Internet Explorer Vulnerability Causes Downloads of Firefox and Opera to Surge in Germany

One of the many vectors used by the Chinese hackers in the infamous Google Hack Attack was a previously unknown vulnerability in Internet Explorer. This prompted the BSI (German Federal Office for Security in Information Technology) to advise against using Internet Explorer till a patch is released. Latest data from major alternate browser manufacturers suggest that German users are indeed paying heed to their Government’s advice.

The advisory resulted in a significant increase in the number of downloads of Firefox as well as Opera. While Opera didn’t divulge the exact figures, Choose Opera reported that the number of Opera downloads in Germany during doubled over the weekend.

On the other hand, Firefox experienced 300,000 downloads during the recent Friday-Monday period. The red area in the graph denotes the incremental impact, i.e. the number of downloads above and beyond what is expected.

Firefox-Downloads-Increase-in-Germany
Firefox Downloads

The exploit in question affects all versions of Internet Explorer since IE 6 and can be seen in action over here. Microsoft is expected to release a patch later today to fix the vulnerability.

India’s National Security Adviser Alleges That China Tried to Hack Indian Government’s Computers

China-Tried-To-Hack-IndiaEarlier this week, Google revealed that it was the target of a highly sophisticated cyber-attack originating from China. Now, India has joined the ever expanding list of affected parties.

M. K. Narayanan – India’s National Security Adviser (NSA), has alleged that his office and other government departments were targeted on December 15. The attackers attempted to infiltrate by deploying PDF files infected with a Trojan. It is not known if it’s the same Trojan (Hydraq), which is believed to have been used in the Google Hack Attack. It is also not clear at the moment if this attack is indeed a part of Operation Aurora. However, circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the possibility. Google was also attacked in mid-December and Trojans were one of the vectors utilized by the hackers.

India’s NSA indicated that the Chinese government may be involved and said that, “People seem to be fairly sure it was the Chinese. It is difficult to find the exact source but this is the main suspicion. It seems well founded.” Although, Google didn’t directly blame the Chinese government, many experts suspected that an attack of this nature isn’t possible without government backing. The Chinese government has officially denied any role in the hacking attempts, with a foreign ministry spokeswoman stating that, “Hacking in whatever form is prohibited by law in China”.

Were Google Employees Involved in the Google Hack Attack (Operation Aurora)?

Google-Hack-Attack Google’s threat to quit China and the accompanying revelations managed to send shock waves through the intertubes. In fact its after effects are still being felt. We tried to make sense of whatever little we know about the attack in one of our earlier articles. Check it out if you wish to get caught up on what has been happening.

Reuters is claiming that the attackers were aided from the inside. According to its sources, one or more Google China employees colluded with the attackers. Local media has been reporting that, Google China employees were denied access to internal networks after January 13th, while several staff members were transferred or put on leave.

Google is still in the process of scanning its internal networks and has refused to comment. “We’re not commenting on rumor and speculation. This is an ongoing investigation, and we simply cannot comment on the details,” is the official response.

As we mentioned in our previous article, one thing which we can be certain about is that, we would continue to hear about Operation Aurora in the days to come. McAfee has already dubbed the Google Hack Attack as “a watershed moment in cyber security”. Google is already communicating with the Chinese government and the US government has also officially requested an explanation. Stay tuned to Techie Buzz to get the latest updates on the story.

How Much Does It Cost To Develop a Video Game?

Developement-Cost-Games

Creating high quality video games for modern consoles and PCs is a tough job. Churning out the latest ultra-realistic chartbuster requires hundreds of people working behind the scene for thousands of hours. So exactly, how much does it cost to develop a video game?

M2 Research analyzed the condition of the gaming industry in 2009 and found that development costs for the current generation consoles have soared. While, prior consoles had a development cost ranging between $3 and 5 million per platform, the average costs for modern consoles are around $10 million for one platform and $18-$28 million for multiple platforms.

Casual and social games obviously have a lower development cost. Development cost for most of these games (having a development cycle of 6 months) is between $30k and $300k. Mobile and iPhone games cost even less, generally in the range of $5k – $20K per title.

While chartbusters like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 raked in billions of dollars, the soaring development and production costs represent a huge risk. As a result most newcomers are focusing on being smart about choosing their target audience and ensuring a good ROI (return on investment).

Google Hack Attack (Operation Aurora): What We Know

Google-Hack-Attack-Operation-AuroraYou must have heard by now that Google was the target of a “highly sophisticated” attack originating out of China. Details about the hack attack, which has been dubbed by McAfee as Operation Aurora, have been trickling in since Google’s explosive revelation. Here is what we know so far.

The Targets

Google was not the only target. At least, 20 companies were targeted in this hack attack including, Yahoo, Adobe Systems, Juniper Networks and Rackspace Hosting.

The Goal

One of the primary objectives was to gain access to the Google accounts of human rights activists. It is also probable that Yahoo was targeted for the same reason.

The Vehicle

The attacks are notable for their complexity and sophistication. The hackers used multiple levels of encryption and took unprecedented precautions to avoid detection. An unknown exploit in Internet Explorer was utilised by the hackers to gain control of target systems. The exploit affects all versions of Internet Explorer since IE 6 and can be exploited on Windows 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista, Server 2008, Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2. You can see the exploit in action over here. Microsoft has published a security advisory and is working on a patch. In the meantime, it is recommended that you do not use Internet Explorer.

Internet Explorer was not the only vector used by the hackers. Vulnerabilities in Adobe’s Reader and Acrobat were also among the weaknesses utilised by Operation Aurora.

What’s Next?

The sophistication of the attack has led some researchers to conclude that the Chinese Government was behind the attacks. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department spokesman has stated that the US Government will formally ask China for an explanation. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already informally asked for an explanation.

We will be hearing a lot more about Operation Aurora in the days to come. One thing which is certain is that the issue won’t die quietly.

‘Google’ Word of the Decade, ‘Tweet’ Word of the Year

Google-Word-of-the-Decade Technically speaking the decade isn’t yet over. However, that hasn’t stopped the American Dialect Society from declaring that ‘google’ is the word of the decade. The American Dialect Society is a scholarly association dedicated to the study of English language in North America, which is apparently more than a century old.

Why should we bother about the findings of a society which doesn’t even know how to count years? Well, there is no real reason. Anyway, the society selected ‘tweet’ (noun, a short message sent via the Twitter.com service, and verb, the act of sending such a message) as the word of the year and google’ (a generic form of Google,meaning to search the Internet) as the word of the decade. Other nominees for the world of the decade included ‘blog’, ‘9/11′ and ‘Wi-Fi’.

‘Fail’ (a noun or interjection used when something is egregiously unsuccessful) was selected the most useful, while ‘Dracula Sneeze’ (covering one’s mouth with the crook of one’s elbow when sneezing, seen as similar to popular portrayals of the vampire Dracula, in which he hides the lower half of his face with a cape) was adjudged the most creative.

Other categories included most unnecessary, most euphemistic, most outrageous and least likely to succeed words. Go ahead and check out the full report if you like useless fun stats.

Firefox Grew 40% in 2009

Mozilla Firefox, has moved up the browser market and has set up many new records. It has taken huge market shares from Internet Explorer and the ending of 2009 has been breathtakingly profitable for the browser. The browser of choice for billions across the web has seen a growth of 40% around the last quarter 2009. All over the world, we can see varied levels of rise with Asia recording a 73% rise in Firefox users. The growth in Africa was above 80% and it is reported that most of this growth occurred recently, at the latter half of the year.

Reportedly, Firefox added 22.5 million users daily in the last four months to the browser’s user base, as against  16.4 million of the previous year. This is a marvelous growth and has proved to be beneficial for the beta release as well, which provides the developer community with more people who are ready to test the beta releases and provide feedback of their experience.

Not only this, the browser also expects a big rise in the next year as well. Firefox is a really good browser and has kept attracting more and more users from five years now, but the development over the last few days has paced up. Going by those statistics, we can expect a bright year ahead for Firefox.

Firefox 3.7 Will Be Up To 3 Times Faster

The browser war is getting really interesting. Speed and usability have assumed center stage. Firefox – the once darling of the alternate browser movement, has been finding it tough to keep up the pace. In our recent JavaScript rendering benchmarks, Firefox was blown away by Opera, Chrome and Safari, and the next major version of Firefox (Firefox 4.0) won’t be ready until next year. However, that doesn’t mean that 2010 is going to be a dull year for Firefox.

Mozilla has been busy working on Electrolysis – a project which aims to introduce multi-core optimizations in Firefox. Firefox 3.7 will include the first stages of Electrolysis. However, it won’t get full-fledged multi-process support until v4.0.

My Outsourced Brain put a pre-release build of Firefox 3.7 through the paces. The results were quite impressive. The pre-release build was about 3 times faster than 3.5.6pre and only 50% slower than Chrome. Opera 10.5 pre-alpha wasn’t included in the tests. However, in all likelihood Opera too would have trumped Firefox, as Opera 10.5 is as fast as Chrome (if not faster).

Firefox-3.7-Speed-Benchmark
(lower is better)

Firefox still has some way to go, if it wants to gain the crown of the fastest browser (at least as far as synthetic JavaScript rendering benchmarks are concerned). However, 3.7 is definitely looking promising.

Microsoft Office 2010 Editions and Pricing Revealed

We covered various aspects of Microsoft Office 2010 in the past. Microsoft Office is among the most sold software products and Office 2007 was quite well received. In fact, Office Home and Student was one of Amazon.com’s top 3 Hot Holiday Bestseller software products in 2009. Office Home and Student was also the highest selling PC software product (including games) at retail in the U.S. during the week of Black Friday 2009. Office 2010 is a reasonable improvement over Office 2007 and the beta phase has received huge amounts of interest. According to Microsoft, it is experiencing more than 40,000 downloads of Microsoft Office 2010 beta daily.

Microsoft has finally revealed the cost of various editions of Office 2010. Office 2010 will be available in 4 editions – Office Home and Student, Office Home and Business, Office Professional, and Office Professional Academic. They are priced at $149, $279, $499 and $99 respectively.

Microsoft has also been working on alternate distribution methods for Office 2010. It has partnered with major retailers and PC manufactures, as a result of which new PCs from these partners will ship with Office 2010 pre-loaded. Users will be able to unlock their copy of Office by simply purchasing product key cards. The product key cards are significantly cheaper than the boxed editions. Office Home and Student, Office Home and Business and Office Professional product key cards can be purchased for $119, $199 and $349 respectively.

Office-2010-Pricing-Editions-Comparison

Opera Software Appoints Lars Boilesen as New Chief Executive Officer

Opera-Software-New-CEO In a surprising move Opera has announced that, Las Boilsen will be replacing Jon von Tetzchner as the Chief Executing Officer. Jon von Tetzchner co-founded Opera in 1995 and has served as the CEO since. He will continue to serve Opera full time and assume the role of a strategic advisor.

Jon von Tetzchner welcomed the new CEO and stated that, “Lars Boilesen brings both a very significant industry experience and a deep understanding of Opera to the role as the company’s Chief Executive Officer. In short, Opera’s spirit runs through his veins.

Boilesen is not new to Opera. He previously worked for Opera from 2000 to 2005 as Executive Vice President, Sales. In 2005, Boilesen joined Alcatel-Lucent as CEO of the Nordics and the Baltics. Prior to assuming the role of Opera’s CEO, Boilesen served on Opera Software’s Board of Directors as Vice Chairman.

Although Opera didn’t explain what prompted the change of guard, Tetzchner stated that, “My decision to assume a new role in Opera is based on a lengthy consideration process. As outgoing Chief Executive, I leave confident in the company’s continued leadership in key markets, our strong management team, our ongoing commitment to innovation, and our robust financial foundation”.

Opera has a dominating presence on mobile devices. However, it has failed to gain mass popularity in the desktop market. It currently has more than 90 million users and employs 750 people around the world. After delivering strong results over over several quarters, Opera slumped to a surprise loss in the third quarter of 2009. Opera’s performance was below market expectations and resulted in a sharp drop in Opera’s shares. According to revenue projections, Opera would be at best able to break even in the fourth quarter.