Software makers Microsoft and Symantec said they disrupted a global cyber crime operation by shutting down servers that controlled hundreds of thousands of PCs without the knowledge of their users.
The move made it temporarily impossible for infected PCs around the world to search the web, though the companies offered free tools to clean machines through messages that were automatically pushed out to infected computers.
Technicians working on behalf of both companies raided data centers in Weehawken, New Jersey, and Manassas, Virginia, on Wednesday, accompanied by U.S. federal marshals, under an order issued by the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.
They seized control of one server at the New Jersey facility and persuaded the operators of the Virginia data center to take down a server at their parent company in the Netherlands, according to Richard Boscovich, assistant general counsel with Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit.
Boscovich told Reuters that he had “a high degree of confidence” that the operation had succeeded in bringing down the cyber crime operation, known as the Bamital botnet…
The servers that were pulled off line on Wednesday had been used to communicate with what Microsoft and Symantec estimate are between 300,000 and 1 million PCs currently infected with malicious software that enslaved them into the botnet.
The companies said that the Bamital operation hijacked search results and engaged in other schemes that the companies said fraudulently charge businesses for online advertisement clicks…
Now that the servers have been shut down, users of infected PCs will be directed to a site informing them that their machines are infected with malicious software when they attempt to search the web.
Microsoft and Symantec are offering them free tools to fix their PCs and restore access to web searches via messages automatically pushed out to victims.
After giving away $28 billion, Bill Gates is no longer the third-richest man in the world. He’s the second-richest.
You read that right. Despite his considerable, praiseworthy charity work, the Microsoft cofounder is getting wealthier. In 2012, he wound up $7 billion ahead with a net worth of $63.4 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index…
Bill Gates has been aggressively selling down his Microsoft position for over a decade. Early on, this looked like a smart idea just on the basic tenets of diversification alone. But when he didn’t stop at 50% of his net worth, and went all the way down to the point where Microsoft was only a piddling 20% of his net worth, you could argue that this was more than just diversification.
Somewhere along the line, this massive and ongoing liquidation became a short-sale of his old friend (and current Microsoft CEO) Steve Ballmer. And it looks to have been a smart “trade”.
What triggered it? Was it the borderline breakeven profitability of the XBox after so many years of investment? How about the flaming wreckage of Microsoft’s internet properties and search game? Maybe it was the launch of the Zune ecosystem that wasn’t? Or perhaps he decided to sell more aggressively the day when Ballmer mocked the iPhone and mentioned that his kids were forbidden to own one.
Maybe it was just the cumulative effect of these embarrassments or missed opportunities – one after another. Either way, Gates’s sales have gone far beyond any kind of diversification that we’ve seen with the Google whiz kids or Larry Ellison over at Oracle. While the billionaire has remained almost completely silent on Microsoft’s loss of luster and standing, his trading activities have spoken volumes…
Joshua Brown ends his piece with an admonition to diversify. The body of the article says a lot more.
Steve Ballmer hasn’t a clue!
Oprah is out plugging the Surface for Microsoft, stating that she is buying several of the devices as gifts.
However, in sending out that specific tweet, she, or whoever was running her account that day, used a somewhat embarrassing service to communicate.
Yes, this is amateur hour…
Surface ads, now brought to you by iPad.
Consumer frauds often make claims that are too good to be true. But a recent one, cited by regulators around the world Wednesday, depended on a pitch that many people found completely believable — that Microsoft or another computer company knows what is on your personal computer.
The Federal Trade Commission announced a multinational crackdown on so-called tech support scams, in which a caller fools a consumer into believing Microsoft or a computer security company has discovered that a PC is infected with harmful software. The caller then offers to fix the computer on the spot for a price. The target would sometimes let the ostensible tech support company gain remote access to his computer, allowing the company to download software to it.
In six cases filed in federal district court in Manhattan, the commission named 17 individuals and 14 companies, most in India, as participants in the operations, including many with legitimate-sounding names like Virtual PC Solutions and Zeal IT Solutions.
At the commission’s request, a federal district judge in Manhattan froze the United States assets of the suspects. The commission also said it had shut down 80 Internet domain names and 130 phone numbers in the United States used in the scheme. Efforts to reach several of the companies and individuals were unsuccessful.
Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the trade commission, said at a news conference that the scheme involved getting a computer user to look at a program that is a standard part of the Windows operating system…
The caller would then warn that those files indicated viruses that could crash the computer or, in at least one case studied by the F.T.C., that the computer could explode…
The suspected fraud occurred in several English-speaking countries. Joining the F.T.C. in the enforcement action were the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission and Britain’s Serious Organized Crime Agency.
David Vladeck, director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the commission was working with law enforcement officials in India to catch the perpetrators. The commission has also referred the cases to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution.
If someone contacts you – or you see a tempting advert for someone offering to clean your computer’s software up for you – do yourself a favor and contact the computer’s manufacturer and ask what they think of the offer and the source?
The video calling service Skype recently made a change to how it routes calls.
Yawn, right? But here’s where it get a little juicier: Hackers and bloggers are saying the changes, which push some of the video calling process onto Skype’s own computers instead of onto random machines on the Internet, could help the app spy on users’ calls, presumably at the request of a court or government.
“Reportedly, Microsoft is re-engineering these supernodes to make it easier for law enforcement to monitor calls by allowing the supernodes to not only make the introduction but to actually route the voice data of the calls as well,” Tim Verry, from the website ExtremeTech, wrote last week…
“In this way, the actual voice data would pass through the monitored servers and the call is no longer secure. It is essentially a man-in-the-middle attack, and it is made all the easier because Microsoft — who owns Skype and knows the keys used for the service’s encryption — is helping…”
“Historically, Skype has been a major barrier to law enforcement agencies,” writes Ryan Gallagher at Slate. “Using strong encryption and complex peer-to-peer network connections, Skype was considered by most to be virtually impossible to intercept.”
In any event, Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation…already does not recommend that people who live in authoritarian regimes use Skype, because of the relative likelihood that communications could be tapped…
“As of 2012 we don’t believe the Skype architecture is secure,” he said. “There are a lot of people out there, a lot of governments out there, that have the means to break Skype, and this remains true regardless of whatever Microsoft just changed.”
Microsoft may have simply fulfilled their contract with the Washington spooks who asked them to buy Skype in the first place. :)
I don’t necessarily buy into that rumor; but, I also didn’t see much reason for MSoft to buy Skype either. Now, that they’ve had adequate time to tweak the internals and install a back door, rumors move through the markets that Microsoft is ready to resell Skype.
Mission accomplished, eh?
We need more judges like U.S. Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner.
Yesterday, Posner scrapped a trial between Apple and Google’s Motorola Mobility slated to start in Chicago next week after he rejected the arguments for damages because neither side was able to prove it was harmed.
The move is a welcome breath of practicality in this increasingly muddled and litigious world of technology patent warfare. Beyond competing in the market, technology players have moved to the courtroom as a second front, using patents to distract competitors and even ban products from coming into the country.
While these companies see some strategic or monetary gain to be had by this, virtually everyone else loses…So it’s refreshing that more judges are taking action to throw out cases, streamline the lawsuits, and even order both sides to hash out their differences. I applaud the move and can only hope this is the beginning of a trend.
“Judge Posner has repeatedly urged the parties to ‘winnow’ the case and did most of the winnowing himself by throwing out claim and claim, argument after argument,” said Florian Mueller, who runs legal blog Foss Patents and is a consultant who has done work for companies such as Microsoft and Oracle.
He’s not the only one. In Germany, Judge Andreas Voss of the Mannheim Regional Court has thrown out two lawsuits between Apple and Samsung Electronics. Samsung said it would appeal the decision.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, based in California, ordered the CEOs of Apple and Samsung to meet face to face and work out a deal. Even if it was ultimately fruitless, you have to respect her attempt to settle such a complicated mess. She also ordered the companies to reduce the size of the case to make it more manageable for a jury to decide. Apple and Samsung each dropped a number of patent complaints as a result of the order…
While Posner’s decision scrapped the planned jury trial, the lawsuit will continue to move forward as the companies seek to obtain an injunction on the other’s products…That’s why it’s important that judges remain aggressive in their willingness to throw out extraneous complaints.
I understand the tactic. Especially in light of the US Patent Office and their peers around the world. They have become useless carbon copy grantors of anything that rolls in the door – regardless of duplication or value.
But, the lawsuits are becoming as frivolous as people who sue because they can’t figure out how to use their smartphone.
Diageo, one of the world’s largest drinks companies, has announced it will no longer fund the Heartland Institute, a rightwing US thinktank which briefly ran a billboard campaign this week comparing people concerned about climate change to mass murderers and terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson and Ted Kaczynski…
The London-based drinks giant, which owns brands such as Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Moët & Chandon, said this year that it was “reviewing any further association with Heartland” following the release online of internal Heartland documents which revealed its corporate donors as well as a plan to promote an alternative climate change curriculum in US schools. Following the widespread outcry triggered by Heartland’s billboards, a Diageo spokeswoman told the Guardian: “Diageo vigorously opposes climate scepticism and our actions are proof of this. Diageo’s only association with the Heartland Institute was limited to a small contribution made two years ago specifically related to an excise tax issue. Diageo has no plans to work with the Heartland Institute in the future.”
In February, a US scientist, Peter Gleick, admitted obtaining and publishing internal Heartland documents which showed that Diageo had given the thinktank $10,000 in 2010. The documents, one of which Heartland later claimed was a fake, said the thinktank was expecting another $10,000 from Diageo this year.
On Friday, Heartland, which is trying to promote its annual conference for climate
sceptics phonies, to be held in Chicago this month, said it was withdrawing the billboard campaign. However, it refused to apologise, claiming the campaign was an “experiment”. Its website is still hosting the original press release, which includes the claim that the “most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”
Microsoft, which has a policy of supplying free software to all non-profit organisations in the US, posted a blog on its website on Saturday distancing itself from Heartland. The thinktank received software from Microsoft worth $59,908 in 2011. The blog said: “Microsoft believes climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate, worldwide attention and we are acting accordingly … The Heartland Institute does not speak for Microsoft on climate change. In fact, the Heartland Institute’s position on climate change is diametrically opposed to Microsoft’s position. And we completely disagree with the group’s inflammatory and distasteful advertising campaign.”
In March, General Motors, the world’s largest carmaker, said it was ending its funding of Heartland after 20 years owing to the thinktank’s hardline climate scepticism.
The boycott is one of those traditional democratic means of expressing your contempt for corruption. Voting with your wallet, expressing disagreement with miserable low-life political fronts like Heartland by letting corporate sponsors know they will get to share the guilt.
Add this one in on top of the boycott of Rush Limbaugh sponsors for his misogynist bigotry — as another worthwhile action.
Digital forensic examiners: J-Michael Roberts and Ashim Kapur
Microsoft employees, accompanied by United States marshals, raided two nondescript office buildings in Pennsylvania and Illinois on Friday, aiming to disrupt one of the most pernicious forms of online crime today — botnets, or groups of computers that help harvest bank account passwords and other personal information from millions of other computers.
With a warrant in hand from a federal judge authorizing the sweep, the Microsoft lawyers and technical personnel gathered evidence and deactivated Web servers ostensibly used by criminals in a scheme to infect computers and steal personal data. At the same time, Microsoft seized control of hundreds of Web addresses that it says were used as part of the same scheme…
Microsoft’s involvement in what had been considered largely a law enforcement function — fighting computer crime — is the brainchild of Richard Boscovich, a former federal prosecutor who is a senior lawyer in Microsoft’s digital crimes unit. That group watches over fraud that could affect the company’s products and reputation…
On Friday, Microsoft was attacking its most complex target yet, known as the Zeus botnets. The creators of Zeus offer their botnet code for sale to others and, depending on the level of customer support and customization of the code that clients require, charge them $700 to $15,000 for the software, Microsoft said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn on March 19.
That, in turn, has resulted in many variants of Zeus botnets, making them harder to combat. Most of them are aimed at perpetrating various financial scams against online victims. Mr. Boscovich of Microsoft said he had a “high degree of confidence” that the unnamed culprits behind Zeus were in Eastern Europe…
Microsoft does not believe the operators of the facilities it raided on Friday, which rent space to clients on computers connected to the Internet, are in league with the people behind the botnets. And those operators said they had no idea that equipment inside their facilities was being used to issue commands to Zeus…
Mr. Boscovich said he did not think the Friday sweep would be as big a blow to Zeus as Microsoft’s previous actions against botnets, but he said it was just the beginning of actions aimed at raising the cost of doing business for the botnet’s masterminds. “The plan is to disrupt, disrupt, disrupt,” he said.
This may not be a giant arrest; but, folks I know in banking and finance IT applauded the effort. Even when firms are diligent enough to succeed at keeping these cruds out of their system – out of their clients’ systems – they still are a distraction from doing ordinary business as usual. Useless thugs.
The Ford Motor Company began adding touch-screen control systems to some of its most popular models two years ago as a way to stand out from the rest of the industry and draw in new customers. But after many buyers grew frustrated with flaws in the system, known as MyFord Touch and developed with Microsoft, Ford’s quality ratings plunged and a feature meant to increase loyalty instead damaged perceptions of the company.
MyFord Touch replaces many of the traditional knobs and buttons in a vehicle with touch screens, steering wheel-mounted controls and spoken commands…
Now Ford has issued a major upgrade that redesigns much of what customers see on the screen and tries to resolve complaints about the system crashing or rebooting while the vehicle is being driven. Ford said on Monday that the upgrade made the touch screens respond to commands more quickly, improved voice recognition capabilities and simplified a design that some say had the potential to create more distractions for drivers who tried to use it on the road. Fonts and buttons on the screen have been enlarged, and the layouts of more than 1,000 screens have been revamped.
“We expect that these improvements will put us back on track in the quality ratings,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president for global product development. “It’s more than just an update. This is a substantial upgrade.”
Ford is taking the unusual step of sending the upgrade directly to customers, who can install the new software in about an hour by plugging in a USB flash drive.
Dealers, which can perform the procedure if customers prefer, received the upgrade kits Monday, and the more than 300,000 customers with MyFord Touch in their vehicles can expect their USB drive in the mail later this week, Ford said.
Irritation with MyFord Touch was cited last week by Consumer Reports as a big reason that Ford fell to 10th place on this year’s Automaker Report Card, from fifth in 2011.
Lots of details in the article. Read ‘em and make believe you’re surprised that version 1.0 of software from Microsoft sucks big time!
Make a face like that little kid in the eTrade commercial.
The outage on Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud computing platform that caused the UK government’s G-Cloud service to go offline was the result of a calculation error caused by the extra day in February due to the leap year.
Writing on the Azure blog the firm’s corporate vice president for service and cloud, Bill Laing, said while the firm had still to fully determine the cause of the issue, the extra date in the month appeared the most likely cause…
“While final root cause analysis is in progress, this issue appears to be due to a time calculation that was incorrect for the leap year…”
“Some sub-regions and customers are still experiencing issues and as a result of these issues they may be experiencing a loss of application functionality. We are actively working to address these remaining issues,” he added.
The outage affected customers across the globe, with the G-Cloud service from the government one of the most high-profile accounts to be affected, as it was only launched last week as part of Whitehall’s attempt to improve the use of IT services in the public sector.
Relying on Microsoft for problem-solving seems like an exercise in self-flagellation.
If one of the largest technology companies in the world – with tens of thousands of purportedly competent coders – simply forgets the way the calendar works and therefore brings down its shiny new cloud worldwide, how are we supposed to have confidence in the rest of the operation?