Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’
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?
The capital of Wisconsin is buying 600 iPads this spring and plans to buy another 800 this fall, all paid for using funds from the state’s settlement with Microsoft related to consumer lawsuits claiming the company overcharged customers for its software…
Smojver added that the new iPads will enable students to wirelessly share their work and enable schools to replace textbooks with digital apps or ebooks, referring to Apple’s recent announcement related to iBooks 2, iBooks Author and digital textbooks as a “significant development.”
District deputy superintendent Sue Abplanalp noted that Madison administrators had been impressed by the results of an iPad trial by Chicago Public Schools, which found the tablets were successful in keeping students more engaged in the classroom.
Wisconsin’s iPads are being paid for through $3.4 million of the nearly $80 million settlement Microsoft agreed to pay the state to settle claims that it has systematically cheated consumers into paying too much for its software…
Har! Something somewhere in there about karma.
Internet companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook are increasingly co-opted for surveillance work as the information they gather proves irresistible to law enforcement agencies…
Although such companies try to keep their users’ information private, their business models depend on exploiting it to sell targeted advertising, and when governments demand they hand it over, they have little choice but to comply…
But the vast amount of personal information that companies like Google collect to run their businesses has become simply too valuable for police and governments to ignore, delegates to the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi said.
“When the possibility exists for information to be obtained that wasn’t possible before, it’s entirely understandable that law enforcement is interested,” Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf told Reuters in an interview. “Then the issue would be, what’s the right policy? And that, of course, engenders a lot of debate,” said Cerf…
Demands from governments for Internet companies to hand over user information have become routine, according to online privacy researcher and activist Christopher Soghoian, who makes extensive use of freedom-of-information requests in his work.
“Every decent-sized U.S. telecom and Internet company has a team that does nothing but respond to requests for information,” Soghoian told Reuters…
Soghoian estimates that U.S. Internet and telecoms companies may receive about 300,000 such requests in connection with law enforcement each year…
“Now, one police officer from the comfort of their desk can track 20, 30, 50 people all through Web interfaces provided by mobile companies and cloud computing companies,” he said.
I realize some of my regular readers are already paranoid about what companies like Google and Facebook are doing with the information they gather about users. Anonymized or not.
Now, it’s becoming more and more clear that the cost to governments of tracking your every movement and thought – is a bargain at any price.
The U.S. EPA estimated that servers and data centers were responsible for up to 1.5 percent of the total U.S. electricity consumption, or roughly 0.5 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, in 2007. With companies such as Apple and Google strongly pushing the move to cloud computing, that figure is likely to increase significantly in the coming decade. Since a lot of energy is consumed keeping the computer systems cool, colder climates are seen as more favorable sites for data centers. But a new paper from Microsoft Research proposes a different approach that would see servers, dubbed Data Furnaces, distributed to office buildings and homes where they would act as a primary heat source.
The Microsoft Research paper says that at around 40-50°C the temperature of the exhaust air from a computer server is too low to regenerate electricity efficiently. However, this temperature is perfect for heating purposes, such as home/building space heating, clothes dryers and water heaters. So the researchers argue that placing servers used for cloud computing operations directly into homes and/or office buildings would turn heat generation from a problem into an advantage.
The Data Furnaces (DFs) would be micro-datacenters on the order of 40 to 400 CPUs that would be connected to the Internet and integrated into the house/office building’s heating system in the same way as a conventional electrical furnace. By leveraging the home’s existing infrastructure and doing away with the need for dedicated real estate and construction of new facilities, DFs would significantly reduce the cost per server when compared to conventional data centers.
Additionally, such a setup would also provide lower network latency as the storage and computation systems can be located closer to areas of high population density and therefore those using them.
The DFs would be managed remotely and the researchers suggest that cloud computing service operators could provide free heat to host families in return for occasionally replacing air filters or, in extreme circumstances, turning servers off and on…
RTFA. Farfetched? Maybe not. We could certainly benefit from a proposal like this – we have the space in a detached building that still would allow heated air to be ducted into the house in cold weather. The data center owners would have the benefit of one or two resident geeks.
Cripes – I’ll be among the first to volunteer.