SMB - Computer-generated horror stories

Work without pay, flaming iPods, spammers in Hell

The words "horror," "Hell," and "torture" have popped up in headlines more often than one might think. Since it's Halloween week, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on just how scary computers can be.

Work without pay would no doubt be the definition of Hell to many people. That's likely the word (prefaced by "bloody") uttered in March by 400,000 workers in the United Kingdom who didn't get paid because of database problems with the Bacs payment clearing system. Bacs provides a central clearing house for automated payments and clears 30 million a day.

The glitch, which slowed the IP-based Bacstel communications channel, was discovered when batch processing that should have been completed on Wednesday failed to clear, causing payments due on Friday to be delayed until the following Monday. Officials say a technical problem caused the communication channel to run slowly, so submissions weren't completed.

In the past year, computer glitches have also been responsible for Medicare taking extra money from its beneficiaries' Social Security checks, a Skype outage, and extra charges to donors of American Idol's "Idol Gives Back" charity drive, among others.

Spammers in Hell

Speaking of Hell, that's where at least one spammer is going.

"Ed," a 22-year-old retired spammer, built a considerable fortune sending e-mails that promoted pills, porn and casinos. At the peak of his power, Ed -- also known as Spammer X -- says he pulled in US$10,000 to US$15,000 a week, and made US$480,000 his last year of spamming.

"Yes, I know I'm going to hell," said Ed, who spoke in London during a July event hosted by IronPort Systems, a security vendor now owned by Cisco. "I'm actually a really nice guy. Trust me."

He says he got out of the business because, in part, he realized his pharmaceutical-related spam was helping addicts score. Since then he's written a book, Inside the Spam Cartel: Trade Secrets from the Dark Side, which he said has had some take-up in law enforcement circles eager to learn more about the spam business, which he projects will only get worse.

Ed won't be the only spammer in Hell. Another, apparently trying to appeal to recipients' sympathetic sides, in August sent a spam blast in which he threatened to kill himself and eat his dog (in that order) if the drug prices at a certain Web site weren't great. Maybe he can compare drug prices with Ed in the Underworld.

Zombies and Halloween go great together. Thanks to the Storm malware that's been massively circulated the past few months, there are more computer zombies lurking on the Internet than ever before; researchers say this Trojan horse alone is responsible for one million of them.

iPod aflame

Fire can be scary. Especially when it's in your pocket.

Earlier this month an Atlanta man said his iPod Nano caught fire in his pants. The nearly two-year-old iPod caught fire in the pocket of Danny Williams at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where he is employed. The flames lasted 15 seconds and fire reached up to his chest; glossy paper in his pocket may have shielded him from getting burned by the fire.

The iPod contains a lithium-ion battery, which has a history of catching fire in laptops. Since December 2005 these batteries have been blamed for meltdowns and fires in several computers. Last year several manufacturers, including Apple, Dell, and Lenovo Group were forced to recall millions of the batteries.

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