Posts tagged ‘malware’
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An expert from Geeks on Call explains how software used to turn on your webcam into a spying device.
NBC Philadelphia – Tracy Davidson
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More than 74,000 PCs at nearly 2,500 organizations around the globe were compromised over the past year and a half in a botnet infestation designed to steal login credentials to bank sites, social networks, and e-mail systems, a security firm said Wednesday.
The systems were infected with the Zeus Trojan and the botnet was dubbed “Kneber” after a username that linked the infected PCs on corporate and government systems, according to NetWitness.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Merck, Cardinal Health, Paramount Pictures, and Juniper Networks were among the targets in the attack. NetWitness speculated that criminals in Eastern Europe using a command-and-control server in Germany sent attachments containing the malware in e-mails or links to the malware on Web sites that employees within the companies clicked on.
NetWitness said it discovered more than 75 gigabytes worth of stolen data during routine analytic tasks as part of an evaluation of a client network on January 26. The cache of stolen data included 68,000 corporate login credentials, access to e-mail systems, online banking sites, Facebook, Yahoo, Hotmail, 2,000 SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate files and data on individuals, NetWitness said in a statement and in a whitepaper available for download from its Web site.
In addition to stealing specific data, Zeus can be used to search for and steal any file on the computer, download and execute programs and allow someone to remotely control the computer.
More than half of the compromised machines were also infected with peer-to-peer bot malware called Waledac, the company said. Nearly 200 countries were affected, with most of the infections found in Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States.
The news comes after Google announced an attack targeting it and what is believed to be more than 30 other companies and which was linked back to China. McAfee dubbed that attack “Operation Aurora.”
“While Operation Aurora shed light on advanced threats from sponsored adversaries, the number of compromised companies and organizations pales in comparison to this single botnet,” said Amit Yoran, chief executive of NetWitness and former Director of the National Cyber Security Division. “These large-scale compromises of enterprise networks have reached epidemic levels.”
February 17, 2010 6:59 PM PST
by Elinor Mills
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Global Offensive Snagged Corporate, Personal Data at nearly 2,500 Companies; Operation Is Still Running
Hackers in Europe and China successfully broke into computers at nearly 2,500 companies and government agencies over the last 18 months in a coordinated global attack that exposed vast amounts of personal and corporate secrets to theft, according to a computer-security company that discovered the breach.
The damage from the latest cyberattack is still being assessed, and affected companies are still being notified. But data compiled by NetWitness, the closely held firm that discovered the breaches, showed that hackers gained access to a wide array of data at 2,411 companies, from credit-card transactions to intellectual property.
The hacking operation, the latest of several major hacks that have raised alarms for companies and government officials, is still running and it isn’t clear to what extent it has been contained, NetWitness said. Also unclear is the full amount of data stolen and how it was used. Two companies that were infiltrated, pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. and Cardinal Health Inc., said they had isolated and contained the problem.
Starting in late 2008, hackers operating a command center in Germany got into corporate networks by enticing employees to click on contaminated Web sites, email attachments or ads purporting to clean up viruses, NetWitness found.
In more than 100 cases, the hackers gained access to corporate servers that store large quantities of business data, such as company files, databases and email.
They also broke into computers at 10 U.S. government agencies. In one case, they obtained the user name and password of a soldier’s military email account, NetWitness found. A Pentagon spokesman said the military didn’t comment on specific threats or intrusions.
At one company, the hackers gained access to a corporate server used for processing online credit-card payments. At others, stolen passwords provided access to computers used to store and swap proprietary corporate documents, presentations, contracts and even upcoming versions of software products, NetWitness said.
Data stolen from another U.S. company pointed to an employee’s apparent involvement in criminal activities; authorities have been called in to investigate, NetWitness said. Criminal groups have used such information to extort sensitive information from employees in the past.
The spyware used in this attack allows hackers to control computers remotely, said Amit Yoran, chief executive of NetWitness. NetWitness engineer Alex Cox said he uncovered the scheme Jan. 26 while installing technology for a large corporation to hunt for cyberattacks.
That discovery points to the growing number of attacks in recent years that have drafted computers into cyber armies known as botnets—intrusions not blocked by standard antivirus software. Researchers estimate millions of computers are conscripted into these armies.
“It highlights the weaknesses in cyber security right now,” said Adam Meyers, a senior engineer at government contractor SRA International Inc. who reviewed the NetWitness data. “If you’re a Fortune 500 company or a government agency or a home DSL user, you could be successfully victimized.”
Disclosure of the attack comes on the heels of Google Inc.’s allegation that it and more than 20 other companies were breached by Chinese hackers. This operation appears to be more far-reaching, infiltrating some 75,000 computers and touching 196 countries. The highest concentrations of infected computers are in Egypt, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the U.S.
NetWitness, based in Herndon, Va., said it was sharing information with the companies infected. Mr. Yoran declined to name them. The company provides computer security for U.S. government agencies and companies. Mr. Yoran is a former Air Force officer who also served as cyber security chief at the Department of Homeland Security.
Besides Merck and Cardinal Health, people familiar with the attack named several other companies infiltrated, including Paramount Pictures and software company Juniper Networks Inc.
Merck said in a statement that one computer had been infected. It said it had isolated the attack and that “no sensitive information was compromised.”
Cardinal said it removed the infected computer from its network. Paramount declined to comment. Juniper’s security chief, Barry Greene, wouldn’t speak about any specific incidents but said the company worked aggressively to counter infections.
“The key is not to pour money into protecting information, but to develop a global approach to neutralizing its value. By creating secrets, we have created value, which is pursued by opportunists. ”
—John M. Brock
NetWitness, which does extensive work for the U.S. government and private-sector clients, said it was sharing its information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI said it received numerous allegations about potential compromises of network systems and responded promptly, in coordination with law-enforcement partners.
The computers were infected with spyware called ZeuS, which is available free on the Internet in its basic form. It works with the FireFox browser, according to computer-security firm SecureWorks. This version included a $2,000 feature that works with FireFox, according to SecureWorks.
Evidence suggests an Eastern European criminal group is behind the operation, likely using some computers in China because it’s easier to operate there without being caught, said NetWitness’s Mr. Yoran.
There are some electronic fingerprints suggesting the same group was behind a recent effort to dupe government officials and others into downloading spyware via emails purporting to be from the National Security Agency and the U.S. military, NetWitness’s Mr. Yoran said.
That attack was described in a Feb. 5 report from the Department of Homeland Security, which said it was issuing an alert to the government and other organizations to “prevent further compromises.”
A DHS official said that ZeuS was among the top five reported tools for malware infections.
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By SIOBHAN GORMAN
Is Mozilla becoming too much like Microsoft?
In a strange bit of irony, Mozilla, the foundation behind the popular open-source Firefox browser, increasingly relies on Microsoft’s playbook to promote Firefox adoption. No, Mozilla executives aren’t secretly plotting an open-source monopoly to replace Microsoft’s, and, indeed, are focusing precisely on doing the opposite.
But the answer to the “Why Firefox?” question increasingly sounds the same as the answer to “Why Windows?”
Namely, community/application support, to the exclusion of significant improvements in its performance.I’ve been using Google’s Chrome browser on Linux, Mac, and Windows during the past week and it screams. While Firefox hogs system resources, Google Chrome gets its job done much faster and with far fewer resources.
There’s more to Mozilla’s marketing, of course. Mozilla executive Mitchell Baker talks urgently and eloquently about the importance of an open Web, served by a community-driven, completely open browser.
But at its foundation, Mozilla’s argument sounds eerily similar to Microsoft’s: we may not be faster, but we have a better community.
After using Chrome for a week, I’m not sure this will be enough. Chrome, after all, has support for the Firefox extensions that I care most about (like AdBlock), and it has internalized others within its standard features (like “Pin tab” instead of relying on Faviconize, as I do in Firefox). And Chrome marries these to a super-fast browsing experience.
Microsoft for years has argued that it’s better simply because it has broad application support.
This is a compelling differentiator, but is it the one that we really want for Firefox?
I know I don’t. I love the Firefox browser. It has been my preferred browser for years, and I expect it to remain such.
But however much I may prefer Firefox because of its third-party extension support and its cross-platform approach, it’s not going to be enough if Chrome pulls significantly ahead in performance and catches up with add-on support. Not while Firefox consumes so much of my system resources and follows, rather than leads, Google in speed.
Mozilla has been improving Firefox performance, but not as rapidly as Google has been increasing Chrome’s, in my experience. This needs to change.
Community is a compelling differentiator for Firefox. But it’s not the only one, and it may not be enough if Mozilla doesn’t leverage that community to outpace Google Chrome performance.
by Matt Asay
With a boost from the release of Windows 7, Microsoft on Thursday said that its quarterly revenue topped $19 billion as the company sold a record number of copies of its operating system.
The software maker said it earned $6.66 billion, or 74 cents per share, on revenue of $19.02 billion for the three-month period that ended December 31. Those results included revenue deferred from the prior quarter, as the company was preparing for Windows 7 and offering free upgrades to those who bought Windows Vista-based computers. Excluding the deferred revenue, Microsoft said it had revenue of $17.31 billion, and diluted earnings per share would have totaled 60 cents per share.
“Exceptional demand for Windows 7 led to the positive top-line growth for the company,” chief financial officer Peter Klein said in a statement. “Our continuing commitment to managing costs allowed us to drive earnings performance ahead of the revenue growth.”
Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner touted the record quarter for Windows unit sales, spurred by the Oct. 22 launch of Windows 7. “We are thrilled by the consumer reception to Windows 7 and by business enthusiasm to adopt Windows 7,” he said in a statement.
The company said that through the end of December it had sold more than 60 million Windows 7 licenses, which it said made Windows 7 the fastest selling operating system in history.
In October, Microsoft reported better-than-expected sales, also boosted by stronger demand for Windows.
The company said overall PC sales grew 15 percent to 17 percent in the quarter, although that was led by a 20 percent growth in consumer sales as the business market remained roughly flat. The market for new servers remained weak, down slightly year over year, although Microsoft’s server and tools business unit managed to grow revenue 2 percent as compared with a year ago.
Microsoft’s online unit saw its revenue dip 5 percent, led by a 2 percent drop in online advertising, although the company noted that its Bing search engine continues to gain market share.
The Microsoft Business Division, which includes Office, saw sales off 3 percent, perhaps as customers await this year’s launch of Office 2010.
On the Xbox side, Microsoft said it sold 5.2 million consoles during the quarter, down 13 percent from a year ago, leading the entertainment and devices unit to post a double-digit decline in revenue.
The company didn’t give a full forecast for the coming quarter, saying it would have more to say on a 2:30 p.m. PST conference call. It did tell analysts to expect operating expenses for the full fiscal year ending June 30 to total $26.2 billion to $26.5 billion.
Here’s a chart of how each of Microsoft’s individual business units performed:
Update 2:40 p.m. PT: On its conference call, Microsoft executives said that essentially all of the company’s growth came from the consumer side of its business. Business spending stabilized some in the quarter, but is not yet seeing growth, Microsoft said.
Netbooks were about 11 percent of the market, roughly flat with both the prior quarter and a year ago. Microsoft said that 90 percent of those devices were running Windows, with Windows 7 accounting for “well over half of that.”
2:45 p.m. PT: Microsoft executives “continue to be hopeful” that the company’s Yahoo search deal will be approved by regulators early this year. The software maker said that it cut 800 jobs during the quarter and that its staff levels are down 8 percent from a year ago.
2:50 p.m. PT: Looking forward, Microsoft said that it sees some reasons to be optimistic.
“Heading into 2010, we are encouraged by the possibility of improving market conditions,” Klein said, as well as by new products like Project Natal and Office 2010.
The company also says it expects some improvements over the next two quarters in server shipments, which have been declining for several quarters. The company said it also sees a pick-up in online ads. “The outlook for online advertising appears to be improving,” Klein said.
by Ina Fried
January 28, 2010 1:11 PM PST
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Below is an exerpt from “A Cup of Cappuccino for the Entrepreneur’s Spirit Volume II“
The Idea Guy – Guy Dunn
When I was a young boy of eleven, my dad worked in New York’s garment district dispatching people for his employers. Although he was a very driven man and was making a lot of money for other people, my dad was bringing home a pittance. He soon realized his situation and didn’t like it one bit, especially since he had five children he wanted to send to college. You see, my dad grew up poor in Brooklyn and never went to college, but he had a dream that he could provide the opportunity of higher education to his children and to his nieces and nephews.
My dad decided he’d rather make money for himself than for his employer, so he quit his job and started his own business, Hour Power. This unskilled labor employment agency lasted about two years until my dad noticed many of the jobs he received were for cleaning offices. At this point, he folded Hour Power into Dunn and Sons Maintenance, a janitorial business owned jointly with one of his brothers and one of his sisters. He always said, “Office cleaning is one business that will never go away.”
Through relationships he developed, he became aware of the federal Small Business Administration 8(a) program. This program sets aside government contracts for companies owned and operated by disadvantaged individuals. SBA 8(a), as it is known, was geared toward minorities in the 1970s and my dad took full advantage of it. He became a star in the program and within a few years was grossing two million dollars annually.
By this time, I was in high school and all my brothers and sisters and many of my cousins worked in the family business. Growing up during this period meant we all worked from a young age. You name it, we cleaned it: offices, factories, stores, and construction sites. I enjoyed working; I liked making my own money and I loved the independence it gave me. Unlike some fathers, my dad didn’t give us an allowance; he allowed us to work and earn our money. I always respected him for that.
During my senior year, I was in a class called “distributive education.” Through this program I got a job working as a teller at a local bank. I worked there for about one year and, although I liked it, I didn’t enjoy having other people control my professional life. It was then I decided I was going to own a business. I knew it meant a lot of hard work, but I also knew the level of independence it provided. It was then I started to plan.
After high school, I decided I was going to Morehouse College. In my youthful arrogance, I applied only to Morehouse and nowhere else—it was risky, but I was confident they would never turn me down! I also knew going in that I would graduate with an accounting degree, work for my dad for a couple of years, and then start my own business. And that is what I did. When I came out of college in four years with my accounting degree from Morehouse, I worked under my brother as Assistant Controller for Dunn and Sons.
By this time the company was making about five million dollars annually and I learned a lot, including how to juggle priorities. In small businesses there are ebbs and flows in the cash flow cycle and they can make or break a business. My job was to monitor the cash flow on a daily basis to determine who to pay. I had to anticipate payroll and payable needs and then coordinate them with receivables and our line of credit. To me it was great and I loved the challenge. I developed spreadsheets to manage the process and enjoyed the science of it. I was enamored with creating formulas and projections that I monitored to help run this million-dollar business.
While working in my dad’s business, I also had my own businesses. I started my first venture, Positive Image Resumes, with a friend. With the invention of desktop computers, I saw an opportunity: people needed resumes, they needed them on the fly, usually in quantity, but they didn’t have the equipment to make it happen. We decided to purchase a couple of computers and provide a resume writing and printing service. We each chipped in from our savings to buy computers and supplies. It was a small venture and while it didn’t make us rich, it allowed us to keep a few dollars in our pockets.
Around this same time I was dabbling in real estate and started another business with some of my father’s friends in Philadelphia. I had more ideas than time. One could say I was already a serial entrepreneur. One of my most successful projects began as a cleaning business in Philadelphia. Marion Scott and his wife wanted to grow their company through government contracting.
Since my dad was so successful in this area, he suggested I go to Philly to work with the Scotts. We wanted to replicate the success my dad achieved in northern New Jersey. Our journey began in the living room of the Scott’s house as we launched Scott and Sons Maintenance.
Like my father before me, I went to the Small Business Administration to apply for the 8(a) program. Through a friend of a friend of my father’s, we were ushered through the process of getting into the program. This connection at the SBA proved to be a great asset to us. He helped us get into agencies and advocated for us. I’m sure if we didn’t have him, or someone like him, on our side we wouldn’t have achieved the success we did. This experience proved to me at an early age that success largely depends on relationships and how you work them to your advantage.
We grew the business from nothing to eight million dollars within nine years. We became one of the fastest growing companies in the Philadelphia region by listening to those who helped us, paying attention to our customers’ needs, and learning from the mistakes of others.
I was the initial Controller because of my accounting background. I had a good handle on the financial aspects of a small operation and I put together proposals and bids for our contracts. I actually enjoyed the work because it was simple and concrete. I enjoyed manipulating the numbers to give various scenarios based on all of our available options and then deciding on winning strategies.
We won contract after contract based on our relationships, our proposal writing, and our reputation. I was proud to be a part of an organization that was considered one of the best. We were very conscious of our customers’ needs and made customer satisfaction our number one concern. If necessary, I believed it was worth taking a small loss on a job if it meant maintaining a relationship or keeping our reputation intact. This did not happen often, but it did happen.
One of the other lessons I learned was the value of diversification. We started in the office cleaning business, but we evolved into a labor management company. We had a janitorial operation, but we also had grounds maintenance and food service divisions. Diversification is another area where our reputation, as well as our contacts, worked to our advantage. We convinced government agencies we had the resources to manage large labor projects, even if it was in an area in which we weren’t experienced. We were always able to attract talent with the background and skills to run these different operations.
I also learned that financing is the key to managing growth and building a business. Here, I was able to utilize my accounting background and personal resources. In a pinch, my father had the ability to lend our company money. When we received our first large contract, I put the loan package together for our company. I shopped our package to twelve banks and was turned down at eleven of them. In spite of the numerous rejections, I always believed we would get the money we needed. Each time I kept going back and asking what I could have done to make our package better. Finally, one of the banks did give us a loan and from then on we were able to get money as we needed it. I was a whiz at making our statements look the way they needed to look to get to that yes answer.
After selling my interest in Scott and Sons Maintenance, I became a management consultant specializing in government contracting, small business management, and business financial consulting. I enjoyed taking small companies with less than
$500,000 in sales and growing them to million dollar companies.
As a serial entrepreneur, I have continued to be involved in many business opportunities. I am an entrepreneur first and foremost. I have spent most of my adult life running, managing, or showing people how to run a business. I am thankful to my dad for his example and for my focus and drive to succeed. I have lots of ideas. I just wish I had the time to implement them all!
KEY SUCCESS FACTORS: Hard Work, Drive, Focus, Perseverance, Determination, Reputation, Customer Service, Networking, Ideas
RECOMMENDED BOOK: The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Google has released its “stable” version of Chrome 4.0, an incarnation under development for months that brings extensions to customize Chrome features and a host of technologies for more powerful Web programming.
However, the new version is available only for Windows. The Mac OS X and Linux versions of Chrome arrived in beta more than a year after the Windows version, and there’s still catching up to do.
Though this release is called version 4.0, Google deemphasizes browser such numbers, calling them mere “milestones” on the way to a better browser. The software updates itself by default, keeping people on the latest version.
Extensions are a major browser feature, letting people add new abilities without burdening all users who might not be interested. Extensions are a major competitive advantage of Mozilla’s Firefox, which calls them add-ons and has thousands available for download.
Mozilla is moving to a new extensions foundation called Jetpack that, like Chrome’s technology, uses Web standards such as HTML and CSS. Mozilla will support the current XUL system but hopes Jetpack will offer advantages of easier development, installation, and updates.
Programmers have been working on various extensions, and Google on Monday launched its extensions gallery with more than 1,500 available.
Extensions are on the way for non-Windows users.
“To those using Google Chrome on Linux, extensions are enabled on the beta channel,” said Chrome Product Manager Nick Baum in a blog post. “And for those using Google Chrome for Mac, hang tight–we’re working on bringing extensions, bookmark sync, and more to the beta soon.”
Also in the new version is bookmark sync, which means a bookmark added once by Google account holders will see that bookmark in all instance of Chrome they use. Unlike Mozilla’s Weave extension, though, it doesn’t synchronize passwords or extensions.
He also continued to bang the browser performance drum, citing a 42 percent increase in Mozilla’s Dromeao DOM Core Tests that measure among other things how fast a browser processes a Web document.
Under the covers are is Chrome support for several HTML5 technologies: including the LocalStorage and Database interfaces for letting browser applications or Web sites store data on a computer, the WebSockets interface for more advanced communications between a computer and a server, and the notifications interface for status bar alerts of–think Web-based instant messaging notes.
For details on the interfaces, check the Chromium blog.
SEATTLE–Bill Gates thought that coming up with vaccines would be the hard part and that delivering vaccines would be the easy part.
It turns out they are both hard.
That’s one of the lessons that Gates tells CNET he has learned in his new role as full-time philanthropist. In travels to Africa, he saw firsthand the challenges of delivering vaccines, many of which have to be kept cold to be effective and are needed in places with no refrigeration.
“We were a bit naive about that, particularly getting new vaccines adopted by countries,” Gates said in an interview last week. “It had been so long since they had done it, I just assumed they would look at the numbers, it would be a very straightforward process. Well, the process doesn’t even exist.”
Plus, he said, “The cold chain is more messed up than I expected.”
In the interview, which was done in conjunction with the release of the annual letter (PDF) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates talked about other surprises he encountered in his travels, including the fact that one of the ways to reduce the spread of AIDS in Africa is to promote adult circumcision–something that he wasn’t sure would be feasible.
“Male circumcision–which I thought wouldn’t be a big effect because I didn’t think adults would be that interested in it–it looks like that’s really going to help slow the disease,” Gates said.
“The Internet is tailor-made for the kind of activities I’m involved in,” Gates said. “When I take a trip, we have all these photos. And there were things that were fun and exciting, and people want to see that. It’s very easy to put it up there…I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to be sharing on an ongoing basis, and people who are interested in a particular topic can just find that piece and go after that.”
Gates also discussed the classes he is taking online, the response to the earthquake in Haiti, and the need for breakthroughs in clean energy.
Here is an edited transcript of the conversation:
Q: In one recent interview I heard that Melinda said [of you] that, “Bill’s on fire.” What are some of the things that have really ignited your passion further in this past year?
Gates: Well, the opportunity to go into the field and see both the need and the progress makes this a really fun job. I was in Kenya and South Africa in December and saw the AIDS epidemic, which is still really awful in both of those countries, but I saw a lot of hope. Male circumcision–which I thought wouldn’t be a big effect because I didn’t think adults would be that interested in it–it looks like that’s really going to help slow the disease. So I’m excited that I get to take my belief in science, backing scientists doing great work, and the practical notions of how things get organized, how they get done, and do my best to apply them to the needs of the poorest.
I hear that one way that you approached this year’s [foundation] letter was to look at what it might be like to write that letter in 10 years if there weren’t any innovation. What were some of the things that went through your mind as you started thinking about it that way?
Gates: Well, innovation is often this hidden thing, because we can’t put numbers to it. And yet it’s the thing that defines the way we live, the things we’d like to have for everyone whether it’s health or education. Where does the marketplace fall short and therefore a foundation can have a catalytic effect?
What types of things is innovation critical to solving?
Gates: Well there are great examples from both the United States and from Africa. If we don’t innovate in education, the budget cuts and increasing expense of a really great university education, it’s literally going to mean less people get to go have that education at a time when more people are going to want it, and the country needs more people to get those educations. I call it the $200,000 education, because if you pay the full amount to a private university, that’s what it costs.
So how could you get that to be available to lots more people? How could you avoid that kind of bleak, “years ago things were better”-type outcome? Well the answer is that we’ve got to innovate. We’ve got to put courses out on the Web, we’ve got to put interactive learning out on the Web.
Likewise, for some of these health problems. If we don’t solve them, then the population growth that comes with bad health, we will overwhelm what Africa will be able to do in terms of jobs and education and just feeding people. And so we’ve got to make progress now in order to not just straight-line that population growth which would make Africa far worse than it has been.
The letter talks about some of the incredible traveling you did. One of those trips earlier in the year was to India, I think it was your 12th trip, if I’m not mistaken. One of the projects that you saw was something called “scuba rice,” an effort to make rice that is more flood resistant. How important is it to create more weather-resistant crops?
Gates: Even today people starve or live very poor livelihoods with not enough calories or not enough crops to sell some to get money for school fees because of weather. Weather is a super tough problem, and weather is going to get worse. That is, climate change means that there will be more rain when you don’t want it, coming all at once. There will be periods with no rain, drought. And so taking these crops, about 10 crops that are used to feed most people, and improving the common varieties–and there are a lot of varieties for some of these seeds so they can deal with the drought or flooding–is critical.
And rice, there was this amazing breakthrough where just by putting one gene in you can take it so when the rice gets flooded it will just wait until the flood goes away and then resume growth. So if you put two fields next to each other, the current rice variety and the one with this new gene, then after the flood comes, you’ll see complete die off without the gene, and great rice that’s literally unaffected where you’ve got this new gene. And we’ve been able to transfer that gene into many rice varieties. And so it’ll improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Now the other traits like drought resistance may not be as easy, but they’re equally important and that’s why we need to invest in that science.
Also you met with some of the political leaders in India. What are some of the issues going on in India that you are most passionate about?
Gates: Well, India is quite a mix in terms of the quality of health care. In the south, a state like Kerala, the health is not much worse than a middle-income country. Whereas up in the north, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, you have some of the worst health conditions anywhere on the planet. You have less kids being vaccinated, more kids dying of measles up there than anywhere else. And so the need to step back, build a better system, make sure that the government money gets to the people who deserve it. Vaccination is one of the easier things. It’s much easier than roads and a great education system. It’s very basic. It’s one of the first things you want to get right.
And what I’m seeing is that there’s a set of leaders who are very interested in this and have some new tactics. They’re realistic about how hard it is. I mentioned Rahul Gandhi, whose mother is head of the Congress Party and is very involved in building up a new generation of politicians that are going to be more interested in these development issues, and the actual delivery that is what makes the difference. So I was very optimistic after several of those meetings.
In December you traveled to Africa. One of the things you saw firsthand was in Kenya, where they’re using cell phones to do money transfer and you saw some of the micro businesses that sort of technology enables. How far has that gotten and what are some of the challenges still there?
Gates: Well, the pervasiveness of the cell phone is very strong even in quite poor countries. And so we can often think for health or savings, how can you take advantage of that? It’s not going to be easy, because you’ve got to have a simple user interface, and you’ve got to have very cheap transaction fees. And yet we’ve seen now in Kenya, that with the transfer, money transfer system they call M-Pesa, it’s really started. And so the idea that with very low fees you could track your savings and [could] loan money to other people. That really would be a breakthrough. Right now the actual fees involved in financial services are the worst for the poorest, because as a percentage they’re just too high. So we need a breakthrough. It’s one of those catalytic elements like food or health that would make a huge difference. And in this case, a lot of it’s sort of a pure software thing that is more like my traditional Microsoft work.
When people think of the foundation’s work, they tend to think of the developing health work overseas, but another big focus as you mentioned is education here in the U.S. We’ve talked in the past about some of the possibilities that are out there in terms of recording some of the great lectures that are taking place and making them available online to students everywhere. I understand you have been doing a lot of beta testing of some of these online classes, taking classes from MIT and elsewhere. What are some of the things that you’ve seen as you’ve taken some of these classes?
Gates: Well, a great lecture is a phenomenal thing and no university has all the great lecturers. Once you identify who is good, then you can help them record it in a high-quality way. You can give them resources to do the experiments and demonstrations even better and get something that’s quite phenomenal. Online for mathematics or physics, there should be just phenomenal lectures. And that really is happening. I mentioned Academicearth.org in the letter as a place where they’re collecting and letting you connect out to a lot of different courses. And the site gets broader as it reaches down into high school, across a broad range of subjects–and also includes interactive testing, to see if your knowledge is right.
I think it can be a great tool. I love the Walter Lewin physics courses, I love the Don Sadoway materials science course. I need to learn a lot about these sciences [for] the health and agriculture work of the foundation, so I’m smart about those things. And I love watching them. It’s kind of there as a complement to the for-profit stuff, which are organizations like Teach 12.
Beyond letting you make up some of the college work that you might have missed, you talk about this as a foundation for improving the higher-education system. I think there’s some research from Carnegie Mellon that actually shows that by mixing live discussion with online lectures students actually retain more than if they were sitting in the actual lecture all the time. Is that some of what you guys have seen?
Gates: Yeah, well online is pretty special for two reasons. One is that you can get the very best lecture in the world and wherever you are, whenever you want, you can connect to that lecture. That’s video on the Web, and it wasn’t possible even five years ago. The other is this interactivity, where if you know a topic, you can kind of skip over it. Or if you’re confused about it, [the area] where you’re confused can be analyzed by software.
That kind of personalized learn-at-your-own-pace type approach is pretty phenomenal. The example of a kid whose math score is not good enough and he’s stuck in remedial math, it’s kind of awful because he’s not sure what he got right and what he got wrong and he’s been given this negative feeling of, “OK, you’re not good at this.” But as he’s sitting through lectures, a lot of it’s stuff that he already gets and some of it needs more depth, which is maybe fractions or scientific notation. They just weren’t explained well, they weren’t the right examples. And this mix of showing you visually, showing you in different ways, can help you learn something. For me, certain complex concepts, I actually watched multiple of the physics courses just so I say, do I understand this, say, cardinal limit. If I see it from multiple [teachers], it strengthens my understanding.
Beyond the vaccine research and expanding antiviral treatments, one of the things you talked about is the role that circumcision can play?
Gates: Certainly, being on the ground is crucial. It remotivates you, and you get to see what’s working better or not working as well. Circumcision is definitely one that, although we put money behind it, I just didn’t think the demand from adult males would be very high. That’s a fairly personal thing. You’d at least think that it might be a painful operation. There are cultural beliefs that whatever you’ve decided to do you’re probably comfortable with. So it’s quite surprising to me that in multiple centers, including this [inaudible] one in South Africa, the demand has been very high.
In fact in this one area, township, they’ll get somewhere between 70 and 90 percent of the males to have this procedure. And that will dramatically reduce the spread of AIDS. It won’t stop it, it doesn’t make you invulnerable. But it’s a big enough effect that this is a great intervention and to really believe it I had to sit and talk with the kids who were just coming out of the operating room or coming back for their 30-day check-up and say, “Why is the word of mouth on this so good? What got you to come here and what were the negatives?” And clearly those results are the real thing.
For a long time I know you’ve sent e-mails to some of the people you’re closest with. Now you’re starting to broadcast that a little more broadly. You just joined Twitter obviously, and you’re launching a new site, Gates Notes, where you share some of these things. What are some of your goals with these new methods of communication?
Gates: Well, the Internet is tailor-made for the kind of activities I’m involved in. When I take a trip, we have all these photos. And there were things that were fun and exciting, and people want to see that. It’s very easy to put it up there. It’s almost no additional work at all. If I read a book, some people are considering whether to read that book or just want a short understanding of what that’s like.
So I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to be sharing on an ongoing basis and people who are interested in a particular topic can just find that piece and go after that, because the variety is such…nobody is going to be interested in all of it. And it will help guide me, the interest in some of the energy things I have been doing is very high and so I’ll elaborate more on that.
It’s great to be part of a virtual community, and I have sort of been out of it. Because after I left Microsoft, I didn’t create my own Web presence. And so for the last two months I’ve been thinking about it, decided to go ahead, and these last few days I’d sent out quite a few tweets. And I’ll learn about this and it’ll keep me up to date.
It seems like these social media are actually changing a lot of the work that your foundation and other global philanthropy do in terms of getting communication in a different way. One of the places we’ve seen this is the response to the earthquake in Haiti. We’ve seen text-based donations coming in. A lot of peer pressure of friends saying, “Have you donated?” Is it making the work that the foundation does easier or is it just a different means of communication and you have the same level of interest that has always been there?
Gates: I think it’s more of an opportunity than an established thing. The overall generosity of America to the developing world causes is higher than most countries, but still quite modest. And you often, you’ll see a peak in a disaster, but the real needs are the ongoing needs, so then you’ll see the drop-off. The opportunity to have ongoing awareness where somebody can pick a particular country, a particular disease, the needs in farming. Whatever they’re interested in and feel involved that they understand where they could travel, where they could give their time, where they could give money. What the policy issues are to be as a voter, having an impact. I think the opportunity is quite dramatic. And yet, so far the gross numbers in terms of generosity are not substantially changed from the past. So it’s still in front of us to have that benefit.
Energy is a topic you mentioned a couple of times. It’s something I know you’re really passionate about. It’s not something we’ve heard as much from you about, but you reference it at the end of your letter. What are some of the energy issues that you’ve been spending your time thinking about and what are some of the things that you’re encouraging others to do?
Gates: Well, there’s one breakthrough that is called for, and that’s the ability to generate electricity with lower cost than we get it today, but no CO2 emission. And there are many paths to get there, and none of them are easy paths. We need to back a lot of them. And so I spent time with a lot of scientists, talking about these things. In fact, Nathan Myhrvold’s got a group together that has done some very interesting invention around these topics. We’ve actually spun out a new company. A nuclear-energy company, which sounds a bit unusual, but it’s got a breakthrough approach that avoids some of the top problems. And we need a lot of companies like that. I invested in Vinod Khosla’s fund because he is backing some great entrepreneurs. I get some exposure to them as part of that. Innovation is called for in a big way.
For rich people, yes, we can use less energy, we can afford a higher price. For the poor, a higher price of energy would mean that their life would be much worse. They couldn’t afford as much fertilizer, they couldn’t get to their job, they can’t get clean water. So the progress of civilization has depended on and will depend on energy being cheaper. But now we have this constraint of not just less CO2, but no CO2. Conservation can give you reductions, but the number we have to have is zero. And so what you have to invent is not just efficiency, it’s a whole new way of creating electricity that can meet the overall demand. So a fascinating topic. [It] fits that innovation framework and yet there’s a private market, so the companies doing this work are private companies where the employees get some of that upside and many of them will fail, in fact the vast majority. But all we need is a few to succeed to take on both helping the poor and getting the climate change problem under control.
I know you’re a huge optimist. At the same time I know you’re also pretty self-critical. When you look back at the past year, are there things that you would give yourself lower marks for, or that you would say this turned out to be more difficult than you thought? ?
Gates: Well, vaccine delivery is one where I thought we actually understood all of the complexities. And we were a bit naive about that, particularly getting new vaccines adopted by countries. It had been so long since they had done it, I just assumed they would look at the numbers, it would be a very straightforward process. Well, the process doesn’t even exist. The cold chain is more messed up than I expected.
The process you need to keep things refrigerated?
Gates: Exactly, to keep them fresh so they work when you finally get out to that child who needs it. And so vaccine delivery sort of moved on beyond, and now I realize both the foundation and I need to spend a lot more time on that because we have ambitious goals there. It’s going to hold us back. So that was a bit of a mistake. And the agricultural front, the resistance to these transgenic approaches. I thought that would have died down some as the huge benefits to the poor, particularly the poor dealing with climate change caused by the rich. I thought that would be less and not such a blocking thing, but it’s still a huge issue. And some of the advances rely on those techniques, so it’s important to fund the African governments so they can make their own decisions and try not to have this blocking that [as] is the current status and much worse than I had realized.
It seems like the hardest problems are–the science is hard, but people seem to figure out it’s the politics that can be the least predictable?
Gates: Well, I think you get both. If we had an AIDS vaccine, I don’t think the politics would stand in the way of that much, or a malaria vaccine, or a TB vaccine. As you get down to diseases that are a little bit less visible, that’s when it gets more difficult. So for each problem you have to see what the mix is. One that I highlight is these deaths of children for their first 30 days. Where it’s both a delivery problem of educating mothers, but it’s also probably the case where we need some new pills, some new shots, and then the two are entangled. It’s not [that] you have the science over here and the delivery and politics over there. It’s all this one thing of getting in to the mother and talking to her. So we’re putting a lot of energy into that type. Melinda’s got a lot of trips particularly focused on that issue.
And you’re going to be keeping us up to date on your Web site and then tweeting about them?
Gates: You bet. Maybe three times a week I’ll have something, and maybe one of those will be a long thoughtful piece about a book or about a particular problem, and a couple will just be pointing to things where I think somebody is being really insightful, and maybe one a week will be more frivolous. I’m learning what people like and that’s another fun thing for me this year. This is the year I return to the digital world.
by Ina Fried
SEATTLE–When it comes to his foundation work, Bill Gates has plenty to say. In addition to his 17-page annual letter (PDF), the Microsoft chairman sat down with CNET’s Ina Fried to talk about what he’s learned in the past year. Here, we’ve broken the half-hour interview up into five segments, based on topic.
The full interview, in written form, can also be found here.
Bill Gates on why he’s ‘fired up’
In the first part of a wide-ranging interview, the philanthropist and Microsoft chairman talks about innovation and how the future is bleak without it.
Gates says his travels to India and Africa have both reignited his passions and challenged some of his assumptions about things like vaccination and adult circumcision.
On taking online classes
No, Gates isn’t working on his bachelor’s degree, but, he says he is an avid viewer of online classes from MIT and elsewhere. Such classes have the potential to transform higher education, he says.
Gates tries his hand at tweeting, blogging
Microsoft’s chairman says he’s excited to once again have a public online presence and plans to post new items to his Web site several times a week.
On the need for carbon-neutral energy source
Gates says the poor need a carbon-neutral energy source even more than the rich, as they are feeling the brunt of high energy prices and the effects of climate change.
by Ina Fried
By Neil Hughes
Published: 03:25 PM EST
While Apple’s tablet is still expected to see a formal introduction at a media event next week, issues with battery life and durability could result in a June launch, an analyst said Tuesday.
In a new note to investors, Shaw Wu with Kaufman Bros. said checks with supply chain sources indicate the launch pattern for the tablet could follow that of the original iPhone in 2007, with a January unveiling and final product shipping to consumers six months later. He said that the June launch could be due to “minor issues” with more work needed on battery life and durability.
However, he said, checks also indicate that a tablet-type device will be introduced next week, at a Jan. 27 event, where the company has advertised it plans to show off its “latest creation.” Wu described the product as being like a “super” iPod touch.
“This tablet product has been described to us as a hybrid between an iPhone/ipod touch and a mac but in terms of software and components, it appears closer to the former, meaning it is most likely ARM based,” he wrote. “From our understanding, it is not intended to replace a Mac but be somewhat of a ‘super’ iPod touch where video, gaming, Web browsing, e-books and the ability to run multiple apps would be enhanced with the much larger screen.”
The analyst’s claims of a June launch contradict with The Wall Street Journal, which reported earlier this month that the hardware is expected to ship in March. The device is expected to have a screen sized between 10 inches and 11 inches.
Wu also expects the device to cost around $999, citing a $100 incremental cost for a large touchscreen, according to sources in the supply chain. In addition, additional costs over the iPhone and iPod touch would come in the form of semiconductors, glass, sensors and substrates.
That estimate comes in much higher than competing analyst Gene Munster, of Piper Jaffray, who has predicted a $600 average selling price. In general, analysts expect the device to cost less than $1,000.
Wu said he believes that Wi-Fi would be the “most likely option” for network access, as opposed to 3G, so as to “not further clog already strained 3G networks.” But, he said, there is still the potential for carriers to offer subsidies and lower the price point of the device for end users. He said Wi-Fi is the best option to offer broad and inexpensive high-speed Internet access.
Kaufman Bros. has predicted the “iSlate,” as Wu referred to it, to sell a million units per quarter. Supply chain sources indicated that Apple hopes to build 5 million units in the first year of production. The company has reiterated its price target of $253 for AAPL stock.