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September 27, 2003
[ Update From The IM Wars Front ]

 Seems like the IM wars aren't over yet. Further to my postings about Yahoo and Microsoft Messenger apparently blocking third party chat aggregators like Trillian, seems the latter's patches don't seem to be enough to keep folk connected. CNET reports that Yahoo has begun blocking Cerulean Studios' Trillian software from communicating with its own instant messaging software as part of its plan to limit third parties from piggybacking on its service.
 
On Thursday, some Trillian users began reporting an inability to communicate with their Yahoo Messenger contacts. A Yahoo spokeswoman on Friday morning confirmed that Trillian users' inability to access Yahoo Messenger was the result of recent policies put in place by the Web giant. A day after last week's Yahoo announcement, Trillian released software patches that were aimed at allowing it to continue accessing Yahoo and MSN buddy lists. But as of this week, CNET says, those patches do not appear to be working.

[ Update: Another Blaster Suspect Arrested ]

 Another Blaster suspect has been arrested. Prosecutors refused to release any information about the suspect, not even the youth's gender or home state, AP reported. The variant the juvenile allegedly created was known as "RPCSDBOT."
 
No one yet knows who created the main version. Collectively, different versions of the virus-like worm, alternately called "LovSan" or "Blaster," hit more than a million computers. It's interesting the two detainees both appear to be Americans. But it doesn't mean the author of the original was, nor does it mean their motives were the same.
 

[ News: More Hacking Woes ]

 These days the Internet reads like a bad movie script. Reuters reports that security holes in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser have been exploited by hackers to hijack AOL instant messaging accounts and force unsuspecting Web surfers to run up massive phone bills. Some Internet Explorer users are also finding that malicious Web sites are secretly slipping trojan programs onto their computers, according to eEye Digital Security, which discovered the original security vulnerability. Such stealth programs can include keystroke loggers that record everything a person types or software to erase the hard drive, among other things.
 
The attacks are accomplished by leading Internet Explorer users to a malicious Web site, either by sending an e-mail with a link to the Web page or distributing a link through instant messaging. When the Web site appears, it downloads code that can execute commands on its own onto the unsuspecting computer user's machine, according to Copley. An attacker has written a program that uses a security hole in Internet Explorer to hijack an already running AOL Instant Messenger account, changes the password and send a message to the buddies list with a link to the malicious Web page, according to postings on the Bugtraq security e-mail list.

[ Software: More Spam Options ]

 Matterform Media, who make anti-spam software for the Mac, have said that October 1 their Spamfire will be available for Windows. Matterform Media's Spamfire for Windows is available at a suggested retail price of $39.95, which includes one year of automatic filter updates at no additional charge, and is available for immediate download from the company's website, www.matterform.com.
Matterform also sell something called SpamVaccine, which converts email addresses on your website to something that the spammers' little robots can't recognise, and therefore harvest. (This is how spammers get most of their email addresses.) No mention is made of whether that will be available for Windows.

[ News: Segway Takes A Tumble ]

 A blow for Segway, the Human Transporter scooter stand-up thingy, which is being recalled after it was found that riders might fall from the device as the batteries are drained of power. The recall, ITWorld reports, affects about 6,000 two-wheeled units sold between March 2002 and September 2003. The Manchester, New Hampshire, company has received three reports of incidents related to this problem, including one person who endured a head injury requiring stitches after falling off , the CPSC said.
 
 

September 26, 2003
[ News: Worming Its Way Into Korea ]

 Warning of a new computer worm, this time from South Korea. Yonhap reports Friday that W32/Smess.worm, BadTrans, appears attached to an instant message in MSN's instant messenger service. The worm is a mutant version of another worm called Sinmsn, which was detected last July.
 
MSN's messenger service, which gives pairs or groups of users the capability to send instantaneous text messages to each other via the Internet, is one of the most popular communication tools in South Korea, where more than 10 million customers are connected to the broadband Internet.

[ Update: One Of Microsoft Security Report Authors Fired ]

 One of the authors of the security paper (PDF file) that said Microsoft was a threat to national security has been fired, according to CNET. Cambridge, Mass-based @Stake, where Dan Geer worked as chief technical officer, said in a statement Thursday that the researcher had not gotten his employers' approval for the study's release, and that he was no longer associated with the company. Although independently financed and researched, the study was distributed by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a Washington-based trade association largely made up of Microsoft's rivals.
 
A Microsoft spokesman said the software maker had not pressured @Stake to make any decision on Geer's status. Bruce
Schneier, a security expert and co-author of the report, saw things differently, according to CNET. He said the idea for the report had come from Geer and the other researchers, not from the CCIA or other Microsoft rivals. The group had found it hard to find other researchers to sign on to the idea, even if those approached agreed with the study's premises, he said. "When we were conceiving and writing the report, a surprising number of researchers said 'No,' because of the fear of Microsoft," Schneier said. "Dan was not talking for @Stake. We were speaking as researchers. The fact that @Stake couldn't get around that shows the pressure that Microsoft brings to bear."

[ News: Nokia Broadens Its Reach ]

 Nokia are blurring the line between phone and other kinds of accessory with their newest releases. Gizmodo reports on a bunch of new products, including the 7600 Imaging Phone (which is a WCDMA/GSM phone with a 65,000 color display, Bluetooth, and a built-in digital camera), and a new line of "Imagewear" products for displaying and viewing digital photos, including two medallions with tiny LCD screens, two digital picture frames, and a digital photo kaleidoscope.
 

September 25, 2003
[ Update: More Tungstens To Go ]

 Amazingly, Palm are releasing another batch of Tungstens. It seems only yesterday they were doing the same thing. (Actually it was two months ago.) Anyway, The Register got a scoop by scanning local stores' websites, which mistakenly posted details of the products before their October 1 release date.
 
In short, we have two models, the Tungsten T3 and E: the E is a 32MB device containing a "fast" ARM processor. The accompanying photo reveals a Tungsten T-style metal case without that model's familiar slide mechanism. The T3 contains a 400MHz Intel XScale CPU, 64MB of RAM, Palm OS 5.2.1, Bluetooth and the kind of software bundle you'd expect from such a PDA. It does have a slider mechanism, to cover the Graffiti area, but with this Tungsten T, the applications buttons are curved around the central, oval navigator button. Prices? About $550 for the T3 and the E for about $280, in the UK at least.
 
The site doesn't mention the Zire 21, the third PDA Palm is expected to launch next week. It's possible the company's UK wing is not releasing the 21 just yet, preferring to focus instead on the enterprise/executive-oriented products. Certainly details of next week's local product announcement suggest such a high-end focus.
 
I know this is awful of me, but I can't get excited about all this new stuff. I'm happy with my Tungsten T, and I can't understand the need to sell new models every couple of months. Or am I missing something? Certainly the Pocket PC seems to be overshadowed by all this publicity. Perhaps that's the point. Push out new models all the time so anyone who is thinking of swapping out their PDA has a brand new, just off the designer's couch unit to go for. Are we that fickle? Probably.

[ News: RFID Notes ]

 A longish piece from Slate on our old friends RFIDs -- Radio Frequency Identification Devices -- which are feared and admired for their ability to hold all sorts of data about what you're doing, buying, washing or eating. Earlier this month Hitachi announced the release of a tiny wireless ID chip that can be "easily embedded in bank notes."
 
Although the story doesn't focus on it, it makes a good point: Whereas privacy advocates -- fearing these things may hold data about our purchases etc well after we left the shop -- may be silenced by the idea of a 'kill switch' which disables the tag at checkout, presumably the same wouldn't really be a good idea in currency. So why exactly should we have RFIDs in our currency, and what does it mean for us? More anon.

[ News: From Kazaa To Skype ]

 From Estonia comes news that the guys behind file-swapping legend Kazaa are launching an Internet phone service they claim could put traditional phone companies out of business. AP says the service, called Skype, purports to offer free, unlimited phone service between users with sound quality near to existing phone lines.
 
 
Skype users -- and there are already more than half a million of them -- can currently use the program only to talk to each other, but it could later be enhanced so someone could call other types of programs, or even regular landline and cell phones. The program directs peer-to-peer data through the quickest networks, ensuring that quality isn't degraded. Privacy is ensured through encryption.
 
 

[ Update: X1 About To Hit Version 3 ]

 For file searching and indexing fans, X1 is about to release version 3.0 (probably on Monday). And it's not going to be in a free version anymore. This from Mark Goodstein: "Version 2.0 will remain free (the non-Pro version of the product) but there will no longer be a free component of version 3.0. We decided we were simply giving away too much (and we have starving children and pets, as a result). So if you've never paid for X1 and don't intend to, don't upgrade to version 3.0, just stay with version 2.0."
 
 

September 24, 2003
[ News: "Microsoft Is A Threat To National Security" ]

 Some of the U.S.' main technology security experts -- including author Bruce Schneier -- today issued a report warning that computers and critical technological infrastructure worldwide are increasingly vulnerable to attack because of the security practices and dominance of Microsoft software in desktop computing.  As a result of Microsoft's concerted effort to fortify and expand its monopolies by tightly integrating applications with its operating system, and its success in achieving near ubiquity in personal computing, our computer networks are now susceptible to massive, cascading failures, the report stated. 
 
I can't help feeling they're onto something. To access the report online, please visit http://www.ccianet.org/papers/cyberinsecurity.pdf.

[ News: Psst! Wanna Buy Some Fake Bluetooth Gear? ]

 Apparently one of the reasons your Bluetooth gadgets won't work well with each other is that they might be fake. Bizarre? Yes! True. Possibly. According to NewsWireless, over 50% of Bluetooth equipment on sale in the UK is counterfeit, according to a survey. And that figure is set to rise. The group that sets Bluetooth standards says that by year end, as little as 15% of the "Bluetooth" equipment on sale in retail outlets may be genuine.
 
 
So who would fake Bluetooth? Counterfeiters, apparently, who are trying to flood the market with fakes for the end-of-year boom expected in hands-free Bluetooth gear, which is expected as the result of impending legislation in several countries about driving with cellphones. Of course part of this is not that the gadgets are fake, so much as they don't adhere to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's standards. So, while they shouldn't use the name Bluetooth, they may possibly work. Given my miserable experience with Bluetooth gadgets until now, I can't really see the difference.
 

[ News: Journalist Blogs, Gets Fired ]

 And more on the growing pains of technology and journalism from Poynter: "Chi-Chu Tschang, a Chinese journalist who worked for the Bloomberg news service, was fired because of statements made on his personal Weblog. Tschang is not the first journalist to experience troubles because of his personal Web site. A long-time writer at the Houston Chronicle was fired for what a Chronicle editor called "gonzo journalism" on the reporter's personal Web page, and a columnist at the Sacramento Bee must now obtain an editor's approval before posting his blog."
 
Hmmm. More on this in a future column.
 

[ News: More On Them Pesky Phono-journalists ]

 More from Poynter Online on the rise of photo phones: In the first six months of this year more camera phones were shipped than digital cameras. And folk are using them: Poynter says "photo phones have begun to change the traditional journalism style and now more people are able to get involved in the news-telling process." An example:

[ News: Forget Email Spam, Get Ready For Serious Phone Spam ]

 Email spam may be the least of our worries. According to Forrester Research there will 100% compound annual growth in enhanced message services, multimedia message services, instant message services and e-mail using next generation phones in 2004 and beyond. Much of this, according to it- analysis, will be little more than spam. Although the article (which looks like it's been edited by a chimp) doesn't have much else to say, that's a scary thought in itself. (I can't find the actual Forrester report.)
 

[ News: Might virus writers be hiding in China? ]

 AP reports that Taiwan has sent a formal letter to rival China asking for help in tracking down computer hackers who allegedly sent a virus to a Taiwanese software company.The letter alleged that on Sept. 2, Taiwan-based Eha Technology Ltd. received e-mail that contained a virus, said the Straits Exchange Foundation, a semiofficial organization that handles Taiwan's relations with China. The e-mail came from four Web sites registered in the Chinese provinces of Fujian and Hubei, the foundation said. The Web sites were stockfound.com, Lsaeraid.com, Feeledu.net, memoryfree.com, according to the foundation's letter.
 
I haven't looked at this but I have read that Chinese hackers have been reported to be working on viruses recently. Anyone know any more about this?

[ News: Terrorist List Hit By, Er, Virus ]

 AP reports that the State Department's electronic system for checking every visa applicant for terrorist or criminal history failed worldwide for several hours late Tuesday because of a computer virus, leaving the U.S. government briefly unable to issue visas. The virus crippled the department's Consular Lookout and Support System, known as CLASS, which contains more than 12.8 million records from the FBI, the State Department and U.S. immigration, drug-enforcement and intelligence agencies. Among the names are those of at least 78,000 suspected terrorists. There was apparently no backup.

September 23, 2003
[ News: Horses For Main Courses; Handphones for Bones ]

 Good piece by the BBC on how micropayments may not be taking off online, but are with handphones. "While many of us are happy to use a credit card online, spending tens, hundreds, and occasionally thousands, of pounds, parting with just 50p is less common." Despite the lack of any common system for micropayments, the BBC says, "spending via mobiles is starting to take off, albeit only for extra mobile phone content." 
 
Read techdirt's take on it here.  My tupennies' worth: people need to be confident of several things before they adopt a system of payment that they're not previously exposed to:
a) it's easy to figure out;
b) it's convenient, both for the transaction and the eventual physical payment;
c) it feels safe.
Micropayments mostly don't work online because they're too hassly for what you're doing. You're sitting at home, you got everything you need, what is there to make a micropayment for that could make your life any richer? But if you're stuck in the subway at midnight and need a chocolate bar, or a ticket home, that's a whole different game.

[ News: Observe Mice Fleeing Sinking Room ]

 From the Useful Research Dept comes a report that narrow exits may be safer. Nature magazine says that research indicates that, faced with a narrow door, mice form a kind of queue and make a relatively orderly escape. Wider doors cause the animals to block one another, making their getaway sporadic and inefficient. Escape is also erratic when there are several doors, as crowds around one can obstruct the next.

[ Update: SimCity Expansion Pack Hits Stores Shock ]

As predicted a month or two back, EA has issued an expansion pack for SimCity 4, called Rush Hour. allowing players to "take charge of vehicles in their cities to drive or solve missions that earn reward buildings and vehicles. Players have the ultimate level of control over their city's transportation network by completely taking charge of roads, rail, air, and even waterways." It costs $20 (sheesh, that's what the whole game would have cost a few years back.)

September 22, 2003
[ Software: Another Spam Tool ]

 An independent reviewer of anti-spam tools I hadn't heard of called Spamotomy has awarded its highest rating ever for a desktop anti-spam product to InBoxer from Audiotrieve, which I also haven't heard of. And I thought I was on top of the whole spam thing.
 
 
The Spamotomy review, apparently, is the result of an extensive week-long evaluation involving the processing of thousands of email messages, including more than a thousand junk mail messages. InBoxer was effective right from the start, according to the Spamotomy review. At the end of a week, InBoxer removed 96.5% of all spam with a 0.07% false positive rating. That's not bad, though it's not as good as POPFile has achieved over a longer period.
 
A possible downside: InBoxer only works with Microsoft Outlook. The product has a list price of $24.95.

[ News: Bad News For Bandwith Hogs ]

 I guess it's not a particularly liberal view of the Internet, this wondrous playground where everyone can find what they want and access it, but it's probably inevitable: some high-volume users are going to find their usage curtailed. CNET reports that some cable Internet service subscribers are quietly capping the volume of downloading they allow their subscribers to do. So far, it's only affecting the heaviest users.
 
These are a small minority: CNET quote ISPs as saying a tiny percentage of people are using an enormous percentage of their total bandwidth. This will inevitably slow down the connections of other folk in the same area. Personally, I'm all for capping: I don't think the Internet should be for folk downloading and uploading gigabytes of data unless they've got a separate corporate connection. Give the rest of us a chance.
 

[ News: Baghdad Blogger.... The Book ]

 Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger, is bringing out a book.
From the blurb: "Not a supporter of Saddam, Salam Pax recorded in his online journal the anticipation, resentment, amusement, and sheer terror he felt as he witnessed the demise of a long dictatorship and the chaos that followed its destruction. In doing so, the pseudonymous 29-year-old Iraqi engineer educated in Austria has become the voice of an Internet generation. This book collects the remarkably well-written entries of this Internet antihero who has come to be known as the "Baghdad Blogger."

September 21, 2003
[ Mail: Some Mac Tips ]

 This from Graham Holliday, a Mac user, on some Mac alternatives to what I've been discussing in previous weeks:
Owning a Mac really is the first step for any serious antivirus activist it would seem.... "Mac users face just 50 recognized viruses today, while PC users have 85,000 threats to their security. London-based firm mi2g says: "Mac customers running Mac OS X, an implementation of BSD, benefit from BSD's proven reputation as being one of the most secure operating systems available." [MacWorld]
 
When you mention one of your favourite topics (firewalls), you often mention Zone Alarm. You might also like to mention the free (sharware) for Mac Brickhouse. Macs have an inbuilt firewall, but this makes it easy to set up for normal tech-averse folk.
BTW found Mac RSI software here.
Thanks, Graham. Very helpful.

[ News: Canadians Get Flirty With SMS ]

 Canada seems to be getting into SMS/texting, call it what you will. Next week Toronto's CafĂ© Havana will host the country's first text-messaging party ('Text And The City') as part of a (somewhat belated, I can't help feeling) awakening of the potential for SMS. According to the Toronto Star, SMS volumes still don't compare to Europe (or Asia, I'm assuming) but they're picking up.
 
 
If you're in Toronto, register online at http://www.jambo.ca and pay $8 at the door. Once registered, you'll be assigned a number that lets people send you an anonymous text message. And since you'll be anonymous as well, whether you hook up with somebody depends on your skills as a wireless flirter.

[ News: A New Kind Of Keypad ]

 Novel approach to handphone keypads: Intel's Fastap keypad fits 26 letters alongside the numbers on a handset, doing away with the need to press keys several times to scroll through the letters associated with each number. Here's what it looks like, courtesy of the BBC:
 
 
 

[ News: Lawsuits over Hard Drive Size ]

 Something I've often wondered about: why is a 20 gigabyte hard-drive actually only 18.6 GB? Some folk in LA are not only wondering, they're suing. The Register reports that US PC users have banded together to protest against "deceptive advertising" of hard drive capacity by filling a lawsuit against the world's biggest computer manufacturers. The lawsuit objects to the notation used in describing the capacity of hard disk drives in manufacturers' promotional material. For example, a "20 GB" hard drive would only have 18.6 GB usable capacity, the complaint maintains.

[ Update: The Swen Worm. Yes, It's Nasty ]

 The Swen Worm is turning out to be a nasty one. It can execute code automatically, it looks like a genuine Microsoft email and it randomizes itself, making it hard to identify. TechNewsWorld reports the worm, also known as "Gibe" or its more technical name of "w32.swen@mm," takes advantage of a well-known vulnerability in Internet Explorer that was first announced in March 2001. A software patch and removal tools for affected Windows systems are available, but because of its persistence -- the worm infects via e-mail or network sharing automatically -- it may be difficult to eliminate. Most of those infected are home users.
 
Part of the problem seems to have been that the antivirus underestimated its shock and awe. TechNewsWorld again: MessageLabs chief technology officer Mark Sunner described the worm as highly complex and told TechNewsWorld that although it was first discovered September 14th, it was not seen as a priority, and the threat was not added to updated protection from leading antivirus vendors. "Initially, this went right under the nose of normal desktop antivirus," Sunner said, endorsing MessageLabs' intercept-and-scan approach over traditional antivirus methods that he claimed do not work. "It's almost inexcusable it went through those vendors."

Another unique feature of Swen is its ability to communicate with a Web site  that keeps track of the number of computers it has successfully infected. As of late Friday afternoon, the counter was up to more than 1.5 million infected computers.

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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

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