December 18, 2011

Fight for online sales grows

As the growth of mobile computing devices pumps adrenaline into online retail sales, a handful of major players are jockeying for position in the massive marketplace.

With $34 billion in 2010 sales, is the clear market leader. But auctioneer eBay and discount retailer Walmart also are emerging as powerhouses in online merchandising., also known as; Staples; Macy's; J.C. Penney and Target are carving out significant online niches.

But the real online-retail juggernauts could be waiting in the wings.

Facebook and Google are exploring ways to add e-commerce to their heavily used Internet sites.

"Social media is trying to go from a meeting place to a selling place," said Karla Martin, who heads the retail practice for international management consulting firm Booz & Co.

And Apple, which already is successfully selling music, videos, electronic books and other media products, also is looking for ways to expand its retail options.

Customers are increasingly comfortable with conducting online transactions, and the number of people who use their tablet computers and smartphones to shop is growing. Scottsdale resident Lisette Hill already has made the transition. She estimates she has done 90percent of her Christmas shopping online this year. She shopped Nordstrom's online store and bought gift certificates from daily-deal site Groupon.

"It's much more convenient," Hill said.

She added she was particularly attracted to Nordstrom because of its offer of free shipping for online purchases and returns.

"I know exactly what I want, and I don't want to be wandering around a store trying to find everything," she said.

As more shoppers become like Hill, companies are fighting to become one-stop online shops and to attract customers. They are expanding their online inventories and services and developing software and applications, or apps, to help navigate their online stores, compare prices and make purchases. They also are leveraging social-network sites such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate with customers and glean important data about trends and products.
Online, mobile growth

Tablet computers and smartphones have vastly increased the opportunity for consumers to connect with online stores and for those stores to promote themselves to consumers.

Forester Research estimates that holiday online sales will jump 15percent this year to $60billion, outpacing a 2.8percent rise in overall sales forecast by the National Retail Federation, an industry group.

While the estimated $60billion in online sales is still a fraction of the $465.6billion in projected overall sales, the number gets bigger every year.

ComScore, a company that tracks online retail transactions, partially attributed a 22percent jump in online sales on Cyber Monday to more people using their tablet computers and smartphones to shop. Cyber Monday is the first Monday after Thanksgiving and a traditionally busy day for online retailers.

While the impact of smartphones on online commerce is still emerging in the U.S., Martin said the impact of tablet computers such as the iPad is already huge.

Online retailer eBay reported that payments via such mobile devices rose 550percent on Cyber Monday this year compared with a year earlier.

Office-supply chain Staples launched an iPhone app earlier this month that allows customers to shop and make purchases using their smartphones.

"More and more customers are turning to their mobile devices to not only shop but do research," said Staples spokesman Mark Cautela.
Shifting marketplace

As technology improves and the marketplace changes, online retailers keep reinventing themselves to give customers what they want and to maximize their own profits.

As companies battle to become one-stop online superstores, they are adapting to changes in consumer behavior and technology. The business models are changing.

Instead of selling goods stored in company-owned warehouses, online retailers are increasingly fulfilling orders directly from manufacturers who maintain the inventory or hosting third-party vendors who use the sites as virtual storefronts.

About 40percent of's sales now come through "Amazon Associates" and third-party sellers.

Third-party sellers allow online retailers to feature a vast inventory of products at various prices without having to physically warehouse them.

Even Walmart uses third-party sellers, known as marketplace vendors, to add variety to its product offerings without having to carry the products in inventory.

This model would make it easy for Facebook, Google and others to develop significant online retail presences by hosting third-party retailers instead of having to develop networks of warehouses and distribution centers.
Walmart's strategy

With its network of 9,000 stores, Walmart is the world's largest brick-and-mortar retailer, and it has made clear its intention to become the No. 1 online retailer, as well.

Analysts predict a long battle for online supremacy between Walmart and current leader Amazon but don't venture to forecast a winner.

Ravi Jariwala, a spokesman for Walmart's online retail operation based in San Bruno, Calif., said there are more than 1million different products in the company's Internet catalog, compared with 100,000 to 150,000 in a typical Walmart Supercenter store.

"It significantly expands the assortment of product," he said. He added that many of the catalog products have limited demand, so it would not be practical to stock those items at all 9,000 retail stores.

"The online component helps us manage the inventory at the traditional stores," he said. Walmart also uses its online store to gauge demand for products and test the popularity of certain styles and colors.

Walmart allowed customers to pre-order certain electronic products for Christmas during the summer and used the information to determine the mix and quantity of products to be carried in its stores in November ad December.

"Our online operation and large network of physical stores is a powerful combination," Jariwala said.
Apps and favorites

To compete for customers, Internet retailers are expanding their online inventories and services and developing software and apps to help navigate their online stores, compare prices and make purchases. They also are leveraging social media.

"We want to be where our customers are, and increasingly, this is on social media," Cautela said. "We see Facebook and Twitter not only as an avenue to provide deals and savings but also to engage our customers in a meaningful way."

Martin said that links with social-media and search sites such as Facebook and Google could enable retailers to offer products to specific users based on their individual likes and dislikes.

"With online catalogs of a million or more items, the ability to narrow down choices and make suggestions becomes a critical marketing tool," Martin said.

But online retailers have to walk a fine line.

Martin said that some consumers could resent a social-network site being used for commerce, and while they want to get focused offers of merchandise targeted especially for them, they don't like the idea of being spied upon.

Staples is the second-largest online retailer, after Amazon. The company sold about $10.2billion worth of goods via online channels in 2010, roughly 40percent of its $25billion in total sales.

While Staples' niche is in office supplies, the company has successfully moved into electronics, back-to-school supplies and wireless telephones. Staples has 40,000 products in its online catalog, compared with 8,000 at its stores.

Consumers can also use Staples' iPhone app to determine which stores have an item they are looking for in stock and in what quantity.

EBay's iPhone app allows customers to search its 200million listings and comparison-shop with its barcode scanners. Barcode-scanner apps developed by eBay and Amazon have turned traditional stores into showrooms where customers can physically check out a product, then scan the barcode and find the cheapest price online.

Another eBay app called eBay Motors allows a customer to scan a vehicle's identification number, or VIN, and then search for parts specific to that vehicle.

Walmart also has an array of apps to help customers shop using their tablet computers and smartphones.

The company formed @WalmartLabs to develop online shopping technologies. Earlier this month, @WalmartLabs released its first product called Shopycat. The app gives Facebook's 800million users the ability to quickly find gifts for friends and family based on their tastes and interests. Shopycat mines "likes" and "dislikes" on Facebook pages and recommends specific gifts based on an individual's preferences.

With a catalog of a million items, the ability to narrow the selection and make recommendations is a key marketing tool for Walmart and other online retailers.
Delivery innovations

In order to compete with traditional stores, online retailers have had to work to deliver goods faster and lower costs.

The gold standard now among consumers is free delivery in one to two days, and online retailers are scrambling to deliver.

Nordstrom offers free delivery and returns on all its online sales. For $79 per year, Amazon
.com's Prime program gives customers unlimited free two-day delivery plus instant streaming of movies and TV shows and access to thousands of electronic books.

Staples offers free shipping during the holidays and also allows customers to order products online and pick them up at a nearby store.

Walmart offers free shipping of certain products to homes and will ship any product to a nearby Walmart store for free, often the same day it is ordered. Another service aimed at customers in areas where there are no nearby Walmart stores will ship the product for free to one of 650 participating FedEx offices.

Jariwala said the service is popular in urban areas such as New York where Walmart doesn't have a network of physical stores.
What's next?

As mobile computers and social networks make online shopping more convenient and relevant, analysts say the migration of retail sales from brick-and-mortar stores to the Internet will escalate.

That will create a fundamental shift in the traditional retail model, in which goods move from manufacturers to wholesalers and distributors and then to retail stores.

With more sales occurring online, there will be fewer physical stores, and they will be smaller. There also may be fewer individual retailers in general as online superstores such, and others emerge as one-stop shops for almost everything. Distribution channels also will change as more goods move directly from manufacturers to consumers. That could eliminate wholesalers and result in lower costs.

"We're clearly on the cusp of a new era of e-commerce," Jariwala said.

by Max Jarman The Arizona Republic Dec. 17, 2011 08:05 PM

Fight for online sales grows

Go Daddy nets deal to grow globally

Scottsdale-based Internet domain registrar and Web-hosting service Go Daddy Group Inc. on Friday closed on an investment partnership that will allow it to tap more deeply into international markets, company officials said.

Under the deal, Go Daddy founder Bob Parsons has stepped down from his role as CEO but will stay on as executive chairman of the company's board of directors.

Warren Adelman, who has been serving as president and chief operating officer, was named Go Daddy's new chief executive.

Company officials did not disclose the specific amount of the investment but have indicated previously that it would boost the company's valuation to $2 billion. Reports by tech-industry analysts and journals have quoted investment figures ranging from $2.25 billion to $2.5 billion.

The investment capital comes through a partnership with three private-equity firms: New York-basedKohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P., Menlo Park, Calif.-based Silver Lake and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Technology Crossover Ventures.

Parsons said Friday that he was given the option to continue on as the company's top executive but decided that Adelman was better-suited for the job.

"I want to do whatever is going to help the company succeed," Parsons said.

He praised Adelman, who has been with Go Daddy for more than eight years, for his tireless work ethic, brains and attention to detail. "At the end of the day, he's better than I am," Parsons said. "Most of the stuff I get credit for is stuff that he did."

Parsons said he remains the company's single largest shareholder, a condition he said he insisted on when negotiating the investment deal, and still has a strong incentive to see the company do well. No single investment partner owns a controlling interest in the company, Parsons said, adding that all of Go Daddy's top shareholders want the same things and that he doesn't expect any disagreements among them.

"I'm very excited," he said about the investment deal. "I'm happy about it."

Since the investment partnership was announced in June, Go Daddy officials have talked about how the infusion of capital would allow the company to expand into new geographic areas internationally, including Latin American and Asian markets.

In August, Adelman told The Republic that KKR, Silver Lake and Technology Crossover would be valuable partners because of their experience managing fast-growing technology firms.

"We've gotten to this level, and we've brought in these folks who have seen it all, and we can tap into their knowledge, tap into their contacts," he said. "They bring a lot of intelligence and smarts to the table that could be really helpful for us going forward as we look to going from $1 billion (revenue) to $5 billion."

by J. Craig Anderson The Arizona Republic Dec. 16, 2011 06:20 PM

Go Daddy nets deal to grow globally

TV companies must lower volume on ads -

LOS ANGELES — Shush, already. That's the message the Federal Communications Commission is sending with new rules that will force broadcast, cable and satellite companies to turn down the volume on blaring TV commercials.

On Tuesday, the FCC passed a set of regulations that will prevent commercials from being louder than the shows around them. It's all part of the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (or CALM) Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law last December. The rules go into effect a year from now. Companies that don't comply will face unspecified FCC action.

Thunderous television ads have annoyed viewers for years. The FCC says people have grumbled about the issue for at least a half-century. But since 2002 -- due in part to all those clangorous car commercials, earsplitting electronics ads and booming beer pitches -- loud advertisements have been one of the top complaints the FCC receives.

Complaints grew in recent years, as ads became even louder. In the days of analog TV, louder ads took up more space on the airwaves. So, broadcasters toned them down to avoid interfering with other channels. Since the conversion to digital-TV broadcasts two years ago, loud ads no longer take up more airwave space than quiet ones. The change transformed the commercial break into a noisy arms race.

"Nobody wanted to be the quiet guy in the set of commercials," said David Unsworth, senior vice president of satellite and technical operations at DG, a company that distributes ads to broadcasters.

In a recent analysis, DG found that some ads were 10 times as loud as the programs they interrupted.

"Everybody's been trying to push the envelope using (digital) compression to make their spots as loud as they can," Unsworth said.

A few years ago, an annoying ad got to the ears of Rep. Anna Eshoo, the Democratic congresswoman whose district in California's Silicon Valley is home to Facebook and Hewlett-Packard Co. While watching a sporting event with family members, Eshoo was jarred by a "horribly loud" commercial. Her brother-in-law suggested she do something about it. She did -- with what started as a simple, one-page legislative proposal.

The measure became one of the most popular bills she has ever sponsored.

"What I never dreamed of was what kind of chord it would strike with people," Eshoo said.

The FCC rules require TV distributors to set up equipment to monitor the average sound level of ads as they come in. If they're too loud, distributors must adjust the sound levels before they can be aired. It recommends practices set out in 2009 by the Advanced Television Systems Committee, a standard-setting body.

If compliance with the rules places a financial burden on a company, the FCC will give it up to December 2014 to comply. Those concessions have helped reduce opposition.

TV companies must lower volume on ads -

December 13, 2011

Netflix chief, although humbled, is still talking big

SAN FRANCISCO - To hear Netflix CEO Reed Hastings tell it, the boneheaded decisions that have dragged down the Internet's leading video- subscription service during the past five months eventually will be forgotten like a bad movie made by a great film director.

Shaking off the stigma of a massive flop won't be easy, a challenge Hastings acknowledged late Tuesday when he spoke at a UBS investor conference in New York. After his host mentioned the mystique surrounding Hastings as Netflix's fortunes soared a year ago, Hastings quipped, "Now, it's just pity."

The self-deprecating humor prefaced a 45-minute treatise on why Hastings believes Netflix will overcome its recent adversity and remain at the forefront of a shift that increasingly will turn watching Internet-distributed video into one of the world's most popular pastimes.

This comes as high-speed connections, mobile devices and more sophisticated televisions become commonplace.

Long-term vision

His long-term vision calls for Netflix to be selling Internet-video subscriptions at prices starting at $8 per month in most markets outside China.

"If you fundamentally believe Internet video will change the world in 20 years, we are the leading play on that basis," Hastings boasted. He quickly added a caveat: "As long as we don't shoot ourselves in the foot anymore."

Hastings sounded like he intends to stick around to lead the way, despite questions about recent moves that triggered a customer backlash and a staggering decline in Netflix's stock price that has wiped out three-fourths, or about $12 billion, of the company's market value in five months.

Netflix Inc.'s stock was trading at about $71 midday Wednesday, down from a peak of nearly $305 in July when the company infuriated its U.S. subscribers by announcing plans to raise its prices by as much as 60 percent.

The sell-off has surprised and humbled Hastings, who revealed on stage that he had curtailed his sales of his Netflix holdings earlier this year because he was convinced the stock would quickly hit $1,000.

Hastings said his biggest mistake was trying to phase out Netflix's once-trailblazing DVD-by-mail rental service more quickly than millions of customers wanted.

He and his management team concluded a few years ago that DVDs are destined to obsolescence, so they began concentrating on streaming video over high-speed Internet connections.

Ending Netflix's practice of bundling DVD-by-mail and Internet-streaming subscriptions together so people are forced to buy them separately was meant to push more households into weaning themselves from discs.

Instead, customers saw the move as a betrayal by a greedy company and canceled their subscriptions in droves.

"We became a sort of a Bank of America symbol, which is super unfortunate," Hastings said Tuesday in comments monitored on a webcast.

"We berate ourselves tremendously for that lack of insight because it didn't need to be that way. But, you know, in three or five years, we aren't going to remember it. It's going to be: 'Did we succeed at streaming?' That's all people are going to care about in three or five years. So, we are not losing too much sleep over it. We are charging ahead."

Damage to fix

There's damage to repair along the way.

Netflix entered October with 800,000 fewer U.S. subscribers than it had at the start of July, and the company has said there have been additional defections in the past two months, although the number hasn't been quantified.

The result: Netflix isn't bringing in as much money as it hoped to pay for an expansion in in Latin America and Great Britain and cover rising fees to license movies and TV shows for its video-streaming library. The shortfall will saddle it with a loss next year, the first time that has happened in a decade.

Hastings said he expects Netflix to enjoy robust subscriber growth next year, although he doubts the company will be able to match its performance during the first six months of this year when it added nearly 5 million subscribers. Virtually all the company's future growth is expected to come from streaming-only subscriptions.

"DVD will do whatever it will do," Hastings said. "We are not going to hurt it, but we aren't putting a lot of time and energy into it."

Netflix ended September with 25.3 million subscribers worldwide, including 23.8 million in the U.S. Nearly 14 million of the U.S subscriptions included a DVD-by-mail plan.

To ensure it will have enough money to finance its ambitions, Netflix recently raised $400 million by issuing convertible debt to one of its major stockholders and selling 2.86 million discounted shares.

That stock sale further irritated investors because Netflix spent nearly $200 million buying back 900,000 shares of its stock at an average price of $218 during the first nine months of the year.

Hastings said Netflix probably could have gotten by without the extra money, but he decided to raise the extra cash to avoid a "crisis of confidence" among the company's suppliers, including movie and TV studios that license their video and sell their DVDs to the company.

Increasing competition is another major concern hanging over Netflix. Inc., Walmart Stores Inc., Dish Network Corp. are already offering subscription packages that include Internet video.

Verizon Communication Inc. declined to comment on reports it may also enter the market.

by Michael Liedtke Associated Press Dec. 7, 2011 06:26 PM

Netflix chief, although humbled, is still talking big

Verizon Wireless won't put Google Wallet in new phone

NEW YORK - Verizon Wireless is blocking Google's new flagship phone from supporting Google's attempt to make the smartphone the credit card of the future.

In blocking the Google Wallet software from running on the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Verizon Wireless said Tuesday that it is holding off on providing a wallet application until it can offer "the best security and user experience." Verizon and rivals AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA are part of a consortium called ISIS that is planning its own payment system.

Google confirmed that Verizon had asked it not to include the wallet function in the Galaxy Nexus phone, due out soon.

The way Google Wallet is supposed to work, the phone can be used to pay for merchandise in some stores by tapping it to payment terminals.

Google calls the payment application a "wallet" because it can be loaded with payment "cards" from multiple sources. Right now, there are only two cards available: Citibank MasterCards and a prepaid card issued by Google. But Google is making the wallet available to any financial institution that wants to participate.

Google's plan is to make money by acting as a conduit between merchants and shoppers, using the Wallet as a way to deliver advertising and coupons. It's competing not only with ISIS but with Visa and MasterCard, which have their own wallet projects, and with eBay Inc.'s PayPal.

The Galaxy Nexus is the latest iteration of the Nexus line, which showcases new features and capabilities for phones running Google's Android software. In this case, the phone is the first to run a new version of Android, dubbed "Ice Cream Sandwich."

The previous Nexus phone, sold by Sprint Nextel Corp., is the only phone yet to work with the Google Wallet application. Sprint is not part of ISIS.

U.S. phone companies effectively have veto rights on features sported by the phones they sell. Because of the clout Apple Inc. has gained by making the world's most popular smartphone, it has been able to turn that around and dictate terms to carriers. Google doesn't have the same leverage. It tried selling the first Nexus phone on its own, without going through the carriers, but ended that experiment because of weak sales.

Congress and regulators have occasionally raised questions about carriers blocking specific third-party applications. These days, carriers generally don't block applications directly, leaving it to Apple and Google to police their app stores.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said that the company doesn't block applications but that Google Wallet is different because it accesses a security chip in the phone.

Examinations by Wired and other publications reveal that the international version of the Galaxy Nexus has the "Near-Field Communications" chip necessary to run Google Wallet. It's unclear whether the U.S. version will be lacking the chip or whether it will simply be blocked from running the Wallet application. Samsung Electronics had no immediate comment.

Google and Verizon Wireless united in 2009 to push Android phones as the major alternative to the iPhone. Verizon Wireless' "Droid" advertising campaign set the tone, to the extent that many people still call all Android phones "Droids." The Google-Verizon Wireless relationship has cooled this year, as the carrier started selling the iPhone.

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. of New York and Vodafone Group PLC of Britain.

Verizon Wireless' refusal of the Google Wallet was reported earlier on Computerworld's blog.

by Peter Svensson Associated Press Dec. 6, 2011 05:39 PM

Verizon Wireless won't put Google Wallet in new phone

December 4, 2011

The World of Social Media 2011 - YouTube

The World of Social Media 2011 - YouTube

10 Tools to Make Your Business Mobile Friendly | Marketing Technology Blog

I’m still generally surprised by the number of sites that are not yet viewable on a mobile device – including very, very large publishers. It’s not just an opportunity to get some additional readers, customizing your site for mobile use can enhance your user experience since you know that folks are currently mobile! With the huge variety of screens and operating systems, optimizing for mobile isn’t a piece of cake anymore, though.

Here are 10 Tools to Make Your Site Mobile Ready.

bMobilized – a simple, basic tool that automatically converts your content to a mobile optimized site with some basic customization.

Dudamobile – out of all of the tools I tested, this may have been the easiest to use and implement! Their basic wizard could allow you to have a mobile site up in a few minutes. They also allow you to remove all their ads and use a custom domain for a few extra bucks.

FiddleFly – an easy custom mobile Website builder for agencies to work with their clients on building mobile sites.

Fiddle Fly from FiddleFly on Vimeo.

Mippin – is a basic mobile application builder for any mobile operating system that simply takes your RSS feed and syndicates it nicely into a mobile format.

Mobicanvas – a free, drag and drop mobile CMS with widget integration and basic reporting.

Mobify – Publishers and web designers around the world use Mobify Studio to create beautiful mobile websites. Mobify has published mobile sites for a number of content management systems, including WordPress, Drupal and others. Mobify also has an ecommerce engine.

Mobile Roadie – has built hundreds of custom applications for bands, sports celebrities and businesses. Their content management system is highly integrated and sophisticated.

mobiSiteGalore – Build your own Mobile Websitein minutes that looks rich in smart phones and graceful even in low end phones

Mofuse – is a mobile content management system that can also integrate a geographic store locator. Build, Launch, Measure, Integrate and Promote your mobile website.

WPTouch for WordPress – we use this plugin on our blog and it’s been fantastic. It’s easily customizable and presents the content beautifully.

Google-tied con artist gets 6 years

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - A career con artist who helped with a criminal investigation that led to Google Inc. forfeiting $500 million was sentenced Friday to nearly six years in prison for his role in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme targeting 83 customers and a credit-card processing company.

David Whitaker's cooperation with the Google investigation was called extraordinary several times during his sentencing in U.S. District Court in Providence.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Reich said that, because of the probe, millions of Americans have been protected from rogue online Canadian pharmacies advertising prescription drugs through Google's AdWords program.

Google forfeited the $500 million to avoid criminal prosecution for accusations it improperly profited from ads placed by the pharmacies.

Google did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.

Whitaker, a 36-year-old Virginia resident who has been imprisoned since 2008, said before sentencing that the probe changed his life.

He said he learned from investigators honesty, integrity and how to be a better person. He said he also shed his misconception that he was a victim.

"I hurt a lot of people, and I've made a mess of my life," said Whitaker, dressed in a beige prison clothes. He added, "My apology would be to change."

Prosecutors also were complimentary of Whitaker.

"But for his cooperation, this would not have taken off," Reich said.

Judge William E. Smith also ordered Whitaker to pay more than $10 million in restitution, including more than $2.2 million that he and a co-defendant must pay to a credit-card processing company.

Whitaker faced up to 65 years in prison for his crimes, but Smith agreed to recommendations by his lawyer and Reich to make him eligible for a less severe sentence. Whitaker will be credited for the nearly four years spent in prison but still faces two years and two months of imprisonment.

Authorities arrested Whitaker in California after he was expelled from Mexico in 2008.

Authorities allege his Rhode Island electronics-equipment provider, Mixitforme Inc., bilked $7 million to $20 million from customers and a credit card processor.

After his arrest, Whitaker disclosed to investigators that he had been selling prescription drugs online in Mexico with the help of Google's AdWords program, Reich said.

Whitaker described how he developed relationships with Google employees who allowed him to place ads for drugs obtained from overseas without a prescription, Reich said.

Whitaker helped investigators construct phony websites that purported to sell the drugs, officials said.

by Laura Crimaldi Associated Press Dec. 3, 2011 12:00 AM

Google-tied con artist gets 6 years

Ill. Pump Failure Wasn't Cyberattack From Russia - ABC News

Mystery solved. A reported cyberattack on a water district in central Illinois turned out to be a false alarm set off when an American contractor logged onto the system remotely while vacationing in Russia.

Jim Mimlitz of suburban St. Louis says he hopes he'll be able to laugh about it someday. For now, the contractor is puzzled. Why didn't terrorism investigators pick up the phone and call him? He says he could have straightened out the matter quickly.

Instead, investigators assumed someone had stolen Mimlitz' password and hacked into the system from Russia, causing a water pump to shut down five months later. A blogger spread word of the possible hack, touching off a minor panic.

The truth is, Mimlitz was on vacation with his family in Russia in June. Someone from the Curran Gardner Public Water District near Springfield called his cell phone and asked him to check data on the system. He did, but he didn't mention he was doing so from Russia.

Months later, after the water pump failed, a repairman examining the logs saw a Russian IP address linking to the system with Mimlitz' sign-on. The water district reported that to a state agency and the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center got involved.

The center released reports about a potential cyber compromise at the water district. The reports were meant to be initial raw reporting and not conclusive. A security consultant and blogger wrote about the reports and released the documents to reporters. The incident was reported as possibly the first successful cyberattack on the U.S. infrastructure.

"A quick and simple phone call to me right away would have defused the whole thing immediately," Mimlitz said. "All I did was I logged on. I tried to help. I looked at some data and gave them my advice."

The story of Mimlitz' vacation was first reported by Wired magazine's Threat Level blog. Mimlitz spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday.

There was no immediate response to requests for comment from the Illinois State Police, which took part in the investigation. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security referred to the department's previous statements saying there was "no evidence to support claims made" in the initial Illinois report "which was based on raw, unconfirmed data and subsequently leaked to the media ..."

Mimlitz has only kind words for the FBI and Department of Homeland Security investigators he met with last week for nearly four hours.

"I was as open as I could be," he said. "I wasn't trying to hide anything. I was just trying to help them find the problem. Even if the end result was not going to be good for me, that wasn't my concern. It was a very productive meeting and they were extremely sharp people."

Mimlitz's company — Navionics Research in Eureka, Mo. — helped set up the system that remotely manages computers controlling machinery in the water district. Security experts have pointed out such Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems are vulnerable to hacking.

"I think our system's very secure," Mimlitz said. "It doesn't mean we're not going to keep working on it."

by Carla K. Johnson Associated Press Dec 2, 2011

Ill. Pump Failure Wasn't Cyberattack From Russia - ABC News


Heather is currently conducting her doctoral research at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute and running Marilyn Monrobot Labs in NYC, which creates socially intelligent robot performances and sensor-based electronic art.

Her work also includes: robotics and instrumentation at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, interactive installations with Syyn Labs, field applications and sensor design at Aldebaran Robotics, and she is an alumnus from the Personal Robots Group at the MIT Media Lab. She earned her bachelor and masters degrees at MIT in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and has a minor in Mechanical Engineering.


November 30, 2011

Facebook settles FTC privacy complaint, agrees to ask users’ permission for changes - The Washington Post

Facebook has settled complaints by the Federal Trade Commission, which alleged the company allowed advertisers and others to access users’ personal information even though it promised to protect their privacy, the agency said Tuesday.

The settlement over eight counts of privacy violations will force the the social network to obtain consent from consumers before changing its privacy policies. It also will be subject to regular, independent reviews of its practices for 20 years.

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm, which claims 800 million global users, will not face monetary penalties unless it violates the agreement in the future.

“Facebook is obligated to keep the promises about privacy that it makes to its hundreds of millions of users,” said Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC. “Facebook’s innovation does not have to come at the expense of consumer privacy. The FTC action will ensure it will not.”

The settlement removes a weight on the company as it plans for a massive initial public offering for next year. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a blog post Tuesday that the Web site has tried to protect users. But he conceded that the company needs to do more.

“I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes,” Zuckerberg said. “In particular, I think that a small number of high profile mistakes . . . have often overshadowed much of the good work we’ve done.”

Recent privacy settlements with Facebook and other titans of the Web, such as Google, show that protecting consumer data has become a major policy issue in Washington, some analysts said.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center, said, “2011 is the year the FTC took significant steps in privacy against the two biggest Internet companies in the world. It’s hard to ignore the implications for others in the industry.”

The FTC’s investigation partly stemmed from a complaint filed by the center in December 2009, when Facebook announced several changes that made some user profile information public.

The actions enraged users who complained that they were not given enough notice and that hiding their information from strangers became more difficult and confusing.

In its investigation, the agency found that when users clicked on ads, third-party marketers were able to collect the users’ information even though the company said that wasn’t possible, according to the FTC.

And those who left Facebook weren’t able to completely delete their data. As part of the settlement, Facebook agreed that 30 days after an account is deleted, no information will be available.

Members of Congress are contemplating new privacy laws intended to better protect users as they keep more of their information online.

“This action against Facebook is just the first step toward protecting consumer privacy,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) “Ultimately, I believe legislation is needed that empowers consumers to protect their personal information from companies surreptitiously collecting and using that personal information for profit.”

by Cecelia Kang Washington Post Nov 29, 2011

Facebook settles FTC privacy complaint, agrees to ask users’ permission for changes - The Washington Post

Tablets are the season's must-have -

Despite the gloomy economy, shoppers are expected to shell out for tablet computers this December.

The glossy-screened gadgets are the most-desired electronic devices this holiday season -- second only to clothing, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

The industry group expects U.S. consumers to spend an average of $246 on electronic gifts, including tablets.

The iPad is still expected to far outsell other tablets this year.

According to Gartner Inc., nearly 64million tablets will be sold worldwide by the end of the year.
Some 73percent of them will be iPads.

by Associated Press Nov 28, 2011

Tablets are the season's must-have -

November 27, 2011

Police try to shield radio communication

WASHINGTON - Police departments around the U.S. are working to shield their radio communications from the public as cheap, user-friendly technology has made it easy for anyone to use handheld devices to keep tabs on officers responding to crimes.

The practice of encryption has grown more common from Florida to New York and west to California, with law-enforcement officials saying they want to keep criminals from using officers' internal chatter to evade them. But journalists and neighborhood watchdogs say open communications ensure that the public receives information that can be vital to their safety as quickly as possible.

D.C. police moved to join the trend this fall after what Chief Cathy Lanier said were several incidents involving criminals and smartphones. Carjackers operating on Capitol Hill were believed to have been listening to emergency communications because they were only captured once police stopped broadcasting over the radio, she said.

"Whereas listeners used to be tied to stationary scanners, new technology has allowed people -- and especially criminals -- to listen to police communications on a smartphone from anywhere," Lanier testified at a D.C. Council committee hearing this month. "When a potential criminal can evade capture and learn, 'There's an app for that,' it's time to change our practices."

The transition has put police departments at odds with the news media, who say their newsgathering is impeded when they can't use scanners to monitor developing crimes and disasters. Journalists and scanner hobbyists argue that police departments already have the capability to communicate securely and should be able to adjust to the times without reverting to full encryption. And they say alert scanner listeners have even helped police solve crimes.

"If the police need to share sensitive information among themselves, they know how to do it," Phil Metlin, news director of WTTG-TV, in Washington, said at the council hearing. "Special encrypted channels have been around for a long time; so have cellphones."

It's impossible to quantify the scope of the problem or to determine if the threat from scanners is as legitimate as police maintain -- or merely a speculative fear. It's certainly not a new concern -- after all, hobbyists have for years used scanners to track the activities of their local police department from their kitchen tables.

David Schoenberger, a stay-at-home dad from Fredericksburg, Va., and scanner hobbyist, said he understands Lanier's concerns -- to a point.

"I think they do need to encrypt the sensitive talk groups, like the vice and narcotics, but I disagree strongly with encrypting the routine dispatch and patrol talk groups. I don't think that's right," he said. "I think the public has a right to monitor them and find out what's going on around them. They pay the salaries and everything."

There's no doubt that it's increasingly easy to listen in on police radios.

One iPhone app, Scanner 911, offers on its website the chance to "listen in while police, fire and EMS crews work day & night." Apple's iTunes' store advertises several similar apps.

Though iPhones don't directly pick up police signals, users can listen to nearly real-time audio from police dispatch channels through streaming services, said Matthew Blaze, director of the Distributed Systems Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania and a researcher of security and privacy in computing and communications systems.

The shift to encryption has occurred as departments replace old-fashioned analog radios with digital equipment that sends the voice signal over the air as a stream of bits and then reconstructs it into high-quality audio. Encrypted communication is generally only heard by listeners with an encryption key. Others might hear silence or garbled talk, depending on the receiver's technology.

The cost of encryption varies.

The Nassau County, N.Y., Police Department is in the final stages of a roughly $50 million emergency communications upgrade that includes encryption and interoperability with other law-enforcement agencies in the region, Inspector Edmund Horace said. Once the old system is taken down, Horace said, "you would not be able to discern what's being said on the air unless you had the proper equipment."

Still, full encryption is cumbersome, difficult to manage and relatively rare, especially among big-city police departments who'd naturally have a harder time keeping track of who has access to the encryption key, Blaze said.

The more individuals or neighboring police agencies with access, the greater the risk that the secrecy of the system could be compromised and the harder it becomes to ensure that everyone who needs access has it, Blaze said.

Relatively few local police departments are actually encrypted, Blaze said, though some cities have modern radio systems for dispatch that are difficult to monitor on inexpensive equipment.

However, the systems can be intercepted with higher-end scanners.

by Eric Tucker Associated Press Nov. 24, 2011 12:00 AM

Police try to shield radio communication

Bing search engine's ads to feature Rudolph

SAN FRANCISCO - Like Santa Claus on that one foggy Christmas Eve, Microsoft has summoned Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to guide some precious cargo -- a holiday marketing campaign for its Bing search engine.

The advertisements, debuting online and on TV this week, star Rudolph and other characters from the animated story about the most famous reindeer of all.

The campaign is part of Microsoft's attempt to trip up Google Inc., an Internet search rival as imposing as the Abominable Snowman was before Yukon Cornelius tamed the monster.

Google has been countering with its own emotional ads throughout the year. Most of Google's ads show snippets of its search engine and other products at work before swirling into the logo of the company's Chrome Web browser.

The dueling ads underscore the lucrative nature of search engines.

Although visitors pay nothing to use them, search engines generate billions of dollars a year in revenue from ads posted alongside the search results.

The holiday season is a particularly opportune time for search companies because that's when people do more searches to find gifts online, look for party supplies and plan nights out on the town. That means more people to show ads to. Advertisers also tend to be willing to pay more per ad because they know people are in a buying mode.

To capture that audience, Microsoft and Google are thinking outside the search box to promote their brands.

Although the text ads running alongside search results do a fine job of reeling in some customers, they still lack the broader, more visceral impact of a well-done television commercial, said Peter Daboll, chief executive of Ace Metrix, a firm that rates the effectiveness of ads.

"It's instructive that these companies who are all about the Internet and doing things in real time are actually doing these emotive ads on TV," Daboll said.

Search engines are particularly difficult to sell because the sophisticated technology required to make them work isn't something "you can touch or feel in a store, so you need to bring some emotion to it," said Sean Carver, Bing's advertising director. "The storytelling is important."

Microsoft Corp. licensed the rights to the characters from Rudolph's 47-year-old holiday special after convincing their owners that the Bing commercials would add an endearing chapter to the reindeer's story.

The rights to Rudolph and the rest of the cast are owned by the children of Robert L. May, who wrote the story in 1939 while working as a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store (May's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, later wrote the famous song).

Google embraces ads

Microsoft is far more experienced at marketing than Google.

For one thing, it's 23 years older than Google, which was founded in 1998.

More important, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were so contemptuous of traditional marketing campaigns that the company never bothered to advertise its search engine on national TV until the 2010 Super Bowl. Spending millions to be a part of TV's annual advertising extravaganza was so out of character that Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO at the time, heralded the Super Bowl ad with a post on Twitter that concluded "hell has indeed frozen over."

Since that breakthrough, Google has caught the advertising bug. Without breaking down its total ad budget, Google disclosed that it has spent $583 million more on television and other advertising during the first nine months of this year than it did at the same time last year.

The investment has won Google some respect in the advertising industry.

Google took five of the 10 top spots for most effective national TV ads that promote websites, based on Ace Metrix's study of viewer reactions to the commercials. Topping the list is an ad showing how a father used Google services such as Gmail to create an electronic journal of his daughter Sophie's life.

Three Bing ads also ranked in the 10 most effective, but the company also had two ads on the least effective list.

"There doesn't seem to be a very coherent creative pattern to the Bing ads," Daboll said. "It's kind of hit and miss."

Seeking high impact

There's no mistaking the common theme in the four Rudolph ads produced for the Bing promotion. The ads are all done in the same stop-motion puppet animation used in the original 1964 TV special. One features Bumble the Abominable Snowman using Bing to get ideas for a more fearsome roar. Another shows some of the characters turning to Bing for suggestions on a vacation that leads to a getaway on an island of misfit toys.

Microsoft has bought seven slots on national TV to run those four 30-second ads. The company is going for high impact rather than high frequency and is placing those ads during holiday-themed specials, starting with "The Simpsons" on the Fox network on Thanksgiving night and ending on Dec. 21 during "South Park" on the Comedy Channel. Microsoft isn't buying time during the Rudolph special, though, which CBS is broadcasting next Tuesday and Dec. 10.

The ads will be shown in more than 200 movie theaters before holiday films and will be available online beginning Wednesday.

Microsoft declined to say how much it's spending on the Rudolph campaign.

Aaron Lilly, a Microsoft executive who helps conceive Bing's promotions, came up with the idea to build holiday ads around the Rudolph story two years ago. It didn't happen then because the Aflac insurance company had already bought rights to the characters for that holiday season.

The ads will be a success for Microsoft if they help the company gain more ground and cut its losses in Internet search, an area that remains weak for Microsoft even after years of investing in better technology.

Although the Xbox video-game console and familiar software such as Windows and Office provide most of Microsoft's earnings, Bing remains a financial drain. The online division anchored by Bing has suffered operating losses totaling $7 billion since June 2008, when Microsoft introduced the latest overhaul of its search engine.

Google's share of the Internet search market has increased since Bing's debut, according to the research firm comScore. Google now processes about two out of three search requests in the U.S. and rakes in an even larger share of the revenue that rolls when people click on ads next to search results.

Bing's market share has climbed from about 9 percent in June 2008 to roughly 15 percent in October.

by Michael Liedtke Associated Press Nov. 24, 2011 06:44 PM

Bing search engine's ads to feature Rudolph

Best Buy trade-in program confusing

A Best Buy program to trade old electronic equipment in exchange for store gift cards may be giving brick-and-mortar consumers more headaches than rewards.

Each store appears to have its own rules about what it will take back, and the answer changes depending on who at the store is answering questions.

Best Buy advertises on its website that most stores will take back anything, from iPods, DVD players, computers, cellphones, game systems, cameras and other items, no matter where they were purchased.

Depending on the item and condition, that could translate to hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards for outdated equipment.

But the reality, at least in Arizona, is that most stores won't take back items without a receipt showing they were bought at Best Buy -- and even then there is no guarantee.

Best Buy officials, contacted through their public-relations staff, did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week.

The company also offers the trade-in program through its website,, and there is no indication that consumers have had any difficulty using it.

But calls or visits to Best Buy stores last week in Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Casa Grande about the trade-in program resulted in a confusing host of answers. Managers and employees said the trade-in program works differently at each store.

Some employees say stores will take back everything from computer monitors to audio receivers to DVD players.

Other employees say they are restricted to what can be traded, demand original receipts, or insist that only merchandise purchased at Best Buy is eligible for the trade-in.

In addition, what customer-service representatives say on the phone might not be true inside the store.

Employees at three stores in Mesa said city ordinances prevent them from taking merchandise without receipts because of concerns that the items might be stolen. They directed customers to a Tempe store. But a manager there said she could not take back any item without a receipt.

Even with a receipt, the store manager said, the item must have been purchased from a Best Buy in order to be eligible for the trade-in program.

On its website, Best Buy says most electronics, no matter where they were purchased, can be traded at stores for a gift card on the spot.

"Most items can be taken to a Best Buy store for immediate evaluation and payment. If you have a Best Buy receipt, any store can help you," according to the site. "Most can also accept products not bought at Best Buy."

But store employees at a Best Buy in Phoenix said the store was authorized only to trade in laptops, cellphones and iPods.

A store employee in Casa Grande said her store could offer trade-ins only on video games.

Best Buy also offers its trade-in program online, where it provides estimates based on your description of the product.

For instance, a 64 gigabyte, fourth-generation iPod Touch might fetch up to $190 in gift cards. Best Buy supplies shipping labels.

Once shipped, a customer will have to wait up to 14 days for the gift card to arrive in the mail.

by Robert Anglen The Arizona Republic Nov. 24, 2011 06:42 PM

Best Buy trade-in program confusing

New twist in Facebook scam on seniors

Facebook not only connects family and friends around the globe, it also gives con artists a window into your life.

In a new twist on an old criminal theme, the Facebook social-networking site is being used to target senior citizens in what authorities call the "grandma scam."

The scam is as simple as it is insidious. Someone calls a senior citizen claiming to be a grandchild in desperate need of cash. It might involve an accident, an eviction or some other crisis. The Arizona version often often revolves around a Mexican jail and a plea for bail money.

Unlike in years past, where con artists relied primarily on cold calls to convince seniors to wire money, more sophisticated perpetrators are calling up Facebook to custom-tailor stories.

Names, photos, phone numbers, family histories and up-to-the minute accounts of daily movements are providing con artists with important tools that give their stories depth and believability. So now when an unsuspecting grandparent picks up the phone, their "grandchild" might know what they look like, who their parents are, where the family vacationed and other convincing details.

"It is an outrageous scam on grandparents and their love for their grandkids," Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said. "We are seeing a lot of police reports about it."

Horne says his office in the past few months has seen an upsurge in the number of Facebook grandma scams. Last week, he sent letters to 1,100 Western Union and other money-wire services facilities in the state urging caution.

The letters detail how the scam works, then asks wire-service employees to question senior citizens eager to send emergency cash.

"Even a simple question such as, 'Have you confirmed that (the 'loved one' calling for help) is really in need? You need to be sure for your own protection,' could make a significant difference," Horne said in the letter.

It's a warning Mesa grandparents Kathleen and Bob Denton wished someone had given them this year when they twice sent money to someone claiming to be their grandson.

"He said he was in jail in Mexico and needed money to get out," Kathleen Denton, 76, said. "He asked us to keep it to ourselves, and we sent him the money."

The fake grandson claimed he had been in an accident and had been arrested. And after the Dentons sent the first wire, they got a second call a few hours later. Now their "grandson" said he needed money to pay an attorney so he could leave Mexico.

"Yes, we sent even more cash," Kathleen Denton said. "It was just so natural, that's how they get you."

A component of the scam almost always involves a plea from the grandchild not to tell anyone what happened, especially parents. So the grandparents don't try to verify the information until long after the money has been sent.

The Dentons didn't make the call until two days later, on a Sunday, when they discovered that their grandson had never left the country and had been working the whole time.

Kathleen Denton said the money was immaterial compared with the worry they felt over the fate of the grandson.

"The money, that's one thing," she said. "But your grandson in a Mexican jail ..."

Despite the rise in reports of Facebook grandma scams, Horne said the cases are hard to track and even harder to prosecute. In many cases the grandparents are embarrassed about being tricked and don't some forward right away, if they come forward at all.

Horne says individuals should consider what information they post on Facebook and control privacy settings to limit who can view profiles. Horne said he would avoid posting frequent updates about daily activities to keep scam artists from knowing your movements.

His office also recommends that seniors contacted about sending money to a desperate grandchild:

Verify the family member's whereabouts.

Do not call the caller with the phone number that person provided.

Don't fill in the blanks for the caller. For instance, if the caller says, "This is your favorite grandson," ask "Which one?"

by Robert Anglen The Arizona Republic Nov. 22, 2011 12:00 AM

New twist in Facebook scam on seniors

November 22, 2011

BBC News - Hackers 'hit' US water treatment systems

Dripping taps
The alleged attack was made on a system that piped clean water to homes in Illinois

Hackers are alleged to have destroyed a pump used to pipe water to thousands of homes in a US city in Illinois.

Hackers with access to the utility's network are thought to have broken the pump by turning it on and off quickly.

The FBI and Department for Homeland Security (DHS) are investigating the incident as details emerge of what could be a separate second attack.

Experts said the news revealed a growing interest in critical infrastructure by cyber criminals.

Information about the 8 November incident came to light via the blog of Joe Weiss who advises utilities on how to protect hardware against attack.

Mr Weiss quoted from a short report by the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center which said hackers obtained access using stolen login names and passwords. These were taken from a company which writes control software for industrial systems.

The net address through which the attack was carried out was traced to Russia, according to Mr Weiss. The report said "glitches" in the remote access system for the pump had been noticed for months before the burn out, said Mr Weiss.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iran's nuclear programme has been slowed by a virus targeting industrial control systems
Peter Boogaard, A spokesman for the DHS, said it was gathering facts about the incident.

"At this time there is no credible corroborated data that indicates a risk to critical infrastructure entities or a threat to public safety," he said.

Industrial action
The comments by the DHS prompted a hacker using the handle "pr0f" to claim he had access to the control systems for a second US water utility.

He posted a document to the Pastebin website which purportedly contained links to screenshots of the internal control systems for a waste water treatment plant in South Houston.

The hacker's claims about their ability to penetrate the control systems have yet to be confirmed or denied by South Houston's Water and Sewer Department.

In an interview with the Threat Post website, Pr0f said the hack of the South Houston network barely deserved the name because only a three-character password had been used to protect the system.

The attacks are the latest in a series in which different hackers and groups have targeted so called Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. These specialised computer systems are used to control equipment used to filter water, mix chemicals, distribute power and route trains and trams.

One of the best known SCADA attacks involved the Stuxnet worm which caused problems for Iran.

There were reports that the malware crippled centrifuges used in the nation's uranium enrichment program. Iran denied the claims saying that it had caught the worm before it reached its intended target.

Earlier this year, security researchers who investigated ways to attack SCADA systems were persuaded to cancel a public talk about their findings because of the "serious physical, financial impact these issues could have on a worldwide basis".

Lani Kass, a former adviser to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on security issues, said America had to start doing more work to understand attacks on critical infrastructure.

"The going in hypothesis is always that it's just an incident or coincidence," she said. "And if every incident is seen in isolation, it's hard - if not impossible - to discern a pattern or connect the dots."

"Failure to connect the dots led us to be surprised on 9/11," she said.

by BBC Nov 21, 2011

BBC News - Hackers 'hit' US water treatment systems

Facebook: images of porn, violence due to coordinated spam attack | ZDNet

Over the last few days, Facebook users have been experiencing a flood of links, videos, and images depicting pornography, acts of violence, self-mutilation, and bestiality. Facebook confirmed the NSFW problem with me this morning and now, this afternoon, is offering more details. In short, Facebook says it was hit by a coordinated spam attack leveraging a browser vulnerability.

Some members of the social network are complaining about violent and/or pornographic pictures showing up in their News Feeds without their knowledge that they have allegedly Liked. Others are being told by their friends that they are sending requests to click on links to videos, sending out bogus chat messages, or writing mass messages and tagged photos leading people to believe they are in the link. If you are affected by this, please see Facebook virus or account hacked? Here’s how to fix it.

We’ve seen this type of spam on Facebook before, but it’s coming in at a much faster pace, as if it was something planned in advance. According to the company, this spam attack all started with users being tricked into pasting and executing malicious JavaScript in their browser’s URL bar. I asked the company for details on the browser vulnerability; more specifically, I wanted to know which versions of which browsers were affected.

Palo Alto says it has been shutting down the malicious Pages and accounts that attempt to exploit this flaw and has been giving users guidance on how to protect themselves. Overall, the company claims it has managed to drastically reduce the rate of the attack, but wouldn’t elaborate with actual numbers.

“Protecting the people who use Facebook from spam and malicious content is a top priority for us, and we are always working to improve our systems to isolate and remove material that violates our terms,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “Recently, we experienced a coordinated spam attack that exploited a browser vulnerability. Our efforts have drastically limited the damage caused by this attack, and we are now in the process of investigating to identify those responsible.”

“During this spam attack users were tricked into pasting and executing malicious JavaScript in their browser URL bar causing them to unknowingly share this offensive content,” the spokesperson continued. “Our engineers have been working diligently on this self-XSS vulnerability in the browser. We’ve built enforcement mechanisms to quickly shut down the malicious Pages and accounts that attempt to exploit it. We have also been putting those affected through educational checkpoints so they know how to protect themselves. We’ve put in place backend measures to reduce the rate of these attacks and will continue to iterate on our defenses to find new ways to protect people.”

Users are unsurprisingly outraged, and as is typical with Facebook members, many are already threatening to close their accounts. I personally have not seen any such Facebook activity on my own profile, and neither have my friends. Still, although the service’s users complain about a lot of small things, this is not one of them. That being said, it’s still not known how many of the site’s 800 million active users are affected.

Some have blamed the hacktivist group Anonymous, which was rumored to be planning to take down the social network on November 5, for this attack. Three months ago, the larger collective group made a point to say it did not support such a takedown operation and in the end it did not take place: the service has remained operational all month.

Facebook is still up and running, but it has been exploited in a coordinated way. There is no proof that Anonymous is behind this flood of inappropriate images and links (normally such an attack would result in confirmation from Anonymous, in some shape or form), but it only takes a few members or ex-members to pull something like this off.

By Emil Protalinski ZDNet November 15, 2011, 12:28pm PST

Facebook: images of porn, violence due to coordinated spam attack | ZDNet

November 20, 2011

Players prefer Modern Warfare 3 over Battlefield 3, says Raptr report, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Xbox 360 News | GamesRadar

According to opinion data from social networking service Raptr, more players were excited about the launch of Battlefield 3, thought that DICE was a more innovative developer than Infinity Ward, and that the Battlefield franchise has had a bigger impact on the FPS genre than Call of Duty. That data comes from a survey of over 6,000 respondents. But when you break down the numbers comparing hours played from Raptr’s user base of over 10 million gamers, it looks like most players prefer Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 to Battlefield 3.

The statistics in Raptr’s latest report reveal that Xbox 360 players spent 40% more time playing Modern Warfare 3 on launch day than they did playing Battlefield 3 when it launched. “The battle for dominance for the first-person shooter market in 2011 is clearly in Activision’s favor,” said Raptr CEO Dennis Fong. “EA made a valiant effort evangelizing its fan base and generating massive support around the launch of Battlefield 3. Given how well received the game was, EA has a powerful opportunity to take things further next year, though it’s clear at this point that Call of Duty is a phenomenon that is unrivaled.”

Here are the key findings from Raptr’s report on playtime tracking:

- Xbox 360 players logged 40% more launch-day playtime in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, averaging 6.19 hours compared to 4.45 hours of Battlefield 3
- During each game’s first week of launch, Xbox 360 players logged 17% more per-user playtime in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, averaging 20.45 hours compared to 17.37 hours of Battlefield 3
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 accumulated more total hours played in one week post-launch than Battlefield 3 has in three weeks post-launch
- 53% of Battlefield 3 players on Xbox 360 are also playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, compared to just 31% of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 players who also played Battlefield 3
- During the first week of launch, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 stole more playtime from Battlefield 3 than any other game
- For the first time ever for any franchise, three Call of Duty games were in the top 10 playtime charts on Raptr
Here are the results from the survey:
- 81% of respondents were more excited for the launch of Battlefield 3
- 92% of respondents consider DICE a more innovative developer than Infinity Ward
- 58% of respondents said the Battlefield franchise has had a bigger impact on the FPS genre
- 80% of respondents feel the Call of Duty franchise generates more hype through its marketing

The survey paints a picture of a showdown between mainstream Hollywood-style blockbuster Modern Warfare 3 – and the more important and innovative Battlefield 3. So you’d think that this would lead to more playtime logged for DICE’s big shooter. The difference between the results of the survey and the hours logged in Raptr’s playtime report could have something to do with the survey itself, which offered respondents a chance to win a high-end custom gaming PC. Since the Call of Duty franchise is now considered by many to be more of a console shooter than Battlefield, the difference between player opinion and actual playtime in the recent Raptr report seems to make more sense. You can check out GamesRadar’s David Houghton’s take on the Modern Warfare 3 vs Battlefield 3 showdown here, but which title do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below!

November 13, 2011

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 makes $400m in 1st 24 hours of going on sale | Mail Online

A real blast: 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3' set a first-day sales record by generating $400million in sales in its first 24 hours in stores
By the third time around, it really shouldn't be a surprise.

The latest 'Call of Duty' video game set a first-day sales record this week, generating $400million in sales in its first 24 hours in stores. That breaks the record its predecessor set this time last year.

'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3' is the third game in the military shooter series to set such a record.

Last year, 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' raked in $360million in its first 24 hours on sale. 'Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2,' sold 4.7million copies in its first 24 hours to reap $310million.

The latest installment of the game from Activision Blizzard Inc. went on sale at midnight in more than 13,000 stores on Tuesday in North America and the U.K.

Activision said on Friday that the game sold 6.4million units in its first 24 hours.

A rival shooter game from Electronic Arts Inc., 'Battlefield 3,' meanwhile, sold 5million units in its first week in stores last month, making it the fastest-selling game in EA's history.

'We believe the launch of 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3' is the biggest entertainment launch of all time in any medium, and we achieved this record with sales from only two territories,' said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard.

'Other than 'Call of Duty,' there has never been another entertainment franchise that has set opening day records three years in a row.'

He added that total sales for the 'Call of Duty' franchise exceed worldwide box office takings for the hugely successful Star Wars and Lord of the Rings series.

Modern Warfare 3 smashed this year's previous release-day record of an entertainment product set by 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Part 2', which grossed $169million in its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

Since the release, Modern Warfare 3 players have broken the Xbox Live record for the number of users online at the same time, according to Microsoft.

The game, which is rated 18, takes up where Modern Warfare 2 left off, with special forces protagonists pursuing Vladimir Makarov, a Russian terrorist, in cities including London, Paris and New York.

The Call of Duty series has been running since 2003 and more than 100 million copies of its various titles have now been sold.

by Daily Mail Reporter Mail Online Nov 13, 2011

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 makes $400m in 1st 24 hours of going on sale | Mail Online

Expert: America's military vulnerable to cyberattacks

WASHINGTON - America's critical computer networks are so vulnerable to attack that it should deter U.S. leaders from going to war with other nations, a former top U.S. cybersecurity official said Monday.

Richard Clarke, a top adviser to three presidents, joined a number of U.S. military and civilian experts in offering a dire assessment of America's cybersecurity at a conference, saying the country simply can't protect its critical networks.

Clarke said that if he was advising the president, he would warn against attacking other countries because so many of them - including China, North Korea, Iran and Russia - could retaliate by launching devastating cyberattacks that could destroy power grids, banking networks or transportation systems.

The U.S. military, he said, is entirely dependent on computer systems and could end up in a future conflict in which troops trot out onto a battlefield "and nothing works."

Clarke said that a good national-security adviser would tell the president that the U.S. might be able to blow up a nuclear plant somewhere, or a terrorist-training center somewhere, but that a number of countries could strike back with a cyberattack.

"The entire us economic system could be crashed in retaliation ... because we can't defend it today," he said.

"I really don't know to what extent the weapon systems that have been developed over the last 10 years have been penetrated, to what extent the chips are compromised, to what extent the code is compromised.

"I can't assure you that as you go to war with a cybersecurity-conscious, cybersecurity-capable enemy that any of our stuff is going to work."

Clarke, along with Gen. Keith Alexander, who heads both the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, told the conference crowd that the U.S. needs to do a better job of eliminating network vulnerabilities and more aggressively seek out malware or viruses in American corporate, military and government systems.

But Clarke was more strident about pushing for broader government regulations to enforce such improvements, despite political reluctance.

The problems, he said, will not be fixed unless the government gets more involved.

He added that the U.S. also needs to make it clear to countries such as China that efforts to use computer-based attacks to steal high-tech American data will be punished.

by Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press Nov. 8, 2011 12:00 AM

Expert: America's military vulnerable to cyberattacks

November 6, 2011

Private domain names multiply

Scottsdale-based Internet domain registrar Inc. reached a milestone recently, announcing the registration of its 50millionth domain name since opening in 1997.

Go Daddy has vaulted to the top of the domain-registrar heap with the help of several innovations, perhaps the most significant among them being "private" domain registration.

Go Daddy invented and launched the concept of private registration in 2002 with the formation of an affiliate company called Domains By Proxy Inc. It has been hugely successful, and nearly every Go Daddy competitor has since copied the idea.

Private registration allows the registrant of an Internet domain, or Web address, to keep his or her name and contact information out of a searchable online directory known as the "Whois" directory.

Champions of free speech say private domain registration is important because it allows website authors to speak their minds without fear of retaliation. Privacy advocates support it, too, saying it helps reduce identity and domain theft.

But some critics say private domain registration's main value is providing a haven for anonymous trash-talkers and scam artists, particularly if their targets are regular people who can't afford an expensive attorney.

Others say companies such as Domains By Proxy hand over registrants' private information too readily when their Web content angers or offends someone.

Phoenix attorney Fredric Bellamy said private domain registrars could be shielding customers' identities more stubbornly but have opted not to because of potential legal costs.

"Most of these outfits, if they're hit with a valid subpoena, they could challenge it, but by and large they don't want to go that far," said Bellamy, a shareholder at Ryley Carlock & Applewhite and a director of the Arizona Technology Council.

Is Web privacy a right?

In 1998, a private, non-profit corporation called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, took over responsibility for registering Internet domain names from the U.S. government.

Among ICANN's rules for the registration of Internet domains, such as or, is that the registrants' names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses are to be kept on file in a public registry.

The registry can be searched by visiting the website of any domain registrar and selecting a Whois search.

When a domain is registered through a private registrar such as Domains By Proxy, a Whois lookup displays the registrar's information instead of the website's registrant.

Go Daddy deputy general counsel Nima Kelly said company founder Bob Parsons came up with the idea for private registration when a customer who didn't know her domain-registration information would be made public complained to the company.

A stalker had gotten her personal information by doing a Whois lookup on her website, Kelly said.

Parsons agreed to replace her contact information with Go Daddy's company information, Kelly said. Shortly thereafter, he came up with the idea for Domains By Proxy.

Parsons also developed the basic concepts for how private registration works, which have since been copied by dozens of competitors.

The private registrar becomes the Internet domain's legal owner, and it licenses the use of that domain to its customer. Kelly said there are strict terms of service and standard procedures for when and how the registrar's personal or company information is released in the event of a complaint or investigation.

"The overwhelming majority of people who use our service are law-abiding citizens who simply don't want every Tom, Dick and Harry to see their information," she said.

Domain names vs. trade names

There are many legitimate reasons why a business might want to register domain names privately, Kelly said, such as if the company wanted to reserve a domain for a new product but didn't yet want its competitors to know the product's name.

State governments historically have served as registrars and regulators of trade names, but none has extended that role to include domain names.

Domain names and trade names differ in a number of ways.

All trade-name registrants are publicly disclosed. In Arizona, the trade-name database is maintained by the Secretary of State's Office. But with the growth in popularity of private domain registration, many domain registrants have opted to keep their information private.

Generally, only businesses register trade names, but a large percentage of domain names are registered to private individuals for use as personal websites or blogs.

Another difference is that there can be multiple registrants of a single trade name in different industries or geographic regions, whereas each domain name can have just one registrant.

Consumers and criminals

Private domain registrars do a lot more than simply register Internet sites on behalf of their customers. They also provide a variety of services such as forwarding third-party e-mail inquiries to the registrants and handling complaints about privately registered sites.

Kelly said Domains By Proxy always cooperates with law-enforcement investigations and complies with court orders and subpoenas to release information about private registrants. At times it has been criticized for doing so, such as in 2003 when a website called was pursued by Walmart for offering an online tool that rearranged consumer-product bar codes uploaded by customers to alter the products' prices., which had billed itself as a mockery of, had been registered privately through Domains By Proxy, but when Walmart attorneys sent a letter demanding to know the registrant's information, the Go Daddy affiliate canceled's privacy agreement and gave up its creator's information, court documents show.

But when it's a consumer who wants a business registrant's information because he or she has been ripped off by a website, getting that information can be far more difficult, Bellamy said.

"You may have a hard time ever collecting your money," he said.

Still, Kelly said Domains By Proxy does respond to all complaints and doesn't simply tell consumers to go away.

"We have a variety of standard operating procedures that we follow based on the nature of the complaint," she said. "We would try to get the consumer and the registrant together to get them talking."

Arizona Attorney General's Office spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico said that the private-domain-registration issue may warrant further discussion at the policy level, but that in the meantime, it's up to consumers to do their homework before handing over payment information to any website.

"Make sure they are a legitimate, registered business," Rezzonico said.

by J. Craig Anderson The Arizona Republic Nov. 5, 2011 11:51 AM

Private domain names multiply

Groupon shares leap more than 50%

Groupon, the company that pioneered online group discounts, saw its stock soar more than 50% in its public debut Friday, showing strong demand for an Internet company whose business model is considered unsustainable by some analysts.

Groupon stock (GRPN) jumped more than $10 a share to almost $31 in early trading, which began about 10:45 a.m. ET.

Chicago-based Groupon sends out frequent emails to subscribers offering discount deals on anything from laser hair removal to weekend getaways. The company takes a cut of what people pay and gives the rest to the merchant.

Though it spawned many copycats after its 2008 launch, Groupon has the advantage of being first. This has meant brand recognition and investor demand, as evidenced by its sizzling public stock debut.

Groupon is selling 5.5% of its available shares. Though not unprecedented, that amount of publicly traded stock is below the so-called "float" for many prominent tech companies, such as Google and more recently LinkedIn.

On Thursday, the company priced its IPO at $20 a share. That was above its expected range of $16 to $18. The IPO valued Groupon at $13.3 billion and raised $700 million.

With Friday's stock price jump, Groupon's value rose to more than $18 billion.

Another Internet darling, professional networking service LinkedIn, saw its stock (LNKD) soar to $122.70 on its opening day in May after pricing at $45. Since then, the stock has settled lower but was still trading at almost $80 Friday.

Groupon's shares rose despite a decline in the broader market.

Investors were not surprised demand was so strong for the shares, despite months of skepticism over the company's financial prospects and accounting methods.

"It's a unique IPO," says Nick Einhorn of Renaissance Capital. "There's been a lot of controversy around it, but many people are interested in it."

- Questions about future profitability. Critics of Groupon suggest it's just a 2011 rerun of what happened with money-losing Internet companies of the late 1990s. Investors suffered huge losses as many of those dot-com firms' business models never worked and their stocks crashed, says Andrew Stoltmann of Stoltmann Law Offices.

Groupon lost $308.1 million during the nine months ended September, following a $456.3 million loss in 2010 and $6.9 million loss in 2009.

- Short-term focus of early buyers. If initial demand for Groupon's IPO is strong, that's mostly due to interest by individual investors who may be fans of the service or traders looking for a quick pop to sell into for a fast profit, says Francis Gaskins of

Moves in the stock also will be exaggerated in the short term because such a small slice of the company, roughly 5%, has been sold, Einhorn says.

- Ho-hum performance of recent Internet IPOs. There's no shortage of Internet companies that have had splashy IPOs only to see their stocks languish during the first few months of trading.

Active Network, a provider of online reservations for events, is down nearly 13% from its initial IPO price set in May. Demand Media, a provider of online content, is down 56% from its IPO in January.

The strong initial demand on shares of Groupon puts pressure on the company to defy the critics and perform, says John Fitzgibbon of IPOscoop. The initial IPO is "expected to go well," he says. "After that, the tape will tell the story."

by Associated Press Nov 4, 2011

Groupon shares leap more than 50%

The Associated Press: China to phase out energy-inefficient light bulbs

BEIJING (AP) — China announced Friday it will phase out incandescent light bulbs within five years in an attempt to make the world's most polluting nation more energy efficient.

China will ban imports and sales of 100-watt and higher incandescent bulbs from Oct. 1, 2012, the country's main planning agency said.

It will extend the ban to 60-watt and higher bulbs on Oct. 1, 2014, and to 15-watt and higher bulbs on Oct. 1, 2016. The time frame for the last step may be adjusted according to an evaluation in September 2016, the National Development and Reform Commission said.

State-run Xinhua News Agency quoted Xie Ji, deputy director of the commission's environmental protection department, as saying China is the world's largest producer of both energy-saving and incandescent bulbs.

Last year, China produced 3.85 billion incandescent light bulbs, and 1.07 billion were sold domestically, the agency said. Lighting is estimated to account for about 12 percent of China's total electricity use, it said. Xie said the potential for energy savings and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is huge.
The planning agency said China will save 48 billion kilowatt hours of power per year and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 48 million tons annually once the bulbs are phased out.

Several countries plan to phase out traditional light bulbs. The United States is to ban the making and sale of incandescent light bulbs beginning in 2012. The 27-nation European Union agreed in 2008 to phase out the bulbs by 2012. The most common replacements are fluorescent and LED lights.

by Associated Press Nov 4, 2011

The Associated Press: China to phase out energy-inefficient light bulbs

More employers using Internet videoconferencing in interviews

More job candidates are spending time in front of the camera.

Increasingly, employers are using Internet videoconferencing tools, such as Skype, to vet applicants for jobs. It helps save time and some recruiting costs, and hiring managers can size up more candidates face to face.

With video, companies can get an early first impression of key factors, such as a job seeker's personality and communication skills, which helps narrow the applicant pool. But candidates must make careful preparations to make sure that they make a good on-camera impression, hiring experts say.

Videoconferencing will probably never replace an in-person interview, said Jessica Coronado Perez, administrator of personnel affairs with the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. But it has been an effective tool, particularly now when it's common for the school to get a flood of responses to a job opening, she added.

"If you have 20 to 25 individuals who are competitive, what is the best use of an individual's time to find out if this is a good fit?" Perez said.

UA's Phoenix medical school has used videoconferencing in many ways, she added. It has been used to interview job candidates who live out of state and it has been used to allow Tucson school officials to participate when a job candidate visits the Phoenix campus for a face-to-face interview, she said.

Intel Corp. is exploring using video during interviews for hiring interns and recent college graduates, said Tiffany Peery, a virtual- and marketing-program manager at the company. Intel plans to record job candidates as they answer a set of interview questions. This way, managers can review the material when they have time. Also, the human-resources staff can use the videos to pitch the best candidates to several Intel teams, which are spread across the U.S.

"The plan is to increase the quality of our intern hires and help Intel narrow the candidate pool for recent college graduate hiring," Peery said, adding that the method could also help Intel save on travel costs because the company can prescreen candidates before flying them out.

Christine Savi, 42, used Skype on her smartphone in February to interview for an accreditation compliance position at UA's Phoenix medical school. She was working in Fort Worth, Texas, at the time.

Since Savi had used videoconferencing before, she said she was comfortable on camera. Savi tested Skype before she used it for the interview. When it was time for the meeting, she propped the phone up on her desk so she could talk hands-free.

Savi is a fan of the video interview because it is convenient and allows face-to face-interaction. But, she added, for some job seekers, the technology "may add one more layer of anxiety."

"You may worry if your end isn't working or if there is some technical difficulty on their end," Savi said. There are other issues that may crop up. During her interview, Savi talked to a panel of five people but could see only three on her screen because of the school's camera angle. Also, since her screen was small, she could see some gestures, but it was more difficult to for her to see subtle body language, she said.

Arizona State University has also used videoconferencing for job candidates.

Job hunters should make sure that they make a good impression before they get on camera, said Dan Klug, an assistant director who handles recruitment for the school's human-resources division. Applicants should make sure their handouts or presentation materials are sent to their prospective employer ahead of time, Klug said.


Test the equipment. Make sure that your microphone, camera and Internet connection work well. Avoid rooms with an echo.

Dress for the interview. Even though interviewers can see you only from the waist up, make sure that you look professional. Wear colors that look good on camera and avoid patterns that don't.

Remember the background. Keep family members, pets and children out of camera and microphone range. Make sure the room is quiet and the background behind you is tidy and not distracting.

Get proper lighting. Sit in a well-lit area so that it's easy for the interviewer to see you.

Look straight into the camera. Eye contact with interviewers is extremely important and it's easy to tell when someone participating in a video conference looks off camera. Also: avoid looking at your own image, if it is visible on your computer screen.

Rehearse. Do a mock video interview with a friend and ask him or her to critique you. If you can, record the session and look for ways to improve.

by Jahna Berry The Arizona Republic Nov. 4, 2011 12:00 AM

More employers using Internet videoconferencing in interviews


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