The Bloor Perspective: SMS spam, go phish and Windows Media Center

This week Robin Bloor and his team provide us with their take on spamming on mobiles, scam ID theft emails and Microsoft's push to be at the heart of your home...
Written by Bloor Research, Contributor

This week Robin Bloor and his team provide us with their take on spamming on mobiles, scam ID theft emails and Microsoft's push to be at the heart of your home...

Forrester Research recently published a forecast and analysis of European mobile messaging growth. While it forecasts that short message services (SMS) will peak and plateau in 2004 and years beyond, it forecasts 100 per cent compound annual growth in enhanced message services, multimedia message services, instant message services and email using next-generation phones in 2004 and beyond. Much of this will be generated through direct marketing now being adopted by more large multinationals beyond the communications sector. It is really nothing more than spam. Spam may be an irritation when delivered to a PC via the internet but it is even more irritating when delivered to the mobile phone, an instrument of continual torture to many of its business users in particular. Of most concern is that the benefits of advances in mobile technology will be tarnished by their association with its main uses. Various national legal regimes are trying to control spam. Such initiatives tend to become embroiled in debates over privacy/freedom of information/security and are then complicated by the overcomplicated minds of the legal profession, politicians and those who delight in the abstractions of rights and duties. The most expedient course of action would be initiatives taken by the providers of the mobile technology. For example, in Japan DoCoMo is limiting the number of text messages that a user can send. Other mobile providers are seeking to deploy filtering services on their appliances to defeat the growth of spam. Vodafone, for example, will also provide a feature to forward spam to regulators or complaint authorities. These initiatives are both socially responsible and may ensure that the technology benefits are not cannibalised or debased by those who have a singular use or application for the technology. *Email confidence (tricks)* Recent publicity concerning a fake Barclays Bank website demonstrated that - like fashion - past scams dress themselves up a little differently and reappear again and again. More worryingly, they still attract unsuspecting victims. The Barclays experience was a classic example of a scamming technique known as 'phishing'. It s used to deceive customers/consumers - usually through linking to a fake website(s) - into disclosing their credit card numbers, bank account details, passwords, postcodes, PIN numbers and indeed a variety of sensitive and seemingly trivial personal information which could identify data for attempts at later nefarious subterfuges. Spam emails which purport to represent communications from major financial companies (the last two major ones misrepresented' PayPal and Citibank) ask the recipients to click on a link to these fake websites, which then prompt for the aforementioned types of information to be entered. Suspicious indications - The emails: * The wording used does not represent the structure of a request from such an august company. Moreover, the details requested are not likely to have been compromised in the manner implied and would never be asked for in such an offhand, casual manner. * If a potential victim just pauses to think actually who is asking for what and why - suspicions come into play. The 'spoof' website: * Unreasonable excuses and information requests * Overall unexpectedly shoddy presentation * 'Weaknesses' in branding, colour variations to logos * Misspelled words inserted into 'standard' paragraphs * Absence of the 'security' padlock symbol If you have responded to any such requests, then scrutinise your credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them and check for any unauthorised transactions. If these statements are late by, say, a couple of working days, then call your bank or credit card issuer to confirm your registered address and account balances. Report any incidents to the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (0870 241 0549) By being vigilant you can prevent becoming a victim of these scams. *Living room Windows* If you wondered why Microsoft has spent so much effort enhancing the Windows Media Player then wonder no more. Microsoft is launching an important new product, to provide multimedia entertainment in the living room as a key step in the convergence of home computing and entertainment. Microsoft and its partners plan to launch PCs running the new Windows XP Media Center Edition in the UK soon. Media Center is designed to converge digital media onto a single PC in the living room. PCs and media players have traditionally been separate. A May 2002 report by Forrester Research found that in the US, 44 per cent of consumers listen to music on their PC, 40 per cent use their PC to manage their photos and 21 per cent use their PC to watch DVDs. PCs have clear potential to deliver home entertainment but PCs and home entertainment systems have previously been used in different ways in separate rooms. The barrier to convergence of home computing and entertainment has been the difference between 'sit-forward' interaction with PCs and the 'sit-back' way that people watch TV or listen to hi-fi. IT suppliers including Microsoft have been developing two solutions to reduce this barrier - wireless home networking and what Microsoft calls a 10-foot PC interface'. Home networking provides communication between different rooms with wireless connections while the 10-foot interface lets people operate the Media PC with a remote control from across the room. Windows Media Center combines PVR (Personal Video Recorder) technology with standard PC components to create an intelligent TiVo-like video recorder that is managed with an electronic programme guide (EPG). It also stores and plays all types of digital entertainment such as personal video recordings, digital music, digital video, DVDs and digital photos. Because Media Centre requires additional specialised hardware, PC suppliers will sell it as a hardware and software package. As usual, Microsoft has picked its moment to enter this important market. TiVo, the digital video recorder company, has confirmed that it is scaling down its business in the UK and has stopped manufacturing its DVR set-top boxes for sale here. Microsoft is also stepping on Apple's toes as Apple has been working hard on iLife, an application that integrates iTunes for managing music, iPhoto for digital photography, iMovie for editing digital video and iDVD for creating your own DVDs. Will Media Center and its competitors do to the hi-fi industry what digital cameras did for the film camera industry? There are some hurdles to be overcome before the Media Center is welcomed into every living room. The aesthetics will need to be improved - only Apple seems to have the knack of creating a pleasing product package. Noise is another issue - PC fans can be too noisy for classical music fans. Perhaps an indication of its current capabilities is that a key target group for this product is the student away from home for the first time. It is interesting to link the Media Center with the Microsoft MyLifeBits Project. Both concepts address the same idea of converging all types of information in a single digital store. It is an elegant idea but it is also a gamble on the enthusiasm of the public for managing all their entertainment on a single computer. Bloor Research is a leading independent analyst organisation in Europe. You can find out more at www.bloor-research.com or by emailing mail@bloor-research.com.
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