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New version of Flame virus found

Written By Unknown on Senin, 15 Oktober 2012 | 23.45

This screen grab taken by the Kaspersky Lab site shows a program of the computer virus known as Flame. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

A NEW cyberespionage tool linked to the Flame virus has been infecting computers in Lebanon, Iran and elsewhere, security researchers have said.

Kaspersky Lab, which was credited with revealing the Flame virus earlier this year, dubbed the new malware "miniFlame," and said it was "a small and highly flexible malicious program designed to steal data and control infected systems during targeted cyber espionage operations".

Russian-based Kaspersky said miniFlame "is based on the same architectural platform as Flame", widely reported to be part of a US-Israeli effort to slow Iran's suspected nuclear weapons drive.

The smaller version "can function as its own independent cyber espionage program or as a component" inside Flame and related malware.

Unlike Flame, which is designed for "massive spy operations", miniFlame is "a high precision, surgical attack tool", according to Alexander Gostev at Kaspersky Lab.

"Most likely it is a targeted cyberweapon used in what can be defined as the second wave of a cyberattack."

Kaspersky Lab data indicates the total number of infections worldwide is just 50 to 60, including computers in Lebanon, France, the United States, Iran and Lithuania.

MiniFlame operates "as a backdoor designed for data theft and direct access to infected systems", according to Kaspersky, which said development of the malware might have started as early as 2007 and continued until the end of 2011, with several variations.

"We believe that the developers of miniFlame created dozens of different modifications of the program," Kaspersky said. "At this time, we have only found six of these, dated 2010-2011."

Flame previously has been linked to Stuxnet, which attacked computer control systems made by German industrial giant Siemens used to manage water supplies, oil rigs, power plants and other critical infrastructure.

Most Stuxnet infections have been discovered in Iran, giving rise to speculation it was intended to sabotage nuclear facilities there. The worm was crafted to recognise the system it was to attack.

Some reports say US and Israeli intelligence services collaborated to develop the computer worm to sabotage Iran's efforts to make a nuclear bomb.

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Croc escape gives schoolkids day off

Crocodiles are wandering through residential neighbourhoods in Vietnam after escaping from a farm. Picture: Le Ba Duoung Source: AP

PRIMARY schoolchildren in part of southern Vietnam have been given a day off after a number of crocodiles escaped from a farm and were seen roaming around residential areas, reports said.

The reptiles were prowling around densely-populated neighbourhoods after breaking free, according to Thanh Nien newspaper, which said the Kim Dong school had closed "to ensure safety for teachers and children".

Nearly 60 of the animals had been rounded up, Le Van Hai, head of the Forest Ranger Department of Ca Mau province said, but it was unclear how many others remained at large.

"The wall of the crocodile farm collapsed because of rain erosion, letting them escape," Hai said of the incident on Friday at Dinh Binh town.

The Thanh Nien report said the farm had around 580 reptiles before the wall collapsed. It was not clear how many escaped.

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Packed court greets shipwreck captain

A pre-trial hearing into the Costa Concordia cruise liner disaster will begin in Grosseto, Italy on Monday.

THE captain of the cruise ship that crashed into an Italian reef has appeared in court to hear the evidence against him, while hundreds of passengers who survived the deadly shipwreck and the families of those who died in it showed up just "to look him in the eye".

The case of Francesco Schettino, 51, was of such enormous interest that a theatre had to be turned into a courtroom in the Tuscan city of Grosseto to accommodate all those who had a legitimate claim to be at the closed-door hearing.

Wearing dark glasses and a suit, Capt Schettino used a back entrance to slip into the theatre, making no comment to reporters outside. Lawyers said he listened intently to the proceedings inside, where his attorneys raised some objections to the evidence being submitted.

Thirty-two people died after Capt Schettino, in a stunt, took his Costa Concordia cruise ship off course and brought it close to the Tuscan island of Giglio on the night of Jan 13. The ship ran aground and capsized. Capt Schettino then became a lightning rod for international distain for having left the ship before everyone was evacuated.

Francesco Schettino, the former captain of Costa Concordia, leaves his home in Meta Di Sorrento, near Naples, on Sunday. Picture: AP

Hearings this week will help decide whether the judge will order a trial for Capt Schettino, who is accused of manslaughter, causing the shipwreck and abandoning ship while passengers and crew were still aboard. He denies the accusations and hasn't been charged. Any trial is unlikely to begin before next year.

More than 1000 survivors, victims' relatives and their lawyers attended the hearing on the evidence against Capt Schettino and eight others accused in the shipwreck, including crew members and officials from Concordia owner Costa Crociere SpA.

"We want to look him in the eye to see how he will react to the accusations," said German survivor Michael Liessen, 50, who attended the hearing along with his wife.

The stricken cruise liner Costa Concordia off Giglio island. Picture: Filippo Monteforte

A key question is how much of the blame should Capt Schettino himself bear, and how much responsibility for the disaster lies with his crew and employer, Costa Crociere, a division of the Miami-based Carnival Corp.

Last month, court-appointed experts delivered a 270-page report of what went wrong that night based on an analysis of data recorders, ship communications equipment, testimony and other evidence.

The experts, who included two admirals and two engineers, laid most of the blame for the collision with the reef and the botched evacuation on Capt Schettino. But they also noted that not all crew members understood Italian, not all had current safety and evacuation certifications, and not all passengers had had the chance to participate in evacuation drills.

While the experts' findings heavily faulted Capt Schettino and some of the other crew, lawyers for some survivors and families of the victims are seeking to point blame at the corporate level, alleging negligence.

Among them is Peter Ronai, a lawyer for the family of a Hungarian violinist who, survivors recounted, gave his life vest to a child before perishing himself.

"The reason people died was not the captain" alone, Mr Ronai told reporters before entering the hearing. "There was no reason for anyone to die."

He recalled that the lights had gone out on board after the collision and that crew members weren't all trained in safety procedures.

"This ship was as big as a shopping mall. There was absolute chaos," Mr Ronai said.

Costa Crociere has denied that it was negligent and has distanced itself from Capt Schettino, firing him in July although he is fighting to get his job back.

Passengers described a confused and delayed evacuation, with many of the lifeboats stuck and unable to be lowered because the boat was listing too far to one side. Some of the 4200 people aboard jumped into the Mediterranean and swam to Giglio, while others had to be plucked from the ship by rescue helicopters hours after the collision.

Capt Schettino has insisted that by guiding the stricken ship into shallower waters near Giglio's port instead of immediately ordering an evacuation he potentially saved lives. He has claimed that another official, not he, was at the helm when the ship struck.
The timeline in the experts' report, however, makes clear that he had assumed command six minutes before the ship struck the reef.

An American lawyer representing more than 150 people in US-based lawsuits against Carnival Corp. said he came from Mississippi to closely follow evidence that could be useful in his cases. Aside from financial compensation for his clients, John Arthur Eaves Jr. said he is pushing for improved standards in the cruise industry.

"There is a consistent pattern of lack of discipline ... and communication problems," he told reporters. "This accident will happen again."

"The sooner we can resolve it, the sooner these victims can get back to rebuilding their lives," Mr Eaves added.

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Credibility on the line in 'town hall' test

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will field questions directly from voters in a "town hall" style debate. Picture: AP Source: AP

THE every-four-years ritual of a national "town hall" style debate began as a nerve-racking experiment in live television.

Moderator Carole Simpson was so nervous about turning over the microphone to regular folks and their questions that she spent days mapping out the presidential candidates and their issues on "a zillion 3-by-5 cards," in case she had to take over the questioning herself.

"I was afraid these undecided voters from Richmond, Virginia, might get into this huge TV studio where they'd be seen by millions of people and they'd just freeze," the former ABC journalist recalls. "I wanted to be prepared."

No need to worry. The voters did fine. That "town hall" 20 years ago was such a hit that there's been one in every presidential election since.

The sixth will bring President Barack Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney to Hofstra University on New York's Long Island on Tuesday night to take questions from undecided voters selected by the Gallup polling company.

Debate coach Brett O'Donnell, who worked with John McCain in 2008 and Mr Romney during this year's primaries, says: "This is the one debate that belongs to the people."

It can be a tricky one for the candidates.

Mr Obama, especially, needs a forceful showing to recover from his leaden performance in the campaign's first debate. But he must tread carefully in an atmosphere more suitable for share-your-pain moments than aggressive attacks.

"You can't have this sort of all-out slugfest at a town hall debate," Mr O'Donnell said, so don't expect the fireworks of last week's Joe Biden-Paul Ryan vice presidential match.

Viewers want the candidates to show respect for those voters in the room, who stand in proxy for all Americans.

"You've got to connect with the person who's asking the question - look them in the eye," said Robert Denton Jr, head of the Communications Department at Virginia Tech. "It's about empathy and connection."

Mr Romney comes to the arena strengthened by his first debate. And the people-first format gives him a unique chance to overcome a persistent weakness: suspicion among some voters that he's too wealthy to relate to the middle class and the poor. But if Mr Romney fails to engage with his questioners, he could reinforce that impression.

That's what happened to President George HW Bush in the first televised town hall debate, a low moment in a failed bid for re-election. That 1992 event at the University of Richmond stands unmatched as an example of the format's risks and rewards.

Mr Bush was thrown by a woman's oddly worded question: How had the national debt personally affected the candidates? He stumbled through a meandering response, asked the woman to clarify and ended up sounding irritated and a bit argumentative: "Are you suggesting that if somebody has means the national debt doesn't affect them?"

Even worse, just as she began her question, TV cameras caught Mr Bush checking his watch.

That gesture would be replayed over and again as evidence that the president was indifferent and out of touch. "I took a huge hit," Mr Bush said years later.

When Democratic challenger Bill Clinton got his shot at the same question, he set the standard for town hall emoting.

Mr Clinton crossed the stage to stand before the woman, locked her in his gaze, and recounted the economic pain he'd personally witnessed as governor of Arkansas. "He just burst through the TV set," Mr Simpson recalls.

How did that town hall come about? Not surprisingly, Mr Bush had resisted the risky new idea. But Mr Clinton pushed it in negotiations with Mr Bush and the Commission on Presidential Debates because his campaign thrived on town hall-style events.

"It's the flesh and blood of America, so I love those things," Mr Clinton later told Jim Lehrer of PBS. "And I loved that one."

Mr Bush told Lehrer he hated debates, period.

Because candidates are free to walk about, town halls are body-language danger zones.

In 2000, Al Gore was ridiculed for striding unnaturally close to George W Bush as his rival spoke. Mr Bush deflected Mr Gore with a surprised look and curt nod, to audience laughter. In 2008, comedians emphasised Mr McCain's age by ridiculing the way he seemed to wander aimlessly about the stage while Mr Obama talked.

Then there are the questions. They tend to be broader and more straightforward than those posed by the old-style panels of journalists or the single moderators favored more recently. But they can be unpredictable. And while debaters often ignore reporters' questions and veer off to some other talking point instead, it's less acceptable to treat a citizen's question that way.

In 2004, President George W Bush took heat for failing to come up with a single mistake when a woman asked him to describe three wrong decisions and how he fixed them.

Town halls have lost some of their spontaneity. The 80 or so undecided voters chosen for Tuesday's event must submit their questions in advance and moderator Candy Crowley of CNN will decide which people to call on. She can pose her own follow-up questions.

In 1992, questions weren't screened in advance. Simpson walked through the audience Oprah-style and a producer signaled which person to talk to next, seeking a good demographic mix. She had no idea what the next person might ask.

"They were not the questions the media had been focusing on," said Simpson, who now teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston. "They were asking about bread-and-butter issues that they were interested in - the education in their schools, the crime in their neighborhoods, the economy and jobs."

"We're still talking about the same things - the deficit, jobs, outsourcing," she said. "We'll probably hear some of the same subjects Tuesday."

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Heads roll after 'unnoticed' border breach

The DMZ between the two Koreas is one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world - but somehow a defector walked across completely undetected. Picture: AP Source: AP

SOUTH Korea's defence minister has apologised for a security lapse that allowed a defecting North Korean soldier to walk unchecked across one of the world's most fortified borders.

At a press conference broadcast live on TV, Kim Kwan-Jin announced that an army division commander and two field commanders had been dismissed from their posts as a result of the incident earlier this month.

"I acknowledge that the North Korean soldier's defection apparently shows the failure of security and flaws in the emergency reporting system," Mr Kim said.

"I sincerely apologise for causing concerns to the people," he added.

The 22-year-old North Korean soldier defected on October 2, making his way through rows of electrified fencing dividing the two Koreas under cover of darkness.

Initially, military officials said he had been picked up by surveillance cameras and guided to safety.

But an investigation found the soldier had crossed completely undetected and resorted to turning himself in at the barracks of a frontline South Korean unit after his knocks on the door of another guard post went unanswered.

The incident, at a time of heightened cross-border tensions, prompted an outcry in the South Korean media, and saw President Lee Myung-Bak censure the defence minister and urge him to punish those responsible.

The defence ministry said it had taken disciplinary measures against five general-grade officers and nine mid-level officers at frontline units and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The commander of the army division guarding the northeastern section of the border and two field commanders under his control were removed from their posts, it said.

Three officers were referred to military prosecutors for court martial, while others will appear before a disciplinary committee.

The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean peninsula between North and South was created after the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Four kilometres wide and 248km long, it is a depopulated no-man's land of heavily-fortified fences, bristling with the landmines and listening posts of two nations that technically remain at war.

Military defections across the land border are rare, but at least three North Korean soldiers have crossed over since August, including one who said he shot dead two superiors in the process.

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'I just wanted to come back alive'

Watch as daredevil Felix Baumgartner plummets from the edge of space and lands safely, breaking the fastest freefall record - and the sound barrier.

DAREDEVIL Felix Baumgartner reached a top speed of 1342km/h, or 1.24 times the speed of sound, in a record-breaking freefall from the edge of space.

The speed, revealed at a press conference  after the unprecedented leap from 39km up, was significantly higher than that given earlier by a spokeswoman, who had put his maximum speed as 1136km/h.

No one has ever reached that speed wearing only a high-tech suit.

The 43-year-old floated down to Earth on a red and white parachute canopy.

Felix Baumgartner celebrates with Art Thompson, Technical Project Director, after successfully jumping from a space capsule lifted by a helium balloon at a height of just over 128,000 feet above the Earth's surface. Baumgartner landed in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes after jumping from his capsule 24 miles (38.6km), above Earth AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

At the press conference, Baumgartner also spoke of some of the problems he encountered during the record-breaking jump, including fogging on his helmet visor, which coud have aborted the mission and a flat spin as he fell.

"When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is to come back alive,'' he said after the jump.

Baumgartner says that traveling faster than sound is "hard to describe because you don't feel it.''

A screen grab from the live YouTube feed of Felix Baumgartner's jump from space.

With no reference points, "you don't know how fast you travel,'' he told reporters.

"Sometimes we have to get really high to see how small we are,'' he said.

Mission control erupted in cheers as Baumgartner made a near-perfect jump from a capsule hoisted aloft by a giant helium-filled balloon to an altitude of around 128,000 feet (39km).

A screen grab from the live YouTube feed of Felix Baumgartner's jump from space.

"Sometimes you have (go) up really high to (realise) how small you are," Baumgartner said shortly before he jumped, watched in live footage beamed around the world.

"I think 20 tons have fallen from my shoulders. I prepared for this for seven years,'' he told German-language ServusTV in Austria in his first interview after the leap.

 Live stream breaks YouTube record

A screen grab from the live YouTube feed of Felix Baumgartner's jump from space.

More than eight million people watched the livestream of Baumgartner's jump on Red Bull's YouTube channel.

The video sharing site posted on its blog that as well as his other records Baumgartner's now held the record for "creating a livestream with the most concurrent views ever on YouTube".

Mashable reported the Austrian diver had already broken an online record before he even jumped with 7.1 million people watching in anticipation of the freefall dive.

Moments after he landed, Red Bull posted this image of Felix Baumgartner on its Facebook page. The image immediately got hundreds of thousand of "likes" and was shared more than 50,000 times. Picture: Red Bull via Facebook

The 'live' online feed of the jump was delayed by 20 seconds in case something happened to daredevil Baumgartner.

Talkback radio in Australia operates on just a seven second delay, which is enough time for producers to cut any caller who makes vulgar or defamatory comments.

It is unclear why the Stratos producers needed the full 20 seconds. One theory doing the rounds is that if Baumgartner got into trouble, it would have been difficult to tell if he was unconscious or just falling in an ungainly manner.

Red Bull Stratos, a mission to the edge of space. This animation shows how Felix Baumgartner will be going up to 120.000 feet in a capsule attached to a helium balloon. Once he's up there he'll jump doing the highest parachute jump ever done by a human.

A few extra seconds would have proved handy in allowing the crew to analyse data from its 30 cameras on the ground, in the capsule and aboard a helicopter.

Fortunately, the mission was a great success so the delay proved to be nothing more than a sensible precaution.

 Minor glitch

Felix Baumgartner of Austria sitting in his trailer during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, USA on October 14, 2012.

Referring to a helmet problem that nearly forced him to abort the mission at the last minute, Baumgartner said: "Even on a day like this when you start so well, then there's a little glitch.

"And you think you'll have to abort -- what if you've prepared everything and it fails on a visor problem. But I finally decided to jump. And it was the right decision.''

He had taken more than two hours to get up to the jump altitude. Baumgartner had already broken one record, before he even leapt: the previous highest altitude for a manned balloon flight was 113,740 feet, set in 1961.

Felix Baumgartner seen onscreen in a screen at mission control center in the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico.

The Austrian had been due to jump from 120,000 feet, but the balloon went higher than expected, to 39 kilometers.

The Red Bull Stratos mission was the second attempt for the skydiver after an initial bid last week was aborted at the last minute due to winds.

Risky ride

As the sun rises, workers prepare at the launch site, ahead of an attempt by Felix Baumgartner to break the speed of sound with his own body. Picture: Ross D. Franklin

The biggest risk Baumgartner faced was spinning out of control, which could exert G forces and make him lose consciousness. A controlled dive from the capsule was essential, putting him in a head-down position to increase speed.

More gruesomely, the skydiver's blood could have boiled if there were the slightest tear or crack in his pressurized spacesuit-like outfit, due to instant depressurisation at the extreme altitude.

Temperatures of minus 68 Celsius could also have had unpredictable consequences if his suit somehow failed.

Felix Baumgartner waves to his ground crew after landing safely following his record-breaking freefall from the stratosphere. Picture: Red Bull

The leap went off flawlessly though there was a minor problem as the capsule ascended: a heater failed on Baumgartner's helmet faceplate, meaning it was becoming fogged up when he exhaled.

After considering the options they decided to go ahead with the jump.

Baumgartner's 100-strong backup team includes retired US Air Force colonel Joe Kittinger, who had held one of the records he was trying to break: the highest freefall jump, which he made from 102,800 feet (31,333 metres) in 1960.

Felix Baumgartner's mother Ava Baumgartner, middle, watches with other family members and friends as his capsule lifts off. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

"Let the guardian angel take care of you," Kittinger told Baumgartner shortly before he leapt into the void.

The giant balloon - which holds 30 million cubic feet of helium - is needed to carry the Red Bull Stratos capsule to the stratosphere.

It is made of near transparent polyethylene strips even thinner than a dry cleaner bag, which are heat-sealed together. Very thin material is necessary to save weight.

The capsule and attached helium balloon which will carry Felix Baumgartner to the edge of space. Picture: Ross D. Franklin

The Austrian has been training for five years for the jump. He holds several previous records, notably with spectacular base jumps from the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The jump was a hit on social media, with Twitter, YouTube and Facebook going into overdrive.

Here's a look at how the world, through the Internet, watched the jump.

Felix Baumgartner, of Austria, waves to the crowd after successfully jumping from a space capsule. Baumgartner landed in the eastern New Mexico desert minutes after jumping from his capsule 24 miles (38.6km), above Earth AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

YOUTUBE: As Baumgartner ascended in the balloon, so did the number of viewers watching YouTube's live stream of the event.

Its popularity grew as the moment of the jump drew closer, as people kept sharing links with each other on Twitter and Facebook and websites embedded the stream.

Nearly 7.3 million viewers were watching as Baumgartner sat on the edge of the capsule, moments before the jump.

Viral sensation puts Lego Felix up into space ready for free-fall. Vision: Stratos Jump

In the United States, the opportunity to watch the jump on TV was limited to the Discovery Channel, though more than 40 television networks in 50 total countries carried the live feed, organizers said. It was streamed by more than 130 digital outlets.

FACEBOOK: After Baumgartner landed, sponsor Red Bull posted a picture of the daredevil on his knees to Facebook.

In less than 40 minutes, the picture was shared more than 29,000 times and generated nearly 216,000 likes and more than 10,000 comments. Immediately after the jump, Red Bull solicited questions for Baumgartner through Facebook and Twitter, promising to answer three at a post-jump news conference.

TWITTER: During the jump and the moments after Baumgartner safely landed, half the worldwide trending topics on Twitter had something to do with the jump - pushing past tweets about Justin Bieber and seven National Football League games being played at the same time. Celebrities of all kinds weighed in, including athletes, actors and high-profile corporate executives.

``It's pretty amazing that I can watch, live on my computer, a man riding a balloon to the edge of space so he can jump out of it. #TheFuture,'' tweeted Wil Wheaton, who acted in the iconic science-fiction series Star Trek: The Next Generation.'

``Felix Baumgartner is a boss,'' tweeted Jozy Altidore, a soccer player for the U.S. men's national team.

REDDIT: Two threads related to the jump made the front page of Reddit.

Users quickly upvoted a request for Baumgartner to participate in an ``Ask Me Anything'' on the site, where users pepper someone on the site with questions about anything they want.

President Barack Obama held court as the subject of a similar thread in August.

Nearly 29,000 users weighed in on a separate thread about the jump itself, voting it up and down and robustly commenting.

Speaking before the launch, Baumgartner said he would be proud to be the first person to break the speed of sound in freefall.

"But really, I know that part of this entire experience will help make the next pressure suit safer for space tourists and aviators," the jumper pointed out.

The launch coincided with the 65th anniversary of American pilot Chuck Yeager breaking the speed of sound.

 Austrian leaders were quick to congratulate Baumgartner .

"I warmly congratulate Felix Baumgartner on this great success, which was achieved with courage and perseverance and is finding worldwide attention,'' President Heinz Fischer reacted on his Facebook page almost immediately after Baumgartner had landed safely in New Mexico.

"Austria is proud of your accomplishment,'' he added.

Chancellor Werner Faymann also hailed the achievement in a statement.

"His jump from a height of around 39 kilometres was a fascinating event for millions of people worldwide,'' Faymann said.

"But I'm first and foremost happy everything went well.

"I congratulate Felix Baumgartner and his team for this impressive achievement. Together they went to the boundaries of human possibility and of physics.''

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Pizza Hut rethinks election sausage stunt

Pizza Hut has rethought a marketing campaign bribing voters to ask questions about pizza topping to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Picture: AP Source: AP

PIZZA Hut is rethinking its contest daring people to ask "Sausage or Pepperoni?" at the next presidential debate.

After the stunt triggered backlash last week, the company says it's moving the promotion online, where a contestant will be randomly selected to win free pizza for life.

The pizza delivery chain had offered the prize - a pie a week for 30 years or a check for $US15,600 ($15,238) - to anyone who posed the question to either President Barack Obama or Republican candidate Mitt Romney during the live Town Hall-style debate.

But blogs and media outlets immediately took the pizza delivery chain to task for trying to capitalise on the election buzz by injecting itself into the process.

A Pizza Hut spokesman says in an email that moving the contest online was a "natural progression of the campaign" after people got excited about the idea and "wished they could get in on it." Contestants must enter their email addresses on the site to be eligible.

The change comes after Pizza Hut's stunt became the butt of jokes last week.

In a segment on Comedy Central's Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert asked, "What could be more American than using our electoral process for product placement?"

Colbert said the prize for a free Pizza Hut pie every week meant that "if you eat one of their pizzas every week, you will die in 30 years."

The blog Gawker wrote about the stunt under the headline, "Want Free Pizza Hut Pizza for Life? Just Make a Mockery of the American Democratic System on Live TV." The site wrote that all the contestant had to do was "embarrass themselves on live television before the President of the United States and millions of their fellow Americans."

As TV audiences become increasingly resistant to traditional commercials, marketers have been looking for new ways to engage viewers. The presidential election presents a rare opportunity, with more Americans tuning in to the debates.

Earlier this month, an estimated 67.2 million people watched the first debate between Mr Obama and Mr Romney. That made it the largest TV audience for a presidential debate since 1992, according to Nielsen's ratings service.

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9/11 mastermind back in court

A court sketch of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reading a document during a hearing in May. Source: AP

FIVE Guantanamo prisoners charged in the September 11 attacks are back before a military tribunal, apparently forgoing the protest that turned their last appearance into an unruly 13-hour spectacle.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has portrayed himself as the mastermind behind the worst terrorist attack on US soil, and his four co-defendants sat quietly at the defence tables under the watchful eyes of military guards. Defendant Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi calmly responded to the judge's questions about his request for additional legal counsel.

It was a stark contrast to their arraignment in May on charges that include terrorism and murder. At that earlier session, one prisoner was briefly restrained, the men refused to listen to the court translation system headphones, they ignored the judge and two stood up to pray at one point.

The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, started the pre-trial hearing that is expected to last a week to consider about two dozen preliminary legal issues required to move the case toward an eventual trial, likely at least a year away.

The main items on the week's agenda are broad security rules for the war crimes tribunal of five Guantanamo prisoners charged in the September 11 attacks, including measures to prevent the accused from publicly revealing what happened to them in the CIA's secret network of overseas prisons.

Prosecutors have asked the judge to approve what is known as a protective order that is intended to prevent the release of classified information during the eventual trial of the five.

This photo obtained on March 1, 2003 shows alleged plotter of the September 11, 2001 attack Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Picture: AFP

Lawyers for the defendants say the rules, as proposed, will hobble their defence. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a challenge to the protective order, says the restrictions will prevent the public from learning what happened to Mohammed and his co-defendants during several years of CIA confinement and interrogation.

The protective order requires the court to use a 40-second delay during court proceedings so that spectators, who watch behind sound-proof glass, can be prevented from hearing - from officials, lawyers or the defendants themselves - the still-classified details of the CIA's rendition and detention program.

"What we are challenging is the censorship of the defendant's testimony based on their personal knowledge of the government's torture and detention of them," said Hina Shamsi, an ACLU attorney who will be arguing against the protective order during the pre-trial hearing at the US base in Cuba.

The order, which is also being challenged by a coalition of media organisations that includes The Associated Press, is overly broad because it would "classify the defendants own knowledge, thoughts and experience," Ms Shamsi said in an interview.

"It's a truly extraordinary and chilling proposal that the government is asking the court to accept," she said.

The military hearing is taking place at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Picture: AP.

Protective orders are standard method in civilian and military trials to set rules for handling evidence for the prosecution and defence. Military prosecutors argue in court papers that the Sept. 11 trial requires additional security because the accused have personal knowledge of classified information such as interrogation techniques and knowledge about which other countries provided assistance in their capture.

"Each of the accused is in the unique position of having had access to classified intelligence sources and methods," the prosecution says in court papers. "The government, like the defence, must protect that classified information from disclosure."

Army Brigadier General Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the military commissions, said on Sunday that the security precautions are necessary to prevent the release information that could harm US intelligence operations or personnel around the world, and not to prevent embarrassing the government or to cover-up wrongdoing.

"Our government's sources and methods are not an open book," Brig-Gen Martins said.

The US government has acknowledged that before the defendants were taken to Guantanamo in September 2006 they were subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as the simulated drowning method known as water-boarding. Defence attorneys say the treatment will be used to form the basis of their defence but the proposed protective order limits their ability to make that case in court and in public advocacy on behalf of their clients.

"It's a way in which the government can hide what it did to these men during the period of detention by the CIA," said Army Captain Jason Wright, a Pentagon-appointed attorney for Mohammed. "I think we need to bring the truth to the light of day on these issues."

The judge's approval of the protective order, which may not happen this week, must occur before the September 11 case can move forward. Defence lawyers cannot begin to review classified evidence against their clients until it is in place.

The protective order is the most contentious of about two dozen preliminary motions scheduled to be heard during the hearing. Other matters include whether the defendants can be required to attend court sessions, what clothing they are allowed to wear and defence requests for additional resources for what is considered one of the most significant terrorism prosecutions in US history.

The families of people killed in the September 11 attacks have been invited to military installations in the US states of New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York City to watch the pre-trial hearings. The general public can view the proceedings at Fort Meade, Maryland.

An earlier round of hearings in May was also transmitted to viewing locations for relatives of the victims, survivors of the attacks, and emergency personnel who responded to the disaster.

Mohammed and his four co-defendants are being prosecuted in a special military tribunal for war-time offenses known as a military commission. They were arraigned May 5 on charges that include terrorism, conspiracy and 2976 counts of murder in violation of the law of war, one count for each known victim of the September 11 attacks at the time the charges were filed. They could get the death penalty if convicted.

Mohammed, a Pakistani citizen who grew up in Kuwait and attended college in North Carolina, has told military officials that he planned the September 11 attacks "from A to Z" and was involved in about 30 other terrorist plots. He has said, among other things, that he personally beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The other defendants are Ramzi Binalshibh; Walid bin Attash; Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi; and Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali.

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