McAfee warns about ’12 Scams of Christmas’

Retailers aren’t the only ones gearing up for the holiday season. Criminals are also out in force.
To highlight the increased crime during the holidays, security company McAfee has come up with the “12 Scams of Christmas” ranging from bogus electronic greeting cards that deliver malware instead of cheer to fake charities that steal your money and your identity. It’s especially important to be extra careful this time of year, says McAfee’s David Marcus. “The bad guys know people are spending more time online, they’re paying more bills online so [the criminals] stand a chance of being a bit more successful this time of year.

In a podcast interview (scroll down to listen), Marcus counted down the 12 scams of Christmas starting with:

1. Charitable phishing scams: Marcus warns consumers to be wary of e-mails that appear to be from legitimate charities. Not only will they take your money and deprive charities of needed funds, but they will also steal your credit card information and identity.

2. Fake invoices from delivery services: During this period, scammers will send out fake invoices and delivery notifications appearing to come from Federal Express, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service or even the U.S. Customs Service saying that they were unable to deliver a package to your address. They ask you to confirm your address and give them credit card information to pay for delivery.

3. Social networking friend requests: Bad guys take advantage of this social time of year by sending out authentic looking friend requests via e-mail. Marcus recommends that you not click on those links but sign into Facebook and other services and look for friend requests from the site itself. Clicking on a link could install malware on your computer or trick you into revealing your password.

4. Holiday e-cards: Be careful before clicking on a holiday e-card, especially if it’s from a site you haven’t heard of. This is a way to deliver malware, pop-ups, and other forms of unwanted advertising. Some fake e-cards will look like they come from Hallmark or other legitimate companies, so pay close attention and make sure it’s from someone you know. If you’re going to send an e-card, be sure you’re dealing with a reputable service lest you risk infecting yourself and your friends.

5. Fake “luxury” jewelry: If you see an offer for luxury gifts from companies like Cartier, Gucci, and Tag Heuer at a price that’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. These links could lead you to malware and take your money or merchandise that will probably never arrive (or be fake if it does). Some of these sites, according to McAfee, even display the logos of the Better Business Bureau.

6. Practice safe holiday shopping. Make sure your wireless network is secure and be sure you’re shopping on sites that are secure. Though it isn’t an iron clad guarantee, you should look for the lock icon in the lower right corner of your browser and make sure the Web page starts with https. The “s” stands for “secure.”

7. Christmas carol lyrics can be dangerous: Bad guys know that people are searching for holiday related sites for music, holiday graphics, and other festive media. During this time, they create fraudulent holiday related sites.

8. Job search related scams: With the unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, there are plenty of job seekers looking for work. Beware of online offers for high paying jobs or at-home money making schemes. Some of these sites ask for money up front, which is a good way for criminals not only to steal your “set up fee” but misuse your credit card too. Marcus said that some “get rich quick” sites are all about money laundering, asking you to accept an inbound financial transfer and pay them.

9. Auction site fraud: McAfee has observed a rise in fake auction sites during the holidays. Make sure you’re actually going to eBay or whatever site you plan to deal with.

10. Password stealing scams: Criminals use low-cost tools to uncover passwords, in some cases planting key logger software to record keystrokes. Once they get your passwords, they gain access to bank accounts and credit card accounts and send spam from your e-mail accounts.

11. E-mail banking scams: A common type of phishing scam is sending out official looking e-mails that appear to come from your bank. Don’t click on any links but type in your bank’s Web address manually if you need to access your account.

12. Files for ransom: Hackers use malware to gain control of your computer and lock your data files. To access your own data you have to pay them ransom.

Bottom line–Don’t let the eggnog and holiday cheer keep you from using your critical thinking skills when you go online during the holiday season. And, of course, make sure your operating system is updated and that you’re using up-to-date security software.


Hands on: Office 2010 review

Office 2010 is due in a few months, but the beta release is available now. It has interface changes, bug fixes, one secret new feature – and although it’s still a long way from being finished, it shows much more clearly than the technical preview what you’ll be waiting for.

Like Windows 7, the Office line-up has gone on a diet; instead of six different versions, there are just three (for home users).

Office Home and Student 2007 sold a copy on Amazon every 90 seconds at its peak last year; the 2010 version has the same apps (Word, Excel, PowerPointand the under-rated OneNote) and the new Home and Business version has those apps, plus Outlook.

Office Professional 2010 includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access and Publisher. There’s a free version of Office that you’ll only get on new PCs called Office Starter. This replaces the ageing Microsoft Works and gives you versions of Excel and Word without all the business features, plus a small ad for Office on the task pane (that doesn’t go away).

There are also new ways of buying Office; you can buy a “product card” with a licence key to unlock a trial copy of Office on a new PC (particularly useful for PCs with no optical drive) or you can install a streamed version called Click-to-Run.

We tested the business version, Office Professional Plus 2010 which has Access, Excel, SharePoint Workspace (the Groove replacement with added SharePoint features), OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher, Word and InfoPath (Visio and Project are still separate apps).

Some of the changes from the technical preview are small; others are more significant.

CNET Review


IBM: Computing rivaling human brain may be ready by 2019

According to IBM, ‘BlueMatter, a new algorithm created by IBM researchers in collaboration with Stanford University, exploits the Blue Gene supercomputing architecture in order to noninvasively measure and map the connections between all cortical and sub-cortical locations within the human brain using magnetic resonance diffusion weighted imaging. Mapping the wiring diagram of the brain is crucial to untangling its vast communication network and understanding how it represents and processes information.’

Computers capable of mimicking the human brain’s power and efficiency could be just 10 years off, according to a leading researcher at IBM.

According to the researcher, Dharmendra Modha, the manager of IBM’s cognitive computing initiative, scientists from his company and some of the world’s most prestigious universities have already managed to simulate the computing complexity of the feline cortex, a feat that could augur a day not too far off when it will be possible to ramp up to what the human brain can accomplish.

Last year, IBM and five universities were awarded a DARPA contract to work on a cognitive computing project aimed at eventually achieving that goal. Just a year later, Modha said, his team, working in conjunction with the universities’ scientists, have achieved two major milestones.

The first was a real-time cortical simulation that achieved more than 1 billion spiking neurons, as well as 10 trillion individual learning synapses. According to Modha, that exceeds what a cat’s cortex is capable of.

Second, the scientists created a fresh algorithm they’re calling BlueMatter that is aimed at spelling out the connections between all the human brain’s cortical and sub-cortical locations. That mapping is a critical step, Modha suggested, for a true understanding of how the brain communicates and processes information.

The human brain, Modha said, is fundamentally different from today’s computers in power and size, and he and the many scientists he is working with are eager to learn from the brain how to build new kinds of computing architectures. Part of the reason, he added, is that as our world gets more and more complex, a “tsunami” of data is being produced and analyzing those data demands “a new kind of cognitive system, a brain-like system, to make sense of it.”

To achieve the goal, Modha and his fellow scientists are combining supercomputing, neuroscience, and nanotechnology research to demonstrate what’s possible. The work they’ve done has progressed in just a year from the granting of the DARPA contract to today’s achievements.

Modha said that examples of what could be done with computers working at this scale are realistic analysis of the world’s water supply systems, or financial systems. The idea is to detect causality behind phenomena, and to make those connections quickly and effortlessly, the way the human brain works. Writing such a program using today’s computers would be impossible, he said, but these future computers would be able to quickly distill answers to these kinds of enormous problems.

There’s no promise, of course, that Modha and his colleagues will be able to advance the difference between the power of the cat and human cortexes in the next decade. After all, there’s a difference of a factor of 20 between the two. But he sounded optimistic that a decade is a realistic goal.

But regardless of the timing, the aim is clear: reverse-engineer the human brain and learn its computational algorithms. And then deploy them in a bid to solve some of the world’s most complicated computing problems.


LHC Shut Down Again — By Baguette-Dropping Bird

LHC“Is Douglas Adams scripting the saga of sorrows facing the LHC? These time-traveling Higgs-Boson particles certainly exhibit the sign of his absurd sense of humor! Perhaps it is the Universe itself, conspiring against the revelations intimated by the operation of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider? This time, it is not falling cranes, cracked magnets, liquid helium leaks or even links to Al Qaeda, that have halted man’s efforts to understand the meaning of life, the universe and everything. It now appears that the collider is hindered from an initial firing by a baguette, dropped by a passing bird: ‘The bird dropped some bread on a section of outdoor machinery, eventually leading to significant overheating in parts of the accelerator. The LHC was not operational at the time of the incident, but the spike produced so much heat that had the beam been on, automatic failsafes would have shut down the machine.'”


Hackers create tools for disaster relief

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.–Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo may be tough competitors when it comes to Internet software and services, but they are putting their differences aside to build a developer community to tackle bigger picture problems like saving lives in emergencies.

The companies have joined with NASA, the World Bank, and PR agency SecondMuse to organize the first-ever Random Hacks of Kindness event, which was held at a warehouse space-cum community center called Hacker Dojo this weekend. For two days, coders worked on ways to use technology to help solve real-world problems, such as how people can get information and find each other during disasters.

 The event came about after representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo attended a Crisis Camp conference for emergency and disaster relief groups in Washington, D.C. in May. The technologists decided that they would join forces to create a community of developers to build tools to help emergency workers.

Developers worked on a dozen or so tools that could help disaster and emergency workers in times of crisis. Several tools took advantage of social media sites, like Twitter, and SMS for information sharing. One project envisioned using laptops, routers, mobile devices, USB keys and Wi-Fi to create a mesh network for times when normal networks are down.

Several projects explored the use of maps, including one group that built a widget that allows a user to click on a point in a map to have the coordinates automatically inserted into a message that can then be posted to multiple social networks at once via the HelloTXT service.

The first-place prize went to a group primarily from NASA that worked on a mobile notification app that can be used when regular cellular networks are so bogged down people can’t make phone calls. Using the “I’m OK” app, people can easily notify friends and family members that they are safe via SMS by clicking one button. The “I’m OK” message is then instantly distributed to everyone a user has designated on a pre-set contact list.

Separately, NASA coders have created a GeoCam tool that was used by people fighting California fires earlier this year to place photos of burn areas that were taken by GPS-enabled cell phones on maps so workers can see what damage is like in specific locations.

In addition to training AMES Research Center employees to be first responders in disasters, NASA wants to offer developers use of the satellite and other earth science data collected by its space crafts, which comes to about four terabytes per day, said Robert Schingler, a project manager in the office of center director at NASA Ames research center at nearby Moffett Field. NASA also has tools to analyze the data, which provide information about things like sea surface temperatures, ice sheet activity, and aerosols in the upper atmosphere, he said.

“We’ve got 40 years of data,” Schingler said. But, NASA needs a good application programming interface (API) so developers can make better use of it, he said. Meanwhile, the tools developed at Random Hacks of Kindness events could be used by workers at the World Bank and other agencies.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to mobilize the technology community to work on issues such as sustainable development and disaster relief,” said Emma Phillips, a consultant in disaster risk management and sustainable development at the World Bank. “This is a first step in building community, and bringing together the public and private sectors for a common goal.”

The next Random Hacks of Kindness event will be early next year in Washington, D.C.


Google Chrome OS To Launch Within A Week

Google’s Chrome OS project, first announced in July, will become available for download within a week, we’ve heard from a reliable source. Google previously said to expect an early version of the OS in the fall.

What can we expect? Driver support will likely be a weak point. We’ve heard at various times that Google has a legion of engineers working on the not so glamorous task of building hardware drivers. And we’ve also heard conflicting rumors that Google is mostly relying on hardware manufacturers to create those drivers. Whatever the truth, and it’s likely in between, having a robust set of functioning drivers is extremely important to Chrome OS’s success. People will want to download this to whatever computer they use and have it just work.

We expect Google will be careful with messaging around the launch, and endorse a small set of devices for installation. EEE PC netbooks, for example, may be one set of devices that Google will say are ready to use Chrome OS. There will likely be others as well, but don’t expect to be able to install it on whatever laptop or desktop machine you have from day one. Google has previously said they are working with Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba on the project.

We’ve seen convincing and not so convincing screenshots of Chrome OS over the last several months. The good news is the speculation is about to end, and you can try it out yourself. If you have one of the supported devices, that is.


Some types of technology are about to bite the dust, says study

As technology advances at a phenomenal speed, there are bound to be some casualties as new devices supersede the old ones, even though the old ones are not really so old.

DVD players, satnavs, smartphone chargers and dongles could all end up obsolete and dumped by the wayside as soon as next year, according to the latest research from Pixmania, the largest electronics retailer in Europe.

Pixmania have made up a list of the top 10 technologies they say are “endangered” and aren’t likely to make it as far as 2012 — and some on the list might surprise you.

Top of the list is DVD players. They will be superseded by Blu-Ray, movie streaming and game consoles.

Next in line for the chop are fax machines, which will not survive due to other technologies taking on their role. Basically, they’re no longer required.

Satnavs are likely to be replaced as smartphones and location-based software rise up and take on the task of guiding us where we want to go. I mean why would we buy another gadget when the ones we have are perfectly capable of doing the same job for us, and just as well?

Wii-motes will be blasted into oblivion as soon as Microsoft’s Project Natal takes off, which is expected before the end of next year, and of course the landline phone is at risk as we rely more and more on our mobiles to communicate.

“We’re always talking about the fast pace of technology but 2009 has truly seen us take huge leaps forward and even greater developments are expected in 2010.

“Things that have been making life easier for a generation are about to be replaced. It’s a shame to see an old classic like the DVD face the threat of extinction; it will be gone, but not forgotten,” says Kieran Alger, the editor of the gadgets website.

Other gadgets on their way to finding a place in the history books include the dongle, the computer mouse, chip and pin credit cards, the mobile phone charger and analog TV.

Are we sad? Well, some people might be but there’s no time for nostalgia, we’ve got a future to build — a future where new technology is king.

Google: Caffeine search is ready to go

Google’s Caffeine initiative to perk up search results is leaving the sandbox.

First revealed as a “secret project” in early August, Caffeine is intended to speed up search results and improve their accuracy. Google’s Webmaster Central blog at the time described Caffeine as “the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions.”

A Caffeine Web page had been set up as a developer preview test site asking people to try out the new feature and offer their feedback. But as spotted by, the developer information has been taken down and replaced with a note from Google, pegging Caffeine a success and briefly describing the next phase.

Based on the success we’ve seen, we believe Caffeine is ready for a larger audience. Soon we will activate Caffeine more widely, beginning with one data center. This sandbox is no longer necessary and has been retired, but we appreciate the testing and positive input that webmasters and publishers have given.

Caffeine won’t change the look or feel of Google’s popular search engine but will work under the hood to improve its performance, reportedly delivering faster, better, and more flexible results. Though Google continually tweaks its search engine, Caffeine represents the first major enhancement to its search indexing since 2006.

No word or response yet from Google on when Caffeine might actually go live.

In a late August interview with WebProNews, Google engineer Matt Cutts said that the feedback on Caffeine had been very positive.

And in a forecast of Google’s latest move, Cutts also said he wouldn’t be surprised if Caffeine were gradually opened up one data center at a time. Then once Google is satisfied with the new search indexing, Caffeine should spill out into more and more data centers.


‘Road trains’ get ready to roll

Road trains that link vehicles together using wireless sensors could soon be on European roads.

An EU-financed research project is looking at inexpensive ways of getting vehicles to travel in a ‘platoon’ on Europe’s motorways.

Each road train could include up to eight separate vehicles – cars, buses and trucks will be mixed in each one.

The EU hopes to cut fuel consumption, journey times and congestion by linking vehicles together.

Early work on the idea suggests that fuel consumption could be cut by 20% among those cars and trucks travelling behind the lead vehicle.

Spanish trials

The lead vehicle would be handled by a professional driver who would monitor the status of the road train. Those in following vehicles could take their hands off the wheel, read a book or watch TV, while they travel along the motorway. Their vehicle would be controlled by the lead vehicle.

Funded under the European Commission’s Framework 7 research plan, Sartre (Safe Road Trains for the Environment) is aimed at commuters in cars who travel long distances to work every day but will also look at ways to involve commercial vehicles.

Tom Robinson, project co-ordinator at engineering firm Ricardo, said the idea was to use off-the-shelf components to make it possible for cars, buses and trucks to join the road train.

A driverless car
Many researchers are developing cars that drive themselves

“The goal is to try and introduce a step change in transport methods,” he said.

“We’re looking at what it would take to get platooning on public highways without making big changes to the public highways themselves,” said Mr Robinson.

A system that involved wiring up motorways with sensors to help control the road trains would be prohibitively expensive, he said.

“Each of the vehicles will have their own control and software monitoring system,” said Mr Robinson. “There may well be a platoon sensor envelope that collates information and presents it to the lead vehicle so it can understand what is happening around all the vehicles.”

The idea is to make platoons active so vehicles can join and leave as they need. Mr Robinson speculated that those joining a platoon or road train may one day pay for the privilege of someone else effectively driving them closer to their destination.

Sartre will run for three years. The project partners are currently doing preliminary research to find out all the elements needed for a working system and the situations in which it might be used.

There were also behavioural elements to consider, said Mr Robinson, such as whether all the vehicles will need to have their hazard lights on while in a platoon.

Also, he said, there had to be a way to ensure the vehicles in a platoon are organised to make drivers feel safe.

“Car drivers do not want to be between trucks,” he said.

Towards the end of the research project trials will be held on test tracks in the UK, Spain and Sweden. There are also plans for public road trials in Spain. The first platoon will involve two trucks and three cars.

Brit blog names iPhone ‘world’s worst’

In June, Apple’s smartphone was the editors’ choice at CNET UK. How times have changed.iphone
CNET UK’s award

“The iPhone may be the greatest handheld surfing device ever to rock the mobile Web, and a fabulous media player to boot,” writes CNET UK’s Flora Graham in a mock award citation posted Tuesday. “It may be the highest-rated mobile phone on CNET UK, rocking the pockets of half of our crack editorial team. It’s certainly the touchscreen face that launched a thousand apps. But as an actual call-making phone, it’s rubbish, and we aim to prove it.”

What follows is a litany of complaints no iPhone owner hasn’t heard — or expressed — before. But to read them in a publication that four months earlier named Apple’s (AAPL) device the “world’s best touchscreen phone” is unexpected. And in Ms. Graham’s voice, sort of fun.

To quote a few of her sharper lines:

* Say what? Call quality on the iPhone is pathetic, and it’s mostly because of the tiny speaker. It has to be aligned with your ear canal with the accuracy of a laser-guided ninja doing cataract surgery, or else the volume cuts down to nothing as the sound waves bounce uselessly around your ear shells.
* Dropped calls and data gaps. If, like Will Smith in Enemy of the State, you’re trying to avoid the eagle eye of Big Brother, the iPhone could be for you. It drops calls, fails to connect and doesn’t even ring sometimes — not for everyone, but more often than any other phone we’re currently using.
* You can’t answer if it doesn’t ring. Perhaps the worst of the iPhone’s problems is its ability to sit there stealthily and ignore incoming calls. With no ring or vibrate to clue you in, your friends and family are redirected to voicemail… or just treated to silence. If you’re in a two-iPhone family, it can be a case of the deaf leading the mute.
* The iPhone might burn your face off. According to our ultra-sciencey test, it is extremely unlikely that the iPhone will burn your face off… Nevertheless, pressing a large, flat surface to your cheek is always going to be sweaty… Thus the current trend for people to walk down the street with their phones on hands-free, yelling into the mike at the bottom while they hold the rest of the phone away from their faces.
* iPhone battery life. A couple of hours of Google Maps over 3G and you’ll be lost in the woods without even the possibility of phoning for help. Compare that to the good old days when your phone would last a week without charging, and you’ll wonder why you ever bothered to switch.
* The iPhone sucks — so what? If the iPhone is inaudible, unconnected, on fire and out of battery, why is the thing so popular? The fact is, although the iPhone is the worst phone in the world, it’s the best handheld computer there is.