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  1. The PR disaster for geo-unblocking software Hola has deepened with a report from cybersecurity firm Vectra. In addition to revealing a console within the software that allows an attacker to "accomplish almost anything", Vectra has discovered that Hola had already been exploited by "bad guys" before reports surfaced against the company last week. After a flurry of reports, last week the people behind geo-unblocking software Hola were forced to concede that their users’ bandwidth is being sold elsewhere for commercial purposes. But for the Israel-based company, that was the tip of the iceberg. Following an initial unproofed report that the software operates as a botnet, this weekend researchers published an advisory confirming serious problems with the tool. “The Hola Unblocker Windows client, Firefox addon, Chrome extension and Android application contain multiple vulnerabilities which allow a remote or local attacker to gain code execution and potentially escalate privileges on a user’s system,†the advisory reads. Yesterday and after several days of intense pressure, Hola published a response in which it quoted Steve Jobs and admitted that mistakes had been made. Hola said that it would now be making it “completely clear†to its users that their resources are being used elsewhere in exchange for a free product. Hola also confirmed that two vulnerabilities found by the researchers at Adios-Hola had now been fixed, but the researchers quickly fired back. “We know this to be false,†they wrote in an update. “The vulnerabilities are *still* there, they just broke our vulnerability checker and exploit demonstration. Not only that; there weren’t two vulnerabilities, there were six.†With Hola saying it now intends to put things right (it says it has committed to an external audit with “one of the big 4 auditing companiesâ€) the company stood by its claims that its software does not turn users’ computers into a botnet. Today, however, an analysis by cybersecurity firm Vectra is painting Hola in an even more unfavorable light. In its report Vectra not only insists that Hola behaves like a botnet, but it’s possible it has malicious features by design. “While analyzing Hola, Vectra Threat Labs researchers found that in addition to behaving like a botnet, Hola contains a variety of capabilities that almost appear to be designed to enable a targeted, human-driven cyber attack on the network in which an Hola user’s machine resides,†the company writes. “First, the Hola software can download and install any additional software without the user’s knowledge. This is because in addition to being signed with a valid code-signing certificate, once Hola has been installed, the software installs its own code-signing certificate on the user’s system.†If the implications of that aren’t entirely clear, Vectra assists on that front too. On Windows machines, the certificate is added to the Trusted Publishers Certificate Store which allows *any code* to be installed and run with no notification given to the user. That is frightening. Furthermore, Vectra found that Hola contains a built-in console (“zconsoleâ€) that is not only constantly active but also has powerful functions including the ability to kill running processes, download a file and run it whilst bypassing anti-virus software, plus read and write content to any IP address or device. “These capabilities enable a competent attacker to accomplish almost anything. This shifts the discussion away from a leaky and unscrupulous anonymity network, and instead forces us to acknowledge the possibility that an attacker could easily use Hola as a platform to launch a targeted attack within any network containing the Hola software,†Vectra says. Finally, Vectra says that while analyzing the protocol used by Hola, its researchers found five different malware samples on VirusTotal that contain the Hola protocol. Worryingly, they existed before the recent bad press. “Unsurprisingly, this means that bad guys had realized the potential of Hola before the recent flurry of public reports by the good guys,†the company adds. For now, Hola is making a big show of the updates being made to its FAQ as part of its efforts to be more transparent. However, items in the FAQ are still phrased in a manner that portrays criticized elements of the service as positive features, something that is likely to mislead non-tech oriented users. “Since [Hola] uses real peers to route your traffic and not proxy servers, it makes you more anonymous and more secure than regular VPN services,†one item reads. How Hola will respond to Vectra’s latest analysis remains to be seen, but at this point there appears little that the company can say or do to pacify much of the hardcore tech community. That being said, if Joe Public still can’t see the harm in a free “community†VPN operating a commercial division with full access to his computer, Hola might settle for that.
  2. The Pirate Bay has been back for a few days but all is not well. Aside from the site having serious stability problems and decreased functionality, it's already being flooded with fake uploads of the latest movies. While it's still early days, reputations are fragile in the fickle world of file-sharing. After seven tense weeks of downtime, The Pirate Baysprang back to life on Saturday. There were no press releases, no triumphant tone, and no gloating blog posts mocking the futility of Hollywood’s efforts. Compared to previous comebacks, this one felt different. The early signs were positive, however. The database backup used by the site appeared to be the one made on the last day of the site’s operations before it was raided early December 2014. And, given the use of domain, it seems almost certain that the site isn’t some kind of trap – despite some of the negative discussions currently underway. The big question, however, is how the site will develop moving forward. Revelations that the site would no longer ‘employ’ admins and moderators to maintain what was the world’s most popular torrent site sounded some big alarm bells. How would the site cope with the inevitable flood of fake torrents without staff around to remove them? Those lucky enough to get on The Pirate Bay today (Cloudflare and caching errors permitting) will find that searches (that’s to say when the search feature works) reveal a somewhat sorry picture. Released in theaters on January 23, the Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow movie Mortdecai hasn’t been well received by critics. Nevertheless, some enterprising individuals released a ‘cam’ copy online a few days ago. But check out Pirate Bay and the listings for pristine Blu-ray rips and DVD screeners are plain to see. Some of these fakes have been present for three days, something that would never have happened when the site used mods to remove junk. That being said, maybe this title was a one off and simply got missed? Sadly, that’s not the case. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams is another comedy currently doing the rounds in ‘cam’ format. However, those looking for the title on Pirate Bay can apparently download a special “screening†version not designed for public eyes. The third comedy in our tests – The Wedding Ringer – is currently doing no better. Despite only being available in poor quality ‘cam’ format, The Pirate Bay is listing Blu-ray, DVD and DVD screener copies for download. All are completely fake and have been on the site since Saturday. So if these aren’t the movies they’re claiming to be, then what are they? The answer is, quite simply, nothing good. At the very least they’ll be some prankster’s idea of a joke and at the worse will require the downloader to install some ‘special codec’ or ‘special video player’ to watch the promised movie. Of course, even if they do, no movie will be forthcoming. Instead the user’s computer will have some unexpected additions. Also problematic is the lack of user comments. While it appears that some users can comment on torrents (with advice about the torrent’s authenticity, for example) currently even the most popular torrents have little to no comments. Without this user feedback people will become victims of spam and worse. One saving grace is that a feature that was previously broken appears to have returned this morning. Users are now able to click on a username in order to see what other uploads he or she has made. Suspicious users – such as b3322210 – can then clearly be identified as mass spammers of fake uploads. Of course, people should keep in mind that the site has only been up 72 hours and its operators may have a plan to keep junk off the site in future. However, file-sharers are notoriously fickle and reputations built by sites over many years can be torn down in a fraction of that time. It’s worth noting that P2P software such as LimeWire and other “shared folder†apps are no longer used by the majority of file-sharers due to the complete lack of trust in what’s being offered. Without moderation the underlying networks turned into file cesspits that no sane person wants to spend much time around. Pirate Bay is a long way away from that, but something needs to be done sooner rather than later if the site is to regain the top spot both in terms of traffic and reputation with users.
  3. The company behind the movie watermarking system known as Cinavia has been awarded a new anti-piracy patent. Among other things, the Verance invention seeks to track digital media as it's being distributed by adding identifying watermarks to encrypted content, without having to decrypt it first. While the name Verance might not be particularly well known, the company’s anti-piracy technology is present in millions of DVD and Blu-ray players and the media they play. Every licensed Blu-ray playback device since 2012 has supported the technology which is designed to limit the usefulness of pirated content. Illicit copies of movies protected by Cinavia work at first, but after a few minutes playback is halted and replaced by a warning notice. This is achieved by a complex watermarking system that not only protects retail media but also illicit recordings of first-run movies. Now Verance has been awarded a patent for a new watermarking system with fresh aims in mind. The patent, ‘Watermarking in an encrypted domain’, begins with a description of how encryption can protect multimedia content from piracy during storage or while being transported from one location to another. “The encrypted content may be securely broadcast over the air, through the Internet, over cable networks, over wireless networks, distributed via storage media, or disseminated through other means with little concern about piracy of the content,†Verance begins. Levels of security vary, Verance explains, depending on the strength of encryption algorithms and encryption key management. However, at some point content needs to be decrypted in order for it to be processed or consumed, and at this point it is vulnerable to piracy and distribution. “This is particularly true for multimedia content that must inevitably be converted to audio and/or visual signals (e.g., analog format) in order to reach an audience,†Verance explain. While the company notes that at this stage content is vulnerable to copying, solutions are available to help protect against what it describes as the “analog holeâ€. As the creator of Cinavia, it’s no surprise Verance promotes watermarking. “Digital watermarking is typically referred to as the insertion of auxiliary information bits into a host signal without producing perceptible artifacts,†Verance explains. In other words, content watermarked effectively will carry such marks regardless of further distribution, copying techniques, or deliberate attacks designed to remove them. Cinavia is one such example, the company notes. However, Verance admits that watermarking has limitations. In a supply chain, for example, the need to watermark already encrypted content can trigger time-intensive operations. For this, the company says it has a solution. Verance has come up with a system with the ability to insert watermarks into content that has already been compressed and encrypted, without the need for decryption, decompression, or subsequent re-compression and re-encryption. In terms of an application, Verance describes an example workflow in which movie content could be watermarked and then encrypted in order to protect it during distribution. The system has the ability to further watermark encrypted content as it passes through various supply chain stages and locations without compromising its security. “In a forensic tracking application, a digital movie, after appropriate post production processing, may be encrypted at the movie studio or post production house, and sent out for distribution to movie theaters, to on-line retailers, or directly to the consumer,†Verance explains. “In such applications, it is often desired to insert forensic or transactional watermarks into the movie content to identify each entity or node in the distribution channel, including the purchasers of the content, the various distributors of the content, the presentation venue and the time/date/location of each presentation or purchase.†Verance believes that being able to track distribution points, sales locations such as movie theaters or stores, and even end users will be a big plus to adopters. Those up to the complex analysis can see how the company intends to work its magic by viewing its extremely technical and lengthy patent.
  4. The cases from accessory maker Spigen are based on early specs for the expected 4.7-inch version of Apple's next iPhone. Prospective iPhone 6 buyers can already preorder cases even though the phone hasn't yet been announced. Korean mobile case and accessory maker Spigen has unveiled a dedicated product page touting itsiPhone 6 cases with rendered images illustrating how the cases themselves would fit snugly into Apple's next iPhone. Spigen said it based the look of the iPhone 6 on leaked data to help it create the renders seen on its page. The company is also rumored to launch a 5.5-inch iPhone, but reports are sketchy as to whether that version will be ready for takeoff this year. Either way, with the current consumer craze for big-screened phones, Apple needs to bump up the display of its flagship phone to lure in consumers, win back market share, and stay competitive with Android rivals.Reports have been flying that Apple will announce a 4.7-inch iPhone, upping the display size from the current 4 inches. A recent report from Recode said that Apple will unveil the iPhone 6 at a media event on September 9. The cases displayed by Spigen are specifically designed for the 4.7-inch iPhone with four different variants: two thin-fit cases selling for $15 each, an ultra-hybrid going for $25, and a tough armor edition costing $35. Each case is available in a variety of colors. Spigen also tried to cook up some audience excitement about the next iPhone or iPhones via the following blurb: The iPhone 6 could be the largest iPhone launch ever. With smartphones increasing in size, so have consumers demand for an iPhone with a larger screen. The iPhone 6 is here to answer that demand. It is all but assured that Apple will launch a 4.7 inch iPhone 6 this September. However, the more elusive 5.5 inch iPhone 6 is still mostly a mystery. Due to leaked data, we have a good idea of what the iPhone 6 will look like and we've included renders of what we believe to be some of the more accurate ones. Bigger but thinner and lighter are you excited about the new iPhone 6? The product page also offers some older videos in which Spigen is able to cleanly fit its cases onto early dummy units of the iPhone 6. Still, iPhone 6 buyers may want to err on the side of caution and hold off on ordering any case until the actual phone hits the market. A spokeswoman for Apple declined CNET News' request to comment on the Spigen cases. Update, 7:33 a.m. PT: Adds Apple declining to comment.
  5. People sometimes ask how the artists will get paid if - no, when - the copyright monopoly is abolished. This question is not based on facts. Every time somebody questions the copyright monopoly, and in particular, whether it’s reasonable to dismantle freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of information, and the privacy of correspondence just to maintain a distribution monopoly for an entertainment industry, the same question pops up out of nowhere: “How will the artists get paid?â€. The copyright industry has been absolutely phenomenal in misleading the public in this very simple matter, suggesting that artists’ income somehow depend on a distribution monopoly of publishers. If the facts were out, this debate would have been over 20 years ago and the distribution monopoly already abolished quite unceremoniously. There are three facts that need to be established and hammered in whenever somebody asks this question. First: Less than one percent of artists’ income comes from the copyright monopoly. Read that sentence again. The overwhelming majority of artists get their income today from student loans, day jobs, unemployment benefits, and so on and so forth. One of the most recent studies (“Copyright as Incentiveâ€, in Swedish as “Upphovsrätten som incitamentâ€, 2006) quotes a number of 0.9 per cent as the average income share of artists that can be directly attributed to the existence of the copyright monopoly. The report calls the direct share of artists’ income “negligibleâ€, “insignificantâ€. However, close to one hundred per cent of publishers’ income – the income of unnecessary, parasitic middlemen – is directly attributable to the copyright monopoly today. Guess who’s adamant about defending it? Hint: not artists. Second: 99.99% of artists never see a cent in copyright monopoly royalties.Apart from the copyright industry’s creative accounting and bookkeeping – arguably the only reason they ever had to call themselves the “creative industry†– which usually robs artists blind, only one in ten thousand artists ever see a cent in copyright-monopoly-related royalties. Yes, this is a real number: 99% of artists are never signed with a label, and of those who are, 99% of those never see royalties. It comes across as patently absurd to defend a monopolistic, parasitic system where only one in ten thousand artists make any money with the argument “how will the artists make money any other way?â€. Third: Artists’ income has more than doubled because of culture-sharing. Since the advent of hobby-scale unlicensed manufacturing – which is what culture-sharing is legally, since it breaks a manufacturing monopoly on copies – the average income for musicians has risen 114%, according to a Norwegian study. Numbers from Sweden and the UK show the same thing. This shift in income has a direct correlation to hobby-based unlicensed manufacturing, as the sales of copies is down the drain – which is the best news imaginable for artists, since households are spending as much money on culture before (or more, according to some studies), but are buying in sales channels where artists get a much larger piece of the pie. Hobby-based unlicensed manufacturing has meant the greatest wealth transfer from parasitic middlemen to artists in the history of recorded music. As a final note, it should be told that even if artists went bankrupt because of sustained civil liberties, that would still be the way to go. Any artist that goes from plinking their guitar in the kitchen to wanting to sell an offering is no longer an artist, but an entrepreneur; the same rules apply to them as to every other entrepreneur on the planet. Specifically, they do not get to dismantle civil liberties because such liberties are bad for business. But as we see, we don’t even need to take that into consideration, for the entire initial premise is false. Kill copyright, already. Get rid of it. It hurts innovation, creativity, our next-generation industries, and our hard-won civil liberties. It’s not even economically defensible.
  6. In the many, sundry protocols of franchise maintenance, there’s not much to be said for directorial continuity: lucrative film series don’t need to have the same person at the reins for each installment. Take, for example, the chronicles of Harry Potter andTwilight, which both went through four directors from start to finish. So that makes George Miller kind of an anomaly among most of his peers. After taking a twenty year break from the franchise he originally made his bones with (during which time he busied himself with such projects as Babeand both Happy Feet films), Miller is finally returning to his old stomping ground with Mad Max: Fury Road. Judging by his presentation at San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend, taking a couple of decades off from making post apocalyptic dystopian films set in Australia has been a serious tonic for him. Get excited, in other words, for the imminent return of Max Rockatansky in 2015 – and possibly even beyond. In between catalyzing buzz by blowing minds in Hall H with a totally bonkers trailer for his new film, Miller spoke at length about the universe he’s created in Fury Road, and the preparation that went into its conception. Turns out that his well laid plans for the film tangentially involved penning two more Mad Max stories, one of which exists as a novel, and the other a script. To hear it from Miller, the excess of writing was actually a necessity just to successfully put pen to paper on Fury Road. Here’s the full quote from Miller himself: “In order to tell this story, we came up with two others. We’ve written the screenplay to one and the novelization of another – but it’s a very rough novel. We kept working on them while we were working on other things.†Rough or not, hearing this is almost as exciting as first hearing that the Mad Maxseries would be making a comeback following a prolonged absence from multiplexes and a lengthy, frequently troubled road to production (including a series of anxiety inducing reshoots). The journey from the early days of getting Mad Max: Fury Roadunderway to now, where the film has scored big in test screenings on its way to itssummer 2015 opening date; bearing all that in mind, the notion of getting one newMad Max picture is incredible enough. So hearing Miller talk openly about the pair of additional Mad Max yarns he has in his back pocket is kind of unbelievable, and gives new reason to pray for Fury Road‘s critical and commercial success. Apart from the obvious pride Miller has in the new movie, the amount of energy he’s poured into revitalizing the character for modern audiences is respectable – and if seeing Max back in action on the big screen once is cool, seeing him twice would naturally be even cooler. Where those two potential sequels might go is, of course, a mystery at this point, just knowing that Max’s tale could expand beyond 2015 is pretty thrilling, especially since it looks like Miller, Hardy, and co. have absolutely nailed it with this go-round. Mad Max: Fury Road opens in theaters on May 15th, 2015.
  7. Last night, Sony released v1.70 firmware update for the PlayStation 4, adding numerous key features including HDCP disabling and the addition of ShareFactory. Unfortunately, users have flocked to Reddit to note issues and bugs they are having with the update. One Reddit user reported a black screen bug upon disabling HDCP. After disabling HDCP and launching SHAREfactory, the user wrote: "After playing around with a BF4 clip for a few minutes, and being quite impressed I realized I couldn't hear any sound. So I backed out, went to Amazon to quickly play some TV to check that sound was working (quicker than loading a game, or so I thought) and went straight to a black screen. Despite numerous reboots, I've since been unable to connect directly from PS4–>HDMI–>TV. I just get the black screen." Another user in a separate thread said, "Ever since I updated my ps4 has been flickering like crazy, even when not attached to my elgato capture card. It seems like once I turn HDCP off, it blinks like a mad man, and won't stop til I turn it back on.. really confused and disappointed about this." Within each thread, others noted they were seeing similar issues, and some even offered solutions. If you are having problems, it is worth clicking through the links above. For more information on the update itself, here is the full update list via Sony.