?

Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.