Thursday, April 30, 2009

Is Your Computer Safe From the Swine Flu?

There have been numerous reports of scam artists attacking computers using the swine flu as bait. Below is the story released yesterday by the Consumer Affairs on the subject.


Watch Out For Swine Flu Scams
Con artists quick to exploit new situation
April 29, 2009

It didn’t take scammers long to latch on to the latest hot button topic to try and make a quick buck. Scams built around fears of swine flu are proliferating quickly across the Internet.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team issued an alert this week, warning.....http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2009/04/swineflu09.html

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Circulation of Fraudulent E-mail Claiming To Be From U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

A spam e-mail claiming to be from former CBP Assistant Commissioner, Thomas S. Winkowski, is currently being circulated. This attempt to defraud is the typical e-mail scam using the name and reputation of a federal government official to create an air of authenticity.

The spam e-mail indicates the CBP has stopped a Diplomat who is carrying a consignment
to be delivered to the recipient's residence. This consignment allegedly contains millions of dollars, which is revealed to be an inheritance for the e-mail recipient.

As with many other scams, this e-mail advises the recipient they will be permitted to access this inheritance once the recipient has given the sender of the e-mail their personal information.

This e-mail is a hoax. Do not respond.

The U.S. CBP does not send unsolicited e-mails. Consumers should not respond to unsolicited e-mails or click on any embedded links, as they may contain viruses or malware.

It is imperative consumers guard their personally identifiable information (PII). Examples of a person's PII include, but are not limited to: date of birth; social security number; and
bank account numbers. Providing your PII will compromise your identity.

If you have received this e-mail, or a similar e-mail, please file a complaint at www.IC3.gov.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Finjan Discovers a Network of 1.9 Million Malware-Infected Computers Controlled by Cybercriminals - Corporate and Government Computers are Included


/PRNewswire/ -- Finjan Inc., a leader in secure web gateway products and the provider of unified web security solutions for the enterprise market, today announced that Finjan's Malicious Code Research Center (MCRC) has discovered a network of 1.9 million malware-infected computers. Corporate, government and consumer computers around the world were infected by the malware.

This discovery is part of a research conducted by MCRC when investigating command and control servers operated by cybercriminals. The cybercrime server has been in use since February 2009, is hosted in the Ukraine and is controlled by a cybergang of 6 people. These cybercriminals established a vast affiliation network across the Web to successfully distribute and operate their malware install-base. They compromised computers in 77 government-owned domains (.gov) from the US, UK and various other countries.

The malware is remotely controlled by the cybercriminals, enabling them to instruct the malware to execute almost any command on the end-user computer as they see fit, such as: reading emails, copying files, recording keystrokes, sending spam, making screenshots, etc.

Since the discovery of its findings, Finjan has provided US and UK law enforcement with information about the server. Finjan has also contacted affected corporate and government agencies to let them know that they were part of the infected computer names.

"As predicted by Finjan at the end of last year, cybercriminals keep on looking for improved methods to distribute their malware and Trojans are winning the race (http://www.finjan.com/Content.aspx?id=827#SecurityTrendsReport). The sophistication of the malware and the staggering amount of infected computers proves that cybergangs are raising the bar," said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CTO of Finjan. "As big money drives today's cybercrime activities, organizations and corporations need to protect their valuable data to prevent theft by these kind of sophisticated cyberattacks."

The research also revealed that the malware is installed on computers when visiting compromised websites serving malicious code. Information found by MCRC on the command and control server includes the IP addresses of the infected computers as well as the computers' name inside corporate and government networks that are running the malware.

The global spread of infected computers in percentages is as follows:

- US: 45%

- UK: 6%

- Canada: 4%

- Germany: 4%

- France: 3%

- Other: 38%

The malware is infecting computers running the Windows XP operating
system and using the following Web browsers:

- Internet Explorer - 78%

- Firefox - 15%

- Opera - 3%

- Safari - 1%

- Other - 3%



As recommended by leading analysts, a unified Web security solution is the preferred solution for corporate and government agencies against today's cyber attacks. Finjan's Unified Secure Web Gateway (http://www.finjan.com/Content.aspx?id=190) product combines multi-layered Web security, utilizing real-time content inspection technologies, with data leakage prevention (DLP) solutions. Finjan's product also provides Web 2.0, productivity, liability and bandwidth control via URL categorization, content caching and applications control technologies on one dedicated appliance. This enables companies and governmental agencies alike to enjoy optimal multi-layered protection in real-time, with lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and higher Return on Investment (ROI).

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Acxiom Partners with Privo to Create the First “Do Not Contact” Online Registry to Protect Children’s Privacy

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Parents concerned about online privacy and the safety of their children will be able to rest easier with the launch of the Protect My Child Registry, a joint program announced yesterday by Acxiom® Corporation (NASDAQ: ACXM) and Privacy Vaults Online, Inc. (Privo). The registry was unveiled to information security professionals from around the world during the RSA Conference USA in San Francisco.

The program combines data and technology assets from both companies to make it easier for parents to control the online collection and use of children’s personal information. Acxiom is a global leader in interactive marketing services and identity management. Privo is the provider of online youth registration and parental permission management solutions that enables business compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

“As a champion of consumer privacy, Acxiom is building new capabilities to work directly with consumers and protect identities and personally identifiable information,” said Tim Christin, Acxiom senior vice president. “By partnering with Privo, we can offer a secure, scalable and cost-sensitive solution that will enable parents to control personally identifiable information associated with a minor child.”

The registry creates a “do not contact” profile for each registered child and acts as the intermediary between families and commercial websites that limit access to their site and content by users’ age. Families can associate children’s age with personal identifiers, including physical addresses, email addresses and cell phone numbers. Member websites will then be able to limit children’s access to their online properties, mobile content or Internet-based marketing.

“With the average age of frequent Internet users continuing to fall, we have a social responsibility to help drive improved online protection,” said Denise Tayloe, president and CEO of Privo. “Our partnership with Acxiom allows us to provide parents and children a safe, reliable solution for protecting personal information of underage Internet users.”

Acxiom and Privo are planning strategic partnerships with industry-leading social networks and marketing associations that may directly contact children.

The registry will be available in the 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories and Canada. It requires opt-in by all users and will include educational content for both parents and children.

The PMCR is planned to be available in the third quarter of 2009. Information about the PMCR can be viewed at www.ProtectMyChidRegistry.com.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Porter Novelli Announces Lead Sponsorship of 'Tweet To ReMIND' Social Media Campaign For U.S. Troops

/PRNewswire / -- Global public relations agency Porter Novelli today announced its lead sponsorship of Memorial Day social media fund-raising and awareness campaign Tweet to ReMIND, and issued a call for high-profile partner sponsors. The innovative project aims to raise $1.65 million for ReMIND.org, a Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF) initiative that provides critical localized resources and support for injured U.S. service members returning from war. The goal represents the 1.65 million who have been mobilized in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. Tweet to ReMIND empowers individual Twitter users to spread awareness and raise funds for ReMIND.org.

"We are proud to be the lead sponsor for Tweet to ReMIND, and we are looking to other high-profile corporations to join us and help raise awareness for this great cause," said Marian Salzman, chief marketing officer of Porter Novelli. "Through the networking power of Twitter, individual participants can take action by spreading the ReMIND.org message."

ReMIND.org and Porter Novelli ask Twitter users to register now at TweetToReMIND.org and pledge to donate $1 per tweet via PayPal or electronic check. The Tweet to ReMIND online event will take place over Memorial Day weekend (Friday, May 22, through Monday, May 25). Tweet to ReMIND's goal is to register 400,000 tweeters who will each send 5 tweets with the hashtag #tweettoremind over Memorial Day weekend. All money raised will be spent directly on local resources to help heal and reintegrate injured service members into their communities.

More than 35,000 service members have been physically wounded in these wars. It is estimated that more than 320,000 have sustained traumatic brain injuries and more than 300,000 have psychological wounds.

"ReMIND.org is excited to work with Porter Novelli on this cutting-edge campaign that allows us to expand our reach through Twitter, to continue to provide resources and support for injured service members and their families," said Lee Woodruff, co-founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Catch the Wi-Fi Express: CWNP Takes 802.11n Training to the Streets

(BUSINESS WIRE)--CWNP (Certified Wireless Network Professional), the de facto standard in Wi-Fi training and certification, is launching a six-city tour providing free seminars regarding the fundamentals of 802.11n, the most recent set of standards covering wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication. The seminars, sponsored exclusively by Meru Networks, will feature an introductory course in 802.11n taught by CWNP CTO Devin Akin, Q & A sessions and advice from technology experts currently deploying 802.11n systems.

“Our goal with the road show is to throw light on what 802.11n means in terms of performance, range and stability enhancements,” said Devin Akin, CWNP Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer. “Correct deployment is the only way business will realize the true value of ‘n,’ and that rests in the hands of those who implement the technology. We’re hoping to give attendees a jump start into gaining that needed knowledge.”

To reinforce the training delivered during the seminar, participants will take home an in-depth informational video on 802.11n created by CWNP, as well as CWNP’s new official Sybex CWNAv2 Self Study Guide.

“Our 802.11n video is a step-by-step, technical walk-through of 802.11n PHY and MAC enhancements, and an in-depth discussion of design and deployment considerations. Participants get their first classroom introduction with the seminar. The video provides an additional layer of knowledge; and we hope that with the CWNA study guide, these folks will continue on with certification,” added Akin.

“We’re excited to partner with CWNP in taking ‘n’ on the road,” said Rachna Ahlawat, Meru Vice President of Marketing. “CWNP’s reputation in providing high quality education, teaching beyond the vendor platform, is unparalleled in the industry. 802.11n is not a simple platform. We can provide the right infrastructure solutions, but it is the people who deploy them that enable our equipment to shine.”

The six-city tour schedule:

* Atlanta, GA – May 13
* Washington, DC – May 14
* Bridgewater, NJ – May 20
* Chicago, IL – May 21
* Dallas, TX – May 27
* Ft. Lauderdale, FL – May 28

Details about the tour, including registration material, can be found at http://www.cwnp.com/learning_center/road_show.php.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Insure.com Examines Insurance for Blogs and Online Gossip That Turn Ugly

/PRNewswire / -- E-mails, blogs and Web pages are fertile grounds for zinging a friend, grinding an ax or seeking revenge.

People may blog about the horrible job a contractor did on their house. A MySpace page rant could accuse a friend of salacious or illegal behavior. An embarrassing video can turn up on YouTube, much to the surprise and dismay of those filmed.

If you've been naughty online, a standard home insurance policy won't help you pay to defend against lawsuits involving libel, slander or defamation of character: If someone sues you for what you've said online, that's a "personal injury" claim. If you want your insurance company to rescue you, you'll likely need one of the following:

1. A personal injury endorsement to your home insurance policy
2. An umbrella policy that includes personal injury
3. An excess liability policy that includes personal injury


But even with a personal injury endorsement or other coverage in hand, you won't be covered for all online actions. Insurance won't pay in these cases:

-- If you've posted or published material that you knew was false.
-- For material you posted before the beginning of the policy period, or
for claims that commence after the policy period.
-- For online communications that are business-related. (But your
employer's insurance might cover you, depending on the situation.) So
if you're running a blog that's related to your profession, this may
be excluded.
-- For criminal acts.

Evaluating your potential "exposure" to a lawsuit is wise if you regularly send your thoughts over the Internet.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

CNET: Vandals blamed for phone and Internet outage

Note: One of our vendors notified us that AT&T is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the vandals. Please verify with AT&T before putting on your sleuth hat, catching the vandals and asking for your reward...

Update 2:58 p.m. PDT: This story has been updated with information about what caused the massive phone and Internet outage in Silicon Valley on Thursday. Comments from Sprint Nextel have also been added.

Vandals are to blame for the massive phone and Internet outage in Silicon Valley on Thursday, an AT&T representative has confirmed.

A story published by the San Francisco Chronicle and carried on SFGate.com first reported that police confirmed the phone and Internet outage that has left thousands of customers in the San Jose, Calif., area without phone or broadband Internet service was caused by vandals who had cut fiber-optic cables.

Police told the newspaper that four AT&T fiber-optic cables were severed shortly before 1:30 a.m. PDT along Monterey Highway north of Blossom Hill Road in South San Jose. A cable in San Carlos, Calif., owned by Sprint Nextel was also cut about two hours later, Crystal Davis, a Sprint spokeswoman confirmed.
http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-10216151-94.html

More coverage of the story:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/04/10/MNP816VTE6.DTLhttp://news.google.com/news?pz=1&ned=us&cf=all&ncl=1328166061
http://cbs5.com/crime/phone.internet.outage.2.981720.html
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Fitness Accessory for the Nintendo Wii(TM) and Wii Fit(TM)

/PRNewswire/ -- Power Play Corp has announced the launch of a new fitness accessory designed for use with the Wii(TM) and Wii Fit(TM) called Riiflex(TM). The patent-pending peripheral converts the Wii(TM) remote and Wii(TM) "nunchuck" (the alternate hand controller) into a set of dumbbells giving the users the resistance of weights while still allowing access to of all controller functions.

The Riiflex(TM) dumbbells will be initially sold in pairs with preorder pricing set to $34.95 per set of two, 2-pound weights and $39.95 per set of two, 4-pound weights. The 2-pound (1 Kilo) sets are scheduled to begin shipping summer 2009 with preorders being priority filled on a first-come first-serve basis. Announcements regarding the shipping dates of the 4-pound (2 Kilo) units are forthcoming.

Company founder and creator of the Riiflex(TM) Paul Holcomb stated, "We wanted to develop a product line of quality fitness gear that can extend the functionality of the growing number of fitness titles for the Wii(TM) and Wii Fit(TM). We believe the Wii Fit(TM) is tapping into a large market demand to make gym time feel more like play time. We are dedicated to develop products that help people meet this need."

Within 48 hours of revealing an early stage prototype to a handful of sources earlier this year, the product concept was featured on major gadget blogs and within a week was picked up by hundreds more nationally and internationally, creating an early demand for the product. Since then, the Riiflex(TM) has undergone an intense design and engineering process to ensure the final product reflects the highest standards of durability, safety and functionality.

"The Riiflex(TM) product was created to provide additional resistance for exercise games on the Wii(TM) console and is not recommended for all games. We have been in contact with game developers and look forward to future announcements regarding game titles," said Holcomb.

The product was designed as a traditional alternative for resistance bands. "Resistance bands can be convenient but they have their limitations. They typically require use of another body part to provide resistance and do not provide added weight needed for lower body exercises like lunges," stated Holcomb. "As more Wii(TM) fitness games are released that track controller movement, we feel that the Riiflex(TM) product will become a vital part of people's in-home fitness on the Wii(TM)."

Power Play Corp's mission is to develop a family of products that make exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle feel more like entertainment and less like work. The company is comprised of award-winning product designers, engineers, and professionals who are dedicated to developing products that are as innovative in function as they are in form. Power Play Corporation is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more about Riiflex at http://www.riiflex.com/.

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Reduce your carbon footprint this Earth Day and save money at the same time

Userful Corporation, the worldwide leader in high-performance, low-cost desktop virtualization, today announces a "PC" giveaway in celebration of the 39th anniversary of Earth Day. Userful is giving away a free 2-user version of their innovative software which turns one computer into up to ten with the goal of having 100,000 people download the software and share their computer before Earth Day.

In 2008 Userful's PC-sharing software saved over 40,000 tons of CO2 emissions, and is on track to save over 200,000 tons of CO2 in 2009, the equivalent of taking more than 35,000 cars off the road, or planting 50,000 acres of trees!

Desktop computers sit idle while we check our e-mail, surf the web, or type a document. Userful's PC-sharing and desktop virtualization technology leverages this excess computing power to create an environmentally efficient alternative to traditional desktop computing. Up to 10 users can work on a single computer by simply attaching extra monitors, mice and keyboards.

"On March 28th hundreds of millions of people turned off their lights for Earth Hour," says Timothy Griffin, President of Userful. "Events such as Earth Day and Earth Hour prove that a simple change worldwide can dramatically reduce global energy consumption and consequent CO2 emissions. For example the government of Brazil recently deployed over 350,000 Userful PC-sharing workstations into schools. This alone will save 200 million kWh annually, the equivalent of turning 3.7 billion lights* off for an hour. Now imagine if on Earth Day hundreds
of millions of people decided to download Userful's free PC-sharing software to share their PC. The electricity and e-waste savings of this simple change would be incredible.”

Userful PC-sharing desktops have been deployed in over 100 countries with a typical configuration of 6 workstations per computer. Reducing the number of computers in use has additional earth-friendly benefits. Electronic waste is an increasing problem globally due to the quick obsolescence of electronics. This is compounded by the fact that computer waste is high in many toxic materials such as heavy metals and flame-retardant plastics, which easily leach into ground water and bio-accumulate. Using Userful products can reduce electronic waste by up to 80%, further decreasing its environmental footprint.

Userful is the simplest, and highest performance approach to desktop virtualization and management on the market. All other PC-sharing solutions lead to sacrifices in performance and substantial administration overhead. Userful offers the features of a full PC including high performance video for less than $50 per additional seat in large deployments such as a recent 356,800 workstation deployment in Brazilian schools, and uses standard PC hardware.
Savings of up to 90% in electricity use as compared to a traditional PC-per-workstation solution are achieved thanks to Userful's revolutionary solution.

Need an extra PC around the house? In celebration of Earth Day Userful is giving away a free version of its innovative software that gives you a second computer for free! This is the perfect way to reduce line-ups for the computer as spouses, parents and children battle for a turn.

"The free two-user giveaway doubles the utility and value of your existing computer with minimal cost," says Griffin, "In fact, if you already have an extra monitor and keyboard, it's like getting a free computer. Our goal is for 100,000 people to download the software and share their computer before Earth Day.”

The free two-user licenses distributed under this promotion enable users with an extra video card (or a dual-head video card) to add an extra workstation by simply plugging in a spare monitor, USB keyboard and mouse. Thousands of users have obtained free two-user licenses and information about the promotion from http://userful.com/earth-day-free-pc.

* Based on 526kWh per PC per year for operation; 1818kWh per PC for
production; electricity generated at 1.55lbs CO2 per kWh; 11,560lbs
CO2 per car per year; 60W per light; and 8,060lbs CO2 per acre of
trees per year

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sun Dial Uses Mobile Phones to Alert Muslims to Prayer

Religious technology may seem like an oxymoron, but as more people obtain mobile phones, iPhones and other devices to help them manage their lives, it’s only natural that many of them will be using their gadgets to help them enrich their spiritual life as well. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a mobile application known as Sun Dial, which alerts Muslim users when it’s time to perform the five daily prayers known as salat. The device is currently being discussed this week at the human-computer interaction conference, CHI, in Boston.

“We have to understand religion because it’s such a central part of peoples lives,” explained Susan Wyche, doctoral candidate in the College of Computing and GVU Center at Georgia Tech.
Designing technological devices for religious use may be very different from designing devices for traditional uses in office settings.

“Efficiency and productivity tend to be driving forces when designing technology for offices, but these are not as central when designing applications for the home or religious settings. Why would you design a device that makes someone pray faster?,” said Wyche.

Wyche, along with her research team, chose to focus on Islam for this study, partially because of the religion’s popularity worldwide and partially because Muslims have historically used technology such as compasses and telescopes to help them determine the direction to face during prayer.

Working with seven focus groups, they determined that the greatest interest from the participants lay in prompting them when it was time to pray — not by using text, which some commercial applications use, but through imagery combined with audible alerts.

Sun Dial tells users that the time to pray is approaching by using an image of the sun lining up with a green circle. When the sun lines up with the circle, it’s time to pray.

“Unlike similar systems, ours relies on graphics rather than text and graphs to communicate prayer times. Users drove this choice by telling us that tracking the sun was the most religiously valued method to determine prayer times.”

Wyche and colleagues tested their application with Muslims from Georgia Tech and the greater Atlanta area for two weeks with favorable reaction. They’re currently working on implementing a few design changes such as a digital clock and a vibration alert. Eventually, they plan on making the application available for download.

“Sun Dial provided more than functionality or a prompt to the prayer times; it also contributed to users’ religious experience by reminding them they were part of a larger community. More broadly, carefully considering imagery is important when developing mobile phone applications, particularly ones that support personal and emotional activities, which may be sacred or secular.”

The research team was comprised of Associate Professor Beki Grinter, along with doctoral candidates Kelly Caine, Benjamin Davison and Michael Arteaga.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

Microsoft Begins Alliance with Georgia Electronic Design Center

Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC), the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA), the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GEcDev) and Microsoft Research announced a two-year research alliance focused on RF-DNA, a novel technology for radio-frequency identification (RFID). The alliance was kicked off at GEDC’s annual Spring Industry Review at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Under the alliance, Microsoft Research is investing $600,000 over two years. The new lab’s work, which is based on intellectual property from both partners, is providing both basic research into RFID technology and ongoing student education in the field.

“We’re extremely pleased to join Microsoft Research and our government partners to advance the growing field of RFID,” said Joy Laskar, GEDC director and Schlumberger Chair in Microelectronics in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We believe this work will result in the development of important research with strong economic potential.”

New RFID technologies allow tiny circuits, sometimes printed on paper, to enable secure sharing of product information and other data via wireless networks at low cost. This new collaborative RF-DNA research project will be designed to enable the creation of hard-to-forge certificates of authenticity by exploring the randomness of simple objects in the RF electromagnetic domain. Advances in this area of research could have a significant and positive impact on the pharmaceutical and banking industries.

The collaborative RF-DNA research is expected to lay a foundation for the use of RFID technology in cost-efficient and highly secure pharmaceutical labeling products.

“Microsoft Research understands the important role academic research plays in driving innovation and industrial advances,” said Simon Mercer, director of Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft External Research. “We are delighted to support the Georgia Electronic Design Center’s endeavors in RFID and RF-DNA research to advance not only high-end computer science, but industrial initiatives as well, ultimately helping to tackle some of world’s most challenging societal problems.”

In welcoming the Microsoft partnership, Laskar paid tribute to the support that GEDC has received from its state of Georgia partners: the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) and the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GEcDev).

"GRA has funded basic research studies at GEDC through its Market Developing Program for the past three years,” Laskar said. “That program has the specific objective of producing research that will bring new business partners to Georgia, and we’re delighted that Microsoft has joined our list of partner companies.”

In addition, he added, “the continuing support for our activities that GEDC has received from the Georgia Department of Economic Development has been key to bringing this new RF-DNA Laboratory to Georgia and in recruiting this great company to the city of Atlanta.”

Susan G. Shows, senior vice president of GRA, said her organization is gratified by the Microsoft-GEDC agreement.

“This partnership is a strong instance of the supportive effects that the current GRA-GEDC Market Developing Program is having on Georgia’s economic outlook,” Shows said. “This is the kind of innovation-driven economic development that generates high-value companies and high-wage jobs.”

Ken Stewart, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, noted that GEDC’s accomplishments are demonstrating economic pull on a national and international scale.

“In Georgia, we place a high value on our public-private partnerships,” said Stewart. “GEDC has forged a partnership and established research cooperation with Microsoft Research, as it has with some 50 other corporate and government members. These activities are proof that the success of a state’s economy is tied to effective utilization of its university intellectual property.”

Laskar and GEDC Associate Director Manos Tentzeris will be co-principal investigators on the RFID and RF-DNA research project. Work will be conducted at the new RF-DNA Laboratory, located at GEDC’s headquarters in the Technology Square Research Building at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spear Phishers

Customers of a telecommunications firm received an e-mail recently explaining a problem with their latest order. They were asked to go to the company website, via a link in the e-mail, to provide personal information—like their birthdates and Social Security numbers. But both the e-mail and the website were bogus.

It’s a real-life, classic case of “phishing”—a virtual trap set by cyber thieves that uses official-looking e-mails to lure you to fake websites and trick you into revealing your personal information.

It’s also an example of an even more mischievous type of phishing known as “spear phishing”—a rising cyber threat that you need to know about.

Instead of casting out thousands of e-mails randomly hoping a few victims will bite, spear phishers target select groups of people with something in common—they work at the same company, bank at the same financial institution, attend the same college, order merchandise from the same website, etc. The e-mails are ostensibly sent from organizations or individuals the potential victims would normally get e-mails from, making them even more deceptive.

How spear phishing works. First, criminals need some inside information on their targets to convince them the e-mails are legitimate. They often obtain it by hacking into an organization’s computer network (which is what happened in the above case) or sometimes by combing through other websites, blogs, and social networking sites.

Then, they send e-mails that look like the real thing to targeted victims, offering all sorts of urgent and legitimate-sounding explanations as to why they need your personal data.

Finally, the victims are asked to click on a link inside the e-mail that takes them to a phony but realistic-looking website, where they are asked to provide passwords, account numbers, user IDs, access codes, PINs, etc.

Criminal gain, your loss. Once criminals have your personal data, they can access your bank account, use your credit cards, and create a whole new identity using your information.

Spear phishing can also trick you into downloading malicious codes or malware after you click on a link embedded in the e-mail…an especially useful tool in crimes like economic espionage where sensitive internal communications can be accessed and trade secrets stolen. Malware can also hijack your computer, and hijacked computers can be organized into enormous networks called botnets that can be used for denial of service attacks.

How to avoid becoming a spear phishing victim. Law enforcement takes this kind of crime seriously, and we in the FBI work cyber investigations with our partners, including the U.S. Secret Service and investigative agencies within the Department of Defense. But what can you do to make sure you don’t end up a victim in one of our cases?

* Keep in mind that most companies, banks, agencies, etc., don’t request personal information via e-mail. If in doubt, give them a call (but don’t use the phone number contained in the e-mail—that’s usually phony as well).
* Use a phishing filter…many of the latest web browsers have them built in or offer them as plug-ins.
* Never follow a link to a secure site from an e-mail—always enter the URL manually.
* Don't be fooled (especially today) by the latest scams. Visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and "LooksTooGoodToBeTrue" websites for tips and information.

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