Science & Technology

BOSTON: Microsoft Corp is rushing to fix a bug in its widely used Internet Explorer web browser after a computer security firm disclosed the flaw over the weekend, saying hackers have already exploited it in attacks on some US companies.

PCs running Windows XP will not receive any updates fixing that bug when they are released, however, because Microsoft stopped supporting the 13-year-old operating system earlier this month. Security firms estimate that between 15 and 25 percent of the world's PCs still run Windows XP.

Microsoft disclosed on Saturday its plans to fix the bug in an advisory to its customers posted on its security website, which it said is present in Internet Explorer versions 6 to 11. Those versions dominate desktop browsing, accounting for 55 percent of the PC browser market, according to tech research firm NetMarketShare.

Cybersecurity software maker FireEye Inc said that a sophisticated group of hackers have been exploiting the bug in a campaign dubbed "Operation Clandestine Fox."

FireEye, whose Mandiant division helps companies respond to cyber attacks, declined to name specific victims or identify the group of hackers, saying that an investigation into the matter is still active.

"It's a campaign of targeted attacks seemingly against US-based firms, currently tied to defense and financial sectors," FireEye spokesman Vitor De Souza said via email. "It's unclear what the motives of this attack group are, at this point. It appears to be broad-spectrum intel gathering."

He declined to elaborate, though he said one way to protect against them would be to switch to another browser.

Microsoft said in the advisory that the vulnerability could allow a hacker to take complete control of an affected system, then do things such as viewing changing, or deleting data, installing malicious programs, or creating accounts that would give hackers full user rights.

FireEye and Microsoft have not provided much information about the security flaw or the approach that hackers could use to figure out how to exploit it, said Aviv Raff, chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm Seculert.

Yet other groups of hackers are now racing to learn more about it so they can launch similar attacks before Microsoft prepares a security update, Raff said.

"Microsoft should move fast," he said. "This will snowball."

Still, he cautioned that Windows XP users will not benefit from that update since Microsoft has just halted support for that product.

The software maker said in a statement to Reuters that it advises Windows XP users to upgrade to one of two most recently versions of its operating system, Windows 7 or 8.

واشنگٹن: امریکی سائنسدانوں نے انکشاف کیا ہے کہ انسانی ناک کم از کم ایک لاکھ کروڑ بُو یا مہک میں فرق کرسکتی ہے، پچھلے اندازوں کی تعداد سے یہ لاکھوں میں زیادہ ہے۔

کئی دہائیوں سے سائنسدان یہ مانتے چلے آرہے تھے کہ انسان صرف دس ہزار قسم کی بو یا مہک کو محسوس کرسکتا ہے، یہی وجہ تھی کہ انسان کی سونگھنے کی صلاحیت دیکھنے اور سننے کی صلاحیت سے کم سمجھی جاتی تھی۔

راکفیلر یونیورسٹی کی نیوروجینیٹک لیبارٹری کے سربراہ اور اس ریسرچ میں شریک لیسلے ووشال کا کہنا ہے کہ ہمارا تجزیہ یہ ظاہر کرتا ہے کہ بُو میں فرق کرنے کی انسانی صلاحیت اس سے کہیں زیادہ ہے، جس کی کوئی بھی توقع کرسکتا ہے۔

ناک کی صلاحیت کے لیے لگائے گئےگزشتہ تخمینوں میں بتایا گیا تھا کہ قوتِ شامّہ سے متعلق چار سو ریسپٹرز اس سلسلے میں مدد کرتے ہیں، یہ تخمینے 1920ء کے ہیں، جن کی تصدیق کے لیے اعدادوشمار پیش نہیں کیے گئے تھے۔

سائنسدانوں نے تحقیق کی ہے کہ انسانی آنکھ اور اس کے صرف تین ریسپٹرز کئی لاکھ رنگوں میں فرق کرسکتے ہیں اور انسانوں کے کان تین لاکھ چالیس ہزار آوازوں میں امتیاز کرسکتے ہیں۔

لیسلے ووشال نے کہا کہ ’’قوتِ شامّہ کی جانچ کے لیے کسی نے کبھی وقت صرف نہیں کیا تھا۔‘‘

سائنسدانوں نے اپنی ریسرچ کے سلسلے میں 128 مختلف خوشبودار سالموں سے ایک مرکب تیار کیا، اس میں انفرادی طور پر گھاس، لیموں یا مختلف قسم کی کیمیائی مادّے شامل تھے، لیکن یہ سب تین گروپس میں یکجان کردیے گئے تھے۔

لیسلے ووشال نے کہا کہ ’’ہم چاہتے تھے کہ ہمارا تیار کردہ مرکب میں شامل اشیاء کی مہک کی شناخت نہ کی جاسکے، لہٰذا اس کوشش میں یہ مرکب بہت زیادہ عجیب اور کافی گندے ہوگئے تھے۔‘‘

ریسرچ میں شامل رضاکاروں کو ایک وقت میں تین شیشیوں میں ان مرکبات کے نمونے دیے گئے۔ ان میں سے دو تو ایک جیسے تھے، اور ایک مختلف تھا۔ ہم نے یہ دیکھنے کے لیے کہ وہ ان کو الگ الگ پہچان سکیں، اس طرح کے 264 موازنے مکمل کیے۔

128 خوشبوؤں کے تمام نمونوں کے ممکنہ مجموعوں میں سے کتنی مہک کو انسان اوسطاً علیحدہ علیحدہ شناخت کرسکتا ہے، سائنسدانوں نے اس تجربے سے اندازہ لگایا کہ یہ کم از کم ایک لاکھ کروڑ کے قریب قریب ہوسکتا ہے۔

اس ریسرچ ٹیم کے سربراہ انڈریاس کیلر کا تعلق بھی راک فیلر یونیورسٹی سے ہے، ان کا کہنا ہے کہ یہ تعداد یقیناً کہیں کم ہے، اس لیے کہ حقیقی دنیا میں اس سے کہیں زیادہ خوشبوئیں موجود ہیں جنہیں ملا کر لاتعداد نمونے تیار کیے جاسکتے ہیں۔

انہوں نے کہا کہ ہمارے آباؤ اجداد ہم سے کہیں زیادہ قوت شامّہ پر انحصار کرتے تھےلیکن جدید دنیا میں ذاتی حفظانِ صحت کی ترقی نے خوشبوؤں کو محدود کردیا ہے۔

انڈریاس کیلر نے کہا کہ ’’ہمارے رویّوں سے یہ ظاہر ہوتا ہے کہ ہمارے لیے قوت شامّہ سننے اور دیکھنے کے مقابلے میں زیادہ اہم نہیں ہے۔‘‘

بو کا احساس انسانی رویّے سے منسلک ہے اور سائنسدان زور دیتے ہیں کہ یہ ریسرچ اس حوالے سے روشنی ڈال سکتی ہے کہ انسانی دماغ کس طرح پیچیدہ اطلاعات پر عملدرآمد کرتا ہے۔

یہ ریسرچ جرنل سائنس میں شایع ہوئی ہے۔

SAN JOSE (United States): Lawyers for Apple and Samsung exchanged barbs as a major new patent trial opened on Tuesday, debating the role of a company not even part of the case — Google.

Apple's legal team vowed to prove that Samsung flagrantly copied iPhone features and should pay more than $2 billion in damages, as the two smartphone giants squared off anew in a California courtroom. Apple attorney Harold McElhinny opened his presentation with a video showing legendary Apple co-founder Steve Jobs introducing the first iPhone in 2007.

By putting computing power in smartphones powered by fun software and easy-to-use touch-screens, Apple transformed the market, sending Samsung onto its heels, according to McElhinny.

The attorney told jurors in his opening statement that they would see internal Samsung documents and messages showing that the company felt it was suffering “a crisis of design” with the difference between its devices and the smartphone “a difference between Heaven and Earth.”

Apple said evidence will show that the South Korean electronics giant sold more than 37 million infringing smartphones and tablets in the United States.

California-based Apple would have demanded royalties of about $40 per device to license the patented technology to Samsung, according to McElhinny.

The overall amount being sought by Apple in damages from Samsung will top $2bn, the lawyer explained.

“This case is not about Google,” McElhinny told jurors. “It is Samsung, not Google, that chose to put these features into its phones.”

But Samsung's lawyer told the jurors in the San Jose, California court that the case was indeed about Google, and Apple's struggle against the maker of the Android operating system which is now winning in the global marketplace.

'Attack on Android'

“It's an attack on Android, that is what this case is,” attorney John Quinn said. “Apple is trying to limit consumer choice and gain an unfair advantage over Google's Android.” Quinn contended that four of the five patents at issue in the trial are not used in Apple mobile devices, but because of features built into Android software by Google engineers litigation was pursued.

He promised jurors that Google engineers would be called to testify to how they independently designed Android software and did not copy Apple. Samsung is the world's leading maker of smartphones and tablets built using Google's free Android mobile operating system.

Android smartphones dominate the global market, particularly in devices offered for lower prices than iPhones.

“Apple is an amazingly innovative company, but in some respects, Google's Android has passed them,” Quinn said.

“Apple is trying to gain from you in this courtroom what it has lost in the marketplace.”In August 2012, a separate jury in the same court decided that Samsung should pay Apple $1.049bn in damages for illegally copying iPhone and iPad features, in one of the biggest patent cases in decades.

BRUSSELS: The European Commission announced plans on Thursday to tackle one of the scourges of the modern age - games on tablets and mobile phones that allow adults and children to rack up vast credit card bills by making "in-app" purchases.

After concerns were raised by consumer groups in Denmark, Britain, Italy and Belgium, the Commission will hold talks with the industry, policymakers and consumer protection authorities on Thursday and Friday to consider clearer guidelines.

The main concern is that games are often labeled as "free to download" but are not "free to play", with purchases automatically debited from a registered credit card. More than half of online games in the EU are advertised as "free", the Commission says, despite many carrying hidden costs.

"Misleading consumers is clearly the wrong business model and also goes against the spirit of EU rules on consumer protection," said the EU's justice commissioner, Viviane Reding.

"The European Commission will expect very concrete answers from the app industry to the concerns raised by citizens and national consumer organizations."

Europe's "app" industry has grown exponentially in recent years as the use of smart phones and tablets has boomed, allowing consumers to access games and applications on the run.

The EU market is expected to be worth 63 billion euros ($86 billion) within the next five years, according to figures from the Commission. Users in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium spent an estimated 16.5 billion euros on online games in 2011 alone.

Many of those playing the games are children and teenagers, who often end up charging fees to the registered credit card without realizing it or without parental approval. Adults often make the same mistake, but must take responsibility.

In one case in Britain, an 8-year-old girl managed to run up a bill of 4,000 pounds ($6,700) making "in-app" purchases from games such as My Horse and Smurfs' Village. In that instance, Apple reimbursed the girl's father.

"Consumers, and in particular children, need better protection against unexpected costs from in-app purchases," said Neven Mimica, the European commissioner for consumer policy.

In-app purchases can be disabled on most mobile devices.

Among the proposals to be discussed are clearer explanations in games about the costs involved, removing inducements to make purchases such as "Buy now!" and "Upgrade now!" and preventing payments being debited without explicit consent.

The meeting will also discuss whether companies should provide an email address that allows consumers to contact them immediately with any queries or complaints.

Among the companies taking part are Apple and Google, alongside consumer protection agencies from Denmark, Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Lithuania and Luxembourg.

NEW YORK: Facebook is buying mobile messaging service WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash and stock, by far the company's largest acquisition and bigger than any that Google, Microsoft or Apple have ever done.

The world's biggest social networking company said Wednesday that it is paying $12 billion in Facebook stock and $4 billion in cash for WhatsApp. In addition, the app's founders and employees — 55 in all — will be granted restricted stock worth $3 billion that will vest over four years after the deal closes.

The deal translates to roughly nine per cent of Facebook's market value. In comparison, Google's biggest deal, Motorola Mobility, stood at $12.5 billion, while Microsoft's largest was Skype at $8.5 billion. Apple, meanwhile, has never done a deal above $1 billion.

The price stunned Gartner analyst Brian Blau. ''I am not surprised they went after WhatsApp, but the amount is staggering,'' he said.

Facebook likely prizes WhatsApp for its audience of teenagers and young adults who are increasingly using the service to engage in online conversations outside of Facebook, which has evolved into a more mainstream hangout inhabited by their parents, grandparents and even their bosses at work.

''This is a bet on the future for Facebook,'' Blau said. ''They know they have to expand their business lines. WhatsApp is in the business of collecting people's conversations, so Facebook is going to get some great data.''

In that sense, the acquisition makes sense for 10-year-old Facebook as it looks to attract its next billion users while keeping its existing 1.23 billion members, including teenagers, interested. The company has said it will develop a ''multi-app'' strategy, creating its own applications that exist outside of Facebook and acquiring others.

''Facebook seems to be in acknowledgement that people are using a lot of different apps to communicate,'' said eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson. ''In order to continue to reach audiences, younger in particular, it needs to have a broader strategy...not put all its eggs in one basket.''

Facebook said it is keeping WhatsApp as a separate service, just as it did with Instagram, which it bought for about $715.3 million in two years ago.

WhatsApp has more than 450 million monthly active users. In comparison, Twitter had 241 million users at the end of 2013.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says WhatsApp is on path to reach a billion users. ''The services that reach that milestone are all incredibly valuable,'' Zuckerberg said.

WhatsApp, a messaging service for smartphones, lets users chat with their phone contacts, both one-on-one and in groups. The service allows people to send texts, photos, videos and voice recordings over the Internet. It also lets users communicate with people overseas without incurring charges for pricey international texts and phone calls.

It costs $1 per year and has no ads. The deal is expected to close later this year. Shares of Menlo Park, California-based Facebook slid $1.12 to $66.94 in extended trading after the deal was announced.

MUMBAI: As Facebook celebrates its 10th birthday, one of its biggest challenges is to tap the mobile market in emerging Asian economies, where it can drive expansion after growth in the West tapers off.

India is expected to overtake the United States as the country with most Facebook users in 2014, with its total number forecast to surge beyond the 150 million mark from the current 93 million level.

But despite its rapid growth in parts of Asia, experts say Facebook cannot afford to be complacent and locally-tailored competitors are threatening to steal its thunder in countries such as Indonesia.

With Internet penetration still relatively low in Asia's emerging economies, many people's first online experience comes when they log on with a mobile phone.Kevin D'Souza, Facebook India's head of growth and mobile partnerships, says the key to success in emerging markets therefore depends on encouraging access via basic mobiles known as “feature phones”.

“We're already seeing the majority of users sign up to Facebook on mobile devices,” D'Souza told AFP.

“A large chunk of mobile phone users in India are feature phone users, and with low price points, these devices are becoming the first Internet connected device many people will own.”

He said more than 100 million people globally are now using the “Facebook for Every Phone” app specifically for non-smartphones and many of the next billion users Facebook hopes to attract are expected to do the same.

Preloaded

The Nokia Asha 501 feature phone now comes preloaded with Facebook, while India's telecom giant Bharti Airtel announced last month that it would offer free Facebook access in nine local languages to prepaid customers.

In India, more than 40 percent of the 1.2 billion population have cell phones but barely five percent are smartphone users, according to estimates by consultancy Analysys Mason.

Nevertheless, researchers at eMarketer predict India will reach 152.4 million Facebook users this year, surpassing the 151.1 million forecast for the US.The growing importance of mobile Internet access was demonstrated with Facebook's strong earnings released last week.

Advertising revenue surged to $2.34 billion in the quarter, up 76 percent over the past year, and more than 53 percent of that figure was mobile advertising revenue -- up from 23 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012.

“2013 was the year we turned our business into a mobile business,” said boss Mark Zuckerberg, who began the company as a student a decade ago, since when it has swelled to attract 1.23 billion active users worldwide.

Aakrit Vaish, a founder of mobile company Haptik, said it was not just the sheer population size that made India such a big Facebook player.

“Culturally in our country we have always been, for better or worse, very inquiring about other people's lives,” he said.

He believes an additional benefit for Facebook in India has been the prominence of English speaking among the urban elite, who were the first to get access to the social network.

The same is true of the Philippines, where more than one in three people are on Facebook according to marketing agency We Are Social whose data shows the country spending more hours per day on social media than anywhere else in Asia.

Facebook has overtaken mobile text messaging as a key communication tool, also embraced by Philippine politicians and activists -- President Benigno Aquino's Facebook page has more than three million “likes”.

Protesters last year used the network to vent anger over the misuse of state funds by lawmakers, snowballing into a mass rally in Manila in August.

Tailoring content

But experts say that Facebook's dominance in some Asian markets faces a threat from competitors who are adapting to local tastes.

With Facebook banned from China since 2009, Indonesia has the second largest number of users in Asia, with around 65 million.—AFP

NEW YORK: IBM Corp has been sued by a shareholder who accused it of concealing how its ties to what became a major US spying scandal reduced business in China and ultimately caused its market value to plunge more than $12 billion.

IBM lobbied Congress hard to pass a law letting it share personal data of customers in China and elsewhere with the US National Security Agency in a bid to protect its intellectual property rights, according to a complaint filed in the US District Court in Manhattan.

The plaintiff in the complaint, Louisiana Sheriffs' Pension & Relief Fund, said this threatened IBM hardware sales in China, particularly given a program known as Prism that let the NSA spy on that country through technology companies such as IBM.

The Baton Rouge pension fund said the revelation of Prism and related disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden caused Chinese businesses and China's government to abruptly cut ties with the world's largest technology services provider.

It said this led IBM on October 16 to post disappointing third-quarter results, including drops in China of 22 percent in sales and 40 percent in hardware sales.

While quarterly profit rose 6 percent, revenue dropped 4 percent and fell well below analyst forecasts.

IBM shares fell 6.4 percent on October 17, wiping out $12.9 billion of the Armonk, New York-based company's market value.

The lawsuit names IBM, Chief Executive Virginia Rometty and Chief Financial Officer Mark Loughridge as defendants, and says they should be held liable for the company's failure to reveal sooner the risks of its lobbying and its NSA ties.

"These allegations are ludicrous and irresponsible and IBM will vigorously defend itself in court," IBM spokesman Doug Shelton said in an e-mail.

The Louisiana fund is represented by Bernstein, Litowitz, Berger & Grossmann, a prominent class-action specialist law firm. It seeks class-action status on behalf of shareholders from June 25 to October 16, 2013, and damages for shareholder losses.

Loughridge is retiring as CFO this month at age 60, which IBM calls its traditional retirement age. Martin Schroeter, who has been IBM's head of global finance, is replacing him.

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