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In A Strange Twist, Dridex Malware Now Distributes Antivirus Program

February 8, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Users duped into opening malicious Word documents that distribute the Dridex online banking Trojan might have a pleasant surprise: They’ll get a free anitivirus program instead.

That’s because an unknown person — possibly a white-hat hacker — gained access to some of the servers that cybercriminals use to distribute the Dridex Trojan and replaced the malware with an installer for Avira Free Antivirus.

Dridex is one of the three most widely used computer Trojans that target online banking users. Last year, law enforcement authorities from the U.S. and U.K. attempted to disrupt the botnet and indicted a man from Moldova who is believed to be responsible for some of the attacks.

But their efforts caused only a temporary drop in Dridex activity, the botnet returning to full strength since then and even adding new tricks to its toolset. The Trojan can record key strokes and injects malicious code into banking websites opened on affected computers.

Dridex attacks usually start with targeted email messages that contain malicious Word documents. Those documents have embedded macros, which, if allowed to execute, connect to a server and download the Dridex installer.

Very recently, malware researchers from antivirus vendor Avira observed that some of the Dridex distribution servers were pushing out an “up-to-date Avira web installer” instead of the Trojan.

This means that some victims were lucky and instead of having their computers infected, they received a legitimate and digitally signed copy of the company’s antivirus program. However, the program’s installation is not automatic or silent, so users would have had to manually go through the installation process to get it running.

“We still don’t know exactly who is doing this with our installer and why, but we have some theories,” said Moritz Kroll, a malware expert at Avira, via email. “This is certainly not something we are doing ourselves.”

One possibility is that cybercriminals are doing this themselves in order to confuse antivirus vendors and mess with their detection processes. However, this is unlikely, as they would have more to lose than gain from helping victims secure their computers.

The more likely explanation is that this unusual incident is the work of a white-hat hacker who hijacked the Dridex distribution servers.

 

 

 

Twitter Shuts Down 125,000 Terrorism-related Accounts

February 8, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter Inc has suspended more than 125,000 terrorism-related accounts since the middle of 2015, most of them linked to the Islamic State group, the company said in a blog post on Friday.

Twitter has said it only takes down accounts when they are reported by other users, but said that it has increased the size of teams monitoring and responding to reports and has decreased its response time “significantly.”

Twitter’s announcement comes as many tech companies – led by Facebook – have taken stronger steps to police controversial content online in the face of threats from legislators to force the companies to report “terrorist activity” on their sites to law enforcement.

Silicon Valley has been wary of engaging with government officials, concerned about endless demands for similar action from countries around the world as well as fears about being perceived by consumers as tools of government.

The announcement was also notable because Twitter has said little about its efforts to combat Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and similar groups even though it has been criticized for not doing enough.

Islamic State, which controls last swathes of Iraq and Syria, has heavily relied on the 300 million-person site, as well as others, to recruit fighters and propagate violent messages.

Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s program on extremism, said Friday’s report showcased an “impressive number” of takedowns, but said that Twitter still appears to police extremist content in a mostly “episodic” way.

Many extremists have migrated toward smaller, less monitored platforms in recent months in response to major Silicon Valley firms stepping up their content policing, Hughes added.

In January, a delegation of top national security officials met tech industry leaders from Twitter, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc, and Google parent Alphabet Inc, but most companies, including Twitter, did not send their chief executive officers.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, called Twitter’s announcement a “very positive development,” but said more was needed.

“Addressing the use of social media by terrorists will require a sustained and cooperative effort between the technology sector, the Intelligence Community, and law enforcement,” he said.

Still, Twitter said in a blog post that it has cooperated with law enforcement when appropriate.

 

Hackers Attempt Attack On 20+ Million Alibaba Accounts

February 5, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Hackers in China attempted to gain access to over 20 million active accounts on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s Taobao e-commerce website using Alibaba’s own cloud computing service, according to a state media report posted on the Internet regulator’s website.

An Alibaba spokesman said the company detected the attack in “the first instance”, reminded users to change passwords, and worked closely with the police investigation.

Chinese companies are grappling a sharp rise in the number of cyber attacks, and cyber security experts say firms have a long way to go before defenses catch up to U.S. counterparts.

In the latest case, hackers obtained a database of 99 million usernames and passwords from a number of websites, according to a separate report on a website managed by the Ministry of Public Security.

The hackers then used Alibaba’s cloud computing platform to input the details into Taobao. Of the 99 million usernames, they found 20.59 million were also being used for Taobao accounts, the ministry website said.

The hackers started inputting the details into Taobao in mid-October and were discovered in November, at which time Alibaba immediately reported the case to police, the ministry website said. The hackers have since been caught, it said.

Alibaba’s systems discovered and blocked the vast majority of log-in attempts, according to the ministry website.

The hackers used compromised accounts to fake orders on Taobao, a practice known as “brushing” in China and used to raise sellers’ rankings, the newspaper said. The hackers also sold accounts to be used for fraud, it said.

Alibaba’s spokesman said the hackers rented the cloud computing service, but declined to comment on security measures designed to stop the system being used for the attack. He said they could have used any such service, and that the attack was not aided by any possible loopholes in Alibaba’s platform.

“Alibaba’s system was never breached,” the spokesman said.

The number of accounts, 20.59 million, represents about 1 out of every 20 annual active buyers on Alibaba’s China retail marketplaces.

 

 

Google Fiber To Be Free For Some

February 5, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Google Fiber has announced free gigabit Internet service to residents of selected public housing projects connected to its fiber optic service in U.S. cities.

The program debuted at West Bluff, an affordable housing community in Kansas City, Mo., where 100 homes have been connected to Google Fiber. Across the Kansas City area, Google is now working with affordable housing providers to connect as many as nine properties that could reach more than 1,300 local families.

Google described the program as an extension of its work with ConnectHome, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Obama administration.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro said in a conference call that under the ConnectHome program, up to 200,000 children in affordable housing in 28 different U.S. cities are expected to be connected to fast Internet. Google Fiber is expected to be a part of those connections in Atlanta, Durham, N.C., Nashville and San Antonio, he said.

There will be no cost to local housing authorities, their residents or HUD. Google will absorb the costs of the free service and there will be no fees or contract.

The Kansas City area was the first Google Fiber location in the nation, starting in 2012. Today, the service is available in two other cities — Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah — with work under way in six others. Normally, residents in Kansas City pay $70 a month for Google Fiber fast Internet service.

In addition to free Internet, eligible residents will work with ConnectHome partners like Connecting for Good and Surplus Exchange to be able to purchase discounted computers and learn new computer skills, Google said.

In Austin, Google plans to complement free Internet service for some families with investments in computers labs and digital literacy classes. Plans for other cities were not announced.

 

 

Microsoft Giving Yammer To All Office 365 Subscribers

February 4, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Microsoft is ramping up its efforts to expand the reach of its Yammer work social network — and better compete with other workplace collaboration tools – announcing that any organization with an Office 365 subscription will gain access to the service and have it automatically activated.

The service will start rolling out to users in waves. The automatic activation will allow businesses to quickly spin up online communities for their workers.

Microsoft will also let users sign in to Yammer with the same username and password they use to access all of their other Office 365 apps and services. System administrators will, however, have the ability to prevent users from accessing Yammer.

The first Yammer rollout will target businesses with fewer than 150 licenses and that have an Office 365 subscription that includes Yammer.

Microsoft bought Yammer in 2012 for $1.2 billion. At the time, it was a high-flying technology startup in the hot enterprise social network space, althought it hasn’t been taken up widely. Microsoft said that more than 500,000 businesses are using it, up from 200,000 at the time of its acquisition.

Yammer faces increased competition in the workplace collaboration space. Rival Slack’s real-time chat capabilities have made it a popular choice, though that software doesn’t replicate the message board and information feed aspects of Yammer’s product. However, when Facebook for Work becomes publicly available — it’s in a closed beta test — that offering will more closely compete with Yammer’s core functionality.

 

Amazon Plans On Opening Up To 400 Bookstores

February 4, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com Inc will open up to 400 physical bookstores, according to a major U.S. mall operator with knowledge of the proposal.

Amazon recently experimented with brick-and-mortar stores with the opening of a bookstore in its home city of Seattle in November. An expansion of bookstores, which the company has not confirmed, would be a surprise reversal from the online retailer credited with driving physical booksellers out of business.

“You’ve got Amazon opening brick-and-mortar bookstores and their goal is to open, as I understand, 300 to 400 bookstores,” Sandeep Mathrani, chief executive of General Growth Properties Inc, said on Tuesday, responding to an analyst’s question after it reported earnings.

On the call, Mathrani compared Amazon’s plans to similar moves by eyeware company Warby Parker or men’s clothing retailer Bonobos, both of which opened physical stores after finding success online.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the company does not comment on “rumors and speculation.”

Before branching out to offer everything from fresh groceries to original TV programming, Amazon got its start as a bookseller 20 years ago. It has since revolutionized the publishing industry by introducing its popular e-reader, the Kindle.

Amazon’s bookstore in Seattle carries books selected based on customer ratings and popularity on Amazon.com. The storefront also provides a space for visitors to test-drive Amazon’s Kindle, Fire TV and other devices.

Any move by Amazon to expand stores would further antagonize long-time rivals like Barnes & Noble Inc, the largest U.S. bookstore chain, which operated 640 bookstores across the United States as of January. Shares of Barnes & Noble fell more than 5 percent on Tuesday.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Mathrani’s comments on Tuesday.

Kevin Berry, vice president of investor relations at General Growth Properties, declined to comment beyond what was said during the conference call.

 

Evernote Officially Exits E-commerce

February 3, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

A little more than two years after Evernote announced that it would offer a suite of branded products through its own online retail store, the productivity company is walking away from the business of selling products like socks, messenger bags and wallets.

As foreshadowed by a series of sales and app changes last year, the current incarnation of the Evernote Market — a hub for people to buy branded swag and connected tools for the popular note-taking software — will no longer exist as of today.

In its place will be a page that directs people to a handful of products made by partner companies that are tightly integrated with Evernote’s service and were previously sold through the Market. Users will still be able to buy the ScanSnap Evernote Edition scanner, Adonit Jot Script Evernote Edition stylus and Evernote-branded Moleskine notebooks that are designed to work with the notetaking software.

The companies that make those items will be in charge of selling them and handling distribution, allowing Evernote to get out of the business of holding inventory and fulfilling orders. That means all of the Market’s non-integrated items, like business card holders and the company’s infamous socks, will be unavailable after after tonight.

In some ways, the Market experiment was a fairly successful one. 40% of people who purchased goods from the Market were subscribers to Evernote’s free tier, meaning that the company was able to monetize people who weren’t paying for the premium version of its service. In the first year of its existence, Market made a little more than $12 million, though it’s not clear how it continued to fare after that.

It’s a move that illustrates Evernote’s current strategy of winnowing down the products and services it’s providing to just focus on a core set of experiences that can make the startup money.

 

 

Yahoo To Slash 15% Of Workforce

February 3, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Yahoo Inc Chief Executive Marissa Mayer announced cost-cutting measures that include slashing 15 percent of the company’s workforce, or roughly 1,600 jobs, and closing several business units, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.

The plans were announced after Yahoo’s fourth-quarter results on Tuesday, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.  It did not specify which business units might be closed.

A Yahoo spokeswoman said the company could not comment during its quiet period before releasing earnings.

Activist investors have pressed Yahoo to sell its core business rather than spin it off, even though a sale would likely incur more taxes.

It is unclear whether the plan Mayer is expected to announce would satisfy their demands, but cutting costs could make Yahoo more attractive to buyers.

Verizon has said it is interested in acquiring Yahoo if it were up for sale. Other potential buyers would include media and private equity firms, analysts said.

Yahoo had about 11,000 employees as of June 30, according to its website, down from a Dec. 31, 2014 total of about 12,500 full-time employees and what it called fixed term contractors.

Separately, a former Yahoo employee filed a lawsuit against the company Monday challenging its “quarterly performance review” process, on grounds it assigned numerical ratings to workers that in some cases were used to fire those at the bottom of the scale.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Jose, California, said the plaintiff was terminated in 2014, despite being previously praised, as a result of the QPR process.

The filing said Yahoo’s use of the QPR process to terminate large numbers of employees violates federal and California laws that require employers to disclose mass layoffs above a certain threshold.

 

 

Google Adds Australian Accents And Slang To Its Software

February 2, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Internet search giant Google has finally added Australian slang and language recognition to its applications, addressing complaints that its software had difficulty in understanding thick local accents and complex place names.

Long accustomed to having their distinctive slang misunderstood, Australians can now substitute “footy” for football, “arvo” for afternoon and find directions to Mullumbimby or Goondiwindi, a spokesman told Reuters.

The extended vocabulary came after Google, which is now part of holding company Alphabet Inc, added an Australian accented voice to its Google Maps and search applications last week.

“People are starting to talk to their phones much more regularly now. Mobile voice searchers have doubled in the last year,” Google Australia spokesman Shane Treeves said.

“Particularly all those tricky Aussie place names, they just sound much better in an Aussie voice that can get them right.”

Google and its chief competitor, Apple Inc, have saturated the United States and Western Europe with their devices, leaving foreign language markets as some of the prime places to grow.

In December, Apple released a version of its virtual personal assistant, Siri, for Arabic speakers in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Google’s Android phones’ search function already offered some support in Arabic.

Google’s Android operating system was used by roughly 54 percent of mobile devices sold in Australia in December, placing it ahead of Apple iOS at 38 percent, according to data published by research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

The addition of Australian language features to Google’s software could carry with it a sense of vindication for local users, who have long groused about its inability to understand them.

 

Microsoft Cloud Email Winning The Enterprise

February 2, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

Enterprises of all sizes are willingly surrendering their emails to the cloud, according to the analysts at Gartner, and the bulk of them are relying on Microsoft to keep them up in the air and spinning.

The cloud, in case you missed it, is everywhere. Even your nan uploads her photos to the cloud. Cloud email services have been embraced by consumers, but have been welcomed more cautiously in the business world. Until now, that is, according to a new Gartner cloud and email report.

The leading firms in this area are Google and Microsoft. The latter seems to have the edge, perhaps because Microsoft solutions are as entrenched in business as tedious meetings. Google is getting its game together, however, thanks to a mix of improvement and marketing.

“Although it is still early days for cloud email adoption, Microsoft and Google have achieved significant traction among enterprises of different sizes, industries and geographies,” said Nikos Drakos, a research vice president at Gartner.

“Companies considering cloud email should question assumptions that public cloud email is not appropriate in their region, size or industry. Our findings suggest that many varied organisations are already using cloud email, and the number is growing rapidly.”

Party like it’s 1999, because Microsoft has the market locked down and Gartner reckons that it is well in use in industries where regulation is a strong consideration. Google is more obviously installed at more relaxed locations.

“Among public companies using cloud-based email, Microsoft is more popular with larger organisations and has more than an 80 per cent share of companies using cloud email with revenue above $10bn,” added Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner.

“Google’s popularity is better among smaller companies, approaching a 50 per cent share of companies with revenue less than $50m.”

 

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Is Samsung Going To Starting A Rental Phone Service?

February 2, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung  is rolling out a rental phone service which will replace a phone that is been used for a year with the latest model.

The system is similar to the rental model which was introduced by Apple in September of last year. Samsung will bring the service out in March in South Korea but it is also in talks with  Bright Star, which is a business that specializes in distribution of mobile in the US so it is pretty likely to be tried over the pond too.  We have not heard about it talking to any EU distributor but it is also fairly likely.

Under the deal you replace your old phone with a new phone every year if you make a two year contract and pa a year worth of instalments. The company then makes a bit of dosh flogging the used phones.

The first phone to be rented will be the Galaxy S7 that happens to be being released in March. It will also have a higher resale value as a used model.

Officially Samsung is saying nothing as the Galaxy S7 is not even in the shops yet.

Mobile telecommunication businesses such as SK Telecom, LG Uplus and others are also preparing to release similar services. This is not the first time they have had a crack at programs likes this there were operations like Zero Club, Free Club and others in the past which operated in a similar way. It should make the introduction of the rental phone service using Apple’s model a doddle.

If it takes off it could be a change in distribution model for phones. As mobile markets are saturated and as subsidies for mobiles disappear, rental phones are seen as an alternatives that will create new demand.  Much of the success however depends on the resale value of the older phones.

Courtesy-Fud

 

HSBC Was Hit With A DDoS Attack

February 2, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

‘KIN’ ‘ELL. You don’t want to be the people who bunged this morning’s distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack at HSBC, as the money lender and local business supporter has already set the authorities on your behind.

The DDoS attack rained down on the bank and its customers for most of this morning and locked punters out of a range of online banking services at a time when minds were turning to the pub and the weekend. We don’t know how big an attack it was, but we understand that there are some huge scary DDoS monsters out there.

HSBC said that it has fixed the problem and beaten off the attackers with some success. The bank confirmed that customer transactions have not been affected.

The most recent statement suggests that things are getting back to normal, but are not quite there yet. This has been a testing month for HSBC and its customers.

“HSBC internet banking came under a DDoS attack this morning, which affected personal banking websites in the UK. HSBC has successfully defended against the attack, and customer transactions were not affected,” the company said.

“We are working hard to restore normal service. HSBC is working closely with law enforcement authorities to pursue the criminals responsible for today’s attack on our internet banking.”

HSBC hit by DDoS attack. Online banking is offline https://t.co/ThNdEaeo8q pic.twitter.com/6qXibUTDnx

— Graham Cluley (@gcluley) January 29, 2016

HSBC isn’t just going to walk away with this without some security firm saying that they should have seen it coming.

“DDoS attacks, regardless of motive, are never good for any organisation. Whether they are driven purely as a means to cause downtime, force the owner to pay extortion fees or as a cover for malware activity, it quite often mostly affects the users the most,” said Mark James, a security specialist at ESET.

“As in all situations like this please be mindful of the after effects. Nothing may happen but just be a little bit more cautious when opening emails or taking calls from people claiming to be associated with your financial organisations.

“And definitely make sure you have good, regularly updating internet security software installed on your computer or mobile device.”

Courtesy-TheInq

 

Microsoft Goes Deep With Underwater Data Center

February 2, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Technology giants are finding some of the strangest places for data centers these days.

Facebook, for example, built a data center in Lulea in Sweden because the icy cold temperatures there would help cut the energy required for cooling. A proposed Facebook data center in Clonee, Ireland, will rely heavily on locally available wind energy. Google’s data center in Hamina in Finland uses sea water from the Bay of Finland for cooling.

Now, Microsoft is looking at locating data centers under the sea.

The company is testing underwater data centers with an eye to reducing data latency for the many users who live close to the sea and also to enable rapid deployment of a data center.

Microsoft, which has designed, built, and deployed its own subsea data center in the ocean, in the period of about a year, started working on the project in late 2014, a year after Microsoft employee, Sean James, who served on a U.S. Navy submarine, submitted a paper on the concept.

A prototype vessel, named the Leona Philpot after an Xbox game character, operated on the seafloor about 1 kilometer from the Pacific coast of the U.S. from August to November 2015, according to a Microsoft page on the project.

The subsea data center experiment, called Project Natick after a town in Massachusetts, is in the research stage and Microsoft warns it is “still early days” to evaluate whether the concept could be adopted by the company and other cloud service providers.

“Project Natick reflects Microsoft’s ongoing quest for cloud datacenter solutions that offer rapid provisioning, lower costs, high responsiveness, and are more environmentally sustainable,” the company said.

Using undersea data centers helps because they can serve the 50 percent of people who live within 200 kilometers from the ocean. Microsoft said in an FAQ that deployment in deepwater offers “ready access to cooling, renewable power sources, and a controlled environment.” Moreover, a data center can be deployed from start to finish in 90 days.

 

 

FCC Approves Use Of BYOCB

February 1, 2016 by Michael  
Filed under Around The Net

In a sweeping change of course directed at a tightly controlled television industry, cable and satellite operators in the United States will now be obligated to let their customers freely choose which set-top boxes they can use, according to a proposal announced by the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday.

The move is expected to have wide-ranging implications for large technology companies looking to get their brand names into every consumer’s living room. For example, under the new rules, Google, Amazon and Apple would now be allowed to create entertainment room devices that blend Internet and cable programming in a way the television industry has until now resisted. Next-generation media players, including the Chromecast, Fire TV and Apple TV, would now be granted permission to line the backs of their devices with coaxial inputs and internal “smart access card” equivalents integrated right into device firmware with a simple subscription activation process.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut investigated the cable set-top box market last summer and found that the cable industry generates roughly $19.1 billion in annual revenue from cable box rentals alone.

Meanwhile, the cost of cable set-top boxes has risen 185 percent since 1995, while the cost of PCs, televisions and smartphones has dropped by 90 percent. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler admits that these economies of scale don’t need to remain so unbalanced any longer.

The FCC says its focus will be primarily on improving day-to-day television experience. In the past, the burdensome requirements of long-term contracts tethered to clunky, unsightly cable and satellite boxes has been a major source of customer complaints.

Wheeler has also said that access to specific video content shouldn’t be frustrating to the average consumer in an age where we are constantly surrounded by a breadth of information to sift through. “Improved search functions [can] lead consumers to a variety of video content that is buried behind guides or available on video services you can’t access with your set-top box today,” Wheeler says.

The FCC is expected to vote on the proposal on Thursday, February 18th. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s full statement on the commission’s new proposal can be found here.

Courtesy-Fud

Wireless Charging Finally Coming To iPhones

February 1, 2016 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

As wireless charging adoption rate continues to grow by double-digits annually, industry analysts have openly wondered when Apple’s iPhone would finally take the plunge.

This month, market research firm IHS predicted that Apple would introduce some form of wireless charging on the iPhone 7 expected to arrive in September; that move seems more likely given that Apple introduced an inductive, proprietary charging solution in 2015 on the Apple Watch.

Adding fuel to the wireless charging fire, Bloomberg has reported that Apple is working with partners in the U.S. and Asia to develop new wireless charging technology that could be deployed on its mobile devices in 2017.

“We still expect [wireless charging with the iPhone 7], but this latest rumor suggests a longer term look at much greater spatial freedom — claiming to take away the charging pad altogether,” David Green, a research manager at IHS Technology, said.

Two years ago, the Windows Phone 8-based Lumia 920 smartphone introduced wireless charging. Then Samsung launched dual-mode wireless charging on its Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phones. Now, the focus is on Apple to see whether it will also add wireless charging to the iPhone, Green said.

Wireless charging is proving to be very popular with those who have used it, and the market tripled in size last year compared to 2014, with more than 160 million wireless charging receivers shipped across all markets.

The three major wireless charging industry groups have adopted a form of resonant wireless charging, which allows a more “loosely coupled” approach where handsets can be several centimeters away from a charger or placed at any angle on a charging pad.

For example, AirFuel Alliance’s Rezence-specification, which allows charging from across several centimeters, includes the ability to use a charging bowl or charging through a desktop.

There’s also uncoupled charging technology, where powering up devices through Wi-Fi, for example, sends low levels of power (typically less than 1 watt) across a room.

Ossia, Energous and uBeam all demonstrated uncoupled charging technology at CES earlier this month.