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A roundup of the latest high-tech news from The Associated Press:

China shuts down hacker training operation

BEIJING — Police in central China have shut down a hacker training operation that openly recruited thousands of members online and provided them with cyberattack lessons and malicious software, state media said Monday.

The crackdown comes amid growing concern that China is a center for a global explosion of Internet crimes. Search giant Google said last month its e-mail accounts were hacked from China in an assault that also hit at least 20 other companies.

Police in Hubei province arrested three people suspected of running the hacker site known as the Black Hawk Safety Net that disseminated Web site hacking techniques and Trojan software, the China Daily newspaper said. Trojans, which can allow outside access to a computer when implanted, are used by hackers to illegally control computers.

Black Hawk Safety Net recruited more than 12,000 paying subscribers and collected more than 7 million yuan ($1 million) in membership fees, while another 170,000 people had signed up for free membership, the paper said.
The report said police seized nine servers, five computers and a car, and shut down all Web sites involved in the case. Authorities also froze 1.7 million yuan ($250,000) in assets.

The Hubei government refused to comment Monday while officials at the provincial public security bureau were not immediately available.
Google threatened last month to pull out of China unless the government relented on censorship, an ultimatum that came after the search giant said it had uncovered a computer attack that tried to plunder its software coding and the e-mail accounts of human rights activists protesting Chinese policies.

Government officials have defended China’s online censorship and denied involvement in Internet attacks, saying the country is the biggest victim of Web attacks. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said hackers tampered with more than 42,000 Web sites last year.

 

• PayPal suspends service in India

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The online payments service PayPal has taken the unusual step of suspending many transactions in India for more than a week.

A spokesman for the service said Saturday that "personal payments" to and from India are being blocked. Transfers to banks in India are being suspended as well.

The spokesman, Anuj Nayar, said PayPal is taking the step while it answers questions that have arisen about the service. He declined to elaborate.
Nayar said the suspensions began Jan. 28. He wrote in a blog post that PayPal, which is owned by eBay Inc., hopes "to resolve the situation as quickly as possible."

• Court bars Pratt & Whitney from moving jobs

HARTFORD, Conn. – A federal U.S. judge ordered jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney to halt its plans to move 1,000 jobs out of Connecticut and to Japan, Singapore and the state of Georgia.

U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall in Bridgeport issued a permanent injunction, stopping the company’s plans to shift the jobs.

The judge strongly criticized the subsidiary of United Technologies Corp., saying it evaded the spirit of its union contract requiring it to make every effort to keep the jobs in the state.

The union, which represents about 3,700 workers, hailed the decision. In its lawsuit, the union accused Pratt & Whitney of failing to comply with the contract that required it to do everything possible to preserve the jobs.

"This is a full win for the union," said James Parent, chief negotiator for the Machinists local.

Pratt & Whitney, reeling from a downturn in the aerospace industry, announced in September plans to shut its engine overhaul and repair plant in Cheshire by early 2011 and shift repair operations from its East Hartford facility beginning in the second quarter of this year.

Greg Brostowicz, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, said in an e-mailed statement that the company will consider all its options, including a possible appeal.

"We believe we upheld our contractual obligations to act in good faith and made every reasonable effort to keep this work in Connecticut," he said. "The fact remains that we face a declining aerospace market, a shifting customer base and a significant and permanent volume drop at these two facilities."

Hall said in her decision that Pratt’s actions were not taken out of a "mistaken view" of what the contract required.

"To the contrary, Pratt understood its obligations, but decisively attempted to evade them," she said.

• Utah startup looks to compressed air for wind power

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah company plans to dig a series of underground caverns that it hopes to one day fill with compressed air, releasing it to generate electricity by turning a turbine and solving one of the most vexing problems facing the clean-energy industry — how to store power.

Under a barren patch of Utah desert, a private-equity group is bankrolling the project to hollow out a series of energy-storage vaults from a massive salt deposit a mile underground. It promises to make a perfect repository for storing energy and, in effect, creating a giant subterranean battery.

Energy storage is catching on as a way to make wind and solar power more useful.

Without energy storage, the output of solar and wind power is so erratic — the wind doesn’t always blow; cloud cover can shut down solar cells — that utilities can take only so much of it, said Jim Ferland, senior vice president for operations for PNM Resources, the New Mexico utility.

If renewable power makes up too big a part of a utility’s energy mix, it can make the delicate act of balancing loads on a power grid difficult. The lack of storage is one of the things holding back clean energy, say scientists for Sandia National Laboratories’ energy systems group in Albuquerque, N.M.

“Storage is the key here,” said Charlie Hanley, manager of Sandia’s photovoltaic and grid integration group. “We have to find a way to overcome intermittent swings from cloud cover.”

The only commercial-scale, compressed air power plants are in McIntosh, Ala., and Bremen, Germany. Other projects are under development in Norton, Ohio, and Ankeny, Iowa.

Initially, because of market needs, Salt Lake City-based Magnum Energy LLC will store natural gas for Rocky Mountain producers, taking it from a nearby interstate pipeline, in an “energy hub” near Delta, Utah. It hopes to start dissolving the first cavern within a year.

Later, the company is looking to dig other caverns at the site for compressed air, which could store excess energy generated by a nearby wind farm and then release it later when demand is high to turn turbines and create electricity, and possibly for carbon storage, which could trap a neighboring coal-fired power plant’s emissions.

Still other caverns could be devoted to liquid petroleum; yet another pipeline for liquid fuels, passing through the same part of Utah, is close to receiving federal approval.

The company filed for federal approval in December to build its versatile “energy hub.”

A futuristic type of energy storage could involve putting the battery capacity of plug-in electric vehicles to work for the electric grid. It could take extra power from vehicles when needed, while ensuring a vehicle is properly charged overnight, said Daniel Laird, a researcher for Sandia’s wind energy technology group.