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Monday, January 21, 2008

Vulnerability Found in Some Symantec Products

We often hear about vulnerabilities in Microsoft products that allow viruses to enter computers. Today, however, the news is about a virus attacking through a weakness in software that is supposed to protect you from such attacks.

eEye Digital Security, a noted security vendor, recently provided an alert regarding a susceptibility in Symantec Antivirus that allows a hacker to infiltrate and take control of a computer system that is running certain Symantec software. Shortly after the eEye's alert, Symantec confirmed the veracity of the story. The finding of this security flaw is of special importance since Symantec is one of the world's leading makers of antivirus software.

Fortunately for home users, the flaw is found only in Symantec Antivirus Corporate Edition and Symantec Client Security 3.x. Home users of Norton Antivirus and Norton Internet Security products are not at risk. Symantec is working on a patch to eliminate the problem and will download the fix to corporate users as soon as it is available.

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Windows Goes Native on Macs

When Apple announced that new Macs would have Intel processors rather than the traditional Motorola chips,
speculation began about the possibility of being able to run the Windows operating system on a Mac machine. Hackers were able to do that quite quickly, but their methods were fairly complicated.

Now Apple has made running Windows on a Mac easy. They have introduced a new program called Boot Camp, which allows Windows XP to run on an Intel-based Macintosh computer. This program is not an emulator or a virtualization engine like previous software that allowed Windows programs to run on a Mac. Instead, it is a program that configures the Macintosh drive so that it can boot to either Apple's OS X or Microsoft's Windows XP. This allows Windows programs to run natively giving them the full power and performance.

Although the Boot Camp program is still in its Beta testing mode, it is available to anyone for free download at the Apple website. Early testing shows that it is stable and fairly easy to install with only a few minor glitches. Currently Apple is not supporting the installation or use of Boot Camp. We may, however, find that it is a part of Leopard, the next Mac operating system upgrade, which should make its appearance sometime in late 2006 or early 2007.

Boot Camp requires the separate purchase of the Windows XP operating system. Yet it is being hailed as a wonderful tool that will allow computer shoppers to purchase a Mac, use the Mac OS X operating system, and still be able to run PC games and other software that may be unavailable in a Macintosh version.

With only a 2.3 percent share of the U.S. PC market last year, Apple is hoping that being able to run Windows on a Mac will increase sales.

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Google Inc. announced Google Profiles

Google Inc. over the weekend quietly announced Google Profiles, which provide a way for users of various Google products like Google Maps and Google Reader to offer information about themselves to other users.

The announcement got some bloggers twittering about a possible future foray by Google into social networking. A Google Profile will initially include basic points, like a user`s name, photo and location, and can include other information, like a person`s profession.

"You control what goes into your Google Profile, sharing as much (or as little) as you`d like," Google noted on a Web page with a brief description about Google Profiles. "Use multiple Google products? Soon your Google Profile will link up with these as well."

Anyone can see a user`s profile, the site noted, and if a user includes his full name in a profile, it may be returned in Google search results for that name.

The new Google Profiles are already available in Google Maps and Google Reader and will be added to other Web applications, noted Ionut Alex Chitu, in a post at the Google Operating System blog.

"It is not a stretch to see that these profiles are the perfect host for your activity streams, and your public activities could become a part of the profile (uploading photos to a photo album, bookmarking Web pages, posting a new blog post)," Chitu wrote.

Sepideh Saremi, a blogger at search engine optimization company Reprise Media, noted that this move, combined with Friday`s announcement that Google Reader has been linked to the Google Talk chat feature in Gmail to help users better share content with friends, shows that Google is moving closer to building a social network.

Google is chipping away at rival Facebook by "leveraging the dependency Google users have on Google products and building a social network that integrates these products," Saremi wrote.

"Facebook, which tends to annoy its finicky user base by rolling out features that don`t necessarily have the user`s best interest at heart, should also look to Google when it wants to implement changes to its site," Saremi added. "Google is rolling out its own social features methodically, explaining them clearly, and respecting their user base by saying they will make changes per user feedback. Google`s evolving social network platform will absolutely rival Facebook, and probably sooner than anyone realizes."

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Security Update for Internet Explorer Crippled

Microsoft Corp. confirmed today that it is investigating reports that a security update for Internet Explorer issued last week has crippled some users` ability to get on the Web with the browser.

Users started posting messages to multiple Microsoft support newsgroups almost immediately after Microsoft released the MS07-069 security bulletin on Dec. 11, saying that they were unable to connect to the Internet, either because IE refused to open or because when it did open, it could not reach various sites.

"About 60% of the time, I would get an `Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and must close` dialog," reported Bill Drake on the Windows Update newsgroup. Others echoed those comments on IE-specific forums, noting that both IE6 and IE7 balked at loading, or while loading, some pages, particularly home pages, on both Windows XP and Windows Vista machines.

Harold Decker, operations manager at San Diego-based Gold Peak Industries NA Inc., started fielding calls from users last Wednesday morning as soon as people hit the office. "I stopped everyone who hadn`t installed the update from installing it, after four PCs out of 14 had the problem," said Decker, who manages a total of 35 Windows XP SP2 machines. "We`re a pretty plain shop; all our systems run Windows XP SP2 and IE6," said Decker. "But some kept crashing. It seemed limited to the window that was opened, and changing the home page to something simple, like a blank page, gave a better success rate."

Decker cited numerous brand-name sites that workers at Gold Peak couldn't reach without crashing IE, including Federal Express` and Lowe`s Home Improvements.

Microsoft said it is on the case. "Our customer service and support teams are investigating public claims of a deployment issue with Microsoft Security Bulletin MS07-069," Microsoft`s Mark Miller, director of security response, acknowledged in an e-mail. "If necessary, Microsoft will update the Knowledge Base article associated with MS07-069 with detailed guidance on how to prevent or address these deployment issues," Miller added.

Other users on the support forums weren`t much help, except to suggest uninstalling last Tuesday`s security update. That`s what Decker did. "We uninstalled [MS07-069] and have had no problems since then," he said.

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News: Facebook faces privacy questions

Facebook worker
Facebook says it does not use information from deactivated accounts
Facebook is to be quizzed about its data protection policies by the Information Commissioner's Office.

The investigation follows a complaint by a user of the social network who was unable to fully delete their profile even after terminating their account.

Currently, personal information remains on Facebook's servers even after a user deactivates an account.

Facebook has said it believes its policy is in "full compliance with UK data protection law".

"We take the concerns of the ICO [Information Commissioner's Office] and our user's privacy very seriously and are committed to working with the ICO to maintain a trusted environment for all Facebook users and ensure compliance with UK law," said a statement from the site.

Protecting principle

At present, Facebook users who wish to remove their profile from the site are given the opportunity to deactivate their account.

Facebook page
Details are stored on Facebook servers after a profile is deleted

But once deactivated the information, though no longer accessible, remains on Facebook's computers.

This is useful if you might reactivate your account later, but not the same as full deletion.

Users who wish to completely delete their information must, according to the automated response from Facebook's Customer Service, ¿log in and delete all profile content".

For some users that can be a very laborious process and that concerns the ICO.

"One of the things that we're concerned about is that if the onus is entirely on the individual to delete their data," Dave Evans, Senior Data Protection Practice Manager at the ICO told BBC Radio 4's iPM programme.

"An individual who has deactivated their account might not find themselves motivated enough to delete information that's about them maybe on their wall or other people's site."

The over-riding data protection principle motivating the ICO is that organisations should only hold information as long as necessary.

Facebook maintains it is in compliance with all data protection legislation and says it does not use information from deactivated accounts.

Network problem

Mr Evans said that he believed that Facebook were committed to being seen to do as much as possible to safeguard people's privacy.

"We've agreed with Facebook to discuss with them issues around what they do with my information if I wish to deactivate my account".

In addition, he said that the ICO would look at Facebook's privacy policy, the rights to data the company asserts and the privacy implications of applications embedded in Facebook.

Although Facebook and many other social networks are based outside of the UK, Mr Evans believes that UK law could still apply.

"They are established in the UK for UK legislation to cover their activities."

He said it was the clarity of information users receive on signing up with social networking sites that is the central concern of the ICO.

"One of the things that we'll be working with the sites to achieve is to get better quality information to users to make it absolutely clear to people what exactly will happen to their information once it's posted."

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News: Mobiles linked to disturbed sleep

Child using a mobile phone
The evidence on mobile phone safety has been contradictory
Using a mobile phone before going to bed could stop you getting a decent night's sleep, research suggests.

The study, funded by mobile phone companies, suggests radiation from the handset can cause insomnia, headaches and confusion.

It may also cut our amount of deep sleep - interfering with the body's ability to refresh itself.

The study was carried out by Sweden's Karolinska Institute and Wayne State University in the US.

Funded by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, the scientists studied 35 men and 36 women aged between 18 and 45.

Some were exposed to radiation equivalent to that received when using a mobile phone, others were placed in the same conditions, but given only "sham" exposure.

Those exposed to radiation took longer to enter the first of the deeper stages of sleep, and spent less time in the deepest one.

The scientists concluded: "The study indicates that during laboratory exposure to 884 MHz wireless signals components of sleep believed to be important for recovery from daily wear and tear are adversely affected."

Researcher Professor Bengt Arnetz said: "The study strongly suggests that mobile phone use is associated with specific changes in the areas of the brain responsible for activating and coordinating the stress system."

Another theory is that radiation may disrupt production of the hormone melatonin, which controls the body's internal rhythms.


About half the people in the study believed themselves to be "electrosensitive", reporting symptoms such as headaches and impaired cognitive function from mobile phone use.

But they proved to be unable to tell if they had been exposed to the radiation in the test.

Alasdair Philips is director of Powerwatch, which researches the effects of electromagnetic fields on health.

He said: "The evidence is getting stronger that we should treat these things in a precautionary way.

"This research suggests that if you need to make a phone call in the evening it is much better to use a land line, and don't have your mobile by your bedside table."

Mike Dolan, executive director of the Mobile Operators Association, said the study was inconsistent with other research.

He said: "It is really one small piece in a very large scientific jigsaw. It is a very small effect, one researcher likened it to less than the effect you would see from a cup of coffee."

Last September a major six-year study by the UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHRP) concluded that mobile phone use posed no short-term risk to the brain.

However, the researchers said they could not rule out the possibility that long-term use may raise the risk of cancer.

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