Archive for June, 2011

Security researchers discover ‘indestructible’ botnet

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

More than four million PCs have been enrolled in a botnet security experts say is almost “indestructible”.

The botnet, known as TDL, targets Windows PCs and is difficult to detect and shut down.

Code that hijacks a PC hides in places security software rarely looks and the botnet is controlled using custom-made encryption.

Security researchers said recent botnet shutdowns had made TDL’s controllers harden it against investigation.

The 4.5 million PCs have become victims over the last three months following the appearance of the fourth version of the TDL virus.

The changes introduced in TDL-4 made it the “most sophisticated threat today,” wrote Kaspersky Labs security researchers Sergey Golovanov and Igor Soumenkov in a detailed analysis of the virus.

“The owners of TDL are essentially trying to create an ‘indestructible’ botnet that is protected against attacks, competitors, and anti-virus companies,” wrote the researchers.

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IMF warns US about its ‘fragile’ economy

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The International Monetary Fund has warned that the US debt burden is on an “unsustainable trajectory“.

(red emphasis is mine)

But the IMF said the US must avoid a sharp correction in order to protect its fragile economic recovery.

The IMF report forecast economic growth of 2.5% this year and 2.7% in 2012, which is below the Federal Reserve’s own estimate of 3.3% next year.

“The [US] recovery has proceeded at a relatively slow pace… and has recently weakened,” the IMF said.

The US budget deficit is projected to reach $1.4 trillion this year, above last year’s $1.29 trillion gap and just below a record $1.41 trillion reached in 2009.

In its annual review of the US economy, the IMF urged Washington to reach a swift agreement on a deal to raise the government’s borrowing limit.

‘Significant consequences’

The Obama administration and Congress are locked in negotiations over making budget cuts before approval is given to raise the debt ceiling.

The US Treasury already has reached the existing $14.3 trillion legal limit on the nation’s debt and needs to raise the debt ceiling by 2 August to avoid a default.

Failure to agree a debt limit deal would cause a “severe shock” to the economy, the IMF said, and could lead to a downgrade in the country’s coveted AAA debt rating and send interest rates soaring.

“These risks would also have significant global repercussions, given the central role of US Treasury bonds in world financial markets,” the IMF said.

President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments when he warned that: “If the United States government, for the first time, cannot pay its bills, if it defaults, then the consequences for the US economy will be significant and unpredictable”.

– to the original…

Six Moldovan ‘uranium smugglers’ arrested

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Moldovan police have arrested six people suspected of trying to sell a type of uranium that can be used in nuclear weapons.

Those held wanted to sell more than 1kg (2.2lb) of uranium-235 with a value of at least $20m (14m euros; £12m), an official said.

The were conflicting reports as to whether the men were accused of trying to sell the uranium to an African country, or to an African national.

Four of the suspects are Moldovan.

Two others are from the breakaway Trans-Dniester region, one of whom also holds Russian citizenship, Vitalie Briceag, an official from the interior ministry, told reporters on Wednesday.

Police seized 1.8kg of uranium-238 in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, last year.

Uranium-238 is the most commonly found, naturally occurring form of the substance.

The type needed for nuclear fuel and weapons is the less common uranium-235.

“The container with uranium has been in Chisinau for a week,” said Mr Briceag.

“All that time intermediaries were looking for buyers. The container, 20cm [8in] long and 40cm [16in] in diameter, was found at one of the detained men’s apartments.”

Germany, Ukraine, and the US had helped Moldova with the investigation, he said.

The Associated Press quoted Mr Briceag as saying the uranium had come from Russia and the suspects were trying to sell it to a North African country.

But other reports cited Mr Briceag as saying the men wanted to sell the uranium to a Muslim citizen of an unnamed African state.

It was not clear to what level the uranium was enriched.

– To the original…

Travelodge customer data stolen

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Travelodge is investigating an apparent hacking attack on its customer database.

A spokesperson for the hotel chain said that a “third party” had managed to obtain names and e-mail addresses.

The company warned users of its online service to be on the lookout for spam e-mails.

The incident has been reported to the UK’s information commissioner who can fine businesses for poor data protection.

A letter to customers, signed by the Travelodge’s chief executive Guy Parsons, contained little information about the nature of the leak, although it stressed that the company had not sold users’ personal data to anyone else.

It also included details of a spam e-mail that some customers had received.

“Good day. Don’t miss exciting career opening. The company is seeking for self-motivated people in United Kingdom to help us spread out our activity in the UK area,” said the message.

A spokesperson for the information commissioner Christopher Graham, said that he was looking into the Travelodge reports.

“We will be making enquiries into the circumstances of the alleged breach of the Data Protection Act before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken,” said the statement.

The ICO has the power to levy fines of up to £500,000 on companies or organisations which are shown to have failed to protect personal information entrusted to them.

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LulzSec hacking group announces end to cyber attacks

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

– That’s what I’d say if I was drawing a lot of heat.  – dennis

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A hacker group that has attacked several high-profile websites over the last two months has announced that it is disbanding.

Lulz Security made its announcement through its Twitter account, giving no reason for its decision.

A statement published on a file-sharing website said that its “planned 50-day cruise has expired”.

The group leapt to prominence by carrying out attacks on companies such as Sony and Nintendo.

Broadcasters Fox and PBS, the CIA, and the United States Senate have also been cyber-attacked by the group.

As a parting shot, the group released a selection of documents apparently including confidential material taken from the Arizona police department and US telecoms giant AT&T.

Correspondents say LulzSec’s announcement could be a sign that its members are nervous because of recent police investigations, including the arrest of a British man suspected of links to the group, and efforts by rival hackers to expose them.

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Newsnight online ‘chat’ with Lulz Security hacking group

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The Lulz Security hacking group that has claimed attacks on high-profile targets including the CIA and Sony in recent weeks has exclusively told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that it wants to target the “higher ups” who write the rules and “bring them down a few notches”.

Lulzsec has claimed a new scalp – releasing confidential material taken from the Arizona police department.

The anonymous hacking group says they’ve not been knocked off course, or successfully exposed, by rival hackers who claim to have named them online – apparently because they object to their agenda.

This agenda seems to have evolved. When they started out, two months ago, they said they were mainly hacking “for laughs”.

In an online Q&A, Whirlpool, the spokesman for Lulzsec, who describes himself as “captain of the Lulz Boat”, agreed that their goals now go beyond that: “Politically motivated ethical hacking is more fulfilling”.

We weren’t able to talk to Whirlpool in person, but met in cyberspace in a private online chat room. In those circumstances it’s almost impossible to verify with absolute certainty who you are speaking to, but Newsnight was able to verify that this person had access to the @Lulzsec Twitter feed.

Here are some other edited highlights from the online chat, which began with a question about the Antisec movement to which Lulzsec seem recently to have aligned themselves.

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Brilliant, but Distant: Most Far-Flung Known Quasar Offers Glimpse into Early Universe

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

– When I read this, I promptly sent off an E-Mail to some friends with whom I often discuss such things.   To wit:

I suspect that our scientific stories about the early universe may be flawed.

Here, at very nearly the beginning of the universe not long after the Big Bang, we have a massive black hole in existence gobbling up copious amounts of matter.

That seems odd to me when the official story line is that the Big Bang created an early universe which was near flat in its density distributions and the only exceptions to this were very small ripples that were caused by quantum fluctuations.  Fluctuations that we can still (barely) see in the cosmic background radiation that still exists today.

Supposedly, these small quantum ripples, over time, created gradients sufficient to begin to pull gas and then stars together and then stars into galaxies.  Eventually, given this continuing aggregation, black holes would have arisen.

So how, in the this official scenario, does such a massive back hole arise at such an early time?

– dennis

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

A gargantuan black hole has been spotted voraciously devouring material just 770 million years after the big bang

Peering far across space and time, astronomers have located a luminous beacon aglow when the universe was still in its infancy. That beacon, a bright astrophysical object known as a quasar, shines with the luminosity of 63 trillion suns as gas falling into a supermassive black holes compresses, heats up and radiates brightly. It is farther from Earth than any other known quasar—so distant that its light, emitted 13 billion years ago, is only now reaching Earth. Because of its extreme luminosity and record-setting distance, the quasar offers a unique opportunity to study the conditions of the universe as it underwent an important transition early in cosmic history.

By the time the universe was one billion years old, the once-neutral hydrogen gas atoms in between galaxies had been almost completely stripped of their electrons (ionized) by the glow of the first massive stars. But the full timeline of that process, known as re-ionization because it separated protons and electrons, as they had been in the first 380,000 years post–big bang, is somewhat uncertain. Quasars, with their tremendous intrinsic brightness, should make for excellent markers of the re-ionization process, acting as flashlights to illuminate the intergalactic medium. But quasar hunters working with optical telescopes had only been able to see back as far as 870 million years after the big bang, when the intergalactic medium’s transition from neutral to ionized was almost complete. (The universe is now 13.75 billion years old.) Beyond that point, a quasar’s light has been so stretched, or redshifted, by cosmic expansion that it no longer falls in the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum but rather in the longer-wavelength infrared.

– More…

Who loves the hacktivists?

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The oft-repeated aphorism “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” could easily be applied to the world of computer hacking.

Just as spray-painted graffiti can represent either a mindless act or a political statement, the take-down of websites and theft of user information means different things to different people.

The subjective nature of what these shadowy troublemakers get up to is exemplified by the use of the term “hacktivist”.

Anonymous and Lulz Security – two of the highest profile groups at work today – sail under this flag.

“There has always been a streak within hackerdom of ideology mixed with technology,” says Peter Sommer, author of the seminal 1980s text The Hacker’s Handbook.

The hacker, explains Mr Sommer, is distinct from the cyber-criminal, whose motivations are generally larceny and whose relationship with technology is akin to the housebreaker’s relationship to the jemmy – it is a tool of the trade.

Hackers are interested in the mechanism of attack as much as they are in the target.

“One strong element in hacking is seeing how things work. Here is a technology, can I make it do something else?” says Mr Sommer.

That love of technological innovation, and the internet in particular, gives rise to a philosophy.

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LulzSec hits Brazilian websites

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

– and the beat goes on…

– dennis

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The websites of the Brazilian government and President have fallen victim to hacker group Lulz Security.

In a Twitter posting, LulzSec said “Tango Down” and linked to the two sites.

Both are thought to have been taken offline by distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS).

LulzSec recently signalled its intent to target the systems of governments and associated organisations around the world.

In the past month, it has attacked the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, the US Senate, Sony, and the broadcaster PBS, as well as a number of games companies.

DDoS attacks are regarded more as malicious activity than hacking, because the sites’ computer systems are not broken into.

Instead, they are deliberately overloading with traffic, such as communication requests or so-called ‘e-mail bombs’.

The group tweeted “Our Brazilian unit is making progress. Well done @LulzSecBrazil, brothers!” shortly after the two sites went down.

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Man Robs Bank…for Health Care?

Friday, June 24th, 2011

– Healthcare in the US.  Almost an oxymoron at times.

– Some friends here in NZ are thinking of trips to the US and they are looking into healthcare insurance they can buy here to protect them in the US.  Because if you get sick in the US without insurance – God help you.

– So prices were discussed and I had to reflect how those prices compared with what I paid for healthcare in the US.

– For seven or eight New Zealand dollars a day, you can buy travel insurance here in NZ that will cover you in the US.   That’s medical insurance AND travel insurance all wrapped up in one package.

– And, get this:   If you get seriously sick in the US, this NZ insurance will put you on a plane and fly you back to NZ to have you treated here – all on the insurance company’s dime!

– When I was still in the US, my ex and I paid approximately $900 US dollars a month for our healthcare insurance.   That’s $450 each.  And, we each had a $2500 per year deductible on this policy.  So, we had to spend the first $2500 each year out of our pocket before the insurance kicked in and then, after that, it paid 80%.

– $450 per month works out to $15 US dollars per day.  But, if you also calculate in the $2500 deductible each, that’s another  $208 US dollars a month so your insurance is really costing you $450 + $208 = $658 per month for 80% coverage.   That’s $21.93 a day !!!

– Compare that with the seven or eight dollars a day I’ll pay a New Zealand insurance company to cover me in the US – and you get the idea, yes?

– Here’s a story for you now to put the cherry square on top of this sweet little story for you:

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Having already set his affairs in order, James Verone calmly walked into an RBC bank in North Carolina and committed his first crime in his 59 years on this planet. Verone handed the teller a note that read “This is a bank robbery. Please only give me one dollar,” took the dollar from the terrified clerk, and sat down on a couch in the bank’s lobby.

“‘I’ll be sitting right over there in the chair waiting for the police,” Verone told the bank teller. And wait he did. Police arrived moments later and apprehended him, hauling him off to the jail cell he so desperately wanted to enter.

No, James Verone isn’t crazy. He isn’t a career criminal. He didn’t rob the bank to get drugs or booze. He didn’t do it to get attention or on a lark. James Verone walked into that bank and committed a felony because going to jail was the only way he could receive the health care he needed to survive.

Verone is one man, but he could really be any one of us. He’s 59 and well past the point of finding a new career. He was laid off from his 17-year job and, with unemployment hardly a survivable wage, took the first job that came his way. He developed a growth on his chest – the sort of medical condition that could be life-threatening – and earned two ruptured disks in his back, along with problems with his left foot.

After depleting his life savings and realizing he had, literally, nowhere else to turn, Verone committed the crime, hoping he could get the medical care that he so desperately needs.

This is what America has come to? Otherwise honest folks, with no where to turn in life, have to resort to fake-robbing a bank with the hopes they’ll be arrested so they can receive medical care?

– More…