Criminy, that's a nasty one! Near invisible infections via BITS

Subject: General Tech | June 9, 2016 - 04:41 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, BITS, security

BITS, the Microsoft Background Intelligent Transfer Service used for pushing out OS updates among other things can be turned to the dark side in a rather nasty way.  When cleaning up an infect network, security professionals stumbled upon a nasty discovery, a compromised machine with no sign of an infection vector except in the BITS database.  The malware came in through the usual channel but once installed it used a BITS task to clean up any traces of the installation from temp files and the registry and then delete itself, leaving an infected machine with almost no traces of where the infection came from or is residing.  The Register offers advice on how to check suspicious machines in their story.

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"While working on a customer clean-up project, SecureWorks staff found that attackers had created self-contained BITS tasks that didn't appear in the registries of affected machines, and their footprints were limited to entries on the BITS database."

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Source: The Register

Microsoft Open-Sources Their WebGL Implementation

Subject: General Tech | June 9, 2016 - 05:42 AM |
Tagged: webgl, microsoft

Well that's something I never expected to write. It turns out that Microsoft has open-sourced a small portion of their Edge web browser. This is the part that binds OpenGL ES 2.0 functionality, implemented atop Direct3D in Edge, to JavaScript for websites to directly interact with the user's GPU (as opposed to hardware-accelerated CSS effects for instance).

Websites can use WebGL to share 3D objects in an interactive way, have interesting backgrounds and decorations, or even render a video game.

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This is not an open-source build of Microsoft Edge, though. It doesn't have the project files to actually be built into something useful. Microsoft intends for it to be reference, at least for now they say. If you are interested in using or contributing to this project for some reason, their GitHub readme file asks you to contact them. As for me? I just think it's neat.

Mozilla Will Begin Electrolysis with Firefox 48

Subject: General Tech | June 9, 2016 - 05:08 AM |
Tagged: mozilla, firefox

Electrolysis (e10s) is Mozilla's codename for their multi-process initiative in Firefox. The main goal of this is to separate the content of the website from the user interface. This means that, if a site has long-running JavaScript or layout, Firefox will not lock up. This seems like a simple idea, except that it undoes over a decade of assumptions that were made during Firefox's development. Imagine, for instance, that you have an extensions which modifies both the browser UI as well as the page content -- that's a single script that needs to be run across multiple threads. Whoops!

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This roll-out won't necessarily be immediate, though. You can install Firefox 48 and, only some weeks later, get Electrolysis turned on retroactively. They are starting with about 1% of eligible users, which will ramp up to all eligible users over time or even be disabled if alarm bells start to ring.

Speaking of eligible users, there are quite a few conditions that will prevent you from getting Electrolysis. Namely, if you use extensions (it's unclear if they're talking about all extensions, or just ones that use certain APIs) then you will be kept on single-process. They don't specify why, but it could very well be the situation that I mentioned in the first paragraph.

Firefox 48 is scheduled to be released in six weeks (the first week of August).

GOG.com Commences Their Summer Sale

Subject: General Tech | June 9, 2016 - 04:32 AM |
Tagged: GOG, pc gaming

GOG.com has begun their Summer Sale, as of June 8th, and it has some fairly deep discounts in it. First, if you sign in to their GOG Galaxy client, they will gift you a free copy of System Shock 2. Second, The Witcher III is 50% off again, or you can get the game and all of its DLC for the price of the base game (which ends up working out to 33% off).

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The top seller is the Homeworld Remastered Collection, which has been reduced to $17.49 USD (50%-off). You can also get either The SOLUS Project, which released this week, or The Witness for 15% off. Then we get to some of the game bundles, like all of the Tropicos or a bunch of Bullfrog titles for 80% off. You know how these digital game sales work.

They are also doing an XP system. If you buy games, check in, or do a few other actions, you can accumulate points that will unlock a handful of free games. The three that they're offering me are Spelunky, Gabriel Knight, and Dreamfall Chapters. I'm not sure if it's the same for everyone, though.

Source: GOG.com

Battlefield 1; faster bullets and slower truncheons

Subject: General Tech | June 8, 2016 - 08:18 PM |
Tagged: gaming, battlefield 1

It won't just be flamethrowers and HMG emplacements in Battlefield 1, you can expect shotguns, sniper rifles, submachine guns, LMGs and semi-automatic along with a variety of melee weapons to inflict pain with.  According to the information Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN garnered from the Q&A sessions that the developer hosted, bullet velocity will also be increased; not in a CoD way but to travel at speeds somewhat closer to reality.  There will also be tools for snipping barbed wire and possibly to damage light vehicles if the inference is correct ... and not referring to a horse.  Follow the link for an extremely short video of two weapons in action.

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"The weapons of Battlefield 1 are a bit more specialized,” Schimek said. “To get the most out of them, you have to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and use the right one in the right situation."

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Hacking Android into an iPhone; sort of

Subject: General Tech | June 8, 2016 - 05:44 PM |
Tagged: hack, iphone, Android

It is more of a bootloader, in that a custom 3D printed iPhone case hides a device based around  LG Nexus 5 which plugs into the iPhone and allows you to launch Marshmallow 6.0.1 on your iPhone.  Once you unplug the lighting cable connection between the iPhone and the case your phone reverts to iOS, thus avoiding having to flash the protected innards of the phone.  The interface is described as somewhat laggy but it has a functional USB port, HDMI out and room for a microSD card.  This is the same fellow who managed to get Win95 running on an Apple Watch so we may read more about his rule breaking modifications at The Inquirer.

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"ANDROID RUNNING on an iPhone? Really? It's true. Sort of. The latest episode in our ongoing series of things running on other things is a doozy, the Holy Grail."

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Source: The Inquirer

E3 Demos Versus Released Games

Subject: General Tech | June 8, 2016 - 11:39 AM |
Tagged: E3

With E3 coming up, JohnGR pointed out a video in the comments of one of our E3 trailer posts that compares Ubisoft's demos with their released games. I tend to be relatively forgiving of these issues, personally, but the video is quite well done from an editing standpoint. It has quite a few moments of dry irony, especially with the contrast between the demo's busy audio sequences and the game section's silence.

We'll be seeing a lot of demos over the next handful of days. It's good to keep in mind that they are promotional snippets, either video or playable, that represent what the developer or publisher wants their game to be viewed as. Sometimes, it's just an overly optimistic view of what they can accomplish.

Mirror's Edge: Catalyst DRM Rumors Are Wrong

Subject: General Tech | June 8, 2016 - 12:42 AM |
Tagged: ea, dice, DRM, origin

GamersNexus wrote a piece that claimed Mirror's Edge: Catalyst has DRM that limits the number of hardware changes to four. According to an email from EA's press contact, it turns out that GamersNexus' article is not accurate. According to EA PR, if Origin detects five activations in a single day, the user will need to wait until 24 hours after their first activation to attempt again.

So you can change your hardware as many times as you want over the life of the game, just not more than four times in a single day, on a single account at least.

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Image Credit: GamersNexus
This message didn't seem to say what they were implying it did. Turns out, it doesn't.

I decided to ask EA when I read the error message that GamersNexus posted -- the article's  interpretation didn't seem right. The wording was as follows: “Too many computers have accessed this account's version of Mirror's Edge(TM) Catalyst recently. Please try again later.” It seemed very odd to me that the wording “recently” and “Please try again later” would be attached to a permanent bricking of the game.

Again, it turns out that this is not the case, unless our press contact was not up to date about this specific title. As much as I dislike DRM, being a proponent of art preservation and archival, this part of Mirror's Edge's DRM should not affect the vast majority of users. This is something that should only affect people who are literally benchmarking a half-dozen (or so) graphics cards.

In short, it sounds like this is a non-issue after all.

Source: GamersNexus

The Vives are coming

Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2016 - 06:18 PM |
Tagged: htc, vive, VR

As of today if you order an HTC Vive VR Headset you should receive it mere days after you place your order, no longer is it a preorder process where you would need to wait an indeterminate amount of time.  The package will cost you  $799US or $1,149CAN so it is not quite an impulse buy but it certainly is very tempting.  You can order online or drop by a Microsoft Store, Gamestop or Micro Center if such things exist in your neighbourhood.  Al took a look at some of the technology in the Vive in this article, which is interesting to look at even if you can't quite afford one yet.

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"HTC ViveTM can now be purchased through www.vive.com in 24 countries, shipping within 2-3 business days of purchase. In addition to online availability from HTC, individuals can now buy the revolutionary Vive virtual reality system in select Microsoft Stores, GameStop and Micro Center locations. Pre-orders placed through these retailers will be fulfilled beginning this week."

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Source: HTC

Even Mods Have Pre-E3 Trailers -- Skywind

Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2016 - 11:15 AM |
Tagged: skyrim, morrowind, elder scrolls, bethesda

TESRenewal Project is basically about taking earlier Elder Scrolls titles and bringing them to newer engines. Three mods are under the control at the moment: Skywind, which puts Morrowind into Skyrim; Skyblivion, which puts Oblivion into Skyrim; and Morroblivion, which puts Morrowind into Oblivion. Morroblivion is already out in the wild, with the latest release dating back to November, 2014, but the other two are being worked on behind closed doors.

They have now released a small update teaser video (above) -- less than two minutes long -- that shows off various environments (and the assets in them). Obviously, at this point, Skyrim is fairly old. It was released almost five years ago, and it still runs on DirectX 9. It is still very popular though, and what we can see from the trailer looks at least as good as Bethesda's default content.

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Skywind will be a non-commercial mod, although it will require both Skyrim, Morrowind, and their expansions (except Hearthfire) to play -- even though it doesn't use any Morrowind assets. This may or may not be a Bethesda requirement; they tend to be quite restrictive with their copyrights and trademarks. (The Mod Workshop payment issue, the Scrolls trademark issue, and the Fallout-posters fan site trademark issue all jump to mind.)

Either way, it will be free if you own both titles, and it looks like an interesting total conversion.