Microsoft Could Kill Internet Explorer; New Spartan Browser Coming Soon

Bad News for Internet Explorer fans, if any! Microsoft’s almost 20 years old Web browser with a big blue Esign might soon be a thing of the past.
With the arrival of Windows 10, probably by next fall, Microsoft could come up with its brand new browser that’s more similar to Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome, but less like Internet Explorer (IE), according to a recent report published by ZDNet.
“Ok so Microsoft is about to launch a new browser that’s not Internet Explorer and will be the default browser in Windows 10,” tweeted Thomas Nigro, a Microsoft Student Partner lead and developer of the modern version of VLC.
The browser, codenamed “Spartan,” is a “light-weight” browser with extension support, and multiple sources confirm that this new browser isn’t IE12. Instead, Spartan is an entirely new browser that will use Microsoft’s Chakra JavaScript engine and Trident rendering engine (as opposed to WebKit). But Internet Explorer isn’t going away completely.
According to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, Windows 10 will ship with both Internet Explorer 11 and Spartan, though the former is expected to stick around for backwards compatibility only. The new browser will be available for both desktop and mobile devices running Windows 10.
So far it’s unclear whether Spartan will be portable on non-Windows systems, such as Android, iOS, or OS X, but if it is actually imitating Chrome and Firefox, two of the most popular browsers out there, the idea isn’t too crazy. The new browser is currently under development.
However, if this new browser doesn’t use Webkit, it will not likely be accepted into Apple’s App store, because Apple requires all “apps that browse the web must use the iOS WebKit framework and WebKit Javascript” according to its app store review guidelines.
What Microsoft will call the new browser is also a mystery at this point, as ‘Spartan’ is just a codename for the project, and there’s no revelations on what it might be called by the company.
Microsoft hasn’t provided any details about it but the company is hosting a press event on Jan. 21 in the company’s hometown of Redmond, Washington, where it is expected to provide more details about the consumer version of Windows 10, so perhaps we will know some more about Spartan then.

Google Leaves Russia

Google decided to shut down its engineering office in Russia. This decision was made because of a new law, which Russian authorities expect will improve data protection. Since next January, the foreign companies will be required to store Russian users’ personal data on servers located in the country. Many believe that such law will just make it harder for American online firms to work in Russia and provide the country’s secret services greater access to data held by foreign companies.

However, Google Russia assured its users that they are deeply committed to them and retain a dedicated team working to support them. Despite closing the engineering office in the country, Google will retain support and marketing staff in Russia.

Russian authorities seem to be suspicious about the worldwide web. The rumors are that the local security services have advised officials against using Gmail. Moreover, the legislation was considered that would ban government employees from discussing official issues over non-state email accounts.

Russia also passed another law in 2014, which requires bloggers with more than 3,000 audience to register their personal data with the government, as they are now officially considered media. This regulation has been largely decried as an intimidation tactic.

In response, Google and other tech giants have criticized Russia’s restrictions on the Internet. For example, Google voiced concerns that Russia was beginning to copy Internet censorship from China, where Google closed its internet search service 4 years ago after it stopped cooperating with government censors.

It should be noted that a couple months ago, Adobe Systems also shut down its Russian office – according to reports, the American company failed to meet the requirements of the new law and close several deals due to western sanctions against Russia. This past spring Pavel Durov, the founder of Russia’s most popular social network vKontakte (InTouch), quit his own company after a dispute with its new Kremlin-linked owners.

Finally, unlike the rest of Europe, Google does not dominate the local market: although it is widely used in Russia, the local search engine Yandex controls more than half of the search market there. According to statistics, Yandex became the most popular media channel, while Google was on the fourth place by the number of daily visitors.

Chinese Hackers Suspected of Attacking Government Sites in Afghanistan

The visitors of several official Afghan government websites might have had their devices infected with malware after a threat group believed to have ties to China compromised the sites through a content delivery network (CDN), a new report has revealed.

Chinese threat actors have often been suspected of targeting the systems of high-profile organizations in the United States. However, according to a report from threat intelligence company ThreatConnect, China-based groups appear to be targeting other countries as well.

Members of the ThreatConnect Intelligence Research Team (TCIRT) discovered that malicious actors compromised a JavaScript file hosted on cdn.afghanistan.af, a domain used by the Afghan Ministry of Communications and IT to host content that is displayed on several .gov.af websites.

By altering the content of a single JavaScript file hosted on the CDN domain, the attackers managed to deliver a malicious Java applet to numerous sites that called the compromised resource. Researchers said this was a targeted cross-site scripting (XSS) “drive-by” attack. On Monday, only Kaspersky solutions detected the Java applet as being malicious, but on Sunday the threat was not flagged by any of the antivirus engines on Virus Total.

The list of affected websites includes the Afghan Embassy in Canberra, Australia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, the Office of Administrative Affairs and Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Researchers believe the campaign, which they have dubbed Operation Helmand, is tied to China because the compromised JavaScript file, gop-script.js, was modified on the same day and at around the same time that China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang met Abdullah Abdullah, the Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan, in Kazakhstan.

A similar incident was spotted this summer when the website of the embassy of Greece in Beijing was compromised just as China’s prime minister visited his Greek counterpart in Athens.

While some might argue that these were just coincidences, experts have also found links between the attack on Afghan government websites and other campaigns that have been tied to China, including Operation Poisoned Hurricane. Similarities also exist between the malware and the notorious PlugX RAT, a threat often used by Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) actors, including against targets in Afghanistan.

“As the US and NATO reduce their troop levels in Afghanistan, China is posturing to fill the gap of influence that the west is leaving behind. With plans to facilitate multilateral peace talks with the Taliban and establish major transportation projects which aim to bolster the Afghan economy, Beijing has been eying Afghanistan as part of its broader South Asian strategy,” ThreatConnect explained in a blog post.

“By exploiting and co-opting Afghan network infrastructure that is used by multiple ministerial level websites, Chinese intelligence services would be able to widely distribute malicious payloads to a variety of global targets using Afghanistan’s government websites as a topical and trusted distribution platform, exploiting a single hidden entry point,” the security firm said. “This being a variant of a typical ‘watering-hole’ attack, the attackers will most likely infect victims outside the Afghan government who happened to be browsing any one of the CDN client systems, specifically, partner states involved in the planned troop reduction.”

China fingered for Afghan Govt attacks

Chinese hackers have targeted nearly all major Afghanistan Government websites by hacking an official content delivery network (CDN) and gaining a foothold to attack western governments.

Hackers popped the network run by the Afghan Ministry of Communications and IT which delivered malware to many of the Government’s websites including the Australian embassy.

Afghanistan’s agencies for finance, education and justice were among the nine listed as falling victim to the attack, according to ThreatConnect researchers who found the watering hole attacks closely coincided with a meeting on infrastructure development and bilateral cooperation in Kazakstan between China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Afghanistan’s government chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah.

The researchers said an image used to serve the malware was modified only hours after it appeared to be taken at the meeting.

The image used in the attacks

Such a hack would be of interest to China, researchers said, given that the country is building regional influence and might see an opportunity in the vacuum of the West’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Beijing is also building transport infrastructure in the region and facilitating multilateral peace talks with the Taliban under its South Asian strategy.

“By exploiting and co-opting Afghan network infrastructure that is used by multiple ministerial level websites, Chinese intelligence services would be able to widely distribute malicious payloads to a variety of global targets using Afghanistan’s government websites as a topical and trusted distribution platform, exploiting a single hidden entry point,” the threat intelligence team (TSIRT) wrote in an advisory.

“This being a variant of a typical watering-hole attack, the attackers will most likely infect victims outside the Afghan government who happened to be browsing any one of the CDN client systems, specifically, partner states involved in the planned troop reduction.”

Naming conventions used in the Afghanistan attack dubbed Operation Helmand were similar to those in East Asia hacking operations.

The attack also bore similarities to a June watering hole attack in which a malicious Java file was served on the website of the Greece embassy in Beijing during a diplomatic meeting to Athens.

The team warned enterprises to monitor content delivery networks and ensure server response headers were configured to push third party content from narrow white lists.

Facebook Introduced Another Anti-Virus Software

The social network has launched the third free anti-virus scanner, which monitors for malicious activity and offers to scan infected machines directly from Facebook. The software was developed by security company Eset and is expected to protect the user accounts on the social network from being attacked by malicious software on their computers.

Facebook claimed that its goal is to offer the members of the network the best technology to improve their experience of its services and ensure to protect their devices. ESET Online Scanner for the social network is intended to considerably decrease the number of malicious links coming from the trillions of clicks that users make every day on Facebook.

Two years ago, the company launched its first service to detect malicious activity on the users’ accounts and offered Facebook members with suspected infected machines a list of free anti-virus software.

A few months ago, Facebook partnered with a couple of security companies: F-Secure and Trend Micro, and now Eset becomes the third company providing users its tools to directly clean up infections when they are detected.

Facebook believes that a larger number of anti-virus providers will increase the chances that malware will get caught and removed, thus helping people on the social network keep their data more secure.

When you first log into Facebook, you will get notifications if the scanner detects any suspicious behavior, like spam messages or the posting of infected links. You will be offered to download and install light software which scans your machine, but the progress of the scan and results will be delivered via Facebook, which will allow you to get on and do other things while the scanner checks your PC.

The company decided to intensify the anti-virus support of its users following an increasing number of scams and malicious software spreading via the social network. This is not surprising – Facebook accounts for 1.35 billion monthly active potential victims.

The scams are using social engineering in order to force Internet users to click on infected links that spread via friends’ news feeds with click-bait headlines. Although the tech giant has been proactively blocking and removing links it considers malicious, Facebook has not been able to stop the root of the problem – infected machines. Now it makes another try.

Apple Is Accused of Deleting Rivals’ Music from iPods

A huge antitrust class-action lawsuit against the Californian electronics company is currently heard in court. The tech giant is accused of intentionally deleting music not purchased from iTunes from users’ iPods a few years ago. A billion-dollar antitrust suit against the company for abuse of its iTunes Music Store dominance is developing in the US District Court in Oakland, California. The attorneys representing the plaintiffs claim that Apple scanned for music not purchased from iTunes and, if such was found, forced a factory reset of the iPod.

Indeed, it turned out that the users who tried to sync and update an iPod with music from the Apple rivals, including Amazon or 7Digital, faced a message about the error with their iPod. The text of the message was saying that that error could only be solved by a factory restore via iTunes. The latter completely wiped the iPod. Music bought from iTunes was restored on the iPod, but music from rival services wouldn’t. The tech giant for some reason decided to not disclose the problem to the users.

In respond, Apple security director argued that the music from the rival services was deleted for security reasons. The company also claimed that hackers including Jon Lech Johansen (aka “DVD Jon”) and software such as the digital rights management removal tool Requiem had made the company extremely paranoid. Even Steve Jobs wrote at the time that someone was “breaking into their house”.

Apple claimed that between 2007 and 2009, their system was “totally hacked”, and the company had to delete music for security reasons. Finally, Apple said it didn’t need to give iPod users too much information in order to not confuse them. No more comments on the issue were received from the tech giant thus far.

North Korea Claimed It Didn’t Hack Sony

The country has denied its involvement into the last week’s cyber-attack on Sony Pictures. The hack resulted in the leak of several unreleased movies and caused massive disruption to Sony’s email and other services of its internal computer network.

A diplomat from North Korea claimed that recent speculative reports, which linked North Korean hackers to the Sony breach, were just a “fabrication targeting the country”. North Korea publicly declared that it would follow international norms that ban hacking and piracy.

In the meantime, North Korea is known to have a sophisticated cyber-attack unit, and a few days ago a spokesman for its mission to the UN could not rule out the country’s involvement. Instead, he just told reporters to “wait and see” who was behind the attack.

The rumors were that North Korea, perhaps using hackers based in China, broke Sony Pictures’ computer network in order to retaliate for the release of The Interview movie, a comedy about a fictitious plot to assassinate the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

Moreover, the security experts have also been pointing to the fact that the Sony hack was similar to a cyber-attack believed to have been carried out by North Korea on South Korean banks and TV networks in 2013. Finally, when details of The Interview movie were released a few months ago, the country threatened a “merciless and resolute” response unless American authorities banned the film. North Korea’s ambassador to the UN in a letter to the UN secretary general called the movie “the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism” and “an act of war”.

In result of the hack, at least 5 high-profile movies, such as Still Alice (a remake of the musical Annie), and To Write Love on Her Arms leaked to the file-sharing websites. Moreover, it turned out that the salaries and other confidential data of more than 6,000 Sony employees were also stolen during the hack.

The Fish Who Loved A Bird

A fish fell in love with a bird one day.

What was his reason I could not say.
The bird flew down its reflection to see,
the fish jumped high and cried “Marry me.”
The bird simply laughed and flew away,
“Birds marry birds!” was all she’d say.But while she flew nothing else came to mind,
save the face of the fish she was leaving behind.
No other had spoken to her such words of love,
not the swiftest falcon nor the sweetest dove.
To the beauty of his fins a bird could not compare,
or to the strength of his muscles as he lept through the air.

Suddenly she turned though she couldn’t say why.
Back to the water she quickly did fly.
“Oh beautiful fish how can this be,
a bird of the sky and a fish in the sea?
We never could marry, our worlds are apart.
So why cruelest fish have you stolen my heart?”

The fish gave his reply, and his words sang true.
He told the lovely bird what in his soul he knew.
“Beloved my beloved, oh do not despair,
though I swim in the ocean and you in the air.
Nothing in this world could keep us apart,
if your love is as true as the love in my heart.”

The fish thought about it as best he could,
till he had an idea that would do them some good.
“Sometimes before sunrise at the edge of the world,
I have seen a place where creation’s unfurled.
Come with me my love and our fates we will cheat.
Come to this enchanted place where the sea and sky meet.”
The bird and the fish both made their merry way,
and live happy and in love to this very day.

Now from the look on your face you think my tale a lie.
You don’t believe a beast of sea can marry beast of sky.
These things that I sing, I can prove they are true.
The children of the couple are known to all of you.
A penguin is a bird that calls the ocean home.
What of flying fish? It is in the air they roam.

WhatsApp Messages Are Now Encrypted by Default

Over 600m WhatsApp users will benefit from its default end-to-end encryption. It is supposed to prevent any snoops spying on private communications. The move comes after WhatsApp contracted Open Whisper Systems, the developer of the TextSecure encrypted text app, with the purpose to incorporate its technology into WhatsApp.

The company says that the new feature is already available in the Android version of the Facebook-owned messaging provider, but the developers promised to work on an iOS alternative, as well as on encrypted messaging for group chat and media messages.

As you know, systems using end-to-end encryption are protected from breach due to the fact that the key, which unscrambles communications, is only stored on users’ mobiles. However, before the introduction of this feature, those keys were also stored by servers along with users’ phones, in order to provide Facebook or WhatsApp administrators access to messages.

Security experts point out that TextSecure encryption protocol is especially strong, because it uses a kind of “forward secrecy”. This means that a new key is being created for every message sent. The only other comparable service deployed on such a massive scale is, of course, Apple’s iMessage. However, the latter features one notable weakness: many people allow the system to back up their messages to Apple’s iCloud service, where protection isn’t as perfect.

In the meantime, Open Whisper Systems will continue to develop its other products, including RedPhone for Android, which will allow encrypted voice communications, and iOS Signal applications, which make protected calls and messaging.

The idea of the security developers is to make encryption the default on all devices. They believe that WhatsApp’s new encryption feature may not tempt some users away from TextSecure and Signal to Facebook, particularly if they are concerned about the metadata from their messages. Metadata is information that does not include the content of the communication, but only the additional info: the time and sides of it.

Although the developers didn’t comment on WhatsApp’s use of metadata, and on the topic of whether TextSecure was more secure as it wouldn’t share such data, they did say that TextSecure would always remain an application that is focused first and foremost on simple-to-use private communication.

Still, the suspicions are that handing such strong encryption to hundreds of millions of users may irk law enforcement bodies. As usual, any moves to protect private communication and prevent government from spying on people makes law enforcement bodies to suggest that encryption efforts will only benefit terrorists and other criminals. In respond, security experts argue that serious criminals have their own encryption instruments, which are just hard to use. Large-scale surveillance hurts only innocent Internet users.

Microsoft and Yahoo Joined “Right to Be Forgotten”

Yahoo and Microsoft’s Bing search engines joined Google and started to respond to the “right to be forgotten” requests for removals in Europe. Microsoft admitted that they published the request form on Bing back in July, but the first removals were made only now. This was confirmed by the reputation management company Reputation VIP’s Forget.me website that helps Internet users submit requests.

Since the 23rd of July, there have been about 700 demands for search result removal on Bing submitted through Forget.me, which amounted to 2 362 URLs. Thus far, almost 80 requests have received an answer from Bing, according to Microsoft. The tech giants are responding to the May decision of the Court of Justice of the EU, which required search engines to remove all inadequate or irrelevant information about individuals if those want it.

Taking into account that Google occupies 90% of the search market in the EU, it became the first company to publish a form to submit such requests. So far, Google received over 174,000 requests for more than 600,000 URLs. The company removed over 40% of them from its search results. Now Bing and Yahoo joined the team and started processing the requests as well.

Microsoft admitted they have begun processing requests following the court ruling and in compliance with the guidance from EU data protection authorities. Like Google, the company is still refining that process, pursuing a goal to find a balance between individual privacy interests and the public’s interest in free expression. Yahoo made the same comment on how it has to deal with the “right to be forgotten” demands. The search engine also has to carefully evaluate each request, taking into considerations the public’s right to information.

Thus far, such removals of search results are taking place within the European Union on the local domains of search engines. Nevertheless, the European data regulators want to demand Google and its peers to apply these search results removals outside Europe as well.

The original ruling is supposed to ignite heated debate in the region. Last month, the culture secretary of the United Kingdom, Sajid Javid, claimed that “unelected judges” had simply created “censorship by the back door”, suggesting that terrorists could make use of the ruling.