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

• Corporations, agencies infiltrated by ‘botnet’

SAN FRANCISCO — Security experts have found a network of 74,000 virus-infected computers that stole information from inside corporations and government agencies. The unusual thing about the incident is not that it happened but that it was discovered, and it is a reminder of the dangers of having computers with sensitive data connected to the open Internet.

More than 2,400 organizations, including financial institutions and energy companies and federal agencies, were infiltrated by the "botnet," according to the security firm, which discovered it.


NetWitness didn’t name the companies or agencies whose computers were compromised. The Wall Street Journal said the affected companies included Merck & Co., Cardinal Health Inc., Paramount Pictures and Juniper Networks Inc. Merck and Cardinal Health said in statements Thursday that one computer in each company was among those in the botnet but no sensitive information was taken. The other two companies didn’t return messages from The Associated Press seeking comment Thursday.

The victims don’t appear to have been specifically targeted, unlike the recent computer attacks on Google Inc. that prompted the Internet search leader to threaten to pull its business out of China. That’s an important distinction, because it shows how online secrets can fall into the wrong hands even when criminals aren’t necessarily looking for them.

"This kind of stuff is out there and it’s pervasive," said Amit Yoran, CEO of NetWitness and former cybersecurity chief at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Parts of the botnet discovered by his firm likely are still active. He said the network appears to be run from computers in Eastern Europe and China, but it’s not certain the perpetrators are there.

Botnets are networks of poisoned PCs that are remotely controlled by hackers and behave like their criminal robots. The PCs are often infected when their owners visit bad Web sites or open malicious e-mail attachments.

• Yahoo-Microsoft deal set, taking aim at Google

SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. and European regulators have cleared the long-discussed Internet search partnership between Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc., enabling the rivals to form a tag team as they try to mount a more serious challenge to Google Inc.

The government approvals announced Thursday anointed an alliance that Microsoft and Yahoo proposed nearly seven months ago after years of flirtation and often contentious negotiations.

Microsoft first approached Yahoo about working together in late 2006 and again in 2007. In 2008, Microsoft launched a hostile bid to buy Yahoo in its entirety, only to withdraw the $47.5 billion offer in exasperation.

Yahoo now plans to rely on Microsoft’s search technology in an attempt to boost its sagging profits. Yahoo’s stock has been slumping since Microsoft took away its last offer of $33 per share in May 2008. The stock ended up 10 cents at $15.54 Thursday.

Microsoft is counting on the 10-year deal with Yahoo to provide more muscle as it tries to counter Google’s domination of the lucrative Internet search market. The companies make money by charging advertisers to pay to have their links appear when people search for certain terms.

Allowing Microsoft and Yahoo to join forces should spur "greater competitive pressures in the marketplace," the Justice Department predicted in a statement.

To start, Yahoo will get $150 million from Microsoft to help offset its expenses for the transition to a new technology. The payments will be made in installments, with the first checks due before April.

Microsoft will also take on about 400 of Yahoo’s 13,900 employees, with the first transfers expected to take place this year.

• Judge expresses some doubts about Google deal

NEW YORK — A judge Thursday questioned whether Google and lawyers for authors and publishers went too far when they struck a deal that would let the gigantic search engine make money presiding over the world’s largest digital library.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin put lawyers who reached the $125 million settlement on the defensive as he presided over a fairness hearing in a packed Manhattan courtroom where opponents of the agreement spent several hours urging him to reject it or demand changes. He did not immediately rule.

When the lawyers who completed revisions on the deal in the fall took their turn to speak, Chin questioned why the settlement gave Google publishing rights well into the future rather than merely rectifying any harm that led authors and publishers to sue it five years ago.

"Usually it’s a release of claims based on what’s happened in the past. Usually you don’t have a release of claims based on future conduct. Why is this case different?" Chin asked Michael J. Boni, a lawyer for authors.

Boni agreed that the case was unusual but insisted the deal was fair despite objections by Google rivals, consumer watchdogs, academic experts, literary agents and even foreign governments.

The judge said it seemed akin to a settlement in a discrimination action containing wording that says: "I’m releasing you now from discriminating against me in the future."

He also seemed to take the side of some of Google’s stiffest critics, including the U.S. Department of Justice, when he noted that many of those protesting the deal would disappear if the company was required to get agreements from authors before letting their works be used.

As the deal stands, Google would be able to use so-called "orphan works" — out-of-print books whose writers’ could not be located — and the works of other authors who declined to opt-out of the agreement after learning about it.

"I would surmise that Google wants the orphan books and that’s what this is about," Chin said.