Bangkok Diary

    Saturday 21 December 2007: The Netman Cometh - A True Story

Graham K. Rogers

It was on a Monday morning that the gasman came to call,
The gas tap wouldn't turn, I wasn't getting gas at all

At home I have an ADSL connection, now also using the Apple Airport Extreme base station and this setup gives me a satisfactory network connection. It is provided by the company called True and in the main, in the couple of years I have been using this, I have been content.

Thailand's Internet links are not brilliant in world terms, and this is partly due to the low investment in infrastructure and also to outdated telecomms laws and to outdated telecomms providers, who are more interested in control rather than the strength that opening the doors could give to this country.

With the few talented IT operators here, there are a lot of charlatans and a lot of errors. It has become a country synonymous with system abuse, in terms of phishing and spamming. Both are not necessarily initiated here but leapfrog using weaknesses in installed systems.

A fair example might be a phishing email I was sent one day asking me to login to check my bank account details to ensure I would not lose them. As I did not have an account with the particular service, this had to be false, so I had a look inside the message. Where the URL should have been, there was tell-tale hexadecimal code. I translated this and saw that, (A) the directory had a . which in Unix makes this an invisible file (or folder), and (B) I had a feeling I recognised the URL revealed.

My sixth sense was right and it was the server of a government ministry. Someone -- probably from outside -- had broken in and added a directory to which all links were made and then the stolen identity data would be forwarded, in this case to a location in the Ukraine. Where it went from there, who knows?

Phishing is less of a problem than spamming and I read recently that some 74% of emails are spam. For a while now, while most of this emanates from the USA, a lot has been relayed via Thailand. Hypocritically, many US services are targetting ISPs in the Land of Smiles as being suspect.

My own site was blocked for two or three days some while back, via a relaying service in Hong Kong (my site provider had to free up each site one by one) as True had bought several unused IP numbers in the 58.x.x.x and 59.x.x.x ranges and these were deemed suspect, having originally been allocated to the US, so connections were blocked.

A couple of weeks ago, I found that email I sent with a local ISP address, via a True server used at my office, was sent back as "unauthorised." As the office networks have a flaky nature, I ignored this and used another account address to send the mail. Later, at home, I sent more mail from that first mail address and within a few minutes received a brief mail telling me that the adress used "is not allowed to be relayed thru this MTA..."

prefs The mail continued in Thai and English, "As your setting in email account and configuration email client on Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express are incorrect, please adjust your setting. . . ". I scoffed inwardly at the assumption that everyone uses only those applications to send email and began to dig.

A URL provided clearly did not fit my circumstances as it only referred to Truemail, Yahoo and Hotmail, suggesting that those using others contact service providers. I did just that and, in the mail, wondered why a local user was suddenly unable to use an established Thai ISP email address. I also pointed out my settings (OS X).

It took a day or so, but I was sent email with screen shots from OS X Tiger with information about how to set up a new account using my Truemail account. The mail added, "we do not support function mail or Apple directly".

I was disturbed by this a little as the demographic of ADSL and Apple users suggests a higher proportion of ADSL users would own Macs. To ignore a proportion of one's potential userbase is unwise.

It was on the Tuesday morning the carpenter came round,
He hammered and he chiseled, and he said "Look what I've found!

The reply was fairly on the ball. After an apology (most emails from these service staff do contain the elements of apologies as a matter of course, which is a good approach), comments were made about the apparent lack of Apple support, which (I am told) was noted. Then I was told how to set up the email account for Truemail. I must use my login details for the Hi-Speed internet service -- details that are on a secret piece of paper (like an ATM pin number) that I had been given some three years before.

I actually knew where this sheet was.

When I had retrieved it, I found that the acount name was just about readable, but that the password had faded so badly as to make it illegible. Using a poweful lamp, my glasses and a magnifying glass -- turning it this way and that -- I finally managed to decipher what I thought was the password, but when I entered this into the mail information on the True website, it was not accepted and to make the system work again I had to use their mail authorisation server. I have no knowledge whuy, but my other (presumably unauthorised) accounts work with no problem.

prefs At this time, I had a flash of memory and opened the utility called Keychain Access. In there, using the Mac account password, I was able to find the password for the modem/router and confirmed that I did indeed have the right one.

We discovered that True claims to have notified all users of the intended change to an authorising system, but that no one had taken any notice. I confess to never having noticed any such information, but that doesn't count for much. They claimed that, as no one had taken any notice (perhaps they should have considered this) as from 15 October, the authorising service would be activated; and that was what caught me (and I bet several others).

A few emails received were intended to assist me in setting up this mail service, but one, if I read it correctly, told me that, although I had a hispeed account login name that could not be used for the Truemail account and I would have to change this.

True www

Details were provided and I finally made the attempt. I held off as I was aware that changing the login password and name would mean that I also had to change the configuration of the ADSL modem/router and I was very reluctant to do this: why fix something if it isn't broken?

It did not matter, though, as when it came to changing the account settings, the web page refused to act. So I sent another email. Although I had been dealing with one helper and was sending messages to her by name, there was a switch and the new agent had not read the message I sent, nor was there a full understanding of the problem, plus the email was telling me about steps already taken.

It was on the Wednesday morning the electrician came. . .
He couldn't reach the fuse box without standing on the bin,

The service staff switched to the telephone at this time instead of email. I was asked about the settings and about the new user name: they gave me a password and when I arrived home, detached the Airport base station and plugged in the MacBookPro directly to the router, hoping to avoid any intermediate problems.

I finally found the correct page, which is buried deeply and put in the new details. I rebooted the modem and checked a page, but that failed. This was what I had dreaed and could not imagine no internet access, even for a day. I can manage for several days if on vacation, of course, but with the column, the website, and queries, plus my students, this is something I would sorely miss were it to be broken.


I accessed the configuration pages again, and checked that the entries were correct then once more rebooted the modem. This time, we were successful and the new account details had been accepted.

'Twas on the Thursday morning the glazier came along,
With his putty, and his blowtorch, and his merry glazier song,

When I accessed the online True email pages I tried to login but once more (and I groaned) the service rejected the account details -- the ones I had just changed on the router and had just logged in with successfully.

The service technician was enlisting the help from a network technician, but his English was not really up to it -- this was not a problem, this is simply the fact -- so assistance was being relayed. They wanted my password, which I declined to give over the phone, but we compromised and I sent email to the True technician's address. They would call me back soon.

Just after I gave up and went to bed, the phone rang. As the system was already shut down and the computer was sleeping beside the bed, we arranged that the next evening, at 8pm, we would work on the phone together.

It was on the Friday morning the painter made a start,
With undercoats and overcoats, he painted every part

The phone call came at 9:30 pm. The network technician had now made the password function for the email account, so I should now be able to set it up using Mail. When I asked what the problem had been, I was told that "some profiles had not been updated." In other words, whatever I did, however many times I tried to change the password, the system itself was missing critical data.

Slowly, with the young lady on the line, and the technician occasionally speaking in the background, I entered details into the accounts preferences panels of Mail.

Mail Config

The first hurdle is entering the username and password along with the POP server information. The Mail "gearwheel:" turned a few times then recognised the settings. Things had started.

The SMTP server is next and I put in first just the username, while it really needs the user and server name entered fully together. Then it churned and churned away for what seemed like almost five minutes before recognition.

When I went to the web pages I was able to login and examine two or three test mails that the technician had earlier sent into an email account I did not really want. We seemed, however, to have a working situation.

. . . I found when he had gone,
He'd painted over the gas tap, and I couldn't turn it on

The next day at work I found that email I sent with a local ISP address, via a True server used at my office, was sent back as "unauthorised." As the office networks have a flaky nature, I ignored this and used another account address to send the mail. Later, at home, I sent more mail from that first mail address and within a few minutes received a brief mail telling me that the adress used "is not allowed to be relayed thru this MTA..."

    I was back to square one with seven days of absolute frustration. It reminded me of the famous Flanders and Swann song, The Gasman Cometh, and so I checked online for the lyrics -- coincidentally posted on this Linux.Org page -- I was pleased also to find a YouTube video (just a still picture) of the two in a live performance. The performance reminded me just how sharp their timing was. . . .

Made on Mac

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