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Cybernaut

Microsoft offering bounties

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The Internet often gets compared to the Wild West days, a place where anything was possible and anything goes before the sheriff finally comes to town to restore law and order.

Microsoft seized on that idea and ran with it last week when the company announced that is would be offering up to $5 million bounties to people who can bring in the authors of computer viruses.

The biggest rewards of $250,000 each will go to the person who provides the company with information that leads to the arrest of the writer or writers of the SoBig.F e-mail virus and the Blaster worm.

"These are not just Internet crimes, cyber crimes or virtual crimes," said Brad Smith, the senior vice-president and general counsel for Microsoft. "These are real crimes that disrupt the lives of real people."

SoBig.F and Blaster disrupted millions of computers in August and September, causing billions of dollars in lost productivity.

Microsoft says it will address several security flaws in its Windows XP platform in the next version is released in 2005. In the meantime, the bounty offer is expected to curb the number of viruses and attacks to impact on Windows users.

An estimated 90 per cent of all viruses and cyber attacks are directed at Microsoft products.

Israeli processor hits speed of light

An Israel-based startup by the name of Lenslet announced the creation of a light-based computer processor that uses optics instead of silicon to process data.

Nothing travels faster than light, enabling a single processor to perform eight trillion operations per second, about the same as many super-computers comprised of dozens of units that fill whole warehouses. It’s a thousand times faster than conventional processors with a 256 lasers working together at light speed.

Don’t look for a home version any time soon. The first versions of the light-based processor, which debuted at the MILCOM exhibition in Boston last week, will likely be reserved for military, homeland defence and advanced research projects.

It also opens the door for faster telecommunications, as the fibre optic network continues to grow.

The test version of the processor is large and bulky, but the next version will be about 15 by 15 centimetre in dimension, and less than 2 cm thick – a lot larger than existing processors, but pretty manageable nonetheless. In five years they hope to shrink the light-based processor into the something the size of a single chip.

Google to Microsoft?

Recent rumours have it that Google is contemplating going public, offering shares in what would be the biggest tech IPO (initial public offering) in several years with an estimated value of $25 billion.

More interesting is another rumour that Microsoft approached Google with plans for a partnership or merger.

That deal would put an end to the IPO, at least until the terms of the partnership or merger are settled.

Install your own firewall

There was a time when the only users that needed firewalls were companies with servers and sensitive information to protect. Now experts are recommending that all users with broadband Internet access put up firewalls around their system.

In the December edition of PC World magazine, Scott Spanbauer has written an article with everything you need to know about choosing and installing a firewall for your PC or network.

The good news is that hardware firewalls, which sit between your modem and your computer and block any unauthorized traffic, are more affordable than ever, ranging from $40 to $70 for home users. Wireless versions are available for only a little more.

Software firewalls are also widely available, including a wide range of freeware products, including Kerio Personal Firewall (www.kerio.com), Outpost Firewall Free (www.agnitum.com), Sygate Personal Firewall (http://smb.sygate.com), and ZoneAlarm 3.7 (www.zonelabs.com). Other free and pay firewalls are available at www.downloads.com.

All four systems in the article notify you with a pop-up window whenever a program or individual is attempting to connect to your computer. Just click yes or no as you go to approve or deny access. There is some set-up and fine tuning involved and preferences to decide on, but a small investment in time can save you a big headache.

Tips on how to set up and customize these firewalls are available in the PC World article at www.pcworld.com in the How To section.

Pop-up company sued

It was the ultimate in cheek.

D-Squared Solutions, a San Diego-based Internet company is in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission after it came to the watchdog’s attention that the company was selling software to block pop-up ads – the same pop-up ads that the company creates.

The FTC likened this two-faced approach to pop-ups, creating the problem then selling the solution for it, as high-tech extortion that takes "annoyance to a new level".

The FTC issued a restraining order against D-Squared which accuses the company of misusing Windows Messenger (not the instant messaging service, but the administrator tool) to place ads on computers.

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