Author: Andrea Letitia Colander

McAfee notes enormous rise in spam

Spam is continuing to prove problematic for computer users, while social networking worms are also wriggling further into threat lists, McAfee has said in its latest report.

The Threats Report: First Quarter 2013, has also warned there is a continued increase in the number and complexity of targeted threats, including information-gathering Trojans and threats targeting systems’ master boot records (MBRs).  

As new technology continues to emerge so do the threats surrounding them. McAfee Labs found almost three times as many samples of Koobface as were seen in the previous quarter, a high point for the social networking worm that targets Facebook, Twitter and other network users.

Spam email volume rose dramatically after a quiet three years.

McAfee said this was thanks to growth in North America, which had been brought back to life through new “pump and dump” spam campaigns. Topics this time around targeted would-be investors hoping to capitalise on all-time equity market highs.

McAfee also noted an increase in the number and sophistication of targeted advanced persistent threats (APTs). The trend had grown by 30 percent with information becoming as valuable as money on the cybercrime landscape. The report found a 30 percent increase in MBR-related malware and new instances of password-stealing Trojans, which were being repurposed to capture information on individuals and organisations beyond the financial services industry.

The company said many of these were used to target login credentials or intellectual property and trade secrets, and as a result there have been highly-targeted attacks with new levels of sophistication.

There was a slight decline in mobile malware. However, Android malware managed to increase by 40 percent. New PC malware samples increased 28 percent, adding 14 million new samples to McAfee’s list of more than 120 million unique malware threats.

Nvidia supercomputer powers HIV breakthrough

Nvidia’s Tesla GPU accelerators are being used to help fight the spread of HIV.

The company has said its technology is being used by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) who have teamed up with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The team claim in the latest issue of science journal, Nature, that they have for the first time determined the precise chemical structure of the HIV capsid.

For those without a PHD, this is a protein shell that protects the virus’s genetic material and is a key to its virulence.

The researchers said that the findings could hold the key to the development of new and more effective antiretroviral drugs to conquer the virus – which has killed an estimated 25 million people and infected 34 million more.

UIUC researchers used the brains of the Blue Waters Supercomputer to run what they claim is the first all-atom simulation of HIV.

The computer is powered by 3,000 NVIDIA Tesla K20X GPU accelerators, which the company says is the highest performance, most efficient accelerators ever built and gave researchers the computational performance to run the largest simulation ever published, involving 64 million atoms.

Klaus Schulten, professor of physics at the University of Illinois, said it would have been “very difficult” to run a simulation of this size without the power of GPU-accelerated supercomputing in the Blue Waters system.  He added the GPUs had “fundamentally accelerated the pace of [the] research”.

The system could enable further breakthroughs with the planned addition of more GPUs. As a result UIUC researchers expect to increase simulation times, providing additional insight into the structure and behavior of the HIV capsid.

The capsid has become an attractive target for the development of new antiretroviral drugs. This is said to be largely due to the discovery that Rhesus monkeys have developed an immunity to HIV through a protein that disrupts capsid functioning.

The capsid is the protein cell of a virus, containing the virus’s genetic material. It protects and “smuggles” the genetic material into the human host cell. Once inside, it uncoats the material and initiates the infection.

Currently there are no HIV drug treatments designed to target the capsid.

However, it is hoped that by providing a better understanding of the structure of the HIV capsid, pharmacologists will have more information to help them develop new and potentially more effective antiviral HIV drugs.

Top Huawei exec: government snooping is standard practice

A senior Huawei executive has said he believes it’s standard practice for governments to use the internet to spy and steal sensitive data. 

Making the bold claim is the company’s head of security operations and ex CIO for the British government, John Suffolk, who told the Australian Financial Review that states had always embarked on such practices. 

His comments followed reports that the Chinese company had gained access to secret designs of US weapons, which it was alleged were taken from Australia’s new intelligence agency headquarters.

Suffolk said spying was the “second-oldest profession” and pointed out that no one was “surprised that any government around the world is trying to find out what other governments around the world are doing”.

The comments could reignite fears over using Huawei equipment,  which has been the subject of some controversy in the US in the name of national security.

In October last year the US House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee said that Huawei should be shut out of the US market because potential Chinese state influence poses a security threat.

Other countries have called on the EU to investigate the company for similar reasons.

Retailers: Apple ahead in Christmas tablet sales

Consumers are splashing out on expensive technology such as Apple’s iPad, some major retailers have confirmed to TechEye.

Apple is still leading the way for Christmas presents with the iPad and MacBook pushing sales for many big companies – dwarfing the likes of Intel’s Ultrabooks, which have had a well publicised hard time.  

One large retailer said, speaking with TechEye: “As much as it pains me to say this, we’re seeing alot of sales around Apple. This is especially prevalent in the laptop and tablet markets. Unfortunately it’s still the same story for Ultrabooks, which just aren’t shifting.”

However, more reasonably priced items had also seen a jump over the festive period, including the Google Nexus line, which was a close second to Apple’s offerings.  

Another attraction for an iPad alternative is in buying for a younger audience. Another, separate retailer said that there are plenty of people who “are looking for a tablet for younger teens and don’t want to risk buying them a top of the range item”.

One of the reasons why Apple’s offerings have proven to be so popular, could be as a result of these products keeping their value. A top retailer told us despite seeing high sales in the electrical sector, many people were sitting tight. That said,  “iPads and Macs are flying off the shelves, but despite a small growth other brands are behind”.

Although the supply of Apple gear is traditionally tight at launch, we have heard from some retailers that enough stock has been ordered in anticipation for the Apple “rush” that it’s likely buyers will be “safe even up until Christmas eve”.

Guidelines unveiled for offensive posts online

People posting offensive messages on social networking sites could face less criminal charges under new guidelines.

The guidelines, set out by  Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC, are a reaction to prosecutions over offensive posts having a “chilling effect on free speech,” with the QC claiming that thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook are being accused of criminal activity every month.

They also mean some people could avoid trial if they are sorry for criminal comments posted while drunk.

The guidance comes after a string of controversial cases. Most publicised was the May 2010 conviction of Paul Chambers who joked on Twitter about blowing up Robin Hood Airport in South Yorkshire.

His conviction for sending a “menacing” tweet drew global outrage and was eventually quashed on appeal in the High Court in July.

Starmer said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had now dealt with more than 50 cases relating to potentially criminal comments posted online. However, he pointed out there was  so far very little case law set by senior judges to guide which trials should go ahead.

He has now set out new interim CPS guidelines,  which aim to strike the right balance between freedom of expression and upholding criminal law, and are designed to raise the threshold against which people should be prosecuted.

It means that social media messages which contain credible threats of violence, a targeted campaign of harassment, or which breach court orders will be prosecuted.

To get prosecuted a message must now be shown to be more than offensive, shocking or disturbing, rather than a joke or rudeness, the guidelines have stated.

If a message is quickly deleted, blocked by service providers or websites or written by a minor, then prosecution is less likely to take place.

The interim guidelines take effect immediately and are now subject to a consultation process. However, they are just guidelines.

Currys in a hurry means rubbish customer service

Large companies are locked in a vicious circle which stops them offering the best customer service, a retail analyst has warned.

Minimal staff wages, low morale and the high cost of technology are a few factors that are affecting the level of customer services offered by companies. However, they are reluctant to do anything about it, fearing that spending more money in these sectors will impact profits,  Clive Longbottom, an analyst at Quocirca has said.

The comments come after a disgruntled Techeye reader complained that they had received “shoddy service” from top tech brand Currys‘ partner delivery site KnowHow.

After ordering a tumble dryer she was sent an email outlining her delivery day and what to expect. This included promises by the company that it’s men would unpack the product and dispose of the packaging.

“Before we leave, we’ll make sure you’re happy with the work we have done,” the email stated.

However, she was left to unpack the dryer herself after she was told by the delivery men that the machine was “only light” and she could “unpack it herself”. This was despite a clear warning on the machine that it should be handled by two men.

According to Longbottom, “the guys were probably contractors, who combined a bit of “must get to the next job” with a lot of “don’t see why we should do this.”

Despite Curry’s claiming that the driver had broken policies, Longbottom added,that it was “unlikely to do anything about their actions, [meaning] they will get away with it – and so do it again, and again.”

And it doesn’t look like it will get any better.

“Everyone is pretty dire, [when it comes to customer service],” said Longbottom.

“There is no real reason to be really good – just (possibly) not quite as bad as the rest.  

“However, underpinning this is a set of other things – the first is that a fully joined up customer service plan requires fully joined up technology – which costs money.  Retailers have to be cost competitive while making profit, so technology investment is not top of their priorities.  

“Behind this is that the people that they employ directly in customer service roles are paid badly, and see their role as a job, not a career.  Training is minimal, as there is a high turnover of staff, so the costs of training are often seen as being too high.

“So, a combination of things that make it very unlikely that we will see any improvement, unfortunately.”

Longbottom pointed out that the use of social networking to publish such occurrences would have impact. He urged everyone who has a bad experience with any retailer “should post it as wide and far as they can,” in a bid to force retailers to improve.

Comet crash leaves debt trail

Although the report from the retailers’ administrator Deloitte has yet to be officially released, it has been suggested that taxpayers could fork out around £50 million for Comet’s failure to raise sufficient funds incurred from winding down the chain.

This includes paying up to around £24 million in redundancy payments to 6,000 staff. The report indicates that this will mean the government could be forced to step in and ensure workers receive their payments.

Despite being owed £26.1 million, there is a chance Comet will pay nothing to HMRC.

Comet’s secured creditors, such as the backers of parent company Hailey Acquisitions, will get payments of just under £50 million, but it has been suggested by the Sunday Telegraph that they too will miss out on what they are owed with a shortfall of £95 million.  

ITV and Google are both waiting for £1.2 million and £602,000 in unpaid advertising, respectively.

Clive Longbottom, Co-Founder and Service Director at Quocirca, said the way Comet was conducting its business wasn’t anything unusual.

“In the past, the HMRC always came first, no matter what,” Longbottom said. “The law was changed so that secured creditors come higher up the pecking list.  Therefore, as Comet owes HMRC for VAT and possibly some corporation tax, the money won’t get paid to HMRC. A small percentage may do, but not all of it.”  

In a way, he said, this meant that the tax payer was paying. However, this was the same case for any company that goes bust, no matter its size, if it did not have enough to cover all debts.

“It would be interesting to see how much tax is lost this way through all failures in business – and compare this to the fees received by the administrators, who somehow always seem to be paid the full going rate,” he added.

Semiconductor revenues decline in 2012

Worldwide semiconductor revenue has declined from this time last year, according to preliminary results from Gartner.

According to Gartner, revenue was$298 billion in 2012, compared to $307 billion in 2011. The top 25 semiconductor vendors’ revenue also saw a downturn with a decline of 4.2 percent.  Those companies had 68.2 percent of total revenue in 2012, compared with 69.2 percent in 2011.

Gartner conceded that its previous expectations had not been correct.  Earlier this year it had predicted the industry would show little growth in the early part of 2012, but order rates would creep up in the second half, paving the way for a recovery phase in 2013, but this proved to be wrong.

Instead, expected renewal did not occur in 2012, while third quarter order rates were below seasonal expectations, and guidance for the fourth quarter of 2012 forecast further declined.

The company blamed this on the uncertainty about the state of the economy, coupled with ongoing inventory overhang, which it claimed “sent ripples through the semiconductor industry”.

Steve Ohr, research director at Gartner, pointed out that the hardest hit areas included the PC supply chain, memory, analog and discrete components.

Ohr pointed out that the PC business, ordinarily a growth driver, was on a negative slope for the first time in many years, while PC production declined 2.5 percent in 2012.

Intel recorded a 2.7 percent revenue decline mostly due to poor PC sales. Despite this, the company did manage to cling onto first position in market share for the 21st consecutive year, capturing 16.6 percent of the 2012 semiconductor market, its best performance ever.

Samsung, at second place, saw its semiconductor revenue fall. Gartner said this was due to declines in its three major product areas, DRAM, NAND flash and system integrated circuit (IC).

It was better news for Qualcomm however, which rose three places to third position as a result of  its 29.6 percent growth, thanks to continued adoption of smartphones and the growth of 3G and LTE technology in emerging regions, such as China and India.

The only other top 10 semiconductor vendor to record positive growth in 2012 was Broadcom, which rose from the 10th to the ninth position with growth of 8.8 percent.

Capita's dog-eared Ministry of Justice database slammed

A Capita-run database offering interpretation services for cases run by the Ministry of Justice has been described as “chaos” by the Committee of Public Accounts (CPA).

The criticism comes as the CPA launched an investigation into the interpretation system, which was built to provide the Ministry of Justice with a system for supplying interpreters to the justice sector.

However, Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the CPA, said “almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong”.

Hodge said the Ministry awarded the contract to ALS, which was taken over by Capita in late 2011, was “clearly incapable of delivering”. The ministry also failed to heed warnings that the contractor was too small to provide services worth more than £1 million, and instead went ahead and splashed out £42 million on an annual contract covering the whole country.

The Ministry of Justice gives defendants who do not have English as their first language access to translators and interpreters. 

It commissioned the database because it felt its old system wasn’t robust enough. Prior to the database the ministry booked interpretation services directly with individual interpreters, many of whom were listed on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI). However, it was not pleased with this method, claiming that it was administratively inefficient, and felt that setting up a new centralised system would be cheaper and more efficient. 

The CPA continued to growl about the “chaotic” approach of the database. Although the Ministry did not understand its own basic requirements, such as how many interpreters it needed or in what languages, it also ignored the views of interpreters, who were clear that they had serious concerns about the contract and were adamant that they would not work for ALS.

According to the report, Capita also had no hope of recruiting enough qualified interpreters in time to start the service.

The Ministry needed access to 1,200 interpreters when the contract went live. Just 280 properly assessed interpreters were ready to work.

The dog-eared approach continued when the Ministry decided that the new service would go live nationally in one go. However, the CPA claimed that many of the ‘interpreters’ it thought were available had simply registered an interest on the company’s website and had not been vetted to see if they had the required skills and experience.

It said it heard that some names were fictitious and one person had even successfully registered their pet dog.

As a result, the company was able to meet only 58 percent of bookings against a target of 98 percent, rendering the project as “total chaos”.

It meant court officials had to dig around to find qualified interpreters at short notice resulting in more than normal delays, postponed and abandoned trials and an “appalling” quality of interpreters.

Despite the considerable SNAFU, the Ministry only penalised the supplier £2,200.

Russian iTunes launch sent users to LadyBoy porn

Apple landed itself in a sticky situation when it launched its Russian iTunes and accidentally directed users to pornography.

Although its other iTunes software and storefront launches in 50 new countries went without a hitch, Russian users found iTunes was covered with explicit pornography in unexpected places.

The problem seemed to lie in the movies section, where users accessing films to rent and buy on the “More Films in Different Languages” tab were directed to xxx.xxx web addresses, when they clicked on movies without images.

This took them to a range of porn sites offering images of ladyboys, the HuffPo reports’.

Ironically Apple is rather stuffy about what can be placed on iTunes.

Russian Apple blog iPhones.ru claimed the mishap was a result of the company’s developers using the placeholder website “Xxx.xxx” for certain sections of the code – and forgetting to update this to a real website for the final product.