Iran ‘fends off new cyber attack’

Researchers say Duqu exploited a Microsoft Word document vulnerabilityIran has regularly claimed success in defeating computer viruses

A power plant and other industries in southern Iran have been targeted by the Stuxnet computer worm, an Iranian civil defence official says.

But the cyber attack has been successfully rebuffed and prevented from spreading, Iranian media report.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment efforts were hit hard in 2010 by the Stuxnet worm, which was also blamed for problems at industrial plants and factories.

Tehran accused Israel and the US of planting the malware.

Provincial civil defence chief Ali Akbar Akhavan said Iranian industry was constantly being targeted by “enemy cyber attacks” and companies in Hormozgan province had recently been infiltrated, the semi-official Isna news agency reported.

“The Bandar Abbas electricity supply company has come under cyber attack,” he told a news conference. “But we were able to prevent its expansion owing to our timely measures and the co-operation of skilled hackers.”


The Bandar Abbas plant, on Iran’s southern coast in the Strait of Hormuz, is said to supply power to neighbouring provinces as well as Hormozgan.


Iran has regularly claimed success in defeating computer viruses, such as Stuxnet and Flame, which have affected its industries.

In April, a malware attack on Iran’s oil ministry and national oil company forced the government to disconnect key oil facilities, including the Kharg Island oil terminal that handles most of Tehran’s exports.

Late last year, Iran said some of its computer systems were infected by the Duqu spyware which was believed to have been designed to steal data to help launch further cyber attacks.

The attacks have affected its energy exports as well as its controversial uranium enrichment programme, which Western countries suspect is aimed at constructing nuclear weapons. Tehran insists it is solely for peaceful purposes.

The biggest cyber attack so far was from the Stuxnet worm, believed to be the first known virus specifically targeted at infrastructure such as power stations.

In 2010, Iran accused the West of trying to disrupt its nuclear facilities with the Stuxnet worm.

Researchers estimated that five industrial processing organisations in Iran were hit repeatedly between June 2009 and April 2010 by the worm which they believed had been created by a “nation state” in the West.

Iran said centrifuges used in uranium enrichment had been sabotaged and the UN nuclear watchdog said the enrichment programme had been temporarily brought to a halt.

Reports suggested that the worm had infected the personal computers of staff at Iran’s first nuclear power station at Bushehr.

In September this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly that time was running out to stop Tehran having enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb.

US President Barack Obama has said the US will do “what we must” to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

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Child abuse Twitter accounts closed

Man using computerThe accounts were made public early on Monday morning

Several private Twitter accounts have been disabled after they were revealed to contain indecent images of children.

Some hacking groups are claiming to have unmasked them, the NSPCC said.

Members of the public have reported the accounts to Greater Manchester Police and North Yorkshire Police, while Ceop – the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre – says it is “aware”.

The NSPCC asked people to “be vigilant” and report such suspicious activity.

Ceop – the policing unit dedicated to eradicating the sexual abuse of children – said it had had 25 to 30 reports of these accounts.

A Ceop spokesman said Twitter had disabled the accounts and would be reporting the find to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) – Ceop’s US equivalent – which as an American company it was legally required to.

“NCMEC will forward the account details to law enforcement in the countries where the individual concerned is,” he said.

It is unclear whether the images were uploaded by a UK user, or a user based abroad.

The NSPCC said the accounts were made public in the early hours of Monday.

“To be honest, it’s not a massive surprise. In our experience sex offenders will use whichever mean they can to connect with each other. They are usually quite devious,” a spokesman said.

He asked people to be vigilant.

“It you see something, or are aware of something, you should report it.”

As for those people storing such content, Professor Alan Woodward, of the University of Surrey’s department of computing, said they were increasingly using social media rather than computers.

“If they use the web to keep any pictures then they will be able to claim it wasn’t them. The weight of evidence isn’t the same.”

Twitter is yet to comment.

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DIY Tardis is ‘bigger on its inside’

The home made Tardis

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Greg Kumparak shows how his Tardis looks bigger on the inside

A US-based Doctor Who fan has built a model of the Tardis designed to look bigger on its inside than its outside.

Rather than circumvent the laws of physics Greg Kumparak has relied on augmented reality (AR).

The actual interior of his wooden model features a zebra-striped fabric.

But when a smartphone is held in front of it running an AR app, it appears to show a spacious interior modelled on the ninth and tenth Doctors’ time machine.

Mr Kumparak, former mobile editor at the Techcrunch news site, said he decided to embark on the project over his Thanksgiving break.

He had carved the exterior out of wood, painted it blue and attached a working light to its top before coming up with the idea of creating the illusion that the inside was huge.

“There’s a running gag in Doctor Who, wherein new characters are always dumbstruck by the Tardis being bigger on the inside than it appeared on the outside,” he wrote on his blog.

Greg KumparakMr Kumparak said he came up with the idea after watching a “crazy ridiculous” amount of Doctor Who

“Once I realised I had a rough idea of how to pull that off, I couldn’t not do it.”

Digital dimensions

To bring his idea to life, the Silicon Valley-based designer first created a 3D computer model of the Tardis’s interior using the free-to-use open source computer software programme Blender.

He then used the Unity graphics rendering engine – commonly used by independent video games developers – and Vuforia – an AR app development platform made by the chip maker Qualcomm – to allow a smartphone to interact with his creation.

The only problem was that the software needed to latch onto a specific part of the model to be able to map out the appropriate view of the Tardis’s interior.

Mr Kumparak initially tried using the sign on the police box’s door which says: “Free for use of public”, but it proved to be too small to work.

So, he ultimately detached the front door and added a piece of material with a black-and-white pattern. The smartphone software could then use this to work out which part of its camera’s image should be superimposed and what angle of the interior image should be shown.

Reaction to the invention has been overwhelming positive on Twitter and YouTube – a site notorious for attracting some of the web’s harshest feedback.

“Insanely cool,” wrote one admirer. “You have just made my Xmas,” posted another.

One user suggested the inventor might like to add features – perhaps even allowing the Doctor and some of his companions to appear inside.

Dr Who photographThe Doctor Who Christmas special will feature a redesigned Tardis interior

“The feedback has been resoundingly positive so far,” Mr Kumparak told the BBC.

“Almost shockingly so, really. Doctor Who fans might be some of the nicest people on the internet.”

He added that there might be an opportunity to develop the idea further.

“I originally made this just to brush up on a few new skills and to have something fun for my desk – that so many others got excited about it is really just a wonderful surprise.

“I’ve had more requests than I can count to make it into something others can obtain, be it as a store-bought toy or a printable kit.

“If anyone in the right department at the BBC is reading this and wants to make that happen, I’d love to lend a hand.”

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Game of Thrones tops TV piracy chart

Game Of ThronesGame Of Thrones is largely filmed in Northern Ireland, and is shown on Sky in the UK

Game of Thrones has emerged as the most-pirated TV show over the internet this year, according to news site Torrentfreak’s latest annual survey.

It said one episode of the series had racked up 4,280,000 illegal global downloads – slightly more than than its estimated US television audience.

The site said that overall there had been a “small increase” in the amount of illegal sharing.

That was despite a “levelling out” of the activity the previous two years.

The rise also followed increased efforts to shut down or block websites providing access to copyright infringing material.

Investigations by the US, Mexican and Ukrainian authorities led to two of the best known file-sharing services disappearing earlier this year – digital locker service Megaupload and Bit Torrent link site Demonoid.

The administrators of Newzbin2 – a site which aggregated links to illegally copied material sourced from Usenet forums – also abandoned the operation after the UK courts forced internet service providers (ISPs) to block access.

In addition, UK-based Surfthechannel went offline after its owner went on trial for “facilitating” copyright infringement – a crime which resulted in him receiving a four year prison sentence.

Continue reading the main story

Most pirated TV shows of 2012

1. Game of Thrones

2. Dexter

3. The Big Bang Theory

4. How I Met Your Mother

5. Breaking Bad

6. The Walking Dead

7. Homeland

8. House

9. Fringe

10. Revolution

(Source: Torrentfreak)

Several countries ISPs have also been ordered to block The Pirate Bay, although political activists at Europe’s Pirate Parties continue to offer proxy-based workarounds.

Delayed broadcasts

Despite all the closures, one episode of of Game of Thrones racked up 4,280,000 illegal global downloads, according to Torrentfreak. That was slightly more than than its estimated US television audience.

The level of piracy may be linked to the fact that the TV company behind it – HBO – does not allow Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime or other US streaming services access to its programmes. It instead restricts them to its own HBO Go online product, which is only available to its cable subscribers.

Outside the US, Torrentfreak noted that Australia was responsible for a disproportionate amount of illegal copies of Game of Thrones and suggested this may have been because episodes were broadcast locally a week later than in the US.

Torrentfreak’s editor acknowledged that, despite his findings, HBO might still want to keep its current model.

“Not all of the people who pirate do it because it’s free – availability is also a big factor,” Ernesto Van Der Sar told the BBC.

“Most of the titles in the top 10 list are behind paywalls and are not distributed very widely. If TV companies offered them online to a broader audience, piracy would be lower than it is now.

“But I’m not sure that would be best for their revenues as they rely on expensive subscriptions which they still sell a lot of. If they allowed people to download individual episodes from Netflix, for example, they might not make as much money.”

Ditched laws

The latest effort to combat piracy is a newly announced action plan by Russia and the US.

It involves the two countries:

  • Co-ordinating efforts with rights holders and law enforcement agencies to force copyright infringing content off the net and take action against those responsible for putting it online.
  • Pledging to seize and destroy equipment used to make the pirated files.
  • Working together on legislation, including plans for a Russian law to make ISPs liable for piracy carried over their networks.

Claire Danes and Damian LewisHomeland has been a ratings hit for Showtime despite high levels of piracy

“Intellectual property rights not only protect our creators and innovators, but also promote foreign investment, economic development, and job creation.” said US Trade Representative Ron Kirk.

It follows success at introducing other anti-piracy action over the past year.

A series of website blackouts and protests led to the US’s House of Representatives abandoning its Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Senate its Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa) in January.

An attempt to bring in an international treaty – the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) – was also derailed after the European Parliament rejected it in July.

However, more recently countries have signalled they intend to press forward with anti-piracy efforts,

In September, Japan changed the law to introduce a maximum two year jail sentence for users found guilty of downloading pirated files.

Major ISPs in the US have announced plans to launch a “six strikes system” early next year, under which suspected pirates would be sent a series of warning letters before facing bandwidth throttling and other punitive measures. And the UK also plans to introduce a letter-writing scheme in 2013.

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Facebook tests paid-for messaging

Facebook sign in New YorkFacebook is testing new ways to generate revenue from its users

Facebook has begun a trial which allows users to pay $1 to send messages direct to people who are not their friends.

The fee will mean messages go straight to a recipient’s inbox rather than the Other folder which contains all unsolicited correspondence.

The trial is only for a “small number of people” and is initially being tested just in the US.

Users will be able to receive a maximum of one paid-for message per week, and no more than three each month.

“Several commentators and researchers have noted that imposing a financial cost on the sender may be the most effective way to discourage unwanted messages and facilitate delivery of messages that are relevant and useful,” the site said in a statement.

“For example, if you want to send a message to someone you heard speak at an event but are not friends with, or if you want to message someone about a job opportunity, you can use this feature to reach their inbox.”

Spam prevention

The system is similar to one adopted by professional social networking service LinkedIn. Its InMail feature allows users to get in touch with people they are not connected to for a set monthly fee.

On Facebook, users can already send messages to anyone else on the network. However, depending on a user’s privacy settings, messages from users who are not friends mostly end up in the Other folder.

This folder, which is separate from the user’s main inbox, often goes unchecked.

The $1 charge will mean messages will go straight to a user’s inbox. Facebook said the level of cost is likely to prevent spam or irrelevant messages.

There are no immediate plans to launch the trial for users in Europe, but it could happen in the future, Facebook said.

The changes are the latest evolution of Facebook’s messaging service – an area of its site it is looking to expand.

The site’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has previously said he wants people to use Facebook messages instead of email – and the network rolled out email addresses to all users in June.

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Online games purge sex offenders

LaptopThe purge has seen more than 5,600 accounts used by sex offenders shut down

Hundreds of accounts for online games used by registered sex offenders have been shut down in the US.

More than 2,100 gaming accounts were closed as part of Operation: Game Over run by New York’s attorney general.

It was able to target the accounts because registered sex offenders are required to surrender details of their online aliases.

Blizzard, Microsoft, Sony, NCSoft and many other game firms are backing the purge, aimed at protecting children.

“The internet is the crime scene of the 21st Century, and we must ensure that online video game platforms do not become a digital playground for dangerous predators,” said New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman in a statement.

Mr Schneiderman said the action would make online gaming communities a safer place for children. Many parents did not know, he said, that online gaming platforms and services let players communicate anonymously. However, he added, offenders had used this capability in the past to contact and “groom” children they later went on to abuse.

New York’s Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act, known as the e-STOP law, requires convicted sex offenders to tell the state which email addresses, login names, screen identities and other online aliases they use. These are then passed on to game and web firms that have signed up to help the programme.

Gaming accounts on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Gaia Online and many others have been deleted as a result of the law.

This action builds on the first stage of the e-STOP programme that saw more than 3,500 online accounts used by sex offenders shut down.

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EU accuses Samsung of patent abuse

Apple and Samsung phonesSamsung had attempted to force some of Apple’s devices off store shelves in Europe

EU competition regulators probing Samsung’s patent litigation tactics believe the firm has abused its position.

The European Commission’s “preliminary view” follows the South Korean firm’s efforts to ban Apple products.

Investigators took issue with the fact that Samsung had based its claims on patents which lie at the heart of industry-shared technologies.

A final ruling will be issued once Samsung has presented its defence.

The two firms make the world’s bestselling smartphones – the Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5. They have been engaged in a range of patent battles across the globe despite the fact Apple buys some of its components from its rival.

Frand obligations

At the core of the EU’s concerns is Samsung’s use of what are termed “standard-essential” patents – specifically innovations without which Apple devices could not offer 3G mobile data connections.

Firms register patents as being standard-essential because it is supposed to guarantee them an income from anyone who wants to make use of a commonly offered technology. Other examples include the MPEG movie format and MP3 music standard.

In return for being granted such status the company commits itself to licensing an invention under Frand rules – meaning the terms must be fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Companies owning Frand-registered innovations agree that they cannot discriminate who gets to use their inventions so long as they are paid a fee which cannot be excessive.

After Apple and Samsung failed to agree royalty rates for some of the Asian firm’s 3G-related patents, Samsung launched lawsuits in Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Bearing in mind Apple was not opposed to the principle of paying a fee but had rather disagreed about the amount being demanded, the Commission said that Samsung’s efforts to seek sales injunctions “harms competition”.

“Intellectual property rights are an important cornerstone of the single market,” said competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia.

“However, such rights should not be misused when they are essential to implement industry standards, which bring huge benefits to businesses and consumers alike.

“When companies have contributed their patents to an industry standard and have made a commitment to license the patents in return for fair remuneration, then the use of injunctions against willing licensees can be anti-competitive.”

Cooperation promise

The Commission first announced it was probing Samsung over possible patent rights abuses in January.

Earlier this week the Galaxy phone maker said it would drop its attempts to ban some Apple products in Europe on the basis of its Frand-type wireless patents.

If the move was designed to convince the EU to drop the probe it failed.

A statement from Samsung said: “We are studying the statement and will firmly defend ourselves against any misconceived allegations.

“We will continue to fully cooperate with the Commission. Samsung is confident that in due course the Commission will conclude that we have acted in compliance with European Union competition laws.”

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Boeing uses potatoes to test wi-fi

Potatoes, BoeingPotatoes’ ‘interactions’ with electronic signals mimic those of a human body, according to Boeing

US planemaker Boeing used an unusual substitute for passengers to test its in-flight wi-fi system – potatoes.

Passenger seats on a decommissioned plane were loaded with huge sacks of the tubers for several days as signal strengths were checked.

The company’s researchers say that potatoes “interact” with electronic signals in a similar way to humans.

The technique also took advantage of the fact that spuds – unlike humans – never get bored.

Boeing’s engineers did a number of tests to ensure that passengers would get the strongest possible wi-fi signal while in the air, all while meeting safety standards that protect against interference with an aircraft’s electrical systems.

Wireless signals fluctuate randomly in the enclosed space of an aeroplane cabin as people move about.

This means that signal distribution is uneven throughout the cabin, with weaker and stronger connectivity in different seats.

“You want your laptop to work anywhere it’s located on your seat, [but] there can be significant signal changes just due to the location of the laptop,” said Boeing engineer Dennis Lewis.

To test the signal distribution, the firm turned to spuds instead of human test subjects, filling the seats with 20,000lbs (9,000kg) of potatoes in sacks.

According to Boeing, potatoes’ “interactions” with electronic signals mimic those of a human body, making them “the perfect stand-in for people who would otherwise have had to sit motionless for days while the data was gathered”.

Potatoes, BoeingBoeing filled the seats with 20,000lbs (9,000kg) of potatoes in sacks

The UK Potato Council said many people underestimated the humble potato’s alternative uses.

“[The examples are] in paper and ink manufacturing, potato starch is used in clothing to strengthen the fibres so they don’t break during weaving, and for sweetening – glucose can be extracted from potato starch,” said the council’s spokeswoman.

“For beauty and sores – potatoes have calming, decongestant and astringent properties and raw potatoes can calm tired eyes, potato as alcohol, and potatoes can produce electricity.”

Frederic Rosseneu of the European Potato Trade Association Europatat said the organisation was “looking forward to other experiments in which spuds can help to make our lives more convenient”.

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Steve Jobs’ super-yacht impounded

The high-tech yacht VenusSteve Jobs’ luxury yacht Venus has been impounded in Amsterdam harbour

Venus, the minimalist high-tech yacht commissioned by the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, has become embroiled in a row over a disputed bill.

French designer Philippe Starck claims Mr Jobs’ heirs still owe him 3m euros of a 9m euro fee for the project, according to Dutch paper Het Financieele Dagblad.

Mr Starck called in the debt collectors and had the yacht impounded,

The Port of Amsterdam confirmed that the boat is not allowed to leave.

Jeroen Ranzijn, spokesman for the Port of Amsterdam told the BBC: “The boat is brand new but there is a 3m euro claim on it. The parties will have to fight it out.”

Roelant Klaassen, a lawyer representing Mr Starck’s company, Ubik, told the Reuters news agency that the boat would remain in port pending payment by lawyers representing Mr Jobs’ estate.

“These guys trusted each other, so there wasn’t a very detailed contract,” he said.

Mr Starck was unavailable for comment.

Gerard Moussault, the lawyer representing the owners of the Venus told the BBC: “I cannot comment at all on this, sorry.”

The sleek, 260ft-long (80m) aluminium super-yacht cost 105m euros ($138m; £85m) and was launched in October, at Aalsmeer, The Netherlands.

Mr Starck is known for his striking designs for the Alessi company, including an aluminium lemon squeezer that is shaped like a spaceship.

He collaborated with Steve Jobs for five years on the project, describing the boat as “showing the elegance of intelligence.”

The vessel is minimalist in style and is named after the Roman goddess of love and its windows measure 3m (10 feet) in height.

Mr Starck has said that Venus “looks strange for a boat” but said its shape comes from design ideas he shared with Mr Jobs.

Mr Jobs died of pancreatic cancer in 2011 and never saw his boat go to sea.

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Gangnam Style hits one billion views

Psy dancing in Gangnam Style video

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The BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones on the Gangnam phenomenon

Gangnam Style has become the first video to clock up more than one billion views on YouTube.

The South Korean dance track was posted online in July, propelling pop star Psy to worldwide fame.

It has inspired hundreds of parody clips, from members of the British army, Thai navy and Minecraft gamers, among others.

YouTube’s owner, Google, said the video had been watched seven million to 10 million times a day on average.

It overtook the previous record holder – Justin Bieber’s music video Baby – on 24 November.

“Psy’s success is a great testament to the universal appeal of catchy music – and er, great equine dance moves,” wrote Kevin Allocca, YouTube trends manager, on the service’s blog.

Globalised Gangnam

YouTube screenshotThe video’s YouTube hit counter added a dancing Psy animation after it hit the one billion milestone

One industry watcher said the fact so many people continued to post their own versions of Gangnam Style had played a huge part in the clip’s success.

“I’ve seen a statistic which reckons the one song will have generated something like $8m [£5m] by the end of the year from money that comes directly from YouTube through advertising plus download sales, its uses in adverts and TV programmes,” Chris Cooke, business editor of the CMU music news site, told the BBC.

“It shows that YouTube – which is a free-to-use as a promotional platform for the music labels – can lead to substantial income.

“Should every artist be trying to think of a funny video that will go viral and be mimicked? I don’t know whether it’s a template that can be copied, but it certainly shows how quickly an eye-catching clip can spread thanks to social networks and YouTube.”

Sir Martin Sorrell – chief executive of advertising giant WPP – paid tribute to the achievement by making a link between Psy and one of the west’s most influential economists.

“Another great example of Theodore Levitt’s ‘globalisation’ and the power of K-pop,” he told the BBC.

Scott Mills, the BBC Radio 1 DJ who championed the song on his show, said he was amazed by the phenomenon that the song had become.

“The thing that interests you in the video is the fact that you don’t understand the lyrics.

Picture of soldiers doing Gangnam Style dance

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British troops in Afghanistan have made their own version. Footage courtesy BFBS: British Forces News

“The first time I saw it was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in America and I just thought it was a bit of fun, but I didn’t expect it to be as big as it was.

“Psy came into my Radio 1 show and The Guinness World Records presented him with a plaque for the most ‘liked’ YouTube video of all time and the amazing thing is he is just a guy, he hasn’t tried to do any of this.”

D C Han, a South Korean hair stylist who worked in Gangnam before starting a business in London, added that he was proud to see the song become such a massive hit.

“I was amazed” he told the BBC.

“K-Pop is getting stronger and stronger, everywhere in Asia they are listening to it – China, Hong Kong, Taiwan. Maybe even in Japan but they might not admit it.”

Gangnam Style passes 1bn hits

Cumulative views (millions)

Gangnam Style versus Baby graphClicks on Psy’s video rocket while interest in Justin Bieber’s Baby wanes

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