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Hackers From China Breach U.S. Hospital Patients Data

August 20, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Community Health Systems Inc., one of the largest U.S. hospital groups, is reporting that it was the victim of a cyber attack from China, resulting in the theft of Social Security numbers and other personal data belonging to 4.5 million patients.

Security experts said the hacking group, known as “APT 18,” may have links to the Chinese government.

“APT 18″ typically targets companies in the aerospace and defense, construction andengineering, technology, financial services and healthcare industry, said Charles Carmakal, managing director with FireEye Inc’s Mandiant forensics unit, which led the investigation of the attack on Community Health in April and June.

“They have fairly advanced techniques for breaking into organizations as well as maintaining access for fairly long periods of times without getting detected,” he said.

The information stolen from Community Health included patient names, addresses, birth dates, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers of people who were referred or received services from doctors affiliated with the hospital group in the last five years, the company said in a regulatory filing.

The stolen data did not include medical or clinical information, credit card numbers, or any intellectual property such as data on medical device development, said Community Health, which has 206 hospitals in 29 states.

The attack is the largest of its type involving patient information since a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website started tracking such breaches in 2009. The previous record, an attack on a Montana Department of Public Health server, was disclosed in June and affected about 1 million people.

Chinese hacking groups are known for seeking intellectual property, such as product design, or information that might be of use in business or political negotiations.

Social Security numbers and other personal data are typically stolen by cybercriminals to sell on underground exchanges for use by others in identity theft.

Over the past six months Mandiant has seen a spike in cyber attacks on healthcare providers, although this was the first case it had seen in which a sophisticated Chinese group has stolen personal data, according to Carmakal. Mandiant monitors about 20 hacking groups in China.



Cisco See More Problems Ahead For The Tech Industry

May 28, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

While many believed that things were starting to pick up in the tech industry, Cisco CEO John Chambers thinks that it is about to get much worse. Chambers said that the rapid pace of change in the technology industry is going to create a bloodbath for the major tech players, and every other company on the planet.

He said in the next five years two or three of the top five IT companies will be gone or less meaningful. During the opening keynote of Cisco’s annual customer conference, Cisco Live he said he knew that Cisco needed to change. The top players are Cisco, IBM, HP, Microsoft, and Oracle and although he does not predict which ones will go by the wayside, he dropped a hint that HP and IBM would be toast.

“When we talk about the top five IT players, watch how disastrous the last 2.5 years have been where an HP and an IBM haven’t had revenue growth for two to three years,” he said.

This is the chart he showed, documenting how many quarters of growth each have had. It shows Microsoft, not Cisco, doing the best with 14 quarters of 3% or better revenue growth. Chambers said most of Cisco’s original competitors have died over the years and, in another chart, subtly hinted that nearly all of its current ones somehow won’t make it to 2018.

The vendors he sees going include Juniper, CheckPoint, Ruckus, Palo Alto Networks, Avaya, Aruba, F5, ShoreTel, Riverbed, Huawei, Arista, Fortnet, Polycom, and Brocade. He failed to mention VMware which is currently giving Cisco a good kicking by flogging networking software that runs on cheap, commodity hardware. Chambers more or less dismissed the VMware threat, insisting Cisco would quickly crush it. Chambers also predicts a general bloodbath for all businesses everywhere. He noted that only a quarter of the companies on the Fortune 500 25 years ago are still on that list today.

“Every company in this world has to be realistic … Out of the private sector companies in this room, regardless of where you are in this world, 87 per cent of you will have a major financial shortfall in the next 15 years, and a little over 10 per cent of you will ever come back from it. And of all the enterprise companies in this world, only a 1/3 of us will exist in a meaningful way in 25 years.”

The only way to survive is to cope with the rapid pace of change he said.


Businesses Want More From IT, Dissatisfaction Grows

March 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Companies want to reduce spending on IT operations and infrastructure and shift resources to revenue-producing areas, according to two new studies. But businesses leaders and IT executives are also registering higher levels of dissatisfaction with IT as more demands are placed on technology.

The reports, by the Hackett Group and McKinsey & Co., both agree that business executives want IT to do more to improve the bottom line while companies spend less on infrastructure in the process.

The bad news for people who work in IT operations is that large businesses expect to cut IT staff positions by about 2% this year, thanks to automation and outsourcing, according the Hackett’s survey of 160 businesses with revenues above $1 billion.

One path to improved automation will likely be through adoption of software-defined infrastructures, something Bank of America plans to do.

IT budgets will grow by 1.7% this year as IT pivots, increasingly, from a service-providing operation to a revenue-generating one, the Hackett Group said in its study.

IT managers are being told that “you’ve got to grow the business, not just run the business,” said Mark Peacock, an IT transformation practice leader and principal at Hackett.

McKinsey & Co., in its online survey of more than 800 executives — with 345 having a technology focus — also found that executives want less of their budgets to go to infrastructure so more resources can be shifted to analytics and innovation.

The McKinsey survey found that business executives are less likely to say now that IT performs effectively, compared to their views two years ago.

“The IT executives are even more negative,” wrote McKinsey, with only 13% of them saying their IT organizations “are completely or very effective at introducing new technologies faster or more effectively than competitors.” That percentage was down from 22% in 2012.

The negative results “likely reflect the overall rising expectations for corporate IT,” wrote McKinsey.

When asked how to fix IT shortcomings, respondents cited improved business accountability, more funds for priority projects and a higher the level of IT talent, the report said.

The Hackett Group survey didn’t report on dissatisfaction, but it did find that the top goal for IT organizations this year is “to strengthen partnership and goal alignment between IT and the business.”


US Government Wants Retain Phone Data Beyond 5-Year Limit

February 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The U.S. government has requested a secret surveillance court to allow it to retain telephone metadata for a period beyond the current five-year limit, for use as potential evidence in civil lawsuits regarding the collection of the data.

In June last year, former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, revealed that the agency was collecting bulk phone records of Verizon customers in the U.S.

The government subsequently confirmed that it had a program for the bulk collection of phone metadata, which triggered a number of privacy law suits in various courts challenging the legality of the NSA program under section 215 of the Patriot Act.

When litigation is pending against a party, or is reasonably anticipated, the party has a duty to preserve relevant information that may be evidence in the case, the Department of Justice stated in a filing Tuesday before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that was made public Wednesday.

“A party may be exposed to a range of sanctions not only for violating a preservation order, but also for failing to produce relevant evidence when ordered to do so because it destroyed information that it had a duty to preserve,” it wrote, while pointing out that it hasn’t received a specific preservation order so far in any of the civil lawsuits.

The American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles are among those who have filed lawsuits challenging the phone records program.

The telephony metadata retained beyond five years for the purpose of the civil litigation will be kept in a format that prevents access or use of it by NSA staff for any purpose including queries for gathering foreign intelligence information, according to the filing.

The federal government, meanwhile, is exploring alternatives to the NSA’s holding the phone data. It has asked industry for information on whether commercially available services can provide a viable alternative to the government holding the bulk data.

In a review of NSA surveillance last month, President Obama called for a new approach on telephony metadata that will “establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.”


Cybersecurity Firm Says It Has Uncovered Over 300M Stolen Credentials

February 27, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

A cybersecurity firm has stated that it has found stolen credentials from some 360 million accounts that are available for sale on cyber black markets, though it is unsure where they came from or what they can be used to access.

The discovery could represent more of a risk to consumers and companies than stolen credit card data because of the chance the sets of user names and passwords could open the door to online bank accounts, corporate networks, health records and virtually any other type of computer system.

Alex Holden, chief information security officer of Hold Security LLC, said in an interview that his firm obtained the data over the past three weeks, meaning an unprecedented amount of stolen credentials is available for sale underground.

“The sheer volume is overwhelming,” said Holden, whose firm last year helped uncover a major data breach at Adobe Systems Inc in which tens of millions of records were stolen.

Holden said he believes the 360 million records were obtained in separate attacks, including one that yielded some 105 million records, which would make it the largest single credential breaches known to date.

He said he believes the credentials were stolen in breaches that have yet to be publicly reported. The companies attacked may remain unaware until they are notified by third parties who find evidence of the hacking, he said.

“We have staff working around the clock to identify the victims,” he said.

He has not provided any information about the attacks to other cybersecurity firms or authorities but intends to alert the companies involved if his staff can identify them.

The massive trove of credentials includes user names, which are typically email addresses, and passwords that in most cases are in unencrypted text. Holden said that in contrast, the Adobe breach, which he uncovered in October 2013, yielded tens of millions of records that had encrypted passwords, which made it more difficult for hackers to use them.

The email addresses are from major providers such as AOL Inc, Google Inc, Microsoft Corp and Yahoo Inc and almost all Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit organizations. Holden said he alerted one major email provider that is a client, but he declined to identify the company, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

Heather Bearfield, who runs the cybersecurity practice for accounting firm Marcum LLP, said she had no information about the information that Hold Security uncovered but that it was plausible for hackers to obtain such a large amount of data because these breaches are on the rise.

She said hackers can do far more harm with stolen credentials than with stolen payment cards, particularly when people use the same login and password for multiple accounts.

“They can get access to your actual bank account. That is huge,” Bearfield said. “That is not necessarily recoverable funds.”

After recent payment-card data breaches, including one at U.S. retailer Target, credit card companies stressed that consumers bear little risk because they are refunded rapidly for fraud losses.

Wade Baker, a data breach investigator with Verizon Communications Inc, said that the number of attacks targeting payment cards through point-of-sales systems peaked in 2011. That was partly because banks and retailers have gotten better at identifying that type of breach and quickly moving to prevent crooks from making fraudulent transactions, he said.

In addition to the 360 million credentials, the criminals are selling some 1.25 billion email addresses, which would be of interest to spammers, Hold Security said in a statement on its website.


Are IT Worker’s Kids Smarter

February 21, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Uncategorized

An OECD report into the link between student performance and their parents’ occupations has revealed that if a kid has at least one parent working in IT, business or engineering they will do better in school.

The news will be greeted with glee amongst the IT community where it will be suddenly be possible to use a pick-up line “but our kids will be good in school.” Not only were the kids of information and communications technology (ICT) workers top of the country in maths and science, they were also found to be the best in terms of reading.

Australian Information Industry Association CEO Suzanne Campbell said: “ICT workers’ skills include the analytical, the innovative, the creative thinking, the “can-do”, curiosity and solving business problems.

“My expectation is that the children of ICT workers are enjoying the benefits of being exposed to all of those skills and being inspired in their family environment to take risks.”


Tech Workers Demanding Bigger Salaries In 2014

February 3, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Employers may need to loosen their purse strings to retain their IT staffers in 2014, according to a salary survey from IT career

Among the tech workers who anticipate changing employers in 2014, 68 percent listed more compensation as their reason for leaving. Other factors include improved working conditions (48 percent), more responsibility (35 percent) and the possibility of losing their job (20 percent). The poll, conducted online between Oct. 14 and Nov. 29 last year, surveyed 17,236 tech professionals.

Fifty-four percent of the workers polled weren’t content with their compensation. This figure is down from 2012′s survey, when 57 percent of respondents were displeased with their pay.

The decrease in salary satisfaction could mean companies will face IT staff retention challenges this year, since 65 percent of respondents said they’re confident they can find a new, better position in 2014.

This dissatisfaction over pay comes even though the survey, released Wednesday, showed that the average tech salary rose 2.6 percent in 2013 to US$87,811 and that more companies gave merit raises. The main reason for last year’s bump in pay, according to 45 percent of respondents, was a merit raise. In comparison, the average tech salary was $85,619 in 2012 and 40 percent of those polled said they received a merit raise.

Meanwhile, 26 percent of respondents attributed their 2013 salary increase to taking a higher-paying job at another company.

Employers realize tech talent is coveted and are attempting to keep workers satisfied by offering them a variety of incentives, the survey found. In 2013, 66 percent of employers provided incentives to retain workers. The two most popular incentives were increased compensation and more interesting work. Incentives that allow employees to better balance their work and personal lives were also offered, such as telecommuting and a flexible work schedule.

Skills that commanded six-figure jobs in 2013 came from some of the hottest areas of IT. Data science led the way with big data backgrounds yielding some of the highest salaries. People skilled in Knowing R, the popular statistical computing language, can expect to make $115,531 on average, while those with NoSQL database development skills command an average salary of $114,796. IT pros skilled in MapReduce to process large data sets make $114,396 on average.


Security Startup Impermium Teaming Up With Google

January 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Security company Impermium has “joined” Google to aid the Internet giant’s already considerable expertise in countering spam and abuse.

“By joining Google, our team will merge with some of the best abuse fighters in the world,” wrote Impermium CEO and cofounder Mark Risher said in a post on the company’s website .

“As sites gain in popularity, criminals and miscreants are never far behind, and Impermium has worked hard to defend some of the largest and fastest-growing sites,” Risher added. Though he thanked customers and investors among others, Risher did not say what would happen to Impermium’s current customers.

It’s unclear whether Google acquired the company and its technology or mainly its staff, a trend known popularly as “‘acqui-hiring.” A number of technology companies have acquired startups mainly to add talented engineers to their staff. Google could not be reached for comment.

On Twitter, Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice president of product for Google+,welcomed Risher and the Impermium team to Google. On his Google+ page, Horowitz wrote that Google’s spam and abuse teams are industry-leading and world-class. “Impermium should fit right in,” he added.

Impermium defended its customers against account hacking, account compromise, and other threats. The company claimed that its system used “patented statistical and machine learning models and proprietary threat intelligence from more than 1,500,000 worldwide sites to provide real-time protection for top enterprises around the globe.”

Google announced earlier this week that it was paying US$3.2 billion in cash to acquire Nest, a maker of smart smoke alarms and thermostats, in what is seen as a bid to expand into the connected home market.


Microsoft Offers Students Free Office 365

December 5, 2013 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Schools and universities that license Microsoft Office for their staff can now distribute Office 365 free to students, Microsoft said.

The program, dubbed “Student Advantage,” was unveiled in mid-October, when Microsoft promised that it would debut Dec. 1.

Educational institutions, whether K-12 school districts or those in higher education, that license Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office 365 ProPlus — the former is traditionally-licensed software while the latter is a subscription — can now also hand Office 365 ProPlus subscriptions to students, free of charge.

Schools and universities must have licensed Office for staff and faculty institution-wide, according to Microsoft, to be eligible for the student give-away. When students graduate, their Office 365 subscription expires.

Office 365 ProPlus includes rights to download and install copies of the newest Office desktop applications on up to five Windows PCs or Macs owned by the student, as well as rights to run the iPhone or Android editions of Office Mobile.

Students, faculty and staff at universities that do not equip employees with Office can instead pay a flat $80 for a four-year subscription to Office 365 University. That subscription program allows Office 2013 to be installed on up to two PCs or Macs, and Office Mobile on as many as two mobile devices.


Will Motorola Go Modular With Smartphones?

October 30, 2013 by Michael  
Filed under Mobile

PCs are becoming increasingly integrated, with SoC parts, quasi-tablet form factors, AIOs and a bunch of other trends conceived to reduce the fat. While PCs are becoming more like smartphones, Motorola thinks we need smartphones that will allow us to mix and replace components.

Project Ara is the name of project, led by Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, effectively Motrola’s equivalent of Lockheed’s Skunk Works. Motorola says it wants to do for hardware what Android did for software, but instead of creating a software ecosystem, it hopes to foster development of a third-party hardware ecosystem.

We must admit the first designs look rather impressive, although we’re not sure we’ll see Ara phones anytime soon. It also raises questions about cost and software compatibility – building a completely modular phone sounds rather expensive.

However, it also sounds insanely cool. Many users are still lamenting the lack of user-replaceable batteries and microSD slots on new smartphones, yet Ara could allow users to change practically everything. Motorola says users could swap out the screen, install an extra battery, keyboard, camera or just about anything else you can imagine.

Ara consists of an endoskeleton, which holds everything in place, and a range of replaceable modules. Here’s the kicker – although a completely modular phone could be pricey, it could also have a much longer product cycle, as it could easily be upgraded or repaired. Instead of buying a new phone, users could just upgrade their SoC, camera, or any other component – they could also reuse older modules with a new endoskeleton.

Best of all, it looks rather fun. It reminds us of the good old days, when every PC had a discrete sound card, modem, LAN card, but I guess we’re just old, nostalgic hacks.

However, turning the concept into reality won’t be easy and it will be pricey, although the phrase “shut up and take my money” comes to mind.


IBM Plans On Furloughing Some Employees

August 7, 2013 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

IBM has told U.S. employees and executives in two of its business units that they will be furloughed for one week, later in August.

Affected employees will receive the equivalent of one-third pay, but executives will not be paid.

The furlough affects the majority of employees in the Systems and Technology Group (STG). Impacted by furloughs as well are the employees in the Integrated Supply Chain (ISC) that support STG.

The mandatory furlough week will either begin Aug. 24 or Aug. 31.

In lieu of other options considered, this approach best balances the interests of employees and the competitiveness of the STG business, said an IBM spokesman.

IBM recently laid off more than 3,000 employees, many of whom appeared to be in the STG group.

Separately, IBM share prices were down mid-day after a Credit Suisse analyst report claiming that an industry wide shift to cloud computing was presenting risks to IBMs technology position.





Tech Hiring Makes Up 10% of U.S. Employment Gains

July 9, 2013 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Hiring of technology professionals has been increasing since the first half of this year, with new IT hires accounting for about 10% of all the job growth in the U.S. in June, according to two independent assessments.

Total tech employment reached 4.47 million in June, an increase of 22,600 jobs from the prior month, or a .51% gain, according to TechServe Alliance, an IT services industry group which tracks employment data month-to-month. The total excludes tech manufacturing employment.

Similarly, Foote Partners, which researches IT employment trends, reported a gain of 18,200 new tech jobs last month.

These gains are coming at the same time that some tech employers are cutting jobs.

IBM has cut more than 3,000 workers over the past few weeks, struggling Hewlett-Packard is still eliminating jobs, and Symantec is seeing layoffs as well.

The U.S. economy added 195,000 jobs overall in June, according to the Labor Dept.

Foote said that IT employment in the first half of this year is averaging 13,500 new jobs per month.

“While the pace of job creation in the national labor force appears stuck at 7.6% unemployment and new jobs are heavily in part-time positions and low wage full-time segments, IT jobs have been on a sustained growth upswing and wages are holding steady if not growing slightly,” said David Foote, chief analyst, in a statement.

Reports on IT employment figures from analyst can differ widely depending on what U.S. labor department categories are use in the calculations.

Another firm that analyzes the labor market, Janco Associates, reported a gain of 9,900 jobs in June based on the categories it tracks.

Despite the increase in hiring, IT salaries remain flat, said Janco.

“Based on our interviews with over 96 CIOs in the last 30 days, we concluded that CIOs are not in a great hurry to hire new staff except to meet short term needs until they see a clear trend as to what is happening with the economy,” said Janco CEO Victor Janulaitis in a statement.

Janulaitis said that “67% of the CIOs we interviewed do not see any real push to expand staffing over the next 12 months.”





Samsung Retail Stores Coming Soon?

April 25, 2013 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Samsung is making an aggressive sales play in the U.S. market by moving into thousands of third-party retail outlets where dedicated staff will sell and provide advice on the company’s smartphones,tablets and entertainment products.

Samsung has established “pop-up” stores in the past and had a full-scale outlet in New York that was ultimately shut down. A part of the new expansion plan includes retailer Best Buy, which on Monday announced that it would establish a special zone in its 1,400 U.S. retail stores to sell Samsung products.

The company already has authorized resellers, and the Best Buy partnership is an effort to give users a hands-on experience with its products, said Tim Baxter, CEO of Samsung Electronics America, during an event in New York on Wednesday to announce the Samsung and Best Buy partnership.

Providing a hands-on experience is a “vital” part of getting users to buy Samsung products, Baxter said.

Also, mobile computing is headed in a direction where tablets, smartphones and other devices such as TVs are able to easily interact with each other. A larger in-store presence will educate users on how these products work together, Baxter said.

Baxter declined to say if Samsung would open its own stores in key locations, but said that the company would partner with more retailers. Samsung spends $8 billion to $9 billion on product research every year, and a larger retail presence will also help understand product trends in the U.S., Baxter said.

The U.S. is a key market for Samsung, and the company believes it can grab a larger share in smartphones, tablets and PCs through a larger in-store presence. Samsung’s smartphone rival Apple already has a large retail presence where customers can buy products and get support.



Google Cutting 1,200 More Jobs At Motorola Mobility

March 11, 2013 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Motorola Mobility is eliminating 1,200 jobs, in addition to a reduction of 4,000 jobs it announced in August, to focus on high-end devices.

“These cuts are a continuation of the reductions we announced last summer,” said Motorola spokeswoman Katie Dove in an email. “It’s obviously very hard for the employees concerned, and we are committed to helping them through this difficult transition.”

Motorola’s mobile business has been pummeled in the smartphone market by larger players such as Samsung Electronics, Apple, Sony, Huawei Technologies and ZTE. Samsung, the largest smartphone maker in the fourth quarter, like Motorola makes phones using Google’s Android operating system.

The revenue of Motorola’s mobile business as a result of knocks in the market was $1.51 billion, or 11% of parent Google’s consolidated revenue in the fourth quarter of 2012. It also had an operating loss of $353 million in the quarter. Apple in contrast posted revenue of $54.5 billion and net profit of $13 billion in the quarter ended Dec. 29.

Motorola employees were informed by email that while the company is optimistic about new products in the pipeline, it still faces challenges, The Wall Street Journal reported last Friday. The company added that its costs are too high, and it is operating in markets where it is not competitive and is losing money. The layoffs will affect workers in the U.S., China and India, according to the newspaper.

Motorola was acquired by Google in May, and it was thought that the Internet giant was mainly acquiring the company for its patents, and may not be interested in its mobile hardware business in a cut-throat market.

Google said in December that it planned to sell Motorola’s TV set-top box business to Arris Group, a broadband device vendor, for $2.35 billion.

Motorola had 11,113 staff in its mobile business and 5,204 in its home business at the end of December. The new cuts will hence reduce the staff in its mobility business by over 10%.


Glass Mobile Phones Coming In 2013

February 8, 2013 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

An executive at Taiwanese firm Polytron Technologies is confident that consumers this year will see the arrival of partially transparent glass mobile phones.

“It will happen near the end of 2013, Sam Yu, general manager of Polytron said Wednesday, as he showed off a prototype device. “Trust me.”

The prototype phone was, however, not functional. Since not all the components used in the phone can be concealed, the company’s glass technology may at least allow for a portion of the smartphone to remain see-through, with the rest covered behind casing, according to Polytron staff.

Unlike today’s smartphones, which are often encased in plastic or metal and filled with opaque circuitry, Polytron is proposing handset makers build their products with its specially designed glass that can contain near invisible electrical wiring using patented technology. The result can create a transparent effect, making the phone see-through, the company said. (Videos can be found here and here).

Yu, general manager for Polytron, has been showing off a prototype device, built from a light piece of glass. Certain components such as the battery, camera, and memory card are still visible, but the remainder of the phone, including the screen, is transparent, he said.

“I like things that are novel and look beautiful,” he said, adding that the patent for the technology was developed four years ago. “Current mobile phones are heavier, but with this glass you can make it much lighter.”

Polytron is a subsidiary of U.S.-based Polytronix and focuses on glass technology. One of the company’s main products is its “Polyvision Privacy Glass”, which can flip between transparency and a near-opaque cloudy white with a flick of a switch.