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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Microsoft Working on a Zune Phone?

Technologist Long Zheng's watchful eye caught a clue that points to the likely existence of an upcoming Zune phone. A Zune software update includes a USB device driver package that references hardware IDs for an as of yet unknown Microsoft Zune product.

Microsoft's Windows Mobile business model has been reliant on third parties, but that model hasn't given the platform much wind in its sails as evidenced by the OS's sinking market share.

Last year, it was reported that Microsoft was giving devices makers reference designs to use to build their own next generation Windows Mobile devices. It is also working on Zune-branded services, code-named "Pink," "Skybox," and "SkyMart," to standardize the user experience across devices. The company realizes that people are accessing information and services from a growing number of devices.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

China Rebukes U.S. Calls to Investigate Hacking

China delivered a bristling response to the United States’ demand that it investigate recent attacks on American computers from Chinese soil, saying that any suggestion that it conducted or condoned hackers’ intrusions was “groundless and aims to denigrate China.”

A brace of interviews and news articles placed in major state newspapers and on many prominent Web sites underscored the chill in public exchanges between the two governments since Jan. 12, when Google threatened to leave China unless Beijing stopped censoring its search results.

Google issued the ultimatum after discovering efforts by still-unidentified Chinese hackers to steal valuable corporate software codes and break into the Google mailboxes of Chinese human-rights activists. Dozens of other American computers were also targets of the attack, Google has said.

The Chinese government’s comments come atop months of increasingly stringent limits on what ordinary Chinese citizens can access on the Internet, and increasingly strict programs to monitor those who try to view unapproved content.

The sharpest language, however, came from the Communist Party-backed Global Times, which frequently criticizes American policy. The newspaper quoted a Chinese analyst as calling Google’s complaint “a U.S. government-initiated strategy with covert political intentions.”

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Weak Passwords Pervasive, Despite Security Risks

Five years ago, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates predicted the end of passwords because they failed to keep information secure. The real problem turns out to be people, who just can't pick passwords that offer enough protection.

This point has been hammered home in a study of some 32 million passwords that were posted on the Internet after a hacker obtained them from social entertainment site RockYou last year.

In a report released by Imperva, a security firm, analyzed the strength of the passwords people used and found that the frequent choice of short, simple passwords almost guarantees the success of brute force password attacks. A brute force attack involves automated password guessing, using a dictionary or set of common passwords.

The report reveals that 50% of users rely on slang words, dictionary words, or common arrangements of numbers and letters, like "qwerty," for their passwords.

Jon Brody, VP at TriCipher, another security vendor, confirms that this isn't a new problem. He puts part of the blame on technology innovators for not recognizing that password policies are doomed to fail if they go against human nature.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Microsoft to delete Bing users' IP addresses after 6 months

Microsoft will eliminate all data collected on Bing users after six months. They say they would reduce the amount of time it stores IP addresses from searchers from 18 months to six months before deleting them.

Currently, Bing takes search data and separates the user's account information (such as e-mail or phone number) from the non-personal information (such as what the query was) and only after 18 months does Microsoft take the additional step of deleting the IP address and any other cross session IDs associated with the query.

The change will be implemented over the next 12 to 18 months. The aim is to satisfy the European advisory group, which has been critical of how search engines collect and retain data on individuals for advertising purposes.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

McAfee Says Cyber-attack Details Point to IE Security Vulnerability

Security vendor McAfee is reporting that the cyber-attack that hit more than 30 businesses, including Google and Adobe Systems, involved the use of a zero-day exploit targeting Internet Explorer.

"Once the malware is downloaded and installed, it opens a back door that allows the attacker to perform reconnaissance and gain complete control over the compromised system," said McAfee CTO George Kurtz. "The attacker can now identify high-value targets and start to siphon off valuable data from the company."

Talk of an IE vulnerability follows reports from other vendors that the attackers launched a spear-phishing campaign using Adobe Reader attachments. McAfee said it has not uncovered any evidence that a Reader vulnerability was exploited in the attacks.

"According to sources familiar with the present attack, attackers delivered malicious code used against Google and others using PDFs as e-mail attachments; those same sources also claim that the files have similar characteristics to those distributed during the July attacks," iDefense said.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Court Questions FCC Authority to Impose Net Neutrality

The case before the U.S. Court of Appeals is an appeal from Comcast related to sanctions imposed on it by the FCC for discriminating against peer-to-peer networking file traffic in an effort to throttle bandwidth demand on its broadband network. Comcast's challenge claims the FCC has no such authority.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has stated that the FCC acted based on the Four Freedoms outlined by the previous FCC administration in 2005. These principles, while not formal rules, have been used to govern net neutrality on a case-by-case basis:

1. Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.

2. Consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.

3. Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.

4. Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

Based on how the case is proceeding now, it seems obvious that the appeals court will decide in favor of Comcast, leading to misguided speculation that the case will validate opposition to the FCC authority over Internet providers and put a nail in the coffin of its efforts at establishing formal net neutrality rules.

Losing this court case will provide the FCC with tangible proof for why the pursuit of net neutrality is so urgent, and give Congress incentive to more clearly specify the scope of the FCC's authority to oversee and police wired and wireless broadband providers.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Office 2010 Prices Revealed

The Office suite, which includes popular applications like Microsoft Word, Office, and PowerPoint, is slated to ship to businesses and consumers later this year. Office will be available in four editions.

The standard Office Home and Student version is priced at $149 for packaged software, or $119 for those who wish to download the software and activate it with a key card. Office Home and Business is available for $279 boxed, or $299 for a key card. Office 2010 Professional, which includes a number of tools geared toward enterprise environments, is $499 boxed, or $349 for a key card. College students and professors can get a price break by purchasing Office Professional Academic priced at $99.

All versions of Office 2010 will include access to Office Web, which is a pared down, Internet-based version of the software. Microsoft also plans to make Office Web available for free to the public through its Windows Live portal. Microsoft intends to give its corporate customers the option of hosting Office Web on their own servers in order to give them more control over the product.

Microsoft confirmed that Office 2010 will be available sometime in the middle of this year, but did not provide a more specific timeframe.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

China Vows Tougher Crackdown On Web Offenders In 2010

In 2009, Chinese authorities arrested over 5,000 of its citizens for violations of Internet pornography laws — a number that could be much higher in 2010 as the government promises to come down even harder on Web offenders as part of its beefed-up “state security” plan.

According to official figures, China’s ministry of public security arrested nearly 5,400 people and shut down some 9,000 pornography-related websites last year, though it did not disclose how many of those arrests resulted in prosecutions.

Insiders say that such moves are just one part of the government’s multi-pronged strategy of fulfilling their resolution to “strengthen punishment for Internet operators that violate the laws and regulations [and] severely punish operations that have serious problems with harmful information.”

As use and availability of Internet access has exploded in recent years with the rise of China’s growing middle class, the government has found itself engaged in a sort of innovation arms-race with an increasingly computer-savvy population intent on avoiding government censorship.

Like all authoritarian regimes, Chinese autocrats are concerned over the dissemination of information that could potentially undermine their regime — which they propagandistically label as harmful to “society.”

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