People’s addiction to networking sites on rise: study

A Facebook login page is seen on a computer screen in Chicago

People’s addiction to social networking sites is fast on the rise, according to a study which said an increasing number of Facebook and Twitter users check their accounts first thing in the morning while some look at their social media messages even while having sex.

The study conducted by consumer electronics shopping site Retrevo said 53 per cent of people surveyed check their Facebook/Twitter accounts as soon as they get up in the morning, even “before getting out of bed”. Nearly 31 per cent say “this is how I get my morning news“.

“What is it about social media that causes people to spend so much of their precious time trading information with friends, family and even giant corporations? Of course, we already know the answer; it is fun and can be rewarding both socially and financially,” Retrevo’s Director of Community & Content Andrew Eisner said.

The Gadgetology study asked consumers how they felt about being interrupted at various times and occasions for an electronic message. While 33 per cent said they did not mind being interrupted by message updates “during a meeting”, 76 per cent said they can take a break from their meal to check their accounts.

Seventeen per cent said they would read a message on Facebook or Twitter during sex, while 63 per cent said they would check out a message while in the toilet.

Thirty-four per cent of the respondents said they would check their social networking accounts first thing in the morning, before switching on the TV. About 30 per cent of those surveyed said they check or update their Facebook/Twitter accounts whenever they wake up in the night.

People under the age of 25 were more likely to lose sleep keeping an eye on their friends’ posts during the night, the study said. iPhone owners stand out in this study as more involved with social media. They use Facebook and Twitter more often and in more places.

“With over 31 per cent of social media users saying checking Facebook and Twitter first thing in the morning is how they get their morning “news”, could we be witnessing the first signs of social media services beginning to replace ’Good Morning America’ as the source for what’s going on in the world?” the study said.

In more evidence that social media is becoming addictive, 56 per cent of its users said they need to check Facebook at least once a day, while 29 per cent said they can go only a couple of hours without checking their accounts.

Thirty-five per cent said they have to check their accounts at least a few times in a day. The sample size for the survey was over 1000 people across the United States.

According to Facebook, it has more than 400 million active users across the world. Some estimates say Twitter ended 2009 with over 75 million user accounts.

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India is the world’s number two spammer

Brazil, India, Korea, Vietnam and U.S. top the chart of spammers

Wonder where all those annoying spam messages come from? Who sends them? Well, you have got some answers here. Panda Security, a player in antivirus and preventive technologies segment, has stated in its report that India is the world’s number two spammer. Surprised? Even we were.

Panda Security has released a report stating that Brazil, India, Korea, Vietnam and U.S. head the list of countries from which most spam was sent during the first two months of the year 2010. With respect to the cities from which spam was being sent, Seoul was first in the list, followed by Hanoi, New Delhi, Bogota, Sao Paulo and Mumbai.

The five million emails analyzed by PandaLabs came from a total of almost one million different IP addresses. This shows that the spam is mostly sent from zombie computers belonging to a botnet. This way, the computers of the infected users themselves are those which send the spam. The cybercrooks have thousands of computers at their disposal, which do the dirty work for them.

Spam is nothing but a business and is used primarily either to distribute malware or sell/advertise all type of products. Therefore, as long as there are users, no matter if they are few, who trust these messages, it’s enough to continue betting on it.

—techtree

Anti-virus software maker inside global cybercrime ring

BOSTON: Hundreds of computer geeks, most of them students putting themselves through college, crammed into three floors of an office building in an industrial section of Ukraine’s capital Kiev, churning out code at a frenzied pace. They were creating some of the world’s most pernicious, and profitable, computer viruses.

According to court documents, former employees and investigators, a receptionist greeted visitors at the door of the company, known as Innovative Marketing Ukraine. Communications cables lay jumbled on the floor and a small coffee maker sat on the desk of one worker.

As business boomed, the firm added a human resources department, hired an internal IT staff and built a call centre to dissuade its victims from seeking credit card refunds. Employees were treated to catered holiday parties and picnics with paintball competitions.

Top performers got bonuses as young workers turned a blind eye to the harm the software was doing. “When you are just 20, you don’t think a lot about ethics,” said Maxim, a former Innovative Marketing programmer who now works for a Kiev bank and asked that only his first name be used for this story. “I had a good salary and I know that most employees also had pretty good salaries.”

In a rare victory in the battle against cybercrime, the company closed down last year after the US Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit seeking its disbandment in US federal court.

An examination of the FTC’s complaint and documents from a legal dispute among Innovative executives offer a rare glimpse into a dark, expanding — and highly profitable — corner of the internet.

Innovative Marketing Ukraine, or IMU, was at the center of a complex underground corporate empire with operations stretching from Eastern Europe to Bahrain; from India and Singapore to the United States. A researcher with anti-virus software maker McAfee Inc who spent months studying the company’s operations estimates that the business generated revenue of about $180 million in 2008, selling programs in at least two dozen countries. “They turned compromised machines into cash,” said the researcher, Dirk Kollberg.

The company built its wealth pioneering scareware — programs that pretend to scan a computer for viruses, and then tell the user that their machine is infected. The goal is to persuade the victim to voluntarily hand over their credit card information, paying $50 to $80 to “clean” their PC.

Scareware, also known as rogueware or fake antivirus software, has become one of the fastest-growing, and most prevalent, types of internet fraud. Software maker Panda Security estimates that each month some 35 million PCs worldwide, or 3.5 per cent of all computers, are infected with these malicious programmes, putting more than $400 million a year in the hands of cybercriminals. “When you include cost incurred by consumers replacing computers or repairing, the total damages figure is much, much larger than the out of pocket figure,” said Ethan Arenson, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission who helps direct the agency’s efforts to fight cybercrime.

Groups like Innovative Marketing build the viruses and collect the money but leave the work of distributing their merchandise to outside hackers. Once infected, the machines become virtually impossible to operate. The scareware also removes legitimate anti-virus software from vendors including Symantec Corp, McAfee and Trend Micro Inc, leaving PCs vulnerable to other attacks.

When victims pay the fee, the virus appears to vanish, but in some cases the machine is then infiltrated by other malicious programs. Hackers often sell the victim’s credit card credentials to the highest bidder.

Removing scareware is a top revenue generator for Geek Choice, a PC repair company with about two dozen outlets in the United States. The outfit charges $100 to $150 to clean infected machines, a service that accounts for about 30 percent of all calls. Geek Choice CEO Lucas Brunelle said that scareware attacks have picked up over the past few months as the software has become increasingly sophisticated. “There are more advanced strains that are resistant to a lot of anti-virus software,” Brunelle said.

Anti-virus software makers have also gotten into the lucrative business of cleaning PCs, charging for those services even when their products fall down on the job.

Charlotte Vlastelica, a homemaker in State College, Pennsylvania, was running a version of Symantec’s Norton anti-virus software when her PC was attacked by Antispyware 2010. “These pop-ups were constant,” she said. “They were layered one on top of the other. You couldn’t do anything.”

So she called Norton for help and was referred to the company’s technical support division. The fee for removing Antispyware 2010 was $100. A frustrated Vlastelica vented: “You totally missed the virus and now you’re going to charge us $100 to fix it?”

AN INDUSTRY PIONEER

“It’s sort of a plague,” said Kent Woerner, a network administrator for a public school district in Beloit, Kansas, some 5,500 miles (8,850 km) away from Innovative Marketing’s offices in Kiev. He ran into one of its products, Advanced Cleaner, when a teacher called to report that pornographic photos were popping up on a student’s screen. A message falsely claimed the images were stored on the school’s computer.

“When I have a sixth-grader seeing that kind of garbage, that’s offensive,” said Woerner. He fixed the machine by deleting all data from the hard drive and installing a fresh copy of Windows. All stored data was lost.

Stephen Layton, who knows his way around technology, ended up junking his PC, losing a week’s worth of data that he had yet to back up from his hard drive, after an attack from an Innovative Marketing program dubbed Windows XP Antivirus. The president of a home-based software company in Stevensville, Maryland, Layton says he is unsure how he contracted the malware.

But he was certain of its deleterious effect. “I work eight-to-12 hours a day,” he said. “You lose a week of that and you’re ready to jump off the roof.”

Layton and Woerner are among more than 1,000 people who complained to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission about Innovative Marketing’s software, prompting an investigation that lasted more than a year and the federal lawsuit that sought to shut them down. To date the government has only succeeded in retrieving $117,000 by settling its charges against one of the defendants in the suit, James Reno, of Amelia, Ohio, who ran a customer support center in Cincinnati. He could not be reached for comment.

“These guys were the innovators and the biggest players (in scareware) for a long time,” said Arenson, who headed up the FTC’s investigation of Innovative Marketing.

Innovative’s roots date back to 2002, according to an account by one of its top executives, Marc D’Souza, a Canadian, who described the company’s operations in-depth in a 2008 legal dispute in Toronto with its founders over claims that he embezzled millions of dollars from the firm. The other key executives were a British man and a naturalized U.S. citizen of Indian origin.

According to D’Souza’s account, Innovative Marketing was set up as an internet company whose early products included pirated music and pornography downloads and illicit sales of the impotence drug Viagra. It also sold gray market versions of anti-virus software from Symantec and McAfee, but got out of the business in 2003 under pressure from those companies.

It tried building its own anti-virus software, dubbed Computershield, but the product didn’t work. That didn’t dissuade the firm from peddling the software amid the hysteria over MyDoom, a parasitic “worm” that attacked millions of PCs in what was then the biggest email virus attack to date. Innovative Marketing aggressively promoted the product over the internet, bringing in monthly profits of more than $1 million, according to D’Souza

The company next started developing a type of malicious software known as adware that hackers install on PCs, where they served up pop-up ads for travel services, pornography, discounted drugs and other products, including its flawed antivirus software. They spread that adware by recruiting hackers whom they called “affiliates” to install it on PCs.

“Most affiliates installed the adware product on end-users’ computers illegally through the use of browser hijacking and other nefarious methods,” according to D’Souza. He said that Innovative Marketing paid its affiliates 10 cents per hijacked PC, but generated average returns of $2 to $5 for each of those machines through the sale of software and products promoted through the adware.

ANY MEANS BUT SPAM

The affiliate system has since blossomed. Hackers looking for a piece of the action can link up with scareware companies through anonymous internet chat rooms. They are paid through electronic wire services such as Western Union, Pay Pal and Webmoney which can protect the identity of both the sender and the recipient.

To get started, a hacker needs to register as an affiliate on an underground website and download a virus file that is coded with his or her affiliate ID. Then it’s off to races.

“You can install it by any means, except spam,” says one affiliate recruiting site, earning4u.com, which pays $6 to $180 for every 1,000 PCs infected with its software. PCs in the United States earn a higher rate than ones in Asia.

Affiliates load the software onto the machines by a variety of methods, including hijacking legitimate websites, setting up corrupt sites for the purposes of spreading viruses and attacks over social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

“Anybody can get infected by going to a legitimate website,” said Uri Rivner, an executive with RSA, one of the world’s top computer security companies.

A scareware vendor distributed its goods one September weekend via The New York Times’ website by inserting a single rogue advertisement. The hacker paid NYTimes.com to run the ad, which was disguised as one for the internet phone company Vonage. It contaminated PCs of an unknown number of readers, according to an account of the incident published in The New York Times.

Patrik Runald, a senior researcher at internet security firm Websense Inc, expects rogueware vendors to get more aggressive with marketing. “We’re going to see them invest more money in that — buying legitimate ad space,” he said.

To draw victims to infected websites, hackers will also manipulate Google’s search engine to get their sites to come up on the top of anyone’s search in a particular subject. For instance, they might capitalize on news events of wide interest — from the winners of the Oscars to the Tiger Woods scandal — quickly setting up sites to attract relevant search times. Anti-virus maker Panda Security last year observed one scareware peddler set up some 1 million web pages that infected people searching for Ford auto parts with a program dubbed MSAntispyware2009. They also snare victims by sending their links through Facebook and Twitter.

Some rogue vendors manage their partnerships with hackers through software that tracks who installed the virus that generated a sale. Hackers are paid well for their efforts, garnering commissions ranging from 50 to 90 percent, according to Panda Security. SecureWorks, another security firm, estimates that a hacker who gets 1 to 2 percent of users of infected machines to purchase the software can pull in over $5 million a year in commissions.

Hackers in some Eastern European countries barely attempt to conceal their activities.

Panda Security found photos of a party in March 2008 that it said affiliate ring KlikVIP held in Montenegro to reward scareware installers. One showed a briefcase full of euros that would go to the top performer. “They weren’t afraid of the legal implications, ” said Panda Security researcher Sean-Paul Correll. “They were fearless.”

BANKING

One of Innovative Marketing’s biggest problems was the high proportion of victims who complained to their credit card companies and obtained refunds on their purchases. That hurt the relationships with its merchant banks that processed those transactions, forcing it to switch from banks in Canada to Bahrain. It created subsidiaries designed to hide its identity.

In 2005, Bank of Bahrain & Kuwait severed its ties with an Innovative Marketing subsidiary that had the highest volume of credit card processing of any entity in Bahrain because of its high chargeback rates, according to D’Souza.

Innovative Marketing then went five months without a credit card processor before finding a bank in Singapore — DBS Bank — willing to handle its account. The Singapore bank processed tens of millions of dollars in backlogged credit card payments for the company, D’Souza said.

To keep the chargeback rate from climbing even higher, Innovative Marketing invested heavily in call centers. It opened facilities in Ukraine, India and the United States. The rogueware was designed to tell the users that their PCs were working properly once the victim had paid for the software, so when people called up to complain it wasn’t working, agents would walk them through whatever steps it took to make those messages come up.

Often that required disabling legitimate anti-virus software programs, according to McAfee researcher Dirk Kollberg, who spent hours listening to digitized audio recordings of customer service calls that Innovative Marketing kept on its servers at its Ukraine offices. He gathered the data by tapping into a computer server at its branch in Kiev that he said was inadvertently hooked up to Innovative’s website. “At the end of the call,” he said, “most customers were happy.”

Police have had limited success in cracking down on the scareware industry. Like Innovative Marketing, most rogue internet companies tend to be based in countries where laws permit such activities or officials look the other way.

Law enforcement agencies in the United States, Western Europe, Japan and Singapore are the most aggressive in prosecuting internet crimes and helping officials in other countries pursue such cases, said Mark Rasch, former head of the computer crimes unit at the U.S. Department of Justice. “In the rest of the world, it’s hit or miss,” he said. “The cooperation is getting better, but the level of crime continues to increase and continues to outpace the level of cooperation.”

The FTC succeeded in persuading a U.S. federal judge to order Innovative Marketing and two individuals associated with it to pay $163 million it had scammed from Americans. Neither individual has surfaced since the government filed its original suit more than a year ago. But Ethan Arenson, the FTC attorney who handled the case, warned: “Collection efforts are just getting underway.”

—economictimes

Kerala’s first ever Twestival to be held in Kochi

Social media activists in Kerala are gearing up to organise the State’s first ever ‘Twestival’ or Twitter Festival in Kochi on Thursday.

Twestival is aimed at using the social media for social good.

According to the organisers, it would also be a grand celebration of Kerala’s culture and community spirit.

Dubbed ELECTROWESTIVAL, Twestival in Kochi will feature the city’s Electro Boy DJ Arvee; Stand up Comedy by Siddharth, KochiVibe; and a Techno-Humor Geek extravaganza by Binny the blogger.

Twestival will be happening in more than 175 cities around the world on Thursday. Thousands of people will demonstrate social media’s power for social good through the second annual Twestival. The global event is a worldwide fundraising initiative that uses social media,particularly Twitter, to focus participants’ talent and resources to benefit one cause for one day. All proceeds generated from the 2010 Twestival will support education and be donated to Concern Worldwide.

Seven cities in India are participating in the second global Twestival – Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Goa, Kolkata, and Mumbai.

In 2009, Twestival India was able to raise over Rs. 90,000 for the nonprofits supported. “Considering the ever increasing number of Indians taking to the social media platform Twitter, we expect to more than double this amount in 2010,” the organisers said in a press release.

“The most special thing about Twestival,” said K. M. Vaijayanthi, Regional Coordinator for India, “apart from the nonprofit we support, is the way we work. Twestival is 100 per cent volunteer driven. All of us working for Twestival in India, and elsewhere too, are working professionals who believe they can use their free time for a global cause like this.”

“Organising online and gathering offline allows Twestival to harness the incredible communication power of Twitter to propel participation in real events around the world,” said Amanda Rose, founder of Twestival. “There is no shortage of people who are passionate and want to help. The challenge is coordination, not participation. By using social media platforms such as Twitter, Twestival is able to connect hundreds of independent local events into a powerful globalinitiative. At last year’s Twestival, more than 1,000 volunteers and 10,000 donors raised more than $250,000 to provide clean and safe drinking water for more than 17,000 people. We know this works—and we’re excited to make it work for every child in the world that deserves an education.”

Can China live without Google?

BEIJING: Google’s decision to withdraw from China showcases a war between the biggest search engine company and the biggest Internet market in the 

world, and questions are being raised in China if they can survive without the giant.

Google’s decision will potentially cut off the country’s 400 million users, the world’s biggest Web audience, but some opinions in the country suggest that the loss may not mean “darkness”, as the western media is putting it.

These opinions also suggest that Google does not “dominate” Chinese people’s lives, and local search engines, including Baidu, can possibly take over in future.

“I’m not sure if Google knows that its arrogance can easily remind the Chinese people of the “big powers” who cracked open China’s door by warships and cannons in the 19th century. The reason those invaders could make the Qing government sign unfair treaties is that they owned advance weapons that China didn’t have,” an opinion piece in China Daily said.

“Google didn’t understand that they had been on the road of the big powers again. The only difference was military weapons in the past and Internet service today,” it added.

The opinions further highlight that “Google has challenged the Chinese government’s sovereignty by demanding the government accept Google’s presumed definition on opening up”, adding that “China has always been in a developing mode that shows no signs of stopping.”

Meanwhile, Ed Burnette, a columnist from adnet.com under the Columbia Broadcasting System Corp (CBS) said it was “a pity and an avoidable mistake” for Google to retreat from China.

He also believes that it is “arrogant thinking to assume that we know what’s best for China, and our values can still work well in that very different culture; and it’s an ignorant idea to believe threats and ultimatums can bring positive results, especially from such proud and sufficient people.”

Windows users to be offered choice of browsers

Microsoft’s Windows operating system has begun offering users a choice of browsers when surfing the web, no longer limiting them to Explorer.

 Many internet users might not be so excited about some freedom of choice coming their way.

Microsoft’s Windows operating system has begun offering users a choice of browsers when surfing the web, no longer limiting them to Explorer. The freedom might excite some, but the less tech-savvy could find the choices overwhelming.

Browsers are essentially the web surfer’s board. They are the programmes that make viewing websites possible. Nonetheless, they are an unknown quantity for many people.

“A lot of people use them without really knowing what they are,” says Tim Bosenick, Manager at Sirvaluse, a German company that evaluates technical products.

Until now, Windows users were more or less forced to use Explorer.

It was automatically installed on most PCs and appeared automatically as a light blue letter e in the toolbar. Anyone who wanted to use a different browser had to make a conscious decision to install and use it. But now the European Union has more or less ordered Microsoft to expand the choices offered.

Users will notice a change when they update their Windows operating system.

“The window automatically pops up,” says Microsoft spokeswoman Irene Nadler. It will show the five most common browsers. Alongside Explorer there will be Version 8 of Firefox – the newest – as well as icons for Opera, Chrome and Safari. Since Microsoft is blocked from promoting Explorer, the solution seems fair, says Jo Bager of c’t, a German computer magazine.

Scrolling right will reveal yet more browser options. Under each symbol is a clickable area where people can go for more information about the browsers – and how to install them. Anyone who wants to think before acting can opt to be reminded about the choice later.

But those who act quickly and then have buyer’s remorse will not get the window again, meaning they will have to manually track down a different browser at its website.

“All four browsers offered in the window are sensible alternatives,” says Holger Maass of Fittkau & Maass, a German information technology marketing research company.

Firefox, for example, can be expanded easily thanks to add-ons, giving it a whole new range of functions. Google’s Chrome also offers add-ons.

“Chrome has developed unbelievably quickly in the meantime,” says Bager. One drawback for users who care about information security: each browser is linked to a personal number that allows the browser operator to track every user and his surfing behaviour. Google has promised to shut that function off in its newest version.

“Fast” is the word most people associate with Opera, offered by the Norwegian company of the same name. The new version 10.50 is particularly speedy. Computer users who don’t have especially fast internet connections can also benefit from a special Opera setting for such computers.

The advantage of Apple’s Safari is its wide array of functions.

“For example, you can page back with a mouse movement.” But those functions could also make users unfamiliar with them nervous.

Indeed, at the end of the day, a lot of computer users have grown used to Explorer, which could be good news for Microsoft.

Google TV : Browse the internet through television screens

The system will be called “Google TV”, will be made by Sony and powered by Intel chips. It has built a prototype set-top box, that allows users to browse the internet through their television screens do things such as download movies and television shows. The “Google TV” however will also come in the form of actual TV sets.

Along with regular television there will also be Hulu, YouTube and other web-video sources, along with games and apps for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.Google TV, will essentially be a big-screen living-room computer.

With this, Google takes a lead among other players in this race like the Apple who have been trying to make people access internet through their TVs. People already with TV sets need not feel disappointed as this device can also be built into the TV. It would facilitate simultaneous viewing of TV and better access to the web, search, and social networking sites. These companies also appear to be in talks with Logitech to build peripherals like a remote control and small keyboard for the system.

The project although is being developed since long but its kept under tight wraps and its details away from the public. The GTV will run on the Android OS, Google’s open-source mobile phone operating system originally designed to run on ARM core, (the processor used in most smartphones, but has been also adapted by some companies to operate on different chip architectures such as MIPS or Intel x86) and will even have the Chrome browser built-in. Partnership with Intel ensures TV will use some form of Atom chips in it. This move was pretty obvious as TV is only one of the few advertising markets Google isn’t yet in.

It has been reported that Google has begun testing the set-top box technology though Dish Network, a satellite TV provider.

However Google’s new venture could weaken the PC industry. This is foreseen as when the people will have the internet in their television, and a tablet appliance like the iPad with them around, they would not need a desktop or even a laptop computer.

It is unclear whether this system would be launched worldwide or be designed for release in the United States only, as with some of Google’s other products.

Both papers, however, cite sources completely anonymous information and denials have come from both the Sony spokesperson and that of Google.

–whitehatfirm