Friday, October 16, 2009

Email obfuscation is broken

An year and a half back, I was working on some project where I had to parse students' and professors' homepages to mine interesting information from them.
One common underlying pattern I found on their pages, from new grad students' to emeritus professors', was the method of obfuscation of their email ids.
Though they were in the right track on preventing spam bots from harvesting emails and spamming them, the actual way they did it was as insecure as protecting a house by fastening windows but leaving the door wide open. One should remember that people who write spam bots are not foolish. They earn lots of money from collecting emails and selling them to people who do the actual spamming. These trivial ways won't stop them by any means.

There are three popular methods used to obfuscate, each progressively difficult for the spam bot:
1) Just replacing the '@' and '.' characters, like email_id AT server DOT edu.
2) Encoding semantics, like "first 7 characters of last name" AT server DOT edu.
3) Placing the image of the email id.

Any good spam bot can easily extract the correct email id if methods (1) or (2) are used. It just has to have a list of common patterns that people use, and make some string substitution and educated guesses.
Method (3) is extremely secure, but unfortunately it is like a fastened window, where the open door is the URL of the webpage itself.
Typically the students' or professors' pages have URLs with a definite pattern, like cs.university.edu/~emailid or people.college.edu/emailid or emailid.school.college.edu. As you can see, almost all the URLs have email id encoded in them, after all this is how the page itself was created automatically.
From the URL, it is easy to guess the email id. For example, in the third example, the email would be either emailid@college.edu or emailid@school.college.edu.

So, what is the way out? The answer is there is no way out until the schools themselves change the URL naming scheme of the pages they assign to their staff and students.
Till then, the best way is to put the image of the email id and, in addition, route the emails via Gmail, hoping that Gmail will block the spams automatically.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Madison Student Optimizes Physics

N Orchard Street's greatest physicist, Dr Dchongesh, today accomplished an extraordinary thing that will surely change the way we think of the world (and of him).




Dchongesh after pwning Einstein's formula.


Dchongesh, an ardent fan of Djokovich and Deborah Djosheph, today proved that Einstein's mass-energy relation is sub-optimal. When our staff reporter asked him about his latest finding, he replied "When I first saw the equation E=mc2, I was like, 'Dude, there has got to be a more efficient equation for this. Everybody know that quadratic running time won't scale for large c's. I then worked all night, constantly referring to my borrowed copy of 'Introduction to Algorithms', and finally derived my optimized equation E=mc*log(c) that would perform 30% better in parallel processors".
But when our unconvinced reporter asked if he could just optimize nature's laws just like that, he replied "Dude, who is taking CS587-Algorithms course, you or me?".

Meanwhile, Nature is unsure how to react to this sudden change in physical laws. But people in 45 N Orchard St are positive that the new optimized physics can help in reducing global warming, controlling weather, increasing TAships, getting dates, and decreasing the frequency of nature calls that they are experiencing now.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Papers are People Too


This is the poster for a hypothetical movie called "Papers Are People Too"* that I made for the Earth Day and sent to my friends to make them cautious about the overuse of paper generating machines (printers and photocopiers).
I also sent them a snippet of the story for the hypothetical movie. The response was pleasantly positive, they claim to have decreased the number of printouts they take, and it seems to have given them happiness also.
I am pasting the snippet below:


Papers Are People Too
The plot:
"Our hero GeeBee studies in a college where he is given unlimited supply of paper and free printouts.
So should he care whether all the 100 pages he is just going to print will be read by him later?
Should he strain his eyes to read a PDF instead of just hitting <Ctrl + P>?
He knows very well that decreasing the font size and removing images would print the html content in fewer pages, but is it worth all the hassle?
Why bother placing unwanted papers in the recycling tub when he can just throw them away with kitchen trash?"

The cast: You and me.
Releasing on the Earth Day next month.


One thing that I silently slipped in, in the poster, is the fact that we don't bother to give a name to a tree, even if we have been brought up seeing it in our yard all the years, but we tend to give a name to every other pet that we come across.
This was at the back of my mind, and that is the reason for the lines at the bottom of the poster (you may have to scroll to see them).

* The title inspired from the blog Papayas are People Too.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Local boy to change his name after shelving PhD plans

From our reporter in Madison, WI -
"I always dreamed of completing my PhD", reflects Sabareeshh, an ardent Himeshh Reshammiya fan and a long-term resident of 45 N Orchard Street. In his continued statement, he further revealed that he also always dreamed of people addressing him as "Doctor Sabareeshh", and plans to file a request with the Office of Name Changes to enable him achieve his aforementioned ambition since he no longer has hopes of completing his PhD and becoming eligible to be called with the aforementioned name. But is it a normal thing to do?

"Why not? If people can have names like 'Major Soundarrajann', 'Padmashrii Universal Hero Kamal Hassann' and 'Slave Mistress Vidhhya', whats wrong with changing my name to 'Doctor Sabareeshh'?", he logically argued his proposition before breaking away to check out the ladies section in Walmart.

Meanwhile another local boy DMaheshh, a fierce fan of both Djokovic and Himeshh, rechristened himself as Chongeshh to match with his Chinese girlfriend Chong, who unknowingly in parallel changed her name to Abhitagujalambal taking it to be a cool Indian name. When we last heard, he was in a dilemma on whether to change his name to Abhitagujalesh to match again or to change his girlfriend.

As per a latest update, an application by the Office of Name Changes to change its own name was rejected by the same office, as it would cause infinite recursion of name changes leading to a stack overflow condition.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Behind "Coffee With Bandar"

I heard that many of you who don't follow Sundar's blog (i.e. everybody), had a difficult time understanding my earlier post on his way of taking interviews.
So to give you a bit of background on his blogging style, let me now re-tell his interview with me:

The following transcript appeared as Coffee with Bandar* here.
* Note: No animals were harmed during the making of this post. No coffee was wasted either, only time and energy were.

Sundar's blog is read all over our office.
The truth is nobody here could possibly ignore his blinding status messages, bolded and underlined signature in the mails, or his frequent and loud utterances of "make sure you read todays awesomely popular post in coffee-with-bandar dot com" punctuated in the middle of every conversation.
Hence I decided to have a small chat with him on why he is, well, so annoying.

Me: Mr. Bandar, how do you generate so many ideas for all the boring posts that you put in your blog? Do you read a lot?
Bandar: Yes, I do! Even last week I read the story of Three Little Pigs. But those are not the places from where I get ideas. I do pure research!
You see, I like to provide my audience with only quality content synthesized from hand picked blogs, so that they don't have to waste their time on them and instead waste the cumulative time reading my blog.

Me : But what you do, sounds like plagiarism!
Bandar : No, it shouldn't, because I have never heard of that word.

Me : Duh! Okay, How many page views do you usually get everyday?
Bandar : It ranges from zero to a few thousands. Sometimes when I am very bored, I continuously reload the page till the pageviews reach the three figure mark.

Me: Seeing your hit counter, it seems that you get bored very often...
Can you reveal to us how many unique visitors are there who have no work and don't care for their soul and actually read your blog?
Bandar: Well, it is a secret. Including you and me, the total count has now surpassed 3.
The third being my alter ego. Actually thinking of it, if I could teach my dog to read, it would increase the count by 43% !

Me: Wow, thats great!
Ok, I would like to put a graph of these stats. I am opening up Analytics in my browser, can you login ...
Wait a min! Whats that ugly thing doing in my Firefox?
Bandar: Thats my coffee-with-bandar toolbar! I just installed it in your browser when you were distracted by the mole on my left cheek.

Me: Holy monkey (no, not a racial abuse)! What do you need a toolbar for?
Bandar: The toolbar basically takes screenshots of all the pages that you visit and mails them to me. This way I can analyze what my readers really like and write posts on that.

Me : But it sounds scary. Is it secure? Are you sure it wont spread any viruses?
Bandar : How can it when that itself is a virus! He he he.

Me: Hmmm, you seem to think very deep. Do you consider anybody as a role model?
Bandar : No, None at all. In fact, apart from gastroenteritis, I am in perfect health.

Me: I think you got confused here. I asked if you emulate somebody…
Bandar: Oh yes, I truly admire Miss Teen Carolina! She is my mole mode, errr.. super model, oooops, role model. I am already emulating her in my blogs by writing nonsensical stuff...
Someday I wish to have a chat with her over a cup of coffee and would blog about it. Don't miss that post!

Me: Sure, and many thanks for doing this mokkai interview with me. Hope my readers stay bored after reading this.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Quick Reference for "Coffee with Bandar"

If you are an ardent follower of "Coffee with Bandar" posts, you would often want to know what exactly goes into the mind of our genius reporter, Mr Bandarrrajan, when he poses his trademark questions to the "famous" celebrities.
Many times you would wish for somebody to explain the deep and hidden meanings behind those intellectual conversations.
Sweat no more, for I have compiled a quick reference guide for the three most repeated phrases that Mr Bandar uses in all his interviews.

Phrase 1: (Bandar to his readers) "I welcome our super ultra special guest for today who needs no introduction...".
What Bandar really means:
"My bulk mails to people who are really famous did not fetch any response. So I have to now resort to interview everybody who is anybody in my vicinity, who then grudgingly replies in one liners with smilies put at the end of each sentence to pass off as "cool" answers.
(Scratching his cheeks) I should do something about the mole in my left cheek, it seems to put off people..."

Phrase 2: "Hi [interviewee name]. Hearty welcome to this really special edition of CWS".
What really goes in the mind of the interviewee:
"What the heck is CWS? Why am I here? I shouldn't have agreed to answer his stupid questions for the sake a free cup of coffee.. I must first kill that NIT junior of his, who set me up with him. I wish Bandar's gastroenteritis would get severe and burst him out now."

Phrase 3: "What message do u want to give to the budding younger generation of readers who are at present not wasting their time by reading my blogs?".
What Bandar really means when he says this:
"Thanks for your banal replies to my canned questions. Even my dog which reads my blogs, would have got bored of it.
Heck, now I have to reload this post more frequently to make up for the page views lost due to this junk interview...
"

What the interviewees really think when he says this:
"Holy grass! You must be really stupid to think that your readers (all three of them) are eagerly awaiting for my advise with bated breadth and yearning to follow it.
In fact, I would advise them stop reading your posts and explore other harmless methods of self torture."


PS:
1) Apparently Mr Bandar tried to take an interview of Blogger's product manager at Google, who then promptly quit his job and moved to Alaska to avoid meeting him. We will miss you Eric!
2) Don't forget to take a micro-xerox of this cheat sheet and keep in your pocket for ready reference; you may never know when Mr Bandar may catch you and force you to read his blog.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

 
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