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May 182013
 

The strange thing about being involved in information security is the phenomena of cyber warfare.

After all, what does tinkering with computers have to do with real war? Well it depends what all that tinkering leads to, and we simply do not know what would happen in a real war. We are in the beginning of the era when aggressive hacking supports war.

But probably the overwhelming majority of activities labelled as cyber warfare are in fact espionage, or a grey area in between. Any kind of hacking that leads to information disclosure, is espionage rather than warfare. More aggressive hacking – such as writing malware to spin centrifuges into destruction – falls into the grey area between espionage and warfare; it’s too aggressive to be labelled espionage, but isn’t part of a legal war (and yes there is such a thing). In terms of legality, it could well be that such acts are illegal acts of war, but morally justified.

And why is China always the bad actor here? Practically every hacking conference video dealing with cyber warfare drops big hints about the activities of China with little in the way of evidence. There is some evidence that China may be involved in cyber espionage, but as for cyber warfare itself, there is far more evidence for the involvement of the US, Israel, and even the UK; although the rumoured replacement of an Al-Qaeda recipe for a pipe bomb with one for cupcakes doesn’t seem like an act of war, but perhaps an exhibit of the English sense of humour.

Part of the problem is that anyone who reads their firewall logs will find a huge number of attacks coming from Chinese address space. As an example, a quick inspection of the addresses blocked on one of my servers for attempted ssh brute force attacks gives the following table :-

Count Country Code Country
255 CN China
51 US United States …
29 KR Korea (South)
19 BR Brazil
17 DE Germany
15 IN India
13 RU Russia
13 GB Great Britain
13 FR France
11 ID Indonesia

This is not intended to be an accurate reflection of anything other than the number of infected machines trying to brute force accounts on my server.

The high presence of China is an indication of the number of malware infections within China, and the large population of the Chinese. It doesn’t actually say anything about where those attacks originate. Every hacker with enough sense to tie up their shoe laces will be pivoting through privacy proxies, and using armies of infected hosts to send out their attacks. These infected hosts are the ones whose addresses show up in your logs.

Assuming that because these addresses are Chinese means that the Chinese state is behind attacks is faulty logic. There is no reason why the Chinese state hackers (if they exist … although it is almost certain they do) would use Chinese addresses to attack from; they are more likely to be using addresses from the US, Europe, South America, etc. If anything, attacks coming from Chinese addresses indicate :-

  1. Private sector hacking (which is the majority)
  2. Attacks from state groups other than China.

It may well be that China is engaged in industrial scale cyber espionage; it may also be that what people assume are Chinese attacks are in fact other states. After all cyber espionage is probably one of the cheapest ways to get involved; within the means of even the smallest and poorest states.

Mar 302013
 

In something I first heard about in the Daily Mail, so there was an instant credibility gap, it seems that Lord Carey has been blathering on about how Christians feel like a persecuted minority, and that the government is discriminating  against them.

Which is of course complete rancid rhino bile.

And any christian who feels persecuted against needs to take a good hard look at things.

According to the 2011 census, 59% of the UK population claimed to be christian. Given that 59% is more than 41%, I’d say that any christian who feels that they are a minority probably needs to take their socks off to count above 10. It is the rest of us – humanists, secularists, muslims, buddists, hindus, atheists, agnostics – who have the right to claim to be a minority. Given that 2001 (72% christian) was the first time the question was asked, it is hard to make historical observations regarding levels of christianity in the UK. Christians would of course say that we have been historically a christian society where everyone was a christian; others would say those who weren’t christian were under a great deal of pressure to pretend.

There are occasions when we get forced to sit through some sort of christian ceremony, although it was more common in the past than today. And it can be quite creepy listening to you guys speaking to your imaginary friend (or is it friends?).

Nothing to do with what goes on inside your churches of course, but christian ceremonies in public life can be excluding to those who are not christian. Take for example, the infamous council meetings where pre-meeting prayers are no longer permitted. Or rather praying out loud as part of the meeting is no longer permitted. If such prayers are part of a council meeting, they are effectively an unconscious expression of the kind of people who should take part in the meetings – that is practising christians. Or in other words, you are saying that the real minorities – atheists, muslims, etc. are not welcome.

Not that a period of silent contemplation at the start of a council meeting is a bad idea – indeed, it is probably a very good idea. And nobody is saying that you cannot talk with your imaginary friend(s) in the silence of your mind.

Carey specifically mentions the legalisation of gay marriage as one of the symptoms of “aggressive secularisation” within the government. Actually legalising gay marriage is simply doing the right thing; there is nothing in the legislation that forces anyone to get married to someone not of their choice! So it is merely allowing those who choose to, to get married to the person of their choice.

What christians who oppose gay marriage are complaining about, is that they are no longer allowed to impose their views of what marriage should be onto those who believe differently.

In other words christians are complaining about not being allowed to persecute others.

If christians still feel they are being persecuted in the UK, perhaps they should look at some of the real examples of christians being persecuted around the world (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Christians). Any kind of inspection of what happens around the world will make any decent person claiming that UK christians are being persecuted thoroughly ashamed. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case (and frankly in the case of the BA employee, both sides could do with being told to just grow up), being unable to wear a cross in jewellery form at work hardly compares to being stoned to death.

Feb 222013
 

There has been a lot of discussion on how top maths students in schools in the UK, don’t keep up with students in schools in Asia. Funnily enough the difference is much smaller for British Asian kids. Which is an interesting thing given that people are concentrating on what the schools should be doing.

Now it’s not wrong to say that schools could do with improvement; no matter how well the school system is doing, it could always do with improvement. In particular for this particular report, looking at the top performers in a class is worth doing – it is natural, but unfortunate that the top performers in a class are often left just to get on with it. They are after all performing well enough even if they could do better if pushed.

But as can be seen from the performance of British Asians, it’s more than just the schools. Things may well have changed since I was at school, but back then there was this weird cultural thing.

Those of us who were seen as being good at maths were always thought of as a little odd — geeks, nerds, swots, and the like. Of course if you were good at other subjects you got it too, but it wasn’t as bad as being good at maths. Not really as bad as genuine bullying, but it generates an atmosphere where it’s ok not to try too hard at maths.

Does this still go on? If so, it would explain these results.

Feb 132013
 

One of the humorous coincidences arising from the ever increasing horse meat saga, is that this would happen during the Tories reign of mis-rule. You see we often get treated to the Tories bang on about excessive government regulation and red tape, and how business could be far more effective without it.

And of course with a special venomous attack on the European bureaucrats.

Which is all very well, but the biggest lesson that can be learnt from the whole sorry saga of how horse meat got passed off as meat of another kind, is that we need government regulation to protect us from crooks pretending to be businesscritters. And honest businesscritters need that protection even more than the rest of us.

We have learnt how crooks have infiltrated horse meat into the market for cheap processed meat because it is so much cheaper than beef. This has two effects :-

  1. The crooks make money … lots of money.
  2. Honest businesscritters lose out. If it goes on long enough there won’t be any honest ones left!

There are those who say “well horse isn’t too bad … it seems to taste pretty good”, which is missing the problem(s). Not only should we be able to see what is in a product by looking at the ingredients list, but if crooks get away with putting safe horse meat into burgers, will cheaper crooks get the idea to put unsafe horse meat in ? Or rat? Or worse?

It is worth remembering this current saga when the Tories start banging on about government regulation – regulation is usually there for a reason, and the reason far too often is due to an event like this where unscrupulous crooks abused the public in order to make a bit more cash.

 

Feb 052013
 

So we’ve seen in the last few minutes that as expected a whole bunch of Tories have voted against the proposal to legalise gay marriage. Frankly nobody expected the “hang ’em high and whip ’em” branch of the Tories to vote for gay marriage.

Of course the media and the anti-Tories are gleefully announcing that the Tories are split down the middle and that this might just be the beginning of the end. Of what I’m not sure.

Much as I would like to see the Tories self-destruct, it is very unlikely to happen. This was a free vote – where MPs were encouraged to vote with the conscience rather than according to the party whip. Whilst it is entirely possible that a party who wants to get something through that will be unpopular with their own members, will resort to a free vote, it is a move to be encouraged.

After all, it would be nice to see MPs always voting with their conscience!

Nov 062012
 

Today came the news that Nadine Dorries (a Tory MP) is being suspended as a Tory (not an MP) for appearing on the reality TV show called “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here”.

Now I’m hardly the most ardent Tory supporter in the country – in fact I can’t stand them, and a quick look indicates that I’m even less likely to like Nadine’s favourite hobby horses. But I believe all this fuss is a little over the top, and perhaps there is a certain amount of snobbishness getting involved here. To a certain extent this is understandable, as the reality show in question is hardly in the calibre of “Question Time” or some other serious current affairs programme.

And there is the concern of who will do her job, when she’s off in Australia getting filmed doing ridiculous stuff on camera.

But we do not know that Nadine hasn’t already or plans to make suitable arrangements to ensure that any urgent demands by her constituents are met in some way or another. And what about all the other part-time MPs? Is Nadine the only MP who has ever taken time off from her duties to do something else? Let’s not have double standards here.

And similarly, there have been plenty of MPs on TV shows of one kind or another. Is it just the type of show that is of concern here? Are other politicians concerned that an MP appearing on this show will bring politicians into disrepute?

If so, I have news for those other politicians – politicians have such a poor reputation that this appearance on a reality show is likely to improve their reputation. And I’m not a fan of the show in question.

Nov 042012
 

Those sneaky Tories have announced plans to limit child related benefits so that families with large numbers of children would only get benefits for the first two. With this, they have implied that “out there” is a large population of benefit scroungers who make tons of cash by simply breeding like rabbits.

And of course when you put it that way, it sounds like a great idea. Why should those in work pay for the comfort of those too lazy to do anything other than breed like rabbits?

Except those benefits are for the children involved. It is always worth remembering that any benefit cuts in this area will have a negative effect on the children involved. Or do the Tories plan to take into care any “surplus” children by force?

And even if there were a large number of benefit scroungers benefiting from the “generous” child related benefits, they are almost certainly far outnumbered by those who are not scroungers, but need benefits for genuine reasons.

What about the carpenter who whilst he earns a reasonable wage to support himself, his wife, and a single child, suddenly finds himself the father of sextuplets ?

What about the house husband whose wife previously earned big money as a hot-shot barrister, had 6 children over a number of years and who suddenly finds himself along with those six children after his wife is killed in a road accident ?

Or the single mother who works hard at a cleaning job, but finds it hard looking after her three children that her feckless husband left her with ?

The Tories have come up with a scheme to punish the poor, and yet have sold it in such a way as to get those poor to support it. What you could call a masterpiece of Machiavellian politics.

 

Nov 032012
 

Previously I ranted about how Apple had “complied” with a UK court order by criticising the decision made by the UK courts and implying they had gotten it wrong. Now Apple have been dragged into court again to explain their lack of compliance, and been ordered to remove their previous statement and replace it with another whose wording has been dictated by the court.

Apple in a mind-blowing exhibition of stupidity tried to claim that whilst it would take just 24 hours to take down their previous statement, it would take up to 14 days to put up a replacement statement. For “technical reasons”.

Now as it happens, in addition to writing drivel on this website (where the only delay “technical reasons” might impose would be due to an infrastructure failure/upgrade, but “personal reasons” might well impose a 14-day delay), I have been involved in more “corporate” websites where content management systems can indeed impose “technical reasons” for a delay in updating a website. But not 14 days! More like a few hours, or at most 24 hours.

And if a content management system does impose a long delay in publishing website updates, it is always possible to bypass the CMS to publish emergency updates. Even if it is necessary to “break” the CMS to do so.

It may very well be that an internal approval process within Apple’s CMS normally requires 14 days for an update to be published. In which case the reason for the supposed 14 day delay is for “business reasons” rather than “technical reasons”.

Of course there is also another possibility. Given that Apple have recently launched new products, they may be very reluctant to put anything up on their home page (which the revised court order now requires) which distracts from their new product. You do have to wonder if this mysterious delay for “technical reasons” is in fact so that nobody gets distracted from the pretty pictures of Apple’s new products.

That would be very, very silly of them.

The court evidently did not think much of Apple’s excuse of why they could not put up a replacement statement promptly and have given them 48 hours to comply. So either Apple has to comply within 48-hours – demonstrating that they lied in court, or has to come up with detailed technical reasons why they cannot comply – which will demonstrate they are surprisingly incompetent when it comes to technical matters.

Neither alternative is comfortable for Apple executives, but this position is all their fault.

Oct 262012
 

Apple actually lost a court case recently, and as part of the settlement they were asked to publish an apology in both printed media and on their website. Which may well come close to the letter of what they were obliged to publish, but in no way comes close to the spirit … and indeed may well be contempt of court. The relevant part of the apology reads:

However, in a case tried in Germany regarding the same patent, the court found that Samsung engaged in unfair competition by copying the iPad design. A U.S. jury also found Samsung guilty of infringing on Apple’s design and utility patents, awarding over one billion U.S. dollars in damages to Apple Inc. So while the U.K. court did not find Samsung guilty of infringement, other courts have recognized that in the course of creating its Galaxy tablet, Samsung willfully copied Apple’s far more popular iPad.

Or to re-phrase it: The UK courts are complete idiots and should pay closer attention to the judgements reached in the US and Germany which of course have far wiser judges. If I were that UK judge I would order Apple to pay “over one billion dollars” to the court and prohibit Apple from selling any products in the UK until it was paid.

You do have to wonder just how dumb the relevant executives at Apple are. When you are forced into publishing an apology, the sensible thing is to do just that … and not try and weasel out of the apology by saying “but ….”.

 

Sep 152012
 

Some French gossip magazine has published topless photos of Kate Middleton (who is married to someone who may eventually become a notional head of state) taken when she was staying at a private location on holiday. My first reaction: So what?

Who cares if someone famous was topless in private? We’re all naked in private at some time or another … even if it is just getting into the bath or shower. It’s hardly a revelation to learn that the rich and famous can also be found naked (or in this case topless) at some point or another.  This hardly qualifies as news … or frankly even gossip.

But on second thoughts, this is an invasion of privacy – at the same level as some pervert setting up hidden cameras in your bathroom to take photos of you naked … and then gets them published. Sure the royal couple are famous, but unless they’re getting up to something evil or hideous they should be able to expect a reasonable level of privacy when they are in private.

And the fact that Kate can sometimes be found topless isn’t the sort of thing that counts as in the public interest to reveal.

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