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Week in review: Patches and pirates

Microsoft is fed up with Windows pirates and is laying down the law--no more patches for illegitimate copies.

Microsoft is fed up with Windows pirates and is laying down the law--no more patches for illegitimate copies.

Aiming to crack down on counterfeit software, Microsoft plans later this year to require customers to verify that their copy of Windows is genuine before downloading security patches and other add-ons to the operating system. Since last fall, the company has been testing a tool that can check whether a particular version of Windows is legitimate, but until now, the checks have been voluntary.

By the middle of this year, Microsoft will make the verification mandatory in all countries for both add-on features to Windows as well as for all operating-system updates, including security patches. Microsoft will continue to allow all people to get Windows updates by turning on the Automatic Update feature within Windows.

Microsoft's patch process has spawned an attempt to fool Windows users into downloading and installing a Trojan horse. A fake e-mail message, sent to CNET, purports to be a Microsoft security notification about problems with Windows.

The message, which carries the subject line "MS Windows/Critical Error," attempts to fool PC users into downloading and installing an attached program. However, numerous spelling and grammar errors in the message could tip people off to the danger.

Meanwhile, antivirus specialist GeCad Net is warning that it has found a problem with Microsoft's most recent software patch for Windows. The security service provider said a critical patch issued by Microsoft in its MS05-001 bulletin earlier this month fails to resolve all of the security issues surrounding the HTML Help ActiveX control in Windows. Microsoft distributed the fix, along with additional security updates, to address the threat of attackers placing and executing malicious programs such as spyware on affected computers.

The worm returns
A worm that takes advantage of administrators' poor password choices has started spreading among database systems. The malicious program, known as the "MySQL bot" or by the name of its executable code, SpoolCLL, infects computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system and the open-source database known as MySQL.

The worm gets initial access to a database machine by guessing the password of the system administrator. It then uses a flaw in MySQL to run another type of program, known as bot software, which then takes full control of the system.

A new variant of the mass-mailing PC virus known as Bagle is also making the rounds. The latest version of the malicious software, which some experts refer to as an e-mail worm, is rearing its head worldwide. Virus trackers in China, Japan, the United States and parts of Europe have reported instances of the threat.

The new offshoot, which it calls Bagle.AZ, is distributed as an e-mail attachment that cloaks itself as a delivery notification or confirmation. It uses "spoofed" e-mail addresses to appear to be from a known source.

One of the most popular online games is falling prey to a new pest that steals subscriber information. The LegMir-Y Trojan horse attempts to steal usernames and passwords for "Lineage," an online fantasy game with more than 4 million paying subscribers, mostly in Korea and other Asian nations. The pest also attempts to turn off antivirus software on an infected PC.

Led by "Lineage," online games have become a huge business in Asia, where millions of players pay fees of $15 to $20 a month to access fantasy universes.

Search wars
For Internet search giants, pictures are worth a thousand words--and hits, they hope.

Google introduced a prototype of a service to search TV programming, an anticipated move to broaden its search franchise for broadcast. The search giant has been quietly developing Google Video, an engine that lets people search the text of TV shows. Immediately, the service will scour programming from PBS, Fox News, C-SPAN, ABC and the NBA, among others, making broadcasts searchable the same day.

People can search on a term--such as "Indonesian tsunami"--to find the TV shows in which it was mentioned, a still image of the video and closed-captioning text of that particular segment of the program.

In another move, Google has hired the lead programmer of the Firefox Web browser, the newest step in the search engine powerhouse's encroachment on Microsoft's turf. Ben Goodger announced on his blog that he took a job with Google on Jan. 10.

The move is the latest of several fueling speculation that Google plans its own Web browser. Despite no longer being employed by the Mozilla Foundation, "my role with Firefox and the Mozilla project will remain largely unchanged," Goodger said on his blog.

While Google is adding personnel, is incorporating digital photography into its search unit's local-listings results. Photos will accompany street maps in an ambitious project to drive people to the online retailer's search unit, The company aims to eventually pair digital photos of storefronts and their surroundings with more than 14 million business listings around the United States.

People can call up a business listing to find contact information, reviews, a local map and a photo of the business's facade. With a feature called "block view," people can also click to see adjacent businesses or surrounding neighborhoods.

For Yahoo, a move toward pictures means a move to Hollywood. The Web giant has set up stakes in Southern California, forming a media group to house various entertainment properties and to court Hollywood, according to an internal company document.

Yahoo Chief Operating Officer Dan Rosensweig announced to employees in a companywide e-mail the formation of the Yahoo Media Group, which will encompass Yahoo properties including games, news, sports, finance, movies, and music services Launch and Musicmatch. The unit will be run by former ABC television executive Lloyd Braun, whom Yahoo hired in November.

The move reinforces Yahoo's ambitions to be an Internet entertainment powerhouse. Since 2001, when the company hired former Warner Bros. Chief Terry Semel as CEO, it has transformed itself from a weathered dot-com into a major player in digital media, with strong ties to movie marketers, content producers and Madison Avenue.

Also of note
Firing the first shots in a legal battle likely to be felt across the technology industry, Hollywood studios and record labels asked the Supreme Court to give them new ammunition in their fight against file swapping...A recent patent application from Hewlett-Packard describes a system in which digital cameras would be equipped with circuits that could be remotely triggered to blur the face in any images captured by the camera...America Online will stop supporting access to newsgroups, a once-popular feature on the Internet that has since become overshadowed by message boards and blogs...Rival PC makers are hoping that Apple Computer's newly minted Mac Mini helps shift consumer tastes to smaller desktops at a time when most people associate "little" with laptops.