Tag Archives: web

Viruses and why they’re so profitable

PROFITABLE VIRUSES: Spyware, adware and computer worms

ORGANISED crime online has become rife over the last few years with more and more computer and Internet users falling victim to phishing and different forms of viruses and spyware. Gone are the days of hackers creating viruses for sport; we are now entering a new era where viruses are being deliberately developed and spread for potential profit – huge profit.

Image: techtips.comAntivirus software is becoming big business, not only because new viruses are constantly being created or ‘improved’ that can bypass existing antivirus software, but also because people are living in fear of getting a nasty infection and losing all their valuable data.

Many people are also scammed into purchasing antivirus or anti-spyware software by being made to believe that their pc is infected. There are many ways that any computer connected to the Internet can become infected or accessed by viruses and spyware. These are outlined below along with some easy-to-apply suggestions for protecting your digital self.

Malicious Software: Spyware & Adware

Tracking software, such as spyware and adware, work by gathering information from a computer or Internet user without their knowledge. This information is often relayed to advertisers or other interested parties, which will then spam you with adverts and false security warnings. Spyware can get on your computer as a software virus or as a result of installing a new program off the Internet.

antivirus software alertSpyware is often installed without a user’s consent – usually as a result of clicking on a dodgy pop-up window. Spyware that is specifically designed to serve advertising is known as adware, and is becoming rife in the online world. Any software that gathers information about you without your consent is an infringement of your privacy and is considered as malicious. Spyware actually forms part of an overall public concern over privacy on the Internet.

The image alongside is an example of spyware that looks like an active anti-virus solution. Such windows will often direct you to the anti-virus website in an attempt to make a sale.

The presence of spyware is typically hidden from the user and can be difficult to detect. Such software can slowly collect and leak various types of personal information, such as Internet surfing habits, most frequently-visited websites and even credit card information. Spyware is also known to change a computer’s settings, often resulting in slower connection speeds, failure to run certain programs and having your web browser’s activity redirected for potential profit.

“Unlike viruses and worms, spyware does not usually self-replicate. Like many recent viruses, however, spyware – by design – exploits infected computers for commercial gain. Typical tactics include delivery of unsolicited pop-up advertisements, theft of personal information (including financial information), monitoring of web-browsing activity for marketing purposes, and routing of HTTP requests to advertising sites.” – Wikipedia.

Computer Worms

Worms are nasty business as they can independently reproduce and spread across network connections. They can spread via email, instant messaging and file-sharing.

The spreading of worms is most prominent via infected email messages. Any form of attachment or link in an email may contain a link to an infected website. If the user clicks on the link or opens the attachment in an infected email, the worm can quickly infect your PC without you knowing.

Microsoft Outlook is renowned for spreading such emails and users should be wary of any unexpected emails they receive. Email worms are also known to harvest email addresses from an infected computer and can also construct new sender addresses, making it difficult to determine the original source of the worm.

Internet worms work by scanning the Internet for vulnerable machines (i.e. ones that are not properly protected against viruses and malicious software). An attempt will be made to connect to these machines and gain full access to them.

Chat channels are the main target for Internet worms whereby the same method of infection and spreading occurs (i.e. the sending of infected files or links to infected websites). If such links are clicked on, the worm will copy itself into a shared folder – usually under a harmless name.

Protecting your PC

At this point I could probably sell my own antivirus software to any reader that fears their computer may be at risk. This is often how antivirus companies sell their products. Some are even known to have created viruses and spyware of their own in order to justify the need for their product.

Avast logoThere is a copious amount of anti-virus and anti-spyware software available – some for free and some for a price. Generally speaking, the pricier and most popular products are better, such as Norton, NOD32 and AVG. However, there are free and equally safe options too.

Avast and Kaspersky Internet Security have both become hugely popular as they are both free and efficient. I personally use Avast5 for easy-to-use purposes. Once downloaded and installed, Avast will automatically update itself on a regular basis and keep your PC protected from new threats. However, it is also important to always be cautious when surfing in unfamiliar territory and never open an attachment which appears strange.

Related Article:
The Nasty & Profitable World of Viruses & AntiVirus Software

The Buzz around Google Wave

GOOGLE WAVE: An analysis of its untimely downfall + Google Buzz

GOOGLE announced the closure of Google Wave on their blog after much hype from loyal Google followers. There has been much buzz as to why Google Wave was a failed project, but the pivotal reasons appear to be three-fold. Excessive hype and expectations, too many features for a single web application, and at the same time, not enough unique features to differentiate Google Wave from existing services (Facebook, Twitter), all ultimately lead to its untimely downfall.

The hype involved a handful of people being invited to test Google Wave and lead to several bloggers discussing it amongst themselves. After almost a year of testing and a plethora of blog entries, a lot was obviously expected of Google’s latest brainchild. However, there were still only a handful of people that actually knew how to make use of Google Wave and in an era of short attention spans and click-happy web-users, the buzz had just about fizzled entirely upon its release.

Google Wave logoThe problem was that for the average web-user to get to grips with Google Wave required setting aside a good period of time to learn how to use it, and for many, watching a video tutorial was essential. Google’s software developers even admitted that the service “takes a little getting used to” and that even they were still learning how to use it themselves.

Once Google Wave invitees got the hang of Wave they needed more people to be using it besides themselves in order to get a proper wave going. This proved to be difficult enough in itself, but perhaps the problem was not a lack of users, but rather a lack of appeal.

What exactly is Google Wave?
“Wave’s primary feature was to let users collaborate in real time, using an in-box-like interface that resembled a mix of Google’s Gmail Web mail service, and its Docs and Spreadsheets product. Each strand of messages, which could include text, links, and photos, was called a wave. Google launched the product with an API for developers to build extra functionality in the form of extensions that users could turn on and off” – Cnet News

I would argue that Google Wave had two other inherent problems. The first being that it did not offer enough unique features – i.e. things that web-users couldn’t already perform using existing Google and other services, and secondly that it tried to achieve too much at once. There also seemed to be a lack of focus with regards to what the product would primarily be used for.

To rope people into any new web service takes time and requires baby steps if you want to get enough people on board in order for the services to be worthwhile and developed further. The web-user trend is to stick with what’s foremost familiar and secondly to make use of the tried and tested. Although Google Wave offered several easy ways to perform familiar tasks online in real-time, the popularity of services such as Facebook and Twitter far outweighed its demand as a new web service.

Google has brought many great apps to the table that are worthy of praise and the Internet would not be the same without them; sadly Google Wave was not one of them. Until a viable market demand is found, the focus should be on improving existing Google services before unleashing something new to the online public.

A bit on Google Buzz

Google had another chance with Google Buzz – a web app released just prior to Google Wave. For those who are unfamiliar with Google Buzz, the service is an extension of one’s Gmail account – appearing below one’s inbox. It can be rightfully argued that Google Buzz is essentially a Twitter clone as it allows friends to provide status updates, embed photos and links, and to follow or be followed by other Buzz users. It now has a few Facebooky features too – these being the options of liking or commenting on other users’ posts and embedding photos and video.

Google Buzz logoThe idea was to discuss “the buzz”, but from many users’ experience the service seems to be primarily used as a promotional tool for embedding links and directing peoples’ attention to them. Facebook remains the popular choice for status updating and the sharing of photos and videos and Twitter is still the first choice for posting something of real value.

I do not imagine that Google Buzz will ever become as popular (or perhaps more importantly – more popular) than Twitter or Facebook – least not until it offers something different to what exists already. Buzz needs to be able to stand on it’s own, which isn’t currently happening with the ability to Buzz on Facebook or Buzz on Twitter.

Perhaps bloggers and Google Wave testers are largely to blame for the excessive hype and ultimate disappointment of Google Wave. Perhaps it was the product itself that asked too much of web users by way of time and practical use. Or perhaps Google Wave simply did not fill a need in the World Wide Web by offering something entirely unique and different.

Google can surely be forgiven for the failure of Google Wave and hopefully learn from their mistakes. With a history of so many other great services and the downfall of only a few, support for future developments should by no means be tainted by their recent faults. Keep the services coming Google; you ultimately never know what will work on the web until you try.

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Viruses and why they’re so profitable

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The Buzz around Google Wave

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Cloud Computing for Dummies

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CLOUD COMPUTING: And how it could help fight global warming

cloud computing for dummiesONE might think of the Internet as some intangible entity that exists somewhere in the clouds and is simply powered by the people that use it. In reality, the energy required to run the Internet and associated hardware and IT infrastructure is on par with the airline industry.

To put it simply, the Internet consists of huge data centres world-wide that host web pages and online content — some of which act as Internet service providers. The reason for the web’s extra large carbon footprint is that each data centre requires power as well as cooling systems in order to function. Furthermore, information technology is the fastest growing industry on Earth, and is becoming a real threat to sustainable development.

The concept of cloud computing, also known as distributed, Internet-based computing, is the idea of decentralising these data centres and sharing the available infrastructure on a global scale. The goal is to have applications and files stored on large, centralised supercomputers or networks. Rather than storing files and programmes on individual PCs, end users are able to store and access their files via the web.

According to http://www.howstuffworks.com, the concept is very simple: “On your desk, you would have a very low-cost computer with just a processor, a keyboard and a monitor. There would be no hard drive or CD/DVD drive. It would be hooked up to the Internet and would link to a central supercomputer, which would host all of your programs and files.”

Servicing the cloud with Google
In 2007, Google and Apple had a plan to take things forward. Apple was to develop inexpensive consumer computers that were small and portable. This was to leverage the computing power of the vast data centres Google has been building to hold the apps and the data for millions of users.

Unfortunately, development was halted due to different market demands, but Google has made progress since then with its growing library of Google apps. Apps like Google Documents, Spreadsheets and Gmail are all examples of cloud computing that people already make use of.

If we think about it, we do not use an installed programme to check our e-mail. Rather, you log into a web e-mai­l account, such as Gmail or Hotmail remotely. The software and sto­rage for your account doesn’t exist on your computer, but rather on the ser­vice’s computer cloud. We can think of the term cloud simply as a metaphor for the Internet, or a part of it.

So, we have cloud computing to thank for storing all our e-mails and spam and there is more than enough web-space to go around. Gmail accounts alone provide users with close to seven-and-a-half gigs of space. I don’t think I have ever exceeded over two percent of my e-mail quota.

Things get a little more exciting with Google Documents and Spreadsheets. Developed in part as a solution to e-mailing documents back and forth, Google Docs allows several people to edit or revise the same document in real-time. This simplifies the remote process by having a single updated document and speeds it up by having Google store the data.

There are, however, privacy implications, as any data stored by Google has the chance of being accessible to anyone on the Internet. As a small safety measure, one is able to access previous versions of a Google document and is notified when others are using it. As with everything concerning the web, one simply has to be wary when publishing anything online.

Cloudy Business
Cloud computing has huge implications for business in terms of cutting costs. Web-based companies invest millions into their IT departments — a large portion of which is spent on software licences for each computer that uses corporate software.

With cloud computing you would only have to load one application, which would allow employees to log into a web-based service, which hosts all the programs and files required. Remote machines owned by another company, such as Google, for example, would run everything from e-mail to word processing to complex data analysis programs.

“This technology allows for much more efficient computing by centralising storage, memory, processing and bandwidth. In September 2009, an Aberdeen Group study found that disciplined companies achieved on average an 18% reduction in their IT budget from cloud computing.” – www.howstuffworks.com

Of course, all these open-source applications are as good as they are by virtue of the fact that they are free; or at least still free. No doubt more complex apps would demand some sort of fee in order to be used so extensively. I don’t foresee many large web companies hosting the world’s data for nothing, and as much as it makes sense to decentralise the existing infrastructure, monopolies will emerge (or stay in power) that will profit hugely from cloud computing.

The cloud allows sharing of infrastructure and reduces the carbon footprint of IT. The prophecy speaks of creating something that is globally sustainable — providing greater capacity and higher performance at lower costs. This utopia would bring the world together by moving away from indivi­dual silos and data centres and “into the clouds”. Unfortunately, this is not nearly a reality for bandwidth-stricken countries such as South Africa, and will not be as cheap and fair as it should with the existence of Internet monopolies.

Archived under: Web 2.0

Social networking in South Africa

WEB SURVEY: MWEB’s Friendship 2.0 survey revealed social networking as the new way to “talk over the garden fence”

ON average, adult social networkers in South Africa are in their 30’s, employed full-time, and describe themselves as sociable and outgoing. This is according to findings in new research commissioned by MWEB. The Friendship 2.0 survey was conducted towards the end of last year among local web users aged 16 years and older, busting the myth that social networking is only done by youngsters. It demonstrates how social networking has gone mainstream.

Findings
Facebook remains the dominant social networking platform with a massive 82% using the service. Behind Facebook comes YouTube (32%), then MXit (29%) and Twitter 28%. The majority of people are using these services to communicate real life activities such as sharing personal news, gossiping and making arrangements to meet socially.

Social networking is changing the format of personal networks dramatically. Many people are now making friends and meeting potential partners online. The impact of social networking is also expanding personal networks with the average user claiming to have around 158 friends they regularly interact with.

“Social networks have really become the garden fence of the 21st century, and are used for very much the same purposes as community meeting places. We are at the end of the early adoption phase, which was dominated by young people, and social networking is now a mainstream activity enjoyed and used by all age groups, particularly those in their thirties.” – Carolyn Holgate, General Manager of MWEB Connect

Users in South Africa
The survey revealed that the average age of Facebook users in South Africa is 33; MySpace is 32; Twitter and YouTube come in at 31; and the youngest in the survey is MXit with an average age of 27. These findings dispel perceptions that social networking is for teenagers only.

Multiple presences
Many online South Africans are also taking up multiple presences using a combination of Facebook, Twitter and MXit accounts. To facilitate integration between these multiple platforms, these users link their various accounts to each other enabling visitors to their Facebook pages to view their Twitter updates and click through to their MySpace profile.

On certain social platforms it’s more a matter of viewing than doing. For example, 75% of MySpace users are only ‘viewers’, moving from one profile to the next. Similarly, 72% of Twitter users are ‘lurkers’, reading what others post. This may be because Twitter is still relatively ‘new’ and users do not have the option of accepting people who would like to follow them. Users could also be more concerned about what their followers may think of their comments.

Facebook and LinkedIn are the most balanced, with 60% of their users classed as “viewers”, who just view other people’s pages, and 40% actively posting their own information regularly.

Facebook Chat
The addition of Facebook’s chat facility/instant messenger tool has seen 56% of South African Facebook users ‘chatting’ to their friends on the site. “When we looked at who they are chatting to, friends and family were tops. Clients, partners and suppliers were the lowest, possibly because most Facebook users prefer not to befriend people they deal with professionally.”

Internet connectivity
The way South African’s are accessing the Internet revealed that ADSL is the connection of choice. “Some 48% of the participants are connecting via ADSL, followed very closely by 3G/HSDPA at 42%, and 35% via their cell phones using 3G,” added Holgate.

Online personality types
The survey results categorised respondents into five different online personality types. These personality types, vary from those who are reluctant to use the Internet and do not have an understanding of what can be done online, through to users who are comfortable using the Internet and indulge in potentially “edgy” behaviour, such as using a pseudonym online or using the Internet to find out what a past partner is doing.

Additional interesting findings include:

  • The research revealed that 74% of South Africans going online do so specifically to visit social networking platforms.
  • 16% of Facebook users in the survey are on Facebook all day, an additional 58% visit the site once a day or more. This means 74% are accessing Facebook at least once a day.
  • The computer desktop remains the most popular way to access Facebook (55%), but 35% are using a combination of their cellphone and computer.
  • 62% of Facebook users are updating their status, and 61% are uploading videos or photographs, and searching for someone on the site.
  • 16% of participants are using social platforms to promote their business.
  • 94% of the participants are using the Internet to access their email followed by 81% using the Internet for work related activities.
  • Social networking (74%) rated six on the list of online activities after reading the news (76%), searching for information (76%) and online banking (75%).
  • 50% of Facebook users classified themselves as English, 58% are male and 25% have parents on the social platforms.
  • 25% of the survey participants have met more friends online than they have in real life.
  • 24% have gone on a face-to-face date with someone they have met online.
  • 36% have used a pseudonym online.
  • 36% have used the Internet to find out what a past partner is doing.
  • 37% believe they spend too much time online and need to cut back.
  • 49% feel vulnerable to abuse by sharing their personal details online.
  • And 21% have experienced a breach of their privacy on the Internet.

TNS Research Surveys conducted the survey with a selection of participants of varying demographics to identify which social networking platforms are popular among South Africans and to probe what they are doing on the various sites. 401 people from TNS Research Surveys’ online panel were interviewed. All respondents were aged 16 years or older and the data is representative of the South African online population in terms of age, race and gender. The data was weighted to bring age/race/gender into line with AMPS figures.

For more information about this survey, indicative profiles of the five online personality types identified during this survey, and to see how you compare to the average South African using social networking platforms, visit: http://www.mweb.co.za/services/friendship/

– issued on behalf of MWEB

Related post: Web addiciton 2.0

The Pirate Bay

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THE PIRATE BAY: It’s web piracy for dummies

IN December last year, I wrote an article about the mysteries and uncertainties of what is known as the Dark Net or Deep Web. I have since taken a dive into the murky online waters and have been astounded to discover how easy it is to become a web-pirate. It was like jumping into a dark lake fully expecting to sink deep, only to discover that the water barely reached my ankles.

Over the holidays, I heard of a Swedish-run website called The Pirate­ Bay (www.thepiratebay.org). The popular site has mimicked Google by offering an easy-to-use search bar on its home page. In place of the comforting Google logo is a pirate ship and just below the search bar is a link to a step-by-step guide on how to download movies­, music, games, TV series, applications and more.

The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Bay homepage

How it works
Websites such as The Pirate Bay are known as BitTorrent trackers. BitTorrent is a file-sharing protocol whereby computer users are able to upload and download (‘share’) computer software with one another over a network. Each individual is allowed complete anonymity and does not need to register to participate.

However, there is a shared understanding among Pirate Bay users — a sort of pirating etiquette — that an individual should make a certain amount of their own content available for others to download if they wish to download software themselves. But this is not an enforced requirement.

There is no cost involved for those wishing to download content and the website earns its revenue by displaying certain adverts alongside torrent listings. In an investigation in 2006, Swedish police concluded that The Pirate Bay was generating roughly $150 000 per year from advertisements. This figure is likely to have tripled since then.

The Pirate Bay is still primarily funded by advertisements but supporters or users also have the option of donating money towards the pirate cause. There are also Pirate Bay T-shirts available for purchase off the website — which, in effect, spreads pirating awareness.

I’m confident that anyone who might consider themselves as technologically incompetent would be able to engage in such activity. You only need to be able to read, write (search) and click a mouse.

Who’s involved
Initially established in November 2003 by Swedish anti-copyright organisation Piratbyrån (The Piracy Bureau) The Pirate Bay has operated as a separate organisation since October 2004. The website is run by Gottfrid Svartholm (aka anakata) and Fredrik Neij (aka TiAMO), who have both been charged with assisting in making copyrighted content available due to their involvement in The Pirate Bay.

The members of The Pirate Bay represent a broad, global spectrum of file sharers and there are currently more than four million registered users. However, because registering is optional and not necessary to download content, the total number of users is likely to be far higher than this figure.

The site gets huge influxes of frequent traffic, so much so that the service is often unavailable at certain times. However, the site claims this never lasts for more than a few seconds.

Legal issues
The thing that I find the most astounding about The Pirate Bay is its completely fearless attitude. The creators have faced several lawsuits and have been to court on more than one occasion. Their argument is that no illegal material is stored on The Pirate Bay server. Rather it operates as a tracker — providing users with the correct paths to find content on other users’ PCs and download directly from them.

According to their disclaimer (if one can call it that) “only torrent files are saved at the server. That means no copyrighted and/or illegal material is stored by us. It is therefore not possible to hold the people behind The Pirate Bay responsible for the material that is being spread using the tracker. Any complaints from copyright or lobby organisations will be ridiculed and published on the site”.

This last line illustrates my point about the fearless attitude. They have received several legal threats via e-mail from companies such as Microsoft and DreamWorks, which have been published on the website along with their cheeky responses for all Pirate Bay users to see. It appears that their trump card is claiming that U.S. infringement laws to not apply in Sweden and they seem to have Swedish lawers on their side.

Rebuttal of legal threats
To illustrate, here’s what was written in response to an e-mail by DreamWorks:

“As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the United States of America. Sweden is a country in northern Europe. Unless you figured it out by now, U.S. law does not apply here. For your information, no Swedish law is being violated. Please be assured that any further contact with us, regardless of medium, will result in:

a) a suit being filed for harassment; [and]
b) a formal complaint lodged with the bar of your legal counsel, for sending frivolous legal threats.

“It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are … morons, and that you should please go sodomise yourself with retractable batons.”

This next snippet was part of an e-mailed response to Sega after they threatened to sue The Pirate Bay in 2006:

“Please sue me in Japan instead. I’ve always wanted to visit Tokyo. Also, I’m running out of toilet paper, so please send lots of legal documents to our ISP — preferably printed on soft paper.”

The Pirate Bay shows no signs of slowing down and remains the world’s largest file sharing server to date. I leave you with a snippet from The Pirate Bay’s 2009 Christmas letter to its users.

“We believe that we have changed something. Not just us, but all of us. The Pirate Bay has always been something extra … We wanted it to mean something. And you, our users, have helped us with that. The history of the bay is still being written. It’s way too early for a conclusion.”

Shiver me tibers.

IMPORTANT NOTICE
The downloading and distributing of copywrited software IS illegal, despite what websites such as The Pirate Bay might say. The use of such websites is done at your own risk and can lead to a criminal record. Ye have been warned.

Related article: The Dark Web explained