IP Source

Friday 24 February 2012

Do Not Track Privacy Laws

The White House (an ostentatious building in Washington, DC) announced Thursday a new “Consumer Bill of Rights” for online privacy and that the net’s biggest online ad networks that build profiles will respect a “Do Not Track” setting in browsers.

While that might sound like just some new meaningless lingo, take the announcement instead to mean something else: Finally, after a decade of online privacy debacles and lip-service to self-regulation, originating from Google, Facebook, the Network Advertising Initiative and scores of others, it’s finally time for online companies to start treating users and their data with some modicum of respect.

Backed by online ad powerhouses including AOL and Microsoft and Yahoo, the White House announcement pulls together work being done on privacy by both the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce department. It’s intended to lead up to new legislation that fills in the holes of current U.S. privacy laws. (Does anyone still use AOL?)

Even Google got behind the push, perhaps as a way to soften the blow of its recently changed privacy policies that enable it to build the net’s most in-depth profile of its users in order to personalize its ads and online services.

In a statement on its public policy blog Thursday morning, Google said it was happy to sign onto an agreement to obey the “Do Not Track” flag as it “create[s] a simpler, more unified approach to privacy on the web.”

For those not familiar, Do Not Track is simply a setting in your browser (currently only in Firefox) that tells any website you visit that you do not want to be tracked. Sites that agree to abide by the setting then don’t send personalized ads — though there is much debate about what tracking actually means (so for instance, if Wired.com kept a list of stories that registered readers had visited in order to give them suggested stories, does that count as tracking?)

But perhaps more important than Do Not Track is the larger announcement that the administration will be pushing a set of standards around fair handling of citizens’ private information — a set of practices that date back to the early 1970s known as Fair Information Practices. These are forming the core of what the administration is hailing as a Bill of Rights for privacy (.pdf).

Those practices seem to have fallen out of favor in the heady rush of innovation on the web in the last five years, leading to companies such as Path and Rovio (maker of Angry Birds) making the decision to secretly upload the contact database of users who installed their respective iPhone apps and Facebook and Google making radical switches to their privacy practices after users gave the companies massive amounts of data.

It’s not clear from the White House announcement whether these principles, which call for common-sense notions like notification, choice, responsible security and data usage, will be turned into law or whether they will instead become a code of conduct that companies can voluntarily agree to follow. If the latter, the FTC would have the ability to investigate and fine companies that agreed to the standards and subsequently violate them, much as the FTC does now with companies that violate their own expressed privacy policies.

The standards around the rules will be fleshed out in consultation with privacy groups and tech companies in the coming weeks, the administration said.

In the meantime, citizens who want some fine-grained control and notification over how their data is collected on the web can install a number of plugins for their favorite browsers, including the Do Not Track+ plugin from Abine.

Bill Kerrigan, Abine’s CEO, described Thursday’s announcement as an “incredible acknowledgement that consumers do have the right to privacy.” But he argues there’s so much data collection going on that users don’t know about, including data that is now used in loan reviews.

“Regulation is probably a small part of solving this puzzle,” Kerrigan said. “We have to find a technological way to make this easy for consumers to use.” (Read a big tool)

Some of the things that citizens are likely to see more of in the coming months and years are targeted ads that actually allow you to see how and why that ad was chosen for you, an ostracization of start-ups and companies that collect data on sensitive categories of information such as health and a generalized move towards greater transparency.

That said, the new rules aren’t going to apply to companies like Target or your credit card companies. (Don't believe that for an instant.)

In a New York Times Magazine article, Target’s data mining was described as actually being able to detect when a teenage customer was pregnant, before even her osn father knew. Lhkewise, credit card companies are able to create detailed profiles of their customers based on their purchases, and even using the kinds of purchases made in order to determine how much of a credit risk a card holder is, according to a 2010 report from the Federal Reserve (.pdf).

Surf secure people. If you need privacy tools, contact me.

Blackberry End Near

BlackBerry used to be synonymous with business, but new research finds that for RIM and corporate IT, the end may soon be near.
Just days after Research In Motion released an anticipated 2.0 software update for its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, the Canadian company is seeing its once lauded corporate IT prospects declining steeply. A new report by IT industry research firm InformationWeek announced today that just 7 percent of IT administrators plan on increasing their use of RIM products in the future. The report surveyed over 530 technology professionals, and the statistics — although grave for RIM — are nevertheless unsurprising.

Just a few short years ago, the BlackBerry was considered the lynchpin of corporate IT policy. RIM’s revolutionary mobile phone allowed secure and reliable email communication, coupled with a supremely usable physical keyboard — a combination business users found intoxicating. Even as recently as 2010, BlackBerry handheld use was still growing by more than 46 percent year over year. In fact at the beginning of that year, five of the top ten selling smart phones in America were BlackBerries.

Of course, a lot has changed since then — Android, Google’s mobile OS, which is free for phone makers to run on their devices — has proved to be an unbridled success. It now accounts for almost 50 percent of the mobile market, with an estimated 400,000 device activations per day. And Apple’s iPhone, well, suffice it to say that if a single device is responsible for an estimated $9 billion profit in the last quarter alone, it doesn’t leave much room for competition.

Which is entirely the point; over the previous two years, RIM had allowed itself to become increasingly complacent to the demands of mobile consumers, digging in its heels and instead relying on vast corporate contracts to sustain the BlackBerry franchise. However, as smartphone use has gained prevalence in this country, a fundamental change has begun to affect RIM’s bottom-line: consumers, as opposed to corporate IT departments, now dictate which devices drive business use, and not the other way around.

By shutting RIM out of the consumer game, Apple and Android have forced IT departments to adapt to their platforms. The numbers speak for themselves: The study found that 67 percent of respondents consider Apple a strategic partner for enterprise mobility, compared with 36% citing RIM and 38% citing Microsoft, according to the press release. It goes on to state that, “While BlackBerry represents a median of 70% of company-purchased smartphones in use now, that percentage plummets to 25% when respondents look ahead 24 months.”

Recently, RIM has also lost valuable government contracts, once a mainstay of its business, as even federal agencies have become cowed to Android and iOS’s popularity. In a changing world in which 52 percent of businesses allow employees to BYOD (bring your own device), it is the typical consumer, and not the IT administrator, who BlackBerry must now woo.

The news isn’t all bad, however: 46 percent of respondents expressed that it was the poor leadership of RIM’s former co-CEOs that has lead to the current state of the BlackBerry. With some luck and much innovation, RIM’s new chief executive, Thorsten Heins, may have a shot at turning the ship around. The new BlackBerry 10 operating system is just around the corner, and with phones that — while not wholly original — still look promising, RIM may have a final chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the consumers it must now win over.

Hey, it sort of reminds me of another highly innovative company that almost went bankrupt before reversing its fate: Apple. Does RIM have that committement? Or innovation?

I think I'll stay with my Android devices. But the upside to this is all the work we geeks will get because they can't get their act together. Nowaddays, being too proprietary is not always a good thing.

Thursday 23 February 2012

SEO Mistakes

Search engine optimization (SEO) is vital to any successful blogging campaign. Therefore it should be implemented in the right manner. SEO itself is quite intricate for numerous reasons, but mainly because Google uses an algorithm, which takes several factors into account when ranking a webpage, and they keep changing it. but I can advise you on which SEO mistakes you should not make:

There are virtually so many SEO myths that it has become very difficult to know what’s 100% true,
1. Buying Links You might get a short term boost by buying links if your website is already popular, but you’re
still taking a risk here. Paid links are sometimes flagged by Google’s search engine experts. You
may wonder, how will they ever catch me? Well, Google’s bots and a special team at the company search for questionable linking patterns every single day! For example, if you pay for a few hundred links to be pointed to your website in the very same day, some links will probably be flagged as a sort of ‘irregular linking activity’. Links from totally unrelated categories will seem suspicious as well. I would recommend the old fashioned method of comment linking, manually — your blog will still be able to grow, albeit at a steady pace. Over time, the end results will be worthwhile. If you are however settled on purchasing links, do not use the same anchor text for all of them; mix it up a bit.
2. Duplicate Content Many bloggers I know try to target the same topic with a variation of essentially very similar
keywords. For instance, ‘make money on facebook’ and ‘making money with your facebook’ are quite similar, and creating a completely different page for each keyword won’t add much value to your site. How much can you really play with topics or keywords that are essentially identical? If you can’t, then you’ll probably end up writing the same content for both keywords, which poses a risk of a search engine penalty. Instead, you should try to penetrate one original topic or keyword in detail and make an effort to strengthen each post.

3. Chasing PageRank Don’t get me wrong, PageRank is important for any website’s success. The higher the PageRank you
have, the better you rank in search engines, and the more visitors you’ll get. However, it’s
definitely not the only metric that’ll help you improve your blog’s success. Furthermore, Google has mentioned previously that PageRank is just one of two hundred (wow!) indicators used to crawl and rank a website. Instead, you should focus on your analytics, ROI, and relevancy as recommended by Google itself.

4. Leaving Title Tags Automated The title tag is undeniably one of the most important aspects when it comes to search engine

rankings. Beginner bloggers usually write a post with a long title that describes the topic in too
many words. First, you want to keep the title rather short, (not more than 60 characters) but more importantly, you should aim your focus at optimizing the title tags. For example, if you write a post titled ‘What Is A Niche Blog And How Do I Create It?’ your title tag should be more targeted towards a keyword, perhaps something like ‘What Is A Niche Blog?’ with ‘a niche blog’ being a possible keyword. You would surely want to check the popularity of the respective keyword with a keyword tool such as Google Adwords before optimizing for it. Consider
changing it and you may enjoy a better placement in the search engines and as a result, more

5. Sacrificing Looks For Content While many bloggers depend on content to grow their blog, there are some who had become obsessed

6. Using Free Hosting Blogs Blog services that offer free hosting such as Blogger, TypePad, and many others, can offer a decent
platform and an excellent value. However, they are not flexible enough to be able to install the Plugins, themes, and other extensions you truly desire for superior SEO results.
All it will take is to register your own domain, and to purchase an inexpensive hosting plan. If you

do enough shopping around, you shouldn’t spend more than $50 for both for the year. It’s worth a few bucks per month to have total control over your website. The power of independence can reap great rewards when your blogging operation grows.
7. Keyword Stuffing Probably one of the most common SEO mistakes is common stuffing. It’s not only unethical, but also will hurt your search rankings. If you really want to rank for a bunch of keywords, create a
separate page for each keyword and optimize for it accordingly. Instead of using hidden or duplicate text, focus on creating useful pages that have your keywords implemented in them as part of the content. Trying to manipulate a search engine like Google is a big no-no.
8. Writing Little Content Many websites, especially blogs, suffer from posts that are too short. I personally get at least a
few guest post submissions per day, and more than often, I have to reject them on the basis that they are too short to publish. How great can a piece be if it’s written at just 400 words? Writing extremely short posts hurts reader loyalty plus your page could be considered as low quality when it comes to SEO rankings.
9. Not Doing SEO Correctly There’s not only one right way to optimize your posts for the search engine, but there are general proven methods you can use. For example, in regards to link building, several bloggers I know make the mistake of only linking to the front page of their website. Instead, you should build links that also point to your top, most popular posts. There’s always something new to learn about SEO, so make sure your optimization knowledge is up to date by reading articles or guides from qualified authors.
10. Forgetting The ALT Tag
While Google reportedly (WebCEO software) doesn’t place a big emphasis on ALT tags, other search
engines such as AOL, Bing, and Yahoo do. The truth is that a picture is just an image file if it’s not optimized for a keyword. To optimize it, use the ALT tag when inserting your image in a post; you’ll definitely see better results. Also, consider naming the file of the image as your keyword or at least to a defining term. If you’re blogging about copyright laws, name your image as ‘copyright-laws.jpg’, not something like ‘picture10.jpg’ — that simply won’t do you any good.
ConclusionI see additional SEO mistakes regularly, such as the use of generic descriptions for posts, not
updating the sitemap, broken 404 pages, and grammatical errors in various site contents. Most of
all, I see posts that lack organization and simply contain too much text without separation of any
sort, such as spacing or headings. That’s simply unattractive to your valued readers. It takes away from the overall experience, and the quality of your website will take a beating. These SEO mistakes may seem basic to some but shouldn’t be overlooked or ignored. Better yet, consider evaluating your blog right away to ensure that your overall SEO is in check.
with the design of their blog. Don’t get me wrong, if you don’t have an appealing design, some visitors won’t be attracted to your website. However, using too many graphics or images will overcrowd your page and slow it down. I see many sites using Flash and sacrificing page speed for motion and sounds. Definitely an attractive setting, but not a worthy enough tradeoff. This will also prevent search engine bots from being able to crawl your pages at a desirable faster rate.

HijackThis - Goes Open Source

HijackThis, originally created by Merijn Bellekom and later sold to Trend Micro, has now been released as Open Source by Trend Micro as of February 20, 2012. The originally written in Visual Basic is now hosted on SourceForge.net waiting to be manipulated and improved for the good.


In case you are not aware, HijackThis is a free scanning utility that scans and generates an in-depth report of registry and file settings from your Windows system. In addition to its scan and remove capability, HijackThis also comes with several tools useful in manually removing malwares from your computer.

HijackThis will not determine what’s good or bad, nor making any changes to your computer settings unless told to do so. Trend Micro has offered HijackThis as a free tool since acquiring the antispyware freeware tool from its Netherlands-based creator, Merijn Bellekom in 2007.  By then, it had already been downloaded more than 10 million times and was often used to submit logs to online discussion and help forums.

With the code now being open sourced, “this means that other people can build on a solid base to create or improve their own anti-malware tools,” said Merijn Bellekom, the original creator of HijackThis.

(Thanks to Trend Micro.)

Wednesday 22 February 2012

15 Top Paying IT Certifications for 2012

When the conversation amongst IT professionals turns to IT Certifications, one of their first thoughts is of high salaries - dollar signs dancing in their heads. While some certifications do command a six-figure salary, this is not true for all. With the recent completion of our annual IT Skills and Salary report, I thought it would be a great time to look at some of the more popular certifications - and their associated pay.

Note: The rankings below are based on certifications that received the minimum 200 responses required to derive a salary figure that is statically accurate. There are certifications that pay more that are not represented due to their exclusive nature. These include CCIE: Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert and VCDX: VMware Certified Design Expert, for example.

1. PMP® - Project Management Professional - ($111,209)

The Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) credential is recognized as the most important certification for project managers and is globally recognized and in heavy demand. The PMP credential demonstrates that you not only have the requisite, real-world experience, but that you also have the education to successfully lead and direct projects. The PMP credential should only be attempted by experienced project managers as the qualifications and testing for this certification are very rigorous. In addition, the PMI requires continued validation through required continuing education requirements. All of these factors ensure that the PMP credential is widely respected. The PMP experience and exam requirements focus on five process groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing.

2. CISSP® - Certified Information Systems Security Professional - $110,342

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential is for security managers and professionals who develop policies and procedures in information security. The CISSP certification has become the gold standard in information security certifications. Earning and maintaining a CISSP certification is required for many governmental, military, and civilian security positions. The CISSP was the first credential in the field of information security, accredited by the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) to ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Standard 17024:2003. Earning your CISSP certification is not only an objective measure of excellence, but it is a globally recognized standard of achievement.

3. CCDA® - Cisco Certified Design Associate - $101,915

The Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) demonstrates that the individual who has passed the required exams has the requisite knowledge, experience, and understanding required to design a Cisco converged network. A CCDA-certified individual has the skills to design a routed and switched network infrastructure and services involving LAN, WAN, and broadband access for businesses and organizations.

4. ITIL® v3 Foundation - ($97,691)

What is this ITIL that we hear so much about? The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITILv3) is a foundational process that provides for quality IT Service Management. The success of ITIL is through the use of documented and proven processes that cover the entire Service Lifecycle. The ITIL Expert level is the third of four levels. The ITIL Expert level certification is aimed at those individuals who are interested in demonstrating a superior level of knowledge of ITIL Version 3 (V3) in its entirety. Once you have achieved ITIL Expert level, you will also satisfy the pre-requisite entry criteria for the ITIL Master Level. This is the highest level of certification within the ITIL V3 scheme, though the Master level is still under development

5. MCSE - Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer - $91,650

The Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certification ended with Server 2003, though you can still earn it (as well as the MCSE on Server 2000, though many of the tests are retired). The continued use of Windows Server 2003 in the market suggests that the demand for related expertise will continue for some time. The MCSE certification demonstrates to clients and employers that you are skilled in designing, implementing, and administering infrastructures for business solutions based on Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft Windows 2000 Server. Implementation responsibilities include installing, configuring, and troubleshooting network systems. In order for you to earn your MCSE on Windows Server 2003 certification (or Windows 2000 Server), you must pass seven exams: four exams on networking systems, one exam on client operating systems, one exam on design, and one elective exam. One thing to be aware of is that many of the exams are retired or will be retiring soon. If one of the required exams is retired and you have not passed the exam, then you cannot earn the certification. If you have passed the exam before it retired, than it still can be applied to the certification.

6. VCP - VMware Certified Professional - $91,648

Virtualization and those who are knowledgeable on virtualization products are in heavy demand. VMware is one of the leading vendors of virtualization products and earning a VMware certification is the first step toward gaining industry-recognized expertise in virtual infrastructure and the industry recognition that goes along with it. The VMware Certified Professional (VCP5) demonstrates that you have the skillset to successfully install, manage, and deploy VMware vSphere 5.

7. CCNP® - Cisco Certified Network Professional - $90,457

There are two tracks available at the Associate and Professional levels: Cisco Certified Design Professional and Cisco Certified Network Professional. The Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) demonstrates that you have the ability to plan, implement, verify, and troubleshoot local and wide-area enterprise networks. A CCNP-certified individual is expected to work collaboratively with other Cisco specialists on advanced security, voice, wireless, and video solutions.

8. CompTIA Server+ - $84,997

CompTIA certifications are international, vendor-neutral certifications that validate a candidate's knowledge of a specific field. The CompTIA Server+ certification demonstrates the IT professional's knowledge of server hardware, software, storage, IT environment, disaster recovery, and troubleshooting. It is recommended that technical support professionals have 18 to 24 months experience in supporting servers and server technology. While not a prerequisite, it is recommended that candidates have a CompTIA A+ certification as well.

9. MCITP - Microsoft Certified IT Professional - $84,330

The Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification helps validate that an individual has the comprehensive set of skills necessary to perform a particular job role, such as database administrator or enterprise messaging administrator. The MCITP certification validates that the IT professional is capable of deploying, building, designing, optimizing, and operating technologies for a particular job role.
MCITP certifications build on the technical proficiency measured in the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certifications. Therefore, you will earn one or more MCTS certifications on your way to earning an MCITP certification. Currently, there are 15 MCITP certifications available from Microsoft:
  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician on Windows 7
  • MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator on Windows 7
  • MCITP: Consumer Support Technician on Windows Vista
  • MCITP: Enterprise Support Technician on Windows Vista
  • MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008
  • MCITP: Server Administrator on Windows Server 2008
  • MCITP: Virtualization Administrator on Windows Server 2008 R2
  • MCITP: Database Administrator 2008
  • MCITP: Database Developer 2008
  • MCITP: Business Intelligence Developer 2008
  • MCITP: Enterprise Project Management with Microsoft Office Project Server 2007
  • MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator on Exchange 2010
  • MCITP: Enterprise Messaging Administrator on Exchange 2007
  • MCITP: SharePoint Administrator 2010
  • MCITP: Lync Server Administrator 2010

10. CCNA® - Cisco Certified Network Associate - $82,923

The Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) validates the holder's ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-sized route and switched networks, including implementation and verification of connections to remote sites in a WAN. CCNA curriculum includes basic mitigation of security threats, introduction to wireless networking concepts and terminology, and performance-based skills. This new curriculum also includes (but is not limited to) the use of these protocols: IP, Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP), Serial Line Interface Protocol Frame Relay, Routing Information Protocol Version 2 (RIPv2),VLANs, Ethernet, and access control lists (ACLs).

11. MCSA - Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator - $82,923

The Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification helps validate your ability to manage and troubleshoot network environments based on the Windows Server 2003 operating system. It reflects a unique set of skills required to succeed in a variety of job roles, such as systems administrator, network administrator, information systems administrator, network operations analyst, network technician, and technical support specialist. The MCSA on Microsoft Windows 2000 Server certification is no longer be available as of December 31, 2011

12. CompTIA Security+ - $80,066

CompTIA certifications are international, vendor-neutral certifications that validate a candidate's knowledge of a specific field. The CompTIA Security+ certification validates the knowledge of security professionals in one of the fastest-growing fields in IT. The Security+ certification validates the security IT professional in: network security, compliance and operational security, threats and vulnerabilities, access control and identity management, cryptography and application, and data and host security. Candidates will also be tested on their knowledge of security concepts, tools, and procedures to react to security incidents. It ensures that security personnel are anticipating security risks and guarding against them. The CompTIA Security+ certification is accredited by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).The CompTIA Security+ certification may be kept current through the CompTIA Continuing Education program.

13. MCP - Microsoft Certified Professional - $79,363

The Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification was awarded by passing one or more exams, though there was no designation as to what product you earned with your MCP.
The MCP program itself was designed for both IT Professionals and developers. The MCP was replaced by the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) certification. The MCTS certification is designed to help validate your skills on the features and functionality of a specific Microsoft technology. The MCTS certification is tied to the end-of-life for Mainstream Support the product itself. You can show your depth of knowledge in one specific technology, earn multiple MCTS certifications to show breadth across different products, or build on the MCTS to earn a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification

14. CCENT® - Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician - $74,764

Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) validates the ability to install, operate, and troubleshoot a small enterprise branch network, including basic network security. With a CCENT, network professional demonstrates the skills required for entry-level network support positions - the starting point for many successful careers in networking. The curriculum covers networking fundamentals, WAN technologies, basic security and wireless concepts, routing and switching fundamentals, and configuring simple networks. CCENT is the first step toward achieving CCNA, which covers medium-size enterprise branch networks with more complex connections.

15. CompTIA Network+ - $71,207

CompTIA certifications are international, vendor-neutral certifications that validate a candidate's knowledge of a specific field. The CompTIA Network+ certification demonstrates the professional qualifications of a networking professional. The Network+ exam covers installation and configuration, media and topologies, management, and security. The CompTIA Network+ certification is accredited by the ISO and ANSI.The CompTIA Network+ certification may be kept current through the CompTIA Continuing Education program.


Having a certification does not mean you will walk into one of these higher paying jobs. It is certification and experience that will count. There was a time when, if you had a certification, you were reasonably assured of getting a job.

Now it is more of a disqualifier - not having a certification means you may not even get an interview.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

US officials believe Iran sanctions will fail, making military action likely

Officials in key parts of the Obama administration are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Tehran from pursuing its nuclear programme, and believe that the US will be left with no option but to launch an attack on Iran or watch Israel do so.

The president has made clear in public, and in private to Israel, that he is determined to give sufficient time for recent measures, such as the financial blockade and the looming European oil embargo, to bite deeper into Iran's already battered economy before retreating from its principal strategy to pressure Tehran.

But there is a strong current of opinion within the administration – including in the Pentagon and the state department – that believes sanctions are doomed to fail, and that their principal use now is in delaying Israeli military action, as well as reassuring Europe that an attack will only come after other means have been tested.

"The White House wants to see sanctions work. This is not the Bush White House. It does not need another conflict," said an official knowledgeable on Middle East policy. "Its problem is that the guys in Tehran are behaving like sanctions don't matter, like their economy isn't collapsing, like Israel isn't going to do anything.

"Sanctions are all we've got to throw at the problem. If they fail then it's hard to see how we don't move to the 'in extremis' option."

The White House has said repeatedly that all options are on the table, including the use of force to stop Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, but that for now the emphasis is firmly on diplomacy and sanctions.

But long-held doubts among US officials about whether the Iranians can be enticed or cajoled into serious negotiations have been reinforced by recent events.
"We don't see a way forward," said one official. "The record shows that there is nothing to work with."

Scepticism about Iranian intent is rooted in Iran's repeated spurning of overtures from successive US presidents from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, who appealed within weeks of coming to office for "constructive ties" and "mutual respect" .

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim this week that Iran loaded its first domestically-made fuel rod into a nuclear reactor, and Iran's threat to cut oil supplies to six European countries, were read as further evidence that Tehran remains defiantly committed to its nuclear programme. That view was strengthened by the latest Iranian offer to negotiate with the UN security council in a letter that appeared to contain no significant new concessions.

If Obama were to conclude that there is no choice but to attack Iran, he is unlikely to order it before the presidential election in November unless there is an urgent reason to do so. The question is whether the Israelis will hold back that long.

Earlier this month, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, told the Washington Post that he thought the window for an Israeli attack on Iran is between April and June. But other official analysts working on Iran have identified what one described as a "sweet spot", where the mix of diplomacy, political timetables and practical issues come together to suggest that if Israel launches a unilateral assault it is more likely in September or October, although they describe that as a "best guess".
However, the Americans are uncertain as to whether Israel is serious about using force if sanctions fail or has ratcheted up threats primarily in order to pressure the US and Europeans in to stronger action. For its part, the US is keen to ensure that Tehran does not misinterpret a commitment to giving sanctions a chance to work as a lack of willingness to use force as a last resort.

American officials are resigned to the fact that the US will be seen in much of the world as a partner in any Israeli assault on Iran – whether or not Washington approved of it. The administration will then have to decide whether to, in the parlance of the US military, "pile on", by using its much greater firepower to finish what Israel starts.

"The sanctions are there to pressure Iran and reassure Israel that we are taking this issue seriously," said one official. "The focus is on demonstrating to Israel that this has a chance of working. Israel is sceptical but appreciates the effort. It is willing to give it a go, but how long will it wait?"

Colin Kahl, who was US deputy assistant secretary of defence for the Middle East until December, said: "With the European oil embargo and US sanctions on the central bank, the Israelis probably have to give some time now to let those crippling sanctions play out.

"If you look at the calendar, it doesn't make much sense that the Israelis would jump the gun. They probably need to provide a decent interval for those sanctions to be perceived as failing, because they care about whether an Israeli strike would be seen as philosophically legitimate; that is, as only having happened after other options were exhausted. So I think that will push them a little further into 2012."

The White House is working hard to keep alive the prospect that sanctions will deliver a diplomatic solution. It has pressed the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to quieten the belligerent chatter from his own cabinet about an attack on Iran. The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, general Martin Dempsey, was dispatched to Jerusalem last month to talk up the effect of sanctions and to press, unsuccessfully, for a commitment that Israel will not launch a unilateral attack against Iran.

Dennis Ross, Obama's former envoy for the Middle East and Iran, this week said that sanctions may be pushing Tehran toward negotiations.

But in other parts of the administration, the assumption is that sanctions will fail, and so calculations are being made about what follows, including how serious Israel is in its threat to launch a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear installations, and how the US responds.

But Iran's increasingly belligerent moves – such as the botched attempts, laid at Tehran's door, to attack Israeli diplomats in Thailand, India and Georgia – are compounding the sense that Iran is far from ready to negotiate.

Feeding in to the considerations are the timing of the American election, including its bearing on Israeli thinking, as well as the pace of Iranian advances in their nuclear programme. Obama has publicly said that there are no differences with Israel on Iran, describing his administration as in "lock step" with the Jewish state.

But the US and Israel are at odds over the significance of Iran's claim to have begun enriching uranium at the underground facility at Fordow, near the holy city of Qom, and therefore the timing of any military action.

Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, has warned that Iran cannot be allowed to establish a "zone of immunity" at Fordow where it is able to work on a nuclear weapon deep underground protected from Israel's conventional weapons. Earlier this month, Barak said Israel must consider an attack before that happens.

The Americans say there is no such urgency because the facility is just one among many Tehran needs to build a nuclear weapon, and that other sites are still vulnerable to attack and sabotage in other ways. The US also has a more powerful military arsenal, although it is not clear whether it would be able to destroy the underground Fordow facility.

Kahl said part of Washington's calculation is to judge whether Israel is seriously contemplating attacking Iran, or is using the threat to pressure the US and Europe into confronting Tehran.
"It's not that the Israelis believe the Iranians are on the brink of a bomb. It's that the Israelis may fear that the Iranian programme is on the brink of becoming out of reach of an Israeli military strike, which means it creates a 'now-or-never' moment," he said.

"That's what's actually driving the timeline by the middle of this year. But there's a countervailing factor that [Ehud] Barak has mentioned – that they're not very close to making a decision and that they're also trying to ramp up concerns of an Israeli strike to drive the international community towards putting more pressure on the Iranians."

Israeli pressure for tougher measures against Tehran played a leading role in the US Congresss passing sanctions legislation targeting Iran's financial system and oil sales. Some US and European officials say those same sanctions have also become a means for Washington to pressure Israel not to act precipitously in attacking Iran.

The presidential election is also a part of Israel's calculation, not least the fractious relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, who has little reason to do the US president any political favours and has good reason to prefer a Republican in the White House next year.
There is a school of thought – a suspicion, even – within the administration that Netanyahu might consider the height of the US election campaign the ideal time to attack Iran. With a hawkish Republican candidate ever ready to accuse him of weakness, Obama's room to pressure or oppose Netanyahu would be more limited than after the election.

"One theory is that Netanyahu and Barak may calculate that if Obama doesn't support an Israeli strike, he's unlikely to punish Israel for taking unilateral action in a contested election year," said Kahl. "Doing something before the US gives the Israelis a bit more freedom of manoeuvre."
Obama is also under domestic political pressure from Republican presidential contenders, who accuse him of vacillating on Iran, and from a Congress highly sympathetic to Israel's more confrontational stance.

Thirty-two senators from both parties introduced a resolution on Thursday rejecting "any policy that would rely on efforts to 'contain' a nuclear weapons-capable Iran". The measure was dressed up as intended to protect the president's back, but it smacked of yet more pressure to take a firmer stand with Iran.

One of the sponsors, senator Joe Lieberman, said that he did not want to discount diplomatic options but if the president ordered an attack on Iran he would have strong bipartisan support in Congress. Other senators said there needed to be a greater sense of urgency on the part of the administration in dealing with Iran and that sanctions are not enough.

Others are critical of sanctions for a different reason. Congressman Dennis Kucinich said this week he fears sanctions are less about changing Tehran's policy than laying the ground for military action. He warned that "the latest drum beat of additional sanctions and war against Iran sounds too much like the lead-up to the Iraq war".

"If the crippling sanctions that the US and Europe have imposed are meant to push the Iranian regime to negotiations, it hasn't worked," he said. "As the war of words between the United States and Iran escalates it's more critical than ever that we highlight alternatives to war to avoid the same mistakes made in Iraq."

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? iPhone=Fail

You know the scenario: Girl walks home alone at night, encounters a stranger danger, and protects herself with a portable pepper spray before making a run to safety. While it might be a good idea to have such protective tools handy, would you go as far as having it attached to your iPhone? Swiss manufacturer Piexon thinks you should. This is certainly on my Top Ten of all time stupid devices.

Meet the SmartGuard iPhone case for the iPhone 4 and 4S. The durable design not only aims to keep your phone out of harm’s way, but the case comes with a pepper spray dispenser which you can detach to use during an emergency situation. This included formula of pepper spray is a ten percent concentration of oleoresin capsicum, derived from cayenne pepper plants to deliver the hottest sting to your perpetrators. The spray is capable of shooting within a five foot range, making it a practical item for the everyday users looking for extra protection. The SmartGuard case’s slot for this pepper spray canister also automatically locks the can in to prevent accidental discharge in your pockets and bags. Yeah, right.

The SmartGuard is one of those ideas that only work in theory, but in reality we can foresee a lot of terrible things that can go wrong. The first thing we noticed is that the canister and its holder adds an extra bit of width to the iPhone, likely making the grip off balance and harder to use for apps and texting alike. 

The canister is also conveniently placed by the phone’s camera so there goes your chances of shooting pictures of your friends without them thinking the can’s going to shoot them first. Naw, zap 'em with spray first, then take the photo.

While the case advertises a safety mechanism lock for the pepper spray can, we’re not sure it’s childproof enough to prevent kids from removing the can out of the case, and if the child is successful then it’s all downhill from there. (You will also have to make sure the vial is nicely cleaned up after use because if any residue is left behind, having pepper spray in the air that close to your face, eyes and nose is pure suicidal).

And if you’re living in the US or will be driving there any time soon, you can plan to leave this SmartGuard case behind as state laws require pepper sprays to have an oleoresin capsicum concentration below two percent to be legal for everyday carry-on.

Speaking of carry-ons, pepper spray is also not safe for flights, so you’ll have to toss it out at security check or not bring the case at all before your air travels.

With the case cutting you back $35 a pop plus $20 for every replacement pepper spray vials, is the dual protection investment worth all the hassle?

Somehow I can't imagine showing a thief some photos before I spray...but maybe I'm just marking territory. Save your cash and buy a book instead. Home. Safe. Warm. 

Presidential Battle Leaves Merkel Goverment Teetering

The euro crisis has not been kind to the governments of Europe.

In Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and elsewhere, prime ministers have been forced to leave office as budget deficits and sovereign debt have spiked across the euro zone. Even French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on the ropes in his re-election campaign, partially the result of his country's having lost its triple-A credit rating.

In Germany, however, the country in which the ongoing European debt disaster has left the fewest scars, the crisis has had a different effect. With her government facing collapse due to acrimonious disagreement over who should replace the disgraced Christian Wulff as German president, Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday did something she rarely does. She retreated.

And she did so, according to media reports, because of the need for stability in Berlin in the face of Europe's debt problems. There are, a source close to the Chancellery told the Süddeutsche Zeitung, "more important things than choosing a candidate for the presidency."

Merkel's about-face came after her junior coalition partner, the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), committed themselves over the weekend to support the presidential candidacy of Joachim Gauck, 72, a civil rights activist in former East Germany who already had the support of Germany's center-left opposition. While Gauck has broad backing among the German populace, Merkel's conservatives had torpedoed his candidacy once before -- during the election of Wulff in 2010. Accepting Gauck this time around was an extremely difficult political pill to swallow.
The potential consequences of not accepting him, however, were even worse. Had Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), together with their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), put up a competing candidate and lost, her government would have been left in shambles.

'Things Got Loud'

As it is, however, the decision to support Gauck has left her already contentious coalition more fractured than ever before and many are now asking how much longer it can survive. According to chancellery insiders, several senior CDU members, Merkel chief among them, lost their tempers upon hearing from media reports about the FDP's backing of Gauck. During a subsequent meeting between top conservatives and senior FDP members, "things got loud," a participant said.

In a one-on-one conversation between Merkel and FDP head Philipp Rösler, Merkel reportedly made a plea for her vice chancellor to "be reasonable." In an interview with the conservative paper Die Welt on Tuesday, Rösler says that her tone was "sharp" adding that Merkel's party had "several times" threatened to let the government collapse. Conservative party leaders on Sunday said the FDP move was "without class," and called it a "nasty foul" and a "clear affront." Others threatened to block the FDP on other issues.

In the CSU particular, Gauck's nomination has proven contentious. While calling him a "respectable candidate," an unnamed CSU source also told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that he hopes "that the Gauck toad will turn out to be a prince." Hardly a vote of confidence.

Norbert Geis, a CSU expert on family issues in the German parliament, went even further. In an interview with the Passauer Neue Presse, Geis suggested that Gauck, who has been together with his current partner for 12 years despite never having divorced the mother of his four children, might want to clean up his private life. "It is likely in the interest of Mr. Gauck himself to impose order on his personal situation as quickly as possible so as to avoid providing an open flank."

'Responsible Freedom'

Cheap shots aside, skepticism of a Gauck presidency is not without reason. At first glance, his resume appears tailor-made for the position. Growing up in communist East Germany, he never joined any of the party's youth organizations. After studying theology, his criticism of the regime from the pulpit attracted the attention of the Stasi, East Germany's notorious secret police. In 1989, he was a co-founder of the Neues Forum, a group which promoted democratic reforms in the East prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Later, he became head of the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Archives, making Gauck instrumental in Germany's initial steps toward confronting the excesses committed by the East German secret police.

Surveys have shown that over two-thirds of Germans are in favor of a Gauck presidency. In addition to being an excellent public speaker, his focus on what he calls "responsible freedom" has resonated in the country.

But for someone who will be representing Germany abroad, symbolic though the position of presidency may be, Gauck has remarkably little experience on the foreign stage and his foreign policy views are largely unknown.

More to the point, however, he has also proven himself to be an at times uncomfortable ally to his center-left supporters. Last autumn, he criticized the Occupy Movement, saying that "a slogan like 'occupy the European Central Bank' seems really quite silly to me." Also last year, Gauck said that Thilo Sarrazin, who had written a controversial, some have said xenophobic, book about immigration and integration in Germany, was "courageous." He added that the book's success was a lesson to Germany's political classes that "their politically correct language gives people the feeling that they are trying to cover up real problems."

Correcting a Political Error

Indeed, even as the Green Party was a significant supporter of Gauck in 2010 when he was the center-left's candidate against Wulff, many are more reserved this time around. Memet Kilic, the Green Party's parliamentary spokesman for issues relating to immigration, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that he would be unable to support a Gauck presidency this time around. Green parliamentary floor leader Jürgen Trittin told SPIEGEL ONLINE that "I am almost certain that I will be annoyed every now and then with a President Gauck."

Nevertheless, Gauck's nomination and his almost certain election to the position of Germany's head of state is a substantial political victory for the country's center-left camp. Two years ago, public opinion surveys showed that, were the presidency put to a popular vote, Gauck would easily have defeated Wulff. Merkel's coalition government, however, had a sizeable majority in the Federal Assembly -- the body made up of parliamentarians, state representatives and other German leaders which is convened specifically to elect the president -- and managed to elect Wulff.

Merkel had hoped to find a candidate other than Gauck this time as well -- primarily to avoid the impression that she was correcting a political error made with the election of Wulff in 2010. The FDP, however, would appear to have had a political score of its own to settle. "It's good," said a senior FDP member according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, "that we have finally shown the conservatives that they can't simply do as they like with us."

That hardly sounds like a solid foundation for a long-lasting coalition

Monday 20 February 2012

Credit card RFID theft protection is as simple as an ‘on’ button

University researchers are working on a simple solution to the unnervingly easy-to-hack radio frequency ID chips (RFID) and near-field communication cards (NFC) installed in credit cards.

Think of it as button that activates the cards when ready to be used for payment.

While scanning credit cards rather than swiping them is convenient, the need for better security derives from unforeseen loopholes in the technology that have been exposed since its introduction. In the case of credit cards installed with RFID chips, the first step to stealing an unsuspecting victim’s credit card information  is as simple as an eBay purchase.

A simple Google search for “credit card rfid hack” turns up numerous YouTube videos of hacks, and even step-by-step outlines. More unnerving is the realization that contactless RFID readers can be purchased on eBay for as low as $50. But while RFID credit card supporters claim cards must be 1 to 3 inches from a reader to pull data, eliminating the possibility of falling victim to theft, long-distance reading has in fact been around for a while.

In the summer of 2005 during DefCon13, Flexilis, now known as Lookout Mobile Security, proved the feasibility of a homemade long-range RFID scanner. The company’s build, successful in scanning passive RFID chips, reached over 69 feet! A quick Google search again pulls up in-depth and detailed instruction from 2006 for building a long-range scanner for a mere investment of $100. Much cheaper now.

While luckily scanning is not rampant, and far from lucrative due to predetermined RFID spending caps, researchers from the Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering are building a credit card “switch” allowing for the card to turn “on” and “off.” Upon applying contact with a specified area on the credit card, whether hidden behind a logo or emblem, the switch would complete the circuit and switch the card “on.” In the absence of contact, “The RFID or NFC credit card is disabled if left in a pocket or lying on a surface and unreadable by thieves using portable scanners,” professor Marlin Mickle explains.

Besides credit cards, RFID chips are used in pharmacies, shipping, tracking, and even passports (which use active RFID chips). 

Scientists create working transistor - from a single atom!

Researchers, in a cross-continental effort by the University of New South Wales, Purdue University and the University of Melbourne, have achieved an astonishing feat: the first-ever creation of a working transistor from a single atom. 

Since 1954, when Texas Instruments scientist, George Teal, created the first silicon transistor, the innovations in creating smaller and smaller transistors have paved the way for the manufacturing of today’s computers and mobile devices. A single device may hold billions of transistors, which work together in concert to perform simple binary calculations. With more transistors packed into a specified area, calculations will become faster and computers will be able to store more information, all the while requiring less power than contemporary transistors.

The creation of single-atom transistors using silicon has been recreated in the past, albeit accidentally. Until today, the margin of error to beat has been ten nanometers. (A nanometer equals one billionth of a meter, just FYI.) But for a single-atom transistor to be utilized in computers and other devices for practical use, requires  the ability to isolate and situate a single atom accurately onto a silicon chip.

According to nanotechnology journal Nature Nanotechnology, however, this is precisely what the researchers have done.

Here’s how they did it: Using a scanning tunneling microscope (a device that allows researchers to see the atoms, and provides them the precision necessary for atom manipulation) the researchers etched a narrow channel into a silicon base. Phosphine gas was then deployed, which carried an isolated atom of phosphorous to a desired area between two electrodes. When an electric current was passed through the device, it amplified and switched electrical signals — just like any other working transistor.

The milestone achievements of the Australian universities in conjunction with Purdue, brings mankind one step closer to the practicality of manufacturing quantum computers. Amazingly, the team has also defied Moore’s Law (based on a statement by Gordon Moore to Electronics Magazine in 1965), which estimates the rate at which the number of transistors that can fit on a single circuit will double. Following the rate of doubling every 18 months to two years, Moore’s Law predicts that a working single-atom transistor would be created by 2020. Today, thanks to researchers, this mind-blowing benchmark has been achieved about eight years earlier than anticipated.

Not surprisingly, the research’s undertaking was inspired by Moore’s Law. “We really decided 10 years ago to start this program to make single-atom devices as fast as we could, and try and beat that law,” said Michelle Simmons, director of the ARC Centre for Quantum Computation and Communications, and the team’s head researcher. “So here we are in 2012, and we’ve made a single-atom transistor in roughly about eight to 10 years ahead of where the industry is going to be.”

Flickr knows where you are

A recent study shows the photos you post to Flickr may unveil a lot more about yourself than you think, including where you're originally located.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but can it also reveal the location of your hometown? According to a recent study by the University of Victoria, your photos on Flickr can help science to make such an educated guess.

The study, They Know Where You Live!, by the computer science department of the university state that by using the geolocations of the photos uploaded to Flickr, an algorithm can determine an individual’s hometown based on the belief that most people take photographs in and around their permanent locations.

The algorithm looks at all the places a Flickr user’s pictures are taken in and also the places in the user’s Flickr friends to identify a rough estimation of where the user is originally located. This system also attempts to account for places users may have traveled to for vacations or holidays, and calculates the distance between each locations. These distances help provide a central location from where the user is possibly traveling. To prove their success rate, the study compares their guesses to the Flickr profiles in which users have published their home locations.

“In 70 percent of the cases our algorithm has predicted the place of living of people with low error,” the study states.

Why Flickr? Likely because it is one of the most popular places for beginning and professional photographers alike to publish their pictures, and Flickr provides some of the most extensive Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) data freely available without having to use a third-party resource. Today’s latest camera technology also often come equipped with a GPS chip to embed the photo’s location into the EXIF data without users manually adding geographical locations to their Flickr photos.

While the study claims to be relatively successful, I wonder about the testing pool used in the experiment. Many professional photographers often travel to a variety of places to build their portfolios, and college students starting out on Flickr may be posting more pictures from their college towns than where they are originally from. Some people also only use Flickr as an online travel album.

Many factors contribute to possibly skewing the data found in the study, but the overall takeaway point is how users’ participation in online social media reveal a lot more about themselves than they know.

A computer algorithm may have determined various users’ hometowns, but given some time, anyone can scroll through a person’s Flickr profile and sort through the pictures’ geotags themselves to make a guess about that user’s base location.

I'm not encouraging you to debunk the hard work of the those who worked on this study, but unless adding a geotag to your photos benefit you in any particular way, you may want to consider turning off public access to your EXIF data on your Flickr account just to keep your information safe.

While you’re at it, take advantage your camera's built in functionality and set the location EXIF value to zero. I mean, YOU know where you took the photo. Unless you are a commercial 'photo-selling' type, this is one feature not needed. I'm reminded of all the Vancouver rioters last year, where do you think they got all that info?