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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Issues about ICT

'Hacking attacks' hit Russian political sites

A series of alleged hack attacks have struck political sites in Russia during the country's parliamentary elections.

Radio stations, election monitors and newspapers said they came under sustained attack.

The sites' owners said they were bombarded with data in an attempt to overwhelm their computers and knock them offline.

Some of the organisations involved have blamed the assault on state-sponsored "criminals".

Over the weekend Russians voted in elections that determined the make-up of its lower house, or Duma, for the next five years.

In the run-up to voting and on the day itself, many organisations critical of the policies of the ruling party said they had suffered attack by hackers.

One of the hardest hit seems to have been the election monitoring group Golos, which said it had come under a "massive DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks".

A distributed denial of service attack is one in which a website is hit with many thousands of requests for data. Unless the flood of requests is halted, sites can be knocked offline.

On voting day, Golos was compiling a map of "election violations" which detailed places where irregularities in votes were being recorded.

Despite the attacks, Golos said it had been able to log about 5,300 complaints alleging election violations.

Golos head Liliya Shibanova said mounting the attacks would have been a "very expensive operation".

She said: "It's a big organisation with plenty of means that must have done it."

The Moscow Echo radio station, opposition newspaper New Times, political commentary site and daily business paper Kommersant also suffered the attentions of politically motivated hackers.

Moscow Echo editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov tweeted: "The attack on the website on election day is clearly an attempt to inhibit publication of information about violations."

The Russian arm of the Livejournal blogging site had also been intermittently available during the week before voting day as it came under repeated DDoS attacks.

Anton Nossik, media director of LiveJournal owner SUP, alleged that the perpetrators were criminals, "probably fattened by the federal budget".

Most of the attacks were directed at groups and media organisations that oppose the Putin government, but some Pro-Kremlin groups were also targeted.

Youth activists said their site which logged election violations by opposition parties had also come under fire.

Google's Android racks up its 10 billionth app download

More than 10 billion apps have been downloaded from Google's Android Market.

To mark the moment Google said that for the next 10 days it would cut the price of some top apps to 10p each.

The search giant announced the milestone on its blog adding that the store's apps were being downloaded at a rate of one billion a month.

However, some industry analysts played down the figure saying Google should do more to address poor-quality programs.
Cheap deal

Google said the pace at which apps were being downloaded was starting to accelerate. Its figures show Android took 22 months to reach one billion downloads but only one month to go from nine billion to 10 billion.

By contrast, Apple hit one billion downloads after nine months. Although the iPhone maker still maintains a lead, some experts believe it will be short-lived.

"Apple announced the 15 billion download mark in July so it's clear that Android's momentum in device activations is translating to application downloads and usage," said Geoff Blaber from analysts CCS Insight.

"We'd expect Android to overtake Apple in application downloads in the first half of 2012."

However, added Mr Blaber, such swift growth posed a challenge of how to help customers discover useful software from all the other code on offer.

"It's an issue for developers and consumers alike but a significant opportunity for whoever solves the problem first," he said.

Google's Android smartphone platform became the world's most popular in early 2011 when it overtook Nokia's Symbian.
Android market growth graphic Google says it sold its 10 billionth app last weekend

Sales are believed to have been helped by the appearance of Android tablets such as Amazon's Kindle Fire.

The celebration of the 10 billionth download will last for 10 days during which Google will pick a series of top programs and drop their prices.

Among the first titles to be discounted are Asphalt 6 HD, Minecraft, Endomondo Sports Tracker Pro and Swiftkey X.

Carolina Milanesi, from analysts Gartner, said download numbers were a poor measure of success.

"The number game matters to industry watchers and helps advertising but it is not changing the bottom line," she said.

"Quality of the apps and the store in general and curation in particular should be the focus for Google," she said. "This is where I still see a difference between the Apple App Store and Android Market.

"This might not impact downloads but it will eventually impact the revenue opportunity for developers," she told the BBC.

Business groups worried over 4G mobile broadband

Plans to replace the current 3G mobile network with new 4G technology have been criticised by business groups.

The Federation of Small Businesses and the National Farmers Union (NFU) say the rollout is taking too long and won't cover enough of the UK.

They are worried hundreds of thousands of people, mainly in rural areas, could be left behind.

Ofcom says the project is moving as quickly as possible and that no final decision has been made about coverage.

Two 4G trials are being carried out in the UK.
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Businesses in rural areas need broadband now. They [the government and Ofcom] need to move faster on this and be more ambitious

Andrew Cave Federation of Small Businesses

One is taking place in central London, run by O2, and another in north Cornwall, jointly run by Everything Everywhere and BT.

Twenty-five-year-old Hayley Gaffney is one of around 200 people taking part in the Cornwall trial.

Until she got the 4G broadband she was only getting speeds of just over 1Mbps.

"The internet was an absolute nightmare," she says. "It just kept crashing because it was so slow."

However, since joining the trial her broadband speed has jumped to more than 11Mbps.

"The internet really is amazing to what it was before," says Hayley.

"It was things like watching YouTube, uploading photos onto Facebook, just uploading the news feed on Facebook, getting my emails without getting them a few days later. Before it was so slow."
'More ambition'

Andrew Cave from the Federation of Small Businesses says those kinds of benefits are vital to roll out to every part of the UK, not just urban areas.

"Businesses in rural areas need broadband now," says Mr Cave.
Hayley Gaffney Hayley Gaffney says her 4G internet experience is "amazing"

"They [the government and Ofcom] need to move faster on this and be more ambitious."

Current plans mean the 4G network won't be in place until 2013 at the earliest and will only allow for a maximum of 98% of the UK to be covered.

Phil Bicknell, chief economist at the NFU, says it means that hundreds of thousands of people, mainly living in rural areas, risk being left behind.

"Coverage is just part of it," he says.

"The other issue is with regard to connection speeds.

"We're seeing that widening gap between those people in rural areas, in terms of the speed of their connection with broadband, and those superfast connections that are increasingly emerging in urban areas."

Microsoft prepares major update for Xbox 360 console

The BBC iPlayer will be added to the Xbox in 2012 as Microsoft tries to centre its console on entertainment rather than just games.

The big update to support this change will start hitting Xbox 360 consoles around the world on 6 December.

Microsoft has signed up 40 media firms to provide both live and on-demand movie and TV services for the console.

The update also lets people control their TVs by talking into the Kinect motion-spotting gadgets.
Mainstream media

The most noticeable change made by the update will be to swap the Xbox's familiar tabbed interface for the so-called Metro look that is based around "tiles".

This uses square and oblong tiles that sit under different menu headings which lump together media and content relevant to that category. For instance, tiles under the "social" menu give access to Twitter, Facebook and Kinect video calls.
Nokia Lumia The blocky "tiled" look from Windows Phone 7 will be reflected on the Xbox interface

The Metro interface is also expected to be the default for Windows 8 when that debuts in late 2012.

Microsoft's Bing search engine is also being rolled out to the Xbox and it will be able to search for anything available on any of the tiles. Kinect owners will be able to use their voice to make queries.

As well as live TV programmes, other on-demand services will be made available via tiles under the "Apps" menu. Only Gold members of Xbox Live will be able to access them.

About 35 million of the 57 million Xbox consoles around the world are connected to Xbox Live.

From 6 December in the UK, Amazon's movie streaming service Lovefilm will be available through the Xbox.

Later in the month it will be joined by other on-demand se including 4OD, Blinkbox and Sony's Crackle. The iPlayer will be available via an Xbox Live app from early 2012.

Sky TV services are already available on the console. Microsoft does not mention ITV in its press release.

India vows crackdown on offensive internet content

India has vowed to crack down on offensive internet content, accusing web firms of failing to cooperate.

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal met officials from Google, Facebook and other websites on Monday.

On Tuesday he said the firms had told him they were unable to take action.

He said the government would introduce guidelines to ensure "blasphemous material" did not appear on internet. Doctored photos of the PM and Sonia Gandhi have angered the government.
'Give us the data'

Addressing a press conference in the capital, Delhi, on Tuesday, Mr Sibal said he had asked the companies in September to remove images and statements deemed offensive to religious groups, but that they had ignored his requests.

"At a meeting on 4 November, we showed them some of the photos and they too agreed that the photos were offensive," he said.

The minister accused the internet firms of not co-operating.

"They have given it to me in writing that they will not do anything until we get an order from the court," he said.

Mr Sibal said companies would not be allowed to say, "we throw up our hands, we can't do anything about this".
Indian information technology professionals work on their laptops during an Open Hack Day programme in Bangalore, Jul 2010 India has more than 100 million internet users

He said: "My aim is that insulting material never gets uploaded. We will evolve guidelines and mechanisms to deal with the issue. They will have to give us the data, where these images are being uploaded and who is doing it."

Before the press conference, Mr Sibal showed reporters morphed photos of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, as well as pigs running through Islam's holy city of Mecca.

The minister said the government did not believe in interfering in the freedom of the press, but "we have to take care of the sensibilities of our people, we have to protect their sensibilities. Our cultural ethos is very important to us".

India has more than 100 million internet users and web companies say the large number means broad action is impossible.
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When content is legal and does not violate our policies, we will not remove it just because it is controversial”

Google spokesperson

Facebook said in a statement that it recognised the "government's interest in minimising the amount of abusive content available online".

But, it said, there were policies in place that enabled people to report abusive content.

"We will remove any content that violates our terms, which are designed to keep material that is hateful, threatening, incites violence or contains nudity off the service."

Facebook said it would "continue to engage with the Indian authorities as they debate this important issue".

India has 28 million Facebook accounts.

A spokesperson for Google was quoted by the Press Trust of India as saying that it did remove illegal material.

But the spokesperson added: "When content is legal and does violate our policies, we will not remove it just because it is controversial, as we believe that people's differing views, so long as they are legal, should be respected and protected."

Rajesh Chharia, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of India, told Associated Press that internet companies should be aware of national security issues.

"I am not favouring censorship - self-regulation is the best censorship available to our system [but] we should not do anything which should harm the peace of the country."