2nd > May > 2006 Archive

Feds ready to send robotic car army to the streets

We may all soon long for the days when a driver distracted by a cell phone or even a few pints was the most dangerous thing on the road. That's because the US government plans to let an army of unmanned vehicles loose in a city next year. Last year's successful run of the $2m Grand Challenge robotic race has DARPA wanting more. The US research agency has offered up another $2m prize for the first robotic vehicle that can traverse a 60-mile urban course in less than six hours. The city test will take place in November 2007 and marks the third time DARPA has held such a race. Many of you will recall that the first Grand Challenge took place in the desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and proved a miserable failure with no vehicle traveling more than a few miles. Just 18 months later, a handful of vehicles were able to complete the desert course with Stanford's "Stanley" finishing first and claiming the $2m prize. Where those vehicles had to avoid ditches, barbed wire and boulders, the next set of machines will need to merge with traffic, handle roundabouts and even obey traffic laws. DARPA will set up a mock urban course for the event. “Grand Challenge 2005 proved that autonomous ground vehicles can travel significant distances and reach their destination, just as you or I would drive from one city to the next,” DARPA Director Dr Tony Tether said. “After the success of this event, we believe the robotics community is ready to tackle vehicle operation inside city limits.” DARPA has also tweaked the registration setup for the third running of the Grand Challenge. Teams can apply for up to $1m in development funds from DARPA in exchange for the government receiving a "limited license" to any technology on the vehicles. For the first time, DARPA is also putting up second and third place awards of $500,000 and $250,000. This focus on robotic technology stems from a government mandate. Congress has called for the Army to have one-third of its vehicles operate unmanned by 2015. While DARPA expects these vehicles to one day accomplish military missions, we're hoping the technology can extend to the consumer space as soon as possible. It'll be a fine day when you can get sauced at the pub and have your robot drive home. ®
Ashlee Vance, 02 May 2006

Napster sets music 'free' with five-song barrier

Unable to make even the smallest dent in Apple's iTunes music store, Napster has turned to drastic tactics. Napster CEO Chris Gorog this week stunned the online music world by acquiring the Steve Jobs reality distortion field. How else can you explain this statement from a Napster press release? "Napster was born of the idea of eliminating all barriers to discovering, enjoying and sharing music, and of putting the power in the hands of fans," Gorog said. "With a vision to empower music fans in a legal environment, with an open, all-inclusive platform, we are very excited to share our new free music experience at Napster.com." Yes, that's how he chose to describe Napster's new "free" music service where anyone can sign up for an account and access the company's entire catalog of digital tunes without signing up for a subscription. But is the deal as good as it sounds? Does it "eliminate all barriers" to enjoying music or "empower" music fans? Erm, not exactly. By "eliminating all barriers," Napster actually means that you can listen to a song five times for free before being cut off from the service. And while Napster claims that Mac and Linux users can now partake in this openness adventure, that's only a half-truth. Mac and Linux customers can do the five-download thing, but if they want to listen to songs more via Napster's subscription service, they'll have to shell out for a Windows box. Oh, you have to fill out a Napster form to eliminate the barriers too. In Napster, we find a well-trained poodle. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has taught this pup to jump through some amazing hoops. We can't wait for the play six songs on Monday, twelve on Tuesday and 3.5 on Thursday empowerment program. As liberating as listening to a song five times might seem to Gorog, you have to believe that most consumers expect more. If nothing else, Napster should back off trying to capitalize on its free-wheeling brand name by portraying its service as an open paradise. Treating potential customers like gullible buffoons tends to be a bad long-term business strategy. You can see what an unfettered, empowering music rental service looks like here or you can buy a CD and dump it into iTunes. ®
Ashlee Vance, 02 May 2006

Java EE clustering

Enterprise-oriented systems must often be both scalable to deal with changing performance requirements and available 24x7 (or at least very close to this level of availability).
John Hunt, 02 May 2006

Making pigs from sausages

CommentComment Imagine the following situation. Many years ago, your company commissioned a computer system. It is all working perfectly but you want to upgrade it in ways that could not be conceived when it was designed. You may, for example, want management reports or data input via the internet. Then again, perhaps you would like to interface to a new database. Often it is necessary to bite the bullet and port your system onto a new platform.
Tel Hudson, 02 May 2006
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Google accuses Microsoft on IE7 search

Google has made informal complaints to competition authorities in Europe and the US about default settings in Microsoft's IE7. The latest Microsoft browser includes a small window so users can search without opening up a specific page. The default setting sends users to MSN for searches - just as equivalent features in Opera and Firefox send browsers to Google. A spokesman for the search giant told the New York Times it was concerned Microsoft was limiting choice. Google told the paper it would support choice on all browsers. More here. Microsoft and Google both have research "proving" that users can, or cannot, easily reset default settings on IE7. After talking to Microsoft about its worries, Google took its concerns to the US Justice Department and the European Commission. Microsoft was in court last week appealing the EC anti-trust decision of 2004. The EC has already said it is looking at Vista so the last thing Microsoft needs is another investigation. ®
John Oates, 02 May 2006

Consumers warned off pre-standard 802.11n purchases

Standards bodies move far more slowly than the market for fast wireless products, and the concept of the "pre-standard" or "standards-ready" product has become a common one. Such products are built to the official specifications, but may be a year or more ahead of an official certification programme for that spec. The latest category at the heart of the debate on whether it is wise to buy non-certified kit is the emerging 100Mbps-plus Wi-Fi standard, 802.11n, which will be heavily geared to home digital media networks. The practise of launching pre-standard gear has caused enormous controversy in Wi-Fi and WiMAX, ever since Broadcom put it on the map with the 802.11g Wi-Fi upgrade in 2004, with claims that pre-standard products carry high risk because they may have to be altered to gain certification, and may not be interoperable with other devices. Much of this scaremongering is marketing-driven, usually coming from vendors that have slipped behind in rolling out new generation products. For many consumer users, interoperability is not a major issue – they just want increased speed but are happy to buy from a single vendor (of course, this is not true of the enterprise, but few companies are inclined to buy cutting edge wireless technology). With the price pressure in the consumer Wi-Fi sector, even if the devices prove obsolete once fully standard kit emerges, the user's financial risk runs only to $100 or so. Broadcom, which launched pre-certified 802.11g chips in 2004 - a gamble that paid off to the extent that it propelled the company from nowhere to the top two in WLan silicon – has now shipped uncertified 802.11n chips to several customers. In fact, the company has been fairly slow in this market by its standards. Start-up Airgo, which specialises in the MIMO smart antenna technology that lies at the heart of 802.11n, illustrated the dark side of the pre-standard gamble. It shipped its chips, dubbed pre-N, but in fact not built to any standard, since the specification had not been finalised, to several tier one customers, including Linksys and Bel-kin. But it then faced the prospect of a group led by Intel, Atheros and Broadcom, in effect forcing the IEEE standards body to adopt their preferred approach to 802.11n and MIMO, rather than an Airgo-based option. This will force the smaller player to re-engineer its products to be compliant, and it will lose its headstart in the market and, potentially, some of its big name customers. Consumers may not care too much about standards, but the other risk of pre-standard products is that the technology may not have matured enough to guarantee robust performance. Early tests carried out by the Farpoint Group suggest that "draft N" products fall short of requirements. The consultancy's CEO Craig Mathias said the products tested could not communicate with each other when in the high speed MIMO mode used by 802.11n. There was no interoperability when the competing products had the same chip, even when the products were from the same vendor. Other problems with pre-certified equipment include lack of a guarantee on upgradeability; possible interference with existing WLan equipment – a debate that has raged for two years between the major vendors; and the need for Gigabit Ethernet to get the speed benefit, and the current expense of the equipment. Home networking products using Draft N, mainly wireless routers around $150 and PC Cards for notebooks for about $120, have appeared from Netgear, Buffalo Technology and Linksys, with D-Link and Belkin to launch soon. Ironically, the best performer in the Farpoint trial was the Linksys SRX 400, which uses the Airgo True MIMO chips and did not even try to conform to the 802.11n specs. However, Broadcom has shipped its Intensi-fi draft N chips to Buffalo, Netgear and US Robotics already, and hopes the draft specification will be formally adopted by the IEEE next year, with Wi-Fi Alliance conformance testing and certification to follow later in 2007. Atheros is also sampling its XSpan draft N products. Copyright © 2006, Wireless Watch Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.
Wireless Watch, 02 May 2006
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Ballmer sends 'don't panic' email to staff

Steve Ballmer sent staff a reassuring email on Friday, after watching the company's share price take its biggest dive in a year. Microsoft shares fell from over $27 on Thursday to just over $24 on Friday - a year low. Ballmer reiterated his belief that increasing capital spending by $2bn was necessary and useful. He said spending on Xbox manufacturing was higher than expected, as well as spending on getting ready for Vista and Office 2007. He said Microsoft was facing "new competitors, faster moving markets and new customer demands". The email to staff, which also appeared on Bloomberg, did little to reassure the markets, although MS shares held steady on Monday. More from Seattle PI here. In other news, Microsoft is paying $70m to end cases brought by several cities in California wanting refunds because Microsoft overcharged them for software. Cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Mateo are getting the money in vouchers which can be traded in for various computer products, not just Microsoft gear. ®
John Oates, 02 May 2006

F-22 Raptor swallows pilot

A hapless US Air Force pilot had to be physically cut free from the cockpit of his F-22A Raptor when the canopy resolutely refused to open, Flight International reports. The mini-drama unfolded on 10 April at the 27th Fighter Squadron's base at Langley AFB, Virginia, when the canopy "became stuck in the down and locked position and could not be opened manually after the pilot cycled the mechanism several times, following a pre-flight warning that the canopy was unlocked". Accordingly, an emergency team of ground operatives moved in after five hours and attacked the $134m Raptor with a decidedly unstealthy and low-tech chainsaw with which they unceremoniously sawed open the offending canopy. The estimated repair bill is a whopping $180,000. The F-22 Raptor was rolled out a couple of years ago after 19 years in development. The US military and makers Lockheed Martin wasted little time in trumpeting the beast's awesome capabilities, as LM's blurb demonstrates: No fighter in the world comes close to matching the F-22. By every measure, the Raptor represents extraordinary breakthroughs in manoeuverability, stealth, sensor fusion - a wealth of parameters that define a new era in fighter capability. Ahem. The breathless eulogy concludes: "With the F-22, the era of US air dominance - against all ground and air-based threats - has begun." Yes indeed. We look forward to the rumoured sequel to Top Gun which will feature Tom Cruise trapped for five hours in his F-22 after which Nicole Kidman rolls up to tell "Maverick": "Don't you think this has gone on long enough? It's time for you to come out of the cockpit. You're not fooling anyone." ®
Lester Haines, 02 May 2006

Visto sues Seven, targets RIM

Wireless email specialist Visto has sued Research in Motion (RIM), claiming the BlackBerry maker has infringed a number of its patents. At the same time, it let another player in the push email market, Intellisync, off the hook.
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006

NTL tinkers with broadband products

NTL is tinkering with a couple of its broadband products to bring them in line with those offered by Telewest. From 1 June, NTL punters hooked up to the cableco's 2 meg service will see the speed of their service doubled to 4 meg at the same price of £24.99 a month. The upgrades are to be carried out throughout June. At the same time the firm is to ditch the 75 gig usage limit on its 10 meg service. The shake-up means that from June both NTL and Telewest will offer broadband products with speeds of up to 10 meg and up to 4 meg. Telewest entry level service sits at 2 meg, while NTL's starts at 1 meg. In March, NTL and Telewest merged to create a mega cableco with more than five million residential punters in the UK. Last month, NTL confirmed it is to acquire Virgin Mobile as part of a billion pound master plan to create a giant communications company to take on pay TV outfit Sky and incumbent telco BT. As part of the deal, NTL will adopt the Virgin brand and offer a quad play of TV, phone, internet and mobile services to customers. ®
Team Register, 02 May 2006

Chinese suit stumps $25k for MiG-21

A Chinese businessman has stumped up $24,730 for a MiG-21 fighter punted via eBay, Beijing News reports via AP. Zhang Cheng will not, however, be taking to the blue yonder in his former Czech military hardware, last flown in 1995 and reported to be in "excellent condition". He told Beijing News: "I like to collect valuable items. I have the buying power and my company has an empty space where I can display the plane." There is just one possible snag: Zhang is not exactly sure whether the Chinese authorities will let him import the aircraft from its current home in Lewiston, Idaho. He admitted: "There is the precedent of a Chinese company buying a retired aircraft carrier, but I don't know if this jet plane is a banned item." The aircraft carrier in question is, AP believes, a "Soviet-built Minsk aircraft carrier that a Chinese company bought and converted into a floating theme park in the southern city of Shenzhen". Zhang's is now awaiting approval for the importation of his executive toy. ®
Lester Haines, 02 May 2006
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Bounced spam messages hammer corporate networks

More than 50 per cent of the largest US corporations have experienced mail service outages or delays because of bounced spam messages targeting their networks, according to a study by gateway security firm Ironport Systems. Spammers commonly forge the sender's email address so that some poor innocent - rather than a spammer - has to cope with the load of bounced messages sent to invalid email addresses. According to Ironport's study, these bounced messages make up 11 per cent of all all "hostile mail", other categories of which include spam, viruses, and phishing emails. Even though less than 0.5 per cent of bounced messages make it through to end users, the IT help desk costs associated with spam messages exceed $5bn a year. Most of these help desk calls are unnecessary because the message the end-user received was a misdirected bounce falsely claiming that a recipient had sent a virus-infected email to some unknown party. Gauging the financial cost associated with computer viruses and spyware is a notoriously inexact science. Ironport's figures also need to be approached with caution because they're used to support a sales pitch for Ironport's Email Reputation (spam bounce) technology, doubtless a top piece of kit. A full copy of Ironport's survey can be obtained here (registration required). ®
John Leyden, 02 May 2006
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Amazon ditches Google for Microsoft

Amazon has ended its relationship with Google and is now using MSN to provide search results on its site. A9 runs as a standalone site offering book, news, web and wikipedia searches, and provides the technology behind searches on Amazon.com - which were previously "powered by Google". Results will now be provided by Windows Live Search. The change is a big win for Microsoft which usually trails behind Google and Yahoo! in web searches. MS is widely expected to go head-to-head with Google with the release of Vista and IE7. It also emerged today that Google has complained informally to competition authorities in Europe and the US. Financial terms were not released. More details on Reuters here. ®
John Oates, 02 May 2006

ATI buys Bitboys

ATI has acquired Bitboys. The Finnish graphics chip developer now focuses on handset GPU designs but is perhaps best known for pledges made in the late 1990s to ship desktop graphics cards that it claimed would massively out-perform rivals from the likes of ATI and Nvidia.
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006

Apple to boost iTunes downloads with BitTorrent?

Apple's next major operating system release - aka 'Leopard' - will feature built-in BitTorrent support to speed up the company's eagerly anticipated movie download service, it has been alleged. If true, it would allow iTunes Music Store customers to grab video data not only from the online shop but also from other customers who've already purchased the movie.
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006
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Acer and Hitachi target Euro SMBs

Acer is pushing Hitachi Data Systems storage kit to smaller companies in Italy, and will expand the program to all the major European countries over the next 18 months. The companies already collaborate in Asia. They are now mirroring the deal in EMEA. Italy is the first target market, with Germany slated for later in the year. Next up is the UK, in the first half of next year, with France in the back end of 2007. Acer’s existing storage brand will be phased out in favour of the Acer-HDS label.®
Team Register, 02 May 2006

The Cloud intros flat-fee Wi-Fi tariff

The Cloud will introduce a new flat-fee tariff for its Wi-Fi service later this summer that slashes the cost of accessing the net on the move. From 1 July, punters will be able to sign up to a new unlimited flat rate package for £11.99 month. Called UltraWiFi, the package is subject to a 12-month subscription. A 'pay-as-you-go' version is also available for people who don't want to sign up for a year-long contract. For the same price, punters can use the service as much as they like for a week. The Cloud currently charges £5 an hour to access its service. UltraWiFi is due to be made available at the same time as The Cloud flicks the switch on its new city centre hotzones in Birmingham, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Oxford, along with the London boroughs of Kensington, Chelsea, Camden and Islington. Chief executive George Polk said The Cloud has been working hard to "make the Wi-Fi mobility world real. "By removing price as a barrier and structuring it so people can now be connected all the time at no additional cost, UltraWiFi enables a world where your computer, your music player, your camera or your low-cost VoIP phone is always connected to your Internet world," he said. ®
Team Register, 02 May 2006

Helio targets messaging-hungry youth

Helio, the US content-centric mobile phone service, has gone on sale today, pitching two 3G handsets, a messaging-oriented airtime package and online blogging tools to young, tech-savvy consumers. It hopes to sign up 3m of them in the next three years.
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006

Acer extends 17in laptop line

Acer has revamped its Aspire notebook line-up with four 17in models based on 1,440 x 900 displays pitched at mainstream home and office buyers, and punters looking for a large laptop on a small budget.
'ard Reg, 02 May 2006

Samsung slimline slider to offer Bluetooth stereo audio

Samsung will this month offer its latest slimline slider phone to European consumers, pitching the 1.6cm-thick, "easy-to-grip" device's Bluetooth 1.2-based wireless stereo playback and 80MB of on-board music storage at "the modernist and music appreciator in you".
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006
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UK retail security flap exposes 2,000 credit cards

An estimated 2,000 credit card details have been exposed by a security breach at a UK retailer. Affected users learned of the breach via an alert from MasterCard. They were informed that their card provider or bank was suspending potentially compromised accounts and issuing new accounts and cards to holders. The Scotsman reports that the credit card holders are customers of Clydesdale Bank. However, it's unclear what other banks are involved or whether non-MasterCard debit or credit cards might also have been exposed. The cause of the breach and whether cardholders from outside the UK will have to change accounts also remains something of a mystery. MasterCard said its own systems remain secure and that it was not involved in the breach. Nonetheless, MasterCard has begun an investigation. "MasterCard is aware of a potential security breach at a UK-based retailer. But because this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot disclose specific details regarding the incident or comment, other than to say that we are cooperating and we have notified the banks that issue MasterCard cards to monitor for any suspicious account activity and take the necessary steps to protect cardholders," MasterCard said in a statement. "MasterCard International is concerned whenever cardholders are inconvenienced and we will continue to monitor this event. As usual, if a MasterCard card holder is concerned about their individual account, they should contact their issuing financial institution." ®
John Leyden, 02 May 2006
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'Smart' phishing attack targets BoI

Bank of Ireland customers have been hit by yet another phishing scam in the form of an email asking users to update their security details. The fake security alert landed in inboxes on Friday evening, and may have fooled a number of customers into handing over their access codes and passwords, redirecting them to a website designed to collect the details. As of today the fraudulent site appears to have been disabled. A spokesperson for the bank confirmed it had received several calls from customers about the scam, and that some PINs had been changed. She described the perpetrators of the attacks as "smart", as it was launched on the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend. However, the bank did have people available to deal with the issues that arose. The bank's spokesperson said this was the third attack specifically targeted at its customers in the past 18 months. "They're constant at this stage," she said. "Everyone's experienced them now." She pointed out that such scams, however, are not evidence of a breach in the bank's security, and that to date it was not aware of fraud being perpetrated on a Bank of Ireland customer as a result of phishing. "It's a very big net," she explained. "They (the scammers) hope someone will hand over their details." The bank has warned customers to be wary of such emails, pointing out that it would never request details from a customer in such a way. However, the spokesperson added that awareness of such scams in Ireland appeared to be quite good. Next generation of spam It appears that more troubling times are ahead for computer users, with a new generation of spam expected to hit inboxes soon. Researchers are warning of "smarter spam", which mimics the type and tone of email found in a user's inbox. According to the latest reports, the spam zombies will scan inboxes, gather information and compose convincing replies to existing messages. This new spam could be more successful at fooling spam filters and other security measures than current incarnations. Recent developments have also seen spam that tries to gather information over the phone. An email warning users of problems with a bank account and offering a phone number to resolve it have been received by a San Francisco based security firm, Cloudmark. Copyright © 2006, ENN
Ciara O'Brien, 02 May 2006

MS in illegal music download shocker

Back in 2004, Microsoft big cheese Steve "Ballistic" Ballmer reportedly claimed that "the most common format of music on an iPod is 'stolen'." - in the process extolling the virtue of Windows DRM which, as we all know, completely prevents piracy of any sort, anywhere, ever. Ballmer quickly backtracked on the iPod claim and just as well, because we can exclusively reveal today that MS is apparently offering copyrighted music for free download and dissemination without regard for common IP decency and in flagrant breach of several, if not dozens, of international laws. Reader Michael Kortsen explains: http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/results.aspx?lc=en-us&Scope=MS&Query=happy+birthday&SubmitSearch=+Go+ If you go to the above link, you will see that Microsoft is offering free illegal music downloads. Namely, MIDI versions of "Happy Birthday", which is still under copyright. Interestingly, two of the versions are labelled "Trad", as if it were a traditional tune and not the precious intellectual property of, um, whoever owns it (you're the reporter, you look it up). Well, here's the background to "Happy Birthday": written in 1893 by Mildred Hill and her sister Patty Smith Hill, the song's original title was "Good Morning to All", intended as a schoolroom greeting. In 1924, the lyrics were amended to read "Happy Birthday to You". The song subsequently came under the control of the Birch Tree Group, Ltd, which in 1988 offloaded the asset to Warner Communications, the current copyright holder. The song will, in 2030, come into the public domain, but until then the bean counters down at Warner are legally entitled to a payment for any public performance. Naturally, we don't believe for a minute that lawyers backed by armed police officers are going to take to gatecrashing kiddies' birthday parties bearing tazers and writs, but surely they must find Microsoft too tempting a target? We reckon a claim for damages in the region of $4bn is appropriate in this case. Microsoft should also be obliged to provide full details of any Microsoft Office user who downloaded "Happy Birthday" so they too can be relentlessly hounded through the courts. It is, of course, entirely possible that MS has already struck a deal with Warner by which it can punt this cheerful ditty, in which case can it please ask the media monolith for a version which does not sound like it was knocked up by a five-year-old xylophonist in training for a career with Muzac Corporation? Thank you. ®
Lester Haines, 02 May 2006

First 'Super 3G' phones coming July?

BenQ Mobile has brought forward the release of its first mobile phone to support the HSDPA data speed boosting extension to 3G technology. According to online reports, BenQ's EF91 will ship in Europe in July courtesy of a deal struck with T-Mobile.
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006

Samsung hails single-chip 7in LCD panel

Samsung has created what it claims is the LCD industry's first single-chip, 800 x 480 colour panel made using amorphous silicon and measuring 7in in the diagonal. Interestingly, the company's Q1 UMPC, due any day now, sports a 7in, 800 x 480 display.
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006
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Netsky-P tops virus charts - again

Sophos’ latest malware top ten shows W32 Netsky-P and W32.Zafi-B battling it out for top spot. Two-year old Netsky-P took the top spot for April, up from second place in March. In doing this, it swapped places with Zafi-B, which is itself 22 moths old. The two accounted for 18.5 per cent and 16.5 per cent of reports. Nyxem-D was in third place with 8.5 per cent. The firm said email viruses and worms were declining as a proportion of malware. Trojans accounted for 86 per cent of threats reported last month, and are perceived as a much greater threat to security. Sophos added that 28 per cent of reported threats were designed to allow a third party to access a computer remotely, which it says indicates a focus on financial or data theft. Still, the firm found time to say it’s “astonishing” that Netsky-P is still the dark star performer after more than two years, and it placed the blame on users’ paying insufficient attention to protecting their systems. Or, put another way, “buy our products, buy our products”. That top ten in full: W32/Netsky-P W32/Zafi-B W32/Nyxem-D W32/MyDoom-AJ W32/Netsky-D W32/Mytob-FO W32/Mytob-C W32/Mytob-Z W32/Dolebot-A W32/Mytob-AS ®
Team Register, 02 May 2006
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Treasury not changing work PC rules

The Treasury is denying that changes to tax rules will mean people paying tax to use their work computer for personal chores. With the ending of the Home Computing Initiative, computers come under the same tax regulations they did before. This means they must be used mainly for work purposes. A spate of newspaper stories today claimed that individuals and their employers could end up being taxed for employees' personal use of work PCs. But the Treasury is unlikely to investigate anyone for looking for insurance quotes or cheap flights from their work computer, any more than they are likely to charge you for occasionally phoning your Mum from your work phone. A lack of news caused by the Bank Holiday weekend was blamed for the story's longevity. ®
John Oates, 02 May 2006

Windows Movie Maker 2: Zero to Hero

Cash'n'CarrionCash'n'Carrion You've seen the promises in the advertising: Microsoft's free Movie Maker 2 will make it simple to capture, edit and share your home movies. We agree, but how do you know where to start, or where you're going?
Team Register, 02 May 2006
fingers pointing at man

Hackers control bot client over P2P

Security watchers are warning of a new worm that's propagating over instant messenger networks run by both AOL and MSN. Nugache-A is also spreading (albeit modestly) as an infected email that uses a variety of well-known Windows exploits to infect vulnerable Windows PCs. If successful, the worm opens a back door that leaves compromised PCs as zombies under the control of hackers. The command and control channel technique used by the worm is unusual. Instead of a static list, the worm connects to infected peers, web security firm Websense reports. The SANS Institute's Internet Storm Centre (ISC) adds that the bots talk to each other via port 8/TCP over an encrypted P2P channel. "A peer-to-peer command and control channel makes it more difficult to block commands issued to the bot. The traffic over this channel also uses obfuscation in an attempt to bypass intrusion detection systems," Websense reports. Additional information on the worm, and how to guard against attack, can be found in ISC's advisory here. ®
John Leyden, 02 May 2006

Iqua Snake wraps stereo headset around car seat

Iqua's Snake has to be the oddest-looking in-car Bluetooth accessory we've seen, but there's a method to this particular madness. It may appear to be a hi-tech snorkel tube, but it's a microphone and speaker rig that clips onto your car seat for handsfree communications.
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006
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iSoft suffers NHS fever

Health service supplier iSoft warned on Friday that profits would be half the most optimistic City estimates after a key NHS customer failed to award iSoft a contract extension before its 30 April year-end. Consequently, and following earlier reported NPfIT-related problems, iSoft said it would be able to match only half the profit forecast made by the City. Profit forecasts had been in the range of £24m to £42m. They will now be £17m to £22m. The earlier reported problems consisted of a public relations battle fought by iSoft against "unfounded" speculation of financial difficulties at the firm, and a trading update in January which said 2005 revenues would be £45m below expectations because of delays to the NHS IT programme. ®
Team Register, 02 May 2006

Nvidia serves up free Gelato

Nvidia has opened its Gelato 3D rendering software to all, releasing a free-of-charge version of the once high-end only application that will run on any Nvidia GPU - from the GeForce 5200 upwards.
Tony Smith, 02 May 2006

Ofcom steps into Carphone row with BT

The Carphone Warehouse has suffered a setback to its ambitious plans to offer cut price broadband and phone services. A draft ruling by regulator Ofcom has failed to uphold a request by Carphone to slash the cost of migrating large numbers of users to its new service. If the draft ruling is confirmed, Carphone will have to pay more to migrate each customer to its new phone and broadband service than it had hoped, adding to its overheads. Like many aspects of local loop unbundling (LLU) (the process by which operators install their kit in BT exchanges to provide telecoms services direct to end users) the details surrounding the row between Carphone and BT are complex. Earlier this year, Opal Telecom (part of Carphone Warehouse) called on Ofcom to resolve a dispute concerning the maximum charge BT can make for the bulk migration of fully unbundled (MPF) and shared access (SMPF) lines. Fully unbundled lines are where the LLU operator, for example Bulldog, takes full control of a phone line to a home or business providing both a broadband and phone service. Shared access is where the LLU operator provides the broadband connection, but the phone service remains hooked up to BT's network. In the case of both MPF and SMPF, the maximum amount BT is allowed to charge operators for migrating individual lines in bulk is £34.86 per line. But in May last year BT Wholesale announced a special promo of £20 per line for the mass migration of shared lines (SMPF). At the time, ISPs such as AOL, Wanadoo and Tiscali had said they were interested in migrating large numbers of users to shared LLU while BT was keen to give LLU a chance to take-off. No LLU operators at the time expressed an interest in the bulk migration of fully unbundled lines. That is until last November when Opal announced its intention to unbundle up to 1,000 exchanges. A month later, Carphone bought Onetel and Tele2, taking its number of residential fixed line customers to around 2.5m. Last month, Carphone announced details of a new product based on fully unbundled lines that would provide a broadband service, inclusive phone calls and line rental for just £20.99 a month - massively undercutting similar services from rivals. Carphone is currently signing up customers and plans to start migration onto its new LLU platform later in the summer. But it wants to pay the promo price of £20 per line to migrate its customers onto its LLU platform - not £34.86. When it failed to reach agreement with BT earlier this year it complained to Ofcom claiming that the £20 SMPF offer should also be extended to fully unbundled (MPF) lines. Not to do so was "discriminatory", it said. In its "draft determination" to try and resolve the dispute, Ofcom has ruled that the maximum charge BT should impose for the bulk migration of fully unbundled lines should be £29.06. While it's cheaper than the original ceiling, it's still way off the £20 fee for migrating shared lines currently being offered by BT. The draft ruling has now been thrown open for consultation until the middle of May and a final decision is due early in June. A spokeswoman for BT told us that the giant telco was "considering the details of Ofcom's draft determination" and that it would "respond within the legal deadline". "We will continue to co-operate fully with Ofcom," she said. "Openreach is fully committed to working with The Carphone Warehouse and all of our customers to ensure that LLU is a success." No one at Carphone was available for comment at the time of writing. ®
Tim Richardson, 02 May 2006
channel

Ancient worm runs riot at Infosec

Infosec may have hosted mass of secure wireless networks last week, but that didn't mean everything was secure. A quick review of the available wireless networks from Olympia's press office revealed very few open WLAN networks. However, while exhibiting at the show, security risk firm McAfee was able to detect various networks connections that lacked any encryption, so maybe things weren't as rosy as we first suspected. Using its Network intrusion prevention product IntruShield, McAfee spotted 50,000 instances of attack by the Slammer worm. Slammer was been pumped across some security vendors' own networks, McAfee reports. You'd expect better from Europe's biggest IT security show. With many open access points available during the show, this attack could have been easily picked up by visitors to the trade show if they did not have the relevant security measures in place. Greg Day, security consultant at McAfee, thundered: "What’s even more disturbing is the nature of this virus; it is almost archaic in security terms. The Slammer worm has been fixable for ages. In short, there is no excuse for this to have even been present at the show, especially by so-called security companies." Attacks by SQL Slammer shouldn't be confused with successful infections. Net security services firm MessageLabs, which has a distinguished pedigree in spotting such outbreaks, told us it hadn't seen any problems. But scans by ancient worms weren't the only potential security pratfall on display on Infosec last week. Penetration testing firm SecureTest found that the complementary communal PC service was far from secure. SecureTest staff using these networked PCs to check their email discovered that insecure system configurations left users open to attack. It reports that it would have been trivial to download and install a software key logger to pick up keystrokes, disclosing the user name and passwords of anyone who had used the system to check webmail. To prove the point SecureTest staff keylogged themselves, logging into the SecureTest webmail system. It was then possible to retrieve their log-in credentials. There was no usage policy available for these machines. As a consequence, unknown individuals had been able to disable anti-virus software installed on these machines. "Given that the Infosec show attracts some from the hacking underworld, it would seem a little irresponsible to offer delegates use of such insecure systems," SecureTest managing director Ken Munro said. "We would strongly recommend that anyone who had used these systems change their webmail passwords, as any user could have had their passwords stolen over the course of the show by another user". ®
John Leyden, 02 May 2006