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New Report: Spammers Shifting to Compromised Accounts

A newly released report from Commtouch shows that spammers are moving to compromised accounts for sending spam. Until recently, botnets were the preferred distribution mechanism, but the takedown of several high-profile botnets has forced spammers to change their tactics and use other means to send spam. “Spammers are trying to out-maneuver IP-based spam blocking techniques as well as law enforcement that have both effectively targeted botnets,” said Amir Lev, Commtouch’s chief technology officer. “They are now using a combination of malware and phishing to compromise legitimate accounts and then using these accounts to send low-volume spam outbreaks.” The information was released in the company’s quarterly Internet Threats Trend Report, which covers Web threats, phishing, malware, and spam. (SlashDot)(Help-Net Security)(Commtouch)

Computers Able to Learn from Reading Instructions

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab are designing artificial-intelligence systems designed to determine whether a computer is able to successfully analyze and follow a set of instructions. The researchers previously asked the system to install computer software using instructions. This time, they tasked their computer with learning to play “Civilization,” a computer game in which a player develops a city across centuries of human history. For installing software, the system reportedly reproduced 80 percent of the steps a human reading the same instructions would and, for the computer game learning task, it was able to win 72 percent more frequently than a similar system not using the written instructions. The researchers say that because they have shown computers can learn the meanings of words by interacting with their environments, they are interested in applying their meaning-inferring algorithms to work with robotic systems. (“Learning to Win by Reading Manuals in a Monte-Carlo Framework”)

Hardware, Software Imported to US Might Contain Malware

A top US Department of Homeland Security official confirmed during congressional testimony that unknown third parties have preloaded some electronics and software being sold in the US with malware hoping to make it easier to launch cyberattacks in America. Greg Schaffer, the department’s assistant secretary for cybersecurity and communications, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week that the department and the White House have been aware of this threat for quite some time. He didn’t provide any additional information, such as where the components originated or what specific types of components  put corporations and/or consumers at risk. The White House’s Cyberspace Policy Review, released earlier this year, addresses this possibility. Apparently, counterfeit devices could pose the greatest threat, but mainstream products could also be infected. Schaffer provided the information while being questioned by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). (ABC News)(PC World)(Fast Company)

Tiny Camera Opens Imaging to New, Varied Applications

Cornell researchers have developed a camera a half-millimeter on each side and a hundredth of a millimeter thick that is made from a piece of doped silicon. The Planar Fourier Capture Array is a lens-less device with no moving parts that uses the Fourier Transform to produce a 20-by-20 pixel image. Once the light is captured by the device, the image is reconstructed by a computer algorithm. Researchers had been working toward the development of an implantable imaging system able to detect specially engineered brain neurons. The camera is inexpensive and could potentially be used for applications in surgery, research, and robotics. The full research results appear in Optics Letters. (Scientific American)(Fast Company)(Patrick Gill et al., “A Micro-Scale Camera Using Direct Fourier-Domain Scene Capture,” Optics Letters)

Harvard Researchers Reportedly Breached Student Privacy

In 2006, a team of Harvard researchers downloaded 1,700 Facebook profiles from an entire college class to determine how friendships and interests evolve over time as well as other social science data. The data – collected in a dataset called “Tastes, Ties, and Time” -- was edited and released in 2008, but distribution was halted amid privacy concerns. The team has been accused of breaching students’ privacy, engendering discussion about the ethics dilemmas facing those researching online groups and social networks. The students involved were the Harvard College Class of 2009, a fact that critics say was easily determined. The Harvard sociologists are still using the data, but it might never be made available outside the university. (SlashDot)(The Chronicle of Higher Education)

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