Friday, November 28, 2008

ATM Skimmers Improved with SMS

ATM skimmers: Now with SMS notification built right in - ZDnet
This will make it even easier to Swipe your Card Information!  According to ZDNet, criminals can now upgrade (for only $8500) their ATM Skimmers with a SMS Notification built right into the unit. For those outside of the know, an ATM skimmer sits on credit/debit card machines and swipes information as unsuspecting civilians pass their cards through.

Why risk getting arrested during the retrieval process? 

Now there's a better way.  

In the days of old, scammers would have to physically retrieve the skimmer in order to acquire all that precious information; now, models with built-in SMS notification are becoming available, meaning that numbers, expiration dates and that easy-to-forget three digit code on the back can be shot out instantly after the data is snatched. Word on the street has these devices going for $8,500 a pop, and they can dish out around 2,000 texts.  That's $17.50 per text if they're paying $8500 and getting 2000. costs less than bail! 

Here's a snippet...

How does the device work, and how many SMS messages is it capable of sending without recharging the battery?
“Our skimmers read out the magnetic strip in two ways, there and back. The skimmer reads off the streap in both ways if thereis 2 tracks. The skimmers reads off the strip even if there is only 2tracks on the strip (that happens with electrons’). The data can beread off even if a holder passes the card changing speed or with a jerk. The skimmers fail-safely reads off data: 9,999 tries of 10,000 are successful. It works even if a holder passes the card fast and then slow it down. The only situation when the skimmers fails is when the card is stopped in the middle while being passed. It’s a typical error for all card reading devices linked to the magnetic stripes read off technology.

All devices are powered with Li-on batteries. The charger is delivered with devices. The battery can works fully 24 hours (when the temperature is 21 degrees centigrade). We conducted the test on the  maximum number of SMS sent using one battery. The result is really great: 1,856 SMS were sent without any charging. The tester were passing a card permanently without any pauses from 03 a.m. to 5 p.m. Usually during a day the number of holders is less than 1,856 and the Skimmers is in the waiting mode, consuming less energy. So, in the normal mode one battery can work 24 hours.”
The manufacturer seems to be a group of experienced ATM skimmers that have applied a great deal of security measures in order to ensure that their customers don’t get caught while retrieving the data. For instance, in one of the cases they seem to have been observing how would the police react upon detecting the skimmer, and “just like they thought” while they were patiently waiting for someone to retrieve the device and bust him, the skimmed data has already been SMS-ed. Interestingly, not every average credit card thief will be able to purchase the device unless he has recommendations and is a known “usual suspect” (continue reading)

BLING is Local...for Now

There's a company out of Palo Alto, CA with offices in Argentina and Chile, who has been making a lot of news lately.   American Banker, MarketWatch, Digital Transaction News and CNBC have all written about this company since November 18th.

Yesterday, In an article written by Sarah Clark from "NRC World" she too talks about a company called Bling Nation, which provides a "local payments network." (Bling Local would seem to be a tad more proper, if that's what they were planning on limiting it to.) 

Interesting approach, but will it work?  Read on:

"A new payments service from Bling Nation offers local banks the chance to provide a low-cost closed-loop payments system within their local community. 

Smart stickers attached to customers' mobile phones and low-cost 'BlingTag' readers are at the heart of the system and NFC-based services will be added once handsets become widely available. 
A new payments platform from Bling Nation aims to enable local banks to provide a low-cost payments service to consumers and merchants within their community.

Because it is designed purely for local transactions Bling's closed loop payments solution can save money by cutting out the usual middle men involved in debit transactions (acquirers, processors and network operators).

Part of this saving is then passed on to merchants, in the form of lower transaction fees (typically 1.5% instead of 3%), and part is kept by the bank, which could expect to keep 38 cents on a $40 transaction instead of nine cents with a mainstream debit card.  Editor's Note:  This is an interesting approach, as it provides the bank with "4-times" the transaction fee revenue it would normally make.

How Bling Nation's NFC-based  payments system works. Click image to enlarge.

The company's core technology, in development for the last three years, is a real-time integrated issuing and acquiring processing platform designed specifically for local and regional banks. 
At the heart of the solution are smart stickers, called 'Bling Tags', issued to consumers for attaching to their mobile phones. To make a purchase at participating merchants, the customer can then simply tap their phone at the dedicated Bling Tag Reader located in the store (currently this is a proprietary point-of-sale device but the company expects to see its reader integrated into existing contactless readers during the course of the next year).

Transaction details are then forwarded to the central 'Bling Link' processor which approves the transaction, debits the consumer's account and credits the merchants account — all in real time — and then sends the consumer an SMS text message confirming the transaction details.

Because this is a real-time platform, the consumer also receives up-to-date information on the balance of their account and a loyalty program is also available that lets the bank add points to a customer's account every time they carry out a transaction, and then redeem those points at any participating merchant.

Will it work? Near Field Communications World spoke with Bling Nation's vice president of sales and business development, Bjorn Ovick, and chief technology officer Federico Murrone about the founders' backgrounds, the security built into the system, the reception the company has had so far from local banks and future developments, particularly with regard to NFC:
  • Two venture capital firms, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Campventures, invested $13 million in Bling Nation during September 2008.
  • The team behind the system has a pretty impressive pedigree. The company's advisory board includes John Reed, a former chairman of Citibank and of the New York Stock Exchange and Jeff Stiefler, a former chairman of Digital Insight and a former president of American Express. Co-CEOs Wences Casares and Meyer Malka have an impressive track record too, having founded Banco Lemon, a Brazilian retail bank, and Patagon, the largest online brokerage in Latin America.
  • The smart stickers are based on the Mifare protocol and are manufactured for Bling Nation in China.
  • Security is based around "proprietary algorithms based on industry standards".
  • The Bling Tags contain two identifiers, one static and one dynamic, enabling the system to work out which account is to be debited — they do not themselves include any account or personal data.
  • The real-time nature of the system means that any apparent spending abnormalities can prompt a request to the customer to enter their PIN for security.
  • With regards to NFC, "we will be taking advantage of it when it is deployed," says the team.
  • The company's technical team has already developed additional NFC-based functionality that could go live as soon as NFC handsets become available. The capability to offer both person-to-person payments and targeted marketing messages are already available, coupon delivery and redemption and the option of choosing between several accounts at the point--of-sale are under development.
Bling Nation is set to go live with its first pilot in the US during the first quarter of 2009. The company is in discussion with five interested banks and is currently in the process of choosing which one of the banks to partner with in one US community for the pilot.


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Microsoft Live Search Rebranding?

Microsoft To Rebrand Search. Will It Be Kumo? - TechCrunch

According to a post on TechCrunch, Microsoft will relaunch Windows Live Search under a new brand sometime early next year and they ties that information to what they say is a source within the company.

Here's the post:

"What we don’t know is what that new brand will be, although a few names have been thrown around. According to our source, a “final” decision has been made, but very few people inside of Microsoft are aware of it, and it could change.

Now LiveSide is saying there’s evidence the new search brand will be Kumo, which means “cloud” or “spider” in Japanese.

Why would Microsoft go through yet another rebranding effort? has a lot of different services under its umbrella (some server software, some client software) in addition to search. It’s also a burgeoning social network.

Over time, we’ve heard, will become a pure social network and personal productivity portal. You’ll go there to access email, calendar, photos, activity streams, etc. But search belongs somewhere else, and it definitely needs a fresh start.

Microsoft won’t comment on the name change, or even if there is a name change. But our  (TechCrunch) sources caution us that nothing has been finalized, and the fate of Yahoo could swing this one way or another as well. So Kumo may very well be the name Microsoft is planning to use, but that decision may change.

And in a post in, they talk about this rebranding possibility some more...

Microsoft takes control of domain – watch out for the Live Search rebrand

A few months ago Mary Jo Foley got a tip about some new brand names that were  being considered for Live Search. One of these, Kumo, jumped out at us due to the sheer scale of TLDs that had been acquired during 2008, aswell as the corporate owner hiding anonymously behind the registrar. Incidentally, Kumo means “cloud” or “spider” in Japanese.

Fast forward to this week and Microsoft suddenly showed its hand. Control of the domain was moved from the registrar to Microsoft, and is now pointing to an internal Microsoft test site (employees only). You can test this out at home by firing up the command prompt (type “cmd” in the Vista start box) and then type “tracert”. You’ll see the route to the end location go through a few servers, and then suddenly you’ll notice all those asterisks, which is where becomes available for internal use only.

We’re guessing that the internal sites are probably similar to the user interface testing versions that had screenshots leaked last month. These are used to run various permutations of the search UI to see how they perform against a control version. While Microsoft employees have admitted publicly that there are branding issues around Live Search, we’re not quite ready to stick our heads above the parapet and say that Kumo will be the new brand name to be announced in a 2009 update. For a start Microsoft and search branding has been a mess for a while and so who outside the company knows where they will actually end up in 6 or 12 months from now. Then there has been separate chatter about a rebrand back to Windows Live Search, which would tie the search engine back to the other Windows Live properties and Windows as a whole. Given the $300m ad campaign – Windows, Life Without Walls – seeks to link Windows + Live + Mobile together, this could make sense. However for the conspiracy theorists out there, which includes us, this could be one way of hiding the real new brand name internally. Perhaps more importantly, a floundering Yahoo, minus Jerry Yang, really does offer some good acquisition incentives for Microsoft. How much should you pay for a few hundred million eyeballs that you hope will turn into search volume? Yahoo shares ended trading on Friday at $9.39, 70% down on the original Microsoft bid of $31 per share. On a random aside, the first trademark request for Kumo as a search engine was filed by a Venezuelan individual. Yet another reason why this name might not ever make it out into the public eye on a Microsoft product. So technical issues around results, relevancy and features aside, would Kumo make a better brand name than Live Search? Does Kumo have the potential marketing strength that is needed to challenge Google? We’re not sure, but hey these Live Search branding posts definitely give us food for thought.

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SuiteLinq with Hyatt Regency Woodfield

The Hyatt Regency Woodfield, located in Schaumburg, Illinois, has selected SuiteLinq, Inc. to deploy its digital entertainment solution in all of the property's 470 rooms.

SuiteLinq, a provider of broadband and on-demand solutions for hospitality and extended-stay environments, will be deploying its SuiteCast(TM) and SuiteVOD(TM) services, with the goal of creating a truly home-like experience in each guest room.

The combined solution provides free TV channels and a variety of Video-On-Demand content, delivered in standard and high definition, on 37" and 42" Sharp LCD HD televisions.  According to Jim Gould, GM of The Hyatt Regency Woodfield, the decision to deploy SuiteLinq's solution is part of the property's continuing efforts to be totally customer centric.

"It is clear that guests are now ahead of the hospitality industry in terms of their digital entertainment expectations. At home, most of them have hundreds of TV channels, including high-definition ones, as well as access to Video-On-Demand services," states Gould. "But too many other properties are content to give guests an antiquated in-room video entertainment service that contributes nothing to the guest experience. That simply won't do for our customers. Our property and The Hyatt brand are all about creating memorable, personalized experiences that generate true customer satisfaction and guest loyalty. We've realized that solutions like SuiteCast and SuiteVOD are quite simply mandatory. Guests are demanding them and we are listening," he states.

Amidst a challenging economic environment, Joseph Mustilli, SuiteLinq's CEO, actually sees a growing need for integrated guest room digital solutions like those offered by SuiteLinq. "As consumers become more discerning about their travel behavior and purchases, it is critical that properties differentiate themselves from their competitors. SuiteLinq provides a very powerful 'suite' of services designed to make an impact on guests by creating an in-room environment that is just like home - only better. The net effect is that guests check-out with a positive memory of their stay and a stronger intent to return. We are proud to add The Hyatt Regency Woodfield to our expanding list of clients."

For more information about SuiteLinq, contact Darrin Davis at 703-953-2624, or via email at ddavis(at)

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