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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Everyday cybercrime -- and what you can do about it

Published on 16 Sep 2013 | James Lyne

How do you pick up a malicious online virus, the kind of malware that snoops on your data and taps your bank account? Often, it's through simple things you do each day without thinking twice. James Lyne reminds us that it's not only the NSA that's watching us, but ever-more-sophisticated cybercriminals, who exploit both weak code and trusting human nature.



Monday, September 16, 2013

Your secret Wi-Fi password is no secret to Google

September 13, 2013 | You know that home Wi-Fi network you have? The one with the super-complicated password you came up with to keep your neighbors from jacking your connection?

Chances are, Google knows that password.

If you've ever logged on to your network with an Android device, or even if it was just a friend logging on just once, chances are Google has your password stored in their servers. In fact, it's very possible that Google knows just about every Wi-Fi password in the world.

It's not a secret, exactly, as Michael Horowitz at Computer World points out in a recent blog post. The issue has been covered by several prominent blogs, but during the current privacy backlash against tech companies, the collection of millions of Wi-Fi passwords has mostly flown under the radar.

But it's a notable issue. As Horowitz points out, an estimate 748 million Android phones will be sold in 2013 (a figure that does not include tablets). And most of these devices are backing up Wi-Fi passwords as part of their default settings.

"Many (probably most) of these Android phones and tablets are phoning home to Google, backing up Wi-Fi passwords along with other assorted settings," he writes. "And, although they have never said so directly, it is obvious that Google can read the passwords."

This has been the default setting for Wi-Fi passwords since version 2.2 of the Android operation system. It's been presented as a positive feature for users, one that makes it easier to save data and configure a new phone. But for those who don't want the feature, it can be tricky to change. Depending on which version of the Android platform you have, you either have to go to "Backup my Data" or "Backup and Reset" to do the necessary configuration.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

The next big IPO : Twitter

Twitter well-placed to exploit the future

The news of the initial public offering of Twitter Inc. is unsurprisingly doing well on the micro-blogger's platform. It is the most hotly anticipated IPO since that of its predecessor as the hot social networking platform, Facebook, in May 2012. As it stands, the announcement appears to be a clever trial balloon. It enables the pioneering micro-blogging company to test the waters for valuations, without any obligation to actually undertake an IPO in a given timeframe. What Twitter did was to use the "jumpstart our business startups" or JOBS option to file an S-1 declaration to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The S-1 merely signifies an intention to make an IPO sometime. The financials declared may be kept confidential until 21 days before the first IPO road show. In fact, Twitter was under no obligation to even declare it had filed an S-1. All that's known for sure is that Goldman Sachs is the lead underwriter, and that annual revenues are under $1 billion, since that is the cut-off for S-1 eligibility. Market estimates are that revenues are about $500-600 million. Previous venture capital offerings suggest Twitter is valued at around $11-14 billion; but it reportedly refused a 100 per cent buyout offer for $14 billion earlier this year. Silicon Valley believes that Twitter's revenues more than doubled in the last year and revenues could treble again by 2015. Its CEO, Dick Costolo, claims that Twitter makes more from mobile micro-applications, than from web advertising. This is interesting since mobile is the growth platform of the future, and Twitter appears well-placed to exploit it.

Comparisons with Facebook are inevitable. Twitter has just 200 million accounts compared to Facebook's billion-plus. And Facebook's market value at $110 billion is also many multiples more than that of Twitter. However, Twitter users match Facebook users in terms of sheer volume. People tend to tweet far more often than they update Facebook. The social media search engine, Topsy, has indexed over 425 billion tweets since 2010. The service has evolved from the simple text messages it offered when launched back in 2007. Twitter delivers multimedia content, embedded links and micro-applications. It is the latter that are reportedly generating the major mobile revenue. The platform-agnostic nature of 140-character tweets is of major importance. It means Twitter is similar in looks and functionality on mobile and the big screen, and no more difficult to use than a short messaging service or SMS. Facebook, in contrast, has struggled to generate revenues on mobile, where it offers an attenuated experience compared to the big screen. As more people go mobile, it is difficult not to imagine that the future belongs to Twitter.

The immediacy of Twitter contact and the ability to reach total strangers are revolutionary. The hashtag (#) delineating content has proved so popular that other social media companies are trying to emulate it. Twitter also triggered new paradigms in terms of political, bureaucratic and corporate brand-building and feedback since it removed the layers insulating billionaire CEOs, political leaders and bureaucrats from the common man. It has also forced media to accelerate the delivery of breaking news. Everything from the raid that killed Osama bin Laden to the Boston bombings to Tahrir Square, sundry natural disasters and communal riots hits Twitter within minutes. Adoption is growing - fastest, it appears, in the 55-64 age group - the age-cohort with the most money. Monetising any web-based service has always been a headache. Twitter seems to have put together a working business model with its combination of advertising, direct marketing reach and its micro-applications. The IPO strategy, timing, pricing and structuring will presumably depend on the feedback it gets from the S-1 announcement. Well-handled, the IPO could be more successful than Facebook's, which has so far, struggled to justify its IPO valuations.

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Monday, September 2, 2013