Archive for January, 2011

Computer scientists create weapon against internet pirates

Posted January 30, 2011 By David Kolle

The international movie industry has a new weapon against internet pirates – a program written by two Australian computer scientists.

PhD student Robert Layton and researcher Prof Paul Watters, of Ballarat University’s Internet Commerce Security Laboratory (ICSL), wrote a program that can track illegal downloads through torrent websites.

The program maps the extent of criminal activity and copyright infringement online.

It uses a tagging technique to track files through networks commonly used by movie and music pirates to transfer large files in fragments from multiple users simultaneously.

The project attracted attention from movie giant Village Roadshow, who offered funding to help curb internet copyright infringement.

“We are able to get an idea of what people are downloading through torrent sites, by scraping data from (the sites) about downloads and search terms,” Prof Watters said.

“We have found that while many people download copyright infringing material, only about 100 people in the world upload most of the content.”

The ICSL works with the Australian Federal Police to stop online sharing of child pornography and other illegal content.

The lab has found the Christopher Nolan-directed sci-fi hit Inception to be the current favourite for movie pirates, followed by Iron Man 2 and Salt.

“We are able to compile a list of common downloads and common search terms through the torrent sites,” Mr Layton said.

The research showed movies made up 40 per cent of illegal downloads, followed by TV shows at 30 per cent. Music makes up 17 per cent of downloads, ahead of pornography at 12 per cent.

Mr Layton, who wrote his first commercial computer program at 19, said the project would expose the world of web piracy, previously uncharted by authorities.

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Pay by swiping your iPhone 5, iPad 2

Posted January 29, 2011 By David Kolle
You’ll soon be able to pay for things just by swiping your iPhone, analysts say.iPhone 4.

 

Apple plans to introduce services that would let customers use its iPhone and iPad computer to make purchases, said Richard Doherty, director of consulting firm Envisioneering Group.

The services are based on “Near-Field Communication”, a technology that can beam and receive information at a distance of up to four inches, due to be embedded in the next iteration of the iPhone and the iPad 2, Doherty said. Both products are likely to be introduced this year, he said, citing engineers who are working on hardware for the Apple project.

Apple’s service may be able to tap into user information already on file, including credit-card numbers, iTunes gift-card balance and bank data, said Richard Crone, who leads financial industry adviser Crone Consulting LLC in San Carlos, California. That could make it an alternative to programs offered by such companies as Visa, MasterCard and eBay‘s PayPal, said Taylor Hamilton, an analyst at consultant IBISWorld.

“It would make a lot of sense for Apple to include NFC functionality in its products,” Crone said.

The main goal for Apple would be to get a piece of the $US6.2 trillion Americans spend each year on goods and services, Crone said. Today, the company pays credit-card processing fees on every purchase from iTunes.

By encouraging consumers to use cheaper methods – such as tapping their bank accounts directly, which is how many purchases are made via PayPal – Apple could cut its own costs and those of retailers selling Apple products.

Natalie Harrison, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment.

Boon for PayPal, Visa and MasterCard

“NFC is definitely one of the technologies that’s getting a lot of attention, but ultimately the consumer is going to choose,” said Charlotte Hill, a spokeswoman for PayPal, owned by eBay.

Elvira Swanson, a spokeswoman for Visa, said the company was “excited to see NFC mobile devices coming into the market”.

Ed McLaughlin, chief emerging payments officer at MasterCard, said the company was “running the world’s fastest payment network, and that doesn’t need to be re-created”.

MasterCard sees NFC “as an opportunity to partner with organisations” and has already run NFC payment trials around the world.

The recently passed Durbin Amendment makes the timing right for a push by Apple, Crone said. The regulation, which will go into effect this summer, may limit debit-card fees paid by retailers and lets them encourage consumers to use one payment method over another.

Competing with Android

Under Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook, who is handling day-to-day operations as chief executive officer Steve Jobs takes medical leave, the iPhone is adding features that will help it compete with phones that use Google’s Android software.

Samsung Electronics’s Nexus S phone, which runs Android, can read information from NFC tags.

Nokia, the world’s largest maker of mobile phones, has pushed NFC adoption for years, though the technology has been slow to take off.

“Apple could be the game-changer,” Doherty said.

Apple is considering starting a mobile payment service as early as the middle of this year, Doherty said. It would revamp iTunes, a service that lets consumers buy digital movies and music, so it would hold not only users’ credit-card account information but also loyalty credits and points, Doherty said.

Using the service, customers could walk into a store or restaurant and make payments straight from an iPad or iPhone. They could also receive loyalty rewards and credits for purchases, such as when referring a friend, Doherty said.

Targeted advertising

Apple also could use NFC to improve how it delivers mobile ads to customers’ handsets and charge higher fees for those ads, Crone said. NFC would let Apple’s iAd advertising network personalise ads to the places where a customer is spending money. That could double or triple the ad rates that Apple charges, Crone said.

Apple has created a prototype of a payment terminal that small businesses, such as hairdressers and mum-and-pop stores, could use to scan NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads, Doherty said.

The company is considering heavily subsidising the terminal, or even giving it away to retailers, to encourage fast, nationwide adoption of NFC technology and rev up sales of NFC-enabled iPhones and iPads, he said.

To help get ready for NFC, Apple last year hired Benjamin Vigier, who worked on the technology at mobile-payment provider MFoundry. It also has applied for a patent on a system that uses NFC to share information between applications running on various Apple devices.

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Internet

Since its inception, the internet has become the life source of our economy, and our daily lives – a vast, never-ending supply of information delivered to our homes and workplaces at rapid speeds.

Every internet connected computer, smartphone, car, gadget and gizmo is assigned an IP address made up of four sets of digits which allows it to communicate with the net – running off a system known as IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4).

But just like the housing bubble and the stock market, it was never supposed to slow down – that is, unless it ever ran out of IP addresses.

Guess what?

“In the coming few days and weeks - no longer, the central pool is going to run out,” says Geoff Huston, the Chief Scientist at the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre.

Mr Huston gave an address regarding the IP problem at open source conference linux.conf.au in Brisbane yesterday.

“That distribution system is coming to a close,” he told news.com.au.

That news itself has been kicking around for a couple of years now. Internet “founding father” Vint Cerf seems to be unable to make a public appearance without apologising for the oversight.

It’s not even difficult to fix. Web developers have compensated for it by creating IPv6 - a system which recognises 128-bit addresses as opposed to IPv4′s 32-bit addresses.

However, the real problem lies in the fact that IPv6 is not backwards-compatible with IPv4, meaning that it is not able to read most content that operates on an IPv4 system.

At best, their user experience will be clunky and slow.

At worst, instead of a webpage, all users will be able to view is a blank page.

The current generation of iPhones, for example, won’t display anything with an IPv6 address correctly.

The real problem lies in getting everybody to take the problem seriously.

“If I changed my mobile phone to run IPv6 rather than IPv4, then all of a sudden I wouldn’t be able to see the IPv4 network – none of it,” Mr Huston said.

“Nobody. Nothing. No one is going to turn themselves off the internet just by running v6 so for some years we need to run both protocols at once.

“We need to equip both devices with IPv4 and IPv6.

“Now that’s fine except we’re running out of IPv4 addresses – so we’re back at the start again.”

Part of the reason ISPs and developers have been so slow to come up with a solution is that there are no economic incentives to developing IPv6.

“We keep on getting the problem that the economics of transition work against us,” Mr Huston said.

“V6 doesn’t make a faster network. It’s the same protocol, it’s the same applications.

“There’s nothing that v4 can’t do so there’s no killer application in IPv6. If you turn on IPv6 tomorrow it’s still the same old internet.

“With nothing to gain financially, they do know they have to do something, they don’t feel the urgency to do it today.

“Now the situation is getting a little bit desperate because the number of ‘todays’ are dwindling.”

Huston says the demand levels of internet within the Asia Pacific region are so high, it will be a matter of four, to five months before we run out of IPv4 IP addresses.

After that time internet users and providers have genuine cause for concern.

“We’re genuinely looking at the possibility of seeing the kinds of behaviour that exist in the market where an important resource has run low or out,” says Marcos Ostini, Papers Chair of the 2011 Linux Conference Australia.

“That includes panic, includes forming cartels, hoarding and selling at exorbitant prices because supply and demand has changed.

“Before IP addresses weren’t particularly expensive, but now you can sell them at exorbitant prices that make a huge profit.”

Time is running out and with developers no closer to fixing the problem, things are looking grim.

“There will come a point where your iPhone doesn’t get the web anymore, or you will see a lot of blank pages. It’s a genuine problem,” Mr Ostini said.

“The issue now is if IPv6 isn’t a workable solution and v4 has run out, you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

A short-term solution may be for ISPs to sell IP addresses that connect through what’s known as “Network Address Translation” – which allows more than one user to connect to a public IP address.

But like trying to use a mobile phone on New Year’s Eve this presents its own problems – because it slows down the connection speed, or could potentially make it unusable.

“They can provide addresses that way,” Mr Ostini said.

“But that by itself is not ostensible. It’s a stop gap measure. It can’t scale to the growth we’re talking about.”

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THE number of internet users worldwide has mushroomed to reach the two billion mark, the head of the UN’s telecommunications agency, Hamadoun Toure, said today.

The number of mobile phone subscriptions also reached the symbolic threshold of five billion, the secretary general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said.

“At the beginning of the year 2000 there were only 500 million mobile subscriptions globally and 250 million internet users,” he said.

“By the beginning of this year 2011 those numbers have mushroomed to over five billion mobile users and two billion subscribers to the internet,” Mr Toure said.

An ITU statistician told AFP that the figure for mobile telephones related to subscriptions.

Fresh data posted online by the agency showed that the estimated number of internet users had reached 2.08 billion by the end of 2010, compared to 1.86 billion a year earlier.

The estimated number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide reached 5.28 billion at the end of the last year, compared to 4.66 billion at the end of 2009.

“The very high growth in mobile (phones) is slowing and we’re reaching the end of double digit growth in mobile,” Susan Teltscher, ITU head of market information and statistics, said.

With the world’s population exceeding 6.8 billion, nearly one person in three surfs online.

Fifty-seven per cent of the users are in developing countries, three years after the ITU reported that internet use there overtook developed nations.

The number of fixed broadband internet subscriptions in the world passed the half a billion mark for the first time in 2010, reaching 555 million, while the number of mobile broadband subscriptions surged to 940 million.

Meanwhile, fixed telephone landlines declined for the fourth year in a row, dropping just below 1.2 billion.

Asia and the Pacific spearheaded the shift into cyberspace, adding more than 100 million internet users to the global tally to bring the number of internet users in the region to 857 million – largely due to China, Ms Teltscher said.

But the highest density of online surfers in the population is found in Europe, followed by the Americas, former Soviet states and Arab nations, according to the ITU data.

The most rapid online growth in recent years has occurred in the latter two regions.

In Arab states, the estimated number of internet users has reached 88 million, doubling in the space of about five years.

Growth in the former Soviet Union’s Commonwealth of Independent States was even faster: 127 million people used the internet there last year, compared to 51 million in 2007 according to the ITU estimates.

“They have been catching up because they had lower penetration rates before,” Ms Teltscher said.

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Google turns Android smartphones into interpreters

Posted January 29, 2011 By David Kolle

Google this week began turning Android-powered smartphones into interpreters with experimental software that lets the handsets translate conversations in real time.

An in-the-works version of “Conversation Mode” was made available as the California-based internet giant updated a text translation feature it added to Android smartphones a year ago.

“In conversation mode, simply press the microphone for your language and start speaking,” product manager Awaneesh Verma said in a blog post.

Google Translate will translate your speech and read the translation out loud. Your conversation partner can then respond in their language, and you’ll hear the translation spoken back to you.”

Conversation Mode only translates between English and Spanish for now, and factors such as regional dialects, background noise, or fast talking could vex translations, he warned.

“Even with these caveats, we’re excited about the future promise of this technology to be able to help people connect across languages,” Verma said.

“As Android devices have spread across the globe, we’ve seen Translate for Android used all over.”

The majority of people using Translate are outside the United States, with daily use of the feature taking place in more than 150 countries, according to the Google product manager.

Translate supports 53 languages in text and Android devices handle voice recognition in 15 languages, Verma said.

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