Category: Computers


Upgrading RAM on the new iMac is practically impossible

The electronics website iFixit on Friday downgraded the new 21.5-inch iMac’s repair score to 3 out of a possible 10, calling servicing the computer “an exercise in disappointment.”

The website urged do-it-yourselfers to look for a leftover 2011 model instead. “Hackers, tinkerers, and repairers be forewarned: Get last year’s model if you’d like to alter your machine in any way,” said Miroslav Djuric, iFixit’s chief information architect, in an email announcing the site’s teardown of the newest iMac.

Apple started selling the redesigned 21.5-inch iMac on Friday at its retail and online stores. The larger, more expensive 27-in. iMac is to ship later this month.

After disassembling the iMac, iFixit assigned the all-in-one desktop a repair score of just 3 out of 10; The 2011 version of the same-sized iMac sported a more DIY-friendly score of 7 out of 10.

The iMac’s new score is in the same low range as Apple’s 15- and 13-inch Retina-equipped MacBook Pro laptops, which earned a 1 and 2, respectively, this summer and fall. In June, iFixit called the 15-inch MacBook Pro “the least-repairable laptop we’ve taken apart.”

Explaining the iMac’s low score, iFixit cited the copious amounts of “incredibly strong” adhesive that bonds the LCD and front glass panel to the frame. Earlier iMacs fixed the display in place with magnets rather than the hard-to-dislodge glue, which is even harder to replace.

Just as damning was an Apple design decision that makes it practically impossible for users to upgrade the iMac’s RAM. The 21.5-in. iMac comes standard with 8GB of memory – and can be upgraded to 16GB – but because the RAM is buried beneath the logic board, owners must “take apart most of the iMac just to gain access,” iFixit said.

Older 21.5-inch iMacs had four external RAM slots that were easily accessed by users.

Apple mentions the impracticality of memory upgrade only in a side note hidden on the iMac’s options page. There, Apple said: “Every 21.5-inch iMac comes with 8GB of memory built into the computer. If you think you may need 16GB of memory in the future, it is important to upgrade at the time of purchase, because memory cannot be upgraded later in this model.”

The not-yet-available 27-inch iMac will continue to sport four external memory slots. Customers can boost the RAM at the time of ordering to 16GB (for an extra $200) or 32GB ($600), but those prices are exorbitant compared to third-party RAM that users install themselves. An additional 8GB of memory – which would raise the iMac’s total to 16GB – costs just $40 at Crucial.com, for example.

iFixit spotted several other changes to the iMac, including a larger, single fan rather than several smaller fans; dual microphones, likely a noise cancellation move for FaceTime video calls; and a vibration-dampening housing around the laptop-sized 2.5-in. hard disk drive.

The teardown also exposed the location where Apple places a “Fusion Drive,” the option that combines 128GB of flash storage with a standard platter-based hard drive.

The new iMacs are priced between $1,299 and $1,999 – $100 more than their precursors – and can be purchased or pre-ordered at Apple’s online and retail stores.

iFixit reduced the repair score of Apple’s iMac from 7 to 3 (out of 10), citing screen-to-chassis glue and the impracticality of upgrading RAM or swapping drives.

Source: TechWorld

New chip could lead to era of ultra-fast, powerful computing

A group of scientists have developed a quantum computer chip that could lead to ultra-fast computer processors, which would outperform those found in today’s standard electronics and smartphones.

The group, led by researchers from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Photonics, will unveil the new silicon quantum chip at the 2012 British Science Festival, which starts Tuesday.

The new silicon chips are significant because they work by manipulating light particles to perform calculations, an improvement over current chips that use electrical currents.

The new chips are also 1,000 times smaller than older chips made of glass, and could eventually be used to develop tiny hybrid processors – a mix of conventional and quantum processors — in all computers and smartphones.

The centre’s deputy director Mark Thompson said the development of the new, smaller chips means researchers can use the technology in devices that were previously not compatible with older chips.

This means new areas of science can be explored, said Thompson.

“This is very much the start of a new field of quantum-engineering, where state-of-the-art micro-chip manufacturing techniques are used to develop new quantum technologies and will eventually realize quantum computers that will help us understand the most complex scientific problems,” he said in a press release.

One way the team plans to use the new chips is to create safer communication in today’s electronic devices, by creating completely secure environments for online activities such as shopping and banking.

The new chips transmit information in a specialized quantum state that changes whenever someone tries to intercept the data. This makes it impossible for someone to grab information undetected. And because of their tiny size, the chips could eventually be installed in today’s thin smartphones, tablets and computers, protecting the devices from hackers.

Eventually the research team believes the new chip will lead to the development of a fully-functioning quantum processor — a powerful type of computer with unprecedented computing power. A quantum computing device is powerful enough to solve trillions of equations at a time.

A quantum processor could used be in a number of different applications, including the design of new materials and pharmaceuticals.

Source: Bristol University News

Google engineer finds British spyware on PCs and smartphones

Two security researchers have found new evidence that legitimate spyware sold by British firm Gamma International appears to be being used by some of the most repressive regimes in the world.

Google security engineer Morgan Marquis-Boire and Berkeley student Bill Marczak were investigating spyware found in email attachments to several Bahraini activists. In their analysis they identified the spyware infecting not only PCs but a broad range of smartphones, including iOS, Android, RIM, Symbian, and Windows Phone 7 handsets.

The spying software has the capability to monitor and report back on calls and GPS positions from mobile phones, as well as recording Skype sessions on a PC, logging keystrokes, and controlling any cameras and microphones that are installed.

They report the code appears to be FinSpy, a commercial spyware sold to countries for police criminal investigations. FinSpy was developed by the German conglomerate Gamma Group and sold via the UK subsidiary Gamma International. In a statement to Bloomberg, managing director Martin Muench denied the company had any involvement.

“As you know we don’t normally discuss our clients but given this unique situation it’s only fair to say that Gamma has never sold their products to Bahrain,” he said. “It is unlikely that it was an installed system used by one of our clients but rather that a copy of an old FinSpy demo version was made during a presentation and that this copy was modified and then used elsewhere.”

Parallel research by computer investigators at Rapid7 found command and control software servers for the FinSpy code running in Indonesia, Australia, Qatar, Ethiopia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Mongolia, Latvia, and the United Arab Emirates, with another server in the US running on Amazon’s EC2 cloud systems. Less than 24 hours after the research was published, the team noted that several of these servers were shut down.

Gamma and FinSpy gained notoriety last year when documents apparently from the company were found in the Egyptian security service headquarters when it was ransacked by protestors after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. These appear to be a proposal that the Egyptian government buy a five-month license for the software for €287,000. Again Gamma denied involvement.

But Marquis-Boire and Marczak told The New York Times that they appear to have found a link to Gamma in these latest code samples. The malware for Symbian phones uses a code certificate issued to Cyan Engineering, whose website is registered to one Johnny Geds.

The same name is listed as Gamma Group’s sales contact on the FinSpy proposal uncovered in the raid on Egypt’s security headquarters. Muench has confirmed they do employ someone of that name in sales but declined to comment further.

Commercial spyware is an increasingly lucrative racket, as El Reg has pointed out, and there’s growing evidence that Britain is one of the leading players in the market. Privacy International has formally warned the British government that it will be taking legal action on the issue and this latest research only adds weight to the issue.

Source: The Register

Valve: Agree to not sue us or lose access to Steam

Gamers beware: Valve Software, the firm behind immensely popular gaming portal Steam, wants you to waive your right to sue before you continue gathering games using its digital distribution platform. The company has amended its subscriber agreement to stipulate that by subscribing to its service, users agree to not file lawsuits against the company. Gaming giants Microsoft (MSFT), Sony (SNE) and Electronic Arts (EA) have similar policies in place, Kotaku notes.

“It’s clear to us that in some situations, class actions have real benefits to customers,” Valve said in a statement. “In far too many cases however, class actions don’t provide any real benefit to users and instead impose unnecessary expense and delay, and are often designed to benefit the class action lawyers who craft and litigate these claims.”

The statement continued, ”Class actions like these do not benefit us or our communities. We think this new dispute resolution process is faster and better for you and Valve while avoiding unnecessary costs, and that it will therefore benefit the community as a whole.”

Source: Yahoo!

Researchers Say They Took Down World’s Third-Largest Botnet

On Wednesday, computer security experts took down Grum, the world’s third-largest botnet, a cluster of infected computers used by cybercriminals to send spam to millions of people. Grum, computer security experts say, was responsible for roughly 18 percent of global spam, or 18 billion spam messages a day.

Computer security experts blocked the botnet’s command and control servers in the Netherlands and Panama on Tuesday. But later that day, Grum’s architects had already set up seven new command and control centers in Russia and Ukraine. FireEye, a computer security company based in Milpitas, Calif., said it worked with its counterparts in Russia and with SpamHaus, a British organization that tracks and blocks spam, to take down those command and control centers Wednesday morning.

The researchers said they were able to vanquish the botnet by tracing Grum back to its servers and alerting Internet service providers to shut those computers down.

Technologists have taken the lead in combating digital crime rather than waiting for law enforcement authorities to act. Earlier this year, Microsoft employees assisted federal marshals in a raid on botnet servers in Pennsylvania and Illinois. Those servers were used by criminals to run Zeus, a botnet that siphoned people’s personal information, like online bank account passwords and credit card numbers, from infected computers. Almost simultaneously, a separate group of cybersecurity researchers in San Francisco were busy eliminating another botnet, called Kelihos.b, which was used to send spam.

While computer security companies are quick to publicize botnet takedowns, their gains tend to be temporary. The blocking of Kelihos.b lasted less than a week before a modified version of the botnet started infecting computers. Microsoft’s takedown of Waledac, another spam botnet in 2010, lasted only as long as the time it took its creators to modify its architecture slightly and create a new botnet.

So what’s to say Grum’s creators will not just run their botnet from a new command and control center tomorrow?

“It’s not about creating a new server. They’d have to start an entirely new campaign and infect hundreds of thousands of new machines to get something like Grum started again,” said Atif Mushtaq, a computer security specialist at FireEye.”They’d have to build from scratch. Because of how the malware was written for Grum, when the master server is dead, the infected machines can no longer send spam or communicate with a new server.”

Source: New York Times

Half a million Mac computers ‘infected with malware

More than half a million Apple computers have been infected with the Flashback Trojan, according to a Russian anti-virus firm.

Its report claims that about 600,000 Macs have installed the malware – potentially allowing them to be hijacked and used as a “botnet”.

The firm, Dr Web, says that more than half that number are based in the US.

Apple has released a security update, but users who have not installed the patch remain exposed.

Flashback was first detected last September when anti-virus researchers flagged up software masquerading itself as a Flash Player update. Once downloaded it deactivated some of the computer’s security software.

Later versions of the malware exploited weaknesses in the Java programming language to allow the code to be installed from bogus sites without the user’s permission.

Dr Web said that once the Trojan was installed it sent a message to the intruder’s control server with a unique ID to identify the infected machine.

“By introducing the code criminals are potentially able to control the machine,” the firm’s chief executive Boris Sharov told the BBC.

“We stress the word potential as we have never seen any malicious activity since we hijacked the botnet to take it out of criminals’ hands. However, we know people create viruses to get money.

“The largest amounts of bots – based on the IP addresses we identified – are in the US, Canada, UK and Australia, so it appears to have targeted English-speaking people.”

Dr Web also notes that 274 of the infected computers it detected appeared to be located in Cupertino, California – home to Apple’s headquarters.

Java’s developer, Oracle, issued a fix to the vulnerability on 14 February, but this did not work on Macintoshes as Apple manages Java updates to its computers.

Apple released its own “security update” on Wednesday – more than eight weeks later. It can be triggered by clicking on the software update icon in the computer’s system preferences panel.

The security firm F-Secure has also posted detailed instructions about how to confirm if a machine is infected and how to remove the Trojan.

Although Apple’s system software limits the actions its computers can take without requesting their users’ permission, some security analysts suggest this latest incident highlights the fact that the machines are not invulnerable.

“People used to say that Apple computers, unlike Windows PCs, can’t ever be infected – but it’s a myth,” said Timur Tsoriev, an analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

Apple could not provide a statement at this time.

Ryan: Download Apple’s security update for the Flashback Trojan here.

Source: BBC News

Tether: Wireless tethering for only $30 per year

For those of you constantly traveling and unable to access a Wi-Fi connection for your Mac or PC, but unwilling to dish out the $360 a year that some carriers will require for native tethering, you can download Tether’s application for $15 for the first year and $30 for the years following.

While jail breaking is one option for avoiding the cost of tethering, other people may find that paying $30 per-year is worth avoiding the hassle of hacking a phone. Plus, for those of us who have a tendency to drop our phones, voiding the warranty and keep customer support and geniuses at bay is also reason enough to avoid the hack — which is why Tether is such a great service.

Initially launched in November 2011, Tether was originally accepted into Apple’s iTunes App Store. But the app was taken down only a few days later because it violated Apple’s terms. Since then, the team had been creating a workaround. And now, they’ve unveiled the latest version of Tether, built using its patent-pending technology, made possible by HTML5. This time around, the team decided to forgo the app’s submission to Apple altogether, seeing as how acceptance into the iTunes App Store was highly unlikely. Instead, Tether is entirely We-based, letting it bypass Apple’s scrutiny.

The service is available for Blackberry, iPhone and Android, and will currently work for any carrier throughout the world. But it’s a game of cat and mouse. Once the major carriers discern how to distinguish a tethered phone using HTML5 from a non-tethered phone, Tether users will run the risk of being forcibly upgraded to the carrier’s tethering plan, or risk being charged extra for the data sent while being tethered to your computer as per the carrier’s terms of service.

Using Tether isn’t too difficult as the video below will show you. You’ll need to download and install the appropriate software for your operating system, and proceed to create an ad-hoc network on your computer by entering in a password (if desired) for the auto-generated SSID. Note that if once Tether is open on your desktop, your current Wi-Fi connection will be disabled to make way for the tethered connection.

On your phone, find and select the ad-hoc network from list of available Wi-Fi. Then, using your mobile browser, you will be required to log into your paid account on tether.com/web. After logging in, you’re tethered and able to browse the Web on your computer right away.

 

Source: DigitalTrends

Video: Microsoft responds to Pwn2Own IE hack

Just moments after researchers from VUPEN used two zero-day vulnerabilities to hack into the Internet Explorer 9 browser, I caught up with Mike Reavey, senior director in the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) to get his response to the attack and some information on what happens next.

 

Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) director Mike Reavey talks about the CanSecWest Pwn2Own challenge that saw a successful exploit of two zero-day vulnerabilities in the Internet Explorer 9 browser.

Source: ZDNet

 

Microsoft removes ‘Start’ button from latest Windows 8 build

Do you like the Windows ‘Start’ button? Well, if you do, you’d better get used to it being gone in Windows 8 because it seems that Microsoft has removed it from the latest builds of the operating system.

Here’s a leaked screenshot from the near-final Windows 8 “Consumer Preview” version (build 8220) which comes to us via PCBeta.com:

Notice the absence of the traditional Start button? I’ve reached out to a few contacts who confirm to me that the button has indeed been removed and replaced with a hotspot in the corner that will duplicate the functionality offered by the old button.

The Start button was first introduced in Windows 95, and has been present in every version of Windows since.

Now here’s the real question … does Microsoft intend to permanently remove the Start button, or is this a trial balloon and Microsoft is looking to see what the feedback from users will be?

Source:  PCBeta

Symantec says hackers stole source code in 2006

Symantec Corp said a 2006 breach led to the theft of the source code to its flagship Norton security software, reversing its previous position that it had not been hacked.

The world’s biggest maker of security software had previously said that hackers stole the code from a third party, but corrected that statement on Tuesday after an investigation found that Symantec’s own networks had been infiltrated.

The unknown hackers obtained the source code, or blueprint for its software, to Norton Antivirus Corporate Edition, Norton Internet Security, Norton Utilities, Norton GoBack and pcAnywhere, Symantec spokesman Cris Paden said.

Last week, the hackers released the code to a 2006 version of Norton Utilities and have said they planned to release code to its antivirus software on Tuesday. It was not clear why the source code was being released six years after the theft.

Source code includes instructions written in computer programming languages as well as comments that engineers share to explain the design of their software. For example, a file released last week from the source code of a 2006 version of Norton Utilities included a comment that said “Make all changes in local entry, so we don’t screw up the real entry if we back up early.”

Companies typically heavily guard their source code, which is considered the crown jewels of most software makers. At some companies access is granted on an as-needed basis, with programmers allowed to view code only if it is related to the tasks they are assigned.

The reason for all the secrecy is that companies fear rivals could use the code to figure out the “secret sauce” behind their technology and that hackers could use it to plan attacks.

Paden said that the 2006 attack presented no threat to customers using the most recent versions of Symantec’s software.

“They are protected against any type of cyber attack that might materialize as a result of this code,” he said.

Yet Laura DiDio, an analyst with ITIC who helps companies evaluate security software, said that Symantec’s customers should be concerned about the potential for hackers to use the stolen source code to figure out how to defeat some of the protections in Symantec’s software.

“What we are seeing from Symantec is ‘Let’s put the best public face on this,'” she said. “Unless Symantec wrote all new code from scratch, there are going to be elements of source code in there that are still relevant today.”

Symantec said earlier this month that its own network had not been breached when the source code was taken. But Paden said on Tuesday that an investigation into the matter had revealed that the company’s networks had indeed been compromised.

“We really had to dig way back to find out that this was actually part of a source code theft,” he said. “We are still investigating exactly how it was stolen.”

Paden also said that customers of pcAnywhere, a program that facilitates remote access of PCs, may face “a slightly increased security risk” as a result of the exposure.

“Symantec is currently in the process of reaching out to our pcAnywhere customers to make them aware of the situation and to provide remediation steps to maintain the protection of their devices and information.”

Ryan: This is one of the reasons I had been telling people for years not to use Symantec programs. I knew they had been hacked because Viruses had been disabling out Norton on machines I had been fixing and I was seeing a big trend with this.

Source: Reuters / Yahoo! News

Boxee 1.5 improves user interface, is the last version for PC

Boxee has spoiled this post-Christmas week with a morsel of bittersweet news. The company has unveiled the latest version of its software for Windows, Mac and Linux. Revision 1.5 is being tested by select “early access” Boxee Box owners with a public beta scheduled in January, but PC users can download the latest build today. The update introduces various changes to the entertainment hub’s interface.

The home screen has received links to the standard menu to launch the integrated Web browser and Live TV (assuming you have the dongle), the menu now appears as an overlay with refined navigation between sections or search. It’s also easier to sort video content and find additional information about the material with an extended synopsis. Boxee says it has reduced the number of clicks required to get around.

The bad news? This will be the last update for PC users. The company has decided that dedicated set-tops will play a larger role in the future of TVs than HTPCs running a conventional desktop operating system. As such, Boxee feels the need to refocus its efforts accordingly. Free downloads of version 1.5 will be available from Boxee’s website through January, but you’ll have to rely on other mirrors after that.

“People will continue to watch a lot of video on their computer, but it is more likely to be a laptop than a home-theater PC and probably through a browser rather than downloaded software,” the developer explained. “To our computer users…thank you for all your support — we would not be where we are today without you,” it acknowledged. Many PC customers are using that fact to protest Boxee’s abandonment plan.

“If you are a current Boxee user on a computer we hope that you will enjoy 1.5 and maybe when you are ready to retire that good ol’ HTPC/Mac Mini you will decide to get a Boxee Box,” the company said. Next year will bring many additions to Boxee’s product line, including the aforementioned Live TV dongle (provides access to the free over-the-air HDTV broadcasts that launched in 2009) and, hopefully, a new set-top.

Download Boxee 1.5 for your PC here.

Ryan: I am loving Boxee on my Media Center PC.  It’s better than Netflix, and you don’t have to pay $7.99 per month to use it because it’s FREE.  You can also watch a variety of local TV Channels like CBC, CTV etc.

Source: TechSpot