News Schmooze: Security alert!

The world learned to fear flashing LEDs, BT discovered television and the killer CD made its debut

Be afraid -- be very afraid. There may not have been a major worm attack lately, but the pundits want you to know that you're less safe than ever, what with all the evil threats lurking out there. Just look at this week's warnings: a problem with the Java Virtual Machine for Windows, the Klez worm programmed to destroy on Wednesday (although it didn't seem to do much destroying), a security hole in PHP that could lead to a new Code Red (although presumably named after a different soft drink... Irn-Bru perhaps?). And then there's that amusing little worm that pretends to be a Microsoft security alert.
Microsoft offers patch for Java VM flaw
Klez worm set to detonate
Gibe worm poses as a Microsoft update
Worms will breed in PHP hole, say experts
The best security warning of the week, however, must be a new scientific paper from reputable engineering types, which unveils the threat posed by exposed LEDs -- yes, those inoffensive little red lights that make your computer room look like a Christmas tree when you turn the lights off. The co-author of this masterpiece of deduction has discovered that you can decode the data passing through, say, a modem or router simply by reading the blinking lights on the front of it, much in the same way that Sherlock Holmes was able to follow Watson's exact train of thought by observing his facial expressions and the objects upon which his eyes alighted around the room. The existence of this insidious lapse apparently occurred to the co-author as he was passing the time one day by staring for several hours at the blinking lights on his modem. There's only one problem with this, of course -- as the paper makes clear, the exploit only works if you're basically standing across the room, in the dark, and your target is a 9600bps modem, which is unlikely these days to be carrying any data of significance. These modems are at risk from up to 10 metres, in the dark, after which the signal quality drops radically; at faster rates, or if the lights are on, you no doubt need to place your spy device right next to the LED. On the other hand, it might just be easier to con somebody into telling you their password, or just read what they're typing on the screen.
New security threat: LED lights?
Will they or won't they? Some of the Japanese buyers of Microsoft's Xbox are discovering what a lucky few Americans found out a few weeks ago: that the machine, the Monster Truck of gaming consoles, occasionally leaves scratches across their DVDs. After insisting that it wasn't a problem and denying that a recall would be necessary, Microsoft did something very Microsoft-like: it said it will replace any problematic consoles, while insistently dodging around the word "recall".
Xbox scratching won't force recall
Microsoft to replace defective Japanese Xbox consoles
Intel's Pentium 4 finally arrived in laptop computers this week. The performance didn't fare that well on tests, but it's plenty hot so you can always use it to warm cold hotel rooms, or as a handy toaster for those times when you're on the road and feel like a touch of Marmite.
First tests: Mobile P4 slower than PIII?
Once in a while, everybody decides that television is the future of the Internet, and makes brave attempts to cash in on this enormous market, despite the fact that the appeal of loafing mindlessly in front of the TV is the almost exact opposite to the pleasure of mindlessly clicking through endless Web pages about, say, wombats or Japanese shampoos. In any case, BT has gone back to this tried-and-true formula once again with its acquisition of a television broadcasting licence, although it insists it's too busy creating Broadband Britain at the moment to think about funding its own Hollyoaks rip-off. They may get some help in that direction from RealNetworks, which has revealed that the future of video is -- surprise! -- the television set! Once we can get high-quality, decent-resolution video on a television, we'll know we've really arrived in the 21st century.
BT gets its broadcasting licence
Will streaming media leave PCs behind?
This must be a sign of the times. It turns out that the computer disaster or denial of service attack that shut millions of people out of the Morpheus service was in fact caused by... unpaid bills. No doubt the geezers at Morpheus are running things from a shoebox in El Paso and having trouble keeping the electricity company from shutting the lights off.
Morpheus' downfall: Bills weren't paid
You may have thought it was a pretty cool idea to be able to copy CDs onto your computer and create a massive juke-box for the price of an obsolete Pentium III box, but the record industry doesn't agree with you. They're releasing several new top albums with copy-protection which, when placed in a PC's CD-ROM drive, will short-circuit your computer and call the police on you. Fortunately this idea is only big in Japan... so far.
New CD protection won't play on PCs
The News Schmooze is ZDNet UK's irreverent take on the week's news. Send your tip-offs to: mailroomuk@zdnet.com.


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