Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Filmed footage of Jackson's rehearsals for This Is It was later edited and surfaced theatrically as a film under the same name, giving us at least a partial glimpse at what this master pop magician had in store for us at the time of his death.
Like Michael Jackson, it now seems Steve Jobs also died without being able to complete the project he was currently working on. In Jobs' case that project may have been the iPhone 5.
Tech watchers and analysts had actually been anticipating the iPhone 5's release the same week the Apple founder died. However what they got instead was the iPhone 4S, a slightly improved version of the iPhone 4, but not the full-fledged redesign and upgrade many had been hoping for.
Reports currently vary as to why we got the 4S instead of the 5. Production delays have been cited as one reason with one report stating that there had been problems integrating Siri into the new iOS. Nonetheless, the 4S has been met with pretty good reviews overall. Although reports of problems with the iPhone 4S are just now beginning to emerge.
Recent reports now suggest the iPhone 5 will be released in spring or early summer of next year. The device is expected to have been completely overhauled and sport a brand new design.
But one question that many people are asking is, just how involved was the Apple founder in the production of either of these two devices? According to one Cnet analyst, there were two separate teams heading up the production of the 4S and the 5 individually. Steve Jobs was reported to have been heading up the production team for the iPhone 5.
If that rumor proves true, or even just persistent really, the iPhone 5 could be regarded in a similar light to Jackson's This Is It: The swan song of a creative innovator who departed the world suddenly and all too soon.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
A lot has already been written and will continue to be written about Steve Jobs in the coming days, weeks and months. President Obama paid him a suitably eloquent remembrance, saying that "there may be no greater tribute to Steve's success than the fact that much of the world learned of his passing on a device he invented." Like many writers, bloggers and reporters around the world, I'm currently sitting here attempting to write the man's obituary on just such a device.
Steve Jobs was a bearded acid dropping hippie who was born and raised in Northern California. Like the Beatles before him, he set off to India to find enlightenment after dropping out of college in the early '70s. Upon his return he began working in the fledgling tech industry that was setting up camp in what would later be known as the Silicon Valley, a few miles south of San Francisco.
Early in his career he developed video games for Atari, including Breakout, a kind of variation on Pong, which was immensely popular at the time. He founded Apple Computers in much the same post-hippie spirit that was prevalent in Northern California in the mid '70s. Just take a look at the company's original logo, which could easily have been a playbill advertising an appearance at the Fillmore Auditorium by the Grateful Dead.
Apple was always the fly in the ointment of the staid and narrow tech world. Before Apple came along, computers were largely tools of the business world and might have remained so for much longer had it not been for Jobs and Apple.
Steve Jobs didn't invent the PC but he did a lot more to make them personal than just about anyone else. He wrestled technology from the cold grip of science and mathematics and made it feel much more like art or humanities. In doing so he laid the groundwork for much of the dot.com boom of the 1990s and the open, Internet culture we live in today.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Steve Jobs, but I can say without hesitation that I owe him a great debt for creating technologies that require the written content I earn my living producing. It's no exaggeration to say that this man created livelihoods for literally millions of people around the world.
Once while on assignment for a photography magazine I sometimes write for, I interviewed a guy who was a digital post-production tech who'd been on the photo shoot set with Steve Jobs for the cover of Time shown on the left. He told me that in between takes he'd wound up seated near Jobs, with basically no one else around. Nervous and somewhat star struck, he reflected that he was sitting across from a guy who'd basically created the technology that had enabled his entire career. Choking back his nervousness, he asked Jobs for his two cents on technology, innovation and his contribution to the world.
Jobs' answer was as simple and as brilliant as much of what he introduced to the world. "I just build it," he said. "You guys fill it up with stuff."
Thanks for building it Mr. Jobs. I'll try and do the best I can when it comes to filling it up with stuff.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Oh, poor Roddick with his Sports Illustrated swimsuit model wife, multimillion dollar jet-setting lifestyle and all-American good looks. Did we lose a little game while playing tennis? Did some reporter ask you a not nice question?
Apple, like Andy Roddick, needs our sympathy about as much as a hole in the head. And while you'd have to go a long way to call either the superstar tennis player or the billion dollar computer company beleaguered, you could argue that neither is having the greatest week.
Roddick was eliminated in the first round of the China Open by South African Kevin Anderson. In a tense press conference held after match, Roddick told a Chinese reporter who asked him if he should retire, "I think you should retire," and then stormed out of the press room.
Meanwhile Apple has done a kind of bait and switch by hyping a new iPhone only to unveil a slightly enhanced version of the current model iPhone to almost universal indifference. The iPhone 4S is pretty much just like the iPhone 4 except it has a better camera, it's a little faster and can sync remotely without being connected to a computer.
Granted, these aren't bad improvements. But the tech world had been waiting with baited breath for the iPhone 5 and when they didn't get it, there was disappointment all around. Apple's stock tumbled five percent in the immediate aftermath of the 4S's release.
Of course Apple and Roddick are both suffering from what could be called champagne problems. Roddick remains a former world ranked no. 1 married to a model/actress and Apple still has a substantial edge over Microsoft as the current leader in the tech field.
Apple will continue to dominate in the gadget market and there will soon be an iPhone 5 that is likely to meet, if not exceed the public's expectation, as Apple products are wont to do. At 29 years of age, Roddick also has more than a fighting chance to bounce back from his most recent setback and can expect to compete at the top level for some time to come.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Since its release back in April of last year, the iPad has enjoyed a virtual stranglehold on the tablet computer market. Many would-be rivals have attempted to at least jostle the popular Apple-made device, nestled atop its perch. Thus far none have succeeded. The iPad has performed like a team on a winning streak that's carried over from last season, selling some 29 million units all in total. However as has been anticipated, Amazon has unveiled what analysts predict could be the iPads biggest competitor.
Enter the Kindle Fire.
While it had been predicted that the Kindle tablet would be available for cheap, previous estimations had it in the range of $250-300 dollars. However at the unveiling in New York on Wednesday, the Kindle Fire was introduced for the astronomically low price of $199, some three hundred dollars below even the most stock iPads and a whopping seven hundred bucks below the most tricked out models.
In addition to its attractive price, industry watchers say what will most appeal to consumers about the Kindle is the amount of filmed, literary and musical content users will be able to readily access through Amazon. But make no mistake, the Fire is far more than just a Kindle Reader with email. It's a fully-functional tablet computer that runs on the Android operating system and can do much of what an early model iPad is capable of. Not only that, but with it's seven inch screen, it's also half the size of the iPad.
However unlike many tablets nowadays, the Fire has no camera or microphone. Nor does it come equipped with a memory expansion slot. The Fire is capable of connecting to WiFi networks but not cellular networks unlike some iPads and many other Android tablets.
But one area in which the Fire will arguably be superior to the iPad is in its ability to read Flash. The iPads incompatibility with Flash has been one of the main criticisms leveled against the multimillion selling tablet.
So can the Kindle Fire really give the iPad a run for its money? Yes and no. Speaking to Associated Press, Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, considers the Fire the only credible competitor to the iPad.
Of course, in the same AP article, it was reported that analysts at Gartner Inc. predict that three out of four tablet computers sold this year would be iPads. So perhaps words like "credible" and "competitor" are all relative when it comes to the Apple iPad.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Computer security giant McAfee have launched a new service application that will provide a blanket net of security that can be cast over all of your computers, tablets and mobile devices. McAfee All Access has been engineered as a "single solution," that protects both Macs and PCs as well as smartphones, laptops and tablet computers, otherwise known as . . . iPads.
All Access offers users a coordinated security apparatus that can be specifically configured to protect any array of devices a typical user may reasonably own. All Access is available at $99.00 for individual use and $149.00 for a family sized package.
McAfee of course also issued the results of a global study this week, because. . . well, that's kind of what they do. That report noted that the average valuation of an average person's digital assets, including photos and music libraries is $37,438. So I guess the implied message is that with almost 40 grand's worth of media on your devices, $99 bucks a month is money well spent.
But it's true that hackers are now looking into smartphones and tablets as a potential growth market for the new year. With many households fielding an array of devices that contains both Macs and PCs, an all-inclusive program like All Access potentially represents one of the best security options available in the increasingly perilous cyber climate we live in.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Many have tried, but none have succeeded in their efforts to gain ground on the Apple iPad in the tablet computer market. Since it's release in April of 2010, the iPad has sold some 29 million units worldwide and taken up residence at the top of the tablet computer market like Manchester United in an English Premier League standings table.
This is not to say there haven't been at least somewhat reasonable alternatives to emerge in the eighteen months since the iPad's release. Sure there's been the Samsung Galaxy, the Motorola Xoom and the HP TouchPad. All of which are perfectly adequate tablets that can do most of what the iPad can do and in some cases, more. However thus far, no tablet has succeeded in capturing the imagination (and the money) of the tablet buying public like the iPad.
Until now that is maybe, at least according to analysts.
According to a report from Reuters, Amazon is making ready to release the Kindle Fire Tablet, which will be an affordably priced alternative to the iPad that insiders are predicting will resonate with consumers. Writing the for the blog TechCrunch, MG Siegler revealed that the Fire will be a seven inch backlit tablet that will resemble the Blackberry PlayBook, run on Android and feature a touch screen.
However there is one feature in particular that analysts think will enable the Fire to heat things up for the iPad in the tablet market: it's price.
Currently rumors are floating that the device will be available for between $250 and $300 dollars, which either way, makes it a couple hundred dollars less than even the cheapest iPads.
In addition to it's competitive price, analysts estimate that users will also be drawn like moths to the Kindle's Flame due to the enormous amount of movie, television and music media services available from Amazon. Part of the alleged angle on Amazon making the Fire available for so little, is the company's ability to be able to recoup on cloud and content services marketed to Fire users.
Of course as of now, it's anybody's guess what the outcome will be of Kindle entering the tablet market. The Samsung Galaxy is selling poorly and HP just announced that they would be discontinuing their tablet. So whether the Fire will actually succeed in turning up the heat on Apple or wind up as just another also-ran, struggling in the middle part of the tablet table, only time will tell.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Heidi Klum dangerous? That may not come as big news to the legions of fledgling fashionistas who've been dispatched by the German model's icy "Auf wiedersehen," but the Klum threat apparently runs deeper than that.
Computer security giant, McAfee has issued it's annual report on the most dangerous celebs to search for online and Mrs. Seal (Klum is wed to the English soul singer) has topped the list, edging out last year's number one, Cameron Diaz. Other celebs to have broken into the upper half of McAfee's table include Scarlett Johansson, Brad Pitt, Mila Kunis, Katherine Heigl and rather unexpectedly, Piers Morgan.
It's common practice for hackers to imbed attack commands and other forms of malicious software into photos,videos and other forms of content. Dangling the suggestion of racy photos of someone like Klum or Diaz (Piers Morgan perhaps?) is intended to titillate Web users into downloading the software.
Once the scantily clad pics of Heidi, Brad or Piers hit your hard drive, the fun really begins as the Trojans emerge and hackers take control of your machine gaining access to passwords, personal information and financial records or using your computer as part of a denial-of-service attack.
According to McAfee if you Google search Heidi Klum and use qualifiers like "hot pictures," or "racy screen savers," there is a one in ten chance that you'll come across content that is spiked with malware.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Computer security firm McAfee has issued a report warning that as cars become ever more embedded with digital technology, they are veering into dangerous territory and could be susceptible to hacking.
While cybercrime up until this point has largely been a matter of having your privacy invaded or a financial liability, were hackers to start targeting cars, there would be a potential risk to the personal safety of drivers. In McAfee's report, the firm warned that as cars become more sophisticated in regard to digital technology, security is lagging behind.
Cybercrime in general has been on the rise this year and a recent report by security firm Norton estimates that cybercrimes cost victims some $114 billion dollars last year.
Were hackers to successfully target cars, they could potentially track vehicle movements, interfere with navigation systems or disable vehicles remotely. As McAfee senior vice president Stuart McClure put it, "It's one thing to have your email or laptop compromised, but having your car hacked could translate to dire risks to your personal safety."
Hacking into cars would represent a bold move into new territory for hackers who this week demonstrated that nothing is sacred when they hacked into NBC's Twitter feed on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and posted a false story about an attack on the ground zero site.
George Doll, senior director for automotive solutions at Wind River, put it succinctly when he said, "As the trend for ubiquitous connectivity grows, so does the potential for security vulnerabilities."
Although, on a more positive note, Doll also stated that many members of the automotive industry are already working to design security solutions in response to the threat.
Monday, September 5, 2011
Wow. . . awkward. That's certainly how watching the video of tennis player Rafael Nadal experiencing severe cramps during a post game press conference at the U.S. Open made me feel.
Nadal had just defeated David Nalbandian in straight sets and was getting ready to field questions from reporters when he began to grimace in agony and slowly slid himself lower into his chair before eventually calling for the physio.
Watching the video reminded me of the rooftop party I went to last night where we were trying to watch cool music videos from YouTube projected onto a screen. But like the tennis player in front of the microphone, the YouTube music videos of Meatloaf, Mud and the Runaways kept seizing up and freezing. It may not have been as bad as severe post match leg cramps, but believe me, it was still kind of agonizing.
Here's a good one we were never quite able to watch due to severe buffering problems:
Luckily Nadal recovered well enough to continue his press conference ten minutes later. Provided he can sort out his problems with cramps and blisters, Nadal remains a heavy favorite to win the U.S. Open.
We weren't so lucky up on the rooftop. With a late summer storm in the air and lightning flashes in the distance, we eventually abandoned anything that required an Internet connection and went old school by watching the Zucker, Abrahams, Zucker classic, Airplane on DVD.
It was as if, the fog was getting thicker, and Leon was getting laaarrrggger.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
In a situation bizarrely similar to events that took place just last year, an Apple employee has once again misplaced an as of yet to be released version of the iPhone in a bar.
I'm not making this up. It's happened before.
Last year criminal charges were filed in San Mateo against a couple guys who apparently found another unreleased model iPhone in a bar and made arrangements to sell the prototype to the website Gizmodo.
This year's incident allegedly took place at a tequila bar in San Francisco's Mission District last month. Now anyone who knows the Mission will tell you that they've got good tequila there. Darn good, so Computers As Humans would advise that if you work at a tech firm and you're going out for shots after work, you leave the unreleased prototype at the office. In fact might I recommend that the good people at Apple consider implementing a policy of some sort in regard to these matters.
In the most recent case, Apple was able to electronically trace the lost device to someone in San Francisco but of course when confronted, they were all like, "Missing phone? What missing phone?" A report from the Associated Press inferred that the prototype was most likely sold in an online auction like eBay.
Well. . . good luck going in for an upgrade with that baby.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
The Middle East uprisings have unnerved the Chinese government and authorities in Beijing are particularly attuned to the strong supporting role the Internet has played in recent unfoldings in Libya, Egypt and Syria. Popular uprisings have mandated major governmental changes and reforms in nearly a dozen different countries. Internet bulletin boards, message boards and social media have been a major factor in the events that unfolded during the so-called "Arab Spring," that it's no wonder the Chinese are spooked.
In what could be a prelude to a crackdown, Beijing Communist Party secretary Liu Qi, firmly instructed Internet firms in China to "strengthen management and firmly prevent the spread of fake and harmful information."
Currently there are some 485 million people currently using the Internet in China. Government search filters closely regulate much of the content these 485 million users can access. China's efforts to control what users view and create on the Internet has already ran them afoul of Google who closed up shop in China as a result.
But just as when you modify a car, you remove the regulator that keeps the speed under control, Chinese web-users are employing software applications that enable them to circumnavigate government Internet filters.
However a popular eCommerce platform has just informed its merchants that they will no longer be able to sell private network programs and other applications that can navigate around government filters on the site.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Nestled amidst today's distressing headlines about plummeting markets, Eurozone debt, falling mortgage rates, and other generally bad news, is a story about Google buying struggling mobile phone company Motorola.
Why you might ask would an Internet giant like Google splash out $12.5 billion to buy a company that last led the mobile phone industry when Charles In Charge was a TV hit? Simple: for the patents.
Patents have become the latest weapon in a technology arms race that is heating up between major industry players like Google, Microsoft and Apple. Motorola holds some 17,000 patents, which Google intends to use in order to create a kind of legal defense shield for companies like HTC and Samsung that use Google's Android operating system.
According to Boston University lecturer, James Bessen, patents have become "legal weapons," for technology companies. And unfortunately the tech firm arms race for patents has implications that can be connected to the sorry state of the markets today.
With most major tech firms in a highly litigious frame of mind, software engineers are devoting time and resources to writing patents and reworking existing products to avoid lawsuits, rather than designing new software and products. And when a company like Google will drop $12.5 billion on a company like Motorola, just to give itself legal cover, things don't bode well for independent entrepreneurs trying to innovate and break into the tech world. Lest us not forget that the tech world was founded on the ideas of independent innovators!
This potential hindrance on new innovation and development is bad for the tech industry and the economy as a whole. Unfortunately, it's not a new phenomenon. The patent legal arms race in technology can be traced back to the mid-1980s when then-struggling calculator manufacturer Texas Instruments, decided to see if it could make some money on its patents by suing companies that it alleged had infringed on them. The strategy worked so well it not only saved TI, it was later adopted by IBM when it ran into troubles ten years later.
Ironically, just as we fear old Soviet nuclear warheads could fall into the wrong hands, many tech watchers now fear that old tech patents could fall into the hands of "patent trolls." Patent trolls are essentially non-practicing corporate entities that wield patents solely for the purpose of filing lawsuits against those who allegedly infringe upon them.
Unfortunately the government is at present, not poised to do much in regard to the patent troll problem. While patent reform legislation is in the works, analysts say it will have little effect on the tech industry. It seems that the tech patent arms race is likely to continue in its escalation before the foreseeable future.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Markets around the world rebounded today, at least to a certain degree, from yesterday's plummet. In the midst of the rebound that saw the Dow rise some 429 points, Apple briefly surpassed Exxon to become the most valued company in the U.S.
Apple maintained its lead for a good portion of Tuesday afternoon before ultimately finishing the day just behind Exxon. The oil company giant's stock had gone down earlier in the day, which had allowed Apple to grab the lead.
In fairness, tech companies like Apple and Microsoft do hold an advantage over oil companies like Exxon. The growth of oil companies is to a large degree determined by factors like international oil prices and new oil being discovered. Apple, on the other hand, continues to produce enormously popular products like the iPad and the iPhone. The Cupertino-based company has been the tech industry's leading light for some time now, having surpassed Microsoft in 2010.
Gleacher & Co. analyst, Brian Marshall, perhaps put it best, when he said that "Exxon obviously sells a product that people need. Apple sells a product that people want." Although Apple has been around since 1976, according to Marshall, it's currently growing at the rate of a hot start-up.
A tech company taking over the top spot in the U.S. market is not necessarily a new development. Exxon and General Electric had been trading off for the no. 1 and no. 2 spots for years until 1999 when Microsoft leapfrogged them both at the height of the dot.com boom.
Microsoft held the top spot until the year 2000 when the dot.com crash allowed GE to recover ground and regain the top spot, which it mostly held until 2005, when it was usurped by Exxon.
However currently, Exxon and Apple are like two jockeys locked in a dead heat. Apple stock jumped 5.9 percent on Tuesday, giving it a market cap of $347 billion, just a half step behind Exxon's $348 billion cap.
But analysts are predicting that with their current momentum, Apple will get a nose out in front again and likely break away to lead the pack on a more long term basis.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The big one is here.
No, I'm not talking about earthquakes Californians; so don't go running to check on your disaster preparedness kits. I'm talking about cyber attacks, or more specifically, a cyber attack. A really big cyber attack that apparently went on for nearly five years and very probably originated in China.
Computer security firm McAfee issued a report today revealing that a massive, global cyber attack had succeeded in targeting more than 70 different governmental and private organizations. Apparently the attacks had been going on since 2006 without anyone's knowledge. The attacks are believed to have been launched by a nation state and although no names were named, the finger seems pointed in the general direction of China.
According to McAfee these attacks were directed at a wide variety of international organizations including the International Olympics Committee, the United Nations and several U.S. companies including the Associated Press.
McAfee's report also indicates that these attacks differ fundamentally from the recent wave of attacks perpetrated by self-proclaimed "hacktivist" groups like LulzSec and Anonymous. While those groups perpetrate high profile hacks meant to grab headlines, the attacks this report is centered on were carried out discretely for years and were designed to avoid being detected. Unlike Anonymous and LulzSec, these hackers weren't after publicity. They were after information, lots of it. And although the McAfee report doesn't delve too deeply into specifics, it would seem they were quite successful.
The report indicates the hackers were able to gain access to national secrets, source codes, negotiation plans and exploration reports for new oil and gas fields.
Of course what's a cyber attack without a cool nickname? This latest attack is no exception with McAfee having dubbed it, "Operation Shady RAT." RAT stands for remote access tool, which is a means hackers use of accessing computer networks remotely.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Step aside James Bond. Take a seat Jason Bourne. Yes, it's true that the government is stepping up their efforts to recruit elite agents with specialized skill-sets. However the NSA's current recruitment drive isn't intended to attract deadly killers capable of taking care of business in the field. No, currently the NSA is looking for computer hackers to add to its "collection of geeks."
Representatives from the National Security Agency, which is the cryptographic arm of the U.S. intelligence services, are apparently attending the Las Vegas hacker convention, DefCon, en masse in an effort to recruit the best and the brightest in hacker talent. Cybercrime and hacking in particular, have been on the rise in the past year. High profile hackings are now regularly reported on by major news outlets like CNN and hacker groups like Anonymous have practically become household names.
Certainly the U.S. government has taken notice. The NSA apparently plan to hire some 1,500 cyber warriors in the coming year. Apparently the NSA is of the opinion that it takes hackers to catch hackers. Jeff Moss, who in addition to being a founder of the DefCon conference also advises the Department of Homeland Security on cyber crime, is in agreement.
"They need people with the hacker skill set, the hacker mind set," Moss told Atlantic Wire. "It's not like you go to hacker university and get blessed with a badge that says your a hacker. It's a self-appointed label."
It's foreseeable that the super spies of tomorrow may forego carrying Walther PPKs and sipping martinis in favor of packing pocket protectors and downing extra large slurpees.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
The iPad has been so sweepingly successful, that it has injected a surge of vitality into a sector of the computer market that was barely breathing before. But while the iPad has enjoyed something of a honeymoon period with it's closest competitors barely visible in the rear-view mirror, that may not alwyays be the case.
The computer market is kind of like sports. Barcelona may have dominated international soccer for the last few years, just as the iPad has in the tablet market. However while the Spanish soccer team must face the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United waiting in the wings, the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Motorola Xoom are the two tablets that stand the best chance of going toe-to-toe with the iPad for market share.
Both devices are powered by Android and while currently they are doing nowhere near Apple's numbers, that may not be the case a couple years from now. Currently Apple controls some 75 percent of the tablet market. However research firm Informa has issued a report predicting that Android powered tablet sales will surpass those of the iPad within five years.
The main reason analysts predict that Google android devices will overtake the iPad? Money. The Android devices are cheaper on the whole than the iPad 2 and offer basically the same capabilities. According to Informa analyst David McQueen, Apple's market share will fall to 39 percent over the next four years while Android's will increase. By 2016 the two will pass going in opposite direction as the more affordable Android devices are adopted by more users.
Of course predictions like these discount one of the biggest variables in the equation: Steve Jobs.
The Apple auteur has never been one to sit back on his laurels. The iPad 2 is still a relatively fresh offering. However by the time Informa's timeline has evolved, we will likely have seen the iPads 3, 4 and maybe 5 released.
And with the release of every new generation of iPad, last year's model becomes available for cheaper. While the Samsung Galaxy goes for about $499, you can get a first generation iPad for less than $300. Currently rumors are already circulating that Apple intends to make the iPad 3 available for cheaper, in part to slow the market growth of brands like Samsung and Motorola.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Once upon a time you'd read headlines about member of drug cartels or diamond smuggling rings being busted. You still do of course, but in today's headlines conventional crime busts are fighting for column inches with an increasing number of stories about hacker arrests.
Last week the Dutch police, who are the nicest on Earth by the way, arrested four men who were members of a splinter cell of the hack group "Anonymous" known as "AntiSec NL." The men confessed to having infiltrated websites and releasing confidential information.
This week Scotland Yard entered the picture when they arrested a teenage hacker who is thought to be the hacker group "LulzSec's" media liaison. The 18-year old who allegedly goes by the hacker name "Topiary" was picked up from a remote location in the Scottish Shetland Islands.
This followed last month's arrest of a 19-year old Brit, loosely affiliated with LulzSec, who hacked his way into Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency and a number of UK music sites. Currently members of the Yard are also questioning a 17-year old Lincolnshire resident who is also thought to have been involved in hacking.
These arrest's come as part of a coordinated international effort between authorities in the U.K., the Netherlands and the U.S.A. This international crackdown is a response to a spree of high profile hackings perpetrated by LulzSec, Anonymous and several splinter and copycat groups. Most recently members of LulzSec hacked into Rupert Murdoch's "The Sun" newspaper and posted a fake story that the media mogul had died.
Fake news stories are something of a recurring theme with LulzSec. Previously the group planted a phoney story on the PBS website about rapper Tupac Shakur having been secretly alive and living in New Zealand all these years.
Groups like LulzSec and Anonymous regard themselves as being "hacktivists" who perpetrate their crimes for a noble revolutionary cause. It's true that unlike most cyber-criminals, these kids aren't in it for the money as much as the headlines. While they've certainly been successful at grabbing those, it remains to be seen what kind of impact they're making with they're slightly radical take on free speech and free dissemenation of information on the Internet.
The question remains, are they really the Internet's answer to Che Guevara? Or are they just a bunch of admittedly talented cyber-hooligans out for a laugh?
The Dutch police have already released the four men they arrested last week (See? I told you they were nice.). The investigation is currently ongoing and it remains to be seen just what exactly the four will be charged with.
One message the authorities must surely be reading loudly and clearly, is that if tech savvy teens like these can perpetrate such hacks, the computer networks of our governments, institutions and major corporations are surely very vulnerable indeed.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Hacking has yet again jumped from the tech news section onto the front page. However this time it's not Julian Assange, Anonymous, LulzSec or any of the other usual suspects. This time it's Rupert Murdoch, "The News of the World" and one of the most powerful media conglomerates in the world who are the culprits.
By now the story is well known of how reporters from at least one of Murdoch's papers hacked into the voicemails and phone conversations of celebrities, political figures, 9/11 victims, murder victims and anyone else they felt could provide them with good material.
The ensuing fallout has been at times tragic with the principle whistle blower in the case having suddenly died under circumstances that are "unexplained," and comic with one protester interrupting a parliamentary hearing to throw a shaving cream-filled pie tin in Murdoch's face.
However while recent hackings have mostly been perpetrated by renegade, loose-knit bands of self-proclaimed "hacktivists," the Murdoch case involves more establishment figures such as journalists, British politicians and senior members of the police. How far up the chain-of-command these misdeeds reach remains to be seen but without a doubt this is one of the most scandalous cases of hacking ever to have taken place.
And while Anonymous and LulzSec have indeed wreaked havoc, they have done so largely in the name of a misguided sense of activism and free speech advocacy. Murdoch's papers hacked for a different reason; greed.
A privately held media organization invading the privacy of individuals to sell more newspapers is the kind of thing that keeps hackers like Anonymous and LulzSec hacking.
Not wanting to be outdone, members of LulzSec have already hit back by hacking into another of Murdoch's publications Sunday. Hackers breached "The Sun" and altered the headlines to issue a false story reporting the death of Rupert Murdoch. The hackers then redirected site visitors to the LulzSec Twitter feed.
As of Monday morning employees of Murdoch's newspaper group were being instructed to change their passwords in a company-wide effort to tighten security.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Except in the case of Netflix apparently. A study this week that was published by YouGov BrandIndex has revealed that consumers now dislike the DVD delivery and streaming rental provider as much as they do Blockbuster.
According to the poll Netflix is below DirecTV and Redbox as well. But to be below Blockbuster is a significant drop from the lofty heights Netflix once held in the opinions of adult consumers.
The reason for the sudden drop in public perception? It would seem to stem from a July 12th announcement that the company will be implementing a 60 percent increase in pricing on September 12.
Standard Netflix service is currently available for $9.99 a month and allows you to have one DVD at a time through the mail as well as unlimited streaming. When the price change occurs in September that service will go up to $16.00 a month. Seven bucks may not seem like a lot but apparently it's significant enough that a quarter of the people YouGov surveyed who are using the standard service plan on cancelling it when the price hike goes into effect.
So where will all these Netflix refugees go to get their movies? Why down to the neighborhood video store of course. . . Oh wait, didn't Netflix put all those places out of business with their convenient and affordable service?
Maybe the lack of reasonable alternatives will start funneling people back into what's become one of the most unlikely places to watch a movie: A movie theater.
Friday, July 8, 2011
In another sign of Apple's growing vulnerability to cyber-attacks, the company has issued a kind of preemptive warning about an attack that hasn't actually taken place. Why? Why because of zee Germans of course. . .
It seems our Teutonic friends have stumbled upon a hole in the security of the popular iPod touch, iPhone and iPad devices. In fact it was none other than the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) that brought the point of vulnerability to the attention of the Silicone Valley-based tech giant.
According to the German agency, this security flaw could potentially allow hackers to breach the security of Apple mobile devices by sending an email containing a PDF infected with malicious code.
Once the malware infiltrates the device it could be capable of accessing emails, passwords, contact lists and location information. Hackers might also potentially be able to remotely operate cameras and eavesdrop on phone calls.
Apple is taking no chances in spite of the fact that no actual threat of an attack has yet been indicated. But according to the Germans, hackers are likely to try and take advantage of this vulnerability. Apple obviously wants to be careful and if you want to be careful, who better to take advice from than the Germans?
As of Friday, representatives from Apple have indicated the company is working on devising a solution to the potential security breach.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Although Apple has only just recently released the iPad 2, the company is apparently already ramping up for a Fall release of a newer version of the popular tablet computer. The version that is reportedly dropping sometime in September isn't so much the iPad 3 as it is a slightly more enhanced version of the iPad 2.
The iPad HD will have very similar specs to the iPad 2 but it will have double the screen resolution. The proposed tablet seems to be geared toward photography and film production professionals. Apple is well aware that it is the preferred brand by many in the entertainment, media and content creation industries.
Digital technology is already making it easier to shoot movies with smaller, more portable equipment. Being able to upload footage onto a tablet computer and edit anywhere could provide enormous freedom for filmmakers and photojournalists working on location or assignment.
As tablet computers grow in their capabilities they will likely enable more and more professionals to work more freely and on-the-go. Just as musicians can record albums with little more than a laptop, a microphone and some software, it may soon be feasible to create quality feature length filmed content using little more than a digital camera and a tablet computer.
Thirty or forty years ago was when people began buying smaller, more economical cars for the first time on a widespread basis. People preferred the mobility and lower fuel overhead. Tablet computers could prove to be the Datsuns and Toyotas of the computer world, inspiring people to choose the smaller, more portable option. It's more than likely that Apple will soon release a version of the device that doesn't need to be synced to a desktop but can instead serve as ones primary computing device.
Monday, June 27, 2011
However rather than try to outdo itself, the loosely-knit group, which is thought to have been formed as a spinoff of Anonymous, has decided to disband itself. LulzSec issued a statement late last week indicating that the group had only ever intended to operate for 50 days. It's mission apparently was to bring new life to something called the AntiSec movement. AntiSec is a movement that stands in opposition to the computer security industry.
According to LulzSec's statement the hacktivist group was successful in this end and therefore no longer feels the need to continue its activity (Not sure how that excuse will go over with federal authorities, the group did succeed in bringing down the CIA's website after all).
The disbanding of LulzSec is unlikely to cause much of a dip in the amount of cybercrime and computer hacking that takes place anyway. There has been something of an epidemic of self-styled "hacktivism" following in the wake of the Julian Assange arrest. Anonymous are by far the most active of these groups. While LulzSec's run was star-spangled, it was relatively short compared to Anonymous who've been around for years.
LulzSec, who never perpetrated any kind of for-profit cyber-security breaches, issued a typically irreverent statement upon announcing their discontinuation of activity, saying, "For the past 50 days we've been disrupting and exposing corporations, governments, often the general population itself, and quite possibly everything in between, just because we could. All to selflessly entertain others - vanity, fame, recognition, all of these things are shadowed by our desire for that which we love."
Don't hold you breath however if you think the brains behind LulzSec are going to quietly return to their jobs in the stockroom of your local Apple Store. Hacker groups break up like rock bands do, often reforming in a few years time or teaming up with former members of other groups to form "Supergroups."
'70s rock had its Emerson, Lake and Palmer and computer security networks may soon be faced with its hacker group equivalent; Anonymous, Lulz and Passcodes or something to that effect.
So keep your firewalls up and be ready to hold those lighters aloft!
Monday, June 20, 2011
They say the original .com era ended back in 2000. That's true when speaking in reference to the tech boom that created the thriving Internet industry of the late 1990s. However on Monday legislation was approved that could truly put an end to the .com era by allowing companies and organizations to list their Web addresses as .justaboutanything.
Peter Dengate Thrush who is chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit organization responsible for Internet addresses called the decision, "the start of a whole new phase for the Internet."
Indeed in the future Web addresses will be able to be named after anything from product names, to government agencies to political causes.
However it won't be cheap. So before you go rushing out to secure the rights to www.whatever.yournameis, you'd better have something to the tune of $185 grand plus another $25 grand in annual dues in your back pocket. That's a substantial fee hike from the ten bucks or so it generally takes to maintain a traditional .com address.
So with all the big money required to secure and maintain one, will personalized Web addresses become the next big status symbol? The digital equivalent of driving a fully-loaded Cadillac Escalade? After all, who but athletes and hip-hop stars will be able to afford shelling out 200 grand for a Web address?
Computers As Humans for one is looking forward to visiting Web addresses like; snoop.dogg, jay.z and lebron.james.
But in truth high profile entertainment, consumer goods and financial service providers are expected to be the first to snap up their domain names. According to an AP report put out on Monday, the Canon camera company already plans to secure .canon.
ICANN isn't taking applications for Web address names just yet. The organization plans to start accepting them in January of 2012. So the good news is that gives me almost six months to come up with the 200 grand needed to secure .computersashumans.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Originally founded on June 16, 1911, the Computing Tabulating Recording Co. turned 100 on Thursday. You probably know them better by the name they re-branded themselves with in 1924, International Business Machines or IBM.
IBM became the first computer company to turn centurion this week and an industry whose history seems fleeting and instantaneous, suddenly seems slightly more rooted and historical. It's similar to those European soccer teams like Barcelona and Manchester United that go back 100 years or more and still compete today.
Through its ups and downs, IBM has remained a cornerstone of the global computer industry. The company started by manufacturing scales, punch clocks and cheese slicers. In the 1920s the Computing Tabulating Recording Co changed their name and soon, rather fortuitously, began making machines that read data on punch cards. Those machines were eventually used to track data related to 26 million people when Social Security was inaugurated in the 1930s.
Like those storied European soccer sides, IBM's list of achievements is long and startlingly impressive. In 1956 the company introduced the magnetic hard drive. In 1960, the bar code and in 1971, the floppy disk.
But even like the best of soccer sides, IBM has occasionally been outplayed. Like in 1981 when they introduced their innovative personal computer but declined to acquire the rights to the software that was used to operate it. That software was made by a then start-up called Microsoft.
Like the athletic shoe giants Puma and Adidas, IBM was outplayed throughout the 80s and 90s. But while Puma and Adidas were losing out to Nike, IBM was getting dusted by Microsoft, Apple and a host of others. When innovative new companies began manufacturing smaller computers that could perform the same functions as the hulking mainframes that were the cornerstone of IBM's business, the company's survival became threatened.
However like Puma and Adidas, IBM was able to adapt and survive. Puma and Adidas did so in part by going back to their celebrated past and introducing lines of "originals" and "classics" that were reissued models of retro styles from the 60s and 70s. IBM revived its fortunes by going forward.
The company brought in Louis Gerstner as CEO in the mid-90s. Gerstner was ruthless in his reinvention of IBM as a leaner, more agile modern tech company. He cut jobs, slashed prices and presided over a period in which the company lost some $16 billion.
But Gerstner succeeded in shifting IBM's focus to data storage and technical support, which eventually became the foundations of the company's business. Today IBM is the biggest provider of technology services in the world.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
In a reminder of how poorly protected against cyberthreats many of our nation's most critical components are, the CIA was successfully targeted by hackers and temporarily went offline on Wednesday.
The CIA is just the latest high profile entity to be hit by the wave of DoS attacks that has ensured in the wake of the Julian Assange arrest. Most attacks of this kind have emanated from a loose-knit group known as Anonymous. However this latest attack appears to be the work of another group called Lulz Security.
Lulz is actually believed to be a more devious offshoot of Anonymous. Like Anonymous, Lulz has attacked high profile government institutions and major corporations including Sony, Nintendo, the U.S. Senate and PBS. However unlike self-proclaimed "hacktivists" Anonymous, who have never launched a for-profit attack, Lulz appear to attack for money, glory, activism and just to spy.
Lulz also seem to attack in a more sophisticated way than the Anonymous hackers. Instead of the tried and true DoS attacks, Lulz prefer to crack defenses by overwhelming websites with page requests.
Lulz has taken interactivity to a new level as well by establishing a hotline for people to call in and suggest targets to attack. A message on the group's Twitter feed was quoted as saying, "Our number literally has anywhere between five and 20 people ringing it every single second."
This definitely represents the first time hackers have gone so "American Idol" by allowing the public to have a vote in shaping their decisions on what to do next.
It remains unclear rather Lulz will really pan out to be anything more than pranksters. After all their most celebrated previous accomplishments consisted of hacking into the PBS website and posting a story that claimed Tupac Shakur was alive and living in New Zealand.
Monday, June 13, 2011
It's true that tech stories can sometimes be dry. But it's a sad state of affairs when the first time I see a picture of President Obama on the Yahoo tech news feed, it's because some congressman sent a picture of his junk out over Twitter.
In the latest chapter of the most tawdry tale to wash up on the shores of technology news, the President has joined the chorus of fellow Democrats calling for Andres Weiner to resign. Computers As Humans usually tries to steer around overt politics, but in this instance the events have crossed over into our territory to a certain degree.
Sex scandals are certainly nothing new in politics. Truman reportedly had his mistress, Kennedy his Marilyn and Bill Clinton his Monica Lewinsky. Even in the last 12 months we've seen Elliot Spitzer and his call girls, Arnold and the maid's son, and the John Edwards love child.
But Weinergate is the first political sex scandal to have taken place primarily online.
Computers have opened up avenues of communication that never would have been possible 20 or 30 years ago. Weiner was certainly only engaging in behavior engaged in by a lot of people. However for a high profile rising star in Democratic politics, he certainly did so in a reckless and careless manner. His indiscretions look likely to cost him his career and possibly his marriage.
The Internet has enabled access to just about anyone and anything that exists in the world. As the congressman has shown us, there is a potential learning curve that comes with such potentially unlimited access for some people.
Congressman Weiner's case can certainly be read as a cautionary tale. Computers, video games and the Internet can be compelling even if you're not doing anything tawdry on them. Married to a beautiful, sophisticated woman who heads up Secretary Clinton's staff, Andrew Weiner chose to carry on like a juvenile, sexting pictures of his junk to coeds and blackjack dealers.
Weiner now has earned the dubious honor of proving that compulsive, self-destructive behavior online can be just as damaging as that which takes place in the real world.
Hopefully the congressman will get some help for his problem. And who knows, with a little luck he may even wind up with his own cable news show just as Elliott Spitzer did.
Saturday, June 11, 2011
The three men arrested on Friday were not linked to that particular attack however they were accused of organizing another attack that temporarily rendered some Sony websites inaccessible.
Anonymous have been busy of late, launching attacks on websites belonging to the Church of Scientology, MasterCard, Amazon.com. The group are sympathetic to Julian Assange and have repeatedly hit targets they regard as hostile towards the Wikileaks founder. Members of the group are known to be fond of sporting the Guy Fawkes mask worn by the main character in "V For Vendetta."
Self-described "hacktivists" belonging to Anonymous have also been linked to attacks on government computer networks in countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Columbia and New Zealand. So far Anonymous hackers don't appear to have been involved in any attacks for financial profit.
Most of Anonymous' attacks come in the form of denial of service attacks in which thousands of infected "zombie" computers overwhelm the targeted website and cause it to virtually collapse.
Even though they've never launched any kind of profiteering hack, the group are regarded as being very dangerous by authorities. Spanish police, who made Friday's arrests in Barcelona, Almeria and Alicante, went as far as to say that "NATO considers them to be a threat to the military alliance," and being "capable of collapsing a country's administrative structure."
Anonymous have already indicated they plan on retaliating for the arrests. A message put out on the group's Twitter feed Friday said, "We are legion, so EXPECT US."
Friday, May 27, 2011
When you're ambitious it's sometimes easy to step on toes. We know this from fields such as sports, entertainment and politics. But lately Google has been finding out the hard way that it's just as true in the world of tech and computers.
Just last week this blog reported about Google's ongoing feud with Facebook hotting up when the social networking site hired a PR firm to plant damaging stories about the search engine company. This week Google finds themselves with a new adversary to contend with in the form of PayPal and its parent company, eBay.
PayPal, the widely utilized online payment system, has slapped a lawsuit down on the Googs for the alleged theft of trade secrets the search giant supposedly used in the development of its snappy new Google Wallet.
In case you haven't heard of the Google Wallet, it's a plan devised by the search engine company to replace your actual wallet with a virtual wallet that will be contained in a certain model of Sprint phone that at this point almost no one carries. There's an excellent blog post by Seth Weintraub about the Google Wallet you can read here.
The problem, according to PayPal, is that during the development of the plan for the wallet, Google lifted several key trade secrets related to mobile payments and related technologies. It seems that the Googs was paling around with PayPal for a couple of years negotiating a deal wherein PayPal would provide payment options for mobile app purchases made through Google's Android Market.
Apparently it was during this period that PayPal made the Googs privy to a number of trade secrets regarding mobile payments. Secrets that according to PayPal's lawsuit, Google has now shared with a number of launch partners for its wallet plan including American Eagle Outfitters, Subway, the Container Store and Walgreens.
The fundamental problem here may be that while Google was once content to be a helpful search engine it now seem intent on becoming all things to all people. And as we know from the longstanding tradition of athletes trying to become rappers, just because you're good at one thing doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be good at everything.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The program is a fake anti-spyware program called MAC Defender, which utilizes SEO tricks to rank at the top of search results. If a user clicks on a MAC Defender search result they are taken to a website that displays a fake screen with a fake virus scan, which then tells the visitor their computer is infected.
The solution? Why download MAC Defender of course!
Once you have downloaded the MAC Defender malware you are given a number of prompts and asked for your password. If you go ahead and enter it MAC Defender installs itself.
It's when you actually install MAC Defender that it really turns into a nasty piece of work. The malware operates by informing the user their computer is infected and then opening links to pornography every few minutes. In order to nullify the virus users are advised to buy an antivirus protection service from MAC Defender. If they take the bait they are then instructed to enter their credit card information.
After you have given over your credit card the warnings stop. But there is no antivirus service and you have just given your credit card information to hackers.
Well. . . color me impressed I suppose.
Not to spread virus doom, which of course I love to do, but Mac users should start taking some precautions. PCs have been running interference between us and the hackers for more than a decade now.
Only the times have changed and we're gonna have to start martialing our own defense soon. Mac themselve are preparing to release an update that will find and remove the MAC Defender virus.
But we know from experience with these things, it's only a matter of time before the next one comes along.