Google Reports 'Alarming' Rate of Government Censorship

Generally when Google shows up in the news regarding information being exposed on the Web it’s about privacy issues and concerns that too much data is being stored or distributed by the Internet giant. It’s also possible, though, that in some cases Google may not be displaying enough information.

About two years ago Google started posting data online in its Transparency Report. The data includes real-time traffic information, as well as requests from individuals, companies, or governments to surrender data, and requests to have sites or information removed from Google search or from YouTube.

Governments should be very careful about engaging in censorship.
Requests from users to remove sites is monitored in real-time, but the data for government takedown requests is only updated every six months. While we might expect certain strict regimes like China or Thailand to police the Internet in this way, Google says it’s not necessarily the case.

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'Flame' Spread Via Rogue Microsoft Security Certificates

Analysis of the massive ‘Flame’ cyber attack code has revealed that rogue Microsoft security certificates were used to make the malware appear as if it was officially signed by Microsoft. Microsoft has issued a security advisory, revoked trust in the rogue certificates, and provided steps to help IT admins and users prevent attacks that rely on the spoofed Microsoft certificates.

A post on the Microsoft Security Response Center blog states plainly, “We have discovered through our analysis that some components of the malware have been signed by certificates that allow software to appear as if it was produced by Microsoft.”

'Flame' slipped under network defenses by appearing as legitimate Microsoft code.
Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle, declares, “The discovery of a bug that’s been used to circumvent Microsoft’s secure code certificate hierarchy is a major breach of trust, and it’s a big deal for every Microsoft user. It also underscores the delicate and problematic nature of the trust models behind every Internet transaction.”

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'Flame': Lethal Cyberweapon or Media Hype?

A new malware attack was discovered targeting Iran. Dubbed ‘Flame’, ‘Flamer’, or ‘sKyWIper’ depending on the source, the cyber attack has been called “much bigger than Stuxnet,” “most sophisticated cyber weapon yet unleashed,” and “most lethal cyberweapon to date.” However, at least one security vendor takes issue with the ‘Flame’ hype and calls the threat “overblown”.

Malware researchers claim that the code behind “Flame” bears many resemblances to Stuxnet and Duqu. The sophistication of the attack and the techniques used within the threat are similar, and so is the primary target: Iran.

Is 'Flame' the most insidious threat ever, or just a clever attack that caught the security industry off-guard?
While no group or nation has yet taken responsibility officially for Stuxnet or Duqu, the complexity of the attacks combined with the focus on Iran have fueled speculation that the malware is possibly a state-sponsored attack engineered by the United States, or Israel. A Symantec blog post suggests similar origins for ‘Flame’: “As with the previous two threats, this code was not likely to have been written by a single individual but by an organized, well-funded group of people working to a clear set of directives.”

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Absinthe 2.0 Jailbreak Is What's Wrong with iOS

A tireless collaborative effort by the iOS Jailbreak Dream Team (a group comprised of members from the Chronic-Dev Team and the iPhone Dev Team) has yielded Absinthe 2.0--a jailbreak utility for iOS 5.1.1. While some appreciate being able to break out of Apple’s “walled garden”, the fact that iOS devices can be rooted poses a significant security risk.

Jailbroken iOS devices can pose a security risk.
A press release for Absinthe 2.0 explains the concept of jailbreaking: “iOS jailbreaking, or simply jailbreaking, is the process of removing the limitations imposed by Apple on devices running the iOS operating system through use of custom security exploits. Jailbreaking allows users to gain elevated access to the operating system. Consequently it also allows users to download additional applications, extensions and themes that are unavailable through the official Apple App Store.”

Those who choose to jailbreak their own iOS devices to get around Apple restrictions or limitations do so with conscious intent and understand the risks involved. A jailbroken iOS device is also able to install apps from outside of the Apple App Store which have not been vetted by Apple and could contain malicious code. Apple will not support jailbroken devices, so you’re on your own.

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Microsoft Fixes Critical Flaws with Patch Tuesday Updates

Microsoft released a total of seven new security bulletins for May’s Patch Tuesday. Four are rated as Important, and the other three are Critical, but two in particular are getting the most attention: MS12-034 and MS12-029.

MS12-034 fixes 10 separate vulnerabilities spanning a range of Microsoft products including Windows, Office, .NET Framework, and Silverlight. It’s unusual for Microsoft to lump so many products together in a single security bulletin or patch.

Watch out! MS12-029 can be exploited with no user interaction.
Wolfgang Kandek, CTO of Qualys, provides some background to explain the unusual patch in a blog post. MS12-034 is the result of an effort by Microsoft to seek out other products using the same flawed code exploited by Duqu. This patch knocks out all of the other instances, and addresses a variety of other security issues in the affected products at the same time.

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'Smishing' Attacks Are on the Rise

Text messaging is the most common non-voice use of a mobile phone. There are trillions of text messages received around the world each day, and an increasing number of them are spam, or phishing attacks of some sort.

A report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project claims that 73 percent of adults with a mobile phone use text messaging--sending and receiving an average of 41.5 messages per day. That average jumps to a startling 110 messages per day for individuals between 18 and 24.

Think twice about clicking that link in the suspicious text message.
Cyber criminals are good at identifying lucrative markets and targeting weak links. Users are conditioned to recognize suspicious messages and security threats on PCs, and there’s generally security software in place to detect and prevent attacks. But, many people assume mobile phones are inherently safe, and don’t realize that malware and phishing attacks are a concern for mobile devices as well.

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Avast Offers Free Security for Mac OS X

Mac users have been forced to face a cold reality lately—the days of security through obscurity are over. Macs have traditionally been off the radar, and relatively safe just by virtue of being Macs. Now that malicious attacks are targeting Macs, users need to defend themselves. Avast is stepping up to offer its popular free antimalware software for Mac OS X.

No, malware is nowhere near the scourge for Mac OS X as it is for Windows. I am not saying the “sky is falling”, and I’m not declaring a “Macpocalypse”. But, the reality is that malicious attacks exist, and the threat will continue to grow. Macs have been gaining in market share, and the growth rate of Mac is outpacing the growth rate for Windows-based PCs, so the operating system has captured the attention of malicious developers. It’s time to recognize that, and implement security tools to defend against attacks.

Protect your Mac OS X system with the free security software from Avast.
Even if you truly believe that malware is just not an issue for you on a Mac, there’s still good reason to use security software. A recent report found that many Macs are like the “Typhoid Mary” of the Internet. One in five Mac systems was found to be carrying malware that has no impact on Mac OS X, but can still be shared and pose a risk to Windows PCs.

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