Hackers for hire!

A man in Sweden says he will pay up to $2,000 to anyone who can break into his landlord’s website. A woman in California says she will pay $500 for someone to hack into her boyfriend’s Facebook and Gmail accounts to see if he is cheating on her.

The business of hacking is no longer just the domain of intelligence agencies, international criminal gangs, shadowy political operatives and disgruntled “hacktivists” taking aim at big targets. Rather, it is an increasingly personal enterprise.

At a time when huge stealth attacks on companies like Sony Pictures, JPMorgan Chase and Home Depot attract attention, less noticed is a growing cottage industry of ordinary people hiring hackers for much smaller acts of espionage.

A new website, called Hacker’s List, seeks to match hackers with people looking to gain access to email accounts, take down unflattering photos from a website or gain access to a company’s database. In less than three months of operation, over 500 hacking jobs have been put out to bid on the site, with hackers vying for the right to do the dirty work.

It is done anonymously, with the website’s operator collecting a fee on each completed assignment. The site offers to hold a customer’s payment in escrow until the task is completed.

In just the last few days, offers to hire hackers at prices ranging from $100 to $5,000 have come in from around the globe on Hacker’s List, which opened for business in early November.

For instance, a bidder who claimed to be living in Australia would be willing to pay up to $2,000 to get a list of clients from a competitor’s database, according to a recent post by the bidder.

“I want the client lists from a competitors database. I want to know who their customers are, and how much they are charging them,” the bidder wrote.

Others posting job offers on the website were looking for hackers to scrub the Internet of embarrassing photos and stories, retrieve a lost password or change a school grade.

The rather matter-of-fact nature of the job postings on Hacker’s List shows just how commonplace low-profile hacking has become and the challenge such activity presents for law enforcement at a time when federal and state authorities are concerned about data security.

Hacking into individual email or social media accounts occurs on a fairly regular basis, according to computer security experts and law enforcement officials. In September, the Internet was abuzz when hackers posted nude photos of female celebrities online.

It is not clear just how successful Hacker’s List will prove to be. A review of job postings found many that had yet to receive a bid from a hacker. Roughly 40 hackers have registered with the website, and there are 844 registered job posters. From the postings, it is hard to tell how many of the job offers are legitimate.

The site did get a favorable review recently on hackerforhirereview.com, which specializes in assessing the legitimacy of such services. The reviewer and owner of that site, who would identify himself only as “Eric” in emails, said he gave his top rating to Hacker’s List because it’s a “really cool concept” that limits the ability of customers and hackers to take advantage of one another.

In light of the novelty of the site, it’s hard to say whether it violates any laws.

Arguably some of the jobs being sought on Hacker’s List — breaking into another person’s email account — are not legal.

The founders of Hacker’s List, however, contend that they are insulated from any legal liability because they neither endorse nor condone illegal activities.

The website includes a 10-page terms and conditions section to which all users must agree. It specifically forbids using “the service for any illegal purposes.”

Some experts say it is not clear whether Hacker’s List is doing anything wrong in serving as a meeting ground for hackers and those seeking to employ them.

Yalkin Demirkaya, president of the private investigation company Cyber Diligence, and a former commanding officer of the New York Police Department’s computer crimes group, said a crackdown would depend on whether law enforcement officials saw it as a priority. He said Hacker’s List may skate by because many of the “people posting the ads are probably overseas.”

But Thomas G. A. Brown, a senior managing director with FTI Consulting and former chief of the computer and intellectual property crime unit of the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, said hacker-for-hire websites posed problems.

“Hackers for hire can permit nontechnical individuals to launch cyberattacks with a degree of deniability, lowering the barriers to entry for online crime,” Mr. Brown said.

The website, which is registered in New Zealand, is modeled after several online businesses in which companies seeking freelancers can put projects out to bid. Some have compared the service to a hacker’s version of the classified advertising website Craigslist. Hacker’s List even has a Twitter account (@hackerslist), where it announces the posting of new hacking assignments.

Still, the three founders of Hacker’s List are not willing to go public with their own identities — at least not yet.

After registering with the website and beginning an email conversation, a reporter contacted one of the founders. Over a period of weeks, the founder, who identified himself only as “Jack,” said in a series of emails that he and two friends had founded Hacker’s List and that it was based in Colorado. Jack described himself as a longtime hacker and said that his partners included a person with master’s degree in business administration and a lawyer.

He said that the three were advised by legal counsel on how to structure the website to avoid liability for any wrongdoing by people either seeking to hire a hacker, or by hackers agreeing to do a job. The company, he said, tries to do a small background check on the hackers bidding on jobs to make sure they are legitimate, and not swindlers.

“We all have been friends for a while,” Jack said in an email, adding that Hacker’s List “was kind of a fluke occurrence over drinks one night.”

“We talked about a niche and I built it right there,” he said. “It kind of exploded on us, which was never expected.”

Hacker’s List began its website several months after federal prosecutors and F.B.I. agents in Los Angeles completed a two-year crackdown on the hacker-for-hire industry. The investigation, called Operation Firehacker by the F.B.I., led to the filing of criminal charges against more than a dozen people across the country involved in either breaking into a person’s email account or soliciting a hacker for the job.

In New York, information uncovered during the investigation in Los Angeles led to the arrest in 2013 of Edwin Vargas, a New York Police Department detective at the time, who was charged with paying $4,000 for the hacking of the email accounts of 43 people, including current and former New York police officers. Mr. Vargas, who pleaded guilty in November 2013 and was sentenced to four months in prison, said he had been motivated by jealousy and wanted to see whether any of his colleagues were dating an ex-girlfriend who is the mother of his son.

The F.B.I. investigation also involved the cooperation of the authorities in China, India and Romania, because a number of the websites where the hackers advertised their expertise were based overseas.

Still, the market for hackers, many of whom comply with the law and act more like online investigators, shows no signs of slowing. Many companies are hiring so-called ethical hackers to look for weaknesses in their networks.

David Larwson, a director of operations with NeighborhoodHacker.com, which is incorporated in Colorado, said he had seen increased demand from companies looking to make sure their employees are not obtaining sensitive information through hacking. He said in an email that companies were increasingly focused on an “insider threat” leading to a breach or unauthorized release of information.

On its website, NeighborhoodHacker describes itself as a company of “certified ethical hackers” that works with customers to “secure your data, passwords and children’s safety.”

10 usability tips for web designers

1. Include a Tagline

A tagline is a statement or a motto that represents a company’s, or in our case a website’s, philosophy and mission. It should be the most obvious element on a website’s front pageand it should clearly describe the website in one phrase.
Statistics show that a website has just 8 seconds to capture a visitor’s attention for them to browse the site further. Without a clear tagline a website would have a hard time keeping visitors long enough to browse the inner pages.

2. Implement Site Search

As with taglines, site search is a very important element on a website. When users are looking for something they typically look for a text field where they can enter their search term.
According to Jacob Nielsen’s web usability tips, make this search box 27 characters widein order for the text to be clearly visible and easy to use. Place the search text field on the top of your web page, because users tend to search a website according to the F pattern, meaning from the top left to the bottom right.
Include a search button and clearly specify the search text, don’t use text such as Go or Submit, because these expressions tend to mislead your website’s visitors.
Connecticut Website Designers
Connecticut Website Designers

3. Don’t Use Extensive Graphics

Abusive use of design elements and graphics are always bad for a website, they just mislead the site’s visitors. Only design to improve the web page not just to decorate it. From a usability point of view, less is always more.

4. Use Site maps

Site maps are a relatively new website feature that improves web page navigation and also search engine optimization (SEO). Site maps in essence are a structural representation of a website’s pages and architecture. It can be a document in any form, or a web page that lists the pages on a web site, typically organized in hierarchical fashion.
Connecticut Website Designers
Recently, search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN have started offering a Sitemap protocol which is similar to a website’s site map page, but the data is organized in XML format. There are Sitemap XML generators that create these documents for a specific URL.
Connecticut Website Designers

5. Don’t Break the Workflow

By workflow we mean every operation that a user is doing on a website. For example filling out a form, registering on a website, browsing categories, archives, etc. Don’t break these workflows, let the user cancel any operation. By not letting the user cancel an operation, we’re forcing them to finish it even if they don’t want to.
Not every operation on a website is obvious for users, guide them through the specific workflow by using descriptive tips. (e.g. when filling out a form). Javascript links usually break the workflow, so it’s not recommended to use them on your website.
Another mistake is not changing the color of visited links, this results in breaking the navigational design. Let users know where they’ve been and where they are on a website.

6. Create Easily Scannable Web Pages

Easy to read web pages plays an important role in maintaining visitors’ loyalty, keeping them on your site and reading your content. Usability tests show that the majority of users don’t read web pages, they scan them, looking for titles, bold, emphasized text or lists.
Eye tracking studies conducted by Jakob Nielsen show that users read content that resembles an F shape, meaning that the reading starts from the upper left of the web page, next it moves down a little starting from the left again.
Connecticut Website Designers
Nielsen also states the implications of this reading pattern:
  • Users won’t read a web page content word by word, they will extract important paragraphs, bold text, etc.
  • The first two paragraphs are essential on a web page. These must contain the most important information that your visitors are looking for.
  • Sub headings and lists stands out from the regular paragraphs. Use these elements to notify users on important information.

 

One important method that we can learn from traditional printed newspapers is that the journalists thought of a catchy headline and a catchy first paragraph to make readers read the whole article. They organize the content in an inverted pyramid format, just picture an upside down pyramid. The broad base represents the most important information in the whole article and the narrow tip represents the least important information.
We can use this format to organize web content by putting the most important pieces on top and the least important ones on the bottom, but how do we know which information is important and which is not? With the help of news values.

7. Don’t Design Misleading UI Controls

By user interface (UI) controls we mean web page elements, components and widgets that a user can interact with (e.g. a button, drop-down list).
Don’t design graphic elements that looks like a button, but is not. We often see text that is underlined and looks like links, but are not clickable.
By not having the action that the users were expecting, they would think that the site is broken and eventually leave. One other important usability tip regarding UI controls is consistency: Make sure that your UI controls are consistent.
Connecticut Website Designers
Yahoo, as the above image shows too, is a good example of consistent UI control design. Every tab on the page looks and behaves the same, every link is underlined on mouse over, every button looks the same, etc.

Website Crashing? 5 Things to Do Now

GoDaddy went down earlier this week, taking many small businesses’ sites with it. Here’s what to do if you’re ever in those shoes.

 

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If you didn’t experience problems directly, you’ve no doubt heard already thatGoDaddy went down on Monday taking the essential Web presence of many small businesses with it. That’s terrible news for those affected and also for GoDaddy, which will certainly lose customers. But perhaps some good can be wrung from the incident.

In light of the disruption, it’s a good time for entrepreneurs to get up to speed on what to do if they’re ever in the shoes of GoDaddy users. What’s the right response when your own site goes down? Experts offer these tips.

Check: Is It Really Down?

Press Shift + Refresh to make sure you’re not seeing a cached version (hold down Shift while reloading or refreshing the page). If the website displays fine, then the problem is probably related to your client’s computer or broadband connection. If it fails, then visit a robust website, such as google.com or bbc.co.uk. If they fail too, then there is at least an issue with your own broadband connection (or your broadband company’s DNS servers)…. check the website on your mobile phone or phone a friend. To be doubly sure, ask your friend to check,” suggests Paul Tero, a server administrator who wrote up his advice for IT teams responding to server crashes for Smashing Magazine.

Communicate Aggressively

“If you have a general email list, take time to craft a simple and brief notice to inform, customers, vendors, and necessary third-parties of the outage,” suggests YFS Magazine in a post.

But soothing jittery customers shouldn’t just amount to a single missive. Your response on social media is key, too. “Turn to your Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest feeds to connect with customers, and let them know how to contact and do business with you while your site is down…. You might also consider reaching out to established customers over… text message or by phone,” recommends the post.

Hassle Your Hosting Provider

GoDaddy’s problems were in-house and technical, but an outage isn’t always about a calamity at the hosting provider. Call yours right away to get the goods on what’s going on, suggests the blog of server-monitoring services company Alertra.

“It may be as simple as your hosting has expired and your provider has stopped their service. A pretty easy one to resolve. It could be that a traffic spike has caused your site to fall down, this is common when a website suddenly receives an unexpected boost to traffic…. And of course, it’s possible your hosting company are having technical difficulties themselves. Visit their website or get in touch directly to confirm this suspicion,” advises the post.

Obviously, also be sure to get an estimate of when the problem should be resolved.

Push Pause on Online Advertising

“If you utilize online advertising to drive traffic to your site (i.e. display advertising, pay-per-click advertising, etc.) pause the campaign as soon as possible,” advises YFS. “There’s nothing worse than paying for a campaign that is guaranteed ‘not to deliver’ results.”

Consider Changing Hosts

After an outage is a natural time to consider whether it might be time to move your site, especially if the process of resolving the issue ends up being lengthy. “It can be a complicated process,” but it may be worth it, Entrepreneur says, though be warned: “if you elect to migrate to a new domain host remember, it’s not just your website that has to change. It your Web-based services as well. That means email, transaction servers, sales tools and analytics systems may have to be updated.”

Over on Business2Community, Mark Sandall of Cyber World Internet Services offers some questions to ask to evaluate whether a Web host is a good fit for your business:

  • Are they easy to get a hold of?
  • Do they give you the services that you need?
  • Do they educate you on the process of setting up a website?

Are there any other steps business owners need to take when their site goes down?

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ColorFuzion Web Designs
Kimberly Taherian
Website Designer

 

 

 

 

 

Behind every great website, a hero!

Love this one!! 

The Unsung Hero Behind Every Great Website

Talented engineers and project managers both play key roles, but much of the success of your website hinges on this key person.

Copywriter

 

 

 

 

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Connecticut Website Designers

 

Connecticut Website Designers

 

Last week, I talked about all of the people involved in designing a website that drives business. A number of readers were up in arms because I had failed to include copywriters as key members of the design team.

Mea culpa!

While I was thinking of the design and development efforts needed to create a website that generates business, I should have discussed the critical role copywriting plays in the success or failure of a business website. After all, I am a Chief Content Officer.

Your website is often a potential customer’s first experience with your business. Bland content or poorly written copy could mean the difference between that person sticking around and buying, or clicking away to a competitor’s site.

So what makes for great content on a website? Two key things:

  • Appeal directly to the interests of your target audience. Run a food shop? Provide great recipes. A travel website? Give entertaining destination recommendations.
  • Encourage customers to take immediate action. In the food shop example, those great recipes should lead visitors to purchase key ingredients from you. And travel recommendations should only be one short click away from a page that lets visitors actually book a trip.

Let’s take a look at how four websites use great content to enhance their brands and drive business:

Marriott’s On the Move Blog

Hotel sites don’t generally have a great deal of punchy copywriting (how many ways can you describe hotel amenities?), but Chairman and CEO Bill Marriott uses a blog to humanize the company. He writes about his experiences, hotels in different parts of the world and his general business philosophy. At the top of the page there’s a button that lets readers find a hotel. In a really nice touch, every post ends with “I’m Bill Marriott and thanks for helping me keep Marriott on the Move.”

Earlier this week, the 80-year-old Marriott announced that he’s stepping down as CEO but will stay involved in the company. Will he continue to write the blog or will the incoming CEO Arne Sorenson take up the task? It will be interesting to see.

Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line Blog

The Cleanest Line understands Patagonia’s target audience and serves them well. Recent posts include a story about an octogenarian mountain climber, an account of the ascent of Texas Tower (an imposing-looking climb), music selections to support environmental groups, and news relating to uranium mining.

There is no hard sell here, but it certainly enhances the brand. A simple “Visit Patagonia.com to see what we do,” is enough impetus to drive real business.

Zillow Blog

The real estate site Zillow provides information of real interest to those looking to buy and/or sell homes. To get the highest quality writing, they hire academics and professional writers as guest bloggers.

Zillow’s blog often provides information on issues not even relating to real estate. In a recent blog, they discussed the Ohio Republican Primary and then subtly added information on the housing market in Ohio at the end of the story.

General Motors’ Fastlane Blog

The General Motors “Fastlane Blog” captures the imagination of car enthusiasts by writing on topics as varied as auto shows, concept cars, photos of the day, and the business of automobiles. The bloggers include high level executives and employees, which also helps to put a human face on a monolithic company.

The best designed website in the world, one with sophisticated architecture and brilliant coding, will do little for your brand and business unless the site also provides clear messaging and great content. Do not leave it to amateurs! An investment in a great copywriter or copy writing team is not a luxury… it is an absolute necessity.

 

 

 

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ColorFuzion Web Designs
Kimberly Taherian
Website Designer

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Connecticut Digital Design Agency

Web Site Design & Development, Web Application Development, Mobile Application Development