Online scams and how to avoid them

The Amazon scam

This scam was initially reported on The One Show on 6th March, a member of the public was conned out of his hard earned cash in this scam by a fake seller on the Amazon Marketplace.

The victim found himself in a situation where he was asked by the so called seller to contact him through an email address that seemed like an Amazon address, but actually contained some additional letters. The fraudster had also created a fake but convincing looking website to add to his credibility.

How do these frauds work?

Criminals want to gain their victim’s trust! This has always been the first thing they will try to do. Whether it’s the bogus gas, telephone or water board man, they will first convince you that they are genuine and then they’ll strike. In this particular case, the trust element was achieved by the scammer forming an association with a trusted and respected brand, namely Amazon. The victim was confident about using Amazon and the mechanism used was the convincing looking website or, to be more accurate, the actual website. This is how it was achieved:

The criminal created a webstore on Amazon. There is nothing dodgy about this as it is a perfectly legitimate activity and the vast majority of webstores on Amazon are in fact, legitimate. You even can find out how to set one up on Amazon’s own website, or on YouTube.

At the same time, however, the criminal created a website and registered the domain name www.a-z-amazon.co.uk  Fortunately, this website has now been blocked and is flagged as a forgery. The fraudster then embedded the actual live Amazon pages in their own site using what is known as an ‘iFrame’. This is a very simple procedure and is employed by many legitimate websites to display a YouTube video or a WordPress blog within an existing website. It is simply a way of viewing outside content through a window of an existing website, rather than being redirected to YouTube or WordPress.

The victim was then emailed using the same domain name, which is very close to Amazon’s own name, requesting that he order and enter his payment details on another form – allegedly Amazon’s A-Z Services but actually then emailed to a fraudulent payment site.

Before anyone raises a critical eyebrow, believing the victim was foolish not to have noticed a different domain name in the address bar, just think to yourself, would you? Very few people ever look at the address bar unless they are typing an actual URL in, and not many even do that! The vast majority of people search for a website with a search term in the Google bar and if the site selected looks familiar, then in their eyes, it must be ok.

I tried this out for myself with a client who wanted a considerable number of landing sites to improve the search engine optimisation on his main website. All the fifty plus landing sites looked the same as his main site, but they were all on different domain names that were linked to the service and geographical area that the site was targeting. To date, apart from the website owner, we have never had anyone notice this until it was pointed out to them. It should also be remembered that Amazon do have quite a lot of reference to A–Z on their website, both graphically in their logo and on their A-Z Safe Buying Guarantee Protection FAQ page. So in this case, even if the victim had seen the a-z prefix to the domain name, it’s little wonder that he would have been taken in by this scam.

Because of the trust in the Amazon brand, the victim had no hesitation in following the instructions on screen. The form in question was created in JotForm, a simple, online form building program that is accessible to anybody.

From a legal point of view, the actual fraud did not occur when the fake website went up or even when the victim tried to pay via the website, but when the criminal emailed him to redirect him to the fake payment site, exploiting the familiarity and trust the victim had already gained with the a-z-amazon name from the real website.

Online scams and how to avoid them

Global online theft costs around £600 billion a year. The majority of these crimes are carried out by large, well organised criminal gangs who trick the unwitting and unwary into parting with personal information such as bank account details. Here are some of the most common online scams, and tips on how you can avoid them.

Nigerian or other location email scam

This scam is supposed to be Nigeria’s third largest industry, bringing up to $1 million a day to the fraudsters behind it. A very emotional email from someone in Nigeria, or some other war torn part of the world, ends up in your inbox that asks for your help to get them out of the country. In return they promise to pay you vast sums of money. However, they first ask for your bank details to pay for legal fees and transaction costs. In the end you lose a lot of money and get nothing in return.

Tips: Hit the delete button! Never send your bank details to any unsolicited email. As a matter of good security, never send bank details out in an email anyway as they are not as secure as a bona fide payment portal on a trusted and genuine website.

Lottery scam

You receive an email in your inbox that informs you that you’ve won a massive amount of money. The problem here is that you are expected to pay what they call a ‘processing fee’ before you can collect your cash, which can be thousands of pounds. If you pay it, all you will end up with will be a very slim bank account indeed.

Tips: Genuine lotteries will not ask for processing fees. You could check with Consumer Direct to see if the lottery is legitimate. Most importantly, you need to have actually entered something to be in with a chance of winning it. So unless you’ve bought a ticket for that particular lottery, you won’t be winning a penny.

3. Phishing emails

This is one of the most common online scams. You receive an convincing looking email from some sort of financial institution informing you there has been an ‘unauthorised transaction on your account, or that they couldn’t ‘verify your information’. It asks you to click on a link in the email and enter your personal information. You have in fact been taken to a bogus website, where your information is intercepted and harvested by criminals.

Tips: Should you receive one of these, and you are even remotely convinced, telephone the financial institution concerned to verify the email. Also, all secure websites should start with https://, so hover your mouse over the link in the email to see if it is a secure link.

4. Disaster relief scams

Following natural disasters like the Japanese tsunami and earthquake, you may be plagued by emails soliciting donations from charities. These are in fact fake charity appeals that send their victims to fake websites to enter their credit card or bank details so they can be cleaned out.

Tips: Genuine charities rarely ask for money and bank details by email. It’s best to contact the charities directly by phone or visit their website if you want to donate. You could also check with the Charity Commission to ensure the organisation in question is real.

5. Fake parking tickets

People in the US have been conned into downloading malicious software from a website address printed on fake parking tickets. Sadly, even British people have started to get similar emails and will pay up for fear of getting penalty points.

Tip: Don’t download any software before checking it out properly. In other words, check with the actual issuing office particularly if you haven’t driven your car through the area mentioned.

The main thing to remember is to never provide your personal information or bank details to a person or company that contacts you out without you requesting that contact. If you are in any doubt about the authenticity of the email, contact the company involved directly by phone to verify the information you received, but never use a link from the email or the phone number either, find the proper one first. Ultimately, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it nearly always is.

Questions you really should ask yourself before responding to any of these scams.

No matter what an email claims you will receive if you do as they ask, or what terrible fate will befall you should you fail to comply with their demands, don’t be taken in by it!

If there really is an urgent matter with your bank account, the bank would phone you and you could contact them back on their correct number to confirm that the initial call was a bona fide one. They are hardly likely to email you if your account had been hacked and were considering suspending or shutting down your account.

Similarly, should you get an unsolicited email that states you have just won an all singing and dancing trip to the Bahamas, or an iPad, and all you have to do to claim it is fill out a form with various details, ask yourself if you have entered any of these competitions in the first place? Remember, you’ve got to be in it to win it!

Ultimately, in order to avoid becoming a victim of the online scammers, exercise some caution and never give out any details to an unsolicited source.

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Should we start to look at the smartphone more as a computer?

There is no doubt that the average smartphone is a clever bit of technical wizardry, but can they really be relied upon to replace the good old PC?

The PC was a long time coming and when it did finally arrive, we were all left thinking about just how clever we were to have invented such a groundbreaking piece of equipment. We could only dream of the power that computers would give us and television science fiction shows like Star Trek put what they envisaged a computer to be capable of to good use. Panels of flashing lights blinking away and who can forget the spools of tape rolling back and forth in the early James Bond films? Was this to be what computers would really look like? Not quite!

Although computers were initially only in the domain of the fast paced business, the PC went on to become a familiar site in the majority of homes over recent years. An entire corner is often taken over by a desk with a PC, keyboard, monitor, printer/scanner, speakers and a plethora of CD’s and related PC paraphernalia. A smartphone fills a trouser or jacket pocket and can probably do just as much as the PC.

So are smartphones really computers?

I asked this question some time back and the reply was often along the lines of although smartphones are clever gadgets they make calls and computers don’t! However this isn’t true, we don’t just communicate via email with a computer, we use Skype and all sorts of other communication methods with a PC. The main difference between the two is that the smartphone is portable and the PC is not. The power supply for a smartphone is still its internal rechargeable battery, so it’s not going to compete with a mains driven PC in the power stakes, but it can run a browser, some apps, and interactive maps.

Back in the day we all wondered if we would ever have pocket computers, many attempts were made to create pocket computers without the ability to make phone calls. There were quite a few palm ‘computers’ on the market but their processing prowess was pretty dismal. It’s all very academic now as we have computers and smartphones and we tend to take both for granted.

When the first smartphones hit the market, it was pretty clear that the pocket computer and the smartphone would be merged into one unit in a very short space of time.

But can we reallycall the modern smartphone a computer? Let’s face it, they have a touch screen, they have cloud access and can run all sorts of apps.

Going back just a short time, if you were at a friends house or out for an evening meal in a restaurant and someone asked a question that nobody knew the answer too, we’d all be Googling the answer on our return home. Nowadays, it’s more a case of out with the smartphone and Bob’s your uncle, the answer is literally at our fingertips! It’s not even considered to be bad form anymore to whip out the phone during a dinner party to Google some information, but make or receive a call and the stern looks will soon be coming your way.

But are smartphones really comparable to computers? For starters they don’t have a powerful multi core machine with X number of terabyte storage, tons of gigabytes of main memory, and two 30 inch monitors to view. Having said that, old PC’s will be blown out of the water by the average modern smartphone. For example, the iPhone is more powerful than the Apple II was. The iPhone can certainly do an awful lot more than the Apple II could.

If you could wind the clock back and launch the smartphone as a pocket computer with calling capabilities, you would be a very wealthy person indeed.

Recent studies have concluded that more and more people are turning to their smartphones for online shopping, emailing, surfing the web and even gaming. Even the makers of the mainstream gaming consuls have noticed a marked downturn in demand for their services and this is because of the smartphone market launching more games online.

There is a very good chance that within a couple of years, the bulky PC will have become something that very few people will use. If you have a smartphone that has all the latest technology, why would you need a PC? Some complain about the small screen but wired or wireless docking stations that make use of existing tv screens or projectors will easily get around this. In fact, how long before we have a computer chip inserted into our head that connects to our brain and optical nerve? Even the smartphone will be redundant then!

In a nutshell, I think we can say without too much fear of contradiction, “move over PC, the smartphone is your replacement”.

 

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Is the smartphone the new personal computer of choice?

Some would suggest that the majority of consumers will always want to keep their PC, rather than move over to a small and portable smartphone. However, the tide could well be turning as the sale of smartphones surpassed PCs in terms of number of units shipped in the last quarter of 2010.

So how is the smartphone killing the PC?

When you think about it, the smartphones we carry around with us everywhere are far more powerful than the desktop computers we dreamed of owning way back in the 1980s. As stated above, they are already outselling PCs and soon they could even replace the need for us to carry wallets or purses too. We keep credit, debit cards and cash in our wallets and as cash is fast becoming something fewer people carry, that narrows it down to the plastic. The cards we use to pay for goods and services are already being made redundant by smartphones with the ability to pay on the spot for many services. In fact, if you go to Japan you would be quite shocked because everything is done on the smartphone there. Everything is smartphone enabled, from parking, taxis, restaurants and even vending machines.

Smartphones allow you to do almost everything a PC can do and they even make calls too! The previous statement may sound like a pathetic attempt at sarcastic humour, but a friend of mine was out shopping and had realised she’d left the oven on at home. In a panicked state she wondered what to do. Her husband was at home, so I suggested she simply call him and ask him to turn it off. I was quite shocked at the response. She used her phone for an almost annoying amount of time every day, emailing, listening to music and using an app for virtually every other aspect of her life, but rarely called anyone from it. In fact, she couldn’t even remember the last time she had used her smartphone to actually make a call.

Smartphones give a helping hand with your health

There was an account recently about a chap who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the chap was given a blood sugar monitor, and a notebook with a pencil. The monitor to test his sugar levels; the notebook to note them down so he could keep his doctor informed.

The chap in question worked in an IT department and didn’t want to use something as low tech as pencil and paper. The best way to go would have been to take the readings and enter them into an Excel spreadsheet on his PC.

Enter his smartphone! You guessed it, there’s an app called Glucose Buddy, designed to take his readings wherever he liked. The data can be uploaded to the internet, so he could access them at any time with graphs and alarms to remind him when to take a reading. The app even gives advice on the person’s diet.

Smartphone sales

In the first three months of 2010, just under half of all the 45m mobile phones sold in Western Europe were able to browse the web, send and receive email, and run custom written apps. That’s as well as storing contacts and calendars, sending text messages and last but by no means least, making phone calls. In 2010 worldwide, smartphones represented 24% of all mobiles sold. Between January and March of that year the sales up from 15% a year before. It was suggested that the tipping point when they make up 50% may only be a year or so away. It was also suggested that before the end of the decade, every phone sold will be what we’d now call a smartphone. However, by September 2011, nearly half of all cell phone users owned smartphones, according to global research firm Nielsen. About 60 percent of all new devices being sold are also smartphones, so the speed of their uptake is much quicker than predicted.

So the simple fact is this, they’re fast replacing the humble PC that we perhaps wrongly thought was a constant part of our lives.

This may give us a clue as to the thinking behind Microsoft’s $8bn investment, when it bought the Skype internet telephone service, and behind the rumours that Microsoft is going to buy Nokia, the Finnish company that makes the most mobile handsets and smartphones.

Smartphones will keep growing in sales approaching over a billion of total handset sales before too long, whereas the trend of PC sales seems to remain stagnant or have a modest growth, selling around 300 million per year.”

Microsoft has good reason to be concerned about what is happening with mobile, because it knows it is the future, and threatens the corporation’s two PC-based monopolies, Windows and Office, that have earned it billions over the past couple of decades.

So what’s so good about a smartphone

The change that smartphones bring is computing power in the palm of our hands or in our pockets. It is internet connectivity almost anywhere on the planet. We can keep them on or about our person all through the day and night; they’re always close at hand!

All the things you can now do with a smartphone would have seemed like science fiction only a decade or so ago. They can easily translate language, take voice input and search the web, recognise a face, show you the quickest way to where you want to go, show you where your friends are in real time, show you where you are on a map, even which way you are facing and navigate you while you drive from place to place.

In essence, a smartphone today would have been the most powerful computer in the world way back in the mid 1980’s.

From the early days, our mobile phone used just to be where we stored our phone contacts, some photos and texts. Now it’s our emails as well, our pictures, music, our Twitter and Facebook accounts, then there’s the apps and games that have been downloaded.

Better security and peace of mind with a smartphone

Ten years ago, if your phone was stolen, you faced at least a couple of weeks trying to get all your numbers back into your replacement phone’s address book. As for the photos, videos, games and ringtones that had been stored, well they would have been lost forever.

This is no longer the case. Today should your smartphone be stolen, you can simply wipe the phone remotely from a computer, call the mobile carrier and report the phone stolen. Within a day you can pick up a new one and install all your old apps, emails, contacts and photos on it. Within a few hours, you can be back to normal. This is more than you could achieve if your PC was stolen or its hard drive gets fried.

So with the PC market showing early signs of a global slowdown, the computer companies should really sit up and take notice. Smartphones, apps and anything innovative and portable is surely going to replace the PC at some point in the very near future.

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The future of the PC

It has been estimated that in around a decade or so, desktops, laptops and tablet computers will be obsolete. Perhaps in the future we will think back to the day when we took delivery of that cutting edge piece of ‘must have’ computer wizardry and cringe at just how limited it really was.

I remember buying a Casio digital diary sf-4000 whilst at college back in the late eighties or early nineties and what a piece of kit it was!

The features of the sf-4000 were:

  • Telephone directory: Enter the first letter of a name to recall the name in an instant (Initial Search). Data is sorted automatically in alphabetical order.
  • Schedule keeper: Keep track of appointments by entering the day, month, and year.
  • Memo function: Store text data such as price lists, airplane schedules, movies schedules, concert schedules, anniversaries, and more.
  • To do list: Keep track of daily tasks, checking off items as you complete them.
  • World time: Find out the current time in virtually any location on the globe.
  • Secret memory area: (The James Bond button) The secret memory area keeps personal data private. Once a password is registered, data is locked away until the password is used to access the secret area.
  • Alarm: A message appears and a buzzer sounds when a scheduled appointment time arrives.
  • Currency conversion function: Instant conversion between two monetary units.
  • Metric conversion function:  Conversion between metric units and another measurement unit.

As you can see from the list above, this was a very mediocre little gadget that had a rather short life at the forefront of technology. Digital organisers were entirely superseded by Mobile Phones and PDA’s.

What about the laptops and desktops?

Desktops and laptops having already started to become less relevant and will soon be consigned to the depths of the loft to gather dust. Already many attic rafters are straining under the weight of a huge collection of outdated monitors, screens, printers and enough computer cabling to sink a battleship. We just can’t seem to bring ourselves to get rid of them!

How many parallel and serial connector leads are stored just in case, when no modern system would accept them? How many floppy discs and drives are kept for the same reasons? It’s laughable when you consider that for £3 these days, you can get a 4 gigabyte flash pen that will hold roughly the equivalent data of 2,800 floppy discs.

Enter the smartphone!

It appears that the one thing that is likely to be around for the foreseeable future is the smartphone.

Over the last five years or so, the smartphone has proved that they are a very capable device. Smartphone’s have also been getting smaller as their computing power continues to grow. OK, there are the odd exceptions like the ‘Phablet’, a cross between a mobile phone and a tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Note series are a shining example, but on the whole, Smartphone’s are getting smaller. Quite a few Smartphone’s are also about as powerful as a desktop or laptop PC. In a few short years, everything you do on your laptop now will be easily done on a smartphone. So why do we continue to use a laptop?

The only really convincing argument to stick with a larger device, such as a desktop, laptop or tablet, is the actual interface. The keyboard is still the best way of inputting data, and some things simply cannot be performed on a small smartphone screen. But is this situation likely to change any time soon?

In a word, yes! In just the last few months, Apple and Google have made giant leaps in improving their voice recognition software and it has finally reached the stage where it can replace keyboard input. In the next few years, who knows what technology could reach a maturity level that deprecates the conventional keyboard?

Keyboards are one thing, but what about the display side of things? With innovations like Google Glass, that effectively vibrates bones in the head for audio instead of headphones or speakers, wireless contact lens displays that send images direct to the eye, and e-ink displays such as used in the Amazon Kindle, all threaten to replace the traditional old concept of a solid, immovable screen being at the centre of our interaction with multimedia.

In the next few years, any viable reasons for keeping a laptop, desktop, or tablet, will become very slim indeed.

Life with just a smartphone

Imagine if your smartphone was your only computer. You would always have your computer with you. All of your documents, pictures, games and apps, would always be safely in your pocket, ready to access at any time. If you want to check your messages, if you want to watch a TV show on the bus or train, or edit a photo, it’s all possible.

If you find you do need a large screen, a keyboard, mouse, and some beefy speakers, then you can just plug your smartphone into a docking station. You may have one at home, in the office and they might eventually be located in town centres at various points. Better still, with wireless networks, a physical docking station might not even be necessary.

So what will become of the PC?

Many critics of the ‘death of the PC’ theory are pretty quick to point out that there are just too many things that PCs can do that the alternatives can’t equal.

In a world where Smartphone’s are king and extra connectivity is provided by docking stations, wirelessly or otherwise, there really is no lasting hope for the PC. Effectively, a smartphone is just a really small PC.

This isn’t to say that larger general-purpose computers won’t live on, though. At least for the foreseeable future, there will be limits to just how much processing power can be squeezed into a smartphone, and there will always be people who need or want faster computers to speed up what they’re doing. Instead of desktop PCs, though, the gap is likely to be filled by cloud computing.

Eventually, it will seem ridiculous that computing had once meant sitting in front of a desk or laptop. In short, anything more than an implanted interface in the brain will seem archaic. We will all be wondering why we ever thought that the tablet would be the next big thing, and are likely to go the same way as the poor old Casio digital diary that was mentioned earlier.

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Website Specification Agreements, exemption clauses in web sales and Cyberspace Internet Liability Insurance.

Website Specification Agreements

Please be aware that the Law may have changed since the publication of this article.

This article will look at some of the most important contractual issues relating to Website agreements and focuses specifically on the Website Specification Agreement.

Making the terms effective

It is vital that any prospective client is given the opportunity to consider the terms of an agreement and signs that agreement before the website designer carries out any work. Designers should have a standard procedure so that any enquiry from a prospective client is responded to by the despatch of a copy of the relevant agreement. This should be incorporated into the designer’s order form.

Limitation of liability clauses

You should always keep in mind that there is no such thing as a limitation or exclusion of liability clause that is bound to be upheld by a court. The courts simply do not like them and as far as they are concerned, it is always a question of reasonableness in the eyes of the court. The court will look at many factors in determining reasonableness.

Should you feel a need to include such a clause, it is probably best not to merge all the provisions together into a single sub-clause but to leave them as separate sub-clauses. For example, should a court hold just one element of a limitation of liability clause to be unreasonable, it may disallow it. If all the provisions are merged into a single clause and the court objects to that one element of the clause, the whole clause may become ineffective, even though the majority of the clause was reasonable.

As regards setting a contractual cap on its liability, the website designer must give very careful consideration to the figure chosen. If the figure set has an obvious rationale, such as being tied into the designer’s level of insurance cover this is also likely to be taken into account by the courts.

Dispute resolution

Another issue to consider is whether instead of arbitration, the agreement should provide for alternative dispute resolution (ADR). This is said by its supporters to be more time and cost effective than arbitration or litigation. Furthermore, because of the less confrontational approach of ADR, it is likely to enable a more amicable outcome, providing for an ongoing business relationship between contracting parties.

Intellectual property rights

In most cases, the client will provide the material to the website designer that enables the designer to create the website. The material will be made up of literary, photographic, video and other types of material. It is absolutely essential that the designer obtains a warranty and an indemnity from the client stating that the client owns or is otherwise entitled to provide the source material to the designer.

This gives the designer a degree of protection in the event that the material he uses unwittingly infringes third party intellectual property rights. It is quite possible that despite appearances and reassurances to the contrary, the rights may be owned by a different company in the same group as the client or by another entity completely unrelated to the client.

An example would be the situation where the client gives the designer a copy of their publicity brochure which includes a photograph which the designer incorporates in the design. It then turns out that copyright for electronic transmission of the photograph over the internet has been retained by the original photographer. The photographer then sues the designer for breach of his copyright.

The law provides that copyright and other intellectual property rights in a work belong to the author of that work. The two exceptions are where the author is an employee of another entity in which case the employer will own the intellectual property rights and where a document signed by the author transfers the intellectual property rights to another entity.

In principle, the designer should end up owning the intellectual property rights in the specification and the client cannot legally take away the specification for use by another website designer. However, it is wise to have this settled contractually to avoid any implication to the contrary.

If the client does want to have the specification implemented by another designer, then the original designer would be at liberty to charge a supplemental fee for assignment of the intellectual property rights. Such a clause is particularly useful if the designer has made little or no profit from creation of the specification.

If the client complains about this clause and wishes it removed or altered, the designer would be wise to wonder as to why, as it may well indicate an intention not to enter into a website design agreement with the designer and the designer should price the specification work accordingly.

Fees

The designer should issue the invoice for the fees at the same time as it provides the specification to the client. The contract should provide that the designer is entitled to payment for provision of the specification to the client, not that payment is conditional upon the designer delivering a document which meets with the client’s absolute approval.

Using exemption clauses in web sales

Suppliers of goods or services planning to do business on the web will need to comply with many regulations, old and new. Among the regulations which mostly pre-date the internet are those that relate to exemption clauses which are commonly found in contracts. Such clauses must be prepared with great care to avoid problems.

Exemption clauses fall into two categories:

  • Clauses which seek to exclude liability for specified breaches of contract; and
  • Clauses which seek to limit liability to a predetermined set sum or to particular types of loss.

When dealing with a consumer it’s pretty difficult to exclude liability. It is easier to exclude liability when dealing with a business, but there are a number of issues involved which we will go on to discuss.

An example could be a supplier who sells shelving units from its web site. Because of the large DIY chains, they operate on tight margins and in a very competitive market. The shelving supplier can usually achieve delivery within seven days, but is reliant on a steady demand, its own supplier and a third party courier service. The supplier may want to use a contract clause to limit damages payable for late delivery to consumers to £3 per day. In a business to business transaction, it may want to exclude liability altogether for lost profits caused by late delivery. The law regulates how far objectives like these may be achieved.

How to make an exemption clause

Recognising an exemption clause is not always as straightforward as you may think. Returning to the example of the shelving supplier, its terms and conditions may say that it will not be liable for any loss resulting from delivery up to 7 days after the date specified in the contract. Alternatively, the supplier’s terms may say that delivery is guaranteed to within 7 days of the delivery date. Whilst the effect of both is broadly the same, each may have different consequences.

What is significant is the incorporation of the exemption clause as an actual contractual term, so the clause must form part of the contract. A clause which only appears in a supplier’s e-mail communication confirming an order is unlikely to be incorporated into the contract terms and therefore will not be seen as being effective.

Is the exemption clause visible?

Closely linked with the issue of incorporation into the contract is the question of whether a supplier has done enough to draw attention to an exemption clause. Depending on the nature of the terms and conditions, a link to a separate page which displays them might not be enough. The best practice is to display them as part of an ordering process so that the website user must click to indicate their acceptance of them.

For example, there is a well known case of a hotel that had fixed an exclusion for liability clause regarding the loss of, or damage to guest’s property whilst staying at the hotel inside the room’s wardrobe. A guest had a fur coat stolen from their room and tried to recover damages from the hotel. The hotel tried to rely on the exclusion clause claiming that the guest should have been aware of the clause, but the court disallowed this defence. They stated that the clause came too late, as the guest would not have had the opportunity to see the clause prior to entering into the contract with the hotel, thus giving them the opportunity to choose a different hotel with less risk to their property. The court also stated that the hotel could have argued in favour of the clause more successfully, if it had been displayed clearly at the booking desk.

Advice should be taken on the precise wording of an exemption clause since, if there is any doubt about the meaning and scope of the clause, the ambiguity will be resolved by a court against the party who has inserted it and who is relying on it.

Unfair contract terms

The Unfair Contract Terms Act (UCTA) 1977 restricts the ability of businesses, including those trading on the internet, to exclude or limit liability.

What is Cyberspace Internet Liability Insurance?

Cyberspace Internet Liability addresses the first and third party risks associated with e-business, the Internet, networks and informational assets. Cyberspace Internet Liability Insurance coverage offers the latest protection for exposures arising out of Internet communications.

The idea of Cyberspace Internet liability takes into account first and third party risks. The risk category includes privacy issues, the infringement of intellectual property rights, virus transmission, or any other serious trouble that may be passed from first to third parties via the Web.

The fastest changing area of liability today is cyberspace liability. The hugely increased number of individuals accessing the Internet in the past few years has really grabbed the interest of businesses who are interested in promoting and marketing their products and services over the Internet. Cyberspace refers to the digital world represented by computer technology but more particularly to the access to the vast flow of information that is available on the Internet.

When do you need Cyberspace Internet Liability Insurance?

Anybody that has a website nowadays has the legal liabilities of a publisher.

The Internet has created a whole new and very complex area of liability exposures.

Having the website itself created is the easy part. The exposures to potential liability that come with it are not. Privately owned companies that carry out their business over the Internet face liability exposures that are emerging, evolving, and extremely complex.

Commercial companies that put out information to the public via websites face the same legal exposures as publishers, yet most have very little or no concept of their legal responsibilities. New legislation continues to create potential liabilities, particularly in the areas of user privacy, data protection and domain name infringement.

Businesses that are involved in setting up websites as well as anyone who puts out information to the public need to think about new risk scenarios such as:

  • Infringement of intellectual property rights
  • Breach of confidence or infringement of privacy
  • Misuse of any information which is either confidential or subject to statutory restrictions of use
  • Defamation
  • Inadvertent transmission of a virus

A fair amount of this may well boil down to adopting a careful, common sense approach but if you don’t, you could end up in a world of hurt. The copyright infringements can occur easily when you use material or an image from a client that turns out to belong to a third party. This is why you should always ensure the source material is free from restrictions by way of warranties and indemnity clauses.

Why you may need Cyberspace Internet Liability Insurance?

Traditional liability insurance coverage may not address Internet exposures and the risks involved in Internet business have grown almost as fast as the internet itself. That is why you may find it’s a good idea to be covered with a Cyber Internet Liability Insurance policy.

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The future of the computer

Some recent innovations such as Apples iPad have given us a rather exciting look into the future of computers. But before we start looking forward to the future computer trends and must have devices, let’s take a look back to get a better idea of how the computer has evolved to date.

The very first primitive computer I recall was actually won in a national competition by a fellow student of mine at secondary school and we were all amazed by how cool it was. An entire classroom had to be converted to house this huge machine, with air conditioning units to stop the thing going into meltdown and the windows boarded up to keep the sun from adding to the heat problem. I can’t remember the technical specifications of the computer but I do recall that it powered six green screen VDU’s in the next classroom and that it was used predominantly for number crunching purposes. The computer itself was the size of three single wardrobes. I recently spoke to the brother of the student who won the computer and he assured me that a modern data enabled wrist watch had more computing power than that Goliath machine that had dominated the classroom in my childhood.

Home computers

Today we have to thank the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who were both instrumental in bringing those massive computers down to a more manageable size. With the introduction of the personal computer, computers got smaller and smaller while their processing power increased. Even those heavy, space guzzling CRT monitors had to make way for the flat LCD monitors that are now sold as standard. Another thing that has happened is that the cost of computers has fallen so much over the years that many households now own several personal computers, hooked up to wireless networks.

So will the computer cease to exist?

Future technology probably won’t make the home PC a thing of the past, but it will certainly change it. When you consider how many other web enabled appliances are around these days, it is hardly surprising that many are letting their dedicated PC go the way of the steam train, in favour of smart phones, smart TV’s or simply by surfing the web from their PS3, Wii or XBox console. In other words, we can expect to see future technology being blended into other everyday household appliances.

Laptops, Netbooks, and Ultrabooks: Sexy, sleek and portable

First we managed to drastically reduce the size of the PC, and then came the laptop. This enabled users to work from remote offices, on the train or even in the toilet! No more was there a need to be shackled to the desk in a specific location. Then came the netbooks, and now there are ultrabooks that are designed to feature reduced bulk without compromising performance and battery life. They use low-power Intel Core processors, solid-state drives, and a unibody chassis to help meet these criteria. Due to their limited size, they tend to omit common laptop features such as optical disc drives and Ethernet ports. These devices usually share a few common characteristics including the integrated folding design and portability. Differences include size and storage, with the laptop using hard disks, the netbook relying more heavily on the cloud, and ultrabooks using Flash memory. The one thing they all have in common is the keyboard, and future computer trends seem to point to a computer without the keyboard, which could render this type of computer obsolete.

What, no keyboard?

Do we need a dedicated keyboard anymore? Touch screens are now becoming integrated into more and more appliances like smart phones and the host of tablets available. These must have gadgets can do just about anything a full size desktop or laptop can do anyway and Sony are currently working on a holographic computer that can be worn on the wrist. They do have a sort of pull out keyboard but it is based on a touch screen.

Speech recognition, microfluidic technology and touch screens

Speech recognition still isn’t perfect, but it has improved quite a bit though in recent years. Windows 7 includes a built-in speech recognition program in its operating system. It will save a lot of repetitive strain injury when it is perfected but will we want everyone to hear us dictating to our devices on the train?

It is not only is the keyboard that is threatened, the mouse is too because of touch screen technology. Tablets and smart phones currently make use of touch screen technology and many of the “all in one” desktop computers now come with touch screen LCDs. Windows 8 is expected to take the touch screen into the mainstream.

Accessibility of the touch screen

The trouble with touch screens is their very limited accessibility function. If you are blind, where do you touch the screen to type? At least with a standard keyboard, there are the raised markers on the F, J and 5 keys to facilitate key location. Well, good news is just around the corner in the form of microfluidic technology. These are physical buttons, guidelines, or shapes that actually rise up from a tablet or Smartphone’s flat, touch screen surface when the user needs to punch in a phone number or write a quick message, and they disappear like magic when the application is closed.

In short, there are many exciting developments just around the corner, holographics, microfluidic technology to mention just two, but until we have a fully integrated brain chip installed, we will probably have some sort of keyboard in one form or another.

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The Computer Misuse Act 1990

No matter what the topic of conversation is, there seems to be an Act of Parliament that has been dreamt up in an attempt to regulate it. Vehicles have the Road Traffic Act, people have the Public Order Act and there was even an Act of Parliament that demanded that all Hackney Carriages, or taxis as they are now known, must carry a bale of hay and a sack of oats.  Fortunately this was repealed in 1976. As times and technology has moved on, it was only a matter of time before the computer would attract the attention of the Upper and Lower Houses of the Palace of Westminster. I am of course talking about the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

The Computer Misuse Act 1990

The Computer Misuse Act 1990 is an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament and was introduced partly in response to the decision in the legal case of R v Gold & Schifreen. This was a case from 1988.

Robert Schifreen and Stephen Gold where both at a trade show, when Robert Schifreen looked over the shoulder of a Prestel engineer. He noticed that he had typed in the username of 22222222 and the password of 1234. This practice would later be called shoulder surfing. When the two returned to their homes, they used conventional home computers and gained unauthorised access to British Telecom’s Prestel interactive viewdata service. With the username and password, the two explored the BT system, and even gained access to the personal message box of HRH Prince Philip.

The relative ease with which they obtained the information led to accusations that British Telecom did not take its security seriously enough.

Prestel then installed monitors on the suspect accounts and passed this information on to the police. Robert Schifreen and Stephen Gold were charged under section 1 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 with defrauding British Telecom by manufacturing a “false instrument”, in other words, the internal condition of British Telecoms equipment after it had processed Gold’s stolen password. The two were tried at Southwark Crown Court in London and were convicted on specimen charges, five against Schifreen, four against Gold and were fined, respectively, £750 and £600.

These fines were pretty modest but the pair still elected to appeal to the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. Their counsel cited the lack of evidence showing the two had attempted to obtain material gain from their exploits, and claimed the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act had been misapplied to their conduct.

Robert Schifreen and Stephen Gold were acquitted by the Lord Justice Lane, but the prosecution appealed to the House of Lords. The Lords upheld the acquittal. Lord David Brennan said:

“We have accordingly come to the conclusion that the language of the Act was not intended to apply to the situation which was shown to exist in this case. The submissions at the close of the prosecution case should have succeeded. It is a conclusion which we reach without regret. The Procrustean attempt to force these facts into the language of an Act not designed to fit them produced grave difficulties for both judge and jury which we would not wish to see repeated. The appellants’ conduct amounted in essence, as already stated, to dishonestly gaining access to the relevant Prestel data bank by a trick. That is not a criminal offence. If it is thought desirable to make it so, that is a matter for the legislature rather than the courts.”

The Law Lords’ ruling in this case led many legal scholars to believe that hacking was not unlawful as the law then interpreted it. The English Law Commission and its counterpart in Scotland both considered the issue. The Scottish Law Commission concluded that intrusion was adequately covered in Scotland under the common law related to deception, but the English Law Commission believed a new law was needed to ensure no more Hackers would be able to slip through the net.

Since the Prestel case, both Robert Schifreen and Stephen Gold have gone to write about IT matters on a regular basis and, in the case of Stephen Gold, he actually presents at conferences alongside the arresting officers in the case.

Critics of the Computer Misuse bill complained that it had been introduced too hastily and was rather poorly thought out. Critics claim that the mens rea element, in short, the intention, was often very difficult to prove, and that the bill didn’t differentiate  ”joyriding” hackers like Schifreen and Gold from serious computer criminals. However, The Computer Misuse Act has become a model from which several other countries, including Canada and the Republic of Ireland, have drawn inspiration when drafting their own information security laws, as it is seen as a robust and flexible piece of legislation in terms of dealing with computer crime or cybercrime as it is generally referred to.

The Computer Misuse Act was a Private Member’s Bill and was introduced by the Conservative MP Michael Colvin. The bill, which was supported by the government, came into effect in 1990. Sections 1-3 of the Act brought about three criminal offences:

Section 1 Computer Misuse Act 1990 states:

1) A person is guilty of an offence if –

(a)    He causes a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access to any program or data held on a computer;

(b)   The access he intends to secure is unauthorised; and

(c)    He knows at the time when he causes the computer to perform the function that this is the case.

Section 2 Computer Misuse Act 1990 states:

2) A person is guilty of an offence if – He commits an offence under section 1 above (‘the unauthorised access offence’) with intent –

(a)    To commit an offence to which this section applies; or

(b)   To facilitate the commission of such an offence (whether by himself or by any other person).

Section 3 Computer Misuse Act 1990 states:

3) The intent need not be directed at –

(a)    Any particular computer;

(b)   Any particular program or data or a program or data of any particular kind; or

(c)    Any particular modification or a modification of any particular kind.

Sections 2 – 3 are intended to deter the more serious criminals from using a computer to assist in the commission of a criminal offence or from hindering access to data stored in a computer. The basic offence is to attempt or achieve access to a computer or the data it stores, by inducing a computer to perform any function with intent to secure access.

Hackers who program their computers to search through password permutations are therefore liable under this act, even though all their attempts to log on are rejected by the target computer. The only precondition to liability is that the hacker should be aware that the access they are attempting is unauthorised. Therefore, using someone else’s username and password without their authority to access data or a program, or to alter, delete, copy or move such a program or data, or simply to output a program or data to a screen or printer, or to impersonate that other person using e-mail, online chat, web or other services, constitute the offence. Even if the initial access is authorised, subsequent exploration, if there is a hierarchy of privileges in the system, may lead to entry to parts of the system for which the requisite privileges are lacking and the offence will be committed. It should be noted that looking over another person’s shoulder or using electronic equipment to monitor the electromagnetic radiation emitted by VDUs, otherwise known as electronic eavesdropping, is outside the scope of this offence.

Aggravated offences

Sections 2 – 3 are aggravated offences. Essentially this means they require a specific intent to commit another offence and these other offences are to be arrestable, and so include all the major common law and statutory offences of fraud and dishonesty. Therefore a hacker, who obtains access to a system intending to transfer money or shares, intends to commit theft, or to obtain confidential information for the purposes of extortion. So, the section 1 offence is committed as soon as the unauthorised access is attempted, and the section 2 offence overtakes liability as soon as specific access is made for the criminal purpose. The section 3 offence is specifically aimed at those who write and circulate a computer virus, whether on a Local Area Network (LAN), or across networks.

Or: The favourite grammatical conjunction of the legislature!

The legislature do love to use long, complex words and confusing sentences! However, the rather simple word “or” performs a very important role in any legislation as it allows the law to cover all the intricacies that must be covered and ensure that no lacunae exist that could be exploited. There is nothing worse than an Act of Parliament getting through all the processes from the initial bill to the Royal Assent, only to discover that one or more loopholes have been left present.

With the previous statement in mind, here goes with a typically wordy and “or” riddled description of part of this Act. Using phishing methods or a Trojan horse to secure identity data or to acquire any other sort of data from any unauthorised source, or even modifying the operating system files or some aspect of the computer’s functions so as to interfere with its operation or to prevent access to any data, including the destruction of files therein, or deliberately generating code to cause a complete system malfunction, are all now seen as criminal “modifications”.

In 2004, the defendant in a case surrounding the Computer Misuse Act pleaded guilty to four offences under section 3. He had mounted an attack on a rival website, and introduced a Trojan horse to bring it down on more than a few occasions, but it is now recognized that the wording of the offence should be clarified to confirm that all forms of denial of service attack are included.

Implications of the Act for industry practices

Although the Computer Misuse Act apparently targets those who wish to gain unauthorised access to computer systems for criminal purposes, its implications on previously widespread industry practices such as the “time locking” of software have been described in various computing industry publications.  Time locking is the practice of disabling the functionality of computer programs in order to ensure that software, potentially delivered on condition of further payment, will expire and no longer function. It has also been feared that all manner of computer products, or products that are controlled by a computer program, could be given a sort of expiry date by unscrupulous manufacturers. Imagine the problem if your new computer or tablet only worked for a year before the time lock programme kicked in and rendered the unit useless.

It’s pretty fair to assume that if you sign up for a 3 month free trial on a virus scan piece of software, you give your consent that at the expiry of that trial period, the software will cease to operate. How could this be an unauthorised modification to a computer program when you have agreed to the terms of the provider?

The latest situation of the Act

In 2004, the All Party Internet Group published its review of the law and highlighted areas for development. Their recommendations led to the drafting of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 (Amendment) Bill which sought to amend the Computer Misuse Act to comply with the European Convention on Cyber Crime. Under its terms, the maximum sentence of imprisonment for breaching the Act changed from six months to two years. It also attempted to explicitly criminalise denial of service attacks and other crimes facilitated by such a denial of service attack. The Bill did not receive Royal Assent and therefore did not become law because the Parliamentary session was discontinued.

Having said that, sections 35 to 38 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 contains amendments to the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Section 37 deals with making, supplying or obtaining articles for use in computer misuse offences, and adds a new section 3A into the 1990 Act and has drawn quite a lot of criticism from IT professionals, as many of their tools can be used by criminals in addition to their legitimate purposes, and thus fall under section 3A.

Following the phone hacking cases in 2011, there are now discussions about amending the law to define “smart” phones with Internet browsers and other connectivity features as computers under this Act. This amendment may also introduce a new offence of making information available with intent, such as publicly disclosing a password for someone’s phone or computer so that others can access it illegally.

The amendments to the Act

The amendments to the Computer Misuse Act 1990 by Part 5 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 are:

•             Section 35. Unauthorised access to computer material

•             Section 36. Unauthorised acts with intent to impair operation of computer

•             Section 37. Making, supplying or obtaining articles for use in computer misuse offences

•             Section 38. Transitional and saving provision

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Phishing and avoiding the scams

What is Phishing?

Phishing is the act of someone trying to acquire information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details and  indirectly, your money, by pretending to be a trustworthy person or organisation. These nearly always do the rounds in an electronic communication of some kind such as an email or even a text message. Communications claiming to be from popular social web sites, auction sites like eBay, PayPal or IT administrators are frequently used to lure the unsuspecting person. Phishing emails often contain links to websites that are infected with malware. Malware is short for malicious or malevolent software. This software is used or created by attackers to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to peoples private computers.

Phishing is usually carried out by email or instant messaging,and it often directs users to enter their details into a fake website that looks very similar, or possibly identical to the legitimate site. Phishing is used to deceive users,and exploits the poor usability of current web security technologies. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, public awareness, and technical security measures.

A lot of computer users and even quite a few IT professionals have been confused about the actual defition of a “phishing” attack. So what exactly is a phishing attack? A phishing attack is when you receive an official looking email from an online banking or financial institution, as mentioned above, it could even be eBay or PayPal, or any other service that deals with money. The email invites you to click on a link and confirm your login and password to that particular institution, even worse, some ask you to enter your account number or credit card number.

When you click on the link, you are sent to a Web page that looks very similar to the genuine Web site, but sadly it’s not.  You are actually sent to a fake page that is controlled by the villain who is behind the phishing scheme. As soon as you type your account login, password, account information or credit card number, the hackers capture the information and then commit identity theft by using your credit card or stealing money from your account.

Some of these schemes are pretty easy to spot whereas others are extremely sophisticated and the trusting or unsuspecting person can easily be fooled. Below are some ways that you can avoid becoming a victim of phishing scams.

  • Keep your antivirus up to date – One of the most important things you can do to avoid phishing attacks is keep your antivirus software current. This can prevent things such as a Trojans disguising your Web address bar or mimicking an https secure link. If your antivirus software is not current and up to date, you are far more likely to be the victim of attacks that can hijack your Web browser and put you at risk from phishing attacks. Note: A quick word on the host of free downloads available for anti virus software. Some may be genuine and are simply designed to impress you with a short trial, that you will purchase the full licensed version. Sadly, you rarely get something for nothing and a lot of the downloads out there are banking on you using them as they’re free. Once these are installed on your system, they are free to harvest as much information as the author intended or completely infect your computer with all sorts of nasties!
  • Avoid clicking on any hyperlinks included in emails – It’s a really bad idea to click on any hyperlink in an email, this is particularly important when the email is from an unknown source. You never know where the link is going to take you or whether it will set off some malicious code. Some hyperlinks can take you to a fake HTML page that may try to scam you into typing sensitive information. If you really want to see what it’s all about, manually retype the URL into your Web browser.
  • Use a reputable edition of anti spam software – Anti spam software can help keep phishing attacks at a minimum. A lot of these attacks come in the form of spam. By using anti spam software, you can reduce many types of phishing attacks because the messages will never end up in the inbox anyway. The warning note at point one applies just as much to free anti spam software as it does to the anti virus software.
  • Verify https SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) – Whenever you are typing sensitive information such as credit cards or bank information on the Web, always ensure the address bar shows “https://” and not just “http://” and that you have a padlock icon at the bottom right hand corner of your Web browser. You can also double click the lock to guarantee the third party SSL certificate that provides the https service. Many types of attacks are not encrypted but mimic an encrypted page. Always look to make sure the Web page is properly encrypted.  SSL that stands for Secure Sockets Layer and are cryptographic protocols that provide communication security over the World Wide Web.
  • Make use of anti spyware software – Help to keep any spyware down to a bare minimum by investing in active spyware software and also scan your system regularly with a passive edition of anti spyware. If you do fall victim to some spyware, anti spyware software can often detect the problem and fix it.
  • Keep up to speed on the latest developments and threats – Don’t just rely on the elctronic fixes available out there. Learn how to prevent these types of attacks by researching them on the Web but be aware that just because it’s on the Web, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. By being aware and cautious, you limit the chances of becoming the victim of online identity theft.
  • Use a god Firewall from a reputable firm – A firewall can either be software or hardware based and is used to help keep a computer network secure. Its main objective is to control the incoming and outgoing network traffic by analyzing the data and determining whether that data should be allowed through or not. A network’s firewall effectively builds a bridge between an internal network that is assumed to be secure and trusted, and another network, usually an external one, such as the Internet, that is not assumed to be secure and trusted.
  • Make regular backups – Ensure that you make regular backups of important data onto a separate storage device. It’s always a good idea to keep a backup in a fire proof safe or even somewhere else altogether, just make sure that you trust the people at that location. Some even keep a backup file in safety deposit boxes but it all depends on how important or sensitive your data is. The data stored on the average laptop is likely to be of less value to the scammers than the data stored in the computer system of a successful business.
  • Do not put financial information into pop up windows – A very common phishing technique is to launch a false pop up window when someone clicks on a link in a phishing email. This window could even be positioned directly over a window you do trust. Even if the pop up window looks official or claims to be secure, you should not enter any sensitive information because there is no way to check how secure it really is. Close pop up windows by clicking on the cross in the top right corner. Clicking cancel may send you to another link or even download some malicious code.
  • Protect against DNS pharming attacks – This is a new type of phishing attack that doesn’t spam you with emails but poisons your local DNS server to redirect your Web requests to a different Web site that looks similar to a company Web site. A (DNS) Domain Name Service resolves queries for the domain names into IP addresses for the purpose of locating computer services and devices worldwide. For example, the user types in eBay’s Web address but the poisoned DNS server redirects the user to a fraudulent site. This needs to be handled by an administrator who can use modern security techniques to lock down the company’s DNS servers. Note: A Pharming attack will redirect you to a fake Web page even though you have entered the correct address. An example could be that you type the correct URL for your online bank but a fake Web page will appear instead. The term pharming is taken from farming and phishing. Both pharming and phishing are used for online identity theft. Pharming has become of major concern to ecommerce business and online banking websites.

So essentially, in order to avoid any loss of your personal data or damage to your computer system, be aware of what’s out there and take the necessary steps to avoid the criminal elements that lurk out there in cyberspace.

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Email etiquette: But it’s an email, not a letter!

It wasn’t that long ago that an email was a rather alien concept to us. Very few people owned a computer either at home or in the office and if we wanted to communicate with someone over any distance, we turned to the postal service or the telephone.

Just a few years on and email has now overtaken the telephone as the number one form of business communication. So much is this the case that many people complain about having to wade through a sea of email before they can even start their working day. Often half of the working day can be taken up sorting through a plethora of spam and rubbish.

How many times have you received an email that has been so badly written that you toil for ages in vain, trying to decipher the meaning or intention of its content. If only people would refrain from using text speak and poor grammar in their emails and just stick to some basic rules.

  • Ensure your emails are appropriate to the intended recipient. If your email is intended for friends, family or colleagues it is ok to use abbreviations in the email, but if you’re communicating with an external customer, you should follow the standard writing protocols you would follow if you were writing a letter. Remember, your email message will reflect on you and the company you own or work for, so stick to traditional spelling, grammar, and punctuation throughout the message.
  • Keep to the correct use of upper and lower case letters throughout. Research has shown that an awful lot of people find it very difficult to accurately read a block of text that is made up of all upper case letters. Sometimes senders try to emphasize a sentence or point by employing block capitals, this can be misconstrued by the recipient as aggressive or even dictatorial. Having said that, if you don’t use capitals at the start of a sentence or for peoples names, the email can look like it was written by someone who is very lazy. If you need to emphasise a point within the body of text it is preferable to use asterisks or bold formatting at the relevant points. Also try to avoid using a rainbow of colours and pictures in your message, because not every email program can display them.
  • Try to keep your emails brief and to the point. Even though your writing style should be grammatically correct, it doesn’t mean that it has to be long and drawn out affair. Ploughing through an email that is twice as long as it needs to be is an arduous task. Try to concentrate on one subject per email if at all possible.
  • Use the blind copy and courtesy copy appropriately. Try to stear clear of using BCC to keep other recipients from seeing who you originally copied in on the email; it demonstrates confidence when you CC anyone that receives a copy. Do use BCC, though, when sending the email to a large list of recipients, otherwise they will have to see a massive list of names. You also need to be careful with data protection issues as not everyone wants their email address circulated to the world and its wife!  A good rule of thumb is to only copy people who are directly concerned with the subject matter of the email.
  • Don’t use email to avoid personal contact. Just because email has overtaken its rivals as the number one communication medium, try not to overlook the value of face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication. Email certainly isn’t appropriate when sending a complex or emotional message to someone. If their is a problem that needs addressing in the office, speak to the concerned individuals personally. Avoid using emails to avoid an awkward situation or to cover up a mistake. Hopefully you wouldn’t email a family member in the same house to turn the television off and come to the table for their tea, so why do it in the same office?
  • Use the subject field correctly. Don’t just say, “Hello!” or “This is from Bernie.” Try to get together with your colleagues and agree on certain acronyms that everyone can use that will quickly identify actions for emails. You could use acronyms  like <AR> to indicate that Action is Required or <DNF> for do not forward. Even a single word such as “Long” in the subject field will let the recipient know that the message will take some time to read.
  • Remember that company email isn’t private. In law, email is considered to be the property of the company and can be retrieved, examined, and used in court if needed. You should always assume that email is not secure. In short, you should never put anything in an email that you wouldn’t put in a letter. You should also bear in mind that emails can be forwarded on to people who you may not want to see what you’ve written. You may also send something to the wrong recipient by mistake, so always keep the content of the email professional to avoid any embarrassment or legal action.
  • Be sparing with any group email. Only send a group email when it’s useful and relevant to every recipient. Use the “reply all” button only when you’re compiling results that require input from everyone on the list of recipients and only if you have something to add. People tend to get pretty cheesed off when they have to open an email that has a one or two word response from everyone in the group.
  • Be careful sending out jokes, adult themed and comical pictures. Emailing jokes can be fun and lift the mood in the office but you must remember that the time it takes to compile or read such emails is being paid for by the business owner. Also, you should be aware that what you find hilarious, others could find quite offensive. Most businesses will have policies in place regarding the downloading or viewing of adult or offensive material and will take action against anyone who breaches their code of practice.
  • Summarizing or forwarding emails. If you receive an email that needs forwarding or summarizing and it is rather long or poorly written, be careful! Don’t change the wording of the original email as you could land yourself in hot water as your version could be interpreted differently to the original. You should also ask the original sender for their permission before you share or forward their message, particularly if you have summarized or otherwise edited the content. Like any other medium, you should always give credit to the original author so as not to be accused of plagiarism.
  • Emails are frequently taken the wrong way! Many people try to be sarcastic, ironic or just plain funny in an email. Unfortunately, because you are not in the presence of the recipient, they can’t see the look on your face or hear the tone of your voice, therefore they may take offence. If you really want to use humour, you may try using a smiley or a winking smiley for a sarcastic comment, but beware! The overuse of these emoticons can come across as rather unprofessional in a business email.
  • Use a signature that includes your contact information. Having a proper signature at the bottom of your emails ensures that people know who has sent them the message. Make sure that your email signature has your contact information, including your name, position, business address, phone numbers and website URL. Have a different email signature to differentiate a business from a personal email.

Why not try using some of these suggestions as a general check list when sending or creating email. It is by no means an exhaustive list so feel free to add to it as you formulate your own companies email etiquette protocols.

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Is your tablet or Smartphone putting you at risk of identity theft?

With so many users around the globe now treating their Smartphone’s, iPads, or other  tablets like their PCs, the risk of picking up viruses or making them vulnerable to hackers has increased significantly.

Tablet safety

Since Apple’s successful launch of the iPad in 2010, there has been an explosion in the technology industry and other companies have followed suit, including BlackBerry with its PlayBook and Hewlett Packard with its TouchPad, but neither have reached the same level of popularity as the Apple iPad.

Google has every intention of changing that. Google went mobile in 2008 with its Android operating system. Like Microsoft Windows on PCs or OSX on Apple Macintosh, or Macs as they are now marketed, Android is the software in control of these devices.

Android is an open source system. This means that the code is developed by a community of technical advisors and programmers who work together on the software. The code is then free for anyone to use, which manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung and Sony have on their handsets.

The code has been made available for Smartphone’s and tablets, and since then there have been many tablets launched, like the Motorola Xoom or Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which are all based on the Android operating system. Recently, there has been a reversal in the race to make the smallest possible phones with some manufacturers opting for larger screens. The Samsung Galaxy Note is enormous by normal mobile phone standards, and as such, has coined the term ‘Phablet’ because it is considered to be a cross between a phone and a tablet.

Security

When you buy a new PC, you usually get anti-virus and firewall software, or there is a wealth of software available to download or purchase to protect your online activities. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to come as part of the deal when purchasing a new mobile phone or tablet. This appears to be rather strange as consumers tend to treat their phones or tablets like PCs, checking emails, doing online shopping or even conducting their internet banking.

The more consumers buy these devices, the more they will appeal to hackers. For example, there are more PCs out there than there are Macs, therefore there are more viruses designed to attack them, it really is a numbers game. Also, as a great deal depends on open source coding, especially for the Android market, it’s easier for hackers to find vulnerabilities in this public code.

There is some protection!

Some companies that are known for protecting your PCs started moving their defences onto Smartphone’s and tablets.

Their software is able to scan apps you download for viruses; they give protection while you surf the web and can enable call blocking lists for more peace of mind.

Whether you do or don’t have this software, you must always:

  • Ensure you enable a pass code and keep your device locked
  • Don’t save passwords in your device. Lots of people save every password they have in the notes app on their iPhone. This ranges from their WordPress blog login to their online banking information.
  • Always check links sent via text or over the internet are legitimate
  • Use a trusted application, to allow remote wiping of your device.

Traditionally cell phones have been immune to viruses simply because they lack standardized operating systems. However, as smart phones and tablets increase their market share, the hackers latest virus pose a clear and present danger to mobile communications.

It is very likely that the risk of mobile device virus attacks will increase as operating systems gain more of a market share. There is also the spread of infection for Bluetooth and multimedia messaging services (MMS) to consider.

Smart phones and tablets, which can share programs and data, could easily attract hackers at a level far more disruptive than computer viruses. Mobile device viruses can be spread by either Bluetooth or MMS communications. Bluetooth viruses can infect phones with the above technology within a local area. The infected phone can then be moved into another tower’s range at which time the attacked and infected device can infect a new set of phones. The good news here is that owing to the relatively slow spread of the virus, it allows antivirus developers some time to create some protection from such a virus.

MMS viruses, like computer viruses, can send copies to everyone in the infected phones address book and can copy themselves into a new device in about two minutes. Since about 2005, hackers have developed hybrid viruses can that spread with both Bluetooth and MMS connections.

Don’t be fooled by a free offer or game.

Some of the viruses doing the mobile rounds are Trojans, which are programs that pretend to be something else, (like the Trojan horse that allowed the Greeks to topple the city of Troy).  Many mobile device users have reported receiving the offer of a free game that will infect their device when opened or installed.

Although smart phone viruses are pretty limited at the moment, the number of viruses can be expected to increase.

Facebook users had a problem in 2009 when a smart phone virus hijacked their passwords when they updated their statuses through their mobile devices. The virus then posted status updates advertising a trial pack of a colon cleanser and gave the URL for this product.

As credit card transactions become more commonly used over time, mobile phones and tablets should be updated with the relevant software that is more resistant to virus technology.

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