Bulldog has enlisted the help of the "my-bulldog-hell" website to help resolve customer service issues. The Cable & Wireless-owned ISP faces an Ofcom investigation after the regulator received hundreds of complaints about the service. A statement on the my-bulldog-hell website reads: "The team are proud to announce that we're now working with Bulldog to improve its relationship with their customers and the service they provide. "The team have been speaking with Bulldog over the past few weeks to establish a dialogue that will enable us to pass on both feedback on Bulldog's service as well as customers' problems. We are hoping this partnership will enable us to improve the customer - company relationship that has taken such a battering of late. "Of course a customer's first point of contact should always be Bulldog's free phone customer help line, but everyone is aware that some customers are unable to get their issues sorted in this way. This is where the team can help, if members bring their issues to our attention by creating a thread in the appropriate section of our forum we can take the issue direct to Bulldog's management and get something done." If a this all sounds vaguely familiar, you're right. Back in 2002 NTL bought protest Web site nthellworld.com for an undisclosed sum, with the cableco insisting that the site's online forum would be employed to help improve customer service. However, a spokeswoman insisted that unlike NTL, Bulldog has not acquired the forum. Nor is it paying any of those who work on the site. "It is totally informal," she told us. "We wanted to open a dialogue with them. ®
Benefit applicants will be subject to lie detector tests under new plans annouced by Work and Pensions Secretary David Blunkett to crack down on fraud. The announcement comes as an influential government report reveals that errors and fraud in the benefits system cost the taxpayers £3bn last year. The anti-fraud strategy, to be unveiled later this week, will see voice recognition software deployed to detect when callers are lying to government agencies. The use of Voice Stress Analysis, which picks up anxiety in the voice, is in common use in the insurance industry. However, doubts have been cast on its effectiveness. One American expert said that his studies showed "you could have obtained better results by flipping a coin". Information given to agencies will also be constantly cross-checked by computer, with checks made on utility and credit card bills. A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said this would include reviewing suspects' subscription to satellite television. "If someone is signed up for Sky Sports while claiming to be on the breadline, that will raise alarms," she said. A shake up in the way investigators are organised, by splitting inquiries into criminal cases and compliance cases, is also expected. 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.
The recent arrests of three men in The Netherlands who allegedly controlled a network of more than 100,000 compromised computers will not likely curtail the criminal economy surrounding so-called bot nets, security experts said this week. The arrests, announced last week by The Netherlands' National Prosecution Service, follow the August capture of two men - one from Turkey and the other from Morocco - suspected of creating and spreading the Zotob worm, a program that also compromised computers in order to create a bot net.
BSkyB is considering plans to buy a broadband telco so that it can go head-to-head with BT and NTL/Telewest. The Rupert Murdoch-owned satellite broadcaster is also prepared to invest up to £200m in local loop unbundling in a bid to provide phone and broadband services direct to end users, reports The Guardian. Should BSkyB go ahead with its broadband and fixed-line telephony plans it would enable the satellite operator to offer punters the all-important "triple play" of phone, TV and broadband services. Now that NTL and Telewest have agreed to merge, the enlarged group - with access to half of the UK's homes - would pose a serious threat to BSkyB's position. Likewise, BT is also pressing ahead with its plans to offer TV over broadband with a commercial service expected to be launched within the next 12 months. Pipex, EasyNet and LLU TV outfit HomeChoice have been named as possible targets for BSkyB, which is looking to raise up to £1bn to fund the deal. No one from BSkyB was available for comment at the time of writing. ®
Peruvian farmers living around a huge copper mining site at Las Bambas in the Southern Andes are to stage a two-day protest against the government's plan to blow part of the cash generated by the project on internet infrastucture. Swiss-based Xstrata has stumped up £26m to a poverty-busting fund as part of its concession deal to exploit the copper reserves, Reuters reports. The authorities say they will spend the cash on soccer pitches, rehabilitating city squares and installing net-connected computers. All well and good, say local farmers, but as representative Cristian Huilca put it: "We're peasants, many of us cannot read or write ... But we don't believe the internet will help us as much as an irrigation channel will." The protestors, and some local officials, not unreasonably reckon the money would be better spent on schools, hospitals, water and electricity. Hence the planned blockade of the Las Bambas mining site, due to commence production in 2011. ®
A month ago, Intel and three other chipmakers formed a breakaway group to develop their own specification for fast Wi-Fi, just as it seemed that the two factions warring to produce the official IEEE 802.11n standard in this area were approaching a truce. Those consortia, TGn Sync and WWise, claim to be close to arriving at a merged proposal, only to see the new group’s numbers swollen to 27. Under the name Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC), the rogue faction looks set to bypass the IEEE process in the same way that another Intel-inspired body, WiMedia Alliance, has done in short range wireless standards. The original founders of EWC were Intel, Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell. The new line-up also includes another WLan chipmaker, Conexant; plus all the largest consumer Wi-Fi equipment makers – Cisco/Linksys, D-Link, Buffalo, Netgear, 3Com, Symbol and US Robotics; consumer electronics/PC giants Sony, Toshiba, Apple and Lenovo; and others. The enlarged group looks fairly unassailable in terms of control of the WLAN market, especially as 802.11n increasingly becomes a technology for in-home digital networks rather than conventional access. With an eye on applications such as distribution of high definition TV around a house, the EWC says it would push Wi-Fi speed up as high as 600Mbps in a short timescale, leaping ahead of 802.11n targets of around 150Mbps in the first generation. Rose-tinted specs It also claims to have a specification ready and waiting, ahead of the converged proposal promised by the two IEEE-focused groups, although with probably a few weeks in it, the claims to be speeding up the progress to 802.11n are somewhat hollow. As in the UltraWideBand saga, the action may accelerate standards development by circumventing the IEEE’s cumbersome and feudsusceptible processes. But it also shifts the networking industry away from true open standards to a model more familiar in consumer electronics- the key growth market, of course, for fast Wi-Fi and UWB - where powerful companies reach consensus around a technology and create a de facto standard, that is then subsequently ratified by an international body, almost as a fait accompli. This approach was taken by the WiMedia Alliance, when its proposal – based on UltraWideBand and OFDM - failed to gain the 75 per cent majority needed to become the basis of the IEEE 802.15.3a standard for short range, high data rate networks. It then created its own alternative platform, which will be ratified by the ECMA standards body, a group that boasts a fast track process far less open to political schisms than the IEEE’s. There are many echoes of that situation in the new move by EWC, although the justifications are less obvious. In 802.15.3a, very new concepts were being put forward, in 802.11n, it will be essential that compatibility with the well established Wi-Fi standards is maintained, and so there is less logic to starting afresh outside the IEEE. It is hard to argue against the notion that Intel and its allies no longer see the IEEE as a body that meets their needs to get new technology to market quickly, nor as a group that they can influence to change its processes in favor of their business models. In this case, then, it will be almost impossible for the IEEE not to work to get EWC back under its auspices. After all, the four founders of the group account for 80 per cent of Wi-Fi chip sales. And if EWC does submit its proposal to the taskgroup, there will be huge commercial pressure to accept it, in order not to delay the standard beyond 2006. The biggest loser will be Airgo, whose MIMO smart antenna technology underpins the converged proposal but which competes head-on with EWC co-founder Atheros. The actual EWC proposal is likely to be a subset of the probable merged WWIse/TGn Sync platform. Its key technical elements, all included in one or both of the existing proposals, are: mixed-mode interoperability with 802.11a/b/g networks; PHY transmission rates up to 600Mbps; enhanced efficiency MAC with frame aggregation to bring actual throughput closer to the raw PHY rate, providing at least 100Mbps application level bandwidth; support for 2.4GHz and/or 5GHz unlicensed bands; support for either 20MHz or 40MHz channel sizes; spatial multiplexing modes for simultaneous transmission using one to four antennas; enhanced range via multiple antennas and advanced coding. The new group has not broken ties with the IEEE entirely yet, and will meet the joint WWiSE/TGn Sync faction later this month for discussion. The goal is for the smaller group to concede before the next IEEE 802 taskgroup meeting takes place in November. At this meeting, any proposal needs to get a 75 per cent super-majority to avoid the process starting again from scratch. The EWC claims it can get products based on its platform in about a year’s time. Copyright © 2005, Faultline Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.
Vodafone has been shamed for calling its service "the best...bar none". Rival operator O2 got the hump with two poster ads which stated that Vodafone had the "best call success rate of any mobile GSM network" and was the "Best in Britain bar none". O2 challenged Vodafone's claim believing that the call success rate on which the claims were based "was not sufficient to justify the general superiority claim for mobile network performance". The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld the complaint saying that Vodafone could not make such a "general superiority claim over the other mobile networks". ®
Novell and IBM have struck a deal to offer customers the option of switching to per chassis subscription for SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 9, rather than paying per server. The subscription will cover all blades within an IBM BladeCenter chassis, the companies said, regardless of CPU type or quantity. IBM's BladeCenter chassis holds up to 14 blades and is compatible with Intel, AMD and Power-based CPU. The savings kick in when a customer is running eight blades or more, based on a per chassis subscription of $2,792. For a full chassis, the companies say the deal could reduce subscription costs by $17,000. In August, HP announced a per chassis licensing deal with Red Hat, for HP's management software and Red Hat's Enterprise Linux operating system. Their pitch was similar to the one IBM and Novell are touting now: that a per chassis subscription will be easier for customers to manage, and will give them more flexibility if they need to bring extra servers online at short notice, for instance. The sales patter might be similar, but Novell and IBM are keen to distance themselves from the HP bundling deal. Ron Hovsepian, Novell head of global field operations, said that the deal was "unlike competitive offerings which simply bundle existing server subscriptions". ®
There was a semi-hysterical piece that ran this week in the New York Times, proposing that Darknets are likely to replace the collapsing P2P file exchange businesses, but the logic doesn’t quite seem to be thought through. Darknets are sub-networks, which have no public face to the world, where a small group can swap whatever files they like, without ever making their offer to swap them public to the rest of the world. They can be password protected, encrypted and virtually invisible to the onlooking anti-pirate brigade such as the Recording Industry Association of America. Anyone can create a hidden network, just ask any enterprise, and the common practice of using Firewalls and VPNs is no mystery. Using P2P technology behind this protection is hardly an innovation. But the problem for Darknets is developing a business model that both reveals the existence of the network and yet doesn’t make it susceptible to legal action, and this is a much more difficult concept than most people realize. Morality play It may well be that an entire generation’s morality has been compromised and that this generation doesn’t have it in its power to ever again believe in copyright laws. It may be equally true that this may become institutionalized and be passed down from generation to generation. But that is no worse than the use of cassette tapes for recording personal copies of music. The problem of piracy was caused not so much by ignorance or the refusal of a generation to abide by the law, but by the creation of a new distribution mechanism that was more efficient and better at handling bulk than the official retail only distribution of physical media. And in order to create P2P technology in the first place, which is not a trivial task, and to come up with a scheme that could monetize that invention, took mid-sized organizations that aggressively advertised the idea that music was now “free.” Any future continuation of piracy also needs those ingredients. It needs to advertise the fact that it is giving away music, or that you can give away music over such a service, for the bulk of the millions of people that used to indulge in piracy to find out about it. It also has to make someone some money so that it can support a mid-sized commercial organization. Without the chance to make money, almost no-one is going to create something on the internet that might land them in legal hot water. There’s a big difference between believing that you are allowed to share music and operating a system which you know is illegal and that you could go to prison for if caught. March of time Sure, Darknets do exist and they are used for piracy no doubt. But the most efficient of them involve smaller groups, perhaps 50 to 100 people. In some cases it’s likely that these share music, and in many of those cases that music will involve pirated works from the heyday of the file sharing years, but that will diminish over time. The prospect of copy protected CDs and the fall of the prime P2P networks, and the march of time, making new music the most desirable, is likely to take care of that. Of course, earlier record companies didn’t want to put out music on copy protected CDs, for fear of driving existing law abiding customers towards the file sharing networks. That obstacle has been removed and the reticence to put out copy protected media will disappear just as quickly. And the entire piracy movement will fall back to the situation we were in before, when we perhaps traded cassette tapes among friends, which to the record business was largely manageable. The New York Times article highlighted a company called Grouper, which hosts more than 100,000 private groups. Effectively it gives privacy tools to anyone that joins, and they use it to create clubs. Groups formed in Grouper have other reasons than piracy to come together, but if it becomes the next haven for piracy, its very public nature will ensure that the RIAA gets to hear about it, and we now know that its attention is potentially fatal for a business. If Grouper has another, legitimate revenue opportunity, it would be stupid to do anything other than actively discourage piracy. If it does not have alternative revenue streams, then it will become obvious that it’s only reason for existence is for piracy and its servers will get raided. Companies like this make themselves well-known and are likely to be monitored and if under suspicion, infiltrated, to ensure that piracy is not widespread. What should be more disturbing for content companies is that not just companies like Grouper, but also social networking sites like MySpace, have created a better distribution network for friendships. And in the current era, one of the great expressions of friendship is sharing experiences, through snippets of video, personally recorded music and pictures. The record labels should be trying to harness this, not put an end to it. Personally-created materials take time to be seen or listened to and this eats into the available time that the young today have to listen to copyrighted works. This is a far greater threat to content owners and a world where the power of P2P networks is used to create, index and share non-copyrighted works of high quality is only just around the corner. Say you are 16 years-old and in a band. You download some free recording tools and make a record. You do quite a professional job and upload it to a website for unpublished works. Let’s say that website gets a link on a social networking site or a music recommendation site. This in turn gets pointed at on a social networking site and word gets around. More people see it and the think they can do better and repeat the process. Pretty soon the world is listening to your music, perhaps making a contribution online directly to the band. The first time one of these makes $1m will create the biggest threat to copyrighted works going forward, which could easily be indifference, exacerbated by the resentment of the way record companies have treated their customers of late, taking bulk legal actions against them. Copyright © 2005, Faultline Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.
Anti-virus experts are experimenting with desktop search as a way of scanning for viral code. Both Google Search and Apple's Spotlight technology come with programming hooks (APIs) that allow their functions to be extended. Using these APIs, executable files might be scanned for malicious signatures. Andy Payne and Oliver Oliver Schmelzle of security firm WholeSecurity have developed a prototype malware scanner based on Google Desktop Search. In a presentation at last week's Virus Bulletin conference in Dublin, the duo demonstrated the prototype. Admittedly, this is more of an experiment into what's possible than a serious product development project: a lack of full file indexing and kernel system access makes the approach impractical at present. Conventional anti-virus scanning tools are much more thorough and faster. But as desktop search becomes a core operating system component the potential to use it for security applications increases. Payne said desktop search could be applied to other applications such as searching email inboxes for spam and filtering it automatically. It is unclear if this approach would prove any better than email plug-ins such as SpamBayes - this was beyond the scope of WholeSecurity's research - but it is an interesting idea. As desktop search becomes more pervasive it could be applied to more security functions such as auditing and compliance tools or within anti-phishing technology. Desktop search also carries potential security risks. Search events might be used to trigger adware pop-ups or virus writers might create malicious indexer plug-ins, making it easier to harvest data from compromised machines, Payne warned. Sidebar user interface interference might also possible, as least theoretically. "Malware could be created that infects as it indexes. What's good for finding might be good for infecting too," he said. The two sides of desktop search mirror the use of Google queries by both penetration testers and hackers to search for security holes in online systems. Google hacking, as it has become known, has been around for at least two years or more and security researchers are now beginning to grapple with the same sorts of issues on the desktop. ®
Here's an appealing thought: an mp3 breast implant which will allow surgically-enhanced girls to store and play back their entire music collections from their 36DD assets. We kid you not. According to UK tabloid the Sun - ever watchful for life-enhancing technology, especially when it's got a big jubs angle - BT Laboratories bod Ian Pearson reckons breast implants may as well do something useful if they're to be permanently installed, rather than just looking decorative. Accordingly, he's proposed sticking an mp3 player in one dug, and a storage chip in the other. Quite how playback is achieved we're not quite sure*, but it may well involve the listener burying his or her head in the cleavage for a full stereo effect. Likewise, God alone knows how you select tracks, but breasts do come equipped with a pleasing alternative to the iPod's selector wheel. We can imagine the scenario: Girlfriend: "Oi, what the bloody hell are you doing?" Boyfriend: "Hold on, I'm just scrolling down to Stairway to Heaven." ® Bootnote *Oh, OK then - Ian Pearson said "flexible plastic electronics would sit inside the breast. A signal would be relayed to headphones, while the device would be controlled by Bluetooth using a panel on the wrist". We prefer our solutions, naturally.
Avanquest, the French-owned software publisher, has added Sun's StarOffice 8 to its roster. The company will flog the desktop office suite through download stores on its sundry European country websites. And it will wholesale the boxed version to "more than 5,000 retail outlets" accross Europe, kicking off at the end of the month. Avanquest has set UK retail pricing at £69.99. ®
Reg Reader StudiesReg Reader Studies We know just how much you, our beloved and tech-savvy readers, enjoy a good survey. That's just as well, since it's that time of the year again when we give the IT barometer a light tap to see how the air pressure's holding up in the tech world. The latest probe has a mixed bag of questions - 14 in all, so it shouldn't take too long. They range from "How likely do you think it is that your job will be outsourced overseas in the next year?" (to be answered sharpish before someone in Bangalore beats you to it), to "What is your organisation's view of wireless LANs?" Sadly there is no "We don't care what they get up to as long as it doesn't frighten the horses" option for the latter, but we're sure you'll enjoy taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to select an appropriate response. The survey can be found right here. As ever, it's completely anonymous, so no worries about us flogging your details to ViA*Gra spammers or Nigerian 419ers. Enjoy. ®
The European Commission today set out measures for updating the management of online rights in musical works, recommending that an EU-wide copyright licensing system be established. The Commission published a study on the current position in July, concluding that the absence of pan-European copyright licences makes it difficult for new European-based online services, such as simulcasting (a simultaneous broadcast of programs or events across more than one medium) and webcasting (where a broadcast is uploaded by the sender and downloaded by the receiver), to take off. In particular, it found that the present structures for cross-border collective management of music copyright – which were developed for the analogue environment – prevent music from fulfilling its unique potential as a driver for online content services. It consulted on the issue, asking respondents whether it should: do nothing; improve cooperation among collecting societies by allowing each society in the EU to grant a EU-wide license covering the other societies’ repertoires; or give right-holders the choice to appoint a collective rights manager for the online use of their musical works across the entire EU. According to the Commission, respondents were generally agreed that doing nothing was not an option, but were divided between the other two approaches. Commercial users favoured option two; the majority of collective rights managers favoured modified versions of the second option; while the music publisher’s community, the independent record labels and certain collective rights managers preferred the third option. As a result, the Commission has recommended that right-holders and commercial users of copyright-protected material should be given a choice as to their preferred model of licensing, as different online services might require different forms of EU-wide licensing policies. The recommendation therefore proposes the elimination of territorial restrictions and customer allocation provisions in existing licensing contracts, while leaving right-holders who do not wish to make use of those contracts the right to offer their repertoire for EU-wide direct licensing. The recommendation also includes provisions on governance, transparency, dispute settlement and accountability of collective rights managers, which the Commission hopes will introduce a culture of transparency and good governance into the system. “Today we have made workable proposals on how licensing of musical work for the internet can be improved,” said Internal Market and Services Commissioner Charlie McCreevy. “I believe that this recommendation strikes the right balance between ease of licensing and maintaining the value of copyright protected works so that content is not available on the cheap.” “I will be monitoring the situation closely,” he added, “and if I am not satisfied that sufficient progress is being made, I will take tougher action.” The Recommendation (8-page / 35KB PDF) Frequently Asked Questions on copyright clearance for online music services Copyright © 2005, OUT-LAW.com OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.
The German City of Mannheim this week outlined its migration plan to the Linux platform. Or, as the town in the grand-duchy of Baden puts it, “we are aiming to become fit for the future." A year ago, the German town at the junction of the Rhine and Neckar Rivers already got the go-ahead of the project. In the current quarter, according to German news site Heise Online, the Oracle Collaboration Suite email Suite will be deployed and by the end of 2005 all registration, file-management, and printing services will have been migrated. However, the 3,700 end-users with their 150 different specialist software applications will switch much later. Mannheim calls it a "gentle migration". The city is, however, planning to move from Windows applications to OpenOffice, but this may not happen for another five years. Mannheim has taken a different route than Munich, which has delayed its much-discussed all-at-once migration to Linux until 2006. Here, the city administration's 14,000 desktops will have to migrate from Windows NT 4.0 and Microsoft Office to Linux and OpenOffice. ®
Daniel Craig is the favourite to be named the new James Bond tomorrow, taking up Pierce Brosnan's Walther PPK* for the 21st 007 outing, Casino Royale, the BBC reports. Although Colin Farrell, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor and Clive Owen have all been mooted as possible Bonds, the press is backing 37-year-old Craig - star of films such as Road To Perdition and Sylvia. Sony Pictures Entertainment will make the final announcement in London. Bond buffs will be delighted to learn that the Bond of Casino Royale will be "a younger character with no gadgets", according to screenwriter Paul Haggis - offering the hope that the latest 007 will more accurately reflect Ian Fleming's original creation. ® Bootnote *Yes, yes, we know that of late Bond has been packing the Walther P99, but we're having none of it. Major Boothroyd would be outraged.
NASA wants to team up with the X-Prize foundation to fund two new competitions to develop technology for sub-orbital space vehicles, as part of its Centennial Challenges program. Subject to statutory budget approval, NASA will stump up prize money of more than $250,000 for each competition, while the X-Prize Foundation will handle the business of running the contests. The two organisations have proposed two contests: one tentatively called Suborbital Payload Challenge and the other Suborbital Lunar Lander Analog Challenge. As the name suggests, the Suborbital Payload Challenge will go to the first team that can demonstrate a reusable, sub-orbital rocket capable of reaching altitude or speeds that would be useful to scientists. The winning kit could then find its way into regular use by NASA and other research organisations. The Suborbital Lunar Lander Analog Challenge, meanwhile, will be won by the first team that can demonstrate a vehicle that can land and take off (vertically) from the surface of the moon. It might be sub-orbital on Earth, but a technology from a craft like this could end up being used in lunar exploration. ®
Bell Microproducts is to wield the axe on its European operations, following a "shortfall in sales and profits". The computer distie expects to take a pre-tax charge of between $7m and $12m to cover restructuring costs over over the next few quarters. European sales fell 13 per cent year-on-year in the third quarter ended September 30, compared with a 17 per cent jump in revenues for North America,, and 28 per cent jump in Latin America. Net revenues for the quarter will comin at around $760m (Q3 04: $729m). The company says that OpenPSL, its UK mid-range server distribution, continued to produce good results. But added Don Bell, the CEO, "we are clearly not pleased with our European and overall performance in the third quarter of 2005. We were disappointed in the performance of our Ideal Hardware division in the United Kingdom and our continental European operations." Bell Micro is currently working through the numbers for its re-org, but it is set to junk lower margin product sales. By concentrating on higher-margin value-adds, the company believes it can create a “stronger differentiated business in Europe as we have in North America”. Press release here. ®
Google and US cableco Comcast are reportedly interested in paying up to $5bn for a slice of AOL, according to a flurry of reports from the US. Time Warner is already holding talks with Microsoft about possible joint venture between AOL and MSN. Now it's emerged that Google and Comcast have their own ideas for a possible tie-up. Why? Well, the WSJ reckons that any approach from Google is based partly on self-preservation. AOL accounts for Google's biggest single source of revenue and if AOL were to team up with MSN, then Google would lose out. Snuggling up to AOL would preserve that revenue stream and give Google the chance to expand its search empire. For Comcast, hopping into bed with AOL and Google would give it access to a massive audience to flog its broadband services. And for AOL, any deal would give its parent an injection of cash that would help appease some grumpy investors. ®
So off we went to the Agile Enterprise Seminar late last month, organised by Citrix-specialist consultancy Centralis, to catch-up on the Citrix roadmap and some new, related, technologies.
Yahoo! has agreed to ban the creation of new chatrooms with names that promote sex between adults and minors. The announcement follows the company's decision to suspend all user-created chatrooms in June this year, following complaints that some of them were being used by child predators to groom minors. Yahoo! says it has now closed around 70,000 chat rooms that appeared to encourage illegal activity. Some of the chat rooms had names like "girls13 & up for much older men", "8-12 yo girls for older men", and "teen girls for older fat men". Many of these were lurking in the Teen chat, or even Schools and Education categories. If the company does decide to allow user-created chat rooms again, it says it will now screen all the names and will remove any deemed offensive with 24 hours. It will also make it easier to report and follow up "inappropriate" behaviour in chatrooms and will alert users that their IP address are being logged. It has also agreed to do more to educate children about online safety, including making a donation to a national charity for missing children, and running free banner adverts for the same organisation. The closure of the chat rooms follows investigations by authorities in New York and Nebraska after they were tipped off about children having free access to adult chat rooms. The Attorneys General of the two states said that an investigator posing as a 14-year-old girl "received 35 personal messages of a sexual nature" in just 25 minutes. "We need to be vigilant to protect our children," said New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. "It is imperative that parents, industry, prosecutors and lawmakers all work together to identify and address possible threats, and that we teach our children to protect themselves from those who would do them harm." Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said that the agreement with Yahoo (which you can read here, in all its pdf glory) will mean online predators have fewer opportunities to prey on children. ®
US cybersecurity risks are being poorly managed by the Department of Homeland Security, according to a former US presidential information security advisor. Peter Tippett, who recently served a two-year term on the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, said a lack of leadership on electronic security left the US at a greater risk of electronic attack. Tippett, who is now chief technology officer with managed security firm CyberTrust, compared Homeland Security's posture in defending against electronic attacks to the lack of preparation by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) in managing relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina. "Something similar happened when Homeland Security got responsibility for both FEMA and computer security. When responsibility was transferred from the White House to Homeland Security good people left the top. There's confusion over reporting lines and no leadership," Tippett told El Reg. US government's cybersecurity responsibilities - along with those of FEMA - were transferred from the White House to the Department of Homeland Security during a reshuffle of 22 federal agencies three years ago. Tippett's criticisms are echoed by accusations that Homeland Security is illprepared for emergencies and beset by bureaucratic bungling by auditors and segments of the security industry. However, Howard Schmidt, chief exec of R&H Security and a former senior White House cyber security advisor, defended the Homeland Security agency's record. "There's been a lot of criticisms but they don't take into account the good work that the Homeland Security agency is doing. It is doing all it can to improve government systems whithin the priorities it has. We are getting incrementally better systems. Improvements will take time." Back to basics Schmidt made the comments at the SecureLondon conference, organised by security training and certification body ISC(2), in London earlier this week. Both Schmidt and Tippett have radical ideas for improving cybersecurity in the IT industry. Schmidt wants to see software developers held personally accountable for the security of the code they write. This is a radical idea idea but who is to blame for a Win XP security bug, for example? It would take the brain of Sherlock Holmes to apportion personal blame for that on any one developer, we suspect. Tippett advocates the wider adoption of basic security defences rather than government standards, which "don't translate into fewer hacker attacks". It would be better if PCs denied actions by default rather than permitting anything that was not known to be bad, he argued. Tippett is credited with creating one of the first commercial anti-virus products, which later became Symantec's Norton Anti- Virus. He is highly critical of the industry he helped create. "The anti-virus industry is not interested in default deny because if they did that they wouldn't be able to sell updates," he said. "Information security problems are getting worse, even though people are spending more. Throwing money at the problem isn't helping. All the market wants to do is sell new gizmos," he added. ®
As you prove your identity ("I'm sorry sir, but it's a legal requirement") to your bank for the umpteenth time, no doubt you wonder whether the mountain of data that money laundering rules produce is of the slightest use to the people with access to it. Well, wonder no more - the second critical study on the use of Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) in two years concludes that SARs are under-utilised by most Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), and also reveals that pending the implementation of (uh oh...) a new database system, many of them aren't being used at all.
An "unexpected" surge in the UK prison population has led to the Prison Governor's Association calling for early release of inmates under electronic tagging. News that prisons had hit a population of 77,600 and were close to running out of space came just weeks after Charles Clarke announced the abandonment of the target of pegging prison population at 80,000 while - impressively - presenting it as a liberal move. Both developments are connected (as indeed are so many of Clarke's headaches) to the doings of his illustrious predecessor, David Blunkett. A year ago Blunkett envisaged far more extensive use of tagging as building 'prisons without bars', by which he did not mean one you could walk in and out of at will. The ability to have large numbers of people sentenced and monitored but not in prison would, he thought, allow him to keep below the 80,000 ceiling without having to mess around with sentencing. He could therefore remain tough on crime without having to build lots more prisons. Unfortunately, news leaked out in August ('report here) that the tagging pilot had been a complete disaster, so bad that Clarke had ordered a media blackout on the report. But the report's findings were eminently predictable, and were predicted here, among other places. Clarke was therefore left holding a climbing prison population, and in need of an alternative scheme to get a lid on it, hence the removal of the cap and the touchy-feely stuff about community prisons. This was possibly a bit optimistic, because it depended on squeezing a little bit more into the currently available real estate while crossing your fingers that you'd have time to reorganise to create the community prisons, then crossing your toes that reoffending rates fell and the population stopped climbing before the shit hit the fan. As a plan, it looked to us a lot like what we in the trade call an 'Er, tell you what!', something of a spur of the moment desperate throw. The news that some prisoners are currently being held in police cells while space is found for them however suggests that Clarke is running out of road a lot sooner than he'd hoped. And the PGA's call for tagging and early release is, in light of the pilot report, satirical, right? Well, no. The PGA genuinely believes that tagging works, and the PGA is not wrong. As we pointed out when Blunkett launched his madcap plan, tagging is successful when the subject wants to co-operate (i.e. they want to get out of prison, don't want to go back, so won't mess around), and it doesn't work on the ones who're likely to try to subvert the system (i.e. the more serious offenders Blunkett hoped to use it on). The trick is to be able to figure out which is which without making too many horrible blunders or monitoring failures like this one. An early release tagging scheme set up at the last minute, just before the system hit the buffers, would be far more likely to produce own goals. The Home Office confirmed that an extension of early release was under consideration, but said there was still capacity in the system and that no decision had been taken. Meanwhile Fiona MacTaggart (now there's an appropriate name) claimed today that the rise in numbers was just a "spike". Which is possibly another 'Er, tell you what!' * How, by the way, you may be wondering, can unexpected surges in prison populations happen? One suggestion we hear is that major outrages (e.g. the July bombings) have a subliminal effect on judges, who then proceed to bang people up harder than previously. Alternatively, criminality may simply have been slack in August, when many villains (not all of them in the Government) were on holiday. ®
OK, we've got a lot of things to get through today, so let's get started. As Steve Jobs usually says, introducing another load of, um, stuff.
A small outbreak of avian flu found in Turkish poultry has been confirmed as the deadly H5N1 strain, prompting EU health officials to warn of an impending pandemic. Meanwhile, bird flu has also been confirmed in ducks in Romania, although the strain has yet to be identified, according to the European Commission. The EU has banned all bird-product and poultry imports from both countries. The H5N1 strain of bird flu can jump the species barrier from birds to humans, and since 2003 it is known to have killed around 60 people in Asia. However, there is only one case where the virus is suspected of having been passed from one human to another, and even that report is unconfirmed. Researchers fear that if the virus gains the ability to pass from person to person, it would spread through the world's population too quickly for suitable vaccines to be developed and distributed. Although currently all cases of bird flu in humans have been found in people working with or near poultry, if someone infected with an ordinary influenza virus were to become infected with the H5N1 strain, it could mutate to spread more easily between people, researchers warn. EU heath commissioner Markos Kyprianou has said that Europe should prepare for a possible flu pandemic. "We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus," Kyprianou said, according to a Guardian report. "There is a direct relationship with viruses found in Russia, Mongolia and China." He says countries should ensure vulnerable populations are vaccinated against flu this winter, and advises governments to stockpile anti-viral medication, if possible. ®
The BSA is calling on European governments to scrap so-called private copy levies on digital hardware and media, branding them outmoded and unfair to the consumer in a world with digital rights management (DRM) software. Francisco Mingorance, director of public policy, Europe for the BSA argues that private copy levies mean consumers are paying multiple times for the rights to use their music. The organisation says DRM-protected content is increasingly popular, and predicts that the market for such content will be worth €1.86bn by 2008, up from €235m in 2004. Mingorance positions the BSA as the consumer's champion: "Levies were designed to compensate for unpoliceable private copying; but with DRMs the rationale for levies disappears," he says. "Lawmakers cannot ignore that private copy levies are increasingly obsolete in the digital age." The BSA presents German trade association Bitkom as witness. Bitkom has estimated that the average consumer pays out as much as €150 in private copy levies when he or she kits out a typical home office with a PC, scanner, printer and CD or DVD burner. That same customer then pays again for copy-protected music, the BSA says, and this is not fair. But surely the BSA has not thought this one through. If Europeans are all paying for unpoliceable private copying already, why do we need DRM? ®
Samsung has agreed to pay $300m to settle criminal charges that it squeezed PC manufacturers by artificially fixing chip prices. The world's largest manufacturer of memory chips will plead guilty for fixing the price of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips and says it will cooperate with the continuing US Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation. The guilty plea and co-operation agreement was entered into a San Francisco, California, court by Samsung Electronics Co and Samsung Semiconductor on Thursday. Samsung is the third major chip manufacturer to settle in the DoJ's investigation, following Hynix and Infineon Technologies. Hynix settled for $185m in April while Infineon paid $160m under its settlement last year. The DoJ accused the companies of fixing prices in the $7.7bn DRAM market through phone calls and meetings conducted between April 1999 and June 2002. While the chips are used in a variety of consumer electronics goods, the government identified Compaq Computer, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Apple Computer, IBM and Gateway as victims. Samsung was subpoenaed by the DoJ in 2002 and had set aside $100m during 2004 to pay potential criminal damages from the case. The case is believed to be one of the US government's largest anti-trust settlements. Samsung said in a statement that resolution of the investigation had been "paramount". ®
When IBM bought JBoss's application server rival Gluecode earlier this year, JBoss's chief executive, Marc Fleury, was characteristically unphased. he took time out to ensure there was no hasty response to IBM's predatory move. Now he's back with plans to take JBoss further away from its original incarnation as an "open source application server company" and deeper into Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs) as a provider of business process tools and infrastructure. This week the Drools open source Java business rules engine project voted to join JBoss for inclusion into the JBoss' Enterprise Middleware System (JEMS). Drools enables organizations to deploy rules for a specific process outside of an actual application, so the rules are not wrapped up with the application's presentation logic. This reduces the time to implement business changes where software is involved, so the theory goes. Also announced this week is jBPM 3.0, the latest edition of JBoss's workflow process and orchestration engine. Updates include support for Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), backed by other infrastructure providers including IBM, BEA Systems and Microsoft, and used for the integration of web services and SOAs. Js flock to next paragraph In early 2006, JBoss will release JBoss Messaging - the "backbone" of its Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) - for the reliable delivery of messages. This is founded on the Java Business Integration (JBI) specification that was ratified by the Java Community Process (JCP) earlier this year. JBI enables Java to speak to business rules. JBoss is making a play for the SOA and ESB space by focusing on the business process and business rules portion of software infrastructure. These areas are populated by many vendors, of which the largest, IBM, dominates the process debate. It can call on the work of thousands of .consultants at Global Services who refine processes, which are then "productized" in IBM's tools and blueprints. Pierre Fricke, director of product management for JBoss, is confident Drools will help JBoss's JEMS platform undercut the competition. "With other companies you have to get a third-party rules engine or the rules engine is embedded in the integration package and you have to pay a six- figure sum to deploy. There's no six-figure sum with this," he told The Register. JBoss is reaching out to a more business focused, less code-centric, audience with JEMS. The notion of separating the business process from the application will mean more business-level managers will be able to wade into development, using a simplified set of development tools - possibly based on drag and drop. Fricke insists that Boss is not abandoning developers in its move towards SOA. Instead, it will call on partners Hewlett Packard and Novell to help sell JEMS-based software and services to this new group of constituents. ®
AnalysisAnalysis When Nokia launched its most serious business phone yet, the 9210 Communicator four years ago, TV adverts to promote the device showed executives in suits doing stunts on pedal scooters.