Saturday, March 19, 2011

Don't click that link! (or: Staying safe on Facebook)

Almost every day I see people posting fraudulent spam links on Facebook. When clicked on, these links replicate themselves by posting a new link to the victim's wall, where more people will unsuspectingly see it and click on it. This morning, I saw one that was so convincingly authentic looking that I almost clicked it myself, and hesitated just at the last minute. These "clickjackers" or "likejackers" are getting clever, and it's not just the less technically savvy folks who are spreading their disease. So I thought I'd write up a quick guide on how to spot and clickjacking.

Remember, though, that the scammers are always refining their methods to make their hijacked links less detectable, so this is only a general set of guidelines. If you're not sure, don't click. It's not worth it to see that "video of a whale smashing into a building in Japan! OMG!!1!" if it ends up spamming all over your friends' walls. So here's what to look for.

Check the URL 

For most posted links, Facebook generates a line of text below the link's title, indicating the home domain of that link. Before clicking, take a look at that information and see if you recognize the site; if it's YouTube, or a news site you're familiar with, you're probably safe.

But it's possible that the URL info generated could be deceptive; perhaps it's misspelled by one letter, or maybe it's just fake. 

Another, more accurate way to check is this: just hover your mouse over the link without clicking. Now look in your browser's lower left corner, and you'll see the URL to which you will be sent if you do click. You'll want to evaluate that URL for scammy potential. Look for: 

Linking to a non-US domain or one that does not end in ".com"
Many clickjackers use foreign domains (like .pl or .ru) or one of the newer generic top-level domains (like .biz or .info). If the link leads to one of these be extremely careful before clicking.

A very long url
Scammers can disguise a suspicious URL by making it so long that the incriminating domain information is lost or difficult to see in your browser. If you see a link that's very long and has a garbled string of random characters, it's probably not a safe place to click. Sometimes the hijacker will embed a red herring near the beginning of the URL, but the domain to which you will actually be directed is at the very end (possibly out of sight of your browser window).

Using a URL shortener
It's very common for malicious links to be shortened with one of the popular link shorteners like TinyURL, or Shorteners allow the scammer to send you to any link at all without giving away your final destination, and while URLs from link shorteners can be perfectly legitimate, they should always raise a red flag that prompts you to take a second look.

A different link than indicated on the post

If the post promises to send you to "" but the URL shown in your browser's URL preview is to "" you know something is amiss. Don't click.

It's a good practice to make a habit of checking unfamiliar URLs in the browser no matter where you are online.

However, there are malicious Facebook apps that will also re-post unwanted articles to your wall, so if you see a link to "" don't immediately think it's ok to click. There are a lot of scammy Facebook apps and it's up to you to avoid them. You'll want to take these extra precautions:

Consider the source

WTF Gramma?
Did your sweet grandmother post a link to a video titled "OMG you won't BELIEVE what this girl did with her DOG!!"? You might want to take a second look before clicking on it. Clickjackers rely on two things: your inherent trust of your friends and family to share things you will find interesting and your undying curiosity to see salacious or controversial material.
If you use a little common sense, you can spot this kind of unlikely link coming from someone who doesn't usually post material like this. You should definitely warn the friend or family member who posted the link, as soon as you see it, so that they can remove it before more people make that fatal click.

Hot Chicks Want to Meet YOU!
Another thing scammers will do is appeal to your desires; they'll post links to sites that promise free gadgets, amazing weightloss plans, the ability to see who has viewed your profile, supposed messages from attractive people, and that sort of thing. Once you see a few of these, it's easy to spot them. If you're aware that you're NEVER going to get a free iPad just by filling out a couple of quick surveys, you'll think twice before following a link that promises such goodies. The word "free," especially written in all capital letters, never leads to anything good on the internet. You can trust me on this.

Everyone's doing it
Did several of your friends post the same suspicious link? Odds are that they have fallen victim to one mutual friend's poorly-timed click. It's best to investigate further before clicking this too-popular link.

Suspicious activity
Many evil sites will ask you to "re log-in" to Facebook. This is a pretty transparent attempt to capture your log-in information. I don't think I need to emphasize that you should never re-enter your Facebook password unless you know you are at

Another thing they'll do is tease you with the video or photo you were promised in the wall post, and then ask you to click a second link, or take a survey, or allow them to access your Facebook information, before you can see the material. Do not click that link! If you do, close the window and immediately start damage control, as described below.

If you DO click

Even if you're alert to the possibility of being clickjacked, it's always possible that you'll accidentally hit a spammy link. If this happens, know the signs and act fast. If the link takes you not to that fascinating video but instead to a site that wants you to "allow" it to have access to your Facebook profile, close that window and go back to your own wall to verify that nothing was posted without your knowledge.

Same thing if it takes you to a site that asks you to "click here" for any reason; scammers will disguise a "like" as a simple "click here," making it appear to your friends that you "liked" (and thus re-posted) the link to their video. Again, if you accidentally make that second click and are taken to a page that doesn't contain the promised video or site, close the window and go immediately to your Facebook wall to make sure nothing was posted.

Then, take a moment and visit your application settings in Facebook. To get there, go to the "Account" drop-down menu in the upper right and click on "Privacy settings." 

Then, in the lower left, look for the link to "Apps and Websites." Click on "Edit your settings." 

Then click on the "Edit settings" button in the "Apps you use" section (yes, Facebook makes you click and click and click yet again to change the most important settings). 

The list that comes up will show all of the apps you've allowed to access your Facebook information. They should all look familiar. Check the top ones; they are the newest. If you see anything suspicious, click the "X" to remove it.

Additionally, if the malicious link did post to your wall, post a notice to your friends at once, telling them that you didn't post intentionally. If you'd like to include a link to this article to help them deal with their own possible linkjacking, that would be fine.

So remember: check that URL, consider who is posting it, think about what the link is telling you, and if you're infected, clean up right away. And if you had your heart set on seeing that video about the whale hitting the building in Japan, just look it up in Google. You might find that it's not what you think.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What a crazy, snowy day

The first snow of the year, in a town that doesn't get snow at all. I don't mean Seattle doesn't see its fair share of the stuff – we get a pretty nice amount every other year or so. I mean we don't get snow. It befuddles us. We can't walk in it, drive in it, we can't dress for it, we can't predict it and we cannot deal with it when it arrives.
My commute this morning was nearly two hours, because of a couple of wrecks on the Aurora Bridge.

Once I finally got past the blockage, I discovered that my power steering had stopped working. Great. 

I struggled with the car until I got to work, called the dealership, and got a few things done before leaving again at 1:00 to take the car in.

To my great surprise, when I started it up and left the parking garage, the steering seemed to be fine. I called up the dealership: "Do I really need to bring it it?" I was dreading the repair cost, because while I love my car very much, it's never cheap on those few occasions that I have to get something fixed.

"Yes, bring it in. It went out once, it could go out again."


I was actually not unhappy when I got there and found that I'd been awarded this shiny red convertible as a loaner car.

As of right now, I still don't know what's wrong with my steering, whether it will in fact go out again, and what it'll cost to ensure that it doesn't. They won't even be able to look at it until Friday. In the meantime, the red car will do just fine.

However, having recently peered out the front door, I'm not at all sure I'll be going anywhere tomorrow. We already have a couple of inches, at least; it's still coming down and may just go all night.

I'm glad we're stocked up on soup.

Mina, sweet and silly hound that she is, loves the snow. It makes her run around like a crazy beast, huffing it up and chasing snow ghosts. We throw snow balls and tell her to catch or fetch them, which puzzles her as they disappear into the rest of the whiteness on the ground.

But she adopts a cheerful and zenlike attitude about the whole thing, and eventually goes inside to watch the snow from her chair in the living room. Sometimes she barks to let us know that a car is trying (and usually failing) to make it up our frozen hill.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Back to blogging and the sandwich incident

It's been forever since I actually posted anything here. Since the rise and domination of Facebook, blogging seems outdated and cliched. But there have been times lately when I have things I want to say that can't be contained in FB's limited status area - what is that? Maybe 400-some characters? Damn, I have opinions that just won't fit in that space.

I'm quite aware that pretty much no one will be interested in reading this, and if anything, that's a bit comforting. I'm not looking for readership or attention, just a place to write a few words from time to time; to keep in practice with forming thoughts longer than those 400 allowed characters.

Also, with the constant availability of a small, portable computing device, I can actually keep track of thoughts at times when I'm not near a desktop computer. Amusingly, just before I typed this sentence, I had the following exchange:

Guy walks up to my table: "Excuse me, can I ask a question? Is that all right?"
Me: "Yeah, sure!"
Guy: "Is that an iPad?"
Me: "Yes, it is..."
Guy: "Ok, thanks." Walks away.

Wow, I hope he got what he wanted out of that exchange.

The other funny thing that happened just now, during this very lunch hour, has to do with my lunch itself. First, I should explain that I'm eating in a cafe of sorts, in our building — it's really more of a cafeteria than anything, but "cafe" is in the name, so there you go. This place is run by a group that helps rehabilitate ex-cons by providing them employment here in the kitchen, as servers, and at the cash register. They're all pretty nice folks, though the food's a bit less than gourmet, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I've been trying to eat better, so I asked the lady at the grill if she had the caloric info of the items on their menu, specifically the garden burger. She went in the back for a while, and came back to tell me: "The garden burger is 140 calories."

"That's all?" I was surprised; surely the bun alone would be more than that.

"Just the patty," she said.

"So what would it be with everything on it?"

"I'll go ask..." and she disappeared again. A line was building behind me and I felt conspicuous.

She came back and said that she wasn't able to tell me how many calories were on the burger as prepared, but listed what was on it. Feeling that it was time to stop holding up a busy lunch line, I said, "Ok, that's fine: I'll just get it and figure it out later."

So I took my number, sat down and read for a while, and shortly a cafe employee walked up with the red plastic basket that burgers come in. In the basket was:

A garden burger patty.

And nothing else.

It only took a few minutes to clear up the situation, and I got my garden burger, but you can bet I inspected it carefully in case someone was pissed off and had decided to spit in there. It seemed fine and was tasty. Still..huh.

Happy Friday!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy Spring!

One of the best parts of spring is getting outside to work in the yard and garden. This year I've decided to clear out what was a flower garden in my back yard and dedicate it just to growing edibles. This will be my first real vegetable garden, so I've started a blog to track how it goes (and how it grows). 
So far, it just looks like a black patch of dirt, but there are seeds in there: carrot, radish, spinach, peas...and I'm learning about starting tomatoes from seed, so I have a ton of those in little cups, too.

If you want to check it out, and maybe follow along as I either systematically kill everything I plant or harvest lots of yummy fresh veggies, it's here. Take a look.

Monday, March 15, 2010

50 Peaceful Things

This list really inspired me. I'm going to try to incorporate these little peaceful things into my life every day.

Via TinyBuddha.

50 Peaceful Things

by Lori Deschene
“Peace is not something you wish for. It’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.” ~Robert Fulghum
Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time visiting 1000 Awesome Things, a blog devoted to the many simple pleasures in life. Some of them remind me of being a kid, like this one about celebrities on Sesame Street. Others remind of me I’m stronger than I think, like this one about getting through difficult situations.
With that in mind, you can imagine how excited I am to receive a copy of Neil’s upcoming book, aptly named The Book of Awesome. I’m even more excited that I’ll be able to give away two autographed copies when I write my review. (Coming soon!)
In the meantime, as a way to pay tribute to this awesome book and my awesome new friend, I’ve decided to create my own awesome list, tinybuddha style.
Here are 50 peaceful things to help you be mindful and happy throughout the day:

1. Laying in bed for a few minutes in the morning before hopping into your day. There’s no reason to rush.
2. Eating breakfast slowly, at a table, instead of grabbing something on the go.
3. Listening to your favorite music on the way to work, and remembering when you first heard it. Where you were, who you were with, how you felt.
4. Hugging someone you know long enough to make it meaningful.
5. Appreciating something you take for granted, like your feet for taking you where you need to go.
6. Focusing solely on the smell of your coffee as it brews.
7. Noticing something thoughtful a stranger does for someone else. (There are a lot of beautiful people out there).
8. Watching a coworker get proud about doing something well and feeling happy for them. Nothing’s more calming than focusing on someone else and forgetting yourself for a while.
9. Getting into the zone typing, like finger-moving meditation, maybe set the rhythm of a great tune on your iPod.
10. Doing only one thing, even though you have a lot to do, to fully enjoy what you’re doing.
11. Knowing you did a good job and taking a few minutes to bask in self satisfaction. You’re pretty awesome.
12. Expressing how you feel and then letting it be without feeling pressure to explain (pressure we usually put on ourselves).
13. Taking a break without anything to do besides breathing and noticing little details in your environment. How soft the rug is after having been cleaned. How sunlight from your window leaves shadows on your desk.
14. Holding someone’s hand in both of yours when you thank them.
15. Listening to someone talk–really hearing them–without thinking about what you’ll say next.
Peaceful Stream
16. Remembering a time when you felt peaceful, and going back there in your head.
17. Writing a thoughtful, hand-written note to someone, even if you could email, because you feel more connected when you write it out.
18. Channeling your inner Kevin Rose and savoring a cup of loose leaf tea.
19. Forgiving someone, not just in words, but by feeling compassion for them.
20. Writing down thoughts that keep racing through your head, crumpling up the paper, and throwing it away. Being done with them.
21. Letting yourself have lunch without any thoughts of work.
22. Doing something slowly and finding it more fun than you realized when you rushed through it.
23. Holding a smooth rock in your palm and feeling stable and grounded.
24. Believing someone else when they say everything will be OK.
25. Feeling whatever you feel without judging it, knowing it will pass. It always does.
26. Making a short video of your child or niece, and watching it in the middle of the day when the world seems to be moving too fast.
27. Watching something in nature and letting yourself be intrigued. Feeling wonder at something simple that man hasn’t touched or changed.
28. Finding something beautiful in chaos, like the love between your loud family members at the dinner table, or one raindrop dripping down your window as you navigate a traffic-congested road.
29. Thinking something and realizing you can change your thoughts whenever you want. You don’t have to dwell in a painful memory–you can make a better one right now.
30. Telling someone you love them, not because you want to hear it back, but because you feel it too deeply not to express it. Because expressing it makes you happy.
31. Realizing there’s nothing to worry about. You can be happy right now–you have everything you need to smile.
32. Doing something creative and childlike, like making someone a card or coloring. Even as an adult, it feels good to pick all the right colors and stay mostly in the lines. Or go out of the lines and embrace it. It’s your picture!
33. Giving someone you love the benefit of the doubt to put your mind at ease and maintain a peaceful relationship.
34. Rolling down the window when you drive and feeling the pressure of the cool air on your face.
35. Calling one of your parents in the middle of the day to thank them for everything they’ve done–everything they’ve given you that one crazy afternoon can’t diminish or take away.
36. Taking a walk with no destination in mind, just to see what’s out there to be seen.
37. Letting go of something you’ve been holding onto that does nothing but stress you out.
38. Telling someone why knowing them makes you lucky.
39. Letting someone have their opinion; knowing you can honor it without changing or compromising yours.
40. Setting out on a joy mission–looking for something to do solely to experience fully present, open-to-possibilities bliss.
41. Defining peaceful for yourself. If peace is yelling, “I’m the king of the world!” while jogging around a track, do it with abandon.
42. Listening to a song that gives you goosebumps and creating a mental montage of moments that made you happy.
43. Turning off all your electronics to read without distractions.
44. Doing something by candlelight and remembering a simpler time.
45. Closing your eyes and dancing to a song you can feel pulsating in your veins.
46. Turning off your cell phone, no matter who might call or text, because there’s something you’d like to do with all your heart and attention.
47. Sitting in a sauna, and letting the heat melt all your stresses away.
48. Finally making time for something you want to do but always say you don’t have time for.
49. Making eye contact with a stranger and feeling connected to a world larger than your own.
50. Letting yourself lay in bed at night without making a mental inventory of things that went wrong today or could go wrong tomorrow.
And one last peaceful thing: being grateful for new friends with awesome ideas, and letting them inspire you.

Lori Deschene, lead contributor, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read more of her posts here, and follow her on Twitter @lori_deschene. Photos here, here, and here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Art from Japan

A few years ago, I discovered the Flickr stream of Kaori, a lady in Japan, who makes little clay figures of cute animals. On a whim, I asked if she ever did custom-made figures, and she said that she would be glad to. I sent her some pictures of our two cats and before long she sent me four adorable little hand-painted clay likenesses, two of each cat, that really captured their personality.

This year, I contacted her again, and asked if she might still be working in clay, and would she be able to do a matching figure of our dog. She replied that she'd be glad to, so I sent photos, and got these amazing little Minas in the mail just a few weeks later, beautifully packaged and carefully wrapped.

They even have separate little collar tags with Mina's name, and the year. They're the sweetest little things, and her price is just stunningly low (and as far as I can tell, she doesn't charge for shipping).
Looks just like her! 

I asked Kaori if she would mind if I told my friends about her work and she said that would be fine. I think these would make remarkable gifts for anyone with pets. She takes incredible, artful care with the wrapping and packaging, and is friendly and easy to communicate with.

You can see many more of her little figures here on Flickr, and can contact her through Flickr or at this email address.

Monday, February 1, 2010

In which I try yet another new medium.

Now what? you ask. Now: I have a Tumblr blog. Just because it's so lovely and image-oriented and I can post from my phone, and link it with my Twitter and my Facebook.

You're laughing now, aren't you?

Aren't you?

(Just go there and check it out.)