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Monday, August 5, 2013
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Devin Coldewey NBC News
Aug. 2, 2013 at 1:54 PM ET
The organizations make setting up a malware-serving website like signing up for an email or online game.
Mobile security software company Lookout was hot on the trail of a set of Russian malware distributors ? and was surprised to find that the biggest groups responsible were as neatly and effectively organized as a small tech business.
Don't get paranoid just yet: Lookout explained to NBC News in an email that this type of fraud isn't nearly as common here: "It appears that they've cut back on targeting [Western] countries because they're having more success in Russia and the Eastern block. In the past we've even seen SMS fraud targeting the U.S. and western Europe," they wrote.
The way it works is this: an unscrupulous or merely curious Android user searches for free games or apps on his or her phone, and follows a resulting link to a legitimate-looking landing page. After agreeing (often without knowing it) to a terms of service, they are served up a malware application that scams money by fraudulently sending premium SMS messages ? special texts used to purchase ringtones or sign up for a service.
Thousands of Twitter accounts and fake websites are set up to lure unwitting users, but when Lookout followed the thread a bit further, they found that many led back to a few surprisingly professional-looking organizations.
An example of a "landing page" users would be sent to (and redirected from).
From their official websites, productivity contests, and easy-to -use tools, at first glance one might guess these malware operators were legitimate software developers or advertisers. And in effect, that's exactly what these malware HQs are: small startups raking in cash thanks to the booming mobile sector. It just happens that the business they make their money through is fraud.
Affiliates sign up for the site as if they were joining a forum or freelance contractor website. A user-friendly, step-by-step process helps them create fake webpages, design and submit malware-toting apps, and makes the latest virus-scan-avoidance software available.
Meanwhile, the malware makers register dozens or hundreds of fake accounts on Twitter and other networks ? out of almost a quarter-million accounts analyzed by Lookout, over 50,000 were puppet accounts linking to malware.
Just 10 of these malware HQ organizations account for 60 percent of the SMS fraud Lookout tracked in Russia. Such scams don't usually affect the U.S. or western Europe, but it's not unheard of.
Twitter shuts down such accounts when it finds them, and malicious apps are removed from Google's Play Store whenever detected, but are these big organizations being raided or shut down now that they've been outed??
"We generally don't comment on ongoing investigations like this one," wrote Lookout. "However, in past investigations that are now closed, we have contacted authorities."
Even so, it's little comfort when the groups out there are so well-organized and well-staffed. Your best bet is to stick to well-known websites and only download apps from stores you trust. The problem may not be going away just yet, but consumers can avoid it ? with a little discretion.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.
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Saturday, August 3, 2013
Jul. 21, 2013
On July 18, Japan?s Softbank announced that it has formed a partnership with US Bloom Energy?to enter the Japanese market and proceed from there through Asia. The good news comes at a time when an election victory prompts PM Abe Shinzo to embark on a bold and risky agenda of constitutional revision, military expansion and heightened conflict with China. Back in the early 2000s, Softbank CEO Son Masayoshi blazed a trail that led Japan to having the among the fastest and cheapest internet services in the world. Abe and Son appear to represent polar opposites in their approach to development, independence and power. In this short piece, I argue that while analysts have been dazzled by Abe?s electoral triumph, Son?s resilient and internationalist road could shape a very different and positive Japanese economic, technological and energy future than that envisaged by the PM.
Bloomenergy CEO KR Sridhar holds up a Bloombox
Abe has won decisively ? to no one?s surprise ? in the July 21 Upper House elections. Abe?s LDP took 65 of 121 seats at stake, and gained a comfortable majority of 135 of 242 seats in the House with its coalition partner the Komei Party. The LDP now has majorities in both houses of the national government. The Financial Times, Economist and other observers are counting on the now doubly empowered Abe to pursue the ?structural reforms? they tout as key to reviving globalization and recharging the long stagnant economy.
These hopes seem almost certain to be disappointed. Even before the elections, Abe gave plenty of signs that the economy would be secondary to constitutional and historical revisionism. His provocative July 17 visit to two islets 160 kilometres from the disputed Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands was unprecedented for a Japanese PM, and completely unnecessary in light of his enormous lead in the polls. As for reform, there is already talk that METI Minister Motegi Toshimitsu may be out in a September cabinet shuffle, and that supporters of the monopolized power-market status quo will gain the upper hand.
Indeed, as the June 29th edition of the Japanese business weekly Toyo Keizai related in detail, Abe quite strained relations with the peak of the economic elite who recognize the critical role that Chinese and Korean markets will play in Japan?s economic future. Yonekura Hiromasu, the Chair of Keidanren, sensibly asked Abe to work harder for improved relations with China and Korea. Yonekura was treated to an explosive rebuttal from Abe, who pounded the table with his fist.
The risk also remains that Abe will visit Yasukuni Shrine in mid-August, intensifying conflict with China and South Korea over historical issues associated with the empire. In a region at the centre of multiple global crises, that act would be the height of irresponsibility. But it is a distinct possibility.
Ties that Bind
One consequence of the Abe threat is that US-China ties are strengthening, not only in light of their massive trade and financial ties, but also in part to minimize the risk of an Abe-driven clash with China. Another force in this increasing cooperation is the role of US Secretary of State John Kerry, a renowned climate change hawk. Kerry went so far as to pen, on July 19, a ?Getting the US-China Climate Partnership Right? contribution to Joseph Romm?s ?Climate Progress? blog. Kerry stressed the benefits from the US and China cooperating ?to grow green together? in a ?global energy market that?s valued at $6 trillion with four billion users worldwide.?
As Kerry surely knows, because the Department of Energy (DOE) published a July 11 (updated July 16) report on the American energy sector?s vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather, much of this green growth will have to take the form of distributed generation. Distributed generation is what Softbank has been championing in Japan since the Fukushima disaster. The recent tie-up with Bloom Energy is a critical step along that road, in a country still dominated by centralized power and led by a PM committed to nuclear restarts.
As with relations with China and Korea, Abe is on the wrong side of history in this respect, too. He stresses overseas sales of centralized nuclear power and campaigns for their restart on the home front over widespread domestic opposition, at a time when the country?s best opportunity is to get in the lead on distributed green energy.
Centralized Power?s Changing Climate
The centralized generation model of the existing utilities, especially Japan?s monopolies, offers the economic efficiency of concentrating generating capacity in one place, thereby reducing per-unit costs of generated power. This is because the larger the generating station, whether it be coal or nuclear or other thermal generation, the lower the per-unit cost of output.
Yet concentrated and centralized thermal generation confronts multiple problems. Aside from generally climbing costs of conventional fuel, it is increasingly vulnerable to climate change. This vulnerability is true of the plant itself as well as the power grid that sends the generated power into population centres. Over the past several decades, we have (and "we" means particularly the developed countries) have built?power systems whose underlying principle is that the efficiency gains from clustering generating capacity are to be valued above all other considerations. But recent failures of centralized generation, most notably the Fukushima triple disaster, have made business and other customers reluctant to rely on big utilities.
This became clear in the wake of Fukushima, when power supply problems wreaked havoc on global supply chains for critical materials in various manufacturing processes such automobiles and electronic products. And similar power-supply failures have occurred in numerous other cases as well, including the world?s largest-ever (roughly 600 million users) last July in India. Moreover, these failures are occurring with increasing frequency, as the DOE report highlights.
There is also growing awareness of the environmental damage from large-scale generation as well as the challenges that it confronts from the water-energy nexus. The DOE report has lots of company in pinpointing this latter concern, including a long article in the July edition of Public Utilities Fortnightly, on ?the growing footprint of climate change.? ?As all these studies show, centralized conventional power uses enormous amounts of water at all stages of the cycle, ranging from getting the fuel out the ground to burning it and keeping the equipment from overheating. This dependence on water is one of the many reasons centralized generation is becoming unsustainable.
The mounting background of experience and empirical evidence is why a sea change is underway in thinking among corporate, military, urban and other actors concerning where they should get their power and what the acceptable trade-offs are concerning the cheapness of centralized generation (whose costs are going up anyway, even in the US) versus the still relatively more costly distributed generation (whose costs are declining).?
It is thus no surprise that a prominent new customer for decentralized power is New York City, as City Hall is being removed from the conventional power grid in favor of running base load power operations from a Bloom Box. This is part of Mayor Bloomberg's strategy of increasing the city's resilience to natural disasters ? such as Hurricane Sandy - and other challenges. New York?s turn to distributed generation, via a Bloom Box, follows similar moves by Apple, Microsoft, Google and a host of other corporate actors.
The ICT Connection
Another attractive feature of the Bloom Boxes is the fact that they are very Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-centered. The output of each individual stack is monitored constantly, with interactive operations that serve to identify emergent problems as well as maximize efficiency. Moreover, being modular, the component stacks of cells in the box mean that any individual failure does not result in failure of the total system. In other words, a portion of the Bloom Box can be down due to the failure of a particular stack or set of stacks, but the overall power plant itself will continue producing power. The attractiveness of this feature perhaps cannot be overstated. It means that not only is resilience increased by deploying distributed power, but distributed power generation itself has a built-in resilience feature so that failure of a portion of the system does not jeopardize or shut down the overall system.?
In addition, the ICT aspect may greatly enhance the attractiveness of the generation to Japan?s local communities and other actors (especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) that already seek to be part of the rapidly accelerating paradigm shift in power generation sources as well as power generation and consumption management.?Another item that seems likely to make this fuel cell option very attractive to local actors in Japan is the fact that it runs on biogas. There is already a significant policy initiative in Japan for recovering biogas from landfills as well as wastewater and other sources. Consuming natural gas in a fuel-cell is of course more efficient than burning it in a generator, but at the same time still requires the use of a fossil fuel. But the use of biogas is a different matter, and thus makes the technology truly a potential "bridge to the future."?
Moreover, the Bloom Box can also be used as back-up generation to support solar, wind and other intermittent generation. These latter are also a major focus of Softbank?s initiatives through its S&B Energy subsidiary. The potential threat to Japan?s monopoly utilities and their centralized generation is thus multifaceted.
And even though the cost of the power from the Bloom Boxes is more expensive than what is offered by centralized thermal generation, the fact is that Japanese utilities are levying increasing charges on their large-lot power users, in many cases double digit increases. The next increase for all of them is in fact slated for August. The power-cost increases have led to massive defections by customers. For example, after Kyushu Electric raised its rates in April by an average of 11.94%, it lost 199 large-lot (over 500 kw) customers, raising the total number of large-lot customers lost since 2000 to 2194 for Kyushu Electric alone. These large-lot users have moved instead to in-house power generation, independent producers and more efficient systems. Many public sector schools, libraries and other facilities are also dumping the utilities wherever possible. The fuel-cell alternative, via long-term power-purchase agreements, offers a stable option in the face of increasingly uncertain conventional power supply and cost.
Another factor to consider is that the Bloom Boxes' per-unit cost is not likely to increase (quite the contrary) because they are only five years old and just entering mass production. With mass production, particularly in the midst of strong competition as well as ICT-enabled production paradigms (e.g. 3D printing), the per-unit cost of output may see rapid declines. This is especially the case because the Bloom Box is largely made of sand, and because it is located right in the nexus of Silicon Valley big money and advanced ideas.?
To be sure, at this point, we do not know if Bloom Energy Japan will be a success. Neither do we know whether Abe will visit Yasukuni nor how hard he will push to get centralized nuclear power back up and running. All we do know is that the forces driving Japan and others towards distributed generation and cooperation are multiple and increasingly powerful. We also know where Abe and Son stand. Son beat the odds a decade ago, and one can only hope that he does again and that his approach becomes the rebound direction from Abe?s risky road.
Andrew DeWit is Professor in the School of Policy Studies at Rikkyo University and an Asia-Pacific Journal coordinator. With Iida Tetsunari and Kaneko Masaru, he is coauthor of ?Fukushima and the Political Economy of Power Policy in Japan,? in Jeff Kingston (ed.) Natural Disaster and Nuclear Crisis in Japan.
? Andrew DeWit, Green Shoot: Abenomics and the 3rd Arrow?
? Andrew DeWit,Abenomics and Energy Efficiency in Japan
? Andrew DeWit,Distributed Power and Incentives in Post-Fukushima Japan
? John A. Mathews,The Asian Super Grid
? Andrew DeWit,Japan?s Energy Policy at a Crossroads: A Renewable Energy Future?
? Andrew Dewit,Japan?s Remarkable Energy Drive
? Andrew DeWit,Megasolar Japan: The Prospects for Green Alternatives to Nuclear Power
? Peter Lynch and Andrew DeWit,Feed-in Tariffs the Way Forward for Renewable Energy
? Sun-Jin YUN, Myung-Rae Cho and David von Hippel,The Current Status of Green Growth in Korea: Energy and Urban Security
? Son Masayoshi and Andrew DeWit,Creating a Solar Belt in East Japan: The Energy Future
FAIRFAX, VA--(Marketwired - August 01, 2013) - ?ASTRO Chairman Michael L. Steinberg, MD, FASTRO, called attention to the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) striking report released today, "Medicare:?Higher Use of Costly Prostate Cancer Treatment by Providers Who Self-Refer Warrants Scrutiny," that details clear mistreatment of patients who trusted their physicians to care for their prostate cancer. Dr. Steinberg and radiation oncologists nationwide called on Congress to pass the "Promoting Integrity in Medicare Act of 2013" (PIMA), introduced earlier today by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), that would address GAO's findings, result in better care for patients and save billions of dollars in Medicare that could offset the costs of repealing the Medicare physician payment formula (sustainable growth rate-SGR).
The federal "Ethics in Patient Referrals Act," also known as the self-referral law, prohibits physicians from referring a patient to a medical facility in which he or she has a financial interest in order to ensure that medical decisions are made in the best interest of the patient without consideration of any financial gain that could be realized by the treating physician. However, the law includes an exception that allows physicians to self-refer for so-called "ancillary services," including radiation therapy. Over the years, abuse of the in-office ancillary services (IOAS) exception has diluted the self-referral law and its policy objectives, making it simple for physicians to avoid the law's prohibitions by structuring arrangements that meet the technical requirements of the law, thereby circumventing the intent of the exception. Numerous studies, including three recent GAO reports, have shown that physician self-referral leads to increased utilization of services that may not be medically necessary, poses a potential risk of harm to patients and costs the health care system millions of dollars each year.
Today's GAO report, "Medicare:?Higher Use of Costly Prostate Cancer Treatment by Providers Who Self-Refer Warrants Scrutiny," requested by bipartisan leaders in Congress, reviewed limited specialty [urology] groups' use of intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), an effective form of advanced radiation therapy, for prostate cancer treatment. Experts, such as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, recommend using IMRT judiciously for treating prostate cancer, and that patients should receive an unbiased presentation of all of the effective treatment options, including IMRT. In contrast, the GAO report found that from 2006-2010:
- IMRT utilization among self-referring groups?increased by 456 percent. Overall increases in IMRT utilization rates and?spending were due entirely to services performed by limited-specialty?groups. IMRT utilization among non-self-referrers decreased by five?percent.
- The number of IMRT services performed by limited?specialty [urology] groups increased by 609 percent, while true?multispecialty groups IMRT use decreased 3.8 percent.?
- IMRT spending by self-referral groups increased?by approximately $138 million, compared to a $91 million decrease in the?non-self-referral group.
- Increases in IMRT utilization among?self-referring practices could not be attributed to patient preferences,?age, geographic location or patient's health status.?Financial?incentives were likely a major factor in increased referrals for IMRT?among the self-referring practices. The financial incentives for?self-referral groups led to patients not receiving other appropriate and?less expensive treatments, including brachytherapy, prostatectomy and?active surveillance.
- Self-referring centers referred more than 60?percent of men over the age of 75 for IMRT at self-referring centers. For?these men, guidelines recommend active surveillance of their disease and?the avoidance of aggressive treatment such as IMRT.
The GAO report concluded, "? the higher use of IMRT by self-referring providers results in higher?costs for Medicare and beneficiaries. To the extent that treatment decisions are driven by providers' financial interest and not by patient preference, these increased costs are difficult to justify."
"We are extremely concerned that many older male patients are receiving such vigorous, possibly unnecessary treatment by urology groups. Clearly, these self-referring urology groups are steering patients to the most lucrative treatment they offer, depriving them of their full range of treatment choices, including potentially no treatment at all," said Dr. Steinberg. "GAO's findings also demonstrate that IMRT utilization would actually be declining if not for a small cadre of profit-motivated, self-referring urologists."?
ASTRO believes that the GAO's recommendations of increased tracking and transparency are well-intentioned but insufficient to stop the costly, hazardous abuse of the IOAS exception. ASTRO concludes that the GAO's own reports and numerous independent studies overwhelmingly affirm that self-referral results in financial incentives that lead to overutilization of health care services, unnecessary spending and inappropriate care for patients.?
"Patients and the Medicare program can no longer afford for self-referral abuse to continue. New regulations of tracking and reporting fall short of what is necessary to ensure unbiased patient care-closure of the self-referral loophole. We urge Congress to take swift action to close the in-office ancillary services exception for radiation therapy by passing PIMA. Radiation therapy is not an ancillary service, but rather its own distinct medical treatment, akin to surgery. This new GAO report certifies that the self-referral loophole has serious negative consequences for patients and Medicare's bottom line," said Dr. Steinberg.
Today's GAO report on self-referral in radiation therapy is the third in a groundbreaking, four-part series. The first report in November 2012 on self-referral in advanced diagnostic imaging, titled "Higher Use of Advanced Imaging Services by Providers Who Self-Refer Costing Medicare Millions" found that "providers who self-referred likely made 400,000 more referrals for advanced imaging services than they would have if they were not self-referring"-at a cost of more than $100 million in 2010. In July 2013, the GAO report, "Action Needed to Address Higher Use of Anatomic Pathology Services by Providers Who Self-Refer," found that self-referring providers likely referred nearly one million more unnecessary anatomic pathology services than non-self-referring providers, costing Medicare approximately $69 million. The final report will detail self-referral for physical therapy services.
"It is acutely obvious that the self-referral loophole must be closed to protect patients and to strengthen the Medicare program," continued Dr. Steinberg. "This loophole endangers patients and erodes their trust in us as physicians. While most urologists care deeply about high-quality patient care and consistently put patients before profits, a minority group of self-referral urology practices is endangering patients and wasting valuable, finite Medicare resources."?
Contrary to the claims of limited specialty [urology] groups, GAO's report confirms that these practices are not truly integrated health care centers, but that they are moneymaking schemes intended to increase volume and achieve high profits. Effective and efficient integrated care is rendered every day by clinicians who do not take financial advantage of the IOAS. The overwhelming majority of physicians treat patients based on the best interest of the patient without engaging in self-referral schemes, while also providing coordinated care.
"Unfortunately, when you look at the numbers in this report, you start to wonder where health care stops and where profiteering begins," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), in a statement released today. "Enough is enough. Congress needs to close this loophole and fix the problem."
Reps. Speier's and McDermott's PIMA legislation answers the call of numerous influential bipartisan groups who have examined self-referral abuse and recommended changes to the law. In September 2012, a New England Journal of Medicine article, authored by leading health policy experts including former CMS administrator Donald Berwick, MD, MPP, called for closing the self-referral loophole for radiation therapy and other so-called "ancillary services." The Center for American Progress agreed with narrowing the IOAS exception, as well as several notable bipartisan groups, including the Bipartisan Policy Center, under the leadership of former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and the Moment of Truth Project, headed by Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.). President Obama's proposed FY 2014 Budget also recommended closing the self-referral loophole, which could save the Medicare program more than $6 billion during the standard 10-year budget window.
In addition, a November 2012 Bloomberg News investigative report scrutinized ordeals faced by California prostate cancer patients treated by a urology clinic that owns radiation therapy equipment and found that physician self-referral led to mistreated patients and higher health care costs. The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun also published similar critical reports in the last three years illustrating that limited specialty [urology] groups owning radiation therapy machines have utilization rates that rise quickly and are well above national norms for radiation treatment of prostate cancer.
"ASTRO recommends removing radiation therapy services from the IOAS exception. We strongly support PIMA because it closes the self-referral loophole in a responsible, targeted way that roots out abuse while ensuring that truly integrated multispecialty groups and high-performing health systems can continue to provide high-quality and efficient care," said Dr. Steinberg. "Self-referral undermines ASTRO-supported efforts to move Medicare toward quality- and value-based payment. Closing the self-referral loophole will help to stabilize the fee-for-service system today, while we charge ahead on the long, challenging path to developing a fair, high-functioning payment system."
ASTRO is a partner in the Alliance for Integrity in Medicare (AIM), a broad coalition of medical societies committed to ending the practice of inappropriate physician self-referral and focused on improving patient care and preserving valuable Medicare resources. In addition to ASTRO, AIM partners include the American Clinical Laboratory Association, the American College of Radiology, the American Physical Therapy Association, the American Society for Clinical Pathology, the Association for Quality Imaging, the College of American Pathologists and the Radiology Business Management Association. ASTRO and AIM recommend using the Medicare savings to help offset the costs of repealing the Medicare physician payment formula this year.
ASTRO is the premier radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 10,000 members who are physicians, nurses, biologists, physicists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and other health care professionals that specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, the Society is dedicated to improving patient care through professional education and training, support for clinical practice and health policy standards, advancement of science and research, and advocacy.?ASTRO publishes two medical journals, International Journal of Radiation Oncology ? Biology ? Physics (www.redjournal.org) and Practical Radiation Oncology (www.practicalradonc.org); developed and maintains an extensive patient website, www.rtanswers.org; and created the Radiation Oncology Institute (www.roinstitute.org), a non-profit foundation to support research and education efforts around the world that enhance and confirm the critical role of radiation therapy in improving cancer treatment. To learn more about ASTRO, visit www.astro.org.
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