Are Western Digital and Seagate doomed to be marked as bad sectors?

Subject: General Tech | June 15, 2012 - 01:01 PM |
Tagged: Hard Disk, Seagate, western digital, fud, hdd

There are quite a few things in the industry to speculate on, from Microsoft's intimating a 'big new thing' next Monday to AMD and the HSA's plans for the future of the industry, but if you want to go for the big one then it is the hard drive industry you should be following.  The most recent sign that something big is going on would be the change in warranty length on consumer drives from the two remaining players, both of which now offer a 1yr warranty.  That is a vast reduction from previous 3yr and 5yr warranties and while it does not necessarily imply these drives will fail any faster it does mean they offer shorter warranties than their competition, the SSD.  This could convince a lot of people that paying $1/GB for an SSD is not really that bad of a deal and you can only expect that price to fall, especially on larger sized SSDs.

Also consider the fact that there are only two major HDD manufacturers left, Seagate and Western Digital.  This defragmentation of the industry has been going on for quite a while now, resulting in those two manufacturers owning their competitions resources and IP and pretty much being able to determine what the market will provide and at what cost to the consumer.  That has lead to the rather counter-intuitive profits that these two, especially Western Digital, made over the past year.  You would not expect a company which lost its manufacturing capabilities to the Thai floods to see a 230% increase in profit, yet that is exactly what happened from March 2011 to March 2012.  Seagate held their first place spot over the same time period, with higher volume sales contributing to that success with their prices only rising 20% instead of the 40% they threatened during the supposed supply difficulties.  

The HDD market seems to be on its way out, not just because ultraportable devices chose SSDs over HDDs but also because the average consumer has come to the realization that while having a few terabytes of storage is nice for long term storage they really do not need it, especially on a device which does not have long term support.  The Inquirer smells something foul in the air and comments on this topic here.

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"Seagate, Western Digital and to a lesser extent Toshiba are starting to see free market economics - or as close as it gets - show their strategy of consolidation and profiteering. With the number of solid state disk (SSD) in the low teens, prices are falling steeply while hard drive makers rely on artificially high prices and shorter warranties to make a quick buck."

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Source: The Inquirer

Some Lenovo models might maybe get a little smokey ... but probably not

Subject: General Tech | April 27, 2012 - 12:58 PM |
Tagged: Lenovo, fud, M70z, M90z

Some Mexican made Lenovo models were recalled earlier this year and that recall has recently been expanded, to about 63,000 units.  It seems that one single fire incident and one smoke incident with no injuries, were recorded in the US and blamed on a possible faulty part in the PSU which could overheat.  A 0.003% failure rate is apparently unacceptable in some sectors of today's marketplace, with others requiring not only a much higher incident of failure but a fatality or at least a serious injury before a recall is even considered.  While PCs releasing their magic smoke on their own is certainly a bad thing, especially on models most likely to be found in the workplace it seems the PC industry is held to an obscenely high level of performance.  The Register is not terribly impressed either.

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"Lenovo has been forced to expand the recall of possibly flamey desktops it first announced back in March.

The Chinese PC giant, in conjunction with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, announced the initial recall affected around 50,500 ThinkCentre M70z and M90z desktops."

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Source: The Register

Revisiting an old argument; does HyperThreading hurt performance?

Subject: General Tech | April 26, 2012 - 11:48 AM |
Tagged: hyperthreading, Intel, overclocking, fud

In the past there have been two arguments against using Intel's HyperThreading to create two threads per core.  The first is specific to overclockers who found that previous generations of Pentium and Core architecture chips could remain stable when pushed to higher frequencies when they disabled HyperThreading.  There is still a lot of testing to be done on Ivy Bridge overclocking before a definitive answer is found for this generation of chips, which may fall victim to power issues before HyperThreading becomes a major limiter.

The second issue is more serious and deals with the fact that in some cases enabling HyperThreading reduces the total performance of the chip on certain, usually single threaded, applications and by disabling it you will see performance improvements from your processor.  SemiAccurate felt that this needed to be revisited in light of the release of Ivy Bridge and so took an i7-3770K through a battery of 7 tests once with HyperThreading enabled and once without, including a run through CineBench with multithreaded processing disabled.  Drop by to see if there is any noticeable benefit to disabling HyperThreading on this generation of Intel processor.

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Yes, that was 11 years ago

"We decided to explore the effects of Hyper-Threading on the performance of the Ivy Bridge based Core i7-3770K by running our CPU benchmarking suite on it twice. Once with Hyper-Threading enabled, and once with Hyper-Threading disabled. As such we set-up our results table to look for applications that perform better with Hyper-Threading disabled, rather than enabled."

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Source: SemiAccurate

Bad Ultrabook sales could be very bad for suppliers

Subject: General Tech | March 27, 2012 - 01:01 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, fud

Intel's Ultrabook mobile form factor requires very specific components which is causing a great deal of concern among component makers.  The parts that are designed specifically for Ultrabooks are not necessarily useful in any other form factor which makes them unattractive to manufacture since poor Ultrabook sales would mean that they are stuck with a large amount of unusable inventory.  If that concern limits the supply of parts for Ultrabooks then we could see a self-fulfilling prophecy as poor availability at the retail level will lessen the attraction for both consumers as well as major laptop vendors who may not want to include a product that might or might not be available for a customer to purchase.  DigiTimes points out that because of the previous failure of Intel's CULV form factor, many of the manufactures are already leery of the Ultrabook.  We shall see what effect that has on Intel's sales over the next few months as Ivy Bridge hits the market.

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"Component makers, seeing their downstream brand partners are aggressively entering the ultrabook market, are concerned that if demand for ultrabook is not as good as expected, their inventories could hurt their performance as ultrabook components are mostly custom made and cannot be used in traditional notebooks, according to sources from the upstream supply chain."

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Source: DigiTimes

This new malware goes straight to your RAM, no installation required

Subject: General Tech | March 19, 2012 - 11:58 AM |
Tagged: Virus, Trojan-Spy.Win32.Lurk, ram virus, Kaspersky Labs, javaw.exe, fud

A lovely little electronic beastie was spotted by Kaspersky Labs on Russian ad servers recently which uses a Java exploit (long since patched) to corrupt javaw.exe while it is running on system memory, infecting machines without any installation required whatsoever.  While this sounds quite bad, the fact is that in your memory it can infect running programs but not move out of the memory without triggering an installation process and will not survive a system reboot.  That is why as soon as this malware finds its self on a systems RAM it immediately tries to install the Lurk Trojan, which is when your problems would start and when your anti-virus/anti-malware protection should notice something amiss. 

By its self the new virus poses little direct risk but it represents a new attack vector for drive by infections, which could get into protected space and be able to launch an attack from within the systems memory, a much faster and more intimate way of attacking than coming over the network.  With home systems sporting more that 4GB of RAM, there is a lot more space for this type of virus to work with than there was just a few years ago.  Read on at The Register, if you dare.

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"The researchers aren’t quite sure how unusual it is, describing it as both “unique” and “very rare”, but no matter how scarce this type of malware is it does sound rather nasty as it “… uses its payload to inject an encrypted dll from the web directly into the memory of the javaw.exe process.” That mode of operation means Windows and MacOS are both affected by the exploit, which is hard for many antivirus programs to spot given it runs within a trusted process."

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Source: The Register

You might want to rethink enabling RDP unless you have NLA set up

Subject: General Tech | March 14, 2012 - 12:36 PM |
Tagged: remote desktop protocol, patch tuesday, fud, rdp, security

Remote Desktop Protocol is a very handy tool, as the name suggests it allows you to take remote control of a desktop and is commonly used for everything from logging into a remote server to change settings to helping a long distance friend to get their printer installed to logging onto your home machine to start a Steam download and install so your game will be ready for you when you get home from work.  Unfortunately it does open up a way into your PC for attackers, though thanks to the Network Level Authentication feature which was added into Vista and later versions of Windows, PCs on an authenticated network are much safer than they would be without it.  Unfortunately NLA will not exist on home workgroups, nor is it supported by versions of Windows previous to Vista.  That is why The Register warns of a RDP vulnerability that Microsoft will be patching next patch Tuesday, as older machines as well as home machines could be at risk if someone launches an attack before the patch is released and installed.  For the mean time you might want to disable RDP unless you actually use it regularly.

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"The critical flaw covers all versions of Windows and is found in the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). It allows attackers to run code remotely behind the firewall, although Vista users and above can activate the Remote Desktop’s Network Level Authentication (NLA) to trigger an authentication request. RDP is disabled by default, but is often activated."

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Source: The Register

Frankenmalware, an antiviral boss fight

Subject: General Tech | January 26, 2012 - 12:47 PM |
Tagged: fud, Malware, Virus, Worm

Back in the ancient days of gaming and repeated in Skyrim's Draugr your enemies started out simple, a simple zombie or leever becoming a Infected Death Lord Zombie of Fiery Devastation.  Another way to look at is a supervillain origin story where exposure to something that should have killed them instead grants them powers beyond mere mortals.  There may have also been a dozen decent SciFi novels written about the topic (well, probably more like a gross) ... however you look at it, computer worms are mutating!

It seems that systems infected with a worm are being hit by certain viruses which inadvertently infect the worm, creating malware with twice the command and control servers, twice the backdoors and twice the methods to spread its self.  The Register cites a specific example of the Rimecud worm which steals passwords becoming infected by Virtob which creates a backdoor on a system.  At this moment BitDefender has found that 0.4% of the infected systems they detected had an infected worm present, a number you can expect to grow. 

Be careful out there!

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"Viruses are accidentally infecting worms on victims’ computers, creating super-powered strains of hybrid software nasties.

The monster malware spreads quicker than before, screws up systems worse than ever, and exposes private data in a way not even envisioned by the original virus writers.

A study by antivirus outfit BitDefender found 40,000 such "Frankenmalware samples" in a study of 10 million infected files in early January, or 0.4 per cent of malware strains sampled. These cybercrime chimeras pose a greater risk to infected users than standard malware, the Romanian antivirus firm warns."

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Source: The Register

Symantec users beware

Subject: General Tech | January 18, 2012 - 12:56 PM |
Tagged: symantec, norton antivirus, fud, PCanywhere

It took 5 years and a threat by a hacker group for Symantec to admit that they were successfully hacked and source code to some of their software was stolen.  As the threat was never delivered upon it is possible that the hacker group may have had nothing to do with the original hack but were more interested in having Symantec admit to the breach.  Current Norton Antivirus Corporate Edition, Norton Internet Security or Norton Systemworks users should not worry, the source code is so old that possessing it will not give you the ability to affect current software.  PC Anywhere users on the other hand might be at increased risk if they left the installation on default settings; according to The Inquirer Symantec will be contacting PC Anywhere customers to ensure they know about the attack and how to change their settings to minimize any risks.

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"SECURITY VENDOR Symantec has admitted that its servers were successfully hacked and Norton antivirus and other software source code was stolen.

At the beginning of this month the firm acknowledged that some of its source code was obtained from a third party but said that would not affect Norton antivirus users. However, it now admits that an attack in 2006 obtained source code for other software, which could put its customers at risk."

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Source: The Inquirer

Java JRE, Adobe Acrobat and Flash; the triumvirate of malware evil

Subject: General Tech | October 5, 2011 - 12:19 PM |
Tagged: fud, security, microsoft, windows

An interesting study that Slashdot has linked to today breaks down three months of infection data and crunched the numbers to see how the infections made it onto systems and which systems are the most vulnerable.  Fully two thirds of the infections happened to users browsing with Internet Explorer, but you must keep in mind IE's market share.  At this time last year half of all users browsed the internet with some version of IE and while that has fallen to around 40% this year it is still the most commonly used browser and will therefore have a greater representation in the sample of PC s tested.  As long as you keep that in mind, you can then move onto disparaging the average IE user ... especially if it is still IE6.

As well, you can see that Vista has something to be proud of.  Even with the lack of PCs using the OS it has almost as many infections as WinXP machines.  As to the programs most likely to be used as an attack ... Java JRE sits at 37% with Acrobat just behind at 32%, leaving the much maligned Flash responsible for only 16%. 

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"Since Up to 85 % of all virus infections occur as a result of drive-by attacks automated via commercial exploit kits, CSIS has actively collected real time data from them for a period of three months. The purpose of their study is to reveal precisely how Microsoft Windows machines are infected with malware and which browsers, versions of Windows and third party software that are at risk. They monitored more than 50 different exploit kits on 44 unique servers / IP addresses. The statistical material covers all in all more than half a million user exposures out of which as many as 31.3 % were infected with the virus/malware due to missing security updates."

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Source: Slashdot

Still hope for SSL, the web ain't dead yet

Subject: General Tech | September 26, 2011 - 01:20 PM |
Tagged: fud, security, SSL

SSL and secure data transfer are wounded, but not dying quite yet if you use an elderly encryption protocol called RC4 or ARC4.  Current AES is suggested as the preferred way of encrypting data transfers, but the BEAST (Browser Exploit Against SSL/TLS) attack is capable of defeating AES encryption.  Unfortunately there are attack methods which are able to defeat RC4, specifically as it is implemented for WPA and WES in wireless networks.  Google informed The Register that they have been using RC4, although clients that attempt to connect which don't support that encryption method are offered the vulnerable AES method.  Google also pointed out the latest developer version of Chrome protects against the BEAST attack but don't mention when the main version of Chrome will protect users.

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"The recommendations published Friday by two-factor authentication service PhoneFactor, suggest websites use the RC4 cipher to encrypt SSL traffic instead of newer, and ironically cryptographically stronger, algorithms such as AES. Google webservers are already configured to favor RC4, according to this analysis tool from security firm Qualys. A Google spokesman says the company has used those settings "for years."

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Source: The Register