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Showing posts from October, 2003
Office 2004 - Software with Style

I don’t normally describe software as sexy but with Microsoft Office 2003, it’s hard to do otherwise. Yes I know, that deploying it across a business will add a string of zeros to your total cost of ownership and might even force you to mortgage your house and sell your children to Microsoft but having Office 2003 sitting smugly on your PC is rather like, well, having the benefit of an expensive Italian mistress, without the grief of being manager of the England football squad.

I’ll leave product reviews to others who have a spare lifetime to find their way around the new Office features and wax lyrical on the subject of XML and digital rights management. I mostly use Word and Outlook, sometimes PowerPoint and occasionally Excel to help me add-up numbers when I run out of fingers. If you happen to subscribe to the theory that the Personal Computer only exists as a platform for Microsoft to develop Office upon, then you have to wonder how much more func…
Face it - We're Toast

It was predicted this week that within a few years, corporate security systems will not only be attacked by worms and viruses but that toasters and refrigerators would also be open to compromise.

According to a ZDNET report, instant worm attacks and household toasters have been highlighted by security experts as some of the biggest threats faced by Internet users over the coming years.

This week at the Compsec 2003 conference in London – funny nobody invited me - , a panel of security experts told attendees that they should be preparing for the day that their systems are attacked by an undocumented worm that exploits an unknown vulnerability at lightning speed.

"You have zero prior knowledge of the exploit and zero prior knowledge of the worm," said Richard Ford, research professor at the Florida Institute of Technology's Centre for Information Assurance. "By the time you have blinked and started wondering why the traffic indicator on your r…
French Pix

It's a problem, my friend Barrie Smith tells me, if you happen to have a well-know photographic resource which goes by the name French Picture Library - www.FrenchPix.Com. You might have thousands of photographs of French life that are frequently called-upon by the national newspapers and travel magazines but the big search engines see you a little differently. After all, 'French Pictures', evoke other and equally artistic images in the minds of most people, which of course you won't find in his French Picture library.

I'm not sure if that's disappointing or not but censorship on the World Wide Web is indiscriminate and I'm not sure how Barrie can circumvent the problem of owning the world's largest - and most photagraphically tasteful - French Picture library on the Internet.

Hemingway on Windows

Begin”, said the great Ernest Hemingway, “With the truest statement you can think of and the rest will follow”. In this case it’s that Windows NT 4.0 is alive and well and at a bank or business near you.

That’s the problem and it’s one shared by both Microsoft and business. The company may have discontinued support for Windows NT on the desktop in June of this year and will do the same for the Server next year but for a number of very good reasons NT is stubbornly refusing to take the door marked ‘Exit’.

This afternoon, I had a conversation with the Head of Security at a leading bank. “Blaster”, he tells me, “Was a wake-up call to all of us in the financial services industry. With tens of thousands of desktops and almost a thousand servers, we were planning a gradual migration from Windows NT, to Windows 2000 and then finally to Longhorn when it arrives. Windows XP doesn’t appear in our plans at all. However, not only did the events of the Summer give us serious c…
Marx Was Right About One Thing

The Republic of Yemen apparently wishes to investigate the opportunities for e-government in that country, and why not?

I was on a trip to the Middle East this month, and the United Nations have invited me to pop over to Sana'a in December for a chat with the Yemeni prime minister.

What about Hawaii, I asked. “Sorry, they already have e-government, but how about Baghdad?”

No thanks, I replied. "The Yemen sounds fine. Do you have any of those nice blue Kevlar vests I could borrow?"

On the last trip to the region, Kuwait in fact, I was representing myself and not the UK government, which meant my PowerPoint deck, could have a picture of Karl Marx with the caption “Bureaucracy is the ultimate purpose of the state", and a second photo of my friend Alan Mather with the quote “e-government is brutally hard”.

Anyway, this time, when people asked me for my opinion on the success of our own e-government programme, I was able to say what I though…
On Your Bike

The wind must be blowing from the North West. From my window, I can watch the sea running from left to right in a choppy agitated way; like an irregular, white-flecked conveyor belt.

It’s a fresh bright start to the day and perhaps and with luck, I’ll fly today, all depending on whether the wind is favouring the small grass runway. If it’s more than forty degrees off, then I can probably do without the added excitement of trying to squeeze an aircraft between the farm building and a field filled with nervous horses on the landing.

Later this morning, the BBC want me to do an interview on Spam legislation for the World Service. I'll have to use the tiny Radio Kent studio hidden in Margate Hospital. I wonder if the security guard will be able to find the keys?

Last night, I was feeling rather superior, tunnelling and weaving between the crawling M25 traffic on my way down to Kent. My unhappy surprise appeared on the M20 with the motorway signs telling me that the A249, t…
Scrambling for Safety

I’m reading a quote from Ernest Hemingway. “I love to write. But is has never gotten any easier to do and you can’t expect it to if you keep trying for something better than you can do”.

I wonder what Hemingway would have thought of Weblogs? Possibly not a great deal, as most of them are written by teenage girls and are dropped, like boyfriends, once the interest fades.

Yesterday's ‘Scrambling for Safety’ meeting at The London School of Economics went well. My thanks to Simon Davies of the LSE and Privacy International, for inviting me to perform in a cage of hungry lions. I was going to wear a Che Guevara t-shirt but finally settled on a shirt and tie.

Mr Simon Watkin (Home Office) & The Earl of Northesk

It became an epic and rather technical debate between the Home Office on the one side, who believe that interception of data is in the public interest and the privacy lobby, who believe, with some justification that it breaches the European Convention on…
Not Dead – Just Resting

Is PKI (Public Key Infrastructure) dead or is it alive, well, and living in Europe? I will admit, I don’t have a definitive answer to this question, so today’s column is an example of my thinking aloud.

Last month, I attended a meeting on identity and security held in a committee room at Westminster and heard from one side that “PKI was developed for organisations and is not appropriate for citizen relationships with Government in a free society”. If this doesn’t sound harsh enough then how about our own Government describing traditional PKI as “A “miserable failure” or in the case of the EU data protection authorities, it’s either a “Privacy decreasing technology” or the technology that will make Europe more competitive, if you examine the argument from the EU digital signature perspective.

There is no doubt that the future of PKI represents one of the more complex technology debates that surrounds us at this time. It is either the devil’s own work or a univer…
Living in a Box

It struck me today, seeing the television footage of David Blaine leaving his glass box, that if 44 days of starvation leaves you looking that good, he'll start a whole new trend in dieting.

Forget Dr Atkins' protein diet. Very soon, women everywhere will be rushing out to rent a crane and the new Reebok glass box and I'm sure men will too. Include some Botox, a copy of Hello Magazine, a laptop, a wireless connection and a sleeping bag and it's business as usual for most of us.

I feel a column on the future of thin or even thinner client computing coming on!

Time Flies

Time flies and the weekend is almost over.

Friday, I managed to grab a top of the news piece on Sky News on outsourcing. HSBC had announced they were going to axe 4,000 call centre jobs in Wales and I spent almost five minutes explaining why I thought outsourcing is getting out of control. After all, what does Britain produce anymore other than Scots Whiskey? Once we have lost our manufacturing sector, our IT sector and a quarter of a million call centre jobs, then what’s left? Working for Government or in MacDonald’s perhaps?

Today, Charlotte and I visited the Tower of London. The first time I have been there in almost forty years. The crowds weren’t as bad as I thought and perhaps another underground train derailment at Camden Town reduced the numbers a little. Ironically, the crowds on the opposite side of Tower Bridge, under David Blaine’s glass box, were almost as large as those visiting the ‘Bloody Tower’. Blaine may almost have starved himself to death, this being his …
Slave to the Rythm

Forget patch Wednesday, Microsoft prefers first Tuesday.

Wave goodbye to patch Wednesday, Microsoft has conceded that even with the best intentions, asking businesses to patch their systems on a weekly basis is too much too expect.

This news comes a week after Steve Ballmer announced a new initiative from the company, which will see Microsoft developing new ‘safety technologies’, to be first delivered in Windows XP (Service Pack 2) SP2 and designed better protect its customers from the growing threat of malicious attack.

Reeling from the barrage of criticism following the damage caused by Blaster, Sobig-F, Welchia and Swen, Microsoft will soon introduce security enhancements designed to improve the resilience of its products whether they have been patched or not. This however will not be an instantaneous solution to a growing problem and the new Service Packs will trickle out from Redmond between now and the summer of 2004.

Microsoft has also recognised that the …
A Place in the Sand

I hadn’t realised the true scale of the battlefield from the first war with Iraq. Looking down as we pass the track west along the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, even a Bedouin tent is sharply contrasted against the delicately pink-hued sand in the low-angled morning sunshine. Visible for miles upon miles are the remains of Iraqi tank berms surrounded by rings of blackened sand. Whether the knocked-out armoured vehicles are still in them, I can’t quite tell from this height but I don’t think so. One can also see the devastation caused by the oil well fires as huge black smudges on the sand ocean below.

It occurred to me after the end of the eGovernment conference that two books should be mandatory reading for anyone tackling any large-scale public sector computing project outside the West, the first is Saul Bellow’s ‘Henderson, The Rain God; and the second is Robert Pirsig’s ‘Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. The latter actually came to me as a…
Something I Said

I’ve just discovered the real benefit of a 10Mb broadband from my hotel room. Music streams perfectly and Windows Media Player and the Pat Metheny Group are in their element. Think I’ll try Rick Braun next.

After a long evening spent smoking 'Shisha' pipes at the most exquisitely tasteful replica of a period Italian stately home on the outskirts of Kuwait city I staggered in relatively late. Today, it’s been a long day and its becoming progressively longer. A quick attempt to catch-up with my Hemingway novel in the bath before writing this entry and then running for the next official dinner.

So far, today, I’ve managed a flying visit to the Embassy, a meeting with the Council of Ministers and a great deal of email. Somewhere in the future, perhaps on the early morning flight back to Heathrow, I might even be able to write my Monday morning Computer Weekly column before tomorrow's Thursday evening deadline.

An hour ago, the UN asked me if I would like to vi…
In Kuwait it Must be Tuesday

Another fine day in Kuwait, although I haven't ventured outside the embrace of the air-conditioning yet. After dinner at the Kuwait Towers last night, I noticed one of the latest BMWs parked outside with other shiny toys. Kuwait is in remarkable contrast with what's happening an hour's drive North towards Basra, the best and the worst of worlds. On one side of the border, fresh water is a luxury and on the other, it spouts from elaborate fountains and yet these are the same people with the same natural oil wealth but dividided by a barbed-wire fence and the legacy of a brutal dictator.

The room service waiter has just appeared with afternoon tea and cake. How he knows that I'm working in here is anyone's guess, unless they are monitoring the traffic on my room's broadband connection. Meanwhile, yet another extravagent dinner looms tonight, this time hosted by Microsoft Gulf preceded by a Cuban cigar smoking competition with one of th…
Somewhere in Today

It's getting late after a long day here in Kuwait and a dinner in the Kuwait Towers yet to come. I'm lost somewhere in the opulence of my suite here at the Kuwait Sheraton at the end of an impressively rapid broadband connection. It's twelve years since the Iraqi army ransacked the place and in two years, it's leapt from a relatively slow dial-up connection to Broadband at the end of a hose.

An interesting speech by Steve Ballmer this morning. He had obviously worked hard at trying to pronounce the Arabic name of the Prime Minister and apologised that Bill was busy somewhere else. Unfortunately Steve's efforts produced a kind of strangled splutter which detracted from his fine speech just a little.

In fact Ballmer's presentation which strongly stressed the importance of TWC and eGovernment, eased me nicely into my own, which warned the Arab countries that they needed to think seriously about their entire information security agenda, which many…
Above and Beyond

Thirty-six thousand feet above the desert of Saudi Arabia and I'm reading Hemingway's 'A Farewell to Arms' Love war and wounds in the Italy of the First World War. If you haven't read it you should G.

There are parallels with my great grandfather who also volunteered to become an ambulance driver for the Belgian army in 1914 before the British had even arrived.

In front of me, in the space between the aircraft galley and the toilet, and old gentleman is knelt on a worn green prayer mat, praying in the direction of Mecca. He finishes and his place is taken by a much larger and equally devout Arab, who a young woman wearing a headscarf on, steps quietly around as she opens the cublicle door.

The day should have started smoothly; after all, a first class ticket on any airline should ease the pain of modern travel. In my case events didn't run strictly to plan, as my ticket hadn't been paid for in full at the client end. A mix-up, I was assured …
Last Bus to Basra

Saturday morning, in brilliant autumn sunshine and I should be flying my aircraft. Instead, I’m gazing at a first class ticket for tomorrow morning’s flight to Kuwait, courtesy of the Kuwaiti Government and trying very hard to finish my PowerPoint presentation on eGovernment and security for Monday.

I heard today, that the Dubai Government are showing an interest in Open Source computing or that’s what it says from the man at the sharp-end of their development. It strikes me that the trickle of interest shown by many Governments could soon become a flood, so I’ve put up a conversation ‘Blog-pad’, for anyone who might like to join on the debate.

I might look a little out of place in the first class lounge in my motorcycle gear. In fact, the last time I was there, it was just Tom Jones, his wife, his agent and me and on a long flight to the middle-east, where the flight attendants spent their time taking turns sitting on his knee and having their photos taken. I wasn’t…
Two Jags and a Penguin

The last day of The Great Linux Debate and with it, the news that Open Source had established its first real beachhead in Government. “It might not be the beginning of the end for Microsoft but it is the end of the beginning”, someone said, possibly Winston Churchill but the anticipation of a Death Star spiralling slowly out of orbit, was certainly there to be seen.

But wait a minute, let me look back to my notes from a EURIM meeting at IBM South Bank, less than twelve months ago. Here we are. “Linux is an unstoppable disruptive technology that IBM needs to make money from” and “How do we separate Open Source from Open Standards” and from Government, “We need to avoid proprietary lock-in and for that we need an interoperable IT structure that also solves the single supplier dilemma”.

There is more of course in my little black Moleskine notebook but it strikes me that in ten months, we actually haven’t come all that far. In fact, this rather sounds like the trials …
Divide and Conquer

Testing my Cisco wireless network with Windows XP. Wonderful, it picks it up first time without any help from me. Now all I need to do is spend my life between hotel lobbies and Starbucks, waving my laptop around like a mobile phone user looking for a lost signal.

To be honest, following the end of The Great Linux Debate at Olympia today, I think that of everyone present, Microsoft came out best. Divide and conquer perhaps but the single mindedness of the company only served to ilustrate the differences between the others on the panel.

In the end, I concluded that the choice of Operating System will be meaningless in a world of Web services and the vendors are inclined to agree. Tomorrow's world is one where nobody cares about the platform but only about the result, rather like television.

Meanwhile, my daughter has decided she wants a pet Skunk for Xmas. I hadn't realised they were indigenous to Wimbledon Common and while they may look cute I'm not sure …
Interview with a Penguin

The first day of ‘The Great Linux Debate’ and my fifth year chairing the event at Linux Expo.

Times have changed. Linux has become more respectable and the beards are no longer as visible as they once were on the show floor. If last year’s theme was loosely based on the 'Addams Family Reunion', then this year found the show suffering from an identity crisis, somewhere between suits and sandals and reflecting the gap between an emerging big business interest in Linux computing and the code warriors who make up the heart of the Open Source movement.

The show floor was visibly smaller than in previous years and if one removed Sun Microsystems, IBM and Hewlett Packard, each there I suspect because the other one was, then there would be little left to see. This worries me a little, if only because after five years, it is still not as large as the Java Show once was.

The debate however appeared to empty the show floor, with over two hundred and fifty people c…
Scrambling for Safety 7

At the invitation of Privacy International and the Foundation for Information Policy Research, I'm going to be chairing a public meeting on the governments proposed regulations regarding communications data on Wednesday, 22nd October 2003 from 14:15 - 17:00 at the New Theatre, East Building, London School of Economics, Houghton Street London WC2

All are welcome and entry is free. Simply RSVP to Simon Davies

The Background

A series of Statutory Instruments were laid before Parliament last month intended to create a legal basis for comprehensive surveillance of communications. The LSE meeting, bringing together industry, rights advocates and a range of government agencies, will test the fairness and legality of the proposals. It will also comprehensively assess the implications of the proposals

The Home Office caused controversy last year when it attempted to allow a long list of public authorities to access records of individuals' telephone and Internet usa…
The Cure

The cure to my Windows XP problem in yesterday's column doesn't involve buying a Macintosh or switching to Linux. It's kindly supplied by Microsoft, below. Thanks for the help.

Incidentally, I'm chairing the Great Linux Debate at Linux Expo at London's Olympia this week at 14:00 on Wednesday and Thursday. Microsoft will be joining IBM, HP, Sun and others to fight their corner for the first time in recorded history.

Come along, bring a chair but not to sit on but to throw instead. It should be alot of fun as always and don't forget it was Sun Microsystems that the audience awarded a pair of plastic 'comedy breasts' to last year, for the 'worst' Linux story.

If your Windows license suddenly disappears without warning following a Windows Update, then, restart your computer. While the computer is starting, press and hold down the F8 key until the Startup menu appears.

2. Use the arrow keys to choose Safe Mode, and then press ENTER.

3. Copy…
Never on a Sunday

I was thinking of myself as being a keyboard virtuoso this afternoon. On one side of me was the laptop that I described as dying the previous weekend and on the other was my desktop, where I was installing some software upgrades, kindly provided by Microsoft to replace the applications that lost their licences when XP had its seizure on the laptop.

It had taken almost a week to bring the laptop back to the state it had been in before it crashed. Thirty-two megabytes of security updates alone take over an hour and fifteen minutes to install, even with a broadband connection. Without one, forget it.

Meanwhile, I tried installing Microsoft Money 2004 on my first machine. Money to me, in every sense, is mission critical, so I was unpleasantly surprised when it decided that my Money 2003 files – which actually go back to 1993 – were unrecognisable. Fortunately, I finally remembered where the Money 2003 disk was hidden, so having uninstalled Money 2004 and loaded the backup…
And Now, Football

I think I may be the only person in Britain who hasn’t been following the headline story this week, the allegation of rape against players from a famous football club, involving a seventeen year old girl in an equally famous London hotel.

The newspapers and TV are of course bound by the constraints of legislation and are playing a guessing game but everyone, it appears, knows the answer already, especially my hairdresser, who was told by the sports editor of a national newspaper, who the players are and which team is involved.

This rather illustrates the power of the Internet because censorship is no longer effective in an instantly connected world. It’s almost pointless censoring newspapers and national television because anyone determined to look can find their answers on satellite TV stations or the Internet.

At Christmas, the Sunday Times could not reveal its source for a story on a meeting of a high level intelligence committee but punch a few keywords from the r…
Cogito Ergo Sum

"No more things should be presumed to exist than absolutely necessary", wrote William of Occam but I suspect that he never worked for Sony.

Hidden Symptoms

It just occured to my that compulsive 'Blogging' may send one blind and could well be the intellectual equivalent of anorexia or worse, writing letters to The Times.

On the flight back from Nice yesterday, it came to me, that life, being such a temporary experience is best enjoyed with a glass of wine and without a Personal Computer.

No Reverse Gear

Back from Nice and Unisys’ ‘Zero Gap’ security conference, a ‘Thought Leadership’ event that assembled over sixty ‘experts’ from big business, banks. Government and even the NHTCU and Interpol, to discuss today’s very real, information security challenges.

Unfortunately, the event was under Chatham House rules, so this might be a very short story if I hadn’t jotted down my impressions in the black moleskine diary that never leaves my side.

So without revealing names like Microsoft, Vodafone, the Prudential or even Privacy International, what new ideas did Unisys coax out of us with a little help from a free bar, quite honestly, the best possible instrument of thought provocation available.

First, there are no radically new ideas in the information security business. at least none that I can see. What we have are old methods increasingly wrapped in better processes or the recognition that some processes are no longer effective, simply offering an illusion of security, wh…
Return of the Native

Back to London then but I have to leave my favourite piece of art behind, discovered while windows shopping in the town. I'm not sure my wife would quite understand my new taste in art.

Bye bye Vence or should I say adieu to the ghosts of 2001.

The consensus of opinion from this 'Thought Leadership in Security' conference is that while patching and good processes in combination will fend-off most threats, Microsoft's patching process is going to have to improve beyond recognition. As an example and having fixed my sick laptop at last, today I had to download 32 Mb of 'Critical' security updates from from the Unisys centre. To download and install over a fast broadband connection took me over an hour. Over a dial-up connection this would be impractical if not impossible and illustrates the size of the problem facing both Microsoft and its customers.

The recent MSBlast worm that hit companies in August and September likely infect…