Skip to main content
When You’ve Got to Go

'It is truly regrettable that a person will treat a man who is valuable to him well, and a man who is worthless to him poorly. One should have insight into this world of dreams that passes in the twinkling of an eye'.
Hojo Shigetoki 1198-1261

It’s time for the e-Envoy to go and I’ll start this thought with a quote from a speech I delivered at Westminster in October of last year:



“Without a solution in place, the continued absence of a universal architecture of trust, in conjunction with very real risk of expensive failure, threatens the credibility of the government’s programme and with it, any hope of building a true knowledge economy at a time of threatening recession. Its action that is needed, not excuses. We’re either an online society or we're not and without an architecture of trust and a readily available authentication capability more elaborate than a simple password or PIN number, we are most definitely not in danger of becoming the first world knowledge economy that I imagined two years ago”.

I am of course referring to the unholy mess that surrounded government’s plans for digital certificates and PKI and one government-related publication commented, only this month:

“Although PKI (public key infrastructure) and digital certificate technology has played a major role in leading projects such as the Government Gateway, there is now growing recognition that it is unsuited for wider public use”

In fact and from my own direct experience, government has known, for at least a year that their PKI strategy wasn’t going to work and as far back as November of 2001, in my role of ‘advisor’, I passed on the concerns of local government in a memo to the Cabinet Office and the e-Envoy. “All fur coat and no knickers” was one of the comments.

This month, one official is quoted as saying, “"Trust and authentication has been a huge problem for us. We haven't got a solution for authentication. We've been trying with PKI for about 10 years now and its not working because it's a pain to implement and to use. We've been looking to take the pain out of PKI.”

But it’s the next quote that I find really interesting:

What we are saying with authentication is that if another trusted organisation such as a bank can provide proof saying you are who you say you are that should take the need away for digital certificates."

This isn’t a startling revelation and its hardly a “radical way" of solving the authentication problem. in fact it’s been on the table for at least a year, through conversations with APACS, Identrus, Quizid et al. It’s just that the government have taken this long to accept the inevitable, that someone else, through a public – private partnership, can rescue them from the hole that they’ve fallen into.

So, the good news is that government appears to be out of ‘denial’ where its PKI strategy is concerned although I doubt very much that anyone is going to stand-up and take responsibility.

In my speech to MPs and others last year, I noted:

A well-meaning and at first glance, sensible decision towards self regulation, has instead resulted in inertia and a multi-vendor race which no single interest seems capable of winning. It makes any prospect of mass-market authentication a convoluted, expensive, multiple standards affair, involving different certificate authorities, a government that only accepts certificates from selected companies and a level of tiresome bureaucracy at each end of the process. What should have been simple and cheap has now become endlessly complicated, prohibitively expensive and stands in the way of both progress and the political agenda. Competition, instead of offering a commercial solution has given us deadlock”.

Three years ago, I was asked if I was going to put myself forward as a candidate e-Envoy to replace Alex Allan. Very sensibly I declined, firstly because I’m not politically correct enough and secondly because I could see how the role would always find itself acting as publicist for No10 through the ‘eCommunications’ Directorate. Today, I believe enough avoidable mistakes have been made with taxpayers money to merit a change of scenery at the top and I’d call for a referendum but I’ll doubt we’ll get one.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mainframe to Mobile

Not one of us has a clue what the world will look like in five years’ time, yet we are all preparing for that future – As  computing power has become embedded in everything from our cars and our telephones to our financial markets, technological complexity has eclipsed our ability to comprehend it’s bigger picture impact on the shape of tomorrow.

Our intuition has been formed by a set of experiences and ideas about how things worked during a time when changes were incremental and somewhat predictable. In March 1953. there were only 53 kilobytes of high-speed RAM on the entire planet.

Today, more than 80 per cent of the value of FTSE 500* firms is ‘now dark matter’: the intangible secret recipe of success; the physical stuff companies own and their wages bill accounts for less than 20 per cent: a reversal of the pattern that once prevailed in the 1970s. Very soon, Everything at scale in this world will be managed by algorithms and data and there’s a need for effective platforms for ma…

Civilisational Data Mining

It’s a new expression I haven’t heard before. ‘Civilisational data mining.’

Let me start by putting it in some context. Every character, you or I have typed into the Google search engine or Facebook over the last decade, means something, to someone or perhaps ‘something,’ if it’s an algorithm.


In May 2014, journalists revealed that the United States National Security Agency, the NSA, was recording and archiving every single cell-phone conversation that took place in the Bahamas. In the process they managed to transform a significant proportion of a society’s day to day interactions into unstructured data; valuable information which can of course be analysed, correlated and transformed for whatever purpose the intelligence agency deems fit.

And today, I read that a GOP-hired data company in the United States has ‘leaked’ personal information, preferences and voting intentions on… wait for it… 198 million US citizens.

Within another decade or so, the cost of sequencing the human genome …

The Big Steal

I’m not here to predict the future;” quipped the novelist, Ray Bradbury. “I’m here to prevent it.” And the future looks much like one where giant corporations who hold the most data, the fastest servers, and the greatest processing power will drive all economic growth into the second half of the century.

We live in an unprecedented time. This in the sense that nobody knows what the world will look like in twenty years; one where making confident forecasts in the face of new technologies becomes a real challenge. Before this decade is over, business leaders will face regular and complex decisions about protecting their critical information and systems as more of the existing solutions they have relied upon are exposed as inadequate.

The few real certainties we have available surround the uninterrupted march of Moore’s Law - the notion that the number of transistors in the top-of-the-line processors doubles approximately every two years - and the unpredictability of human nature. Exper…