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.

Kelihos Botnet Resurfaces With New Security Measures

Last September, Microsoft and the Kaspersky Labs claimed a big win on the Kelihos botnet, when they took control of the infected computers. Kelihos was sending 4 billion spam messages a day, and it covers all kinds of spam including pharmaceuticals and stocks. Researchers devised an interesting mechanism to direct all the infected computers to communicate with a “sinkhole” or a computer they controlled. In spite of these stringent measures, Kelihos has started showing its face again, and very soon, its owners might regain control.

Not only has Kelihos started showing back on the radar, it is using new encryption techniques to hide its communications. A researcher at Kaspersky has also noted that two different RSA keys are being used; indicating that there might be two different groups controlling Kelihos.

Although researchers can install updates or clean up the infected computers, it is against the law in many geographical regions. A few days ago, Microsoft named Andrey N. Sabelnikov, a Russian citizen, guilty of running Kelihos. However, Russia does not allow extradition of its citizen, and he cannot be brought to a trial. Kaspersky Securelist investigated into the matter, revealing some interesting facts, like

Our investigation revealed that the new version appeared as early as September 28, right after Microsoft and Kaspersky Lab announced the neutralization of the original Hlux/Kelihos botnet.

Clearly, shutting down the Kelihos botnet will be a big challenge, and it will be interesting to see how far Microsoft and Kaspersky go in this case.

French Court Rules Against Google Maps for Unfair Competition

Google Maps is a wonderful worldwide mapping service. It provides excellent geographical details, and all its features are available for free, if you are a direct consumer of their mapping product, Google Maps. Google Maps also has an API for all of its mapping features like directions, traffic information and place information. However, Google has recently started charging developers for its API, and this has put it in a controversial position.

google-maps

Bottin Cartographers is a provider of mapping services to many French companies, and it has been in this business for two decades. Bottin Cartographers accused Google Maps two years ago of killing competition, by offering a competitive service for free. Their argument was that Google Maps would drive out other players in this field, and then, once it captures the market with its free product, it will start charging its users. Finally, the court has ruled in favor of Bottin Cartographers, and Google has to pay a fine of 515,000 euros.

While Bottin Cartographers is only a provider of mapping services, Google has both a free Map service, and a map API for use by developers and other mapping services. However, it has recently started charging higher for its API, which gives meaning to Bottin Cartographers’ worries.

Google’s decision to increase charges for its API usage has also upset many developers, and services that used Google Maps. They are looking for Google Maps API alternatives, or considering building their own maps now.

Credit Suisse Gets in Trouble for Manipulating IT Systems to Hide Losses

Credit Suisse is a Swiss multinational financial company with operations in more than 50 countries. Over the last three years, it has constantly been in news for controversies of money laundering, fraudulent banking and tax evasion. This time, Credit Suisse has come under the radar of the FBI again, when a four-year-old case is seeing some development. Credit Suisse has been found guilty of fabricating bank records to hide its losses. This case is of special interest to the feds, as the hidden losses amount to half a billion dollar. Nonetheless, it is of special interest to IT professionals, because it involves tampering of data by back-office employees.

Here the fault is of two employees at Credit Suisse, who circumvented a mandatory real-time reporting system, and instead, entered falsified and manual, profit and loss figures. However, the profit and loss figures did not match the product’s business, as its value had collapsed. Computer World reports this situation, saying,

The traders, David Higgs, 42, and Salmaan Siddiqui, 36, pleaded guilty to attempting to manipulate around $3 billion in subprime mortgage-backed securities on order to reduce how bad losses looked. A large amount of the alleged activities took place in Credit Suisse’s London offices in Canary Wharf, as well as in New York.

This raises serious concern on IT practices in companies that handle critical back-office jobs. Fabricating data can disrupt the balance of cash flow across multiple channels, causing a gridlock like situation. However, an equally big concern here is that of ethics. Is it right for managers to ask employees to manipulate system data, and what should an ethical employee do to walk out of such a situation without repercussions? Do not forget to read this Stack Exchange page for some expert advice.

This Sunday, Go to the Most Secure Super Bowl Ever

The Super Bowl is one of the largest sporting events in the US. This Sunday, the Super Bowl will take the Internet by storm once again, and companies will compete head on to put up their best advertisement. However, what goes on behind the scene in such mega events, go unnoticed when there are $116,666 per second worth of advertisements running to fill up the gaps.

The Super Bowl sees tightly integrated security measures. However, for the coming Super Bowl on Sunday, security has been upped considerably, and it is believed that this is the most secure Super Bowl to have happened ever! Super Bowl is already a National Special Security Event, and this video demonstrates the security measures in place, at this Super Bowl, 2012.

The technologies used by the department of Homeland Security, for this Super Bowl include, but are not limited to Mobile Gamma-ray Vehicle Scanners (can look through six inches of steel), Mobile command Center and non-exploding manhole covers. The Department of Homeland Security has built an $18 million Regional Operations Center over 76,000 square foot at Indianapolis, which will co-ordinate all federal agencies involved in the Super Bowl. Besides the mega-command center, there is another million-dollar mobile command center, which has been built by Verizon.

In addition to these measures, they have also set up a surveillance network of cameras, which can be accessed through a web address. Cameras will also be deployed on helicopters and moving vehicles.

With every passing year, the Super Bowl gets bigger and this upped security brings out the best in all law enforcement agencies. Enjoy a safe Super Bowl, this Sunday.

Wayland is Heading Towards its First Stable Release

If you have not heard of Wayland until today, it is because Wayland has not had any public release of their display protocol. Wayland has been available at its Git repository for anyone to try it out, though finally, it will get the public release of its first version 1.0, after four years of development.

Wayland has been of special interest for many Linux enthusiasts, as it is a perfect replacement for the X Window System. The Wikipedia article on Wayland explains it in simpler language.

Wayland provides a method for compositing window managers to communicate directly with applications and to communicate directly with video and input hardware. Applications render graphics to their own buffers, and the window manager becomes the display server, compositing those buffers to form the on-screen display of application windows. This is a simpler and more efficient approach than using a compositing window manager with the X Window System.

Wayland will provide an excellent alternative for those who loath the X Window System. Fedora and Ubuntu are the two major Linux distros, which have always been interested in Wayland, and they will replace X with Wayland at the first chance. The Tizen project is also looking forward to using Wayland.


Kristian Høgsberg is the founder of Wayland, which is released under the MIT license. You can read this interview of Kristian Høgsberg for this coming FOSDEM. Wayland will be announced and released at this FOSDEM 2012, to be held in a few days.

Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and Microsoft Start Battle Against Email Spam

One of the biggest problems that the Internet has faced for years, and is facing still, is spam. It is estimated that more than 90% of the total Internet traffic is email spam. The figure has come down considerably, after Microsoft hunted for and took down a number of botnets. Nonetheless, the volume of spam is still high enough, that it is a matter of concern.

Spam is so popular and widespread, there are businesses based on spam, which thrive on the naiveness of the casual Internet surfer. Most of these spammers gather personal data or credentials, using phishing attacks.

This time, all tech giants, namely Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, PayPal, Facebook and LinkedIn are going after spammers. They have decided to verify if the email sender is indeed the actual sender. Ars Technica writes on this, claiming that SMTP is too old to, and the concept of emails has become complicated since its birth.

Although methods like SPF and DKIM  have been used in email phishing protection already, they have their limitations. Instead, these tech giants are working on a new protection scheme called DMARC.

As with SPF and DKIM, DMARC depends on storing extra information about the sender in DNS. This information tells receiving mail servers how to handle messages that fail the SPF or DKIM tests, and how critical the two tests are. The sender can tell recipient servers to reject messages that fail SPF and DKIM outright, to quarantine them somehow (for example, putting them into a spam folder), or to accept the mail normally and send a report of the failure back to the sender.

As DMARC stores extra information about the sender, it has to record all the senders, to function effectively. This makes a global rollout compulsory for DMARC to be effective in fighting spam. In the next few months, we will see how the Internet community receives DMARC and whether it is effective against spam.

Firefox 10 Brings Major Behind the Scene Changes with Extended Support

Mozilla has recently announced the latest release of its browser, Firefox version 10. Although this release of Firefox does not sport many evident changes, it is Mozilla’s flagship browser for the year 2012. Mozilla has planned an “Extended Support” feature to prevent the rapid release cycle from affecting developers. Finally, Firefox 10 is the first Firefox version to get this feature, and it will live through 2012.

Changes and Improvements

Detailed information on changes in Firefox 10 can be found at the Firefox 10 Release Notes page. Though, some of the evident changes are the disabled forward button for pages where there has not been any backward navigation, support for full-screen API allowing application to run in full-screen, and a number of bug fixes. Moreover, Add-on compatibility has been taken care of, extensively.

Firefox 10 is the first “Extended Support” version of Firefox, ensuring it will get support and security patches for the next nine release cycles. The main aim of the Extended Support Release (ESR) is,

The shift to a new release process has been difficult for organizations that deploy Firefox to their users in a managed environment. We’ve heard 2 primary concerns:

  1. The release schedule doesn’t allow sufficient time for the organizations and their vendors to certify new releases of the products
  2. The associated end-of-life policy exposes them to considerable security risk if they remain on a non-current version past Firefox 3.6.

More about ESR can be found at this ESR proposal page. This Extended Support Release will be developed parallel to the regular release cycle of six weeks, which Firefox adopted as part of its rapid release strategy, last year.

If you are on the release channel already, your Firefox will be updated to version 10. Alternatively, you can download Firefox 10 at this page.

Finally, Mozilla Thinks of Redesigning the Firefox Home page and New Tab Page

A year ago, Mozilla revamped the development process of Firefox. They started the year with version 4 of Firefox, and released Firefox 9 by the end of the year. This was a giant leap for Firefox, and the improvements in speed and usability are evident in version 9. However, some critical things that matter for the user experience have remained unchanged, like the “New tab” and Home page on Firefox. Finally, after improving performance drastically, Firefox has started focusing on user experience, and the changes are beginning to show in the experimental channel of Firefox, named Aurora.

firefox-new-home

The New Tab page on Firefox is similar to the new tab page of Chrome, where it will showcase your most visited websites in a Speed-dial like interface. This puts your most visited websites in a 3×3 grid where you can drag and re-position the tiles. Therefore, the New Tab page can show your nine most visited websites. However, the new tab is still not as feature-rich as Firefox New Tab King extension we talked about, two years ago.

firefox-new-home

Firefox has to get innovative about these features, if they want to stay ahead of the competition. Right now, it seems like these features are rip-offs of Chrome’s new tab, and Safari’s Home Tab. After seeing these user-experience changes, all I can say is, “better late than never”!

Although these changes were expected in Firefox 12, Mozilla has pushed the release of these new features to Firefox 13. The release date for Firefox 12 is April 24, and Firefox 13 will be released in May. However, you can try these new features before the release, by getting one of the Firefox UX Nightly builds.

(Images via: Extremetech)

Google+ Finally Available for Teens, with Strict Privacy Controls and Guidelines

Google+ has restricted its usage to those above 18 years of age, since its launch last year. However, in a new development, Google has announced that going further, it will allow teenagers to create a profile on their social network. Besides opening up to teenagers, Google+ also introduced a new set of privacy policies and safety information to ensure an enjoyable Google+ experience for them.

Teenagers on Google+ can only be contacted by people in their immediate circles. They will also be warned every time they post a public post, and these are just some safety features for teenagers on Google+. While announcing Google+ for teenagers, Bradley Horowitz says,

Teens and young adults are the most active Internet users on the planet [1]. And surprise, surprise: they’re human beings who enjoy spending time with friends and family. Put these two things together and it’s clear that teens will increasingly connect online. Unfortunately, online sharing is still second-rate for this age group.

With Google+, we want to help teens build meaningful connections online. We also want to provide features that foster safety alongside self-expression. Today we’re doing both, for everyone who’s old enough for a Google Account (13+ in most countries [2]).

Teenager profiles on Google+ will enjoy special safety features when it comes to content sharing, and hangouts. This makes Google+ ideal for young adults, who face numerous problems like bullying and stalking online. Do not forget to read the Google+ teen safety guide and the updated pages at Google+ Safety Center.

KDE Enthusiast, Aaron Seigo, Builds Spark, the First Tablet with Plasma Active Pre-installed

Apple’s iPad has dominated the tablet market for quite a few years now. Nonetheless, many Android tablets have taken a shot at the iPad, and according to recent stats, they are succeeding. The tablet space is finally seeing some fair competition, now that Android tablets have captured 20% of the tablet market. Now, a new player has entered the tablet space. Aaron Seigo has revealed a new tablet called Spark, based on the KDE Plasma Active interface.

The biggest complain that open-source advocates have against Android, is that all the Android development done by handset manufacturers happens behind closed doors. This goes against the true philosophy of Open Source. This Plasma Active based tablet, developed by Aaron Seigo and team, aims to change this scenario. This tablet will be unlocked, and will sport a Linux stack, making it open in every possible form. The hardware specs of Spark are given as

The hardware is modest but compelling: 1 GHz AMLogic ARM processor, Mali-400 GPU, 512 MB RAM, 4GB internal storage plus SD card slot, a 7″ capacitive multi-touch screen and wifi connectivity.

Moreover, the price of the tablet is 200 euros or a decent $260, which is acceptable for the features it has to offer. The Spark tablet has big ambitions for the future.

The people who get to use these tablets will have in their hands a device that is more than an application bucket that sees them as a consumer. They will have a device that places value on who they are and what they are doing. This lies at the heart of Activities in Plasma Active and the open software stack will drive that trend further.

Let us see if it is able to capture the interest of the regular tablet consumer and the open source enthusiast.

Victoria Nigar, a top Google+ Profile in 42,550+ Circles is Apparently a Fake

Google+ has enforced a strict policy, when it comes to names. Google has made it mandatory that all Google+ users must compulsorily use their real names in Google+. Details on name policy can be found on this page. As with any other social network, Google+ was also facing problems of fake celebrity accounts, and they addressed it conventionally with the verified account feature. However, these measures were not enough to keep fakers at bay.

Recently, a Google+ profile has been discovered, which easily features among the top 1000 Google+ accounts worldwide, but is actually a fake account. The Google+ account of Victoria Nigar has attracted a lot of attention lately. She is in over 42,550 circles, and is ranked 545 among top Google+ users in the world, #10 in Canada. Clearly, she has a huge following, but the people who follow her looking at her profile have not the slightest clue that its a fake profile.

Whoever owns this profile is in violation of one of the Google+ account terms.

Don’t pretend to be someone else.
Impersonation is a serious issue. Pretending to be someone else could cause your profile to be deleted. If someone is pretending to be you, go to their profile and click Report this profile.

This graph at Circle Count shows the growth of Victoria’s circles over time.

Even the display picture on her Google+ profile is a fake, and is of Susan Coffey, who happens to be a model.

This profile has been playing it smart, and has managed to stay one of the top Google+ profiles. However, what gave her away was probably her “About” page, which has the word “Google” written in every field. So, she has worked at Google for 10+ years from 2000, her bragging right is “Google”, her occupation is “Google” and even the “other name” field on her profile says Google.

If you visit her profile recently, you will see that the employment details have been taken down. Even Louis Gray, the famous Google+ evangelist fell for this fake profile, and shared her profile as part of one of his circles.

This is easily the biggest con on Google+ until now, and it has left everyone clueless with the only hint being, the first few tweets from the account were in Russian, whereas she claims to have lived only in California and San Francisco.

What is ACTA and How It Will Affect You

The Internet has seen a rapid growth in information-flow over the last decade. Search, location based services and online knowledge bases have worked collectively towards creating a knowledgeable global society, which is well connected through this wonderful communication medium. The Internet is the largest network in the world, and the best thing about the Internet is that it has no formal owner or operating boundaries. For this reason, it has always attracted censorship laws that regulate the content flowing through it. This censorship gives legal control, and in a way, would give ownership to the regulating authority!

Over the last few months, SOPA and PIPA have been trying to take control of the Internet. Although they were finally averted with mass protests, it must be noted that SOPA and PIPA were not the only bills threatening the Internet and its user-generated content.

What is ACTA?

If SOPA was a speck of dust, ACTA is the real sandstorm here. ACTA stands for Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement and covers many other verticals, beside online content. Although the European Commission has some assurances and good-looking points for ACTA up on its website, it will definitely create upheaval in the free-speech world.

Twitter Tweaks Censorship Rules to Enter New Countries

A year ago, on this very day, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone from Twitter wrote a detailed post on their blog, outlining their efforts with transparency, censorship of Tweets and keeping the flow of tweets alive. The dramatic headline was “The Tweets must flow”, and it raised some valid concerns regarding the Twitter platform and the content that people share on it.

An excerpt from the page reads,

Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely and preserve their ability to contest having their private information revealed. While we may need to release information as required by law, we try to notify Twitter users before handing over their information whenever we can so they have a fair chance to fight the request if they so choose.

After an year, today, the Twitter blog has posted another article titled “The Tweets still must flow” and this time, they have announced an improvement to their implementation of censorship. Until now, all geopolitical tweets, which were banned, were removed entirely from the Twitter account of a user. However, starting this year, Twitter has an innovative plan to remove a tweet only from the geographical region that considers it sensitive. Additionally, the user will be notified whenever some content undergoes this partial-censorship on Twitter.

This new policy will help Twitter enter new geographical regions, which have stringent laws regarding free speech. It will also safeguard a user from strict and harsh free-speech laws within some countries. However, it might end up diminishing the user’s accountability, which again will be an excuse for Governments to raise the bar on their version of censorship.

Linux Mint Team Releases the First Stable Version of Cinnamon

Linux Mint has been trying to move away from Gnome 3 and did not even consider Unity as an option, when it comes to the desktop environment. About a month ago, we came to know that Clement Lefebvre at Linux Mint is trying to create a custom desktop environment for Linux Mint, called Cinnamon. The latest word is that the first version of Cinnamon has been released officially.
linux-mint-logo

Linux Mint has made earlier attempts at a decent desktop environment by improving on Gnome 3. They created Mint Gnome Shell Extension (MGSE), and it was shipped with Linux Mint 12. However, Clement was not satisfied with MGSE, and wrote on the Linux Mint forum saying:

I am not going to argue whether Gnome Shell is a good or a bad desktop. It’s just not what we’re looking for. The user experience the Gnome team is trying to create isn’t the one we’re interested in providing to our users. There are core features and components we absolutely need, and because they are not there in Gnome Shell, we had to add them using extensions with MGSE.

Thus came Cinnamon version 1.2, the first stable release on Cinnamon. With this release of Cinnamon, the API and the desktop are fully stable. However, it is not the only product that the Mint team has in plan. They want to build a complete desktop-environment ecosystem with themes, applets, extensions, user ratings and comments.

Now that Cinnamon is out, it is definite that this will be the default desktop environment on Linux Mint 13. Linux Mint has overtaken Ubuntu as the most popular Linux distro, and the war is clearly between these two Debian flavors. With further development, we will see a tough competition between the HUD enabled Unity and the feature rich Cinnamon.

Google’s SPDY Invited to be a Part of HTTP 2.0 Standard

Google’s vision of a faster web just got real. SPDY is Google’s internet protocol replacement for HTTP, which has some interesting features to speed up the internet. It was revealed for the first time back in 2009, around the time I joined Techie-buzz as a staff writer. Two years later, now, Mark Nottinghamthe chairman of the HTTP working group has invited SPDY to be included in the HTTP 2.0 standard.

The Chromium blog defined SPDY as,

SPDY is at its core an application-layer protocol for transporting content over the web. It is designed specifically for minimizing latency through features such as multiplexed streams, request prioritization and HTTP header compression.

The test results were impressive, with up to 55% speed improvement, over traditional HTTP. This was tested by developing top 25 websites using SPDY and HTTP. You can read all about it at this post. SPDY is also Open Source, allowing community-based development. The primary improvements in SPDY are

  • A slash of 50% in page load time
  • Communication from server end if the client needs resources and server can provide them
  • Use of SSL as the underlying protocol, providing a secure web
  • Use of header compression
  • Allowing concurrent HTTP requests in a single TCP session

HTTP is an old protocol, and the web has improved by leaps and bounds since then. There could not have been a better time for a new application layer protocol.

The next step for Google is travelling further down the protocol stack, and it is already proposing an alternative for TCP. Besides SPDY, Google also proposed increasing the initial congestion window from three to ten, which has already been hacked by them internally as part of the TCP Slow start hack, and incorporated into their Google.com domain. If you have been wondering, this is one of the reasons why the Google.com website loads so fast.