ETS. E-Mail Worm Scanners.

ETS Recap

I have discovered what happened to my GRE Subject test. It's actually a pretty entertaining story the first few times you tell it ...


It all starts, back on November 8th, 2003. I woke up when I would normally be going to sleep, went to R.P.I.'s campus where I was supposed to be taking the test. The assigned room was DCC 308--the biggest lecture hall on campus. I had spent my study day taking a practice test in the building a week earlier to get used to the environment, and I of course went to school here, so I knew how to get there and helpfully directed some non-RPI student test takers to the building on my way.

However, when I got to the DCC, I noticed it was quite busy for a Saturday morning. Apparently the DCC was being used as a demonstration area for prospective students, and some searching disclosed a 8"x11" paper indicating that the testing site had been moved to the Ricketts building.

Ricketts, of course, being one of the two buildings on campus I had at one point decided that I would never spend more than 5 minutes in, let alone take a class (and never did have an undergraduate course in the building -- although a graduate course did eventually move in there from Sage; the other building was West Hall). Wondering how the non-RPI students would make out in finding the new building, I walked across campus to the new testing site, found the line waiting for admittance, and sat down and listened to the music playing on my iPod until we were allowed to enter.

I took the test, and handed it in.

December 10th

I do not like giving ETS money as much as the next person, but it was quite important that I get my scores, so I called the ETS telephone line for getting scores. It said to try back in a week. This I found quite normal as many organizations miss deadlines (hey, I'm a CS major ... deadlines in the pertinent industry usually have no basis in reality).

Winter break came, and I was travelling, visiting friends and relatives. As I was travelling and did not need to do any school or other work, I sent my laptop away to get fixed as it was plagued by those well know ghastly white spots found in the early 15" AlBook displays. It wasn't until January 2nd that I returned home to see the mysterious email that appeared to have been sent December 31st. The content of the email consisted primarily of a long disclaimer and a filename. There was an attachment of type "application/msword" attached. My immediate reaction was that I had received one of those Microsoft Outlook spawned worms/trojans/viruses, but there was enough there that made it seem like it wasn't either. Checking the headers seemed to indicate that the message had indeed come from the ETS network so I sent a response back inquiring about the message and the mysterious attachment. I got no response before leaving for Utah with my mother the middle of the next week.

January 8th

My mother and I had just finished our first day of skiing in Utah, and we returned to the hotel room. Whether there was a message on one of our phones or one of us called my father, I do not recall. In any event, there was a message on our home machine indicating that ETS did not have my answer sheet from the November test date, although they knew that I had taken the test. They called back the next day, when my father was home, and he spoke with them in person. Apparently all tests from the test center for that date were missing.

"Missing" they were. RPI claimed they mailed them via US Post. ETS claimed they didn't have them. That was all they could claim. They were sent without tracking ability, nor does ETS make any note of when they receive tests. ETS had no ability to determine if the packages were lost in the mail, or after they were received. My father and I found this patently ridiculous that they couldn't even determine whether they had received the package or not considering that's pretty much all they do (give test, mail test, receive test, score test, sent scores). But it was OK, because they were setting up a special test date for us, at the same testing center, January 10th.

Apparently, my dad was told, I was the only person not to respond to the email. I told my dad that I had indeed responded, and paraphrased my complete message which he then relayed to ETS.

January 10th

January 10th came, and thousands of miles away, people were taking the GRE subject test. To assume that people are even remotely near the same place when they are attending school and when they are on vacation seems rather naive to me, but I guess they were trying the best they could to make up for their incompetence.

A week later (less, actually), I was back home, visited Princeton University and told them what happened. Sent out emails to everywhere else (except Columbia which has a really cool feature of being able to edit your application after submitting it). Tried to stop by ETS but apparently GRE is in the Ewing office and not the Princeton office. Bah.

When I was done with all this, I was back home, checking my email. I noticed a FAILURE notice from the SMTP server I was using. Apparently it couldn't connect to the ETS mail server, so it eventually gave up trying. Odd, I thought. Telnetted into the ETS server from my desktop... and I got nothing. Telneted in from another machine, and it worked fine. Telnetted in from a shell account on the SMTP server in question, nothing. But one and one and one together and I realized it was failing from the machines with Explicit Congestion Notification (ECN) enabled. I explained this to ETS in a follow up email (this time using my own SMTP server which does not use ECN).

January 16th

I got a call from my father, and then a call from ETS. The tests had been found and were graded. Unfortunately, I'd have to call back monday because the phone call was 30 minutes before closing, and I got it 15 minutes after that. They apparently were going to throw out the tests taken in January for those who took them.

E-mail "virus" scanners

There is a new trojan floating around Outlook email boxes known commonly as MyDoom. (Actually, as of this writing there are two variants. If you know who wrote it, e-mail me. Especially if you know enough to lead to the arrest and conviction of said person.)

I don't understand why at this point in time, people have scanners which scan email, and send resposnes to the "From" address when attachment X is removed where attachment X is known to use a forged "From" address. This makes as much sense as fighting terrorism by giving up your way of life. You're just making the problem worse by sending out even more useless email.