Friday, December 31, 2010

Wild West, Cell Phone Attacks and the Chinese Connection

Recently Android based mobile devices in China have been falling victim to a new virus that allows hackers to remotely access a user's personal data. The virus is known as the Geinimi and is thought to be the most powerful virus targeting mobile devices to have yet emerged.

While it's estimated that anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of phones have been infected authorities remain unsure as to what the motives to the attacks are.

This particular attack has alarm bells sounding because it is thought to represent a potential shift in hacker's strategy away from laptop and desktop computers towards increasingly sophisticated mobile devices. An infected phone could be remotely ordered to make calls, send texts and download even more malware and spyware programs.

So far the hackers in China are merely collecting data and have not instigated any other activity on infected phones.

The attack has drawn criticism to the Android platform, which allows applications designed and hosted from a variety of different vendors and has been labeled as, "Wild West" by analysts.

Owning an Android phone could potentially prove to be like owning a cool muscle car. Sure you can sup up your Android phone like a '72 GTO with all kinds of cool stuff added to it. But ultimately you may run into problems and have to get under the hood and tinker.

Apple, ever the dull safe Honda and Volvo of the technology world, does admittedly provide a more secure platform for its iPhone and iPad by maintaining an end-to-end control on its domain and not allowing applications from outside the marketplace.

The last thing I wanted to do was end the year with another gloomy "new virus from China" story but this one was too big to ignore. However Android users need not be alarmed as the virus has only infected phones through applications obtained from a handful of Chinese game app stores and not from apps obtained via the legitimate Google Android Market.

Compromised games include illegitimately sourced versions of; Monkey Jump 2, Sex Positions, President vs. Aliens, City Defense and Baseball Superstars 2010.

While not exactly urgent at the moment, the need to develop better anti-virus protection for mobile devices is probably one thing we can expect to see happening in 2011.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Computers As Humans Xmas Special: Apple Learns to Speak Cherokee

Computers As Humans is home for the holidays this week, up north where the trees are frosty in the mornings and the smell of wood burning fireplaces fills the air at night.

It's been a good year for Apple Computers with Steve Jobs having just been named Person of the Year by the "Financial Times" and been given a shout-out from President Obama (Do Presidents do shout-outs?). The iPad has outsold just about every other new device to be introduced on the tech market and Justin Long (the Mac in the Mac vs. PC commercials) was in three different movies this year.

Apple is capping off its spectacular year by teaching several of its devices to speak Cherokee. The Cupertino-based company was first approached by representatives of the Cherokee nation some three years ago. Tribal reps have actually paid visits to Apple headquarters and this fall they were successful in pleading their case that introducing Cherokee language software into Apple's mobile product platforms would go a long way toward helping to preserve the language and introduce it to a younger generation.

As of now it is estimated that only 8,000 members of the 290,000 Cherokee nation actually speak the language.

Apple has had Cherokee language supported through its operating system for laptops and desktops since 2003. This fall the company has taught the iPod and the iPhone to speak Cherokee and there are plans to introduce the language to the iPad in the coming months. Tribal educators believe that introducing the language to the smaller, mobile devices that are so popular with young people will help to keep the Cherokee language traditions alive.

Currently there are about 50 languages that are supported by Apple's mobile devices. Until now none of them have been Native American tribal languages so this innovation represents a significant coup for the Cherokee tribe.

Computers As Humans would like to applaud Steve Jobs and Apple for taking this step to help preserve endangered Native American languages and traditions.

Here's wishing you all a happy holiday season! Thanks for reading Computers As Humans.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Computer Hackers Stockpiling Ammunition

Computer hackers remain front-page news following the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. A loose-knit, international group of hackers that calls itself "Anonymous" has been engaged in a number of denial of service attacks this week. The group has been targeting websites they see as being hostile to the WikiLeaks website which is still up and running, continuing to release sensitive confidential documents.

Reports are now emerging that WikiLeaks supporters are downloading increasing amounts of spam-shooting software in preparation for renewed cyber attacks as part of their continuing campaign which is know as "Operation Avenge Assange." Even the arrest of a 16-year-old hacker in the Netherlands who allegedly participated in the attacks has done little to slow the growth of the movement, which is reported to be attracting more hackers and bringing more computers into its fold.

These ongoing escalations would appear to be part of preparations for launching an attack on a grander scale with Amazon thought to be one likely target. The groups have already succeeded in temporarily bringing down the websites of MasterCard, Visa, PayPal and Moneybooks.

Whether or not Anonymous will actually attack Amazon is questionable. A press release put out by the group on Friday implied that the group did not want to alienate neutral members of the public by bringing down a major online retailer in the midst of people's holiday shopping.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Guerrilla War In Cyberspace

Computer hacking is on the front page and all over the TV news at the moment thanks to the arrest of WikilLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange, a former hacker himself, is considered a borderline terrorist and a sex criminal by many, including authorities in the United States, Great Britain and Sweden. However his followers view him as a sort of online Che Guevera and they have begun waging a kind of digital guerrilla war in his honor.

Computer hackers around the world, including a group known as "Anonymous" took part in "Operation Avenge Assange" this week. The hackers were successful in bringing down websites belonging to various groups they view as enemies of WikiLeaks including MasterCard who are refusing to process payments to the information leaking service. Successful attacks also targeted Visa, a Swiss bank that had frozen WikiLeak's account and the Swedish prosecutors behind Assange's arrest in London this week.

Authorities around the world are concerned that this week's attacks represent a page turn into a more alarming phase of cyber criminality where angry, enraged private citizens can launch cyber attacks for any number perceived effronteries, real or otherwise. The fact that loosely organized groups of amateurs were able to bring down the sites of major institutions like Visa and MasterCard makes cyber security experts very nervous indeed. Like the British fighting against the minutemen in the Revolutionary War, tomorrow's cyber threats could be lurking behind any rock, tree or outcropping, waiting to strike.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Avast Ye Pirates!

Don't go checking your calendars; it's not national talk like a pirate day. That was September 19th so at this point you'll have to wait until next year. No, Avast is actually an Internet security firm headquartered in Prague that produces some of the best antivirus protection software on the market and makes certain versions of it available for free.

The company recently discovered that licenses for their paid Pro edition had been pirated and have traced the IP addresses of these pirated editions to some 200 countries around the world including Vatican City. The company allowed the piracy to spread long enough to learn what they could about the attack and then sent out pop-up messages to all the pirated editions presenting the option to either start paying for it or to switch to the free version.

Avast's chief executive Vince Steckler warns users against getting your security software from questionable warez sites that make such programs available for cheap or free. Getting software from such sites is somewhat akin to buying a stolen car. It may seem like a good bargain but you will undoubtedly be setting yourself up for trouble down the road. While driving a stolen car will ultimately result in you getting pulled over and your car impounded, using pirated security software is more likely to lead to your computer being infiltrated by malware or spyware. Dodgy warez sites are notorious for imbedding malicious codes that will infect the computers of anyone who downloads the software.

Besides when it comes to the Avast software the free version should meet the basic needs of most consumer users and it can be downloaded here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Cyber Arms Race

In the wake of the latest storm of classified information released by Wikileaks reports are emerging that the Chinese military plans to reconfigure itself to deal with the possibility of cyberwarfare. As China continues to expand and modernize computer hacking is becoming more and more prevalent there. On Thursday authorities arrested large numbers of hackers and shut down several websites that provided information on how to hack computers.

Amongst the information contained in the latest Wikileaks were allegations that state backed hackers from China had interfered with computers from Google and various western governments. Google has had various problems with governments around the world and after conflicts with China over censorship issues and alleged cyberattacks the company has scaled back its presence in the Asian nation.

This week an article in the "People's Liberation Army Daily," sort of the Chinese equivalent of "Stars & Stripes," stated that "military commanders must seriously consider how to deal with the threat of cyberwarfare."

China are pulling ahead in a wide number of fields across the board, having only recently engineered the fastest computer on Earth. With some 420 million users, China also has the largest online population in the world. As both China and the U.S. gear up to launch and defend against computer based attacks it seems more and more as if we are entering into a kind of "cyber arms race." According to cyber-security expert Kevin G. Coleman, China has recently "hardened" key cyber-defenses and "this action has made our offensive capabilities ineffective against them."

While at first blush a cyber arms race may seem preferable to an actual arms race it's important to note that cyberwarfare is serious business. Among other things, a well orchestrated cyber-attack could cause our entire banking system to collapse. . .oh wait that already happened didn't it? Well, you get my drift anyway.