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Showing posts from January, 2003
The Privacy Illusion

Corporate security is an illusion”, writes Kevin Mitnick, probably the world’s most notorious ‘Uber-hacker’ and so he comments, “is personal financial privacy”.

But On-line privacy has been a myth for over three years now, since Sun's Scott McNealy pronounced online privacy "dead on arrival". "If you're online, you have zero privacy," he said and I have to agree with him.

I wasn’t planning to write about security or privacy today but one of the inevitable pieces of morning Spam has just arrived, this time from “Clic2Cars”, who believe I’m a new Porsche prospect.

We all suffer from Spam but what’s doubly annoying is having one’s email details bartered around without permission. In Europe, we have data protection laws that are supposed to prevent this happening and Clic2Cars have the appropriate legal text clearly displayed at the end of their ‘message’:

“This message is sent to you from our client's lists and is in compliance with th…
A Job for God

I was adding-up the value of public sector jobs in the newspaper this weekend but ran out of zeros before I could finish, maths never being my strong-point.

Its remarkable how many ‘strategy’ jobs are being offered from Whitehall to the Hebrides? Many of these posts are directly related to the technology sector with enormous salaries to match but I couldn’t help feeling that the person being sought in several of the job specifications couldn’t really exist in ‘true life; my eight year old’s favourite expression. In many cases, the vacancies are related to the health sector and suggest that the arrival of some ‘El Cid’ like character will resolve the services crisis being experienced by each and every local authority.

In the absence of Charlton Heston, Technology may hold some of the answers, such as a single email system across the NHS but a universal patient reference system, across all authorities, hospitals, surgeries and departments, might, I’m told, be a good step to…
Going-up - Falling Down

More of a short story today. The Blogger Website has been unavailable and I'm assuming this is a result of SQL-Slammer continuing to wreak havoc, much to Microsoft's embarrasment on the first anniversary of 'Trustworthy Computing'.

Slammer appears to have hit much harder than anyone first expected and the cleaning-up operation could continue into the weekend. Meanwhile, this is my fourth and final attempt to complete this entry before the Web site dies with a flood of SQL error messages.

One reader of my CW360 column writes: "Apathy may be the cause of a certain percentage of the unpatched SQL Server boxes. However, IT understaffing and fear of managerial reprisals for patching a production SQL Server installation and taking it out of commission are more likely to be the culprits for Slammer infections"

An interesting view that hadn't occurred to me before.

I need to collect my thoughts around eGovernment once more. Yesterday was a…
A Month to Forget

Black January hasn’t even ended but from where I’m sitting, we’re balanced very precariously on the edge of an economic abyss.

Personally, I blame the ‘Slammer’ worm for tipping us over the edge, as news filters out that it wasn’t only the ‘Stars & Stripes’ bank of America that lost its ATM machines. Apparently, Slammer caused havoc over here as well but our own banks aren’t quite as willing to admit to a Server ‘meltdown’; makes the punters nervous you know.

As the stock market loses another £30 billion and continues its relentless collapse towards a singularity, I calculate that the present value of my own technology investments might stretch to a family-size bag of Walkers crisps.

Another two more UK technology companies are on the brink of collapse with friends in senior management ‘laid-off’ suddenly on Monday. Only Rentokil, it seems is defying the market’s slide. Rats are doing rather better than software as a growing business opportunity and Bill Gates to…
Let’s Hear it for the Boys

I’ve been wearily casting my eye back on the security news of the last seven days.

There’s SQL-Slammer of course, the biggest kick in the collective complacency since Code Red which was cleverly timed to coincide with the birthday of Microsoft’s ‘Trustworthy Computing’(TWC) initiative and the bubbling ‘Gatesian’ eulogy that accompanied it.

Of course, ‘Slammer’ took advantage of a much older deficiency that Microsoft had patched in July but reports suggest that at least a quarter of a million Servers were involved in the DDOS exploit and apparently, 13,000 Bank of America ATM machines were among the victims.

In fact, it’s been a week of and I’ll say it, ‘piss poor’ examples of IT security everywhere you might look. We can only be thankful that Ozzie Bin Laden and his boys appear to prefer the more dramatic sound of loud bangs to the apparently much simpler destruction of bits and bytes on which our society is really built.

I’ve had a preview of the most compre…
When in Rome

"Two of the fairest stars in all the heavens, having some business....."

Rumour has it, that Microsoft is preparing a new weapon in its struggle against the spreading Penguin threat to the Enterprise. A glimpse of a possible collaborative Server effort involving Unisys was recently photographed in the South of France and is seen below.

Adding extra punch to the Unisys ES7000 chassis, this new 31-way SMP unit is more mobile than its predecessors and is said to be more than capable of 'seeing off' any efforts to infiltrate Linux into the datacentre.

The final development cost of this new, smart Server, codenamed ''Fatbird'', has yet to be revealed but is likely to prove attractive. Considerable effort has been applied to both its appearance and the security aspect of its design, as Microsoft celebrates the 'birthday' of its Trustworthy Computing initiative, launched a year ago this month.

Reports suggest that X-Box compatibility m…
Security & eCommerce in 2003

Many businesses were given a sharp wake-up call in January with the arrival of most devastating Computer ‘Worm’ attack for eighteen months, in the shape of ‘SQL-Slammer’, which in the space of twenty-four hours, made international news and forced the shutdown of over 200,000 Windows Servers. Included among its many high-profile victims, was The Bank of America, which had 13,000 of its ATM machines temporarily put out of action.

Regular attacks such as this, illustrate only too clearly that the requirement for reliable security architecture in the virtual world of the Internet is as real as that demanded in the physical world. If there is a fundamental difference between them, then it is that the former works well and is built on a solid foundation of steel, concrete and paper and the latter relies on compromise, a clumsy mix of standards and interoperable software which offers security much of the time but not all of the time.

In November of last year…
Gone Flying!

I get a day off today to skip around the Kent countryside in my aircraft. After almost two months of mud and gales, the clouds parted and the rain stopped long enough to let the winter sunshine through over Dover and Ramsgate. Chasing cross-channel ferries out of the harbour and counting seals, is much more satisfying then spending the afternoon musing over the collective digital future.

Have a good weekend all..!

Sixty Second Democracy

February 17th - Use the Internet to alter the course of history and resurrect the spirit of democracy in Britain

The Home Secretary this week described the British public as a “coiled spring” and the government’s own technology programme has unwittingly provided the people of this country with the means of peacefully protesting their concerns in sixty seconds on a single day, next month February 17th the day the London congestion charge comes into effect.

Over 45 million people and nineteen million households in the UK are now connected to the Internet and for those that are not, there are six thousand ‘UK-Online’ centres in libraries, post offices and schools around the country.

Talk to any person in the street and you are likely to discover that he or she is unhappy or even disgusted and dismayed at the unhappy state of the country we live in.

Crime, Immigration policy, stealth taxes, political correctness, pensions, the health service, parking wardens, educati…
Memories are Made of This

Who remembers Mitch Kapor? If you do, you’re showing your age in this industry and there are very few people left working of our age who do.

Mitch of course was the man behind Lotus 1-2-3 or at least on of them, the other being Jonathan Sachs – not the Rabbi - .It’s possibly true to say that Kapor contributed as much or even more than Bill Gates to the success of the IBM Personal Computer. Why? Because at the time, in 1983, Digital’s (DEC) Rainbow was a much better Personal Computer than IBM’s, which was really only a marketing experiment that caught-on. Without going too much into the history, Mitch Kapor started Lotus Development (now a moribund division of IBM) and Lotus had a killer integrated spreadsheet application called 1-2-3 that blew the socks off anyone and everyone who saw it. Critically, Lotus 1-2-3 was available on the IBM 8088 DOS platform almost a year in advance of the Digital Rainbow and while this gave Lotus market domination for almost a de…

Off to the Microsoft Campus to day to collect my recovered and restored HP laptop. You may recall that last week, Windows XP collapsed dramatically and unrecoverably, leaving me in the lurch and having to beg my eight year old for the use of the Windows (ME) machine I'm working on now. After lengthy and intense negotiation, a price was agreed, not with Microsoft but with my daughter, while a courier whisked the laptop back to Microsoft's A&E department, where it was immediately placed on emergency life support.

Sadly, it was too late to save the patient but the very efficient Microsoft 'ER' team managed to recover the data before XP finally expired, leaving me pathetically grateful for their efforts.

Why my laptop died is still a mystery. Ricin poisoning has been ruled out but the Coroner has entered an 'Open Verdict' and speculation suggests that the collapse could have been a consequence of cumulative patching and updating of Windows XP since its fi…
Citizen Smith

I found myself lying awake last night, giving serious thought to the idea of starting the country's first Internet political party, ''Voters-reunited.Org'. Why not I ask? Forty million people online and with a defunct and unrepresentative political system that gives us congestion charging and a war with Iraq (on a fixture date to be arranged).

Much like Friends Reunited perhaps, people are invited to register and democratically - there's an interesting expression - determine this new party's policy. Kiss goodbye to all the sordid maneuvering that goes on behind the scenes in the main political parties, this could be "politics at the point of a cursor".

So who's going to be party leader then? That great British icon of seventies politics, Wolfie Smith of the Tooting Popular Front has my vote. What's yours?

Viva Zapatista

Whether by accident or design, it very much looks as if Microsoft, in its attempts to find a more intelligent way of dealing with the threat that Linux poses to its Server revenues, is now reacting differently to “The War of the Flea”, I described in an earlier column.

Large American corporations frequently represent a cultural reflection of United States foreign policy where unwelcome competition is involved. Where the British dither and the French may use clandestine finesse and well-placed explosives, our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic have an emotional attachment to the B52 bomber, big, noisy, unsubtle and completely useless when it comes to dealing with today’s expanding ‘Zapatista’ protest culture of which Linux is increasingly a part.

You see, if ‘Che Guevara’ was still around today, he’d probably be wearing combat trousers and a t-shirt with a cigar-smoking, machine-gun toting Penguin on it. Linux has become a popular icon that represents everything wh…
Watch this Space

Fancy a solid gold Rolex watch? A friend on London’s Bond Street, tells me that the prices on “pre-owned” models are falling sharply as the supply increases. In other words, one of the more accurate but less official economic barometers suggests that hard times are with us again.

Last week wasn’t kind to Sun Microsystems or even IBM. Results for both companies to December 2002 showed close to a 6% decline. Of course, it could have been worse, much worse and only Microsoft was left grinning and able to announce a dividend, as net income for the company rose on comfortable turnover, (up 17.5% on the comparitive period in 2001)

Interestingly enough, both IBM and Sun are of course Penguin fans and Linux is still some way from becoming a truly profitable interest for either company. IBM’s Linux-on-mainframe MIPS shipments were up 45%. A’ MIP’ by the way is a ‘Meaningless Indicator of Processor Speed’. Both Sun and IBM have rather different views on where Linux should ‘play…
Yellow Card - Dark Continent

Saturday morning and more offers of "Crazy Sex" in my Hotmail account and begging mails from the the dark continent. One of the latter, from a Mr Jaja Kabila, who claims to be the "former Chief Weapons Procurement Director in the Revolutionary Armed Movement of the Republic of Congo", is more entertaining than the others. He writes:

"But what is not common knowledge is that I moved in here (Ghana) with a huge fortune; the last vote for the acquisition of medium range mortars and assorted weapons/ammunitions was left intact in my custody; the amount was USD21 million; This amount was stored in a huge iron chest, and I moved in here with the chest, along with my personal effects; I kept it securely in my basement underground cellar, and decided to wait…The money, total USD21 million, all in 100 Dollar bills is still intact"!

Mr Kabila in happier times

Visions of a large iron chest being smuggled out of the Congo on the back …
The Big Issue

It's not all gloom and doom this morning. While Sun never rose in 2002 and saw its revenue. for the six months ended 29th December 2002 fall 5% to $5.66bn, IBM managed to fall nearer 6% all told. Happier news for Microsoft though, as Q2 results for the period ended 31st December Turnover were $16.3bn up 17.5% on the comparative period last year. Net income rose 48% to $5.3bn.

The company attributed the growth to "increased sales of Microsoft Xbox, recognition of unearned revenue from strong multi-year licencing in prior periods, and licencing of Microsoft Windows server and server applications".

All of Microsoft’s seven divisions delivered growth, the highlights include:

Home and entertainment (where Xbox resides) recorded the highest revenue growth of 48% to $1.8bn (but that’s still only 11% of total revenues) and the FT reports that this fell below expectations.

- CE/Mobility (includes pocket PC, Handheld PC) rose 40.9% to $39m (but less than 1% of total …
CSI - Investigations

Crime. Hard crime, soft crime, eCrime or any crime. Are we too busy, too fearful or too apathetic to help the police tackle a growing threat to our lives?

I’ll give you an example. Last week, I visited the Hi-tech Crime Unit for a ‘Latte’ at their secret docklands headquarters overlooking the fading remains of the Millennium tent. During the meeting, I mentioned that very close to where I live, there’s a run-down house which always has its curtains closed. As a neighbour, I can’t help but watch the day and night comings and goings of Arabic-speaking North African men

What should I do I asked? This closed-curtain activity in a pleasant Wimbledon suburb could be entirely innocent and perhaps there’s good reason to have the curtains permanently closed but then again, who could I tell, other than the Police officers I was with, without feeling paranoid? What would you do?

This question of what one should and shouldn’t do in an increasingly worried society, leads me on …
Online Privacy Is Dead - What Now?

The bad news is no secret, but it bears repeating: If you have bought anything online in the past several years, your personal information, including your home address and credit card number, is probably accessible via the Internet -- and available to people with less-than-noble intentions.

Driving home that stark reality, New York officials recently announced that thousands of people may have had their identities stolen through a software company that helped major corporations conduct credit checks. Although the incident proved to be an inside job, it underscored what many have long believed: Storing information online is not a secure practice. In fact, nearly three years ago, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy pronounced online privacy dead on arrival. "If you're online, you have zero privacy," he said.

And exposure of personal data has not yet peaked. In coming months and years, a move toward wide adoption of Web services likely wil…
When in Rome

"Two of the fairest stars in all the heavens, having some business....."

Rumour has it, that Microsoft is preparing a new weapon in its struggle against the spreading Penguin threat to the Enterprise. A glimpse of a possible collaborative Server effort involving Unisys was recently photographed in the South of France and is seen below.

Adding extra punch to the Unisys ES7000 chassis, this new 31-way SMP unit is more mobile than its predecessors and is said to be more than capable of 'seeing off' any efforts to infiltrate Linux into the datacentre.

The final development cost of this new, smart Server, codenamed ''Fatbird'', has yet to be revealed but is likely to prove attractive. Considerable effort has been applied to both its appearance and the security aspect of its design, as Microsoft celebrates the 'birthday' of its Trustworthy Computing initiative, launched a year ago this month.

Reports suggest that X-Box compatibility m…
A World of Pain

It's true. Windows XP can crash and burn as badly or worse as any of its predecessors. I'm sitting in a world of pain here this afternoon. The Windows XP Professional installation on my HP Omnibook laptop decided to crash this morning with a "Page fault" error and subsequently refuses to go any further, beyond winking at me contemptuously, while I beg a very helpful but baffled Microsoft team for help over the phone.

In almost twenty years of working in the industry I have never experienced a 'Crash' as bad as this one, which defies every effort to repair the system or even re-install XP. The end result, is that the laptop will have to be rushed over to the Microsoft Campus in the back of an ambulance for a life saving operation. Who is to say where the problem lies, is it the Operating System or a chronic hardware failure which doesn't show in the diagnostics program?

The moral of the story? Have at least two PCs and make sure they are up-…
A Question of Identity

Following the murder of a Manchester Police officer during an ant-terrorist arrest yesterday, I wonder how many people would be in favour of 'All' asylum seekers and refugees carrying identity cards from tomorrow morning or risk immediate imprisonment or deportation. It's an emotional issue at a time of public risk and the privacy lobby - the thin line of protest and debate between us and the Home Office - have their own view on what should and should not be done as regards the question of entitlement or Identity cards. What do you think? Read on....

David Blunkett gave a keynote speech on his proposed entitlement/identity cards today - but once again conspicuously failed to explain what exactly the proposed £1.6 billion cards would be for.

He did, though, concede that "people need more information", and are "hungry for knowledge" on the implications and practicalities of cards and for the answer to the simple question, "what&…
Dare Not Look into the Abyss

I’m worried. That’s not unusual but on this occasion, the success of Operation Ore is raising all manner of unpleasant implications, which stretch beyond its natural constituency of ageing judges, politicians and rock stars.

Without a doubt, Operation Ore has been a big success for the Police in the continuing fight against paedophile crime and in some respects, with over seven thousand names to investigate, it’s almost too successful, pulling away already stretched resources from an increasingly organised wave of Internet-related crime, which rushed-in to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the Dot Com bubble.

Ore is however just the tip of an iceberg of incalculable size, a successful sting on one website among countless thousands, of explicit sites, which can be found within seconds of loading any one of the dedicated search engines. As a consequence, the true figure for people in the UK involved in the downloading and distribution of paedophile co…

Apocalypse Maybe?

It's Tuesday and so, quite naturally, I've started worrying about the end of the world or more accurately, something called the 'Carter Catastrophe'. From what I can read and understand in an essay on the subject I read by Jim Holt, we shouldn't be worrying to much about those mounting credit card debts.

The end of the human race appears to be on the cards, statistically speaking at least and there's some rather compelling mathematics which suggests that the end is not too far away.

Do you ever lie awake at night wondering why you happen to be alive just now? Why it should be that your own particular bit of self-consciousness popped into e existence in the twentieth century and not, say, during the time of Cleopatra or 10 million years hence? If you do, and your musings take a sufficiently rigorous form, you might arrive at a terrible realisation: The human race is doomed to die out - and quickly.

So, at least, a handful of cosmologists and philosophers hav…
Your Last Chance to Comment on UK ID Card Proposal

With only a few weeks left in the UK government's "silent consultation" on the National ID card, the government is still publicly claiming that there is majority support for ID cards, so now is the time to register your concern.

Privacy International and STAND have joined forces to open the consultation fully to the public. You can prepare and send a response to the Home Office through STAND online. Alternatively, you can leave a phone message stating your views. Privacy International has set up two national rate numbers: in favour of the ID Card: 0845 330 7245, against the ID Card: 0845 330 7246.

Each message left on these lines will be converted to an audio file, and then e-mailed to the Home Office. The government has confirmed that these will be regarded as legitimate consultation responses. The consultation ends on January 31.

For more information visit Privacy International.
The Colonel's Network Warfare

A militant Palestinian guerrilla leader is using information technology to evolve new organisational and operational strategies for his armed struggle. Such a shift offers an important insight into the future trend of warfare and terrorism reports information warfare expert, Giles Trendle.

Holed up in the Ain il-Hilweh refugee camp in south Lebanon, ‘Colonel’ Mounir Maqdah is harnessing the power of Information Technology to grow a networked organisation to extend his strike capabilities beyond all borders. The embracing of IT by small groups to create global networks of communication and coordination could well point to a new facet of warfare.

Maqdah is using information technology in an attempt to redefine the balance of force, in his favour. The shift towards IT by such men portends the emergence of a new and potentially dangerous form of network warfare. And as the West focuses its guns on Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the scale and potential of this …
Deus ex Machina

Does anyone remember the cult-sci-fi movie 'Dark Star'? This first film from Director, John Carpenter, has a team of bored astronauts in a beaten-up spaceship, controlled by an unhelpful computer that holds crew it serves in total contempt, on a mission to seek out and destroy unstable planets. The best moments of a decidedly smoke-filled plot, come when one of the astronauts attempts to persuade a malfunctioning, intelligent but suicidal nuclear weapon not to explode while it is still attached to the hull of the spaceship.

Dark Star is increasingly a metaphor for computing in the 21st century, as systems become more ‘intelligent’, with more than half of the computers in existence today operating in an ‘unmanaged’ environment.

Artificial intelligence isn’t quite up to the standards of Dark Star yet but the complexity of the systems and the demands that we place upon them is driving autonomous capability at roughly the same speed as Moore’s Law.

Take Windows XP …
Edge of Darkness

In the same week that saw ageing pop idol Gary Glitter deported from Cambodia on charges relating to the sexual exploitation of juveniles, further revelations are appearing in today's newspapers that a second 'Rock Legend' has been interviewed by the Police in connection with Operation Ore.

Simultaneously, musician, Pete Townshend has appeared on television, reportedly denying that he has ever been involved in any paedophile activity.

Since a bogus FBI paedophile Web site successfully 'Stung' several thousand UK citizens (Operation Ore) a couple of months ago, we are starting to see the stomach-churning size of a social problem, which the internet facilitates and which no amount of policing can ever defeat. It appears that thousands upon thousands of our citizens are regularly visiting paedophile websites and a 'hard' percentage, which includes police officers, judges, MPs, teachers and other respectable pillars of society, are happy to use…