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After 5 Years, Spyware Finally Spotted

Online security software developer Symantec announced the firm’s discovery of an extremely sophisticated and persistent threat that had been functioned unnoticed by security researchers for over five years.

The Kapersky Lab also caught on to the bug’s existence and announced their discoveries separately.

spyware2A recently discovered group called “Strider” has apparently been using an advanced spyware tool called Remsec. Symantec shared that Remsec’s complex coding also contains references to Sauron, the main villain in The Lord of the Rings. The spyware is titled “ProjectSauron” in Symantec’s report, or “Strider” in Kapersky’s report.

Since October 2011, ProjectSauron has been active in Symantec customers’ computer systems. Kapersky was able to trace ProjectSauron when its software found an executable library registered as a Windows password filter loaded in the memory of a Windows domain controller.

“Learning that some sophisticated malware has been running in your infrastructure for half a decade without detection is certainly painful,” admitted Sandor Balint, security lead for applied data science Balabit. “Installing antivirus software and running personal firewall provide only a bare minimum of protection,” he warned.

Symantec found that the ProjectSauron spyware was created with a foundation that made it possible for the spyware to have complete control over infected computers and move across networks stealing data. The spyware also utilized sophisticated encryption methods and stealth features that allowed for it to avoid detection. Some of these components come in the form of Binary Large Objects, or Blobs, which are exceedingly difficult for current forms of antivirus software to notice. ProjectSauron is further protected from detection by the fact that it is deployed through a network and doesn’t have to be copied onto a computer’s disk.

spyware3The targets of this spyware span the globe; Symantec was able to detect ProjectSauron software infections in 36 computers belonging to seven different organizations based in Russia, China, Sweden, Belgium, Iran, Rwanda, and Italy.

While the targeted organizations could be considered minor players in comparison with much larger government organizations for example, “the fact that they’re not the typical targets of APT campaigns makes this more interesting,” said Jon DiMaggio, senior threat intelligence analyst at Symantec.

Both Symantec and Kasperky have suggested the possibility that a nation-state may have created the new APT. According to Kaspersky, ProjectSauran shares some notable similarities with Flame, Duqu and Regin. Flame and Duqu have been tied back to the United States’ NSA.

While the spyware has gone dark, DiMaggio stated that Symantec “cannot comment on whether or not the operations have ceased.” He added that if the spyware was created by a nation-state, “it is likely only a matter of time before new Strider attacks begin against new victims and targets.”

CEO at Red Canary Brian Beyer stated that mitigating a breach is a lot like trying to treat cancer:

“Even after extensive and successful treatment, the patient is in remission- not cured, and needs more intensive health checks for life to identify any troubling activity early,” he explained.

Balabit CEO Zoltan Gyorko said that the Strider APT’s ability to mimic password filture modules were “yet another clear sign that passwords are dead and behavior is the new authentication. The only way to catch these attacks is to spot changes in the behavior of users at the end points.”

dell bexit

Did Brexit Raise Tech Prices?

In wake of the Brexit vote, US-based computer manufacturer Dell and Chinese smartphone company OnePlus both raised the prices of their products sold in the UK. Both manufacturers cited the country’s recent vote to leave the EU as the reason behind the change in price.

price increaseWhile these companies may be the first to raise their prices in the UK, there’s indication that they won’t be the last. Intro 2020, a company used by camera equipment-makers, has claimed that it will soon follow suit, stating that it has been “punched in the stomach very hard” as a result of sterling’s drop, one of many unforeseen consequences of the Brexit referendum.

Considering the pound hit a 31-year low against the dollar earlier last Wednesday, the price rises in the tech industry are likely to continue. In fact, falls against certain Asian currencies have only increased.

While Dell has declined to give specifics in terms of product rise changes, the Register reported that the computer manufacturer had already posited 10% blanket increase in the costs of all products for UK retailers. Dell claimed that it delayed the move for as long as possible, as one spokesperson explained:

“In line with the rest of the industry, our component costs are priced in US dollars, and unfortunately, the recent strengthening of the US dollars, and unfortunately, the recent strengthening of the US dollar versus sterling and other currencies in the EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] region, following the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, will have a direct impact on the price we sell to our UK customers and partners,” the spokesperson stated.

“We understand that this is an uncertain time for many British businesses, and we will continue to work closely with our customers and partners to provide great value products and services,” she concluded.

OnePlus, a handset manufacturer that sells a variety of popular products in the UK, recently revealed that it would be selling its OnePlus 3 for 329 pounds from July 11 onward in an attempt to protect its “extremely thin margins.” That comes out to a rise in price by 6.5% from its current price of 309 pounds.

“While we’ve held off action as long as we can, the sharp drop witnessed in the currency markets following the Brexit decision has forced us to re-evaluate the OnePlus 3’s pricing in the UK,” the company explained via its website. “Accessories will not be affected,” it assured.

b cionIntro 2020, the aforementioned camera part manufacturer, has plans to rise its own prices by 10-12%, a decision that is likely have a price-rising domino effect that will take its toll on all its customers, including Tamron, Tokina, Samyang, Hoya, Keno, Velbon, Sunpak and Tamrac.

“For virtually everything we handle, there will be price increases from 1 August,” explained Intro 2020 general manager Jim Mackay. “The currency situation is precarious for us at the moment- my feeling is that it’s going to be six to nine months before we get some stabilization.”

“It’s painful,” he continued. “We expect our turnover will fall as a result.”

As more and more companies raise prices in the UK, only time will tell if its citizens continue to support the Brexit decision.

ozone depletion

Technologists Rejoice at Healing Ozone Hole

While technology often creates products that in turn create problems, technology can also offer solutions to those problems.

Researchers may have recently found the first clear sign that a thinning ozone layer over Antarctica is beginning to heal, likely as a result of environmentally friendly legislation passed thirty years prior.

According to the scientists involved, in September 2015 the hole spanned four million square kilometers fewer than it did at the turn of the century. That accounts to a healed area of ozone about the size of India.

global atmosphereThe hole’s shrinking status has been attributed to legislation that phased out ozone-destroying chemicals over the course of decades. The scientist’s study also reveals the surprisingly drastic effects of volcanoes, which substantially worsen the issue of climate change.

Holes in the ozone layer spell disaster for most forms of life on Earth; without a constant level of ozone to protect the Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation, the overall temperature of the Earth will rise and throw many ecosystems into wack. For humans in the short term, a reduced ozone layer means increased chances of skin cancer, cataract damage, and general harm to humans and the many environmental processes they rely on to continue with their preferred way of life.

The ozone’s replenishment today owes largely to the research of whistle-blowing scientists whose most important work was done in the 1980’s. That’s when British scientists noticed a dramatic thinning of ozone in the stratosphere 10 kilometers above Antarctica. Then in 1986, US-based researcher Susan Solomon demonstrated that the ozone was being destroyed by the presence of molecules containing chlorine and bromine that came from chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. At the time, the gases were found in hairsprays, refrigerators, air conditioning units and many more commonly used products.

Antarctica was particularly at risk of ozone thinning because of the climate’s extreme cold and huge amounts of light. These factors contribute to the production of Polar Stratospheric Clouds that enable the chlorine chemistry that in turn destroys the ozone.

Luckily for the future generations, the warnings derived from these discoveries were well-heeded by members of the Montreal Protocol in 1987. Since the signing of that treaty and the phasing out of CFC use, the situation in Antarctica has slowly begun to improve.

While several studies have revealed the declining influence of CFCs in the atmosphere, the researchers behind this newest study claim that their results constitute the “first fingerprints of healing” and that the ozone layer is actually growing.

susanProfessor Susan Solomon and her colleagues, including researchers from the University of Leeds in the UK, have been carefully watching and researching the mount of ozone in the stratosphere between the years 2000 and 2015. Their data, which were collected in weather balloons, satellites and model simulations, demonstrated that the thinning of the ozone had declined by 4 million sq km over the 15-year stretch. They also were able to conclude that at least half of this shrinking could be attributed to the reduction in atmospheric chlorine.

“Even though we phased out the production of CFCs in all countries including India and China around the year 2000, there’s still a lot of chlorine left in the atmosphere,” warned Professor Solomon. “It has a lifetime of about 50-100 years, so it’s starting to slowly decay and the ozone will slowly recover… We don’t expect to see a complete recovery until about 2050 or 2060 but we are starting to see that in September the ozone hole is not as bad as it used to be.”


Let the Hyperloop Wars Begin

In San Francisco the hyperloop wars are on. On Monday, a crowd sourced enterprise which is led by NASA and Boeing veterans called hyperloop transportation tech announced it had licences a passive magnetic levitation technology which powers its pro type system. The human moving shuttle is going to be able to travel at a whopping speed of 750 mph. How fast is zipping from Los Angeles to San Francisco would take about 30 minutes as compared to a six hour drive or an all day train ride. Everywhere you look technology is solving age old problems in the market. 44

Think about that, you could work in San Francisco live in Los Angeles and jet over to Santa Cruz for lunch. This is going to really change the way we travel and interact and do business, in a much greener manner.

This comes as an announcement just  two days prior to their rival Hyperloop technologies inc, plans to showcase the evolution of its technology to investors and media in the desert north of Las Vegas. On their website, Hyperloop Technologies also features photos and videos showing off their very large tubes that could have the potential to house their long pods for both people and cargo. Both of these companies are based in Los Angeles.

This is the next major leap in technology because it offers people the opportunity to move people and things at great speeds and distances without using any fossil fuels. In fact it is all electric, and the electricity it does use is almost entirely self sufficient with its own systems and solar grid that rides along top of the hyperloop.

rr“From a safety aspect, the system has huge advantages, levitation occurs purely through movement, therefore if any type of power failure occurs, Hyperloop pods would continue to levitate and only after reaching minimal speeds touch the ground” says Bibop Gresta.

This is all happening very fast when you consider that it was only in 2013 that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduced this concept into the nations consciousness in response to his criticism of California’s ambition to make a high speed rail system to connect norther California and southern California. He thought the idea of the kind of high speed rail we were proposing was antiquated and that we should be going for the moon shot of what was up until now largely believed to be science fiction. Today science fiction is science non-fiction and these beauties are coming off the pages and into the dreams of the American public. In 2015 HTT said it would install its hyperloop tech in a proposed 75,000 resident solar powered city in Quay Valley California. This is halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. In February, HTT CEO Dirk Hyman said that it was in the works with Slovakian government about possibly building a hyperloop route in the former Eastern Bloc nation.

If America can get this done, and make a viable cost effective option then it will make the first time in long while that we were the avant-garde in terms of world transportation technologies. The rest is silence.


Tech Creates Solutions for the Housing Crisis

If you’re from the San Francisco Bay Area, you might be more likely to blame big tech for housing crises than see tech companies like Google and Wikipedia as a potential source of the solution. However, with the development of WikiHouse, both may be true.

WikiHouse is a new technological development and brainchild of Alastiar Parvin, who set out to open source a building system that would enable people to use digital tools to create affordable homes in locations where they can thrive.

wikhouseParvin believes that the use of digital technology could open up doors in terms of transforming the way people design and build homes. He hopes to do with home building what Uber and AirBnB have done for the taxi and hotel industries, respectively. In other words, totally dismantle them.

“There is something fundamentally wrong with our housing economy- our dependence on a few large development companies to buy the land, beat their way through local community resistance and build rows of poor quality, unsustainable mass housing that fewer and fewer of us can afford,” said Parvin. “Every major urban economy now faces a huge housing challenge. It’s not about building enough homes but also about breaking our dependence on fossil fuels and debt.”

Users can draw up plans for their new homes by visiting the WikiHouse website and inputting some basic measurements such as width and height. Algorithms will then step in to predict how much the project will cost in terms of even the amount of screws necessary to complete the project. The house’s components will then be manufactured by using a distributed network of small businesses and community spaces as opposed to large centralized factories.

“These micro-factories will be collectively one big factory rather like AirBnB is a huge hotel,” explained Parvin.

wikwikParvin’s website is still under construction, but his company has some estimates as to how much these homes would cost. Kits range from studios to town houses with a corresponding price of 12,000 pounds to 150,000 pounds.

According to Parvin, even though his project itself has all the tech-associations of a standard startup, the actual house’s building materials will be relatively low-tech. They’ll be built on timber frames that can be put together using, as Mr. Parvin stated, “tools you can buy in B&Q.”

Unfortunately, WikiHouse does not have the final and relatively important piece of the puzzle; the land on which to build the houses. Considering part of the housing crisis is that cities are increasingly running out of space to even build, the entire WikiHouse initiative could fail to address a foundational element to the obstacle it attempts to alleviate.

However, the UK government might just step in to help WikiHow bridge the gap left behind by WikiHouse. It has acknowledged that self-build projects are likely to be more responsible for resolving the housing crisis in cities than anything else, so it may bolster efforts to double the size of the self and custom-built housing sector which currently only accounts for around 10% of the housing supply.

Although Parvin claims WikiHouse is still a research project, he hopes it will grow into something larger.


Germany Investigates Facebook’s Data Protocol

Yesterday the German Cartel Office announced the launch of an examination of allegations regarding Facebook’s alleged abuse of its market position. According to some accusers, Facebook infringed Germany’s data protection regulations in terms of rules regarding service governing user data.

fb2The investigation targets Facebook Inc. USA, which is the company’s Irish subsidiary, as well as Facebook Germany GmbH in Hamburg. The government office, or Bunderskatellamt, is going to be investigating whether the Facebook terms of service violate data protection provisions.

“Dominant companies are subject to special obligations,” explains Andreas Mundt, president of Bundeskartellamt. “These include the use of adequate terms of service as far as these are relevant to the market.”

Because user data has become so important in our world of advertising-financed Internet services like Facebook, the investigation has seen fit to consider whether users are being adequately informed regarding what kind of data is being collected from them and to what extent.

The German office claims that Facebook’s terms of service may be imposing unfair conditions on users. Because the company collects a large amount of its users’ personal data, the users have been required to agree to terms of service that are often hard to understand, claims the Bundeskartellamt.

Facebook has complied with the law and will comply with the investigation, a Facebook spokesperson stated.

“This is the first time that a company has amassed the sheer volume of data,” stated Susan Schreiner, an analyst at C4 Trends. “In today’s world, where data is the new currency, is this about user data ultimately translating into market power and giving Facebook an advantage over German and other EU Internet companies?

Charles Kind, principal analyst at Pund-IT, dissects the problem into two central issues:

“First is the way Facebook dominates social markets via four of the eight most popular social apps/services,” he states. He’s referring to Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. “The second is the company’s business model, which is largely based on selling advertising informed by information about Facebook users.”

Although Facbeook’s market domination isn’t clearly violating any laws, whether or not its practices are as clean as the company claims to be is what’s at issue here.

fb3And this isn’t the first time the company has faced scrutiny. Other European governments have been disturbed by Facebook’s rise to power. Official investigations have been announced regarding the security of the data that Facebook collects and whether or not that could be transferred to the U.S. and be subject to U.S. government surveillance, for example.

The French data protection authority CNIL formally notified Facebook of its requirement to comply with the French Data Protection Act just last month. The French government was most worried about the way that Facebook tracked the browsing data of Internet users who don’t have a Facebook account.

Regardless of government anxiety, national leaders will likely have to find a common ground with the company due to its widespread popularity. There are over 30 million users in France alone, so a compromise will surely have to be made in order to keep everyone happy.


Transformers and Hard Drives

Believe it or not, you could never own and use your hard drive if society had not invented and made use of the transformer. Transformers work when you’re dealing in the realms of AC or alternating current, the kind of current generally used by power plants to create and distribute electrical energy. Let’s take a closer look.

transformer2Transformers work in conjunction with the concept of mutual induction, which states that two or more coils of wire can be placed in such a way that changing the magnetic field created by one induces a voltage in the other. That means if you have two mutually inductive coils and one is energized with AC, an AC voltage will be created in the other coil. The device by which this is done is called a transformer.

Transformers are used not only to create voltage in new coils but to adjust the voltage in the second coil in whatever way is convenient. The voltage produced in the secondary coil is always equal to the AC voltage across the powered coil multiplied by the ratio of secondary coil turns to primary coil turns. If the secondary coil is powering a load (like a light or a motor), the current through the secondary coil will be the opposite and the primary coil current multiplied by the ratio of the primary to secondary turns will apply. Often this process is explained with a mechanical analogy in which torque and speed are meant to represent voltage and current, respectively:

Imagine that a transformer is to coils with different currents and voltages as a geartrain is to gears of different sizes moving at different speeds. Speed multiplication gear trains steps torque down and speed up. Step-down transformers step voltage down and current up.

This might be a good time to be reminded of the difference between voltage and current. Voltage is the difference in charge between two points. Current is the rate at which charge is flowing. If charge were water, voltage would be the water pressure and current would be the rate at which the water flowed.

transformer 3So say the primary coil has less turns than the secondary coil; the transformer will then step up the voltage from the source level to a higher level at the load.

Transformers can step only AC voltage up or down; the process doesn’t work with direct currents. If you’re trying to transmit electrical power over long distances, it’s much more efficient to do so with stepped-up voltages and stepped-down currents because you can use smaller-diameter wire with less resistive power losses. That’s why alternating current is almost always used by power providers for easier shipping to industry, business, or private consumer use.

That means that the factory that made your hard drive used AC power that was able to be carried to the facility through use of a transformer. The same goes for the electricity that you use to run your computer in the first place. Without transformers, your hard drive would cease to be.


The Debate Around Data Encryption

Whether your data exists in the cloud or on a hard drive, investing in its encryption has probably crossed your mind. As terrorism continues to scar the global climate, the ability of consumers to encrypt their data has become a matter of political debate; some officials believe that consumer encryption presents a substantial threat to national security, while privacy advocates strive to further limit the ability of the government to pry through citizens’ personal information without a warrant.

paris attacksThe tragic attacks on Paris last Friday have only further fueled the topic; CIA director John Brennan stated that he hoped the violence would serve as “a wakeup call” to those who oppose government surveillance in favor of personal privacy. He continued, “There are a lot of technological capabilities that are available right now that make it exceptionally difficult both technically as well as legally for intelligence securities to have the insight that they need to uncover [important public safety information].”

Brennan blamed Edward Snowden’s disclosures of the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection for what he believes to be a recently heightened insecurity within the U.S. and global climates: “There have been some policy and legal and other actions that make our ability, collectively, internationally, to find these terrorists much more challenging.”

FBI director James Comey also claims that encryption is a national security threat, claiming that it enables criminals to “go dark.”

This debate gains speed as the 2016 primary debates continue to unfold, forcing candidates to identify their positions in a very new-age problem.

Most of the Republican candidates have already taken a side and let it be known; the common consensus among G.O.P. members is that a consumer’s right to data encryption is trumped by the societal value of government surveillance.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is the exception to the rule, as he stated last week that governments should have to require warrants to access people’s communications. His statements responding directly to encryption are pending (a relevant distinction to make given that encrypted information is extremely difficult to access, even with a warrant).

Democratic candidates have slightly more variant opinions. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been outspoken regarding his opposition to government surveillance and voiced his intention to shut down the NSA’s surveillance program at the first Democratic primary debate.

hillary clintonFormer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a less clearly outlined opinion; she supported the controversial PATRIOT Act in 2001 and more recently claimed that the recently passed Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA) did not adequately encourage tech companies to share information with the US government. Conversely, she endorsed the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA’s bulk data collection program, and applauded its ability “to protect our security and civil liberties.”

Clinton freely admits that the encryption/cybersecurity issue is “a classic hard choice.”

“I would be the first to say I don’t have an answer,” she said. “I think there are really strong, legitimate arguments on both sides.”

The issue may boil down to the amount of trust US citizens have in their government; they have to guess whether the government will protect them or oppress them with the power of their private information.

Choice Of Right And Latest Hardware Can Render Several Benefits

Since the computing devices are going to serve their owners for several years and even decades, it is best to choose ideal ones. The persons would have to consider their current and future needs and check upon the latest technologies available in the markets. The desktop computers or the laptops have to be given the right physical framework to ensure that they hold the various items within them.

hardware1For instance, there has to be spaces for the memory devices. Enough slots have to be there that would enable the communication to happen between the central processing unit and the peripheral devices, which could be the input and output ones. The persons would have to check upon the type of data transfer that tends to happen to and fro of the hard drives in an effective manner.

All the connections have to be proper to ensure that the intended functions tend to happen in the computers and the desired results in the form of outputs are delivered. These are enabled with the presence of the data cables that are connected to the CPU and the hard drives. Therefore, with the best format of the cables, it is easy for the persons to ensure that the data is not lost in translation. Moreover, the speed of the systems would depend on the RAM capacity and the cache that would have to also be checked. Also, there are certain devices and the quantum that would enable the highest possible compatibility with the computer chip. These would have to be learned by the users before they pick up the best of the computing devices to be used on a regular basis.

Checking with the experts:

Since not every person would be clearly aware of the various factors that tend to determine the efficiency of the physical parts of the computers, they have to ask for help. There are several Hardware engineers, who are able to help out those who tend to approach them for the technological assistance that they are able to provide easily and comfortably. They would check for the various aspects that would be required by the users, so as to make their suggestions in an appropriate manner. There are so many simple things that have to be considered, such as in the case of the type of software tools and the technologies that the end users would be installing. The right type of the body in the computing devices would enable their brains to work in the manner that would enable the persons to enjoy several benefits.

hardware2By knowing the magnitude of usage and software proficiencies, it is easy to choose the right physical computing tools that would support all the processes without causing any sort of jitters at all. It is easy to procure the things and assemble them once the decisions about the configuration have been fixed by the users. The engineers would get all the necessary items that would enable the complete functioning of the computing devices and ensure that they are able to use them for many years to come.