Bumpday 8/17/2011: Is your DOS shelling out some coin?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 18, 2011 - 04:26 AM |
Tagged: bumpday

We just recently saw Tim write up a piece on a Trojan designed to force your computer to mine for Bitcoins and deliver the results to an attacker or someone the attacker wishes to receive the currency. The virus currently affects versions of Windows from 98 straight up through Windows 7 and shows just another way that viruses are being used to make money. That was not always the case -- at one point viruses were almost always about making you aggravated in some way shape or form, at least until people figured out how to make money from someone else’s computer.

Bumpday2.png

Mined the intrusion? Just a bits.

So back in 2000, back before the forums could remember your username, what antivirus software should you use? Personally I didn’t use any as I figured the occasional reinstall of Windows was enough if I got nailed by a virus. For the others who used Antivirus software, which did they choose? PC-Cillin 98 was the choice of a K7M motherboard owner because the K7M motherboard chose it. Norton and McAfee were still around back then though Grisoft, later AVG, made its niche as the free antivirus back then as well. F-Secure got a nod for picking up something that both McAfee and Norton couldn’t. Eventually the thread slipped on some Black Ice and started talking about Firewalls which are now mostly irrelevant due to routers.

BUMP!

Source: PCPer Forums

New Trojan.Badminer Malware Steals Your Spare Processing Cycles To Make Criminals Money At Your Expense

Subject: General Tech | August 18, 2011 - 03:02 AM |
Tagged: trojan, opencl, mining, Malware, gpgpu, bitcoin

A new piece of malware was recently uncovered by anti-virus provider Symantec that seeks to profit from your spare computing cycles. Dubbed Trojan.Badminer, this insidious piece of code is a trojan that (so far) is capable of affecting Windows operating systems from Windows 98 to Windows 7. Once this trojan has been downloaded and executed (usually through an online attack vector via an unpatched bug in flash or java), it proceeds to create a number of files and registry entries.

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It's a trojan infected bitcoin, oh the audacity of malware authors!

After it has propagated throughout the system, it is then able to run one of two mining programs. It will first search for a compatible graphics card, and run Phoenix Miner. However, if a graphics card is not found, it will fall back to RPC miner and instead steal your CPU cycles.  The miners then start hashing in search of bitcoin blocks, and if found, will then send the reward money to the attacker’s account.

It should be noted that bitcoin mining itself is not inherently bad, and many people run it legitimately. In fact, if you are interested in learning more about bitcoins, we ran an article on them recently. This trojan on the other hand is malicious because it is infecting the user’s computer with unwanted code that steals processing cycles from the GPU and CPU to make the attacker money. All these GPU and CPU cycles come at the cost of reduced system responsiveness and electricity, which can add up to a rather large bill, depending on where you live and what hardware the trojan is able to get its hands on.

Right now, Symantec is offering up general tips on keeping users’ computers free from the infection, including enabling a software firewall (or at least being behind a router with its own firewall that blocks unsolicited incoming connections), running the computer as the lowest level user possible with UAC turned on, and not clicking on unsolicited email attachments or links.

If you are also a bitcoin miner, you may want to further protect yourself by securing your bitcoin wallet in the event that you also accidentally become infected by a trojan that seeks to steal the wallet.dat file (the file that essentially holds all your bitcoin currency).

Stay vigilant folks, and keep an eye out on your system GPU and CPU utilization in addion to using safer computing habits to keep nastly malware like this off of your system.  On a more opinionated note, is it just me or have malware authors really hit a new low with this one?

Source: Symantec

Everything in your notebook is power saving, why not your wireless mouse?

Subject: General Tech | August 17, 2011 - 09:40 PM |
Tagged: wireless mouse, low power, apace

The Apacer Blue Engine Mouse M721 will not impress gamers looking for huge DPI ratings.  What separates it from the rat pack are three power saving modes which allow Real World Labs to use the mouse and its two AAA batteries over 4 days of fairly heavy usage without draining it.  As well, it utilizes Bluetooth so you do not have to worry about lines of sight while you are using, especially handy as the mouse wil function on any surface.  Just don't sit at a table with the laptop on top while using the mouse on your jeans below the table ... it will look bad.

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"The latest Blue Engine Mouse M721 by Apacer may not dazzle you with its speed and features but its blue engine tracking sensor and three power saving modes are more than sufficient enough to give it an edge over similar wireless solutions."

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Tech Talk

Never mind the barrier, we even tessellated the water table!

Subject: General Tech | August 17, 2011 - 06:56 PM |
Tagged: crysis 2, dx11, tessellation

The Tech Report took an indepth look at the "Enhanced, bionic Jersey barrier in DirectX 11" recently.  The original Crysis is still famous for its ability to crush even the best GPUs that were available when it was originally released and its continued ability to do so at very high resolutions.  Now that Crysis 2 has power slid out of it's console roots and we PC gamers received not only support for DX11 but also a high resolution texture patch which helped the game with its visual impact, it seemed worthwhile to investigate the actual changes to the process used to draw images in Crysis 2.  That lead to the discovery of not only the world's most detailed concrete barriers but also the realization that whether you can see it or not, water is being rendered in painstaking detail.

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A hydrologist's dream

"When we fired up Crysis 2 in its DirectX 11 "ultra" quality mode, we saw that some obvious peaks were related to the creation of tessellated objects. Not only could we see the hull shaders used in the first stage of tessellation—proof that tessellation was in use—but we were also able to see the polygon meshes output by the tessellation process. We noticed some of the same things Damien pointed out, along with a few new ones, including one of the true wonders of this game's virtual world."

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So you think nobody knows what you've been watching on the net?

Subject: General Tech | August 17, 2011 - 06:03 PM |
Tagged: security, fud, tracking cookie, super cookie, ETag value

KISSmetrics is a small company which is able to track your movements across sites like Hulu and Spotify, using what some call a super cookie but more accurately is an ETag value.  That ETag value is a unique identifier stored in both a browser's cache and metadata folders which can be sent to KISSmetrics via JavaScript along with a header, so that any time you visit a site partnered with KISSmetrics they will know it is you.

Of course, very soon after the technical documentation of the trick was released to the net KISSmetrics claimed that they were completely innocent and that it was all a misunderstanding.  According to the CEO of KISSmetrics the company has never tracked anyone nor shared the information with a third party, so either the company never plans to ever make any money or he is being very specific in his definitions of what "is is".  Even better, they claim not to use ETag values at all only first party cookies.  As well, they claim support for the Do Not Track header and a "consumer-level opt-out" for their tracking as well.  That is disingenuous in that there is no sign of how to start the opt out process on their site, nor is there any clear way that they could identify you in order to let you opt out without a cookie or ETag placed on your machine in the first place.

The Do Not Track header is a good idea, but in addition you should consider browser add ins such as BetterPrivacy, NoScript and Ghostery as essential and perhaps even get used to running Chrome in Incognito mode, if you do not want to be trapped.  Don't use them to disable the ads which fund your favourite websites, they should be used to identify and possible block violations to your privacy only.  You can follow the link at The Register if you would like to see the technical research that has lead to these questions about KISSmetrics.

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"A privacy researcher has revealed the evil genius behind a for-profit web analytics service capable of following users across more than 500 sites, even when all cookie storage was disabled and sites were viewed using a browser's privacy mode."

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Source: The Register

Intel ultra-balks at Ultrabook manufacturers requests

Subject: General Tech | August 16, 2011 - 04:00 PM |
Tagged: ultrabook, Intel

There has been a bit of talk on the PC Perspective front page about Intel's new Ultrabook form factor and if it can profit Intel to release in a market that already has Apple firmly embedded in the minds of consumers as the "thin" guys.  First were the complaints from manufacturers that the bill of costs for an ultrabook was in the neighbourhood of $1000, which would put the price of sale above the competitions.  Intel then responded with a claim that the 11" and 13" ultrabooks with a thickness of 18mm will be between $493 to $710 to manufacture and the larger 14" to 17: inches, 21mm thick models will run between $475 and $650.

That price disparity seemed a little odd, as there was no explanation from Intel about where the manufacturers got their maths wrong nor an announcement of price drops from Intel to make up the difference.  What we did see was a promise by Intel to provide $300 million in funding to those who develop technologies to further the ultrabook form factor, which might help offset some of the costs of manufacturing but certainly not enough to reduce the bill of sales by a third or more.

Now the waters are even further muddied as we hear today from Digitimes that Intel is refusing a request by manufacturers to cut the price of the CPU models which will be found in ultrabooks by half.  Instead Intel is willing to drop the price by 20%, along with some marketing subsidies which will help once the product makes it to market but which will not lower the cost of the bill of materials at all.  That is not going to help make the ultrabook a good investment for the first-tier manufacturers to develop.  Add to that concern the fact that Intel's coming ultraportable Oak Trail platform, with paired Atom Z670 CPUs costs almost four times as much to produce as a Tegra 2 machine, even the discount that Intel refused is not going to make them attractive to sell.

ultrabook.jpg

"Intel's Oak Trail platform, paired Atom Z670 CPU (US$75) with SM35 chipsets (US$20) for tablet PC machine, is priced at US$95, already accounting for about 40% of the total cost of a tablet PC, even with a 70-80% discount, the platform is still far less attractive than Nvidia's Tegra 2 at around US$20. Although players such as Asustek Computer and Acer have launched models with the platform for the enterprise market, their machines' high price still significantly limit their sales, the sources noted.

As for Ultrabook CPUs, Intel is only willing to provide marketing subsides and 20% discount to the first-tier players, reducing the Core i7-2677 to US$317, Core i7-2637 to US$289 and Core i5-2557 to US$250.

As for Intel's insistence, the sources believe that Intel is concerned that once it agrees to reduce the price, the company may have difficulties to maintain gross margins in the 60% range and even after passing the crisis, the company may have difficulty in maintaining its pricing. Even with Intel able to maintain a high gross margin through its server platform, expecting Intel to drop CPU prices may be difficult to achieve, the sources added."

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Source: DigiTimes

Mozilla Removing Version Numbers from Firefox's About Page

Subject: General Tech | August 16, 2011 - 09:05 AM |
Tagged: software, mozilla, firefox, browser

A new bug report on Mozilla's Bugzilla website indicates that the versioning of the popular web browser will be hidden from the users in future builds.  Specifically, bug 678775 was posted late last week by Asa Dotzler, and addresses the version number on Firefox's About page.  The bug report recommends removing the specific version number in favor of a more general phrase such as "Firefox checked for updates 20 minutes ago, you are running the latest release," according to Asa.  Firefox would then, ideally, check for an update whenever the About window was opened, to keep the update message current and the user running the latest build.

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The current Firefox About page where version numbers are still listed.

While the specific version number will be removed from the About page, users would still be able to dig into the browser's less well known areas, such as the about:support configuration page, to see it.

On one hand, Firefox's new rapid-release schedule will make versioning a less efficient method of, well, versioning; however, the About page of an application has traditionally been the spot to find the version number, and removing the version number from what is essentially a version number information page seems counter productive.  Firefox will likely be on version 7 before the end of the year, and considering version 5 was just released in June, the argument that version numbers are getting out of hand has some merit.  With that said, a simplified message to users that they are, in fact, running the latest version is a good thing to implement, but does it necessitate no longer displaying the version number?

Personally, I enjoy knowing the specific version number of the applications I run, but I'm curious what you guys think; should the version number be buried?

Source: Mozilla

"I look forward to welcoming Motorolans to our family of Googlers"

Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2011 - 05:26 PM |
Tagged: purchase, motorola, google

The tech world is always going through changes; much like life in a pond, the small things either grow into big things or something big eats them.  Motorola was once a big fish, but went through some lean times, losing about $4 billion from 2007 to 2009. They started off more than 50 years ago, designing chips for radios and TVs and even providing communication chips to NASA for many missions including the first moon landing.  From there they sold off the TV portion to a little known company called Panasonic, so that they could focus on their communications chips and to start dabbling in what became the 6800 and 68000 series of chips.  Those chips powered Amigas, the original Apple MacIntoshes; even the joint IBM and Apple PowerPC chips were Motorola and that architecture is still used today.

As of today that once big fish is now a part of Google, as they purchased it at a premium of 63% above market value.  That is certainly a decent deal for stockholders and may well be a great deal for Motorola employees as well as they move to a strictly Android based development regime. That may lead to some interesting times in the future, as Google claims that Android will remain open and run on any architecture.  However, now that they own a complete closed development chain, in the form of Motorola's patents and hardware, the open philosophy may run counter to the development of hardware.  John McCarthy of Forrester Blogs, as well as many others are following this story; though it will be quite a while before we know the full repercussions of the purchase.

gmmgle2.jpg

"Earlier this morning, Google announced its intention to buy Motorola Mobility for 12.5 Billion in cash or $40/share. There are three broad justifications for the deal:

  • Access to the Motorola patent portfolio which it could then license to partners like HTC and Samsung to protect against the long arm of Apple's lawyers.
  • An integrated hardware/software play to compete with Apple. The problem with this logic is that the deal does not address the fragmentation on the Android platform which is the bigger issue.
  • The set-top business to bolster its lagging Google TV offering."

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SteelSeries' Sensei Gets Smart With 32-bit ARM Processor

Subject: General Tech | August 15, 2011 - 11:25 AM |
Tagged: steelseries, Sensei, gaming mouse, cpu, arm

Bit-Tech reports that popular gaming peripheral maker SteelSeries will be unveiling a new mouse at GamesCon next week. The new gaming mouse, dubbed the Sensei is a dark, ambidextrous affair with LED powered logo, wheel, and sensitivity indicator in addition to an LCD screen on the bottom of the mouse to configure features.

The Sensei mouse has a large SteelSeries logo towards the back of the palm rest. The lighting of the logo supports up to 16.8 million colors. The body is comprised of metal with a non-slip grip coating, and features eight buttons. Bruce Hawver, SteelSeries’ CEO stated “The Sensei is really the culmination of thousands of hours of research and testing with competitive players.”  In keeping with the competitive gamer theme, SteelSeries has endowed the Sensei with advanced macro capabilities, including the ability to record timed and layered macros with keystrokes.

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On the sensor front, the Sensei features a sensitivity range of 1 to 5,700 counts per inch (SteelSeries’ DPI-like system of measurement). Further, thanks to a “Double CPI” feature, the gaming mouse is able to ratchet up the sensitivity to an impressive 11,400 CPI, which makes navigating a six screen Eyefinity setup a breeze. Using SteelSeries ExactTech tracking customization technologies (ExactSens, ExactAccel, and ExactAim), Sensei’s laser sensor features a 10.8 megapixel image correlation at up to 12,000 frames per second (FPS), enabling it to track movements up to 150 inches per second.

All this tracking, macro support, and laser sensor horsepower demands a relatively beefy processor. While these instructions could be passed to the CPU for processing, having a dedicated chip on the mouse to process the sensor data and pass the coordinate data to the system can lower lag (or at least that’s SteelSeries’ goal). That requirement for computing time is where the 32-bit ARM processor comes into play. Specifically, the company states that the processor enables advanced SteelSeries ExactTech calculations to be done on the mouse itself and configuration via the mouse’s LCD screen.

 

The Sensei is slated for launch in September with a price of $90. The numbers and hardware are certainly impressive; however, whether that hardware will make a noticeable improvement in gaming and daily usage over the competition remains to be seen.  More photos and information on the new Sensei gaming mouse can be found here.

What do you think about the Sensei’s inclusion of ARM processor and LCD screen? Personally, while I am rather partial to (blue) LEDs, I can’t see myself using the LCD screen or other gamer-oriented features.

Source: Bit-Tech

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, coming before HL2 Episode 3

Subject: General Tech | August 13, 2011 - 04:01 AM |
Tagged: valve, Counter-Strike

There exists a videogame software company up in Washington State known as Valve Corporation. There also exists a company from Washington State that produces steamy forum trolls and 4chan memes. The two companies are often times (VST) the same company; today is no different. Valve unleashed a Global Offensive when they announced a new upcoming continuation to their longstanding franchise that is not Half Life 2: Episode 3. The game will be a continuation of their long-standing modern-era franchise and will be titled, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

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Fans wonder if Valve actually thinks that they already released Episode 3.

(Update Aug 13th 2011 @ 4am: Replaced image to clarify joke 1am: They didn't announce Episode 3 yet... this is just yet another thing they announced before they announce it.)

Global Offensive is set to launch in Early 2012 which should always be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to Valve, Episode 3, but this time-frame looks about legitimate. The game will be available on Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation Network, and Steam for PC and Mac. Judging by their target distribution model on the consoles it appears as if the release will not in fact be a full-fledged standalone game which makes sense due to Valve’s historical stance on how much content should be provided per dollar; there is even a joke that circulated briefly after the release of the Orange Box that Valve needs to round out the bottom of their second v. Valve promises that the game will contain both new and updated content with de_dust explicitly named as being in Global Offensive. No word on hats.

Source: Steam