While you’ve been stuffing yourself with turkey and mince pies, the tech world kept turning. What follows is a summary of some of what may have passed you by.
Christmas is cancelled
First and foremost, unless you received a new videogames console for Christmas, you may have been largely unaware that both Microsoft’s Xbox Live service and Sony’s PSN went down on Christmas Day due to DDoS attacks.
All blame went to Lizard Squad, who may or may not also have been involved in the hack on Sony Pictures, which took place just before Christmas and is also thought to have involved North Korea in a form of ‘state-sponsored’ attack in protest against the company’s impending release of Kim Jong Un-baiting film The Interview.
The Interview was also due to be released as a downloadable purchase on Xbox Live on Christmas Day.
At the same time as hackers took down major entertainment networks, hacker network the CCC (Chaos Computer Club) was claiming to have cloned a thumbprint using only commercial software and hi-resolution photos taken at a press conference in October 2014.
Jan Krissler, of CCC, says he managed to reproduce the fingerprint of German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen using only a “standard photo camera”, and showed the reproduction process during a live web demonstration.
However, with no provable application of the print in the real world (such as accessing the politicians’s iPhone), it’s as yet unclear whether the print is an exact copy. The CCC already famously broke Apple’s TouchID, as famously debuted in the iPhone 5.
“After this talk, politicians will presumably wear gloves when talking in public”, quipped Krissler.
Boxing Day settlements
Meanwhile, 30 December saw CSC (Computer Sciences Corporation) finally agree to pay out $190m (£123.2m) to settle an accounting fraud case it’s been involved in with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The chief concern for the UK was that this case involved the NHS’s National Programme for IT, and its catastrophic failure.
In a filing released on Boxing Day, CSC said it would be issuing a restatement on its planned action relating to demands from US financial regulators, saying:
“The restatement will reflect the Company’s acknowledgement that there were accounting errors in FY 2009-2012 with respect to certain assumptions under the POC accounting method for the NHS contract.”
Sure enough, the $190m was offered up four days later.
The original National Programme for IT began in 2003 under Tony Blair’s government, and was planned as a 10-year long project to overhaul NHS IT systems.
But by 2011, progress was so poor that CSC was found to be in breach of contract by the UK Department of Health.
New Microsoft browser looks a bit ‘Spartan. Arf
New Year’s Eve, meanwhile, may have seen Microsoft making an interesting new resolution of its own. According to stalwart Microsoft news ‘leaker’ Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet, Internet Explorer may be set to be replaced by a new browser which isn’t Internet Explorer 12.
According to “sources” inside Microsoft, this browser is called “Spartan”, neatly following on Microsoft’s recent craze for naming all of its products after things from videogames series Halo.
The differentiator between Spartan and IE will apparently be a more light-weight design in the manner of Chrome, and that it will be able to utilise browser extensions, also like Chrome and – historically – Mozilla’s Firefox.Whether Internet Explorer will still arrive alongside Spartan, or Microsoft will ditch the old brand – which suffers from reputation woes this far down the line – remains to be seen.
Is China or Google blocking Google?
Finally, it also emerged on New Year’s Eve that the “Great Firewall of China” is blocking access to Gmail, but the Chinese media has alleged this is Google’s own doing rather than a Chinese state decision.
GreatFire.org – a freedom of speech group in China – said that China has been “completely blocking” access to Gmail since Boxing Day, the problem going over and above the front-end block that was introduced in June 2014, and also now affecting IMAP, SMTP and POP3 access.
According to GreatFire, it’s now impossible to access Gmail in any way.
“On December 26, GFW [Great Fire Wall] started to block large numbers of IP addresses used by Gmail”, says GreatFire’s blog.
“These IP addresses are used by IMAP/SMTP/POP3. Chinese users now have no way of accessing Gmail behind the GFW. Before, they could still send or receive emails via email clients even though Gmail’s web interface was not accessible.”
The Chinese media, which is state-controlled, has inferred that it is more Google’s unwillingness to “be restricted by Chinese law” that has caused a communication breakdown and may have encouraged Google to begin disrupting services to the country.