TWT Newsletter, Issue #045 – Web threats and search engine copycats
Welcome to another edition of the TWT Newsletter. With January now a memory, we hope that you haven’t already broken all your new years resolutions. This month we take a look at another widely published Internet Explorer vulnerability and investigate alleged copying of search results by Bing. Of course there’s our regular tip of the month and free utility too.
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In this months issue:-
1) What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
2) More security threats on the internet
3) Tip of the Month – Customise your new Windows 7 Notification Area
4) Free Utility of the Month – OCCT
5) Is the Bing search engine a copycat?
What’s new at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com?
In January we brought you a couple of tutorials for the very handy “Unlocker” program. Unlocker can help you move or delete files when Windows insists that “the file is in use”. To find out more about unlocker, check out our first tutorial here.
We’d also hoped to bring you several tutorials for LastPass, however due to some technical problems with our screen recorder, these were delayed until early February. They are now available, view the first tutorial here.
More security threats on the internet
Another month, another security vulnerability. It’s unfortunate that in these days of global networks and complex, powerful software that security vulnerabilities are a fact of life. The latest Internet Explorer exploit affects all versions of Windows, however there have been no reports of malicious websites taking advantage of it just yet.
In order for the attack to work, a user must be tricked into clicking a link. This link will then deliver the attack payload, a script that runs inside of Internet Explorer and allows the hacker a back-door into the compromised machine. This will then potentially allow the attacker to steal sensitive data, according to Microsoft:-
“The script could spoof content, disclose information, or take any action that the user could take on the affected Web site on behalf of the targeted user.”
Microsoft are expected to issue a patch for the vulnerability shortly. In the meantime you can either switch to another web browser such as Chrome or Firefox, or install the temporary fix from this website.
Threats like this highlight the importance of keeping your operating system up-to-date. However, we still see that most of our users are neglecting at least some of their updates. According to Google, only fifteen percent of our visitors last month were using the latest version of Adobe Flash. That means the vast majority of our visitors are running systems with known vulnerabilities, regardless of which web browser they are using. The easiest way to make sure flash and other web plugins are up-to-date is to visit the Mozilla plugin check page here. This page works with all browsers (not just Mozilla ones) and will quickly tell you if your web plugins need an update. We recommend visiting the page regularly, add it to your bookmarks/favourites!
Tip of the Month – Customise your notification area
This months tip is for Windows 7 users. With Windows 7, Microsoft made an effort to tidy up the notification area (system tray) in the bottom right hand corner of the desktop. By default, most icons are hidden, keeping clutter to a minimum.
If you have an application that you regularly access from the notification area however, this can be inconvenient. Luckily, Microsoft give you the option of permanently showing your most used notification icons. To change which icons are permanently shown, click the notification area and choose “Customize”. You’ll then see a list of programs which reside in this area. You can change any of them to “show icon and notifications” so that the icon is always displayed.
For more information on the notification area, and a video tutorial on how to change this setting, see this tutorial.
Free Utility of the Month – OCCT
Here at Top-Windows-Tutorials HQ, we recently had a problem with a PC that was overheating. When trying to track down this problem, this particular tool was extremely handy. OCCT is a stress-testing tool that can detect if your power supply is not adequate, or if your computer cooling is under-par. It does this by making the computer carry out a series of very complex operations, thereby putting your system under full-load, while monitoring the temperatures.
OCCT is more of interest to power users or gamers, though if you have random resets or blue screen errors, OCCT can tell you if these are due to your power supply or overheating. A word of warning before you start, OCCT stresses your computer hardware to the max, we’ve seen normal deskop PC’s that function perfectly fine fail OCCT’s extreme tests. Nevertheless, if your PC does pass OCCT’s torture test, you can be assured that it’s ready for even the most demanding applications. You can find out more about OCCT by visiting this link.
Is the Bing search engine a copycat?
The search engine market is a competitive one. Google is still the search engine that most users turn to when trawling the internet, but Yahoo, Ask and Bing are still strong competitors. Each search engine giant has a team of programmers who constantly tweak and update the ranking algorithms, so that good quality, relevant sites are ranked above irrelevant or spam-heavy sites. Of course, the way that these rankings are determined is a closely guarded secret by each company.
Just like in every other industry, the major players in the search engine world watch what their competitors do very carefully. Some time last year, Google started to notice that Bing seemed to be doing exceptionally well at returning the same sites as Google, when someone would enter unusual misspellings. Google prides itself on having one of the best spell checking algorithms in the search engine market, meaning that even if you flunked all your spelling tests at school, you’re still able to find what you’re searching for most times. However, while Google automatically corrects a miss-spelling, for example, searching for “anerchy” will bring back results for “anarchy” Bing does not. Despite not auto correcting for miss-spellings, Bing was managing to find the same pages Google was, and this is what began to raise eyebrows over at Google search HQ.
Google decided to set up a sting operation. To do this, they artificially inserted several search results for strings of random characters. For example, a search for “odirjger” might return a page about Chinese cooking. After these results were entered, Google instructed several of their engineers to search for the terms and click the results. The sting experiment started on December the 17th and sure enough, by December 31st, the pages were appearing on Bing.
Google went public with it’s findings and the technology communities on the internet were quick to report on them. While Google were clearly unhappy about what Bing had been doing, it’s difficult to say if any laws have actually been broken. Google search results are in the public domain, Microsoft did not steal any programming code from Google, in fact Microsoft argues that it simply takes Googles opinion into account for some queries.
The whole situation sparked an argument on stage during Farsight 2011, an event organised to discuss the future of search engines. On stage with Microsoft vice president Harry Shum, Google engineer Matt Cutts publicly accused the Redmond software giant of copying their search results. Mr Shum simply replied that everyone in the search engine business uses data like this, to which Mr Cutts categorically stated that Google had never copied Bing. Fortunately the two managed not to come to blows. It seems unlikely that Google will take legal action over these discoveries, though it would certainly make for an interesting case if it did.
Whichever search engine you use for your day to day internet surfing, you cannot ignore the dominance of Google. Competition is important in any industry however, and we encourage our readers to try an alternative search engine from time to time. Despite one reporters joke that “Maybe Bing stands for ‘Bing is now Google'” the two search engines do return different results most of the time. Regardless of whether you consider Bing’s actions to be plagiarism or simply legitimate data gathering, we can’t help but agree with Google’s sentiment when they said; “We look forward to competing with genuinely new search algorithms out there, from Bing and others – algorithms built on core innovation, and not on recycled search results copied from a competitor”. After all, there’s no point consulting another search engine, only to get back the same results.
Stop press – Microsoft have issued a statement denying that their Bing search engine copies Google. Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Online Services Division accused Google of a “cloak and dagger click fraud” scheme to discredit Bing’s search practices. “We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop. We have some of the best minds in the world at work on search quality and relevance, and for a competitor to accuse any one of these people of such activity is just insulting”. Wrote Mehdi on his blog. We’ll leave it up to our readers to make up their own minds!
That rounds off our newsletter for February. We’d like to take this opportunity once again to send a huge thank you to all our readers for your support. The TWT Newsletter will return on the 10th March 2011 and will bring you more tips, tricks and techniques to help you get the best out of your PC, be it Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7! We hope that you found this newsletter informative and useful. If you did not then please let us know why, you can contact us by visiting this page or by leaving us feedback in our forum. If you have enjoyed this newsletter, feel free to pass it on to all your friends and family, or better still encourage them to sign up for their own copy. Until next month, keep checking Top-Windows-Tutorials.com and enjoy happy, safe and stress-free computing!