Archive for March 4, 2012









While the offending pages on the German edition of Wikipedia were quickly removed once discovered, with all versions of the page permanently deleted, according to German news site Heise Online, the ease of which Wikipedia was hacked to be the source of malware has caused shockwaves around the world.

Cleverly using an article about the Blaster worm as cover, they modified the article and placed a link to a so-called ‘fix’, and urged people to download it. Of course, anyone doing so that didn’t have up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware protection would have found malware installed onto their machines, instead of malware being taken away.

To make matters worse, the German hackers then spammed the online German community, urging them to visit the Wikipedia site for information on getting rid of the W32.Blaster worm.

With Wikipedia still seen as an authoritative site, despite recent scandals, many could have easily been fooled into believing the link really did offer a download of value, instead of some nasty malware!

The ‘safe’ nature of the Wikipedia site would also have fooled many browser-based anti-phishing tools specifically designed to protect users from malicious websites.

It just goes to show, it’s getting harder to trust the sites we visit online, while emails we receive should always be suspect, even if they appear to come from a friend.

(Image: Isopix/Rex Features)

Members of Anonymous regularly band together to take down websites owned by those they don’t like, but security firm Symantec reports that a recent attack could actually have backfired, putting amateur hacktavists’ bank accounts at risk.

Anonymous uses tools such as the Low Orbit Ion Cannon or Slowloris to perform distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against its targets, with sympathetic Anons downloading the software to become part of a voluntary botnet.

In January the group decided to hit the websites of the US Department of Justice and various media companies in response to the takedown of file storage site Megaupload, providing a guide on Pastebin for those who wished to take part in the attacks. Symantec says that an attacker appears to have copied that guide and inserted their own version of the Slowloris software containing a secret Trojan that downloaded a copy of Zeus, a piece of malware often used to take control of an infected computer.

Computers infected with the malware still took part in the Anonymous DDoS attacks, but were also secretly sending online bank account and webmail logins back to the attacker. Anonymous members have tweeted links to to this fake guide nearly 500 times, referring to it as “Tools of the DDos trade” and “Idiot’s Guide to Be Anonymous.”

“Not only will supporters be breaking the law by participating in [D]DoS attacks on Anonymous hacktivism targets, but may also be at risk of having their online banking and email credentials stolen,” says Symantec. “The joining of malicious financial and identity fraud malware, Anonymous hacktivism objectives, and Anonymous supporter deception is a dangerous development for the online world.”

Chinese hackers steal Gmail passwords, targeting U.S. government officials, journalists and activists.

Contagio Gmail logins

When even the mighty Google can’t ward off cyber attacks, you know the recent hacking frenzy has reached its peak. Google announced on its official blog that hackers originating from Jinan, China amassed “hundreds” of passwords for personal Gmail accounts to change their forwarding and delegation settings. The attack targets senior U.S. government officials, Chinese political activists, officials in several Asian countries, military personnel and journalists, among others.

Google caught the campaign through its cloud-based security and abuse detection systems and has taken steps to secure accounts and notify victims of this online theft. They urge all users to employ extra security measures such as two-step authentication and strong passwords. While this attack focused solely on personal accounts, corporate Gmail accounts should be on the watch as well.

Security blog Contagio covered the story and provided a screenshot (above) contrasting the fake Gmail page that the scammers used to harvest passwords with the real sign-in.

Friday, 2 March 2012
buckyballs NASA space solid discoveredASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has detected the solid form of buckyballs in space for the first time. To form a solid particle, the buckyballs must stack together like oranges in a crate, as shown in this illustration.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

PASADENA: Solid buckyballs have been discovered in space for the first time, stacked together like oranges in a crate.

Formally named buckminsterfullerene, buckyballs are named after their resemblance to the late architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes. They are made up of 60 carbon atoms arranged into a hollow sphere, like a soccer ball.

Their unusual structure makes them ideal candidates for electrical and chemical applications on Earth, including superconducting materials, medicines, water purification and armour.

In the latest discovery, scientists using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope detected tiny specks of matter consisting of stacked buckyballs. They found the particles around a pair of stars called XX Ophiuchi, 6,500 light-years from Earth, and detected enough to fill the equivalent in volume to 10,000 Mount Everests.

“These buckyballs are stacked together to form a solid, like oranges in a crate,” said Nye Evans of Keele University in England, lead author of a paper in a recent issue of Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “The particles we detected are minuscule, far smaller than the width of a hair, but each one would contain stacks of millions of buckyballs.”

Buckyballs in space

Buckyballs were detected definitively in space for the first time by Spitzer in 2010. Spitzer later identified the molecules in a host of different cosmic environments. It even found them in staggering quantities, the equivalent in mass to 15 Earth moons, in a nearby galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud.

In all of those cases, the molecules were in the form of gas. The recent discovery of buckyballs particles means that large quantities of these molecules must be present in some stellar environments in order to link up and form solid particles. The research team was able to identify the solid form of buckyballs in the Spitzer data because they emit light in a unique way that differs from the gaseous form.

“This exciting result suggests that buckyballs are even more widespread in space than the earlier Spitzer results showed,” said Mike Werner, project scientist for Spitzer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “They may be an important form of carbon, an essential building block for life, throughout the cosmos.”

One of the smallest scales

Buckyballs have been found on Earth in various forms. They form as a gas from burning candles and exist as solids in certain types of rock, such as the mineral shungite found in Russia, and fulgurite, a glassy rock from Colorado that forms when lightning strikes the ground. In a test tube, the solids take on the form of dark, brown ‘goo’.

“The window Spitzer provides into the infrared universe has revealed beautiful structure on a cosmic scale,” said Bill Danchi, Spitzer program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In yet another surprise discovery from the mission, we’re lucky enough to see elegant structure at one of the smallest scales, teaching us about the internal architecture of existence.”

SYDNEY: Australian scientists mapping the Great Barrier Reef will broadcast their findings in partnership with Google, emulating its ‘Street View’ to spotlight the impact of climate change.

The University of Queensland’s Seaview Survey will use custom-designed cameras and diving robots to plumb never-before-seen depths of the reef off Australia’s northeast coast. It is a scientific expedition with an everyman twist, according to chief scientist for the project, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.

A special four-lensed camera, which can be held by a scuba diver swimming through and over the corals, will capture a ‘rapid visual census’ of life forms at 20 sites along the entire 2,300-km length of the reef. An estimated 50,000 panoramas, shot in 360-degree high-definition, will then be uploaded to Google’s Panoramio site for use on Google Maps and Google Earth.

The result will be a kind of undersea version of its ‘Street View’ function, which allows web users to access street scenes around the world. “By using some really nifty digital technology to create 360-degree imagery we’re essentially able to allow people to slip into the Great Barrier Reef and go for a dive as if they were coming with us,” Hoegh-Guldberg said. The expedition, which will officially depart in September, will also have a dedicated YouTube channel documenting its progress in real-time.

Great Barrier Reef’s megafauna

Hoegh-Guldberg said its primary focus would be recording the reef for later comparisons to measure the effects of climate change, as well as mapping depths unreachable by scuba divers, about which very little is known. In particular, he said the project team was interested in how deep reefs – between 30 and 100 m below sea level – were triggered to spawn, or reproduce.

Shallow reef spawning was triggered by the moon and it would be a “phenomenal discovery” if deep reefs were also found to follow the moonlight, which would likely be very dim at such depths, he added.

Another team, led by Emmy award-winning cinematographer and shark researcher Richard Fitzpatrick, will track the reef’s “charismatic megafauna” such as rays, turtles and tiger-sharks, and migratory changes due to ocean warming.

Real science and pop culture

A six-day trial of some of the robots in a deep-reef environment at the end of last year had already revealed four new coral species for Australian records and a new breed of pygmy seahorse.

The reef is the biggest in the world, comprising more than 3,000 individual reef systems and hundreds of tropical islands. It is home to 1,500 fish species and 30 types of whale, dolphin and porpoise.

Hoegh-Guldberg said the project was an exciting combination of “real science” and popular culture, adding that he hoped it would increase public awareness of the oceans and their vulnerability to climate change.
“Oceans are undergoing major change, be that our polar seas, our kelp forests, our coral reefs and so on,” he said.

First-hand experience

The Great Barrier Reef was just the first part in what was intended to be a global project, mapping coral reefs in the world’s massive oceans. “After all it’s 71% of the Earth’s surface, it’s the major habitat on the planet, we really are terrestrial organisms on a watery planet,” said Hoegh-Guldberg.

Bringing people from all over the globe a first-hand experience of the reef via Google and YouTube would hopefully jog their conscience about the issue, Hoegh-Guldberg added.

“It’s really important that we develop a methodology where we can bring the Earth’s citizens down into the oceans so that they really do understand what’s at stake and understand both the challenges and the solutions,” he said.

Hopefully you’ve all seen Batman Begins, otherwise the following explanation won’t make any sense. Remember when Morgan Freeman was showing Christian Bale around Wayne’s gadget basement or whatever it was called? And he showed him the material that Batman’s cape was made? Like, it’s flexible like any fabric, but once you run a charge through it it holds its shape? Well that same concept—a material that changes its shape until you run a charge through it—is at work here.

This computer concept, the Siafu, is aimed at people with vision problems. It’s simply a flat surface, like a keyboard without the keys. Once you run a current though the main ingredient, which is called Magneclay, it keeps the desired shape. That picture above is the best illustration of the phenomenon.

It’s designed by Jonathan Lucas. It’s also the type of innovation I applaud (as opposed to a lot of the Web 2.0 fluff I see lauded every other day).