Feb 28, 2010

Intel's First Six-core Processor for Desktops on Sale

A European online retailer has started selling Intel's first six-core processor for desktops before the chip's official release by the hardware giant.

A German retailer Alternate is selling the Intel Core i7-980 Extreme Edition processor, code-named "Gulftown," for €1.099 (US$1,483). The chip is targeted at desktops used by enthusiasts like gamers.
The six-core processor will run at speeds up to 3.6GHz and include 12MB of L3 cache, according to the Web site, which lists the details in German. Each core will be able to run two threads, which means the processor will be able to run 12 core simultaneously for faster processing. The processor will support DDR3 memory.

Intel did not immediately comment on the listing of the product or its official release date.
Intel until now has sold dual-core and quad-core chips for desktops. Intel has sold six-core chips only for servers. The six-core, Xeon 7400 series of chips, code-named Dunnington, were based on the Penryn architecture and originally released in 2008.
The Gulftown chips bring speed and power enhancements over Intel's existing chips for enthusiast desktops. In addition to more cores, the processors will cut existing bottlenecks to enable faster data transfers. The chips are made using the advanced 32-nanometer process, which will reduce power leaks compared to earlier quad-core chips, which were made using the 45-nm process.
The Gulftown chip could also be the first in a new wave of processors released by Intel made using the 32-nm process. The chip maker earlier this year launched the first 32-nm process chips for mainstream desktops and laptops.

Feb 27, 2010

What's on your mind? The ugly face of social networking sites

TWO families were riven with grief over their loved ones' lives cut short. Friends of the two dead children were struggling to comprehend what had just happened. So too their local communities. Emotions were already red raw. But it wasn't over.

News of the stabbing murder of 12-year-old Brisbane schoolboy Elliott Fletcher on the morning of Monday, February 15, allegedly at the hands of a 13-year-old schoolmate, had quickly filtered through St Patrick's College and out on to the radio news.

A week later, early morning anxiety again rippled, this time through the Queensland city of Bundaberg, as police broke the news that an eight-year-old girl had been abducted from her home overnight. When Trinity Bates's body was found in a nearby stormwater drain later in the day, her family's worst fears were realised.

By the time parents turned up to St Patrick's last Monday week to collect distraught children from school, an RIP Elliott Fletcher testimonial page was already up on Facebook, offering the opportunity to pay tribute. "So young. So many opportunities you missed. But you're in a better place now. I'll see you up there mate," wrote Jacob Dare that afternoon.

A similar Facebook tribute page was set up within hours of Trinity's death. "I had tears in my eyes this morning when I heard this . . . as I have a daughter the same age . . . My heart goes out to the family," one post said.

But in cyberspace things quickly took a sinister turn. On the evening of February 15, about 12 hours after Elliott's death, his Facebook testimonial page was swamped with images of child pornography, bestiality, murder and racism.

On Trinity's tribute page, the descent into graphic pornography was even quicker. And in her case, Facebook soon became judge, jury and executioner when a site was created calling for a return to the death penalty. (By midweek it had nearly 4000 members.)

At first blush, Facebook, a social networking site that boasts more than 400 million registered users across the world, seems an ideal place to vent emotions and offer solace.

Where previous generations may have sent a card, those who've grown up online will naturally use their daily communication tools to grieve.  But the immediacy of postings on the net makes it difficult to police and, perhaps spurred on by the security of relative anonymity, the ugly side of humanity is empowered.

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson described the desecration of Elliott and Trinity's tribute sites as disgusting and sick and he assigned his own officers to ensure the offending material was removed.   "I think there is a broader debate here about Facebook sites generally and about the control and establishment of them and the obvious ability for them to be hijacked by people who really, quite frankly, have very sick values," he says.

Politicians agree. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh wrote to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg in the US on Wednesday, saying the posting of pornographic material and obscene messages on testimonial sites had compounded the grief over the deaths.

"To have these things happen to Facebook pages set up for the sole purpose of helping these communities pay tribute to the young lives lost in the most horrible way [for them to] be corrupted in such a manner adds to the grief already being experienced," Bligh, who is a keen user of social networking tools such as Twitter, wrote.  "And it is something no parent should have to deal with when coming to terms with the loss of their child. I seek your advice on what action Facebook intends to take to prevent a recurrence of these types of sickening incidents."

Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy also made very clear his displeasure with Facebook. 
Speaking last week after the Elliott Fletcher website had been attacked, Conroy said:
"People take Facebook with an enormous amount of trust and [Facebook has] to clearly explain what  went wrong with their security systems; how this was able to happen [and] importantly, how they're going to ensure this doesn't happen again."

For its part, Facebook has dealt with the issue this week via a statement from its US headquarters calling on users to report objectionable content and for page administrators to use their control to remove offensive content and ban users. 
Matthew Warren, head of the school of information systems at Deakin University, says in some ways Facebook has been a victim of its own success. 
Its model, where users post in real time and objectionable material is reported after the fact, is unsustainable given how large it now is, he says.

"Facebook [owners] don't police content. They wait for complaints. It has over 360 million users, and employs less than 1000 people, so it can't monitor things in real time," Warren says.

"And with these real-time postings, the danger is that they are ill-considered, that they are incendiary, that they aren't at all thought out. People feel that because it's via a computer they can say it when they wouldn't dare say it face-to-face in a room with someone." 
Laurel Papworth, an online communities strategist, says the internet offers a meeting place for people who would never usually cross paths, and the differences in their value systems can flare up.

"For instance, the people who've posted the offensive material on these sites might be wanting to build a bad-boy reputation within their own network. They want to try and be worse than each other and this is an example," Papworth says.

"In another group, or another age, it might be drag racing down the street, or jumping from the highest spot. It's graffiti mentality in a way, making their mark among their peers." Blogsites have suggested Facebook may not be the place for tribute sites, where it may be harder to control content.

"Facebook is a toy for bored adults to share drunken photos, play Mafiaware and get phished by Russian hackers. Not for families to share their grief," a post on The Punch website read this week. "It's kind of like holding a wake in a strip club and being offended by the naked women and drunk businessmen. It wasn't appropriate to go there in the first place. So too with Facebook."

And another: "It takes about two seconds to set up a tribute group on Facebook and about three seconds for the first moron to show up. If you feel an online tribute is necessary then at least go to the trouble of setting up a web page."

Feb 26, 2010

'Robin Hood tax' takes from the banks to give to the worthy

Nearly 800 years after celebrated rogue Robin Hood and his entourage of bandits launched raids from their Sherwood Forest hide-out - redistributing wealth from a greedy and corrupt aristocracy to the starving peasantry - he has been recruited to a new campaign.

This month, 350 prominent economists, including Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz, have publicly backed a proposed ''Robin Hood tax'' on speculative financial transactions, which could raise about $US400 billion ($A450 billion) a year worldwide to prop up failing infrastructure, boost health and education resources, fight poverty and deliver a kitty for practical climate change action.

The concept is simple. After taxpayers in Australia and around the world pumped billions into the big banks to guarantee deposits, prop up banks, improve liquidity and stave off the worst of the global financial crisis, it's time to get something back. The Robin Hood tax proposes a minuscule fee of 0.05 per cent on speculative trades in foreign currencies, shares and other securities.

In Australia, where the windfall of such a move could deliver several billion dollars a year, this kitty could not only be a ''payback'' for taxpayers who helped fix the finance sector's monumental mistakes, it could provide an income stream to deliver vital community infrastructure as we begin dealing with our ageing population. While the banks will inevitably attempt to position the concept as a feel-good aberration from a handful of hippies beating their drums, it is anything but.

Indeed, the proposal is a direct response to a challenge from last year's G20 summit in Pittsburgh, where world leaders gave the International Monetary Fund responsibility for drawing up a plan for a financial transaction tax that could ensure the financial sector contributed to the cost of bank bailouts and the recovery from the global economic crisis.

Support for such a tax has come not only from the developing world, but major leaders such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as members of the business community, including US billionaires Warren Buffett and George Soros.

Locally, the proposal aligns with the release of the Henry review and plans by the Rudd government to provide a much-needed shake-up of our tax system. More significantly, it provides one possible answer to the many chronic social issues that need immediate action. Our health and education systems are at breaking point; infrastructure bottlenecks are thwarting opportunities for job creation; homelessness remains as entrenched as ever; and thousands of children are still growing up in poverty.

Each day, traffic in our big cities and regional centres is worsening, roads have become makeshift car parks, and decades of neglect has left public transport unable to cope. The issue of housing affordability is forcing increasing numbers to our city fringes, away from employment opportunities, transport links and basic social infrastructure.

With hundreds of thousands of baby boomers sliding into retirement in the coming decade, serious skills shortages and overstretched aged-care services will need to be tackled, and urgently. Of course, these problems are not uniquely Australian; much of the developed world is attempting to deal with the same issues while juggling substantially higher levels of government debt.

The developing world still suffers from widespread poverty, appallingly high child mortality rates, non-existent health and education services, disease pandemics such as HIV, and starvation.

According to its proponents, the Robin Hood tax is the simplest, fairest solution to these ills. With a tiny tax on bankers - 0.05 per cent of a trade's value, just $500 tax on every million dollars traded - the global community would raise hundreds of billions of dollars.

The proposal recommends that proceeds be split between domestic and international commitments, with $US200 billion injected annually into the domestic needs of participating countries, $US100 billion set aside for aid programs, international development and disaster relief, and $US100 billion invested in practical climate action, such as construction of renewable power sources.

Implementation of such a tax would be simple and inexpensive. Financial markets are already computerised and heavily automated, allowing the tax to be calculated and recovered with no more than a couple of lines of code built into banking software.

Enforcement would be just as easy. Existing market regulation and the monitoring used to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism ensure that transactions are already heavily scrutinised. The incredibly low tax rate provides little incentive for avoidance.

The G20 finance ministers and central bank governors will meet in Washington in April. In preparing for this meeting, the Australian government would be wise to thoroughly investigate the possibility of this tax. Eight hundred years on, it seems Robin Hood is on the ride once more. Certainly, the need to redistribute just a fraction of the world's wealth to those most in need is just as pressing as ever.

A shift in the center of gravity

That's not to say there wasn't a narrative worth following out of CES; it's just that it didn't lie in the array of also-rans and probably-nots that made up most of the offerings from top-tier brands this year. Or, more precisely, it lay between the lines of those offerings.

You see, the big gorilla at CES has traditionally been Sony, the most prominent marque from consumer electronics' dominant territory, Japan. But this year's consensus best-of-show designation didn't go to the big dog, whose dark, vaguely blah booth featured humdrum new intros like the Dash -- a digital picture frame on steroids -- and the Bloggie point-and-shoot vidcam -- a Flip with a more cringeworthy name.

No, the clear winner was Samsung, whose enormous, glam-packed pavilion contained a huge sculptural bloom built out of the company's new 11mm-thick 9000 series LED-lit LCD TVs, set up in a kind of mirrored cathedral apse to wildly psychedelic, somewhat dizzying effect. Inside the booth itself, Samsung had an array of real innovations arranged by use case and product category.

One area featured mobile products like the MyFit combo MP3 player and personal fitness coach, a slim handheld that offers both music tuned to the beat of your exercise as well as a bank of sensors that can track everything from your pulse, stress factor, body-mass index and caloric consumption to your melatonin level.

Alongside the MyFit: The slick IceTouch personal media player, whose upper half is a translucent active-matrix OLED display (text and images seem to float within the see-through glass -- hardly utilitarian, but off the scale in sex factor).

Other areas demonstrated Samsung's 3D-capable TVs and laptops, its interactive motion-aware gaming technologies, its new app store (offering widgets that can run on everything from mobile phones to connected televisions and Blu-Ray players), and mobile digital TV.

"Samsung is innovating in so many areas, some of them really nontraditional," says Jin Chang, senior director of trends for retail electronics giant Best Buy. "There's such a creativity and cleverness in the products they showed. It's not just tech for the sake of tech -- it's thoughtful, it's beautifully designed, and it's rooted in real understanding of what the consumer wants."

Financial reports offer further evidence that Korean companies are ascendant, while Japanese ones are adrift.

For its fiscal 2008 year, which ended March 31, Sony lost a record $3 billion -- and forecasts similar gloom for 2009. Panasonic did even worse, losing a record $4.3 billion; Toshiba, $3.5 billion; Sharp, $1.3 billion.

Meanwhile, Samsung in 2009 earned an amazing $9.64 billion on revenues of more than $120 billion, the most in the company's history, while its Korean peer Lucky Goldstar, which rebranded itself as LG ("Life's Good") in 1995 to better position itself as a world brand, is expected to announce similarly shining results when it posts its 2009 numbers, given that it, too, has had a string of record-breaking profitable quarters.

So the numbers and the buzz tell the same tale, and it's one of woe for Japanese consumer tech. As Reuters reported, "Japanese executives [have] privately voiced a sense of crisis. Just a few years ago, one could walk through the Samsung booth feeling secure and smug, said a Toshiba Corp official. 'But each year, the booth becomes more showy, the products better-designed. And the price is still a challenge to match,' he said -- speaking on condition of anonymity."

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2010/01/14/apop011410.DTL#ixzz0gaIkGdZ5

Feb 25, 2010

Spam, Phishing and Freakonomics

Spam, Phishing and Freakonomics
In the past couple of months, the Freakonomics blog pondered why there appeared to be a decrease in the familiar Viagra and Nigerian Prince spam. The author attributed the perceived decrease to a low rate of return. Others attributed the disappearance of that product and scam spam to effective spam filtering solutions. While popular anti-spam security has improved, there appears to be another explanation for this slump: a new spam business model based on the simple economics of opportunity costs.

Whenever the “bad guy” ISPs get disabled, there is a noticeable but temporary drop. Then spam volume recovers strongly and continues the never-ending upward trend. Even though it would seem logical that ordinary advertising and scam spam should dissipate because of low ROI due to spam traps, spam volume continues to rise and, surprisingly, anecdotal evidence from spam filters suggests that the spammers are not expending any effort to avoid detection.

From what security researchers observe, however, cyber criminals seem to be devoting time crafting different types of attacks on your inbox. In the last year or so, threat intelligence researchers have witnessed a dramatic rise in phishing attacks, particularly more targeted and socially engineered spear phishing attacks.

Phishing attacks targeting smaller regional areas have been quite popular. Criminals identify a municipal area or community where there are only a few financial institutions. They easily pick out the names, titles, phone numbers and email addresses of significant people in the area and personnel at local institutions, from information readily available from websites and through Internet searches. Then they social-engineer and personalize emails, text messages and voice mails which they spam to unsuspecting victims. These messages are often traditional scams, requesting confirmation of confidential information over the Internet or a toll-free phone number. With the information that is willingly divulged by victims, the cyber criminals steal identities, passwords, banking and credit card data which they use quickly to defraud the victims through electronic money transfers.

Cyber criminals are targeting businesses more frequently. The use of legitimate-looking emails impersonating organizations like the IRS, UPS and Better Business Bureau are common in these attacks. The goal here is less about obtaining personal sensitive information and more about installing malicious software that infiltrates a company network and databases covertly to gain access to and transfer funds from a corporate bank account.

Spam is no longer about cheap, easy product advertising and "princely" scams. With a new business model, spam is the cheap, easy vehicle to traffic personalized, targeted messages that reap a very lucrative, high payoff for cyber predators.

So it seems that the Freakonomics guys were right. It does come down to simple economics and opportunity costs. Spam is cheaper and easier per email, but targeted phishing spam brings in far more money. Enough money, in fact, that organized crime groups can set up processing centers to do all the work while the cyber kingpins tour around Marseille in Mazeratis. That beats Nigeria spam any day.

ACH Banking Trojan Discovered

SecureWorks® Counter Threat UnitSM (CTU) security researchers have intercepted a new information-stealing Trojan used by cyber criminals to enable Automated Clearing House (ACH) and wire transfer transaction fraud.
Over the past year, the CTU continued to see cyber criminals target Automated Clearing House (ACH) and wire transfer transactions for fraud activity, resulting in high-value losses. Small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) and non-profit organizations have been hit especially hard. Neustar has published an excellent overview (PDF) of this type of threat.

Typically, the tools of choice for financial credential theft are the Zeus or Clampi malware families. In January 2010, the CTU intercepted what appears to be a new piece of malware developed to facilitate this type of criminal banking activity. The CTU refers to this new malware as Bugat.

Currently, Bugat is updating its configuration data to include new financial targets. In mid-January, the installer for Bugat had moderate coverage (20/40), according to VirusTotal. The most commonly identified name (Bredolab) corresponds to a family of Trojan downloaders; however, its runtime behavior did not match what one would expect from Bredolab. The installed mspdb30.dll file had almost no AV recognition (2/41). The AppInit_DLLs registry key setting changes made by the installer instruct Windows to load the Bugat DLL into any program that also loads user32.dll. This is a common mechanism used by malware to infiltrate itself into targeted processes such as Web browsers and email clients.
Bugat comes with capabilities commonly found in malware used to commit financial credential theft and fraud.
Bugat Functionality
  • Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox form grabbing
  • Scrape or modify HTML for targeted sites
  • Steal and delete IE, Firefox and Flash cookies
  • Steal FTP and POP credentials
  • SOCKS proxy server (v4 and v5)
  • Browse and upload files from the infected computer
  • Download and execute programs
  • Upload list of running processes
  • Delete system files and reboot computer to render Windows unable to boot
Bugat communicates with a remote command and control Web server to receive commands and to exfiltrate stolen information. As part of this process, the malware also receives a list of URL target strings used to monitor the victim’s Web browser activity. These target strings indicate a strong interest in websites used for business banking and wire transfers. Bugat may also use HTTPS in an attempt to secure its command and control communications.

New Bugat Banking Trojan Gives Hackers Choices
The emergence of Bugat emphasizes the strong demand for new malware to commit financial credential theft and to catch electronic payment systems off guard. This demand may be driven by the desire for cheaper alternatives or malware that has not received as much scrutiny from security professionals. The continued introduction of this type of malware could have the unfortunate effect of lowering costs of malware and the barrier to entry into the criminal marketplace.

Similar to the Zeus and Clampi Trojans, Bugat poses a severe risk to business financial transactions. To decrease the risk of infection, threat intelligence researchers recommend that organizations conduct online banking and financial transactions on isolated workstations that are not used for general Internet activities such as Web browsing and accessing email. As another precaution, organizations may want to use an alternative operating system for workstations accessing sensitive or financial accounts.

As a best practice, organizations should remain vigilant in real-time Log Monitoring across your security infrastructure and critical information assets. To identify and thwart the Bugat Trojan, monitor for traffic to the bugatti2012.ru domain and IP address, which the SecureWorks CTU has observed as the command and control server. Infected computers may communicate on TCP port 443 (HTTPS) or 80 (HTTP).

Feb 24, 2010

Intel hacked at same time as Google

Intel has revealed that it was targeted by a "sophisticated" hacker attack this year at about the same time as a spying probe that hit Google.

Intel disclosed the attack in a regulatory filing late Monday. It doesn't necessarily mean that Intel was infiltrated or that the attackers were the same ones that targeted Google.

Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloy said Tuesday that the attack on Intel wasn't broad-based like the one that hit Google. He said Intel isn't aware of any intellectual property being stolen.

Intel, like other major corporations, faces constant computer attacks. Mulloy said the company was only pointing out there was a connection in terms of the timing of the Google attacks as part of a disclosure to investors about the company's risks.

The disclosure comes amid heightened fears of state-sponsored espionage targeting corporate computer networks. Google revealed last month that its network was attacked from inside China and that the intruders stole intellectual property — an attack that Google says could cause it to leave China.

Google said at least 20 other companies were targeted as part of the attack, but those companies weren't identified. Software maker Adobe Systems Inc. and Rackspace Inc., a Web hosting service, have acknowledged being targets.

Intel is the world's largest maker of microprocessors, the "brains" of personal computers and servers, with about 80 percent of the worldwide market for those chips.

Feb 21, 2010

Fraudulent stem cell banks fleece parents

CLINICS that offer to "bank" stem cells from the umbilical cords of newborns for use later in life when illness strikes are fraudsters, a top U.S. scientist in San Diego said overnight. Clinics in many countries allow parents to deposit stem cells from their neonate's umbilical cord with a view to using the cells to cure major illnesses that could occur later in life.

In Thailand, for example, parents pay in the region of $4017 to make a deposit in a stem cell bank, thinking they are taking out a sort of health insurance for their child.  But Irving Weissman, director of the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University in California, said the well-meaning parents were being fleeced by the stem cell bankers.

"Umbilical cords contain blood-forming stem cells at a level that would maintain the blood-forming capacity of a very young child," Dr Weissman said  at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"They could also have derived mesenchymal cells - fiberglass-like cells that have a very limited capacity to make scar, bone, fat - but they don't make brain, they don't make blood, they don't make heart, they don't make skeletal muscle, despite what various people claim," he said.

Dr Weissman said these "unproven stem cell therapeutic clinicians" tend to set up shop in countries with poor medical regulations, but AFP found websites for umbilical cord stem cell banks in European Union member states and in the United States.

"They do the therapies, then they let the patients go on their own, short of maybe $50-150,000 for a therapy that has no chance - taken away from a family that needs them when they have an incurable disease," Dr Weissman said.

"It is wrong."

The International Stem Cell Society is due to issue a report in April about unproven stem cell therapies such as banking a baby's umbilical cord blood for future use.

Feb 20, 2010

Why I'm Dropping Google

For a company whose unofficial slogan is "Don't Be Evil," Google has been ignoring its so-called core value with alarming frequency as of late. And because of that, I decided to delete my Gmail account, along with all other Google services that I am able to do without. I have also deleted as much personal information as possible from my Google profile.
I still need to use some Google services--I have clients who share a couple of documents via Google Docs, I need to access one private blog on Blogger, and I will continue to use Google search (though I plan on exploring alternatives, such as Bing and Yahoo). But for the most part, I'm dropping Google wherever I can. It was a combination of recent incidents that drove me to this point. One was the introduction of Google Buzz, which, in some cases, disclosed contact information that users thought was private. When Google launched Buzz, its "social networking tool," the company didn't let users opt into the program, but automatically applied it to all of the millions of users of the company's free Gmail. Google quickly backtracked, but it is not clear whether the "turn off Buzz" link at the bottom of Gmail pages truly purges the links that Google created.
The second incident was the recent deletion of a number of music blogs from Google's Blogger and Blogspot platforms without even notifying the owners of the blogs or attempting to determine whether the shutdowns were valid. This is not the first time that Google has pulled the plug on music blogs because of DMCA complaints, but some bloggers claim that their blogs were perfectly legal), because they had permission for every track they posted. While MP3 and music blogs are a popular way of distributing copyrighted content without the owners' permission, not every such blog is violating the law. A similar shutdown of blogs last year lead to Google's developing new guidelines, but this current incident shows that someone at Google didn't read the new rules.
Google's actions in these incidents were certainly not accidental, and they are part of a growing trend. Whether it be Google's censorship of search results for Chinese users--the company helped build the Great Firewall of China before it was against it--or Google CEO Eric Schmidt's flip comment regarding privacy ("If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."), Google has become a corporation that has strayed from its initial values. By choosing an opt-out model for Buzz that basically forced all Gmail users to become a part of this service, Google simply hoped that everyone would ignore this lack of choice and accept it tacitly, so the next time it wanted to impose new features, people would consider it normal. That choice failed, fortunately.
Google has become so monolithic that it has reached the point of a near-monopoly in certain areas. To be fair, no other search engine comes close to Google in quality, and, while the company should be lauded for that, it's the way Google uses that search engine, and related services, that makes it the Standard Oil of the 21st century. (I won't discuss the potential issues involving Google Books; or how the company is milking news organizations via Google News; or the many other issues that one could raise about the company.)
But not only does Google dominate the search (and, hence, advertising) market, it also knows a lot about you. By adding more and more "free" services--free in exchange for the annoyance of ads, and for users' giving up their privacy--Google accumulates a wealth of information about your interests, your browsing habits, your contacts, the blogs you visit (using your Google profile), pictures of your home, and much more. (Do you know how much information Google has connected to your Gmail address? Check here: You may be surprised.) Not only does Google have this information on its servers, but if anyone were to be able to hack into your Google account, they'd have a wealth of information about you too (and your business, if you use Google Docs for business documents).
(Note that, for those who use Firefox, there's an add-on, Google Sharing, that lets you use most Google tools without sharing any private data.)
And all that information, and all those "free" services, are amassed and provided for one simple goal: to follow your every movement on the Internet and show you ads related to your searches, e-mails and documents. Many people accept the "free" services in spite of those ads, which, when you look closely, often depend on the content of your personal e-mails. Is the Trojan horse of free e-mail, YouTube videos, and online word processing documents worth giving up one's privacy, all so a company can make billions from ads? (Your personal information and search habits earned Google more than $6 billion in profits last year.) For me, it's not.
Google knows more about you than the NSA, and has recently shown that it doesn't give a hoot about your privacy. The company has gotten too big, and has turned into just another corporation trying to maximize its assets--and those assets are you. Who's to say Google won't progressively loosen its privacy controls and monetize more and more personal information?
I'm ditching Google as much as I can, and when a competitor develops a search engine as good as Google, I'll stop searching with Google, too. The trend that Google has been following has been looking darker and darker as the company nibbles away at the limits of privacy. This is no longer a company I trust.

Feb 19, 2010

PleaseRobMe website reveals dangers of social networks

A website called PleaseRobMe claims to reveal the location of empty homes based on what people post online.
The Dutch developers told BBC News the site was designed to prove a point about the dangers of sharing precise location information on the internet.
The site scrutinises players of online game Foursquare, which is based on a person's location in the real world.
PleaseRobMe extracts information from players who have chosen to post their whereabouts automatically onto Twitter.
"It started with me and a friend looking at our Twitter feeds and seeing more and more Foursquare posts," said Boy Van Amstel, one of PleaseRobMe's developers.
"People were checking in at their house, or their girlfriend's or friend's house, and sharing the address - I don't think they were aware of how much they were sharing."
Mr Van Amstel, Frank Groeneveld and Barry Borsboom realised that not only were people sharing detailed location information about themselves and their friends, they were also by default broadcasting when they were away from their own home.

Over 75,000 systems compromised in cyberattack

ecurity researchers at Herndon, Va.-based NetWitness Corp. have unearthed a massive botnet affecting at least 75,000 computers at 2,500 companies and government agencies worldwide.
The Kneber botnet, named for the username linking the affected machines worldwide, has been used to gather login credentials to online financial systems, social networking sites and e-mail systems for the past 18 months, according to NetWitness.
A 75GB cache of stolen data discovered by NetWitness included 68,000 corporate login credentials, login data for user accounts at Facebook, Yahoo and Hotmail, 2,000 SSL certificate files and a large amount of highly detailed "dossier-level" identity information. In addition, systems compromised by the botnet also give attackers remote access inside the compromised network, the company said.
"Disturbingly, the data was only a one-month snapshot of data from a campaign that has been in operation for more than a year," NetWitness said in a statement announcing the discovery of the botnet late yesterday.
NetWitness did not release the names of the companies compromised in the attacks, which it described as being highly targeted and well coordinated. But a story Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal identified pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., Cardinal Health Inc., Paramount Pictures and Juniper Networks Inc. as some of U.S. firms that had been infiltrated. Systems belonging to 10 government agencies were also penetrated in the attacks.
According to the Journal, the attacks started in late 1998 and appeared to originate in Europe and China. Computers in as many as 196 countries have been affected, with many systems compromised after users clicked on phishing e-mails with links to sites containing malicious code. Most of the compromised systems appeared to be in Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S., the Journal reported, quoting an unnamed source with information on the attacks.
NetWitness, which provides a range of network monitoring and forensics services for companies and government agencies, discovered the botnet in January during a routine engagement with one of its clients. According to the company, the botnet is a variant of the ZeuS botnet, which is known primarily for stealing banking credentials.
More than half of the infected systems in the Kneber botnet also contained the competing Waledac Trojan, probably because those behind the attacks wanted to build some redundancy into their attacks, NetWitness said. "The coexistence of ZeuS and Waledac suggests the goals of resilience and survivability and potential deeper cross-crew collaboration in the criminal underground," the company noted.
NetWitness' discovery comes just weeks after Google disclosed that it and several other high-tech firms had been victims of organized cyberattacks originating from China. Both incidents underscore what analysts are calling the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) faced by a growing number of financial, commercial and government entities.
The term has been used for some time in government and military domains to describe targeted cyberattacks carried out by highly organized state-sponsored groups and organized cybergangs with deep technical skills and computing resources. Such attacks are typically highly targeted, stealthy, customized and persistent. They also often involve intensive surveillance and advanced social engineering.
In many cases, the attacks target highly placed individuals within organizations, who are tricked into visiting malicious sites or downloading malicious software onto their systems.

Feb 18, 2010

Climategate U-turn as admits: No global warming since 1995

The academic at the centre of the ‘Climategate’ affair, whose raw data is crucial to the theory of climate change, has admitted that he has trouble ‘keeping track’ of the information.
Colleagues say that the reason Professor Phil Jones has refused Freedom of Information requests is that he may have actually lost the relevant papers.
Professor Jones told the BBC yesterday there was truth in the observations of colleagues that he lacked organisational skills, that his office was swamped with piles of paper and that his record keeping is ‘not as good as it should be’.
The data is crucial to the famous ‘hockey stick graph’ used by climate change advocates to support the theory.
Professor Jones also conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.
And he said that for the past 15 years there has been no ‘statistically significant’ warming.
The admissions will be seized on by sceptics as fresh evidence that there are serious flaws at the heart of the science of climate change and the orthodoxy that recent rises in temperature are largely man-made.
Professor Jones has been in the spotlight since he stepped down as director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit after the leaking of emails that sceptics claim show scientists were manipulating data.
The raw data, collected from hundreds of weather stations around the world and analysed by his unit, has been used for years to bolster efforts by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to press governments to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Feb 17, 2010

Apple bites man: Macs are nothing more than style porn

Skinny chic: iMacs are just style porn for posers. Skinny chic: iMacs are just style porn for posers.

They got me in the end, with their Hillsong eyes and enhanced browsing experiences.
I'd given it a red hot go, staving off their advances. But damn it, they impose themselves upon you, insinuating the topic into every discussion, like a mid-level Scientologist just one more convert coupon away from a weekend retreat with Tom Cruise and a ride on the mothership. So I bought an iMac. And I haven't looked forward since.
It's the smugness that does you in the end.
I mean, there's the operating system, ''Snow Leopard'' . I just want it on the record – I had no idea at the time. And what's with the unnerving, Narnia-like motif? I mean snow? Felines? Grace, adventure and beauty? A nod to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?
You know they say the author CS Lewis, was a closet supremacist. Now, it's not mine to suggest the good guys at Apple are inbreeding computer parts in some demented plot to create a master race of ''advanced hardware technology''. But I will say be careful what you wish for and look not to their sleek, uniform 27" ubercomputers, but recall instead certain royals who were locked in attics, hidden from view over the centuries.
OK, it's purdy, I'll grudgingly cede that. While booting into Windows is a series of Get Smart-style doors slamming behind you (but one where your foes have already skimmed all the swipe mechanisms), logging into a Mac is relatively secure super terrific happy fun hour.
The packaging is a fetishist's wet dream, each peripheral presented as though it were a Hermes egg. I will say this much, it did get up and running lickety-split. But ever since then it's been one big ''meh''…
Yes, it's all ''whoosh'', ''swoosh'' and ''check this out'', but only in a very bad way. There's the Star Trek-style ''dock'', where you access your applications from what appears to be a bouncing castle fashioned entirely out of stupidity. ''Finder'', the interface for dealing with files, scores a bore draw with Windows Explorer. Web browsers have mastered tabbing, why is this so difficult for file interfaces? It's like turning up to the circus and watching the seals do OK on the trapeze, because the acrobats can't be arsed.
There's a ''Classic View'' mode in Windows that allows you to scale back the bells and infuriating whistles to run a more grown-up version of the O/S that doesn't chew up your RAM. My iMac could really do with a ''Just Shut the Freaking Hell Up and Do Whatever It Is You're Supposed to Do'' mode. Hell, I'd happily have a whip-around to cover the R & D, so long as none of the money was used on those god-awful ads.
''The world's most advanced operating system. Finely tuned'' chunters the web site. The only thing I'm finding finely tuned are my nuts, as I log the minutes watching that goddamn beach ball of suspended disbelief (Apple calls it a ''spinning wait cursor'' - whatever).
The Leopard, the Glitch and the Slow Mode would at least honour the trades description act.
Then you take a look at Windows 7 and you see there isn't that much to choose between the two systems. Hardcore Mac users, once they've ratified the fatwa, will respond that's the competition's fault, pointing to their slavish replication. To which I say fine and dandy but I'm still left with a digital Hobson's choice.  Yes, it's all slightly better, but that's just it – only slightly better.
The problem is twofold. Namely, the average punter uses their machine to simply surf, email and post flattering, out-of-date head-shots on FaceBum. It's the nerds, the army of beta-testing anoraks who are doing the heavy lifting. But nobody else runs these systems through their paces. Certainly, nobody complains as much to the manufacturers. As a result, you get this one-size-fits-all attitude. It's a wonder any of the bugs get fixed at all. Propellor-heads, I salute you...
The other problem is the absence of competitors to force those two death stars, Microsoft and Apple, to truly innovate. But, no, wait, who's the coming over the horizon to strike a blow for the little guy? Why, out of nowhere, comes the impish Google. Marvellous.

When I was a kid, I recall reading books with futuristic fonts that mapped out the next 50 years. I distinctly remember being promised motorised footpaths and hover-scooters. Now, I don't mind telling you, I'm more than a little pissed that none of this has come to pass.  Is it too much to ask for truly personalised home PCs? Show me a graphic designer and an accountant who can get by on the same machine and I'll show you two numbskulls who shouldn't be allowed near heavy machinery.
Instead the alternative is turtle-neck sweaters crossed with sealed-section interior design inserts and I want no part of it. I blame the Swedes. For though I initially laboured under the misapprehension my extra $500 was for enhanced performance, I now understand it was all about opening up a whole new world of Ikea showroom integration possibilities. Now I'm screwed, because my Eastern European, who is otherwise sensible about most things, is down with the brutal minimalism.
So now we're doomed to accessorise. You want to get into the mind of a Mac user? Easy. Think of the router as the belt, the cable as a tie and the keyboard and mouse as shoes and cufflinks. It's dress-up Barbie and Ken for social dummies. Lookit, this all-in-one scanner-fax thingy can be the campervan…
"Does this printer come in tan?" is not a question I ever want to hear, much less feature in a conversation I am taking part in.
It's a more stylish misery, that's all. Damn it, just typing the lower case i on 'iMac' makes me break out in a rash.
I can see the Mac clergy shaking their heads in mild, pious bemusement. "He'll come round; he just needs to avail himself all the Snow Leopard's binary finery…"
''Snow Leopard''. Jesus wept. Clearly, it's base narcissism; aspirational mean-nothing codswallop pitched to appeal to vain, chronic self-abusers with spectacle frames thin enough cut platinum and Dan Brown novels stacked next to Buffy the Vampire Slayer box sets on their shelves at home.  Now I am one of them. Life continues to disappoint.
Windows, Mac OSX, CS Lewis – all cold-blooded, rapacious time thieves.

Feb 15, 2010

Life's a bitumen nightmare as cities get hotter than hell

We cooked on Friday. In between the deluges. Walking to the office across the breezeway at Darling Harbour - except there was no breeze - I overheard a young women say to her friend, ''It's supposed to be 29 but it feels like 40.'' She was right, the forecast was wrong. It hit 38 degrees in the Sydney CBD. Even that figure is misleading. On the streets it was worse - oppressive, debilitating.
One year ago, the City of Sydney council, keenly aware we are cooking ourselves in our cities, commissioned a thermal-image map of the CBD. The mapping flight took place in the early morning of February 6 last year. The maximum temperature that day was 29 degrees and the minimum 22 degrees. The thermal map, however, showed something else.
The streets, glowing red in the image taken, recorded a maximum temperature of 33 degrees. The bitumen surrounded by concrete were fully 4 degrees hotter than the maximum temperature recorded at Observatory Hill that day. The most conspicuous red zone on the map was the huge rectangle of concrete at the Hungry Mile, west of the Harbour Bridge. (The Hungry Mile is officially known as Barangaroo, a ridiculous name for a major new precinct.) What is proposed for the Hungry Mile/Barangaroo? A new forest of office towers with barely a fig leaf of trees. What is proposed for the expansion of Sydney? More density, more tower clusters, more hot spots built along major transport arteries.
That is why, contrary to the weather reports we see each day, it is not the outer suburbs, furthest from the moderating coolness of the sea, that are the hottest, it is the areas with the highest concentrations of roads, traffic and high-rise towers. Their stored heat leads to more air-conditioning at night, and so the heat-sink cycle goes.
Modern culture is built around creating urban heat sinks, yet governments obsess less about this real-world, everyday problem than the more abstract problem of carbon pollution. Fixing the first problem would help ameliorate the second.
But are there any grand plans for turning the web of our major city's blacktops into pale-surfaced roads? No. Any master plan for increasing the vegetation on footpaths and common areas? No. Any plans for retrofitting the kerb guttering and stormwater system so more water can soak into roadside green areas? No.
All this is fantasy stuff for our engineers and planning departments. Instead, we build desalination plants, install more air-conditioners, and cram in more office and apartment towers, while the Rudd government runs a gangbusters immigration program, with an extra 300,000 people a year coming through legal immigration and backdoor immigration via the student visa program - the plan they chose not to tell voters about before the last election.
Sydney will absorb more of this than anywhere else. The heat sinks in Sydney and Melbourne will just get hotter. Multiply this by thousands, and you have a defining global trend.
Humanity recently crossed a historic divide. In 1955, 68 per cent of the world's population lived in rural areas and 32 per cent in urban areas. Last year, the majority tipped the other way. More people live in urban areas than rural areas. In 20 years the balance is estimated to be 60-40 urban-rural, a momentous change in less than a century.
So the impact of climate warming caused by the urban heat sink effect is real for the majority of the world's population. Beyond that, the story becomes more complex. In December, 2007, professors Ross McKitrick and Patrick Michaels argued in a paper (published in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres) that half the global warming trend recorded from 1980 to 2002 could be attributed to the urban heat island effect.
More provocatively, McKitrick commented that the most widely published graph showing a dramatic global temperature rise was ''an exaggeration'', adding, ''I have also found that the UN agency promoting the global temperature graph has made false claims about the quality of their data.''
This was a direct affront to the UN's scientific consensus, which argues urban areas had made little impact on global warming trends. Some of the bedrock research for this position was done by Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
One of his papers was published in Nature in 1990, co-authored by Wei-Chyung Wang, who studied data from Chinese weather stations. Their paper concluded that urban heat caused a negligible effect on rising recorded temperatures. After Jones became a figure of controversy, he was asked for the location of the weather stations used in the study. Only after intense pressure were details released, but the locations of the rural weather stations were not included. When Wang was asked about the omissions he said he could no longer find the records.
Last October, McKitrick wrote in the National Post: ''I have been probing the arguments for global warming for well over a decade. In collaboration with a lot of excellent co-authors I have consistently found that when the layers get peeled back, what lies at the core is either flawed, misleading or simply non-existent. The surface temperature data is a contaminated mess.''
Last Thursday the University of East Anglia announced an ''independent external reappraisal'' of the research produced by the Climatic Research Unit. Jones, already suspended, will remain stood down during the inquiry.
So should the argument that the world's urban population exploding from 900 million to 3.4 billion in little more than 50 years has had a negligible impact on the earth's temperature and the world's weather stations. That, too, is due for a reappraisal.


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Fine print hides risk of genetic test offer

NSURER NIB has begun offering its customers cut-price personalised genetic tests - which could expose them to higher premiums or even leave them unable to get life insurance or insurance payouts.
But the company says it has no ulterior motive and only wants to help its members manage their health.
In an Australian first, the company recently sent a selected group of health insurance customers a letter inviting them to take a DNA test to assess their genetic risk of getting preventable illnesses such as diabetes, heart attacks and some cancers.
However, experts have warned that taking up the company's offer could lead to serious privacy and financial risks - which the company admits to only in tiny fine print at the end of the letter.

The company has arranged a half-price deal with US company Navigenics for a full genetic assay that usually costs $1000.  The Age believes that a select group of 5000 customers received the offer, as the company is testing the concept, but if it is successful it may be expanded.
In the letter, NIB chief executive officer Mark Fitzgibbon revealed he had had such a test himself. "I found it to be an invaluable experience and believe it could be something that you would be interested in too," he said.

But Sydney academic Kristine Barlow-Stewart, a key government adviser on genetics technology, said the move was concerning. "It certainly raised red flags for me," she said.
Once someone has taken a genetic test they can be forced to reveal the results in order to obtain life insurance, income
protection or mortgage insurance and even some superannuation funds that include life insurance.
Insurers can then use the information to increase premiums. If a customer concealed the fact they had the test, the insurer may refuse to pay out the policy.

Associate Professor Barlow-Stewart is director of the Centre for Genetics Education at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, and sits on the federal government’s Human Genetics Advisory Committee. She has been researching cases of "genetic discrimination", in which healthy people have been denied insurance cover due to the content of their DNA.
In one study she found 48 cases of genetic discrimination in Australia, 46 of which werepeople reporting adverse treatment by insurance companies following a genetic test result.
While she declined to speculate whether NIB might have an ulterior motive, she said the fact that NIB also offered life insurance meant questions should be asked about privacy and the impact on the customer.
Life insurance contracts can vary depending on the insurer's assessment of the risk they take on. People considered an "additional risk" may be hit with higher premiums, shorter period of cover, or not be covered at all if death is caused by particular medical conditions.
Under the official "Genetic Testing Policy" of the Investment and Financial Services Association of Australia, life insurance companies can demand that a prospective customer hand over the results of any genetic test they have had done.
"Life insurance is a contract of mutual good faith, but a genetic test means the balance has been tipped [in favour of the
insurer]," Professor Barlow-Stewart said. "How is that information being interpreted? How meaningful is it anyway? Are they going to use it to change the premiums? These are fair questions and they need to be asked."
Health insurance companies can also get access to genetic test results if they are shown to a doctor and go on a person's
medical record - although in Australia the companies cannot set premiums according to individual risk factors.
A spokesman for NIB said the genetic test results would remain strictly confidential between Navigenics and the customer.
"In no way can we identify if a policy holder has accepted this offer," he said.
He said customers were warned of the implications in fine print on the letter saying "you may be required to disclose genetic test results, including any underlying health risks and conditions which the tests reveal, to life insurance or superannuation providers".
The spokesman said the company's commercial objective was to help policy members identify and manage disease.

Feb 9, 2010

'Natural' remedies can prove lethal: research

SOME popular herbal medicines can be dangerous, even lethal, contrary to the perception that they are a safe alternative to conventional medicine, a University of Adelaide researcher has warned.
Naturopaths agree that there are dangers in herbal medicines for people who self-diagnose and then ''treat'' themselves with off-the-shelf products. However, they say the industry is generally well regulated.
Forensic pathologist Roger Byard reviewed the risks attached to herbal medicines in last month's edition of the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
He said herbal products had been found to contain potentially lethal levels of arsenic, mercury or lead. Even if not contaminated, some herbs posed health risks such as liver failure, haemorrhage or heart failure.
Many common herbs could cause severe side effects when used with conventional medicine, such as negating the effect of blood-thinning agent warfarin or making epileptic seizures more frequent.
Professor Byard said his interest in the area was sparked by the 2006 death of a young South Australian man who had injected chan su, a traditional Chinese herbal remedy that contains toxic toad venom.

Sydney fraudsters use Melbourne ATMs to drain accounts

Sydney fraudsters using fake cards are draining cash from ATMs across Melbourne and police fear Victorian accounts may be next in their sights.
Detectives said the three NSW men travelled to Victoria on January 21, when they started using fake cards at two bank ATMs in central Melbourne.
The scammers are believed to have a large supply of fake cards complete with PIN and debit card details skimmed from unsuspecting bank users in NSW.
After taking cash from the CBD locations, the fraudsters traversed the greater city, targeting ATMs in Southland, Springvale, Carnegie, Keysborough and Toorak.
They then went back into Melbourne's CBD for more cash on Wednesday night.
Detective Sergeant Greg Baker said the men completely empty their victims' bank accounts and "may spend hours at an ATM using card after card".
“There is nothing obviously suspicious about their activity aside from spending more time than usual at the machine, however they may do this in blocks," he said.
“There are no Victorian victims at this stage. However, we just don't know whether they have a skimming device in place while they carry out this other work."
Detectives are looking into the possibility the men may be linked to a major NSW crime syndicate specialising in skimming credit and debit card information.
Police have released high-quality security images of the trio believed to be operating in Victoria.
“We want to ... stop them from continuing to offend or leaving the state but need the assistance of the public to identify those involved," said detective sergeant Baker.
“They may be staying in Melbourne with friends or at a hotel and we urge anyone who might know their whereabouts or identity to help us out.”
Police also suspect the men stole two Eftpos card-readers from retail stores at Westfield Airport West, and a third from a fast food shop in Fawkner.
Anyone with information can call CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000 or go to crimestoppers.com.au.

Feb 5, 2010

Debunking the link between autism and vaccination

The Wakefield case is a scary example of how science can fail to get its message across, with literally fatal consequences.  Medical science has a dangerously real PR problem.  The real villain here, of course, is Dr Andrew Wakefield. Last week the UK General Medical Council, in a 'fitness to practise' hearing, made a series of 'findings of fact' that could lead to a finding of serious professional misconduct.

They were in relation to research that culminated in 1998 in a now-infamous paper in the distinguished Lancet journal, which drew a link between the MMR (measles, mumps + rubella) vaccine for children, and autism.  His research suggested that the MMR jab caused, in some children, a previously unknown bowel disorder that then somehow triggered autism.

Even back then it was received with caution... by scientists. They warned that such a radical claim based on such slim evidence (a bare dozen cases) needed much more testing and corroboration before the MMR jab - which saves thousands of lives - was abandoned. Wakefield himself only suggested separating out the three jabs, not getting rid of them altogether.

But the message to parents was clear. The MMR jab was dangerous.

Immunisation rates plummeted. After a while, inevitably, measles infections rose.

In 2006 a 13-year-old boy was the first person in the UK in 14 years to die from measles.  Fear, guilt and paranoia were fuelled by a small but vocal bunch of anti-vaccination campaigners, who were convinced about the link between vaccination and autism despite all evidence to the contrary. (For instance, they long held - and some still hold - the mercury-based ingredient thimerasol to blame, despite the fact that when thimerasol was removed from vaccines, autism rates went UP).

Meanwhile, science chugged along, as it does. The autism claim was always suspect, because autism 'presents' naturally at around the same age that children get their vaccine jabs. As any logician will tell you, Correlation Does Not Imply Causation. It's only our natural instinct to see patterns that gets in the way of this obvious sense.

And gradually it became clear that the original study was a furphy, as more and more follow-ups failed to duplicate the original findings. Science was satisfied. The link was disproven. The caravan should have moved on. It didn't, of course. The anti-vax groups were by now fervent believers, given emotional justification by the rightness of their cause, defenders against what they believed was a cruel assault on children by profit-seeking big pharma and amoral scientists. They diligently got to work spreading that message.

In the US, Hollywood got on board. Comedic actor Jim Carrey and Playboy bunny-turned-actress Jenny McCarthy were convinced vaccination caused her son Evan's autism, and they were welcomed with open arms to spruik their views on chat shows across the country.

But at the same time, some serious questions were starting to arise about Wakefield's original research. UK investigative journalist Brian Deer produced some excellent, scathing articles.

He reported that, two years before the Lancet paper, Wakefield had been hired by a lawyer who hoped to raise a speculative class action lawsuit against drug companies which manufactured MMR. The children used in the study had been recruited through anti-MMR campaign groups, and most of their parents were clients and contacts of the lawyer. Deer also uncovered evidence that Wakefield had changed and misreported data used in the study.

Most of the co-authors of the study withdrew their names from it.

And then the icing on the cake: the Medical Council's findings that Wakefield had been "irresponsible and dishonest". His research had been performed without ethical approval. He had shown ''a callous disregard for the distress and pain that you knew or ought to have known the children involved might suffer ... such as to bring the medical profession into disrepute'' (relating to children he had paid for blood samples).

The panel did give this caveat: ''The Panel wish to make it clear that this case is not concerned with whether there is or might be any link between the MMR vaccination and autism.''. But the implications were clear. Five days later, the Lancet fully retracted the paper from the scientific literature.

It's odd that the Lancet even needed to take that step. Though cases this extreme are almost unheard of, most medical research turns out to be wrong, or at least badly exaggerated. Science is rarely advanced in a single step forward. It is a gradual march, as evidence accumulates, proof is cross-checked, speculation is verified - or, of course, disproven.

This has not been a failure of science. Science has come to exactly the right conclusion about the link between autism and vaccines, and it did it in the usual way: initial hypothesis, then extensive testing.

But even now, the anti-vax groups are rallying in support of Wakefield, and refusing to accept the obvious conclusion about their beliefs.

The failure has been in scientists' ability to communicate, in the media's ability to explain, and in (some of) the public's ability to put aside instinct and emotion to understand fully what's going on.

Some uncomfortable parallels could be drawn with the current disastrous state of the climate change debate.

Wakefield should have been a minor speedbump. Instead, his errors were magnified into more than a decade of mistakes by thousands, that in some cases proved fatal, and put unknown numbers of children through the pain of disease that should not have happened.

Those who care about science and reason should not sit back and say ''Wakefield guilty, study retracted, case closed''. Processes have failed here that need serious, ongoing thought.

Feb 2, 2010

"Alarming" rise in cyberattacks at social networks: Sophos

There has been an "alarming" rise in spammers and hackers hunting for victims at online social networks, according to a report released Monday by computer security firm Sophos.

A "Social Security" investigation revealed an "explosion" of spam messages and nefarious software targeting users of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

"Computer users are spending more time on social networks, sharing sensitive and valuable personal information, and hackers have sniffed out where the money is to be made," said Sophos senior technology consultant Graham Cluley.

"Social networks and their millions of users have to do more to protect themselves from organized cybercrime, or risk falling prey to identity theft schemes, scams, and malware attacks."

Facebook last month announced an alliance with Internet security specialty firm McAfee to get members of the world's leading online social network to better defend their computers.

"Facebook is by far the largest social network -- and you'll find more bad apples in the biggest orchard," explained Cluley.

"The truth is that the security team at Facebook works hard to counter threats on their site -- it's just that policing 350 million users can't be an easy job for anyone."

Facebook users whose accounts are breached by malicious software or other cyberattacks will need to have their computers cleansed by McAfee before returning to life in the online community.

Feb 1, 2010

Websense Introduces First Real-Time Security Application for Facebook

Websense delivers Defensio 2.0, the first real-time threat detection system for the social Web

Organizations and individuals alike are adopting blogging platforms, social Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, and other Web 2.0 technologies at a rapid pace. In fact 59 percent of all U.S. Internet users now use social networks , 70 percent consume content on social media and social networking sites and 46 percent of Fortune 100 companies have an official company presence on Facebook today.

Unfortunately, the social nature of Web 2.0 also causes security risks to spread swiftly and claim many victims. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission himself fell victim and accidentally spammed his friends on Facebook after mistakenly clicking on a bad link.

Today, Websense® is helping organizations and individuals protect their blogs, Facebook pages and other Web 2.0 sites through the delivery of Defensio™ 2.0, a threat detection system for the social Web that analyzes and classifies user-generated content in real-time as it is posted to blogs and Facebook pages, to protect visitors from being exposed to malicious links and spam.

Individuals and organizations with Facebook pages can visit www.defensio.com to download the free Defensio security application for Facebook. It runs on the Facebook page in real-time, scanning and analyzing content posted to the page – including wall posts, comments, third-party applications and links – to look for security threats and spam. If a threat is identified, the Defensio application alerts the Facebook page owner so they may remove it and prevent their online friends and fans from being exposed to the risk.

Whereas other security applications are designed to help clean a users’ computer after it has been infected, the Defensio application from Websense is the first proactive security measure that helps prevent users from ever being exposed to the threat in the first place.

Click to watch the video on Defensio 2.0 to learn more: