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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Internet Sales-Tax Debate Comes to California

Andrew Asch (ApperalNews.net)
April 29, 2011

State legislatures in South Carolina and Texas this week approved measures to require online retailers to pay state sales taxes, and California might jump into this fray next.

A bill before the California State Assembly, AB155, was approved by a legislative committee on April 25. It will require out-of-state online retailers such as Amazon.com and Overstock.com to pay state sales taxes, from which they have been exempt since the 1990s. The assembly might vote on it in June, according to Tom White, the chief of staff for bill sponsor Charles Calderon (D–Whittier.)

If passed, the state might bring in $6 billion in tax revenue, according to a 2009 University of Tennessee study. The sum will help whittle down California’s $25 billion-plus budget deficit.

But online retailers have reacted with tough action to other states’ attempts to collect sales taxes. In March, Amazon and Overstock refused to pay sales taxes in Illinois and cut business ties to their Illinois affiliates when that state’s governor, Pat Quinn, signed a law changing these online retailers’ tax status.

Arlington, Va.–based Retail Industry Leaders Association has contended that ecommerce retailers have enjoyed a free tax break for too long.

“This is revenue that is owed,” said Jason Brewer, a RILA vice president of communications and advocacy. “It makes more sense for legislators to collect taxes that are owed rather than raise taxes.”

Advocacy group The Alliance for Main Street Fairness, also based in Arlington, contends that bricks-and-mortar retailers are bearing a heavy burden for sales taxes while wealthy Internet retailers have shared no responsibility. “There is no reason to treat online sales differently than purchases made in a store,” said Eric Bearse, a group spokesperson. But sales taxes would hurt businesses in times of weak economic recovery, said the Washington, D.C.–based Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). It also would unnecessarily burden them with an administrative nightmare, said Heather Greenfield, a CCIA representative.

“CCIA has long opposed taxes on e-commerce as burdening online vendors with the task of sorting through the policies of thousands of taxing authorities around the country and serving as revenue-collection agencies for each of them. Mom-and-pop businesses would likely close if faced with such a legal and accounting nightmare,” Greenfield said.

In a February 2008 New York Times blogdistributed by RILA, Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive, was quoted stating software programs are published that will easily figure out how much sales tax e-commerce retailers owe.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fake Security Software Takes Aim at Mac Users

'Rogueware' plague expands from Windows to Mac OS, tries to dupe Apple users into paying $60-$80
By Gregg Keizer (ComputerWorld)
May 2, 2011 04:05 PM ET

Computerworld - Scammers are distributing fake security software aimed at the Mac by taking advantage of the news that al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has been killed by U.S. forces, a security researcher said today.

A security firm that specializes in Mac software called the move "a very big step forward" for malware makers targeting Apple's users.

Phony antivirus software, dubbed "rogueware" by security experts, has long plagued people running Microsoft Windows, but this is the first time scammers have targeted the Mac with a sophisticated, professional-looking security application, said Peter James, a spokesman for Intego, a Mac-only antivirus company headquartered in France.

"This is indeed a very big step forward for Mac malware," said James.

The program, dubbed MAC Defender, is similar to existing "rogueware," the term for bogus security software that claims a personal computer is heavily infected with malware. Once installed, such software nags users with pervasive pop-ups and fake alerts until they fork over a fee to purchase the worthless program.

Until now, rogueware has been exclusively targeting Windows PCs.
That's changed, according to Kurt Baumgartner, a senior malware researcher with Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, who today said that one group distributing MAC Defender has also been actively spreading Windows rogueware.

"They have been revving up for this for months," said Baumgartner of the work to prep MAC Defender.

Last month, Baumgartner had reported that ".co.cc" domains -- which are often used to spread malware and host attack code-infected Web sites -- had begun to host fake security sites and deliver the "Best AntiVirus 2011" rogueware.

During his early-April sweep through the .co.cc domains, Baumgartner found a URL explicitly aimed at Macs: "antispyware-macbook(dot)co(dot)cc".

"It is very odd that this group is marketing 'Fast Windows Antivirus 2011' from 'macbook' domains," Baumgartner said at the time in a blog post.

Today, Baumgartner said that a group using .co.cc domains was serving up fake security software for Macs as part of a broader campaign to trick Windows users into downloading and installing phony programs.

That campaign is currently exploiting the hot news topic of Bin Laden's death to get people to click on links that redirect their browsers to the rogueware downloads. The scammers have used "black hat" SEO (search engine optimization) tactics to push links to rogueware higher on Google Images' search results.

But that's not the only way Mac owners have been duped into installing MAC Defender.
On Saturday -- the day before President Obama announced the killing of Bin Laden -- messages from infected users began appearing on Apple's support forums.

"What is macdefender and why is it trying to install itself on my computer?" asked someone identified as "wamabahama" on April 30.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden's death is key topic on Internet

By John Ribeiro (IDG News Service)

May 2, 2011 05:12 AM ET

The announcement late Sunday of the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has set the Internet abuzz, as users searched for information and shared their thoughts on the killing of one of the world's most wanted men.
In a late-night appearance at the White House, President Barack Obama said that bin Laden had been killed in a U.S. operation in Pakistan on Sunday.
Sohaib Athar, who uses the id @ReallyVirtual on Twitter, wrote "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)," followed shortly after by "A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty :-S."
He now has more than 14,000 followers on the micro-blogging site. He moved to Abottabad from Lahore for some "peace and quiet," he said.

The events will provide an opportunity for malicious websites to infect computers by tricking users into visiting their sites for more information, warned security experts.

Cybercrooks can trick the search-ranking algorithms of popular search engines by feeding them fake pages to make their sites seem legitimate, increasing the chances that Internet users searching for news land on a site dispensing malware, warned Paul Ducklin, head of technology at IT security firm Sophos, in a post on the company's web site.

Read Full Article at Computerworld.com