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Archive for February, 2006

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February 28th, 2006

Images to replace passwords?

Images to replace passwords?

With the arrival of internet banking, online shopping and now chip & pin, we’ve now all got more secret identity numbers and passwords to remember than ever. Here’s a demonstration of an alternative to learning passwords: using clicks on images as a security device. The idea is that you’re shown an image. You click on it in five places to create your password. When it’s time to log in again, you can easily remember which five parts of the image you clicked on. To throw others off the scent who might be watching you, you can click on five other random points. The site claims most people can only remember a list of about 7 items.

This reminds me of Realuser, a system created some years ago that asked you to memorise a sequence of faces instead of a string of letters and numbers. The idea is that faces are easier to remember. When you log in, you pick your faces out in turn from 8 random others. After setting up a test account, I went back some weeks later and was surprised I could still remember the right face sequence.

Systems like this can also be used to avoid phishing attacks: if a bank had to show you it already knew what image you used for your password, it would discount people impersonating the bank without having access to that information.

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February 23rd, 2006

Quantum computing makes no sense.

Quantum computing makes no sense.

According to the New Scientist, researchers have developed a type of quantum computer that is able to provide an answer to a problem even when it isn’t running. For those of you not familiar with this field of information technology, the word ‘quantum’ means: extremely weird stuff that you haven’t got a hope in hell of understanding without a PhD in sub-atomic particle physics.

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February 22nd, 2006

Jump on that Web 2.0 bandwagon

Jump on that Web 2.0 bandwagon

Here is a simple webpage generator that creates XHTML/CSS webpages that you can use for your new dotcom business. It’s meant as an in-joke about design cliches in the latest webpages, but with a bit of tweaking, it could be used to make a genuinely useful template.

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February 21st, 2006

Beam me up, US Patent Office

Beam me up, US Patent Office

We’ve seen all manner of incremental improvements patented as inventions in the last few years. Amazon holds a patent on 1-click ordering, for example, forcing its competitors to make their ordering less convenient just because Amazon was first to streamline the process to its obvious ideal. James Gleick has documented more failings in the patent system, but we’re encouraged by this latest news, reported at the patent law blog. Some wag decides to patent a warp drive, and submits an application, including detailed illustrations. The US Patent Office replies with a smile and the formal reponse: “Applicant is required to furnish a model of the instant invention.”

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February 20th, 2006

Google rejects US government demands

Google rejects US government demands

Search engine Google filed a formal rejection this weekend to recent demands from the US government to reveal part of its search records.

The US Department of Justice had requested the release of search records from a week in January from Google and other firms, including Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL, but Google has now rejected the request saying it would violate the privacy of its users, reveal technology secrets to rival search firms, and in any case would not achieve the DoJ’s aims.

Filed documents rejected the request stating: “Google users trust that when they enter a search query into a Google search box … that Google will keep private whatever information users communicate absent a compelling reason.” The American Civil Liberties Union also filed court documents supporting Google.

According to the BBC, the DoJ made the request as part of an attempt to show that voluntary regulation is not doing a good enough job of keeping children free of pornographic material that exists online. However Google responded expressing its disbelief in US goverment assertions that the list of search words would help understand user behaviour, saying: “This statement is so uninformed as to be nonsensical.”

This very public support for its user community comes at a useful time for Google, which has come under fire of late for perceived weakness in its lack of support for Chinese citizens by permitting an overtly censored version of its service to go live in that country. A court hearing to decide the current row is now scheduled for 13th March.

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February 14th, 2006

Rootkit found in Mr & Mrs Smith

Rootkit found in Mr & Mrs Smith

F-Secure reports that the German DVD release of ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ uses a rootkit to hide its antipiracy software.

This is the first time we’ve seen this technique applied to DVDs, but there was uproar when it emerged that Sony BMG was using similar technology to stop people copying (or, in some cases, playing) some of its music CDs. Shortly after it became public, viruses were in circulation that exploited the security vulnerabilities that Sony’s software introduced.

Users were up in arms because the software installed itself without asking first and because it severely restricted what they considered to be their fair use rights, including the ability to play music they had bought on an MP3 player.

It seems that other media companies (in this case 20th Century Fox) are reluctant to learn the lessons here. Security scares and an inability to use the media drive away many more customers than piracy does.

If you read German, there’s a detailed explanation of the Mr & Mrs DVD problems here (excluding the quality of the film itself).

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February 12th, 2006

Broadband goes ton-up!

Broadband goes ton-up!

UK cable operator NTL has begun real world trials of a blisteringly fast broadband service which it believes might be capable of hitting speeds of 100Mbps over existing cable networks!

According to The Register, lab trials conducted with a little help from North American firm ARRIS have already been successful, but now the partnership wants to give the service a proper field trial to test its robustness.

So what would you do with all that extra speed and bandwidth if you could upgrade your home connection from 512Kbps to 100Mbps tomorrow? Remember, just a couple of years ago most of us managed to get by with a standard 56Kbps dial-up, over 1800 times slower than the connection NTL is now putting through its paces.

We’d like to see full-screen streaming video with no noticeable buffering, enabling menu-driven video-on-demand, multi-screen sports coverage and interactive live music festivals from a choice of stages!

Please leave us some comments and let us know what you’d do with a pipe that fat!

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February 10th, 2006

UK anti-spam authority calls for power to act

UK anti-spam authority calls for power to act

The Information Commissioner’s Office received 350 complaints about spammers based in the UK last year, but lacks the power to act, according to The Guardian. Now the Information Commissioner’s Office is calling for the powers to take action against those who send bulk emails without the consent of the recipients and thereby break the UK’s 2003 antispam law. By way of contrast, the US CAN-SPAM act has led to fines of US$6.4 billion being imposed, The Guardian says.

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February 8th, 2006

Microsoft to charge $50/year for antivirus protection

Microsoft to charge $50/year for antivirus protection

Despite insisting that security will play a bigger part in the forthcoming Windows Vista operating system, Microsoft will charge customers extra for antivirus protection. Apart from undermining the firm’s stance on security, it also creates a conflict of interest where Microsoft can charge for fixing security loopholes in the software it sells.

Customers wanting Microsoft’s antivirus protection will need to pay $50 per year to subscribe to OneCare, according to The Register. This price is comparable with the up-front cost of rival products, although it is more expensive than the typical second year renewal rate. That said, antivirus firms tend to obsolete their software after a year so you’re forced to upgrade to the latest version at near-full cost anyway.

Many viruses in circulation are years old. They continue to spread because people aren’t using antivirus protection at all, or haven’t updated it for years. Charging people $50 to protect the operating system they’ve already paid for won’t win them over.

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February 3rd, 2006

Play Grow

Play Grow

If you’re having trouble getting our Website of the Week working, please try this alternative link: Grow. If you don’t know what Website of the Week is, you should be getting our newsletter.

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February 2nd, 2006

What time do you call this?

What time do you call this?

When placing international calls, do you ever find yourself wondering what time it is? Do you worry about interrupting someone’s cornflakes with your call, or worse still, lifting them with fright from their beds? This world clock is a neat solution. You type the city you’re interested in and it tells you what the time is there now. You can also roll your mouse over a map to see the current time in different zones.

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February 1st, 2006

Crack, crack, crack the egg into the bowl

Crack, crack, crack the egg into the bowl

If you had one of the first generation Playstations, you might remember a cool game called Parappa the Rapper. In it, you had to teach Parappa how to rap real good by taking rapping lessons and pressing the controller buttons on the beat to rap. Now, for some academic thesis or other, someone has re-enacted the cookery level in real life and filmed it. Watch it at Google Videos. It works well and it’s much more entertaining than watching someone tidy a mansion or run away from chickens as they might in re-enactments of my other favourite games.

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