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Web bug reveals internet browsing history

Porn sites are among the top users of a browser

bug that reveals all the places people go online, finds research.

Carried out by computer science researchers at UC San Diego the study found 485 sites exploiting the bug.

The flaw gives sites access to all the other sites that user has visited. Many use it to target ads or see if users are patronising rivals.

The researchers said their work showed a need for better defences against history tracking.

The bug exploits the way that many browsers handle links people have visited. Many change the colour of the text to reflect that earlier visit.

This can be abused with a specially written chunk of code sitting on a website that interrogates a visitors browser to see what it does to a given list of websites. Any displayed in a different colour are judged to be those a user has already seen.

A survey of 50,000 of the web’s most visited websites by the team from UC San Diego found 485 sites using this method to get at browser histories, 63 were copying the data it reveals and 46 were found to be “hijacking” a user’s history.

The most popular site that uses the technique is adult site YouPorn. Many other porn sites use it too as well as sports, news, movies and finance websites.

The researchers also looked at other popular techniques that sites use to map and monitor what visitors do. Some, such as YouTube, run scripts that track the trail a user’s mouse pointer takes on and across pages.

“Our study shows that popular Web 2.0 applications like mashups, aggregators, and sophisticated ad targeting are rife with different kinds of privacy-violating flows,” wrote the researchers.

The researchers pointed out that some modern browsers, such as Chrome and Safari, are not vulnerable to history hijacking and that the most recent version of Mozilla has closed the loophole. Users of Internet Explorer can defeat the bug by turning on “private browsing”.

Users can also check how much information they are leaking by visiting a webpage set up by security researchers that tries to grab their history.

Despite these safeguards, the researchers said there was a “pressing need to devise flexible, precise and efficient defenses” against the history hijacking technique.

The research team is now planning more in-depth work that it hopes will result in tools that will more comprehensively defend against attempts to exploit the bug.

Sourced from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11899092

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Change to ‘Bios’ will make for PCs that boot in seconds

New PCs could start in just seconds, thanks to an update to one of the oldest parts of desktop computers.

The upgrade will spell the end for the 25-year-old PC start-up software known as Bios that initialises a machine so its operating system can get going.

The code was not intended to live nearly this long, and adapting it to modern PCs is one reason they take as long as they do to warm up.

Bios’ replacement, known as UEFI, will predominate in new PCs by 2011.

The acronym stands for Unified Extensible Firmware Interface and is designed to be more flexible than its venerable predecessor.

“Conventional Bios is up there with some of the physical pieces of the chip set that have been kicking around the PC since 1979,” said Mark Doran, head of the UEFI Forum, which is overseeing development of the technology.

Mr Doran said the creators of the original Bios only expected it to have a lifetime of about 250,000 machines – a figure that has long been surpassed.

“They are as amazed as anyone else that now it is still alive and well in a lot of systems,” he said. “It was never really designed to be extensible over time.”

AMI is a firm that develops Bios software. Brian Richardson, of AMI’s technical marketing team, said the age of the Bios was starting to hamper development as 64-bit computing became more common and machines mutated beyond basic desktops and laptops.

PC Bios constrains what external devices can act like.

“Drive size limits that were inherent to the original PC design – two terabytes – are going to become an issue pretty soon for those that use their PC a lot for pictures and video,” he said.

Similarly, he said, as tablet computers and other smaller devices become more popular having to get them working with a PC control system was going to cause problems.

The problem emerges, he said, because Bios expects the machine it is getting going to have the same basic internal set-up as the first PCs.

As a result, adding extra peripherals, such as keyboards that connect via USB rather than the AT or PS/2 ports of yesteryear, has been technically far from straightforward.

Similarly, Bios forces USB drives to be identified to a PC as either a hard drive or a floppy drive. This, said Mr Richardson, could cause problems when those thumb drives are used as a boot disc to get a system working while installing or re-installing an operating system.

Said Mr Doran: “Compared to many other components, the rate of evolution of the firmware pieces has been phenomenally slow.”

UEFI frees any computer from being based around the blueprint and specifications of the original PCs. It does not specify that a keyboard will only connect via a PC’s AT or PS/2 port.

“All it says is that somewhere in the machine there’s a device that can produce keyboard-type information,” said Mr Doran.

Under UEFI, it will be much easier for that input to come a soft keyboard, gestures on a touchscreen or any future input device.

UEFI is proving a boon to those managing lots of computers in datacentres

“The extensible part of the name is important because we are going to have to live with this for a long time,” said Mr Doran.

He added that UEFI started life as an Intel-only specification known as EFI. It morphed into a general standard when the need to replace Bios industry-wide became more widely recognised.

The first to see the benefits of swapping old-fashioned Bios for UEFI have been system administrators who have to oversee potentially thousands of PCs in data centres or in offices around the world.

Before now, said Mr Doran, getting those machines working has been “pretty painful” because of the limited capabilities of Bios.

By contrast, he said, UEFI has much better support for basic net protocols which should mean that remote management is easier from the “bare metal” upwards.

For consumers, said Mr Doran, the biggest obvious benefit of a machine running UEFI will be the speed with which it starts up.

“At the moment it can be 25-30 seconds of boot time before you see the first bit of OS sign-on,” he said. “With UEFI we’re getting it under a handful of seconds.”

“In terms of boot speed we’re not at instant-on yet but it is already a lot better than conventional Bios can manage,” he said “and we’re getting closer to that every day.”

Some PC and laptop makers are already using UEFI as are many firms that make embedded computers. More, said Mr Richardson, will result as motherboard makers complete the shift to using it.

He said that 2011 would be the year that sales of UEFI machines start to dominate.

“I would say we are at the edge of the tipping point right now,” he said.

Artical from BBC News

By Mark Ward Technology correspondent, BBC News


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Full PC & Laptop Health Check Only £45

Give your PC or Laptop a full heath check. For just £45 we will update all your software, remove any unwanted programs, remove spyware infections, remove virus infections, perform Windows updates, virus prevention updates and test your hardware.

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The PC World “Tech Guys” Are On Watch Dog :)

what was thought as a respected company for Laptop Repairs Manchester, The superchain of technical computer engineers “The Tech Guys” found at the PC World chain of stores are on Watchdog tonight featured in rogue traders. This should be a good watch for any PC engineer.

The answer is come to PC Express not Technican’t Guys. We are number one for Laptop Repairs Manchester, trust the local guys with the technical experience.

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Call to change PC security tools

An initiative has been kicked off that hopes to improve the way PC users are protected from viruses.

It will create and distribute a small program that will gather statistics on how quickly security companies find and remove malicious code.

The figures will reveal if users are being left vulnerable and for how long as well as rank response times.

But some experts say such simple tools could give a false impression and may prove hard to develop.

“In the last two to three years we have seen more individual pieces of malware than in the entire 30 years before that time,” said Mr Chris Bolin, a former chief technology officer at McAfee who is now head of UK security firm Prevx, which is trying to start the initiative.

Response time

The typical way that anti-virus companies work, said Mr Bolin, was by analysing novel threats, creating a signature file for it and then distributing that to customers to spot when the novel threat turns up.

But, said Mr Bolin, the sheer number of viruses was threatening to overwhelm this system.

Estimates suggest that hi-tech criminals are pumping out about 60,000 individual pieces of malware every day. The number of daily variants was only going to grow, said Mr Bolin, and current methods were rapidly going to be overwhelmed.

As the gap between the variants and fixes grew, users were increasingly going to be at risk.

“No other industry would tolerate that level of failure,” he said.

In the face of the tidal wave of malware, said Mr Bolin, PC users need a better way to find out how well they are being protected and how long they have been at risk.

Mr Bolin believes the way to get a better sense of the performance of security companies is via a small program that sits on a PC and logs when files are installed.

The program would lie dormant most of the time but would alert a user if it noticed that a fix had been created for a particular virus or trojan it had spotted on a PC.

It would tell a PC owner how long a virus had been known about and when it was first fixed. Mr Bolin said the small program would be ready by November.

“Innovation needs to occur on the anti-malware side because it’s growing exponentially on the malware side,” he said. “We need to bring about change in an industry that is not changing.”

Statistics generated by the tool being used across thousands of PCs would help consumers and corporates get a better sense of which firms react and fix viruses fastest.

This would be preferable to the current situation, he suggested, in which firms are measured on how well they perform against a fixed list of malicious programs.

“We need a fundamental sea level change,” he said. “Using the old yardstick does not work.”

Signature test

Rik Ferguson, senior security advisor at Trend Micro, said logging response times was too crude a measure of what anti-virus companies did.

“If you concentrate on just looking for malicious files then you are only looking at part of the story,” he said.

Users would be told if a fix was available for a malicious file on their PC

Most contemporary infections, he said, began with a victim visiting a booby-trapped website or clicking a link in an e-mail that takes them to a poisoned site. From there a victim could be re-directed and only then vulnerabilities in code might be exploited to place a malicious file on a PC.

“Any good security system should block that process from ever getting started,” said Mr Ferguson.

Logging only when a virus was fixed would ignore all that other useful work, he said.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said privacy might limit the numbers of people who download and install the tool as they may have fears about what was being done with the data being gathered.

He added that the ways that security companies seek out malware on PCs was changing to cope with the growth of malicious programs.

Mr Cluley said the testing of anti-virus products was developing and improving thanks to initiatives such as the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation.

“There’s always room for improvement,” he said. “But most security companies these days are pretty good at being pro-active. They do not just rely on signatures to spot malware.”

By Mark Ward,
Technology correspondent, BBC News.

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Internet Explorer 9 Release Better Than Firefox or Chrome ?

I’ve always been an IE user, ever since it was 1st a part of Windows. So I can’t tell you how awesome it is to see IE mature into a modern sexy browser.

What I like

Simple and clean UI ( Very metro)

I never had a problem with IE’s interface before, but IE9′s new interface was like a breath of fresh air. The UI is so minimal in fact, that sometimes I forget I’m even using a browser. The IE’s team motto “beauty of the web” effects can be seen everwhere. Besides the tiny blue e in the adress bar, you would never even know your using a Microsoft product

Speed, Speed, Speed

You could have picked my jaw up off the floor the 1st time I booted up IE9. I’ve played around with Chrome, Firefox and Opera., But I’ve never seen a browser handle complex sites ( flash, silverlight) with such speed even on a computer as underpowered as my HP tm2.

What I don’t Like

Some odd UI choices

It took me a few minutes to find the favorites  button the 1st time I looked for it and some of the option boxes are seriously outdated. Also by default there is no easy way to see you most used sites without opening a new tab.

No plan for “Out of band” updates

This is a big one for me, I like my apps updated early and often and as far as I can tell we plan to stick to the standard release timeline ( 18-24). This just doesn’t work in this day an age where other browsers are updated every week. I hope the IE team reconsiders this… as it would do wonders for IE’s mindshare and marketshare.

In closing

For being a beta, IE9 is an amazing browser.. sure it has its rough edges, but there is nothing that should keep you from enjoying it.

Download the beta at www.beautyoftheweb.com

Review by Ryan Rea http://zunited.net/

About Ryan Rea

Ryan Rea is an active blogger and twitter contributer and long time friend of Zunited. Starting as a member and eventually staff member at Zunited, Ryan retired to pursue his own micro-blogging experience with twitter and other blogs such as Neowin. Ryan, now employed by Microsoft is limited in what h can say but has been known to contrribute to Zunited’s editorials and reviews.

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Technical Blog

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