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Friday, February 22, 2013

Microsoft says small number of its computers hacked

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp said on Friday a small number of its computers, including some in its Mac software business unit, were infected with malware, but there was no evidence of customer data being affected and it is continuing its investigation.

 The world's largest software company said the security intrusion was "similar" to recent ones reported by Apple Inc and Facebook Inc.

 The incident, reported on one of the company's public blogs happened "recently", but Microsoft said it chose not to make any statement publicly while it gathered information about the attack.

 "This type of cyberattack is no surprise to Microsoft and other companies that must grapple with determined and persistent adversaries," said Matt Thomlinson, general manager of Trustworthy Computing Security at Microsoft, in the company's blog post.

 Over the past week or so, both Apple and Facebook said computers used by employees were attacked after visiting a software developer website infected with malicious software.

 The attacks come at a time of broader concern about computer security.

 Newspaper websites, including those of The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, have been infiltrated recently. Earlier this month U.S. President Barack Obama issued an executive order seeking better protection of the country's critical infrastructure from cyber attacks.

4 ways 4G will change your life

With so many advancements in mobile phone technology, it's easy to dismiss most as insignificant. A mega-megapixel camera, a brighter screen and better apps are all good, but they're hardly going to redefine your world.

But with 4G you can expect significant life changes. A new generation of the cellular network -- already rolled out in many parts of Asia and the U.S. -- 4G promises to supercharge mobile internet connections across the UK and parts of Europe in the coming year.

Speed is the essence of 4G. Since global mobile networks began rolling out in the 1980s, a new generation of handsets has evolved roughly every decade. The latest, promising data speeds equivalent to a standard broadband internet connection, is considered the fourth -- hence 4G.

Although 4G coverage is still limited and, some critics argue, it may struggle to fulfil the ambitious claims of network operators, it is likely to make a difference to the millions of people who already channel great chunks of their lives through their mobile phones.

Some may argue none of this is a change for the better. With almost every aspect of our waking (and, in some cases, sleeping) lives slavishly conducted through our handsets, perhaps we are in danger of losing touch with the world beyond our small screens.

Others would say that by unloading life's chores onto our phones, we will be free to spend more time doing what we want to do.

Whether for good or bad, 4G is already changing our world. Here's how:

Watching, not waiting

Whereas 3G networks offered slow video downloads or buffering-plagued live streams, 4G's high data speeds should mean feature-length movies accessed in a matter of minutes, or seamless live TV. High definition video phone calls are possible too.

The implications of mobile TV growth are huge. As more people use their handsets as their primary viewing platform, moviemakers and TV producers may find themselves faced with the need to create shows that look good on smaller screens as advertisers move to mobile.

Consumers, however, would be advised to change their viewing habits with caution. Video downloads are, and will continue to be, a major drain on data allowances. Keeping up with the Kardashians could cost you fortune.

Pros: A cineplex in your pocket

Cons: A wasteland in your wallet

Connecting to the thingternet

The first generation of mobile phones were so large and clunky they were known as carphones. Most mobile calls were made from the comfort of a car because you needed a vehicle to carry around the heavy, ugly box of electronics that kept you connected.

With the advent of 4G, you're just as likely to be talking TO your car as talking from it. This is a concept known as the "Internet of Things," a world wide web of everyday items that will soon see our contact books cluttered with the email addresses of washing machines, toasters and microwave ovens (well, almost).

Some everyday items, like TiVo cable television boxes, are already hooked up to the internet, allowing users to program them remotely. It is predicted that most high-end electronic goods will soon be embedded with the ability to communicate via the internet.

Drivers will be able to defrost cars from the warmth of their bed. Fridges will tell you whether you need to buy more milk. Garden sprinklers will advise you whether the lawn needs a drink.

Such communications will flourish under 4G, as networks will offer the extra speed and capacity needed to cope with such an increase in electronic chatter.

Pros: Control every aspect of life from your mobile

Cons: Until the battery runs flat, leaving your home in digital disarray

Work, work, work

When the first BlackBerry handsets were unleashed on unsuspecting employees over the last decade they revolutionized the way many of us work.

Suddenly, we were dealing with company emails on the train, on the bus and in the bath. Thumbs suffered as people pounded out their replies on tiny QWERTY keypads. Work-life balances suffered as the lines between professional and personal time became blurred. Some relationships suffered as BlackBerrys were inevitably brought into marital beds.

These days most of us have adapted to carrying around a portal to the office in our pockets. We might check them obsessively, but we're no longer feverishly addicted to responding in real time.

The arrival of 4G could shake things up again. With a mobile network that offers broadband speeds and capacity, it in theory becomes possible to carry out all manner of online activity on the hoof.

Secure connections through which employees can access data-heavy company software become possible. As does downloading or uploading huge data files and video conferencing.

This will make life easier for workers whose job already takes them on the road. It will also unshackle many more from their desks.

But it could also lead to a tricky transition period as millions of us adapt to a new world in which almost every aspect of office life can be lugged around in our laptops.

Pro: Being able to work on the beach

Con: Beach vacation ruined!

Play, play, play

Even as 4G keeps us connected more closely to our work, it will also plug us into our play.

Whether you enjoy listening to music or engaging in multi-player computer combat, 4G should make that a seamless mobile experience via delay-free access to cloud storage or gaming servers.

Pros: Mozart on the metro. Alien annihilation on the number 8 bus.

Cons: Work and play. Our phones now own us.

2G or not 2G

Whether we like it or not, 4G is the future of mobile telecommunications (at least until 5G comes along). Some people may insist that their old 1G or 2G handsets are all that they'll ever need, but sadly they must soon bow to the inevitable.

4G phone operators have been able to increase network speeds by accessing a broader spectrum of transmission frequencies. These are expensive, with operators often entering highly competitive government auctions to secure a slice of radio bandwidth.

As demand for 4G grows, networks will be looking to dedicate more frequencies to their coverage. This will eventually mean re-assigning the frequencies that currently support 1G and 2G devices.

And so, after decades of service, millions of old LCD-screened handsets will be forced to beep their last SMS.

Pros: Recycling of an obsolete network that had little left to offer

Cons: Ungr8ful, undignified nd 2 a fone srvic dat gave us a nu lngwij & hz coNectd millions of ppl Ovr d years. :-(

How to post to Facebook, Twitter after you die

Death already has a surprisingly vivid presence online. Social media sites are full of improvised memorials and outpourings of grief for loved ones, along with the unintentional mementos the departed leave behind in comments, photo streams and blog posts.

Now technology is changing death again, with tools that let you get in one last goodbye after your demise, or even more extensive communications from beyond the grave.

People have long left letters for loved ones (and the rare nemesis) with estate lawyers to be delivered after death. But a new crop of startups will handle sending prewritten e-mails and posting to Facebook or Twitter once a person passes. One company is even toying with a service that tweets just like a specific person after they are gone. The field got a boost last week when the plot of a British show "Black Mirror" featured similar tools, inspiring an article by The Guardian.

Schedule social media posts long into the future

"It really allows you to be creative and literally extend the personality you had while alive in death," said James Norris, founder of DeadSocial. "It allows you to be able to say those final goodbyes."

DeadSocial covers all the post-death social media options, scheduling public Facebook posts, tweets and even LinkedIn posts to go out after someone has died. The free service will publish the text, video or audio messages directly from that person's social media accounts, or it can send a series of scheduled messages in the future, say on an anniversary or a loved one's birthday. For now, all DeadSocial messages will be public, but the company plans to add support for private missives in the future.

DeadSocial's founders consulted with end of life specialists while developing their service. They compare the final result to the physical memory boxes sometimes created by terminally ill parents for their children. The boxes are filled with sentimental objects and memorabilia they want to share.
"I don't think that somebody would continually be negative and troll from the afterlife."
James Norris, founder of DeadSocial

"It's not physical, but there are unseen treasures that can be released over time," Norris said of the posthumous digital messages.

Very loosely related: Manti Te'o and messages from a "dead" girlfriend

Among the early beta users, Norris observed that younger participants were more likely to make jokes around their own deaths, while people who were slightly older created messages more sincere and emotional. He's considered the potential for abuse but thinks the public nature of messages will be a deterrent. The site also requires members to pick a trusted executor, and there is a limit of six messages per week.

"I don't think that somebody would continually be negative and troll from the afterlife," Norris said optimistically. "Nobody really wants to be remembered as a horrible person."

The UK-based startup will only guarantee messages scheduled for the next 100 years, but in theory you can schedule them for 400 years, should your descendants be able receive Facebook messages on their Google corneas. The company has only tested DeadSocial with a group of beta members, but it will finally launch the service for the public at the South by Southwest festival in March. Fittingly, the event will take place at the Museum of the Weird.

The last, private word

For those interested in sending more personal messages -- confessions of love, apologies, "I told you so," a map to buried treasure -- there's If I Die. This company will also post a public Facebook message when you die (the message goes up when at least three of your appointed trustees tell the service you've died), but it can also send out private messages to specific people over Facebook or via e-mail.

Though If I Die has attracted a number of terminally ill members, the company's founders think it could be appeal to a much wider audience.

"Somebody that knows he's about to die gets time to prepare himself; the big challenge is when it happens unexpectedly," said Erez Rubinstein, a partner at If I Die.

The Israeli site launched in 2011 and already has 200,000 users. Most have opted to leave sentimental goodbyes, and written messages are more common than videos, according the company. So far, the service is entirely free, but it plans to launch premium paid options in the future.

"It's an era where most of your life and most of your presence is digital, and you want to have some control over it. You want to be in charge of how you are perceived afterward," Rubinstein said.

A tweet-bot to remember you by

A more extreme version of this type of control lies at the heart of _LivesOn, a new project with the catchy tag line "When your heart stops beating, you'll keep tweeting."

Still in the early stages, _LivesOn is a Twitter tool in development at Lean Mean Fighting Machine, an advertising agency in the United Kingdom. The agency is partnering with the Queen Mary University to create Twitter accounts that post in the voice of a specific person, even after he or she has died.
"People have a real faith in what technology can do."
Dave Bedwood, a partner at Lean Mean Fighting Machine

When people sign up, the service will monitor their Twitter habits and patterns to learn what types of content they like and, in the future, possibly even learn to mimic their syntax. The tool will collect data and start populating a shadow Twitter account with a daily tweet that the algorithm determines match the person's habits and interests. They can help train it with feedback and by favoriting tweets.

"It's meant to be like a twin," said Dave Bedwood, a partner at Lean Mean Fighting Machine.

In the short term, Bedwood and his team said it will serve as a nice content-recommendation engine. But eventually, in the more distant future, the goal is to have Twitter accounts that can carry on tweeting in the style and voice of the original account.

The people behind the project warn against expecting Twitter feeds fully powered by artificial intelligence, or worrying about Skynet, any time soon.

"People seem to think there's a button you can press, and we're going to raise all these people from the dead," joked Bedwood, who has seen a huge spike in interest in the project over the past week. "People have a real faith in what technology can do."

Artificial Intelligence is still a long way from being able to simulate a specific individual, but recreating the limited slice of personality reflected in a Twitter feed is an interesting place to start.

The _LivesOn service is hoping to roll out to a limited number of test users at the end of March.

As with the other services, _LivesOn will require that members choose an executor. At this point, it's as much a thought experiment as an attempt to create a usable tool.

A little bit of immortality

All these companies see the potential for technology to change how people think about death. Goodbye messages can help people left behind through the grieving process, but composing them can also be comforting to people who are uncomfortable with or afraid of death.

"We shy away from death. It reaches us before we approach it," DeadSocial's Norris said. "We're using tech to soften the impact that death has and dehumanize it. It allows us to think about death in a more logical way and detach ourselves from it."

The prospect of artificial intelligence, even in 140-character bursts, can also be comforting to people who see it as a way to live on.

"The afterlife is not a new idea, it's been around for quite a long time with all the different versions of heaven and hell," Lean Mean Fighting Machine's Bedwood said. "To me this isn't any stranger than any one of those. In fact, it might be less strange."

"Apple picking" inspires NYPD smartphone and tablet squad

As New York City thieves steal smartphones and tablets in ever greater numbers, the NYPD has assigned a group of officers to hunt down the devices.

The NYPD launched the team about a year ago "when we saw a spike in (thefts of) Apple products specifically," Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said.

An Apple-picking problem on New York City's streets and subways has worsened in recent years. The overall crime rate in the city increased 3% last year -- but "if you subtracted just the increase in Apple product thefts, we would have had an overall decrease in crime in New York," Browne said.

Generally, the NYPD team's first step in tracing pilfered gadgets is obtaining the stolen device's serial number. Then "we supply it to Apple, and we say, when that product is activated, we want to know who it is," according to Browne.

The tech giant has largely cooperated with the NYPD's subpoenas. "I would say we're working with them. They're not fighting this," Browne said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The NYPD's detectives have found that stolen smartphones and tablets don't tend to travel far.

About 75% of them stay in the city of New York, Browne said. And those that cross city limits are still likely to be in the state.

Browne did not quantify how successful the department has been at tracing stolen smartphones and tablets, but he did cite a few cases that had happy endings.

In one, an employee stole three iPads from his workplace, then gave them to two relatives in New York and one in the Dominican Republic. The NYPD was able to return all three to their rightful owners.

Sometimes the trail leads back to the person who swiped the iPhone; other times it leads to an unwitting owner of stolen property.

While the officers on the NYPD's smartphone squad don't focus exclusively on Apple products, they do spend most of their time chasing stolen iPhones or iPads, "simply because the number of Apple thefts is a reflection of their general popularity," Browne said.

Law-enforcement agencies like the NYPD aren't alone in targeting smartphone and tablet theft. The industry is taking steps to address it, too.

In a letter to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the wireless industry's trade association last year released details of a voluntary effort to "help law enforcement deter smartphone theft."

A major plank of that effort is the creation of a database for smartphones that are reported stolen. Phones on the database, which is scheduled to be up and running at the end of November, would be barred being activated or provided service on an LTE network in the United States.

Ultra rugged Kyocera Torque arrives March 8

Sprint today announced that the rugged and waterproof Kyocera Torque will arrive on March 8. Priced at $99 with a two-year service agreement, the Torque is the first "Ultra rugged" 4G LTE handset with Sprint Direct Connect push-to-talk service.
Previously introduced back in January, the Kyocera smartphone features a 4-inch IPS display and dual-core processor. Whereas the typical rugged smartphone is hampered by older versions of the platform, the Torque runs  Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. This is good news for anyone who has grown accustomed to the Holo theme of Android and its added feature set.

Hardware details for the Kyocera Torque also include a 5-megapixel rear camera, a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, and a respectable 2,500mAh battery. What makes this phone more rugged than others of its kind? In addition to withstanding 10 straight days of 95 percent humidity, the Torque can take six hours of heavy dust, or submersion in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. Plan on braving the elements with the phone? I'm willing to bet it lasts longer than you do; The Kyocera Torque is rated to run in -4 degrees to 122 degrees F (-20 to 50 C) temperatures for three hours.

Another standout feature in the phone is the Kyocera Smart Sonic Receiver, a "proprietary tissue-conduction audio technology" transmits sound directly to your eardrum and inner ear through body tissues. If you're the construction worker type who spends long hours in freezing temperatures with jackhammers pounding all day, this might the phone of choice.

Add Microsoft to list of hacked companies

Security software companies must be smiling ear to ear as they read the news briefs coming off the transom. Microsoft said today that an undetermined number of computers in its  Mac software business unit got infected with malware. The company said the number of infected PCs was small but that there was no indication customer data had been compromised.

 Welcome to the new normal. The escalating number of reported attacks was underscored by a recent report on malware put together by McAfee which reported that the number of Trojans created to steal passwords rose about 72 percent in the last quarter.

 Last week Apple said that an unknown number of Macs had been compromised, but that "there was no evidence any data left Apple." The malware was tied back to a site targeting iPhone developers. Employee computers for Facebook and most likely dozens of other companies were also breached.
The incidents occurred roughly around the same time that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post disclosed that outsiders had also targeted their employees' computers.