SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Computer attacks typically don’t inflict physical pain on their victims.
But in a rare example of an attack apparently motivated by malice rather than money, hackers recently bombarded the Epilepsy Foundation’s Web site with hundreds of pictures and links to pages with rapidly flashing images.
The breach triggered severe migraines and near-seizure reactions in some site visitors who viewed the images. People with photosensitive epilepsy can get seizures when they’re exposed to flickering images, a response also caused by some video games and cartoons.
The attack happened when hackers exploited a security hole in the foundation’s publishing software that allowed them to quickly make numerous posts and overwhelm the site’s support forums.
Within the hackers’ posts were small flashing pictures and links — masquerading as helpful — to pages that exploded with kaleidoscopic images pulsating with different colors.
“They were out to create seizures,” said Ken Lowenberg, senior director of Web and print publishing for the foundation, which is based in Landover, Md.
He said legitimate users are no longer able to post animated images to the support forum or create direct links to other sites, and it is now moderated around the clock. He said the FBI is investigating the breach.
Security experts said the attack highlights the dangers of Web sites giving visitors great freedom to post content to different parts of the site.
In another recent attack, hackers exploited a simple coding vulnerability in Sen. Barack Obama’s Web site to redirect users visiting the community blogs section to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s official campaign site.
The hackers who infiltrated the Epilepsy Foundation’s site didn’t appear to care about profit. The harmful pages didn’t appear to try to push down code that would allow the hacker to gain control of the victims’ computers, for instance.
“I count this in the same category of teenagers who think it’s funny to put a cat in a bag and throw it over a clothesline — they don’t realize how cruel it is,” said Paul Ferguson, a security researcher at antivirus software maker Trend Micro Inc. “It was an opportunity waiting to happen for some mean-spirited kid.”
In a similar attack this year, a piece of malicious code was released that disabled software that reads text aloud from a computer screen for blind and visually impaired people. That attack appeared to have been designed to cripple the computers of people using illegal copies of the software, researchers said.
— Jordan Robertson, AP Technology Writer
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Hewlett-Packard hopes grants to universities accelerate its own research output
BOSTON (AP) — Trying to boost the output of its research labs, Hewlett-Packard Co. wants to get more help from scientists in universities.
HP and other technology companies already collaborate with academics all the time. But HP’s new research director, Prith Banerjee, believes his company’s school partnerships would produce better results if they were more organized.
So under a program beginning Wednesday, Banerjee is creating a more formal structure, with HP acting somewhat like a government agency making a grant. HP will solicit applications from university researchers, then fund dozens of projects for up to three years. Each grant would cover the cost of a graduate student researcher.
Patents from the work done at universities could stay in the schools, but HP would have first crack at licensing the technologies. Or the resulting intellectual property could be made freely available to anyone, as IBM agreed to do in 2006 when it established its own plan for many of its university collaborations.
IBM research spokesman Steven Tomasco also pointed out that his company has formally doled out grants to academics for a long time. “HP is just catching on to this idea?” Tomasco said.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP is the world’s largest technology provider by revenue and spends $3.6 billion annually on research and development. But most of that is incremental product development. For research into further-off ideas in computing, HP’s labs have 600 people, funded with about $150 million a year.
In comparison, IBM employs 3,300 researchers and spent $6.2 billion on R&D last year, though it won’t reveal how much went to each category.
Banerjee took over HP Labs last year and pursued an overhaul, cutting some projects to focus on fewer but bigger bets in such fields as molecular-scale circuits, content management and network-based “cloud” computing. Achieving those goals quickly, he said, will require broader input from academia.
“I am really trying to get the best minds in the world,” he said.
— Brian Bergstein, AP Technology Writer
Research firm cuts into Sony’s lifespan claims for super-thin $2,500 TV
NEW YORK (AP) — A Sony TV with novel display technology that has drawn rave reviews for image quality may actually last little more than half as long as the company claims, according to a test by a private research firm.
Sony’s XEL-1 is the first TV on the U.S. market that uses organic light-emitting diodes, which give a bright, colorful image while keeping power consumption low. The screen diagonal is just 11 inches, making it more of a conversation piece than the center of the living room, especially considering the price — $2,499.99.
DisplaySearch ran two XEL-1 units for 1,000 hours, and measured the drop in brightness. Extrapolating from that, they found it would take 17,000 hours for a display to lose half its brightness, a standard measure of display life.
Sony says the display lasts 30,000 hours, or 10 years of typical use. Spokesman Greg Belloni said that figure is based on years of tests and the company stands by it.
Poor longevity has been a problem with OLEDs, but Barry Young, senior adviser at DisplaySearch, said it has more or less been solved in the most recent iterations of the technology.
“The results demonstrate that the Sony display is significantly inferior in many ways to the current (OLED) designs,” DisplaySearch’s researchers wrote.
For example, Young said, Samsung makes a smaller OLED display for cell phones that lasts longer than Sony’s TV.
— Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer
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