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Showing posts from May, 2004
Don’t Shoot – It’s a Penguin

There is, it appears, a great opportunity for Linux in the new Iraq but there’s a problem, which comes as no great surprise to anyone familiar with the progress of the reconstruction programme. While the US Department of Commerce has classified Microsoft Windows and Sun Solaris as "mass-market encryption products," meaning that the vendors can ship them to Iraq without a license, what is described as publicly available" software, like Linux, remains under sanctions, because it implements certain security standards, namely, strong encryption. Ipso facto it may be harnessed as a terrorist tool to conceal communications and as a consequence Baghdad has become a Penguin-free zone, although I’m not entirely sure about Basra, which of course lies under British control.

I was asked recently, if I would like to go to Iraq. “Very kind of you to think of me”, I said “But I’d rather not”. Most recently I’ve known one person who survived a mortar attac…
Loosely Based

Loosely-based upon the Iliad of Homer. I watched Troy last night and it was very entertaining, holding in common some of the events and many of the characters of Homer’s epic story. That’s where it stopped though. Hollywood had its way and we lost both of history’s great Kings to the screenplay, Menelaus and Agamemnon, as well the Trojan King, Priam. We did have a wooden horse though and Brad Pitt, as Achilles, put in a good performance as the tortured psychotic hero before dying valiantly at the sack of Troy over the body of King Agamemnon, who Homer had stabbed in his bath back home in Greece but why spoil a good ending with Paris and the Beautiful Helen fleeing to live happily ever after.

I wonder if the film industry a thousand years from now will re-write the Second World War to have Churchill in a love affair with Eva Braun?

Troy follows the classic ‘All for Love’ formula, except that while Homer had the lovely Helen and Achilles’ warrior boyfriend, Patrocolus as th…
But This One Goes To 4G I have to admit that, in the back of my head, there's always been this gnawing complaint about technology trends: if we understand things like Moore's law and how technology is likely to advance over time, why doesn't someone just figure out a way to work on the type of stuff that shouldn't be available for five or ten years and just beat everyone else to market? Yes, obviously, it's the incremental changes that are necessary in order to make those leaps, but every once in a while, it's an amusing diversion to think about. On a more realistic note, there are plenty of stories about nations that were way behind in some technology who leap ahead of other nations because they don't have legacy system to deal with. That's now happening in some places that never had a strong telecom infrastructure, but who quickly set up mobile phone systems. Now, (found over at TheFeature) India is saying that they're going to skip 3G wireless te…
On Aristogeiton and Harmodius

I’m off to see the movie, Troy, this evening. I couldn’t resist it after seeing Brad Pitt interviewed on the subject, his intellectual grasp of classical history and personal research into the subject putting me to shame. For one, I could never have condensed the Iliad into four letters, a cool story. Brilliant!

For one, I was bought up on the Iliad and the Odyssey and progressed to Herodotus, Xenephon and Thucydides by the time I was twelve. I was fascinated by ancient history and once upon a time, even had a place to study Ancient History, Prehistory and Archaeology at Sheffield University. Things didn’t quite work out as I had planned, mostly because during my Ancient History ‘A’ Level paper, I didn’t read the instructions properly. ‘Answer two questions from section A and two questions from section B’.

Carried away by seeing my favourite topic, Alcibiades and the Athenian expedition to Sicily in the fifth century BC, I answered four questions from a s…
Government urged to take action on Spam

Michael Fabricant, Shadow E-Technology Minister has urged the Government to act to prevent Britain becoming the world leader for computer spamming.

Mr Fabricant commented:

“Criminal gangs are taking advantage of the Electronic Communications Directive, which became law in December 2003, to make Britain one of the world's fastest- growing sources of spam.

“For the first time, Britain is among the top ten originators of spam, which now accounts for about 18 billion daily e-mails around the world. Most recent spam has originated in the United States, as well as China and South Korea. But last month, for the first time, Britain overtook India to become one of the ten main offenders.

“This growth in spam in Britain appears to be directly related to the new law, which makes it a criminal offence, punishable by a fine, to send spam to private e-mail addresses after the Information Commissioner has issued an enforcement order. But after lobbying b…
Learning From Virus Writers Instead Of Killing Them While yesterday we wrote about the economic argument for killing virus writers, today, we've got a piece by Michael Schrage discussing the economics of learning from virus writers. He discusses the difference between "compete with" and "compete against" competition - the first being where the two sides compete in the marketplace to try to offer better and better products (leading to increased value for the consumer) and the second being where (at least) one side tries to compete by killing off the other side (that is, negative value creation). Thus, instead of just trying to kill off virus writers (perhaps both literally and figuratively), we should learn how to compete with them - not against them. That is, even if it's for bad reasons, they are being very innovative in how they go about creating their malware. The trick is to turn that around and use it to build better products that can keep out the malw…
IT Blame Games A while back, we were wondering whether or not a company is negligent if they "allow" themselves to be hacked and lose customer data. Nothing is foolproof, so there will always be security risks -- both in the real world and the IT world. So the question becomes: who's legally responsible? A somewhat informal CIO jury is split on where the blame lies. Obviously, the issue is not that simple and probably needs to be judged on a case-to-case basis. Sometimes the software vendor is to blame, and sometimes the IT department makes a mistake. The matter of compensation for security breaches opens a rather large can of worms, so we might expect some long, drawn-out legal battles the next time a major IT security breach occurs. [via Techdirt]
Where Was I?

I had been watching a client struggle with a collection of different devices on the table in front of him. I had my little black Moleskine notebook and he had his PDA, a brand new, slim line, notebook PC and a mobile phone and the meeting resembled a choreographed dance that involved all three in a powerful example of digital attention deficit disorder (DADD); a stop, start experience which had the conversation interrupted every minute of so by an incoming email or a mobile phone call announced by the tinny-sounding film score of Mission Impossible.

In the gaps between the conversations, I had plenty of time to think about convergence and the future of devices and I was reminded of a lecture I used to give almost exactly twenty years, in the days when Lotus 1-2-3 was the face of computing, when Novell had just appeared with a really neat idea it called networking and when Microsoft just happened to be the name on something called an Operating System manual that nobody real…
Day Trip to Nowhere

Somewhere between The Home Office and The National Hi-tech Crime Unit, my motorcycle broke down today. As a BMW, in theory, it's not supposed too but apparently the alternator belt may have gone, which led to a flat battery.

As a consequence, I had to abandon it in the hands of the rescue truck and hope that Park Lane BMW can have it repaired for Xmas. Totally fed-up, I had to catch the train the one hundred miles home in the middle of the London rush hour.

I'm wondering whether being stuck in traffic on the embankment this morning, watching my temperature gauge creep into the red zone, may have been a contributing factor. All approaches to Whitehall were closed-off and the result was the most appalling grid-lock which slowly strangled central London from Victoria to Holborn.

Why didn't I take the train? Silly question. At least I know that with a motorcycle I can actually get to my destination or at least I thought so. I haven't been so lucky with t…
Another Huge Surge in Phishing Scams in April A tidal wave of Phishing scams hit the Internet in April, with 1,125 separate e-mail fraud schemes, up 180 percent from the previous record of 402 in March, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). That's an average of 37.5 unique phishing scams per day, up from 24 a day in March. [via Netcraft]

Eurofighter at risk of 'catastrophic failure' Leaked MOD report cites computer 'corruption'  - They gave the army the lamentable SA80 rifle and now they plan to give the RAF the Eurofighter 'Typhoon'. [via The Register]

MS UK 0wn3d by hackers. Again Embarrassing defacements 'R Us [via The Register]

Microsoft hits out at open source

A Microsoft official has claimed that governments supporting open-source software are not helping build a viable software ecosystem in their communities.

Chris Sharp, director for platform strategy for Microsoft in the Asia-Pacific and Greater China region, said governments that standardise on open-source software are hurting their local commercial software supplier communities because these companies are being robbed of opportunities to make money that they need to invest in developing more software products.

Computer Weekly
Downshifting - Worth a Try

Today was one of those days that demonstrate the attraction of ‘Downshifting’ away from the digital insanity of the 21st century.

My own day, and I realise how lucky I am, started with an early breakfast call with Microsoft, one of my clients, to project plan some research for next month. Just after this, I had another call from a friend I’m flying down to look at some property here next week and he asked me if I could provide him with some aerial photographs.

No problem, so over to Maypole to borrow Bob, a Cessna 172 and his digital camera and a pleasant morning spent over the Kent countryside, finishing off at lunchtime with a series of mid-air shots of another pilot, Chris in his ‘Sopwith Camel’ over Herne Bay. Actually it’s a Skybolt.

By the time we land and brew-up some tea, there’s six pilots enjoying the sunshine outside the club house an almost Battle of Britain like scene, all agreeing that quality of life and a beaten-up aircraft of your own, beats …
Kill Bill ( - How is it that for eight months a team of up to a dozen IBM consultants has been toiling in the data centers and computer rooms of the Munich city government--free of charge? Having goaded Munich into embracing open-source software, IBM is helping it plan a migration of 14,000 computers off Microsoft Windows and onto the operating system known as Linux. Never mind that IBM doesn't sell Linux, which is distributed free. And never mind that Munich officials say they're not committed to buying IBM hardware or consulting services, despite all IBM's free help. [via Yahoo! News - Technology]

Is Cyber-Crime A Virtual Threat? The definition of cyber-crime seems to be crime with an "extra scary factor" due to the mysterious "cyber" prefix. Identity theft and computer viruses are always being raised as examples of the "tip of the iceberg of cyber-terrorism". But security experts even admit that there have been no real examples of cyber-terrorism. The East Coast blackout was not caused by a computer worm, but the possibility of a computer glitch causing threats to the real world brings up real concern. So while this article provides multiple examples of the possibilities of cyber-crime, no suggestions for preventing it are given. And that's just scaring people for fun. (They might as well propose a color-coded public service announcement for computer virus threats.) Instead, we should be focusing on what can be done -- like being aware of the phishing scams and not being duped into giving away passwords for chocolate. And perhaps when major we…
Text scammers fined £450,000 'Justice has been done' says UK e-minister - Too little too late? [via The Register]

Tales of Cyber-Crime Running Rampant As cyber-crime climbs, enforcement descendsâ??and unprepared companies pay the price. [via eWEEK Technology News]
Ballmer Throws Down the Security Gauntlet "I guarantee you our company will have the most secure software in the world. " From Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer during his closing speech of this week's Microsoft Government Leaders Forum-Americas 2004. [via Microsoft Watch from Mary Jo Foley]

University Capitulates, Switches Off Spam Filters
"As reported on German news site Heise, the system administrators of the Technical University of Braunschweig have temporarily given up the fight against spam. Because of the legal obligation to deliver all mail and of the delay time exceeding critical 5 days(!), they decided to switch off all filter mechanisms. Before, the 20 servers dedicated to processing e-mail alone had been breaking down under a load of 100000 unprocessed mail messages, ca. 98% of which had been spam or viruses. ... A similar e-mail jam occurred recently at the IT central of the German Federal Government. Is this the beginning of the end of e-mail?

“Can you come in this evening and talk about oil” asked Miranda from Sky News.

It was about an hour ago and I was on my bicycle on one of the wilder parts of the north Kent coast, when my cell phone rang.

“It might take me rather a long time to get there, the newsroom that is and anyway, why are you asking me”, I replied.

“We have you down as an economics expert”, she said “But it sounds as if you’re too far away to reach us”.

“Very kind of you to think of me”, I said “But oil isn’t really my thing. “the Arab world maybe but beyond remarking that were’ running out and that we’re in a world of pain if we don’t come up with an alternative source of energy, there’s very little I can add that people don’t know already”.

A little earlier, I had flown into Challock, the home of Kent Gliding Club. With oil prices rising so quickly, there may come a day when flying as a hobby is out of the question, so I had decided to investigate gliding anyway. Most people start with gliding and then m…
Choose the Sheep

So far, I’m being offered someone’s ‘second virginity’, another person’s soul (used) and a collection of Punjabi MP3 tracks, to name but a few. There’s even an offer of a cloned sheep but I think the postage may be a little high.

I’m referring of course to Google’s new Gmail service or more accurately to Gmail Swap, a Web site for those who are desperate enough to offer, well, just about anything, for a Gmail account.

Because I was an early weblogger on Blogger.Com, now part of the expanding Google empire, I’ve been given one of their new Gmail accounts, the ‘G’ prefix doing double duty for gigabyte, which is the size of the free storage available to subscribers. In principle, Gmail, a web-based mail service is rather like Hotmail but with extra tweaks, indexing features and targeted advertising thrown in. The attraction of course, is the huge amount of mail storage, which makes it unlikely that most people will run out of space, in this lifetime at least.

Mail is, for…
Lessig: 'Protectionism Will Kill Recovery!' Lawrence Lessig’s latest column — “‘Protectionism Will Kill Recovery!’” — is now online. [via Lessig News]

Security appliances wrestle with blanket coverage To someone responsible for the network security of an SMB (small to midsize business), a one-box solution that handles every enterprise security function is a hot commodity. Naturally, the all-in-one security appliance aims to provide the required level of effectiveness without the complexity and expense of layered security products and dedicated staff. And that’s a hugely attractive prospect in today’s Wild Wild Web, where worm infections, Trojan horse invasions, and exploits of security holes are constant threats. [via InfoWorld: Security]
Heavens Above

I see that the low cost carrier, EUjet will soon be flying to multiple European destinations from the end of this summer. From my front door to the airport in five minutes sounds pretty attractive but I’m wondering where at Manston airport, they are going to park the cars of a half million passengers a year? There’s barely enough room to service the Spitfire museum, so perhaps I’ll need to take my bicycle instead?

Being adventurous, I've booked a weekend to Nice in September for the family on my wife's birthday. The price twenty-four pounds return + taxes and everything can be done online, on the EUJet website, except the bicycles that is.

Departures Lounge at Maypole

Another thought is the increased volume of aircraft. I found myself sharing the same airspace as three 747’s last weekend, which was OK because I ducked underneath them along the coast at five hundred feet, while still working Manston tower. However, if it’s going to get busier, it’s bound to get no…
Hansard & Cyberspace

I've just read Hansard for 18th May and I'm flattered to receive a mention in MP (Cons)and Shadow Childrens' Minister, Tim Loughton's speech in a debate on the Internet.

"What can we do? I pay tribute to John Carr from the Home Office internet taskforce, Simon Moores from the e-Government monitor, and Zentelligence; all those have done a lot of work with parliamentarians. I also pay tribute to the Internet Watch Foundation and the Government, including the Home Secretary's internet taskforce on child protection. Many good things are happening, but trying to attack the heart of the problem is unrealistic at this stage—we need to hack off the tentacles. We cannot go down the line of full censorship, as they have tried in Saudi Arabia or China, where everything is filtered through a central server. We would not want to introduce that level of censorship, and satellite dishes would get round it anyway".

I notice that my old friend, Ric…

I had a curious dream last night. I imagined the movie of Clive Barker’s novel, ‘Hellraiser’, as a metaphor for the World Wide Web.

This dream may have been triggered by reading that the Web is barely able to keep up with the demand for decapitation videos or my meeting at Westminster on Monday. There, I explained to one of the MPs campaigning for greater controls over the Internet, in the light of the tragic, Jane Longhurst – necrophilia inspired – murder, that cleaning-up the Web was a near impossible task in the face of America’s ‘First Amendment’ to the constitution.

Mind you, we are trying, even if we remain impotent in the face of Uncle Sam and the freedom to shoot bears. Quoting from the Parliamentary ‘Early Day Motion’ in Hansard, “This House notes with regret the horrific murder of Jane Longhurst by Graham Coutts who had become an avid user of corrupting internet sites such as 'necrobabes', 'death by asphyxia' and 'hanging bitches'; offers it…
My Left Arm for a Gmail Account An e-mail account on Google's upcoming Gmail service is so coveted that people are willing to trade the darndest things for one. Check out the gmail swap site to see what's up for offer. [via Wired News]

No Entry to USA without DNA

US airport fake ID study 'was found in al-Qaida cave' We want biometrics, fast -  [via The Register]

Symantec Buys Brightmail - A Step Towards Hybrid Spam Fighting We've talked in the past about how the ways to fight all that ails your computer are converging. Symantec is realizing this, and has decided to to buy anti-spam firm Brightmail for $370 million. Symantec was already an investor in the company and owned approximately 11%. However, it does demonstrate that a single approach to fighting things like spam no longer makes sense. You can't just have a network level protection system or a desktop level protection. Increasingly, computer security requires something of a hybrid model - and this acquisition supports that idea. [via Techdirt]
Poll suggests ID card backlash A survey suggests that some people would be prepared to go to prison rather than register for an ID card. via BBC News ]

Mistaken Identity

The Proposed National Identity Card

“An extraordinary situation". The opening words of Simon Davies from Privacy International, apologising to the audience at The London School of Economics for the absence of David Blunkett at a public meeting to discuss the proposed national identity card.

“In fact”, said Simon Davies, “It’s quite unprecedented. We have no agency, no Minister, no official and this meeting is quite unrecognised, even though it had attracted the Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, MP, David Cameron, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman, Liberty, Statewatch, The Law Society, Ross Anderson, The Assistant Information Commissioner, The Muslim Council of Great Britain and many more leading figures in the privacy and identity space.

Never, I thought, as I took my notes during the meeting, have I seen a pillar of Government policy look so demonstrably fragile and flawed. Neatly dissected by the opening arguments of the Shadow Home Secretary and the…

As I left the Blackwall Tunnel behind me this afternoon, emerging into the sunlight in Tower Hamlets, I rather wondered for a moment if I had taken a wrong turn and had come up in Cairo or Doha instead.

What struck me today was the number of women in full Hejab in this London borough.

Either I'm noticing this more or swathing oneself in black from head to foot has become much more of a statement in the last twelve months, I'm not sure which it is.

What concerns me as an Arabist, is that with present social tensions over Iraq and fundamentalism, a statement of genuine devotion can be misinterpreted by the uninformed as a political statement; the position of the French government in respect of wearing the veil in schools and in Britain, all sides should be working with an equal commitment towards the avoidance of any emerging signs of social division.
Take the Stand

After an afternoon hopping around Kent's different airfields in the May sunshine yesterday, it's up to the hot and sticky city today and The London School of Economics for the STAND, "Mistaken Identity" debate on ID Cards.

I wonder if David Blunkett will show up as advertised? David Cameron MP, Shadow Deputy Leader of the Commons & Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party will be there as well as many others, so it will be a packed auditorium as we hear the case for and against the proposal.

A survey coming out later today, suggests that millions of people would rather go to jail than carry ID cards I'm told. Would you?

Microsoft Doles Out More Security Guidance During his monthly security fireside chat (conducted via Web cast) on Tuesday, Microsoft security business and technology honcho Mike Nash talked up Microsoft's latest security resource: the "Identity and Access Management Series." . [via Microsoft Watch from Mary Jo Foley]

How Good Is Cisco's Security Planning? In the ongoing (and somewhat silly) debate between open source advocates and proprietary software advocates, both sides like to brag that their method is better for security. Proprietary software advocates point out that by hiding the source code it's much harder for anyone to determine vulnerabilities, and allows the owner of the software to patch them quickly. Open source supporters contend the opposite is true. If the code is open, then everyone knows what's available so the natural security of the program needs to be top notch. If it's not, lots of people can contribute to a fix quickly. Well, that debate has become a bit more interesting now that everyone is scurrying around talking about how Cisco's IOS source code was swiped last week and people are wondering what sort of vulnerabilities will be turned up and exploited. Eric Raymond (whose beliefs supporting open source are well known) makes the very reasonable point th…
Treasury accused of sabotage Freedom of Information Act endangered by hike in document search fees. [via Guardian Unlimited]
Smarter security. Microsoft's longstanding "eat its own dogfood" approach means the company deploys the very software it sells. But, Microsoft hasn't always done the best job communicating to customers the lessons the company learned using its software. For example while Microsoft software gets rapped for security problems, there are few reports that hackers have breached the company's corporate network. Microsoft's December Security Webcast Week revealed some of the tactics Microsoft uses to keep viruses, Trojan horses and hackers out.
Windows Server 2003 update (R2) will bring Microsoft's security know-how to customers. As Microsoft employees know well, their computers are scanned for up-to-date security patches and virus signatures. Out-of-date computers cannot connect to Microsoft's corporate network. R2 will make standard equipment these VPN-scanning capabilities, giving Windows Server 2003 mechanisms for better keeping potentially compromised com…
Gartner Says Web Services Ready for Prime Time The company says enterprises can use existing technology and standards to build what it has dubbed service-oriented business applications, which it says will emerge as "the mainstream business application architecture" by 2007. [via eWEEK Technology News]

China Popular For Hosting Spammed Sites A new study has come out pointing out that a huge percentage (71%) of websites in spam messages point to servers hosted in China. This doesn't mean that the spammers are Chinese or that the companies they're advertising are Chinese - but it appears that's where many spamvertised companies decide to host their websites. What's odd about this, of course, is that China is notoriously strict about what can be done on the internet in China, and many of these spammed sites include porn and other things the Chinese government isn't particularly fond of. [via Techdirt]
Go, Go, Gordon

What then will Prime Minister Gordon Brown do for the IT industry?

I may be jumping the gun by a few months but the media are already working hard on Mr Blair’s political obituary and in Whitehall I hear that Michael Foot’s famous cloth cap is already waiting to take the collection.

In fact, I should really be asking what Alistair Darling, tipped for Chancellor, will do for IT as Gordon will have other problems to deal with once he moves into No10. If, like me you’ve been running a business in IT for twenty years or so, then you’ll know that if you’re not very big and from ‘Over there’, your chances of building an agile, competitive business have diminished quite dramatically since the last election, whether this is measured in terms of taxation, employment legislation, reversal of dividend relief for small companies or creative interpretation on the part of the Inland Revenue, in the shape of IR35 or Section 660, so-called husband and wife tax..

In a month, I turn for…
'Don't automate - eliminate'

Why and how do large computer projects go so badly wrong? The column on 'Why IT just doesn't compute' on 2 May triggered a large and vociferous postbag from practitioners who offered some illuminating first-hand insights into a very British malaise.

The Observer

They want your number

Imagine the nightmare of finding there is another you lurking out there somewhere, someone who has stolen enough personal data to be able to take out a bank loan, secure a mortgage and apply for credit cards in your name or plunder your life savings.

Recorded cases of identity theft nearly trebled last year to 101,000, according to the Credit Fraud Avoidance System, and the crime is estimated to cost more than £1.3bn a year.

The Observer
Savage executions in the Arab world must be condemned as wrong by anyone's standards

A man from Maidstone had this letter published in the Independent last week. 'Why is it barbaric,' he asked, 'to decapitate an innocent man with a knife but civilised to do it with a laser-guided bomb?' Or to rephrase the question, is the video executioner of Nicholas Berg in any way morally deficient compared to the general or politician who gives an order that - whatever the intention - will almost certainly lead to the death of an innocent somewhere?

The Observer
Police Don't Like Speed Cameras Either We've had a bunch of stories about how speed cameras don't seem to work very well, and now, even some police officers are against them, saying that they are "harming their relationship with the public." They're worried that people are blaming the speed camera mishaps on police who just want to bring in more revenue. They want a study conducted on whether or not the cameras are actually needed. Of course, another interpretation of the police being against the cameras is they're afraid that they're about to be automated out of a job. This explains why much of the discussion focuses on why a human police officer can do a better job than a camera. [via Techdirt]
The Eagle Has Landed

Saturday saw us banner-towing all the way to the northern tip of Norfolk to Burnham, beyond Little Walsingham, the final display of the day being a ‘Happy Birthday’ message over a party in one of the villages.

Since Bob and his aircraft appeared on the television programme, ‘William and Mary’, he’s been swamped with calls and this one counted as a longer distance trip from our base in Kent, positioning at Beccles first, to do a tow around the caravan sites between Lowestoft and Fakenham along the coast.

I was sure I had seen the area around Walsingham before, quite stunning coastal scenery, dominated by a huge stately home. Then it occurred to me that it must have been during the filming of the Jack Higgins Book, ‘The Eagle has Landed’ starring Michael Caine. I’m sure that the final scene, where Caine as the German paratrooper colonel, attempts to assassinate Winston Churchill was filmed on the balcony of the house I could see below me.

Believe me, Burnham farm str…