Archive for September, 2012

Facebook Putting Your Personal Data at Risk in Their Aim to Generate Ad Revenue

September 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Ever since Facebook became popular, one of their biggest sources of revenue has been advertising and it has taken the company from strength to strength. While their existing ad strategy has been generating a steady stream of revenue, the ambitions of the company have also grown with its size. Facebook has now come up with a new advertising strategy that will not only revolutionize the way companies promote their products but also generate high number of consumers.

Although this is all impressive and sounds very advanced, there is a high risk that the common man is pushed into. Your online shopping habits are being tracked and this will put a lot of your personal data and privacy at risk. The information not only includes your authentication codes for different sites but also your online bank account credentials and credit card details.

Facebook Has Associated With Datalogix, a Controversial Online Tracking Company

The news that has been bothering security experts from the past few weeks is Facebook’s association with Datalogix. Datalogix is a company that will track and collect data about online users so that they can sell that data to advertising companies and make revenue. The company also tracks consumers in case a company or an advertising agency asks them to do so, for a fee of course. While this is all fine, Datalogix has a very bad reputation of stepping over the privacy boundary time and again. The company has been involved in a number of controversies where it has not only violated the privacy of consumers openly but also vehemently denied it on the face.

What Is Facebook’s New Ad Strategy?

According to the new strategy, Facebook is now tracking the users who click on the advertising links that are shown on the site. But the data gathering does not stop there. They will also follow you into the site and verify if you are purchasing the product or not. When you ignore the privacy issue and look at this purely as a marketing strategy, it is a stroke of genius.

This not only gives an idea to Facebook about which ads are effective and which are not, but also helps them in forming a strategy to promote the not so popular products more effectively, thus increasing their sales. But there is a clear boundary that Facebook is stepping over in this case. The only way to verify if you have made the purchase or not is through tracking your log in the product site also. This log also includes the details of your bank account number and credit card details, depending on what you used to make the purchase.

What Is Datalogix’s Role?

Facebook will collaborate with Datalogix and compare data that it has collected to the data Datalogix collected. They will use email IDs as a reference and compare if ads on Facebook are successful or ads on other ad boards are successful. This will give them valuable insight using which they can review their strategy and make changes where necessary.

How to Avoid This Tracking?

It is common knowledge that every online shopper wants to shop without being tracked and it is disturbing that the trusted Facebook is also not reliable now. Never make a purchase on a site that you visited through Facebook. If you see a product that you fancy, make a note of the site it is available on and visit it when your secure browsing mode is on. Also, close the browser window in which Facebook is open while you are shopping. This will ensure that tracking cookies will be disabled when you visit the site on which you wish to make the purchase.

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Torrentheads Know How To Identify Trackers

September 27, 2012 Leave a comment

It is now a well established fact that torrent files are the primary suspects in any sort of copyright infringement case. This is why the authorities and several private tracking agencies have come up with a way to monitor popular files on the internet and identify if they are in violation of copyright laws or not. If found to be illegal, the copyright holder has all the freedom to take any course of action that he/she feels is necessary. Copyright laws are very strict and legal procedure will most likely mean the shutting down of the torrent site.

However, researchers in a leading state university, the University of Birmingham, have come up with a way of identifying the trackers, or monitors, from the downloader group. Although this is a good way of ensuring that copyright laws are not broken, we can see that this finding benefits the pirates more.

Download IP is Logged In a Database Within Three Hours Of A Download

Researchers identified in their study that IP addresses of the users of file sharing sites are stored in a database for a number of reasons including targeting, email DB building, number tracking, etc. These are not necessarily intrusion of privacy as there is no record of the logs being used for other purposes.

While you may feel that this is a cause of concern for torrent sites as their data is being collected somewhere and might be used against them, it is in fact an advantage for them. The researchers said that in what apparently is the ‘arms race’ between the copyright law enforcers and the pirates, this procedure benefits the pirates more.

Security Monitors Pose As Downloader But There Are Apparent Differences

Although this is not a very well known fact, security monitors that are responsible for tracking illegal torrent files actually pose as downloader. They will log into the torrent site and download the data through the torrent clients for verifying is copyright laws are being broken. This is a definitive way of establishing that the law is broken with evidence. But there is a catch here.

Researchers got their hands on the data of some of the leading torrent sites, like The Pirate Bay, and found out that there are many distinguishable differences in regular leechers and trackers. The primary difference that they noticed was that trackers never downloaded the full file. Obviously, this seems like the logical thing to do as all they need is a clip and not the whole file.  Another noteworthy difference was the high frequency of the same IP appearing on multiple latest torrents. This is also a fairly logical thing to do for the security agencies as they have to monitor all the files. But these two differences, along with many other minor ones, have provided a way for the pirates to protect themselves.

If Smart, Pirates Can Protect Themselves

The conclusion of this study was that if pirates were smart enough to notice these trends, they could effectively protect themselves from the tracking computers. These worry free torrents sites have all the liberty to either bar that IP, or redirect it to a mirror site, feed it fake data, or any other means of stealth technique can be employed.

It is clear from this research that the techniques used by the tracking companies are not foolproof and there is a lot of work to be done in developing a more comprehensive monitoring system. Piracy still continues in spite of all these efforts by the government and copyright holders and there is a good chance that it has grown to a level where it cannot be brought down.

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Europe More Serious Than The US About Online Privacy

September 26, 2012 Leave a comment

There was news about how the Irish Data Commissioner had conducted an inquiry into the facial recognition software that is used by Facebook. This inquiry was a result of the complaint lodged with the Irish Data Commissioner from its member states, about how this software was posing a risk to the online privacy of its users. Following this inquiry, Facebook made an official announcement that the site would be discontinuing the use of facial recognition software on all its European users.

The same issue is valid worldwide, including the US . But even though the Electronic Information Privacy Center or the EPIC as it is popularly called, has lodged a complaint with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) about this, the complaint is still waiting to be processed and there is no communication on when it will be dealt with. This shows an apparent laxity that US citizens and officials have about online privacy. It is now only a matter of time before it comes back to haunt them.

‘Patchwork’ Of Laws Protecting Online Privacy

The major difference between online privacy enforcement in the US and Europe is the laws that govern it. While there are a number of laws which are not effectively compiled to  ensure that matters regarding online privacy are dealt with effectively, in Europe, the Data Protection Directive is the bible of online privacy protection. This law book or a bill, provides all the member nations with a basic framework of how online privacy must be enforced and maintained.

It also has sections that guide the member nations on dealing with issues relating to online privacy. A noticeable fact in all these laws is that the end user or the citizen has a measure of control and a sense of direction on how to go about if his/her online privacy is compromised. That is very unlike the US where citizens have to go through elaborate procedures to file a report in  case of a breach in their online privacy.

European Regulations Set To Become More Robust

To make the online privacy regulations even more stringent, there is a proposed amendment in the online privacy law. According to the reports, the newly proposed regulation will empower the citizens more by forming laws that are above the national jurisdiction. This will mean that all the companies that are directly or indirectly processing the data of European nationals will be included under the law and in case there is any irregularity, they are answerable to the authorities.

Another important factor that will ensure that the companies are extremely careful while processing the data from EU zone is the penalty that can be imposed. The law states that you can impose up to a 2% portion of the global revenue of the offending companies, if proved guilty, as a penalty.

Recently, Google paid a penalty of five hours of its revenue that was imposed by the Federal trade commission. If the penalty was handed out by the Euro zone laws, then it would have amounted to 175 hours of revenue.

Americans As Worried As Europeans About Their Online Privacy

A recent study by the European Commission showed that more than 70% of the people in Europe are worried about their online privacy. Similarly, American Life Project, a survey, showed that 73% of Americans are also worried about online privacy. This shows that people want to shop without being tracked, or browse without being targeted. Only the authorities are not too bothered about beefing up the rules that govern online privacy issues. It is high time that things are set right or there will be a lot of unevenness in the systems of US and EU zones.

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Facebook Officials Deny Message Bug On Their Site

September 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Of all the social networking sites that we have seen over the years, Facebook has probably been the best in ensuring the privacy and security of its users. Although it was pretty simple initially, they developed advanced privacy options over the years and today, they have a very good reputation. But recently, the arguably best social networking site in the world had a glitch. Some of the users claimed that the private messages they sent a few years ago were being displayed on the wall (or timeline as it is called now) as public posts and this was causing a lot of privacy problems to them. But Facebook has denied this bug and said that the privacy options of the site have been as safe as it has been over the years.

US And French Users Seem To Be The Only Ones Affected

One of the reasons why Facebook might be right about their claim is because the users in most parts of the world are not affected by the bug. According to an observation made by an online security agency, the users who seem to be affected by this bug are mainly based in the United States and France. The main issue is this. Users who had sent some private messages in 2009 are seeing the same messages on their wall as wall posts. Also, the privacy settings for the wall posts had been set to public which meant that anyone on Facebook could view these messages. There is a reason why the users used private messaging to send those messages and publicizing those messages on the wall is a very serious issue indeed.

Facebook’s Explanation

Facebook officials issued an official statement that the problem was extensively investigated by their engineers and they found no such issue in users from US and France, and also in users’ profiles around the world. However, an interesting fact that can be noticed here is that Facebook did not completely deny that there was a problem. They just said that all the profiles’ security has been satisfactory and there has not been any sort of compromise in the privacy of the users. Facebook officials also provided an explanation about the glitch by saying that the users who reported the problem had themselves posted the messages on their timelines (then known as ‘the wall’) and had forgot about it.

Facebook’s Attempts To Compete With Google Reason For This Glitch?

While some people were ticking off Facebook as only a social networking site, the engineers at Facebook are working around the clock to integrate search engine services into the social networking site. This is probably Facebook’s attempt to draw some of the search engine users from Google. Mark Zuckerberg had recently commented that the position of Facebook is so unique that it can answer the queries of the users more comprehensively than any other search engines.

Implications Of This Privacy Issue

As Facebook’s reputation for privacy has increased, we have become increasingly lax about the discretion we use while on Facebook. We tend to use it for personal and possibly sensitive conversation which can be used against us if miscreants get their hands on it. Recent studies have shown that some users use Facebook as a platform to watch adult content in private also. What we should be aware of is that Facebook is also a site like any other and it is also vulnerable to mistakes. So, we should not do the mistake of overly trusting Facebook with a lot of sensitive or confidential information. A little user discretion is all that is needed to ensure that we can use Facebook without any serious problems even if Facebook security measures fail.

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Microsoft Discovers Malware On Brand New Computers

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

It is not uncommon for us to find malicious software on our computer even though we have the latest security measures in place. The cyberspace that we access on a regular basis is teeming with malicious software and even if we have the latest security measures in place, our computers are bound to have one or more of these codes. But that does not mean the virus, botnet, malware, spyware, or any other type of malicious software on our computers will be active. The anti-virus and other security measures will ensure that they are dormant and will not cause any problem.

However, malicious software on a new computer is a very dangerous and tricky issue. This is exactly what officials from Microsoft are faced with. They have found that brand new computers from a supply chain in China are infected with potentially dangerous software even before the consumers use it for the first time.

A Botnet Called Nitol

Microsoft officials found that the virus on the new computers was a something that they could not instantly identify as its behavior was a little unpredictable. For this reason, they shipped one of the computers to their research centers where, after weeks of study and analysis, researchers revealed that this was a type of botnet. This was not all and the researchers believed that they had come across this type of botnet previously and this particular type was code named ‘Nitol’.

Findings Of Operation B70

Officials from Microsoft said that they were already suspicious of new computers being infected by potentially dangerous software even before they were turned on for the first time by consumers. That is the reason why they undertook the sting operation, code named operation B70. The objective of this operation was simple. Officials from the company would visit the stores or dealerships which were in question and purchase computers from them.

This operation started out way back in August, 2011. The culprits here were the dealers as they installed fake and non legitimate software on the computer to bring down the overall cost they bore on each model and yet sell it for the retail price. This increased their profit margins. The officials involved in operation B70 purchased 10 pieces of laptop and desktop computers from the suppliers in question.

What Is A Botnet?

A botnet is a type of malicious software that will turn your computer into a part of a larger network of computers and give the hacker who planted them control over all these computers. The same botnet will be installed on hundreds, if not thousands, of similar computers and the miscreant will have significant control over this network.

The applications of this methodology are many and varied. The miscreant can use this network to attack a secure network and hack through it. The advantage of having so many computers is that the hacker can use the combined computing power of all the computers on the network to hack, thus substantially reducing the time and effort required for a hack. There is also the possibility of using your computers to hack into banks and to perform other online crimes. When investigators try to find the perpetrator, they will zero in on your computer even though you have no idea about it.

Safeguarding Yourself Against Botnets

Botnets disguise themselves very well and you must make sure that your regular system scan includes all the sectors of your hard drive. It is not enough if you stop cookies/tracking online. Also, never visit sites that you feel might be dangerous. Another important lesson that we can learn from operation B70 is that you should always approach the official or authorized dealers to buy our computers to ensure that they are legal and most importantly, safe.

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Latest Child Privacy Issues: More Than 5 Million Kids On Facebook

September 21, 2012 Leave a comment

There was a time when internet usage was strictly monitored and kids were not allowed to use computers like they do today. Although those kids were not as knowledgeable as today’s kids (and much more innocent too), we did not have to worry every minute about how their online privacy and security. A recent study was conducted about the kind of victims hackers target online and not surprisingly, 39% of the hackers preferred kids as they are easy targets and also quite valuable when it comes to revealing confidential information.

This is very disturbing and we should take more measures to protect our kids. Facebook is probably the most popular hunting grounds for hackers and kids under the age of 13 are not allowed on Facebook. But surveys conducted in the past few weeks report that there are over 5 million kids under the age of 13 on Facebook.

Facebook Policy States Under-13 Kids Not Allowed

The official policy of the most popular social networking site in the world states that kids under the age of 13 are not allowed on Facebook. Although this is a part of the site’s official policy, there are no measures to ensure that kids don’t slip through the verification net. The site only asks to enter your date of birth in the initial stages of the registration process. If you alter your year of birth in such a way that you seem more than 13 years old, the site has no qualms about accepting you as a user even if you are under the age of 13. This is exactly what the excess of 5 million kids on Facebook have done.

FB’s Effort To Block Children Ineffective But The Site Refuses To Acknowledge It

These numbers suggest that there is clearly something wrong in Facebook’s age verification system but the administrators of the social networking site do not seem to realize it. They are of the opinion that they are screening the profiles regularly and they do eliminate the profiles which are verified as belonging to under-13 kids. The company’s administrators also had some numbers to show when questioned about this particular apparent fallacy with the site. They said that every year, they are eliminating more than 800,000 accounts which they believe belong to kids. But the company refuses to disclose any information on the system they use to verify the age of the user. For all we know, the system might be flawed.

This Problem Will Escalate To Serious Proportions Unless Dealt With Immediately

Some might feel that online security experts are overreacting as Facebook is just a harmless social networking site. But clearly, there are serious implications. Kids are easy to manipulate because of their innocence and this is exactly the tactics that hackers use. They use a technique called social engineering which will attract the kids to their devious plots and this will not only put the kids’ privacy at risk, but also their parents’ and siblings’. The kids also get to watch adult content in private through Facebook pages even if you have blocked the adult content in their computers.

Parents Should Not Encourage Kids To Use Facebook

The survey that counted the number of pre teens on Facebook also interviewed parents about their tolerance towards their kids using Facebook. More than 60% of parents confessed that they helped their pre teen kids to open accounts. This is a bad idea and the main reason for this is social pressure. When a kid doesn’t have a Facebook account, he or she will be ridiculed by the kids who have one and this will lead to emotional distress. But parents must understand that there is something more at risk and exercise discretion while dealing with their kids.

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Blocking Torrent Sites Have No Effect on Online Piracy

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment

If you are not aware of the recent developments in the world of torrents, there has been a massive breakthrough for companies who provide music and videos. They have finally managed to convince the government, and consequently the search engine companies, that torrent sites are the major source of pirated intellectual property. The team, led by Hollywood bigwigs, has managed to pull the right strings and use its immense power and reach to ensure that torrent sites can be blocked even on the basis of reasonable doubt.

All the company has to do is provide circumstantial evidence to the court and the court will order the site to be blocked or taken down immediately, without even waiting to verify the claims or giving a chance for the torrent site to plead their side of the case. This seems to be harsh but it did give the record companies some satisfaction that they were doing something.

However, all this has been disproved by a recent survey. The survey has identified that torrent downloading continues to thrive and pirated content is still being downloaded indiscriminately.

No Evidence of Reduced Piracy

During the survey, the researchers managed to unearth hardcore evidence that blocking sites did not have any effect in reducing the number of copyright files being downloaded. Sites like PirateBay, Mononova, Torrenthound, etc were blocked in several key demographics but that has not stopped people from downloading torrents. MusicMetric, a leading music company was responsible for compiling this data and they released the data only for the United Kingdom. That data showed that people who are looking out for worry free torrents are using other sites to download files through torrents. The number of new sites that offers torrent files keeps coming up on a daily basis and this is why there has been no effect in the number of people who still use torrents.

Pirate Party Fails To Agree With the Data

Contrary to the conclusions of MusicMetric, the pirate party group has not agreed to the conclusions drawn from this data set. Loz Kaye, the leader of Pirate Party, said that just because people are using technology (in this case, torrents) does not mean that there is large scale piracy still going on. He said that the only plausible conclusion that one can draw from this data is that the people of the United Kingdom are very much music oriented and that they are using torrents to download it actively. He said that MusicMetric has not come up with any data that exclusively shows that the data which is downloaded is intellectual property or copyrighted data only.

Points Out To Other Torrent Trends

Kaye also added in his statement that if the company manages to gather data about the type of files that the people download, then a vast majority of those files are non copyrighted material. He adds that these were the files that people have bought by paying money and they are just sharing it with their fellow torrent users. That does not come under piracy and that is exactly the reason why torrents were established in the first place.

The Argument is Doing Nothing to Curb Online Piracy

Mr. Kaye finished his statement by saying that people are raising an issue about this data because they are not able to do anything effective to ensure that online piracy is reduced significantly. He said that we should stop arguing about these sterile topics and try to make a concerted effort to ensure that piracy is nipped at the bud rather than trying to stop it from growing. Although the solution is not apparent today, we will find one in the near future.

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