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Cybercrime is no longer exclusive to PCs and Macs, with hacks, spam, malware and trojans hitting smartphones, tablets and cloud storage services too. No-one knows this better than Costin Raiu of the security specialists at Kaspersky Lab. As the company's Director of Global Research and Analysis Team, he's got over ten years worth of computer and mobile security knowledge. We caught up with him at the InfoSec conference in London's Earls Court today and had a chat about the increased threat from smartphone hackers, social networking spam and the growing danger of international cyber warfare.

We associate malware and viruses most closely with desktop computing, but we're increasingly told that smartphone platforms are vulnerable too. Is there any particular mobile OS that is especially vulnerable?

There are four strong players on the market in terms of mobile platforms; Google with Android, Apple's iOS, RIM's BlackBerry OS, and with Nokia's Symbian OS effectively dead, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. In my opinion Android will become the standard operating system in smartphones, but has a few quirks that makes it attractive not only to users but malware creators too.

Firstly, it's very open, secondly it's well documented in terms of the best ways to make applications for it, and thirdly has security vulnerabilities, especially in older Android versions. The problem here is that Google left the responsibility of patching Android largely to the carriers or smartphone developers. Looking back over past years, patching has always been a weak point of operating systems and third party software, and I have a feeling this will be a problem for Android as well because it's not very easy to update the operating system. There will always be flaws and vulnerabilities that will be exploited by hackers.

Will the vulnerabilities of mobile operating systems extend into security flaws with tablet devices then?

Yes. Netbooks being replaced by tablets seems to be the trend for the future. I believe that with Android becoming more and more popular, growing in popularity on tablet devices too, we're going to see more and more threats here. Do we need protection? I believe so. What is different with Android is maybe the kind of protection that is necessary is different here. Applications bought from the Android Market come with a prerequisite set of permissions, and there's no easy way to allow only certain permissions to be given to an app without not installing it altogether. In the near future Android security needs to focus on application control, and restricting the length in which applications can access data on your tablet or mobile phone.

More and more of our personal data is stored on a wider number of sources online, sometimes without our knowledge. Should we be concerned with how we safeguard our cloud-stored data?

Yeah, I think this is another interesting development. For instance, Google recently launched version 10 of Google Chrome which has the feature to synchronise passwords to the cloud, meaning you don't need to enter passwords for things like Facebook every time you use a different computer running that browser. It's my feeling that Google and other big cloud providers are not doing a very good job at informing the user as to the extent to which they are storing user data into the cloud.

Interestingly, Twitter recently settled with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about the fact that they put their users at risk by not providing a decent level of security. The fact that Twitter agreed to implement HTTPS encryption is not only a giant "Win" for consumers, but also shows that we need a greater level of security when dealing with social media in general. Remember, it's not only about ensuring that companies do their best to protect our data, but that the connection sending the data back and forth is secure too.

Are the social networks doing enough to educate users as to how to identify dodgy links and phishing scams?

The FTC ruling shows that at least Twitter aren't doing enough, but this problem goes back several years. MySpace for instance didn't have secure log-in, with passwords going without encryption over Wi-Fi networks and the like for anyone to steal. All the social networks could be doing more about it, especially in terms of making users aware of the risks. But the FTC did a wonderful job, and it's exciting that Twitter understood the problems and took the necessary steps to improve their security.

So the more general authorities are now taking cybercrime more seriously too?

Yes. Security companies are pretty limited in the amount of things they can do. We can tell the big players that they aren't fully secure, but it takes more than that to make them change their ways. Governments have a very important role here, not just in the US but all around the world.

Kaspersky Labs have previously stated that the recent Stuxnet worm could only have been implemented with "nation/state" support. What does this tell us about international cyber security in relation to foreign policy?

Stuxnet is a "one-of-a-kind" malware, totally different to anything we've seen before. We thought it couldn't be unique but we haven't been able to find anything similar. Stuxnet is opening the door to a new kind of security threat which indicates the existence of cyber way at the highest possible level within super powers. In the future we're going to see more of this as I believe it's a very cheap and effective way of attacking major targets. The evidence we've seen seems to indicate Stuxnet was successful in gaining the access it needed. Attacking an industrial installation with physical force is a lot more expensive and more complicated.

What sorts of security systems do you have planned for the future?

In terms of future Kaspersky Lab software we're looking into three new, very interesting directions for our products, be it in cloud and virtualisation, whitelisting and reputation or mobile software. Data Leakage Prevention is also important now; it's a lot more easy for you to lose your tablet or mobile phone than it is to misplace your desktop PC! A really interesting product we're looking to launch this year is for VMWare Visual; we've had a lot of talks with our customers and bigger cloud providers and they've all expressed an interest in having a security product that can be worked into their data centres.

OK to round things up then; if you could give three tips as to how Tech Digest readers can protect their data today, at as little cost as possible, what would they be?

In order of importance, firstly they should update their operating systems; Android, Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, whatever. I know this can be quite painful, but it's very, very important.

The second on is to make sure they don't use pirate software. A lot of pirate software, particularly with Mac OS, come loaded with trojans. This can also be extended to pirate movies; recently we've seen "movies" on pirate torrent websites where the files aren't actually real videos. Instead they claim the user doesn't have the proper codec to view the film, directing them to download it from unsafe websites. When they download it obviously their machines get infected. So staying away from pirate sources in general is my second free tip!

The third tip has to do with user mentality. A lot of things happen because users aren't aware of security threats, so they click on strange links or don't properly screen links that friends have sent purely because they trust their pals, even if they're not so sure of the source. It's about using common sense and being careful if you spot unusual messages from your friends or social network contacts. If you see strange applications trying to access your profile on Twitter or Facebook, just don't allow them unless you're absolutely sure they're approved! So that's my three tips for your readers!

Cool, thank you very much Costin!

No problem.

Facebook election.jpgIf you're a UK resident and haven't been living under a stone for the last month, you'll know that today is vote-casting day in one of the most closely run General Elections in recent history. Facebook, recognising its platform's ability to encourage people to vote, has added an "I've Voted" button for UK users over 18 years old to mark the occasion.

So far, over half a million Facebook users have cast their vote. The vote tracker sits at the top of a user's news feed as a reminder to head out to the polling station, and while it doesn't directly reveal the voters party affiliation or location, it does offer the opportunity to leave a comment.

The tracker, which was used similarly in the 2008 US Presidential election, also invites users to check out the UK Democracy Facebook page, where vocal voters are engaged currently in some pretty heated debates.


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Facebook Lite closes its doors

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facebook lite thumb.jpgFacebook Lite has been shut down by Facebook, after going live just recently in September of last year.

The service was intended to offer a low-bandwidth version of the social network. It stripped Facebook back to its basics (status updates, wall posts and photo uploads) and removed some of the more data-intensive functions such as apps.

"We're no longer supporting it, but learned a lot from the test of a slimmed-down site," read a post on the Lite Facebook fan page.

So why close the service? Well it's likely that demand just wasn't that great; with myriad bandwidth saving apps and Facebook Mobile all available, as well as the growing speeds of internet connections worldwide, the majority of Facebook users just simply prefer the full-fat flavour.

That said though, the Facebook Lite fan page has a hefty 69,198 fans, so maybe a few tears will be shed after all.

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facebook zero.JPGFacebook has announced that it will be releasing a text-only, low bandwidth version of their social network called Facebook Zero, designed specifically with mobile phones in mind.

It should please users and network operators alike; Facebookers get a super-fast version to browse if they're trying to take it easy on their data usage, while bandwidth is freed up for network providers.

Over 100 million people access Facebook from their mobiles, according to Facebook, with the GSM Association noting that 2.2 billion minutes were spent browsing the network in December from mobile handsets alone.

The Facebook Zero site has already gone live (http://zero.facebook.com) though it cannot be used until network providers take it up.

Should help alleviate the pain of stumbling across embarrassing "pictures from the night before" online though.

Via: BBC

Click here for more Tech Digest coverage from MWC 2010

seesmic_610x445.jpgJust as Facebook is adding more and more Twitter style features and acquiring things like FriendFeed which collates Twitter activity, so more and more Twitter apps are enabling users to control their Facebook pages.

Probably the best of the bunch is Seesmic which today has announced an upgrade to its Facebook capabilities. Seesmic started out as a video based website, but then the company snapped up Twitter API company Twhirl and launched the very useful (over 2.5 million downloads so far) Seesmic Twitter app. It works in a similar way to our favourite Tweetdeck in displaying Twitter updates, replies and searches etc in a very easy to use grid format. You can also use Seesmic to update your Facebook page too. It also has very good web and mobile based services too.

The latest Facebook revamp - version 0.6 - is great news for people who control Facebook fan pages, What the app enables you to do is manage activity on Facebook's fan pages as well as personal profiles, so you can update them at the same time as you update your Twitter accounts. It'll be interesting to see how Seesmic's rivals, like Tweetdeck, respond.

Here's a comparison between Tweetdeck and Seesmic

uk-Sensia-Full-Size.jpgYou have apps on your PC and apps on your mobile. Now how about apps on your digital radio? Well Pure has made a very smart move by introducing a new model called the Sensia, which not only includes a 5.7inch 640x480 screen but also offers access to a growing set of custom apps. Among those lined up already are Facebook Twitter and weather and news channels.

As the unit has Wi-Fi on board it also tunes into internet radio stations while at the same time enables users to stream music from a PC. There's no news yet on apps for Spotify or Last FM, but they would be the cherry on the cake if they were added.

Pure is also very proud of its touch screen which it is billing as the most sophisticated ever seen on a radio, Apparently it enables the user to scroll and spin through lists, tap to select modes, slide control and swipe to change views,. In practice this means controlling menus for information about stations, album artwork and more.

Other features include 30W RMS of stereo sound, an input for an iPod/MP3 player, an alarm, a sleep timer, a headphone socket, a remote control and an optional rechargeable PURE ChargePAK

The Sensia, which goes on sale before Christmas for £249, is available in four colours: Bright red, vivid yellow, sleek black and cool white. It also comes with a moulded stand that allows the user to angle the radio to where they think it looks and sounds best.

Zuckerberg.jpgI bet Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had a pretty broad grin on his face this week. For at the TechCrunch 50 conference in San Francisco the company announced it had reached two major milestones. Firstly it has passed 300 million worldwide members and secondly its monthly revenues now covered its costs and the company was starting to make money.

Zuckerberg had predicted that Facebook would be profitable by 2010 so it is starting to create income a few months ahead of scheduled. Making money in a period of economic downturn and, let's not forget, the most depressed period ever for online advertising revenue is itself a very impressive feat.

Nick O'Neill of AllFacebook.com told the BBC "If the company can cover the cost of scaling to one billion users and still manage to break even, there's no doubt that the company will have a great opportunity to rake in billions."

It ought to be added that while Facebook is now making more than enough to cover its costs, that doesn't include the money pumped into the site such as the £300 million it took from Russian investment vehicle Digital Sky Technologies.

Facebook has also had a huge growth spurt this year attracting another 50 million members in the last 75 days.This does of course beg the question - how big can Facebook get? Well much of its recent growth has been in its core markets of North American and Europe. Its levels of growth outside those spheres have been less impressive. There are some hot spots such as Indonesia, but in many big emerging country markets Facebook's growth is limited.

One of the problems it faces is that in key territories there are already local social networking sites that have a Facebook style stranglehold already. In Korea Cyworld, with its 24 million members, has managed to keep Facebook and its rivals at bay. In Central America the big player is Sonico and further south in countries like Argentina Hi5 sets the agenda. There are also problems for Facebook in China where the authorities apparently perceive the site as very western and a unwanted influence on its people. Ironically Friendster, the original social networking site which predates Facebook and Facebook, is now performing well in Asia.

They key then to Facebook's growth could prove to be India and its surrounding countries. It has been suggested that much of the reason for the launch of Facebook Lite last week was to push the social networking site in the region.

Zuckerberg and his team's other big problem is keeping notoriously fickle Westerners coming back to his site. The acquisition of FriendFeed and the move to incorporate Twitter-style micro blogging elements on the site show that Facebook is ready to meet challenges to its hegemony head on.

It is worth remembering though that every big social networking site so far has peaked and then started to fall. In the UK Friends Reunited had spectacular fall from grace. Now even MySpace is struggling to reconnect with its audience.

Facebook's one huge advantage over its rivals is the huge amount of content and data that users already have on their pages, so it makes it much harder for users to move to another site.

Overall though there may be a few wobbles in the Us and Europe in the next couple of years but with new markets emerging all the time Facebook is clearly going to continue to grow for sometime yet.

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Breaking news - apparently Facebook has just introduced the ability to tag your friends in status updates.This is basically a response to Twitter and one of its coolest features the @ reply which enables you to direct a message to another Twitter user while not having to make the message private.

What is smart though is that when you put in an @ symbol in your Facebook status update a drop-down menu will appear that allows you to choose from your list of friends and other connections, including groups, events, applications and Pages.

According to Mashable friends you tag in your status updates will receive a notification and a Wall post linking them to your post. Like other Facebook innovations, the app will be rolled out gradually over the coming weeks.

There's a fuller explanation from Facebook engineer Tom Occhino's here. It'll be interesting to see if Facebook borrows any other Twitter features over the coming months. Are hash tags on the agenda? Maybe?

Five reasons why Facebook bought FriendFeed

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FriendFeedIcon.pngShould we be surprised that Facebook yesterday announced it was to buy start up social media aggregator FriendFeed? Probably not. By buying FriendFeed Mark Zuckerberg is acknowledging that in many ways Twitter has stolen a march on Facebook and that the uber social networking site needs to catch up.

"Since I first tried FriendFeed, I've admired their team for creating such a simple and elegant service for people to share information," said Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and chief executive of Facebook. "As this shows, our culture continues to make Facebook a place where the best engineers come to build things quickly that lots of people will use."
So what does Facebook get from the deal?

1 Value for money - We don't know how much money changed hands but FriendFeed is a hell of a lot cheaper than buying Twitter.

2 It gets an opportunity to set its sights on Google's search business -
By aggregating Twitter and Facebook feeds together Facebook could develop a product that enables users to search social media in real time. Google does map Twitter, but tends to take hours, or even days to archive tweets. With FriendFeed on board Facebook could develop a real time search system that aggregated all social media. That could be hugely powerful and popular.

3 One million users - FriendFeed is popular but not that popular. The start up, which is over a year old has, attracted one million users. At the top end are every evangelical supporters like Robert Scoble. There are many users however like myself who signed up but have barely used the service. For me it does aggregate content on Facebook, which is useful, but hardly essential.

4 Some really great engineers - FriendFeed was founded by four ex Google employees Paul Buchheit, Bret Taylor, Jim Norris, and Sanjeev Singh whose expertise will be invaluable to Facebook in the coming months.

5 A chance to develop a more compelling micro blogging system than Twitter - There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that Twitter is more popular with older generations than it is with the kids, many of whom are still much more addicted to Facebook and even Bebo. FriendFeed will enable Facebook to develop more micro blogging/aggregation style facilities which will give its younger users even more reasons to stay with Facebook rather than experiment with other micro blogging options

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A Facebook engineer has been spotted tweeting from an application called Penguin FB, as you can see in the picture, and it doesn't take a genius to work out that the FB probably is probably short for Facebook.

So, putting two and two together combined with denials from Facebook and the removal of the tweet by engineer Ross Blake, there's a very good chance that this was a test of a Twitter application on Facebook which allows users to tweet directly from the world's biggest social network.

The move would be in line with Facebook's drive to get in on the act in some way, whether that be by aping Twitter or, in this case, by trying to hold on to a lot of the traffic through the API. Doubtless, we'll hear more about it soon.

(via Facebook Insider)

Thumbnail image for facebook-small-logo.pngWith the tech world all a-twitter about, er... Twitter, and having little sexy accidents when talking about Spotify, it's sometimes easy to forget about Facebook. In reality, Facebook is only a couple of years older than both Twitter and Spotify, and there's still people out there who say things like "I don't get all this Facebook malarky".

Let's start with the numbers. Facebook recently hit 175 million active users - if it were a country it'd be the 6th most populous in the world, between Brazil and Pakistan. More than 3 billion minutes are spent on the site every day - enough time to watch the extended edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy 4.3 million times. Or read "War and Peace" 35,000 times.

Don't forget that Facebook popularized the app store concept way before Apple, too. Sure, most Facebook apps are a load of old rubbish and their integration was an unmitigated disaster for the user experience (hence why they've mostly disappeared) but most iPhone apps are crap too. Seriously, how long does iFart sit on your phone before you delete it?

Despite being blamed for wanton destruction, Facebook even saves lives! News reached us this morning of a kid who was saved from a suicide attempt by a friend over Facebook chat. The power of having all you friends at your fingertips can stop people from doing silly things, and can rescue them when they do silly things.

So don't forget about Facebook. Businesses - If you're developing an Android app, stop and think - why not port this to Facebook, too? If you're thinking of starting an ad campaign on Twitter or Spotify, remember Facebook's userbase and think about using Facebook's powerful ad tools to reach its bazillions of users. It's not old hat.

The rest of you - go check in on your Facebook friends. Maybe you haven't seen them since primary school, but that doesn't mean you have nothing in common - on the contrary, you might have more than ever in common. Go poke that girl you 'fancied' when you were 13. She might even poke you back. The rest of the world is a little slower than you, mister early-adopter. Don't forget about them.

Here's a handy link. Click it, and spend half an hour remembering the web as we knew it two years ago. You might even like it more: Facebook.

facebook-whopper-sacrifice.jpgA week or so ago, Burger King announced an advertising campaign where deleting ten friends would get you a voucher for a free whopper. It spread quite quickly, and 233,906 friends were removed by 82,771 people in less than a week.

Facebook, unsurprisingly, isn't too happy - it knows its value lies in those friend links. As a result, it's banned the campaign, citing privacy reasons. Turns out that Facebook isn't keen on apps notifying users when they've been 'cut' by another friend. Full statement over the jump.

facebook-breastfeeding-photo-ban.jpgWho says we're not in touch with women's issues here on Tech Digest?

Over 80,000 users have joined a Facebook group called "Hey Facebook, Breastfeeding is not Obscene," after the site started deleting innocent photos of women breastfeeding their newly hatched, soft-headed, screaming, purple-faced spawn. Here's how Facebook defines an offensive nipple photo...

"Photos containing a fully exposed breast - as defined by showing the nipple or areola - do violate those terms on obscene, pornographic or sexually explicit material and may be removed"

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So, it seems there's some temporary relief in the standoff between Google and Facebook as to who should be supplying the application for the ever-popular social network on the Android Market. The answer, of course, is neither of them - for now anyway.

facebook-app.jpgThose umming and and erring over whether or not to sign up to Android when it hits UK handsets next week might want to consider that there will not be a Facebook application for it. Yes, you heard me - well, not one made by Facebook anyway.

The social networking supremo has set aside precisely zero pounds and zero pence of budget for Android development unlike the cash they chucked in to get a space on the iPhone or the engineers they leant RIM for their BlackBerry real estate.

iphone-facebook-12.jpgFacebook's just launched its second version of its popular iPhone application. Most mobile versions of Facebook are very limited, but this new release removes a lot of the restrictions of the first version of the application.

New features include:

  • A full news feed on the homepage and access to whatever features you like
  • Full photo posting and tagging, presumably using the iPhone camera. Shame the iPhone camera is so rubbish
  • Notifications - those annoying red things that pop up in the bottom-right of your screen on the web version of Facebook and tell you about things you've already seen
  • Profiles have now got tabs, matching the New Facebook design that everyone seems to despise so heartily, but which I actually quite like
  • Comments on feed items will now show up too, which is good

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We covered Photobox's cool new Facebook photo-syncing-and-printing application a couple of weeks ago, and promised you access to the beta as soon as it's available. I'm happy to say that we've got that access for you right now, so you too can put Editor Dan's grinning face onto a makeup bag.

To access the application you'll need a Facebook account. Log into Facebook and then click here. Then simply click "add application". Let us know what you think of the service in the comments below, and as it's a beta, remember to give the Photobox team some feedback, too!

Related posts: Plaster your friends' faces onto tshirts with Super Photos from Photobox | Microsoft finally launches Photosynth - a world of 3D picture fun

photobox.jpgPhoto printing service Photobox, who specialise in putting pictures of cats onto mugs, and that sort of thing, are extending their API to integrate with Facebook. Very soon you'll be able to put any photos from your Facebook account onto mousemats, or paperweights, or keyrings, or even onto stretched canvas. Just the thing for a last minute birthday present for Mum - your grinning face on a handbag.

This morning, I got a preview of the new service. I reckon that tying in with Facebook will considerably expand the usefulness of Photobox's services by allowing users to import their Facebook photos directly to Photobox and vice versa. You can either order prints direct through a Facebook application, or send your Facebook photos over to their main site and order there.

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Vodafone is on the jazz and it's them who've had the foresight to team up with Facebook and supply a lot of text for not very much with their Facebook application Vodafone Connect to Friends.

What we're looking at here is a service much like what talk21 and others did back in the day where you can type SMS messages into your PC and send them out to your mates' phones for absolutely nothing. You can even add pictures too.

Top 10 alternative Twitter clients

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twitter_cross_mobile_phone.jpgYesterday Twitter annoyed thousands of its UK users by dropping the SMS text message notification feature for UK users, citing money woe as the reason behind it. But don't despair, Twitterati! There are many other ways to feed your Twitter addiction, rather than just via the web or SMS, so here's our Top 10 alternative Twitter clients.

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