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Author Topic: Tech News Weekly: Edition 14-09  (Read 3424 times)


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Tech News Weekly: Edition 14-09
« on: April 05, 2009, 01:01 AM »
The Weekly Tech News
TNWeekly01.gifHi all.
I hope you all enjoy the clip on No 11, courtesy of app103.
As usual, you can find last week's news here.

1. DNA Database Grows Faster Than Forecast
The UK's DNS database is fast approaching five million unique entries much sooner than expected.

Over 5m profiles are now on the national DNA database, significantly above the level forecast two years ago.

Home Office minister Alan Campbell has released the figures in response to a parliamentary question from Sarah Teather MP. They show that on 9 January there were 5.14m profiles on the database, although the estimated number of individuals after duplicates were removed was 4.46m.

2. US Supremes Flatline Virginia's Hardline Anti-spam Law
Anti-spam laws passed in Virginia in 2003 are now officially dead after the US supreme court rejected an appeal to reinstate a felony conviction made possible by the law.

A tough anti-spam law passed by the state of Virginia has officially been declared dead following the refusal by the US Supreme Court to reinstate a felony conviction prosecuted under the statute.

The high court on Monday declined to review an appeal challenging a lower-court ruling that declared the anti-spam law unconstitutional because it barred all anonymous, unsolicited mass emails, including those with political, religious, or other protected content. The September decision by Virginia's Supreme Court, threw out the nine-year sentence of notorious spammer Jeremy Jaynes, who was convicted under the state statute.

3. New Method for Detecting Conficker Discovered, Debuted
Team White Hat members Dan Kaminsky, Tillmann Werner and Felix Leder have discovered a technique whereby one can discern remotely whether or not a machine is infected with Conficker.
In other news, Vietnamese antivirus firm Bkis has stated the number of currently infected machines sits at around 3.5 million, with the total number of machines hit with the virus up around original estimates.

The clock is ticking down towards Conficker.C's reported April 1 launch date, but an 11th-hour discovery by Team White Hat may substantially improve an IT shop's chance of catching the bug early and stomping on it. The full technical details on the Conficker scanner are being witheld for roughly 24 hours (we'll link the paper when it arrives). If the scanner works as advertised, the security industry will be able to track the spread of Conficker much more effectively than before and neutralize it that much faster.

Security researcher Dan Kaminsky has written a blog post regarding his collaboration with two members of the Honeynet Project, Tillmann Werner and Felix Leder. Kaminsky's words, I think, serve better than my own in this case: "What we’ve found is pretty cool: Conficker actually changes what Windows looks like on the network, and this change can be detected remotely, anonymously, and very, very quickly. You can literally ask a server if it’s infected with Conficker, and it will tell you...We figured this out on Friday, and got code put together for Monday. It’s been one heck of a weekend."

4. UKBA to Exchange Fingerprints With US
The UK will begin sharing their fingerprint database with the US, AU and NZ in "early 2009" in the hopes of preventing identifying and preventing foreign criminals from entering the country.

The UK Border Agency plans to start exchanging fingerprint data with the US, Canada and Australia in the near future

The organization, which gained full executive agency status on 1 April 2009, says in a business plan issued on the same day that that it plans to work with the USA, Canada and Australia to "introduce a system of appropriate data protection arrangements for fingerprint checks and data sharing". This is intended to help identify and bar foreign criminals from entering the country, and is planned for "early 2009".

5. Unpatched PowerPoint Flaw Spawns Trojan Attacks
A 0day flaw in Microsoft Office's Powerpoint application is being exploited in the wild to install Trojan Horses on machines running the vulnerable software. The user has to open an infected document, usually disseminated via email.

Microsoft has confirmed that hackers are using an unpatched flaw in PowerPoint to assault vulnerable systems.

The attacks rely on tricking prospective marks into opening a maliciously crafted PowerPoint file, either hosted on a website or sent via email. In both scenarios users would have to open a booby-trapped PowerPoint designed to exploit the vulnerability.

6. Microsoft and TomTom Settle Patent Dispute
Microsoft and TomTom have settled out of court over a patent dispute regarding TomTom's use of Microsoft's FAT32 filesystem, with Microsoft the clear winner.

Navigation device-maker TomTom has settled its patent dispute with Microsoft, putting an end to the current round of litigation between the two companies. The terms of the settlement, which were announced by Microsoft on Monday, are said to be fully compliant with GNU's General Public License (GPL).

The conflict between Microsoft and TomTom, which publicly emerged in February, raised serious concerns within the open source software community. Microsoft alleged that TomTom's navigation products, which use the open source Linux kernel, infringe on a handful of Microsoft's patents. Two of the patents cited by Microsoft cover legacy compatibility features in Microsoft's FAT filesystem, support for which is implemented in Linux. Some feared that the lawsuit was the beginning of a patent litigation campaign by Microsoft against embedded Linux adopters.

7. Chinese Cyberespionage Network Runs Across 103 Nations
Canadian researchers believe the Chinese spy network dubbed "GhostNet", has infected machines across 103 countries with the gh0st RAT trojan.

The existence and operation of massive, coordinated, government-affiliated online espionage networks is typically the province of television or the silver screen, rather than the subject of  research. In the real world, even a direct link between online and offline action (Russia's invasion of Georgia and the simultaneous online attacks against that country are a good example) is not enough to automatically prove that the government behind the one is automatically behind the other. We've covered the rise of hacktivism previously on Ars; as more citizens come online, we'll undoubtedly see more of this type of crowdsourced aggression in the future.

Researchers in Toronto, however, may have actually discovered and tracked a hacking effort that can be traced back to a foreign intelligence network—China's, in this case—over the past ten months. The team, which is affiliated with the Munk Centre for International Studies, has published an extensive report on the activities of what they dub GhostNet. Their investigation took place from June 2008 through March of 2009, and focused on allegations that the Chinese had engaged in systemic online espionage activities against the Tibetan community. GhostNet was spread through the use of a wide variety of Trojans, many of which were controlled through a program nicknamed gh0st RAT (Remote Access Tool).

8. The Beast Unveiled: Inside a Google Server
Google have given the media a look at how they run their data centers for the first time. Highlights include the use of batteries instead of UPSs, 1,160 machines per shipping container (not an original idea), and a custom-made Gigabyte motherboard.

Google doesn't talk about its server operations very often; most of what we know boils down to one word: "big." The company lifted the lid ever-so-slightly yesterday (no April Fool), and gave the world a peek inside a data center that's normally locked up tighter than Fort Knox. The results (and the company's focus) might surprise you.

Each Google server is hooked to an independent 12V battery to keep the units running in the event of a power outage. Data centers themselves are built and housed in shipping containers (we've seen Sun pushing this trend as well), a practice that went into effect after the brownouts of 2005. Each container holds a total of 1,160 servers and can theoretically draw up to 250kW. Those numbers might seem a bit high for a data center optimized for energy efficiency—it breaks down to around 216W per system—but there are added cooling costs to be considered in any type of server deployment. These sorts of units were built for parking under trees (or at sea, per Google's patent application).

9. France Approves Main Section of Tough Anti-P2P Bill
France has approved the most important sections of a graduated response plan to internet piracy dubbed the toughest in the world that could see repeat offenders internet-less for up to a year at a time.

While New Zealand has decided to scrap its "graduated response" law and rewrite it from scratch, French legislators are pushing ahead to pass the Création et Internet law that would boot repeat file-sharers from the Internet for up to a year at a time. The Assemblée Nationale has just approved the main bit of the controversial bill, and full passage could come shortly.

The Assemblée is working through the many articles and amendments to the proposed law at the moment, assembling a complete package that will eventually be voted on in its entirety. The key part of the bill is article 2 (Google-translated version), which creates the High Authority (La Haute Autorité) that will administer the rules and pronounce suspensions. Article 2 was today approved for inclusion in the final bill.

10. Police Track DNA of a Cotton Bud Maker for Two Years
Definitely the crazy story of the week, German police have spent two years, and more than $14 million tracking a serial killer who turned out to be an employee at the factory manufacturing the articles used in DNA evidence collection (who was, in fact, not the serial killer she'd been made out to be).

Police in Germany hunted a sinister phantom killer for two years after finding the same DNA at 39 different crime scenes - only to discover that the source was a woman who made the cotton buds used to collect the sample!

The case was one of the most puzzling in recent times. Hundreds of detectives in six specialist committees were set to work hunting the ominous female serial killer.

11. Whose Line Is It Anyway - Living Scenery With Richard Simmons (Thanks App)
A scene from Whose Line is it Anyway with a guest appearance by Richard Simmons.


« Last Edit: April 05, 2009, 06:59 AM by Ehtyar »


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Re: Tech News Weekly: Edition 14-09
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2009, 06:41 AM »
8. so if I had the correct transformer could I simply hook up a 12v battery to my computer :tellme: no, I guess not - you'ld have to have some way of getting it to kick in. I dont understand how that is more efficient energywise than a UPS but probably cheaper?
Re cooling - I dont know where they have their servers but somewhere cold would seem logical (Alaska?!)

10. I thought for a minute that the employee was the serial killer ... seems odd too that one person would be connected to all these cotton buds - but I presume it's those medical ones on a long thin piece of wood, so maybe not quite so odd

11.  ;D ;D


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Re: Tech News Weekly: Edition 14-09
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2009, 06:47 AM »
8. so if I had the correct transformer could I simply hook up a 12v battery to my computer :tellme: no, I guess not - you'ld have to have some way of getting it to kick in. I dont understand how that is more efficient energywise than a UPS but probably cheaper?
Re cooling - I dont know where they have their servers but somewhere cold would seem logical (Alaska?!)
I believe the shipping containers that house the servers are of the refrigerated kind, but indeed it would seem to be more environmentally friendly to simply house your servers somewhere in Alaska (still, spare a thought for those of us who need Google on the other side of the planet :P).

10. I thought for a minute that the employee was the serial killer ... seems odd too that one person would be connected to all these cotton buds - but I presume it's those medical ones on a long thin piece of wood, so maybe not quite so odd
Hrm, I shall make that clearer in the post I think. The connection to that many crime scenes doesn't really surprise me, though you'd have to wonder how many other employees have been implicated in how many other crimes due to these circumstances..I'm not one to willy-nilly dispense my DNA to the authorities (quite the opposite in fact), but I think in this case I'd be rather eager to do so.