Latest News

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Microsoft sued over browser miscue that led to $731 million EU fine


SEATTLE: Microsoft Corp's board faces a lawsuit over the way it handled an error with its Internet Explorer browser that ended up costing the company a record-breaking $731 million fine by European antitrust regulators.

The lawsuit, brought by shareholder Kim Barovic in federal court in Seattle on Friday, charges that directors and executives, including founder Bill Gates and former chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, failed to manage the company properly and that the board's investigation was insufficient into how the miscue occurred.

The legal action is the first to emerge from a humiliating episode for Microsoft, which the software company has never fully explained and has accounted for only as a "technical error."

In March last year, the European Union levied its largest ever antitrust fine against Microsoft for breaking a legally binding commitment made in 2009 to ensure that consumers in Europe had a choice of how they access the internet, rather than defaulting to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

Its investigation found that updated software issued between May 2011 and July 2012 meant that 15 million users were not given a choice. It was the first time the European Commission, the EU's antitrust authority, handed down a fine to a company for failing to meet its obligations.

In her lawsuit, Barovic says she asked Microsoft's board to fully investigate how that mistake occurred and to take action against any directors or executives that had not performed their duties. She says Microsoft replied that it found no evidence of a breach of fiduciary duty by any current or former executives or directors.

In a statement on Friday, Microsoft repeated that stance.

"Ms. Barovic asked the board to investigate her demand and bring a lawsuit against the board and company executives," said an emailed statement from Microsoft. "The board thoroughly considered her demand as she requested and found no basis for such a suit."

The problem on European computers prevented the so-called "ballot" screen from appearing. Sources close to the company have said it was connected to updated Windows 7 software.

Ballmer, who was CEO at the time, and Steven Sinofsky, then the head of the Windows unit, both had their bonuses cut in 2012 after the error came to light.

The case is Barovic v Ballmer et al in US District Court, Western District of Washington, No. 14-00540

Amazon working on 3D smartphone: WSJ


SAN FRANCISCO: Inc is preparing to launch its long-rumored smartphone in the second half of the year, the Wall Street Journal has reported, citing people briefed on the company's plans.
The internet retailer would jump into a crowded market dominated by Apple and Samsung Electronics.
The company has recently been demonstrating versions of the handset to developers in San Francisco and Seattle. It intends to announce the device in June and ship to stores around the end of September, the newspaper cited the unidentified sources as saying.
Amazon has made great strides into the hardware arena as it seeks to boost sales of digital content and puts its online store in front of more users. Amazon recently launched its $99 Fire TV video-streaming box and its Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets already command respectable US market share after just a few years on the market.
Rumors of an Amazon-designed smartphone have circulated for years, though executives have previously played down ambitions to leap into a heavily competitive and increasingly saturated market.
Apple and Samsung, which once accounted for the lion's share of the smartphone market, are struggling to maintain margins as new entrants such as Huawei and Lenovo target the lower-income segment.
To stand out from the crowd, Amazon intends to equip its phones with screens that display three-dimensional images without a need for special glasses, the Journal said.
Amazon officials were not immediately available for comment.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Philips unveils Android-powered 4K TV

Philips has revealed its television family for 2014, having promised new Android-imbued sets back at CES 2014. The top-end 8800 series come in Full HD and Ultra HD models and offer an Android based operating system which means access to Google Play apps. 

They're coming to Europe and Russia sometime between April and June 2014, but there are hefty question marks over whether the sets will make it to the UK. 

Now for the ones you can buy... 

A host of smaller sets are slated to reach the UK, though. The slim and stylish 7009 series is more locked on, but comes without Google's OS. Available in 42-, 49- and 55-inch models, the near-bezelless TVs should hit the UK in June and come with Ultra HD resolution, a quad-core processor, 400Hz perfect motion rate and built-in Wi-Fi. 

Also bound for the UK are the 6609 and 6309 models, in sizes ranging between 40- and 55-inches, and a choice of active and passive 3D. 

Skipping down the spec scale are the 5000 series TVs, ranging from 32- to 55-inches, they don't offer 3D but are full HD sets with 500,000:1 dynamic screen contrast and dual-core processors on board. 

The TVs should be hitting retailers between April and June, with pricing yet to be announced. The company is terming them all "highly affordable", though, which bodes well for your bank 

Did IAF’s 'US-made' C-130J Super Hercules that crashed have fake Chinese parts?


WASHINGTON: India's newly-acquired American C-130J Super Hercules plane that crashed last week near Gwalior has been under intense scrutiny in the United States and Canada after a Senate investigation concluded that counterfeit parts in the aircraft's display systems could cause it to "lose data or even go blank altogether" in midflight, with potentially catastrophic consequences. 

A 2011-2012 investigation by the US Senate armed services committee eventually traced the counterfeit electronic parts used in the C-130J, C-27J, and many other US military systems to a company in Shenzhen, China, called Hong Dark Electronic Trade Company. Hong Dark sold the parts at issue to Global IC Trading Group, an independent distributor in the US, which in turn sold it to L-3 Communications Display Systems, which in turn supplied it to Lockheed Martin, the US military's prime contractor for the C-130J. 

Amid scathing observations by the Senate panel, the US air force suspended and banned Hong Dark in 2012 from competing for government contracts and subcontracts, but testimony before the armed services committee showed stunning lapses in the supply chain and procurement procedures for the military systems, including the C-130J Super Hercules, six of which New Delhi contracted to buy in 2010 for $1.1 billion, around Rs 1000 crores apiece. 

India has plans to buys six more to augment its transport fleet with the much-acclaimed aircraft, which has won plaudits for its safety record and its versatility. The acquisition enables the Indian military to put boots and supplies on the ground in remote and inhospitable terrain, giving it matchless reach in the region. 

However, the aircraft display systems itself will now come under scrutiny — if it already hadn't been under the scanner — although the cause of the Gwalior crash is yet to be determined. The US Senate committee report is withering in its observations not only about US procurement and supply chain system, but also the casual manner in which private contractors treated the issue once the counterfeit parts were detected. 

The story begins in November 2010 when L-3 Display Systems detected that the company's in-house failure rate for a chip installed on display units used in C-130J and C-27J had more than tripled from 8.5 per cent to 27 per cent. L-3 also noticed that the same part had previously failed on a fielded military plane. The company sent the chips for testing, which resulted in identification of "multiple abnormalities," with the tester concluding that the parts were "suspect counterfeit." 

"Failure of the memory chip could cause a display unit to show a degraded image, lose data, or even go black altogether," the Senate report said, noting that "unfortunately, L-3 Display Systems had already installed parts from the suspect lot on more than 400 of its display units," including those intended for the C-27J, as well as the C-130J. 

In effect, what the IAF's court of inquiry will need to look at is whether India received any of the contaminated display units in the six C-130J it bought from the US, and if it did, whether the US, including Lockheed Martin, alerted IAF to it. India's own procurement process, including whether the buyer tracked and followed up the troubles associated with the C-130J, including the Senate's investigation, will also have to be reviewed. 

At least in Canada, another C-130J customer, a CBC investigation in early 2013 highlighted the troubles with the aircraft's instrument panel, although the government there glossed over the issue initially. 

But the Senate investigation offers a disturbing picture of people up the supply chain not particularly alarmed at the contamination of crucial display systems with counterfeit parts. According to the senate report (page 35), following the detection of the fakes, L-3 Display Systems on November 4, 2010, issued a part purge notification, quarantining the company's own stock of the suspect memory chips. 

It did not, however, recommend to its customer that assemblies affected by the suspect counterfeit chips be returned for replacement of those chips. As a result, hundreds of display units intended for and installed on C-130Js and C-27Js included the suspect counterfeit memory chip, well after its discovery by L-3 Display Systems. 

Lockheed Martin, the US military's prime contractor for the C-130J, does not cover itself with glory either in the episode. The Senate report notes that when L-3 notified Lockheed of the problem, Lockheed engineers discussed the matter internally and decided "no action" was necessary and the display units did not need to be returned for repair. Lockheed Martin also "did not formally notify the Air Force of the suspect counterfeit chip in the C-130J." 

According to Senate investigators, while Lockheed Martin told the Air Force that the suspect counterfeit parts were "functionally complaint" to authentic genuine parts, the Air Force was apparently not informed that the failure rate of the part had tripled during acceptance and environmental stress testing. 

The Senate report concluded that since its investigation, hearing and public release of information about the counterfeit chips, the US Air Force had reported that they are aggressively taking action to remove the parts in question, audit the supply chains etc. But as of March 2012, the report noted, Lockheed Martin had removed and replaced only a handful of the display units in the C-130J that are affected by the suspect counterfeit memory chip. 

The worrying part for Indian defense planners is that the Senate panel talks of several other US military platforms, such as Boeing's P8A-Poseidon — a custom-made variant of which has been supplied to the Indian Navy — being contaminated with counterfeit Chinese parts. 

According to the US air force, "approximately 84,000 suspect counterfeit electronic parts purchased from Hong Dark entered the DoD supply chain, and many of these parts have been installed on DoD aircraft."

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Use WhatsApp on Android? Your chats are not so secure


NEW DELHI: If you use WhatsApp on an Android phone, you should be careful about what you talk about or share on the instant messaging app. Using a few scripts and a rogue app, anyone can peer into your chat logs and see what you talk about with your friends.

A Dutch security consultant has found that WhatsApp chat logs saved on the SD card of an Android phone can be read by other apps because of the way Android allows sharing of data between apps.

"The WhatsApp database is saved on the SD card which can be read by any Android application if the user allows it to access the SD card. And since majority of the people allows everything on their Android device, this is not much of a problem," Bas Bosschert wrote on his blog.

"What do we need to steal someone's WhatsApp database? First we need a place to store the database," Bosschert explained. "Next thing we need is an Android application which uploads the WhatsApp database to the website."

When an Android application is installed, whether from the Play store or through an APK file, which is an installer file for Android phones and can be downloaded from various sources, the app requests for permissions to use network and SD card etc.

To explain his hack, Bosschert set up a web server and then created an Android application that required several special permissions on a user's phone. But because Android OS allows applications to access various parts of the phone — this is why users can conveniently share almost everything through any app on Android phone — Bosschert's app had no difficulty gaining access to WhatsApp data.

Bosschert wrote that the code that allows his application to access WhatsApp data and then upload it to his web server can be added to a popular Android app by a rogue developer to fool users and steal WhatsApp chat logs.

The older versions of WhatsApp were so insecure that they didn't even encrypt their data stored on SD card. The data from older versions of whatsApp could be read by anyone once it was uploaded on the web server. Even the data from newer version of WhatsApp, which uses encryption, can be accessed with ease.

"The WhatsAppp database is a SQLite3 database which can be converted to Excel for easier access. Lately WhatsApp is using encryption to encrypt the database, so it can no longer be opened by SQLite. But we can simply decrypt this database using a simple python script. This script converts the crypted database to a plain SQLite3 database," wrote Bosschert. "We can conclude that every application can read the WhatsApp database and it is also possible to read the chats from the encrypted databases."

Bosschert joked, "Facebook didn't need to buy WhatsApp to read your chats."

The security issue apparently doesn't exist on iPhones or Windows Phone devices because on these smartphones, apps have limited access to storage and other phone hardware. The more flexible access to phone hardware allows Android apps to talk to each other and helps a user quickly share content between apps. This is very convenient compared to what is possible on iPhone or Windows Phone, where it is difficult to share content between apps. But it also exposes data to rogue apps.

Google says that it keeps an eye on apps inside its Play store and removes apps if they pose any security risks. But this doesn't negate the fact that theoretically it is possible for a rogue app to do more damage on Android because of the open nature of the OS compared to iOS, which uses silos. Google also advises people against installing apps that don't come through Play store. By default Android phones are set to not install apps downloaded outside the Play store.
Tablet wars: Apple iPad Air vs Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 vs Lenovo Ideapad A10


The market is flooded with slates that are vying for your attention and your moolah. We list some of the best devices from the last six months to help you find one that's right for you...

Most tablets today handle basic tasks of web browsing, HD video playback and gaming. In this highly competitive market, price is not the only deciding factor. Tablet makers are now differentiating their offerings by way of design, software customization, proprietary tech, pre-loaded services, and more.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) 

Best for artists and designers who want a tablet with a superb stylus and 3G support

The Note 10.1 is the best tablet we have seen with stylus support. Its S Pen works accurately on its touchscreen, allowing users to annotate images, and even scribble notes in the fully-functional office suite Polaris Office 5. Its Full HD WQXGA (2560x1600px) display is a blessing and a curse. Websites and documents are displayed crisply. But there aren't any Android apps designed to scale to such a high-res display.

Even Full HD videos fall short. The new Note comes with software like Autodesk Sketchbook, which works wonderfully for designers, digital sketch artists and even architects. Besides, this slate makes optimum use of its 10-inch display with its multi-window feature that lets you work across two apps simultaneously in a split screen. When it comes to multimedia, Full HD movies pose no issues to its octa-core processor. The Note 10.1 boasts of loud stereo speakers and also comes with excellent support for a wide range of audio-video file formats. Its built-in IR blaster and pre-installed Peel app work well together as a universal remote control for your TV and set-top box. The tablet is packed with useful proprietary apps like Action Memos (notes), S Voice (voice-based assistant), S Translator (translation), and Knox (data security). Given the screen size and processing muscle, the Note 10.1 still boasts of an impressive eight hours of continous video playback.

Specs: 10.1-inch Super Clear LCD (2560x1600px) touchscreen | Octa-core (1.9GHz quad-core + 1.3GHz quadcore ) processor | 3GB RAM | 32GB (internal), microSD up to 64GB | 8MP rear cam, 2MP front cam | 3G, Wi-Fi , Bluetooth, A-GPS | 8,220mAh battery | Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean)

Lenovo Ideapad A10 

Best for those who want a physical keyboard for office productivity 

The Lenovo IdeaPad A10 is the only Android device on test with a physical keyboard. On the downside, it is best used only in horizontal mode. Its keys feel sturdy and responsive, and also include shortcuts for volume, brightness, browser, orientation lock, and settings. At 1kg, the IdeaPad A10 outweighs the other tabs here, but it is still light enough to be carried around in one hand - and works well as an alternative to a netbook or laptop for basic productivity tasks and web browsing.

Besides, it is also equipped with two full-sized USB ports, a micro-HDMI connector and a touchpad. Disappointingly, the A10 does not support 3G USB data dongles or SIMs. Given its form factor, the A10 is better suited for casual games like Candy Crush Saga and Bejeweled. Intensive 3D games and high-quality Full HD videos stutter intermittently. The built-in stereo speakers lack clarity, but are loud enough to be used in a smallish room. The VGA front camera produced grainy images so don't expect quality video chats. In tests, it gave us an impressive six-hours of video playback on a single charge.

Specs: 10.1-inch HD (1366x768px) touchscreen | 1.6GHz quad-core processor | 1GB RAM | VGA front cam | 16GB (internal), microSD up to 64GB | (2x)USB2.0, micro-USB , micro-HDMI | Wi-Fi , Bluetooth | 4400mAh battery | Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)

Apple iPad Air

Best for those who are willing to spend that extra bit for a premium tablet with best-in-class apps

The new iPad Air is a lightweight slate that sports a brushed-metal , aluminium build. And like older versions , this one also sports a single-button interface, making it simple to use. Besides, its intuitive iOS7 operating system is backed by a store that's filled with almost four lakh apps (games, education, productivity and services) that are optimised for the tablet. The Air's crisp display is one of the finest we've seen, making it ideal for movies, reading and games.

This tab has the best stereo speakers - clear audio with a hint of bass - when compared to the others tested here. Even though the tablet can play Full HD flicks effortlessly, out of the box it only supports MP4 and MOV files. So, you will first need to convert videos to a compatible format. Unlike the plug-and-play of Android, it is mandatory to use iTunes to update and sync content between your PC and the Air, and this can prove to be quite a cumbersome exercise. This Apple slate does not include a memory card slot, so you'll want to opt for greater storage if you want to store your movies and songs on it. Pictures taken with the rear camera are average, but good enough for sharing on the web. The HD front camera works well for video calling. You can either go with Apple's FaceTime app, which is very effective, but restricted to Apple users only - or you could opt for other video-calling apps, including Skype and Yahoo! Messenger available on the App Store. The battery on the Wi-Fi version gave us a commendable eight hours of video. If you opt for the 3G model, it would differ depending on usage.

MH 370: Malaysia rejects help as US looks for terror links


WASHINGTON: With malicious intent strongly suspected in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, US intelligence and law enforcement agencies renewed their search over the weekend for any evidence that the plane's diversion was part of a terrorist plot. But they have found nothing so far, senior officials said, and their efforts have been limited by the Malaysian authorities' refusal to accept large-scale US assistance. 

There are just two FBI agents in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, where local investigators are hunting for clues that the two pilots or any of the other 237 people on board had links to militant groups or other motives to hijack the flight. 

In the days after the plane went missing on March 8, US investigators scoured their huge intelligence databases for information about those on board but came up dry. 

"We just don't have the right to just take over the investigation," said a senior US official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. "There's not a whole lot we can do absent of a request from them for more help or a development that relates to information we may have." 

With no obvious motive apparent, US investigators are considering a range of possibilities, though they caution that all remain merely speculative. Among them are involvement by al-Qaida's Southeast Asian affiliate, which once discussed recruiting commercial pilots in Malaysia to crash a plane; an act by members of China's Uighur minority, who have recently become more militant and could conceivably have targeted a plane headed to Beijing; a lone-wolf attack by someone without ties to established terrorist groups; or even a suicidal move by a troubled individual. 

A central puzzle is why anyone would hijack a jetliner and then fly it for hours over the open ocean, as seems to be the most likely case. On Saturday, the Malaysian authorities opened a criminal inquiry after learning that two tracking devices aboard the aircraft had been turned off several minutes apart, indicating deliberate action, and that the plane appeared to have flown for as long as seven hours more. 

US officials said the announcement of the criminal investigation did not change their view of the situation, as the Malaysians offered little evidence that had not already been learned in the past week. 

Several senior US officials have played down the possibility that a terrorist network was behind the plane's disappearance because no group has claimed responsibility for it. They said intelligence agencies had not detected chatter among terrorists about such a plot. Given the lack of traditional militant "signatures," one official said, if terrorists were behind the episode, "it would be unlike anything we have seen before." 

In response to the news that Malaysian authorities had taken a flight simulator from the chief pilot's home, US officials said that they were eager to know what the investigators had found and were willing to help search the computers. But as of Sunday afternoon, the officials said they knew little about the findings. 

As part of their efforts in the days after the plane went missing to determine what had occurred, US analysts and law enforcement agencies conducted link analysis — a computer-based investigative technique that tries to make connections between individuals based on extensive government and airline databases - on the pilots and two Iranian passengers who were traveling on stolen passports. Those efforts, along with interviews with family members of the Iranian men and of two Americans who were on the plane, yielded nothing that pointed to terrorism, officials said. 

"If it is a criminal act where the pilot decided to crash the airliner, there is little the US can do," said Rick Nelson, vice president of business development at Cross Match Technologies and a former senior counterterrorism official. "It's very difficult to stop someone who one day decides to crash a plane. It is difficult to predict and to mitigate." 

The FBI, which has had an agent based at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur for more than a decade, has developed a working relationship with law enforcement officials there in recent years. But US officials said they believed that the Malaysian leaders had rebuffed their offers of assistance because they did not want to appear as though they needed help with such a high-profile investigation. 

Because two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese, one group with a conceivable motive to hijack the plane would be militant members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic group in China. Malaysian and Chinese news reports identified one passenger as Uighur, but US officials said they had no evidence that the passenger was associated with militant groups. 

On Friday, Abdullah Mansour, the leader of the rebel Turkestan Islamic Party, told Reuters in an interview from his hide-out in Pakistan that the Uighurs' "fight against China is our Islamic responsibility." But he made no mention of the missing airliner. 

Investigators are keeping in mind the long history of al-Qaida connections and terrorist plots in Southeast Asia, including the double bombing of nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002, which killed more than 200 people. That attack was carried out by members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a regional militant group with close ties to al-Qaida. 

As investigators focus on the pilots and study possible motives for a hijacking, certain tactics that al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah considered years ago may be newly relevant. In 2001, leaders of the two groups discussed recruiting a Malaysian or Indonesian commercial pilot for a terrorist mission, according to a 2006 book by Kenneth J. Conboy, an American author who specializes in militant groups in Southeast Asia. 

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, considered using such pilots for a second wave of attacks on buildings or landmarks in the United States. Yazid Sufaat, a Malaysian who studied biochemistry at California State University and experimented with biological weapons for al-Qaida before Sept. 11, proposed crashing a commercial airliner into a passing US warship, the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, according to a local intelligence report cited in Conboy's book on Jemaah Islamiyah, "The Second Front." 

Yazid was free from 2008 until last year, when he was detained in Malaysia and charged with helping to recruit fighters to send to Syria. He remains in custody.