Worried about germs? Your phone is ridden with them, apparently

Chris Smith | Health, Lifestyle & Travel | Jan 16, 2015 4:00 PM CST

Students from the University of Surrey used Petri dishes to test how much bacteria really is on our beloved smartphones - the results may shock you a little. Now, before you take a bottle of bleach to everything you own, remember that germs are normal and are contained amongst almost everything in this world.

These studies show that a good deal of bacteria is housed around our phones 'home' buttons, said to range from our own to friends, family and acquaintances germs all rolled into one. There isn't really anything harmful found here, but some disease-carrying bacteria such as the Staphylococcus aureus has been previously discovered in similar studies.

Dr Simon Park is Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology and is the man behind this annual study, he stated that "as part of a course called Practical and Biomedical Bacteriology, an undergraduate module that I run, I get the students to imprint their mobile phones onto bacteriological growth Petri dishes so that we might determine what they might carry. It's unusual but very effective way of engaging our students with the often overlooked microbiology of everyday life." He further went on to comment that our phones store ours and others bacteria, just like they store phone numbers.

Continue reading: Worried about germs? Your phone is ridden with them, apparently (full post)

North Korea's hackers seek theft, retribution against targets

Michael Hatamoto | Hacking, Security & Privacy | Jan 16, 2015 3:59 PM CST

Kim Jong-un became "supreme leader" of North Korea at a young age, and has shown political instability since his reign began in 2011. The North Korean government, meanwhile, has steadily invested time and resources into its Bureau 121 hacker division, aiming to compromise political rivals.

"In the case of the DPRK, the paranoia is amplified to the extreme," according to a commentary written about North Korea's cyberattack motivations on InformationWeek's Dark Reading. It's true that the North Korean government, which strives to maintain full control of its citizens, is suspicious of all outsiders - and launching cyberattacks to steal information has evolved into a valuable asset.

The FBI continues to say North Korea is behind the major data breach of Sony Pictures - and whether the reclusive government is responsible - foreign governments and cybersecurity companies are paying attention to Pyongyang's rising cyberattack capabilities.

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NSA, GCHQ plan to step up cybersecurity cooperation efforts in 2015

Michael Hatamoto | Hacking, Security & Privacy | Jan 16, 2015 1:46 PM CST

The US National Security Agency (NSA) and British GCHQ intelligence agencies plan to step up their cybersecurity cooperation, as both governments face increasing numbers of cyberattacks. The agencies plan to launch cyber war games to test the cybersecurity of financial institutions, hoping to defend against the "biggest modern threats that we face."

"We have got hugely capable cyber defenses, we have got the expertise and that is why we should combine as we are going to, set up cyber cells on both sides of the Atlantic to share information," said British Prime Minister David Cameron during a press conference.

Following mass surveillance operations detailed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, critics said the US and UK government should focus on beefing up cybersecurity efforts - instead of spying on citizens, residents, and foreign governments - as cyberespionage campaigns target both countries.

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Intel predicts continued cheap laptops in 2015

Paul Alcorn | Computer Systems | Jan 16, 2015 1:00 PM CST

The PC market has taken a beating over the last decade, but the recent stabilization is fueled in part by lower price points. While PC shipments haven't entirely leveled off, they are much better than the 10% decline experienced in 2013. Intel has owned a near-monopoly on desktop processors for several years, and many suspect artificially high CPU prices helped contribute to the decline of the PC. Affordability is a huge consideration for potential buyers, especially when they typically have smartphones that can easily handle most simple online tasks.

Laptops are now available for roughly $200 that can provide enough performance for many more tasks than any tablet or smartphone. Intel actually predicted during their recent investor call that prices will decline slightly over the coming year. Intel reported an 11% increase in laptop CPU sales, but an 3% decline in profits from those sales. The number of desktop CPU's declined by 1%, but the average prices have stabilized. Perhaps some more competition in this space would result in lower PC CPU pricing, which would certainly help fuel a resurgence much like the one seen with laptops.

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The Xbox One outsold the PlayStation 4 to close out 2014

Michael Hatamoto | Gaming | Jan 16, 2015 12:25 PM CST

Microsoft was pushed around by Sony throughout much of 2014, as the PlayStation 4 handily outsold the Xbox One, but that changed to end the year. Microsoft outsold the PS4 in hardware sales and video games in November and December, with a strong focus on carrying the momentum in 2015.

"Bundles were a major driver of hardware sales this December compared to last with 71 percent of hardware unit sales stemming from bundles including software, which compares to 32 percent of hardware sales last December," said Liam Callahan, analyst at The NPD Group, in a press statement.

The PS4 sold 18.5 million PS4 units in 2014 - and Microsoft hasn't updated its numbers since November, after saying it surpassed 10 million units shipped.

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Sony says its PlayStation 4 was top selling console in 2014

Michael Hatamoto | Gaming | Jan 16, 2015 11:27 AM CST

The Sony PlayStation 4 dominated the console market in 2014, outselling the Microsoft Xbox One throughout the entire year. The PS4 racked up 18.5 million PS4 sales worldwide, dominating every month except for November and December, The NPD Group said.

"PlayStation 4 was the top-selling console in the US and globally in 2014," a Sony spokesperson told GamesBeat. "And [it is] the fastest selling console in PlayStation history with 18.5 million sold through after just 14 months in the market. We are humbled by this success and want to thank gamers worldwide for helping us achieve holiday sales of more than 4.1 million across 123 countries and regions."

However, Sony has faced increased pressure from the Xbox One to close 2014, as Microsoft has offered competitive price cuts - and gamer bundles - as gamers have a lot to cheer for. Sony will face increased pressure from Microsoft in 2015, so it cannot bask in its 2014 success for too long.

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Police make arrest in PlayStation and Xbox Live attacks

Paul Alcorn | Hacking, Security & Privacy | Jan 16, 2015 11:03 AM CST

The Lizard Squad made waves with their massive DDoS attacks on PlayStation and Xbox Live networks over the Christmas holiday. These attacks spoiled Christmas for untold millions of people as the DDoS attacks crippled servers and left shiny new game consoles unable to connect to online services. These attacks appear to be part of a larger marketing scheme for the Lizard Squad's DDoS-for-hire services.

The Lizard Squad isn't afraid to taunt authorities and that has drawn even more scrutiny. However, they have been very successful at remaining in the shadows, until now. UK police with the South East Regional Organized Crime Unit (SEROCU) cyber crime unit apprehended an 18-year-old male connected with the recent PlayStation and Xbox Live DDoS attacks. The man was also charged with several swatting incidents, in which a fake police call is made to instigate police raids against others.

The Lizard Squad has also been connected with a bomb threat issued to an airline. This threat was made on an aircraft in the air that had a Sony executive among the passengers. This type of escalation has likely led to a heightened sense of urgency for officials to find those behind the shadowy Lizard Squad. The SEROCU worked closely with the FBI to apprehend the suspect, which suggests that The Lizard Squad is high on the FBI's priority list.

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Cybercriminals attack Google Adsense to pump out malicious redirects

Paul Alcorn | Internet & Websites | Jan 16, 2015 10:37 AM CST

Over the past month a number of websites, including TweakTown, have experienced sporadic redirects to scam websites. It has been exceptionally difficult to track down the source of these redirects, and our team has been working tirelessly to isolate the source of the issue. The source of the issue appears to be malicious code injected into Google Adsense ads, which are used by websites around the world.

Cybercriminals attack Google Adsense to pump out malicious redirects

In December a number of webmasters took to Google's Adsense Forum to complain of the issue, which seems to have peaked around January 9th. A total of 180 complaints were made on that day alone. Web security company Sucuri explains that cybercriminals possibly exploited two Adsense campaigns with Javascript code that loaded the malicious code. This redirect unfolds whether the user clicks the ad or not. Sucuri was able to track down the source, and notes:

The malicious redirect worked even in the Ad Review Center of the Google AdSense dashboard on Google.com site where webmasters may view ads that Google displays on their sites. This problem existed for about a month since the second half of December 2014, but became really widespread last Friday (Jan 9th 2015). By the end of the weekend, Google seemed to have been able to mitigate it.

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Companies need assistance with their efforts to defend cyberattacks

Michael Hatamoto | Hacking, Security & Privacy | Jan 16, 2015 10:16 AM CST

Cybercriminals want to breach US companies, stealing data and customer records, and have found surprising levels of success. Some breached companies eventually discover that criminals spent months poking aroun compromised systems, taking their time before stealing large amounts of data.

The US government wants companies to be more forthcoming about data breaches once they are discovered, but some companies - if they actually know about it - remain quiet. Companies will be given some leeway if they inform the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about cybersecurity incidents after they do occur, according to changes the Obama Administration plans to put in place.

"There is an element of embarrassment at work here," said Robert Cattanach, partner at the Dorsey & Whitney law firm, in a statement published by reporters. "But hacking is not a problem that any one company can solve alone."

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Xiaomi plans to invade the connected home after smartphone domination

Smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi took the phone market by storm, and hopes to transition that success into connected technology. Xiaomi has introduced a "smart module" that its hardware partners can integrate into products sold to consumers.

The module will cost just $3.60 and can be installed in refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners and other home products, according to Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun. There is tremendous potential in smart technologies, and Xiaomi wants to ensure products are created in an effective manner to appease partners and consumers.

The Internet of Things (IoT) had a prominent presence during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, and smartphone makers have taken notice. Ideally, Xiaomi and other companies want users to be able to control connected technology via their smartphones.

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