Weekend news roundup: Lucrative trade for hackers; the new powers at Microsoft

15 Jul 2013

In our roundup of the weekend’s tech news, governments all over the world are paying hackers handsomely to discover flaws in their code; Terry Myerson is apparently the most powerful man at Microsoft; a new licensing model has emerged around YouTube; and the black market in smartphones is becoming a cause for violent crime.

Governments paying hackers to find flaws in code

Hackers have tapped into a lucrative new market for themselves and are being paid handsomely by governments to discover flaws in computer code, for hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time, according to The New York Times.

“All over the world, from South Africa to South Korea, business is booming in what hackers call ‘zero days’, the coding flaws in software like Microsoft Windows that can give a buyer unfettered access to a computer and any business, agency or individual dependent on one.

“Just a few years ago, hackers like Mr Auriemma and Mr Ferrante would have sold the knowledge of coding flaws to companies like Microsoft and Apple, which would fix them. Last month, Microsoft sharply increased the amount it was willing to pay for such flaws, raising its top offer to US$150,000.”

Go-go-Google campus

The San Jose Mercury News reported that Google has delayed for up to a year construction of a massive campus at the NASA-Ames research centre in Mountain View, California, apparently because the tech titan seeks to improve the design of the complex.

“Google’s Bay View complex, a short distance from the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, would consist of 1m sq feet of new offices.

“But work on the new campus will be delayed by six to 12 months, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans. Google would not confirm the length of the delay but acknowledged that construction has been put on hold for the time being. Google had previously said it planned to occupy the campus by 2015.”

The most important man at Microsoft

The Verge profiled Terry Myerson, the 40-year-old who has just been promoted to lead the most lucrative and crucial of Microsoft’s four new technology divisions: the operating systems engineering group.

According to The Verge: “In December 2008, there was an emergency meeting at Microsoft that those present reportedly nicknamed the ‘cage match.’ Terry Myerson, a young executive with a blunt affect and a love of Hawaiian shirts, had just been promoted to head of mobile engineering. At the time, that meant Windows Mobile, the ageing, touch-unfriendly mobile operating system that Microsoft first released in 2003.

“Myerson called the meeting. On the table was a prototype of a new Windows Mobile phone. On everyone’s mind was Apple’s iPhone, which had blown the market away the previous year. Myerson wanted to know whether any of Microsoft’s code could be saved. No one would leave the room until that question was answered, he said.

“Seven hours later, the group had reached a tentative consensus: toss it all out and start over.”

Licensing: the new way to make money off YouTube

Rather than being seen as a free-for-all, artists are figuring out that using YouTube as a catalogue for content – what is quintessentially the second largest search engine on the planet after parent company Google – and licensing it is a pretty good way to make music, according to BusinessWeek.

“In 2001, composer Scott Schreer wrote a roughly two-minute saxophone-heavy acid jazz instrumental called Love Doctor, and the song lives in an online catalogue of music that he licenses to film and TV producers. It also exists in some 1,500 YouTube videos that used the song without paying for the rights. Hunting those stray recordings and trying to collect licensing fees has never been worth most musicians’ trouble. In May, however, Schreer started getting paid by the former freeloaders.

Love Doctor and Schreer’s library of about 1,700 other tunes now bring his company about US$30,000 per month from their use in YouTube videos. He’s the test case for a New York start-up called Audiam that says it can help artists profit when others use their music. Jeff Price, Audiam’s founder and a friend of Schreer’s, pitches musicians like this: ‘Let’s go find you money that already exists.’”

Smartphone desire the cause of violent crime

The Huffington Post reported on how smartphone theft has become big business for criminals and how millions of dollars worth of stolen phones are being shipped out of the US every month.

“American and Mexican wireless carriers began collaborating to address the cross-border trade in stolen phones after learning that Mexican drug cartels were using them to communicate with kidnapping victims’ relatives without being traced. But American wireless companies lack similar arrangements with other countries, allowing international phone trafficking to flourish.

“Phones stolen in the United States have been located ‘on all continents except Antarctica,’ said Marci Carris, vice-president of customer finance services at Sprint.

“The global nature of the trade stems in part from measures that law enforcement and wireless carriers have imposed to make it harder to resell stolen phones in the United States, prompting criminals to forge new markets abroad.

“Once it gets overseas, it’s virtually impossible to track a phone back here to the person who committed the crime,” said Jerry Deaven, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security.

Hacker image via Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years