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  • Steven Woda

links for 2010-03-25

Convicted TJX hacker Albert Gonzalez earned $75,000 a year working undercover for the U.S. Secret Service, informing on bank card thieves before he was arrested in 2008 for running his own multimillion-dollar card-hacking operation. That information is according to one of Gonzalez’s best friends and convicted accomplices, Stephen Watt. Watt pleaded guilty last year to creating a sniffer program that Gonzalez used to siphon millions of credit and debit card numbers from the TJX corporate network while he was working undercover for the government. Watt told Threat Level that Gonzalez was paid in cash, which is generally done to protect someone’s status as a confidential informant. The Secret Service said it would not comment on payments made to informants. Gonzalez’s attorney did not respond to a call for comment. “It’s a significant amount of money to pay an informant but it’s not an outrageous amount to pay if the guy was working full time and delivering good results,”

(tags: security)

Hundreds of computer geeks, most of them students putting themselves through college, crammed into three floors of an office building in an industrial section of Ukraine’s capital Kiev, churning out code at a frenzied pace. They were creating some of the world’s most pernicious, and profitable, computer viruses.

(tags: security)

Now that sites like Facebook and Twitter have become a major part of many consumers’ lives, there’s a growing need to bridge the online and offline worlds, as we’ve noted before. Efforts like HotPrints, News from YOUs and Kodak’s new kiosk capabilities all get at that to some extent, and recently we came across two more interesting examples: Famebook and TweetNotebook, both of which embellish custom notebooks with select online content. TweetNotebook, meanwhile, does much the same thing but featuring the user’s Twitter posts instead. Customers simply enter their Twitter name on the site, and it automatically populates each page in a blank 320-page notebook with one randomly selected tweet along with its timestamp and URL. As with Famebook, users can customize the cover post and design; three colour choices are available. Pricing on a TweetNotebook is EUR 12.

Shares of software maker Nuance (NUAN) are on a tear. Investors have driven the price of stock in the Burlington (Mass.)-based company up 68% in the past year, partly on speculation that it might be taken over. Nuance’s voice-recognition technology, which translates spoken words into digital information, would be attractive to several companies. Nuance wouldn’t come cheap, and integrating its various divisions might prove too tall an order for would-be acquirers, says Richard Davis, an analyst at Needham & Co. in Boston. “What investors need to understand is that Nuance doesn’t have some single kernel of software code that scales up from a device as small as a Blackberry to a huge server,” he says. “They’re all totally different products that just happen to have some similarities.”

Apple makes big demands of software developers who want an early crack at the iPad. Would-be testers of the tablet-style computer, due to be released Apr. 3, must promise to keep it isolated in a room with blacked-out windows, according to four people familiar with the more than 10-page pact that bars partners from disclosing information about the iPad. To ensure that it can’t be removed, the iPad must also remain tethered to a fixed object, said the people, who asked not to be named because their plans for the iPad have not been made public. Apple (AAPL) won’t send out an iPad until potential partners send photographic evidence that they’ve complied.

Ning chief executive Gina Bianchini has resigned from the social network builder she co-founded with serial entrepreneur Marc Andreessen more than five years ago. Bianchini did not give a reason for her departure, announced by the company Monday. Her duties were handed over to Jason Rosenthal, who has been chief operating officer and head of business operations for the last year and a half.

(tags: ning)

Not five minutes after President Obama signed health-care legislation into law Tuesday, top staff members for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II made their way out of his office, court papers in hand and TV cameras in pursuit, and headed to Richmond’s federal courthouse to sue to stop the measure. Thirteen other state attorneys general also sought to stop the health-care law Tuesday, jointly suing in Florida. But Cuccinelli (R) went his own way, arguing that a Virginia law enacted this month that prohibits the government from requiring people to buy health insurance creates an “immediate, actual controversy” between state and federal law that gives the state unique standing on which to sue.

(tags: politics)

Google is working on a browser plug-in that allows consumers to block being counted when landing on a Web site that monitors visits with Google Analytics. The Mountain View, Calif. company’s engineers continue to test and finalize the function. Sitting in the crossroads, Google needs to support advertisers, investors and consumers. The obligation to support advertisers and shareholders resides in the ability to develop tools that provide data and ad targeting. But to succeed, Google must become a good corporate citizen and give consumers a method to opt-out and protect their privacy. Google engineers have been working on the plug-in during the past year and plans to make it globally available in the coming weeks, according to Amy Chang, group product manager at Google Analytics. She says the search engine takes privacy very seriously and will continue to provide people with more choices.

On a daily basis, I get an email from someone at a seed-stage startup where their email address does not include their website URL. For example, I just got an email from for his company CoolThing. I wouldn’t have thought of this except for I’m deep in the proofreading of a book that David Cohen and I are editing called “The Tao of TechStars.” One of the essays in the “Working Efficiently” section is written by David, titled “Don’t Suck at Email”, and talks about this.

Since it was introduced in the mid-’90s, Adobe’s Flash has remained one of the most popular ways for developers to create animations, video and complex interactive features for the Web–regardless of what browser or operating system an end user is running. According to Adobe, which makes the Flash Player and various Flash development tools, 98 percent of Internet-connected desktop computers have Flash installed, and 95 percent have the most recent version, Flash Player 10.

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