Android ransomware increasing in Australia: Bitdefender


Security vendor Bitdefender has warned of an upswing in the incidence of Android ransomware in Australia.

Bitdefender says there has been a sudden spike in the incidence of Android ransomware in Australia, and suggests this shows “an increased interest among cybercriminals in targeting Australia to generate revenue.”

The above graph shows the incidence of ransomware as a percentage of total Android malware reports.

Early samples of Android malware were quite basic and easily removed, the company says, but more recent examples are more persistent and can only be removed after restarting the device in Safe Mode.

So far, Android ransomware does not encrypt data on the affected phone or tablet, it just pretends that it has done so and relies on scaring the user.

This is in contrast to the Windows situation, where ransomware such as Cryptolocker really does encrypt the data. In that case, the choice is between paying the ransom (and hoping you receive the decryption key in return), and losing the files unless you can restore them from backups.

Dell SecureWorks recently noted that Australia was ranked third in the world for Cryptolocker incidents.

Bitdefender offers the usual advice: only download apps from Google Play, and install a mobile security product. Obviously they’d like you to use Bitdefender Mobile Security, but there are others such as Norton Mobile Security, which has a handy feature to warn you of known risks with apps from Google Play before you tap the Download button.

By: Stephen Withers

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Australia follows global trend on path to mobile Internet access

Use of the Internet via mobile devices is becoming a “compelling preference” for many Australians, according to Internet Australia, which has welcomed a global report finding that mobile has fundamentally transformed Internet access and use around the world.

Internet Australia CEO Laurie Patton said today that the trend to mobile is evident here in Australia although perhaps to a “lesser extent than in some developing countries.”

“Just as there is a whole generation of Australians who see no need for a landline telephone the portability of the Internet via mobile is also becoming a compelling preference for many.

Patton was respondng to the global Internet Society’s release of its 2015 Global Internet Reportfinding that mobile has fundamentally transformed Internet access and use, and holds the key to fulfilling the promise of Internet connectivity for the next billion people.

And, last week Internet Australia called for a Digital Future Forum to be supported by the federal government as Australia contemplates the future in the era of greater connectivity.

“The idea is to get a range of representative organisations together with the Government and the Opposition and create a bipartisan strategic plan,” Patton said.

“The outcome would be a broad set of policy settings that are long term and agreed between all the parties. To achieve our potential as a digitally enabled economy we need a road map and consensus among all parties on the direction we should take.”

The Global Internet Report highlights include:

•    94% of the global population is covered by a mobile network, 48% are covered by mobile broadband, and 28% have subscribed to mobile Internet services

•    The gap between availability and adoption of mobile Internet is due to affordability and lack of relevant content. Policymakers should focus on filling this gap by making the services more affordable by removing taxes on equipment, devices, and services, and eliminating regulatory barriers for operators. Local hosting of content can also help lower costs by avoiding the use of relatively expensive international capacity to access content.

•    As demand increases, governments will need to ensure an adequate allocation of spectrum for mobile Internet use

•    More than 80% of online time on mobile is spent on apps, as opposed to a browser. Even adding in desktop browsing, users spend more than 50% of overall online time using mobile apps

•    Smart devices provide many useful services and features, such as location awareness and cameras; however these offerings raise increased privacy issues

•    Usage of the mobile Internet depends on wireless interfaces and access to apps, which can lead to heightened security concerns

•    An increasing reliance on mobile apps, combined with those apps being native to a particular proprietary mobile platform, raises the cost of creating apps for each platform, the cost for users switching between platforms, and thereby limits platform competition

•    The web app environment enables developers to create websites with advanced features that can be installed on a mobile device with an icon similar to existing apps. Developers can create one web app for all platforms – consumers can easily move between platforms the way they switch browsers today – and new platforms can enter and compete on more of an even ground.

By Peter Dinham

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IT device sales set to fall for first time since 2010

A major analyst firm says worldwide device shipments to grow 1.5%, reaching 2.5 billion units in 2015, down from a forecast 2.8% growth, with sales down since 2010.

Gartner has released its latest stats on worldwide combined shipment of IT devices including PCs, tablets, ultramobiles and mobile phones.

Shipments are expected to reach 2.5 billion units during 2015, which is a 1.5% increase on 2014, but which Gartner says is ‘down from the previous quarter’s forecast of 2.8 percent growth.’

Interestingly, while end-user spending on devices is set to total $606 billion this year, it will show that, for the first since since 2010, a 5.7% decline in current U.S. dollars.

These stats can be seen in the two tablets supplied by Gartner below, with all of this detail available and much more from Gartner in a paid report entitled “Forecast: PCs, Ultramobiles and Mobile Phones, Worldwide, 2012-2019, 2Q15 Update.”

Ranjit Atwal, a Gartner research director said: “Our forecast for unit shipment growth for all devices in 2015 has dropped by 1.3% from last quarter’s estimate.

“This was partly due to a continued slowdown in PC purchases in Western Europe, Russia and Japan in particular, largely due to price increases resulting from local currency devaluation against the dollar.”

It’s the mobile phone market that continues to show growth as prices are falling, with China leading the way amongst the rest of the emerging markets driving all this growth.


Gartner points to the end of Windows XP migration negatively affecting ‘the PC market globally during the first half of 2015; however, the greater impact remains the currency depreciation against the dollar.

‘PC vendors are increasingly reducing their inventory levels — by at least 5% until the end of 2015 — as a way to minimise pricing exposure in the channel.’

Gartner expects 300 total global PC shipments this year, which is a drop of 4.5% year or year.

Atwal added: “We do not expect the global PC market to recover until 2016.

“The release of Windows 10 on 29th July will contribute to a slowing professional demand for mobile PCs and premium ultramobiles in 2015, as lifetimes extend by three months.

“However, as suppliers and buyers adjust to new prices, Windows 10 could boost replacements during 2016.”

Ultra mobiles comprising of both tablets and clamshells ‘is also on pace to contract in 2015’, with shipments ‘estimated to total 214 million units in 2015, a decline of 5.3% year on year.’

Not even tablets are immune from the expected drop in sales, with Gartner stating that ‘tablets will account for 207 million units, a decline of 5.9% from 2014.’

Roberta Cozza, another Gartner research director said: “The tablet market is hit by fewer new buyers, extended life cycles and little innovation to encourage new purchases.

“At the same time, the value of a smartwatch for the average user is still not compelling enough and the impact of these wearables on tablet purchases remains negligible. The tablet has become a ‘nice to have’ device, and there is no real need for an upgrade as regularly as for the phone.”

Smartphones with screen sizes of around 5-inches are also seeing their owners rely on them more, especially as they gain new functions and capabilities, something ‘affecting the appeal of smaller tablets in markets such as Western Europe and North America, beyond Asia.’

Thus, Gartner is extending ‘the average lifetime of the tablet to three years by 2016,’ with Cozza adding: “We also expect the tablet market to reach a penetration close to 50 percent of households in mature markets by 2016, which is soon.”

Then we get to Gartner’s mobile phone growth predictions, where the market growth rate ‘is expected to slow down to 3.3% growth in 2015.’

Annette Zimmerman, yet another Gartner research director said: “The global market has been affected by a weaker performance in China. We have witnessed fewer and fewer first time buyers in China, a sign that the mobile phone market in there is reaching saturation.

“Vendors in China will have to win replacement buyers and improve the appeal of their premium offerings to attract upgrades, if they want to maintain or increase their market share.”

“Vendors looking to grow their performance in the global smartphone market will be challenged to quickly enhance their expansion into emerging markets outside of China, where we still witness a sizeable share of feature phones and an opportunity for double-digit smartphone growth,” concluded Ms. Zimmermann.


By Alex Zaharov-Reutt

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FBI wants companies to back off end-to-end encryption

The agencies want tech vendors to retain access to encrypted data to comply with court-ordered warrants.

U.S. tech companies should retain access to the encrypted information of their customers, instead of providing end-to-end encryption, in order to give police the tools they need to investigate crimes and terrorist activity, two senior law enforcement officials said.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI aren’t seeking new legislation to require tech companies to comply with warrant requests, at least for now, and they don’t want companies to build encryption back doors that give the agencies direct access to communications and information stored on smartphones, said Sally Quillian Yates, the DOJ’s deputy attorney general.

Instead, the DOJ and FBI, in their continuing efforts to combat the use of encryption by criminals and terrorists, are proposing that tech and communications companies retain internal access to encrypted information so that they can comply with court-ordered search warrants, she told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Several tech companies already retain some access to customers’ encrypted data, she said.

Legislation may eventually be necessary, but the DOJ is now looking for voluntary compliance from tech companies, she said.

With new encryption services from tech companies, “critical information becomes, in effect, warrant-proof,” Yates said. “We are creating safe zones where dangerous criminals and terrorists can operate and avoid detection.”

A recent push by tech companies toward end-to-end encryption, partly in response to reports of mass surveillance programs, has led the DOJ and FBI to raise concerns about law enforcement agencies “going dark” when investigating crime. Last September, FBI Director James Comey Jr. first questioned decisions by Apple and Google to offer encryption by default on their smartphone operating systems.

“The world has changed in the last two years,” Comey told senators. “Encryption has moved from something available to something that is the default, both on devices and on data in motion.”

Terrorist group ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has used encryption effectively, Yates said. ISIL makes first contact with many potential recruits on Twitter, where the group has about 21,000 followers of its English language feed, but then directs them to communicate further on an encrypted messaging service, she said.

“This is a serious threat, and our inability to access these communications with valid court orders is a real national security problem,” Yates added. “We must find a solution to this pressing problem, and we need to find it soon.”

U.S. tech companies should be able to find a way to provide law enforcement access to encrypted data and still provide many of the security and privacy benefits of encryption, Comey said. “The tools we are being asked to use are increasingly ineffective in our national security work and in our criminal work,” he said. “I don’t come with a solution — this is a really, really hard problem.”

But Comey also rejected arguments by some computer scientists who say it’s impossible to allow police access to encrypted data without also opening it up to hackers.

“I think Silicon Valley is full of folks [who] have built remarkable things that changed our lives,” he said. “Maybe this is too hard, but given the stakes … we’ve got to give it a shot.”

While companies like Google and Apple were not included in the hearing, senators gave a mixed reaction to the testimonies of Yates and Comey. Some senators suggested it would be nearly impossible to prevent foreign tech vendors from offering encrypted communication products.

Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, pressed Yates to provide statistics about the number of criminal cases affected by encrypted data.

Before creating new regulations, Congress needs to have a “clear understanding of the scope and the magnitude of law enforcement’s security interests,” Franken said.

Yates couldn’t provide a number of cases affected, saying it was difficult because, in many cases, police don’t seek a warrant when they know the information they want is encrypted. But Cyrus Vance Jr., district attorney in Manhattan, told senators his office has tried to pull data off 92 Apple phones running iOS 8 in the past six months, and on 74 of those devices, the data was encrypted.

Other senators were sympathetic to the encryption dilemma faced by law enforcement agencies. Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, pressed Comey to tell lawmakers that U.S. residents will die if a solution wasn’t found. Comey declined, saying he doesn’t want to scare people. The FBI will do the best job it can with the crime-fighting tools it has, he said.

Still, Cornyn questioned companies that offer encryption without retaining some access to the data. “It strikes me as irresponsible, and perhaps worse, for a company to intentionally design a product in such a way that prevents them from complying with a lawful court order,” he said.

By Grant Gross, IDG News Services
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Facebook to build fifth data centre

Will be powered by adjacent wind farm.

Facebook will invest more than US$500 million (A$675 million) to build a new data centre in Fort Worth, Texas, which will become its fourth in the United States and fifth overall.

The facility will employ at least 40 full-time employees and will be powered entirely by renewable energy, Tom Furlong, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure, wrote in a blog post.

The deal will see Facebook bring 200 megawatts of new wind energy to the Texas grid thanks to partnerships with Citigroup Energy, Alterra Power Corporation, and Starwood Energy Group.

Facebook won’t own the wind farm once construction is complete – it will buy energy to power its data centre.

“200 MW is more energy than we will need for the foreseeable future, and we’re proud to have played a role in bringing this project to Texas,”  Ken Patchett, Facebook’s west region director of data centre operations wrote.

Construction of the wind farm is already under way on a 17,000 acre site 90 miles from the data centre, and Facebook expects it to begin delivering clean energy to the grid by 2016.

The company opened its first data centre in Prineville, Oregon, in 2011. It has other facilities in Altoona, Iowa, Forest City, North Carolina and Lulea, Sweden.

“We put a lot of effort into choosing where to locate a facility like this,” Patchett wrote.

“Our Fort Worth facility will be one of the most advanced, efficient, and sustainable data centers in the world.

“It will feature the latest in our Open Compute Project hardware designs — including Yosemite, Wedge, and 6-pack — and it will be cooled using outdoor air instead of energy-intensive air conditioners. (Yes, we can make that work even in the middle of the kinds of summers we have here in Texas.)”

The company said its infrastructure efficiency efforts had helped it save more than US$2 billion in infrastructure costs over the last three years.

With Reuters

By Allie Coyne
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Govt funds robots, cyberbullying projects with new grants

$86.9m given to 252 joint industry-uni research initiatives.

The federal government has offered $86.9 million in funding to universities and private sector bodies for academic research projects including IT initiatives that range from robotics to 5G networks.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne late yesterday detailed 252 projects that would be recipients of the Australian Research Council (ARC) linkage grant scheme.

The scheme promotes university-industry collaboration and offers funding in exchange for an in-kind contribution from the private sector.

Pyne did not specify how much funding had been provided by each private sector participant but said the total sum equalled $1.76 for every dollar provided by the government.

The funding round will see the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Cisco and Ericsson as well as a number of other private sector bodies partner with universities on a range of technology projects.

The University of Technology Sydney and Mission Australia were given $550,000 to develop “interactive mining systems” that would detect cyberbullying on social networks.

The project will use a “large number of participants” and a variety of inputs “including conversation texts, time-variant changes and user profiles”.

“The project is designed to change the existing cyberbullying prevention services from reactive keyword filtering to proactive social interaction pattern mining,” the project description states.

“The intended outcome will enable the early detection and warning of cyberbullying and open a new way to discover interaction patterns with a large number of participants over evolving and complex social networks.”

Thales and the University of Sydney were given $315,000 towards their project to make underwater survey robots communicate better with their human operators.

“It is often difficult to reliably program an autonomous system to identify salient data, particularly when the mission involves searching for particular features whose sensor signatures may be difficult to determine a priority,” the researchers wrote.

“In contrast, humans are generally good at quickly identifying important data or determining when a mission is not achieving its goals.

“The project aims to develop novel acoustic communication schemes that will allow communication between the human operator and the underwater robot, exploiting developments in machine learning, network and communication theory.”

Sydney Uni also received $574,932 to put into its project with Victorian utility Jemena to improve the efficiency of cloud data centres, and $280,000 for its work with Capgemini on introducing social networking into the enterprise more easily.

Jobs site Seek and RMIT were handed $394,000 towards their effort to mine details from web browsers to “redefine understanding of task-oriented search”.

Queensland’s technology university will put $300,000 towards its efforts with Honda Research Institute USA to increase driver safety and reduce risks through the use of in-car augmented reality displays.

Software vendor CA Technologies’ project with the Swinburne University of Technology to automate the provisioning of virtual deployment environments received $473,000. The university also received $230,000 for its efforts with AARNet to create a consumer-centric solution for cloud service brokerage.

Queensland University got $430,000 to work with supercomputer maker Cray on an energy-tuning tool for the company’s systems.

Vendor partnerships

Huawei and Sydney University will use their $360,000 to research “building blocks” for future machine-to-machine (M2M) wireless networks.

“The project aims to develop novel communications techniques that are tailored to unique M2M network characteristics and requirements and demonstrate the proposed algorithms in practical systems,” the researchers said.

Alcatel-Lucent will join the University of Melbourne to look at modelling energy consumption in next-generation telecommunications networks, a project given $240,000 by the government.

Cisco and the University of New South Wales will work on improving video streaming using interconnected content distribution networks (CDNs), and Ericsson and Newcastle University will use their $350,000 over the next three years to study feedback methods for 5G networks.

By Allie Coyne
Published on:,govt-funds-robots-cyberbullying-projects-in-new-industry-uni-grants.aspx#ixzz3fM4UeiQc

Qld Police uses drones for forensic investigations

Queensland Police Service has expanded its fleet of remotely piloted aircraft by rolling out two custom drones to the forensic services group.

Qld Police Minister Jo-Ann Miller said images captured by the drones would provide invaluable evidence in court.

“These new drones will offer investigators the opportunity to record a comprehensive aerial overview of crime scenes – something that they haven’t been able to do before now,” Miller said.

“The drones will also be used in the forensic search for evidence in places that were previously inaccessible – for example, on a roof, down a cliff or over a very large distance.”

The first drone is an off the shelf four-motor DJI Inspire worth over $5000. The other is a custom built eight-motor drone costing $18,000. Both drones are fitted with a 4K resolution camera capable of taking stills, video and 3D images.

Queensland Police began looking for options to use drones in 2010 and was approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in 2013. Officers must first complete CASA flight training before piloting the drones.

So far, the Queensland government has committed $23,000 to QPS for drones and training, with CASA flight training costing around $5500.

The drones have already been used in forensic investigations, the first being a house fire in Beenleigh last month. Pilots were able to gather data from angles not usually accessible to forensic investigators in order to analyse structural damage from above.

QPS also has a ground control station, allowing pilots to communicate with airports when a drone is flying, as well as signalling its position to other aircraft in the sky. Under CASA regulations, commercial drones are limited to flying under 121 metres.

The drones are constructed from carbon fibre and have a battery life of around 15 minutes. Each drone weighs just over 2kg when equipped with cameras.

Sergeant Clint Hanson is the only member of the forensics group who has been certified to fly the drones so far. QSP expects to have at least three or four pilots trained by the end of the year.

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Optus admits handing user phone numbers to websites

Without customer’s knowledge.

Optus has admitted to handing over its customer’s phone numbers to certain third-party websites accessed by the user.

As first flagged by a user on telco forum Whirlpool, when a user browses certain websites, Optus provides the customer’s mobile phone number to the website operator where a “commercial relationship” exists.

The practice, known as HTTP header enrichment, includes a mobile browser’s phone number in the HTTP header of the website request. The process aims to streamline direct billing for customers.

The Whirlpool user discovered the practice after receiving alerts about a subscription to a site they had not signed up to.

Optus confirmed its use of HTTP header enrichment to iTnews but said it only provided the details to certain sites involved in a “trusted” commercial relationship with the telco.

“When consumers browse the internet, information about the device they’re using is passed on to website owners in order to optimise websites for those users,” a spokesperson said.

“Optus adds our customers’ mobile number to the information in select circumstances where we have a commercial relationship with owners of particular websites.”

The telco said numbers were only sent to sites where user authentication is required – such as for premium content services with direct billing to Optus.

iTnews has contacted other telcos about their apparoach to the practice.

Optus customers have raised concerns about the privacy implications of these information sharing habits.

One user, who declined to be named, said there was no way for the end user to opt out of third-party sites being able to see their mobile number if they are an Optus customer.

“This raises huge privacy concerns,” the user said.

Optus’ privacy policy states that it may share some “personal information” with third parties, but does not specifically mention mobile numbers.

“We sometimes team up with other companies to offer products,” the policy advises.

“If you purchase a product that is delivered by one of our partners, we’ll give them the personal information they need to provide it and manage their relationship with you. In these circumstances, we have arrangements in place with our partners that limit their use or disclosure of your personal information to these purposes.”

In the United States, Verizon Wireless’ use of HTTP header enrichment to track users with a “super cookie” became a privacy cause celebre, and led to a “please explain” letter from US senators in January this year.

Verizon Wireless modifies network traffic and injects an X-UIDH HTTP header that was thought to uniquely, and silently, identify the telco’s customers to advertisers.

The cellular provider denied the X-UIDH header contained customer information, instead calling it a temporary anonymous identifier sent to advertisers, and therefore not a privacy threat.

After official uproar arose over the practice, Verizon Wireless was forced to introduce an opt-out scheme for customers who did not want to be tracked in this manner.

By Allie Coyne, Juha Saarinen
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