links for 2011-01-04

  • The phones in many people's pockets today are miniature personal computers, and they are just as vulnerable as PCs to viruses, malware, and other security problems. But research presented at a conference in Germany last week shows that phones don't even have to be smart to be vulnerable to hackers. Using only Short Message Service (SMS) communications—messages that can be sent between mobile phones—a pair of security researchers were able to force low-end phones to shut down abruptly and knock them off a cellular network. As well as text messages, the SMS protocol can be used to transmit small programs, called "binaries," that run on a phone. Network operators use these files to, for example, change the settings on a device remotely. The researchers used the same approach to attack phones. They performed their tricks on handsets made by Nokia, LG, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Micromax, a popular Indian cell-phone manufacturer.
  • While the economic climate in the United States remains uncertain, economists and pundits alike continue to define our recent fiscal crisis with words like recession, downturn and depression. But labeling America’s current financial woes should not be the focus for Americans as the overall economy struggles to free itself from its malaise. What really matters is how the current circumstances affect you and what they mean to your future. In his book, The Great Reset, Richard Florida calls periods like the one currently facing the United States “Great Resets.” There have been two such periods before the current one, and both of these earlier downturns changed our culture in profound ways.
  • Are technology startup valuations in the middle of another bubble? The New York Times stoked the debate last month when it quoted famed venture capitalists John Doerr and Fred Wilson, who were seemingly agreeing that it is. One area of tech investing that seems especially “bubble-icious” is the secondary market where investors trade shares of private companies. Last week, Bloomberg reported on a study by Nyppex LLC, a broker for secondary transactions, which found that valuations of private, VC-backed tech companies on the secondary market have risen a whopping 54 percent since June. Retail investors are so eager to get a piece of the action that they’re paying a 31-percent premium over the valuations paid by institutional investors when they first put money into the startups, up from 12 percent in June.

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