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How to Keep Your Connected Devices Safe from Hackers


Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The "Internet of Things" -- the name for the ecosystem of smart devices that can communicate with owners -- are hot holiday gifts this year, but they're also prime targets for hackers.

There's a lot to love about a light bulb that can warn you when it needs to be changed, a thermostat that can be controlled from anywhere or a speaker that can listen to your commands.

Here's the bad news: An estimated 70 percent of "Internet of Things" items contain major vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers, according to a report released in July by Hewlett Packard's Fortify on Demand.

Before plugging in any connected item, Robert Siciliano, a McAfee identity theft expert, said users need to make sure their main devices are secure.

That means updated anti-virus and anti-phishing software, running a sweep using spyware and making sure the device has all of the latest patches and updates.

It's key the main device has a clean bill of health before a new peripheral device is plugged in, according to Siciliano.

"These devices could all be infected already out of the box," he said.

Once the devices are plugged in, Siciliano recommends conducting an anti-virus scan to see if there are any issues.

Another pro tip: When using a wireless connection, make sure it's secure.

"If you're functioning in a wireless environment that isn’t properly protected then bad guys can get in through the actual device you just connected," Siciliano said.

Perhaps one of the most alarming examples of this from 2014 was a Russian website that posted live streams of unsecured web cams in more than 100 countries online for anyone to watch.

The site showed everything from babies sleeping and people relaxing in their living rooms to home exteriors and closed circuit cameras in businesses.

The biggest lesson here: Never use the default user name and password for a device.

"Any external peripheral that you have the ability to change the default password, do so," Siciliano said.

He also advises consumers to register their devices with the manufacturer and to hold onto the box for at least three to six months in case their are any issues.

It's expected the "Internet of Things" will swell to as many as 26 billion devices by 2020, according to a forecast by Gartner, a technology research firm, making it more important than ever for users to be smart about their security.

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Former American Apparel CEO Dov Charney Terminated from Company


Photo by Johannes Kroemer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Dov Charney, the founder of American Apparel who had previously been suspended for alleged misconduct before being hired as a consultant, has been terminated, the company said Tuesday.

American Apparel's Board of Directors announced that Charney was terminated "for cause" and that veteran fashion executive Paula Schneider will take the role of chief executive officer. She will be the first female CEO in the company's history.

Scott Brubaker, who has been serving as the company's interim CEO, will continue in that role until Schneider joins the company and takes on that title on Jan. 5, 2015.

Charney was suspended on June 18, 2014, for "alleged misconduct and violations of company policy." Charney agreed to an internal investigation of the allegations against him, and that investigation allowed a special committee to deem it inappropriate for Charney to be reinstated as CEO. His relationship with the company as a consultant was also terminated.

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Energy Dept. Predicts Household Gasoline Expenditures to Be Lowest in 11 Years in 2015


nikitos77/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects next year's household gasoline expenditures to be the lowest in 11 years.

According to a report published by the EIA on Tuesday, the average household in the U.S. is expected to spend about $1,962 on gasoline in 2015, down about $550 from 2014. This is partly due to the continued falling price of gasoline.

The EIA's weekly report indicated that gasoline costs an average of $2.55 per gallon as of Monday, down $1.16 from late April 2014. That figure is also the lowest since October 2009.

The EIA notes that the dropping price of gas is also aided by the increased fuel economy of many cars and trucks, which travel further per gallon of gas.

The EIA says that gasoline expenditures represent about five percent of household expenditures, based on data from recent years.

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Apple Halts Online Sales in Russia Due to 'Extreme Fluctuations' in Value of Ruble


ABC News(MOSCOW) -- Apple has temporarily closed its online store in Russia, citing "extreme fluctuations in the value of the [ruble]" for the decision.

The Russian currency fell abruptly Tuesday, part of a year-long decline, despite action taken by the Russian central bank to attempt to stem the tide. On Dec. 16, 2013, 32.90 rubles was worth about one dollar, according to S&P Capital IQ. On Tuesday, that figure was closer to 72 rubles per dollar.

Apple released a statement Tuesday, saying that "due to extreme fluctuations in the value of the [ruble], our online store in Russia is currently unavailable while we review pricing." Apple did apologize for the inconvenience.

Russia's central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to try to slow the ruble's slide, but to no avail.

Analysts attribute the ruble's freefall to a number of factors, including a decline in oil prices, which is one of Russia's top commodities.

Briefly, anyone trying to access Apple's online store for Russia received an error message, which said that the company was "updating the Apple Store for you and will be back soon." Later on Tuesday, the website was restored, while the purchase page brought up the same error message.

 

Apple's Russian website is "updating" ... price hike coming after ruble's fall? pic.twitter.com/h2hNJw3fgR

— Kirit Radia (@KiritRadia) December 16, 2014

 

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More Losses on Wall Street, Russian Ruble Continues to Lose Value


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Wall Street experienced yet another day of losses in a month that has been full of them on Tuesday, with all three major indices finishing the day below their opening positions.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 111.97, closing at 17,068.87.

The Nasdaq ended the session at 4,547.83, down 57.33, while the S&P 500 closed down 16.88, at 1,972.75.

The value of the Russian ruble continued to fall Tuesday, with Secretary of State John Kerry denying a link to sanctions levied against Russia. Russia's central bank raised interest rates Tuesday morning in an effort to stop the freefall, but the move has done little to stem the tide.

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Instagram Update Includes Five New Filters


Instagram(NEW YORK) -- Instagram delivered the ultimate holiday gift Tuesday to its users: five new filters.

Meet Slumber, Crema, Ludwig, Aden and Perpetua. They sound like characters from The Hunger Games, but are actually the names of Instagram's new filters.

The company rarely rolls out new filters -- the last rollout was in 2012 -- so it makes Tuesday extra special for the photo sharing app's 300 million monthly users.

Instagram iOS 6.4.0 can be found in the App Store and version 6.12.0 in the Google Play Store. The new filters are in addition to the existing selection.

Instagram is also giving users control of their filters, allowing them to re-arrange the order or hide the ones they never use.

After downloading the update, this feature can be activated by swiping right to the end of the filters and then clicking "manage."

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Seven Items Now Cheaper than Falling Price of Gasoline


Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Gasoline has fallen below $2 a gallon at some stations in the country, as the price of oil plummets globally. Now, a Starbucks Frappuccino drink is more expensive than a gallon of gas.

"This is getting downright wild," GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan told ABC News. "We keep sliding, and there’s no end in sight."

The average cost for a gallon of regular is $2.55, down about 69 cents from a year ago and 13 cents from a week ago, according to the Energy Department's weekly price report released on Monday. Gas peaked at over $4 a gallon just a few years ago in 2008.

In 36 states, gas is at least $1 a gallon lower than six months ago on June 16, according to GasBuddy.

Here are seven items that may be pricier than the average cost of a gallon of regular gas in the U.S., from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' average price data in its consumer price index for October (CPI data for November will be released Wednesday morning) and online menu price estimates for fast food chains:

  1. Starbucks Tall Coffee Frappuccino: about $2.95
  2. Burger King Whopper: about $3.49
  3. Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich: about $2.99
  4. Orange juice, frozen concentrate 12 oz. can: $2.61
  5. 100 percent ground roast coffee per pound: $5.03
  6. 100 percent ground chuck beef per pound: $4.29
  7. Whole milk, fresh and fortified, per gallon: $3.77

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The Reasons Behind Russian Ruble's Rampant Decline


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Russian ruble's abrupt fall on Tuesday is part of a year-long drop by more than half the value of the currency.

Back in Dec. 16, 2013, one ruble was worth about 3 cents, according to S&P Capital IQ. In reverse, a dollar was worth about 32.90 rubles back then. Fast forward to Tuesday, when it fell as much as 20 percent before recovering to 72 for every dollar.

The rampant decline of the ruble is the result of many different variables, according to Lindsey Piegza, Sterne Agee's chief economist, including a fall in oil prices, one of the country's major commodities.

The flood of rubles out of the country, as Russian businesses and consumers try to buy foreign imports that are getting more expensive by the day, has led to a fall in the currency, especially compared to the dollar and euro. With Russian confidence in their economy faltering, the ability to buy things with the ruble becomes more tenuous.

Overnight, the country's central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to try to slow the ruble's slide, hoping Russians would keep their rubles in bank deposits for example, with a higher return on their money.

But the plan only worked momentarily.

Declining oil prices and several rounds of sanctions that harm investors and businesses are among the drivers of the ruble's fall, Piegza says.

Domestic policy hasn't helped either. The Russian government threatening the seizure of foreign-owned assets is cause for concern and has caused a lack of confidence in the country's ability to rebound, resulting in billions in loans coming due rather than being renewed, Piegza says.

"Clearly foreign investors are concerned, in some cases pulling funds out of the troubled nation," she said.

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Apple Wins iPod Class-Action Antitrust Lawsuit


Apple, Inc.(NEW YORK) -- Apple has been found not liable in a decade-old class-action lawsuit alleging the company engaged in anti-competitive behavior by blocking songs sold by competing music stores from playing on its iPod music player.

The legal drama that played out over the course of a decade went to trial earlier this month. It was decided in a matter of hours by a California jury.

The plaintiffs claimed that Apple would only allow music bought from its iTunes store to play on iPods, requiring customers to keep buying iPods in order to keep their music.

The jury found that iTunes 7.0 was a genuine product improvement, according to the Wall Street Journal, meaning that Apple did not violate any anti-trust laws.

Herbert Hovenkamp, a professor at the University of Iowa and an expert in anti-trust law, told ABC News previous case law supports companies that make "an actual improvement" from antitrust violations, even if it makes some other products incompatible.

"The burden is on the plaintiff. They have to really prove it is not a legitimate innovation," he said. "The decks are kind of stacked against the plaintiff if there is evidence customers liked the change and demand went up."

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Rihanna Named Creative Director of Puma


Eric McCandless/CBS(NEW YORK) -- When it comes to fashion, Rihanna is known for her daring red carpet looks, but she's just accepted a position with a company best known for more casual clothing.

Women's Wear Daily
reports Rihanna has been named creative director of Puma, and will be overseeing the women's line for the sporting goods company, including shoes and apparel.

The Grammy-winning star was in Germany Monday for her first creative session with the Puma design team, where she chose colors and styles and discussed the line's overall direction.

As WWD reports, Puma says Rihanna's deal is a multi-year partnership, and that the singer's role will involve working with Puma to "design and customize classic Puma styles as well as create new styles to add to the Puma product portfolio."

Rihanna will also be the company's global brand ambassador, and star in its ad campaign for fall 2015. 

In a statement, Puma's CEO said of the singer, "Her global profile, her charisma and individuality, her ambition -- all these things make her a perfect ambassador for our brand...Rihanna was a natural choice for us. We’re delighted to have her as a partner, and we’re looking forward to what’s to come.”

Rihanna posted a photo of herself signing with the company. "On the dotted line. #PUMA" reads the caption.

Rihanna, the winner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Fashion Icon Award, has also created a clothing line for the British label River Island, and a cosmetics collection for MAC.

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McDonald's to Ration French Fries in Japan over Potato Shortage


McDonald's(NEW YORK) -- McDonald's restaurants in Japan will begin rationing their French fries beginning Wednesday, eliminating the menu option for large fries, due to a potato shortage, a spokeswoman for the fast food chain confirmed to ABC News.

A labor dispute is apparently delaying American potato shipments at American West Coast ports, thereby limiting supplies in Japan. Labor disputes have resulted in protests in ports in California and the Pacific Northwest over the past couple years.

Becca Hary, McDonald's Corporation's director of global media relations, told ABC News in a statement, "Due to prolonged U.S. West Coast port labor negotiations which have resulted in challenges securing a stable supply of potatoes to McDonald’s Japan beginning Wednesday, December 17, 2014, only small size fries will be available in our restaurants in Japan. This will also apply to our set meals, and will include price reductions accordingly."

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said Monday that it is waiting for the Pacific Maritime Association to respond to its comments on the latest offer from West Coast port employers.

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Russian Ruble: This Is Its Free-Fall in One Chart


The drop of the ruble, or rouble, shown through the Morgan Stanley Trade Weighted Index over the last year, is the steepest in 16 years. (Bloomberg)(NEW YORK) — The Russian ruble has dropped to its lowest point in 16 years -- and has been in free-fall for some time as this chart shows.

The ruble, or the rouble, fell 20 percent Tuesday, its biggest intra-day fall since 1998, the time of the Russian financial crisis.

Overnight, the country's central bank raised its benchmark interest rate to try to slow the ruble's slide to no avail.

 

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Traveling Is Yet One More Holiday Tradition


Fuse/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Will you be home for Christmas? How about Hanukkah?

The Jewish festival of lights kicks off Wednesday and with Christmas a week from Thursday, a lot of folks are preparing to head out to be with family or friends or maybe just escape to a vacation destination.

Although most plan to stick around, TripAdvisor says that one in three Americans will do some form of traveling over the next couple of weeks.

Of those on the roads or in the air, 72 percent have Christmas plans while another 42 percent will travel for New Year's Eve celebrations.

The Hanukkah travelers account for about four percent of Americans spending their holiday elsewhere.

TripAdvisor say that 27 percent of all travelers plan to see family with three-quarters offered accommodations by their relatives. The rest plan to stay in a hotel.

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Gas Prices Continue to Drop, Down 12 Cents from Last Weeks


FeelPic/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Gas prices are down again around the country, with the average gallon costing about 12 cents less than last week.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Monday that the national average price of a gallon is just $2.55. The average price in each of the nine states the EIA measures was under $3 this week.

Gas remains the most expensive on the West Coast, where the average gallon costs $2.83, while gas on the Gulf Coast costs just $2.33, on average.

Nationally, the price of gas is down 69 cents from last year at this time.

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Wall Street Down Again as Oil Prices Continue to Drop


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A difficult December for Wall Street continued on Monday with all three major indices finishing the session in the red.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at 17,180.84, down 99.99.

The Nasdaq dropped 48.44 to 4,605.16, while the S&P 500 slipped 12.7 to 1,989.63.

The price of oil continued to drop on Monday, having fallen more than 40 percent since June. Energy analyst Phil Flynn said the drop in prices is beginning to weigh "not only on the stock market, but [on] the growth of the U.S. economy."

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