Craig 1, Hacker 0

When you purchase a product from our website, you click on a link to download it. The link appears to be legit — just a regular link to a file on our server. But it’s not. The file does not actually exist. We intercept the link and parse it to determine what to download to you.

When geeks like me see something like this, they poke around to see what they can find. When our server sees someone like me poking around, it sends me emails so I can watch them do it, because that’s what geeks like me like to do. No, we don’t tell the customer who’s doing the poking that we’re watching them. In fact, the error message they get tells them to forward the message to tech support. In reality we already know. 🙂

So here’s a customer from Australia doing some late-night hacking. He’s trying to download MyBible 5 for Palm OS without paying for it. Ironically, it’s free so if he really wants it, he can just go through the steps of ordering it and we’ll add it to his legitimate download account. But it’s more fun to try to get a free thing for free without not paying for it.

Two things you need to know: The product code for MyBible 5 is 3MBPGM005, and MyBible 3 is 3MBPGM002. The file name he’s trying to accidentally discover is “mb5setup.exe”. So this is the real link he’s trying to find:

From the log:
The filename requested (\mybible5\program\MyBibleSetup.exe) does not match the product (3MBPGM005).
The filename requested (\mybible5\program\MyBible5Setup.exe) does not match the product (3MBPGM005).
The filename requested (\mybible5\program\) does not match the product (3MBPGM005).
The filename requested (\mybible5\program\MyBible51.exe) does not match the product (3MBPGM005).

Next he tries to get an older version:
The filename requested (\mybible3\program\MyBible3.exe) does not match the product (3MBPG3002).

Back to looking for MyBible 5:
The filename requested (\mybible5\program\MyBible5.exe) does not match the product (3MBPGM005).

And back to MyBible 3:
The filename requested (\mybible3\program\mb3setup.exe) does not match the product (3MBPG3002).
The filename requested (\mybible3\program\MB3Setup.exe) does not match the product (3MBPG3002).

Here he gets it right! But he can’t download it because he doesn’t own it:
Customer 1158044 is not authorized to download product 3MBPGM002.

Now he switches his customer number to see if he can find a customer who *IS* authorized to download it. But he’s not going to get it without logging in as that customer first:
You are requesting files for customer 1158045 but customer 1158044 is logged in. You must access files through your download account. Exit your browser, then re-launch and go to our Login page to log in again.

Not sure what he’s doing here:
The filename requested (\mybible3\program\mb3setup.exe) does not match the product (3MBPG3002).

And at this point he admits defeat. Craig 1, hacker 0.

An eCommerce Company Wants to Know: Do I Want to Double My Sales?

While searching for something else in my email archives, I ran into this exchange with a sales rep from Digital River who spammed me a few years back asking if I wanted to double our online sales. It’s rather humorous.

Subject: Online Sales @ Laridian

Hi Craig,

How are sales from If we could double online revenue, would you be willing to outsource your web store to Digital River? We have done this for most of our 3,000 software clients and would welcome the opportunity to discuss how we may be able to do the same for Laridian. Please reply if your willing to consider outsourcing your online store.

John S
Regional Sales Manager
Digital River, Inc.

Wow. That sounds great. I’m always up for doubling my revenue. Here’s my respose:

From: Craig Rairdin []
To: ‘John S’
Subject: RE: Online Sales @ Laridian

Hi John!

Sales are great! No reason to make any changes. But you sound like an honest man so I’m willing to simply take you at your word — if you are willing to stand behind it.

Write back if you’re willing to sign a written guarantee that you’ll double our net revenue from Web sales as you’ve claimed you can do in your email.

Of course once we move to Digital River it will be difficult to say what our sales would have been had we not moved, so what we’ll do is take the last three years of sales and find a best-fit line based on monthly net revenue (i.e. revenue less cost of sales). We’ll project that line over the next three years and you will guarantee to send us a check for twice that amount regardless of your actual revenue from our products. At the end of three years we both can decide whether or not we want to continue the relationship.

One-half of each month’s guaranteed payment will be due on the first of the month. The remainder (either the other half of the guaranteed amount or the actual net revenue from sales) will be due within 10 days of the end of the month. If you don’t pay the full amount due in a particular month within 10 days of the end of the month, then we revert back to selling ourselves and the remainder of the 3-year contract becomes due immediately.

I don’t expect to have any expenses associated with the conversion from doing this at our site to doing it at yours. I anticipate that the way the changeover would work is that you would get everything set up on your end at no expense to us, then on the first of some particular month I’d find a check from you equal to that month’s projected net revenue and I’d edit a few lines of code on our site to send customers to your site for ordering, or we’d make a DNS change that would redirect our entire site to your servers.

I don’t expect to have any marketing expenses associated with driving traffic to the site. You’ll handle our online and print advertising as it relates to direct sales. Of course we’ll continue to handle marketing and sales through other channels.

John, I assume you’ve done your homework and you have a rough idea how much money you’re committing your company to, or you wouldn’t have made such claims in an unsolicited commercial email. Of course I trust you implicitly and know that you wouldn’t say something like this if you weren’t fully willing and able to deliver. It must be great to work for a company that can deliver these kind of results! Frankly, I’ve been looking for a Magic Bullet that would double net revenue from our Web site. If you’re willing to stand behind your marketing claims with real money (and I have no reason to doubt that you are), this could be a match made in heaven!


I assumed that if John was bold enough to claim he could double our online sales that he actually believed he could triple or quadruple them. Otherwise, he’d risk not being able to hold up his end of the deal. So my plan to hold him to his (outrageous) claims should’ve been a no-brainer for him. Apparently not. Here’s his response:

From: John S
To: Craig Rairdin
Subject: RE: Online Sales @ Laridian

Hi Craig,
You sound like a smart business man, so I’m sure you already realize their are no guarantees in business. It is true we have been able to double online revenue for most of our clients, but I’m sorry you misunderstood my email.

What? I misunderstood that when he said he could double our sales, he meant that he couldn’t double our sales?

From: Craig Rairdin []
To: ‘John S’
Subject: RE: Online Sales @ Laridian

Hmmm… So when you said “If we could double online revenue, would you be willing to outsource your web store to Digital River?” you never intended to demonstrate your ability to do that in any concrete way? You asked if we’d outsource our store in exchange for double our current revenue, but you had no intention of proving you could do it or standing behind your promises with guarantees.

So what are your potential customers supposed to do? Just believe a guy who spams them and turn over their life-blood to his company with the hope that the spammer knows what he’s talking about? You may have found 3000 other nut-cases with this pitch but you didn’t find one here.

Even though my message was tongue-in-cheek, I’d be willing to actually follow through on the promises made therein. By contrast, your message was a serious invitation to do business together, but you had no intention of standing behind your words with any kind of concrete action. Your willingness to spam me and spew nonsensical marketingspeak with no intention of delivering tells me more about Digital River than you could possibly imagine.

Please remove us from your spam list.


To his credit, he removed me from his spam list.

I think a business that makes a clear claim in a solicitation for business should be willing to stand behind it. I think my proposal was more than fair, even though I knew he would never go for it. It irritates me when a business makes claims like this and thinks they shouldn’t be held responsible for them.

“Dad, When Did the Internet Start?”

Dillon and I were talking this morning about people who write checks and keep a running balance in the back of their checkbooks. I got thinking back and figured out I probably stopped keeping a paper check register in 1987 and stopped keeping an electronic one in the early 90’s. Nowadays, my bank keeps track of that for me and I can access it from my phone.

That led to the question, “When did the world wide of web begin?” And that question took me back…

I think my first experiences with any kind of online computing was during the BBS days of the 1980’s. I was a member of the “Hawkeye BBS” run by Ben Blackstock, a local attorney. For $15/year you could dial into Ben’s PC and access the various discussion lists and files that were kept there.

In about 1987 I started paying bills online with CheckFree. There was no Web and no dial-up access to the internet for most people at that time. Your computer called CheckFree directly and send payment requests. CheckFree wrote a physical check against your account and mailed it to the vendor for you. Or they would do an EFT transaction and write the check against their own account.

After I started working at Parsons Technology in 1988, Bob Parsons had me start using Quicken as a way to keep an eye on the competition. Quicken integrated with CheckFree, and MoneyCounts did too, eventually. Eventually Quicken had their own bill payment option and I think I used that for a while.

About that same time, I signed up for CompuServe. CompuServe was another dial-up service that was not unlike the BBS systems from ten years before. It was text-based — you got a menu of a dozen choices of things to do, entered a number to select an item, then you got another menu. All of this in the form of scrolling text — no graphics.

Parsons started doing tech support on CompuServe long before other companies, and we did beta testing there as well using a private forum. CompuServe had its own email service. When they eventually hooked up with the internet, my CompuServe email address may have been my first. As I recall it was Easy to remember.

Sometime in the early 90’s a friend of mine at church started going on and on about the cool things he was doing on the internet. He gave me a phone number to call and told me what to ask for to get a “PTP” account that would let me dial in and have access to the internet. I don’t recall if I was using a Web browser at that point or if it was all just FTP, USENET, Archie, Gopher, and other early protocols. I downloaded instructions to build a nuclear bomb, of course.

In about that same time period, America Online (AOL) came along. For you youngsters, AOL was like the Web in a box. You dialed into AOL and they served up graphical pages not unlike the Web. No Web addresses, though. Instead it was AOL “screen names” and “keywords”. So I was CRAIGR (screen name) and Parsons Technology was PARSONS (keyword). Even today you’ll sometimes see companies say to “enter the internet keyword ‘company name'” to find them on the Web. They’re still living in the AOL of the 1990’s.

Around 1994 or so, Microsoft started MSN, which was their answer to AOL and CompuServe. But the writing was on the wall and the World Wide Web was destined to be the online destination. Both AOL and CompuServe offered connections to the Web, and MSN kind of disappeared and Internet Explorer came along. It shipped with Windows 95. I tend to date most people’s awareness of the internet and the Web to Windows 95, which shipped in August 1995.

In the summer of 1996 I registered and signed up with a company called SimpleNet for Web hosting. I created You can see a very early version of that site from December 1996 here. SimpleNet was eventually purchased by Yahoo, but not before I had a chance to visit them while on a business trip to California. The entire company was in a 3-bedroom condo with CAT5 cable running from room to room. It was pretty cool. They gave me a coffee mug and said I was the only customer who had ever visited them.