5th > August > 2005 Archive

Galactic spring-clean unveils missing quasars

A team of astronomers might have solved one of the mysteries of astrophysics with the discovery of a clutch of quasars, hiding behind clouds of dust. The discovery was made using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, and could explain previously mysterious levels of cosmic background radiation. Quasars are very distant, but very strong sources of radio signals. The working theory is that they are located in the central cores of very distant galaxies, where matter falling into a supermassive black hole is turned into a blinding torrent of radiation. Astronomers suspect that all quasars are surrounded by a dusty ring, and that this hides about half of them from our Earth-based line of sight. However, the cosmic X-ray background, primarily made up of emissions from quasars, suggests that there must be many more of the voracious objects than could be accounted for by those currently known about. Examining data from Spitzer, the team found 21 examples of these lost quasars, hidden behind both a dust ring, and the dust of the galaxy itself. The objects were confirmed as quasars by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array radio telescope, New Mexico, and the William Hershel Telescope on La Palma. Alejo Martinez-Sansigre from the University of Oxford noted: "We were missing a large population of obscured quasars, which had been inferred from studies at X-ray frequencies. This newly discovered population is large enough to account for the X-ray background." The trick now, he says, will be to work out why there are more hidden quasars than unobscured ones. ® Related stories Hubble sends back new pictures to mark 15 years in orbit Life on earth follows 62 million year cycle First galaxies arrived early, and overweight Galactic prang fingered in star formation mystery Astronomers spot first ever dark galaxy
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Aug 2005

Anti-pirates seek lifeline

Hopes are growing that a buyer might be found for UK security developer BitArts Ltd after cash flow problems forced the Nottingham-based anti-piracy software firm into administration last month. "The firm went into administration because of short-term funding problems rather than more fundamental problems with its business. Nothing is confirmed but we're hopeful of finding a buyer," said a spokesman for Northampton-based HW Fisher which was appointed administrator for BitArts. London-based insolvency agency Amco is handling the sale. Although nothing has been finalised HW Fisher said it was optimistic that a deal can be thrashed out that will allow BitArts to continue in some form. "There's been a lot of interest," the HW Fisher spokesman said. Bits and pieces BitArts was founded in 1998 and specialised in anti-piracy technology for PCs and later mobile devices. Its technology development was led by CTO (and later chief security officer and chief architect) John Safa, a former software cracker (poacher) turned game keeper. The firm is best known for racking up the column inches with the rather obvious observation that Windows XP's product activation had been cracked only hours after the product was release in October 2001. Latterly the firm has become focused on projects such as developing license management and DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology for mobile gaming applications. BitArts said it had 10,000 customers in more than 65 countries including Philips, Siemens, Barclays, Honeywell and Hewlett Packard. BitArts poached the head of anti-piracy in Microsoft's games studio division, Robbie Booth, to run its US operation in November 2004 when it opened offices in New York and California. Lock out At the time of writing BitArts' Nottingham office remains closed but its website remains up and running. BitArt's Safa declined our request to comment on the problems that lead to the firm's collapse into administration. ® Related stories Software poachers turn gamekeepers Software piracy down, but piracy losses up Mobile operators fight DRM corner GSM Association rejects revised phone DRM rates
John Leyden, 05 Aug 2005
fingers pointing at man

EMC crams Clariions full of high-end goodness

EMC this week wrapped a few upgrades for the Clariion line of storage systems around a common theme - making midrange to low-end boxes stronger. Most notably, EMC will ship the Clariion CX300, CX500 and CX700 systems with UltraPoint hardware and software that permits "point-to-point" links between disk drives and storage controllers. The upshot of this addition is that customers can isolate and fix drive issues faster. The new models will be sold as "s series" systems marked, for example, as the CX300-s. Customers will still be able to buy older disk array enclosures (DAEs) and to mix and match old and new DAEs in the same system. Next on the list is Virtual LUN technology for the Clariion kit. This lets administrators move volumes from one part of an array to another without shutting the storage system down. It's an addition in line with a shared goal among the major vendors to add more flexibility - or virtualization - to their products. Customers could, for example, move less crucial volumes from high-performing Fibre Channel drives to ATA drives. In addition, they could upgrade volumes to the latest and greatest drives EMC ships. "This is a unique feature in the midrange marketplace," said Barry Ader, EMC's senior director of Clariion marketing. Then in a broad set of software upgrades EMC made it possible for customers to take multiple volumes of data and treat them as one volume during replication, which is key for database management. In addition, EMC doubled the LUN limits for SnapView from 100 to 200 and for MirrorView from 50 to 100. Its VMware software will now work with Clariion's replication software as well, and EMC has tweaked SAN Copy to support high-end systems from Hitachi and IBM in addition to existing support for HP, IBM FaST and Sun T3 gear. But, friends, that's not all. EMC also rolled out an entire new fleet of disk libraries that it bills as options to tape. EMC had sold the DL300 and DL700 systems. It has upgraded both of those with more capacity and will sell the new models as the DL310 and DL710 and then added one more midrange system and a high-end box - the DL720 and DL740. On the low-end, the DL310 starts at 3.8TB and stretches to 37.5TB, while on the high-end the DL740 goes up to 348TB. Last on the list are new DC versions of the Clariion boxes that are NEBS Level 3 certified and aimed at telcos or other customers in need of rugged kit. The UltraPoint technology will be available in September. The Virtual LUN technology and the rest of the software upgrades arrive this month in an upgrade to the Flare operating system. The disk libraries ship this month, and the DC models are available today. ® Related stories NetApp opens fire on EMC Dell cuddles up to EMC's NAS gateway EMC delivers again with strong Q1 EMC wags new NAS giant at rivals NetApp and IBM
Ashlee Vance, 05 Aug 2005
channel

AMD ships dual-core Opteron 165

AMD has begun shipping dual-core Opteron 1xx series processors to the embedded market, the chip maker said yesterday. AMD has shipped dual-core Opteron 2xx and 8xx chips for two- and four-way servers, but has yet to offer a version of its Opteron 1xx family, aimed at uni-processor servers and workstations. Earlier this week, AMD introduced updated 1xx chips, adding support for unbuffered ECC memory. At the time, the company said dual-core 1xx parts would ship within 30 days. Meanwhile, it upped 1xx prices, for good measure. AMD's announcement yesterday centres on all dual-core Opterons, from all three series, along with the low-power 55W 'HE' versions of each chip, but it's the first reference to the availability of the Opteron 165. All the parts are to be offered under AMD's Longevity Programme, a plan to ensure long-term, five-year continuity of supply to customers developing embedded devices. Primarily, they are in the enterprise storage and telecoms infrastructure markets. ® Related stories AMD ups Opteron 1xx prices by up to 91% AMD Q2 market share slips AMD takes knife to price list NEC rejects AMD subpoena demands AMD's Opteron decimates Xeon market AMD's 3GHz Athlon 64-FX 'due Q1 2006'
Tony Smith, 05 Aug 2005
cloud

Intel 'not quitting' low-end desktop chipset biz

Intel isn't abandoning the low-end desktop chipset market, merely adjusting its product mix, the chip giant claimed this week. Various spokesfolks cited by a number of websites all said the company was tweaking its manufacturing schedules to favour products for which there's currently strong demand. However, with wafer fabrication capacity nearly at maximum, production of less-requested parts will be eased back the company said. Mobile chipsets appear to most strongly in-demand, and while the company didn't say so, it's highly likely given what motherboard maker sources have been saying this week that it's the low-end desktop chipsets that are being eased out of the product mix for the moment. On Wednesday this week, Taiwanese sources claimed Intel was planning to quit the low-end desktop chipset market later this year. However, Intel spokespeople stated the company's commitment to the full range of PC chipsets. It will not look to other foundries to allow it to maintain production of all its chipset offerings. ® Related stories Intel 'to exit' low-end desktop chipset biz Intel to build DRAM units into desktop, mobile CPUs? Intel trims Centrino, Celeron prices Nvidia lost market share in Q2 Intel dual-core Celerons to sport 5xx model numbers? Intel pushes 'East Fork' home PC 'back to Q1 2006'
Tony Smith, 05 Aug 2005

Too many ATMs are exposed to fraudsters, warns Gartner

Fraudsters can get cash from ATMs because some banks fail to scan security codes in the magnetic stripes on cards, according to Gartner. Counterfeit cards are made when consumers, tricked by phishing, disclose account numbers and PINs. According to the research firm, ATM fraud is on the rise, affecting an estimated three million US consumers in the year to May 2005, and generating losses of $2.75bn. The figures were based on a survey of 5,000 US adults. Magnetic stripes on credit and debit cards tend to contain three 'tracks' of information. Track 1 holds up to 79 alphanumeric characters that usually encode the account number, customer name and card expiry date. Track 2 contains up to 40 numeric characters and is used to store certain encrypted security data. Track 3 holds up to 107 numeric characters but is rarely used. Avivah Litan, vice president and research director at Gartner, explained that the security codes stored in Track 2 link the physical card to the customer's account number. But she warned that banks are neglecting this important security check. "Surprisingly, perhaps as many as half of US-based financial institutions are not validating Track 2 security data while authorising ATM and PIN debit transactions," she said. "Most of these institutions are unaware that they, or the outsourced ATM transactions processor they rely on, should be doing so." Ms Litan explained that criminals were targeting the customers of banks that are not validating the Track 2 data. "The hackers call these banks 'cashable,'” she said. “The prime candidates are banks with high cash withdrawal limits." Gartner says the banks have the ability to stop these attacks by modifying their ATM host systems to check for security on a card's magnetic stripe. These data are unknown to bank customers and therefore cannot be phished, while thieves generally cannot duplicate the data unless they have insider knowledge of the bank's algorithms and security codes. Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons. Related stories Phishing gets personal The chip and PIN insecurity card Banks brace for cashpoint attack The ATM keypad as security portcullis
OUT-LAW.COM, 05 Aug 2005

AOL snaps up storage firm

AOL has acquired US-based storage outfit Xdrive to meet the "skyrocketing" demand from net users to save their music, pictures and video online. Financial details concerning the acquisition of the privately-owned company were not disclosed. Xdrive manages an online, centralised storage platform that gives subscribers access to all their digital assets. The California-based company also provides its subscribers with: storage safety and security; and automatic backup of a wide variety of digital assets - such as music, pictures, and video. Said Gio Hunt, a bigwig at AOL Digital Services: "The digitisation of consumer home media is skyrocketing, with consumers and AOL members increasingly looking for easier ways to protect and manage a wide variety of important data files and digital media assets. "Xdrive will further enhance AOL's consumer storage offerings to deliver a more safe and secure digital lifestyle for our members," he said. The Xdrive transaction is AOL's first major corporate acquisition since Mailblocks and Advertising.com in the summer of 2004. ® Related stories AOL continues to lose punters Time Warner to settle AOL legal claim AOL does mobile search
Tim Richardson, 05 Aug 2005

Shuttle gets permission to land

NASA has given the Shuttle Discovery the all-clear to land as scheduled on Monday next week, despite lingering safety concerns. As well as the well-publicised falling foam and protruding gap-fillers, engineers have been worried that a torn section of thermal insulation blanket would need repairing before the Shuttle could make its way back to Earth. The concern was that the blanket could tear off during re-entry and collide with the Shuttle. After plenty of wind-tunnel tests on the ground, the consensus among NASA personnel now is that the return flight will be as safe as possible, although shuttle deputy programme manager Wayne Hale offered no guarantees: the tunnel-tests revealed that tiny pieces of the insulating blanket could tear off during reentry, and that there was a 1.5 per cent chance that the whole section would come loose. "I will not tell you that it is zero risk," he said in a Guardian report. "It is the lowest risk, the best choice and the unanimous decision of the engineers and the management team that we should re-enter as is." ® Related stories Spacewalker fixes Shuttle's belly Space-walk no. 3 to fix Shuttle SGI closes painful 2005 with a thud Discovery docks with ISS
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Aug 2005

Gizmondo US launch 'put back to October'

Gizmondo has confirmed that the US release of its GPS-enabled handheld games console has been delayed - again. In May, the company touted 11 August as the date on which the would-be Sony PSP and Nintendo DS rival would hit the streets. This week, it emerged that US gaming retailer EBGames was listing the console's debut as 20 September. Yesterday, company spokespeople admitted the August deadline would be missed. Instead, the console will arrive in October. "August is a slow month for retail, and with two major items of software delayed, it made little sense to launch the machine," one company source said, according to a GamesIndustry.biz report. The two titles the company is waiting for are believed to be a satellite navigation package and an unnamed top-tier US game. Certainly, software is proving tricky for Gizmondo. Of the 23 titles listed on the firm's website, fewer than half are described as being available to buy. However, August should see the release of Electronic Arts' FIFA 2005 and SSX 3, the first of a handful of titles from major games publishers. SCi and Microsoft have both announced support for the device, though as yet no release dates have been made public. Last month, Gizmondo admitted it was "streamlining" its UK operation and focusing development efforts at its Los Angeles office - the launch delay should give the company more time to get this up and running. So far, the UK is the only territory in which the device has shipped. Originally anticipated in Q2 2004, Gizmondo console's was eventually pegged to 29 October 2004. It missed that key pre-Christmas slot - possibly due to the last-minute decision to incorporate mobile graphics technology from Nvidia, which had only just become available - and didn't hit the street until 19 March. In the meantime, the US debut has been announced to be taking place in Q1 2005, Q2 2005, Summer 2005, then 11 August and now sometime in October. A Gizmondo spokesperson said the company would announce UK console sales figures shortly, but needs to complete a number of filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission first, the GamesIndustry.biz report reveals. Indeed Gizmondo does. The Register's enquiries reveal that its parent company, Florida-based Tiger Telematics, has made no results filings for quarters after the three months to 30 September 2004, when it lost just over $17.9m on revenues of $268,000. In April this year it notified the SEC that it would have to delay such filings because "until late 2004, [it] did not have sufficient cash to retain and pay independent certified public accountants to audit its financial statements". (Our italics) There's no doubt that the cost of developing something like Gizmondo and building a software ecosystem around it would stretch any company's resources. That's no great surprise: such is the scale of the games industry, that it has a very high price of entry. Taking on companies like Nintendo and Sony requires very considerable financial resources. And Gizmondo has been very ambitious. It has maintained a necessarily high profile at trade shows like CES and E3. In January, it opened a prestigious retail site on London's expensive Regent Street, and has since announced plans to open stores in 20 more high-class shopping zones around the world. It has also stated its intention to release a business-oriented device, dubbed the 'Bizmondo', this year. ® Related stories Gizmondo moves British jobs to the US? Gizmondo to offer diskless 'PVR' Gizmondo unveils 'adverts-for-consoles' scheme Gizmondo wins major UK retail backers Gizmondo store shuffles to London's Regent Street Gizmondo gears up for US launch Gizmondo creator touts smart phone scheme Gizmondo pushes Button after Jordan F1 deal deflates Related review Gizmondo handheld games console
Tony Smith, 05 Aug 2005
fingers pointing at man

Six patches for MS August Patch Tuesday

In briefIn brief Microsoft plans to release six patches next Tuesday, 9 August. All of the patches involve Microsoft Windows and at least one is critical, according to minimalist details from an advance bulletin notification from Redmond issued Thursday. ® Related stories Three critical fixes in MS July security update Oracle taken to task for time to fix vulnerabilities Firefox update completes busy patching day
John Leyden, 05 Aug 2005

Police appeal for witnesses to Vodafone theft

Police are appealing for witnesses in connection with a burglary at Vodafone's offices in Welwyn Garden City earlier this week. The suspects stole IT kit that led to Vodafone's paging network falling over leaving 180,000 subscribers - including hospital staff - without access to the service. The burglary took pace between 11.51pm on 2 August and 1.04am on 3 August, at The Boulevard Business Park, Welwyn Garden City. The first offender is described as a white male, approximately 5ft 8ins tall, with dark hair, medium build, wearing a blue short sleeved t-shirt and beige shorts with cargo-style pockets and white trainers. The second offender is described as a white male, similar height and build, wearing a white or cream coloured buttoned shirt and beige shorts with cargo-style pockets and white trainers. It is believed the offenders may have been travelling in a white Transit van. Detective Sergeant Ian Butler of Hertfordshire police said: "It is believed the offenders broke into the building just before midnight and left around an hour later. It is possible they used a metal trolley to move the stolen goods, which was abandoned outside the building. "If you saw anything suspicious around the time of this incident or if you have any information about this crime, please ring 01707 638229," he said. ® Related stories Vodafone's pager network goes titsup Voda's Scottish 3G network wobbles Vodafone adds 4m customers
Tim Richardson, 05 Aug 2005

RFID chips are the mark of the beast: official

Black helicopter alertBlack helicopter alert We have just received breathless confirmation of two facts that we at Vulture Central had suspected for some time: RFID chips are the mark of the beast and Tom Cruise is a Satanist whose pact with the Lord of the Flies has given him fabulous wealth, fame and the power to attract any women on the planet despite being only 4'3" tall. Not convinced? Well, that's the word on the street according to The Resistance Manifesto - a Christian outfit whose skies are packed to bursting with dire portents and black helicopters. For example, did you know that "the terrorist attacks on September 11th were not an 'intelligence failure' as the official story states. The attacks were not only allowed to happen as a pretext, or a reason to get the population behind the war, but the hijackers were assets of the CIA, just like Osama Bin Laden. President Bush signed Presidential Decision Directive W199i, pulling FBI agents off of the suspected terrorists, ensuring they could continue their work, and the treason gets worse..." Yes it does: Aside from a pretext to the war on terror and the war in Iraq, the events have since been used to instill a sense of fear in the American people, and are being used to create a Police State in America, circumventing the constitution, and using RFIDs, VeriChip, and security cameras to keep track of every person. Well, we don't think David Blunkett and Charles Clarke can argue with that analysis, but where does Satan fit into all of this? Here's an excerpt from a Resistance Manifesto press release we received yesterday: Christians across the country are calling for a boycott of the VeriChip implantable microchip, now becoming popular in the U.S., calling it "the mark of the Beast" as referred to in the Bible. The VeriChip is planned to rapidly replace credit and debit cards, as well as traditional forms of identification. Could Revelation 13:16-18 have been any more specific? "And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads, and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." Chilling stuff. The man behind The Resistance Manifesto is none other than John Conner. We don't need to explain to seasoned neoLuddite Resistance Army (NRA) comrades the significance of that name. Conner lays out his stall thus: With the release of VeriChip, the Pandora's box of the mark of the Beast, and the world rapidly advancing towards a one world governed, cashless, privacyless world, it is time to stand together in these end days. The Resistance Manifesto is a shocking analysis of Satanic influences in America today. Included are Chapters on the Georgia Guidestons, a mysterious 25 year old occult monument, and examinations of the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set, the Illuminati, and a detailed history of the VeriChip, RFIDs and the mark of the Beast. We reckon that just about covers it, although Conner seems to have missed out the fun-loving Rosicrucian Order from this litany of fear. And what about the Scientologists, eh? Where do they fit in to this monstrous global conspiracy? Fear ye not, Conner has that covered, too. In a separate press release issued yesterday, the man himself asserts: The best kept secrets of Scientology are that humans came from space aliens, and that Lucifer, or Satan is god. These secrets are not revealed to members until they have paid an enormous amount of money, and have proven themselves to be dedicated to the cult. So where does that leave "Top Gun"? Try this: Yes, Tom Cruise worships Satan. I don't say this as an insult, or as an ad hominem attack. I seriously and literally mean he worships Satan. In the Garden of Eden, Satan said if Man took the forbidden fruit that he would become just like god, actually becoming equal to God, and that is what these people believe. They believe they themselves, are gods. Crikey. Conner and Cruise do agree on one thing, though, as the former explains: "I do agree that prescription drugs are being pushed onto our children, and the population at large as a quick fix for their problems, when the source of those problems often goes unexamined." So, while the Bible-waving hoards of Jesus and the mephistopholean forces of darkness work out a joint plan to tackle the burgeoning prescription drug issue, Conner and "legions of others" will continue to give forth at churches and Bible studies, thereby "bringing awareness to the Orwellian influences in America and emerging technology". Actually, Conner has a legitimate point. While we would like to make it very clear to VeriChip and Tom Cruise (or rather their lawyers) that we do not believe they have at any time kissed Satan's buttocks, Conner's assertions that "the invasion of RFIDs carry enormous threats to privacy and many other security concerns", and "these devices are not a cure-all to security as touted by their manufacturers and supporters", will find favour with many. One final point: use of the word "Orwellian" may not be appropriate here. Eric Blair was a Godless, Commie pinko faggot if ever there was one. He probably worshipped Satan, too. ® Related stories 'RFID the lot of them!' UK ID card to use ICAO reader standard EU consults on RFID technology Anti-RFID outfit deflates Mexican VeriChip hype
Lester Haines, 05 Aug 2005

It's the 12:01 for Gizmoville

Tech DigestTech Digest Potentially useful gadgets of the week: Samsung's mobile TV range If you thought that TV on the move was all about catching a few seconds of Big Brother on your phone, think again. At IFA, next month's huge consumer electronics fest in Berlin, Samsung is set to unveil a wide range of mobile TV products. This means adding a screen and tuner to pretty much every portable item in its portfolio, including personal DVD players, personal media players and even camcorders. The devices will tune into TV via the DMB (Digital Multimedia Broadcasting) format, a variation of DAB the digital radio standard that has been very successful in the UK and Germany. The first DMB products are likely to be available in Germany next year for the World Cup, though a UK launch won't be too far behind. Quite who will offer digital TV services to these kind of devices remains to be seen. Samsung's marketing chief, David Steel, points out the obvious candidates are those who already offer digital radio stations - so maybe the BBC and the EMAP group, which has several music TV channels. Sky is almost certainly looking at the format too, as are news channels like ITV and CNN. Digital TV on small devices is already available in both Japan and Korea. Traditional 'how did that get on eBay' Story: Slot Machine Golfer Slot machines and golf... together at last! Okay, so this gizmo will appeal to an extremely limited audience, but we're still glad it exists. It's a six-foot wooden golfer statue that's also a working slot machine. According to the auction listing, there's "only one man in the world carving these unique items", although to be honest maybe he should take that as a hint. It accepts real coins, although you might not have any left after shelling out $10,000+ for the thing. OTT home entertainment stuff: Sky's Gnome Sky TV subscribers who can't bear the thought of missing a second of the action on TV or radio can now keep up with events via the Sky Gnome. This dinky little wireless receiver lets you listen to Sky TV and radio channels anywhere in the house - so long as the Gnome is within 30m of your Sky box. Obviously this is no good if you were planning on watching a Buster Keaton weekend movie bonanza, but if you don't want to miss out on sports commentary, or if you just want to listen to a bit of radio, you'll be able to get up to eight hours of listening done before you need to recharge the batteries. Available in Cool Blue or Funky Orange. It'll be out in October with prices still to be confirmed. Vaguely useful gadget of the week: first ever wind-up digital radio Everyone loves a good world -first, especially an eco one such as the world's first wind-up FM and DAB radio. That's right, crank lovers, you can now join the choice-filled world of digital and groove to the almighty Planet Rock, catch the new bands on XFM and even chuckle along with the classics on BBC 7. The Freeplay Devo - someone in Freeplay obviously knows their late 1970s post-punk bands - as this smart little green machine is known, goes on sale on October. For those times when you want to youíre your muscles a break you can also plug it into the electricity mains. There's some very limited info available here. Child-unfriendly gadget of the week: MP3 players for kids Here's an intriguing prospect: MP3 players designed to rock the nursery world. Bush/Alba is launching a series of models under the idrops banner aimed unashamedly at kids. Each player is not only colourful, features 128MB of storage and comes with a neckstrap and earphones, but is accompanied by its own sticker sheet. But the genius move is that the players also feature a pre-loaded bedtime story, meaning that time poor parents can skip the latest instalment from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and let the idrop take over leaving them free to enjoy the latest episode of Extras. Bet it's already on the Social Services' hit list... Quick Picks iPod dock/speaker systems go high-end Grab your own Oscar statue Hovercraft-style vacuum cleaner lands in the UK Salvador Dali's eBay frenzy Sky unveils its HDTV box Build your own solar windmill There's loads more of this stuff at Tech Digest, Shiny Shiny, Green consumer blog HippyShopper and Bayraider, which highlights the best and worst of online auction sites.
Tech Digest, 05 Aug 2005

Annual hacking game teaches security lessons

LAS VEGAS The weekend-long Capture the Flag tournament stressed code auditing as a measure of hacking skill this year, a move that emphasized more real-world skills, but not without controversy. The annual Capture the Flag tournament at DEF CON has always attracted participants from a variety of background, looking to try their hands at online attack and defense. Under a new set of organizers this year, the game pitted teams and individuals against each other to find and exploit vulnerabilities in their opponents' systems to score points. The game, dubbed "WarGamez" this year, put more emphasis on real-world skills compared to previous years, said Giovanni Vigna, associate professor of computer science at the University of California at Santa Barbara and the leader of team Shellphish, which won the event. "The game required skills that are also required by both security researchers and hackers, such as ability to analyze attack vectors, understanding and automating attacks, finding new, unpredictable ways to exploit things," Vigna said. "It's about analyzing the security posture of a system that is given to you and about which you initially know nothing." The latest incarnation of the game - run by a group of security professionals who asked to only be identified by their group name, Kenshoto - attracted students, military computer experts, security professionals and hobbyist hackers. For the teams, the controversy surrounding security researcher Michael Lynn's outing of a high-profile vulnerability in Cisco Systems' routers, mattered little. Finding vulnerabilities in each other's servers became the focus of their world. In previous years, the game allowed each side to run their own server, and required that certain services be available. This year, the organizers ran a central server on which each team's virtual server ran. The move was not without controversy, however, as it removed from the contest any teams that concentrated on defending their systems by using a specialized operating system, said Crispin Cowan, director of software engineering for Novell's Linux division, SUSE. "Prior games involved both attackers and defenders working on the problem, but because Kenshoto took total control of the reference servers to be defended, there is very little defense that can be deployed," Cowan said. "Their scoring system also made defense essentially worthless other than to deny other teams points." Cowan competed for several years as the leader of a team fielded by secure Linux operating system vendor Immunix, which was bought by Novell in May. Porting services over to its security-enhanced operating system became a signature strategy of the team. The Capture the Flag game is suppose to measure security researchers’ and hackers’ abilities to attack and defend systems, said one of the organizers, not necessarily be a test of products. "We did intentionally de-emphasize defense, because it is a hacking competition, after all," said the organizer. By agreement, the group that ran the game adopted the name Kenshoto and would only speak anonymously. "However, defensive skills were tested." Some teams had success deploying Tripwire, a data-integrity checker that can find changed files, and monitoring traffic with an intrusion detection system, he said. A knowledgeable defender could also lockdown the systems, further hardening them. Moreover, the amount of uptime for each service directly affected the score, so defending the applications that ran the services became a key strategy, the organizers said. In the end, however, the game focused on finding and exploiting vulnerabilities. "What it takes to be an elite hacker is to find vulnerabilities in custom software," said the Kenshoto member. "It is not code auditing per se. They have to reverse engineer, and we have made it difficult to reverse engineer." The Kenshoto group ran all the teams' virtual servers on a single machine using a technique known as "jailing," which limits each team or individual to separate directories on the master system. The computer ran the FreeBSD operating system and utilities and services were written in Python, Java and C. The group also ran an in-game auction site known as eDay. Each team's authentication token, or totem, was placed on the bottom of a can of Tab, which the team was expected to guard. While a few individuals and teams used the eDay auction site, most of the deals for items were done behind the scene, according to one member of Kenshoto. One team's can of Tab, which held the team's secret code on the bottom, went for 101 beers, the organizer said. The teams each sought to score points by keeping services running, stealing or overwriting digital tokens on each server, and producing advisories with working exploit code. Rooting the main Kenshoto mainframe would earn massive points, according to the rules, but a failed attempt would penalize the team "back into the stone age." Auditing did play a big role in the game's strategy, said the Kenshoto organizers, because finding flaws is a major factor in attack and defense in the real online world. "The auditing people did as part of the game was similar to the job of anyone trying to find risks in third party software, be it a black hat or someone trying to determine whether third-party software is safe to integrate with an existing system," said one organizer. Notable differences, however, include the time pressure, the fact that participants not only had to find a vulnerability but exploit the flaw, and that the teams did not have access to any source code. The winning strategy balanced finding flaws with hardening the systems services, said Vigna of the winning team Shellphish. "On the defense side, we had people responsible for monitoring - both manually and using automated tools - incoming traffic and running processes to find out how we were attacked," he said. "We also had people that make sure that our services were up an running ... Finally, we had people who would choose a service and try to find exploitable vulnerabilities." In the end, however, Novell's Cowan remained unconvinced that focusing on finding flaws in arbitrary systems had much to do with real-world network security. "The Kenshoto game is not invalid, it just focuses specifically on code auditing to the exclusion of all else," Cowan said. "If Kenshoto's game of this year persists, then ... anyone else with any significant interest in defense (will not participate), and the game will be entirely dominated by code analysis players." Copyright © 2005, Related stories Exploit writers team up to target Cisco routers Settlement reached in Cisco flaw dispute Hackers' convention rolls into Vegas
Robert Lemos, 05 Aug 2005

Nokia 3230 smart phone

ReviewReview Whereas a few years ago Nokia was big enough to see off the likes of Ericsson and Siemens, it's not quite the giant it once. Part of the reason for that is the fact it's made some odd decidedly odd handset design choices in recent years. It let Sony Ericsson overtake on styling, its early 3G offerings misfired and its more quirky designs rarely convinced, writes Benny Har-Even.
Trusted Reviews, 05 Aug 2005

Appley mice infest letters bag

LettersLetters Who knew that there was so much to say about mice? Oh, wait, it was a mouse from Apple. Obviously everyone has an opinion: Apple finally releases the multibutton mouse... First they start using Intel processors, and now ANOTHER BUTTON? What will the Mac fanatics have to say about this one? The overwhelming sound of a million Mac users plunking down $50 and throwing away their Ctrl key ban be heard across the land. Paul A small amount of research might be a good idea before submitting articles to a tech news website. Two giant flaws in your Apple MightyMouse article: - OSX has allowed the use of two-button mice for a very, very long time. Nobody is forced to use a "kludgey solution" like pressing the modifier key. Plug a two button mouse into any Mac and what do you know - right-click works. The point is that GUIs are better designed by virtue of developers not being able to throw anything and everything into a "context menu" without thinking. - The new mouse has mechanical switches. As with other Apple mice, the entire casing moves down to make the click. The difference here is that the touch sensors detect whether the click is initiated from the right or left "button". Regards, David Bridge I've actually had an experience with a non-Cube computer that turns on by itself. It was a custom-built job with a MSI mobo and an Antec power supply. Every time I turned it off, it'd turn itself back on within an hour. Got bloody annoying. No touch-sensitive power switch though. So maybe the Cubes turning on has less to do with faulty touch-sensitive switches and more with some sort of other internal design error. Besides, I don't have an iPod myself, but I haven't heard a lot of complaints about the scroll wheels going bonkers... --Jeff Maybe Apple could also find a time machine and drag themselves into the 70's and supply a proper UK keyboard instead of an American one with a pound sign printed on it? And where's the bloody hash???'Alt-3' - it takes the piss. regards R. (a hacked-off and somewhat disappointed new Mac user) You wrote: "Then there's the price: "just" $49/£35 seems a little steep for a mouse - particularly one that isn't wireless. A decent Logitech or - dare we say it? - Microsoft optical job can be had for less than half that." Being an old timer in the Apple world, I expected it to be more like US $150. At $50, with all the ostensibly beloved Apple design aesthetic built in to it, I think the price will be no barrier. ( I'm curious if you can interface one with an iPod, actually.) Cheers, Jason £35 is a bit steep for a mouse, but let's face it, the apple faithful will buy it whatever the price, so long as it's translucent white and got an 'i' in front of it, they'll pay whatever Apple asks. Nick Bored hacker develops theoretical virus for operating system that hasn't been released yet: "the command line interface and scripting language, in a virus writing magazine" I think a more interesting article might be entitled "There are Virus Writing Magazines" Aric your article doesn't really point out that it'd be a pretty useless shell if you couldn't do bad things with it- it's as if you wrote a story saying that someone had written some EXE's for Vista that did bad things.. Matt So If FSF builds something similar, will it be named Gonad? Fred If we may sum up a story in three words: Cisco, passwords, oops. Have a look here for the original story: You suggest that compromise of a CCO password would also compromise a user's other passwords. Perhaps, but I would hope that anybody with a reason to have a CCO password would be aware that one simply does not use a single password for multiple administrative domains. Yes, I know that many large companies (including two I have worked for) provide handy "password synchronization" facilities to facilitate that sort of silliness, but aren't CCO users supposed to be smarter than that? Mike There is a place where theory and practice diverge... The Office of National Statistics is planning to digitise its records. Part of the work will be done in India. No matter how much we'd like to, we probably don't all need to panic about our identities being nicked. We can worry about being misspelled instead: Interesting to hear about the births, marriages and deaths data going to India. In fact, the ONS has pulled a similar stunt before, with census records. (I only know this because my wife happens to do a lot of genealogy!) While everyone's understandably concerned about the spectre of identity theft, there is a bigger and more basic worry - will the identities that come back in the digitized database actually be correct? In the case of the aforementioned census records, the data transcribed by our friends in Bangalore was so full of typos, mixups and bizarre mistakes that in places it's completely misleading, if not downright worthless. Of course, it's not entirely their fault, but without a basic knowledge of British place names and surnames, and coupled with poor handwriting on the original documents... you get the general idea. Now if you're researching your family history, this just adds to the fun (!), but if the government are going to rely on this database to verify people's identities, then I'm just a little scared... Cheers, -Ben- Perhaps everyone needs a gentle reminder that every certificate issued by ONS includes words to the effect that "possession of this certificate does not constitute proof of identity", which is just as well since I have certificates at home for a quite ridiculous number of dead relatives. On the other hand, I'm not actually sure I have my *own* birth certificate. I suspect another member of my family has it. Ken In passing, we feel we should cover the definition of a planet and clear up some misunderstandings about the lunar atmosphere. This follow's letters earlier this week in response to the discovery of a planet-sized body out in the Kuiper belt: Your letters page featured a letter from 'Pascal' concerning planets. He said: "I have a suggestion : when the rock has enough mass to retain an atmosphere, it is a planet. I think that having an atmosphere is a defining quality." This won't work. The ability of a large object to retain an atmosphere depends on more than its size. Notably, the molecular weight of the atmosphere and its temperature are key factors. Mercury has no atmosphere, and can't retain one because it would boil away, but take it to the orbit of Saturn and it would be cool enough to retain one. Pascal then goes on to say: "Pluto does not have one" Yes it does. It mostly freezes out during the depths of winter, but it definitely has one. Best wishes Stuart "The moon would have to be considered a planet too." We just need some sort of minimum limit for the atmosphere -- Titan's atmosphere is considerably denser than Luna's. I don't think Luna's is sufficiently dense to warrant calling it a planet. Though having said that, its relative size compared to the Earth is pretty large -- maybe it does deserve being called a planet because of its proximity... Gavin "...That would classify our moon as a planet, though..." WHAT!? Did you even read Pascal's comment? Exactly how does our moon "have an atmosphere"? Sure, the moon may help to create an atmosphere on warm starry nights with a light breeze, but it has never had an atmosphere of its own. Ever. Doofus [We swear, he called himself this...] May we refer you, self-styled Doofus, to a body of scientific research on the subject? Why not start here, and then have a read of this. The atmosphere might be tenuous, but it is there. Hotter seas make for stronger hurricanes according to some MIT research: I read this book [Chaos: Making a New Science, by James Gleick] some time ago so my memory may be somewhat hazy. There is an illustrated example to suggest that once sufficient energy is present in the atmosphere then a hurricane storm could become extremely stable, similar to The Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Just thought you might find that interesting as a sort of "where it might go" thing. Dave Well, duh! The weather is the atmosphere's way of getting the heat energy from the warm equator to the cold poles. As the differences get bigger, the weather has more to move and wants to get it there quicker. So things like rain and wind gets more violent. It isn't rocket science. Mark No. It is atmospheric science...Boom Boom! (Sorry)... Microsoft learns how to delete information from documents. We suggest the dramatic new technology will be used by those working on Alien corpses and the like out at Area 51: Re: Microsoft developing alien technology - surely there's no surprise about this? They're just trying to compete with Apple's better-publicised attempts. Or has everybody so quickly forgotten the notorious historical incident of aliens coming down to earth and blowing up the White House one Independence Day? As I recall, it was a virus created on an Apple computer that was used to turn off the inpenetrable shields of the evil alien mothership. Of course, on that occasion, Apple didn't save the day completely - millions of people died. But the cute puppy survived so it was all okay really. And no doubt Apple'll get the right patch out within a few hours the next time those evil motherf---ing aliens come knocking. God Bless America! And God Bless the Apple Corporation. Amen. PS - Microsoft - ten years late, as usual. Now if it'd been up to THAT lot to release the alien-shield-turn-offing virus, we'd still be waiting for it after the aliens had killed everyone, moved on, and taken out all life on Mars as well... And finally, after reading that his printer could be spying on him, a reader is concerned about black helicopters, but not for the usual reasons: I would like to see once, just once, someone write an article about government surveillance and not use the phrase "black helicopters". I dare you. Josef Ah, but they are watching us to make sure that we always do... Enjoy the weekend. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Aug 2005

Worm risk over Win2K flaw

An unpatched flaw in a core component of Windows 2000 might be exploited to launch computer worms, security researchers warns. The flaw was discovered by security research firm eEye Digital Security. The firm is witholding details pending the release of a software patch. Microsoft is investigating the issue, which is complicated by its decision to wind down support for the operating system. Mainstream support of Windows 2000, which is still widely used in corporate environments, came to an end at the start of July 2005. Microsoft released a final update rollup for Windows 2000 on 28 June, just two days before expiration of regular support. "Whilst news of this latest Microsoft flaw is presently fairly opaque to the industry, we cannot expect that it is, or will remain secret from the so-called 'black hats'. One can expect one or more worms to exploit this flaw as an attack vector very shortly," said Tom Newton, product development manager of firewall developer SmoothWall. ® Related stories Wormability formulae weighs malware risks MS issues final software update for Win2K Six patches for MS August Patch Tuesday
John Leyden, 05 Aug 2005

Carphone to buy Your Communications - report

United Utilities (UU) has played down speculation that it is about to flog its B2B telco - Your Communications - to Carphone Warehouse for £200m. The Manchester Evening News quotes city sources who say the deal has already been agreed. But a spokeswoman for Carphone told El Reg that the firm didn't comment on rumour and speculation. A spokeswoman for UU told us that the company made no secret of the fact that it was looking at a "variety of strategic options for Your Communications". "We have consistently indicated that United Utilities does not regard Your Communications as an integral part of its core business, and will look to exit the business at a point in time when shareholder value can be maximised," she said. "Until a decision on an appropriate exit strategy has been made, our focus remains on growth and profitability for Your Communications, which achieved break-even in the second half last year (before goodwill amortisation and exceptional items). "We will only look to exit the business at a point in time and in a manner that maximises shareholder value and we will make an announcement when we have anything further to announce." Speculation about the future of Your Communications surfaced a year ago amid reports that UU was keen to flog the business. ® Related stories Your Communications seeks buyer C&W sniffing around Energis - confirmed Thus upbeat about future
Tim Richardson, 05 Aug 2005

Hurricane Ivan prompts rogue wave rethink

Hurricane Ivan generated a wave almost 100ft high last September, as the storm passed over the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists reckon it is the tallest wave ever measured in US waters, and that it would have had enough power to literally break a ship in two. The wave was so large that it is likely to prompt scientists to rethink their models of wave formation. Current theories do not allow for such monsters to be created, the BBC reports. The wave never reached land, fortunately, but was recorded by the Naval Research Laboratory's ocean-floor-based pressure sensors. The wave measured a whopping 91 feet, or 27.7 metres from its peak to its trough as it passed over the instruments, and would have been around 600 feet long. However, researchers think the instruments could have missed even bigger waves during the storm. Large waves - known as rogue waves - are occasionally reported, and have been spotted by European Space Agency satellites. However, the mechanism by which they form is poorly understood, and they were dismissed for a long time as exaggerations or fibs told by sailors. ESA reports several such encounters: On 1 January 1995 the Draupner oil rig in the North Sea was hit by a wave whose height was measured by an onboard laser device at 26 metres, with the highest waves around it reaching 12 metres. Then, in early 2001, two cruising vessels - the Bremen and the Caledonian Star - had their bridge windows smashed by 30-metre rogue waves in the South Atlantic. But these waves may not be rogue waves at all: lead author David Wang told the BBC: "Our results suggest that waves in excess of 90 ft are not rogue waves but actually are fairly common during hurricanes." The research is published in the journal Science. ® Related stories Hurricanes thriving on global warming Hurricane Dennis menaces Shuttle Giant waves spotted from space
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Aug 2005

River Po awash with 'cocaine'

Italian scientists have discovered that the river Po contains the remains of the consumption of more than 4kg of cocaine daily - equivalent to an annual snow festival of 1,500kg per year among the Po valley's five million inhabitants. The point of all the numbers - published in the net's Environmental Health by a team from the Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan - is that consumption of charlie in the region is much higher than previously thought. Indeed, the authorities had estimated the daily inhalation of nose candy at 27 doses (100mg) per 1,000 young adults. These figures have now been literally blown out of the water by the test for benzoylecgonine, a byproduct of the body metabolising cocaine which makes its way into the sewer system in the normal way, and thence to the river Po. The investigative team described the findings as "staggering", which comes as a bit of a surprise since the river Po benefits from the presence of world fashion capital Milan - generally considered to have the greatest percentage of anorexic models among its population and therefore the planet's highest per capita consumption of Bolivian marching powder. ® Related stories GM cocaine 'grown in Colombia' Cocaine props up German dotcommers 400 pound ex-coke dealer CEO ousted after media blitz
Lester Haines, 05 Aug 2005

eBayer auctions ad space on corpse

He's not dead yet, but one day Andrew Beutin will depart this life for a place free of the fiscal woes which beset this corporal plane. In the meantime, he's looking to raise a quick $10k by auctioning advertising space on his own dead body. Here's the pitch: You are bidding for the sole right to advertise on my corpse....as soon as my corpse is discovered and otherwise legally available to you. As the winning bidder you will have the right to advertise on my corpse, definitely during the funeral. You are welcome to photograph the ad after it is finished as well as attend the funeral. Simple as that. Andrew admits he's just 24 at the moment, but notes: My risky behaviors include, snowboarding (still highly unskilled), motor scootering (several wipe outs resulting in nasty road rash), bicycling (rode into a telephone pole once on step moms bike 11yrs ago, please dont tell her), running (been hit twice already different drivers), avid climber of things and I have aspirations of base jumping, bunjee jumping, running with the bulls in Spain and mixing coke with pop rocks. For the record, Andrew does not much care about what sort of ad the winning bidder sticks on his body, because "I am not going to be able to gripe about it anyway", which is true. And just as well, because we have it on very good authority that - yes, you guessed it - GoldenPalace.com is moving in for the, er, kill with its throbbing chequebook poised to strike. Anyone thoroughly sick and tired of the online gambling outfit's marketing antics can read a few highly imaginative alternative suggestions courtesy of Reg readers, right here. ® Related stories Golden Palace to sponsor Robert Mugabe? Online casino tattoos woman's face Casino brands eBay cleavage woman
Lester Haines, 05 Aug 2005

New regs target phone scammers

New regulations are due to be introduced next month that should help protect punters from being ripped off by dodgy phone operators. From 15 September, telcos that lease lines to premium rate services will not be able to pass on any cash to service providers for at least 30 days, improving the chances of those hit by scams to get their money back. The new measure - which has taken nine months to be introduced - means that revenue generated by rogue operators is frozen before it gets to them giving premium rate regulator ICSTIS enough time to investigate any allegations of fraud. "This will remove an important incentive from criminals who want to abuse the premium rate industry," said communications regulator Ofcom in a statement. "Delaying payments to premium rate service providers will improve the prospect of customer refunds where an ICSTIS investigation concludes that a customer has been the victim of misleading or potentially fraudulent service," it added. ® Related stories Ofcom slaps premium rate industry OFT wins pledge from premium rate scammer Phone scammers face £250k fine ICSTIS bars rogue dialler operator BT cracks down on rogue diallers Telcos act to squeeze out 'few rotten apples' UK phone scammers yet to pay fines Watchdog fines prize call telco £100k 16 scammers fined £1.3m
Tim Richardson, 05 Aug 2005

High Court rejects itunes.co.uk dispute review

The High Court in London has rejected an application for a Judicial Review into the ownership of the itunes.co.uk domain. In June, Benjamin Cohen - who registered "itunes.co.uk" in November 2000 some three years before Apple registered the name "itunes.com" - announced he was seeking a Judicial Review of Nominet's ruling in March forcing him to hand over his itunes.co.uk domain to Apple. That ruling decided "that, by associating the domain name with Napster (a competitor of Apple Computers Inc), and that by offering to sell the domain name for sums far in excess of its original costs, the registration of the domain name was abusive". However, the boss of the Cyberbritain Group Ltd wanted Nominet's ruling overturned and improvements to the way that the .uk domain registry handles disputes. Today, though, Nominet announced that Cohen's call for a Judicial Review had been rejected. "The judge noted that the application was flawed in several respects, being both late and unnecessary given the right of appeal which forms part of Nominet's Dispute Resolution Service, which Mr Cohen had failed to use," said Nominet in a statement. In a statement Edward Phillips, Nominet's solicitor said: "I am pleased that the judge has rejected Mr Cohen's case at the first possible opportunity, which leaves no doubt that it was without merit. We will now be looking at recovering our costs of defending this unnecessary action." Cohen now has seven days to apply for an oral hearing or the matter is closed. However, he told El Reg: "CyberBritain is considering its options together with its legal team. It is currently reviewing the decision and is strongly considering making an application for an oral hearing. "We refute Nominet's allegation that it was an unnecessary action and hope that in the case of an oral hearing being pursued, the inherent unfairness of Nominet's dispute resolution service becomes apparent." ® Related stories Nominet faces judicial review over itunes.co.uk ownership Cohen disputes UK registry's legitimacy US Appeals Court clarifies protest website law iTunes.co.uk owner fights on against Apple Apple wins iTunes.co.uk case Apple threatens iTunes.co.uk owner
Tim Richardson, 05 Aug 2005

London Tube terror game sparks outrage

UK tabloid the Sun is beside itself with rage today after discovering an online game in which players have to stop bombs detonating on the London Underground system. The Mind the Bombs website invites you to: "Do your part in the war against terrorism - email this FREE game to all your friends, family and associates to enjoy!", while declaring itself "dedicated to the good people of Britain - specifically those individuals directly affected by terrorist activity in London. God save the Queen". A disclaimer - evidently added by creator Keith E. Fieler to avoid possible litigation - states: "This game is in no way affiliated with Transport for London." Which is just as well, because the Sun, after making short work of Mind the Bombs with the obligatory "sick" and "twisted", quotes a spokesman for London Transport as saying: "Passengers on the Underground and their staff were faced with horrific scenes on July 7. Anybody involved in the making or viewing of this game would do well to stop and think about that. We will never forget those who were killed and injured in the attacks." And a representative of London Transport Users Committee raged: "Londoners are just getting on with it and we think people should show this game the contempt it deserves. I don't think anybody will find it very funny or very pleasant." We're inclined to agree, although the Sun in its apoplectic state has missed a fundamental point - Mind the Bombs is complete and utter crap. In fact, the only interesting thing about the whole exercise is that a tempting "More Games" link on the site leads straight to listings for online casinos. Naughty, naughty, Mr Fieler - we wouldn't like to think you are trying to squeeze some cash out of this contribution to the war against terrorism. ® Related stories Online gaming addiction smokes out Evil Dragon Online gamers targeted in Korean MSN hack attack Onliner gamer stabbed over 'stolen' cybersword
Lester Haines, 05 Aug 2005
chart

NPfIT still failing to engage doctors

Yet another study of the UK Health Service's National Programme for IT has found that frontline staff, GPs, feel they have been left out of the planning and decision making processes. The study warns that the failure to engage with GPs has put the entire project at risk. The report, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that staff felt demoralised and cut off from the planners at the project's headquarters. They also complained that communication with project managers has been extremely poor - both in terms of information shared, and local advice heeded. The study quotes an IT manager at one of the trusts: "The communication has been appalling, absolutely appalling. They've done some wonderful events, and I've met some people who are great, NPfIT, who are very facilitative and very enabling, and the next week you're told you're not allowed to talk to them." The chief executive of another trust said that there had been a real lack of engagement. The un-named chief exec went on: "I think we've been involved and been asked to promote something... - we say it's a bit like trying to go and sell, probably in IT terms, vapourware." The researchers spoke to 23 senior staff in various departments within four acute health trusts. The trusts were chosen to reflect typical conditions - in terms of size, financial health etc - within the NHS. Overall, they concluded that despite pumping extra cash into the project, the government has been unable to allay fears about the impact of centralising the NHS' IT systems. The researchers found uncertainty among staff about when NPfIT systems would be implemented in hospitals, and what funding would be provided locally. The researchers also found cases where the project is actually hindering the improvement of the NHS service. They found that some existing IT systems, such as those in radiology and pathology, are in urgent need of updating. But because the NPfIT is being implemented in phases, those upgrades have been delayed, waiting for the NPfIT to catch up. "Such delay may mean a risk of system failure, but buying a temporary solution is seen as costly", the researchers write. But factors other than the technical come into play, and it is the socio-cultural side of things that the BMJ report found had been most neglected. The report describes these oft-called softer challenges as being "as daunting as the technical and logistical ones" and recommends that programme managers make dealing with this side of the project a priority. This is not news to anyone who has been following the saga of the NPfIT, or Connecting for Health as it sometimes prefers to be known. Back in January the National Audit Office warned that unless the NPfIT managed to engage frontline staff, the project was in danger of missing its deadlines, and going further over budget. Another survey, conducted by Medix in February found falling levels of support for the programme among GPs and consultants. Doctors have been particularly concerned about the security of confidential patient information in the new system. Just two per cent of GPs think electronic records will be more secure than the current system. At the time, the NPfIT said it had begun to address the lack of involvement of frontline staff, but that the Medix survey had taken place before this "has had the chance to penetrate at grass roots level". The same claim, surely, cannot still be made. You can read the BMJ study here. Related stories London's NHS IT boss suspended NHS chief cans patient control over health record access NPfIT boss prepares to cut failing suppliers GPs have no faith in £6bn NHS IT programme Flagship NHS project in danger
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Aug 2005
globalisation

EDS wins £39m prisoner profile deal

Government favourite EDS has reportedly won a £39m contract with the National Offender Management Service to develop technology that will be able to track offenders as they pass through the criminal justice system. The so-called National Offender Management Information System (NOMIS), is the underlying technology that will join the HM Prison Service and the National Probation Service (NPS) information, in real time, and is supposed to reduce reoffending rates. It will contain profiles of offenders, including details of education, training, as well as case history, and is designed to help staff make better decisions about the future of individuals - for example, over whether or not someone should be released. The contract will initially be worth £39m, but could be extended by £40m for extra services. It will be delivered under the existing Quantum contract, EDS said, and will run until 2012. A pilot programme will begin in 2006, and the system is expected to roll out to all users in the year-and-a-half that follows. ® Related stories EDS delivers Q2 jam, much more to come UK Inland Revenue may sue EDS EDS tax fiasco hit with two barrels
Lucy Sherriff, 05 Aug 2005
fingers pointing at man

MPs demand Granville Technology probe

MPs are queuing up to demand an inquiry into last month’s collapse of Granville Technology Group Ltd. Burnley-based Granville, which operated the Time, Tiny and Computer Shop brands, collapsed into administration just over a week ago, following months of losses. One and a half thousand workers immediately lost their jobs. Local MPs, both Labour and Conservative, have insisted “something must be done”, though they have subtly different spins on the matter. Kitty Ussher, Labour MP for Burnley, has called on the DTI to investigate the company’s collapse, paying particular attention to management’s actions in the run-up to the collapse. At the same time, she expressed confidence that government agencies such as Jobcentre plus were doing everything they could to help former Granville employees. Ussher’s remarks came just days after Nigel Evans, the Tory MP for Ribble Valley, also called for an inquiry, demanding to know “which members of the board knew that the company was in dire straits, and when they knew.” Evans also wanted to know “what steps were taken to try and seek assistance from either the Department of Trade and Industry or other Government agencies prior to the announcement being made”. As well as expressing concern for axed workers, Evans also voiced worries about the effect on other local firms. So far little new information has emerged from administrators Grant Thornton, beyond the fact the total owed to creditors is around £30m. Reports suggest there have been around 300 enquiries about Granville’s assets, though it seems these are more concerned with the group’s property assets, such as its retail leases, than the PC manufacturing operation.® Related stories Quantum eyes Tiny brand Tahir Mohsan in talks to save Time jobs Granville Technology goes into administration Time shutters stores
Team Register, 05 Aug 2005