Fight them on the breaches

Naturally, we are all worried about the potential for cyberattack by agents of foreign powers bent on destroying our way of life. Or Skynet, whichever comes first.

Kroes called on Europe’s 27 member states to develop the region’s first contingency plan for cyber attacks and form emergency response teams by end-2012. Regional and local attack exercises should become a matter of routine, and individual countries should help develop agreed global security principals for the Web and cloud computing.

[From Kroes calls for coordinated cyber security | Telecoms Europe]

When I read this, I the word “local” tripped me up, because I’m not sure what it means in this context, but then I thought of a kind of 21-st century home guard standing by to repel them on the e-beaches and wondered if this makes more sense given Europe’s demographics. Neelie Kroes specifically mentions Belgium in the article. In Belgium only half of the adult population work: the rest are unemployed or have retired on generous pensions, so the idea of a group of retired bank managers, policemen, local government officials and unemployed persons coming together to form the new Dad’s Cyber-Army (“who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Assange… tra la la”) made me start laughing. I’ve already got some ideas for the first few episodes, and have a classic punchline ready for action: “What’s your password?” / “Don’t tell him it’s ‘Pike'”.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes… [posted with ecto]

What a treasure

My natural suspicion of politicians talking about technology — I automatically assume that they are talking complete rubbish unless presented with sound evidence to the contrary — was aroused today when I read that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had turned up at some Google event to go on about cyberattack.

Foreign intelligence agencies are carrying out sustained cyberattacks on the UK Treasury, targeting it with malicious emails and programs designed to steal information, the Chancellor, George Osborne, has revealed… He said that government systems are the target of up to 20,000 malicious emails every month

[From Osborne: Treasury under sustained cyberattack | Technology |]

This is a very unimpressive figure. I’m the target of 20,000 malicious e-mails every month – I’ve just looked in my junk folder and there are hundreds of them in there right now. I suppose they might not all be malicious, because many of them are in Russian so I have no idea what they say. But you get my point. The log from my internet router at home shows intrusions attempts every few minutes – surely international cyber terrorists would be more interested in the Treasury than me? If anything, the Chancellor’s figures show sustained disinterest in the Treasury from malicious e-mailers the world over.

What really puzzled me about the historian Baronet Osborne’s remarks were that he thought that there might be anything in the Treasury computers worth stealing. What on Earth would these Johnny want with an always-wrong economic forecasting model and Gordon Brown’s plan to borrow the UK into permanent penury? I doubt they’re after the credit card number, because that was maxed out by the Scottish solicitor Alastair Darling some time ago. If anything, I would have thought that the Treasury’s activities over the last few years are evidence that it has already been penetrated by Asian wizards dedicated to the UK’s demise, inscrutable IT mountebanks who have planted a virus rendering the British government incapable of sound financial management. This theory would explain an awful lot of recent activity: aircraft carriers with no aircraft on them, for example.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

My first choice

[Dave Birch] As some of you may know, there was a referendum on voting in the UK, asking the British public (a fifth of whom are functionally illiterate) what the best system for electing a Parliament is. Why anyone thought that the public might be qualified to make this kind of decision is unclear to me — I’m with Polly Toynbee on this in thinking that the level of ignorance in our once-great nation is so high as to call the universal franchise into question — but they were being asked to choose between the current “first past the post” system and a proposed “alternative vote” (AV) system whereby second, third, fourth and, indeed, Nth choices. Natural conservatism won out and we voted to keep things exactly the same as they are. But other more innovative people are exploring alternatives.

Having worked with Facebook and various broadcasters over recent months, MIG has successfully integrated the IBP with Facebook, giving fans of some of the world’s most popular participation TV shows the ability to place real-time votes, and enter polls and sweepstake competitions using their Facebook Credits virtual currency.

[From MIG Completes Facebook Credits Integration |]

Never mind AV, or whatever it’s called, here’s a way to improve the participation in the political process in the UK. Since 1 in 6 web page views in the UK are currently Facebook, then why not simply use this open and transparent mechanism. We could simply elect the MP with the most Facebook friends in the constituency, or the one with the most “likes”. The kids could understand that. But I propose using the mechanism in the best way possible.

To use the system, fans of a participation TV show access the show’s Facebook Page, where they can buy votes using Facebook Credits,

[From MIG Completes Facebook Credits Integration |]

Aha! There’s an honesty to this. If you care a lot about something, then you’ll buy some more votes. Alternatively, pressure groups could stockpile Facebook credits and then use them to support candidates. Everything would be above board and instead of a system of hidden bribes and promises, the public could see who exactly had bought the rotten boroughs.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

How is it they know so little about technology?

[Dave Birch] The government, generally, is made up from lawyers and PPEs, not people who really understand how anything actually works. Hence they periodically come up with technologically-enhanced versions of the Dangerous Dogs Act (or, I suppose the Dangerous DNS Act).

The UK government plans to legislate to make households “opt in” to be able to access porn on the internet. ISPs are expected to put some kind of registration, age-related classification and/or filtering mechanisms in place.

[From Racingsnake – Robin Wilton’s Esoterica: UK Govt plans to “turn off” internet porn]

Well, this is excellent news: someone, presumably one of the management consultants advising a government departments, has discovered how to read and interpret the contents of internet traffic. Let’s hope none of the subversive out there discover how to set up an SSL VPN. But I’m curious as to why porn is the only category for blocking: what about Islamist hate sites and anything to do with the X-Factor? Surely the government’s commitment to protecting the children should extend to bomb-making instructions, Facebook pages connected to gang crime in South London and political parties espousing demonstrably harmful philosophies, such as socialism.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

New NFC rumours about the “internet of things”

[Dave Birch]

The rumours that Google and a number of other organisations have formed a study group to look at the idea of offering people free injectable NFC chips in return for special offers, coupons, additional loyalty points an a variety of value-added services around Android NFC phones are quite interesting. I imagine that the idea is to make Android more attractive than iPhone/iPad by making the owners part of the much-talked about “Internet of things”. This is hardly a new idea, but what is interesting is that the deployment is being proposed so soon.

Katrina Michael, associate professor of the University of Wollongong’s school of information systems and technology, and author of scientific paper Towards a State of Uberveillance, said subdermal chip implants in humans could be commonplace within two to three generations.

[From The Next Generation May be ‘Chipped’ – PCWorld]

Why would I want one of these? Well, for example, suppose that I take my URL “” and encode it in some way (you can see an example here) and add that to my chip, then anyone who taps me with a Google Nexus S loaded with the right software could read it and have it added to their bookmarks immediately. Some people might want to have their Facebook “Real Name” coded into the chip, but I think that for rather dull middle-aged businesspersons (such as myself) the LinkedIn profile would be better. Who knows – the point is that surveys have shown that whatever the Privacy International’s of the world might think, people like the idea:

“We just carried out a survey and one out of four people are happy to have a chip planted under their skin for very trivial uses for example to pass gates more quickly at a discotheque for example and to be able to pay for things more quickly in the supermarket,”

[From CeBIT: Quarter Of Germans Happy To Have Chip Implants | eWEEK Europe UK]

The advantages are obvious. You would never have to remember a wallet, an ID card, a bus pass, whatever, because it would be permanently embedded in you. It is not difficult to see why Google might want to implant chips in people, and it’s interesting to note that the rumours coincide with more stories about the imminent demise of QR codes.

But last December, Google started sending out window decals with NFC chips to participating businesses in Portland, Oregon. Earlier this week, Google officially dropped support for QR codes from the product.

[From Google: NFC Is Replacing QR Codes.]

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about the chipping as I am. I’m not an expert on the Book of Revelations, so I don’t understand the theological objection to tracking at 13.56GHz as opposed to optical wavelengths, but it should be noted that there are people who are against this idea.

One group believes that the chips are a mark of the beast and are against implants. In biblical prophecy, this is a number written on the forehead, to mark those controlled by an evil power.

[From RFID Gazette: 16 Barriers to RFID Ubiquity]

Well there will always be luddites like these around, but let’s be sensible about this. None of the rumours* have suggested that Goggle will insist on having the chips implanted in the forehead: when I was looking at this issue a while back, I was imagining that fleshier areas would be more appropriate. Anyway, I’m curious why people would be so upset about this very practical use of NFC to solve a wide range of social problems.

Yes, use these chips to track dogs and animals but not human beings. This method has not only been suggested for use against white slavery and child theft, but also for many other uses.

[From Should chip-implant tracking be used to stop white slavery and child theft? – by Esther Stafford – Helium]

All in all, I think that this is a really interesting use of NFC and I fully expect to see it supported in the iPhone 5 [how wrong can you be!! — Ed.].

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Business banking

[Dave Birch] I see that Essex council has abandoned its plans to start its own bank to fund local businesses and the First Bank of Billericay, or whatever they were going to call it, will now never get off the drawing board. How this insane plan ever got to the drawing board in the first place is a complete mystery. Or, at least, it was until I read that the council spent £372,000 on management consultants

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Hello? Hello?

[Dave Birch] I was writing something about mobile payments when I began to think that the way that we use phones for things like payments is still pretty new, and that we probably don’t envisage how they will be used in the future, in the sense that while I can see how the technology might work, I’m still not sure how it will be used. Will people be tapping their phones together? Will we want to? Will it seem odd to meet someone new and not touch your phone to their phone?

The etiquette may be evolving, but the technology is moving faster than our social practices can adapt

[From The Many Faces of You –]

We’ve been here before, of course. When the telephone originally reached the mass market, people had to learn how to use it. No-one knew what do or how to behave on the line, so helpful guides were designed for them, containing useful tips such as

If you get a busy signal, it does not mean that the person you are trying to reach does not wish to speak to you, or that the operator is being rude or lazy.

[From Early Telephone Etiquette |]


There was also advice on how to answer this tricky piece of technology. The 1934 phone book warned against confusion. “Don’t say Hullo! Announce your identity.”

[From BBC NEWS | Magazine | Dial H for history]

The key resource in this field is Claude Fisher’s “America calling: a social history of the telephone to 1940“. He gives a fascinating tour through the evolution of telephone etiquette. It strikes me that people felt about the telephone then they way they feel about Facebook now: allowing strangers to call your wife, servants and children without you at “gatekeeper” would inevitably lead to social breakdown. People wondered what was acceptable, and what wasn’t. In 1914, one Florence Hall wrote about telephone etiquette and advised strongly against inviting people to anything over the phone because “the person invited, being suddenly held up and the point of a gun, as it were, is likely to forgot some other engagement”. In the 19th century, arguments about whether the telephone was the friend of the criminal or the friend of the policeman adumbrate exactly the same debates about the internet a decade ago and social networking today.

Another factor was that the telephone companies saw their business as linking businesses, or as linking businessmen to their homes, they did not see the potential for domestic interconnection and, specifically, the use of the phone by women in that context. In “Hello Central?: Gender, Technology, and Culture in the Formation of Telephone Systems, Michele Martin says that the early structure of the domestic telephone networks shows that they were primarily used within friendship circles, which expanded as new exchanges were opened. We probably don’t see the telephone as social media, but it was.

The point is that the social impact of the communications technology was not something planned by the developers. It takes time for new communications technology to really become part of the fabric of society, and I don’t believe we’re there yet when it comes to social media, mobile phones, games consoles or, for that matter, the internet itself.

Presumably someone is writing a book a Facebook etiquette?


In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Extra shots

[Dave Birch] The number of times I’ve found myself enraged by the expense of wifi — in a hotel, at a train station, wherever — is huge, but I think becoming slightly rarer. Apart from hotels, where the wifi charges are absolutely ridiculous, the situation is improving. I’m still curious, though, why free wifi isn’t more widespread.

I usually go to Starbucks because the company offers free, unlimited Wi-Fi

[From Tech Leaders: Google, Apple, and…Starbucks? —]

I tend to do this too. I think I prefer Caffe Nero coffee at the moment, and they have contactless payment terminals too (which ought to work faster than cash, but don’t, because of the way they are configured), but because I have a Starbucks card I can sit and get some work done using the free wifi. I really don’t understand why all coffee shops don’t just provide free wifi and be done with it and then get back to competing on coffee. Although I suppose there are other things to compete on still.

At my own local Starbucks, they’ve recently remodeled the store to add more and bigger desks, and dozens of outlets. Rather than encourage people to pay and leave, as have many big chains, Starbucks clearly encourages loitering

[From Tech Leaders: Google, Apple, and…Starbucks? —]

The theory, presumably, is that other than at peak times there is always room to sell another cup, a piece of cake, a biscuit for people who want to stop and work/read/relax. The next logical step would be to have iPads built in to the tables for people who want to read the news and browse around. Presumably it would be cheaper to negotiate a global deal with News International instead of messing about printing, delivering and returning copies of the The Times. (Like many people, I’m sure, I pick up my copy to read in the queue and while I’m waiting for my coffee, but I never buy it and leave it at the pick-up point.).

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Bost Office?

[Dave Birch] I hate the stupid “captcha” codes that some web sites use to determine whether you are person or a spam bot when logging in to a web site. Earlier todsy I had to create yet another Windows Live ID because I’d forgotten what my old one was. Why Windows Live can’t use OpenID I don’t know, but instead it forces you to mess about entering the same old data over again. Stupid. What’s more, because I couldn’t figure out what the captcha code actually was, I took me four attempts to finally log in correctly. I mean what on Earth does this say???

Screen shot 2011-01-23 at 09.14.20

This provides no security at all, of course, because the spammers already have software that can read captcha codes better than I can, so what’s the point? Surely it would be easier for Windows to accept OpenID log ins from sites that have already made people jump through hoops to prove that they are actually people.

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes

Music and business

[Dave Birch] Here’s an example. I just paid £17.38 for “Bernie Plays Rory” by Bernie Marsden. Why? Because I wanted it and couldn’t find it on iTunes. There was no need to try and find a pirate version to see if I played it a few times because I already knew that I wanted it. Why? Because there’s a track on there that I love and often play in the car. Why? Because I have it on a recording of the Paul Jones show on BBC Radio 2 that I downloaded. Why? Because I often listen to Paul Jones to find new music, but I listen to him when I’m cycling to work or in the car. If you subscribe to the BBC podcast of the show, it doesn’t have the music in (hilariously). I assume this is something to do with Big Content. So instead I found a piece of shareware that lets you download from iPlayer instead of having to listen on the computer. For months I have been using this to download the Paul Jones show to my iPhone. But now it doesn’t work any more, presumably because the BBC have changed iPlayer in some way.

Well, there we are. I won’t be buying any more CDs from musicians like Bernie because I can’t listen to the Paul Jones show any more. Who does this benefit, exactly?

In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen megabytes