Friday, May 18, 2007

Surfcontrol just found another spoofware that exploits Google Toolbar

Ok, boys and girls, this just hit the newswire, but it's very important news for your PC wellbeing (and yours too). Apparently Surfcontrol just found another spoofware that exploits Google Toolbar:

Scammers have set up an exact copy of the download page for Google's Toolbar plug-in in an attempt to lure users to download a Trojan backdoor.

Reported by security outfit Surfcontrol, some versions of the scam even spoof the correct Google Toolbar web address for Internet Explorer, using Google's own redirection service in an attempt to hide the real, non-Google address.

The Trojan itself--W32.Ranky.FW--is designed to turn the PC into a bot zombie, and is spread using the conventional technique of asking recipients of a spam e-mail to follow an embedded link.

According to Surfcontrol, the version detected by the company fails because of poor programming of defective compilation, but it remains a proof-of-concept in how to attack users using a simple combination of convincing elements.

Outwardly simple, the scam has a clever combination of tricks. Although using parts of established Web sites is standard in phishing scams, it is relatively unusual to go to the length of reproducing en entire page precisely, in combination with a convincingly-spoofed web address.

The fact that the spammed e-mail appears to come from Google could convince recipients to follow the link.

Assuming that a re-engineered version appears--highly likely--once infected, users will notice nothing untoward, although their PCs will have become part of a bot-controlled network.

Google has been attacked in similar way before. Last September, scammers faked the Google search page itself in order to aid the spread of a worm.

More recently, a Trojan attacked the company's adsense advertisements, replacing them, in-browser, with fake ones on any PC infected with the malware.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why We Love To Hate Our Cell Phone Operator

Tom Spring, PC World

Maybe it's a $3-a-month charge from Verizon Wireless for Roadside Assistance that you don't remember requesting. Maybe it's an $18 "upgrade fee" that Cingular Wireless neglected to mention when you bought that snazzy new Motorola Razr phone. Or maybe you're just peeved about dropped calls.

Whatever the cause, if you've had it with your cell phone company, you're not alone. Consumers are mad, and the lawsuits are flying.

Driving Discontent

According to the Better Business Bureau, cell phone companies drew 30,483 consumer complaints last year to become the top-ranked industry for grievances. The most common complaints: inaccurate bills, inadequate customer service, and deceptive contract terms. Cell phone companies were the subject of more complaints than such perennially unpopular businesses as car dealerships, hotels, retail outlets, and insurance companies, BBB statistics show.

Experts attribute the rise in customer dissatisfaction to fallout from mergers and acquisitions in the wireless industry, including the Cingular-AT&T Wireless and Sprint-Nextel mergers.

Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services for J.D. Power and Associates, says a study by the famed market research firm found that consumer satisfaction with wireless phone service providers in 2005 was down 10 percent from 2004 levels.

Below are details about some of the most common cell phone complaints, as lodged in recent lawsuits and filings to the Federal Communications Commission and the Better Business Bureau.

Roadside Assistance Rage

At least two federal class-action lawsuits have been filed over Roadside Assistance charges of $2 or $3 a month on Cingular and Verizon Wireless bills. In separate lawsuits, customers of both carriers say they never ordered the optional service, which Cingular and Verizon say will provide emergency service to auto drivers who get stranded on the side of the road.

Cingular's Roadside Assistance is an emergency insurance program for motorists that Cingular markets on behalf of Asurion Insurance Services. Should a subscriber have a flat, get locked out of their car, or run out of gas, they can call a special number on their Cingular handset and someone will come to their assistance, free of charge.

Michael Gellis sued Verizon in Oakland, California, Circuit Court, while Cingular Wireless customer Margaret Moffatt filed suit against the firm in Wayne County, Michigan, Circuit Court. Both customers say that for more than two years, without their consent, the carriers had added charges for Roadside Assistance to their monthly bills.

Both suits allege violation of state consumer protection laws, breach of contract, and "unjust enrichment." Both suits were eventually transferred to U.S. District Court in Detroit, where attorney Peter Macuga of Macuga and Liddle is representing both plaintiffs.

Cingular declined to comment on the two pending cases. However, its representatives said Cingular typically offers a free 60-day trial of the Roadside Assistance program to customers when they upgrade or change their plan. If the customer doesn't cancel the service after the trial period ends, Cingular begins adding the charges to their monthly bill.

Cingular says it never initiates the free Roadside Assistance trial without the customer's consent, whether in writing at one of the carrier's stores, verbally over the phone, or by clicking to accept a terms-of-service agreement online. "If folks have had that on their bill, and they didn't order it, obviously there is a mistake somewhere and we can correct it," says Cingular spokesperson Mark Siegel.

A Verizon Wireless press contact also said that the company doesn't add services to a customer's calling plan without consent, adding that Verizon would work to resolve disputes related to any charges. Verizon also declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Singularly Aggravating

Cingular is facing additional complaints stemming from its merger with AT&T Wireless in October 2004.

One group of customers--people with older phones that use AT&T or Cingular analog or TDMA networks--is complaining about Cingular's announced intention to charge them $5 per month for continued service. Another group--former AT&T Wireless customers who still use that company's TDMA network--is angry about what they describe as deteriorating network quality in the wake of the merger.

Both groups say Cingular is trying to force them to upgrade to more expensive phones and rate plans on the company's newer GSM/GPRS network.

Cingular says the $5 monthly fee is needed to recoup costs associated with maintaining the older networks. Currently, 4.7 million subscribers, about 8 percent of Cingular's total, use Cingular's TDMA or analog networks, Siegel says. Cingular had no comment about the alleged deterioration of service on the old AT&T TDMA network.

Forced to Switch

Yet another group of angry Cingular customers are former AT&T Wireless customers who did switch to Cingular's GSM service following the merger--and found that they not only had to buy a new phone, but had to pay an $18 transfer fee that Cingular charged them simply for switching to Cingular's GSM network. Those customers also had to pay $18 for the SIM chip that contains the phone number and other user information that is required by GSM handsets.

And switching wireless carriers to protest against Cingular was not an attractive option: People who tried to leave Cingular with time remaining on their AT&T contract were subject to an early-termination fee of $175.

In response to these complaints, Cingular in July 2005 began waiving the transfer fee for former AT&T Wireless customers who migrate to a Cingular plan. Cingular subsequently also waived the charge for its own customers who buy new phones to switch from older networks to GSM service. However, these concessions came too late to pacify some customers.

Several consumer advocacy groups headed by the Santa Monica, California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights filed a federal suit in Seattle, alleging that following its acquisition of AT&T Wireless, Cingular intentionally degraded service on legacy AT&T networks in hopes of driving AT&T's customers to Cingular's GSM network. The suit also accuses Cingular of charging AT&T customers unfair fees to make the switch.

One State's Fee Fine

Meanwhile, Cingular's business practices in California have drawn the ire of state authorities. In July, a state appeals court upheld a $12.1 million fine imposed on the carrier in 2004 by the California Public Utilities Commission. The judges agreed with CPUC regulators who said Cingular knowingly signed up more customers than its network could handle, while at the same time charging early-termination fees--sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars--to customers who cancelled their service.

The CPUC also said Cingular failed to provide customers with an adequate trial period and ordered Cingular to refund early termination fees charged to customers who cancelled their contracts between January 2000 and May 2002, refunds that could cost the company millions of dollars.

Cingular has since extended its trial period from 15 days to 30 days.

Consumer organizations such as the U.S. Public Interest Research Group have applauded California's efforts to combat unreasonable early termination fees. "Early termination fees make it easy for companies to deliver bad service," says Ed Mierzwinski, USPIRG's consumer program director. Such fees give customers little recourse if service deteriorates midway through a contract, he explains.

Fees for Phone Upgrades

Cingular's transfer fees aren't the only ancillary charges frustrating wireless customers. Leading carriers routinely charge an upgrade fee simply for switching to a new phone. Sprint Nextel charges customers $18 when they upgrade to a different handset. Cingular charges a similar upgrade fee of $18. Verizon Wireless customers who buy new handsets within 22 months of signing up for service (or of a previous handset upgrade) are subject to an upgrade fee of $20.

In posts on gripe sites such as and Planet Feedback, some customers say they were never told about these fees at the time of purchase and were surprised to see them on their phone bill, typically two months after purchase. By then, the window for cancellation of the purchase without termination fees had expired.

People are particularly aggravated to see the fee after purchasing a phone that the carrier had marketed as being "free" after rebate, or during an "instant savings" promotion that's supposed to refund the cost of the phone. These promotions are common with all the major carriers.

Sprint and Cingular officials say these fees cover service and administrative costs associated with upgrading customers to a new handset. The officials also say their sales representatives and Web sites make all fees clear to customers when they purchase a new phone.

The Biggest Gripe

Wireless industry experts including J.D. Power and Associates' Parsons say that much of the frustration experienced by Cingular, AT&T Wireless, Sprint, and Nextel customers stems from the complexities involved in merging the technologies and billing processes of huge networks.

Parsons adds that consumer expectations have risen as the cell phone industry has matured. "Today's cell phone users have zero tolerance for dropped calls," Parsons says.

However, dropped calls don't top the list of cell phone gripes. Instead, billing issues account for three times as many complaints as service quality, according to the FCC's May 2006 Quarterly Report on Informal Consumer Inquiries and Complaints.

Billing issues have prompted several state-level initiatives by consumer groups attempting to change the way wireless carriers do business.

In New York state, the AARP and other consumer groups are backing legislation that would force cell phone companies to make their bills easier to understand and allow customers to cancel service contracts without penalties. Similar initiatives are in the works in California and Minnesota.

Who Should Regulate?

These state-level campaigns underscore a larger battle over whether the federal government or the states should have the authority to regulate the cell phone industry. Wireless carriers would rather be regulated by a single federal agency (the FCC) than by the states, which are trying to gain more control over cell phone services to their residents.

In August, the cell phone industry suffered a setback when a federal court of appeals in Atlanta ruled that the FCC overstepped its authority by telling state regulators they couldn't require or prohibit line items on bills for wireless services.

The ruling means that states will be able to dictate how cell phone bills are presented to customers. The CTIA, a wireless telecommunications industry trade association, has complained that the ruling will force wireless providers to establish a different process for each state. "Complying with disparate regulatory regimes will only increase consumer costs and slow innovation," CTIA president and chief executive Steve Largent said in a statement.

But the U.S. Public Interest Group's Mierzwinski says the ruling is good news for consumers because it will give state regulators the muscle to ban deceptive cell phone billing practices.

"The states are doing a much better job these days to protect consumers than the FCC [is]," Mierzwinski says.

Nevertheless, for any cell phone customer, it pays to remember that your best strategy is not to depend on government agencies, but to police your own bill. Watch it like a hawk, read the fine print, and ask lots of questions.

�Una pantalla nueva TV del plasma de 52 pulgadas te har� feliz?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Schools crack down on cellphones

Alabama was lifting the cell phone ban for its public schools just as New York City was implementing a crackdown.

Just about every school system in the nation is facing the same conundrum, with little consensus, about how to balance a modern reality against the need to maintain order in the classroom and the hallways.

With more than half the nation's teens now carrying them, cell phones have become an appendage that many refuse to leave at home, and which many parents want them to carry at all times for emergencies and general peace of mind.

At the same time, teachers and school administrators complain of growing disruptions, from phones going off in class to improper use of text messaging and cell phone cameras.

"Electronic bullying was starting to emerge. They were text messaging threats, sending intimidating messages to each other," said Randy Clegg, superintendent for the Clinton Community School District, an Iowa community about 30 miles from Dubuque and 190 from Chicago. "We're putting sophisticated stuff in the hands of teenagers and you deal with all the typical teenage stuff."

In July, the district adopted a policy where its 4,500 students are allowed to carry a phone, but risk having it confiscated until the end of the day if they use it or it goes off during school. A second infraction requires a meeting with a parent. Since the start of the new term, about three or four phones have been confiscated, said Clegg, estimating that more than three quarters of his system's middle and high school students — and a growing number in elementary school — now carry phones.

Wireless companies view school-age children are a key source of growth in a market where the number of first-time users is fast dwindling. While many are signed on through family plans that only generate an additional $10 or $20 a month in base charges, kids often ring up extra fees for text messaging, ringtones and video games.

At last count, nearly three-quarters of the nation's population had cell phones. By contrast, 53 percent of Americans aged 12 to 17 have them, according to a recent survey by Simmons Research. That figure, which Simmons extrapolates to roughly 13.1 million teens, is up from 39 percent in late 2004 and 33 percent in 2002, suggesting the trend has begun to accelerate.

"Part of the reality is that they're going to have it," said Clegg. He noted that he too found it comforting when his daughter, now in college, had a cell to call home from extracurricular activities, including long bus trips returning well after midnight from high school band competitions.

"I don't think it's appropriate in this day and age to do an outright ban," he said. "What are you going to do, check every kid who comes into school? That's not practical."

But that's precisely what New York City has been doing with greater frequency since April, when officials decided to more rigorously enforce a 17-year-old ban on portable electronics as part of a stepped-up sweep against weapons in schools. Now police units are setting up metal detectors at different locations in the 1,400-school system each day, a move that prompted a lawsuit by a group of parents.

From late April through the end of summer school, nearly 5,350 cell phones were confiscated, or more than twice as many as during the entire school year before the random screening began, said Keith Kalb, a city spokesman. Each school is left to set its own policies for returning confiscated devices, he said.

There are other big cities that are taking a similar zero- or low-tolerance approach: Detroit, for example, also bans the devices.

Many school systems across the nation officially ban phones — often under no-gadget rules adopted in the 1980's to combat beeper-toting drug dealers — but don't enforce those policies rigidly.

That type of disconnect prompted legislative action in Alabama, where a state law predating the cell boom had made possession of a phone in school punishable by suspension or expulsion. A few years ago, a surprise search at Ramsay High School in Birmingham meant to uncover contraband also led to the confiscation of 235 cell phones, said Rep. Oliver Robinson, a state legislator serving that city.

After parents complained, Robinson introduced a bill that took three tries to pass before it became law in June. The new law leaves it to each school system to set policy, and most have moved away from an outright ban, he said.

"I didn't want the administrators to be breaking the law, because they were breaking the law by allowing phones on campus," said Robinson, adding that he sympathizes with parents who want children to have phones. "When we were growing up, I could walk six miles home and never worry about anyone bothering me. We didn't know at that time there was such a thing as a sexual predator."

Freed of Alabama's state ban, the Jefferson County Board of Education decided in August to allow phones so long as they remain stashed away.

"I can certainly see after 9/11 why people would want to be able to communicate with their children," said Pam Weed, the board's director of student services for the 40,000-student system.

Some educators take an entirely different approach, leaving it to students to police themselves. At Seattle's private Lakeside School, once attended by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates, students are free to use their phones.

"I try and remember to put it on vibrate before I go into class," said Nate Benjamin, a 17-year-old senior who's had a cell since he was 12.

Benjamin said he doesn't see cell phones abused in school. He's never seen kids using text messages or cell cameras for cheating. "The closest I've seen is kids may take a picture of the board in class" instead of taking notes, he said.

When phones do go off during class, "People roll their eyes and the teacher looks at them, like `Come on,'" said Benjamin. "There are some kids that will pick it up and maybe start talking, and kids will look at them like, `What are you doing?'"

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

MySpace may be worth $15 billion

MySpace, the social networking Web site, could be worth around $15 billion within three years, measured in terms of the value created for shareholders of parent company News Corp., a Wall Street media analyst forecast on Wednesday.

RBC Capital analyst Jordan Rohan said he had come away from a meeting with Fox Interactive, the managers of MySpace, believing that "media investors may not fully appreciate what has already been done with MySpace or what may lie ahead."

"$15 billion in a few years? It is possible," Rohan wrote in a research note to clients.

MySpace was acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $580 million less than a year ago. It now boasts more than 90 million active users.

Rohan said MySpace could demonstrate a value of between $10 billion and $20 billion within a few years. Acknowledging he was making an "audacious claim" he justified the forecast on the basis of MySpace's "raw, unprecedented user/usage growth."

He also said the site's "massive" international appeal, capacity to become "an intellectual property distribution powerhouse" and experienced management team lent credibility to his prediction.

Rohan based his view on an extrapolation of estimates for the value of Internet properties ranging from $1 billion for both MySpace rivals YouTube and Facebook to the market capitalization of $120 billion for Google Inc..

He said MySpace was currently sold out of space for video advertising. The CPM, or price per thousand ad views, on a premium show such as Fox's The Simpsons runs as high as $35-40 on MySpace, he said.

MySpace management believes its video service ranks No. 3 among U.S. Web users behind Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) and YouTube, Rohan said following the Tuesday meeting with Fox officials.

Britain is adding 25,000 MySpace member profiles per day. Australia has 2 million unique users. MySpace France began public testing three weeks ago, he noted.

MySpace is internally developing a MySpace Web application to run on mobile phones that should be launched in three to four months with a major U.S. carrier, he said.

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited

Lezioni datanti in linea