27th > September > 2005 Archive

Police and NSPCC tracing web images of children

Greater Manchester Police and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) are working together on a new project to trace and identify abused children whose images are shown on the internet. E-Spy, as the initiative is known, aims to combine the investigative skills of police officers with the NSPCC’s child protection experience to trace and protect online child porn victims, and also to track and convict the paedophiles responsible for the abuse. The new initiative combines staff from Greater Manchester Police’s Abusive Images Unit with two NSPCC social workers, who are now based full time in the unit. Assistant Chief Constable Dave Whatton said: "Many of the offenders who use the internet to access and circulate such images, naively believe that they can do so anonymously. But I want to send a clear message to them, that our specially trained officers police the internet, as they would any other beat and so they will be caught and brought to justice." The NSPCC urges anyone who has concerns about a child to speak out. It runs a free 24-hour Child Protection Helpline on 0808 800 5000. Web users who find illegal content online can also contact the Internet Watch Foundation, an EU and industry-funded body that works to minimise the availability of illegal internet content. If it finds that the content is illegal it will transfer the details to the police and ISPs. See: IWF Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
OUT-LAW.COM, 27 Sep 2005

Beatific Gates blesses the Windows Palm

It's amazing what the pharmaceutical industry can do nowadays - but I swear Bill Gates is getting younger with each public appearance. Of course it helps to have days like this, where one of Microsoft's most audacious business opponents finally capitulated. Or became an "OEM licensing partner", as they say in the business. On days like this, the years must fall away. With his beatific smile, Gates looked like the cat had that had not only drank the cream while you were out, but had snared a rodent too, and was concealing it under his paws. The victim of course was Palm, in the shape of President and CEO Ed Colligan. Ed, to be frank, had enjoyed more comfortable press conferences than this. But Bill had the graciousness to remain taciturn throughout. He didn't have to say much - just give that big, wide, tight-lipped smile as if to say - "What, me? Hiding under here, you say?" Bill knew that it was Ed who had the explaining to do. "Microsoft had competed (...pause...) rather vigorously," with Palm said Ed, "but times have changed." This was a cue for the Cheshire Cat. "Palm always did great work and we lusted after some of the things they did well," said Bill. "And we wanted to combine them with things we did well." There are some things Microsoft does very well indeed - and Ed now looked even more nervous. So Ed told us that the two had been collaborating on what for now is simply known as "Treo for Windows" for "a number of years". He told us this again for good measure a moment later. Flanking them was Verizon Wireless CEO Danny Strig. He got to plug the 3G EV-DO broadband network, which is entirely justified, and because it's a Verizon exclusive for now, lord it over Sprint and Cingular. Then it was back to Ed. "There are millions of people around the world who want that familiar Windows experience," said Ed - who'd devoted over a decade to trying to rescue people around the world from that familiar Windows experience. What would this mean? The BillTreo (our name, not theirs) will be available in early 2006, and it will run Windows Smartphone 5.0. But it's tight under those paws. The Microsoft Treo has only half the pixels of the latest Palm OS Garnet-based Treo available now. The Treo 650 has a 320x320 screen (102,400 pixels), while the BillTreo will be 240x240 (57,600 pixels). PocketPC software tends to be optimized for real PocketPC-sized screens of a higher resolution, and the surprise is that both parties hadn't gone all out to give Nokia a fright, and deliver a 480x480 screen. The BillTreo offers more memory, with 64MB, but what Bill giveth, Bill taketh away. The Windows CE operating system eats into RAM, consuming around 40MB, leaving less for the applications and data. That's much more than PalmOS uses today, and rather more than PalmOS 6.0 Cobalt, which somewhere in a parallel universe at this very moment, a rather happier looking Ed Colligan was showing to the world in the shape of the Treo 700C. So in terms of dry specifications, there's clear blue water between the BillTreo and the 650, with a better screen and more much memory for the PalmOS model. The saddest part of the presentation was the actual demonstration itself. Microsoft controls the look and feel very tightly, lest the meeces get grand ideas and forget their status in the rodent food chain. It was like the bravado Palm demonstrations of old, back when Palm made sharp, responsive little computers that gave people no more and no less than what they wanted, and people adored them for it. So here was a Palm with a Start button: just as Jeff Hawkins surely intended, all along? At this point, Bill's smile could have wrapped around the room. It's hard to even name a Microsoft Windows smartphone on the market, and even harder to find someone who loves it in the same gauche way millions of people loved their Palms. With their specifications set by network operators, and their dreary design written to order in a faceless Asian manufacturing plant, who on earth could fetishize a Windows smartphone? Let alone rationalize that such a thing was good for humanity? Then came the questions. Why didn't Palm use Cobalt? Because it wasn't ready, said Ed. And won't Palm be cuddling up to Nokia, and licensing Symbian? That got an emphatic nay from Ed. "We don't need another operating system... It's too much effort". We don't doubt he'll keep his word. Bill will make sure of that. ®
Andrew Orlowski, 27 Sep 2005

DEA shuts 4,600 rogue pharmacy sites

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) last week arrested 18 people for allegedly selling pharmaceutical drugs unlawfully over the internet. Those arrested include the ringleaders of more than 4,600 rogue pharmacy websites, which are now all closed. In addition to the 18 individuals arrested, seven luxury cars, 2,400 cheques and money orders from individual customers, and several boxes of cash were seized. The drug dealers received prescription orders over the internet, which were then shipped to the doors of many US citizens, sometimes without any prescription needed. According to the indictment, the drugs included alprazolam (Xanax), hydrocodone, phentermine hydrochloride, and promethazine cough syrup with codeine. The drug traffickers averaged more than $50,000 a day in profits, according to the DEA, which named its investigation Operation CYBERx. Apparently, some of the drugs were sold through affiliates, who are increasingly scrutinised for aiding illegal drug sales. The DEA-led investigative effort is the first to target “e-trafficking” within the United States. Rogue online pharmacies allow abusers to easily access pharmaceutical drugs from the comfort of their homes. Any drug abuser with enough cash could have almost any quantity of prescription drugs-with door to door delivery. The arrests will certainly not put an end to illegal drug trading on the net. Daily mailboxes are bombarded with spam for shady online pharmacies, although most of these scam sites are easily identifiable: the sites hardly ever mention a (genuine) postal address or phone number, they change their URL with almost every spam run or have domain names registered in China or Russia. Often, the sites are hosted from these countries too. In Russia alone some 20 per cent of all drugs distributed are known to be fake. Just a couple of weeks ago, a federal grand jury in the US indicted three businesses and 11 people in a conspiracy to sell $42m worth of counterfeit, stolen and illegally imported prescription drugs. ®
Jan Libbenga, 27 Sep 2005
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Jobcentre Plus staff tell of IT system woes

Jobcentre Plus staff are put off from encouraging benefit claimants to use e-channels because of bad experiences with their own IT systems and contact centres, a government report reveals. Ongoing problems with contact centres and an "inadequate" Customer Management System have apparently led staff in local offices to "distrust technology". New research by the Department of Work and Pensions documents an entire catalogue of serious staff complaints about the service claimants receive from contact centres. Under the claims process, new benefit applicants ring a call centre where their basic details are taken down. An operative then call backs to gather information to input into CMS and arrange an appointment at a local office to process the claim. Staff at all levels who were questioned for the report severely criticised the contact centres' performance. Operators were said to be inadequately trained, resulting in customers being wrongly advised. Due to under-resourcing, callback times were "very poor", sometimes taking weeks – in turn putting more pressure on local offices, who were often having to deal with mistakes caused by "inadequate contact centre processes". "Contact Centre delivery is not perceived to be as efficient as the face-to-face method by a majority of staff in the current climate", says the 214-page report. "Indeed in present form it is argued that Contact Centres create greater problems and inefficiency." On top of this, staff were scathing in their criticism of CMS, which one staff member described as "appalling". The IT system was regarded as unreliable, unstable and deficient, creating "uncertainty among staff of the efficacy of certain alternative channels" and "inefficiencies in dealing with and processing claims", says the report. As another staff member commented on CMS and efficiency: "Basically, the customer is waiting up to two to three times longer to get benefits processed because of CMS". According to the report, Jobcentre Plus staff "do not have any confidence in CMS and what it is delivering." As a result, staff have "little faith" that its replacement, CMS2, will improve the situation, with most "dreading" its introduction. Staff in one district noted: "We should be encouraged by the introduction of new technology and systems… yet the more it goes on the more discouraged we become." This distrust in technology was matched by a distrust in senior management. A general feeling among employees was that "feedback from staff is ignored with the result that one bad system after another is implemented." Another section states: "Staff opinion is that they are being made to promote services that they know are problematic – and that they are increasingly trying to sell to the customer a service that they know is not working." In a further development, the report said that the poor design and functionality of an intranet system had "impacted negatively" on staff perceptions of "using and promoting alternative channels". Another reason why e-channels were not fully promoted was a lack of basic IT skills among staff in local offices, which was again blamed on a lack of training. The report says the evidence suggests that Jobcentre Plus has a "rather fragmented and incoherent" approach to developing its service delivery channels. "There appears to have been no unifying strategic purpose", it adds. "The rhetoric of what alternative channels were supposed to deliver in terms of efficiency and better customer service, from a staff perspective, has not been seen in the reality of the overall day-to-day business process." The report, which contains 15 recommendations for Jobcentre Plus, is here (pdf). Copyright © eGov monitor Weekly eGov monitor Weekly is a free e-newsletter covering developments in UK eGovernment and public sector IT over the last seven days. To register go here.
eGov Monitor Weekly, 27 Sep 2005
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Google fixes video search

Google, celebrating its seventh birthday today, has revamped its video search service. Google video now plays back search results in a large video window within the browser without the need to download irrititating media players. This means the service is available on Linux and Mac machines for the first time. Next to the video window is a brief description of the video clip, its length, the date it first appeared and a link to the originating website. Google is promoting the service with the exclusive airing of Everbody Hates Chris - Chris Rock's new comedy. Episodes will be available via Google all week prior to broadcast on Thursday. Google has also removed the page count from its front page. Yahoo and Google were quibbling over who had the most pages indexed - Google now claims three times as many as any other search engine but no longer says how many pages that is. More at the Google blog here - or have a look at the new service here. Seven years ago today Google, with three employees - Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Craig Silverstein, began life in a friend's garage. ®
John Oates, 27 Sep 2005
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ANTs: a strange name for a database

CommentComment ANTs Software, otherwise known simply as ANTs (which actually stands for Asynchronous Non-preemptive Tasks), is little known, yet it is a public company that has been around since the 80s. It started life working on parallel supercomputers but then faded into dormancy for the best part of a decade. It then re-emerged in 1999 as a project to implement its MPP (massively parallel processing) expertise within the database field. As a result the ANTs Data Server (ADS) was launched last November. There are a number of interesting things to say about ADS. The first is that it contradicts almost everything that I used to write about databases back in the 90s. Then, we regularly used to castigate the likes of Sybase for being late in implementing row-level locking, which we regarded as being essential for OLTP (on-line transaction processing) environments. Well, ADS not only does not implement row-level locking it promises a lock-free environment altogether. There are a number of facilities that allow this. First, it allows simultaneous updates to a row, provided that different fields are being updated. Secondly, it treats separate updates to the same field (say, adding three stock and deducting two) as arithmetic operations where these are commutative (that is, where operations can be performed in any sequence and produce mathematically consistent results). It is only when neither of these conditions applies that the software has to resort to traditional means: serialising the process of update based on user-defined priorities. The second interesting thing about ADS is that ANTs claims that it typically runs five to 15 times faster than standard relational databases. The fact that it offers a lock-free environment is one reason for this. Another is that it uses a process called "preparation by compilation" which effectively means that SQL is compiled into binary code and then held in memory, where it can be (re-)executed as required. A third reason for its performance advantage is that ADS treats memory as its main area for processing. However, unlike in-memory databases such as TimesTen (now part of Oracle) ADS overflows to disk where necessary. Finally, a fourth reason is that ADS creates multiple threads when it is started but it never closes them - keeping them open and re-assigning them as needed, thus saving the overhead of starting up threads. The third interesting thing about ADS is that its superior performance does not seem to have compromised scalability. For example, Nextel, one of its customers, is processing 10 million transactions per day using ADS. The fourth interesting thing about ADS is that as standard it comes with support for Oracle schemas, stored procedures (PL/SQL), triggers and so on. In principle, you can take an Oracle database with all of its logic and implement it, without change, on ADS. What's more, this facility is not limited to Oracle but also applies to Sybase and SQL Server with support for Transact-SQL and T-SQL. In the next two releases, due before Christmas, this support will be extended to other well-known databases. The last sentence may raise some eyebrows: two releases before Christmas! ANTs makes a big play of its combined R&D and QA capabilities. It has 500+ servers in its data centre and all new code is checked in and quality tested hourly. Typically, it claims to do 3,000 hours of automated QA testing every day, across all supported platforms (11 of them) - so that's why it reckons to be able to turn out new releases so quickly. Finally, there is one more interesting thing about ADS: it is less expensive than any of the products it is aiming to replace. In fact, the company is not solely aiming at the replacement market but it is also addressing the high performance OLTP market in its own right, as well as the SMB sector. In this last case, its entry-level pricing is $1,995 per server per year for a maximum of 2 CPUs (which may be dual core) including, where appropriate, some migration services. To conclude, ANTs may still be a strange name for a database company but it has a product that it is certainly worth watching. Copyright © 2005, IT-Analysis.com
Philip Howard, 27 Sep 2005
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Of Autodesk and the Freedom Tower

Autodesk is famous for Autocad and it is the market leader in computer-assisted design, with some 2500-plus third-party developers producing complementary products.
David Norfolk, 27 Sep 2005

Intermix sticks with Murdoch

Intermix, the company behind MySpace, has rejected a rival offer from ex-CEO Brad Greenspan. The board of directors agreed unanimously to reject his offer and stick with Murdoch's offer. The board said Greenspan's offer was unlikely to be superior to that from NewsCorp. Reasons for the rejection include: Greenspan's offer was for only one half of the common stock. He would need to raise about $300m to fund the takeover but has no credible funding sources. Grrenspan offered £13.50 a share, more than Murdoch, but for only half the stock - the rest would be converted into shares at a later date. Greenspan's bid "offers significantly less certainty of closing and would, even if consummated, take months to complete". Intermix's board of directors also rejected the offer because the return of Greenspan to Intermix "could create morale issues....and potentially harm the company's business". Greenspan was asked to leave as CEO when the company's shares were at $2 each and it was under investigation by the SEC. The board also decided to adjourn the company meeting, being held 28 September, and reconvene it 30 September to give shareholders a chance to make up their minds. Read the full board statement here®
John Oates, 27 Sep 2005

Hutch buys three Indian cellcos

Hutchison Whampoa is buying three Indian mobile companies for $1.15bn. Hutchison, which operates in India as a Hutchison Essar Ltd - a joint venture with Essar Teleholdings Ltd, is buying BPL Mumbai, BPL Cellular and Spacetel. BPL Mumbai is number two in the city with 1.3m customers. BPL Cellular has 1.5m customers in MAharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Spacetel has applied for licenses in seven areas which Hutchison Essar does not currently operate - Madhya Pradesh, North East, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir. Hutch is paying $6m for the firm. The deals should give Hutch 12m customers and operate in all 23 licence areas. You can get the whole releases from here.®
John Oates, 27 Sep 2005

Merlin quizzed on missing millions

Merlin Biosciences, the €450m venture capital fund, has confirmed it is facing a Serious Fraud Office investigation. The probe is believed to centre around a "missing" £2.5m. The company said: "Merlin wishes to confirm that it is working with SFO in a preliminary inquiry concerning an investment made by one of its funds." It added it would be inappropriate to comment further, according to the Independent newspaper. The paper also reports the SFO has already visited the home of Merlin chief exec Mark Clement Merlin was founded in 1996 by Sir Christopher Evans and has invested in 35 European bio and life science firms since then. He has written to investors to reassure them that the investigation stems from a misunderstanding. Evans is a sometime government advisor on scientific matters. ®
John Oates, 27 Sep 2005

O2 posts upbeat trading update

Increased customer numbers and improved performance in the UK and Germany has prompted O2 to up its revenue forecast, the cellco announced today. In the UK, O2 - which yesterday confirmed the launch of its i-Mode wireless internet service - reports that its business has "continued to trade strongly" in the six months to the end of September. The number of punters continued to grow and it also managed to reduce the total of customers leaving the service. As a result, the total number of UK subscribers has passed 15m for the first time. With a better-than-expected performance, net service revenue growth for the full year is now expected to be between six and nine per cent, compared to earlier predictions that it would only hit growth of "mid-single digits". Said boss Peter Erskine in a statement: "The strong growth that we reported across all our businesses in the first quarter was maintained into the second quarter, and this will be reflected in our first half results." Elsewhere, Deutsche Telekom (DT) has dismissed reports that the giant telco is preparing to make an £18bn bid for O2. Weekend press reports suggested that DT was on the verge making an offer following the collapse of a joint bid with Dutch telco KPN. But speaking yesterday DT's top beancounter told reported that the telco has "no interest" in O2. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2005
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Phoenix IT confident on year

Phoenix IT Group told the Stock Exchange that trading for the first six months to 30 September 2005 was in line with expectations. The firm's directors remain confident that trading for the year will be in line with expectations. Negotiations with BT and the Department of Work and Pensions over renewing a contract worth £12m a year are still ongoing and the firm said it would make a further announcement as soon as a conclusion is reached. The contract expires 31 December 2005. Interim results will be announced 23 November and will be the first posted under International Financial Reporting Standards. ®
John Oates, 27 Sep 2005

Oktoberfest nurse in fairground porn shoot outrage

Three Italian visitors to Munich's legendary Oktoberfest came away with more than a hangover last week when they were entertained by the sight of a nurse pleasuring herself with a sex toy in a Ferris wheel gondola while two men armed with a video camera looked on. The shocked trio immediately reported the outrage and police swiftly cuffed the perpetrators, later identified as a 21-year-old registered nurse, a 25-year-old university student and a 30-year-old political sciences teacher. Rather brilliantly, the smutmongers explained that they had been "engaged in a sociological experiment to measure public responses to unexpected behaviour", which sounds like a plausible defence for just about everything from full-on rumpy-pumpy in Trafalgar Square, to picking up an old lady's irritating and yapping pet poodle and drop-kicking it under the wheels of a bus. It might also provide a get-out for Steve "Ballistic" Ballmer after his expletive-peppered chair-throwing outburst - but only, of course, if effing and blinding and chucking furniture is in fact "unexpected behaviour" down at Redmond and not, as we suspect, de rigeur for MS execs when faced with the Google menace. Back in Munich, meanwhile, we're not certain what happened to the gondola romp threesome. Twelve hours of enforced exposure to a traditional, lederhosen-clad oompah band ought to set them back on the straight and narrow. ®
Lester Haines, 27 Sep 2005
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Intel, MS back HD DVD

Intel and Microsoft have formally allied themselves with Toshiba's HD DVD next-generation optical disc format. Both will become members of the HD DVD Promotion Group, the pair said yesterday. Both firms' support for the format centres on its greater suitability for PCs than HD DVD's rival, the Sony-backed Blu-ray Disc (BD) represents. Interestingly, they do refer to BD, claiming it has a lower capacity than HD DVD: 30GB for a dual-layer HD DVD to 25GB for a BD. Neither mention that's the single-layer BD capacity, or that the dual-layer version offers 50GB of storage. Many of the HD DVD format's other strengths also apply to BD. Not that either company comes to the debate with disinterest. Microsoft's Xbox 360 will go up against Sony's BD-equipped PlayStation 3, and while the 360 will initially ship with a regular DVD drive, Microsoft has indicated it will upgrade to a next-generation format at some point in the future - once there's sufficient content out there, presumably. Microsoft will clearly now turn to HD DVD, and given its close ties with Toshiba, we can well envision the Japanese CE giant bending over backwards to supply its partner with HD DVD drives for the 360. And Intel? Well, Intel wants all our living rooms to contain PCs disguised as consumer electronics kit, for which it has launched its Viiv initiative. Maybe Viiv ought to be OS agnostic, but it's promoting Windows Media Center Edition straight down the line, and if MS is going to back HD DVD, Intel probably feels it has to too. It also said it likes the way HD DVD incorporates the ability to allow consumers to copy discs for personal use, ie. to a Media Center's hard drive, and then to beamed around the house via wireless networks to Media Center Extenders. "HD DVD discs also will allow copies of the movie to be played on portable devices," said Intel. Assuming, of course, content providers set the appropriate flag. Intel's business is predicated on promoting the PC more generally, and it reckons HD DVD will be better suited to notebook usage, thanks to its greater suitability for incorporation into slimline drive form-factors. For all this, Microsoft and Intel allow themselves a get-out clause, presumably to give them room to back BD if it looks like winning the almost inevitable format war. "Although the companies have determined that HD DVD is the only viable solution at this time, each remains committed to working toward one format that meets consumer and industry requirements," they said. ®
Tony Smith, 27 Sep 2005

Don Quijote to tilt at asteroids

The European Space Agency is putting together a mission to see how well current technology could handle the threat of an asteroid impact. The agency has now selected two targets for its rehearsal deflection mission, dubbed Don Quijote. The agency has selected asteroids 2002 AT4 and (10302) 1989 ML as possible mission targets. It says they represent the best compromise of all the selection criteria. The final decision on which asteroid to target will be made in 2007. ESA is calling for spacecraft design proposals from the space industry, and early in 2006 it will select two to be developed further. The final demonstration mission design will be chosen in early 2007, but the launch date has yet to be confirmed. The mission will see two spacecraft travel to the chosen asteroid. The first, called Sancho, will arrive at the asteroid several months in advance of the second, Hidalgo. When Hidalgo arrives to smash into the asteroid, Sancho will be there to observe any changes to the asteroid's orbit. There is no danger that the mission will knock a currently harmless asteroid into a path that would threaten Earth, ESA says. It argues that even a very heavy impact would only deflect an asteroid by a very small amount. An impact of the size planned in the Don Quijote mission will alter the asteroid's path by such a small amount that it would not be detectable from Earth. This is why two space craft are being dispatched: the second is needed to monitor the object for subtle variations in its orbit, following the impact of the first. ESA describes the impact of a Near-Earth Object as being one of the few natural disasters we have the technology to prevent. It argues that this kind of work is needed now, because although there is no imminent threat that we are aware of, our ability to identify and track NEOs is not yet very sophisticated. It points to the 400m asteroid 2004 MN4, which astronomers managed to catch up with again at Christmas time, having lost it since its discovery in mid-2004. Initial measurements indicated that the rock stood an unusually good chance of impacting Earth in 2029. However, once earlier measurements were found, and a better trajectory was calculated, scientists were able to rule out a 2029 collision. The threat of later impacts has not been ruled out, however. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Sep 2005

PlusNet exposes VoIP plans

PlusNet - the AIM-listed ISP - is the latest firm to jump on the VoIP bandwagon after confirming yesterday that it plans to unveil a broadband telephony service shortly. The Sheffield-based ISP said its PlusTalk VoIP service is based on open standards enabling its punters to communicate for free with other open standards-based services. And for those calls that incur charges, PlusNet remains confident its tariffs will be among the lowest, saying in a statement yesterday: "PlusNet expects to offer a range of call packages at market leading prices." Even though PlusNet's announcement that its VoIP service will be unveiled soon, El Reg understands that it will go live tomorrow. Even before the product has been unveiled the ISP has already cut charges amid reports of increased competition in the rapidly-expanding VoIP sector, with BT planning to reduce charges and Dixons to launch its Freetalk service this week too. So, the cost of PlusTalk Evening & Weekend package will now cost £2.99 a month - which includes 3,500 free minutes and 15 MB voicemail allowance - instead of £3.99. PlusTalk Anytime - which includes 4,000 free minutes and 25 MB voicemail allowance - will cost £4.99 a month. Originally, it was priced at £7.99 a month. PlusNet is even introducing a PAYG VoIP service as well, although the company's VoIP services are not available as standalone products and can only be used by PlusNet broadband customers. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2005

Long wait for Palm Windows Mobile Treo

Palm unveiled its as-yet-unnamed Windows Mobile-based Treo smart phone yesterday, but don't expect to be able to get your hands on one until early next year, if you live in the US. Customers outside the States will have to wait the best part of a year before the device appears in their local markets. No wonder product details were few and far between. While it emerged the unit, which will initially be offered on the Verizon network, will support the EV-DO high-speed data system, run Windows Mobile 5.0 and incorporate an Intel-sourced CPU, Palm has revealed little else about the device. Palm naturally stressed it would be bringing some of its own software technology to the Microsoft party, but it didn't mention anything especially innovative. All it did reveal, really, was when it will reveal more about the device. "Full product details will be disclosed when the product is available for purchase in early calendar 2006," the company said. EV-DO operates on top of a CDMA network. Palm said "a Treo smart phone using Windows Mobile based on other wireless technologies was not anticipated to be released earlier than the second half of 2006". That's almost certainly a reference to either GSM/GPRS or 3G/UMTS, possibly both. Palm didn't say anything about deals with operators other than Verizon. In Asia, the Chinese-language paper the Commercial Times once again claimed that Taiwanese manufacturer HTC had scooped the contract to produce the Windows Mobile Treo. Indeed, HTC, which is believed to be the producer of the Palm OS-based Trep 6xx models, is also thought to have helped Palm design the new machine. Over the last couple of weeks, a variety of HTC customers have announced and begun shipping re-branded versions of its Universal Windows Mobile 5.0 3G/GSM/GPRS/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth handset. For its part, Microsoft has posted a resource page for Palm OS developers keen to target the upcoming Treo. ®
Tony Smith, 27 Sep 2005
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UK.biz urged to swot up on computer forensics

Businesses are failing to capture essential evidence from their computer systems, according to a UK industry group which has published a new set of guidelines designed to help firms gen up on computer forensics. The Directors and Corporate Advisors’ Guide to Digital Investigations and Evidence from the Information Assurance Advisory Council (IAAC) is designed to plug a knowledge gap it reckons is leaving business at risk. The absence of properly preserved computer evidence not only makes criminal prosecutions against hackers more difficult but leads to firms failing to get proper redress in the civil courts or unable to make proper insurance claims, IAAC argues. "The need for digital evidence is not confined to obvious cybercrime events such as hacking, fraud and denial of service attacks," said report author Peter Sommer, "It’s also required when transactions are disputed, in employee disputes, and almost all forms of non-cyber crime, including murder, forgery, industrial espionage and terrorism. With the vast proliferation of computer ownership and usage plus the growth of low-cost always-on broadband connectivity, all organisations require a forensic readiness program." Sommer, who is a senior research fellow at the London School of Economics and has appeared as an expert witness in many high profile cybercrime cases, added that although firms don't need a 'Digital Sherlock Holmes', they do need plans to identify and preserve digital evidence such as emails and web transactions along with an understanding of some of the associated legal problems such as admissibility and privacy. The first third of the guide provides general management advice while the remainder provides details of procedures, techniques, applicable law and sources of further information about computer forensics. The guide is available for free download form IAAC's website here. The Information Assurance Advisory Council (IAAC) is a private sector led, industry group focused on promoting a safe and secure information society. IAAC’s corporate sponsors include Cisco, HP Labs, Microsoft, QinetiQ, Symantec, RAND Europe and RSA Security. ®
John Leyden, 27 Sep 2005
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HP job cuts: France wants its subsidies back

HP's job-cutting scheme has hit a snag - French politicians are claiming the firm owes more than a million euros in subsidies. The company is looking to cut 6,000 jobs in Europe - just under a thousand in the UK and 1,240 in France. The mayor of Grenoble, where HP labs are based, flew to California to try and convince HP bigwigs to think again. If they do not he is calling for the return of €1.2m he claims was given to HP to help it set up in Grenoble in the first place. But Patrick Starck, president of HP France, told Le Figaro newspaper that HP had never received any money from the French government, adding that the firm had paid €700m in taxes during the period. More details en Francais içi. French prime minister Dominque de Villepin told AP late last week: "When there is public aid, it is normal that there is a minimum of return, of recognition." But Villepin said the intention was not to put up barriers to international investment and he hoped for constructive talks with HP, an indication that he is under pressure to cut French unemployment which is currently over 10 per cent. After a meeting with HP execs on Monday, French employment minister Gerard Larcher said the figure of 1,240 job cuts was not set in stone and could come down. More from AP here. ®
John Oates, 27 Sep 2005

Dixons hails birth of 'Son of Freeserve'

Dixons has cut the ribbon on its new VoIP service claiming it is the "most significant development in the telephone market since the launch of the mobile phone". The launch of Freetalk - from the same people that introduced ISP Freeserve - comes as little surprise since details of the VoIP service have already been leaked. From Thursday, punters will be able to buy Freetalk adapters from PC World, Currys and The Link stores as well as from 50 Dixons stores enabling them to plug their phone into their broadband connection and make free calls. For £79.99, customers can buy a Freetalk package giving them the adapter and a year's subscription to the service. After that Freetalk costs £6.99 a month for "unlimited UK landline calls". Said Simon Turner of DSG International (the new name for Dixons): "This is the most significant development in the telephone market since the launch of the mobile phone and will transform the way we use phones. The days of old-style fixed-line phone calls are numbered." Yesterday, BT rubbished Freetalk. "Dixons are not first movers on this, they're late to market and this product is not revolutionary," said a BT spokesman. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2005
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Resellers raided over 'fake Cisco kit'

Police have still released no details about computer firms they raided earlier this month netting equipment worth £500,000. The raids targeted a computer firm near Rochdale which was visited by police, trading standards and representatives of several international companies. Companies in Reading, Flintshire and Manchester were also raided. The Rochdale raid saw computer components worth £100,000 confiscated but the police and trading standards are still not naming the firm concerned. Initial reports suggested illegally copied software was the target of the raid, but it now appears it was counterfeit hardware. Andy Glover, chief trading standards officer for Rochdale, said: "There is an investigation taking place, we're looking at products to confirm they are counterfeit. These things take some time and we are liasing with people from several companies. The process could take months rather than weeks." Glover said the length of time was in no way unusual. The company concerned has not been named on legal advice that to do so may predjudice a future trial. Glover said: "I can't tell you who it is, but I can tell you who it isn't. We've had enquiries about Microtec 99 and I can tell you they are not involved." A channel source told The Register the raid was not to do with grey importing, but fake Cisco kit. He said :"It's what we call 'noodle products' - counterfeits from China. Cisco is getting very hot on this at the moment." Cisco told The Reg: "As a matter of policy we cannot comment on ongoing specific investigation." More from the Heywood Advertiser on the original raids right here, and thanks, as ever, to the Reg reader who tipped us off. ®
John Oates, 27 Sep 2005

Apple's iPod Nano screen woes deepen

OK, let's see if we can find some good news about the iPod Nano. Hey, here's some: Jim Allchin, head of Microsoft's Windows division, bought one the day it came out. Talk about sleeping with the enemy! Umm...oh. He says it stopped working after a day. "They have moisture issues," he said. (You're really not supposed to take it into the shower, Mr Allchin.) OK, er... the high street chain Dixons says it was selling an average of five per minute over the weekend. That's more like it! Except... the story that first appeared here last week, about how amazingly easily the screen scratches, has spread far and wide, and so far down the food chain that even local and national newspapers have written about it. Oh dear. More importantly, the post on Apple's discussion boards discussing the issue has grown from 188 posts to 583 (at last count), and now includes people who have cancelled their orders. Ooooh dear. Indeed, the screen-scratching problems don't seem to be the only ones with the Nano. Some people have been complaining about wholesale screen failures and others about the battery life, which they say doesn't match the claimed 14 hours, even when you follow Apple's instructions (backlight off, no skipping songs). Except in the latter, Apple carefully claims "up to 14", and some have managed more. So what, we asked Apple, is it going to do about those screens? The reply: "Apple has no comment at this time." Stores will decide for themselves whether to swap scratched or broken machines. More importantly, the issue of the polycarbonate on the Nano not being up to scra... being too sensitive, raises a couple of important issues. First, how did Apple get it so wrong? Earlier iPod models seem more scuff-resistant, and this writer's mobile phone (which has had months of living in pockets with keys etc) has fewer scratches than a two-week old Nano given less robust treatment. If Apple has used a different polycarbonate formula for the Nano, then it should be able to change that in the manufacturing process, which will mean later versions - even in the next few weeks - will be better. But that creates the ticklish media management problem of whether to say that the new versions are tougher (because that implies the older ones were soft). Past form from the "cracked Cube" episode suggests Apple will blithely ignore all the hubbub, leave stores to choose between annoyed customers or profits, and use a harder polycarbonate compound in future, if not at once. But there's another problem. If Apple can't get this right, then the launch of the fabled (but now confidently expected) video iPod will stutter as would-be early adopters wait for someone else to buy one and test the screen. That could give an important lead to existing products like the Sony Playstation Portable, and breathe new life into Sony's flagging finances. Then again, who are we kidding? Seeing how the iPod battery life gave rise to a whole branch of iPod battery replacement companies, it may be more realistic to expect that this problem is going to lead to a whole new species within the iPod ecosystem: companies marketing scratch-filling plastic polishes for iPod screens. ®
Charles Arthur, 27 Sep 2005

ESA preps polar research sat

Europe is preparing to launch a satellite designed to test the prediction that climate change is causing the ice at the poles to thin. Cryosat, which is slated to launch on 8 October, will spend three years in orbit, studying the polar caps, the BBC reports. The data it gathers should help scientists better understand how global warming will affect the planet's ice cover and sea levels. The satellite will blast off from Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome, aboard an cold war relic: a modified intercontinental ballistic missile called Rockot, which is a SS-19 two-stage rocket fitted with a Breeze-KM third stage that will put the payload in its final orbit. The SS-19, which NATA called Stiletto, was first built two decades ago to serve as a weapon of nuclear war. You can read more about it here. Once in orbit, the satellite will spend six months in a commissioning phase. Once it goes live, its radar altimeter will begin its survey of the floating sea ice at the poles. By measuring the height of the ice, and knowing its density, scientists will be able to calculate its mass. The European SPace Agency already has two satellites (ERS-1 and ERS-2) looking at the arctic and antarctic ice sheets. However, the coverage they provide is limited, and doesn't extend to the outer edges of the ice sheets. Researchers say that ERS-1 and 2 have proven the methods that Cryosat will employ do actually work. In combination with NASA's Icesat mission - which is measuring the land-based ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland using a laser altimeter - the Cryosat data should give researchers the clearest picture yet of changes to polar ice cover. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Sep 2005

BT in VoIP price cut cull

BT is "to fight for every customer" as its traditional voice service comes under threat from VoIP operators offering free and cheap calls. Clearly rattled by firms such as Skype and now Dixons' new mass-market VoIP product Freetalk, BT has confirmed plans to cut the cost of international calls for users of its BT Communicator service. From next week, the cost of calls to 30 countries such as the US, Australia, Spain and France will cost just 0.5p a minute. A 60-minute call to a US landline, which would cost 72p with Skype, would cost 30p with BT, said the telco in a statement. And BT bigwig Gavin Patterson chipped in: "We are not going to sit back while competitors lure our customers with cheap internet calls. We will fight for every customer by offering our own attractive prices for these calls. "Unlike traditional telephony, where we are heavily regulated, for internet telephony we can compete on an equal basis and offer customers the same advantages of low cost calls over the internet, but from a global, trusted brand." He added that BT was "the first telecoms company to offer voice over internet two years ago". Despite this early advantage, BT Communicator has yet to become a major force in VoIP and only has 50,000 users. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2005

BT names Openretch XI

BT has named its starting XI to head up its new Openreach network business which will provide equal access to its phone network. The giant telco announced the creation of Openretch last week as part of a regulatory settlement with Ofcom. By avoiding the threat of being broken up, BT has instead agreed to "substantive structural, product and governance changes, affecting both its current and future networks". Skippering the Openpreach side is chief exec Steve Robertson, who joined BT in October 2002 from Colt. Opening the batting are Anne Heal, currently BT's director of regulatory affairs and Emma Gilthorpe, recently poached from Cable & Wireless (C&W). Other top order players include CIO Colin Windsor and chief engineer Bob Cowie. Said Robertson in a statement: "I am delighted to announce my top team. It is an incredibly strong team composed of some of the best people in both BT and the industry. The clock is now ticking but I am confident this team can have Openreach up and running by January next year." He likes the word "team". Still no announcement who is twelfth man. Or who's down to score. Or make the teas. ®
Tim Richardson, 27 Sep 2005

Hairdresser applauds text marketing service

Txtlocal is a new service which aims to help small businesses take advantage of mobile advertising. Small business can get a mobile number to collect customer contact numbers through. They can then send a marketing message to these people for 5.5p each. Al Shortland, MD of TxtLocal, said: "There's really nothing comparable unless you spend £50 month on a complicated system. This is £15 a year and 5.5p a message. A small business can get the number and a keyword and start collecting numbers immediately." Shortland said the firm already has about 30 businesses signed up and on average, promotions get a 40 per cent response. Jim Woods, a hairdresser in Derby, said: "Since using TxtLocal there is never a quiet period in the salon. We Have 300 customers on our list. If we need to fill seats we simply send 100 messages offering a 20 per cent discount if you come to us before 6pm. The response is fantastic, sometimes too good." Shortland said the advantage of such marketing is that you are talking to people who have expressed an interest rather than handing out leaflets in the street. ®
John Oates, 27 Sep 2005
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Password overload plagues US.biz

Managing multiple passwords is driving end-users up the wall and leading to rising help desk costs due to frequent password reset calls. A recent survey of almost 1,700 enterprise technology end-users in the US commissioned by RSA Security showed that over a quarter of respondents must manage more than 13 passwords (28 per cent) at work while 30 per cent juggle between six to 12 passwords. The vast majority (88 per cent) of those quizzed expressed frustration over managing multiple passwords. This frustration is leading to behaviours that could jeopardise IT security, as well as compliance initiatives. As a leading supplier of two factor authentication products and other software designed to address password management problems, RSA Security is hardly a disinterested party here but that doesn't mean it's necessarily wrong in pointing to signs of mounting password overload. RSA's online survey found that while many end-users may attempt to memorise passwords, employees continue to resort to other, less secure means of tracking multiple passwords. The most common risky password management behaviours include: maintaining a spreadsheet or other document containing passwords on a PC (25 per cent); recording a list of passwords on a PDA or other handheld device (22 per cent) and keeping a paper record of passwords in an office (15 per cent). The Post-It note containing sensitive corporate passwords left in plain view is alive and well in the offices of America, it would seem. RSA's survey also showed the potential for lost productivity when employees rely on the IT help desk to manage a lost or forgotten password. One in five respondents (20 per cent) said it takes the IT help desk staff between six and 15 minutes to address a lost or forgotten password problem; 17 per cent said it takes longer than 16 minutes. Separate research from the Burton Group reports that IT help desk calls cost somewhere between $25 and $50 each. The situation is bad enough already but compliance initiatives, which encourage firms to enforce and strengthen password policies, could make matters worse by requiring workers to change passwords more frequently, or use passwords that are very difficult to remember. Andrew Braunberg, senior analyst at Current Analysis, said: "Paradoxically, password policies that are not user-friendly spur risky behaviour that can undermine security. These policies also raise IT help desk costs as companies allocate more resources to password resets." ®
John Leyden, 27 Sep 2005

Global warming, hydroponics and yet more frogs

LettersLetters Plane delayed? To kill some time, just check out the public access terminals while you're waiting for your flight to board. Apparently people have been treating them just like their home PCs. Goodness only knows what you might find.... It seems members of our Management hierarchy have recently read your article "Airport PCs stuffed with meaty goodness" and it's now a cause for concern - shame it takes an article such as this and not continued warnings/education from our Security Department to highlite the risk! I've been tasked with finding a possible solution to use these Terminals securely - Not sure how we can achieve this as apart from the obvious "Do not under any circumstances use Public Terminals for accessing/discussing Company resources/information" I'm not sure what else we can do? However, It's been mentioned to me that the US and/or UK Government have a "technical solution" to allow user's to securely access Corporate resources using these terminals - are you aware of this? if so can you direct me to the resources where I can find more info? I don't expect to find anything worth while, I believe educating the users to not utilise these terminals is the only mitigation to the risk here under these circumstances. Your help, or comments would be appreciated. Regards Robert Having worked in IT for a major Unnamed AirLine, I frequently was asked by the lost and found group to figure out how to turn on left hardware and determine who owned it. All of your story rings true, my own personal observation was the high frequency of gay porn on company laptops. If you left your laptop with a dead battery, it's likely never to be seen again, most have no ID on the outside. If I couldn't get it to boot and find a contact, it went to Lost Luggage Heaven. The other common issue was floppies left everywhere, security, in lounges, on planes and at check-in counters. 8 out of ten were virus ridden, most had personal/company confidential info on them, a lot had porn, virtually none of them had an owner's contact on them. Sticky labels with a name, email and phone may seem low tech, but they work. Name withheld Actually, virtually all -non-owned PCs should be used with extreme caution by anyone handling something confidential. Not only can you not be sure if the machine isn't recording keystrokes and logins, the way that popular corporate "user friendly" facilities like Outlook Web Access work is that any attachment is downloaded *in full* before it is opened and such a download stays on the system. The 'temp' directory of any Cybercafe (and most certainly airport PCs) is thus likely to be a veritable goldmine of files with interesting content. Peter A well respected British scientist lashed out at climate sceptics in the US recently, pointing to increasingly strong hurricanes as evidence of global warming. Lots of thoughts from the floor: If "Global Warming" is the cause of the increased number of hurricanes, then is the reverse also true? The multi-decade cycle (as noted in your article) has been observed for many cycles - back to the 1700s. Given Mr Lawton's Correlation, Global Warming only exists half of the time. I think there is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in Mr Lawton's philosophy. The 1000-year-old ruins of farming colonies in Greenland are evidence of "Global Warming" prior to the Industrial Revolution. There was a "Little Ice Age" in 1700s North America, after the Industrial Revolution started. Could we be on the upside of a 1400-year solar oscillation? All of that fossil fuel that we're burning today was once in the atmosphere - the plants took it out of the air and deposited it in the huge coal, oil, and gas beds we see today. All of that coal, oil, and gas was atmospheric carbon dioxide at one time and Earth seems to have survived just fine without human intervention. I'm far more concerned about the ill effects of Mr. Lawton and his ilk than I am about carbon dioxide. Perry You say that "some" climate scientists say hurricanes and global warming aren't linked. In fact the majority say so, and it's also the official position of the International Panel on Climate Cchange. Is Sir John calling the IPCC a bunch of loonies too? I'd urge you to make a correction to the effect that Lawton is advocating a minority position against all available evidence. Cheers, Graham Dawson It really doesn't matter what the loonies think right now. All summer I've been hearing about Florida being hit by YAHs (Yet Another Hurricane), now it's Texas and Now Orleans. Maybe another one or two will hit before the winter comes to calm it all down. Next year, the world will be counting them, and comparing with this year and last year. It might even become a betting event (how many will hit, how many level 5, how much damage in billions, etc). Meanwhile, US coasts will continue to be battered regularly, until Florida becomes a human desert and all US refineries in the Gulf are relocated to Alaska. But global warming ? Nonesense, of course, don't be daft. When you believe in Intelligent Design, you're not going to let a few stiff winds ruffle your hair, now are you ? Pascal Naw...your Brit boffin has it all wrong...it's all the fault of the Yakuza. For proof see this story. Cheers, John PS: Maybe you should check and make sure it isn't the Lizard People, at it again! Copyright detection. Always going to be a popular subject this one. I hope Limewire's copyright detection routines are at least ten orders of magnitude more accurate than whatever it is that is used by Nero (from ahead.de). Nero invariably states that whatever you want to burn to CD or DVD is copyrighted - even if it's a blank AVI or MPEG file that you've just created, without any content whatsoever. However, I don't honestly expect Limewire will do better. They are, after all, merely trying to avoid a lawsuit by the RIAA. Actually serving their users might be a bit much to expect. Morely So that means we should stick with the version we have rather than upgrading then!! Thanks for the heads up. Jez Chinese authorities are clamping down on blogs. Now, as much as we have not been blogging's biggest fans, we suspect their motives are not entirely wholesome. You thought so too, we think. But who is Great Aunt Martha? "any organisation or individual must register with the authorities before providing news or operating an email distribution list" since this site can be accessed in China, have you registered with the Propaganda Department of the Peoples Republic of China permission to publish this particular story? or are you hoping to establish a reputation of fair, unbiased, journalism so you can have the honour of joining other reputable news organisations (namely, the bbc) in being blocked by the Great Firewall? or yet again, is this yet another law that means there is one law for Chinese nationals, and one law for us lovely rich foreigners? Geoffrey "smokeless war" my Great Aunt Martha. China has been waging war on the Western Internet for years, by knowingly, deliberately, and maliciously providing "Safe haven" for spammers' Web sites within Chinese Web space. China Railway and CNC Group are the two most popular Web hosting forms for spammers looking for a "bulletproof" host, and the government of China damn well knows it. The spammers use those sites to gather responses from idiots who will buy from spammers, while stealing millions of dollars in bandwidth from ISPs worldwide to deliver their spam; and China gathers dollars from the spammers. Name withheld Hurrah. The crazy frog is banned. At least, he is banned before the 9pm watershed. You feel that the ASA ruling does not go far enough, however: Sod the kids, what about protecting the rest of us from this irritating little frog? Aaron Shame the ASA couldn't have banned it for just being $%"%^ing annoying. SHOOT THE BLOODY FROG!! Jim Can't they ban that Coke ad as well, for making you think that it's something to do with Morecambe and Wise ? Regards, Mike "think of the children"..... What about the rest of us? Surely the little rug rats that run up large bills on parents phones are the ones who don't mind this ad. Its the adults who find it annoying and tedious... couldn't the ASA have banned the ad AFTER 9 pm so that we can enjoy 'all that filth' without interruption from a 'ring ding ding ding.. etc' Jeremy I am still utterly bewildered that this craze is floating around. In my thoughts 9pm is far too early, and believe the hour between 4am and 5am to be far more suitable. Further more, ASAs argument should be edged towards the torture factor of this particular TV ad and that 9pm is a better time purely because a larger population of the country are doing more interesting activities at this time, such as getting drunk (probably because they have previously witnessed said advert) And finally, a shade off topic, why do the publishers of the `crazy frog` trademark (The inadequate bunch of dirty hemorrhoids they are) not realise they are advertising an utter abomination and give up entirely? It nauseates me. Jon And no-one complained that the frog is, um, anatomically correct? I mean, I know it's only an animation, but having some amphibian waving his wang in your face as your trying to eat is not my idea of fun! Tim Actually, the frog is anatomically incorrect. No weeners on frogs or toads. Not to be contradictory or anything, but my 9-year-old daughter and her friends have already had a ball imitating the tune and the antics for tens of minutes at a time. Apparently, they now know how to start a motorbike. Of course, it all breaks down into unintelligible whisperings and giggling at the end, then they pass on to something else. Although she did ask me to find the video, she thankfully has not insisted that I run it twenty times. Pascal You have been brainwashed by the frog...seek help. We liked your thoughts on the anthrax shopping the US military has been engaging in: "if other countries...built large biological production facilities at secretive military bases..." Similarly, if I order a bunch of high-end hydroponics equipment, suitable for growing high-quality tomatoes and peppers, and set it up in a locked room in my basement, is some government agency going to assume that I'm growing something illegal instead? Of course not! So we can't just assume that the military are up to no good, just because they're (in the early stages of) buying all the equipment needed to create horrifying biological weapons. The sarcasm is unnecessary, but I really liked the hydroponics analogy. Peace! tom And lastly, a complaint: Dear sir/madam Sorry for bothering you, but while reading the latest, and consistently excellent episode of BOFH I was disappointed to discover that popping "Dutch lobster" into Google did not elicit the expected torrent of smutty web sites... Keep up the excellent work. Nick L More on Friday. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Sep 2005

MEPs reject UK's data retention plan

The European Parliament has rejected the UK's plan to require communications providers to retain rather loosely-defined user and traffic data for a minimum of a year, and possibly indefinitely. The Draft Framework Agreement was put forward by the UK, with the backing of France, Sweden and Ireland, in the wake of the Madrid bombings. It was argued that the powers the bill contained were needed to help law enforcement agencies protect Europe from terrorism. However, by proposing the legislation as a Draft Framework Agreement rather than asking the Commission to draft a Directive, the four countries were effectively bypassing the parliament, something which put MEPs' noses out of joint. A statement on the parliament's website reads: "MEPs welcomed instead an alternative proposal on data retention launched by the Commission last week, in which the Parliament will have codecision power to ensure that MEPs' demands are respected." The Commission proposal puts an upper limit on the time data must be stored: one year for telecoms data and six months in the case of internet information. It also proposes that communications companies are compensated for the additional costs they will incur, complying with the new laws. Yesterday, the official in charge of data protection in the EU said he was still not convinced of the necessity of the proposals put forward in the directive, and said further safeguards were needed to protect citizens' privacy. ®
Lucy Sherriff, 27 Sep 2005
homeless man with sign

Trusted search software labels fraud site as 'safe'

Digital certificate firm GeoTrust's launch of a search engine with built in trust features this week has been marred by the classification of a phishing site as genuine. Powered by Ask Jeeves, GeoTrust TrustWatch search aims to protect users against fraudulent behaviour and phishing attacks by giving web sites a verification rating. It's a laudable aim, but the classification of a recently created phishing site as "verified as safe" raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of the technology. Such incorrect classifications create a false sense of security that can only play into the hands of would-be fraudsters. The bogus site purports to represent the Metropolitan Credit Union. It's a crude facsimile of the real site, but TrustWatch assigns the dodgy site a trusted status. Netcraft doesn't score much better in assigning the same ropy site with a risk rating of only "one", a single notch above trusted. After learning the site was bogus, GeoTrust quickly blacklisted the suspicious destination. To its credit, it also worked with the US hosting firm that unwittingly hosted the site to remove it from the net, but that still leaves the question of how a fraudulent site (screen capture below) came to be awarded a trusted rating in the first place. Chris Bailey, CTO of GeoTrust, explained that the domain used by the site had previously been verified as trusted. "It's unclear if this phishing site was economically active. In any case, it's now been taken down by the hosting company. It seems there was an insufficient amount of vetting," he said. The url associated with the phishing site has been blacklisted while other sites on the domain have been stripped of their trusted status. Bailey said that the false classification of a fraudulent site as trusted by TrustWatch was "rare" and said ours was the sole such report. He added that the firm had set up a mechanism for users to report problems and claimed that TrustWatch will become more reliable as more users come on board. Feedback is reviewed, forwarded to anti-fraud organisations, aggregated and may be used in future TrustWatch ratings. An estimated 100,000 users have downloaded beta versions of the software prior to the launch of TrustWatch, the third generation of GeoTrust's anti-phishing toolbar, on Monday (26 September). The inappropriate classification of a bogus site illustrates the early teething troubles of anti-phishing technology that may take some time to resolve. This is a shame because we found GeoTrust's technology otherwise well designed and easy to use. The software is free and comes either as a component to GeoTrust's anti-phishing tool bar for Internet Explorer (no Firefox version yet) or by visiting TrustWatch.com. User search results generate green, yellow and red verification symbols beside each search result. Sites that can be verified by trusted third parties receive a green 'verified' rating; sites that have not been verified, but are not known to be fraudulent, receive a yellow 'not verified' rating; and known fraudulent sites display a red 'warning' rating. For the record El Reg gets a far from reassuring "not verified" rating from GeoTrust. Netcraft, by contrast, gives El Reg the green light. TrustWatch Search is based on GeoTrust's identity verification technology. In addition, TrustWatch Search also works with leading providers of blacklist data, such as Cyota and the Anti-Phishing Working Group, to alert warns consumers about potentially fraudulent sites. As we've discovered, it's not quite as simple as that so it's just as well there are mechanisms in place to quickly deal with anomalies both for consumers to report suspicious sites and for the manual review of wrongly-classified sites. GeoTrust's technology is touted as a way for consumers to both find and evaluate the reliability of ecommerce outlets. For example, users can type queries directly into the search box on the TrustWatch toolbar. The Ask Jeeves search engine will return relevant search results alongside TrustWatch ratings. TrustWatch Search also provides a 'Site Report' link via which users can click to get more information about web merchants based on information from BizRate (for Website reviews and store ratings), TRUSTe (privacy policy data), ScanAlert (security audits database) and Alexa (traffic rank information). ®
John Leyden, 27 Sep 2005

BA breaks online booking records

British Airways claims record levels of customers are booking flights through its web site in a testament to the company's IT turnaround and response to low-price carriers. One passenger hit BA.com every second on Monday with a quarter of a million booking online last week, according to BA's chief information officer Paul Coby. BA's CIO said four out of five direct bookings are now through BA.com. Increased traffic comes as BA's latest sale of fares closes, and the surge points to improved functionality and greater integration between BA.com and the BA business, according to Coby. Improved functionality and integration means that appealing, low-priced fares and specials can be made quickly and easily posted, helping BA battle low-priced European carriers. The changes at BA.com accompanied an overhaul of BA's IT operations to help compete against carriers who also had lower overheads. BA has now cut 40 per cent off the costs of running IT compared to the 1990s, when there was little control over what IT was purchased - a fact that helped push up administration costs. "BA in the mid 1990s had lost the plot in many ways. IT was shit scared of being outsourced... we had many views of the customer, and people had lost faith in technology," Corby said. He called BA.com "vital" in helping BA "stay in the game." The company's next big IT challenge is moving its entire Heathrow Airport operation to the airport's newest terminal, Terminal 5, from 2008 onwards. BA is consolidating to deliver improved customer service using "new and innovative technology". Coby has created an IT and business change unit to help manage the convergence in business processes that the merger will require, noting BA still uses procedures and operations at Heathrow dating from the old BOAC days. "T5 could go wrong in [not] ensuring there's proper business process change in the new terminal. That's why the new unit is thinking about that," Coby said. One piece of new technology that will be missing from Terminal 5 on opening day, though, will be the ability to track passengers' luggage using RFID. According to Coby, the design for the baggage system closed three years ago and "the concept of retro fitting RFID systems is asking for it not to work on day one." He added RFID tracking required buy-in from the entire industry, not just selected airports or carriers.®
Gavin Clarke, 27 Sep 2005

Government hurting, not helping, innovation

The UK government has come under fire for its ability to foster innovation in IT, with criticism reserved for "big" government projects and a crippling regulatory framework. Jonathan Steel, founder and chief executive of software consultancy The Bathwick Group, said Tuesday the "monolithic" approach to procuring and implementing IT in government projects has been proven to be the "wrong model." "Innovation would be best served by supporting small innovative technology companies. It's impossible for small innovative companies to get work with government unless you go through a big, prime contractor," Steel said. And, far from being a benign benefactor providing a framework that fosters growth, government is "strangling" innovation through regulation of the small businesses. "I wish they would do a lot less [rules and regulations]. One reason we [the UK] are less innovative [than the US] is because of all those rules," Steel claimed. Steel was one half of a debating duo at Silicon.com's CIO Forum in London on Tuesday, arguing against a motion that the private sector delivers less innovation in IT than the public sector. Supporting the motion was former minister for science and technology at the Department of Trade and Industry, conservative MP Ian Taylor. Taylor argued the UK government has a good history of innovation, "pulling together ideas that can be used by the private sector". This spans the release of the UK's wireless spectrum to telecoms companies, the transfer of knowledge in defense and security projects to develop unmanned vehicles and robots, and advances in the storage and analysis of data in distributed networks. Taylor said government is able to stimulate the process of innovation through funding and education, calling national and local institutions the "bulk applier of ideas." Steel shot back, saying that the rise of the internet meant innovation was coming from many different places and that this helped minimize the role played by government. "True innovation is not something that happens centrally. It comes from individuals. Since the advent of the internet, we have seen a massive increase in innovation because individuals can innovate and create new things," Steel said. The public sector, he added, was unable to innovate to the same extent as the private sector because innovation involves a degree of risk and the public sector is, by nature, risk averse as it's responsible for the public's money. Quoting a football analogy, Steel summed up: "Just because you support football doesn't make you David Beckham. Because the public sector supports technology, doesn't make you innovative. Period." An audience of public and private sector CIOs attending the debate at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane supported Steel and voted against the motion.®
Gavin Clarke, 27 Sep 2005

Dell turns to Sun in battle against, er, Sun

There's no shortage of irony when a company as savvy as Dell spends thousands of dollars on a fancy marketing campaign only to have a partner undermine the entire message of the promotion by using a rival's gear in the ad. Such is the case with the Dell Tech Force web promotion that has been in action for some time. Dell hired Maverick Productions to create a pair of cartoons that mock "the leviathans of Big Iron." The playful animations are knock offs of the "Team America" film and are aimed right at Unix server sellers Sun Microsystems, IBM and HP. While Maverick Productions did its job and produced a cartoon with high production value, it failed to pay attention to a fine detail when it recruited SolutionPro as a hosting provider. Yep, you guessed it. The Dell Tech Force fight against Big Iron runs on Solaris servers from Sun. Big ads require serious horsepower; it would seem. (Thanks, A.) Netcraft shows more of the gory details. One would think that over time these trivial web server gaffes would appear less frequently. However, contractors not used to the fierce, religious aspects of OS and processor wars often miss out on the underlying significance of picking the right hosting provider for the right job. But Maverick Productions will have a hard time explaining its ignorance. The company has done extensive work for Microsoft and Dell in the past. Sadly, the design company isn't what you would describe as marketing savvy. In the "Showcase" portion of its web site, Maverick brags about videos made for a Windows XP launch. "It's not what great technology looks like, it's what that technology actually means to people," we're told. "Images of freedom, happiness, success danced across the video walls to wide acclaim. "One thrilled Microsoft exec even asked how we could load the video on every computer ever sold with Windows. Guess they liked it." Ah yes, nothing says "freedom" like a monopoly asking to put a video on every computer. Or take its plug for a past Dell campaign. "Dell's got a great story to tell. The CIO of Nestle is happy to share his positive Dell experiences with the world." Happy? Come on, how happy? "But Dell's never produced a video case study before - and just to make it interesting, Nestle backs out of the shoot the day before we're set to leave for Europe." Oh, that happy. Well, let's start the clock ticking to see how long it takes to get those cartoons on a Linux box. ® Bootnote Hardware aficionados will be amused to see the likes of Oracle and EMC included in the rally against Big Iron. And the real observant types out there will notice that EMC was actually excised from the second Tech Force commercial. Wonder why.
Ashlee Vance, 27 Sep 2005
homeless man with sign

IBM gussies up low-end server for SMB dance

IBM today fleshed out the low-end of its server line with a new box aimed square at SMBs and upgrades to two existing systems. The new x100 fits into IBM's Express hardware and software program, which includes lower-cost, less sophisticated products for smaller buyers. Customers can purchase the tower server with a single-core Celeron or Pentium 4 chip or a dual-core Pentium D processor. The system also has four I/O slots, five drive bays, and support for Windows Server 2003 and versions of Linux from Red Hat and Novell. IBM's pricing starts at $599 for a 2.53GHz Celeron-based system and stretches up to a fancier 3.40GHz Pentium 4-based box at $1,099. "Designed specifically for small businesses up to 50 users, the x100 combines built-to-last server quality with the latest technologies such as dual core processing, in an affordable, easy-to-configure, and easy-to-use system," IBM said. "The x100 can help manage and protect vital business data such as inventory records and e-mail applications, as well as delivering basic functions such as file and print serving or Web site hosting." So there you have it. IBM also refreshed the tower x206 server and its friend that fits into a nice rack, the x306. New to the systems are hot-swap hard drives, redundant power supplies, a fourth hard drive for RAID-happy types and a management controller for remote administration. All in all, IBM is clearly trying to spruce up these low-end systems to resemble dependable business dynamos. Customers can't get their paws on the kit just yet. They'll have to wait until mid-October to shell out at least $699 for the x206 and at least $1,159 for the x306. ®
Ashlee Vance, 27 Sep 2005