I’m all torn up this morning. I’m torn up because Microsoft has sued a couple of tech support scam outfits for misrepresenting themselves and violating Microsoft trademarks.
I’m torn up because it’s taken this long. I’m also torn up because this may mean I’ll never get to see what kind of hilarity would ensue by telling a scammer with a fake western name that my name is “Suchita.” In the deepest voice I can muster, of course. Keep in mind that if I sing in falsetto, I’m a tenor. Also keep in mind that nobody wants to hear that.
The other night my phone rang. The caller ID said some state I don’t ever get calls from, so I knew what was going to happen when I picked up the phone. I didn’t have much time, but I answered anyway.
“Hello, I am calling from Windows Technical Support. My name is Daniel,” the caller said with a very slight Indian accent.
“Oh, hi, Daniel.” I said, pausing for a second to think of a name. The last project manager I worked with was a nice guy named Naim, who had emigrated from India to Minnesota. So I stole his name. “My name is Naim.”
Long awkward pause. I grinned. Too bad “Daniel” couldn’t see me.
“Your name is Naim,” he said. His sarcasm and disbelief was so thick it was bulletproof.
I guess Matt Weeks is as sick as I am of tech support scammers, because he developed a way to fight back, in the form of a Metasploit module that exploits a software defect in the AMMYY remote access tool that these scammers sometimes use. Metasploit is a tool that penetration testers use to demonstrate–with permission–how hackable a computer network is. In this case, the would-be victim is penetration testing someone without permission. Run the module when the scammer connects to the would-be victim, and he or she gets a command prompt on the criminal’s PC. At that point, the would-be victim can break their computer, perhaps by deleting critical files, corrupting the Windows registry, or something else. Anything you can do from a command prompt would be possible at that point.
I got another “Windows Technical Support” call on Friday evening. My caller ID said Minneapolis, and since I have coworkers in Minneapolis, I answered. But the guy on the other end was a long way from Minneapolis and probably doesn’t know diddly about ice hockey.
I’m pretty sure it was the same criminal as last time, but over a better VOIP connection. I remember the voice pretty well, because his parting lines from last time, “Enjoy your broken computer, Mr. Genius Man!” struck me as funny. And he started the conversation with, “I’m calling you again about your Windows 7 computer.”
My conversation with him revealed a few things about why this scam is likely to be profitable.
“Peggy” from “Computer Support Department” just won’t give up. He called me again at about 8 PM this evening. This time, I played along. I had a thrift-store junker PC for him to infect with his malware. The only problem was, the hard drive wasn’t connected and neither was the power cord. So I quickly hooked all that up, booted up, and then played along.
I got a new book recently about saving energy. I’ve read several of those, but this one had two tips I’ve never seen anywhere else: caulking baseboards and putting child safety covers on electrical outlets.
It didn’t explain caulking the baseboards, but I will. Frequently there’s a gap in the wallboard where it would normally meet the floor. Maybe it’s laziness—it’ll be covered by the baseboard, after all—but that gap is also a handy place to do after-the-fact wiring, reducing the need to cut into walls and then patch and repaint. The gap makes the area prone to drafts, however. So caulking where the baseboard meets the wall, and where it meets the floor if it’s not over carpet, makes rooms less prone to drafts.
The child safety outlets make for another interesting trick. I’ve talked before about foam electrical outlet inserts and their companion for light switches. And I’ve wondered about putting a child safety plug in. But recently I bought child-resistant outlet covers, after seeing them on This Old House. They come in varieties that twist or slide. I like the sliding ones better, both from an insulating and usability standpoint. They’re convenient because you can just slide the cover out of place, rather than having to remove an insert. And these covers do two things: They put more material between you and the gap in the wall, and they cover the outlet plugs themselves, eliminating that last little source of drafts. And when you have small children like I do, they’re a necessity anyway.
I do insulate interior walls as well as those that face the outside. I didn’t used to bother. But this book mentioned that gaps in interior walls can cause them to act like chimneys, drawing heat out of the room. So I’ve changed my ways.
Both of these are inexpensive upgrades that don’t take long to accomplish. When you buy the switch covers in bulk, it gets even cheaper.
I get ridiculed sometimes for talking about saving energy so much, but think about it. Energy isn’t getting any cheaper. My local utilities ask for rate increases just as frequently as the law allows them to, and more often than not, the state grants an increase. Not always as much as they ask for, but something.
And when we waste energy, what do we gain? If I’m going to spend money on something, I want something to show for it other than a bigger number on my monthly utility bills.
David L. Farquhar, computer security professional, train hobbyist, and landlord