Under normal circumstances, news of a hacker breaching a secure system and pocketing $60,000 would make us shudder and batten down our own online hatches. But in this case, a Russian teenager's exploit of Google's Chrome browser actually makes us all a little bit safer.
The hack took place during the Google-sponsored Pwnium contest this week, held at the CanSecWest security conference in Vancouver. The contest is designed to allow hackers to identify security holes in Chrome, so that these exploits can be patched before they're used for nefarious purposes. Sergey Glaznov won the top prize by breaching Chrome to gain full control of the test machine, allowing him to execute code remotely.
And true to their reputation for blazing-fast updates, Google developers released an over-the-air patch removing the security threat within 24 hours of the hack.
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Chrome's main claim as a secure browser comes from a technique called "sandboxing," which keeps browser code away from the rest of the computer's operating system. In other words, even if a hacker gains access to Chrome, he or she won't (in theory) be able to access the whole computer. But Glaznov was able to chain three separate bugs in Chrome's programming to get around the sandboxing.
This was the first time that Chrome has been hacked publicly, but it wasn't the last: a French security company used a different exploit to bring the browser to its knees at the Pwn2Own competition, a separate hacking contest being held simultaneously at CanSecWest. Google says it hasn't received details about that hack yet, but users can undoubtedly expect another swift Chrome update once developers are able to plug that security hole as well.
Chrome's open-sourced code base is what enables Google developers to patch vulnerabilities and release patches to users so quickly. (A fix for a vulnerability in, say, Microsoft's Internet Explorer would likely have to go through weeks or months of quality-assurance tests before being pushed out to users.)
Now that the holes Glaznov discovered have been plugged, Google will spend some time studying the hack in-depth, to better understand how to prevent similar exploits in the future. The Chrome Release blog notes that details about the hack won't be published until users have a chance to install the patch. Google wants to use Glaznov's hack to help patch other vulnerabilities -- but it doesn't want to give too much information to hackers who have less benevolent motives for wanting to cripple Chrome.
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March 8 marks International Women's Day. The century-old holiday grew out of the communist movement, but since then has become many different things depending on where you live. For some, it's a somber reminder of the lingering inequality for women. Elsewhere, it's practically Valentine's Day.
How did a day of socialist protest become represented by the vernal splash of color in Thursday's Google doodle? The answer leads us back to the early 1900s.
People forget that women could not vote for president in the US until 1920, two years after World War I. Several states allowed women to vote in local elections. (New Jersey actually extended the right in 1776 – same year as the Declaration of Independence – but then took it away thirty years later.) It took a lot of convincing before Congress drafted the 19th Amendment, which now allows all Americans to vote.
A decade before the 19th Amendment, 15,000 women marched through New York City. This garment workers' strike demanded better pay, shorter working days (eight-hour days were a luxury back then), the right to vote, and an end to child labor. "They adopted the slogan 'Bread and Roses,' with bread symbolizing economic security and roses a better quality of life," writes the United Nations in its history of International Women's Day.
In 1909, the Socialist Party of America wanted to honor the March 8 strike. It created the first National Woman's Day, a time to rally against women's unfair position in American life.
Eventually, thanks to the Socialist Party and other suffrage movements, Washington got the message. Congress passed the 19th Amendment in 1919, but, as you may remember from high school, at least 36 states needed to ratify the bill before it became law. Collecting the necessary states took an extra year. In fact, four states did not ratify the 19th Amendment until the 1970s. Mississippi waited until 1984. Of course, Mississippi women could still vote. Ratifying it after 1920 was simply a symbolic gesture.
But the Socialist Party's National Woman's Day had further reverberations.
In 1910, an international group called the Socialist International met in Copenhagen. There, German socialist Clara Zetkin suggested an international version of the American holiday. "The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament," writes the UN.
The next year, four European countries celebrated International Women's Day. More than 1 million people across Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland rallied for women's rights. Observance spread year after year, eventually losing its overt socialist spin. International Women's Day is now an official holiday in 30 countries and widely observed in several others. InternationalWomensDay.com lists hundreds of events from around the world.
But the spirit of the day has taken on many forms. As the Monitor's Whitney Eulich writes, "Many women in China will have a half-day off of work in honor of IWD, and some employers even shower their female employees with gifts." Meanwhile, the "Turkmenistan government will honor mothers by awarding a special title and badge to women with eight or more children. Ireland will hold "a brunch for survivors of domestic abuse and violence."
The United Nations took a similarly serious tone. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recognized the considerable progress made since the first International Women's Day. “But, despite this momentum, there is a long way to go before women and girls can be said to enjoy the fundamental rights, freedom and dignity that are their birthright and that will guarantee their well-being,” said the Secretary-General on Wednesday.
Mr. Ban focused on rural women, but you can see room for improvement here in the US, where women make 77.4 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to 2010 numbers from the National Committee on Pay Equality.
Google, for its part, took the opportunity for a commemorative doodle. The spring-themed illustration swapped out the Google G with the Roman symbol for Venus – a circle with a cross underneath. The emblem has become a universal emblem for women.
For more on how technology intersect daily life, follow Chris on Twitter @venturenaut.
The app store formerly known as the Android Marketplace was transformed today into Google Play. Play is a high-design site that offers not just apps, as the marketplace of yore did, but also folds in Google's eBookstore and Google Music to offer movies, books, and songs.
Taking a page from the Amazon playbook, Google has grown out its specialty shops into a digital mall. And taking another page, this one from Apple’s iCloud, Play will allow for synching across multiple devices, as the store and your files reside in the cloud.
Play will allow you to store up to 20,000 music files, including songs that you did not purchase through Play – the same limit set by Google Music. It does not allow you to store movies, however.
“Entertainment is supposed to be fun," writes Jamie Rosenberg, Director of Digital Content, on Google’s blog. "But in reality, getting everything to work can be the exact opposite… Today we’re eliminating all that hassle with Google Play, a digital entertainment destination where you can find, enjoy and share your favorite music, movies, books and apps on the web and on your Android phone or tablet.”
The Android Marketplace website changes over today. But it will take some time for Google to change the Marketplace app on phones and tablets running the Android OS into the Google Play store app. Movies, books, and other media customers have purchased will be available via the new app.
Earlier this year, AT&T announced it would begin to throttle – or slow – the service of its hungriest data users, once they passed an unspecified limit. The problem: Since the limit was unspecified, users had no way of knowing when their service was about to get throttled. Unsurprisingly, AT&T was pelted with complaints.
This week, the company backpedaled, saying unlimited data subscribers would only experience slowed service if they hit 3GB of usage in a single cycle. "Our unlimited plan customers have told us they want more clarity around how the program works and what they can expect," AT&T said in a statement yesterday, according to Computerworld. "[And] for context, less than 5% of smartphone customers use more than 3GB per month."
As the Associated Press notes, citing a recent Nielsen report, the average smart-phone user chews through 435 megabytes of data each month. You'd have to use seven times that amount to come near the AT&T limit. Not that the whole data limit flap is going to go away anytime soon: Expect carriers such as AT&T to continue to find ways to manage the data speeds of American smart-phone users.
"[O]n the bright side, we have a major company buckling under pressure from its customers. It’s not often you see a well-established, non-startup company actively respond to requests from its user base," writes Zach Whittaker of ZDNet. "Whether or not you think it’s fair, AT&T has at least – at last – been transparent about its opaque and hazy data caps. It’s far from an 'unlimited' service to what the public would expect, but it’s a lot of space to maneuver."
Almost no one likes those gabbers who chatter loudly into their cell phones on trains and buses.
And few people like 'em less than a Philadelphia resident named Eric, who has apparently been using a cell phone jammer to disrupt the conversations of the other riders on his SEPTA bus route. According to an NBC affiliate in Philly, Eric knows he is "taking the law into his own hands" – but he's "proud" of his work.
"A lot of people are extremely loud, no sense of just privacy or anything. When it becomes a bother, that’s when I screw on the antenna and flip the switch," Eric said. Listening to people talk is "pretty irritating, and quite frankly, it’s pretty rude," he added.
Clearly, he has a good deal of support: His story was picked up today by dozens of tech sites, and for a brief moment on Friday, "cell phone jammer" topped the Google Trends list.
A couple things to note here: Cell phone jamming is illegal. It carries a substantial fine. Legally speaking, you shouldn't do it. Morally speaking, you shouldn't do it, either: while it's easy to sympathize with Eric's plight – listening to other people talk on their phones is annoying! – going all smart-phone vigilante is not the best way to handle the situation.
The best way is to turn around and ask the person to stop talking.
Because, as the NBC news affiliate was quick to point out, people talk on their phones for many reasons: They might have an emergency, for instance.
"[S]houldn’t this guy mind his own business?" asks Shawn Hess of WebProNews. "Go somewhere where you can be alone if you need peace. I realize that probably means leaving the city, but the city has never been for those who enjoy peace and quiet, has it?"
At around 9 in the evening on Tuesday, a series of outages roiled Windows Azure, a popular cloud computing platform run by Microsoft. According to the Register, the blackouts continued well into the next day, with some users reporting problems as recently as Wednesday evening. It was a "meltdown," to borrow the terminology of one popular tech blog.
Now, Microsoft says it has sussed out the source of the problem – and it all has to do with the wonky 2012 calendar.
"While final root cause analysis is in progress, this issue appears to be due to a time calculation that was incorrect for the leap year," Bill Laing, a Microsoft executive, wrote on the Azure blog yesterday afternoon. "Once we discovered the issue we immediately took steps to protect customer services that were already up and running, and began creating a fix for the issue."
Laing acknowledged that "some sub-regions and customers are still experiencing issues," but he said Microsoft was working to address the problem. As of yesterday, Azure service had been restored to the "majority" of customers, Laing added.
Not that all users were easily comforted. IDG highlights today a series of complaints on the Azure forum, including this one, from an especially dyspeptic customer: "I can't imagine the damage this has done to companies with large scale customers. I mean we have chosen Windows Azure due to the redundancy... How can we explain this to our customers?"
As Charles Babcock of Information Week noted, the outages also served as further evidence of the occasional instability of the cloud.
"This incident is a reminder that the best practices of cloud computing operations are still a work in progress, not an established science. And while prevention is better than cure, infrastructure-as-a-service operators may not know everything they need to about these large-scale environment," Babcock wrote.
Next week, at a press event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in San Francisco, Apple will almost definitely take the wraps off a new iPad. Smart money is on a top-flight tablet with improved cameras, more powerful processors, and a high-resolution "Retina Display."
Apple currently sells three versions of the iPad 2: a 16GB unit for $499; a 32GB unit for $599; and a 64GB unit for $699.
Beginning with the iPad 3, Apple will shift course, eliminating the 64GB tablet and introducing an 8GB iteration. So says the Taiwanese newspaper DigiTimes, which has published a report this week alleging that Apple will also roll out an 8GB iPad, in order to "cover different segments and to defend against Windows 8-based tablet PCs."
There is no confirmation from Apple; DigiTimes, a source of much Apple gossip, says the scuttlebutt comes from sources in Apple's "upstream supply chain." So yes, we take the whole thing with a grain of salt. All will be revealed next week. But it's certainly worth noting that the Kindle Fire, which is priced at a very accessible $200, has sold well for Amazon – already, a Kindle Fire 2 may be on the way.
Apple would be remiss if only kept its eye on the top reaches of the tablet market. Right? Drop us a line in the comments section, and let us know what you think. And for more tech news, follow us on Twitter @venturenaut.
Microsoft today took the wraps off Windows 8, the latest iteration of its popular operating system, and the first to be designed as a cross-platform OS – on traditional desktops, laptops, and on tablets. Users interested in getting a sneak peek of the OS, which will likely launch later in 2012, can navigate to this page, and download a preview version of the software.
"[The preview] represents a work in progress, and some things will change before the final release," Microsoft's Kent Walter wrote in a blog post today. "This means you’ll encounter some hiccups and bugs. One of the great things about widely releasing a preview like this is that it gives us a chance to get a lot of feedback through telemetry, forums, and blog posts on where we can smooth out some of the rough edges."
Windows 8 has been described as a mash-up of "Windows Phone, iPad and traditional desktop Windows." The OS features the Metro interface, a tiled-layout intended to appeal to users accustomed to uncluttered smartphone and tablet screens. Microsoft clearly hopes Windows 8 will appeal to a fresh generation of users.
Of course, as Edward C. Baig notes at USA Today, "the stakes for Microsoft and the entire computing ecosystem are enormous. This new era is built around tablets as much as traditional laptops and desktops, and multi-touch as much as the keyboard and mouse. At the same time Microsoft marches toward Windows 8, archrival Apple is revving up a new version of Mac OS X called Mountain Lion," Baig adds.
Like Windows 8, Mountain Lion, scheduled for launch this summer, incorporates several features from the mobile sphere. Among them: a "Game Center" and a new "Messages" program – an app that appeared first on the Apple iPhone. In other words, both Mountain Lion and Windows 8 demonstrate the increasing convergence of mobile and desktop operating systems – a trend likely to continue apace for next few years.
The trade-off: Google will now collect and compile user data from all of its services, in order to provide what it calls improved search results.
The catch: Users can't opt-out of the new policy (although, Hayley Tsukayama points out today at the Washington Post, users can simply choose not to sign into Google before entering information into search fields).
"The result," Doug Gross notes over at CNN, "encapsulates perhaps the most basic conundrum of the modern Web. More information means better service (and potentially, more targeted advertisements). But that service (in this case more accurate search results, more interesting ads and new features that work across multiple sites) requires you to give up some of your privacy in return."
Privacy – it's been a sticking point since Google first announced the new changes, back in January. Competitors such as Microsoft were quick to pile on, as were politicians. "The lack of opt-out means users cannot pick and choose which data they want integrated into their Google profiles," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, noted at the time.
CNIL asked Google to hold fire on the new policy until the organization has a chance to vet it; Google has refused, writes Mark Hachman of PC World.
For more information on how the new policies will affect you, check out this post at the official Google blog, and keep your eye on Horizons for further updates.
The company has issued a limited number of invitations for a private event in San Francisco on March 7. "We have something you really need to see. And touch," the invitation reads. That's a pretty vague description, of course, and Apple has not officially confirmed the launch of a new iPad. Still, the rumors have reached fever pitch, and the timing is right: Apple, which updates its big products every year, last unveiled a new tablet in March of 2011.
Also, the invitation has a giant picture of a touch screen, and the familiar glossy black of the iPad frame, so we can all be reasonably sure that Apple isn't planning on introducing a new laptop. (Interestingly, there is plenty of speculation that Apple may be planning to introduce both the iPad 3 and a new Apple TV, possibly with Siri capabilities. But those rumors are a little murkier – take them with a grain of salt.)
What kind of features will be included on the new iPad, you ask? More powerful innards, probably, along with a better set of cameras. And almost definitely a better screen – odds-on favorite being the same high-resolution "Retina Display" used in the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. Meanwhile, over at Macworld, Lex Friedman and Dan Moren have forecast a price cut on the iPad 2, which currently starts at $499.
"A discounted iPad 2 still might not get as cheap as the Kindle Fire," Friedman and Moren write, "but a $300 iPad 2 with limited storage space might look awfully appealing to folks over any of the numerous, interchangeable, and bland tablet competitors in the market."