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    Friday, April 24, 2009

    Reuters - Conficker virus begins to attack PCs: experts

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    Conficker virus begins to attack PCs: experts

    Friday, Apr 24, 2009 9:32PM UTC

    By Jim Finkle

    BOSTON (Reuters) - A malicious software program known as Conficker that many feared would wreak havoc on April 1 is slowly being activated, weeks after being dismissed as a false alarm, security experts said.

    Conficker, also known as Downadup or Kido, is quietly turning thousands of personal computers into servers of e-mail spam and installing spyware, they said.

    The worm started spreading late last year, infecting millions of computers and turning them into "slaves" that respond to commands sent from a remote server that effectively controls an army of computers known as a botnet.

    Its unidentified creators started using those machines for criminal purposes in recent weeks by loading more malicious software onto a small percentage of computers under their control, said Vincent Weafer, a vice president with Symantec Security Response, the research arm of the world's largest security software maker, Symantec Corp.

    "Expect this to be long-term, slowly changing," he said of the worm. "It's not going to be fast, aggressive."

    Conficker installs a second virus, known as Waledac, that sends out e-mail spam without knowledge of the PC's owner, along with a fake anti-spyware program, Weafer said.

    The Waledac virus recruits the PCs into a second botnet that has existed for several years and specializes in distributing e-mail spam.

    "This is probably one of the most sophisticated botnets on the planet. The guys behind this are very professional. They absolutely know what they are doing," said Paul Ferguson, a senior researcher with Trend Micro Inc, the world's third-largest security software maker.

    He said Conficker's authors likely installed a spam engine and another malicious software program on tens of thousands of computers since April 7.

    He said the worm will stop distributing the software on infected PCs on May 3 but more attacks will likely follow.

    "We expect to see a different component or a whole new twist to the way this botnet does business," said Ferguson, a member of The Conficker Working Group, an international alliance of companies fighting the worm.

    Researchers had feared the network controlled by the Conficker worm might be deployed on April 1 since the worm surfaced last year because it was programed to increase communication attempts from that date.

    The security industry formed the task force to fight the worm, bringing widespread attention that experts said probably scared off the criminals who command the slave computers.

    The task force initially thwarted the worm using the Internet's traffic control system to block access to servers that control the slave computers.

    Viruses that turn PCs into slaves exploit weaknesses in Microsoft's Windows operating system. The Conficker worm is especially tricky because it can evade corporate firewalls by passing from an infected machine onto a USB memory stick, then onto another PC.

    The Conficker botnet is one of many such networks controlled by syndicates that authorities believe are based in eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, China and Latin America.

    (Editing by Jason Szep and Philip Barbara)

    Reuters - Deadly new flu strain erupts in Mexico, U.S.

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    Deadly new flu strain erupts in Mexico, U.S.

    Friday, Apr 24, 2009 9:57PM UTC

    By Alistair Bell and Noel Randewich

    MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A strain of flu never seen before has killed up to 60 people in Mexico and has also appeared in the United States, where eight people were infected but recovered, health officials said on Friday.

    Mexico's government said at least 20 people have died of the disease in central Mexico and that it may also have been responsible for 40 other deaths.

    Mexico reported more than 1,000 suspected cases and four possible cases were also seen in Mexicali, right on the border with California.

    The World Health Organization said tests showed the virus from 12 of the Mexican patients was the same genetically as a new strain of swine flu, designated H1N1, seen in eight people in California and Texas.

    "Our concern has grown as of yesterday," U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acting director Dr. Richard Besser told reporters in a telephone briefing.

    Global health officials were not ready to declare a pandemic -- a global epidemic of a new and deadly disease such as flu. "So far there has not been any change in the pandemic threat level," Besser said.

    But the human-to-human spread of the new virus raised fears of a major outbreak and Mexico's government canceled classes for millions of children in its sprawling capital city and surrounding areas. All large public events like concerts were suspended in Mexico City.

    Close analysis showed the disease is a never-before-seen mixture of swine, human and avian viruses, according to the CDC.

    Most of the Mexican dead were aged between 25 and 45, a Mexican health official said, in a worrying sign. Seasonal flu can be more deadly among the very young and the very old but a hallmark of pandemics is that they affect healthy young adults.

    Mexico has enough antiviral drugs to combat the outbreak for the moment, Health Minister Jose Angel Cordova said.

    The WHO said the virus appears to be susceptible to Roche AG's flu drug Tamiflu, also known as oseltamivir, but not to older flu drugs such as amantadine.

    "In the last 20 hours, fewer serious cases of this disease and fewer deaths have been reported," Cordova told reporters.

    Humans can occasionally catch swine flu from pigs but rarely have they been known to pass it on to other people.

    NO CONTAINMENT

    The CDC's Besser said it was probably too late to contain this outbreak. "There are things that we see that suggest that containment is not very likely," he said. Once it has spread beyond a limited geographical area it would be difficult to control.

    But there is no reason to avoid Mexico, CDC and the WHO said. "CDC is not recommending any additional recommendations for travelers to California, Texas and Mexico," Besser said.

    Worldwide, seasonal flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people in an average year, but the flu season for North America should have been winding down.

    The U.S. government said it was closely following the new cases. "The White House is taking the situation seriously and monitoring for any new developments. The president has been fully briefed," an administration official said.

    Mexico's government cautioned people not to shake hands or kiss when greeting or to share food, glasses or cutlery for fear of infection. Flu virus can be spread on the hands, and handwashing is one of the most important ways to prevent its spread.

    The outbreak jolted residents of the Mexican capital, one of the world's biggest cities with 20 million residents.

    One pharmacy ran out of surgical face masks after selling 300 in a day.

    "We're frightened because they say it's not exactly flu, it's another kind of virus and we're not vaccinated," said Angeles Rivera, 34, a federal government worker who fetched her son from a public kindergarten that was closing.

    The virus is an influenza A virus, carrying the designation H1N1. It contains DNA from avian, swine and human viruses, including elements from European and Asian swine viruses, the CDC has said.

    The CDC is already working on a vaccine.

    Scientists were working to understand why there are so many deaths in Mexico when the infections in the United States seem mild, Besser said.

    The CDC said it will issue daily updates at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/swine/investigation.htm.

    The last flu pandemic was in 1968 when "Hong Kong" flu killed about a million people globally.

    (Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Maggie Fox in Washington)

    CNN - How Bernie Madoff did it

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    How Bernie Madoff did it


    Since Bernard Madoff was arrested in December and confessed to masterminding a multi-billion Ponzi scheme, countless people have wondered: Who else was involved? Who knew about the fraud? After all, Madoff not only engineered an epic swindle, he insisted to the FBI that he did it all by himself. To date, Madoff has not implicated anybody but himself.

    But the contours of the case are changing.

    Fortune has learned that Frank DiPascali, the chief lieutenant in Madoff's secretive investment business, is trying to negotiate a plea deal with federal prosecutors. In exchange for a reduced sentence, he would divulge his encyclopedic knowledge of Madoff's scheme. And unlike his boss, DiPascali is willing to name names.

    According to a person familiar with the matter, DiPascali has no evidence that other Madoff family members were participants in the fraud. However, he is prepared to testify that he manipulated phony returns on behalf of some key Madoff investors, including Frank Avellino, who used to run a so-called feeder fund, Jeffry Picower, whose foundation had to close as a result of Madoff-related losses, and others.

    If, for example, one of these special customers had large gains on other investments, he would tell DiPascali, who would fabricate a loss to reduce the tax bill. If true, that would mean these investors knew their returns were fishy.

    Explains the source familiar with the matter: "This is a group of inside investors -- all individuals with very, very high net worths who, hypothetically speaking, received a 20% markup or 25% markup or a 15% loss if they needed it." The investors would tell DiPascali, for example, that their other investments had soared and they needed to find some losses to cut their tax bills. DiPascali would adjust their Madoff results accordingly.

    (Gary Woodfield, a lawyer for Avellino, and William Zabel, the attorney for Picower, both declined to comment. Marc Mukasey, DiPascali's laywer, says, "We expect and encourage a thorough investigation.")

    These special deals for select Madoff investors have become a key focus for federal prosecutors, according to this source and a second one familiar with the investigation. The second source describes the arrangements as "kickbacks" and "bonuses." A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney declined to comment.

    But a little-noticed line in a public filing by the prosecutors in March supports at least part of these sources' account. The document that formally charged Madoff with his crimes asserted that he "promised certain clients annual returns in varying amounts up to at least approximately 46 percent per year." That was quite a boost when most investors were receiving 10% to 15%. It appears to reflect the benefits that accrued to those who helped bring large sums to Madoff.

    The emergence of this potential star witness is the best news to surface publicly for the Madoff family since the case began. DiPascali has every incentive to implicate high-profile names to save his skin -- and nobody is more under scrutiny than the Madoffs, many of whom worked for the firm. (Representatives for all of the family members have asserted their innocence.) It should be noted that DiPascali is not in a position to say what the Madoffs knew -- this should not be construed as an exoneration. But the fact that a high-ranking participant in the investment operation is not implicating them is telling.

    The DiPascali revelations are part of a special Fortune investigation into the inner workings of Madoff's firm. It chronicles Madoff's rise -- how he started his firm in 1960 with only $200, rose to become a pioneer of electronic trading, and became notorious for his investment operation -- a strange, secretive world supervised by DiPascali.

    DiPascali was a 33-year veteran of Madoff's firm. A high school graduate with a Queens accent, he came to work in an incongruously starched version of a slacker's uniform: pressed jeans, a sweatshirt, and pristine white sneakers or boat shoes. He could often be found outside the building, smoking a cigarette.

    Nobody was quite sure what he did or what his title was. "He was like a ninja," says a former trader in the legitimate operation upstairs. "Everyone knew he was a big deal, but he was like a shadow."

    He may not have looked or acted like a financier, but when customers like the giant feeder fund Fairfield Greenwich came in to talk, DiPascali was usually the only Madoff employee in the room with Bernie. Madoff told the visitors that DiPascali was "primarily responsible" for the investment operation, according to a Fairfield memo.

    And now DiPascali may be primarily responsible for taking the ever-surprising Madoff case in yet another unexpected direction.

    Reuters - Facebook surfing while sick costs Swiss woman job

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    Facebook surfing while sick costs Swiss woman job

    Friday, Apr 24, 2009 4:25PM UTC

    ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swiss insurance worker lost her job after surfing popular social network site Facebook while off sick, her employer said on Friday.

    The woman said she could not work in front of a computer as she needed to lie in the dark but was then seen to be active on Facebook, which insurer Nationale Suisse said in a statement had destroyed its trust in the employee.

    "This abuse of trust, rather than the activity on Facebook, led to the ending of the work contract," it said.

    The unnamed woman told the 20 Minuten daily she had been surfing Facebook in bed on her iPhone and accused her employer of spying on her and other employees by sending a mysterious friend request which allows access to personal online activity.

    Nationale Suisse rejected the accusation of spying and said the employee's Facebook activity had been stumbled across by a colleague in November, before use of the social network site was blocked in the company.

    (Reporting by Emma Thomasson, editing by Paul Casciato)

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