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Archive for September, 2011

iPhone 5 to debut Oct. 4, ATD says

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Apple will debut its iPhone 5 on October 4, with new Chief Executive Tim Cook leading the show, All Things Digital reported today.

The report, citing unnamed sources close to the situation, said the new iPhone itself would go on sale “within a few weeks” of the announcement.

Rumors have swirled for months about when exactly the new iPhone would arrive, with October looking increasingly likely.

The iPhone 5 carries tremendous significance for Apple. The company faces mounting pressure from the Android realm, with a confusing array of budget-minded and high-end models, but Apple chooses to put many its eggs in many fewer baskets. That’s worked out well for the iPhone 4, though, which has attained mainstream success.

The iPhone 4 has held up well under the competitive pressure. But with the breakneck pace of the smartphone market bringing higher-speed LTE networks, larger displays, NFC payments, and other features, Apple’s flagship phone is starting to look a bit long in the tooth.

The iPhone is important for many other companies besides Apple. Manufacturer Foxconn is said to be making 150,000 iPhone 5 models a day. Accessory makers, too, are champing at the bit, as exhibited by Case-Mate’s premature publication of apparent iPhone 5 cases.

Microsoft hands Rustock botnet case over to FBI Read

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Microsoft is hoping that federal agents will bring to justice one of the world’s most notorious spammers, known to the company only as Cosma2k.

According to Microsoft, Cosma2k is the handle of the alleged ringleader of the Rustock botnet, which earlier this year was the purveyor of more e-mail spam than any other network in the world, sending as many as 30 billion messages a day at its peak.

In March, Microsoft worked with federal law enforcement agents to shut down the Rustock botnet. Earlier this month, the company won a summary judgment against the unnamed defendants that allegedly ran the network. Now, the company is turning the evidence it has gathered over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The software giant has long worked with law enforcement to track down and eliminate spammers, botnets, and other malicious code creators. But when it’s helped take down botnets previously, such as the Waledac botnet in 2010, the company stopped when it won a summary judgment in civil courts.

“We didn’t want this to stop,” said Richard Boscovich, senior attorney in the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit. One reason is that Microsoft has gathered enough evidence to zero in on the identity of the Rustock chieftain.

“We have a real good idea of who may be responsible for this,” Boscovich said.

In a legal filing, Microsoft disclosed that the IP addresses associated with servers that were the last command-and-control ones used before Rustock was shut down were purchased through a hosting reseller in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. The reseller said the buyer, who communicated only through instant-messaging applications, was known as Cosma2k. Payments came from a WebMoney online payment account or were “transferred manually through an agent in Moscow,” according to the filing.

To serve Cosma2k with the complaint to get its summary judgment, Microsoft took out ads in two Russian newspapers, the Dolovoy Petersburg in St. Petersburg and the Moscow News. And it sent copies of the complaint to every e-mail and instant-messaging address it found in its investigation for Cosma2k.

Microsoft gathered much of the information by issuing a $250,000 bounty in July for new information resulting in the identification, arrest, and criminal conviction of the Rustock leaders. Boscovich said the reward led to 20 to 50 tips a day of varying quality when it was first issued. Some, he noted, came from sources apparently engaged in similar botnet activities from Eastern Europe.

“We’ve gotten some good leads from some interesting sources,” Boscovich said.

Microsoft will continue to offer the bounty. But it’s handing that information over to the FBI, which has set up a special tips e-mail account: MS_Referrals@ic.fbi.gov.

Rustock was such a prolific spammer that security experts noticed almost instantly when Microsoft’s digital crimes unit, working with U.S. marshals, raided seven hosting facilities across the country and seized the command-and-control machines that ran the network in March. Those are the servers that send instructions to infected computers to mail phony lottery scams and offer sales of fake prescription drugs.

Microsoft believes that Rustock infected about 1.3 million computers worldwide. It’s worked with Internet service providers to notify affected computer users and help remove the malware from their machines. While there are still plenty of infected computers running, the company believes the botnet has been reduced by about 75 percent.

To prevent further use of the botnet, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart ruled in his September 13 summary judgment that the roughly 50,000 domain names, as well as Internet protocol addresses, used to host Rustock would be removed from circulation for the next two years. Those addresses were all automatically generated collections of letters and numbers, such as 0exqevwocqcg.net, that Rustock used to perpetuate infections.

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Technology Industry’s Gender Gap Seen Hampering Competitiveness

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The lack of women in technology will hinder U.S. companies’ global competitiveness, leaving a valuable source of female workers untapped, Cisco Systems Inc. executive Kathy Hill said yesterday at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco.

Companies should overhaul policies starting at the training level to ensure a balance between the sexes, Hill said at the APEC meeting, which was attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. APEC represents 21 economies that account for more than 55 percent of global gross domestic product.

“Technology has to play a role,” said Hill, a senior vice president of development strategy and operations at San Jose, California-based Cisco, the world’s largest maker of networking equipment. “Technology makes a lot more money than other businesses, and we’ve got job growth.”

While women hold about half the jobs in the broader U.S. economy, they account for less than 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and math positions, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“We need to unlock a vital source of growth that can power our economy in the decades to come, and that vital source of growth is women,” Clinton said yesterday at the conference. “By increasing women’s part in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can bring about a dramatic effect to the competitiveness and growth of our economies.”

Technical Majors

The disparity begins in college. More than 31,000 men graduated with bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences, outnumbering women by more than fourfold, according to a 2008-2009 study by the National Center for Education Statistics. Males who graduated with technological engineering degrees during that period dwarfed female counterparts by almost ninefold, the study found.

Females who start in science, technology, engineering and math concentrations often switch to other fields before graduating, said Marilyn Nagel, chief executive officer of Watermark, a Palo Alto, California-based, 4,000-member organization for professional women. Corporations and universities should make efforts to retain women in those majors throughout the students’ college careers, she said.

That means supporting them when they’re most likely to switch from math to another major — between freshman and sophomore year — and bringing them into corporate environments so they can visualize what they will be doing in their careers.

‘Business Imperative’

“It’s a business imperative to increase diversity,” Nagel, 62, said in an interview. “A homogeneous team is not going to be as innovative and is not going to produce the same level of well-thought-out results as a diverse team.”

Design skills also may help women break into technology, said Weili Dai, the 50-year-old co-founder of Marvell Technology Group Ltd., which makes chips for personal computers and mobile phones. The iPad and iPhone have spotlighted the need for practical, elegant designs, she said.

”Technology used to be boring, but now technology is fashion,” Dai said in an interview at the conference.

Companies need to make sure female mentors are accessible to younger employees, she said. That allows women to more easily see themselves in top positions, Dai said.

Just 12 percent of the students majoring in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, are women, said Claire Tomlin, a professor who oversees those majors at the school.

The college is working with middle-school girls to spark interest in engineering at a young age, and it invites females from other schools to the campus for summer programs to cultivate more interest in the field, she said.

Companies in the U.S., where the overall population is 51 percent female, will be more profitable if they foster collaboration between the sexes, Dai said.

“In my company, any function could be done by a man or woman,” she said. “How do we leverage the natural attributes and talents of women?”

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Google, OpenDNS add geo speed boost to Net

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

GoogleOpenDNS, Google, and a few others have built a new technology into their Internet operations that’s designed to speed up the delivery of data around the globe.

The technology augments the Domain Name System that provides the numeric Internet Protocol (IP) address needed to get data to an Internet domain such as news.com. Those that developed it include OpenDNS, Google, and VeriSign. Called edns-client-subnet in technical circles, or more ambitiously the “Global Internet Speedup,” it uses geographic information associated with IP addresses to help computers fetching data get it from the closest–and therefore fastest–server.

“Anybody using OpenDNS or Google Public DNS will immediately get the benefits of this technology,” said OpenDNS Chief Executive David Ulevitch in an interview. Using it, “the worst-case scenario is that things remain they way they are today,” and the best-case scenario is that network delays are as low as they can be, he said.

Google proposed the technology last year, though Ulevitch said it’s been under discussion for longer than that. Google has a powerful interest in making the Web faster, including through the use of its own Google Public DNS service, and its Internet operations are big enough that it can use the technology both when requesting data from other servers and when others request data from its own servers.

Google endorsed the work, too. “Google is committed to making the Internet faster–not just for our users, but for everyone,” said Google Distinguished Engineer Dave Presotto in a statement. “We will do that any way we can, by improving protocols, browsers, client software, and networks.”

The tried and true analogy for DNS is that it acts like a phone book (tried and true, at least, if you remember what phone books were): you look up a person’s name and the book provides the phone number. Ulevitch likens the new technique to a phone book that gives a bit more information based on part of your own phone number.

Specifically, it uses the first three quarters of an IP address. That’s enough to narrow down your location generally but not pinpoint it. A server called a DNS resolver–typically operated by an Internet service provider–has the job of finding the IP address of the server you’re trying to reach then providing your computer with the answer. In the phone book metaphor, it’s as if you provide the area code and prefix of your phone number, but not the entire thing, and the phone book provides you with the number of the oil-change service station that’s close to you rather than across town.

Advocates for the technology have signed up some partners in the content delivery network (CDN) industry. These companies specialize in mirroring Web sites or other Internet operations around the world so that a person can get access to the data without having to request it from a server that’s on the wrong side of an ocean.

Participating CDNs are Bitgravity, Cloudflare, Comodo, CDNetworks, DNS.com, and Edgecast. The two biggest CDNs, Akamai and Limelight Networks, aren’t partners, though a representative from Akamai reviewed draft versions of the technology.

Ulevitch believes they’ll come around. “I do hope to have all of them on board,” Ulevitch said. They’ll need to be convinced the engineering and testing work is worth it, but Ulevitch says their services will grow more efficient with the technology.

That’s because with it, they can deliver data more smoothly. Even if a person has a high-speed Internet connection and the server has high data-transfer speeds, that person’s machine and a distant server has a greater lag in each step of their numerous back-and-forth communications. That lag, called latency, makes a Web site feel less responsive, and it contributes to problems such as lost data packets, Ulevitch said.

“Latency is king,” he said.

The technology isn’t standardized, but advocates hope it will be. It’s described in an informational draft at the Internet Engineering Task Force with the drab name of “Client subnet in DNS requests,” and the approach was hammered out by multiple companies.

“I think it’ll happen within a year,” Ulevitch said of standardization. “There have been a couple false starts…There were people who were ambivalent about it. [But] once something gets a significant amount of vendor adoption in the real world, that ends up speaking loud enough to make something a standard anyway. It’s more likely fast-tracked for the standards process.”

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Justice Dept. to block AT&T’s T-Mobile deal

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

atttoblimeThe U.S. Department of Justice has filed suit in a federal court in Washington, D.C., to block AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA.

The Justice Department said today in its filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the deal would “substantially lessen competition” in the wireless industry, and thus, should be blocked from approval. The lawsuit went on to say that the deal could potentially cause “higher prices, poorer quality services, fewer choices and fewer innovative products for the millions of American consumers who rely on mobile wireless services in their everyday lives.”

“The combination of AT&T and T-Mobile would result in tens of millions of consumers all across the United States facing higher prices, fewer choices and lower quality products for mobile wireless services,” Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said in a statement announcing the decision. “Consumers across the country, including those in rural areas and those with lower incomes, benefit from competition among the nation’s wireless carriers, particularly the four remaining national carriers. This lawsuit seeks to ensure that everyone can continue to receive the benefits of that competition.”

AT&T came out quickly against the Justice Department’s decision. In an e-mailed statement to CNET, the company’s senior executive vice president and general counsel, Wayne Watts, said that the company was blindsided by the Justice Department’s decision.

“We are surprised and disappointed by today’s action, particularly since we have met repeatedly with the Department of Justice and there was no indication from the DOJ that this action was being contemplated,” Watts said. “At the end of the day, we believe facts will guide any final decision and the facts are clear. This merger will help solve our nation’s spectrum exhaust situation and improve wireless service for millions; allow AT&T to expand 4G mobile broadband to another 55 million Americans, or 97 percent of the population; [and] result in billions of additional investment and tens of thousands of jobs, at a time when our nation needs them most.”

Bloomberg was first to report on the news.

Earlier this year, AT&T announced its plans to acquire T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom in a deal valued at $39 billion. As soon as the deal was announced, critics chimed in, saying that it could stifle competition in the marketplace and ultimately hurt both consumers and competitors. Sprint, which could be dwarfed by the combined AT&T and T-Mobile, was especially outspoken about the deal, saying that it would fight it to the end.

Sprint urges the United States government to block this anticompetitive acquisition,” the company said in a statement following the announcement of the deal. “This transaction will harm consumers and harm competition at a time when this country can least afford it. So on behalf of our customers, our industry, and our country, Sprint will fight this attempt by AT&T to undo the progress of the past 25 years and create a new Ma Bell duopoly.”

Although the merger faced criticism, both the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice continued their review of the deal, and were expected to make their decision on the merger early next year. The fact that the Justice Department has already filed a petition against the merger is somewhat of a surprise.

T-Mobile as a ‘disruptive force’
The Justice Department’s problems with the merger go beyond concerns over pricing and competition. The agency said in a statement today that T-Mobile has proven to be “a disruptive force” in the wireless industry, delivering “a number of significant ‘firsts,’” including offering the first Android handset and launching the first advanced HSPA+ network.

“T-Mobile has been an important source of competition among the national carriers, including through innovation and quality enhancements such as the roll-out of the first nationwide high-speed data network,” Sharis A. Pozen, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, said in a statement. “Unless this merger is blocked, competition and innovation will be reduced, and consumers will suffer.”

Although Sprint and several lawmakers who have opposed the deal will be pleased by the Justice Department’s suit, there are many that won’t be so happy. In June, AT&T released a statement on the support it was receiving, saying that several prominent organizations, including the AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America, and the NAACP, among others, believed the government should approve the deal.

“These groups and elected officials understand the extraordinary benefits of bringing high-speed wireless broadband to more than 97 percent of the U.S. population, or an additional 55 million more people,” AT&T said in a statement at the time. “From the most populated areas to large stretches of rural America, consumers will have access to new and innovative technologies and will benefit from increased network capacity and improved service.”

The company has also received support from a number of lawmakers, including 26 governors, 92 mayors, and 11 state attorneys general. Earlier this month, one of the lawmakers supporting the deal, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said that the proposed merger would benefit consumers and help to create jobs.

Creating jobs was something that AT&T touted just hours before the Justice Department made its decision earlier today. In a statement, AT&T said that its proposed merger with T-Mobile USA would create 5,000 call center jobs in the U.S. that are currently being outsourced in other countries.

“At a time when many Americans are struggling and our economy faces significant challenges, we’re pleased that the T-Mobile merger allows us to bring 5,000 jobs back to the United States and significantly increase our investment here,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in a statement. “This merger and today’s commitment are good for our employees, our customers and our country.”

The Justice Department sees it differently. It said that in its review of the deal, it couldn’t find “any efficiencies that would be sufficient to outweigh the transaction’s substantial adverse impact on competition and consumers.”

But that doesn’t mean that the deal is officially scuttled. At this point, the Justice Department has only filed a suit that AT&T plans to oppose. The result could be a protracted court battle aimed at determining if the deal actually would do more harm than good. In fact, AT&T told CNET today that it plans to “ask for an expedited hearing so the enormous benefits of this merger can be fully reviewed.”

“The DOJ has the burden of proving alleged anticompetitive effects and we intend to vigorously contest this matter in court,” Watts said.

The FCC sees ‘serious concerns’
But AT&T might need to worry about more than the Department of Justice. The FCC has yet to make its final determination on the merger, but based on what the organization’s chairman, Julius Genachowski, said today in a statement on the matter, the wireless carrier might be facing off with the FCC as well.

“By filing suit today, the Justice Department has concluded that AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile would substantially lessen competition in violation of the antitrust laws,” Genachowski said in a statement. “Competition is an essential component of the FCC’s statutory public interest analysis, and although our process is not complete, the record before this agency also raises serious concerns about the impact of the proposed transaction on competition.

“Vibrant competition in wireless services is vital to innovation, investment, economic growth and job creation, and to drive our global leadership in mobile,” he continued. “Competition fosters consumer benefits, including more choices, better service and lower prices.”

Now that the Justice Department has made its decision, Sprint reacted favorably. In a statement, the company’s senior vice president of government affairs, Vonya B. McCann, said that the lawsuit is a “victory” for consumers.

“The DOJ today delivered a decisive victory for consumers, competition and our country,” McCann said. “By filing suit to block AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile, the DOJ has put consumers’ interests first. Sprint applauds the DOJ for conducting a careful and thorough review and for reaching a just decision–one which will ensure that consumers continue to reap the benefits of a competitive U.S. wireless industry. Contrary to AT&T’s assertions, today’s action will preserve American jobs, strengthen the American economy, and encourage innovation.”

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