15 foolish high-tech stories

Celebrating April Fool's Day with stories on space, murder, fire, iPhones and text-messages

By Petuivins
In a year plagued by foolish Wall Street executives, financial shenanigans and just plain craziness, there have been a ton of foolish happenings.  What we have here are 15 of the most interesting foolish follies that should at least make you wonder about the sanity of the world.

1. A fool and his security blanket are soon parted

 According to a story in PC World, the Antiphishing Working Group said that so far this year the number of fake security programs skyrocketed from average of around 2,500 per month to 9,287 in December. The group's latest report, covering the second half of 2008, says that while rogue AV has been around for years, it wasn't until the middle of last year that crooks starting turning the fake apps into a serious money-making machine.  In fact, this week Google's search rankings are stuffed with links to fake security software that purports to remove Conficker, the widespread worm that's currently the Internet's number one security threat, but doesn't.

The Washington Post's Security Fix recently showed that dirty affiliates who help spread the junk apps can earn more than $330,000 a month in commissions. Maybe crime doesn't pay, but it seems that crimeware just might.

2. Economic stimulus stimulates scamming fools

You knew some chuckleheads somewhere would hop on the economic stimulus plan with a way to scam it online.  Indeed the Federal Trade Commission in March said the problem has quickly become serious.

The FTC said it was seeing significant upticks, though it didn't offer specific amounts,  in Web site scams and e-mail phishing frauds looking to drain money from consumers' credit accounts and download malicious software or spyware that can be used to make them a victim of identity theft, according to Eileen Harrington, acting director, of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.  

"Web sites may advertise that they can help you get money from the stimulus fund.  Many use deceptive names or images of President Obama and Vice President Biden to suggest they are legitimate.  They're not," Harrington said.

Harrington said the agency has enlisted the help of Google, and Facebook to help eliminate the ads for deceptive Web sites. Harrington said the FTC was working with other ad services to combat the problem but declined to name them.

3. No iPhones, iPods in Mr. and Mrs. Bill Gates' house, no siree

No iPhones? No iPods?  No way! Cool little interview in Vogue this month with Melinda Gates that examines what it must be like to grow up Microsoft.  "There are very few things that are on the banned list in our household," Gates says in the article, which was also highlighted in the Geeksugar blog. "But iPods and iPhones are two things we don't get for our kids."

The Vogue piece says such restrictions are "harsh, perhaps, but understandable. After all, it's hard to walk around tethered to merchandise made by your father's most famous competitor." Indeed.

But the iPhone definitely calls Melinda: "Every now and then I look at my friends and say, ‘Ooh, I wouldn't mind having that iPhone.'"

4. I fart on my iPhone?

Is there a more foolish story going on this year than the battle between two companies over a bodily-function noise maiking application? In this case iFart is now brawling with Pull My Finger for iPhone fart sounding dominance and copyright issues. Basically is a squabble over the phrase "pull my finger."

So while you can make gas noise on an iPhone you cannot get those adorable munchkins from South Park on the device - Apple says they are too profane.

5. Verizon stomps on foolish "Velveteen Rabbit" robocalls

Perhaps they were just trying to hide behind the cute tale of a cuddly rabbit come to life, but Verizon Wireless wound up filing a lawsuit to stop a telemarketing group from bombarding its customers with robocalls touting the upcoming film, "The Velveteen Rabbit."

The lawsuit states that over 10 days in early February, nearly 500,000 calls were made to Verizon Wireless customers and employees from the telephone number 917-210-4609. When customers answered these calls to their wireless phones they heard either a prerecorded voice message or an individual reading a script promoting the anticipated release of the film, Verizon said.

Many of these calls came in rapid succession, indicating the use of an autodialer to place the calls. For example, between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Feb. 13, nearly 11,000 calls with the same caller ID were made, an average of one call every 0.32 seconds, and nearly 10,000 calls were made from a number with the same caller ID between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Feb. 6, an average of one call every 0.36 seconds, Verizon stated.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Trenton, alleges Feature Films for Families, Inc., illegally used an autodialer to call Verizon Wireless customers on behalf of a company called Family 1 Films, based in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which makes it illegal to use an autodialer to make calls to wireless phones, as well as state fraud and privacy laws. Verizon Wireless has also filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the defendants from making these calls.

6. Satellites collide, create major flying junk pile

It was perhaps inevitable that satellites would collide in space.  Indeed that happened in February when an Iridium satellite smacked into an inactive Russian Cosmos-2251 military satellite. The crash happened almost 500 miles above Siberia, reports said.

"The collision of these two space apparatuses happened by chance and these two apparatuses have been destroyed," Major-General Alexander Yakushin, first deputy commander of Russia's Space Forces, told Reuters. "The fragments pose no danger whatsoever to Russian space objects," he said. When asked if the debris posed a danger to other nations' space craft, he said: "As for foreign ones, it is not for me say as it is not in my competency."

According to NASA's Orbital Debris Office, the number and magnitude of space debris has grown significantly in the past 20 years.  For example, it notes that two years after the Chinese zapped their Fengyun-1C meteorological satellite the resultant debris cloud remains pervasive throughout low Earth orbit (LEO), accounting for more than 25% of all cataloged objects. A total of 2,378 fragments greater than 5 cm in diameter have been officially cataloged by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network from the one-metric-ton vehicle, and more than 400 additional pieces of debris are being tracked but have not yet been cataloged. The estimated population of debris larger than 1 cm is greater than 150,000.

7. Space flight fare wars blast off

The space flight fare wars are on.  The major groups that will soon offer suborbital space flight have lopped off 50% or more to attract flyers.

Of course such fare wars are unlikely to start a stampede into space as we're still talking on average about $200,000. But RocketShip Tours and XCOR Aerospace recently said the cost of their suborbital space flight, which will begin operation in 2010 will be $95,000. This includes a five-night stay at a luxury resort, complete training, medical evaluation and screening, cancellation insurance and, of course, the flight itself, the company said. Reportedly about 20 customers have already signed up to take the flight.

Virgin Galactic, founded by the well-known entrepreneur, Richard Branson, is currently offering a similar experience for $200,000. Other space flight groups such as Space Adventures can charge $3 to $5 million for space flights.  Space Adventures sets up flights to the International Space Station and has or will host a variety of high-profile flyers such as ex-Microsoft developer Charles Simonyi, computer game entrepreneur Richard Garriott and tech industry icon Esther Dyson.

Participants in the Rocketship Tours program will travel to the edge of space in a suborbital space vehicle known as the XCOR Lynx that is powered by environmentally friendly liquid propelled rocket engines, the company said. XCOR Aerospace aircraft are being used for the fledgling Rocket Racing League. Those aircraft are liquid oxygen rocket-powered jets based on the four-seat canard propeller-based experimental Velocity aircraft.  The Lynx looks like a small private aircraft and takes off and lands like one.  It flies to about a height of 38 miles.

8. Identity theft leads to murder

Identity theft is getting truly nasty.  In this case a woman who had apparently been breaking into corporate accounts and stealing identities as well as dollars was killed by three men who wanted her laptop and likely the cash stream the identity thefts were generating.

According to a couple of stories out of Long Beach, Calif., a woman, Ginie Samayoa, allegedly was using her laptop to access a number of unidentified corporate computer systems and stealing credit card numbers.  Police say she apparently wasn't taking tons of cash, or at least not enough that anyone had caught on.

According to the Contra Costa Times: "Investigators know she tapped into corporate accounts with balances of $100,000. Using the numbers, she made purchases of about $2,000 so she did not draw any attention. The companies likely paid the bills, not realizing they were being ripped off, police said."

Exactly how she ended up with the three men charged with her murder is unclear but on Jan. 30 one of them shot her and took her laptop.  She died the next day.

Police have since recovered her computer and arrested the men. According to the Contra Costa story, computer experts at a Los Angeles Police Department laboratory checked Samayoa's files and to see what the men were after, and what she was up to.

"She's been doing it for a while. A couple of years," police said. "These guys wanted that computer."

California was in the Federal Trade Commission's Top 10 worst states for identity theft this year. In fact that report found for the ninth year in a row identity theft - particularly in Arizona and California -- was the number one consumer complaint filed with the FTC in 2008. 

9. Last call: Anheuser-Busch IT fool  tossed into prison for computer theft

An ex-IT consultant for Anheuser-Busch got 18 months in prison and was ordered to pay $377,000 in restitution for swiping nearly $400,000 worth of the beer giant's computer gear.

According to court documents, between July 2006 and January 31, 2008, Jack Walter Barrett worked on site as an information technology consultant at the Anheuser-Busch Companies in St. Louis.  Barrett had access to the brewery's technology infrastructure as part of his work there and began to steal expensive computer hardware from Anheuser-Busch, which he took home, the Department of Justice said. 

Barrett had pleaded guilty last October that he sold the stolen merchandise on eBay where he claimed to be its rightful owner, at deeply discounted prices.  Barrett shipped the equipment to buyers across the country in Maryland, New Jersey, California and Oklahoma, the DOJ stated.  

United States Attorney Catherine Hanaway said: "This case involved a stunning breach of trust by a corporate consultant, and a complex distribution web for the stolen equipment."

The Anheuser theft is reminiscent of  a story from last year where a system administrator with the US Naval Research Laboratory plead guilty to taking over 19,000 pieces of computer equipment valued at $120,000. 

10. Swatter fools provoke, endanger public, law officers

It has been a year since the FBI brought the problem to the public's attention but it continues to plague: there has and continues to be a significant increase in the illegal activity know as "swatting" where criminals and pranksters call in a fake 911 in hopes of drawing a response from law enforcement -usually a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.

Swatters often tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off. The community is placed in danger as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies. And the officers are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves, according to the FBI.

And according to an Associated Press report today, budget-strapped 911 centers are essentially defenseless without an overhaul of their computer systems.

In the AP story, Gary Allen, editor of Dispatch Monthly said dispatchers are "totally at the mercy of the people who call" and the fact they don't have technology to identify which incoming calls are from Internet-based sources. Allen said upgrading the communications centers' computers to flash an Internet caller's IP address could be helpful in thwarting fraudulent calls. He told the AP an even simpler fix, tweaking the computers to identify calls from Internet telephone services and flash the name of the service provider to dispatchers, can cost under $5,000, but is usually still too costly for many communications centers.

11. VA to pay $20M to settle foolish data theft case

The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to pay $20 million to military personnel to settle one of the government's most high profile and embarrassing data theft cases. 

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