The Northern Spy: gone phishing
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The Northern Spy: gone phishing

By Rick Sutcliffe

This month's column will be short but not entirely sweet. Following much ado about something in the two columns filed here from WWDC, the Spy has less to say this month, but that is not to suggest it has been a slow time.


Upon reflection, the Spy remains convinced that the Swift programming language is a major step forward in developer tools. The language has a slight air of being unfinished, as a few spots (the role of modules, for instance) need a little work. However, he believes developers will be using it and its descendants for a long, long time. Of the other announcements for developers, the Home and Health Kits probably represent the greatest opportunities for making new products, and expanding the Apple ecosystem. These will be very big. You heard it here first.


Far too much of the Spy's time afterwards was taken up by fixing vandalism. Under another hat he is the proprietor of WebNameHost, a small web services company offering hosting to authors, Christian ministries, businesses, and resellers. This month, during WWDC, and for the first time ever, his main server was hacked, despite all the security tools painstakingly installed to prevent such. Fortunately for his customers, there was nothing on the server of interest to the intruder. The vandal hijacked the DNS of a few accounts and installed redirects to a phishing site designed to steal bank passwords.

We started getting messages from a supposed Spanish security company telling us of the phishing redirects and inviting us to click on a link to verify--something no one would ever do, for it would be in most cases itself a malware site. We checked, but not carefully enough, for the redirects were more cleverly done than one might expect. As a result, the warnings were not at first believed.

Unfortunately, they were accurate. The Atjeu data centre physical location of the server) suggested that they build a replacement server and I move all the accounts (about one hundred). There seemed little choice, so we agreed. The first replacement candidate was compromised by the same attack even before being handed over. Atjeu started again, this time with the Spy's instructions to install the firewall before attaching it to the net, disable root logon and other measures added (not discussed in detail here for obvious reasons).

Seven more man days of work got (almost) all the software installed and the customers migrated, thought there were a number of minor issues still needing resolution, and the mail scanner lost its database from the old machine, so needs to re-learn what constitutes spam. Heroine of the move: Sarah at ConfigServer, who graciously re-installed the company's packages without additional charge for the second version of the replacement server.

Dubious distinction award to Atjeu--yes they did some heavy listing on our behalf, but no they didn't prevent the first candidate box from being infected by the same vandal, and then got confused, billing for an additional server rather than not for a replacement. Heavy brickbats to the Spy himself for not catching the problem sooner--but would you believe some one who writes to you about phishing sites and signs his name "Fraude"?

The Spy has a pretty good idea how the box was compromised, but will not discuss that here either--no sense giving his reader ideas. However, he offers these recommendations--many of them not relevant to this attack, but...

- click on a link in an email. Type it.
- use FTP or fetch mail insecurely. Always use SFTP.
- give a username or password on an insecure site. Make sure the URL starts with https.
- connect anything to the net without a firewall--hardware, software, or both.
- connect to a router that isn't locked up in a physically secure location. Hard to guarantee, but if you see it just lying around (as they were at WWDC) then complain.
- use a password that contains easy-to-guess information such as your user name, birthdate, address, age, or personal name. Use both upper and lower case, at least one numeral and at least one or two symbols. Change it periodically.

The bottom line:

People who use their knowledge to abuse the net for criminal profit are akin to all other abusers, whether of children, of spouses, or authority, of substances, etc. They care only for self gratification, and have no interest in the concerns of others, no empathy, no morality. For a time, they may escape accountability, but eventually they will face the Judge, and there will be no escape. Meanwhile, the rest of us try to clean up the damage left in the wake of any such who interacts with us.

The rest of the month was spent camping with our sons' families--including five grandchildren aged five and under at the fabulous Shuswap Lake Provincial Park. Highly recommended for the removal of stress. Today (2014 07 03) is a national holiday in our house and comes between Canada's July 1 and the Excited States' July 4. It is the Spy's birthday of course, and he has much for which to give thanks. More next month, likely including comments on some announcements from Apple.

--The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to Participate and you could win free web hosting from the subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:
The Northern Spy Home Page:
opundo :
Sheaves Christian Resources :
WebNameHost :
WebNameSource :
nameman :

General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:
Author Site:
Publisher's Site:
The Fourth Civilization--Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed.):
URLs for items mentioned in this column
ConfigServer: https://


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