Monday, March 31, 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Motorola to split in two
By Mikael Ricknas
Motorola will split into two companies, one making mobile devices and the other making network infrastructure, the company announced Wednesday.
The companies will operate separately and be publicly traded. Motorola expects the split to take place in 2009, if it gets the necessary approvals.
The decision follows a review of the company's mobile phone business, announced Jan. 31 and conducted by the management team, the board of directors and independent advisors. Motorola is following in the footsteps of Nokia, which put its network activities into a joint venture with Siemens, and of Ericsson, which put its mobile phone business into a joint venture with Sony.
The split will provide improved flexibility, more tailored capital structures, and increased management focus -- as well as more targeted investment opportunities for shareholders, according to Greg Brown, Motorola's president and chief executive officer.
Based on current plans, the creation of the two stand-alone businesses is expected to take the form of a tax-free distribution to Motorola's shareholders, subject to further financial, tax and legal analysis, resulting in shareholders holding shares of two independent and publicly-traded companies, Motorola said.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Not quite worried enough that identity thieves might empty your bank account or ruin your credit rating with a shopping spree in your name? The FBI says those concerns are small spuds compared to what might happen when crooks parlay identity theft and mortgage fraud into "a totally new kind of crime: house stealing."
According to the FBI:
... The con artists start by picking out a house to steal - say, YOURS.
... Next, they assume your identity - getting a hold of your name and information (easy enough to do off the Internet) and using that to create fake IDs social security cards, etc.
... Then, they go to an office supply store and purchase forms that transfer property. ... After forging your signature and using the fake IDs, they file these deeds with the proper authorities, and lo and behold, your house is now THEIRS.
Sometimes it will be an empty house or vacation home, the thieves will work their schemes while the homeowner and families go on about their normal everyday lives, says the FBI. The Justice Department details one such case in this press release. Although the FBI says mortgage fraud is "pervasive and growing, " the combination of identity theft and mortgage fraud -- this so-called house stealing -- is "not too common at this point."
(No word in the press release about those who might welcome having their houses stolen, given the disparity between what they owe and what the homes are worth. ... Yes, I'm kidding.)
Monday, March 24, 2008
Sony charges $50 to remove laptop bloatware
By Peter Sayer
Sony is offering to remove some of the trial software it crams onto the hard disks of new laptops -- for a fee.
Buyers of the configure-to-order versions of its Vaio TZ2000 and Vaio TZ2500 laptops can opt to have Sony remove some of its own applications, in addition to trial software and games.
The "Fresh Start" option, billed as a software optimization, costs $49.99, and is only available to customers choosing to pay an additional $100 to upgrade the operating system to Windows Vista Business from the Windows Vista Home Premium edition offered as standard.
PC manufacturers are often paid by software publishers to include such trial versions on the computers they ship. Bloatware, as it is often called, poses problems for businesses because it reduces system performance and available hard disk space, makes it harder to maintain a consistent software image across PCs from different sources and may introduce additional security vulnerabilities or -- in the case of games -- unwanted distractions for workers.
Dell was one of the first PC manufacturers to offer to remove bloatware. Last July it introduced Vostro, a range of PCs for small businesses designed to be simpler to manage. Everex followed suit a week later, saying it would eliminate bloatware from a $300 desktop machine for consumers.
Customers opting for Sony's Fresh Start will miss out on software including Microsoft Works SE 9.0 bundled with a 60-day trial version of Microsoft Office, Sony's Vaio Creation Suite Photo Software bundled with a 30-day trial version of Corel Paint Shop Pro; the Click to Disc video editor; WinDVD, and a free edition of QuickBooks Simple Start that can only track 20 customers.
Sony justifies the $49.99 fee by saying it covers removal of the unwanted software before shipment -- although selecting the option appears to have no consequences on the estimated shipping date.
Although Sony has other laptops with configure-to-order options, including the FZ, SZ, AR and CR ranges, none of those are available with Fresh Start.
This was suppose to be for public use but the greedy cellular providers have gobbled this up. So much for low cost WI-FI access for the masses. The cellular company Borg have assimilated all communications. Resistance is futile, you will pay thought he nose!!!
Verizon gobbles up spectrum at 700MHz auction
Verizon Wireless emerged as the big winner today in the FCC's 700 MHz auction, as the carrier won nearly all of the licenses on a coveted chunk of open-access spectrum.
The spectrum, dubbed the "C block" by the FCC, is a 22-MHz chunk of spectrum that garnered significant attention last year when the FCC placed open-access rules on it mandating that future licensees would be prohibited from blocking or slowing Internet traffic from competing carriers using the network. The FCC also said the C-Block winner would have to allow any devices to connect to the network.
Verizon has won C-Block licenses for every region in the United States except for Alaska. The company bid around $4.7 billion total for the rights to acquire its C-Block licenses, bidding $1.6 billion for the Mississippi Valley C-Block license and $1.1 billion for the C-Block license in the Great Lakes region.
Verizon's chief rival AT&T won more than 150 licenses on the B Block of spectrum, which generally covers individual metropolitan areas throughout the United States. In total, the two carriers bid a combined $16 billion, accounting for more than 80% of the $19.6 billion in total bids, the FCC said.
Verizon issued a statement saying it was pleased with the results of the auction and added that "we were successful in achieving the spectrum depth we need to continue to grow our business and data revenues" and that the company had acquired spectrum that would give it "a nationwide spectrum footprint covering 298M Pops, plus 102 licenses for individual markets covering 171M Pops."
The 700 MHz auction sold off 1,096 licenses for spectrum on the 700-MHz band that is scheduled to be vacated by incumbent UHF television broadcasters in February 2009. In total, the auction lasted for 261 rounds over a span of nearly two months.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Writer Arthur C. Clarke Dies at 90 on March 16,2008
By RAVI NESSMAN –
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Arthur C. Clarke, a visionary science fiction writer who won worldwide acclaim with more than 100 books on space, science and the future, died Wednesday in his adopted home of Sri Lanka, an aide said. He was 90.
Clarke, who had battled debilitating post-polio syndrome since the 1960s and sometimes used a wheelchair, died at 1:30 a.m. after suffering breathing problems, aide Rohan De Silva said.
Clarke moved to Sri Lanka in 1956, lured by his interest in marine diving which he said was as close as he could get to the weightless feeling of space.
"I'm perfectly operational underwater," he once said.
Co-author with Stanley Kubrick of Kubrick's film "2001: A Space Odyssey," Clarke was regarded as far more than a science fiction writer.
He was credited with the concept of communications satellites in 1945, decades before they became a reality. Geosynchronous orbits, which keep satellites in a fixed position relative to the ground, are called Clarke orbits.
He joined American broadcaster Walter Cronkite as commentator on the U.S. Apollo moonshots in the late 1960s.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Reposted from the Electronic Village blog. Thanks to Wayne Hicks for pointing out this atrocity.
You see, the issues surrounding the Dunbar Village gang-rape that occurred last year continue to burn hot in our community ... especially with Black women. Many Black women look at the way that the Dunbar Village situation has been handled as an example of the way Black women are treated in too many situations from Corporate America to our neighborhoods.
Villagers remember the horrific story of ten youths that forced their way into a Black woman's home in Dunbar Village housing complex down in Florida. For several hours,they not only gang-raped her repeatedly and viciously beat her young son, but they forced her to have sex with her own child. The teenage boys then placed the two of them in a bathtub and poured nail polish remover in her son's eyes, blinding him for a period of time. They attempted to set them on fire, but couldn't find a match. So instead, they violated them with ammonia and threatened to kill her family if she told anyone.
Only four of the suspects have been apprehended, there are six others on the loose. There is conclusive DNA evidence on at least one of the boys. There is no manhunt for the rest of the criminals, they are running around loose as you read this.
In November 2007, Al Sharpton showed that he had a 'hard head' about this case as well. He was called on the carpet by a number of people concerned that he was not supporting the young woman and her son who had been victimized in this case. In fact, I went so far as to call Al Sharpton a 'punk' last month on this blog.
Fast forward to today. It seems that the NAACP and Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN) both refused to help this woman because it was 'outside the scope of their mission' ... however, both groups found time to send lawyers down to Florida IN SUPPORT OF THE RAPISTS. The lawyers are claiming that it is 'unfair' to not offer bail to these four rapists.
Barack Obama spoke on the rage that exists in Black America when it comes to race relations. That rage burns especially strong when sexual crimes are committed against Black women and children ... even if the criminals involved are Black!
I encourage all like-minded villagers to join in collective action against the NAACP and Al Sharpton's NAN as a result of their misguided criminal advocacy in the Dunbar Village case. Perhaps it is time for right-thinking villagers to stop fueling the NAACP and NAN with our money and our volunteer activism until they stop trying to hinder the successful prosecution of this heinous crime down in Dunbar Village.
Perhaps it is time to ensure that the safety of Black women and children are non-negotiable. Here are some specific steps you can take:
- Share this post with others so they might have their conscience and concern raised as yours as been today.
- Demand an explanation from your local NAACP and NAN chapter about the Dunbar Village case.
- Cancel your membership to these organizations
- Write a letter explaining that you will return when they prioritize the public safety needs of Black women and children.
- Stop donating your time or money to these organizations; instead invest in other organizations that take the lives of Black women and children seriously.
NAACP National Headquarters
4805 Mt. Hope Drive
Baltimore MD 21215
National Action Network
Rev. Al Sharpton
106 W. 145th Street
Harlem, New York 10039
Intel researchers stretch Wi-Fi to cover 60 miles
Intel recently demonstrated a modified 802.11 radio link with a data rate of around 6 Mbps and a range of more than 60 miles.
Intel achieved this extraordinary range using off-the-shelf hardware, including parabolic antennas, for its project, dubbed the rural connectivity platform (RCP). The key innovation was a change, borrowed from cellular networks, to the underlying 802.11 media-access-control layer that allowed for a more efficient signal, and translates into longer reach.
RCP is one of several research projects intended to extend the Internet into rural areas, especially in developing countries. The idea is to use low-cost, low-power Wi-Fi radios to bridge between wired Internet connections in a city and wired and wireless connections in small, rural villages. RCP's unprecedented range minimizes the need for lots of wireless nodes to span those distances.
RCP has been in development by Intel Research and Intel's Emerging Markets Platform Group for about two years, and has been talked about online for about a year. There are pilot RCP deployments in a handful of countries: India, Vietnam, Panama and South Africa. Earlier this month, the chip maker demonstrated the link in operation during an open house at its Berkeley Research Lab in California. In the demonstration, users viewed a live video image streamed over a 5.8GHz RCP connection from a camera about 1.5 miles away.
Wi-Fi is being used in outdoor settings, especially in municipal wireless-mesh networks, from such companies as BelAir Networks and Firetide. Typically, these radio nodes use a combination of high-power radios and high-gain, directional antennas to enable the Wi-Fi signal to reach, at best, a mile or two. (Compare wireless mesh products.)
As Intel notes, the 802.11 protocol becomes inefficient as the ends of the wireless connection get farther apart. In part this is because when one 802.11 radio sends data, it then waits for an acknowledgement from the receiving radio. If it doesn’t hear that acknowledgement within a certain amount of time, the sending radio assumes the data was lost or dropped, and resends it. The longer the distance, the more likely the sending radio won't get the acknowledgement in time.
So, Intel researchers changed the protocol, adding a technique called time division multiple access (TDMA), which is used today in GSM cellular networks. TDMA divides the channel into time slots, then synchronizes between the sending and receiving radios. In effect, each radio sends and receives on a schedule, so there's no waiting for acknowledgements and no subsequent resending of data.
Wi-Fi vendors, such as Meru Networks and Extricom, have added a type of centralized scheduling to their 802.11 wireless LAN products, claiming it simplifies deployments (because all access points can run on one channel) and increases throughput when networks are heavily loaded.
In Intel's case, the TDMA technique translates into longer range, because it minimizes the wireless overhead and frees up more bandwidth for data transmission, giving the signal greater range. (We're waiting to hear back from Intel on more details, and will update this story when we have them.)
RCP is a line-of-sight technology: The antennas on each side of the link need to be able to "see" each other.
The RCP units can be endpoints, on each side of a link, or relay stations through which the signal can hop. Both types of RCP devices include a single-board computer with an embedded Intel IXP 425 network processor, CompactFlash storage, 10/100 Ethernet ports that support Power over Ethernet, and a "local" 802.11 access point for client connectivity. The device draws about 6 watts of power.
Intel has been using 802.11 radios for the long-distance connection (as many as three are possible), but any long-haul radio can be substituted including WiMAX radios. RCP works over the 900MHz band and the 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz bands. The Berkeley Research Lab demonstration shows an external parabolic antenna roughly two feet wide.
The hardware is encased in a compact, rugged, die-cast aluminum casing, and the units are designed to configure themselves automatically. Intel says it will start selling the devices in India later this year, apparently through deals with equipment makers to turn the Berkeley lab's reference design into a commercial product. The target price is less than $500.
The RCP software runs on an operating systems based on the SnapGear embedded Linux distribution. A Web GUI can be used for monitoring and for manual configuration.In Panama, one RCP device was perched on a 15-story hotel, with an Internet connection. The other was mounted on a tall, narrow tree trunk in a village several miles away. No special tools were needed. The tree-mounted RCP unit, powered by a solar panel in the village, now provides a reliable Internet connection to the villagers, where none existed before
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Utica, Detroit, Bloomfield Hills teams share FIRST Robotics crown
A three-team alliance of high school robotics teams won the FIRST Robotics Detroit Regional, a two-day competition held this weekend at Wayne State University. They are: Utica Schools, Detroit Cody High and Bloomfield Hills International Academy.
The nationwide FIRST Robotics (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program provides students a unique preview into the professional world of engineering, science and math, as they work under the guidance of career professional adult mentors while competing with their peers in a high school varsity sport atmosphere.
All of the 32 teams competing last weekend were from Michigan, which has had more than its share of success in FIRST Robotics. In five of the last six years, a national champion has come from the Great Lakes State.
Three schools are named winners of the Detroit Regional because FIRST Robotics is set up where teams compete as an alliance. This promotes teamwork, conquering challenges with others and most importantly, FIRST’s Motto: Gracious Professionalism.
The runners up taking second place were an alliance of three additional high schools: Pontiac Central, Clarkston and Clinton Township L’Anse Creuse.
The two alliances that reached the semifinals before being eliminated by the alliances above were comprised of a total of six teams from: Detroit Country Day, Allen Park & Cabrini High, Ferndale-Royal Oak, Monroe High, Saginaw Schools Career Complex and Oakland Schools Tech Campus Northeast.
This year's game, called FIRST Overdrive, is played on a 54-by-27-foot track divided into a red side and a blue side, with an overpass that marks the red and blue finish lines while also supporting four trackballs to start the game. Two three-team alliances race around the track in a counter clockwise direction manipulating trackballs that they must first try knocking off the overpass. Robots start in an autonomous mode, but for the majority of the game are radio controlled by team operators standing at either end of the field.
During the teleoperated period, robots traveling in a counter clockwise direction score two points whenever their robot or trackball crosses their finish line, and eight points whenever their trackball passes over their overpass. Alliances score an additional 12 points for each of their Trackballs that are positioned anywhere on the overpass at the end of the match.
FIRST, founded by well-known inventor Dean Kamen, is entering its 20th year of operation. The games are designed by MIT professor Woody Flowers and NASA exploratory robotics director Dave Lavery.
At the Jan. 5 kickoff, teams learned about the new game contents and rules for 2008 for the first time and also picked up a set of starter parts supplied by FIRST from its New Hampshire headquarters. While some robotic components and concepts are reused from previous years, FIRST always designs a new game with different tactics each year so challenges become fresh and innovative, while also not giving experienced teams too much of an advantage over rookie teams.
More at www.usfirst.org.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Best Free Stuff
It's the F-word that always gets people's attention. And whether it's to enhance your office systems or just keep you busy during down time, the Web, it would seem, has the answer to it all. The best part: A bulk of this veritable treasure trove is 'Free'. But how do you decide what will stay true and serve its purpose? And how do you avoid something that will crash and burn, taking your expensive system along with it? Luckily you don't have to. We give you a list of the must-have software and the best services on the Internet.
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
This ever-popular antivirus has stood its ground over the years and is still a favorite with most computer users. It is light on system resources and for an app that is small in size, it packs in most of the features that other expensive apps offer to give you rock solid protection. (Compare antivirus products)
It runs in the background and only springs into action when needed and is very unobtrusive. An e-mail scanning ability other than the normal hard drive scan, automatic updates, schedule scan, Windows Explorer integration, and real-time protection through AVG Resident Shield make this a very impressive anti-virus tool. It even has an option for creating a rescue disk to scan your computer in MS-DOS mode for a situation when you cannot boot into Windows.
Spyware Terminator 2.1
Spyware Terminator stands out among the free antispyware apps because of its comprehensive features and it has been giving other expensive antispyware apps a run for their money. Think of any feature that an antispyware should have and you will find that Spyware Terminator has it all, which is impressive for a completely free antispyware tool. (Compare antispyware products)
Besides providing normal protection for detecting and removing known spywares, it even has a tool, Host Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS), for protection against unknown threats. It has an antivirus (ClamAV) integrated into it for scanning and removing viruses. The web Security Guard protects you from potentially dangerous websites.
The most remarkable thing is that it provides real-time protection against spyware and other malware which other free antispyware apps don't include. The other essential features like scan customization, auto updates and scheduled scan are included which make this a fully-featured antispyware tool.
Spyware Doctor Starter Edition is another impressive tool for weeding out spyware from your PC, providing you efficient protection without putting too much of a burden on your system.
A firewall is a must for all those who use the Internet. Windows has a firewall but if you want more advanced firewall, you don't need to resort to expensive versions. You can opt for Comodo Firewall 3.0 -- a very popular and comprehensive yet free alternative. (Compare Desktop Firewall products)
It is a highly advanced firewall with a ton of settings available for expert users. It is also suited for the novice with an easy-to- understand interface. It doesn't slow down your system and filters incoming and outgoing traffic. It also monitors components used to initiate network connections and other running processes.
The stealth mode (makes your P.C. completely invisible to hackers and port scans), HIPS, Powerful and intuitive Security Rules, Automatic 'Firewall Training' mode, Windows Security Center Integration, etc are some of the notable features included.
This office suite is a worthy competitor to the widely used but expensive MS Office suite and even manages to come up trumps in some key areas. It is a robust and full-featured suite that is compatible with MS Office 2003 files format.
Its cross-platform support for Linux, Mac OSX, Sun Solaris, and Windows makes it score over MS Office which supports only Windows. It has almost all the features that MS Office supports and more. With an interface similar to MS Office, you won't have trouble shifting to it.
Another advantage OpenOffice has over MS Office is its support for plug-ins and extensions like blogging add-ons, report building, exporting to Google docs, templates, etc. A really cool feature is its ability to save documents as PDF files directly from the application.
A good Personal Information Manager tool is a must for someone looking to manage and organize daily schedules, contacts, maintain to-do lists, and keep tab of notes. All these can be done easily with a few mouse clicks by using EssentialPIM Free, a simple yet powerful PIM that has almost all the features that other paid versions offer.
An intuitive interface with color-coded sections is the first thing that attracts you to this unassuming yet feature-packed program. Everything you will need to organize and manage your schedule and contacts is easily available to you. It consists of four main sections -- Scheduler (Tasks), To Do List, Outliner (Notes), and Contact Manager -- that manages a bulk of your personal information.
Mozilla Sunbird is also another good Personal Information Manager application that provides all the essentials for easy and quick organization of your schedules and contacts. As with other open-source applications, the extisionability of its features makes it a very versatile PIM.
Foxit PDF Reader
The overly bloated Adobe Reader has long been the preferred choice for reading PDF files. When you just want to read PDF files, using Adobe Reader is a real pain with all the unwanted enhancements making it heavy and annoying to use. That is where Foxit PDF Reader leaves Adobe lagging behind. The program's focus is mainly on reading PDF files and this version, fortunately, comes without all the extras and frills and manages to get the job done well.
It opens PDF files fast and without fuss because of its lightweight nature. The annotation tools (draw graphics, highlights, text typing, and make notes) are among the extra features that add extra pizzazz to this useful little application. Other features include the ability to save fillable forms and a text converter to convert PDF documents to plain text files.
Email providers are following this simple three word mantra these days to rope in users: Bigger, faster, more. With Gmail's arrival, Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL have got their act together and are providing increased storage, larger attachment sizes, integrated chat and rich and intuitive interfaces. (Compare Messaging products)
Gmail is still the leader of the pack offering more than 6,000 MB of free storage. In some countries, users can avail paid additional storage from 10 GB (US$20/year) or up to 400 GB (US$500/year), shared over Picasa and Gmail.
Gmail also lets users search their inbox. Look for Undocumented search operators like "language: Hindi" listed at The Google Help Centre. Related messages are grouped as conversations making it easy to follow a sequence. Gmail also saves contacts automatically and they can be imported from any list capable of being exported as a CSV file. Gmail currently supports 40 languages, including Hindi and Marathi. It offers a mobile-application based version for phones running Java applications.
Yahoo!'s revamped service was rolled out last year. The new service with a snazzy new interface integrates features like Yahoo! Calendar, Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, SMS messaging, keyboard shortcuts, unlimited storage and improved search. It also integrates an RSS feed.
The revamped Hotmail or Windows Live service has a host of new features. It supports rich text signatures, virus scanning, an audio player to play voicemail and mp3s. It is also integrated with other Windows Live services like Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live Contacts and Windows Live Calendar. Hotmail also supports bi-directional language support for Hindi. The latest entrant on the Indian scene is AOL mail. Its features include unlimited storage, 5 GB attachments, Spam protection, a new AIM Panel with a full Buddy List and indicators to show presence of online buddies.
Since its inception in 2004, Firefox has captured the imagination of Internet users and has been the preferred net browser cutting into Internet Explorer's monopoly.
Innovation has been its driving force and the level of customization available for it through its various add-ons and extensions has made it the preferred choice. This light and nimble Web browser is cross-platform and supports Windows, Mac, and Linux and it brought tabbed browsing into the mainstream.
It comes with anti-phishing support which helps the browser differentiate between genuine websites and those intended to store and retrieve your personal information.
Other features include enhanced tabbed browsing (each with their own close option), the ability to un-close tabs, search plug-in/add-on manager, and much, much more. One of the most useful features is the predictive search function within the Google toolbar that give suggestion of potential phrases and popular search terms as you typed. The automatic session retrieval option is helpful when your system crashes. And the most impressive feature is the availability of thousands of third-party extensions to make Firefox more powerful.
If you are on the Net, then it would be no surprise if you spent most of your time chatting away with your friends online. But the problem with chatting is that if you have a Yahoo account you are not able to chat with your friend who has an AIM or any other account. This drawback can be overcome by using Trillian - a fully featured, stand-alone, skinnable chat client that supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC.
It supports standard features such as audio chat, file transfers, group chats, chat rooms, buddy icons, multiple simultaneous connections to the same network, server-side contact importing, typing notification, direct connection (AIM), proxy support, encrypted messaging (AIM/ICQ), SMS support, and privacy settings.
Trillian provides unique functionality such as contact message history, a powerful skinning language, tabbed messaging, global status changes (set all networks away at once), Instant Lookup (automatic Wikipedia integration), contact alerts, an advanced automation system to trigger events based on anything happening in the client, docking, hundreds of emoticons, emotisounds, shell extensions for file transfers, and systray notifications.
If you want to explore other options, Pidgin is a very good choice because it also supports multiple clients and comes with a very amazing feature sets for such a small app.
Flickr -- the reigning king of photo sharing
Flickr has one reason to exist --image hosting. And at that, it excels. For starters, the interface is clean, and searching using multiple tags is quick. You can view images in multiple sizes or download them. No wonder then that it is by far the most popular photo-sharing site for professional photographers and amateurs alike. There exists both a free and paid version, and the former suffices for most people. However if you are space-hungry and upload full-sized high resolution pictures by the dozen every week, you might want to explore the latter option.
The home page lets you access recent activity (uploads from friends, comments to your photos, group activity, etc.), search for images using tags and organize your photos. The Flickr Uploadr tool lets you upload multiple images. You can specify different Creative Commons licenses for each or all of your photos, useful for enthusiasts who can specify where and how their pictures can be reproduced. Another popular service is Webshots.com. Many features are similar to Flickr, including the ability to make albums private or public. You also get updates about activity on your album as well as those of your friends.
If most of your contacts are on Gmail, you may find sharing photos on Picasa easy. Once you upload your photos, one click gets you started selecting email ids from your Gmail address book. This integration makes it easy to send album invites. Add to this the clean no-fuss interface, and Picasa makes for another visit-worthy website.
If you want a one-stop shop (or website, in this case) for sharing photos as well as printing them, you can to head to zoom.in or itasveer.com, which are Indian websites offering basic photo sharing. They will even print your pictures at affordable prices. They don't offer the goodies that Flickr or Webshots do, but they let you create albums for your photos and provide a link that you can email to your contacts.
The GIMP has been a popular alternative for photo enthusiasts who couldn't afford to install Photoshop on their system. It has almost all the features that Photoshop provides. The only gripe is that it is difficult to use and transition from Photoshop is not easy. GIMPshop addresses these issues by providing an interface similar to Photoshop with all the powerful features of the Gimp included.
If you don't have a problem with the way GIMP works, you can carry on using it with all its powerful editing features. It may be confusing if you have been using GIMP before because of the changes. The tools have been renamed and reorganized, and the Options windows and Menus have been altered. Other than that there aren't many changes and it remains as powerful as ever.
It shares all GIMP's advantages, including a long feature list. Almost all the features one finds in Photoshop like filters, effects, masks, layers, etc are available here. It has the ability to expand with over 100 add-ons and extensions. This gives more functionality to the already impressive list of features.
This one comes from the Google stable and is a very well constructed image organizer for transferring, finding, organizing, editing, printing, and sharing images. It sports a simple interface that includes some clever animation and fade effects. Managing and organizing photos is easy with features like the initial image scan that helps you locate images and arrange them into albums by date. Retouch photos on the fly with its powerful editing tools. You can also create beautiful collages and audio supported slideshows.
It is easy to publish photos to the Web and you can email images via Outlook or Gmail. The star rating system helps you mark favorite images for further reference. There is even an option to backup to CDs/DVDs/Hard Drives.
Adobe Photoshop album Starter edition 3.2 is another remarkable image organizer that has lots of useful features.
No audio player has been as popular as Winamp. There seems to be no competition when it comes to listening and managing audio files. Winamp started out as very basic but has grown into a fully feature-packed media player. Its main feature is that it is simple to use with a skinnable interface and it is completely customizable with a vast number of plug-ins. The player supports a wide range of file formats and plays streamed video and audio content. It has a customizable media library, and allows you to rip and burn your music.
It has strong support for portable devices, including iPods. There's also an Auto-Tag feature which lets you download metatags. The player gives access to thousands of free songs, videos and online radio stations.
With so many audio editors available, Audacity stands out among them because of its many cool features packed into a small frame. Audacity has been a worthy rival to Adobe Audition, offering almost all the features that the expensive app offers.
Audacity features a large selection of filters and effects. Each has its own setting options. A full complement of basic effects such as reverb, delay, and compression are included. Other effects such as bass boost, wah wah, and noise removal add more functionality. Audacity can also be expanded with the help of plug-ins which are available in plenty. Another handy feature is the Beat Analyzer, which helps you peg the beats per minute in a phrase. Audacity supports uncompressed audio standards such as WAV and AIFF in addition to OGG and MP3 files. It also has functions to import and export these files.
If you have thousands of MP3 files stored in your system then you could definitely use a good audio organizer. MusicBrainz Picard is a fabulous tool for doing that and it does the job without too much of a hassle. It's a great program that helps you find accurate information for all of your music.
MusicBrainz Picard is basically a MP3 file tagger that can identify track information by comparing an audio track's "unique digital thumbprint" to the information in the MusicBrainz database. It is based on a tagging concept that is organized around album or release information for groups of tracks (and will identify individual tracks within that framework).
MusicBrainz Picard creates a "unique digital thumbprint" for audio files that it processes and compares it to the MusicBrainz database in order to identify it. This database is completely user generated, maintained (you can get your own account and contribute information) and contains information of about 306,369 artists, 483,324 albums, and 5.7 million tracks. It can also work with various other formats like OGG Vorbis, FLAC, MP4, Windows Media Audio, etc.
Almost all major paid software have "Free" alternatives which are almost as good as the paid versions. So what about the most important software of them all -- the OS? Is there a free alternative to the MS Windows OS stable? Not exactly but if you are not afraid to jump completely to a new OS environment, using a Linux OS is the best answer which gives you everything you will find in a full-featured OS.
One of the advantages of Linux is its flexibility. For the novice user it is straightforward to use, and it gives more experienced users the kind of control over their computers which is not available in other operating systems. Also there is a huge variety of high quality, free software available for Linux. And using a package manager it is easy to choose among thousands of applications and install it in a matter of minutes.
Another significant advantage with Linux is that, unlike in Windows, there is no need to worry about security since viruses on Linux are very rare. A virus has yet to spread successfully on the platform. And with powerful desktops such as KDE and Gnome with stunning visual effects, it is able to look even better than Windows Vista and Mac OS X.
Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon)
Ubuntu 7.10 stands out as the best because of its user-friendly and comprehensive nature. Installing it is fast and easy with the help of the graphical installer, unlike other Linux versions which are complicated at most times. The interface looks good with a desktop that is clean and tidy, no desktop icons, and a default theme that is easy on the eye.
Other than the basics - utilities, graphics, office suite, a variety of multimedia applications, free games, etc Ubuntu 7.10 also packs in lots of killer features like Compiz Fusion (generate cool desktop effects), Fast User Switching (allows multiple users to switch while staying logged in), Bulletproof X (a mode that will be used if X fails to start up), Gnash (a free version of the flash player), etc. And if you still want to use Windows OS, some settings can be ported over easily.
Fedora is another impressive Linux distribution with a ton of features. The look and feel of the OS is really impressive with a polished, professional look. The desktop looks very nice, with its unique new theme "Nodoka" and its default wallpaper changes colors depending on the time of the day.
It is packed with a slew of exciting features such as Pulse Audio (new Linux Sound System), Codec Buddy, Online-Desktop, Compiz and Gnome 2.20, etc. Pulse Audio features the ability to have different volumes for each running application, interrupting music playback for a VOIP call, and "hot" switching of playback streams between devices on USB headsets. Online Desktop is a new Gnome application to integrate popular online applications into the Gnome desktop.
Make Videos go Blip Blip
For most people, video sharing is almost synonymous with YouTube. Agreed, it has the widest possible audience, but did you know there are better alternatives on the Internet? Sites like Blip TV provide better quality video, allow downloading of the original file and also share advertising revenue with you on a 50-50 basis. It lets you upload video via its website, FTP, or a utility called UpperBlip. You can also upload a clip from your cell phone by attaching the video in an email. Blip.tv has a number of HTML code options when it comes to embedding videos into your Web site or blog, giving users more flexibility. Also, it lets you make available video optimized for iPod and cell phone playback. There is also the option of creating your own thumbnails or the website will do it for you.
The Web site even allows you use Creative Commons licenses that let you decide whether you want attribution, restrict commercial use, or allow modifications and reuse under specified terms. There is a 100 MB size limit per file, but no restrictions on video duration (YouTube has a 10 minutes / 100 MB restriction per video).
DivX Stage6's also gets high marks thanks to the excellent video quality it offers. As expected, you need to convert your videos to the DivX format before uploading, which is one extra step in the process. But once done this reduces the file size significantly without affecting the quality. Viewers will be required to download the DivX Web Player plugin, but thankfully this takes only a couple of minutes on a 256kbps connection. Stage6 is currently the only service hosting 720p (high-def) videos for free. DivX specifies 450kbps as the minimum bandwidth required for viewers to be able to stream this.
Vista Transformation Pack
For who can only dream of having Windows Vista installed because they can't afford it or their system is not powerful enough, the Vista Transformation Pack comes as a boon. It makes XP look and run like Vista. This pack can transform your ordinary looking operating system to what could be called a brand new Windows Vista, changed from scratch to give your desktop a futuristic cool look.
Vista Transformation Pack comes with more than 20 Vista themes. Some of the themes resembling Vista offer beautiful combinations of dark (gray or navy blue) colors for title bars and menus. This give windows and dialogs a very user-friendly look. Another important element is the set of icons as Vista Transformation Pack will replace most of your system's important icons, such as My Computer, My Documents, Recycle Bin, My Music, Calculator, Outlook Express, Internet Explorer and even the folder icon.
A widget is basically a small application that provides you with easy access to a particular function like a simple clock or a weather forecasting tool. There are thousands of widgets that can prep up your desktop with useful functions. But searching for all kinds of widgets and installing them would be arduous and having all the useful widgets in one compact place would be a welcome blessing. Yahoo! Widget does exactly that by providing you with thousands of widgets that you can easily get access to. You will find almost everything you need here making this a very nifty tool to prep up your desktop with a variety of functions that will help you simplify your computer usage.
Launching a program from the Start menu or the desktop icon can sometimes be inconvenient and the limited features for starting or launching programs is a big letdown. Launchy is a very useful application that makes launching any program, file, folder, or even a website possible with just a few keystrokes. A notable feature is that when Launchy is called from the background with a shortcut, a small, skinnable box pops up. You can start entering the first few letters of a file or program and Launchy displays a list of programs matching your text.
Winzip or Winrar have always ruled the roost when it comes to compressing and extracting files. A very good but free alternative is 7-Zip, an unassuming yet powerful tool that combines the best of WinZip and WinRar. It has WinZip's selection of tools with WinRar's versatility.
7-Zip extracts and compresses files as fast as WinZip and Winrar and handles the main archive formats like ZIP, TAR, RAR, ISO and various other formats. Its compression ratio is very high compared to other archiving tools. The archiving process is where 7-Zip differs most from its rivals. Where WinZip only lets you compress to ZIP and WinRAR to RAR or ZIP, 7zip offers you up to 5 different archive formats to choose from. The application lets you choose the update mode, depending on whether you want to add and replace files, refresh the archive or just synchronize files. If you don't want somebody opening up your archive, you can set a password to protect your archive.
For a situation where you want to cut down large archive files into smaller chunks, there is a split tool which lets you do just that. Other notable features are self-extracting capability for 7z format, Integration with Windows Shell, Powerful File Manager and a command line version. It also supports WinZip-compatible AES-256 encryption for .ZIP archives.
If a lot of unwanted junk has been congesting your system, CCleaner might just be the tonic it needs. It offers a plethora of features that not only helps you clean up but also helps optimize your PC. CCleaner searches through a number of programs and removes useless files. Highly configurable, it allows you to select which problems to look for and which items to ignore.
Many cleaners scrub out just your browser cache or your temporary files folder, but CCleaner goes further. It cleans temporary files from common third-party applications as well. CCleaner is so much more than the basic wash and polish with extra mini-tools. A registry scanner removes old and unused entries, including ActiveX Controls, fonts, installers, shared DLLs, fonts, help files, application paths, icons, unused file extensions, and invalid shortcuts. CCleaner also includes an uninstaller and a list of deletable startup entry keys.
The most impressive thing about it is the speed at which it carries out the various scans and fixes. And another good thing about it is that it will always ask for your confirmation before it carries out any action.
Google Desktop is a nifty program to search your desktop content quickly and easily. However, it is much more than a search application.
Staying connected was never this easy. A multitude of services out there promise to connect you to everyone from that pesky kid you studied with in the Fifth Grade, to that all important contact whose business card you lost with your wallet. Everyone it would seem is on a network and there are sites to cater to every profile. In India, Orkut is one of the more popular sites despite controversy and security concerns dogging it. Unlike Facebook, members can visit any profile unless you are on their "Ignore List". Following criticism owing to this open policy, members can now restrict access to their pictures and scrapbook. A scrapbook is where people who visit your site can leave you messages, glitter stickers and other fun elements.
The site has introduced many innovations and new scrap alerts, glitter text, image scraps etc are all part of the deal. However, a site that is fast catching up with Orkut, in terms of popularity is Facebook. What started as a site exclusively for students is now open to people of all ages. Offering higher security and customization levels than Orkut (you can also decide which of your friends sees what on your page, the site also offers many more features and allows many fun third party applications. These include a news feed giving updates on all your friends, photo albums, virtual gifts, events and even virtual pets. While Orkut is entirely dependant on interactivity, Facebook has scope for the user to be online just using the various applications without sending a single message.
Even games like chess, Scrabble Hangman and trivia games are available. As of January 31, 2008, there were more than 14,000 applications available to Facebook users. Facebook also lets you share videos. Users can add their videos by uploading them, through Facebook Mobile, or using a webcam recording feature. Users can "tag" their friends in videos just like in photos.
Worldwide, both Orkut and Facebook have over 60,000,000 users registered with each of them. A lot of Indian social networking sites also exist like bigadda.com with a userbase of just over 1.24 million users and Sunsilk Gang of Girls which managed to get 100,000 members within a month of starting 2 years ago.
There are plenty of good free video players like VLC Player and GOM Player that offer functions to enhance your viewing experience. But KMPlayer takes the cake because of its impressive features and its ability to support most video file formats.
Its greatest strength is the vast number of options available to fine tune it. Adjusting color spaces, oversampling, and deinterlacing are some of the Options available to enhance or reduce the noise level. There is Subtitle support, and the audio adjusting options are as versatile as those available for video. KMPlayer supports incremental frame movements, both forward and back.
It includes a vast array of video- and audio-capturing options, as well as skins, a treasure trove of playback controls and tweaks, and on-board DVD support. This comprehensive player supports streaming TV and HDTV, play lists, and the ability to select which codec to use.
VirtualDub has been the favorite free video editor for a long time and still holds its ground. It is light yet stands out as a very powerful and versatile editor with lots of feature packed into its small frame.
This wonderful file for video processing geeks serves as a kind of free, open-source "Photoshop" application for video. At a basic level, it can capture video and enable you to save it. But beyond that, it's a very good tool for cleaning up and trimming video -- especially if you want to use it with a more full-featured video editing program. It lets you crop or compress video, remove and replace audio tracks without changing the video, and use filters to sharpen and blur. You can even delete individual frames. It also has batch-processing capabilities for processing a large numbers of files.
The feature list is extensive for such a small application. Integrated volume meter and histogram for input level monitoring; real-time downsizing; noise reduction, and field swapping; keyboard and mouse shortcuts for faster operation; removing and replacing audio tracks without touching the video; previewing of results along with live audio -- are some of the impressive features integrated into this amazing video editor. A range of Filters including blur, sharpen, emboss, smooth, convolution, flip, resize rotate, brightness/contrast, levels, deinterlace, and threshold are also included to make this a must-have for every video editing buff.
For converting and transcoding all types of media files, the highly versatile and powerful MediaCoder is the right tool providing you comprehensive feature sets for your various transcoding needs. It stands out among the rest because of its extensive collection of audio/video codecs and powerful tools.
It comes with a simple interface which will make anybody start converting media files in a jiffy. It supports almost all media file formats you can think of. It is not only confined to converting files but it can also be used to compress audio/video files. It can even let you extract audio from video files easily and quickly. Another impressive feature is that it can even repair corrupted or partially downloaded video files.
When boredom attacks...
So it's another slow day at the office and you have played Solitaire a gazillion times. Admit it, you're bored. Which is why the good people at www.bored.com have come to your rescue with a ton of goodies to help you while away down time. The site has everything from online videos and games to pranks that you can mail to your friends. If your tastes run to the intellectual, there is a link for free e-books that you can browse through. Neatly classified, the categories include Literature (World, American and British), Cooking, children's fiction, History, music and philosophy).
If you don't have the time for books and silly games, then sites like http://emol.org/movies/ let you watch full movies online. These free movies are digital copies of original classic, full-length, motion pictures produced over the last century. All of the movies on the site are legal to download, and legal to transfer to a mobile device or PC and free to watch online from anywhere in the world. You don't even need to register to watch or download these movies.
The catalog has nearly 200 classic films: comedies, cartoons, dramas, romance, westerns and dozens of video clips and movie trailers. New titles are added weekly. Other sites offering similar services are www.moviesfoundonline.com/ and www.peekvid.com. Another video site that falls more in the category of infotainment is www.videojug.com. This is one of the most comprehensive DIY sites that exist on the Internet. The site has instructional videos that cover the gamut of dancing, cooking, repair work. It even tells you how you can charge your iPod with Gatorade and an onion or impress your date with your social skills. The best part is that detailed step-by-step instructions are also printed near the video. Videos can be downloaded to iPods, PSP and other portable devices.
Authors of the E-age
When Stephanie Klein started her blog Greek Tragedy, little did she know that it would elevate her to the status of celebrated author (read Very Rich) and trendsetter. Blogs have generated book deals, challenged governments, and unfortunately even become a forum for people to regurgitate pointless prattle. They have indelibly marked their presence on our cultural consciousness and show no signs of dying out.
Now you can join this community as a lot of sites offer you this space for free. But not all blogs offer the same services or are suited to everyone. One of the most popular sites offering free blog space is Blogger. Founded by Pyra Labs, the site was taken over by Google and users sign in using Gmail IDs. Google then purchased Picasa; and integrated it and its photo sharing utility Hello into Blogger so that users could addimages to their blogs. A further revamp saw CSS-compliant templates, individual archive pages, comments, and posting by email being added as part of the service. With the migration to Google servers, features like label organization, the ability to create private blogs, Web feed options and drag and drop features were added. The Google Toolbar included a feature BlogThis!" which lets users post links directly to their blogs. The inclusion of Google's AdSense service also allows users to generate revenue from their blogs. The site also allows multiple author support, which has led to the birth of many group blogs.
Another popular site is Wordpress. Launched as an invitation-only service, although at one stage, today there are over 1,115,004 accounts on Wordpress. While the basic features are free, some premium features like CSS editor, domain mapping, and storage upgrades are paid services. Some of the main attractions of the site are a What You See Is What You Get post editor, a templating system, link management, nested and multiple categories for articles, TrackBack and Pingback typographic filters for formatting and styling text, static pages, multiple authors and tag support. The site also lets you store a list of people who visit your blog and even lets you block certain IP addresses.
A site that is primarily a blog but integrates some social networking features is LiveJournal. Each journal entry has its own web page, that also carries comments left by other users. In addition, each user has a journal page, listing recent journal entries and their comments.
What sets LiveJournal apart is the "friends list," that provides various syndication and privacy services. Each user has a friend page, that collates their recent journal entries.
The S2 programming language allows journal templates to be modified by members. Member are allowed to use graphical avatars, or "userpics," which appear next to their name.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Wal-Mart removes Linux PC from store shelves
By Agam Shah,
Wal-Mart has stopped selling Everex's Linux-based PC in its stores because of a tepid response from customers, although it will continue to sell the product online, the retailer said Tuesday. The customer response to the US$199 Everex TC2502 Green gPC desktop was not as high as expected, said Melissa O'Brien, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.. Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the U.S., agreed last year to carry the product as a test and stocked it in about 600 stores where it saw high interest in computers. "The idea was to see if shoppers in our stores would respond as they do online to the offering. The answer is that customers did not respond to expectations, so we decided not to restock," O'Brien said. "We are America's retailer, so the decisions on what we offer in our stores is based on how our customers vote with their purchases," she said.
She played down the decision, which has been seen as a setback for Linux on the desktop. "We did not 'pull' Linux from our shelves or make any kind of 'announcement' on this," she said. Wal-Mart has had little success in the past selling low-cost Linux PCs. It has also offered Linux-based Lindows and Microtel PCs, but the retailer eventually removed those too from its shelves. Wal-Mart will continue to sell the Everex PC through its Web site, where it is able to sell products that appeal to "a more targeted consumer," O'Brien said. Wal-Mart also sells Everex's Linux-based Cloudbook notebook online.
The gPC2 desktop runs on a Via Technologies C7-D processor running at 1.5GHz, and includes 512M bytes of RAM and an 80G-byte hard drive. It does not include a monitor.Everex said the gPC desktops had mostly sold out from Wal-Mart's shelves, with only a few units left ."The sell-through was brisk, I am surprised at the decision," said Paul Kim, director of marketing at Everex. Wal-Mart's decision to sell Everex notebooks and desktops online should offset any drop in sales, he said. Everex is also continually adding distributors to sell its products, he said.
Monday, March 10, 2008
How do I… Synchronize a Google calendar with an Outlook 2007 calendar?Author: Mark Kaelin
Ask just about anyone if they are as organized as they would like to be and the answer is likely to be an unequivocal “No.” For information technology professionals, the answer may not be suitable for polite conversation.
Keeping track of meetings, tasks, events, and everything else in between is often handled by a calendar application like Microsoft’s Outlook 2007. But, if you are like me, you want that calendar information to be available, up to date, and accessible at any time. Well, there are ways to make that commonly used application more useful by synchronizing it with a Web-based calendar like the one found on Google.
As you can probably guess, getting that synchronization to happen is not as simple as just clicking a button, but the configuration is not too onerous.
The first step is to establish a Google account and navigate to the Calendar applet. The screen should look similar to Figure A. Note: this is a brand new feature on Google so there may still be a few kinks to iron out.
Google calendar applet
Click on the Sync with Microsoft Outlook calendar link located at the top of the page to get to the screen shown in Figure B. Click the Learn More link to get to the screen shown in Figure C.
Calendar help screen
From this screen you can click the link to the synchronization software installer:
Run the installer (Figure D) and answer the questions appropriately to complete the process. The installer will install shortcuts on your desktop and in the Startup menu if you wish.
At some point you will reach the screen shown in Figure E. Enter your Google account information and then choose one of the synchronization options shown. The two-way option offers the greatest functionality, but the best option is really up to you.
Choose your sync option
Once you have made you choice, click OK and then Close to finish the install. You should now have a new icon in the task tray. (Figure F)
New icon in the task tray
Right click on that icon and click Sync from the resulting menu and your Outlook Calendar and Google calendar will synchronize.
The best part
The best thing about this Google synchronization applet is that I can now keep all my various installations of Outlook 2007 up to date with the latest meeting, event, and task information. (Figure G)
A busy calendar
Now if Google would just create an applet that would synchronize my Outlook contact list automatically, I’d be set.
UPDATE: Hacker trio finds a way to crack popular smartcard in minutes
People are starting to wake up to the fact that some RFID-enabled smartcards now can be far more easily, and cheaply, cracked than ever before, as a trio of young computer experts recently showed.
These are a particular type of processor-embedded cards, and are different from credit cards. The actual decryption work by the researchers was done on the widely deployed Mifare Classic wireless smartcard, now manufactured by a Philips spinoff, NXP Semiconductors. It’s deployed for contactless payments, such as the nationwide public transit ticketing system in The Netherlands. If decrypted, the card could be rewritten to access additional services, certain limited personal data such as a birth date could be recovered, and the dollar value of the card’s electronic “purse” could be changed.
A recently de-classified study, by a nonprofit Dutch research group, of the claims by the decryption researchers concluded that it is likely they will succeed in recovering the entire encryption algorithm, and eventually build a key cracker. But that will take about six months, the study estimates, and concludes that there are no immediate risks to the Dutch system or its users, and that additional, existing security mechanisms may offer adequate protection.
The earlier version of this story said that the card can be used in debit/credit transactions with the user’s bank account. This is false. The earlier version also said a user’s bank data is exposed in this decryption. But according to NXP and the research group’s assessment, banking transactions and data are unaffected.
That MiFare Classic card is the basis of such new systems as the Dutch OV-Chipkaart, being rolled out in The Netherlands as part of a multibillion-dollar nationwide transportation ticketing system, and the so-called CharlieCard, used in the Boston, Mass., subway system. The decryption breach triggered a firestorm of controversy in The Netherlands.
The card uses a proprietary encryption scheme, known as the Crypto1 algorithm, to scramble the data exchanged between the card and the card reader, and to securely authenticate the card and reader to each other.
The newest attack was discussed but not (as previously reported) fully demonstrated at the 24th Congress of the Chaos Computer Club in Berlin last December. Interest in the study has been spreading steadily from the arcane world of security hackers. In a March 6 statement, NXP says it “has established an open dialogue with the researchers and is evaluating possible attacks and countermeasures that could be taken in an overall systems to prevent those.”
One of the researchers is Karsten Nohl, a graduate student in the University of Virginia’s Computer Science Department, in Charlottesville. The other two are Henryk Plotz and “Starbug.” At the Chaos conference, Nohl and Plotz gave some details of an apparently practical, effective way to break the Mifare encryption key, confirming what many cryptographers had suspected. Nohl has not yet responded to several questions sent via e-mail.
The team used an inexpensive RFID reader to collect encrypted data, and then reverse-engineered the chip to figure out the encryption key to decipher that data. They examined the chip under an optical microscope, used micro-polishing sandpaper to remove a few microns of the surface at a time, photographing each of the five layers of circuitry. Nohl wrote his own optical recognition software to refine and clarify the images, and then patiently worked through the arrangement of the logic gates to deduce the encryption algorithm, a task made possible by the fact that the Mifare Classic relies on a secret key of no more than 48 bits.
“Regardless of the cryptographic strength of the cipher, the small key space therefore permits counterfeiting of any card that is read wirelessly,” the team wrote in a follow-up statement issued on Jan. 8. “Knowing the details of the cipher would permit anyone to try all possible keys in a matter of days,” the researchers noted. “Given basic knowledge of cryptographic trade-offs and sufficient storage, the secret keys of cards can be found in a matter of minutes.”
The Dutch smartcard transit system is overseen by Trans Link Systems, a joint venture created for this purpose in 2002. After the Chaos presentation, Trans Link and the Dutch government asked the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (known as TNO) to quickly assess the immediate risks posed to the system, and then to do a more thorough study on the long-term implications. The initial six-page evaluation is dated Jan. 14, and a copy of the declassified report was made available by NXP.
TNO says the researchers’ claim to have fully recovered the MiFare Classic encryption algorithm can’t be fully verified. But if they haven’t, TNO expects them to do so in the near future.
The report confirms that if the algorithm is in fact known, then the MiFare Classic card is vulnerable to a key search attack because of the 48-bit key length. TNO remains convinced that the costs of building a key cracker, in dollars and time, still is far higher than the researchers say. But a sufficient investment would indeed allow an attacker who retrieves a card’s encryption key to write fraudulent travel products to the card, manipulate existing products, and increase the card’s purse value. It’s labor intensive: “Each card has to be broken individually with a newly initiated attack,” according to the TNO report.
A critical finding by TNO is that these discoveries do not yet warrant the conclusion that the MiFare Classic is “unfit for public transportation applications.” In part that’s due to the fact that there are other security mechanisms in place, such as fraud detection and blacklisting, to detect fraudulent transactions and refuse the card. But a full assessment of the overall system security is needed, according to the study, and is the focus of TNO’s next investigation.
In the short term, for at least the next six months, the Dutch card system is not at risk from a key breaking attack, according to TNO.
The Dutch transit system actually uses two other types of tickets or cards, and both have been successfully attacked by other researchers.
Nohl and his colleagues noted that other types of NXP RFID tags, such as the Hitag2+ and Mifare DESfire, are not affected by their findings. In its statement, NXP noted that the MiFare Classic is a “low-end chip in a family of products for contactless smartcard applications” but not intended for applications such as banking or auto security or ePassports.
RFID security concerns have become pronounced over the past year or so, as hackers and researchers make more concerted efforts to understand the vulnerabilities. In mid-2007, one team used readily available RFID gear to read the Electronic Product Code data on tagged boxes loaded on a tractor-trailer. A year earlier, another group raised the specter that RFID tags could be infected with computer viruses.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008