July 15, 2012

GEEK TO ME: Spammers hack email


Welcome to Issue #260 of It’s Geek to Me. Why is that significant? Well, if you divide the number of issues published to date by the number of weeks in a year, you’ll discover that you are reading I.G.T.M.’s 5th anniversary edition! Unfortunately, we were forced to forgo the wild parties and celebrity appearances at Geek Central during this year’s celebration. Our insurance company warned us that if the police or fire department gets called out to Geek Tower even one more time, our party-insurance rates will double, and the Geek Board of Directors was not willing to take any chances given the current economic outlook. We are, however, accepting accolades, stipends, emoluments, gratuities and any other generous cash gifts or gift cards. Yes, we accept PayPal.


Question: I was hacked by receiving an email from a trusted friend which read “this is pretty amazing you should look” accompanied by an unfamiliar link. Stupid me, I clicked on it and someone started sending emails from my computer to an email address that I do not use much. A friend said to put in a fake address to head my contact list — AAAAA@AAA. Another friend said to change my password with my email provider. I have never had this problem before! Who would do this why in the world do so? I have changed my password. Should I add the fake email address to my contact list? Thank you for your help and thoughts.

Name and City
withheld by request

Answer: It’s been a while since the very odd “solution” of adding a fake address to your contact list to combat email jacking has crossed my desk. I covered it in the column way back in issue #106 (I.G.T.M. Aug 2, 2009). That issue is available in the column archives at
ItsGeekToMe.co, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here on “why” since you can read it there, but the answer to your first friend is “No.” It will not protect you one whit to put that address in your contact list, but at least you’ll get a bounced e-mail notification to let you know someone is sending SPAM through your account.

The second friend gave you slightly better advice in recommending you change your email password. That will re-secure your email box, but depending on how the malware works, it might not stop the SPAM.

As why someone would do this, it’s because there is money to be made in sending advertising SPAM. For some reason, there are people out there who still fall for it despite all the bad press it gets. By sending out advertisements this way, the spammer’s costs are very small, and a single spammer can send out hundreds of thousands of emails every day. If only a tiny fraction of those elicit a response, the crook can make a fair amount of ill-gotten gain.


I’d like to make one last comment about the Internet shutdown scare from last week before the subject disappears from all Geekdom’s collective conscience. The day the shutdown occurred, the media by and large seemed rather upset that there weren’t thousands of people left without their Internet. Some media outlets called it a “bust” or “another false alarm.” The same thing happened after the Y2K bug failed to destroy civilization as we know it, despite the widely advertised doom and gloom beforehand. Well as a software engineer, I was in the thick of preparing for Y2K, and I repaired countless programs which — exactly as reported — WOULD HAVE failed on Jan 1, 2000, had someone not intervened. Something similar happened this time around, as several entities that handle large portions of the Internet’s web traffic took specific action to help avoid a problem. It galls me a bit to read reports of a “false alarm” because that will just cause people to not pay attention the next time something like this comes up. You, however, as one of the intelligent and good-looking readers of I.G.T.M. now know better. 

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