Storm’s lull could mean the end

The Storm Worm botnet has been inactive for a month and its operators might have abandoned it, according to reports. Although previous reports of its demise proved to be premature (Microsoft claimed to have crippled Storm in September of 2007), the massive botnet is no longer attempting to infect machines for its network and is steadily shrinking, Dark Reading reported. One security researcher found a TCP server message that read: “Go away, we’re not home.” (Dark Reading)

Internet use shown to increase brain activity

Middle-aged and older adults who use the Internet show an increased amount of brain activity, according to a study by a UCLA neurologist slated to appear in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Participants in the study searched the Web and read books while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging scans. “Our most striking finding was that Internet searching appears to engage a greater extent of neural circuitry that is not activated during reading — but only in those with prior Internet experience,” said lead researcher Gary Small, who is also the director of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center. Using a brain-activity measurement called a voxel, scientists found that Web-savvy people used 21,782 voxels when using the Internet, compared with 8,646 voxels for those with less Internet experience. (Newsweek)

US could get free wireless Internet

The US Federal Communications Commission determined Friday that a proposed wireless network that would provide free broadband service wouldn’t interfere with T-Mobile communications in a neighboring spectrum. The report paves the way for the FCC to auction off the 2155–2175 MHz band, known as AWS-3, with the stipulation that the winning company’s network must reach half the nation within five years and 95 percent in 10 years. M2Z Networks, which approached the FCC in May with a proposal for free wireless Internet, is expected to bid. M2Z says it would offer the filtered network at speeds of 512 kbps, taking in revenue through advertising and by offering a premium, unfiltered service at 3,000 kbps. (PC Magazine)

Digital picture recorded of zebrafish’s first stages of life

Scientists in Germany have developed the Google Earth of the microbiology world, creating the “first complete development blueprint of a vertebrate.” Using a digitally scanned laser light sheet microscope  and a large-scale computing pipeline, researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory created a digital embryo of a zebrafish, tracking how the organism’s cells divided and formed tissue in its first few hours of life. “Imagine following all inhabitants of a town over the course of one day using a telescope in space,” researcher Phillipp Keller said. “This comes close to tracking the ten thousands of cells that make up a vertebrate embryo – only that the cells move in three dimensions.” The microscope uses laser scanners to generate a sheet of light that  creates a 3D image. (ScienceDaily)

Company emerges to produce black silicon

Black silicon, a new photonics material made from silicon wafers, could soon see commercial use with the creation of a venture-backed company, SiOnyx. Cofounded by James Carey, a scientist who helped discover black silicon as a graduate student at Harvard, SiOnyx plans to manufacture the material as a far more light-sensitive replacement for silicon in a wide range of applications, including x-ray machines, surveillance satellites, and digital cameras. Discovered during catalytic-reactions research by Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur, black silicon is created when a high-intensity, femtosecond laser is flashed on a silicon wafer in the presence of sulfur hexafluoride. According to the SiOnyx website, “the result is a highly doped, optically opaque, shallow junction interface that is thousands of times more sensitive to light than conventional semiconductor materials.” (Xcomony)

First quantum encrypted network goes live

Researchers in Vienna demonstrated the first encrypted network protected by quantum cryptography last week, connecting six nodes at Siemens locations. The technology uses photons to distill numerical keys on a secure line. “All quantum security schemes are based on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, on the fact that you cannot measure quantum information without disturbing it,” explained

Gilles Brassard of the SECOQC project. So as shown in the demonstration, when  intruders try to break into a quantum-protected communication, the photons become scrambled and  users are alerted to  the attacks. Previous quantum encryption efforts were only useful between two users on a single line because  routers and other network devices could cause a quantum breakdown. SECOQC developed a way to reroute connections through a secure node to prevent the problem. (BBC)

Government seeks feedback on DNS security overhaul

The US government is taking the initial step to implement Domain Name System Security Extensions at the DNS root level, a change that would require a massive overhaul of domain name registrars, domain name registries, ISPs and users' software. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is accepting comments on the issue until 24 November. DNSSEC incorporates public-private signature key pairs in the DNS heirarchy, letting software validate data by matching digital signatures. According the NTIA, implementing DNSSEC would help prevent vulnerabilities in the DNS that phishers can exploit. Meanwhile, ICANN released its own proposal for deploying DNSSEC that estimates a production signed root zone by June 2009. (Computerworld)

CarTel connects drivers to traffic analysis in a new way

Cab drivers in Boston are testing a telematics system developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that connects to existing wireless networks  as  vehicles pass by. The system, CarTel, provides historical and real-time traffic conditions  to drivers to help them find the fastest routes. Since it links to the vehicle’s diagnostics system, CarTel can also alert drivers to maintenance problems. “Our goal,” said MIT professor Hali Balakrishnan, “is to make the data behind CarTel available to help you plan and organize your commute and drives. We want to minimize the amount of time spent in your car.” To do so, the research team developed QuickWi-Fi, which  reduces the amount of time it takes to connect to wireless networks by reducing timeouts from seconds to milliseconds and using an optimal scanning scheme  to check for the most frequently used channels first. They also developed methods to handle intermittent connections and high-packet loss rates. (MIT)

Fast-flux DNS becoming more popular in botnets

Botnet operators are increasingly using fast-flux domains to mask their identity and avoid disruption, according to a recent online study. The fast-flux technique cycles the mappings of domain names to  infected hosts’ IP addresses. From January to May 2008, Jose Nazario of Arbor Networks and Thorsten Holz of the University of Mannheim tracked more than 900 fast-flux domain names. They found that the associated botnets had lifetimes varying from less than a day to months and were used for phishing, malware, and selling pharmaceuticals. “Our data shows that most fast-flux domains are dormant for more than one month before their use,” Nazario and Holz said, “meaning that proactively identifying future fast-flux domains has the potential to disrupt the online fraud and crime that is hosted in these networks.” (CNET)

Fraud, violations plague H-1B visa program

A government assessment found significant problems, including forged documents and shell companies,  in the H-1B visa program, according to  US Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). In a random sample of 246 H-1B employees, US Citizenship and Immigration Services found that one in five visas were affected by  fraud or “technical violations.” “This report validates the major flaws in the H-1B visa program," Grassley said in a statement. "It's unacceptable that these fraudulent activities are slipping through the cracks when there is so much legitimate demand for H-1B visas." (Computerworld)

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