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Archive for the ‘Computers’

Should BT be split?

July 14, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Computers, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Ofcom has suggesting that its highly lucrative Openreach division could be sold off from BT.

Ofcom has suggesting that its highly lucrative Openreach division could be sold off from BTOpenreach is the “utility” bit of BT- which is the delivery mechanism for broadband to millions of customers.

Think Network Rail owning the railways bit of the train network, or National Grid owning the electricity grid which delivers power to our home.

Openreach is virtually a monopoly service, with Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin and others obliged to pay BT for access to the broadband “pipes”.

And as such it is heavily regulated already- although according to John Fingleton, the former head of the Office of Fair Trading- the “enormously profitable” Openreach would be likely to perform better as a standalone company.

Mr Fingleton argues that a separate Openreach would be likely to invest more in improving broadband connections.

As an example he cites Worldpay, a former division of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Worldpay operates a “plumbing business” for banks – providing payment services for card transactions and mobile phones.

Since RBS sold it, as a condition of the bank’s taxpayer bailout in 2008, its new private equity owners, Bain and Advent, have significantly increased investment.

Many believe that Openreach would travel the same route, and the amount invested in it as a standalone business would be more than the present £1 billion BT provides each year.

It could also mean accelerated investment in changing the network from the older copper network to “super-fast” fibre.

To enforce a sale, BT’s ownership of Openreach would probably need to be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority which has more muscle in this area than Ofcom.

Mr Fingleton agrees this is the best route to decide whether Openreach would be better out of BT’s hands.

Sky – of course a major competitor to BT – concurs, calling this morning for a referral to the CMA.

It says that BT’s performance on broadband delivery leaves a lot to be desired, and that under investment means that appointments to connect its customers to broadband are often missed and that faults regularly remain unfixed.

Sky and BT don’t like each other very much, particularly since the latter took a healthy portion of Sky’s lunch by piling into sports television and winning the rights to broadcast Premier League matches.

There are dark mutterings that BT uses the vast profits from Openreach to fund its incursion into television, a claim the company hotly denies.

BT insists that Openreach’s service has improved, with 2,500 engineers added in the last year and 700 more coming this year. It says it reaches or exceeds all of the 60 service targets set it by Ofcom.

And that it is only because of BT’s large and healthy balance sheet that so much investment has been made in upgrading the network to super-fast broadband.

What won’t be superfast is the Ofcom process. This is just the latest stage in a far wider review of the UK’s digital market which will take months to conclude and years to implement.

FBI warns on airline hacking threat

May 23, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Cyber Security, data security, Hackers, Search Clinic, Technology Companies

The USA’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a formal alert warning airlines to be on the lookout for hackers.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued a formal alert warning airlines to be on the lookout for hackersIt follows an onboard tweet from security expert Chris Roberts, who joked about being able to hack into a United Airlines plane’s wi-fi network.

A terrorist could theoretically take over systems that fly a plane by compromising equipment at their seat as an increasing number of airlines are offering onboard wi-fi to customers.

The FBI and the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said they had no information to support claims a plane’s navigation system could be interfered via its onboard wi-fi kit, but added that they were evaluating the evidence.

In a private industry notification posted on its website and reported by Wired magazine, the FBI advised airlines to:

  • report any suspicious activity involving travellers connecting unknown cables or wires to the in-flight entertainment (IFE) system
  • report any evidence of suspicious behaviour following a flight, such as IFE systems that show evidence of tampering or the forced removal of covers to network connection ports
  • report any evidence of suspicious behaviour concerning aviation wireless signals, including social media messages with threatening references to onboard network systems, automatic dependent surveillance systems (ADS-B), aircraft communications addressing and reporting systems (ACARS) and air traffic control networks
  • review network logs from aircraft to ensure any suspicious activity, such as network scanning or intrusion attempts, would be captured for further analysis

In his tweet, Mr Roberts suggested that he might be able to deploy the oxygen masks on the flight.

Chris Roberts’s tweet:

On arrival at Syracuse airport, Mr Roberts – who is co-founder of security company One World Labs – was taken in for questioning by the FBI, and his laptop and other devices were seized.

A few days later, he was prevented from boarding a flight to California.

He had previously given a number of interviews, explaining the possible weak points in airline systems, telling CNN that he could connect to a computer under his seat to view data from the aircraft’s engines, fuel and flight-management systems.

Security experts have warned for some years that airlines are a possible target for hackers.

Planes including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus 350 and A380 have a single network that is used by both pilots to fly the plane and by passengers for their wi-fi connections.

Although there were currently no publicly known vulnerabilities that a hacker could exploit, such an attack remained “theoretically possible” because all networks were inherently insecure.

Wi-fi is now common on many airlines, and most have relaxed the rules surrounding the use of gadgets during flights.

Moores Law still stands- after 50 years

April 10, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Computer chips are both the most complex things ever mass produced by humans and the most disruptive to our lives.

It noted that the maximum number of components that manufacturers could "cram" onto a sliver of siliconSo it’s remarkable that the extraordinary pace they have evolved at was in large part influenced by a three page article published 50 years ago this month.

It theorised that the maximum number of components that manufacturers could “cram” onto a sliver of silicon – before which the rising risk of failure made it uneconomic to add more – was doubling at a regular pace every two years.

Its author, Gordon Moore, suggested this could be extrapolated to forecast the rate at which more complicated chips could be built at affordable costs.

The insight – later referred to as Moore’s Law – became the bedrock for the computer processor industry, giving engineers and their managers a target to hit.

Intel – the firm Mr Moore went on to co-found – says the law will have an even more dramatic impact on the next 20 years than the last five decades put together.

Although dubbed a “law”, computing’s pace of change has been driven by human ingenuity rather than any fixed rule of physics.

“Moore’s observation” would be a more accurate, if less dramatic, term. In fact, the rule itself has changed over time.

Mr Moore’s article predicted a time when computers would be sold alongside other consumer goods.

While Moore’s 1965 paper talked of the number of “elements” on a circuit doubling every year, he later revised this a couple of times, ultimately stating that the number of transistors in a chip would double approximately every 24 months.

For most people, imagining exponential growth – in which something rapidly increases at a set rate in proportion to its size, for example doubles every time – is much harder than linear growth – in which the same amount is repeatedly added.

Moore retired in 1997, but Intel still follows his lead.

In 2013, the firm’s ex-chief architect Bob Colwell made headlines when he predicted Moore’s Law would be “dead” by 2022 at the latest.

The issue, he explained, was that it was difficult to shrink transistors beyond a certain point.

Specifically, he said it would be impossible to justify the costs required to reduce the length of a transistor part, known as its gate, to less than 5nm (1nm = one billionth of a metre).

In simple terms, a transistor is a kind of tiny switch that is triggered by an electrical signal. By turning them on and off at high speeds, computers are able to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power, making it possible for them to carry out the calculations needed to run software.

Computer communication encryptions are a problem for police

March 30, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Cyber Security, data security, Social Media, Social Networking, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Uncategorized

Encrypted communications are the biggest problem for police, says Europol’s police chief.

Computer communication encryptions are a problem for policeThe European police chief says the sophisticated online communications are the biggest problem for security agencies tackling terrorism.

Hidden areas of the internet and encrypted communications make it harder to monitor terror suspects, warns Europol’s Rob Wainwright.

Tech firms should consider the impact sophisticated encryption software has on law enforcement, he said.

There is a significant capability gap that has to change if we’re serious about ensuring the internet isn’t abused and effectively enhancing the terrorist threat.

Mr Wainwright said that in most current investigations the use of encrypted communications was found to be central to the way terrorists operated.

“It’s become perhaps the biggest problem for the police and the security service authorities in dealing with the threats from terrorism,” he explained.

“It’s changed the very nature of counter terrorist work from one that has been traditionally reliant on having good monitoring capability of communications to one that essentially doesn’t provide that anymore.”

Mr Wainwright, whose organisation supports police forces in Europe, said terrorists were exploiting the “dark net”, where users can go online anonymously, away from the gaze of police and security services.

But he is also concerned at moves by companies such as Apple to allow customers to encrypt data on their smartphones.

And the development of heavily encrypted instant messaging apps is another cause for concern, he said. This meant people could send text and voice messages which police found very difficult or impossible to access, he said.

“We are disappointed by the position taken by these tech firms and it only adds to our problems in getting to the communications of the most dangerous people that are abusing the internet.

“Tech firms are doing it, I suppose, because of a commercial imperative driven by what they perceive to be consumer demand for greater privacy of their communications.”

Mr Wainwright acknowledged this was a result of the revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed how security services were conducting widespread surveillance of emails and messages.

He said security agencies now had to work to rebuild trust between technology firms and the authorities.

The extent of the challenge faced by security services is shown in the scale of social media use by IS.

The programme also found evidence that supporters of ISIS are using encrypted sites to radicalise or groom new recruits.

Mr Wainwright revealed that ISIS is believed to have up to 50,000 different Twitter accounts tweeting up to 100,000 messages a day.

Europol is now setting up a European Internet Referral Unit to identify and remove sites being used by terrorist organisations.

Mr Wainwright also says current laws are “deficient” and should be reviewed to ensure security agencies are able to monitor all areas of the online world.

“There is a significant capability gap that has to change if we’re serious about ensuring the internet isn’t abused and effectively enhancing the terrorist threat.

“We have to make sure we reach the right balance by ensuring the fundamental principles of privacy are upheld so there’s a lot of work for legislators and tech firms to do.”

Cyber criminals raided by police

March 06, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Cyber Security, data security, Dr Search, Hackers, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The UK’s National Crime Police Agency has arrested 56 suspected hackers in part of a “strike week” against cybercrime.

The UK's National Crime Agency has arrested 56 suspected hackers as part of a strike week against cybercrimeIn total, 25 separate operations were carried out this week across England, Scotland and Wales. Those arrested are suspected of being involved in a wide variety of cybercrimes including data theft, fraud and virus writing.

The week long series of operations was co-ordinated by the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) as well as specialist officers from regional organised crime squads and the Metropolitan Police.

West Midlands police arrested a 23 year old man in Sutton Coldfield who is believed to have been involved in breaking into the network of the US defence department in June 2014.

The biggest operation saw the arrest of 25 people in London and Essex suspected of using the net to steal money, launder cash and carry out other frauds.

The hackers behind that attack stole contact information for about 800 people and data on the network’s internal architecture was also pilfered.
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The action also resulted in the arrest of people thought to be part of some well known hacking groups.

In Leeds, a suspected member of the Lizard Squad group was arrested, and in London a 21-year-old man was taken into custody on suspicion of being part of the D33Ds Company hacking collective.

The D33Ds group is believed to have been behind a 2012 attack on Yahoo that stole more than 400,000 email addresses and passwords subsequently published online.

Investigations about suspects in Sutton Coldfield, Leeds and Willesden were aided by forensic information provided by the FBI.

The other actions targeted alleged phishing gangs, intellectual property thieves, users of financial malware, companies that offer hosting services to crime groups, and many people who took part in so-called DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks in an attempt to knock websites offline.

One 21-year-old man from County Durham allegedly knocked out the Police Scotland website mounting such a DDoS attack.

“Criminals need to realise that committing crime online will not render them anonymous to law enforcement,” said Andy Archibald, deputy director of the NCCU. “It’s imperative that we continue to work with partners to pursue and disrupt the major crime groups targeting the UK.”

In addition, this week the NCA coordinated visits to 70 firms to inform them about how vulnerable their servers were to attack and how they could be used by cyberthieves to send out spam or act as proxies for other attacks.

The strike week also involved four forces setting up pop-up shops to give advice to the public about staying safe online and to get their devices checked to make sure they are free of malware and other digital threats.

The problems of cyber security for small businesses

February 24, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, data security, Dr Search, Ecommerce, Hackers, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The growing problem of cyber security is becoming a big headache for small businesses.

The growing problem of cyber security is becoming a big headache for small businesses.Figures from Sophos suggest about 30,000 websites a day are being compromised by cyber hackers – most of those will be the public face of one SME or others.

Becoming a victim of a hack or breach costs smaller firms between £65,000 and £115,000, according to the PWC survey of the worst data breaches among small firms. Those worst hit will suffer up to six breaches a year, PWC suggested, so the total cost could be even higher.

For a smaller firm finding that much cash to clean up after a breach could mean the difference between keeping trading and going bust.

This lack of focus on cyber security is understandable, as most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) spent most of their time on core commercial activity such as keeping customers happy, seeking out new clients and engaging in all the basic day-to-day admin needed to keep their enterprise afloat.

So worrying about computer security comes a long down their To Do lists.

However, ecommerce, websites, apps, smartphones, tablets, social media and cloud services were all now standard ways of doing business in the 21st century, he said.

Additionally, there were some SMEs that were based entirely around technology but that did not make them experts in how to keep their digital business secure.

Either way, everyone is a target and they all need to look externally to security firms for help.

Everyone is familiar with attempts to penetrate internal networks to steal payment information or customer data records but may be less knowledgeable about invoice fraud, ransomware, malvertising, or even attacks that “scrape” websites with automated tools to steal all the information about prices and products they contain.

Estimates vary on how much SMEs spend on IT security.

The most recent government figures published 18 months ago suggest SMEs with 100 or more employees spend about £10,000 per year. The smallest small firms, with less than 20 staff, spend about £200. Other estimates put the spend at about £30 per employee.

SMEs should start with the basics.

This includes anti-virus software, firewalls, spam filters on email gateways and keeping devices up to date. This, would defeat the majority of the low level threats that those busy cyber thieves are churning out.

Government advice on how SMEs can be safer revolves around a 10 steps programme that emphasises basic, good practice. It’s big on those simple steps such as keeping software up to date and applying the widely used software tools that can spot and stop the most prolific threats.

But it also stresses that smaller firms understand more about how they use data and how it flows around their organisation.

Having a good sense of where data goes and who uses it can help limit the damage if it goes astray.

Having control of that data, knowing its value and where it is going, can help a company guard against it leaking out accidentally and maliciously. For instance, having that control might help a firm spot that a server was accidentally exposed to the net and private information was viewable by anyone.

It can also help SMEs keep an eye on their suppliers and partners to ensure that data is handled appropriately.

And finally, said Mr Harrison from Exponential-e, firms need to put in place a plan for what happens when a breach or security incident does occur.

“It’s not a question of if something bad will happen,” he said. “It will, but it’s all about what they do about it.”

Met Office to build £97 million supercomputer

October 30, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Cloud Computing, Computers, Customer Service, Dr Search, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

The Met Office have been given £97 million to build a supercomputer to improve their weather forecasting and climate modelling.

Met Office to build £97 million supercomputerThe facility will work 13 times faster than the current system- enabling detailed UK wide forecast models with a resolution of 1.5 km to be run every single hour, rather than every three.

It will be built in Exeter during 2015 and become operational next September.

The Met Office said it would deliver a “step change” in forecast accuracy. It will allow us to add more precision, more detail, more accuracy to our forecasts on all time scales for tomorrow, for the next day, next week, next month and even the next century,” said Met Office chief executive Rob Varley.

As well as running UK-wide and global forecasting models more frequently, the new technology will allow particularly important areas to receive much more detailed assessment.

For example, forecasts of wind speeds, fog and snow showers could be delivered for major airports, with a spatial resolution of 300m.

The extra capacity will also be useful for climate scientists, who need massive amounts of computing power to run detailed models over much longer time scales.

It will address one of the key challenges of climate projections – to “answer the real questions people need to know”, said Mr Varley. “We can tell you that the global average temperature is going to increase by 3C or 4C if we carry on as we are – but the critical question is what is that going to mean for London?

But because the weather matters so much – to everything from whether to leave home with a brolly to preparing for closed runways at an airport – all eyes are on the Met Office, and the glances are not often positive.

The biggest failures have now entered the national vocabulary: Michael Fish’s denial of an approaching hurricane in 1987 and the infamous suggestion of a “barbecue summer” in 2009 when the reality proved relentlessly soggy.

The Met Office asserts that people never notice everyday successes, a gradual increase in reliability that has seen each decade allow the forecasts to reach another day into the future.

The new supercomputer should accelerate that process, crunching bigger numbers at a finer scale and more frequently than ever before. But it may also raise expectations about accuracy. And, in a country obsessed with the weather, that brings its own risks.

Mr Varley said he was “absolutely delighted” the government had confirmed its investment, which was first promised by the chancellor in the 2013 Autumn Statement.

The new system will be housed partly at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter and partly at a new facility in the Exeter Science Park, and will reach its full capacity in 2017.

At that point, its processing power will be 16 petaflops – meaning it can perform 16 quadrillion calculations every second.

The “Cray XC40” machine will have 480,000 central processing units or CPUs, which is 12 times as many as the current Met Office supercomputer, made by IBM. At 140 tonnes, it will also be three times heavier.

It marks the biggest contract the Cray supercomputing firm has secured outside the US.

“It will be one of the best high-performance computers in the world,” Science Minister Greg Clark told journalists at the announcement, adding that it would “transform the analytical capacity of the Met Office”.

Mr Clark said the supercomputer would put the UK, appropriately, at the forefront of weather and climate science. “It makes us world leaders not only in talking about the weather, but forecasting it too.”

The improved forecasts, according to the Met Office, could deliver an estimated £2 billion in socio-economic benefits, including more advance warning of floods, less air travel disruption, more secure decision-making for renewable energy investments, and efficient planning for the impacts of climate change.

Queen Elizabeth sends first Tweet

October 24, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Dr Search, internet, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Telecommunications Companies, Twitter, Uncategorized

The Queen has sent her first tweet to launch the Science Museum gallery.

Queen Elizabeth sends first Tweet“It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.”

That was the Queen’s first tweet – sent through the @BritishMonarchy account – heralding the launch of a major new exhibition at London’s Science Museum.

Three years in the planning, the exhibition is one of the most ambitious projects the museum has undertaken.

The Information Age gallery, opened by the Queen this morning, takes visitors on a journey through the history of modern communications from the telegraph to the smartphone.

There is the first transatlantic telegraph cable which connected Europe and North America, the broadcast equipment behind the BBC’s first radio programme in 1922, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer, which hosted the first website.

The gallery’s chief curator Tilly Blyth hopes that visitors who may be somewhat blase about the digital revolution will come away with a longer view.

“We really want them to see that our predecessors lived through similar periods of change. Ours isn’t the only revolution – just the latest. in a series of transformations since the electric telegraph in the 1830s.”

You can construct a 1980s mobile phone network, making sure your cell towers are efficiently positioned. You can go into the web story box to find out exactly what happens when you click on a link. And you can plug headphones into a 1950s telephone exchange, and listen to the operators describing what their work involved.

Baroness Lane-Fox, who has campaigned for better access to and understanding of the internet, welcomes the new gallery: “It’s an amazing opportunity for people young and old to come and see the extraordinary developments in technology over the last hundred years or so. It really reminds me of the scale of ambition that people have had to change things.”

She hopes too that visitors will learn of the great contribution made by Britain to the development of communications – from Ada Lovelace, the woman who conceived the idea of computer programming in the 1830s, through to the 1950s when Lyons Corner Houses introduced the first business computer Leo, and on to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: “I hope that people who visit will have their ambition and excitement lit so we can continue to be world leaders in this field because it’s so important.”

The gallery certainly does show off the role Britain has played, and a number of British companies including BT and the chip designer ARM Holdings have sponsored the Information Age and supplied exhibits.

Microsoft profits from cloud services

April 25, 2014 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Cloud Computing, Computers, Microsoft, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Microsoft has announced a increase in it’s profits- grown by increased use of cloud services.

Microsoft profits from cloud servicesMicrosoft earnings were buoyed by new CEO Satya Nadella’s cloud vision as these earnings are the first Microsoft has released with new chief executive in charge.

Microsoft reported net profits of £3.37 billion in the first quarter of 2014- which was better than finance markets had estimated.

The software maker’s efforts to move further into cloud computing – a move championed by new chief executive Satya Nadella – seem to be paying off.

Azure, a cloud computing product, saw revenue grow 150%, Microsoft.

The company also said it added 1 million users to its subscription-based Office programme for personal users.

Microsoft sold in 2 million Xbox consoles, including 1.2 million Xbox Ones during the period.

“We are making good progress in our consumer services like Bing and Office 365 Home, and our commercial customers continue to embrace our cloud solutions,” said chief executive Satya Nadella, who replaced Steve Ballmer in February.

However, Microsoft was hurt by declining personal computer sales, as users continue to shift to other technologies.

Overall, profits declined by 6.5% compared to the same period last year.

Microsoft shares rose close to 3% in after-hours trading.

Digital revolution left Japanese electronic giants behind

April 11, 2013 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, Search Clinic, Technology Companies, Uncategorized

Japan’s electronic giants once ruled the world. Sony, Panasonic, Sharp were household names.
Digital revolution left Japanese electronic giants behind
Now those same companies are in deep trouble, losing billions of Pounds a year. How have the mighty Japanese companies fallen so low?

Sony may make a small profit this year, its first since 2008. Panasonic (formerly Matsushita) is expected to post a £6 billion loss this year. Sharp, which is much smaller, is losing money so fast it will not survive another year without a major infusion of cash.

The Japanese giants, built their empires on making complex electrical machines – colour televisions, radios, cassette players, refrigerators and washing machines.

Yes, they contained electronic components, but they were basically mechanical devices. Then came the digital revolution- and the world changed.

The Sony Walkman is a classic example. it has no software in it. It is purely mechanical. Today you need to have software business models that are completely different.

The digital revolution not only changed the way electronic devices work, they changed the way they are made.

The whole manufacturing model shifted as companies moved production to low-cost countries. That has put huge downward pressure on profit margins for Japanese manufacturers.

Apple makes at least 50% profit margins on iPads and iPhones. People say iPhones are made in China, but maybe only 3% of the value of an iPhone stays in China. Quite a bit of the value actually transfers to the UK- where ARM makes the high value chips without which the boxes would be inert.

It is no longer possible to make profits today just by manufacturing – you have to do a lot more.

Just look at the car manufacturers- they have far more electronics in them than just mechanical engines. If you compare the under the bonner experience today with twenty years ago, it’s amazing the difference.

And if you car does breaksdown- twenty years ago a socket set, hammer and screwdriver could fix it. Now you need to plug a laptop into the car to diagnose the issues.

Times- they are achanging.