21st > April > 2005 Archive

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Ballmer: Interoperability, interoperability, interoperability

Steve Ballmer has played-up interoperability between Windows and other operating systems, notably Linux, to bolster Microsoft's credentials as a provider of management software. Speaking at Microsoft's Management Summit (MMS) in Las Vegas, Nevada, Ballmer on Wednesday presided over a series of cross-platform demonstrations that involved Microsoft's management software. The move was to silence critics over the company's notoriously "Windows only" approach to servers and applications. Ballmer's appearance was also in marked contrast to last year's MMS where the chief executive failed to show despite being billed to appear. On display at this year's MMS event was Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1, due for release later this year. Virtual Server 2005 Service Pack 1 was demonstrated on stage running with Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server 3. Commenting on support for Linux, Ballmer said: "As much as that hurts my eyes, I know that's an important capability for the virtual server technology for our customers." Microsoft's bullish CEO went on to also demonstrate Windows running on Sun Microsystems' hardware, the result of certification that was made possibly under Microsoft's technology sharing agreement with age-old foe Sun signed last April. Regarding the status of the Microsoft-Sun relationship, Ballmer promised a joint update with Sun chief executive Scott McNealy in a "few" weeks. Also demonstrated was management of a Sun rack through Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) using WS-Management, the web services specification jointly authored by Microsoft, Sun and other partners. According to Ballmer, the demonstration was performed without the need for special management packs to be installed. Microsoft's CEO was attempting to stress the importance his company places on management, and overcome skeptics who see the company as either shackled to a Windows-only strategy or tied to a desktop- or departmental-server-only heritage. He noted that in spite of Microsoft's work on services for Unix, collaboration with IBM on web services, and last year's pact with Sun, people still ask him whether Microsoft is committed to interoperability, and often give him a "quizzical" look. Obviously, such a lack of credibility stands in the way of popular acceptance of Microsoft's autonomic computing-based Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI). "I want to make sure today you understand that from a management perspective we are absolutely committed to interoperability. We're committed to work in broad industry partnership to deliver great interoperability," Ballmer claimed. In an effort to further convince skeptics, Ballmer promised integrated and improved services for Windows Server 2003 Release 2, due later this year, for connecting to Unix systems, and tools that allow federated identity through Active Directory.® Related stories Less Office, more family for Microsoft DSI program MOM grows up as DSI takes off Microsoft RTMs Windows Server 2003 SP1
Gavin Clarke, 21 Apr 2005
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Tridgell demos Bitkeeper interoperability

Samba man Andrew Tridgell has publicly demonstrated how to interoperate with the proprietary Bitkeeper source code management system. It's so easy, you'll be able to do it yourself wearing boxing gloves. Bitkeeper is at the heart of the conflagration which saw Tridgell, one of the most senior and widely respected open source coders, slammed by Linux founder Linus Torvalds for acting destructively. Torvalds was then firmly told to shut up and stop acting like an idiot by Bruce Perens, and very many Linux supporters. The moment came as an aside during a keynote Tridgell was giving to the Linux.Conf.Au gathering in Canberra, Australia, attendees report. It's only Tridgell's second public reference to the episode, as he is believed to be acting on legal advice. Both Tridgell (as a contractor) and Torvalds (as a full-time employee) work for the same employer, OSDL. Departing from his topic, Tridgell described how to get at the cunningly obfuscated functionality of Bitkeeper. First he said, you open a telnet program. Then you telnet to port 5000 on the Bitkeeper repository you wish to access. Then you type 'help'. Apparently, it looks something like this. According to attendees, Tridgell demonstrated the procedure to disprove accusations that his detractors in the Torvalds/McVoy camp had made against him. Principally, that he was some kind of "an evil genius" reverse engineer. Tridgell has maintained, and he appears to have the support of the community, that his work didn't cross any ethical boundaries. Will Larry McVoy now seek an injunction against the distributors of Telnet? ® Related stories 'Cool it, Linus' - Bruce Perens Torvalds knifes Tridgell The Larry and Linus Show: personalities vs principles? Linus Torvalds in bizarre attack on open source Linus Torvalds defers closed source crunch
Andrew Orlowski, 21 Apr 2005
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The dual-core x86 server era begins thanks to AMD

Two years ago, AMD had everything to prove. It had a brand new server chip prepared for a market smothered by its main rival. It had IBM on its side with one Opteron-based server, but that was its only big server partner. It had a funky new 64-bit design that Intel deemed silly and before its time. The only thing AMD had a lot of were doubts. Today, however, AMD looks pretty damn smart and certain. It has bested the world's largest, strongest chip company. AMD has started selling a dual-core version of Opteron ahead of its original schedule. HP, Sun Microsystems and IBM have all greeted this release with new systems based on the processor. The only major server vendor not in the AMD camp - Dell - looks like a technology laggard. It and any other Intel-only vendors out there won't have a dual-core x86 server processor until next year. "We've seen our competition basically fumble, and they are trying to pick up the ball," Ben Williams, a vice president at AMD, told The Register. And true enough Intel has fumbled in every category except the one that counts most - sales. Intel has recently matched AMD with x86-64-bit chips across its server line and enjoys far more server processor sales than its smaller rival. Intel has every key x86 server maker on its side, while AMD is still fighting to win over Dell. AMD hopes the new dual-core chip will push it toward much higher sales and true competition with Intel. To help nudge things along, AMD will sell the slowest models of the dual-core chips at the same price as the fastest models of its single core chips. This means customers get anywhere between 20 per cent to 30 per cent better performance for the same price. The metal AMD will start selling its 800 Series of dual-core Opterons aimed at servers with four to eight processors first. The speedy 2.2GHz 875 sits at the top of the line and is followed by the 2.0GHz 870 and 1.8GHz 865. The chips are priced at $2,649, $2,149 and $1,514 (for 1,000 chip quantities), respectively. HP will quickly begin selling its four-way ProLiant DL585 server with the new dual-core chips, as will Sun Microsystems with its four-way V40z. Sun also reaffirmed its intentions to start shipping an eight-way (16 core) Opteron server later this year. That box will be part of a revamped Opteron line. Both HP and Sun are picking up on AMD's aggressive pricing with the dual-core chip and offering their upgraded servers at close to the same price as their original four-way boxes. In one month, AMD will ship the 200 Series dual-core chips for two-way servers. Customers will see the same range of speeds as with the 800 Series chips and prices will range from $1,299 down to $1,051 and $851. Again, HP will outfit its two-way DL385 and DL145 servers with the dual-core chips, and Sun will take the same action with its V20z. IBM will also upgrade its 326 two-way Opteron server with the new chips. Perhaps more interestingly, HP will use the 200 Series chip in a new blade system - the BL45p, which was first revealed by The Register way back in October. Customers can pack twice as many of the BL45p's in a rack as they can Xeon-based BL40p. AMD thinks the dual-core chips could be a, er, hot commodity in the blade market since they require the same amount of power as the single core chips. Again, it's a two for one type of deal. AMD has pegged the dual-core chip, including the memory controller, at 95 watts and says comparable single-core Xeons come in at around 130 watts. "Now, you can have the same performance level with less systems or increase performance substantially with the same number of systems in a rack," Williams said. IBM is said to be tempting customers with an Opteron blade of its own but hasn't yet made the server public. Big Blue did however announce a new IntelliStation workstation that will run on the new 200 Series chip. The A Pro 6217 will be available in June at a starting price of $3,259. The code The software story around Opteron will be closely watched over the next 8 months, as AMD backers look to exploit gains against Intel-only vendors. Sun, for example, will be touting Solaris x86 as the best OS option in the x86 world for four-way and larger servers. Solaris has long been tuned to run on SMPs and has a large stable of threaded software available for it, which can make the most of the dual-core design. Red Hat and Novell have 64-bit Linux OSes tuned for Opteron as well. Microsoft next week will finally announce its 64-bit Windows OSes for workstations and servers too. Redmond has vowed to count dual-core chips as a single processor in per processor licensing models. This could prove to be a nice cost saving for small to medium-sized businesses. Dell customers will not be able to take advantage of this pricing until Intel rolls out its dual-core chip. AMD has rightly argued that the server world is far more prepared than the PC universe to get performance boosts out of dual-core chips. Software is the main reason for that edge. We'll have more coverage rolling in today from AMD's New York launch event for the dual-core Opteron. ® Related stories Intel rides mobile express to strong Q1 AMD dual-core Opteron pricing slips out Intel launches dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition AMD dual-core desktops to be branded 'X2' Memory woes color AMD's Q1 red Sun's Becky Box four-pack leaks Rare Dell critics spotted circling over Austin
Ashlee Vance, 21 Apr 2005
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AMD plays catch up with dual-core desktop and notebook chip

Along with the release of its dual-core server chip, AMD today has announced the imminent availability of dual-core chips aimed at desktops and notebooks. Come June, AMD will rollout the Athlon 64 X2 chip for desktops and large "desktop-replacement" notebooks. It seems that AMD managed to push up the release date of this dual-core chip a bit, since it had been pointing to a "second half" of 2005 launch up till now. The speed up is an obvious response to Intel, which released dual-core desktop chips on Monday. AMD has planned four initial models of the Athlon 64 X2 line. The 4800+ will ship at 2.4GHz with a pair of 1MB L2 caches. The 4600+ will ship at 2.4GHz as well but with 512KB caches. The 4400+ will come in at 2.2GHz with the 1MB caches, and the 4200+ will ship at 2.2GHz with the 512KB caches. While both AMD and Intel are claiming victory in the dual-core x86 processor war, most pundits would declare AMD the real winner. The new dual-core Opteron starts shipping today and will go to server makers who are well equipped to take advantage of the designs. The server market has a much richer set of threaded software that runs well on multiprocessor systems. Intel won't have a similar dual-core server chip until 2006. In addition, server customers tend to demand higher performing systems well ahead of consumers. The only dual-core bright spot for Intel will be with gamers hungry for all the desktop processing power they can get. And Intel's lead on the desktop is just a couple of months whereas AMD has close to an 8 month lead on the server. Both vendors should benefit from the release next week of Microsoft's 64-bit version of Windows XP for their respective processors. ® Related stories The dual-core x86 server era begins thanks to AMD Intel launches dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition AMD dual-core desktops to be branded 'X2'
Ashlee Vance, 21 Apr 2005

General election debate misses purpose of ID cards

Information published by Government Departments since February shows that the database which underpins the ID Card is central to the Government's aim to deliver efficient and effective public services in general. This purpose, which is far wider than the narrow objective of establishing identity in order to access public services, has not been mentioned so far in the current general election campaign. For example, the Labour Party Manifesto refers to ID Cards in the context of immigration, identity theft, illegal working, fraudulent use of public services and terrorism. Also absent from the general election debate is any commitment concerning the wider use of the database of registrable facts which will support the ID Card. It is this database, which will contain up to 50 classes of personal information held on each individual, which has alarmed the parliamentary committees dealing with the Constitution and Human Rights. The committees' concerns have arisen because previous ID Card legislation was to provide sweeping powers to ministers which could permit many public authorities to access personal details on the database for a wide range of purposes. Concern was also expressed about an ID Card database which would contain a snapshot of an individual's lifestyle because it would contain records of all service providers who use the card to verify identity (e.g. which out-patient clinic was visited by the ID card holder; which bank has opened an account for the ID card holder). New developments show that the ID card has become integral to the success of the Government's e-strategy. Published in March 2005, Connecting the UK: the Digital Strategy aims to tackle the persistent digital divide and low uptake of e-government services by UK citizens. In relation to the ID Card, the e-strategy states that "the Home Office will ensure that ID Cards are developed in such a way as that they add value to the whole range of digital transactions". This means that e-transactions could be reflected in a record in the ID card database, e.g. if the database was accessed to check identity of the sender of the digital transaction. Details of an ID card Gateway Review, published on the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) website as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request last month, reveals that the wider "public service" use of the ID card database has been an objective of Government for two years. The OGC Review, dated June 2003, states that the ID Card database "could provide a more efficient basis for administering public services by avoiding the need for people to provide the same personal information time and again to a range of public services". The OGC Review continues: "There would also be savings for service providers as there would be a single definitive source of information about people's identity and possibly a unique personal number for everyone registered on the system". The OGC Review thus confirms that the ID card database is likely to develop into a reference point database for all the important public services used by the Card holder, and for certain private sector services where there is a requirement to check identity. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) is also planning additional uses of the ID card database, and is in the second stage of project definition which will exploit the database for purposes unconnected with terrorism, crime, identity fraud and immigration. According to a statement given to parliament the ONS "has investigated the costs and benefits of a range of potential options for delivering a population register" and has concluded that it should integrate "proposals for a national identity register (NIR) as part of the Government's proposals for ID cards". The ONS will report to ministers by June 2005 "in more detail how the NIR could function as a population register and exploring opportunities for adding value to existing database developments that could be cost effective ahead of the NIR reaching maturity". As these developments relate to the ID card database, they also heighten the constitutional and privacy issues identified by the Constitution and Human Rights Committees. Finally, OUT-LAW can resolve one ambiguity over the fingerprinting of passport applicants. Recent press reports have give the impression that that only those applying for passports for the first time will be fingerprinted. A spokesperson for the Labour Party has confirmed that "If you decide to apply for a new passport you will get a new ID card". This means that any applicant for a passport will be fingerprinted, not only for the purposes of the new passport, but for the ID card and the related database entry. Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com Related stories Labour promises 'voluntary' compulsory ID card Clarke calls for ID cards after imagining huge poison terror ring Clarke confirms disappearance, and reappearance, of ID cards
OUT-LAW.COM, 21 Apr 2005

Phone DRM: the most expensive royalty operation ever

AnalysisAnalysis We think the MPEG LA and the group of consumer electronics groups that it represents, who claim essential patents for the OMA DRM system, have pulled off something of a coup. Initially they appeared to be in retreat over the slashing of their license terms this week from $1 per handset down to $0.65 and from 1 per cent of all transaction charges where the content is controlled by OMA DRM, to a maximum of 25 cents per user per annum. The complaint had been that if every one of the 684m handsets sold last year had required the use of OMA DRM, then it would have cost the mobile operator industry at least $684m, and that was more than the total of protected content sales during the same year. By cutting the handset charge to 65 cents, plus 25 cents as soon as that OMA DRM is used in anger, the handset charges on the same calculation would drop to $444m, plus $171m if every one of those phones as used to download one piece of protected content. That total is also more than all of the content sales made last year through mobile phones, at $615m, but at least it will give the operators a free run on the transaction charges for the rest of the year, once all handsets are upgraded to OMA DRM. We would expect that when a consumer buys into a video or music subscription service as soon as they get their phone, then that subscription will immediately invoke the 25 cent charge. MPEG LA spokesman Larry Horn told us earlier this year: "We always try to take into account the comments of licensees and we always listen to their point of view and we have often changed licensing terms to suit them." And that must look like just what it has done here, especially with the sense of outrage that the cellular operators were voicing and the veiled threats that they would "use something else". in January we pointed out that the OMA had initially suggested that this technology might be free of royalties, until the MPEG LA collected together five companies that all felt that their patents were essential for offering the technology. Those companies were ContentGuard, Intertrust, Matsushita, Philips and Sony and none of them were part of the OMA work to create the technology, but they had always warned that there would be a price to pay since they held most of the patents in this area. Two weeks ago the GSM Association of mobile operators said they refused to pay these rate, and their backers included companies like Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and NTT DoCoMo. We said at the time that, in the past MPEG LA has altered the terms of its licenses when they have proved too unpopular, without giving away too much ground, but then warned this particular group had a stranglehold on the technologies in question and that they were piqued at the clear attempts by the OMA to build a group of technologies that avoided their patents, putting them in an unforgiving mood. But it looks like the license fees were always set with a view to a climb down and if the cellular operators accept this new "compromise" they will still have signed up for the most expensive royalty operation in the history of the planet. We think they will. The other concession that also appears to have been wrung out of the patent holders is a promise that when all the technologies are added up that go into the second generation OMA DRM, version 2.0, that the royalties will be no greater (they certainly won't be less), than those charged for version 1.00. MPEG LA said: "The licensors recognize that this market is in the early stages of development. As new applications for OMA DRM emerge, their coverage will be considered in connection with future licenses. The License will provide coverage for products from January 1, 2004, but royalties will be payable only on products from January 1, 2005, forward." Copyright © 2005, Faultline Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here. Related stories Macrovision DRM patents challenge fails MPEG LA cuts mobile phone DRM tax Phone DRM too expensive, say carriers ContentGuard talks DRM futures Mobile DRM levy hits operators where it hurts Phone biz agrees on $1 DRM levy MPEG founder rallies DRM players
Faultline, 21 Apr 2005
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Borland splits Together for Visual Studio .NET

Borland Software is updating its application design and modeling tools for .NET to bolster customers using an increasingly dated version of Microsoft's developer suite. The lifecycle management specialist has launched two role-specific versions of its Together Unified Modeling Language (UML) environment for Microsoft's current version of Visual Studio .NET - launched two years ago. The products contain features for users designing .NET applications with the Object Management Group's Unified Modeling Language (UML) 2.0 and those coding with Microsoft's increasingly popular Visual C# .NET and controversial Visual Basic .NET. Borland's launch comes after Microsoft recently confirmed that the update to its current development environment, Visual Studio 2005, and the planned lifecycle management platform, Visual Studio 2005 Team System (VSTS), are again slipping. Both have been pushed back from mid-2005 to "second half of 2005". Decoded, that phrase is often taken to mean the very end of the year. Tom Gullion, Borland's Together product manager, said Borland's two products, Together Designer 2005 for Visual Studio .NET and Together Developer 2005 for Visual Studio .NET, will help companies using the current version of Microsoft's IDE get the most from their existing tools. "There's a lot of hype and hope [around Visual Studio 2005]... we have a lot of customers who have to get the software out of the door today. This is the deployable platform for Visual Studio today and for the rest of the year," he said. With the delay to Visual Studio 2005 and VSTS, partners of Microsoft's building plug-ins should be expected to deliver products early next year, instead of this year, he added. Borland used the Together Designer and Together Developer launch to declare its own plans to support Microsoft's somewhat unorthodox approach to application modeling in VSTS. Microsoft is placing its bets on Domain Specific Languages (DSLs), which are expected to help application architects punch out domain-specific models, instead of fully supporting UML. Gullion said Borland would "complement" DSL with the ability to transfer models to UML and support for features like tracing of code and requirements management expected through integration with Borland's CaliberRM product. Borland also plans a set of documents to help users "grab UML and Microsoft diagrams and pull them into some cohesive whole". Delivery is of course dependent - as it is for other Microsoft partners - on Microsoft's ability to finally release VSTS. ® Related stories MS delays Yukon Is UML past its sell-by date? Compuware extends DevPartner Studio
Gavin Clarke, 21 Apr 2005

US mobile carriers shun iTunes

AnalysisAnalysis Apple's early lead in music downloads is costing it potentially more lucrative wins with the mobile carriers. Business Week reports that the carriers have ganged up on Apple, with Sprint PCS and Verizon among the networks who have passed up the opportunity to carry Motorola's iTunes phone. This hardly counts as the most surprising news we'll hear all year. But looking at the long term, there's upside for both parties far beyond what the current market can deliver. The mobile market is maturing, which means there are fewer new customers to woo. Operators want to avoid the fate of becoming commoditized networks, or in the unforgiving jargon of the business, "dumb bit pipes". Which is why they pay so much for branding in the form of costly high street stores, and ensuring you use that network for your transactions, whether they're phone related or not. Apple's ability to punch above its weight - it's one of the world's most recognized brands - leaves the carriers with some anxiety. Cingular alone pulled in $8.2bn in the quarter it reported yesterday. Verizon, which has a coherent network strategy encompassing wireless and wireline, pulled in almost $15bn in Q4 2004. Compare that to Apple's $3.2bn quarter. So the networks reason that they hold the upper hand, and can dictate the terms of the deal. However some of the reasons given by Business Week for their cold shoulder to Cupertino aren't as important as the magazine suggests, although they're already solidifying into the Conventional Wisdom. Let's have a look each one. "Operators want customers to download songs over the air, directly to handsets. But with the iPod phone, customers would download songs to a PC and then copy them to the phone," according to the article. In the long term that's true. Operators envisage ubiquitous wireless in the home, and they want to be the ones to provide it, regardless of how it's delivered. In a few years we'll be saturated by wireless coverage, and even unconnected devices will be able to make some connection, if it's only to other hardware near by. Don't underestimate the potential of wireless 'data dispensers'. But right now very few carriers, even with the fastest 3G networks, anticipate selling MP3 files directly to the handset. Two factors are mentioned by Register contributor Charles Arthur here, and they can't be underestimated. The user interface on the current generation of handsets doesn't lend itself to iPod capacity collections, notes Charles. At best, you can navigate no more than 20 songs with any comfort. (This reporter has been testing Nokia's flagship media phone the 7710, and it confirms the need for a fast processor and dedicated buttons.) Don't forget, he adds, that the battery is rapidly diminished by MP3 playback, although solid state devices have a huge advantage over rotating platters. We can look to advances in technology, such as displays (next year's OLEDs will have twice the density of today's smartphones), batteries, and human interface design to close the gap. In fact we can envisage the iPod itself looking rather staid alongside these innovations. But as with network capacity, the competitive situation isn't going to change very soon. Then there's the thorny issue of pricing. CNET reported last week that the record labels are using the wireless operators as a threat to hike up the fees for music downloads. Since Europeans are prepared to pay the equivalent of $5 for a ringtone, won't they pay $2.50 for an MP3? This is optimistic. As with SMS, carriers were almost the last part of the value chain to realize what people were using the networks for. The multi-billion dollar ringtone business sprang out of start-ups located offshore or in back garages. Only when it was a popular phenomenon did the networks realize what was going on, and decided that they too would like some of the action. But a ringtone isn't a song file, and they serve very different purposes. A ringtone is a broadcast fashion statement, designed to be overheard. A song will most likely be heard in private (alas). One is a way of advertising yourself to the world, the other is a way of avoiding it (alas). But no analysis these days is complete without examining how the parties are preparing for a flat fee future. Only by taking the long view do we see that today's phone war is pretty phoney. Under a compulsory licensing regime, which is endorsed in another new book we reviewed yesterday, both device manufacturers such as Apple and Nokia, and the networks themselves have the most to gain. Today the carriers and hardware vendors are in a state of what might be described as mutually co-operative discomfort. But under a flat fee, we'd have a dramatically different competitive landscape. The distinction between a discrete music file and a stream has already been blurred by devices such as the Bug digital radio (a radio with a Record and a Rewind button, with removable storage), and will in the next decade disappear altogether. This in itself has dramatic implications for media ownership policy and monopoly regulation. The only reason a compulsory license hasn't been introduced already - and the subject was broached in Congress in 1999 - is the large recording rights holders' fear of losing their distributional channels. It's more than likely that telecomms companies, which dwarf the entertainment industry, will be only too delighted to help them out. The carriers already have the high street presence. Don't be surprised to see visit your Tower Records Store in the future, and discover it's moved a few doors down, to where the Cingular or Verizon shopfront used to be. ® Related stories You're going to be taxed for music and love it! Phone DRM too expensive, say carriers Nokia enters the data dispenser biz Why wireless will end piracy and doom DRM and TCPA Jim Griffin Korean RIAA nobbles Samsung music phone Labels seek end to 99c music per song download Promiscuous BluePod file swapping - coming to a PDA near you
Andrew Orlowski, 21 Apr 2005

Not as guilty as he looks? The Met chief, Labour and ID cards

AnalysisAnalysis Does Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair vote Labour? After his comments in support of ID cards last weekend quite a few people seem to think so, and he has deservedly come under fire for leaping into the political arena by supporting Labour's anti-terror programme in the midst of an election campaign.
John Lettice, 21 Apr 2005

Playboy in PSP porn punt

Soft pornmonger Playboy has further expanded its portfolio of e-smut services with the announcement that PSP owners can now avail themselves of the very best in widescreen naked fillies. Hottish on the the heels of Hef's "iBod" photo initiative - launched last December - comes "Cyber Girl of the year Amy Sue Cooper, photographed and formatted specifically for viewing on your PlayStation Portable". Phwooarr! Playboy.com's managing photo editor, Chad Doering, explained: "Gaming and the Internet go hand in hand, so shooting sexy, action-themed pictorials and video for the coolest piece of portable gaming technology out there was a no-brainer." No, Chad, pornography and the internet go "hand-in-hand" and we have no doubt that PSP owners - who display legendary dexterity in the manipulation of small objects (that's PSP controls; no sniggering at the back) - will welcome the chance to roll their cursors over Amy Sue Cooper's charms. As for Amy, the "buff and toned" bombshell enthused: "The shoot was tons of fun. Swords. Kung-fu. Leather.... Now I know what it feels like to be inside a video game." Yeah right. Ms Cooper adds: "The thought of being carried around in a guy's pocket and having him push my buttons is really sexy." Wannabe porn quote fabricators might like to make a note of this classic of the genre. What Ms Cooper probably said was: "Get me out of this f**king leather outfit and get me a Diet Pepsi, for chrissakes." You can get two free (non-nude) galleries and a vid of Cooper here (email registration required). To access the tasteful and beautifully-lit beaver shots, you'll have to cough up some wonga. ® Related stories Playboy turns up the heat with iBod Dutch actress's breasts confound doubters Buy pornography, fight psoriasis
Lester Haines, 21 Apr 2005

Optimize your Linux Performance

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Team Register, 21 Apr 2005

EU trade chief's 'side-trip' included Paul Allen's New Year party

European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson enjoyed drinks with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and schmoozed with the stars on the Caribbean island of St Barthelemy at the New Year, it has emerged. Mandelson is one of a number of EU commissioners (all of them, actually) refusing to give details of hospitality they may have received from "friends", and Mandelson places the St Bathelemy trip in this category. One often wonders where politicians pick up these amazing "friends" who're nothing to do with their day job, and Peter's friends have long been a particularly fascinating subject in UK political circles. In this case, according to reports, Mandelson was among 100 guests on Allen's yacht, but although he met Allen he didn't speak to him. We must therefore presume that it's more likely that he went to the party with some other friends, and that Allen doesn't count as a friend, as such. Who might they be? Regrettably, we know not, but local scribe Ellen Lampert-Greaux's January column provides us with a dazzling list of possibilities - Uma Thurman, Allens Paul and Woody, Spielberg, Lucas, Brad Pitt... no data on the "peers" and "world business leaders", unfortunately. Mandelson was in the Caribbean in advance of official business in Trinidad and Guyana, and took a side trip from 30th December to 3rd January, paying the additional costs himself. He was with "personal friends of long standing with no relation whatsoever to his official position, his official duties, the trade portfolio or the Commission," said a statement from his office. ® Related stories: MS antitrust: IBM, Nokia, Oracle enter the fray Gates drops in on Brussels
John Lettice, 21 Apr 2005

Bulldog to extend reach of unbundled broadband

Cable & Wireless is looking to go head-to-head with BT after announcing plans to extend the reach of its broadband service to a third of the UK. Through its Bulldog subsidiary, C&W has already installed its gear in 320 BT exchanges as part of its local loop unbundling (LLU) plans and expects to have 400 up and running by the end of May - seven months ahead of schedule. The broadband provider is currently weighing up demand for its own unbundled services and is mulling the idea of an "extended roll out that would take our market coverage beyond 30 per cent," C&W said yesterday. While investment in broadband is to be welcomed it does raise concerns that the UK will be hit by a new digital divide brought on by telcos cherry picking the most lucrative urban areas. While major towns and cities will be spoilt for choice for low cost, high speed innovative services, the rest of the UK will have to put up with whatever BT can cobble together. News of Bulldog's plans to provide high speed telecoms services directly to consumers while cutting BT out of the loop came as its parent, C&W, announced plans to invest £190m over the next three years in its Next Generation Network (NGN). The overhaul of its core UK network should transform its existing five separate networks into one IP service platform. Not only would this be able to support whizzy broadband services it should also come on line before BT's own 21st Century Network. For C&W, it should make the telco more competitive and reduce costs by £50m. Said C&W boss Francesco Caio: "The rapid advance in IP technologies provide the opportunity for Cable & Wireless to lead the transformation of the UK telecom industry with the creation of a new model of telecom operator, where strong focus on customer needs and the development of new services is supported by a broadband access network and an IP core. "The shift to Next Generation Networks together with our investment in local loop unbundling/broadband will further differentiate us from other UK operators," he said. Related stories Mixed messages over cheap broadband offer BT tells industry to 'get on with life' BT's 21CN is 'exciting, radical and now' Bulldog service suffers 'performance issue' Coming months 'critical for LLU' Bulldog to resubmit BT complaint UK LLU improving says Telecoms Adjudicator Carve up BT, says Energis boss Tiscali UK to invest £61m in LLU Mixed messages over cheap broadband offer Broadband under a tenner at UK Online
Tim Richardson, 21 Apr 2005

More from Gizmoville

Tech DigestTech Digest The Register may cover everything most sane people would ever want to know about technology, but for certified gadget obsessives Tech Digest and Shiny Shiny scours Gizmoville for the rest: Obligatory iPod Accessory of the Week: C Ronson iPod Hoodie As we know sadly all too well the iPod is now on its way from being the cutting edge toy of the well-heeled uber-geek to the preserve of, well, the Chav. Don't believe us? Well take a peek at this $24 iPod Hoodie from C Ronson. We'd like to think that the hundreds of people who have snapped one up are doing it in an ironic fashion, but alas the fluorescent pink towelling finish is probably a perfect match for their trackie top. Traditional 'how did that get on eBay' story: Sony NW-HD5 It is being billed as the first Sony Walkman that can give the Apple iPod a run for its money (yawn, yawn), but with its diddy dimensions, battery life of 30 hours and shock proof technology we reckon the Sony NW-HD5 20 Gigabyte hard disk personal audio player will fly out of the stores when it goes on sale in the UK/US in June. But hey why bother waiting until then? As Bayraider (http://www.bayraider.tv/2005/04/sonny_cooler_th.html) reports one Japanese dealer has a load of them in all three of the player's colours, silver, red and black, which it is selling on eBay. Last time we looked the price was a pretty reasonable $341. Not bad when you consider you'll pay £200 for one in a month or so's time. Cool Gadget finally reaches the UK story: NHJ VTV-201 NHJ's long awaited TV watch the VTV-201 finally goes on sale this week in the UK via online retailer Firebox (www.firebox.com). Essentially the same model that has been a hit in both the US and Japan the £129.99 VTV-201 features a 1.5inch LCD screen which snaps into a holder to create a rather large wrist watch. There's no on board speakers. Instead sound is relayed to the user via a set of earphones which also double as the watch's aerial. The VTV-201 is analogue terrestrial TV only - it might be a tad tricky attaching a Sky dish to your arm - and pulls in signals from five UK channels. It has a battery life of one hour - much longer if the user is just checking the time and date and not tuning into Emmerdale. Handy USB Gadget of the week: Cup warmer Coffee and computers are a pretty good mix. Nothing keeps you sustained through a late night session of untangling spreadsheets more than a serious jolt of caffeine. But what if your coffee (or beverage of choice) starts to get cold? The answer is obvious: you buy a USB cup warmer. Available for £12.95 from Paramount Zone (http://paramountzone.com/usbcupwarmer.htm) these little wonders not only keep your cup warm, but come with a four port USB hub. Just think - you could keep five drinks warm at once! Ahh, the power. Useful Gadget of the Week: Optoma H27 projector with air purifier Projectors may are not often associated with the ladies, but this gadget speaks across the genders to neurotics of either sex. After all, who hasn't found themselves in the middle of a favourite movie only to catch a whiff of some foul miasma making its way merrily up your nostrils? As well as projecting your highly tasteful and cultured DVD collection onto your walls, Optoma's H27 home entertainment projector also comes with a built in Photo Catalytic three stage Titanium dioxide air purifier. It de-odorises any pongs, takes out the bacteria and then removes harmful hydrocarbons. Stay in watching movies enough and you won't be able to step outside your door without succumbing to the first germ you inhale. But at least the air will be kept pong-proof. The H27 retails for £845. Quick Picks: Toshiba gigabeat Pretty impressive collection of hard-disk-based personal audio players which will be hitting the UK in June. Waterproof MP3 players for swimmers Coming soon are new models from the Ministry of Sound and Oregon Scientific Nikon D50 and D70 Possibly the most complete budget Digital SLRs are given a revamp Do you know the way to San Jose? Toyota debuts combined in car navigation/karaoke system Loads more of this stuff at Tech Digest, Shiny Shiny, Green consumer blog HippyShopper and Bayraider which delves into the dark side of online auction sites.
Tech Digest, 21 Apr 2005

NASA postpones Shuttle flight

The Space Shuttle's return to flight has been delayed by a week, NASA managers said yesterday. Fortunately, the scheduled launch window is big enough to accommodate the delay: it originally ran from 15 May to 3 June, but NASA now says 22 May is the earliest possible date for a launch and warns that there could yet be further delays. The postponement will give engineers more time to check over new safety measures and changes to the shuttle's design, Reuters reports. All but one of the modifications to the craft were passed by safety engineers during a review this week, but a 50-foot robotic arm is still awaiting final approval. The arm, which is laden with sensors, will be used to check the underside and wings of the craft for damage, during the flight. Being able to check for damage during the flight is one of the 15 recommendations made in the aftermath of the Columbia shuttle disaster. Shuttle manager Bill Parsons and deputy manager Wayne Hale told reporters that they were working towards a 22 May launch date, based on the best information they had. Hale added: "But we are not schedule-driven and we will not launch until we are ready to fly." Should NASA have to postpone the launch of the shuttle Discovery past 3 June, the next opportunity to get back into orbit is in July, when the next launch window opens. ® Related stories ISS relief crew blast off on Soyuz spacecraft NASA fuels up Discovery for tank-tests Cracked insulation delays shuttle roll-out
Lucy Sherriff, 21 Apr 2005

PlusNet racks up 100k broadband punters

PlusNet has around 100,000 broadband punters, the Sheffield-based ISP revealed yesterday. At the end of March the ISP had 98,125 broadband users - up from 57,673 at the same time in 2004. Publishing a trading update for the three months to the end of March, PlusNet reported that revenues for Q1 was £8.2m - up 34 per cent on the corresponding period last year. Margins have also "sharpened", the company said, helped in part by recent cuts in the cost of wholesale broadband from near-monopoly provider BT. PlusNet also announced that it has appointed a former BT man - Danny Sullivan - as chief operating officer. Danny boy was responsible for establishing BT's ISP group and the development of its ISP strategy. Which is nice. ® Related stories PlusNet doubles broadband numbers PlusNet to trial BT's 8Mb broadband Insight exits PlusNet, raises £15.8m
Tim Richardson, 21 Apr 2005
channel

PC-WARE buys Austrian reseller

PC-WARE, the German-owned reseller which specialises in flogging Microsoft licences, is buying an Austrian reseller for an undisclosed sum. Datacontract (Vienna) is a corporate dealer employing 20 people and has sales of €30m a year. Currently it focuses on selling hardware and services - it is a reseller for IBM and Fujitsu Siemens. Under the new ownership, it will start building up its software revenues. The deal closes on 1 June - press release is here (pdf). PC-WARE operates in 12 European countries, including the UK, and in South Africa. It is one of five European large account resellers for Microsoft. You can find its most up-to-date financials here (pdf). ®
Drew Cullen, 21 Apr 2005

Smile: you're under global surveillance

A newly-published report warns that a global infrastructure of registration and surveillance is emerging through the efforts of groups such as the EU, G8 and ICAO. According to the report, which was produced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Focus on the Global South, Friends Committee (US), International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (Canada), and Statewatch, anti-terror and security measures being driven largely by the US are being used to roll back freedom, increase powers and exercise increasing control over individuals and populations. The report details a number of "signposts" on the road to global surveillance, and argues that these add up to a bigger picture where the aim is to ensure that "almost everyone on the planet is 'registered', that all travel is tracked globally, that all electronic communications and transactions can be easily watched, and that all the information collected about individuals in public or private-sector databases is stored, linked, and made available to state agents. Most of the signposts are already clearly visible. Registration systems for foreigners, national ID schemes and biometric passports provide the registration process, while electronic borders, passenger data sharing and threat lists cover surveillance of physical movements. The increased sharing of database and their convergence at an international level have accelerated the globalisation of surveillance and security, while mutual legal assistance arrangements contribute to an erosion of democratic values and sovereign checks and balances. The technological capacity of the structures being built "dwarfs any previous system and makes Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four look quaint", says the report. The result, however, will be a massive loss of freedoms in exchange for systems which do not succeed in their intended purposes, and which may even obstruct them by chasing down the blind alleys of predictive 'threat models' and risk profiling. "The initiatives described in this report are not effective in flagging terrorists or stopping their determined plans," it says. "They divert crucial resources away from the kind of investments in human intelligence we need to give us good intelligence about specific threats, rather than useless information on the nearly 100 per cent of the population that poses no threat whatsoever." On the back of the report the groups have, with the support of around 100 civil liberties groups and NGOs world-wide, launched the International Campaign Against Mass Surveillance (ICAMS), which will campaign against mass surveillance-oriented anti-terrorism efforts. Commented Statewatch director Tony Bunyan: "Our message is that mandatory registration and mass surveillance are not the answers to the problem of terrorism, and not a road that any nation should be heading down. What is needed is good intelligence on specific threats - not the so-called 'risk-profiling' of entire populations and the generation of more information than can possibly be usefully analysed. There is a real danger that in trying to watch everyone you are actually watching no-one." ® Related links: Statewatch Full report Executive summary
John Lettice, 21 Apr 2005
channel

TSG secures £25m facility for takeover trail

Technology Services Group (TSG), the Newcastle-based accounting software reseller, has signed a £25m facility from Lloyds TSB Corporate, to bankroll further growth. Set up two years ago by Sage co-founder Graham Wylie, TSG has bought several small dealerships, mostly northern or Scottish, to build a branch network serving small and medium-sized businesses. The company now employs 380 people who flog IT services to 9,000 customers. It claims annual turnover of £38m and now it is gunning for £100m sales within three years. To do this, it will buy more resellers - it says it is only a third of the way in through its acquisition programme, establishing offices nationwide. TSG's national roll-up is an unusual strategy - mostly, big firms try to get small and medium-sized businesses through phone, internet, or through strictly local dealers with their local knowledge, and lower overheads. TSG is taking a different tack. It makes sense for the company to lead in with accountancy software, which is a relatively high-ticket, high-margin sale, with recurring revenues fuelled by customer inertia / lock-in. So the firm has a good chance of succeeding in its aim of becoming the "leading national player in the IT services market for SMEs", especially as there doesn't appear to be that much competition for the title. ® Related stories TSG buys Leeds reseller Mentec buys British Great Plains reseller TSG buys Scottish dealer Sage co-founder goes to Glasgow Sage founder buys Nordic Data
Drew Cullen, 21 Apr 2005
globalisation

Warez site riddled with mobile malware

A search of sites hosting cracked versions of apps for Symbian phones has unearthed 52 "previously unidentified Trojans", according to New Zealand-based mobile anti-virus specialist Simworks. Other anti-virus experts reckon that the infected files found by Simworks are more properly described as repackaged versions of previously identified malware. The malicious files found by Simworks pose as popular applications and games such Bitstorm, BugMe! Cosmic Fighter, 3D Motoracer, and Splash ID. In addition to the installation files for the app itself, the files include various versions of previously known malware such as Cabir and Locknut. There are no reports of any of the “new Trojans” in the wild. Simworks chief exec Aaron Davidson said, "It would be easy for a malware author to create one Trojan and give it 52 different names. However this is not the case here where we have 52 separately cracked and infected applications. Somebody has gone to an awful lot of time and effort to turn these out." Mikko Hyppönen, director of anti-virus research at F-Secure, said it was likely that a virus author used an automated script to install malicious code in a collection of cracked applications. "We've looked hard on P2P networks and warez sites but have been unable to find the malicious code samples Simworks describes. These files are not easy to come by so the risk posed is quite low," he said. Hyppönen said Simworks' warning covers 52 new repackaged apps which when run will install Trojans rather than previously unseen Trojans. Simworks said the malicious files it found target smart phones running Symbian OS Version 6.1 or above such as the Nokia 3650, 6600 and 6630. None affect UIQ-based smartphones such as the SonyEriccson P900 or the Motorola A925. Simworks advises users not to download applications from unknown sources or warez sites. ® Related stories Mobile botnet threat downplayed Mobile Trojan kills smart phones How shall I own your mobile phone today?
John Leyden, 21 Apr 2005

Mine landfill for renewable energy, report

Rubbish dumps could supply up to a fifth of the UK's electricity, enough to power two million homes, by 2020, according to a report from UK engineers and green-energy lobbyists. Peter Gerstrom, chairman of the Institute of Civil Engineers' board of waste management, warned that on current form, the UK will not meet EU targets for renewable energy. The EU Renewables Directive calls on member states to produce 10 per cent of their energy from renewable sources by 2010, and 20 per cent by 2020. He argues that redirecting biodegradable waste from our landfills will have benefits aside from energy production: "Waste into energy will have environmental benefits by reducing the rubbish mountain. It also has the added bonus that recycling residual biodegradable waste in this way is an effective way of hitting the targets in the EU Landfill Directive. "Instead of burying rubbish that is left after recycling it can be used to create electricity through a variety of measures," Gerstrom said. These measures would include incineration of large quantities of the waste, which raises questions about acceptable levels of particulate pollution, and emission of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. However, a spokeswoman for the Renewable Energy Association explains that much of the material being incinerated would have a closed carbon cycle. This means that they will only return to the atmosphere the carbon they used to grow, and that carbon will be pulled back out of the atmosphere when other plants are grown in their place. In total, burning this biomass will not add to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. "About sixty eight per cent of the calorific value of this waste we are talking about is biomass, which counts towards a CO2 emission saving. Of course plastics, which are derived from fossil fuels, do not count as an emission saving," she told us. As for other emissions, she argues that any plant burning fuel will generate some particulate pollution: "It is a case of six of one, half a dozen of another," she said. However, since the incineration of waste is more tightly regulated than burning coal, the pollution generated from burning in a waste incinerator should be lower, she added. You can download the full report here. ® Related stories NEC swaps PCs for trees BT goes green Dell jumps on UK recycling bandwagon
Lucy Sherriff, 21 Apr 2005

Colt takeover rumours 'unfounded' says boss

Colt Telecom dismissed speculation about its future as "unfounded rumours" as it unveiled its first quarter numbers today. Unveiling the figures, Chief exec Jean-Yves Charlier was quizzed about whether the alternative telco had been approached by potential bidders to buy-out the company, following a report two weeks ago that Danish telco TDC was sniffing around Colt. A spokesman confirmed Charlier rubbished the rumours, describing them as "unfouded". Charlier's dismissal of the takeover rumours came as the telco reported that pre-tax losses had swelled from £21.7m in Q1 2004 to £30.5m in the first three months of the year. At the same time turnover was up a smidgen from £302.9m to £307m. As part of plans to keep a lid on costs a further 71 jobs have been created in India with a corresponding loss of around 46 jobs in Europe. In a statement Colt chairman Barry Bateman said the company maintained revenues against a backdrop of "continuing tough markets". By lunch shares in Colt were up 2.5p (5 per cent) at 51.75p. ® Related stories TDC sniffing around Colt - report Who should buy Colt? TDC target for take-over - report
Tim Richardson, 21 Apr 2005

Peeping Tom Trojan suspect cuffed in Cyprus

A 45-year-old man from Cyprus was arrested Monday on sexual harassment charges after allegedly hacking into a webcam in order to take illicit pictures of a young woman in her bedroom, the Cyprus Mail reports. The unnamed suspect, a computer technician from Nicosia, Cyprus, is alleged to have spied on the 17-year-old girl through her webcam after infecting her PC with an unspecified Trojan horse. He allegedly took footage of the teenager while she was alone in her bedroom before threatening to send the illicit content to her email contacts unless she stood naked in front of the webcam. The girl refused and contacted the police. Anti-virus firm Sophos said the last 12 months have been accompanied by a dramatic rise in forms of malicious code designed to spy on unsuspecting computer users. Viruses, worms and Trojan horses with spying capabilities have risen from five to 15 new instances per day or just under half of the average of around 35 new forms of malicious codes Sophos spots daily. Virtually every new instance of the Rbot internet worm, for example, includes the capability to take photos and movies of unsuspecting computer users. Users are advised to use personal firewalls and anti-virus defences to defend against infection. At the very least unplugging the USB connection of a webcam when it's not in use would be a good idea. ® Related stories Meet the Peeping Tom worm Webcam Trojan suspect arrested in Spain Webcam Trojan perv gets slapped wrist
John Leyden, 21 Apr 2005
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Outsourcing UK public sector services - the moral hazards

CommentComment Recent estimates by Kable, an organisation which provides technology research and analysis on the UK government and public services sector, suggest that almost one fifth of public sector services (£60bn) could be delivered through outsourcing to private and voluntary bodies. Principle sectors targeted for this treatment appear to be the health and education sectors, which are subject to frequent reforms with very uncertain success to date. Much of the health sector outsourcing and a growing element of the education outsourcing will be IT services, and those business processes delivered and supported by IT. Most outsourcing in the public sector has been conducted under the so-called Private Finance Initiatives (PFI), where revenues - but not profits - have been guaranteed to the supplier in return for investment in the provision of outsourced public sector services. In return for this private funding, the private sector may gain very substantial rewards over a prolonged period - and own the assets created. PFI appears to be the perfect solution for governments committed to low public spending - it does not show up as public borrowing, (a dubious piece of accounting very unlikely be tolerated in private sector financial accounting and reporting). The issue of moral hazard, present in all outsourcing contracts, is a familiar issue faced in the private sector where businesses have outsourced their corporate IT but the outsourcing supplier fundamentally fails to deliver. So much is at stake for the core business that removing the supplier is counterproductive. In consequence, there exists a whole layer of senior IT decision-makers devoted to the skills of managing the relationship. But at least with private sector outsourcing disputes there remains the possibility that the customer may still call a halt after a series of failures. Moral hazard is exemplified in outsourcing of public sector IT services. In outsourced public sector services, the supplier owns the intellectual property before the system is even delivered. Removing the supplier means, in effect, a total restart of the project. This is a significant, if not the major, risk (and moral hazard) in public sector outsourcing. Where private sector funding is providing the majority (normally 90 per cent) of the investment, it makes no sense in PFI contracts to call a halt to the projects. The most that government or public sector authorities may do is to extract compensation for failures to deliver, but this is normally capped in the outsourcing contract. PFI contracts make no sense, where the supplier provides the investment, unless the public sector secures a charge over the intellectual property until it is satisfied with the delivery. Indeed, it would make more sense for the public sector to be an equal investor in the intellectual property. Providers would then no longer have the power of ownership over the intellectual property. Copyright © 2005, IT-Director.com Related stories Courts IT project shocking waste of money CSA computer system '£50m over budget' Electronic courts scheme in crisis talks
Bob McDowall, 21 Apr 2005

Orange and Microsoft push data at business

Orange and Microsoft are partnering on a series of offers to tempt businesses small and large into trusting their corporate data to mobile devices. The UK tie-up higlights the sort of marriages of convenience we are likely to see more of, as vendors, operators, service providers and systems integrators scramble for a piece of the expanding mobile data pie. The companies will offer businesses with more than 50 employees a 60 day trial of its Windows Mobile-based SPV C500 smart phones, which together with Microsoft’s Exchange 2003 comms platform, will allow trialees to experience the joy of pushing out a full range of corporate data to mobile users. The trial period runs as long as 60 days. Companies with less than 50 employees, or put another way, the rest of us, can have a 30 day trial of the SPV C500. Perhaps Orange and Microsoft reckon such teensy organizations will actually be able to fit all their corporate data on a single smart phone. Orange has worked closely with Microsoft in the past, as well as with mobile data pioneer, Research in Motion. Shaun Orpen, marketing director for Orange business solutions, said that while RIM, with its Blackberry, had done a “brilliant job of increasing awareness” of the potential of mobilizing data, companies were now looking for ways to roll out the concept beyond senior executives and specialists in the field. But Orpen insisted the latest crop of promotions did not mean the operator was hitching itself to Microsoft’s particular platform, saying “It’s very clear… no one size fits all.” That said, aligning with Microsoft could mean a pretty broad fit for Orange’s mobile data service Orpen said that telecoms operators had to evolve the way they approach accounts as telecoms and IT purchasing are brought closer together by customers. On the one hand this means working closer with IT product and services vendors. At the same time, the telco is taking on more IT industry veterans to help it target large accounts face to face. Related stories T-Mobile delays 3G Wi-Fi phone debut 3GSM 2005: complete coverage Microsoft punts telco platform Microsoft excluded from DoCoMo's ecosystem
Joe Fay, 21 Apr 2005

Smart phones make inroads in business

Businesses around Europe are increasingly adopting mobile devices and seeing them as central to their IT strategy. That's according to the latest survey from research firm IDC, which indicates that mobile device penetration in companies in Western Europe will increase significantly during 2005. While the research firm points out that run-of-the-mill mobile phones are still the top mobile devices used by businesses in Europe, converged devices such as smart phones have shown significant growth in the year so far. "The economies of experience, familiarity, and confidence consolidated in the deployment and integration of standalone handhelds with company IT infrastructure, combined with declining handheld ASPs, ensured the PDA remains the most widely adopted device. However, increasing visibility and confidence in the application capability and security protocols of converged devices will continue to drive smart phone penetration in 2005/2006," said Geoff Blaber, IDC research analyst, European Mobile Devices. Encouraged by a growing range of both hardware and software for smartphones as well as improvements in security, compatibility and cost, the smartphone is suddenly a much more attractive prospect for IT managers, IDC says. Slowly but surely smartphones are making their presence felt in the mobile phone market. A report from IDC in March 2005 showed that sales of converged devices grew by 40 per cent in Europe during 2004, although the segment still represents just 4 per cent of the total mobile phone market. However, IDC predicted that during 2005 70 per cent more converged devices would be sold in Europe, accounting for 6 per cent of total phone sales. How businesses use mobile devices is changing too, the report claims. Application usage is maturing beyond just personal information management (PIM) - calendar, contacts and organiser - thanks to advances in device specifications, increased adoption, and the central integration of mobility into an IT strategy, the report added. Copyright © 2005, ENN Related stories Warez site riddled with mobile malware US mobile carriers shun iTunes Mobile email consolidation kicks off
Deirdre McArdle, 21 Apr 2005

Theorists dazzled by 'perfect' liquid

US Researchers say they have created a new state of matter at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in the Brookhaven National Laboratory. The scientists used the machine to hurl gold ions at other gold ions and, in the manner of particle physicists, they watched to see what happened next. The resulting mix of quarks and gluons did not behave quite as expected, Spacedaily.com reports. Theorists predict that just after the big bang, there would have existed a quark-gluon plasma, and some theorists argue that this is what the researchers have discovered. However, scientists say that the matter seems to be more like a dense liquid. The particles show a tendency to move collectively when subjected to pressure, for instance. "The truly stunning finding at RHIC that the new state of matter created in the collisions of gold ions is more like a liquid than a gas gives us a profound insight into the earliest moments of the universe," notes Dr Raymond Orbach, director of the Department of Energy office of science. The liquid is also unusual in that its flow properties appear to match hydrodynamic models rather too well. Researchers say that it is nearly "perfect" in this respect. "In fact, the degree of collective interaction, rapid thermalisation, and extremely low viscosity of the matter being formed at RHIC make this the most nearly perfect liquid ever observed," said Sam Aronson, Brookhaven's associate laboratory director. Aronson went on to explain that the matter could still be a quark-gluon plasma, just a slightly different form to that predicted by theory. You can read more here at Spacedaily.com. ® Related stories Boffins five quarks short of a sub-atomic particle Quantum crypto comes to Blighty Scientists lighten up on dark energy
Lucy Sherriff, 21 Apr 2005

Tories board hi-tech battle bus

If you've ever wondered just how it is that Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin formulate on-the-fly policies regarding Council Tax while tirelessly gladhanding in different parts of country during the the no-holds-barred slanging match which is otherwise known as a "pre-election campaign", then brace yourself for a comms kit overload. According to a breathless press release just in, it's all down to a mobile "tactical" video conferencing unit aboard the Tory "Battle Bus" via which Howard communicates with his colleagues and advisors. Apparently, "the system gives Howard and his advisors the capability to meet for face-to-face consultation (and share data) even while the leader is on the road. Obviously, this is handy in terms of discussing strategy and tactics as campaign events unfold, and agreeing on decisions in real time." Blimey. The gear in question is seemingly the same as that used by the military and doctors working in "remote and extreme locations". Should survive a campaign trip to Middlesboro, then. It features a "rugged, watertight carry-on size case" and boasts "15.4-inch WXGA video screen, storage space for a laptop or satellite modem, CD-quality audio and embedded security". Video conferencing comms are via satellite IP set-up courtesy of TANDBERG (press release CAPS, btw) and Margolis. It's all part of a Conservative information octopus with limbs streching to "Conservative Party HQ boardroom (for the use of the Shadow Cabinet), in Liam Fox's* office, in the party office in Birmingham and in a undisclosed London hotel". The press release promises some pictures of the "mobile 'tactical' video conferencing unit" in action in the near future, but everyone knows that Nosferatu don't appear in photogr... No, in the interests of balanced reporting, we're going to nip that one in the bud. And you'll get no quips about boxes filled with Romanian soil aboard the Battle Bus, either. And just to prove that we are entirely even-handed in the run-up to Election 2005™, here's one example of a hi-tech piece of kit you will never see aboard a Conservative pre-election charabanc: the biometric ID card. Of course, they'll be entirely unnecessary under a Tory regime because all of the illegal immigrants will have been beaten into the English Channel by riot police... [You're fired - Ed] ® *Samantha Fox's lesser-known brother, according to our political database. Related stories Tory group report attacks ID scheme as a con trick Political cybersquatting rears ugly head Labour fingered for cyber 'dirty tricks campaign'
Lester Haines, 21 Apr 2005

Man executes Chrysler

RoTM™ NewsflashRoTM™ Newsflash Those readers who have written over the last couple of weeks to demand an update on the latest position regarding the Rise of the Machines™ should rest assured that tomorrow will see a new exposé on the burgeoning technical uprising which is so chilling that the text has been written in three separate parts by a trio of hacks working in isolation lest exposure to the full draft provoke a terminal traumatic stress incident. In the meantime, members of the neoLuddite Resistance Army who have been following the chilling saga of murderous automobiles - including mephistopholean Renault Lagunas and break-dancing Citroens - are invited to raise their glasses to 64-year-old John McGivney who pulled a piece on his cantankerous Chrysler in Fort Lauderdale and pumped the Devil's machine full of lead. Neighbours, clearly unaware of the great service McGivney was performing for future generations, duly called the police who slapped the cuffs on the NRA hero. When asked why he had put five .380 semiautomatic rounds into the Chrysler, McGivney replied: "I'm putting my car out of its misery." After a short spell in the cells, a bailed and unrepentant McGivney declared: "I think every guy in the universe has wanted to do it. It was worth every damn minute in that jail." Sir, we salute you. ® The Rise of the Machines™ Rise of the man-eating cyberloo Sobbing Frenchman recounts Renault Laguna terror ordeal Fire-breathing bus attacks South London Dyson unleashes self-replicating hoover Battling teen crushes roboarm menace French join motorised Lizard Alliance Lizard Army develops copulating robot We are Zogg: The Cuddly Menace Lizard Army invades Alaska London menaced by flaming DVD players Killer hoover attacks Scotsman Car self-destructs in assassination bid The rise of the rat-brain controlled android Japanese unveil trumpet-playing robot Boffins unleash robotic cockroach Ukrainian teen fights the Rise of the Machines Man in satanic Renault terror ordeal Killer cyberappliances: Satan implicated US develops motorised robobollard Killer cyberloo kidnaps kiddie A robot in every home by 2010 Cyberappliances attack Italian village Fire-breathing buses threaten London Cyberloo blast rocks Stoke-on-Trent Spanish cyberkiosks claim second victim Cyberkiosk assaults Spanish teenager Hi-tech toilet caught on camera Hi-tech toilet swallows woman
Lester Haines, 21 Apr 2005

Amenworld workers strike over proposed VIA sale

Workers at European web hosting outfit Amenworld have been on strike for last week or so after discovering that parent company VIA NET.WORKS has signed a letter of agreement to be snapped up by UK ISP Claranet. Staff claim they only found out about the deal after reading press reports and are outraged at the lack of consultation. They say they've been left in limbo made worse by VIA NET.WORKS' lack of communication and failure to give them any reassurance about their future. Matters have become even more unsettled after striking workers claimed senior members of staff have been shunted out of the company. At this stage it's unclear how many people have joined the industrial action. In a statement workers said: "To date 100 per cent of Amenworld UK & Amen Spain - and 90 per cent of customer service representatives at Amen France - are on strike." It's understood that between 30 and 40 people work in France with a "small number" at Amen's other country operations. An impromptu meeting with Claranet boss Charles Nasser at the ISP's Paris offices failed to give workers the necessary assurances they wanted. Among a list of demands drawn up workers want their jobs and pay guaranteed for at least a year. A spokesman for VIA NET.WORKS confirmed that staff at the company had walked out but declined to say how many had downed tools. He added that action taken by the company had meant that none of the Amen's 95,000 customers had been affected by the strike. "Some individuals are on strike," he told The Register, but added that the company had "brought in staff from other operations to ensure that customer service is maintained. The strike has had no impact on customers." Earlier this month VIA NET.WORKS - the business-focused telco in Europe and the US which said it was facing an "urgent liquidity problem" - agreed to be rescued by UK ISP Claranet for $27m. Both companies signed a letter of intent for Claranet to snaffle up VIA NET.WORKS. Claranet has coughed up a $3m deposit for exclusive negotiation rights with VIA and has until April 30 to complete the deal. ® Related stories Claranet to buy VIA NET.WORKS VIA NET.WORKS faces liquidity crisis Claranet buys VIA NET.WORKS UK 'Offensive' ad lands Amen in hot water
Tim Richardson, 21 Apr 2005

Apple's Big Virus

After your identity has been stolen, your bank accounts compromised, 53 critical patches and 27 reboots later, when will you decide that you've had enough? Back in 1984, William Gibson's Neuromancer had an incredibly bleak view of our future with technology -- from social decay to daily security breaches based on greed and corruption. This dystopian view is one that many people forget, because Gibson of course coined the term cyberspace even before he'd ever used a computer to any great extent. As a favorite author of mine, he seems to have since discovered there's some joy to the Internet after all, and you might even say that he's never looked back. I've never had a dystopian view of technology, but I do think we're pulling the general population forward into a realm of the underworld that they're simply never going to "get." Let's step beyond the growing privacy issues, the identity theft and so on for a moment. It's so easy to become accustomed to technology and all its failings, where viruses, trojans and such have become a fact of life -- for Microsoft Windows users, at least. We've come to accept the countless virus infections, the Trojan that steals passwords, and the loss of an average user's identity as inevitable and acceptable, and it makes me wonder if we're taking our users down the right path. Same old story? Not really. Alternative environments like Apple and Linux are finally catching on. Unit sales of Apple Computer's OS X based computers grew by 43% in the past quarter, over the same time last year -- in business terms, that's incredible growth. Revenue grew by 70%, and profit grew by an unbelievable 530%, thanks to the little music revolution they call the iPod and the iTunes Music Store. What's fueling Apple's growth, besides the infamous iPod halo effect? Security. Either it's the perceived security that is thought to be better in OS X, or it's the documented lack of security in the Windows world. By that, I mean that you can't assume everyone who owns Genuine Windows is running XP with Service Pack 2, which has some improved security features -- because there are a few hundred million people out there still running Windows 2000, 98, or something else. No, they don't have automatic updates, and no, they may never understand what a firewall is. Anyone who works hands-on in the security field has his own experience spending countless hours removing viruses and spyware, or becoming adept at formatting and reinstalling (or laying down a new image), patching, immunizing, and so on. Whether it's in your large corporate environment or your Uncle Bob's computer at home, it all takes time. Here's a simple example of a recent virus incident, and one organization's lackluster information response. I discovered a nasty Trojan on a relative's computer. He's a prominent member of the federal government and uses his computer for online banking, so I urged him to contact his bank. The response the customer received from the Royal Bank, the largest bank in Canada and one of the 10 largest banks in the world, was interesting. The representative said that their systems are secure enough that a Trojan or virus cannot infect them -- but she said thanks for calling to let them know his home computer had been infected, that his accounts may have been compromised, and have a nice day. No discussion about stolen passwords, identity theft, or even the need to change the his online password. Get some better anti-virus software, she said. And again, have a nice day. The person on the line didn't "get it," and I can assure you that my relative didn't really "get it" either until after a long talk. With confirmation from his bank, he was now confident that his system, the same one with the Trojan and the keylogger still on it, was perfectly fine. A virus is normal; it's a fact of life. It's no big deal, right? Why not just email me your SSN, your credit card numbers, and date of birth then -- or print it out on paper and post it in the street? The typical user is now forced to use the computer on every desktop, but must he also become an MCSE to administer it? Viruses don't have to be a fact of life. There are no viruses on OS X -- not a single one. The reason most often touted is Apple's lack of critical mass, but that argument has been beaten to death. There are millions of OS X computers out there. It's not that a virus couldn't be written for it either. Far from it. The soft underbelly of Unix (or Darwin, an open-source Unix like OS similar to FreeBSD) is just as vulnerable as the eye-candy applications that run on top of it. Step back from Apple's three-tiered user privilege system (user, GUI superuser, and root, which is disabled by default) and understand that users can still be tricked into clicking on anything -- social engineering will always work, and there will always be people who click. Why, then, are there no viruses for OS X? Just as Windows users have become accustomed to 140,000 viruses, Apple users have become accustomed to none. It's a major cultural difference that admittedly, sometimes causes Apple users to do stupid things -- and get away with them. It's hard to describe the freedom of using a system with no malware known to have spread. It's liberating. Beyond critical mass, I would like to believe there's a better reason for the lack of viruses on OS X, and it's based on the culture of the Mac -- which is distinctly different from other platforms. Is it wrong to try a new computer system and actually enjoy the user experience, for a change? Can you imagine a world where (today) you can click on anything and never worry about malicious intent? Can we not continue this unwritten rule that there can be a platform out there that is simple, easy-to-use, with Unix (and a cool ports tree) underneath that has no threat at all from viruses? Perhaps I'm living in a pipe dream, but that reality is here today. Linux is also close, but OS X is already there. Perhaps Apple's big virus is really just the market enthusiasm that translate to new unit sales, spread like a contagion, that fuels their 70% year-over-year revenue growth. I held off writing this column for the better part of a year, because many SecurityFocus readers have the intellect, talent and ability to write a virus that could be quite nasty on OS X. There's the general notion that (shh!), any added exposure to the platform might bring it out of the limelight. But if a Windows programmer or security researcher can try a new operating system and enjoy it just enough to not want to destroy it, then there's hope for us all. I should have also prefaced this column with the disclaimer that most SecurityFocus staff use OS X in some way or another, if not at work then at home, so we're somewhat biased. After covering multi-platform security news all day long, from WiFi penetration testing to intrusion detection and honeypots, at the end of the day it's nice to use a system that's not on everyone's radar for a change. Let's keep it that way. Copyright © 2005, Kelly Martin has been working with networks and security for 18 years, from VAX to XML, and is currently the content editor for Symantec's independent online magazine, SecurityFocus. Related stories Eight patches - five critical - in MS April patch batch Browser bugs sprout eternal Anti-virus vulnerabilities strike again
Kelly Martin, 21 Apr 2005
globalisation

Database misuse: who watches the watchers?

Misuse of database information by insiders happens everyday, and there's little we can do about it. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodies? Two groups of people will understand the meaning of this phrase. Those classically trained with a few years of Latin at some point during their education will be one group - and then there's the paranoid. I'd venture a guess that there's quite a few paranoid security professionals reading this, since it's a trait that pays great dividends in our line of work. But if you're a paranoid linguist who's stumbled across this column, then Google made a mistake - keep searching. Last month, I discussed privacy breaches within several major companies. We learned over the span of a few days that hundreds of thousands of consumer identities were potentially compromised when some large companies "lost" the data to both criminals and logistics. The stories were hot topics for major news outlets and bloggers, due to the companies involved and the massive number of compromised records. We're still seeing ripples from these incidents with new references and follow-up articles. Maybe all it will take is some bad press to convince these large companies that privacy is now paramount, on par with price and service - but one can only wish. What's bothering me now? It's the security and privacy stories that don't make major headlines, and recently I stumbled across two that stuck with me. The first only came my way when the Drudge Report picked it up. A woman in Florida wrote some rather unflattering remarks about a local sheriff in the newspaper. She was then caught off guard after receiving a letter at home from the sheriff himself, using her full name. Inquiries from reporters revealed the fact that the sheriff and his staff had used Florida's driving records system to access personal information about the lady after seeing the letter in the newspaper. The other story, one seemingly more relevant to our line of work, involved a student changing her grades. I know what you're thinking, "That's the most clichéd hack this side of Wargames, I bet he's going to launch into a diatribe on authentication measures." Wrong! What I found most intriguing about the story was that the girl used private information about two professors which she obtained from a database at her job with a local insurance company. Using that data, she reset their school passwords, logged in illegally and changed her grades. Is this what gets passed off as a hack these days? What do these stories have in common? One strikes me as a gross violation of power and public trust. Even though the information the sheriff needed may be available via Google, accessing state records in order to address a critical letter is just wrong. The other is a seemingly silly "hack" where someone didn't think the plan fully through. In both cases, we have an insider using privileged access to gain personal and confidential information on "customers". In the security world, we are constantly worried about the people getting in from the outside. The thought of hackers poking around and stealing information keeps all of us up at night. It's why we read books and articles, buy new products, and install the latest and greatest software. And every security pro worth their salt remembers to address the insider threat. But I think too often we only consider the "big" risks. The salesman duplicating a client contact list before resigning, the engineer copying a crucial algorithm before switching jobs, the customer service rep writing down credit card numbers. Or the whopper - one disgruntled IT worker sabotaging the network! But what about the little risks? A sheriff looking up a woman's home address using a private system. A student learning her professor's SSN and DOB from the insurance company database. A tech at an ISP browsing a coworker's email. A teller browsing her neighbors' bank accounts. A sys-admin leaking a celebrity's phone cam pics. These little violations are endless in nature and add up to big issues over time. Compounding the problem is how difficult the monitoring insider activity can be. It's all about someone roaming just a tiny bit outside the normal bounds of their job activity and access, for personal interest or gain. While the arguments can be made that the student shouldn't have access to that type of information in the database, it was realistically part of her job. And what's strange about a sheriff running a name for license plates? A competent DBA would certainly notice someone doing massive, broad database queries, but what about a few stray ones here and there? And virtually every type of entity maintains client records. My customers include accountants, lawyers, schools, retail shops, local government and health organizations, every one of which has the potential for such abuse. Very few, aside from those affected by HIPAA, even consider such threats worth addressing. So what can we do? Every situation is different, which means there's no easy, all-encompassing answer. One of the more clever security ideas I've seen in a while comes from Lance Spitzer of Honeynet fame - the Honeytoken. Basically they're bogus entities (such as database records, files, spreadsheet entries) that trigger an alarm when accessed. This is a great idea for catching someone doing some rather broad snooping, but it still wouldn't have worked for the scenarios described above. Obviously we can increase access control and audit trails, but reviewing such data for abuse is a daunting, if not impossible task. In an ideal world, restricted information would be encrypted and available only on a need-to-know basis, but I've yet to come across an "ideal" system combining proper authentication, access and audit controls. I fear that the security business is rapidly becoming just that - a business where mitigating threats is based on ROI, which means that defending against such attacks just isn't feasible for most organizations. And while the occasional privacy violation seems trivial, perhaps even silly to some readers, these abuses really do add up over time. What about the thousands of tiny violations that go unreported or unnoticed? As we've learned from the larger companies failures, they can be costly in terms of lawsuits and publicity when discovered. Which brings us back to Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodies. "But who is watching the watchers?" The quote used to be a mantra for conspiracy theorists fearing a 1984 style world of government monitoring. But the watchers have turned out to be our own employees, bosses, co-workers and clients. The same people who go to work every day with growing access to internal reports, database queries, privileged communications and more. Every entity has an obligation to protect the private information they hold - either for customers or public citizens. And that means from threats big and small, external and internal. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodies? Tu et ego. But who is watching the watchers? You and I. Copyright © 2005, Matthew Tanase is president of Qaddisin, a services company providing nationwide security consulting. Related stories Privacy from the trenches George Bush fears email privacy breach It's official: ChoicePoint, LexisNexis rooted many times
Matthew Tanase, 21 Apr 2005
channel

Man unearths MoD secrets at rubbish dump

A Hampshire man has found sensitive Ministry of Defence plans on a laptop he was given at a rubbish dump. Martin Dunn, 31, was foraging for computer parts when a woman gave him a bag containing a laptop she was about to ditch, The Sun reports. A subsequent investigation of the PC revealed "70 top-secret files" giving details of contingency plans at Army and Navy bases about what do in the event of a terrorist attack. This data should not have been so easily accessible, according to Peter Jaco, chief exec of encryption specialist BeCrypt. Mobile devices can easily be lost or stolen, so data held on them should be encrypted to adhere with the Data Protection Act and to avoid a compromise of national or individual security, he added. An MoD spokesman said it had initiated an inquiry to establish whether or not the laptop was official MoD equipment. The MoD has procedures in place to ensure equipment being disposed of doesn't contain sensitive information, he added. In 2002, the MoD admitted 594 laptops had been either misplaced or stolen from the ministry during the preceding five years. The statistic came in answer to a parliamentary question prompted by a series of reports about spies leaving laptops in black cabs and other such mishaps around that time. ® Related stories UK Government aims to track laptop theft via ID chips Ministry of Defence loses 594 laptops MoD laptop thefts put the wind up the US
John Leyden, 21 Apr 2005

Pope gets emailed up

The Pope has kicked off his pontificate by setting up a direct email link via which the faithful can contact His Holiness on pressing matters of faith. The e-Pope's addy can be found here by clicking on the "Greetings to the Holy Father" link. Or simply send a note to benedictxvi@vatican.va. Alternatively, Catholics with a pressing need to chat with the Pontiff formerly known as Ratzinger could try contacting cybersquatter Rogers Cadenhead at BenedictXVI.com, since we gather that the cheeky ne'er-do-well has asked for an audience with Benedict XVI in return for handing over the domain, and might therefore be able to pass on your comments and queries. Failing that, try pope@benny16.com*. Now that's what we call a happening, 21st-century papal addy. ® Bootnote *No, don't - we just liked the sound of it. Tech blogger cybersquats God's Rottweiler Vatican mobilises anti-surveillance op
Lester Haines, 21 Apr 2005

Congress confuses file sharing with manslaughter

Making a movie available electronically prior to its release can now result in a three year sentence, thanks to the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act approved Tuesday by the House. The Senate has already passed its own version, and the final bill is expected to be signed by the President. The bill also calls for three years in cases where a person is caught recording a movie in a theater with a camcorder - and six years for a second offence. It also indemnifies theater operators against all criminal and civil liabilities arising from detaining suspects "in a reasonable manner." (Welcome to movie jail.) Since involuntary manslaughter brings, on average, anywhere from 0 to 36 months' incarceration, one might well question the morality of going harder on those who trade files than on those who negligently cut short the lives of fellow citizens. But the 109th Congress is about nothing if not morality, and it understands well the essential sacredness of the nation's ruling cartels. Previously, criminal laws protecting copyright had been designed to target major, organized bootleggers doing serious damage, not individuals swapping files. The new legislation is designed to broaden the law to where almost anyone can now be treated as a hardcore criminal. And since we have seen the entertainment cartels using the civil courts to conduct a vendetta against file sharers in hopes of chastening them overall, one can expect that the same examples will be made of small fry using these new, quite Draconian, criminal sanctions as well. ® Related stories Congress legalizes DVD censorship New wave of lawsuits to hit 'illegal song-swappers' Hollywood threatens to sue UK BitTorrent man for millions MPAA asks Supreme Court to crush P2Pers
Thomas C Greene, 21 Apr 2005

20 busted in e-pharmacy takedown

Twenty people have been arrested as part of an international crackdown on the sale of prescription drugs online. The arrests - in the US, India, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean - formed part of a year-long investigation targeting e-traffickers who distributed drugs using "rogue" internet pharmacies. Drugs shipped by these illegal drug stores included narcotics, amphetamines and anabolic steroids which were sent directly to people who were not examined by a doctor first. The investigation, led by the US's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), found that those arrested used more than 200 web sites to peddle their drugs. Said DEA administrator Karen Tandy: "For too long the internet has been an open medicine cabinet with cyber drug dealers illegally doling out a vast array of narcotics, amphetamines, and steroids. "In this first major international enforcement action against online rogue pharmacies and their sources of supply, we've logged these traffickers off the Internet," she said. ® Related stories Pfizer and MS sue Viagra spam gangs Welsh Assembly drags heels over online pharmacies Canadian net pharmacies wait for dotcom diagnosis Rogue pharmacies still thriving Online pharmacist jailed
Tim Richardson, 21 Apr 2005

The M25 area road price plan - a power play from Mayor Ken?

Transport for London is pitching to make London the testbed for large-scale road charging with a plan to "halve"* congestion within the M25 area. Government modernisers poised to welcome the latest radical initiative from Mayor Ken Livingstone, Prophet of the Congestion Charge, should however take a deep breath and prepare to count their fingers - this one could cost them dearly. TfL's plan anticipates a variable charging system with the highest cost being incurred in areas of highest congestion. The scheme, which could be in place by 2015, would be controlled via satellite and tag and beacon technology. TfL director of congestion charging Michelle Dix says the cost of running the scheme would be £500m to £1 billion, and that with a projected revenue of £3bn, that would leave £2bn that could be invested in London's transportation system. Ah, but would it? You might reckon TfL's previous track record on congestion charge costings tended to indicate a vivid imagination, but if we leave that aside we can still spot a very large snag associated with that £2bn - the Treasury might not be entirely enthusiastic about donating it all to London's transport system. The current, very limited, London Congestion Charge is a 'per use' one levied on top of all other road-related taxes. The limited scope and limited number of people affected means this is pretty much sustainable (although, as we've argued in the past, it's of doubtful value or relevance), but wider scale or even nationwide road road pricing is an entirely different matter. The Labour manifesto says it will consider road pricing, but the likelihood is that if it goes ahead, it will do so on the basis of switching from the current taxation system to a road pricing one. The fairly heavily Blairite Institute for Public Policy Research recommended road charging a while back, but pointed out that switching over on a revenue neutral basis wouldn't stop congestion growing. To do this, real tax levels would have to go up. That, however, sounds like a tough decision too far to us - if it happens, at least initially the switch will be presented as revenue neutral. So if the London scheme would, as Dix says, go ahead as part of a national programme it would be accompanied by at least some reduction in existing national motoring taxation; it would not be a case of London simply levying an additional £3bn from the locals, and the money levied would belong to the Treasury, not London. Subject, of course, to negotiations - and TfL's proposed scheme is clearly an opening shot in these negotiations. Ken Livingstone lobbies hard for more of the tax levied on Londoners to be spent on London, and the clear sight of £3bn a year being taken from London and only £X billion being given back would be a powerful PR weapon for London's Master of Manoeuvre. Central government should therefore be aware that any wide scale London road pricing pilot will come with a free power play attached. In the more immediate future, slightly less dramatic technological contributions to London traffic management proceed apace. TfL is to run a trial of tag and beacon technology in Southwark, with a view to going live with a full scale scheme based on this by 2009. Tag and beacon uses an in-car device combined with roadside beacons to log movements and levy charges and (as we believe we may also have mentioned in the past) is potentially simpler to operate than the number plate recognition (ANPR) system the current Congestion Charge uses. TfL's plans envisage the use of tag and beacon as "a medium term solution to improve the operation of the [existing] scheme and reduce the administration involved for regular drivers" and also floats the possibility of migration from the current ANPR system to "a newer technology" if trials of GPS, tag and beacon and mobile phone prove this is "feasible and desirable." Tag and beacon is to be deployed on a wide scale anyway, with TfL's 2005 plan committing to combating the effect of traffic growth on "bus services outside the Congestion Charging zone" by the use of bus lanes and "beacon-based detection equipment to give buses priority at traffic signals." TfL will also be investigating the feasibility of converting this detection system to GPS. Note that this means TfL will be starting to acquire a tag and beacon network across much of Greater London, which adds an infrastructure carrot to the road pricing one it's currently dangling for the next government. Note also that if you ever thought you were imagining that lights turned green as soon as one of Ken's bendy buses thundered towards them, you possibly weren't. And when the show goes fully live, it seems lots of other 'special cases' could feel the benefit too - Met speeding campaign heads in a hurry, perhaps, or busy prime ministers pining for a more discreet 21st century ZIL lane. There'll be hell to pay if it turns out you can hack it... ® * What TfL measures when it measures congestion is not necessarily what you'd assume it measures. The headline numbers it habitually uses relate to the shortening of journey times, not to the level by which numbers of vehicles have been reduced. So, for example, the 30 per cent reduction it claimed after the first year of the charge was actually derived from an 18 per cent reduction in vehicle numbers. Please yourself as to which you reckon is the most valid measure. Related stories: Congestion charge planned within M25 area Fire-breathing bus attacks South London Munich faces RFID-controlled congestion charge
John Lettice, 21 Apr 2005
globalisation

One and a half cheers for WiMAX

WiMAX - the broadband wireless wide area networking technology - may fail to take off in Europe because of unresolved regulatory and technical standards issues. In contrast to the enthusiasm from leading suppliers such as Intel, and early success in north America, delegates at a conference in London this week struck a cautious note. FierceWireless's Stephen Wellman, chairman of the WiMAX Forum conference, said enthusiasm for the technology from delegates was subdued - "It's a case of one and a half cheers for WiMAX." To date there have been no commercially successful broadband wireless plays to date, he said. "Despite the hype around the technology it's unclear if WiMAX will change that." Spectrum licensing issues need to be resolved in order for WiMAX to spread outside North America to more tightly regulated markets in Europe, where users are more wary of using pre-standard technology with few guarantees of interoperability. WiMAZ also faces commercial pressures from 3G networks and long-range WiFi technology (802.11n). "Improvements in these two technologies could act as a potential pincer removing the need for mobile WiMax. The use of WiMax for backhaul in the fixed broadband market is a much stronger proposition," Wellman said. He made his comments when summing up the main conclusion of the WiMAX Forum to delegates at the larger Wireless LAN Event in London on Wednesday. The forthcoming availability of phones that integrate GSM and WiFi technology and Voice over WiFi networks more generally were key themes of this year's Wireless LAN Event. Dean Bubley, founder of Disruptive Analysis, was enthusiastic about the potential for the technology in corporate environments, although he remained sceptical about the market potential for Voice over WiFi in hotspots . "Voice over WiFi works better in the enterprise because you can integrate it with IP PBXs and use it to avoid unnecessary cellular charges. 3G doesn't work well indoors. But operators can use WiFi to piggyback mobile services on corporate networks with the customer paying backhaul charges, so the technology is a play for service providers too," he said. Jay Saw, manager of public wireless LAN at T-Mobile, described WiFi as a complementary technology to 3G. He played down suggestions that Voice over WiFi might adversely affect operator voice traffic revenues. "Voice over WiFi happens in hotspots but it’s a niche market," he said. ® Related stories Intel launches WiMAX chip T-Mobile steams in with WiMAX, Wi-Fi train WiMAX summit: 'Standards-plus' could harm 802.16 roadmap WiMAX hype peaks WiMAX turns the screw on 3G UK Wi-Fi hotspot users offered free Skype calls US to embrace VoIP Intel preps chip to link 3G, Wi-Fi networks
John Leyden, 21 Apr 2005

TSA squanders millions of US tax dolllars

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is squandering many millions of dollars on unnecessary comfort items and decorations, failing to detect weapons and explosives at airport checkpoints, and demanding enormous investments in high-tech gear that it hopes will compensate for its palpable deficiencies, according to a report released Tuesday by US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Richard Skinner. The report found that DHS screeners were no better at their jobs than they were during the previous audit in 2003, which, in turn, indicated that they hadn't made any progress since the days before the September 2001 terrorist atrocities. Skinner & Co also reported very large and blatantly improper expenditures on decorative items for TSA's new crisis management center in Herndon, Virginia. These purchases were deliberately concealed as "equipment and tools," but they included $252,392 for artwork, $29,032 for art consultants, $30,085 for silk plants and flowers, and $13,861 for lamps, along with cable TV in 45 of 55 offices, seven kitchens outfitted with dishwashers, automatic ice makers, microwave ovens and costly SubZero brand Yuppie refrigerators, and a 4,200-square-foot fitness center with a towel laundry service - all for the comfort and convenience of a mere 79 employees. The project manager, a facilities operation officer, and an employee also used a government purchase card for extra comfy office furniture and personal accessories, which included sofas, armoires, and leather briefcases, the IG said. Meanwhile, long-established problems with screener incompetence and theft of passenger valuables continue unabated, although the TSA reckons that buying a lot of super high-tech gear will solve these problems handily. Walk-through automatic bomb detectors slated for roughly 100 airports, estimated to cost $30m, should do the trick. And the TSA is busy testing several other technological marvels, including numerous data-mining schemes, for deployment at airports, any of which might turn out to be the security magic bullet that the agency is praying for. All that's needed now is more money. ® Related stories Passenger screening gimmick stuck at the gate DHS comes clean on CAPPS, lets self off hook 'See through clothes' scanner gets outing at Heathrow Airport snoop system thrown in $102m garbage can
Thomas C Greene, 21 Apr 2005

Investors unmoved by eBay results

Shares of eBay were stagnant one day after the company posted banner first quarter results. Investors, otherwise up on tech shares during Thursday's trading, appeared concerned by eBay's second quarter predictions that were just at or below analysts' expectations. The world's biggest flea market posted first quarter revenue of $1.03bn - up 36 per cent year-over-year. EBay's profit came in at $256m or 19 cents in earnings per share. That beat out Wall Street's consensus forecast of 17 cents per share. "A record jump in registered users, record GMV, tremendous PayPal growth, and record net revenues all highlighted a wonderful quarter for eBay," said Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay. "The eBay community is thriving, and we're in an excellent position to deliver on both the top line and profit goals we've set out for 2005 and beyond." But as the tech-heavy Nasdaq shot up more than 2 per cent, at the time of this report, shares of eBay were down a fraction at $33.07. EBay's second quarter revenue forecast of between $1.03bn to $1.05bn seemed to disappoint analysts who wanted stronger growth. The rate of the company's still robust growth has been falling. In the same period one year ago, eBay posted growth of 59 perc ent and in its previous quarter it showed 43 per cent growth year-over-year. The US marketplace business grew 20 per cent in the first quarter to $405m. International sales surged 52 per cent to $394m. Ebay's payments business produced 47 per cent growth at $233m. Shares of eBay have been punished over the past year and are well down from a 52-week high of $59.21. ® Related stories eBayer pleads guilty to 'anthrax' scare eBayers demand money for old rope Cash-for-votes site launched Intel offers $10,000 for safe return of missing Moore's Law Blocking online cigarette sales threatens us all
Ashlee Vance, 21 Apr 2005
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Hynix makes $185m price-fixing confession to US DoJ

If nothing else, the US DoJ (Department of Justice) is remarkably good at nailing foreign memory makers for price-fixing. Hynix Semiconductor, it emerged today, is the latest firm to plead guilty in a far-reaching DRAM scandal and has agreed to pay the DoJ a $185m fine. The charge against Korean Hynix is the third-largest criminal antitrust fine in US history. It is, however, less than Hynix was prepared to pay. Last month, some nosey reporters discovered $341m piled away in Hynix's coffers just in case the DoJ came knocking. German memory maker Infineon was the first company busted for participating in what has been described as a memory cartel. It pleaded guilty last September to price-fixing and paid a $160m fine. Micron was then implicated in the matter, and Samsung has a $100m DoJ fund of its own. Along the way, four Infineon executives pleaded guilty to price-fixing and were awarded jail time. The DoJ has accused all of these memory makers of keeping the price of their products artificially high between 1999 and 2002. Executives from the companies are said to have held phone calls and meetings and to have exchanged e-mails about setting memory prices. Numerous computer makers complained about the "memory cartel" during this period, although Dell was the most openly critical vendor. “Price fixing imperils free markets, impairs innovation, and harms American consumers,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “Today’s charge and its resulting guilty plea are another significant step forward in the Department’s ongoing fight to break up and prosecute international cartels that harm American consumers. This case shows that high-tech price-fixing cartels will not be tolerated.” In the case of Hynix, the DoJ found evidence of price-fixing that affected Dell, Compaq, HP, Apple, IBM and Gateway. It's so rare to see a company admit to wrongdoing in this day and age that one wonders what goes on behind closed doors with the DoJ officials. They seem to have a real way with words on the memory front. ® Related stories Hynix ring-fences $342m against antitrust fines Mosaid, Hynix settle patent spat Infineon sales slip - and will fall further Samsung founds $100m antitrust fines fund Mugging the truth to spin Blunkett's comeback Four Infineon execs heading to jail on price-fixing charges
Ashlee Vance, 21 Apr 2005