Jan 26, 2009

Satyam auditors arrested in fraud investigation

INDIAN police arrested two partners of global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers at the weekend in connection with the billion-dollar Satyam Computer Services fraud.

The two senior partners of the accounting firm's Indian subsidiary, Price Waterhouse, S. Gopalakrishnan and his deputy Srinivas Taluri, were hauled in by Andra Pradesh state police on Saturday for questioning on charges of conspiracy, failure to scrutinise records and connivance.

Mr Gopalakrishnan is Price Waterhouse's chief relationship partner in India, and Mr Taluri its engagement leader.

Their detention, which follows that of Satyam founder and chairman B. Ramalinga Raju, brings the number of arrests over the massive corporate scandal to six and marks the first time in Indian corporate history that an auditor has been detained for failing to ensure a client's financial integrity.

$90m hole in police IT arm

A SECTION of Victoria Police under internal investigation for fraud, kickbacks and disappearing equipment has a $90 million black hole in its accounts.
A leaked consultant's report, obtained by The Australian, reveals that the force's Business Information Technology Service needs an extra $89 million to prop up a major contract after cost blowouts.

BITS is currently the subject of an investigation from ethical standards department commander David Sprague after revelations of theft and rorting. Commander Sprague's specially convened taskforce has already claimed a scalp, with BITS manager John Brown pleading guilty to obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

The report, by international consultancy SAHA, found a gap in funding of $89 million at BITS due to cost overruns on a major IT revamp costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

The report also found "discrepancies between recorded costs ... and the totals for invoices received from suppliers". It found that BITS staff had disregarded government and departmental purchasing guidelines.

BITS has many staff who are not sworn police officers, arguably putting it out of reach of the Office of Police Integrity, which warned in its annual report that it had limited juridisdiction to investigate the growing number of employees at Victoria Police.

Opposition police spokesman Andrew McIntosh said the losses at BITS could have otherwise been used to employ extra police.

"In a period of economic downturn, this confidential leaked report exposes massive financial mismanagement by the Brumby Government and Police Minister Bob Cameron, who must immediately explain how these enormous cost blowouts were allowed to occur," he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Cameron said there had been no request from BITS for extra funding. She referred inquiries to Victoria Police.

A police spokeswoman said: "Victoria Police is in the process of reviewing the findings in the report as some of the conclusions reached do not appear to be consistent with internal budget projections and costings."

Jan 24, 2009

Diet wars: why low carb's best

It's official, a low-carb diet is better at burning fat than just cutting calories.

Scientists who were working to find out how diet affects the operation of the liver put 14 overweight people on either a low carbohydrate or low calorie diet.

They found those eating fewer carbs lost almost double the weight over two weeks, and several changes in liver function were identified as part of the reason why.

"Energy production is expensive for the liver," says Dr Jeffrey Browning, assistant professor at the UT Southwestern Medical Centre, in Dallas, Texas.

"It appears that for the people on a low-carbohydrate diet, in order to meet that expense, their livers have to burn excess fat."

The average weight loss for the low-calorie dieters was about 2.2kg, while the low-carb dieters lost about 4.3kg on average.

Dr Browning said the study highlighted how diet could cause a "dramatic change" in where and how the liver was producing glucose - a form of sugar.

Jan 21, 2009

Card Processor Admits to Large Data Breach

A large credit card processing company was breached in an attack late last year that may have compromised more than 100 million accounts.

Heartland Payment Services, which processes debit and credit card transactions for 250,000 businesses, said it first learned around late October that it might have been hacked, but wasn't able to determine that its system had indeed been breached until last week. The company said it notified the public Tuesday as soon as it confirmed it was the victim of a "highly sophisticated" attack.

Law enforcement officials are investigating the breach as potentially one part in a wider cyber fraud operation with multiple victims, according to Robert Baldwin, Heartland's president and chief financial officer.

Facebook irked by 'burger for friends' campaign

Burger King said Friday that pressure from Facebook has caused it to yank an application that gave members of the hot social networking website a Whopper for every 10 friends they dumped.

Before the Whopper Sacrifice Campaign was halted, 233,906 friends were "sacrificed" by Facebook users more interested in relationships with the global fast-food chain's specialty hamburgers, according to Burger King.

"While Facebook was a great sport, they did ask for changes that would have resulted in a different approach to our application," a Burger King spokesperson said. "Ultimately, based on philosophical differences, we decided to conclude the campaign."

The Burger King application could be installed free by Facebook users, who were then rewarded with a Whopper for every 10 names they removed from their rosters of friends at the website.

Changes sought by Facebook reportedly included ditching an application feature that sent deleted friends messages informing them that an online pal preferred a hamburger over them.

Jan 19, 2009

Security fears over social networking sites

Social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are being targeted so often by cyber-crooks and other mischief-makers that half of the information-technology specialists surveyed recently by Intel expressed concern about workers under 30, who disproportionately use such sites.

Of the 200 corporate and government IT professionals in the United States and Canada who were surveyed, 13 per cent said they regard so-called Generation Y employees as "a major security concern," and 37 per cent tagged them as "somewhat of a security concern."

The biggest worry they mentioned was the tendency of many Gen Yers to frequent social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace.

Jan 16, 2009

Google Maps gain Transit layer for selected cities

Google has added a Transit (public transport) layer to more than 50 cities in various countries. But don't get too excited - it's just a map layer and does not include route and timetable information.

Google has an existing product called Google Transit, which covers around 90 transit systems in US cities plus a smattering in Canada, Australia (Adelaide Metro and Transperth), South America (Brazil) and Europe (including Traveline Southeast in the UK).

Google Transit provides step-by-step directions for travelling between two addresses by public transport.

The Transit Layer on Google Maps is intended to identify public transport facilities near a particular location.

"Think of a virtual metro map on top of Google Maps - even when we don't have itinerary planning available, we want you to be able to see public transit options that are available," said product manager Raphael Leiteritz.

"Our goal is to be able to offer transit information as an alternative to driving directions wherever possible."

Jan 15, 2009

Chinese officials gamble, and their luck runs out

As mayor of a small city in the Chinese hinterland, Li Weimin started out innocently enough, playing the slots in nearby Macao, games with names like Five Dragons, Chinese Kitchen and Super Happy Fortune Cat.

But he soon began to try his hand at other games, and for higher stakes, financing his increasingly frequent trips to glitzy casinos by dipping into the municipal budget and several real estate firms under his control.

"It was easy for me to borrow or divert money from those places," the 43- year-old Li said at his trial, according to a state-run newspaper, China Daily. Eventually he lost $12 million and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Li is one of an increasing number of Communist Party bosses and government officials who, government prosecutors say, pillaged state funds, company accounts and municipal treasuries to try their luck in Macao, which sits just across the border from Guandong Province.

Many of the biggest losers have been sent to prison and at least 15 have been executed. Some have committed suicide. The scandals have become a source of deep embarrassment for the Chinese government, which has now begun cracking down on travel visas for Macao.

Work could be making you sick: expert

Employees working in an open-plan office environment are more likely to lack motivation, suffer from illness and fight with their colleagues, according to a Brisbane researcher.

Vinesh Oommen from the Queensland University of Technology has confirmed something many office-dwellers have long suspected - work is making people sick.

The Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation academic carried out a large-scale review of research into the common open-plan layout and how it affects employees.

Dr Oommen found the space-saving model could contribute to higher blood pressure and an increased risk of illness, such as the influenza virus.

In addition, workers in these environments are likely to feel stressed and insecure, he said.

"High levels of noise cause employees to lose concentration, leading to low productivity, (and) there are privacy issues because everyone can see what they are doing on the computer or hear them on the phone."

Open-plan offices are also likely to have a higher staff turnover because of instances of stress, he said.

"There is also a higher chance of workplace conflicts - sitting so close to someone ... there is a feeling of insecurity."

While he said the findings were shocking, Dr Oommen admitted it was unlikely many employers would rethink their workplaces.

"The problem is that employers are always looking for ways to cut costs and using open-plan designs can save on construction."

Dr Oommen's study has been published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management.

SMS spammers face Federal Court

Three companies and a number of individuals face legal action over SMS spamming and other breaches of federal legislation.

Mobilegate Limited (incorporated in Hong Kong), Winning Bid Pty Ltd, Jobspy Ltd and associated individuals have been targeted by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Proceedings have begun in the Federal Court in Brisbane, alleging that the parties "sent or caused unsolicited SMS messages to be sent to Australian mobile telephone numbers via premium rate telephone shortcode 19773366, 19910006 and/or 19724253 for the purpose of offering to supply, advertise or promote a service known as 'Safe Divert', which was marketed as a text relay message service, or 'Maybemeet'; and/or by deception, through the use of fabricated dating website profiles, to dishonestly obtain a financial advantage or gain from Australian mobile telephone account holders."

These allegations are made under the Spam Act 2003 (unsolicited messages) and the Trade Practices Act 1974 (misleading or deceptive representations).

Further allegations have been made by ACMA concerning SMS spam in connection with a fantasy chat service known as Singles Club, AU Singles, or Australian Singles Online.

Jan 14, 2009

Open Office plan is sickening

But the future of the open-plan office is in doubt after researchers found that it could be damaging workers' health.

Thousands of companies have torn down internal walls and ripped out booths in recent years in favour of large banks of desks in open spaces.

The idea was to create a more "open" and informal working environment, foster creativity, improve morale and lead to greater productivity - as well as saving money.

But a study conducted by researchers in Australia concluded that the open-plan workplace was having the opposite effect, with a "shocking" toll on workers' physical and mental health.

Staff appeared to be more stressed, had higher blood pressure and demonstrated signs of insecurity and physical exhaustion more frequently than their counterparts in old fashioned workplaces, they found.

Companies were more vulnerable to outbreaks of flu among the workforce, while absence levels and even resignations were higher.

In stark contrast to the hoped-for happier environment, open-plan designs appeared to encourage arguments, gossip and general distraction, the study published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management concluded.

Optus fined for spamming

THE Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has slapped Optus with a $110,000 fine for allegedly breaching the Spam Act.
The fine, which ACMA says is the second highest ever handed down for breaches of the Spam Act, was issued to Optus for allegedly sending 20,000 electronic messages without accurate sender identification to its mobile phone subscribers.

The messages promoted the OptusZoo entertainment service to Optus customer mobile phones with the sender identification ‘966’, ACMA said.

"Optus assumed that recipients of their messages would make the connection between '966' and 'ZOO'," ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said in a statement.

"However, this was not considered sufficient identification, as '966' could be used to represent any number of permutations on a telephone keypad.

"Ensuring spam compliance procedures are understood by all staff is imperative for all businesses if they want to avoid the risk of costly fines," Mr Chapman said.

Study highlights addiction link to sweet foods

There could be some truth to it when people say they need a quick sugar hit.

Scientists in New Zealand say craving something sweet like a biscuit or piece of chocolate could be a response to an addiction.

A study has been published in the journal Medical Hypotheses.

For a long time now, scientists have divided food types by using what's known as a glycaemic index.

High GI foods are typically cakes, biscuits, juices and processed fast food such as hot chips.

On the other end of the scale are wholegrain breads, most fruit and vegetables and foods low in carbohydrates such as lean meat, fish and nuts.

Dr Simon Thornley from Auckland's Regional Public Health Service believes the unhealthy sugar and fat-laden foods are being consumed because they are addictive.

Chicken soup!

THE popular remedy for snotty kids, Vicks Vaporub, could be bad for young children.

Research published by the American College of Chest Physicians has found Vicks may clog a young child's airways by increasing mucus production and slowing its removal.

"I recommend never putting Vicks in, or under, the nose of anybody - adult or child," the lead author, Dr Bruce Rubin from the department of pediatrics at Wake Forest University, North Carolina, said

He said cough and cold medicines and decongestants were not good for young children. He recommends salt water, warm drinks and chicken soup.

Proctor & Gamble, the maker of Vicks, slammed the study, saying it contradicts previous studies and is based on limited data from tests on ferrets, of unknown relevance to humans.

Jan 13, 2009

India reels as scandal deepens in IT sector

THE Indian Government has intervened to shore up confidence in the country's crucial IT sector, which has been rocked by one of India's biggest corporate frauds.

The Government has sacked the board of scandal-ridden IT giant Satyam Computer Services and installed three new hand-picked directors following the revelation last week that the firm's co-founder, Ramalinga Raju, had fabricated the books for years.

The official intervention echoes actions taken by Western governments recently to support important industries affected by the global financial crisis.

Raju admitted last week that he had inflated reports on earnings and assets by as much as $US1.4 billion ($2 billion). Raju, his brother and former Satyam director, Rama, and the chief financial officer of the firm, Vadlamani Srinivas, were all jailed at the weekend.

Satyam, which means "truth" in Sanskrit, is India's fourth-biggest IT and outsourcing firm, with 53,000 workers. Some of Australia's biggest companies, including Telstra, ANZ and Qantas, have contracts with Satyam to provide computer services.

The scandal has undermined confidence in India's IT and outsourcing industry, which is worth $US60 billion and employs more than 2 million people. It has also raised doubts about corporate governance and regulation in India that could undermine investor confidence.

The Government's dramatic intervention in the Satyam fiasco is a sign of how worried authorities are about the fallout from the scandal.

The IT sector was dealt a further blow yesterday when its third-biggest player, Wipro, admitted it had been banned from World Bank contracts until 2011 because it offered "improper benefits to bank staff". Satyam has also been banned from World Bank contracts.

Jan 10, 2009

US police use Google Street View to find missing child

Natalie Maltais was traced to a motel in rural Virginia after Rose Maltais, 52, allegedly failed to return the girl to her legal guardians in Athol, Massachusetts, according to local paper the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Investigators knew the girl had a mobile phone with her and contacted her service provider to obtain the phone's GPS coordinates.
The service provider updated them with new coordinates every time the phone was activated, enabling the officials to track the pair's progress. Once officials had the latitude and longitude of the girl's location, they turned to the street views on Google to find where the pair could be staying. Looking at online images of the area, one of the investigators saw a motel across a field and used Google to find its name. He also looked at Google's satellite view of the area to check the motel was close to the junction pinpointed by the phone's coordinates. Massachusetts officials then called police in Virginia and Ms Maltais was arrested at the Budget Inn in Natural Bridge, Virginia, on Tuesday afternoon. She is due to be returned to Massachusetts to face charges.

Jan 8, 2009

shocking episode in Indian corporate governance

On the morning of Jan. 7, Ramalingam Raju, the chairman of troubled Indian IT outsourcing company Satyam Computer Services (SAY), sent a startling letter to his board and the Securities & Exchange Board of India. Raju acknowledged his culpability in hiding news that he had inflated the amount of cash on the balance sheet of India's fourth-largest IT company by nearly $1 billion, incurred a liability of $253 million on funds arranged by him personally, and overstated Satyam's September 2008 quarterly revenues by 76% and profits by 97%. After submitting his resignation, Raju ended his letter by apologizing for his inability to close what began as a "marginal gap between operating profits and the one reflected in the books of accounts" but grew unmanageable. "I am now prepared to subject myself to the laws of the land and face the consequences thereof," he wrote.

The letter shocked and angered corporate India, which has looked to IT executives as role models for a new breed of Indian entrepreneur. The benchmark Sensex stock index dropped 7.3% and Satyam shares fell nearly 78% on the day as investors fled in droves. Goldman Sachs (GS) suspended its recommendations on Satyam "because there is not currently a sufficient basis for determining an investment rating or price target for this company," Goldman analysts Julio Quinteros Jr. and Vincent Lin told investors. Earnings per share, warned JPMorgan (JPM) analysts in a report, "may be 70%-80% lower than reported numbers and consensus estimates for '09-'10." Satyam had become "India's Enron," said CLSA India analyst Bhavtosh Vajpayee, calling the case "an accounting fraud beyond imagination [and] an embarrassing and shocking episode in Indian corporate governance."

Indian outsourcing giant Satyam hit by fraud

The head of one of India's biggest outsourcing firms, Satyam Computer, resigned yesterday amid a scandal over a billion dollar fraud that sent company stocks into freefall.

Company founder and chairman B. Ramalinga Raju admitted the Hyderabad-based software services firm had falsified accounts and assets and inflated its profits over several years.

The company overstated its cash and bank balances to the tune of more than 50 billion rupees (more than $A1.38 billion) in its September-end balance sheet, "purely on account of inflated profit over a period of several years," Mr Raju said in a statement.

Satyam shares plummeted 77.69 per cent, or 139.15 rupees, to 39.95 rupees on the Mumbai Stock Exchange yesterday, as investors dumped the company.

The broader benchmark 30-share Sensex plunged 7.25 per cent to 9586.88.

Jan 7, 2009

Humans 'outliving their eyeballs'

HUMANS are starting to outlive their eyeballs, say Australian researchers working on ways to slow the way vision deteriorates with age.
Each eyeball starts out with about 150 million light-catching "photoreceptors" at birth, says Professor Jonathan Stone, and these then die at a rate of several hundred every day.

This natural process is the underlying reason why a person's vision deteriorates over time.

And while many people still have 100 million-plus p
hotoreceptors per eye into their 80s, for others it means a loss of night vision or even blindness.

Prof Stone said people were now living longer as a result of improved health standards, so new techniques were needed to slow the shedding of the photoreceptors which cannot be regrown.

"The clinical evidence is the retina goes well really into your eighth decade (80 years), depending on how fast you've lost your photoreceptors and that changes because of genetic factors," Prof Stone said.

Is this eco-terrorism?

VANDALS face 10 years in jail after draining over $100,000 worth of water from a key weir into a bone-dry lake in Victoria's drought-stricken north.
The gates to the Little Murray weir were wrenched open, sending between 400 and 450 megalitres of water to be soaked up the dry bed of Lake Boga, near Swan Hill, on Monday evening.

A local resident raised the alarm the next morning after seeing the water pouring into the lake.

The weir gates, which had been padlocked open, were eventually closed.

An investigation has been launched by Goulburn-Murray Water and Victoria Police, which said the perpetrators face a maximum of 10 years in jail or fines up to $20,000.

The total amount of water diverted had a market value of more than $100,000, a Goulburn-Murray Water spokesman said.

"This was a deliberate and premeditated act - they've cut our locks to allow the water in and then used their own padlocks to keep the gates open," Kevin Preece, Goulburn-Murray's acting water services manager, said.

"This was a senseless and futile exercise, and the local community is not happy about the situation.

FBI concerned about 'cybergeddon'

CYBER attacks pose the greatest threat to the United States after nuclear war and weapons of mass destruction - and they are increasingly hard to prevent, FBI experts say.

Shawn Henry, assistant director of the FBI's cyber division, told a conference in New York that computer attacks pose the biggest risk "from a national security perspective, other than a weapon of mass destruction or a bomb in one of our major cities".

"Other than a nuclear device or some other type of destructive weapon, the threat to our infrastructure, the threat to our intelligence, the threat to our computer network is the most critical threat we face," he added.

US experts warn of "cybergeddon", in which an advanced economy - where almost everything of importance is linked to or controlled by computers - falls prey to hackers, with catastrophic results.
Michael Balboni, deputy secretary for public safety in New York state, described "a huge threat out there" against everything from banking institutions to municipal water systems and dams.

Mr Henry said terrorist groups aim for an online 9/11, "inflicting the same kind of damage on our country, on all our countries, on all our networks, as they did in 2001 by flying planes into buildings".

A web attack of that scale has not yet happened in the US but computer hacking - once something of a sport for brilliant delinquents - is rapidly evolving around the world as a weapon of war.

Russian hackers allegedly mounted huge assaults on internet networks in Estonia and Georgia last year, while Palestinian sympathisers have orchestrated attacks against hundreds of Israeli websites in the past few days.

Evan Kohlmann, an investigator with Global Terror Alert, based in Washington, said websites and social networking tools already allow underground Islamist leaders and militant organisations to recruit and communicate in safety worldwide.

Jihadist websites can be destroyed, but "you knock one out and another pops up the next day".

More efforts are being made to infiltrate the sites and disrupt the clandestine networks, Mr Kohlmann said.

In response, young militants are learning how to code software, or they are getting help from freelance experts, including those in Russia, who may well have nothing to do with Islamist causes.

"Right now, we're at the cusp of this," Mr Kohlmann said.

Financial cyber criminals, who use the internet to steal identities, siphon billions of dollars, and sometimes paralyse businesses, are also becoming more sophisticated.

"It used to be we'd chase people around, literally carrying duffel bags of cash," said Donald Codling, the FBI's cyber unit liaison with the Department of Homeland Security.

"Nowadays the guy can use his SIM chip and he can move money all over the world and his confederates can withdraw that money from an ATM in a currency of his or her choice. It's extraordinarily difficult for us to catch them."

Jan 6, 2009

Bike sales 38 per cent higher than car sales in 2008

AUSTRALIANS are buying more bicycles than cars with the economic downturn, health issues and climate change driving sales.

Figures released today by the Cycling Promotion Fund put total vehicle sales for 2008 at 1,012,64 while bike sales were 38 per cent higher at 1,401,675.

CPF policy adviser Elliot Fishman said it was the ninth consecutive year demand for bikes had outstripped vehicles.

"The economic downturn and the affordability of cycling is one of the key reasons for the continued surge in bicycle sales,'' he said.

"The sluggish economy, coupled with concern over climate change, health, congestion and petrol prices have strengthened interest in cycling as an option.''

Jan 4, 2009

Contraceptive pill polluting the environment, says Vatican

THE contraceptive pill is polluting the environment and is in part responsible for male infertility, a report in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said today.

The pill "has for some years had devastating effects on the environment by releasing tonnes of hormones into nature" through female urine, said Pedro Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, president of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations, in the report.

"We have sufficient evidence to state that a non-negligible cause of male infertility in the West is the environmental pollution caused by the pill," he said, without elaborating further.

"We are faced with a clear anti-environmental effect which demands more explanation on the part of the manufacturers," Mr Castellvi said.

The article was promptly dismissed by several organisations.

"Once metabolised, the hormones contained in oral contraceptives no longer have any of the characteristic effects of feminine hormones," said Gianbenedetto Melis, vice-president of a contraceptive research association, quoted by the ANSA news agency.

The hormones contained in the pill such as oestrogen "are present everywhere... in plastic, in disinfectants, in meat that we eat," said Flavia Franconi, of the Society of Italian Pharmacology.

Pope Benedict XVI in October reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church's condemnation of artificial birth control.

Contraception "means negating the intimate truth of conjugal love, with which the divine gift (of life) is communicated," the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics wrote on the 40th anniversary of a papal encyclical on the topic.

An encyclical is a letter usually treating some aspect of Catholic doctrine and issued occasionally by the pope.

The landmark document, whose title in English is On the Regulation of Birth, was published at a time when the development of the Pill was giving new sexual freedom to women across the world.
Millions of Catholics distanced themselves from Rome as a result.

Jan 3, 2009

Tech sector jobs dwindling

THE IT industry suffered a major decline in job advertisements for 2008 recording a 37.17 per cent fall compared to 2007 figures.
According to the Olivier Job Index, December continued the six month haemorrhage in job ad decline with a 6.85 per cent decrease. In November the technology sector reported a 7.64 per cent slump.

The IT industry was the fifth worst affected market for job advertisements according to Olivier Group director Bob Olivier.

“The tech industry has performed worse than the general economic situation because these jobs tend to be more caught up with global organisations that are taking financial hits in all global markets,” he said.

As online IT job vacancies continued to tumble by roughly 1000 advertisements a week, Mr Olivier warned that job prospects for 2009 would remain grim.

Jan 2, 2009

Pre-term birth link to mental illnesses

BEING born prematurely has been linked for the first time to serious mental illnesses that do not emerge until adulthood. Experts say the research findings underline the importance of ante-natal care in ensuring healthy brain development.

By their early 20s people born between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy were more than twice as likely to have been admitted to hospital for a psychiatric illness - 5.5 per cent compared with 2.6 per cent for those whose mothers carried them to at least 39 weeks, according to the study by the Karolinska Institute, Sweden.

They were also more than twice as likely to have killed themselves or to have tried to do so.

Even those born only a month before full term - at 33 to 36 weeks - were 30 per cent more likely to be treated in hospital for mental illness, according to the study, which linked the birth records of Swedes born between 1973 and 1979 with the same people's hospital records later in life.