Spam Spam Spam Spam, Spam Spam Spam Spam, Lovely Spam, Wonderful Spam

This morning I got an unsolicited SMS spam “Home owners ? do u need money? R100,000 @ R752 pm! Reply YES and we?ll phone you”. I know that everybody gets things like this and they just shrug them off, but I have a rabid hatred of spammers.

With e-mail spam, there’s normally nothing you can do. The spammers are on the other side of the world, and they’ve used a botnet. But when I get something from South Africans, I act. We have the ECT act protecting us against spam. It’s not the most effective anti-spam legislation, but it’s better than nothing. I’ll send the IOZ Spam Message to the spammers, their ISP, the domain registrants etc etc. Usually I get a response. Usually they remove me from their lists. (If they don’t, their VP of marketing is going to have me harassing him over the phone in short order.) But of course they rarely mend their ways. Sometimes we end up in long e-mail arguments backwards and forwards, them saying “but I’m justified in spamming, because of foo”, me saying “no bloody way, because of bar” etc. It’s ineffectual and depressing, but at least I’m doing something to deter spammers and keep South Africa relatively clean.

But enough about e-mail. It’s time for some tips on dealing with SMS-spam. The SMS Spamming industry (euphemisms: direct marketing, wireless application service provider) is attempting to regulate itself rather than be regulated by government. They’ve formed WASPA and signed the sms code of practice. WASPA lets you file complaints against its members and fines them (although the fines are rather paltry).

I heard about them via Jeremy Thurgood’s recent spam-scapades. His spammers were charging R1 to opt-out. While the WASPA code of conduct allows a <=R1 fee, I agree with him that this is intolerable extortion.

In my case, my spammers had broken a few WASPA code of conduct rules:

  • 5.1.1.: They didn’t identify themselves in the SMS
  • 5.1.2.: There is no opt-out facility that I know of.
  • 5.1.4.: There is no advertised opt-out procedure.
  • 5.2.1.: I’m very careful about not allowing people to spam me, so I’m pretty sure they failed all the options. I’d like them to prove otherwise.

I looked up the originating number on the SMS Code website. It belongs to Celerity Systems. They are currently under a suspended sentence at WASPA, so my WASPA complaint should force them to fork out a fine. Lets hope for the best.

I’m against capital punishment, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few spammers being hanged, drawn and quartered :-)

A telecoms rant

You’d think that telecoms (esp in South Africa, where being one is a license to print money) would do everything they could to get you to spend money with them? If only.

Cellphones (at least Vodacom) have always required you to manually enable International phone calls & International roaming, by giving them a call and requesting it. This is a pain, to say the least. And you normally forget until you are already in another country.

But Telkom have taken this to a new level. I got a new phone line last month (which still doesn’t have working DSL, grr!), and just noticed that I can’t make International calls on it. So I phone telkom. Amazingly I didn’t have to wait on hold at all (something never before experienced when calling the beast), and the lady I spoke to told me I have to “Visit a Telkom Shop with my ID”. WTF? How hard are they making it to spend money on them?

Is there any legitimate reason that international calls are blocked? With our pricing, it’s easy to knock up a multi-k-ZAR bill without even thinking about dialling an international number, so they aren’t protecting anyone.

In related news, the reason you can’t have incoming connections on Vodacom 3G (even with “internetvpn”) is because then you’d be liable for the cost of any DOS you received. Isn’t this a problem that hosting providers and ISPs already have to deal with? Why are mobile operators special? We need some Internet Neutrality and Telecoms sense in this country…

Vodacom: internetvpn APN

Update This is no longer available, the internet APN has public IPs.

A quick tip for Vodacom 3G / GPRS / EDGE users in South Africa.

There is a special APN called “internetvpn” for laptop users who connect to corporate VPNs. While this probably doesn’t interest most readers, it is a useful APN to use because:

  • You get a real Public IP address, not a private NATted one.
  • You get lower latency.
  • The cost is the same. (i.e. regular data bundles work fine)

If you use a VPN, this will probably make it more reliable, and if you don’t it will at least make your ssh use more comfortable.

Unfortunately, the following vodacom issues will still be present:

  • No incoming TCP connections (i.e. you can’t serve web pages from or ssh into your laptop)
  • Often you get “martian” DNS servers ( and Either reconnect, or manually set your DNS servers to (SAIX) and (Vodacom).
  • TCP connections are regularly reset. (Overloaded NAT/Firewall hardware?)

How to get it:

  1. Call vodacom customer care (111).
  2. Follow the IVR menu options in the directions of data cards.
  3. Ask them to enable the “internetvpn APN” (you might have to explain it to them)
  4. Reconfigure your phone / chat script / “data card driver” to use “internetvpn” instead of “internet”
  5. Profit! :-)

Uncapped Local access

We’ve read that Telkom is implementing uncapped local access, as mandated by ICASA. The regulation states “local bandwidth shall not be subject to the cap”, but nobody seriously thinks Telkom will follow this to the letter. There is a huge market in inter-office VPNs over ADSL, and Telkom don’t want to lose out on that revenue stream.

Currently the savvy users out there use hacks like mine to least-cost-route local traffic over cheaper IS “Local-Only” accounts (like these). Hell, even ISPs route their clients’ local traffic over the IS Local-Only accounts.

From what I’ve heard from the friendly frogs, Telkom are really just going to keep it simple, and implement the equivalent of IS DSL accounts, where after you get capped, you get another, local-only cap. This can be implemented with Radius only, and will (to some extent) prevent the service from being abused be everybody.

So yes, we all still need our separate IS Local-Only accounts, and do our own LCR.

Anybody who thinks Telkom is doing any good for South Africa, go and sit in a corner now!

We lost Wikimania 2008

We lost Wikimania 2008, quite badly (by points). I’m obviously sad, because I was hopeful, and had invested the odd weekend into comparative flight pricing, bid editing, and sitting on the phone…

According to the published criteria, we should have done well. Somehow we managed to score lower than Alexandria on “rotation” which is odd because Wikimania has never been held in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’d have liked too see the IRC log from the judges meeting, to see where we lost our points, but of course that isn’t going to happen, so we’ll have to work it out ourselves, by comparing the bids.

In retrospect, our bid wasn’t that great. We were pinning more hopes on our location, and Cape Town’s attractions, then on the bid itself. It was expensive, last-minute, and lacking sponsership & good accommodation. By losing, we got our chance to get it right next time.

The good news, is bidding opens for Wikimania 2009 almost immediately. I don’t know what the chances are of 2009 being in Africa again, but I’m assuming we are going to bid, if everyone can pick themselves up and get going on it. To do it, w e are going to need firm sponsors. Find any friends you have corporate contacts, and twist their arms.

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