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Showing posts from November, 2002
A Matter of Trust

I’m going to present you with an argument. You may not agree with it but I believe that its time to take a fresh look at the ideological battle raging between two well-entrenched armies, the Open Source community and Microsoft.

Most of us, have at one time read ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. A few of us may also remember why the Lilliputians were at war and had been as long as anyone could remember. It was the result of an argument over which end of a boiled-egg, should be opened and eaten first, the big end or the small end?

For over three years, I have been closely watching the progress of the Open Source software movement and Microsoft’s reaction to its challenge. Most of the time, it’s like watching two large dogs barking at each other on opposite sides of the same fence. There’s a great deal of noise but very little in the way of useful, sensible debate, the kind of thing which allows an IT Director to consider the many different arguments in a single, well-reasoned pa…
A Job for Mr Bond - James Bond

At a guess, it took under ninety seconds to locate the minutes of the meeting of the Whitehall PMC (Private Military Companies – Mercenaries) Group of 16th November 1999. Now while the government is keen that the address of the US-based Web site hosting such sensitive and in fact, classified information isn’t published, I have to wonder whether there is any point hiding the address from the general public in this country, when Al Qaeda of anyone else, come to that, could find it as easily as I can and with it, the names and telephone numbers of the many intelligence agencies personnel involved.

What interests me about this document, which has now slipped into the public domain, isn’t so much how, in 1999, we were worrying about mercenaries in Africa but rather how the information technology on which government relied was almost as big a problem as the danger it was attempting to address. “There was a failure of joined-up government; Departments were not p…
Vanilla Skies

At the end of last week, I had my Blackberry replaced. And before you raise your eyebrows, it’s the wireless PDA from Research in Motion (RIM). I’ve had one for months now, a handy GPRS device, which mixes the look and feel of a Palm Pilot with an always-on email and SMS communicator. In fact, if they could lose the fiddly keyboard and add pen-input, then it would be almost perfect.

My latest toy, the Blackberry 6720 also adds a telephone feature and WAP browsing. The latter of course most of us will dismiss with a disgusted shrug, WAP is after all ‘crap’ but packing a mobile phone into the 6720 delivers the Holy Grail of a fully integrated communications device, one that synchronises with Outlook on my desktop, delivers my email when I’m in the bath, makes my GPRS capable Ericsson phone redundant and frees me from having to wear a jacket with a large enough pocket to keep my Compaq IPAQ in.

OK, I hear you say, he’s got another gadget and it doesn’t take digital photos or…
A Job for the Boys in Blue

There’s a good view of the Millenium Dome from the office of Detective Chief Superintendent Len Hynds, the head of the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU). Len’s preparing for the UK’s first ‘e-Crime Congress’, next month in London and between the two of us, we were wondering what the future held for the enormous dirty white tent outside his window.

Two weeks ago, I commented on how the NHTCU, through ‘Operation Sidewalk’, had been instrumental in tracking down ‘Solo’, one of our better hackers, who had been busily creating havoc on the other side of the Atlantic, safe he thought, from an early morning knock on the door from the boys in blue. Len however pointed out that while his unit played an active role in the investigation and has been attracting media attention around a successful effort to capture net-based paedophiles, the NHTCU’s true remit is “to combat serious and organized hi-tech crime”.

While you and I are distracted by the many stories involvin…
Field of Dreams

So let’s get the good news out of the way first. Britain is the second best place in the world for eBusiness according to the latest independent report on such things from Booz Allen Hamilton, entitled ‘The world’s most effective policies for the e-Economy’. And when the cheering has subsided, I can tell you that it’s a mighty interesting document too, packed with colorful graphs and useful information on all things ‘e’.

The good news was delivered at this week’s eSummit in London and a parade of Government Ministers and international e-Envoys were there to support our own Andrew Pinder and, the Prime Minister, who told us that we were doing well “But not well enough” in our race to build this elusive thing called a Knowledge Economy.

“They’re all very polished”, remarked one of the journalists in the press room, listening to Patricia Hewitt, smoothly pressing the Government’s arguments home. “But I suppose that if a Minister talks like a duck and walks like a duck, the…
The Fast Show

I see that the Business Software Alliance (BSA) now estimates that a quarter of all business software in the UK is illegal and looking very much like one the pillars of the Black Economy that I commented on last week.

We are expected to feel the same moral outrage over illegal software in much the same way that we should feel bad about non-payment of a TV license or indeed, ferrying-in white vanloads of cigarettes and French lager from Calais, for personal consumption of course. Bootleg software isn’t a victimless crime. After all, both the software and entertainment industries are losing billions of dollars each year to ‘free marketers’ or software pirates in the ‘Tiger’ economies. Worst of all is the great British ‘Boot sale’, up there with the worst offenders and depriving the Treasury of yet another source of VAT, which quite possibly concerns the government more than any natural sympathy for the software industry.

But why, if we’re basically an honest society, with …
Sunday Times
A survey published this month, revealed that of all the European nations, the British lead the most unvaried, boring and Hamster-like existence.

Not surprisingly, I find reading the Sunday newspaper a depressing experience. The hanging threat of a cyanide gas attack on the underground adds a Russian Roulette-like feeling, to the overcrowded daily misery of the Central Line. Should you happen to survive the queue of muggers waiting patiently by the cash-point outside the station and make it safely home again before dinner, then you’ll find that the stock market has ended the day at its 1973 level and that some influential Westminster figure is suggesting that party membership should share equal weight with social geography and A levels results in considering the award of university places.

The IT press is hardly more encouraging. ‘Internet blamed for marriage break-ups’ shouts one headline. Apparently, meeting a new lover online and an ‘obsessive’ interest in pornography ar…
Going Solo Across the Atlantic

Let me see if I have this right? A British hacker, Gary ‘Solo’ McKinnon not Osama Bin Laden mind you and for no other purpose than personal amusement – allegedly – managed, in the wake of September 11, to wreak havoc among US military systems, until he was finally clobbered by the Hi Tech Crime Unit here in the UK.

Of course nothing valuable was stolen say the US authorities. No plans for the latest stealth fighter or the story of what really happened at Roswell, which all rather leads to a certain jurisdictional fuzziness as I’m informed that in this country at least, “information is not capable of theft” and that while it’s an offense to deceive a person it’s not an offense to deceive a machine. Hold on, you say, what about a cash-point with a stolen pin number? That’s different I’m told because theft by deception is involved.

Quite understandably, Mr. McKinnon would prefer to avoid being extradited to a country which first tested the electric chair on …
A Near Miss

I’m sitting here trying to write a report. It has a rather dry title: ‘Confidence in the Computing Environment and its Implications for Public Sector Strategy and Security Policy’. It doesn’t quite have the pace of Andy McNabb or even Tom Clancy and to tell the truth, I seem to have found rather more villains than heroes hidden in the text, which is only to be expected, as month by month, confidence appears to decline as the incidence of attack, on all systems, continues to increase.

Today, The Wall Street Journal is running a story on how Al Qaeda subverted the Internet but it comes as no great surprise to anyone who has been tracking the security advisories over recent weeks and months. You see, the evidence suggests that hacking and all the many different forms of information crime, cybercrime if you like, has become increasingly politicised over the last twelve month and increasingly so since the escalation of violence on the West Bank in April. The Internet is now emer…
Technology. The Nervous Heart of the Black Economy

You may have read my banging on about recession and ageism in the IT industry but today, one of our readers, Iain Janes, the Managing Director of Equations, finally caught-up with one of my earlier columns and gave me a call.

You see, I had been wondering when all the cuts we keep reading about would start to show-up in the unemployment figures and only this week, I heard that another friend, Chairman of a very large and well-known IT services company, is agonizing over a possible 40% cut in staff by the end of the year.

You won’t see what’s happening in the IT industry in the unemployment figures”, Iain Janes told me.

Why on earth not?” I asked.

“Simple”, he said. “Most, if not all of the people cut to-date, have savings or redundancy money. How many people do you know who have actually signed-on?”

“None”, I said.

“Exactly” said Mr Janes. “While you have savings you can’t sign-on, it’s pointless anyway and many of the losses are amo…
One Key to Rule Them All

So, “Can you trust a convicted monopolist?”

It was that man with the red hat and the big beard speaking, Alan Cox, Lead Linux Kernel Developer at Net Project’s ‘Trusted Computing Master class’ in London last Thursday.

What was being discussed was a vision of the future involving a new kind of hardware, cryptographic chips, which when incorporated into a Personal Computer, will permit only approved and validated software to run against ‘Trusted Information’. This new architecture, specified by the Trusted Computing Alliance of Intel, HP, Microsoft and IBM is fast becoming a reality and represents a fundamental component of Microsoft’s plans for the future of the Windows Operating System.

While a new framework of trust is essential, if this industry is to move forward and create a real foundation for an information economy, many people have concerns over digital rights management (DRM) and the ability to control access to software through licensing enforcement. “…
The Good – The Bad & The Ugly

News that the UK Government is setting an example for other countries to follow, by having some of the worst possible websites that money can buy, doesn’t really come as a surprise and more than one source has told me that UKGOV scores miserably when its efforts are rated by one or more of the different usability engines around.

Not many people know that the first e-Envoy (OeE) website started life hanging off my own homepage at . It’s a long and rather curious story but has something to do with the fact that when the first e-Envoy was appointed, the Cabinet Office wasn’t really up to speed on the ‘Web thing’ and so I helped-out a little, until such a time as they decided which department should have the responsibility for managing the project internally and what software to use. I vaguely remember telling them at the time that the Prime Minister’s own site was an unhappy mess but they wouldn’t have it, which is why this still manages…
All Windows - No Doors

When the Judge’s decision finally came, it hardly made a ripple, the BBC called to ask if the death sentence could be applied retrospectively in anti-trust cases and Sky News, unable to find a football angle, decided to pass.

Microsoft is free. Well almost free. The third judge in this long-running battle between the world’s most powerful government and the world’s most powerful software company approved a settlement deal between the two sides, which changes very little and leaves the cynics with a strong “Told-you-so argument”.

Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the judge appointed by the Court of Appeals was appointed to determine how Microsoft should be punished for violation of anti-trust legislation and illegally maintaining its monopoly over computer software operating systems. The company, anxious to cut a deal with the ‘Feds’ to avoid any court imposed remedies, agreed to new restrictions on its behaviour, uniform contract terms, the release of some Windows techni…