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Spy vs. Spy, Spilt Blackberries & Redmond’s Lies

Friday FOSS Week in Review

It would seem to be another slow week in the FOSS news world. As always however, there were a few tidbits, and the passing of a computer pioneer who’s work has effected everyone who’s ever sat in front of a monitor and keyboard.

U.S. Predator and Reaper Drones Hit by Virus…or Not

We learned on Monday from ars technica that the U.S. Predator and Reaper drone fleet has been hit by a virus. According to the report, the malicious code logs the keystrokes of those in the “cockpit” flying missions over Afghanistan and “other war zones:”

“The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say. And the infection underscores the ongoing security risks in what has become the US military’s most important weapons system.

“‘We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,’ says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. ‘We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.'”

All week we’ve been treated to stories on this subject. Speculation is that the computer system became infected by the unauthorized use of removable memory devices. However, there has been speculation, reported by TechZwn, that the “virus” might not be a virus at all, but part of a military monitoring system:

“According to security researcher Miles Fidelman, however, the virus may be an internal Department of Defense (DoD) security monitoring package. He noted there are ‘a couple of vendors’ who sell such technology to the DoD, which are ‘essentially rootkits that do, among other things, key logging.’ The comments were sent to the Dailydave security mailing list, which was posted through SecLists.org.

“‘I kind of wonder if the virus that folks are fighting is something that some other part of DoD deployed intentionally,’ Fidelman adds.”

I figure we’ll never get the truth on this…at least not those of us with no connection with the military or no security clearance. However, this sure has been a fun story to follow. Makes me want to go rent a copy of Dr. Strangelove.

Blackberry Crashes

As if the folks at RIM weren’t having enough trouble trying to play catchup with Android and iPhone, this week Blackberry’s service crashed – big time. The outage began in Europe and Africa on Monday, but by Wednesday had spread to include the United States as well. Today it was announced that the service is up and running, but it might a day or so before the backlog of emails gets delivered.

As you might expect, this has been a public relations disaster for RIM, especially since the outage coincided with the release of the latest iPhone. According to an article released today by the AP, many long time “Crackberry” users have had enough and are ditching their devices for a new Apple phone:

“‘I’ve been a pretty big BlackBerry advocate,’ said Kate Jacobson, a student at Michigan State University. ‘But I’m done playing these games with you, BlackBerry.’

“After using a BlackBerry for three years, she said the outage was the ‘last straw.’ When service was restored Thursday morning, she got an iPhone anyway.

“Her unhappiness was shared by users across several continents. BlackBerrys in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa had been without email or chat messages since Monday.”

Meanwhile, the suits at RIM want everyone to know how very, very sorry they are about all this.

Redmond Talks Trash About Android and iPhone

Also on Monday, we learned from CNET that Windows Phone chief Andy Lees has decided to promote Windows new Mango phone by badmouthing the competition:

“Speaking with The Seattle Times yesterday, Lees, president of Microsoft’s Windows Phone division, said he believes Apple missed an opportunity with the iPhone 4S. Comparing the new iPhone with Mango-enabled Windows Phone devices, Lees expressed surprise that Apple didn’t give consumers more choice in terms of the hardware.”

He also evidently said that Android is “chaotic.” This comes on the heels of some pretty sorry news for the Redmond folks, who’ve been working hard to get some traction for their mobile OS:

“…Microsoft’s annual proxy statement last week to the Securities and Exchange Commission mentioned, among other things, ‘lower than expected initial sales of Windows Phone 7.’ CEO Steve Ballmer had said expressed a similar regret at the company’s financial analyst meeting in September: ‘We haven’t sold quite as many probably as I would have hoped we would have sold in the first year.'”

I guess they don’t really need to sell many Windows phones. They’re making plenty of money blackmailing Android makers.

Redmond Claims IE 9 ‘Most Secure’

While we’re on the subject of Microsoft, CNET also told us this week that the folks in Redmond are now claiming on a web page that IE 9 outpaces the browser competition in the security department:

“Dubbed ‘Your Browser Matters,’ the new page checks a browser to determine how well it fares against phishing attacks and other types of socially engineered malware. The page then assigns the browser a score based on a scale of 0 to 4.

“Looking at the major browsers, Internet Explorer 9 received a perfect 4 out 4, while IE8 earned a 3. The latest versions of Firefox (7.0) and Google Chrome (14) took home scores of 2 and 2.5, respectively. And apparently Safari and Opera don’t even merit a grade since the page simply said it couldn’t give a score to either of those browsers.”

Please excuse me while I laugh at the thought of a MS product being “most secure.”

Computer Pioneer Dennis Ritchie Dies

This wasn’t as big a media splash as Steve Jobs passing last week, but the passing of Dennis Ritchie sees us losing someone who’s arguably had an even bigger effect on the world of computing. Ritchie was the creator of the C programming language and a co-creator of Unix. Says the BBC:

“Along with Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan, Douglas McIlroy, and Joe Ossanna, Dr Ritchie was one of the key creators of the Unix operating system at Bell Labs during the 1960s and 70s.

“Unix’s influence has been felt in many ways. It established many software engineering principles that persist until today; it was the OS of choice for the internet; it kicked off the open source movement and has been translated to run on many different types of hardware.

“It was also at Bell that Dr Ritchie created C, one of the most widely used programming languages in the world. It is familiar to almost every modern-day developer.”

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Well, that does it for another week. I’ll see you on Monday. In the meantime, may the FOSS be with you…

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

2 comments to Spy vs. Spy, Spilt Blackberries & Redmond’s Lies

  • WorBlux

    I suspect the weighting scale used.

    “Does the browser have a system for auto updating browser extensions?”

    IE does not have this feature, even though 90% of malware attacks use out of date extensions as an attack vector.

    “Does the browser have the ability to restrict an extension or a plugin on a per site basis?”

    Chrome allows you to restrict extensions on all pages and exempt on a per-site basis.

    The biggest security factor I see in favor of IE is the classification of downloads into trusted/unkown/untrusted, though a good AV should be able to to the same thing.