6th > August > 2007 Archive

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Black market for malware a thriving place

DefconDefcon The sale of Trojans, phishing kits and other types of malware thrives in a growing marketplace that resembles many of the more legitimate businesses that have set up shop online over the past decade. With a wealth of online bazaars, 24-by-7 support and the ability for other buyers to weigh in on the quality of the products, this malware economy continues to make it easier to break into the shady world of computer crime.
Dan Goodin, 06 Aug 2007
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Hacking for hijinks

DefCon Blog: Day 1DefCon Blog: Day 1 This is my second Defcon and there are plenty of high jinks but you'd be hard pressed to find any lawlessness. There was the year the ATMs were reprogrammed to display the Defcon logo. And there's always a lot of drinking and stupid network tricks. But nothing that's actually lawless.
Wendy M. Grossman, 06 Aug 2007
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Evolutionary vs. traditional database design

We recently published an article on the advantages of evolutionary database design (EDBD), a process which has its roots in the agile/extreme programming world. To provide a little balance, some yang for the yin, we asked Mark Whitehorn to comment on the article and give his views on EDBD vs. the more traditional database design approach.
Mark Whitehorn, 06 Aug 2007
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The romance and mystery of a good hack

DefCon Blog: FinalDefCon Blog: Final The 2007 Defcon badge (currently selling on eBay for $202.50) came with its own SDK, which explains why, by Sunday, a couple of attendees had hacked theirs to play music from their iPods.
Wendy M. Grossman, 06 Aug 2007
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Phoenix blasts off on ice-hunting mission

NASA's Phoenix mission lifted off successfully from Cape Canaveral this weekend, beginning its nine month journey through space to the red planet. The probe, which will dig into the Martian surface to probe for signs of water, is expected to reach its destination in May or June next year. NASA's Phoenix spacecraft begins its journey to Mars. Credit: NASA The Phoenix spacecraft began its journey to Mars aboard a three-stage Delta II 7925 rocket (more pictures of the launch are on NASA's site here). The rocket powered the craft into orbit, and sent it on its 679 million kilometre journey. According to the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council, the spacecraft looked to be in good shape after separation from the third stage of the vehicle. When Phoenix lands, its robotic arm will dig through the top soil layer to the water ice below. Samples of both the top soil and the ice will be brought back aboard for analysis. Silicon substrates produced at Imperial College London will be used to hold the soil samples and to help collect the highest resolution images ever of the soil on an alien world. Researchers at the University of Bristol are also involved in the project. Bristol's Dr David Catling, who will be studying the atmosphere of Mars and its interaction with the surface, said it was a great relief that the launch had gone well, and the mission is now on its way. "Of course, this is only the start with a busy period of preparation ahead for the instrument teams in readiness for touch down next year," he added. Once the craft arrives, it will only have three months to get stuck into its work before the dark of Martian winter arrives, forcing the lander into hibernation. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Aug 2007
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Offender tagging beaten by skyscrapers

The government may have to postpone the roll out of satellite tracking of offenders after a study uncovered serious technology flaws. A study commissioned by the Ministry of Justice reveals that the signal could be lost and people could remove their ankle tags and leave them behind. The report (pdf) says that in ideal conditions the technology was capable of finding the exact location of a tracked offender. But the signal could be distorted if an offender entered a building or a street with tall structures. Offenders determined to commit crime could remove their tags or leave their tracking units behind, even though this behaviour would be detected, the report reveals. Satellite tracking trials were announced in July 2004 under plans to clamp down on crime. David Blunkett, the then home secretary, said tracking would act as a "prison without bars". Greater Manchester, Hampshire, and the West Midlands were chosen to test the new technology in a two year trial, which ended in June last year. The hope was that it would help to deter offenders from breaking the law, as well as providing law enforcement agencies with extra intelligence about offender movement. Equipment consisted of an ankle tag and a portable tracking unit, which offenders had to keep with them at all times. The tracking unit received GPS signals and monitored the offender's location. The target groups chosen for satellite tracking were offenders serving time for sexual, violent, and domestic crimes, as well as prolific offenders. Professor Stephen Shute, author of the report, found that 58 per cent of the tracked offenders were either recalled to prison, or had their community sentence revoked. Most of these were the prolific offenders who had been ordered to live in a hostel. The satellite tracking trials cost £42 a day for each person. An offender would most usually be tracked for 72 days, at a total cost of some £3,000. But Professor Shute said the costs charged by the monitoring companies during the pilots are unlikely to reflect the costs associated with a national roll out. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told GC News: "We are currently considering the evaluation report, and the recommendations of a National Offender Management Service Working Group, on the future use of the satellite tracking of offenders in England and Wales. "Satellite tracking was not used as a replacement to existing methods of supervision or licence conditions, but as an additional risk management tool to enhance public protection. "It has been used to monitor offenders in other countries and the study was primarily evaluating whether satellite tracking could be implemented." This article was originally published at Kablenet. Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.
Kablenet, 06 Aug 2007
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Congress approves six-month blanket wiretap warrant

US legislators have approved controversial wiretapping operations by American spies, which had been forbidden by secret judges. AP reports that Congress voted 227 to 183 on Saturday to approve a new bill modifying the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Lewis Page, 06 Aug 2007
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Nissan rolls out drink-proof cars

Drink drivers could be prohibited from driving under the influence if new technology from Nissan is introduced. The Japanese car maker has developed a new odour detection system designed to prevent drivers from operating a car if they are over the legal limit. The system works by using a series of sensors to detect the level of alcohol the driver has consumed. A high-sensitivity alcohol odour sensor is built into the gear stick, which is able to detect the presence of alcohol in the perspiration of the driver's palm as he or she attempts to start driving. If the alcohol level detected is above a pre-determined threshold, the system automatically locks the transmission, immobilising the car. A voice alert is also issued via the car navigation system telling the driver that they are over the limit. Extra sensors are also placed in the driver and passenger seats and a warning is issued if these sensors detect the presence of alcohol in the air inside the vehicle cabin. While still in the developmental stages the concept of drink driving detectors being built into cars has generally been welcomed by Irish drivers contacted by ENN. "It sounds like a good idea. Having said that, among my friends drink driving is just not done. I notice the difference between my generation and my parents'. I'd think twice about driving after a glass of wine with a meal, whereas I know a lot of people my parents' age just wouldn't think about it at all," said Clare Hayes-Brady, a driver living in Booterstown in Co. Dublin. "So, in theory a very good idea and worth a trial, but I wouldn't bank on it being much good as regards fatality statistics." John Sheridan, from Dromiskin in County Louth, felt the prospect of not being able to drive home would ensure a lot of drivers acted more responsibly when out on the town. "I'd say it would cut down on people drinking and driving. It would see a lot of people go the extra mile and not drink at all for fear the quota in their car might be breached," he said. The possibility of potentially cutting down on the number of people drink driving was welcomed by Kevin Burke, from Deansgrange in Co. Dublin, but he added the developers needed to ensure the technology in place was capable of functioning precisely. "If it stops drink driving then it's a good thing, so long as it works properly," he said. The system also contains features designed to detect, and react, if drivers are falling asleep at the wheel - facial recognition technology detects signs of drowsiness such as increased blinking of eyes - or if drivers are otherwise distracted - technology monitors operational behaviour of the car, such as veering out of lane. Nissan said the technology is part of a project aimed at halving the number of fatalities and serious injuries in Nissan cars by 2015 compared to 1995 levels. © 2007 ENN
Emmet Ryan, 06 Aug 2007
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Martha Stewart criticised for swoop on town name

American cooking and home decorating guru Martha Stewart has upset the residents of her newly adopted home town by trade marking the name for her home decorating products. Trade mark law may not extend as far as outraged residents fear, though. Stewart has moved to the chic town of Katonah in upstate New York where she now lives next door to Ralph Lauren and where her neighbours include Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and Glenn Close. Stewart has applied to trade mark the name Katonah for her homeware goods such as paints, lighting and accessories. Residents are protesting and have formed a campaign, Nobody Owns Katonah. Local business owners fear that they may have to change the name of companies named after Katonah, but trade mark specialist Lee Curtis of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that their fears may not be well grounded. "You have a defence in trade mark infringement actions, you can use a geographical term in a descriptive sense, so people from Glastonbury or people from Katonah can say 'I am from Katonah' or 'I have a business in Katonah'," Curtis said. "If that's the case then they're perfectly free to use the term in a descriptive sense, so no-one who's got a legitimate interest in or trades in those geographical areas will be stopped from using the terms," he said. Speaking to weekly technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio, Curtis said that fears that Stewart would 'own' the Katonah name for all purposes are also unfounded. He said that since a word or phrase can only be trade marked for a limited set of goods or services, Stewart would have no blanket rights to the name. It is perfectly legal to trade mark the name of some towns for some purposes, but that right does not extend to all places, said Curtis. "It depends on the size of the town or city and whether that city or town is well known for the goods for which you're seeking protection," he said. "So for example it's unlikely you could get a registration for the simple word London because various different businesses operate in the London area, it's so big." "And, for example, Cheddar, you couldn't register that for cheddar cheese, because the Cheddar area is well known for cheese, so it very much depends on the size of the city or area and whether it's well known for the goods or services," he said. A similar problem arose in Glastonbury last year. Michael Eavis, the farmer behind the Glastonbury music festival, wanted to trade mark the word Glastonbury as it applies to performing arts festivals. Curtis said that Eavis and the town had constructive dialogue and were able to resolve the matter between themselves once everyone understood exactly what the trade mark process involved. "It's not so much about trade mark law as may about patting down a few ruffled feathers," said Curtis. Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 06 Aug 2007
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Orange launches new assault on English language

Not content with trying to foster mobification on us, Orange is at it again with smexting: the act of sending text messages while nipping out for a fag. In the two weeks following the workplace ban in England text traffic went up by seven and half million messages; to 519.5 million from 512 million in the last two weeks of July, a rise which Orange is keen to attribute to "smexting". Not content with that, they then slip "smirting" into their release; defined as "...the simple act of asking for a spare cigarette turning into a complex mating routine". Apparently prior to the ban the only way to chat someone up was to complain of having something in your eye: but now smokers have another way to start a conversation. Following the trend we look forward to buying a Benson & Hedges smone, and making calls on our Marlborough smobile: all whilst enjoying the smooth, mellow, taste of cancer in the rain. ®
Bill Ray, 06 Aug 2007
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Damaged DNA fixed in nuclear 'workshops'

Researchers in the US are a step closer to understanding how the body deals with damaged DNA. The findings might pave the way for new cancer treatments, and could also be useful in predicting how likely cosmic rays are to trigger cancers in humans. This is an active area of research for NASA because of its plans to send people to explore the red planet. The long journey to Mars would see astronauts exposed to high levels of cosmic radiation over an extended period. NASA needs to know whether or not those people it sends will be seriously damaged by the journey. Although DNA repair work is constantly underway in the body, it is not clear exactly where the refurbishment take place: i.e. does the body fix things where the damage takes place, or do all the broken pieces get shunted to specialised DNA repair "workshops"? Now a team at the Life Sciences Division (LSD) of the US Department of Energy, along with colleagues at NASA and the Universities Space Research Association, reports that computer models suggest that damaged DNA does indeed collect in special areas of the cell for repair. This is a fairly controversial suggestion. Yeast is known to handle its repairs in this way, but as Professor Sylvain Costes, lead researcher on the project at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, says: the genome of yeast is much smaller than ours. Many working in the field are more convinced by the idea of repairs being done "on the spot", but Costes is undaunted. In the best tradition of interesting research, the team drew this conclusion because the predictions didn't match their data in some fairly specific ways. Cosmic rays are highly energetic, and should leave linear, parallel tracks through any organic matter. Physics predicts that they will deposit their energy (i.e. cause damage) along the lines of a Poisson distribution, with big clumps of DNA damage being found close together, and fewer smaller areas of damage located further apart. (This is used to model the number of events occurring within a given time interval, and looks a bit like this.) The laws of probability also suggest that more damage would occur in regions with more DNA. But in both instances, the reverse was found to be true: the damage was more likely to be found in more sparsely populated regions, and the large clumps of damage were widely distributed. For Costes, the implications are clear: the nuclear organisation seems to confer some kind of protection to the DNA. "DNA damage localises itself in open regions of the cell, and we saw that it also collects at the interface between DNA dense regions and these more open regions. This indicates something is going on: the nucleus is reorganising itself." He suggests that the damaged DNA is on the move, so that it can be processed centrally for repair. This, he argues is a more efficient way of fixing damage, as it can all be done in one place. However, the implications for astronauts are not so good. Costes explains that a system like this works well for simple breaks in DNA caused by the kind of radiation we are generally exposed to on Earth, but is less useful for dealing with the complex damage to DNA that is caused by highly energetic cosmic rays. "The radiation we are exposed to on earth causes random, sparse breaks, but cosmic rays deposit lots of energy, causing lots of damage, in clusters. Multiple breaks mean that lots end up in the same repair factory, which makes it much more likely that there will be a mis-repair. We know that chromosomal aberrations can lead to cancers, if you are unlucky, by triggering a part of the genome that is usually silent." The could lead to a cell developing growth advantages, and multiplying out of control, or to the wrong kind of cells for a specific location being produced. Now Costes and his team are looking for two proteins. First, they need to identify a transporter protein that could move the damaged DNA to the repair centre. Next, and more controversially, they are on the look out for a protein could act as a temporary fix for a break in the double helix, so that a damaged part of DNA could be transferred to the repair factory without tangling up. "The repair sequence is very complex," Costes told us. "It involves many players. The sequence is still being worked out." The work is to be published in the August 2007 edition of PLoS Computational Biology. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Aug 2007

ICANN spreads love, opens bosom to all

The Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers (ICANN) continued its ongoing outreach efforts last week with two announcements: the establishment of an ICANN online magazine and the expansion of a pilot fellowship program oriented towards those from countries relatively underrepresented in the ICANN processes. Any move by ICANN to make the organization more comprehensible to the average internet user is welcome, and the magazine is written in a casual, colloquial style to further that end. The current edition has an interview with Janis Karklins, the chair of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) and Latvia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Geneva, as well as information about IPv6 and top level domain (TLD) controversies. The fellowship program is designed to jump start more active participation by those in developing nations, primarily, though the program will also accept applicants from somewhat more developed nations as well. It’s really about encouraging participation from regions not overly represented currently at ICANN. The pilot program at the San Juan meeting seems to have gone well enough, and the program will be expanded. Priority will be given to applicants who are current residents of developing and least developed nations who are interested in participating in ICANN and its supporting organizations, such as the Governmental Advisory Committee, the Country Code Names Supporting Organization, and the Generic Names Supporting Organization. The fellowship will assist in covering airfare, hotel and a stipend. Recipients will be expected to actively participate in and contribute to ICANN processes. It’s part of the internationalization push that includes the internationalization of domain names (IDNs) and the establishment of the Regional At Large Organizations (RALOs). The first edition of the magazine can be found here, and for those interested in the fellowships, information is available here. ® Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office
Burke Hansen, 06 Aug 2007

Pipex chairman looks to ditch WiMAX, hosting gristle

Pipex chairman Peter Dubens still seems keen to offload what remains of the group following the breakup deal it cut with Tiscali in July. In an interview with the Independent this weekend, Dubens said the ongoing review of the remaining scraps of the Pipex carcass would be complete "the next few months". Tiscali has agreed to pay £210m for the consumer broadband unit, leaving hosting, business broadband, and WiMAX swinging in the breeze. Dubens had been known to favour a wholesale exit from the consolidating UK internet services market. The entrepreneur is now going after a slice of the booming private equity market by setting up Oakley Capital, which is set to list on AIM. The new firm's backers, who have stumped up £100m, include ex-Yahoo! boss Terry Semel's son Eric. More here. ®
Christopher Williams, 06 Aug 2007
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Indian cops reach for bananas to flush out evidence

Indian coppers forced a suspected jewel thief to scoff over 40 bananas in a bid to force him to produce a necklace he had allegedly stolen. When the bananas failed to do the trick, the plods, in the Eastern Indian city of Kolkata, moved onto a veritable smorgasbord of other purgative foods. The resourceful plods performed the novel “softening up” technique on Sheikh Mohsin, 35, who was accused last week of stealing a 45,000-rupee (£546) necklace from a woman, then swallowing it when police and residents collared him. Mohsin denied swallowing the baubles, but the coppers had him X-rayed at a hospital, which showed up the missing jewellery. The doctors advised the cops to stuff the alleged thief full of bananas, a natural laxative, and let nature take care of the rest. Mohsin was put under 24 hour observation, but despite three bowel movements over night, plus some light vomiting, the necklace failed to appear. Stronger measures obviously being required, the constabulary then stuffed him full of rice, chicken, and local breads. This seemed to do the trick, and the previously recalcitrant Mohsin soon opened up, and produced the missing loot. This wasn’t the first time the Kolkata police have deployed the feared curvy yellow truncheon in their fight against crime. Another thief was subjected to the same treatment just a few months ago, apparently succumbing much more quickly than Mohsin. The Kolkata plods could probably teach their Romanian counterparts a thing or two. A couple of years back the former Communist state was plagued by mobile phone thieves, who took to secreting their goods not just about, but inside their person. Rather than reaching for the bananas, the preferred method there is to just reach for the item in question, making policing a dirtier job than it really needs to be. ®
Joe Fay, 06 Aug 2007
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VeriSign worker exits after laptop security breach

VeriSign has warned workers of the theft of a laptop that contained their personal information. The laptop was stolen from a car parked in the garage of a California worker sometime on the night of 12 July. The laptop contained personal information - name, Social Security number, date of birth, salary information, telephone numbers, and home addresses - of an unknown number of VeriSign employees. Bank account numbers or password information were not stored on the machine.
John Leyden, 06 Aug 2007
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iPhone's keyboard prompts patent violation suit

A Florida-based company has accused Apple of infringing a patent it owns for a readable keyboard display, similar to the iPhone's touch-screen. SP Technologies filed a claim alleging that Apple has infringed on a patent it was granted in 2004 for a "method and medium for computer readable keyboard display incapable of user termination".
James Sherwood, 06 Aug 2007
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Staff cut off in Evesham 'rescue' deal

British computer maker Evesham Technology laid off more than 100 staff late Friday, telling them the firm was in "administration". But the ultimate fate of the firm was unclear today, with the Evesham website apparently showing the Evesham brand is under new ownership.
Kelly Fiveash, 06 Aug 2007
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Yahoo! faces! investigation! over! China!

The US' House Foreign Affairs Committee said last week it will investigate Yahoo! over allegations that it covered up its involvement in handing over information to Chinese authorities to help them pursue political opponents. Yahoo! has always said its Chinese subsidiary was only obeying local laws. Tom Lantos, chairman of the committee, said: "It is bad enough that a wealthy American company would willingly supply Chinese police the means to hunt a man down for shedding light on repression in China. Covering up such a despicable practice when Congress seeks an explanation is a serious offense. For a firm engaged in the information industry, Yahoo! sure has a lot of secrecy to answer for. We expect to learn the truth, and to hold the company to account." Yahoo! handed over information about Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist. He was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for posting on a website called Democracy Forum. But the company always said it did not know what he was being investigated for. Documents apparently sent to Yahoo! make clear this was untrue. Documents from Beijing State Security Bureau said they were investigating "illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities" - commonly used to capture political dissidents. The request asked Yahoo! for email details, log in times, IP addresses, and email content from February 2004 until 22 April 2004 when the letter was sent. Shi is appealing his sentence in China and is also seeking damages against Yahoo! in the US courts. The committee's statement is here. Chinese human rights group Dui Hua found the documents. It has more information here, or a scan of the documents is here. ®
John Oates, 06 Aug 2007
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NASA nuke-bot to tackle space boulders of doom

NASA plans to deal with killer comets or asteroids on collision courses with Earth are more advanced than many analysts had thought. Flight International reported on Friday that the agency's Marshall Space Flight Centre has developed designs for an asteroid-buster spacecraft which could be launched using the future Ares V cargo rocket. According to Flight, Marshall engineers based their design study around the 99942 Apophis asteroid, which rounds the Sun eccentrically, veering in and out between the orbits of Mercury and Mars. Apophis is estimated to be perhaps 270 metres across and it will pass close to Earth in 2029, well inside the orbit of the Moon and closing in to the same sort of distance as geosynchronous satellites. There was initially some concern following Apophis' discovery in 2004 that it might strike the Earth devastatingly in 2029 or 2036 - hence the name ("Apophis is the Egyptian god of evil and destruction who dwelled in eternal darkness," says NASA.) Further observations have refined the data and it is now known that the likelihood of a collision with Apophis in the foreseeable future is extremely small. It seems that the human race is to be spared any devastating hammerblow from the heavens this time; but there is presumably a very small chance of a TV satellite or two being taken out by Apophis as it swings by. This could indicate that the mysterious forces of the cosmos have no beef with humanity; just with some kinds of broadcast content. Talk about your divine judgement. We'll have to wait and see. For the purposes of their asteroid-defence plan, however, Flight says that NASA boffins assumed a bullseye hit on the Earth by Apophis and set its mass at 1,000 tonnes - though NASA says its estimate of Apophis' mass is 21 million tonnes. This would, says the space agency, give an impact equivalent to a 400 megaton atomic-bomb barrage. Disappointingly for fans of Armageddon, the NASA asteroid-defence mission included no role for any eccentric oil-drilling experts, nor even any straight-arrow astronauts. The human race would rely on robots to sacrifice themselves for our survival. Initially, a recce probe would be sent out in order to make sure of a threat asteroid's composition and flightpath; then the main mission would follow, blasting off in 2020 or 2021 in the case of Apophis. Rather than smashing any troublesome space rock to pieces, it seems the plan would be to give it a relatively gentle nudge while it was still far away, so that it missed the Earth cleanly. Of course, a 20 million tonne boulder would need a hefty nudge - and under the headline-grabbingest NASA plan this would be delivered by a volley of up to six nuclear missiles packing 1.2 megaton B83 warheads. These would detonate a hundred metres or so from the asteroid, and the heat of the explosions would cause part of it to vapourise and shove the remainder to one side. There was also an alternative design for the boulder-buster mission, in which the shunting missiles would use only their own kinetic energy. There was a third, more groovy option in which a solar powerplant craft would fly alongside the menacing meteor and focus the sun's rays to boil off asteroidal material, which would have the effect of gradually easing it off the path of danger. Apparently, the three different plans are each optimised for different types of asteroid. Once the composition of a dangerous space object was known, the design of the interceptor would be selected. NASA reportedly assessed that the nuclear option could push 100 metre to 500 metre sized boulders safely off course given two years' warning, and larger ones with a five year heads-up. The Flight report is here. There was no word on any plan by the satellite-TV industry to do anything about Apophis, given that NASA plans to ignore the possible threat to viewing schedules. Richard Branson of Virgin Media also owns a private spaceship startup, Virgin Galactic, though this has suffered setbacks lately, and of course the imminent selloff of Virgin Media could make the point irrelevant. Also, disappointingly for telly lovers, the troubled Spaceship Two isn't actually capable of getting even into Earth orbit - let alone mounting a nuclear barrage in deep space. Thus far, anyway, there has been no announcement by the bearded biz kingpin of any plan to purchase nukes or mount a personal asteroid expedition. ®
Lewis Page, 06 Aug 2007
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US govt password security still dismal

The importance of keeping passwords secret is endlessly reiterated by security firms, banks, and others. Yet US government tax service workers are still to pick up on the message, it seems.
John Leyden, 06 Aug 2007
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Chip sales up but prices down

Price cuts are continuing to hurt profits for chip makers, even though actual sales are increasing. In the first half of 2007, worldwide chip sales hit $121bn, up two per cent on the first six months of 2006.
John Oates, 06 Aug 2007
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Nokia calls Microsoft for DRM software

Nokia is to incorporate Microsoft's DRM software into its S60 and Series 40 mobile device platforms, fueling speculation that it's about to jump onto the music downloads bandwagon. Microsoft's PlayReady content access software allows owners of digital content to transfer it between different devices in a DRM-controlled manner.
James Sherwood, 06 Aug 2007
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UK.gov publishes alien sightings list

Terrified Brits reported almost 100 UFO sightings to the Ministry of Defence last year. Quite what they wanted the bowler-hatted ones to do about the lights whizzing through the skies is unclear, but the full report makes for entertaining reading. Street furniture or harbinger of alien doom? Highlights include "a big round swirly thing" in the skies above East Lothian, "a blue ball of light, with a tail at the end" and "the mothership and two smaller orbs...". Days later another chilling report: "The mothership was seen again." There are clusters of sightings around 5 November (Guy Fawkes night, when we let off lots of fireworks for the non-Brit audience), and 31 December. One report on New Year's Eve read: "Lights - so many different ones." Further amusement for the cynics comes from a sighting in Hastings where a two witnesses report seeing "an alien" outside their kitchen window. Hastings is clearly an odd place to visit. The report also contains good news for Cumbrian drivers. One witness reported seeing: "a triangular object with lights. One green, one red, and the other two amber." We're going out on a limb here and identifying this one as a traffic light. The MoD, however, remains unimpressed, saying it only investigates those sightings that could be related to military aircraft. Presumably, this means aliens visiting the UK for tourism are welcomed, and are not likely to be chased away by government officials. A spokeswoman said: "Unless there's evidence of a potential threat we don't investigate to try to identify it." The disclosures, not the first of their kind, were made in response to a Freedom of Information request. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Aug 2007
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£1.2bn e-Borders data mountain spun as gov bonanza

The UK Home Office "e-borders" database scheme continues to march forward, with the government announcing last week a £1bn splurge investment and trumpeting successes thus far. The basis of e-borders is a requirement on airlines, ferry companies etc to submit comprehensive details of all passengers and crew to be carried in advance of any journey into or out of the UK. Names and details are then compared with "national and international watch lists". If the databases flag people up, various courses of action can be taken. In the case of people thought likely to become illegal immigrants, the UK simply indicates its unwillingness to receive the person from the airline. Huddled masses worldwide yearning to live like kings on British benefits - or to do shitty jobs for low pay, it makes never no mind - get sent homeward to think again. "Airline liaison officers have stopped nearly 180,000 people from boarding planes in the last five years. That's the equivalent of two jumbo jets a week," boasts the government. There was no word on how many of the 180,000 were repeat attempts, or how long it took people to learn the need for a cheap foreign fake ID to go with the comparatively expensive air ticket. "All our tests show it works," Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said. "And there are more than 1,000 arrests to prove it. Now we need to go further, with full-scale screening of travellers." Byrne said the plan creates "a new, offshore line of defence - helping genuine travellers, but stopping those who pose a risk before they travel". The scheme is still just being tested, but already 29 million passengers have been "screened", and more than a thousand were arrested as a result - "for crimes as serious as murder, rape and assault". But it's not just about beating back the starving, perhaps politically oppressed, 0.003%-criminal hordes. According to government plans, e-borders might come close to paying for itself. The Guardian reports that Home Office penpushers have throught of several ways to turn the planned monster datastream into black Treasury ink. Under one plan, any miscreant who had failed to pay court-ordered fines would find themselves turned back at the airport if they then tried to travel abroad. The Guardian noted that almost half a billion in fines is currently owing, and this rises to £787m if unpaid confiscation orders are included. There were also schemes for manacling visiting foreign scumbags who refused to pay NHS hospital bills, or perhaps - given the cost of imprisonment and the lack of room in UK jails - just refusing to let them go home until they paid up. That one sounds particularly clever; presumably it will lead to a rash of would-be illegal immigrants wantonly injuring themselves in the arrivals lounge and blatantly refusing to pay the resulting hospital bills, thus tricking the government into letting them stay. There were also plans to use e-borders to unmask those who falsely claimed non-domiciled or non-resident status to get out of paying taxes, perhaps raking in as much as £2bn a year. Apparently, there are also large numbers of people still claiming benefits despite having left the UK, who could be profitably mulcted by Her Majesty's civil servants. At times, e-borders appears to operate in a simple way: it assumes that what people want is probably bad in some way. If those overseas want to be in the UK, e-Borders will stop them coming. If people already here want to get out, it will be used to prevent that too. Still, if the Home Office is right, e-borders should be able to pay for itself and more - indeed, should turn a thumping profit. Surely, then, there's no need to pay for it. There ought to be companies queuing up to fund such an obvious private-finance goldmine. ®
Lewis Page, 06 Aug 2007
6

Astronomers wave big thermometer at universe

The world's largest thermometer has just entered active service. This isn't a cue for all sorts of "ooh, Matron" remarks, since the thermometer in question is taking the temperature of billion-year-old clouds of gas, way "out there" in the universe. And although it is essentially a big thermometer, it should technically be referred to as a Bolometer. And the aim is to use the new camera to find out more about the formation of the very first stars and galaxies. "A large fraction of all the gas in the Universe has extremely cold temperatures of around minus 250 degrees Celsius, a mere 20 degrees above absolute zero," says Karl Menten, director at the Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy (MPIfR) in Germany. "Studying these cold clouds requires looking at the light they radiate in the submillimetre range, with very sophisticated detectors." Broadly, a bolometer works by detecting tiny changes in temperature caused by radiation hitting a foil sheet. To be sensitive to the tiny changes it is looking for, the camera needs to be kept extremely cold: less than 0.3 degrees above absolute zero. That kind of temperature takes liquid helium, a tricky enough substance to work with at sea level, let alone at the 5,100m altitude of the 12m APEX telescope that houses the camera. But if the telescope were not high on the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes, in the dry clean air, the signal detection would be all but impossible because the signals the researchers are looking for are readily absorbed by water vapour. One of the researchers describes it as "trying to see stars during the day". The European Southern Observatory, which runs the site, has details of the specification: A bolometer camera combines many tiny bolometer units into a matrix, much like the pixels are combined in a digital camera. LABOCA observes at the submillimetric wavelength of 0.87 mm, and consists of 295 channels, which are arranged in 9 concentric hexagons around a central channel. The angular resolution is 18.6 arcsec, and the total field of view is 11.4 arcmin, a remarkable size for instruments of this kind. The team is pleased with the performance of the kit so far, saying that the first observations have revealed the camera's great potential. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 06 Aug 2007

UK, France and Germany PC shipments moving on up

Western Europe PC shipments have grown by a healthy 9.3 per cent compared to the same period in 2006. According to preliminary results from technology research firm Gartner, 11.2 million units were shipped in the second quarter of 2007, with demand for laptops pushing up sales across the UK, France and Germany.
Kelly Fiveash, 06 Aug 2007
12

Aussie senate blocks CDMA switch off

Australia's ex-monopoly Telstra won't be allowed to switch off its aging CDMA network, at least not until it can provide equivalent 3G coverage, according to new conditions imposed by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Telstra was planning to switch off its CDMA network, which reaches 21 per cent of the country - though 98 per cent of the population - in January 2008. The company has already started migrating customers to its "Next G" service, but that doesn't have the coverage of the legacy system. Next G is a 3G network, but operates at 850MHz (as opposed to the usual 2100MHz) to increase the cell sizes, but despite this Telstra has found it difficult to achieve the coverage of its CDMA network. The company is now claiming it never intended to switch off the older technology until the new had the same coverage anyway, so the minister's new license conditions are redundant. According to the minister, this isn't what the firm said back in June when she suggested it delay the switch-off. Even if the company claims equivalent coverage, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will want 12 weeks to check up on it, so a switch off in January is unlikely to be possible. ®
Bill Ray, 06 Aug 2007
8

Feds cuff 18 in $126m pharmacy bust

A bust on an illegal pharmacy that's reckoned to raked in $126m in illicit revenues from the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals has led to racketeering and related charges against 18 suspects. A 313-count grand jury indictment, returned on July 27 and unsealed last week, alleges offences ranging from distribution and dispensing of controlled substances to mail and wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering against alleged members of the Affpower distribution network. Defendants in the case (who are yet to be named) include three doctors, two pharmacists, a credit card processor and eight affiliate website operators. Each faces the prospect of a long stretch inside and massive fines if convicted. Between August 2004 until June 2006, the Affpower network allegedly processed 1m internet order for controlled and non-controlled prescription pharmaceuticals from customers across the US, generating more than $126m in gross revenue. "Little or no doctor review while prescribing possibly dangerous drugs" was involved in the operation, according to Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher According to the indictment, Affpower allegedly paid licensed doctors from different states and Puerto Rico to "haphazardly" review health questionnaire answers provided by customers on the net and issue prescriptions solely on the basis of those answers. Affpower doctors were allegedly paid just $3 per review. Some reviewed hundreds of customer orders per day, inevitably leading to mistakes. Affpower doctors allegedly issued prescriptions for pharmaceuticals "even when a customer’s answers to the health questionnaire suggested that the ordered drug could pose a danger to the customer, or that the customer did not have a medical condition for which the ordered medication was an appropriate treatment," prosecutors allege. In some cases, prescriptions were filed by unqualified member of the Affpower syndicate, and issued using the name and registration of a licensed physician. Affpower located its administrative headquarters in Costa Rica, and its computer servers in Cyprus. It used an Israeli firm to process credit card payments and banks in Cyprus to disperse payments. Use of foreign-based agencies was part of an orchestrated bid to avoid US prosecution. Tracing the flow of money through this illegal network was a key element in the investigation, leading to a number of arrests and seizures. The network was brought down by a diverse task force consisting of agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Food and Drug Administration, the IRS, the FBI, and the US Postal Inspection Service. Special agents from the DEA also worked with the San Diego-based team of modern-day "Untouchables". A DoJ statement on the case can be found here. ®
John Leyden, 06 Aug 2007
2

AMD's Opteron goes to 3.2GHz

AMD is trying to breath new life into its dual-core Opteron by upping the chip to 3.2GHz just weeks before Barcelona rolls on store shelves. AMD announced today the pricing and availability to its Opteron 2000 and 8000 series x86 chips, both in a mainstream and high performance flavor.
Austin Modine, 06 Aug 2007
Sun
8

Sun releases world's fastest chip - at 1.4GHz

Never one to cower in the face of hyperbole, Sun Microsystems has come out touting the new eight-core UltraSPARC T2 - aka Niagara II - chip as the world's fastest microprocessor. We've written so much about Niagara II that there's not much left with which to surprise you. As promised, the chip has just as many cores as Niagara I but doubles the thread count to 64. The chip also has one floating point unit per core, as opposed to Niagara I's lone floating point unit. And, lastly, the chip should debut, according to Sun, at 1.4GHz in systems shipping in the fourth quarter, although we've noted Sun already has Solaris support for a 1.5GHz version of the chip.
Ashlee Vance, 06 Aug 2007
cable
8

IBM to win $200m supercomputer contract

The National Science Foundation will award IBM a $200m contract to build one of the world's fastest supercomputers, but don't tell anyone because it's a secret. Or at least it was until The New York Times spilled the beans after documents were accidentally posted on a government web site last week. Now there won't be a wild $200m Science Foundation surprise party, and the guy who makes giant novelty checks is out of yet another job. Must everyone suffer? Perhaps not the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where the monster will be built. The spoilsport Times reports the machine is expected to cost $200m to build, but will require to be fed more than $400m over its five-year lifetime. But we aren't talking about an overgrown Speak & Spell here. The machine will be capable of a petaflop — that's one thousand trillion mathematical operations per second — that's a lot. The government web site removed the details about the contract after they were ever so briefly available online. The National Science Board must first approve the contract before anyone starts moving silicon. Most scientists shouldn't get too excited about getting their grubby mitts on this one though. The machine is intended for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. While many supercomputers in the US serve a wide community of academic researchers, this one will handle a few specific Grand Challenge science projects, such as simulating global warming. The June Top 500 list of supercomputers places the IBM BlueGene beast at DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at the current top system for the fourth straight time. The system reached a benchmark score of 280.6 teraflops — which is frankly, still a lot of flops. ®
Austin Modine, 06 Aug 2007

Google India deal signals mobile push

Google may or may not offer its own smartphone in the coming months, but you're sure to see its apps on other mobile devices across the globe. Little more than a week ago, the search giant teamed up with U.S. wireless carrier Sprint to offer Google tools on Sprint's upcoming WiMax portal.Now, Google has laid the groundwork for another mobile push, inking a deal with Bharti Airtel, India's largest private broadband and telephone provider. Today, Airtel announced that the two companies will bring Google apps - including Google Search, Gmail, Google Talk, and Google Docs & Spreadsheets - to the service provider's wire-line broadband customers. But in the future, the two plan to offer similar apps on mobile phones as well, Business Standard reports. "Today's alliance provides an platform for Airtel users to enjoy the best possible online experience with customized access to Google's evolving suite of innovative products," said Shailesh Rao, managing director for Google India, referring to the wire-line deal. But then he added that the alliance would soon push Google apps onto Airtel mobile devices. Rao's comments comes amidst ongoing rumors that Google is building a mobile device of its own, the so-called Gphone. Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the company had approached wireless operators such as T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless about carrying phones specially-designed for use with Google search, Google email, and a brand new Google web browser. The Mountain View outfit seems to have its sights set on the mobile ad market. "What's interesting about the ads in the mobile phone is that they are twice as profitable or more than the non-mobile phone ads because they're more personal," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said this past May. Google has even said it might bid for a portion of the U.S. wireless spectrum due to be auctioned off by the Federal Communications Commission early next year. With a post to its official blog, the company claimed it would pony up $4.6bn for a slice of the "700MHz band" - if the FCC adopted certain open-access rules that would treat the spectrum much like the wired internet. The FCC did not meet all of Google's criteria, but the company hasn't ruled out a bid entirely. According to research firm M:Metrics, Google is already the most popular mobile web destination in both the U.S. and the UK. In April, M:Metrics says, 62.48 per cent of U.S. smartphone users visited Google domains, and only 33.54 per cent visited Yahoo!, the next most-popular destination. ®
Cade Metz, 06 Aug 2007

HP's graphics library goes GPL

LinuxWorldLinuxWorld HP has burrowed deep into the data center for its package of LinuxWorld-related announcements. Software libraries, code testing and pay-per-use Linux? Sure, why not. Open-sourcing software tools seems to be all the rage. Two weeks ago, Intel pumped out some parallelization code under the General Public License (GPLv2). Now we find HP using the same license to cover the release of its Parallel Compositing Library visualization software. The company announced the code's open sourceness as LinuxWorld kicks off in San Francisco.
Ashlee Vance, 06 Aug 2007
SuSE Linux
14

Lenovo to ship Linux laptops

Lenovo is to pre-load ThinkPad laptops with a Linux OS, in response to calls from enterprise customers. Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is to be available across the PC maker's ThinkPad notebook series starting in the fourth quarter of 2007.
James Sherwood, 06 Aug 2007

F5 buys Acopia for $210m

F5 Networks is wading into the storage market by spending $210m to acquire privately-held Acopia Networks. The company is paying cash for the entirety of the file-based virtualization firm.
Austin Modine, 06 Aug 2007
15

Amazon throws cash at MySpace-ified music startup

What will Amazon's upcoming digital music store look like? Here's a hint: The world's most popular e-tailer just threw some cash at AmieStreet, the fledgling music site that prices songs according to their popularity. Today, AmieStreet announced the completion of its first round of financing, and it looks like Amazon was the biggest contributor. The New York-based startup wouldn't divulge the terms of its deal with Amazon or say exactly how much the Seattle-based company ponied up. But co-founder Elliott Breece told The Reg that Bezos and company had made the first move. "What we can tell you," he said, "is that Amazon found us and we were interested and we flew out to Seattle, where we met with Jeff Bezos and the Amazon team and talked about the music business." Founded in the spring of 2006 by Breece and two of his Brown University classmates, Josh Boltuch and Elias Roman, AmieStreet is known as "the first digital music store propelled by social networking." But don't hold that against them. We quite like their pricing philosophy. When a song is first posted to the site, it's completely free. But as more and more people download it, the price steadily rises, eventually capping off at 98 cents. That's one cent below the price of most songs on iTunes, the Apple music store that's sold over 3bn songs since it launched in 2003. What's more, AmieStreet users receive site credit for recommending songs to others. The more popular a song becomes after you make a recommendation, the more credit you receive. Anyone can upload songs to the service, and in stark contrast to iTunes, all downloads are DRM-free. "We spent a good amount of time on the peer-to-peer networks growing up, when you could steal music from AOL chat rooms," Boltuch told us. "The site is about getting our demographic to pay for music online and be part of an online retail experience that's actually worth paying for." With its DRM-free model, the site has yet to sign any of the major record labels, but Breece said that such deals are on the way. "At this point, our content deal spans everyone from do-it-yourself artists uploading it from their garages to large aggregators. But we really believe that DRM has seen its heyday and we will be adding major labels sooner rather than later." In May, Amazon announced that by the end of the year, it would launch a DRM-free digital music store with songs from over 12,000 record labels, including one major: EMI Music. Apple has a similar DRM-free deal with EMI, offering the label's songs for $1.29 a pop rather than the standard 99-cent iTunes price tag. But, as with all of Apple's music, these EMI tunes aren't compatible with handheld media players other than an iPod or iPhone. Like AmieStreet, Amazon will offer tracks for any mp3 player. Bootnote AmieStreet is named for Amy Street, where the site's three co-founders lived during their senior year at Brown. "Being the creative guys that we are," says Roman, "we changed it to Amie." ®
Cade Metz, 06 Aug 2007
18

E-voting gets bitch-slapped in Calfornia

California's top election official has decertified electronic voting machines made by the industry's four biggest vendors, in response to a report that highlighted their potential for election tampering. The move by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen effectively bars the machines of three of the manufacturers - Diebold Election Systems, Sequoia Voting Systems and Hart InterCivic - unless new measures are implemented to safeguard against abuse. Bowen also decertified e-voting machines sold by Election Systems and Software, which didn't turn over source code and other materials in time to be tested in in a "top-to-bottom" review designed to assess the security of all ballot machines. ES&S machines could be certified for use in the future. Last week, University of California researchers hired by Bowen concluded machines sold by all three vendors studied suffered from a series of security vulnerabilities including the ability to overwrite firmware, install malicious applications, forge voter cards and gain access to the inside of voting machines by unfastening screws that were supposed to be inaccessible. Bowen announced her decision just minutes before midnight on Friday, the deadline to determine whether the machines were reliable enough to be used in February's presidential primary. The decision is a victory for critics of e-voting, who have long warned that it is more susceptible to tampering. But the move is also a clear reminder that people need to be careful what they wish for. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, 39 counties are affected by the decision, which means the next seven months could be a frenzied time for administrators trying to come into compliance. Critics, including county registrars and those in the e-voting industry, warned voters may get caught in the crossfire. "Secretary Bowen’s top-to-bottom review was designed to ignore security procedures and protocols that are used during every election," according to a statement from Diebold. "Her team of hackers was given unfettered access to the equipment, the source code, and all other information on security features provided by DESI to the Secretary of State's office. We are disappointed that Secretary Bowen has taken action to severely limit the options available to local election officials and voters in California." Bowen's decision doesn't completely remove e-voting machines from state polling places. Counties will be allowed to keep one in each precinct to satisfy a requirement that makes it easier disabled users to cast ballots. Still, county administrators will be required to implement a stringent series of measures, including the requirement, according to the San Jose Mercury News, that the machines "be 100 per cent manually recounted for accuracy". ®
Dan Goodin, 06 Aug 2007
8

Wife of Rambus CEO outed as message board troll

The wife of Rambus CEO Harold Hughes has emerged as the latest message board star. According to a report, Nancy Hughes dished out 170 messages under the alias clarissamehitable on the InvestorVillage site, defending her husband's good name while knocking other members of Rambus's management.
Ashlee Vance, 06 Aug 2007