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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Google takes another shot at social networking with Google Plus

Google unveiled its latest attempt at social networking this week with Google Plus trying to make online sharing more like real life. Some of the features of Google Plus lets users share things with groups of people such as friends or coworkers. The site acts a lot like Facebook, with streaming feeds and specialized groups of friends.

Google Plus has five basic components: Circles, Sparks, Hangouts, Instant Uploads and Huddle. It also requires a Google profile for you to be able to use it.

Circles lets you group your contacts by type etc. Circles lets you share information with groups of contacts instead of bombarding everyone with your latest updates all at once.

Huddle is a group texting feature similar to Beluga which Facebook recently bought. It lets you have a group chat through your phone with multiple people at the same time.

Sparks allows you to search for and save blog posts, videos, books and so on related to your specific interests.

Instant Uploads can automatically post users pictures and videos from their phone to a private album.

Hangouts enables you to have live video chats with multiple users at the same time.

Google+ is only available by invitation during an early test phase.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Facebook overtakes Microsfot as the 2nd most popular web site in the UK

This past May, Microsoft, including Windows Live and Bing, had around 26.2 million unique users which was a slight decrease since late last year. Facebook on the other hand has increased its users to 26.8 million which is up up 7%. This is the first time Facebook has passed up Microsoft's web dominion in the UK. Facebook has an unconfirmed 750 million users globally even though its American user base has actually decreased slightly in recent months.

Both Microsoft and Facebook pale in comparison with Google, which saw 33.8 million unique visits in May. Rival social networking site Twitter saw a huge increase in its following this past May and is up to 6 million. This is a huge 34% increase of the previous month. The growth in audiences for social networks is now primarily being driven by the 50 plus age group.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

FBI cracks down on Latvian scareware scammers

The FBI has gone after 2 Latvian gangs that have made millions of dollars by sneaking fake virus warnings onto computers and then charging them to get rid of the supposed virus. The FBI, along with law enforcement agencies in 7 other countries seized over 40 computers used in the scam. Raids in Latvia against the gang allowed police to gain control of 5 bank accounts used to transfer money to the group's ringleaders.

According to the FBI, one of the groups infected almost a million computers, which cost users over $72 million. A second group made nearly $2 million by putting fake ads on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's website. "Visitors to the website began experiencing slow system performance, unwanted pop ups, and total system failure," the Department of Justice said in the indictment. The pop ups were used to scare visitors into buying a $49.95 fake security program called Antivirus Soft.

Scareware works by displaying a message on the victim's screen with a fake virus warning. The the warning keeps popping up until the victim pays for the software to "clean" the infection. In this case the software cost the victims over $100. About one million people are thought to have installed the fake security software.

The defendants are facing up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on the wire fraud and conspiracy charges, and up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on the computer fraud charge. They could also have to forfeit their illegal profits.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dropbox file storage service left unsecured for 4 hours

This past Sunday all Dropbox accounts were left wide open for around 4 hours allowing anyone with an internet connection to access any one of its customers online storage lockers. All you needed to do was have the username and put in anything for a password and you had access to that user's files.

Dropbox is a free service used to share and sync files online. The accounts became unlocked at 1:54pm Pacific time on Sunday after a programming change introduced a bug. It took around 4 hours to fix the bug. The bug happened because of the security architecture that Dropbox uses. Dropbox uses encryption and decryption on Dropbox's servers, instead of on individual's computers.

Dropbox says fewer than 1% of accounts were in use during that time (about 250,000 users) and it closed all of the open sessions to make sure taht anyone who logged in with false credentials was cut off. Dropbox currently has about 25 million users.

Dropbox said they will continue their investigation to determine whether any accounts were improperly accessed and will notify users of any unusual activity.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

First Chromebook now available in US

Google has released its first laptop running Google's Chrome operating system to consumers in the United States. Its made by Samsung and doesn't use traditional installed software but rather browser based apps which store files online in "the cloud". The Chromebook doesn't have a desktop and you cant install your typical software on it. Google says that the cloud based technology enables a new way of computing and removes the need for things like anti virus software and CD\DVD drives. If you want to use your typical Windows or Mac software then you are out of luck for now.

Initial impressions of the Chromebook show that the things you can do via the browser work very well but the things you do on the desktop don't work well at all. One nice feature though is that the Chromebook starts up in less than 10 seconds and the Chrome Web Store offers around 4,400 applications you can buy or get for free. If you want to print then you will need an ePrint-capable wireless printer or use the Google Cloud Print service.

The initial setup is pretty easy. Just enter your Google account name and password, and your Gmail, calendar appointments and settings will be synchronized just like on Android devices.

The Chromebook features a 12.1 inch screen and is available in a WiFi only version ($429) or a WiFi and 3G model($499). The Chromebook comes standard with USB ports, an HDMI port, SD memory card slot and a webcam. It boasts 8.5 hours of battery life as well.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Privacy groups want an investigation of the Facebook facial recognition tool

There have been some complaints by privacy advocates filed to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), asking them to stop Facebook’s facial recognition service. Facebook uses facial recognition software to tag images to help identify people in photos. These photos are scanned and then compared against previously tagged photos to see if any match. If a match is found, Facebook alerts the person uploading the picture and suggests tagging the person in the photo.

EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) has said that Facebook secretly collected facial images for automated online identification. Facebook has an estimated 60 billion photos of individuals in its collection of photos. According to EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg, this violates consumer protection laws and was implemented without user consent. Even though users can opt out of the service, they weren’t notified of the risks associated with the service. Rotenberg said “There is every reason to believe that unless the [FTC] acts promptly, Facebook will routinely automate facial identification and eliminate any pretense of user control over the use of their own images for online identification,”

Facebook said there have been no complaints about the service but the other side states that 'When it comes to users’ privacy, Facebook’s policy should be: Ask for permission, don’t assume it.’ The biggest complaint is that the tagging is turned on by default.

EPIC stated on their site that "the service was unfair and deceptive and urged the FTC to require Facebook to suspend the program, pending a full investigation, the establishment of stronger privacy standards, and a requirement that automated identification, based on user photos, require opt-in consent."

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Google Chrome 12 Adds Security and 3D Enhancements

Google has just released a stable version of their Chrome 12 web browser. Chrome 12 comes just 6 weeks after version 11 was released. This new version boasts many security improvements and 3D enhancements. It features the Safe Browsing behind the scenes protection which will warn users against downloading dangerous files. This feature relies on a database of known malicious sites maintained by Google. Google says they have designed this feature so that it doesn't need to know which sites you visited or which files you have downloaded to be able to detect malicious files.

You can also fine tune the data that websites store on your computer such Flash Player's Local Shared Objects (or Flash cookies), directly from Chrome. This was previously only manageable using an online settings program on Adobe’s website.

Chrome 12 also supports hardware accelerated 3D CSS which developers can take advantage of to implement 3D effects. This essentially means prettier 3D effects for Chrome 12 users. Google says "It means you'll get a snazzier experience in some Web pages and web apps that choose to implement 3D effects."

You can download Chrome 12 manually or if you are a current Chrome user you will get the latest version of Chrome 12 as an automatic download in the coming days.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Lockheed Martin Suffers Cyberattack

A major online attack was launched earlier this month against the networks of Lockheed Martin, the country's largest defense contractor. As a result, the company said, "our systems remain secure; no customer, program, or employee personal data has been compromised."

Hackers reportedly exploited Lockheed's VPN access system, which allows employees to log in remotely by using their RSA SecurID hardware tokens. That suggests that whoever attacked Lockheed Martin may also have been behind the successful breach in March of EMC's RSA division, which manufactures SecurID.

What types of information might attackers have been targeting? Lockheed Martin, which earned revenue of $45.8 billion in 2010, makes everything from Trident missiles and F-22 fighter jets to a network of satellites for the Department of Defense that are designed to support high-priority wartime communications.

Lockheed Martin's swift detection of the attack helped avert potential disaster. The company then informed all remote workers that they'd receive new RSA SecurID tokens and told all 133,000 employees to reset their network passwords.

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