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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Report: Chinese Hackers Spy on Foreign Ministries

Chinese hackers reportedly eavesdropped on the computers of five European foreign ministries prior to the September 2013 G20 Summit of finance ministers and central bank governors from 20 major global economic powers, according to research by computer security firm FireEye. The hackers reportedly employed a phishing campaign that used malware-tainted e-mails, to load malicious code on victims’ PCs. FireEye researchers say they monitored the hackers’ main server used for about a week in late August 2013 but lost contact when operations moved to another server. FireEye did not identify the affected nations but said all were European Union members. The company reported the attacks to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has declined comment. FireEye used technical evidence, including the language used on the control server, to determine the hackers are based in China. According to FireEye, the Chinese attackers are allied with the Ke3chang hacking group, which has been active since 2010 and typically targets aerospace, energy, and manufacturing firms. Whether the group is government-supported is unclear. The Chinese government has reportedly continued to deny any claims it has hacked foreign governments. (Reuters)(CNET)(BBC)

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Monday, December 30, 2013

China Wants Extended XP Support from Microsoft

The Chinese government wants Microsoft to extend its support for Windows XP to halt the traffic in pirated Microsoft software. A state copyright official claims the release of Windows 8 translates into higher prices for Windows-based computers, which leads consumers to purchase less expensive, pirated versions of the software. Windows XP is still used by a large percentage of Chinese. Ending the support would also increase security threats to users. (SlashDot)(Network World)

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

“Native Advertising” Practices Illegal, Confusing

The increased use of advertisements that are indistinguishable from editorial content on a website – known as "native advertising" or “sponsored content” -- may be illegal in some instances, according to the US Federal Trade Commission. Seventy-three percent of online publishers use native advertising, while 41 percent of brands and one-third of advertising agencies use it. The commission recently held a workshop to determine whether it should issue additional guidance on the issue to help both advertisers and publishers avoid enforcement actions. The net result: "This has raised more questions than it answered," Mary Engle, the FTC's associate director of the advertising practices division, said. The industry is being proactive. Trade groups including the American Society of Magazine Editors have released guidelines for native advertising practices. (Reuters)(Adweek)(The New York Times)

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Tech Giants Pledge US$9 Million for School Broadband Access

Digital learning is increasingly the norm in classrooms across the US; however, many schools do not have the backbone capability that would allow classrooms to have sufficient data transmission or bandwidth. Foundations started by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates contributed a combined $9 million to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit designed to address connectivity issues. The US government has a goal of ensuring 99 percent of students have high-speed Internet connections within five years. Now, about 80 percent of schools in the US have connections that are too slow or are isolated with connections prone to crashing. It costs between $30,000 to $50,000 per school to install broadband, with additional costs associated with installing fiber optics into the school. What’s driving the push? Lower cost of tablet computers and increased funding for digital learning, plus the advent of computer-based testing to meet Common Core academic standards. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Associated Press the challenges run much deeper than having broadband access. Roughly half of American children live in poverty and many students don't have technology at home. (The Associated Press)(Tech Crunch)

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Plethora of Purloined Passwords Posted

Researchers with Trustwave's SpiderLabs discovered two million stolen passwords posted online. The finding was made while they were investigating the server or controller associated with a botnet known as Pony. The passwords were taken from users of popular sites and services including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Twitter. Victims were from the US, Germany, Singapore, Thailand, and other nations. Researchers said the stolen data included roughly 1,580,000 website login credentials;  320,000 e-mail account credentials; 41,000 FTP account credentials; 3,000 Remote Desktop credentials; and about 3,000 Secure Shell account credentials. They surmise the information was taken using keylogging software. An associated problem is most of the passwords are useless and many users use the same passwords across different websites. Both Facebook and Twitter have reportedly reset affected users’ passwords. (Reuters)(BBC)(Trustwave Spider Labs Blog) 

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Banks Back off Bitcoin

The list of international governments and financial institutions concerned about Bitcoin is growing. Bank of France issued a warning about the risks associated with the digital currency, including its volatility as of late. The valuation rose late last month to $1,000/Bitcoin. China also issued a warning against trading in Bitcoin. Canada’s so-called “Big 6 banks,” including Scotiabank and National Bank, have reportedly frozen or shut down accounts owned by Canadian companies that trade the digital currency and convert it to cash. The US government is also investigating the digital currency. Bitcoin is unregulated and not backed by any central bank or government. Governments’ other primary concerns include money laundering and the ability for individuals to use it to circumvent currency controls. (Financial Times)(Global News)(Reuters – 1)(Reuters – 2)

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Russian Firm Launches Dual-Display Smartphone

Yota Devices released its first smartphone on Wednesday, featuring a dual-sided display. The Moscow-based firm is initially launching its YotaPhone in Russia, Austria, France, Germany, and Spain, with plans to expand device sales to 20 countries in 2014. The Android device has a backlit liquid crystal display (LCD) screen on one side and an always-on electronic paper display on the other. Users can choose what the e-paper screen displays. It can show a photo or wallpaper, stream social media, display text messages or maps, even function as an e-book. The rationale for implementing the always-on display, says Vlad Martynov, the company’s chief executive, was to eliminate the need to activate the display to access information, which he says “is a major distraction and actually serves to impede our interaction and relationships with our friends, family and colleagues.” Using e-ink allows information to be available without draining the battery, but it also added roughly 15 percent to the device cost. Martynov says this feature not only differentiates the product, but also benefits users. “YotaPhone … is about allowing users to get access to the information they need and want in an easier and less disruptive way. The EPD achieves both of these essential objectives.” The phone also has a 13 megapixel camera and dual-core 1.7GHz Krait processor with 2 GB of RAM, running Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2. The device will sell in Russia for 19,990 roubles (US$600) while it will retail for 499 euros in Europe. (Reuters)(CNET)(The Telegraph) 

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nokia-Microsoft Deal Jeopardized by Billion-Dollar Indian Tax Bill

Back taxes that Nokia owes the government of India could thwart the proposed $7.2 billion acquisition of the company’s handset business by Microsoft, scheduled for early 2014. Experts expect the tax liability could thwart the acquisition as some of Nokia’s assets in India, including a large facility that makes handsets, are frozen as well as concerns the liabilities could be passed on and assessed against Microsoft. Nokia has reportedly offered to pay the Indian government $400 million to unfreeze its assets. Nokia, which says it has already paid €85 million ($116.7 million) of its tax liability, claims the Indian government served it in March 2013 with a bill for 20.8 billion rupees ($330 million) covering five fiscal years. However, India’s tax department has claimed at various times that Nokia owes 78 billion rupees ($1.25 billion) or more than 210 billion rupees ($3.38 billion). (SlashDot)(Reuters)(The New York Times)

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Monday, December 23, 2013

IDC Projects 2013 Computer Sales Down 10 Percent

Worldwide computer sales should contract by 10 percent or more in 2013, according to newly released data from IDC, making it the most severe annual sales dip on record. The drop is attributed to declining desktop and laptop computer sales. Although personal computers are still the primary device accessed by users for productivity tasks, devices such as tablets and phones are eroding the market. The market research firm also finds Windows tablets should increase to 10.2 percent of the market by 2017, but will still not approach sales of those tablets based on Google’s Android (58.8 percent) or Apple’s iOS  (30.6 percent) operating systems. (eWeek)(PC World)(PC Mag)(IDC)

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fujitsu Builds Test Chips with Embedded Flash Memory

Fujitsu Semiconductor has made chips with flash memory embedded on logic circuits fabricated using low-power deeply depleted channel (DDC) CMOS technology. This is the first time chips with embedded flash memory have been made using conventional manufacturing processes. Such technology could be used for devices and sensor networks. Fujitsu produced the new chips with technology it licensed from SuVolta. It presented the work at the recent 2013 IEEE International Electron Device Meeting in Washington, D.C. (PhysOrg)(Fujitsu)

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Interfacing Between Programming Languages Important

Computer programming languages’ interoperability has seemingly always been an elusive proposition. The concept of providing interfaces between languages is more important than ever, notes David Chisnall of the University of Cambridge. “With software becoming ever more complex and hardware less homogeneous, the likelihood of a single language being the correct tool for an entire program is lower than ever.” Applications using high-level languages typically call code written in lower-level languages, for example. Making such interfaces is challenging, but increasingly important. “The industry has spent the past 30 years building CPUs optimized for running languages such as C, because people who needed fast code used C. … Maybe the time has come to start exploring better built-in support for common operations in other languages.” The paper was published online by ACM Queue. (SlashDot)(ACM Queue)

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Open Source Project Tackles Secure Password Storage

A newly launched open source project aims to help users safely store their online security credentials, particularly long, complex passwords. The project aims to combine hardware and software to solve the problems caused by users selecting insecure passwords, according to Mathieu Stephan, an electronics engineer at encryption vendor ID Quantique who will head the as-yet-unnamed project. The goal is to help users generate long, complex random passwords for the different websites they regularly access, which helps protect the user’s information from being compromised. Recent analysis of stolen passwords shows people are not good at selecting their own passwords, which makes them vulnerable to data or identity theft. The project seeks community input throughout the development of the device. As planned, the new technology will include a smart card and a device—able to store Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)-256-encrypted passwords and keys to help users secure their online credentials—that users can connect to a computer via USB. (SlashDot)(Hackaday)(IEEE Computer News Feed – December 2, 2013)

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Google Bans Words from Android

A list of 1,400 English-language words are banned from the latest version of the Android operating system. Rather than the Android Google Keyboard automatically completing words such as “geek” or “lovemaking” the system offers no help. The list, dissected by WIRED, includes various euphemisms for the sex act as well as “all seven of George Carlin’s dirty words, a frat party’s worth of homophobia and misogyny, and is peppered with pornographic sub genres and fetishistically obscure medical terms” as well as some words that make no sense to censor, such as “thud”  and “LSAT.” Some drug vocabulary and religious words are banned as are “AMD” and “Garmin.” Adding to the oddity: many Google products, including Chromebook, are missing from the dictionary white list. The filter can be disabled and users can manually add words to the dictionary. (Fox News)(WIRED)

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Oracle Opens to OpenStack

Oracle announced it is supporting the OpenStack Foundation and plans to integrate OpenStack code into its product line. The foundation manages the OpenStack project, which is developing an open source public and private cloud-computing platform. Oracle, best known for its proprietary approach to software, will add OpenStack cloud-management components into its Solaris and Linux products, as well as its cloud-based services. The company says this will provide customers with more choices and flexibility in how they use Oracle products and services. (Information Week)(ZDNet)

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Analysts: “Third Platform” Will be the Basis for Increased Global IT Spending

Global IT spending will reach $2.1 trillion in 2014, up 5 percent from this year, largely because of so-called third-platform technologies, predicted market research firm IDC. The company contends that these technologies—cloud services, mobile computing, social networking, Big Data, and analytics—are driving spending. IDC forecasts that IT spending in these areas will increase 15 percent over last year and will account for 89 percent of IT spending growth in 2014. The company anticipates that spending in 2014 compared to 2013 will grow 25 percent for cloud computing and 30 percent for Big Data. (Datamation)(IDC)

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Monday, December 16, 2013

EU Approves Microsoft-Nokia Deal

European Union antitrust regulators announced they have unconditionally approved Microsoft’s $7.3 billion acquisition of the Nokia mobile device division. The European Commission said the transaction raises no competition concerns. The deal was previously approved by Nokia shareholders and the US government. (Reuters)(Tech Crunch)

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Volvo Plans Test of Autonomous Cars

Volvo announced plans to test its autonomous vehicle technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, within the next three years. A fleet of 100 autonomous vehicles will be used in the 2017 “Drive Me” program. With this pilot test, Volvo has as its goal “no one should be killed or seriously injured in a new Volvo car by 2020.” Participants will be hand selected for the test, scheduled to take place on public roads, which include various types of driving challenges, such as commuter traffic, city centers, and freeway driving. “Autonomous vehicles are an integrated part of Volvo Cars’ as well as the Swedish government’s vision of zero traffic fatalities,” said Volvo president and CEO HÃ¥kan Samuelsson. “It will give us an insight into the technological challenges at the same time as we get valuable feedback from real customers driving on public roads.” The study will also determine what improvements autonomous vehicles may have on traffic and fuel efficiency as well as whether any infrastructure changes might be required. Volvo is competing with other firms in developing autonomous vehicles, including Google, Nissan, Ford, General Motors, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW. Until its fully autonomous technology is tested, Volvo says it will offer a semi-autonomous driving mode on its 2014 XC90, which will combine adaptive cruise control with technology designed to keep the car centered in its lane at low speeds. (The Telegraph)(WIRED)

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