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Nov 19

This is the first time I am this angry with Airtel, I have used this mobile service all my life but the blatant disregard for the customer is appalling to say the least. I am forced to write this mail as they are refusing to respond to my emails and are not resolving my complaint. In fact today I received a SMS that my query has been replied to and in truth it hadn’t been replied to. Some call center supervisor on a power trip. No response to any follow-up emails either. Just to make it clear I used strong language in my mails but no insults or profanities.

I am dividing this post into 2 parts :

1. Advertisements via phone calls – Airtel has this number 9849805941 which was calling (is still calling) me once a day and plays ads. Since I had registered for DND I contacted Airtel to stop spamming me with ads. Soon Airtel came up with an explanation that this was not a telemarketer number and hence I should complain to the Police if I want these ads to stop, can you imagine that ? They had the audacity to say they want to protect the privacy of this number who makes 1 call to me (and other numbers ? ) every day with ads.

I have also escalated this matter to the nodal officer who is also yet to get back to me, even more suspicious is the fact that I cannot call this number and the line says the number doesn’t exist but still I get one ad from this number everyday.

2. Service messages and Automatic Service subscription – TRAI says that all VAS services need an explicit customer approval to get activated, of course the agents sitting there who want to make Airtel some fast and unethical buck don’t seem to think so. This had happened to me twice in Delhi and twice now in Hyderabad and the modus operandi is even more brazen. After my complaint I got a call from a call center agent who said “these services are activated from back end” , wow, ofcourse he didn’t give that in writing but call record will show he said that. He also claimed his supervisor was not there when I asked to speak to him. When I asked him to tell his supervisor to call me back the supervisor magically re-appeared. Wonder if these call center people are Airtel employees or vendors.

The customer care responses to my mails on the matter are below  (extraneous stuff removed) :

Mail No. 1

With reference to your E-mail dated 08/10/2010, you have expressed concern regarding balance deduction for your Airtel mobile number <snip>.

We realize that this situation must have inconvenienced you.
We would like to inform you that Cricket Alert Service is active and there is a charge of Rs.5/-. Hence, the balance was deducted.
Deactivation of Cricket Alert Service service: 
The Cricket Alert Service has been deactivated with effect from 08/10/2010, as per your request. Confirmation message will be sent on successful deactivation.
Adjustment:
We would like to inform you that the amount of Rs. 5/- has been processed and will be credited on your account within 24 hours.

Mail No. 2 (the same service had again been activated by another agent) – During this period I was on vacation and my phone was switched off so I didn’t realize the balance deduction till I wrote them a mail :

> Thank you for writing to Airtel.
>
> With reference to your e-mail dated 17/11/2010, you have expressed concern
> regarding promotional call and message , deactivate the Value Added service
> for your Airtel mobile number <snip>.
>
> We realize that this situation must have inconvenienced you. However, we
> assure you a prompt action to solve the concern.
>
> We would like to inform you that as per our records there is a charge of Rs.
> 1.50/- deducted for the activation of Cricket Service.
>  
> We would like to inform you that the Cricket Service  has  already been
> deactivated on 03/11/2010.

I am still waiting for my Rs.1.50 refund and stoppage of these advertising calls. I am sick and tired of Airtel’s brazenness now and seriously want to switch over all my connections as soon as number portability comes over. This is also the most serious I have ever been about consumer court, totally aghast at the service dished out by Airtel to me (4-5 year old customer)


Jun 12

Digg!

I am a part time moderator/web administrator on our unofficial college website. Last year our website had been hacked and some malicious script had been placed on it which was causing redirection of some Google referred traffic. It would not resend all Google referred traffic though, it even placed its own cookie in the malicious script to ensure that people are not sent to the offending site every time but only once every 86400 seconds.

For days I searched the internet desperately to find out if it was a known thing, most sites suggested it was a .htaccess attack, but I had already suspected that and our .htaccess file was squeaky clean. Just to be sure I also checked all the .htaccess files above and below out root level and they were clean. So I was sure it was a script. If your site is hacked via the .htaccess method, there would be entries like :

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*google.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*aol.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*msn.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*altavista.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*ask.*$ [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} .*yahoo.*$ [NC]
RewriteRule .* http://newaddress [R,L]

After the .htaccess files were found clean, I tried some workarounds to prevent the redirection, like setting server referrer variable to null and trying to make all URLs 301 redirects but that didn’t work since the script was still able to detect the referrer as Google and redirect the website to tinyurl4.info which probably paid them a lot to get this done. It would be sent to random addresses on the tinyurl4.info site. Since the site may be hosting malware, I would request you not to go there. So this method of cloaking the referrer at my side clearly wasn’t working.

Next I created a zip file from the offending folder of the site and downloaded the whole thing using my 3G connection photon+ connection (wanted to finish it off ASAP). Once the folder was downloaded, I ran a McAfee scan of the whole thing hoping that the anti virus would be able to detect the offending code as it would be obfuscated. But I was wrong McAfee was terribly incompetent. So it was plan B , I started searching for strings like .js and tinyurl4.info to try and find the redirecting code. Windows search wasn’t very helpful here and couldn’t even find base64 which was one of the strings I searched for and was a part of the offending code.

So now it was plan C , this one worked. I listed all files in the site which had been modified within the past one year. Here is where I was able to find the culprit. One PHP file global_lang.php  had been edited in 2009 while all its peers were not listed. I grew suspicious and opened the file. To my shock, horror and relief I found the following piece of code :

injected code

 

which when translated turned out to be malicious code. I am not displaying the malicious code here should you get any ideas. What it was doing was checking if the person was referred by Google, Yahoo etc. and if that was true and there existed no cookie it would redirect that person after setting a cookie. The cookie ensured that once a person was redirected to the fake site, he wouldn’t be redirected for some time.

I have listed these steps here so that webmasters might be able to get a hint of how to recover from this particular type of  injection on their sites. Ofcourse, always take backups, backups ensure you can just dump them on and the malicious code is removed.

Future Proofing

There is probably no way to protect yourself from the super hackers , however you can always take precautions. First and foremost, always take backups and multiple backups. you should ideally have 12 backups from the past 12 months.

Apart from backups, ensure that the permissions on your website are always set correctly. 777 is really the devil .Never grant write permissions to outside users. 755 for folders and 644 for .php files usually works. Incase you suspect hacking, contact your host at the earliest.

Also turn off all directory listing.

Hoping you found this article helpful Smile


May 09

Bluehost had been my first ever commercial host and my experience has been well, mediocre. I wont call it a bad experience , neither would I say that it was a Bluehost nightmare. This is the most honest Bluehost review you will ever get from someone who was on Bluehost for around 2 years and had quite a few low and high traffic domains hosted with Bluehost. Being an Indian one is more likely to end up with shady hosts, but since my domains were doing pretty well I decided to go to Bluehost for stability and the price and reputation was good.

After moving to Bluehost, I experienced downtime the very 2nd day, pretty significant, I got in touch with the Bluehost live chat support (pretty useless most times) who told me (in different words) , This is shared hosting, we cant do anything about downtimes or server issues, please take your issues elsewhere and switch to VPS. I very honestly asked the support person that I am bringing downtime to his notice and he is asking me to shift, suddenly he became soft and told me I had the choice to switch to another host but they wont take care of errant sites on server and neither will they assure me that downtimes would be reduced. It was like downtimes are Ok.

Anyway I kept on with Bluehost as it was overall reliable, then came the next blow : CPU throttling. Its every blog owners nightmare. PHP scripts would routinely be timed out and every time a wordpress page would load, my account would be throttled to ensure their grossly oversold servers are ok. I tried everything, using super cache, cleaning databases, removing overheads etc. But none of these helped. In an experiment, I myself would access a cached age of my account and still find that on each pageload my account is throttled. Page source would confirm a cached page was served. I own small sized blogs and such throttling out was giving me nightmares.

I don’t care what Bluehost tells you but CPU throttling is a deal breaker for me, the site would become excruciatingly slow during access.

Then began the search for the new Cpanel host. Stablehost was suggested by my brother as it had an offer offering 75% lifetime recurring discount. Interesting i said but warned him that if its too good to be true, it sometimes is. So I started to find bad reviews about Stablehost but surprisingly there was no bad review of Stablehost on the Internet, only people praising their personal customer support. I was impressed and those who know me know that customer service should be really good to impress me Smile .

So I have signed up for Stablehost and its been more than a week and haven’t faced a single issue yet, all websites were transferred to the new account and things seem to be running smoothly. However I hope I don’t have to eat my own words. The reason I switched was that unlike other hosts, I can take a 6 month contract, yearly contract etc. for the same rate so switching is easy.

The customer care has been prompt and smooth, maximum time taken to respond was 12 hours for a domain transfer request to be initiated, otherwise I would get a reply within 10 minutes. Such a nice standard of personal customer service is a refreshing change from the robotic customer care of Bluehost who would routinely ask me to cancel my account in case of any downtime and never once reimbursed me for downtime.

Stablehost still has a 50% off coupon running on their website (use BDAY or TOS, both work) and if you are looking for a good, friendly host that offers realistic hosting, please have a look at Stablehost. The 5 GB space 100GB bandwidth plan would barely cost you $36 for the year after the discount. That’s much cheaper than bluehost and other hosts and they dont grossly oversell like Bluehost.

    UPDATE: We have used StableHost for about 2 years now. Sadly, as the company has grown bigger, so has its indifference towards users and attitude towards its customers. The shortcoming of Stablehost is that they now recommend their shared hosting only if you have a low traffic site which would require at most 2-3 PHP scripts running a second. They recently implemented a policy (without notice to their existing customers) about restricting maximum (not average) running processes to 10 (down from 20). If your site is just serving static pages, they might be useful but for anything more complex than a low traffic WordPress blog, their admin advises you to look elsewhere.

P.S. : These are affiliate links, but the review is 100% original and not sponsored.


Apr 09

image

If you are a Paypal Indian customer, your life with Paypal is officially over thanks to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Indian Government. You would have received an email to this effect already and would have realised that the Paypal account you so cherished is now just a wormhole to bring money into your bank account. You cannot use your earnings to purchase stuff on the Internet. So you can no longer use the hard earned money from your website to purchase hosting or to pay for the domain name of the said website. Under normal Indian Tax laws, these are perfectly acceptable uses for your earned money and infact are even deducted for the purpose of calculating taxable income from your business/service. The intentions of the Government are pretty clear. They want all this forex in Indian accounts but they dont want to give any leeway to Indians who are earning this money. A sad day in cyberspace for Indians indeed.

In compliance with Indian regulations, if you are selling products and services to customers globally, please review the following important information:

•       Any proceeds or earnings received into your PayPal account from the export of    goods and services should be withdrawn to your bank account within 30 days.

•       While making the withdrawal please make sure you select the purpose code that best fits your business.

•       Any proceeds or earnings received into your PayPal account from the export of goods and services may only be withdrawn to your bank account in India.  This received amount cannot be reused for making purchases.

•    If you would like to make purchases on any website that accepts PayPal, you can continue to use any credit card issued by a bank in India.

If you do use an Indian credit card to pay via Paypal it would actually mean double payment of commission to Paypal , once at time of receiving the forex and next time at the time of sending it since Paypal earns a lot through forex rates.

Its not Paypal’s fault though, its obvious the Indian Government and RBI had a larger role to play in this fiasco.


Feb 04

Update 2: I really hope this agent is wrong in what they wrote :

The email from Paypal says that the banning of personal payments to and from India is a permanent change. Please read the Paypal email below regarding the banning of personal payments.

Thank you for contacting PayPal.I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but the system did recognize that it was a personal type of payment processed in your account. It also shows that there’s no shipping address provided to you,and that’s one factor to consider if it’s a personal payment or not.

This change will be permanent in PayPal, and personal payments will no longer be allowed to be sent TO or FROM India. The personal payment option in the checkout page will no longer be available to India customers, but you can still continue to use other payment options, such as eBay checkout.

We hope you understand our situation and thank you for your patience. We’re available to answer any questions you might have. Just give us a call at 1-402-935-2080 and we will try our best to give you immediate answers. We appreciate your business.

Update: Techcrunch is the 1st major blog to catch it

‘If you are a Paypal user having your country selected as India and have gotten any payment from Paypal, it will be reversed if its marked as a personal payment. There has not been any clarification from Paypal in this regard , only emails detailing that the transaction is reversed causing a lot of problems to the account holders.

They claim that they are working on correcting this though. Here is the message I received :

Hello ABC,

Your payment of  $$$ has been sent back to the sender of the payment. 

We reversed this payment because we have stopped allowing personal payments to be sent to or from India.

If this was a payment for a purchase of goods or services, and not a personal payment, then you may contact the buyer and have him or her resend the payment as follows:  (a) click the Send Money tab, (b) select "Goods," and (c) provide a shipping address.

If this payment was a personal payment such as a gift, then we have requested that the sender find another payment method until we restore personal payments to and from India.

We are trying to resolve this issue as quickly as possible and we’re sorry for
any inconvenience.

Thank you,
PayPal


Sep 24

Amitabh Bachan started blogging on Bidadda and one fine day he releases some of his blog stats. Around 37000 visitors in the first 6 days of September, takes us the whole month to reach that number.

BigAdda also must be laughing all the way to the bank, great work from them too. So here is the thing if you are an actor/actress, start blogging. Not only will it dispell the whole thing about actors being dumb , it will also help you earn some money if you bomb at the box office (not that Mr. Amitabh Bachan is). For actors blogs may also act as bridges between fans and themselves.

I remember quite a few CEO blogs, CEO blogs inspire confidence in the company and give a platform to customers to share vital feedback with the company’s top management, something which might be prevented by corrupt mid level management. I personally am very impressed with people who hold big positions and still take out time to blog, the biggest example being Matt Cutts from Google. Others include some sportspersons and prominent journalists.

The obvious advantage to blogging if you are famous is that you dont have to go through the initial hiccup stages, a new site when started needs a lot of intellectual capital. A new site needs 100s of articles before its even notices. Wisetechie.com itself took a lot of time to get where it is today. And thanks to all our readers for their support :)