Tag Archives | Amazon

Cybercrooks use Amazon to Run Botnet

Robert McMillan of the IDG News Service is reporting that cyber criminals gained access to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) account, and used Amazon’s cloud infrastructure to manage and run its botnet. Expect more cloud-based attacks such as this one in the future.

The botnet was a Zeus bot (Zbot) variant. The Zeus trojan is a  program that criminals use to gather personal and financial data from its victims.

Hackers that create trojans such as Zeus are becoming increasingly organized and function like corporations, according to a security recent report published by Microsoft. That structure enables regular malware release schedules, and gives criminals the ability to exploit complex vulnerabilities in software–even as operating systems become more secure.

Law enforcement has made some progress toward shutting down the data centers that criminals use to host their infrastructure, but the crooks are seemingly one step ahead, and have now migrated to Web-based services. IDG reports that unnamed law enforcement officials have begun to worry that stolen credit cards could be used to purchase cloud computing services such as AWS.

That’s a given. I hope that cloud providers take action to discover malware on their server, and have the capacity to shut it down before serious damage can be done. They have a responsibility to do so.

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Amazon’s PayPhrase to Speed Checkout

amazonlogoAmazon on Wednesday rolled out its latest effort to simplify shopping on its site with a service called PayPhrase. Essentially, customers would set up a specific phrase and PIN which would be linked to shipping and billing information on Amazon. When used, the checkout process could potentially be shortened to a matter of seconds.

PayPhrase won’t be limited to just the online retailer. It plans to offer the service to other retailers as well. So far DKNY, Jockey, Patagonia, Buy.com, J&R, and Car-Toys have signed on with the service. Other sites that use Checkout by Amazon would also be able to employ the PayPhrase service, it said.

The nation’s largest online retailer sees this as a big boon for the holidays, where speed is a benefit for shoppers with long Christmas lists.

Is Amazon on to something however with PayPhrase? I think so. Even online methods of payment like PayPal still require several steps to complete a transaction. This requires only two steps: entering the phrase, click, enter PIN, click, done. You can’t get much easier than that while still staying secure.

What remains to be seen however is whether Amazon can drum up more support for this platform. Besides itself, the only other partner with significant market share is Buy.com: that’s way too little reach. If it can manage to snag say two or three more big name partners, PayPhrase may become the next big thing in online payments.


Amazon-Netflix? Let’s Make It Happen, Please.

Netflix AmazonAt this point, it’s just a rumor that’s giving Netflix’s stock a nice goose: Speculation has it that Amazon.com might move to buy Netflix, a merger that makes immense sense to me. Between its Amazon MP3 service and Video on Demand and the Kindle and Audible, Amazon.com is working overtime to reinvent itself for the era–coming sooner than we think–that virtually all content is digital. Netflix, meanwhile, has an enjoyable and well-done Watch Instantly service, but its selection is sparse and less-than-current; if Watch Instantly is as good as it’s going to get, it’s hard to imagine Netflix stating Netflix once it no longer makes sense to mail shiny discs.

An Amazon that owned Netflix would get the opportunity to market digital downloads to all those happy Netflix customers; a Netflix that was part of Amazon would have access to Amazon’s ambitious video-on-demand platform and content deals. It would probably leave both companies and their customers better off—and hey, it give Apple an iTunes Store competitor that was that much larger and stronger.

I’m just a customer of Amazon and Netflix, not a shareholder. But if mergers were voted on by shoppers, I’d give this one my stamp of approval. Even if it’s not really under discussion at the moment, it feels sort of inevitable…


The Next Online Music Revolution Is … CDs?

cdcaseFor $31 per year (Update: see the breakdown below), musicians both unknown and legendary will soon be able to get their CDs printed and sold through Amazon, no questions asked.

Following in the footsteps of CDBaby, but with a crucial difference, TuneCore and Amazon will launch an on-demand CD printing service, Wired’s Eliot Van Buskirk reports. The musician pays $31 per year for printing, labeling and delivery of a 10-track CD. Amazon sells the CDs for $8.98 each and keeps 60 percent. The rest goes to the musician.

In terms of keeping a low barrier to entry, CDBaby and TuneCore’s services are fairly similar — I could break down the differences in price and process, but I’m sure things will change once the two companies start competing. The real distinction is the muscle TuneCore brings to the table. Buskirk notes that Trent Reznor, Keith Richards and Joan Jett are already clients of TuneCore for other digitial distribution services, and they’ll likely be itching for yet another way to escape the major labels. With TuneCore, they only have to sell nine CDs each to break a profit, and they keep all the rights to their music.

Not that online printing is without drawbacks for consumers: The immediacy of purchasing a CD in a store is absent, and so is the chance to own something with elaborate packaging, as TuneCore’s liner note options are a fairly standard set of sleeves and inserts. Buskirk also raises the issue of selling CDs at a concert, but I don’t see why the band itself couldn’t order a thousand copies and sell them for a premium at the show.

Paramount to all this nitty-gritty is the not-so-novel idea that the music business as a whole is decentralizing. The cleverest musicians, big and small, are finding ways to advertise and sell products without major labels. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are capitalizing in spaces where the music industry was too big, dumb and slow to venture.

These monoliths will shrink, and companies like TuneCore will be the catalysts.

Update: So we’re all clear, TuneCore’s Peter Wells, who comments below, breaks the pricing down in an e-mail as 19.98 for a year of maintenance and storage of the physical CD, plus 99 cents per song, plus a flat fee of 99 cents to sell the album through Amazon, totalling roughly $31. An extra dollar distributes the song to iTunes as a digital download.

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Amazon Launches a URL Shortener

Amazon has launched a URL shortening service to make it easier for customers to talk about its products on social networking sites–especially Twitter, where every character in a URL counts.

I have argued that Twitter is overhyped, but I acknowledge Twittering as an activity will continue to be influential on how people use the Web. In response to that activity, Amazon created its URL shortening service to generate URLs for its products without having to use third party services such as TinyURL.

It makes perfect sense for Amazon to do this, because some sites, including Yahoo’s forums, prohibit URLs from the TinyURL domain. Amazon’s URLs are unlikely to be blocked, because there has to be a product behind the shortcut as a requirement.

Amazon’s shortened URLs are generated when a user takes an product identification number and pastes it after “amzn.com/’.”

TechFlash has reported that customers may use ASIN numbers (Amazon Standard Identification Number), book ISBN numbers, or Wishlist ID numbers. That kind of control makes Amazon’s URLs safer than ones that are provided by third party services.

This was a very smart move on Amazon’s part. It is making it easier for companies that sell products through its e-commerce site to promote their products, and it will increase search engine exposure for products by associating then with a single URL. While this service is intriguing, Amazon isn’t the first, nor will it be the last to leverage new trends in technology.


The Best News I’ve Heard in Months

Ever felt like you should keep a blowtorch on hand to blast your way into the tamper-resistant packaging that a lot of tech products come in these days? Help is at hand–and it doesn’t involve blowtorches. Instead, it takes the far more sensible step of making packaging easy to open.

Amazon has launched an initiative called Frustration-Free Packaging, which involves selling products in packaging that eliminates those indestructible blisterpacks and scissors-destroying plastic ties. The initial lineup of offerings includes a bunch of toys, but also some electronics products, including a Microsoft mouse and Transcend memory cards.

The company says that an added benefit of the frustration-free packaging is that it’s more environment-friendly. That makes sense: I can’t imagine the world really needs all that plastic packaging, when cardboard and paper (which is what the Frustration-Free Packaging involves) will do.

The plasticky stuff–from now on I’ll think of it as Frustration-Filled Packaging–is meant to discourage shoplifters, so it was always pretty silly that customers of a Web-based merchant like Amazon had to deal with it in the first place.

I’d love to see brick-and-mortar retailers jump on this bandwagon. While we’re at it, could they do something about the pointless and insulting anti-shoplifting procedures involving a guy at the door who glances at your receipt and pretends to examine the products in your shopping bag?


Netflix via TiVo? Cool. But Not Cool Enough.

So TiVo and Netflix are announcing that their longstanding, apparently-dormant plans to work together have amounted to something after all: Starting in early December, owners of TiVo boxes will be able to stream movies and TV shows from NetFlix, and the cost is included in their monthly Netflix subscription. That’s good news. But it’s also by no means a substitute for the primary way Netflix distributes content–which is, of course, by shipping out DVDs in little red envelopes via snail mail.

That’s because traditional Netflix offers more than a hundred thousand titles, while Netflix Watch Instantly includes only about a tenth as many. Netflix’s own promotion for the Internet-based service stresses that it offers a “separate, smaller” selection of content, and that it includes “very few” new releases. (When was the last time you heard any company use the word “few” when discussing the choice it offers?)

You can’t blame Netflix for the skimpy selection–Hollywood just remains incredibly backwards when it comes to licensing movie and TV content for Internet distribution. And even though some other purveyors of Net-based video have a lot more stuff than Netflix Watch Instantly, including new releases, nobody offers what you really want: A service as comprehensive as traditional Netflix that lets you watch everything instantly on every digital device you own.

After the jump, a quick look at some of the major competitors.

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Oprah Gives Kindle the Thumbs Up

If Howard Stern is the “King of all Media” (at least he tells himself that), then Oprah Winfrey should rightfully be considered the Queen. Amazon must be tickled pink that the iconic talk show host has given its Kindle a ringing endorsement, which came as part of her show on Friday.

Winfrey says the device “was life-changing” and is “the wave of the future.” With her influential book club, which have turned many an author into overnight success stories, Oprah brings a large consumer base into Amazon’s waiting open arms.

At $359 the Kindle is still expensive for most — Oprah even admitted as much during the show, which also featured Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. But with Oprah’s star power behind it, the device now has the opportunity to move out of cult favorite and into the mainstream

The appearance of the device on the show did not come without a promotion. By entering the code “OPRAHWINFREY” at checkout, a $50 discount on the device will be provided. For those on the fence, here’s your reason to jump in.

How big is this for Amazon? In my opinion, very. This essentially gives the device the kind of publicity it needs in order to survive. It also puts pressure on Sony, who now must try to match Amazon’s move. A deal with Martha Stewart, anyone?


You Know, What I Really Want is a Sony Kindle

Sony, which is among many other things the other big company besides Amazon that’s in the e-book game, has announced a new model: the Reader Digital Book PRS-700BC. Available in mid-November, it will sell for $399 and sports two significant features: a touchscreen that lets you turn the page by swiping and sidelighting that illuminates the screen. In theory, at least, both should be great big advances, since both previous Sony Readers and Amazon’s Kindle have had quirky user interfaces that involve buttons off to the side of the screen, and the e-ink technology used by both devices works pretty well in bright light and not at all when the environment’s too dim. (In that respect, it provides an uncanny simulation of real paper.)

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