31 December, 2003

Net blackmailers scout for easy prey

London, Dec. 29 (Reuters): Cyber blackmail artists are shaking down office workers, threatening to delete computer files or install pornographic images on their work PCs unless they pay a ransom, police and security experts said.

The extortion scam, which is believed to have surfaced a year ago, indiscriminately targets anyone on the corporate ladder with a PC connected to the Internet.

It usually starts with a threatening e-mail in which the author claims to have the power to take over a worker’s computer through an exploit in the corporate network, experts said. The e-mail typically contains a demand that unless a small fee is paid — at first no more than $20 or $30 — they will attack the PC with a file-wiping programme or download onto the machine images of child pornography.

“They prey on the nice secretary who wouldn’t do anything wrong. When she gets one of these e-mails she thinks ‘Oh, my goodness what am I going to do?’ So she puts it on her credit card and transfers the funds to the (suspect’s online bank) account and hopes it goes away,” a British detective specialising in cyber-crime said.

The officer advised against cooperating with the fraudsters. “If a person pays up, say it’s just 20 euros, then they have identified a soft target. They may come back for more, next time demanding more money.”

In the annals of cyber-crime, investigators acknowledge the racket is one of the most difficult to crack. Because the ransom is small, people tend to pay up and keep quiet.

Police said the number of cases is tailing off but because it so often goes unreported, there is little evidence the crime is actually in decline.

According to Finnish computer security firm, F-Secure, a large Scandinavian university was hit earlier this month.

Several university officials received an e-mail from a fraudster who appeared to be based in Estonia, said F-Secure research manager Mikko Hypponen.

The e-mail said several security vulnerabilities had been detected on the university’s network and that unless the e-mail recipient transferred 20 euros ($25) to the author’s online bank account, he would release a series of viruses capable of deleting a host of computer files.

Hypponen said he advised the university to take the necessary precautions, alert police and not pay. “A lot of these cases are simply bluffing. But I’m sure there are both bluffs and actual cases,” said Hypponen. Police say crime gangs have turned cyber extortion into a tidy business of late.

A preferred tool is the crude, but effective denial-of-service attack on a company’s network, capable of crippling it with an overwhelming flood of data. There are scores of cases of companies — particularly small and medium-sized firms — receiving extortion threats that demand the victim transfer money to the fraudster’s bank account or the attacks will grow in severity, police said.

Fraudsters also send out streams of menacing e-mails with hollow threats of cyber sabotage. The scam works even if only a handful of the countless recipients follow through and pay up.

“It’s getting simpler,” said Hypponen. “If you wanted to extort money from a small company you would have had to hack them and convince them you have stolen their information. Here, you don’t have to do anything but send an e-mail around.”

The Telegraph - Archives
ZDNet India : Communication breakdown threatens VoIP in the U.S.:
"As cable and telephone companies begin offering Net telephony services to U.S. consumers in earnest, complications on the back end threaten to crimp cost savings for providers and ultimately dampen expectations for the much-hyped technology. "

Currently, about 11 percent of all phone calls use VoIP at some point in the connection, with some analysts forecasting a US$10 billion a year business for broadband providers selling a majority of the world's phone calls. Most of this VoIP shuttling takes place in delivering international calls, through IP network providers such as iBasis and ITXC. Calls are handed off to traditional circuit-switched networks at either end, but make long-distance jumps using cheaper packet switching, or IP, technology.
ZDNet India : The end of BIOS:

"Intel and Microsoft are gearing up to move toward the first major overhaul of the innermost workings of the personal computer--the boundary where software and hardware meet--during 2004. "

EFI for dummies
The EFI specification is essentially a preboot environment that allows a PC to conduct activities such as scanning for viruses or running diagnostics. Intel has used EFI to create a preboot software framework that can supplant the BIOS. The framework, called Platform Innovation Framework for EFI and sometimes referred to by the code name Tiano, allows PC makers to write preboot software modules, which are similar to Windows drivers, designed to get a PC's hardware up and running before handing off control of it to the operating system.

27 December, 2003

ZDNet India : Computers may get tax breaks in Budget

Cut Customs duty to 20 percent from the peak rate of 35 percent ...
Bring down the overall tax incidence on PCs from the current 40 percent ...
Reduce Customs duty on capital goods and raw materials to zero...
Push states to cut sales tax to 4 percent...

15 December, 2003

ZDNet India : Google comes to India:

"Google, the Internet search king, is homing in on Bangalore for its first research and development centre outside the US. The centre is slated to open in March and will initially employ about 100 engineers, the Mountain View, California-based company announced on Thursday. "

10 December, 2003

ZDNet India : Sobig blamed for fourfold rise in spam

The amount of spam email has increased by a factor of four during the past year, according to email-security company MessageLabs - and the Sobig virus is being blamed.

The amount of spam moving around the Internet has increased from one spam in every eleven emails at the end of 2002 to one spam in every 2.5 emails today; a more than fourfold increase.

02 December, 2003

ZDNet India : M'sian pirates tout Longhorn:

"Malaysia's pirates have struck again: Two years before the official release of the next version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn, copies have appeared in the country's markets priced at US$1.58. "
ZDNet India : Life after Moore's Law

Moore's Law, as chip manufacturers generally refer to it today, is coming to an end, according to a recent research paper. Manufacturers will be able to produce chips on the 16-nanometer manufacturing process, expected by conservative estimates to arrive in 2018, and maybe one or two manufacturing processes after that, but that's it.

.... When current flows from the source to the drain, a computer reads this as a "1." When current is not flowing, the transistor is read as a "0." Millions of these actions together produce the data inside PCs. Strict control of the gate and channel region, therefore, are necessary to produce reliable results.

When the length of the gate gets below 5 nanometers, however, tunneling will begin to occur. Electrons will simply pass through the channel on their own, because the source and the drain will be extremely close....

01 December, 2003

ZDNet India : Craving for 'clicks' bogs down search:

Hackers and mainstream Internet companies are beginning to take extreme measures to grab Web search "clicks"--sowing confusion for consumers and posing new challenges for search providers.

"Security consultants last week discovered a Trojan horse called QHosts that changed browser domain name system (DNS) settings to redirect visitors to Web sites, including Google.com, to an alternate search site laced with ads."