Large Hadron Collider smashes another speed record

The world’s largest atom smasher has broken yet another record.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) said that its Large Hadron Collider this morning accelerated proton beams 3.5 teraelectronvolts (TeV), the top speed ever for an atom smasher machine.

Late last November, the collider, which sits astride the Swiss/French border, set the previous record by accelerating two protons at a speed of 1.18 TeV.

CERN said that its next major step will be to collide beams that have individually accelerated to the 3.5 TeV level. The research organization hasn’t scheduled that test yet.

“Getting the beams to 3.5 TeV is testimony to the soundness of the LHC’s overall design, and the improvements we’ve made since the breakdown in September 2008,” said Steve Myers, CERN’s director for Accelerators and Technology, in a statement. “And it’s a great credit to the patience and dedication of the LHC team.”

Shortly after the Large Hadron Collider’s first test run in September 2008, scientists running the machine disclosed that a faulty electrical connection had knocked it offline. The team initially thought the collider would remain out of service for six months, but later confirmed to Computerworld that the problems were more extensive.

CERN said the price tag for the repairs was about $21 million. The system was finally back online last November.

The collider, which has been called “one of the great engineering milestones of mankind,” was built to explore the Big Bang theory, which holds that more than 13 billion years ago, an amazingly dense object the size of a coin expanded into the universe that we know now.

The Large Hadron Collider, which had been under construction since the late 1980s, shot its first beam of protons around a 17-mile, vacuum-sealed loop in September of 2008, but then quickly ran into trouble.

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The rise of the app entrepreneur

The soaring popularity of smart phones has created a new type of entrepreneur – the “app developer”.

Whether it is finding ladies’ toilets on the London underground, identifying bird songs, forecasting snow conditions at ski resorts or just buying stuff online, somebody, somewhere has come up with a clever little computer program that lets you do the task from your handset.

The industry has grown up around the iPhone. More than 140,000 different iPhone applications have appeared since Apple opened its Apps Store on iTunes to outside developers in July 2008.

Although it is the dominant player, there are many more to choose from including those from BlackBerry, Microsoft, Google, Nokia, and Samsung.

Applications rarely cost more than a few dollars or the equivalent in other currencies to download. Many are free.

But already the app market is worth nearly two and a half billion dollars a year, according to data from AdMob, an advertising company.

Other smart phone brands are striving to erode Apple’s early lead by developing their own platforms for apps.

‘Pocket gods’

The popularity of apps has created a gold rush mentality among a new breed of independent software developers. Some have even become millionaires.

However, it is hard to find an app developer who admits to being rich. Dave Castelnuovo is a possible candidate.

Based in San Francisco, he is the co-creator of Pocket God, a popular game for the iPhone that costs 99 cents and has been downloaded by more than two million people.

“We are currently the best-selling app of all time,” he says, sounding slightly bemused.

The runaway success of his product has clearly taken him by surprise.

“When we started out we only budgeted a week’s worth of time to Pocket God, hoping we’d make a little bit of money and have a framework for doing a real game,” he says.

The setting for the game is a tropical island peopled by characters called the pygmies. The iPhone user controls their lives.

“You can do good things like watching them fish or feeding them,” explains Mr Castelnuovo.

“But most of the fun lies in the sadistic things you can do, like sacrificing them or flicking them into a volcano.”

He describes the game as “a safe sandbox that allows people to get that mean itch out”.

It is an interesting insight into what tickles the fancy of smart phone users around the world

But Mr Castelnuovo denies that he is a millionaire. “Uncle Sam has kind of taken care of that,” he says referring to the taxes he must pay the US government.

‘Powerful idea’

The success of Pocket God and other pioneering novelty apps has inspired large numbers of small scale entrepreneurs to have a go at developing software for smart phones.

Nobody knows how many app developers there are, but the figure could run into thousands.

However, with so much competition around it has got a lot harder to create a top seller.

“You definitely have to do a lot more work today – doing PR and talking to people,” explains Mr Castelnuovo.

The essential point about current apps is that they are mostly intended to entertain and they have not involved a lot of work to develop.

The typical app development company consists of “two kids in a garage”, explains David Yoffie, a technology expert at Harvard Business school.

But he believes that ultimately the app could change the face of computing.

“There’s enormous innovation and a constant stream of new creative applications are coming online”, he says.

“So forget about current applications, what matters are the creative things we may see in future.”

Mr Yoffie draws a parallel with the early days of personal computers.

“If you think about the old spread sheets before Lotus 123 and Excel, they weren’t terribly functional,” he says, referring to two landmark programs in desktop computing.

“But ultimately we figured out how to take the basic ideas that were developed in the very early days and make them better, more effective and very powerful,” he adds.

‘Crazy ideas’

Mr Yoffie believes apps for smart phones will go through a similar process of evolution.

In the longer term, he thinks smart phones will have the capability to act like portable subtitling machines, translating foreign languages for those visiting foreign countries.

But not everyone believes the centre of gravity in computing will shift to smart phones.

Among the doubters is Mr Castelnuovo.

“When something generates a ton of excitement at a certain point people are entering it because of the excitement not because there’s anything solid there,” he says

“It’s a lot like the internet bust,” he says, referring to the share price collapse of internet companies a decade ago.

“A lot of people are doing a lot of crazy ideas… it could end up being a bubble,” he says. But he also believes the app economy “could take off”.

So the two-year-old market for smart phone apps seems to be at a crossroads.

On the one hand it is growing fast and there is the potential for really powerful apps that could change of the nature of computing.

On the other hand, it is also possible that the app phenomenon has been overblown.

Commentators say a lot depends on the success or failure of Apple’s much-hyped tablet computer, the iPad, which is due to go on sale soon.

Many see the iPad, with its iPhone-like appearance but much larger screen, as the ultimate vehicle for running apps.

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Hacker Disables More Than 100 Cars Remotely

More than 100 drivers in Austin, Texas found their cars disabled or the horns honking out of control, after an intruder ran amok in a web-based vehicle-immobilization system normally used to get the attention of consumers delinquent in their auto payments.

Police with Austin’s High Tech Crime Unit on Wednesday arrested 20-year-old Omar Ramos-Lopez, a former Texas Auto Center employee who was laid off last month, and allegedly sought revenge by bricking the cars sold from the dealership’s four Austin-area lots.

“We initially dismissed it as mechanical failure,” says Texas Auto Center manager Martin Garcia. “We started having a rash of up to a hundred customers at one time complaining. Some customers complained of the horns going off in the middle of the night. The only option they had was to remove the battery.”

The dealership used a system called Webtech Plus as an alternative to repossessing vehicles that haven’t been paid for. Operated by Cleveland-based Pay Technologies, the system lets car dealers install a small black box under vehicle dashboards that responds to commands issued through a central website, and relayed over a wireless pager network. The dealer can disable a car’s ignition system, or trigger the horn to begin honking, as a reminder that a payment is due. The system will not stop a running vehicle.

Texas Auto Center began fielding complaints from baffled customers the last week in February, many of whom wound up missing work, calling tow trucks or disconnecting their batteries to stop the honking. The troubles stopped five days later, when Texas Auto Center reset the Webtech Plus passwords for all its employee accounts, says Garcia. Then police obtained access logs from Pay Technologies, and traced the saboteur’s IP address to Ramos-Lopez’s AT&T internet service, according to a police affidavit filed in the case.

Ramos-Lopez’s account had been closed when he was terminated from Texas Auto Center in a workforce reduction last month, but he allegedly got in through another employee’s account, Garcia says. At first, the intruder targeted vehicles by searching on the names of specific customers. Then he discovered he could pull up a database of all 1,100 Auto Center customers whose cars were equipped with the device. He started going down the list in alphabetical order, vandalizing the records, disabling the cars and setting off the horns.

“Omar was pretty good with computers,” says Garcia.

The incident is the first time an intruder has abused the no-start system, according to Jim Krueger, co-owner of Pay Technologies. “It was a fairly straightforward situation,” says Krueger. “He had retained a password, and what happened was he went in and created a little bit of havoc.”

Krueger disputes that the horns were honking in the middle of the night; he says the horn honking can only be activated between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

First rolled out about 10 years ago, remote immobilization systems are a controversial answer to delinquent car payments, with critics voicing concerns that debtors could suffer needless humiliation, or find themselves stranded during an emergency. Proponents say the systems let financiers extend credit to consumers who might otherwise be ineligible for an auto loan.

Austin police filed computer intrusion charges against Ramos-Lopez on Tuesday.

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Texting From Beyond The Grave

Generally a headstone conveys two very basic facts about the person interred below it – their name plus the two most important dates of their life. Thanks to some new technology, headstones can now convey much more that: a photo and note written by the deceased, delivered right to your phone.

The product is called RosettaStone and comes from a company called Objecs. If you were to purchase a RosettaStone, you’d receive what looks like a granite iPod with a few symbols visible on the outside and a microchip embedded on the inside. That device is then secured into your headstone so those symbols can be seen by visitors (each symbol represents an area of your life you want to share info on).

When your great-great-great granddaughter stops by sometime in the next century and wants to know who you were, she’ll touch her NFC-RFID enabled cellphone (or whatever device we’re using by then) to one of those symbols on the granite iPod-looking device on your headstone and she’ll get your note.

NFC stands for “near-field communication” which is a subset of RFID – “radio frequency identification.” You’re probably using this technology already. RFID is what allows you to pay a toll while driving 30 mph by way of the little box stuck to your rearview mirror. NFC works in a similar way but only in extremely close proximities — within just centimeters in this case.

By touching the RossettaStone symbols with her phone, your great-great-great granddaughter will activate the microchip via her phone’s magnetic field. That small bit of power is enough for the microchip to connect the phone to a URL containing the note you typed up waaaaay back in the 2010s.

NFC technology probably isn’t in your cellphone – yet. But it’s likely coming soon since it would also allow you to pay for goods using a tap of the phone.

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FBI details most difficult Internet scams

Online scams continue to be the scourge of the Internet and there seems to be no end to the “imagination” of these criminals. As part of its annual wide-ranging look at Internet crime, the Federal Bureau of Investigation took a look at the top Internet scams of 2009.

“The figures contained in [the FBI’s] report indicate that criminals are continuing to take full advantage of the anonymity afforded them by the Internet. They are also developing increasingly sophisticated means of defrauding unsuspecting consumers. Internet crime is evolving in ways we couldn’t have imagined just five years ago,” said National White Collar Crime Center Director Donald Brackman in the report. Annual crime complaints reported to Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) have increased 667.8% between 2001 and 2009.
PCs as Strategic Assets: Download now

According to the FBI and the IC3 Web site, the “popular scam trends for 2009” included hitman scams, astrological reading frauds, economic scams, job site scams, and fake pop-up ads for antivirus software.

Fake Pop-up Ads for Anti-Virus Software

One of the truly nasty scams involves pop-up ads for rogue anti-virus software. Victims reportedly receive ads warning them of the existence of threatening viruses and/or illegal content allegedly found on the victim’s computer. When victims click on the fake pop-ups, malicious code is downloaded. Victims are directed to purchase anti-virus software to repair their computers, but in some instances this resulted in viruses, Trojans, or key loggers downloaded onto their computers. Attempts to contact the anti-virus software companies were unsuccessful. The IC3 says that users who see these unexpected antivirus pop-up warnings should shut down their browsers or their computers immediately and then run an antivirus scan to see what’s going on. The FBI says these scammers have made more than $150 million in the past year.

Hitman

The online “hitman” scammer who threatens to kill recipients if they do not pay thousands of dollars to the sender, is still sending out thousands of emails. Two new versions of the scheme began appearing in July 2008, the FBI said. One instructed the recipient to contact a telephone number contained in the e-mail and the other claimed the recipient or a “loved one” was going to be kidnapped unless a ransom was paid. Recipients of the kidnapping threat were told to respond via e-mail within 48 hours. The sender was to provide the location of the wire transfer five minutes before the deadline and threatened bodily harm if the ransom was not received within 30 minutes of the time frame given. The recipients’ personally identifiable information was included in the e-mail to promote that appearance that the sender actually knew the recipient and their location, the FBI said. In some instances, the use of names, titles, addresses, and telephone numbers of government officials, business executives and/or victims’ personal information are used in an attempt to make the fraud appear more authentic, the FBI stated. Victims of this e-mail are typically instructed to send the money via Western Union or Money Gram to a receiver in the United Kingdom.

Economic Stimulus

A down economy is the opportunity for fraud. This one involved unsolicited calls regarding fraudulent “government stimulus money.” IC3 received numerous complaints from victims receiving unsolicited telephone calls with a recorded message. The recorded voice message reportedly sounds very much like President Barrack Obama discussing alleged government funds available for those who apply. Victims are warned that the offer is only available for a limited time and are instructed to visit the Web sites www.nevergiveitback.com or www.myfedmoney.com to receive their money. These sites require victims to enter personal identifying information after which they are directed to a second page to receive notification of eligibility. Upon completion of an online application and payment of $28 in fees, victims are guaranteed to receive a large sum of stimulus money, but they never do, the FBI said.

The Federal Trade Commission also warned of these scams. In July it opened Dubbed “Operation Short Change,” the law enforcement sweep announced today includes 15 FTC cases, 44 law enforcement actions by the Department of Justice, and actions by at least 13 states against those looking to bilk consumers through a variety of schemes, such as promising non-existent jobs; promoting overhyped get-rich-quick plans, bogus government grants, and phony debt-reduction services; or putting unauthorized charges on consumers’ credit or debit cards, the FBI said.

Job Site

Hand-in-hand with the economic scams were the at-home and survey scams related to online job sites. With work-at-home scams, victims fall prey to fraudulent postings for a variety of positions, ranging from personnel managers to secret shoppers. Victims are lured into providing the fraudster with personal identifying information with promises of above average hourly wages or several hundred dollars per week. Some victims are promised the hardware and/or software equipment needed to perform the job. These sites can be so convincing that victims are oftentimes scammed into cashing checks or money orders that they receive; then redistributing a portion of the funds by way of their personal check, cash, money orders, or wire transfers to a third party. In survey scams, fraudsters post ads for participation in a survey regarding employee/employer relationships during the current economic crisis. Those who apply are required to send a copy of their payroll check as proof of employment. After sending the copy, the victim never hears from the fraudster again; however, the employer’s account is drained of thousands of dollars by way of fraudulent checks, the FBI said.

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The Internet up for Nobel Peace Prize

The internet is up for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

The internet is among 237 individuals and organisations nominated for the prize, advocated by the Italian version of Wired magazine for advancing “dialogue, debate and consensus”.

Last year’s prize of 10m Swedish kronor ($1.4m) was awarded to US President Barack Obama.

Geir Lundestad, Director of the Nobel Institute, told BBC News that they had received thousands of nominations this year.

“Some were nominated by one person, others by 10, others by 100,” he said.

OLPC founder backs nomination

The nomination for the internet is also supported by the founder of the $100 OLPC project Nicholas Negroponte.

“The announcement of this year’s laureate will be made on the 8 October,” Mr Lundestad said. “The prize amount is very likely be the same as in recent years.”

It is still unclear who will pick up the prize (and prize fund) should ‘the internet’ win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

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Wave of Ransom Malware Hits Internet

Criminals reused an attack from 2008 to hit the Internet with a huge wave of ransomware in recent weeks, a security company has reported.

In the space of only two days, February 8 and 9, the HTML/Goldun.AXT campaign detected by Fortinet accounted
for more than half the total malware detected for February, which gives some indication of its unusual scale.

The attack itself takes the form of a spam e-mail with an attachment, report.zip, which if clicked automatically downloads a rogue antivirus product called Security Tool. It is also being distributed using manipulated search engine optimisation (SEO) on Google and other providers.

Such scams have been common on the Internet for more than a year, but this particular one features a more recently-evolved sting in the tail. The product doesn’t just ask the infected user to buy a useless license in the mode of scareware, it locks applications and data on the PC, offering access only when a payment has been made through the single functioning application left, Internet Explorer.

What’s new, then, is that old-style scareware has turned into a default ransom-oriented approach. The former assumes that users won’t know they are being scammed, while the latter assumes they will but won’t know what to do about it.

The technique is slowly becoming more common — see the Vundo attack of a year ago — but what is also different is the size of this attack, one of the largest ever seen by Fortinet for a single malware campaign.

Fortinet notes that Security Tool is really a reheat of an old campaign from November 2008, which pushed the notorious rogue antivirus product Total Security as a way of infecting users with a keylogging Trojan.

“This is a great example of how tried and true attack techniques/social engineering can be recycled into future attacks,” says Fortinet’s analysis.

According to Fortinet, the “engine” pushing the spike in ransom-based malware is believed to be the highly-resilient Cutwail/Pushdo botnet, the same spam and DDoS system behind a number of campaigns in the last three years including the recent pestering of PayPal and Twitter sites.

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Energizer Duo battery charger hides a Trojan

The Energizer Duo USB battery charger has been hiding a backdoor Trojan in its software that affects computers using Windows. According to Symantec the Trojan has probably been there since 10th May 2007.

Energizer has now taken the software for the model CHUSB charger off the market and removed the site from which it could be downloaded, and the company is asking customers who downloaded the Windows version to uninstall it. There are easy steps to fight the Trojan in affected machines, and Macintosh users are not affected.

Symantec’s Director of Global Intelligence, Dean Turner, said it’s impossible to be certain the Trojan has always been in the software that monitors the Duo USB charger, but the Trojan’s binary header states it was created in May 2007. It is not known how the Trojan came to be in the software, but malware has previously been found to be hidden inside products. Energizer is working with the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and the US government to try to find out how the code found its way into the software.

The Trojan allows an attacker to operate with the same privileges as the user who is logged in, and to remotely control the system via connections on 7777/tcp to send and receive files, run programs, and list the contents of directories.

US-CERT advises that to fix the problem, users can delete the Arucer.dll file from the Windows system32 directory, and then restart the system. An alternative fix is to remove the USB charger software. The Trojan Arucer.dll file will still be present but the code cannot be executed in the absence of the charger software. It is also advisable to block access to port 7777 using a firewall or via network perimeter devices.

Energizer’s Duo USB battery chargers have been available in the US, Europe, Asia, and Latin America since 2007. They allow computer users to recharge the Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries either from a wall outlet or a USB connection. It also enabled the user to monitor the status of charging on the PC.

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Google Index to Go Real Time

Google is developing a system that will enable web publishers of any size to automatically submit new content to Google for indexing within seconds of that content being published. Search industry analyst Danny Sullivan told us today that this could be “the next chapter” for Google.

Last Fall we were told by Google’s Brett Slatkin, lead developer on the PubSubHubbub (PuSH) real time syndication protocol, that he hoped Google would some day use PuSH for indexing the web instead of the crawling of links that has been the way search engines have indexed the web for years. Google senior product manager Dylan Casey said yesterday at Sullivan’s Search Marketing Expo in Santa Clara, California that the company plans to soon publish a standard way for site owners to participate in a program much like that.

How The System Might Work

PuSH is a syndication system based on the ATOM format where a publisher tells the world about a Hub that it will notify every time new content is published. Subscribers then tell the Hub “when this Publisher posts new content, please deliver it to me right away.” So instead of the Subscriber checking back with the Publisher all the time to see if there’s new content, they just sit and wait to be told that there is by the Hub. The Publisher publishes something, then tells the Hub that it’s available, then the Hub goes and delivers it to all the Subscribers. This can take as little as a few seconds.

If Google can implement an Indexing by PuSH program, it would ask every website to implement the technology and declare which Hub they push to at the top of each document, just like they declare where the RSS feeds they publish can be found. Then Google would subscribe to those PuSH feeds to discover new content when it’s published.

PuSH wouldn’t likely replace crawling, in fact a crawl would be needed to discover PuSH feeds to subscribe to, but the real-time format would be used to augment Google’s existing index.

As Danny Sullivan told us today, Google would have to implement some sort of spam control and not just let content be pushed live to the index unvetted. That was what happened in the earliest days of search and it was a real mess, he told us.

The Advantages of a Real Time Google Index

PuSH is much more computationally efficient for Google but Slatkin says that even more important is the impact of such a move for small publishers. Right now many small sites get visited by Google maybe once a week. With a PuSH system in place, they would be able to get their content to Google automatically right away.

A richer, faster, more efficient internet would be good for everyone, but the benefits in search wouldn’t be limited to Google, either. The PubSubHubbub is an open protocol and the feeds would be as visible to Yahoo and Bing as they would be to Google.

“I am being told by my engineering bosses to openly promote this open aproach even to our competitors,” Slatkin says. That’s a very good sign.

We expect this will be a very big deal and we’ll be covering it more extensively in the coming days, as well as whenever Google has something to announce more formally.

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Twitter Turns Fire Hose on Little Guys

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo (YHOO) are no longer the only ones drinking from Twitter’s fire hose of real-time data. On Monday, the company granted seven real-time search and discovery ventures access to the data as well: Ellerdale, Collecta, Kosmix, Scoopler, twazzup, CrowdEye, and Chainn Search. Each will be able to tap into the totality of Twitter’s data stream, sifting and indexing it and using it to further build out their services.

The price of that access? Unknown, but I can’t imagine it’s much. Twitter says it’s charging companies according to an as yet undisclosed scalable licensing scheme. For the likes of Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT), that means millions of dollars–enough to make Twitter profitable. For these seven upstarts, the fee is substantially less, at least until they evolve into more high-volume users.

In any event, it seems Twitter is finally pushing ahead with a business plan that could begin to justify the venture capital investment it has attracted.

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