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September 5, 2003
[ News: Beware Your GSM Phone ]

 Pointed out by OnlineJournalism.com, the daily news Weblog of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review, there's a problem with your GSM phone. An Israeli scientist and his team, Reuters reports, have found a way to break into mobile phone calls, enabling them to know the calling party's identity and even listen to the conversation. The call could be zeroed in on, even at the ringing stage and overheard from that point on.
Yikes. Mind you, I always assumed the spooks were monitoring my phone calls anyway. What a boring life they must lead.

[ Software: Retrieving CD Data ]

 Here's an option to recover data from unreadable CDs. (I haven't tested this.) CD/DVD Diagnostic "works to retrieve a consumer's damaged files corrupted by a defective drive, bad software or from user error". It works on unreadable, scratched, or corrupt CD-R, CD-RW, DVD+R, and DVD+RW discs. Unlike programs that use Windows' file system to access bad files, CD/DVD Diagnostic bypasses Windows and ignores the original software that created the lost data file. No attempt is made to repair the damaged disc. Rather, the unreadable files are repaired and written to your hard drive. It sounds intriguing. CD/DVD Diagnostic costs $70. CD Rx Data Retriever costs $40.

[ Update: Microsoft Deny Bursting ]

 Here's Microsoft's take on the Burst.com case I mentioned in a previous posting. Would the correct version please stand up? In a nutshell it comes down to the question: did Microsoft deliberately erase weeks of emails from all servers and backups related to the case?
 
Winnet.mag quotes a Microsoft spokesman as denying that a judge ordered Microsoft to turn over "missing emails" and said that Burst.com's account of that part of the trial is inaccurate and groundless. "Their fundamental premise, that there were missing emails from a specific period of time, is simply wrong. [At the hearing, we] discussed a routine discovery issue arising from the fact that not every email sent or received gets saved. [The judge] simply directed us to do a more thorough search of our backup files to search for any emails that, as a matter of business routine, were not saved elsewhere." This is either spin out of control, or Robert X. Cringely's version is wrong.

[ Software: A Virus Alternative ]

 Further to my earlier post about the rising virus conflict, one option to consider is a non-mainstream Anti Virus program. There are some out there, and they might just do a better job of saving your hide: They may work better, and they may put out updates faster. One is the unfortunately named NOD32, from Eset Software which seems to be on the cutting edge: today it announced it has become the first product for the (next) Windows 2003 operating system to receive prestigious Checkmark certification at Levels 1, 2 and Trojan, from SC Magazine's West Coast Labs.
 
 
NOD32 Antivirus claims its effectiveness is "due to its unique core technology that addresses both known and unknown viruses". In other words, it's not just looking for stuff we know to be viruses, but also "virus-like activity". It also claims to be fast: more than twice the speed of the next best product on the market, means it's less likely to slow down your computer while checking incoming stuff for viruses. I haven't checked out NOD32 but I'm about to.

September 4, 2003
[ News: A Patch In Time Saves You Online ]

 This from the guys at Information Security Magazine, a warning about some new, and serious vulnerabilities in Microsoft software. The most critical vulnerability is titled ?Flaw in Visual Basic for Applications Could Allow Arbitrary Code Execution? (MS 03037). Microsoft provided few details about the actual vulnerability, but says the flaw is dangerous and users of affected software should apply patches immediately. This is not just for techheads and sysops: Affected software includes Access (97/2000/2002), Excel (97/2000/2002), PowerPoint (97/2000/2002), Project (2000/2002), Publisher 2002, Visio
(2000/2002), Word (97/98(J)/2000/2002), Works Suite (2001/2002/2003) and several versions of Microsoft Business solutions.
 
There are other vulnerabilities too:
?Flaw in Word Could Enable Macros to Run Automatically? (MS 03035)
?Buffer Overrun in WordPerfect Converter Could Allow Code Execution? (MS 03036)
?Unchecked Buffer Overflow in Microsoft Access Snapshot Viewer Could Allow Code Execution? (MS 03038)
?Flaw in NetBIOS Could Lead to Information Disclosure? (MS 03034)
 
If we've learned nothing in the past month, we should have at least learned to patch, patch and keep patching.

[ News: We're Losing the Virus Arms Race ]

This week's New Scientist confirms what readers of this blog already knew about the growing imbalance in the virus arms race. Antivirus specialists, the mag says, are fighting a losing battle against malicious code like viruses and worms. Research undertaken at Hewlett-Packard's labs in Bristol, UK, is the first to evaluate the effectiveness of antiviral software. It shows that the way we fight viruses is fundamentally flawed, because viruses spread faster than antivirus patches can be distributed. By the time the antivirus software catches up, the damage has already been done.
 
 
Hewlett-Packard researcher Matthew Williamson designed a computer model to mimic the way in which viruses spread, based on a model that tracks the spread of biological viruses. He then introduced parameters to represent the way the antivirus software responds to this spread. He found that even if a signature is available from the moment a virus is released, it cannot stop the virus spreading if it propagates fast enough. Should we be worried? Yes.

[ News: Have Microsoft Done It Again? ]

 An excellent, and damning, article by Robert X. Cringely on Microsoft shenanigans, this time in court over a lawsuit with Burst.com. Read the whole thing: In short, Microsoft appear to have been caught deleting emails that could be evidence. The judge has ordered Microsoft to produce the missing messages.
 
 
Here's Robert's conclusion: "What happens next with Microsoft and Burst is interesting. In a few weeks, Microsoft will either find the messages or not. If they do find the messages and produce them, whatever is in those messages becomes part of the case. If they don't find the messages and the case goes to trial, the judge will tell the jury that Microsoft deliberately withheld and destroyed evidence. Juries are generally unimpressed by such behavior."
 
From here it looks like Microsoft not playing by the rules to sideline a tiny competitor anxious to sell up. This does not sound unusual. Watch this space. Or more correctly, this space.
 

[ News: ID Theft Is A Problem. It's Official ]

 The Federal Trade Commission is now wise to the reality: identity theft is a problem. Nearly one in eight U.S. adults has had their credit card hijacked, identity co-opted or credit rating pockmarked by identity thieves over the past five years, Reuters quoted the Federal Trade Commission as saying. The FTC surveyed some 4,000 adults this spring to come up with the most comprehensive picture yet of the fast-growing crime.
 
Amid the grim statistics, the agency found a silver lining: After nearly doubling for two to three years, new incidents of identity theft are growing more slowly and tend to involve less money. That's because banks are wising up to the problem, making it more difficult for scam artists to set up fraudulent credit cards, and consumers are spotting suspicious activity on their accounts earlier, said Howard Beales, director of the FTC's consumer-protection division.

[ News: New Version of Diskeeper Available ]

One excellent piece of software that's worth having on your PC is Diskeeper, an automatic disk defragmenter. It's not an exciting branch of the software world, but disk defragmentation -- your files ending up in little bits and pieces all over your hard drive -- "cripples system performance while also causing needless wear and tear on disk drives". For once they're not exaggerating.
 
Diskeeper is now into version 8, out today. I haven't checked it out yet, but it's the kind of software you install and then just forget about. Indeed, it has a feature called "Set it and Forget It" which does all the defragmenting you need on the fly. Well worth checking out.

September 3, 2003
[ News: Sony Ericsson Back In The Game ]

  Sony Ericsson, The Register reports, today launched three new handsets, all of them clamshell. The Z600 comes with a built-in digicam, has Bluetooth, is tri-band GSM/GPRS and something I don't quite understand: "a smaller, secondary unit on the back of the phone". What is that? I've always thought phones should be dismantlable, if there ever was such a word, so in the evening you can strip it down to something that fits in your leather pants without having you arrested. Could that be it?
 
 
The company also launched a lesser version of the Z600, the Z200: it offers a 128 x 128 4000-colour main screen and no integrated digicam. The T230 dual-band (900/1800) GSM/GPRS handset has the same screen as the Z200. It's a budget phone aimed at users who primarily communicate by voice and text. All three handsets will go on sale in Q4, Sony Ericsson said, though it was not forthcoming with prices, The Register said.

[ Software: Type SMS Messages On Your Laptop ]

 Neat little piece of free software from Microsoft: the SMS Sender. If you use Windows XP download the widget and type out and send SMS messages from your laptop. You'll need some sort of connection with your GSM phone -- infrared, Bluetooth, or cable.
 
 
There are some limitations: It is not possible to retrieve messages from the cellular phone from the computer, and the application only supports standard SMS. Flash SMS and MMS are not supported. Other data such as ring tones and logos are not supported. Multiple SMS sending is not allowed.

[ Update: Time For New Palms Again? ]

 From the rumour mill, here's a report on the next line of Palms. These guys are on fire. The Tungsten E will have a sleek metal finish, and looks like a cross between the m515 and Zire 71. It will have separate power and mini USB cable connections for syncing, similar to the original Zire. It may retail for $199 USD. The Zire 21 is a possible replacement or update to the popular original Zire handheld. The Tungsten T3 will have a large 320x480 pixel high res+ screen. The screen has portrait/landsape rotation and a software provision for lefthanders when viewing landscape ie. rotate left or right from portrait.
 
The new handhelds are expected to be announced on October 1st. This would agree with previous information from a large electronic retailers inventory database.

September 2, 2003
[ News: My Worst Month Ever ]

 Don't get me started on what kind of month it has been for viruses. And it's still happening. Sophos, an anti-virus provider, today announced its monthly countdown of the ten most frequently occurring viruses and hoaxes as compiled by Sophos.
 
For August 2003, the chart is as follows, with the most frequently occurring virus at number one:
  
  1.  W32/Sobig-F        (Sobig variant)     37.6%   New Entry
  2.  W32/Blaster-A      (Blaster worm)      18.8%   New Entry
  3.  W32/Nachi-A        (Nachi worm)         5.5%   New Entry
  4.  W32/Mimail-A       (Mimail worm)        5.3%   New Entry
  5.  W32/Yaha-P         (Yaha variant)       2.1%
  6.  W32/Klez-H         (Klez variant)       1.3%   19 months in chart
  7.  W32/Bugbear-B      (Bugbear variant)    1.1%
  8.  W32/Yaha-E         (Yaha variant)       0.8%
  9.  W32/Dumaru-A       (Dumaru virus)       0.6%   New Entry
  10. W32/Sobig-A        (Sobig worm)         0.3%
 
  Others: 26.6%
 
"August 2003 will be remembered as one of the worst months in the history of computer security. A series of different viruses have bombarded computer systems around the globe, culminating in the newest member of the Sobig family, which swamped Internet email traffic and took the top position in the chart. The top four viruses are all new entries -- any of which would have been number one in a normal month," said Chris Belthoff, senior security analyst at Sophos, Inc.

[ News: There's Big Money In Bugs ]

 Just in case you were worried that the people you pay to protect you from worms and viruses may not have much incentive to stamp out the pesky bugs too successfully, here's a new report from IDC, an IT market intelligence and advisory firm, that says the worldwide antivirus software made $2.2 billion last year -- 31% more than 2001. IDC believes growth will continue over the next five years, reaching $4.4 billion in 2007, as protection against virus and worm attacks remains a top priority for corporations and greater awareness fuels consumer spending.
 
Now of course I'm not saying that these guys are making the viruses and worms. But I do think there's got to be a better way to stop viruses than all this subscription-to-updates stuff. Thoughts anyone?

[ News: Barcodes Fight Back ]

 I love this idea. The New York Times reports that James Patten, a graduate student in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab, has come up with a digital tool that can scan the bar code printed on nearly any product, and indicate whether its corporate pedigree is blemished. The Corporate Fallout Detector "combines a bar-code reader with an internal database of pollution complaints and ethics violations packed in a casing resembling a cold-war-era Geiger counter".
 
Marc Smith, a research sociologist at Microsoft, has meanwhile "been developing a similar device, combining a bar-code scanner, a hand-held computer and wireless Internet access. In a grocery store near a cafe that was promoting a Wi-Fi hot spot, he tested a box of cereal by scanning the bar code and letting the computer nose around on the Internet. It turned out that the cereal had been recalled because its label failed to mention the presence of nuts, a potential hazard to people with allergies."
 
Both great ideas, but why stop there. You could use barcodes -- or their more powerful successors, RFID tags -- to hook up with data such as other consumer comments, cheaper products elsewhere, or whatever. Suddenly the tags and barcodes that empower retailers may end up empowering the consumer...

[ I'm Not Saying Worms Are A Good Idea But... ]

 One small consolation of worms like Sobig is that you end up having a large number of inadvertent penpals. It's like a huge chainletter. Sobig ransacks address books and fires off emails to all and sundry, along with the worm (which then does lots of damage, I'm not contesting).
 
While I don't condone the activities of silly anti-virus vendors who haven't figured out that worms like Sobig fake the sender of emails (see my earlier posting on this) -- making the sending of automated emails to the apparent senders of worms an absurd and self-defeating endeavour -- it's kinda interesting to get emails from servers around the globe in places that you couldn't possibly know anyone. I just got one from Romania complaining I sent someone called Deico an infected email. I have never been to Romania, and as far as I know I have never corresponded with someone from Romania. But someone I know must, or someone they know. Or someone they know. Or someone they know....

[ I'm Not Saying Worms Are A Good Idea But... ]

 One small consolation of worms like Sobig is that you end up having a large number of inadvertent penpals. It's like a huge chainletter. Sobig ransacks address books and fires off emails to all and sundry, along with the worm (which then does lots of damage, I'm not contesting).
 
While I don't condone the activities of silly anti-virus vendors who haven't figured out that worms like Sobig fake the sender of emails (see my earlier posting on this) -- making the sending of automated emails to the apparent senders of worms an absurd and self-defeating endeavour -- it's kinda interesting to get emails from servers around the globe in places that you couldn't possibly know anyone. I just got one from Romania complaining I sent someone called Deico an infected email. I have never been to Romania, and as far as I know I have never corresponded with someone from Romania. But someone I know must, or someone they know. Or someone they know. Or someone they know....

[ News: The Dark Side of Backing Up ]

 From the We Should Have Known This Dept comes news that CD-ROMs degrade in months, even at room temperature without sunlight. Dutch magazine PC Active tested data disks from 30 manufacturers that were recorded 20 months ago. Several data CDs developed serious errors, or became virtually unreadable, The Register reports.
 
It's perhaps too early to tell, but the word seems to be: different dye systems used for CD-R disks are the root of the evil and that you're better off storing your stuff on the more expensive disks. My tuppennies': Keep backups of your most important data on different media -- hard drive, online drive, CD-ROMs, DVD -- in several copies.

[ News: Great News For Bad Parkers ]

 Japan is now seeling a car that parks itself. Reuters reports that Toyota's new hybrid gasoline-electric Prius sedan uses electrically operated power steering and sensors that help guide the car when reversing into parking spaces. Rivals General Motors Corp and Ford Motor Co will launch their first hybrids later this year.

[ Software: Another RSS Newsreader ]

 For those of you getting into the RSS feed thing (and for those of you who haven't, a question: why not?) here's another newsreader: Abilon from ActiveRefresh. RSS feeds are a way to pump content from websites that regularly update, such as news sites, or blogs like this one, and newsreaders are one way to receive and read that content. Another is actually via email.
 
 
Abilon is free and works nicely and smoothly.

[ Update: The Blaster and The Blackout ]

 From the So The Conspiracy Theorists Were Right Dept it turns out the W32.Blaster worm may have contributed to the cascading effect of the Aug. 14 blackout in NYC and environs. IDG reports that on the day of the blackout, Blaster degraded the performance of several communications lines linking key data centers used by utility companies to manage the power grid, the sources confirmed.

September 1, 2003
[ News: Step Aside, Bill, Let Asia Take It From Here ]

 From the Suspect This May Be Wishful Thinking Dept Japan, South Korea and China are set to agree to jointly develop a new computer operating system as an alternative to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software, Reuters quotes Japanese media as saying on Sunday.
 
It would likely be built upon an open-source operating system, such as Linux. The recent spread of computer viruses targeting the Windows system was one reason behind the plan, as it has awakened governments to the need to reduce their dependence on Windows operating systems.

about loose wire
musings, snippets, grievances and links on personal technology by dow jones columnist jeremy wagstaff. I want to hear from users -- technology-related stories, complaints, thoughts, ideas, brickbats -- so please email me

my columns appear in
The Far Eastern Economic Review and
The Wall Street Journal Online.
both are owned by Dow Jones.

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