US man stole 130m credit card numbers

18/08/2009

US prosecutors have charged a man with stealing data relating to 130 million credit and debit cards. Officials say it is the biggest case of identity theft in American history.

They say Albert Gonzales, 28, and two unnamed Russian co-conspirators hacked into the payment systems of retailers, including the 7-Eleven chain.

Prosecutors say they aimed to sell the data on. If convicted, Mr Gonzales faces up to 20 years in jail for wire fraud and five years for conspiracy. He would also have to pay a fine of $250,000 (£150,000) for each of the two charges.

Gonzales used a complicated technique known as an “SQL injection attack” to penetrate networks’ firewalls and steal information, the US Department of Justice said.

According to the indictment, the group researched the credit and debit card systems used by their victims, attacked their networks and sent the data to computer servers they operated in California, Illinois, Latvia, the Netherlands and Ukraine. The data could then be sold on, enabling others to make fraudulent purchases, it said.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.

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China drops Green Dam web filtering system

15/08/2009

Chinese officials appear to have retreated from their controversial plan to install an internet filtering system on computers in the country.

The industry and information technology minister, Li Yizhong, said today that the notion that the Green Dam programme would be required on every new computer was “a misunderstanding” spawned by poorly written regulations.

He said all public computers in schools and internet cafes must install the software – but the government “respected the choice of individuals who do not install it”. He said: “Those who overstated and politicised the issue, or even attacked China’s internet regulation, are irresponsible,” and added that pornography was the main target of the software.

Its initial plans met with fierce opposition when they were announced, with many internet users fearing that the software – which blocks pornographic, violent and politically sensitive content – would also be used to monitor behaviour, curb access to information and track users.

At first it appeared that the campaign, which was backed by the US government, was gaining ground. However last month, hours before the programme was due to be implemented, officials briefed that there would be a delay, but the plans would eventually go ahead.

Today’s announcement appears to make that suspension permanent, with Li saying the government would neither require the programme to come pre-installed on new computers, nor force computer makers to include the programme on a CD with optional software.

Read the full story on the Guardian website.


Computer viruses slow African expansion

13/08/2009

Hampered by pirated software and super-slow download times, computer users in Africa are finding PC viruses hard to eradicate.

While western countries have partially learned to neutralise the threat of computer viruses, Africa has become a hive of trojans, worms and exploiters of all stripes. As PC use on the continent has spread in the past decade, viruses have hitched a ride, wreaking havoc on development efforts, government programmes and fledgling businesses.

“It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say 80% of all computers you find in Africa will have some nastiness on them,” says Tariq Khokhar, the chief development officer of Aptivate, a non-governmental organisation that focuses on IT. This compares to around 30% in the UK, according to Panda Security.

The cost is hard to measure, but ask IT consultants and development workers about the impact, and the stories pour out. Even the Congress of South African Trade Unions found in May that its website was spreading viruses to visitors.

Viruses spontaneously reboot computers, destroy vital data, and clog already severely pinched internet connection (it is not unusual to wait 10 minutes to access a single web page). The result: funding applications delayed, small businesses hurt, and hours wasted.

Read the full story on the Guardian website.


Tr.im URL shortening service closes its doors

12/08/2009

The popular URL shortening service Tr.im has announced it is shutting down. That means, just as critics of URL shortening services predicted, a whole lot of shortened links are about to disappear in a black hole.

Or maybe not. The developers of Tr.im say that the service will remain running through the end of the year, so your old links will “continue to redirect until at least December 31, 2009.” The post goes on to say, that Tr.im “will not be turning tr.im off for redirections” and the homepage claims that “your tweets with tr.im URLs in them will not be affected.”

The wording is bit vague, but the way we’re reading it is that while the Tr.im shortening service is dead as of now, the redirections will continue working until the end of the year. At midnight on December 31 all your Tr.im URLs will turn into pumpkins and vanish into the ether. Or perhaps the developers of Tr.im plan to leave the redirect engine going indefinitely, though that seems highly unlikely.

Either way, Tr.im’s saga is pretty much a textbook case of why URL shorteners are a bad idea all around. The most obvious problem is that shortened URLs could lead anywhere – a spam site, a phishing site, a porn site, a malware site, who knows?

Read the full story on the WebMonkey website.


Rivals bid to snatch green domain

11/08/2009

Rival environmental groups are lining up supporters to try to take control of a new net domain aimed at green groups. At least two consortiums are known to be preparing bids to control .eco.

In March this year, former US vice president Al Gore backed a bid by the California group Dot Eco to operate the proposed “top level domain” (TLD). But now a Canadian environmental group known as Big Room has launched a competing bid to manage the TLD, which is similar to .com or .uk.

Both firms plan to apply to Icann – the regulatory body that oversees domain names – for the creation of .eco early in 2010. “We’re two different applicants with two different business ideas,” Minor Childers, co-founder of Dot Eco, told BBC News. “Ours is to sell domain names to raise funds for organisations who can effect change.”

He said the group had already entered into contracts with its supporters – such as the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection – to give away 57% of its profits from sales. “We could be one of the biggest contributors to environmental causes anywhere in the world,” said Mr Childers.

Big Room also plans to generate money from the sale of .eco domain names to fund “sustainability projects around the world”. However, the consortium, which includes WWF International and Green Cross, also believe that .eco could be used as a labelling system to endorse companies with green credentials.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.


Facebook acquires FriendFeed

10/08/2009

The two best websites for connecting with your friends have suddenly connected with each other. Facebook has acquired the life-streaming website FriendFeed, the companies announced Monday. The sites will both continue to operate independently for the time being until the companies can decide the best way to integrate their products.

The integration will be delicate work. While the two sites have much in common, there are several hurdles relating to privacy, feature redundancy and the big question of what to do with all that FriendFeed data that need to be overcome.

“The exact plan for how the integration is going to be handled is something we’re still discussing,” FriendFeed founder Paul Buchheit tells Webmonkey. “In the short term, nothing changes.”

Friendfeed and its API will both remain working normally until further notice, the company explained in a blog post Monday. Also, according to the official press release posted at Facebook, FriendFeed’s employees will join Facebook, and the site’s four founders will take on new roles within Facebook’s engineering and product teams.

At this point, details are slim. Both FriendFeed and Facebook folks have made it clear that the long-term plans for merging the products are still being ironed out.

Read the full story on the WebMonkey website.


Firefox passes billion milestone

09/08/2009

The open-source browser Firefox passed its billionth download on Friday, ahead of the release of its fourth iteration. The milestone includes downloads of all versions of the web software since its first release in 2004.

Figures suggest that Firefox now has nearly one third of the browser market worldwide, at 31%. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer still dominates the field with around 60%, whilst Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari and Opera are all less than 5%.

Microsoft is currently in talks with the European competition regulators, which ruled in January that pre-bundling Internet Explorer with the company’s Windows operating system hurt competition.

The firm recently made a proposal that would offer European buyers of its new Windows 7 operating system a list of potential browsers when they first install the software. Regulators in Brussels said they “welcomed” the proposal but have yet to make a decision. Firefox would be among the browsers on offer.

The browser, developed by the Mozilla Foundation, has quickly become a favourite with web surfers since its launch in 2004. The billionth download figure includes all versions of Firefox released since 2004 and includes single users downloading multiple copies for different computers.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.