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Cybernaut

The bigger they are

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The last thing you want to do in the computer world is to establish yourself as a giant because the bigger you get, the more hackers want a piece of you.

Last week Google got its first taste of success with the release of the Santy Worm, a virus that spread quietly through the Web until it was triggered, effectively shutting down tens of thousands of Internet notice boards.

Google scrambled to handle the issue internally, but was slammed soon afterwards for being slow to make the security patch available to users who were affected by the virus – you couldn’t even find it using the Google search engine, despite the fact that patches were available a day earlier on dozens of sites. Yahoo managed to post that information immediately, and Google is probably their biggest competitor.

Adding to the notoriety, computer researchers recently found a flaw in Google’s new desktop search program that hackers could use to spy on users, remotely copying sensitive information. That flaw was fixed immediately after it was spotted, and there are no known cases of hackers using it to cause problems, but it couldn’t have happened at a worse time than Christmas, when people are using their credit cards to shop online.

I guess Google should be flattered, joining the ranks of often targetted companies like Microsoft and Sun Microsystems on hackers’ most wanted lists, the price of success. You made it, baby.

Online holiday sales strong

You can tell a lot about the economy from Christmas shopping trends. Big box stores like Wal-Mart are announcing disappointing numbers, indicating the lower and middle class shoppers are being a little more frugal this year. Expensive, high end products are flying off the shelves, which shows that the economic recovery is working, at least for people who already have six figure incomes.

And e-tailers, online shopping locations, are having another record breaking year, proving once again that people hate malls, parking lots and the pressure of Christmas shopping, and prefer to do their shopping at home.

Statistics are still coming in, but the early word is that online spending in the U.S. was up 28 per cent compared to last year at $16.7 billion. While still a small amount of the overall $220 billion in holiday sales, e-tailers were encouraged by the fact that the money was spread out over several categories. Music was the number one gift purchased online, followed by videos, jewelry, books, toys and video games.

It’s hard to pin down the demographic that is shopping online, but the range of goods purchased suggest that the middle class is online, as well as younger shoppers that typically buy goods and services on their computers. High-end stores also reported strong holiday sales, so affluent customers are going online to shop as well.

Microsoft heats up music war

Apple, the undisputed king of portable music players and online music sales with more than 70 per cent of both markets, will meet its strongest challenge yet next year as Microsoft and Napster prepare to play a little dirty.

Starting next year the Napster online music subscription service will drop its price from $18 a month to $10 a month with unlimited access to a library of 700,000 songs.

Apple iTunes sells each song for a dollar, and has sold 200 million songs in the last year.

Apple also sells the popular iPod, the most portable music player on the market with space for more than 10,000 songs.

The one drawback for the Napster system is that there are very few music players on the market that will play their music formats other than players from iRiver and Gateway.

Still, Microsoft is betting that the thought of having access to so much music for $120 year will convince a lot of iTunes users to jump ship.

The only caveat to the system is that once you let your subscription run out, the songs you download will no longer play, even if you copy them to a disk. Eventually the songs you transfer to your portable system will run out as well.

On the other hand, once you download a song from iTunes, you own it, and can burn it to disc four times.

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