HealthMap trolls Internet to track infectious diseases


Researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School have developed an automated data-gathering system that monitors infectious disease outbreaks around the world in real time. HealthMap combs online news sources, discussion forums, and listservs for data on disease outbreaks. It integrates this data with information from official releases from agencies such as the World Heath Organization to provide a comprehensive global view on emerging health issues. The data is displayed by location using Google Maps. (Science Daily)

Microsoft Access vulnerable to ActiveX attacks


Microsoft has warned that a vulnerability in the ActiveX control for the Snapshot Viewer in Access 2000, 2002, and 2003 could let attackers gain access to machines and remotely execute code. However, the attack would have to be targeted; users would have to visit a Web site that exploits the flaw for it to work. Microsoft advises users to configure their browsers to disable Active Scripting or ask before running ActiveX controls. (ZDNet)

Google makes internal security scanner available


Google has released its internal Web application scanner to the public for free. The tool—Ratproxy—scans Web applications and looks for coding errors that could lead to security vulnerabilities, such as cross-site scripting attacks or caching problems. “We decided to make this tool freely available as open source because we feel it will be a valuable contribution to the information security community, helping advance the community’s understanding of security challenges associated with contemporary Web technologies. We believe that responsible security research brings a net overall benefit to the safety of the Web as a whole, and have released this tool explicitly to support that kind of research,” wrote Michal Zalewski on the company’s security blog. (Google)

IBM’s purchase of mainframe make raises antitrust concerns


IBM’s purchase of rival mainframe vendor Platform Solutions has one industry trade group calling the deal a “black hole.” The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a nonprofit association of computer and communications firms, has questioned the move and raised concerns that IBM is trying to stamp out the competition. “It sucks the life out of the market and destroys the matter,”transforming a market with latent potential for competition and innovation into a sector “with little prospects for anything but complete domination by IBM,”? said Ed Black, CCIA president and CEO. Neither IBM nor Platform Solutions released the financial terms of the deal. However, as part of the purchase, both companies dropped lawsuits against each other stemming from IBM’s initial patent infringement lawsuit against Platform Solutions in 2006. (CIO)

Robot teaches itself new tools

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a robot that teaches itself how to use tools it hasn’t encountered before. The robot—dubbed UMan—uses a webcam to identify tools lying on a table. UMan analyzes differences in pixels; UMan identifies the tool’s shape. Using its robotic arm, UMan prods and pushes the tool along the table and watches how the tool’s parts move in relation to each other. If it encounters a restricted movement, the robot interprets it as a joint. UMan then puts this information together to manipulate the tool. However, UMan can’t pick up tools and use them just yet. Instead, it uses them along the surface of the table. So far, UMan has learned to use scissors, shears, and different kinds of wooden toys. (Technology Review)

Adobe working to better index Flash content in search engines


The latest version of Adobe’s Flash Player allows search engines to more easily index Flash-based content. Search engines can already index text and links in Flash animations but will now be able to index information in Flash files, including gadgets such as buttons and menus, and self-contained Flash Web sites. Google has launched its advanced Flash indexing algorithm, and Yahoo is said to be developing its own. Flash Video files (FLV), however, will not be indexed because they don’t contain text elements. (Beta News)

ICANN loosens domain name regulations


The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted unanimously to ease the regulations on top-level domain names and internationalized domain names. Under the relaxed policies, companies can register domain names based on their names, such as .ebay or .amazon, and names in other languages—Chinese or Arabic, for example—will be allowed. Individuals will be allowed to register their own names if they can provide a business plan. For disagreements that arise over registering generic domains such as .sport or .love, ICANN will implement an arbitration process to settle disputes. ICANN expects the final version of the new rules to be published in early 2009; applications for new domain names will follow in the latter half of 2009. (BBC)

Microsoft and HP release tools to help defend against SQL attacks


In response to the increase in SQL injection attacks, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard released tools to help Web developers and site administrators avoid the attacks. Microsoft released UrlScan, which scans and filters malicious query strings, and the SQL Source Code Analysis Tool, which analyzes .ASP code for vulnerabilities. HP released HP Scrawlr, which scans Web pages for vulnerabilities. The tools are free and available on the companies’ Web sites. (Tech World)

Reversing the spin of electrons might produce faster computers


Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have discovered a process that reverses the spin of electrons passing through the magnesium oxide insulator layer between ferromagnetic/semiconductor (FM/SC) structures. The process could lead to faster computers that use spin-based semiconductor technology. (Science Daily)

Mac Trojan spotted in the wild


Security researchers from antivirus vendor SecureMac reported a Mac-specific Trojan in the wild last week that could let attackers gain remote access to a system and, among other things, log keystrokes and take photos using the built-in iSight camera. The Trojan takes advantage of a vulnerability in the Apple Remote Desktop Agent (ARDAgent) and could affect Macs running OS X 10.4 or 10.5. User can remove ARDAgent from its current location and archive it to protect their machines. (ComputerWorld, 06/23/08)

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