All posts by Chinmoy Kanjilal

Chinmoy Kanjilal is a FOSS enthusiast and evangelist. He is passionate about Android. Security exploits turn him on and he loves to tinker with computer networks. He rants occasionally at Techarraz.com. You can connect with him on Twitter @ckandroid.

BT.com Dumps Yahoo mail over Hacking Claims from Consumers

BT.com is getting a major makeover, and an even bigger part of this makeover is its decision to dump Yahoo! Mail for its six million customers. BT is one of the largest and the oldest telecommunication companies in the world. It has a decade old deal with Yahoo! Mail for providing mail accounts to new subscribers. However, recently, a large number of these subscribers started complaining about hacking attempts, which led to this decision. This decision by BT will have an adverse effect on Yahoo! mail service and give its CEO Marissa Mayer a bad day at work.

BT-Yahoo

BT has used Yahoo! as the default mail provider for its customers for over a decade now, but starting February this year, a number of users accounts were hacked and used to send spam mails. Although an investigation was launched into the matter in March, users continued complaining on the BT online forum.

The decision to ditch Yahoo mail is part of a bigger plan, which includes many changes and improvements in BT’s consumer offerings. BT’s Consumer Division Director, Nick Wong, has said,

The new BT.com will feature breaking and exclusive news and features from a dedicated team of journalists at the Press Association covering areas such as news, entertainment and lifestyle. With BTSport.com also launching in the summer, we’ll bring customers exclusive live sports action as well. The new BT Mail will include the features and functions such as in-built anti-virus and anti-spam applications.

Along with a super-massive email deal, Yahoo will also lose a substantial amount of traffic to its homepage, which was set to Yahoo.com for all BT subscribers by default. Now, BT will promote its own news service on their homepages. In other news, British Sky Broadcasting recently struck a deal with Yahoo! for providing email accounts to its users.

This decision by BT will force Yahoo to rethink the features it is (not) providing to its users, and how close these features are to the ones that users really want and need.

Read more at their official announcement.

Google’s Fight Against FBI’s NSL Takes an Interesting Turn

As a company, Google has always worked towards protecting the privacy rights of its users from the prying eyes of various government branches. However, at times, it is cornered pretty badly by the judiciary and this is one such case. Google has been ordered by a district court judge in California to comply with FBI’s warrantless data requests, or as they call it- a National Security Letter (NSL). The provision of this request forbids Google from disclosing the fact that such a request was made in the first place. This translates to plain and simple bullying, and the way things move in this case will lay the foundation for future secret requests by the FBI.

FBI

Declan McCullagh at CNET points out the evil in NSLs, saying,

They allow FBI officials to send secret requests to Web and telecommunications companies requesting “name, address, length of service,” and other account information about users as long as it’s relevant to a national security investigation.

Not just that, the FBI does not require a court approval for making the request, and neither is the company holding the data allowed to disclose that such a request was made. This puts the company in a perfect catch-22 situation.

However, it will be wrong to accuse the judge Susan Illston (if that name sounds familiar to you, Illston is also the presiding judge in the Sony vs. George Hotz case) of passing a biased verdict in this case. Her argument in this case was that Google went after the premises of issuing an NSL; instead of preparing a defense against the 19 NSL that were the real problem.

Illston has invited Google to try the case again. She also ruled earlier this year that NSLs are unconstitutional, and this proves that she has been quite fair in her verdict. However, the disheartening news is that Illston is stepping down form the case this July, and will not be the one passing the final verdict.

Mark Shuttleworth Closes Ubuntu Bug#1

Mark Shuttleworth has closed a long-standing Bug#1 on Launchpad. Launchpad is a project-hosting repository based on Bazaar VCS, and is used by Ubuntu developers to manage their codes and bugs. The Launchpad bug tracking system saw its first bug in August 2008, and it was more of a visionary target than a bug. It reads: “Microsoft has a majority market share”.

bug-1

The bug attracted many people towards Ubuntu, fueled discussions and played a key role in bringing together a group of people with a shared vision for the Ubuntu operating system. Today, Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distro and has a thriving developer community. The premises under which this bug was filed have changed, and it was time for the bug to be removed from Launchpad. Shuttleworth also writes a comment on the bug, saying,

Android may not be my or your first choice of Linux, but it is without doubt an open source platform that offers both practical and economic benefits to users and industry. So we have both competition, and good representation for open source, in personal computing.

Today, personal computing has moved beyond PCs, and it includes a plethora of other devices that keep us connected to the Internet 24X7. Lots of responsibilities of the PC have been offloaded to these devices and while Microsoft still has a monopoly on the PC market, in the overall computing sphere, Linux based  platforms have emerged as strong contenders leaving Microsoft far behind in the race.

The closing of the bug also helps the Ubuntu ecosystem think in retrospect, where they are headed and how they have evolved from those early days. This bug will be remembered for its significance.

CBS Twitter Accounts Compromised by Syrian Electronic Army

Last week, surprisingly fake messages started appearing out of two CBS Twitter accounts like @60minutes and @48hours. The tweets addressed sensitive issues like gun-control laws in the US and the Syrian rebellion. CBS has confirmed on its own CBS News Twitter account that this was a hack attempt and they are working with Twitter to resolve this problem.

Soon after the hack, the CBS Denver and the @60minutes accounts started spewing spam links with fake news reports. All the compromised accounts have been suspended by Twitter. The @60minutes account was claimed back by CBS, only to be hacked once again.

These hacks seem to have been carried out by the Syrian Electronic Army, which claimed responsibility on the @60minutes Twitter account after compromising it for a second time. The Syrian Electronic Army was also responsible for hacking BBC, Reuters and NPR Twitter accounts back in March this year. The Syrian conflict has spread online, and this is the first time that a rebellion is using online misinformation to spread its propaganda further.

Although the accounts are all suspended for now, All Things D managed to get a screen shot of the malicious tweets.

cbs-twitter-hack

Twitter account hacks are happening with a scary regularity, and it seems that Twitter as a platform is unable to deal with this. A powerful social media tool like Twitter should work towards introducing preventive measures against these situations, rather than jumping in and making amends only after accounts are hacked.

The British Library Plans to Archive the UK Web

Around this time back in 2010, the Library of Congress (LOC) announced on its website that it wants to archive all of Twitter’s firehose since March 2006. It was a bold decision, and since then, the LOC has amassed over 170 billion tweets. The LOC said,

As society turns to social media as a primary method of communication and creative expression, social media is supplementing, and in some cases supplanting, letters, journals, serial publications and other sources routinely collected by research libraries.

british-library

Now, the British Library has taken a similar decision and wants to archive the entire UK web. However, this effort includes websites, blogs, forums and social media sites. They have estimated a total of 4.8 million websites, and over 1 billion webpages going into the archive. The entire process will span over five months, including three month of data collection and two months of processing. This processed data will act as a vital resource for researchers from the future generation.

A similar project was undertaken in Iceland where all websites since 2004 are being archived. This is commendable work. The fact that digital content is being given a place in history by archaic organizations like these simply shows how much they are willing to evolve and get past their traditional model. However, what worries me is that the effort they are making is quite redundant. The Internet Archive has been doing exactly this for over a decade, and it would make much more sense if all these individual libraries simply collaborate with the Internet Archive and fund it properly to do their work.

(Via)

The new Patent Troll in Town — Parallel Iron

Parallel Iron was in the headlines a few years ago when its patent on Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) was marked as a matter of concern. Last year, Parallel Iron started showing its true colors, and sued many big names in the world of technology like Facebook, Amazon, LinkedIn and Oracle for using some of its patented file-systems including the HDFS file system. Parallel Iron is one of those typical opportunistic shell companies that just sit atop patents without creating anything using those patents. However, the most annoying part of this story is that Hadoop is a top level Apache project, and its development involved a number of reputed companies. The HDFS file system was developed form the Google File System, but Parallel Iron believes otherwise.

patent-troll

Parallel Iron claims that the HDFS file system was created by four innovators, who got patents for this technology, and then assigned the patents to Ring Technology Enterprises, now Parallel Iron. The lawsuit claim [link to PDF] says,

…Defendant has infringed and continues to infringe the ’388 patent in the State of Delaware, in this judicial district, and elsewhere in the United States, by, among other things, making, using, importing, offering for sale and/or selling high throughput computer data storage products and/or services covered by one or more claims of the ’388 patent. Such products and/or services include, by way of example and without limitation, those implementing GFS, which are covered by one or more claims of the ’388 patent…

Parallel Iron also sued Rackspace with its usual intent of extortion, but Rackspace is fighting back. The sad part is that a reputed internet company like Rackspace that can boast of thriving innovation is spending five times more on combating patent trolls than it used to spend in 2010. Like Rackspace, many other companies sued by patent trolls every year either succumb or incur heavy legal charges fighting worthless and prolonged court cases.

The patent system needs serious reforms, and the people at the top seriously need to realize this.

Mozilla Working with Samsung to Create a New Web-browser Engine

As a company, Mozilla has always been dedicated towards making a better web. It has a rich history, a vibrant community and strong ideologies. Mozilla has identified that the core technology behind the web-browser was designed for old computer systems. The hardware world is evolving fast, and the web-browser has not kept pace with it to make the most out of this evolution. Mozilla is planning to jump into this unexplored field, and it has Samsung by its side.

mozilla-logo

Mozilla and Samsung are working on a web-browser engine called Servo. The Servo engine will be built from scratch on modern hardware, making full use of their massively parallelism without compromising on security. This will provide for an enhanced experience on the web across devices, and the engine is being written in Rust to achieve this hardware agnosticism. Rust also has excellent concurrency features that makes it ideal for this project.

Rust and Servo are sister projects now, and will be released on Android and ARM. The primary focus here seems to be mobile devices. Rust has been in development for over two years now. It is aiming to compete with C++ and the first major version is expected at the end of this year. Samsung has contributed to the Rust project by providing an ARM backend and build-infrastructure for compiling to Android.

The web-standards in existence make it difficult for the browser to make effective use of multi-core hardware. This attempt by Firefox will attract enthusiasts and it will be developed alongside the Gecko engine.

Yahoo! Mail and Dropbox Join Hands to Solve the File Transfer Problem

The Internet is decades old, and has become an intangible force in our lives. However, it has failed to address a problem from decades ago — file transfer. Emails can be used to transfer files, but there is a size limit of 25 MB. There are file-hosting services, but they are unreliable and have speed limits and annoying popups. Currently, Dropbox is the best way to transfer files, but setting it up for the first time is a cumbersome process. There could not have been a better way to ridicule this situation than this xkcd.

file_transfer

So, how would you like the first and the last options from the above xkcd combined into one? That is exactly what Yahoo! Mail is planning to do. The Dropbox blog announces this partnership with simple reasoning,

Email attachments can be tricky: they’ve got file size limits, you can’t keep them updated, and when you add people to a thread, attachments are the first to get left behind.

The Yahoo! Mail-Dropbox integration will let Yahoo! Mail users add attachments to their mails directly from Dropbox and also save their mail attachments to Dropbox. The feature will be available globally for all Yahoo! mail users.

Yahoo! is getting serious about the one thing in which it still has a dedicated user base. Yahoo! Mail is the number #1 email service in the US, and this partnership will give Yahoo! Mail a competitive edge. While on one hand Dropbox will make more monetary benefits out of this integration, this is more of an aesthetic win for Yahoo! Mail.

Raspberry Pi Model A Finally Goes on Sale in US

After Europe and Asia, the Raspberry Pi model A finally goes on sale in the US for the promised price of $25. This is great news for DIY and hardware mod enthusiasts as the Raspberry Pi has been hacked to create wonderful things. The models on sale in Europe and elsewhere are all priced above $25 or come as a combo, which defeats the purpose of the board being a low-cost no-strings-attached device. However, in the US, Texas-based Allied Electronics has started selling the Raspberry Pi for $25 only, which is great news for hobbyists.

RaspberryPi

The $25 Model A sacrifices the ethernet port and has only one USB port. Thus, the model A needs much lesser power than the Model B. The Model A is specifically designed for enthusiasts who want to work with low-power devices without any internet connection.

The Raspberry Pi is a revolutionary single-board computer based on the BBC Microcomputer System. It has been created for an educational purpose, same as its predecessor. However, the Raspberry Pi has seen a major reboot of the hardware and architecture as compared to the BBC Micro, and it  is strictly designed to serve an educational purpose by supplementing the existing computer market and not competing with it in any way. The low cost of Raspberry Pi is a big attraction and it has also been received well by the DIY and hardware enthusiast community. This device has a bright future, and the low-cost of $25 will give it a wider audience.

Allied Electronics has declared that it will not take preorders or backorders for the Raspberry Pi. So, it will be made available as and when they have the device in their inventory. Unfortunately, their stock has run out already. Also, if you are from outside North America, consider buying the device from here.

(Via)

GNOME 3.8 Released with New Features and UI Improvements

The GNOME project has announced the release of GNOME 3.8 and according to them, it is by far the best release of GNOME. The release of GNOME 3.8 follows the release of GTK+ 3.8, which also forms the base toolkit for this desktop environment. This release of GNOME 3.8 comes six months after the release of GNOME 3.6 in accordance with the six-month release cycle of GNOME.

gnome-3-8

GNOME 3.8 brings many new awesome features and improvements to the table. There have been a number of design changes in the file manager, contacts application and the documents application. The new Activities and Applications interface makes finding applications much easier. A revamped search in Activities Overview allows applications to present search results and offers control over their order in the results list.

The web browser in GNOME 3.8 has been redesigned and renamed to ‘Web’. The browser features process isolation that prevents application-wide crashes and improves security like Google Chrome and Firefox. This has been made possible using the new WebKit2 API.

Another interesting feature of GNOME 3.8 is the Classic Mode, which provides a traditional GNOME look, keeping all the GNOME 3 features intact.

gnome-3-8-classic-mode

GNOME 3.8 also introduces new privacy settings that allow users to hide their name from the menu bar and disable history, thus allowing a greater control over the amount of data GNOME collects about its users. The look and feel has also been improved greatly and new transitions and animations have been introduced to create a smoother workflow.

gnome-3-8-look

The source code for GNOME 3.8 is available on GitHub. Compiled binaries for GNOME 3.8 will be available for individual distros very soon. Check out the release notes for more information.