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Thursday, March 24, 2005

IE was unsafe for 98% of 2004, Mozilla safest

Global security consultancy ScanIT shows Microsoft's Internet Explorer was "unsafe" for 98% of 2004, while rival browser Mozilla was "unsafe" for only 15%...
The figures come from 195,000 internet users who checked their systems for vulnerabilities using ScanIT’s free online Browser Security Checker in 2004.

The checker’s findings showed surfers using Mozilla’s Firefox browser enjoyed the shortest "exposure period" where a patch for known vulnerabilities in the browser was unavailable.

By comparison, the scanner showed Microsoft's IE enjoyed only seven days without being subject to any known vulnerabilities, between 12 and 19 October.

"This means fully patched IE was known to be unsafe for an incredible 98 per cent of 2004," ScanIT's CEO David Michaux says.

"And for 200 days in 2004 – that’s some 54 per cent of the time - there was a worm or virus exploiting one of those un-patched vulnerabilities," he added.

The Mozilla Firefox, Netscape Navigator and Camino browsers combined left a smaller window for prospective attack than the more widely-used IE.

There were only 56 days in 2004 (15 per cent of the year) where there was a publicly-known vulnerability – a remote code execution - in Mozilla’s browser and no patch to fix it.

Users of the Opera browser experienced 65 days (17 per cent of the year) exposed to un-patched remote code execution vulnerabilities, according to ScanIT’s browser checker results.

The new results show a huge rise in the number of surfers using Mozilla’s Firefox browser over IE since ScanIT’s previous browser checker report for 2003.

Alla Bezroutchko, ScanIT's Senior Security Engineer, suggests the upsurge in popularity for Mozilla is partly due to the advantages it enjoys over IE, including better public disclosure of vulnerabilities.

"Security researchers seem to be more inclined to report Firefox vulnerabilities to the Mozilla development team than IE flaws to Microsoft because of a better general attitude towards them.

“Mozilla’s Bug Bounty Program, which pays users $500 for reporting critical security bugs, is also a major incentive," Bezroutchko adds.

Internet browser security is a growing concern both for home and business users, who are equally at risk from spyware, adware and malicious attack while online.

Un-patched vulnerabilities in web browsers gained commercial value in 2004 as hackers and virus writers found ever more efficient ways of capitalising on the loopholes bad browser security provides.

These include stealing users’ personal information, including bank details, and sending spam emails via their private address books.

ScanIT is continuing to develop its free Browser Security Test as part of a wider security package to protect broadband business and personal users from such attacks.

Great Reporter

College Student Behind PSP

Sajeeth Cherian knows the knock of opportunity when he hears it.

From his tiny Ottawa apartment, the Carleton University student has spent the past month debugging a homemade piece of software called PSP Video 9, which is intended to help people make videos at home that they can play on their new Sony PlayStation Portables.

Although the new PSPs are not due in stores until today, Cherian has been scouring the Internet looking for specifications on the new unit and feverishly trying to stay ahead of other competitors to ensure his software is one of the first programs available.

"I have always said, this is going to be the most popular personal video player on the market," he said. "I figure that by targeting this specific device I can bring in a wide audience."

At the age of 20, Cherian is already working on his second software play, and he knows the importance of timing. Mindful of the growing demand for Internet video sources, Cherian last year created a program to help people find and download video from the Internet. That software, Videora, was released in late December and has already been downloaded by more than 20,000 people.

Cherian hopes for similar results by jumping early on the PSP bandwagon.

"Sony is launching the PSP, but what they haven't done is released any software for the PC or Macintosh," said Cherian. "This gives me another way of working with Videora and increasing the number of users there."

By leveraging the free PSP Video 9 software to attract more users, Cherian hopes that some of the new users download and try Videora.

Sajeeth isn't alone in his thinking. Some of the biggest players in the entertainment industry are scrambling to be associated with the PSP, which is Sony's biggest game product in nearly five years.

Much more than a gaming machine, the new PSP device has huge, multi-purpose ambitions. The device also plays movies (using a special Sony DVD called a Universal Media Disc), taking aim at competitors in the portable video space. It can play MP3 music files and store digital photos, a la Apple Computer's iPod. Sony is reportedly working to create an online music service not unlike Apple's revolutionary iTunes, and the PSP would likely be the company's hardware of choice.

The PSP's attacks on all of these fronts reflect the diverse background of Sony's new chief executive, Howard Stringer, who moved into the top job March 7. The company's first non-Japanese chief executive, Stringer oversaw Sony Pictures Entertainment's Spider-Man box office hits. He is expected to use his expertise in the entertainment industry to help Sony recapture control of the electronics market -- a market it once dominated.

All told, Sony is putting multi-millions in marketing for the device, which it is calling "the Walkman of the 21st century." Hyperbole? Perhaps, but Sony hopes that such wishful thinking can rescue the company from a steep financial decline.

Sony's stock has plunged 73 per cent since reaching a record high in March 2000. The company has struggled with sliding prices for electronics such as its Vaio line of personal computers and slumping demand for its Walkman music players.

The company's electronics division, which currently accounts for about 65 percent of sales, looks to be heading for its second year of operating losses, according to analyst Hiroshi Takada at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo.

Sony is hoping the PSP console will help reverse its recent fortunes and open new opportunities for revenue, including the music downloads market.

"There is such a big overlap between the gamer population and the audience for music devices," said David Cole, president of San Diego's DFC Intelligence, a company that researches the videogame industry. "It's a big platform launch."

Realizing the hype behind the launch and the resources that Sony will put into its PSP system, other companies have been lining up for months get a piece of the PSP pie, providing games, movies, software and even fashion accessories for the unit.

In a special, invitation-only fashion show held in Los Angeles on March 14, internationally acclaimed fashion designers gathered to show off their upcoming PSP collections. Included in the group were designs by Coach, Jennifer Lopez and Marc Jacobs.

Celebrities at the show who were flogging the accessories included socialite Nikki Hilton, pop-star Hilary Duff and actress Alyssa Milano. The fashion showed included pricey designer bags and totes for the PSP.

"(Nikki Hilton) is walking for us, so one of the bags was really inspired by her, like very much that Barbie-esque, really hot girl and she's on the go," Richie Rich, a spokeswoman for fashion designer Heatherette told Internet videogame magazine Gameshout.com earlier this month. "And that's why having a portable PlayStation is... it's like another cell phone. Like totally in dire need of it."

On the film front, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. announced it was re-mastering classic action films such as Total Recall and Rambo in Sony's UMD format. Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment has been busily preparing National Treasure, Pirates of the Caribbean and Kill Bill Vol. 1 to release to the PSP masses.

(Not surprisingly, there's been no word of Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones' Diary, or any other "chick flicks" being readied for the PSP.)

Sony has created more than 24 game titles for the PSP release and it is busy migrating films from its DVD library to UMD format so that it can sell more movies to PSP buyers.

However, while Sony is apparently using its new toy to pick quick fights with several foes, including MP3 market leader Apple, Cole said that there is a long, tough struggle coming between Nintendo, Apple and Sony.

The prize: domination of the portable media market.

"This is a long-term battle," said Cole. "This is something that could go on for several years. I think we have something here that is going to go on for several years and probably span multiple devices."

Sony has earmarked one million PSP units for North America. Yet, pre-sales already exceed supply. The company had to delay its availability in Europe indefinitely in order to try and satiate demand in North America. The company expects to sell more than three million PSPs by this time next year.

The goal isn't that lofty.

The PSP has been available in Japan for the past four months and already more than 1.3 million units have been sold. According to Sony, more than 200,000 of the Japanese units were snatched up last Dec. 12, the first day of sales.

Executives with Sony are predicting that close to 1.5 million units will be sold in North America today, and as a result of the precedent set in Japan, North American retailers are bracing themselves.

A spokeswoman for Best Buy and Future Shop said pre-orders at Best Buy's online store had sold out late last week. As of Monday, Future Shop's online store had only 12 units left for all of Canada.

"For our customers who want one of these it's best to just hit the store the day they go on sale," said Pamela Saunders, spokeswoman for Future Shop and Best Buy. "It has exceeded expectations."

Even movie rental business Blockbuster Inc. plans to get in on PSP sales. Earlier this week, the company said in a statement that 65 stores across Canada were to open shortly after midnight Wednesday night to allow customers to be part of "one of the biggest events of the year in the videogame industry."

Whatever the first day's sales figures, one thing is certain. Demand for the PSP device is bound to hurt Nintendo's deeply entrenched dominance of the handheld videogame market.

Thanks to its Game Boy devices, Nintendo has maintained a market share of more than 98 per cent of the portable gaming market for more than a decade.

"When you have a market share like Nintendo, there is nowhere to go but down," said Cole. "But I don't think that Sony is even targeting the same audience as Nintendo."

Cole argues that Sony is targeting a demographic of between 18 and 34-year-olds. Nintendo's handhelds have primarily been geared for teens under the age of 18.

Since the first Game Boy debuted in 1991, Nintendo has sold more than 150 million of the units and its subsequent incarnations. Nintendo has also built a game library of more than 1,300 titles.

After hearing in 2003 of Sony's intentions to enter the world of portable gaming, Nintendo chief executive Satoru Iwata dismissed the arrival of Sony's PSP.

"We are essentially in control of the handheld market," Iwata told Business 2.0 in an August 2003 article. "At this time we don't feel that there's anything in particular that we need to be worried about."

But after seeing a demo model of the PSP at last year's E3 event (the world's leading annual home entertainment conference), Nintendo was quick to announce plans for its next portable gaming system, which it says will top the PSP.

Dubbed the "Revolution," the next Nintendo handheld is expected to be released in 2006. It is expected to be voice-activated, have wireless capabilities and be backwards-compatible with the games of previous Nintendo handheld systems.

If the new console is released next year, it will hit store shelves before the dust has even had a chance to settle on the boxes of the company's Nintendo DS system, released in November 2004.

"Nintendo has been very aggressive in terms of protecting the portable market," said Cole. "The original Game Boy stuck around for a long time and that is not going to happen going forward."

In the meantime, Nintendo is putting its faith in its DS dual-screen unit. Earlier this week, the company said it will have sold six million units of the DS worldwide by the end of the March.

Global sales of videogame consoles and titles were roughly $23.2 billion U.S. in 2003. Videogame market researcher DFC Intelligence expects that figure to increase to more than $31.6 billion U.S. by 2009.

The heated battle that is about to begin is expected to drive up the sales in the portable gaming market from $3.9 billion U.S. in 2003 to more than $11.1 billion U.S. in 2007, according to DFC Intelligence.

Part of the reason for the projected increase is the movie industry's new role in the handheld video console market.

To snare filmfans' eyeballs, the first million PSPs sold in North America will come bundled with a copy of last year's big crowdpleaser, Spider-Man 2. Sony plans to release other action-oriented titles including Hellboy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Once Upon a Time in Mexico on UMD in April.

Given the PSP's size, Sony had to invent this new media format to turn the device into a movie player. UMDs, which look like over-sized poker chips, are mini-DVDs, capable of holding 1.8 gigabytes of information. The UMD is proprietary Sony technology -- anyone else who wants to print movies or games on the media will have to pay royalties to Sony.

Some analysts question Sony's ability to sell the PSP beyond its core audience of gamers.

"It's a bold move, trying to put movies on the PSP, but it won't be a medium that will proliferate," Hideki Watanabe, a senior analyst at Macquaries Securites (Japan) Ltd. told Bloomberg News.

Sony also created the UMD format for the PSP because it minimizes potential piracy issues. The PSP can only read video files written in the MPEG-4 file format. Current DVD technology uses the MPEG-2 file format, which means that even if a UMD was copied, the copy won't work on a traditional DVD player. Also, blank UMDs and UMD burners are currently not available, making piracy even more difficult.

But, there is a small loophole -- one that Cherian and a handful of others have discovered and hope to exploit to allow average users to put video and songs they want to see and hear onto the PSP.

Sony has included a 32-megabyte Memory Stick with the PSP and users can buy a Memory Stick capable of holding more information, a 512-megabyte stick costs roughly $110 on the Sony website. The sticks can be programmed using just about any computer and a relatively cheap memory card reader and an adapter. The sticks can hold MP3s, pictures or even videos.

Cherian, and others look at the Memory Stick as their opportunity to crack into the PSP and provide software to millions of its users.

"Right now there is no personal video player that is big, like the iPod is big with MP3s," said Cherian. "I have always known that these personal video players were going to be a big thing, but they need content."

With large corporate movie houses and tiny Internet download services such as Videora lining up to provide games, movies and music content for Sony's PSP, the content is here, perhaps signaling the time of the personal video player has finally arrived.

30 Years of Portable Games

Released in 1974, Atari's Touch Me was one of the first portable videogames. It was based on the unsuccessful arcade game of the same name. While Touch Me wasn't very successful when first released, subsequent releases under the name Simon have been very popular.

In 1978, Mattel was hoping that its Baseball portable game would become as popular as its predecessor Football. The game had no graphics -- just lights that lit up to tell players what base their men were on.

In 1983, Nintendo released a split-screen version of Donkey Kong 2 that featured colour -- or at least shades of colour.

Circa 1989, Tiger Electronics became one of the first companies to mass- produce portable side-scrolling videogames that fit in your pocket.

In 1991, Nintendo broke through the portable gaming barrier with the Game Boy, a cartridge-based system that could play multiple titles. It was the first handheld to break the $100 barrier.

Shortly after, Sega released the Game Gear, a system that could also play multiple cartridge-based games and had a colour screen. Its downfall was its three-hour battery life.

Also released during the Nintendo/Sega duel was this entry from semiconductor giant NEC, with a colour screen and games stored on credit-card-sized smart cards.

In 1995, Sega released its Nomad handheld in order to keep up with Nintendo's overpowering popularity.

Nintendo launched the Game Boy SP in 2003. It quickly became the portable gaming standard.

Cellphone giant Nokia got into the portable gaming business in late 2003 with its N-Gage, the first portable gaming console/cellphone.

Nintendo's latest, the Nintendo DS, is a dual-screen device that steals a little retro looks from the company's previous offerings.

How the Gadgets Stack Up

PSP - iPod Mini - Nintendo DS

Video - yes - no - no

Games - yes - no - yes

Music - yes - yes - no

Computer compatibility perhaps - yes - no

File storage - yes - yes - no

Messaging - no - no - no

Wireless capability - yes - no - yes

Target market - 18-34 - 16-34 - under 18

Price - $299 - $250 - $199

Ran with fact boxes "30 years of portable games" and "Howthe gadgets stack up", which have been appended to the story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Digg banner design contest!

“Calling all graphic designers - digg is in desperate need of some good banners (to promote digg)! We are looking for some quality non-animated banners to post around the web (as you can see from our site design, we are not designers ;). If you are a banner designer, please submit your digg banners to banners@digg.com . The winners will be posted on digg for all members to use. Need some example sizes? Visit: http://www.spreadfirefox.com/?q=affiliates/homepage

Kevin Rose