Author: Matthew Finnegan

US, UK, Canada refuse to sign ITU treaty

The UK, US and Canada have decided against signing a treaty which would grant greater involvement in internet governance to nations across the world.

At the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) conference in Dubai, plans to bring some say in internet governence to the UN-backed organisation were dealt a blow as a number of states objected outright to the proposals.

There was strong opposition from various quarters. US Federal Communications Commission chief Robert M. McDowell said that the public governing of the internet could impact the freedoms on which the web was created. 

“Today, America’s delegation… stood strong for Internet freedom when it proclaimed that it would not sign new international rules that capture the Internet,” McDowell said. 

He added that some of the nations present at the conference in Dubai had gone back on commitments to keep the internet free from state control. 

“By agreeing to broaden the scope of the ITU’s rules to include the internet, encompassing its operations and content,” he said, “these nations have radically undermined the highly successful, private sector, non-governmental, multi-stakeholder model of internet governance”. 

According to the BBC, the UK has also refused to sign the treaty, as the ITU seeks to update 24 year old telecommunications guidelines with regards to web regulation.

UK delegation head Simon Towle said that the stakes were too high for the proposed treaty.

“My delegation came to work for revised international telecommunication regulations, but not at any cost,” he said. “We prefer no resolution on the internet at all, and I’m extremely concerned that the language just adopted opens the possibility of internet and content issues.”

In addition, Canada has also objected to the treaty, while negotiators from a number of nations indicated that they would be unable to sign an agreement without further consultation with respective national governments.

While many nations signed the treaty, those who did not will still be bound by the guidelines set out in the 1988 version, which didn’t cover internet rules.

A number of nations including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Sudan are demanding that they have a more equal say in the running of the internet. Currently, the US is responsible for appointing governing bodies to coordinate aspects of the internet, such as the allocation of web addresses.

It is argued that an ITU led approach could aid in improving some aspects of the internet, with a concerted approach against the proliferation of spam, for example.

However, critics of the proposals have argued that they hand states powers to enforce web regulation and increase censorship.

The ITU plans have faced strong opposition from the private sector internet organisations. Google vice president Vint Cerf, considered one of the founding fathers of the web, who hit out at the proposals, highlighting the “borderless” nature of the web.

Apotheker: Don't blame Apotheker for Autonomy

The most exciting CEO in Hewlett Packard’s history, Leo Apotheker, has joined the very public blame game surrounding the multibillion dollar acquisition of British software outfit Autonomy, claiming the buck stopped with the firm’s board members.

Apotheker was in charge of HP when the $10.3 billion purchase of Autonomy was completed, shortly before he was ousted from the firm in September last year.   

In a statement to Bloomberg, Apotheker claimed that the subsequent write down of $8.8 billion from HP’s value as a result of the purchase was not entirely his fault.

Apotheker said that “no single CEO is ever able to make a decision in isolation”, particularly when it is one the size of HP. He said that the board convened regularly to review the acquisition, before “unanimously” supporting the deal. He also commented that the HP board was in full support of the proposed strategy to move into enterprise data services.

Apotheker took the top job at HP following the departure of Mark Hurd as CEO, and attempted to change the focus of the company away from PC and printer sales. However, he claims that he was not given enough time to complete his vision for the company’s transformation, and that his strategic vision was essentially “sound”.

“Unfortunately, I was never given the opportunity to implement the strategy in its totality,” Apotheker said. “The new leadership has now been in place longer than my 11-month tenure. But it’s clear that HP still is in search of the right path forward.”

Current CEO Meg Whitman was one of the board members at the time of the Autonomy deal. She has laid much of the blame for the botched deal on Apotheker, as well as starting legal proceedings against former Autonomy boss Mike Lynch.

Lynch, who left the firm earlier this year, ramped up the public feud recently by starting a website aimed at providing a voice for former Autonomy staff. Lynch has argued that he has been unfairly scapegoated by the IT giant, with HP making accusations through the press without providing full details of financial irregularities.

Aside from the infighting of HP staff, present and former, the Autonomy fiasco has also allowed competitors to weigh in with their views.

Tin box mogul, Michael Dell, told the Sunday Telegraph last week that he too was offered the opportunity to purchase the British enterprise software firm, but was aghast at the price.

“It was shopped to us as well,” he said, adding that the it would not be willing to meet Autonomy’s valuation. “Not at that price. That was an overwhelmingly obvious conclusion that any reasonable person could draw.”

Oracle boss Larry Ellison has also been vocal about the overvaluation of Autonomy, claiming that HP paid double what it had previously refused to hand over for the firm.

HP has vowed to stick by its expensive purchase, and will aim to increase the integration of Autonomy software into its portfolio.

DARPA contracts Nvidia to make drones smarter

Nvidia has landed a $20 million contract with the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to get to work on the development of embedded chips that are 75 times more powerful than current processors.

DARPA is hoping that research into embedded chip technology will lead to vast improvements in the ability of autonomous vehicles to process data from onboard sensors. This could mean creating more intelligent unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for example, able to analyse more data than can currently be processed in real time.

Nvidia said that existing embedded processors deliver roughly 1 gigaflops of performance per watt, but as part of its Project Osprey programme it would be aiming for 75 gigaflops per watt.

Nvidia said that it would be researching extremely efficient chip architectures, using production methods as advanced as 7 nanometre.  Nvidia is currently mass producing 28 nm chips through its foundry partners.

As well as creating more intelligent drones, the five year project is expected to result in innovations that will be passed on to consumer devices.

“The technologies developed with this program can transform the capabilities of embedded systems, making autonomous vehicles more practical and intelligent,” Steve Keckler, senior director of Architecture Research at NVIDIA, said.  “This research will help NVIDIA continue to advance mobile computing for both government and consumer applications.”

Nvidia chips are already used in a variety of embedded applications for military use, including aircraft such as the F-22 Raptor, and US Army tanks.

The Californian firm has also received a contract to develop supercomputing technology for DARPA in 2010, with a four year, $25 million research grant to produce GPUs for exascale computing.

Apple off the hook in EC's ebook investigation

The European Commission has dropped its case against Apple and four major publishers over ebook price fixing.

Apple has now agreed to commitments with the European authority, alongside the four publishing companies, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Hachette Livre and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck.  This will mean that agreements to keep prices fixed at higher rate be terminated, with a commitment to allowing retailers to set their own prices for at least the next two years.

Freedom to sell at lower prices will benefit retailers such as Amazon which offer e-books at less cost than those advertised by Apple.

Previously, Apple and the publishers agreed to move away from a wholesale model of sales, which allowed ebook retailers to set their own prices and use discounts, to an agency model, which meant that prices could not be set lower than on the Apple Store.  

This practice was deemed uncompetitive by the EC, which launched an investigation, linking with a similar case put in place by the US Department of Justice.

“While each separate publisher and each retailer of e-books are free to choose the type of business relationship they prefer, any form of collusion to restrict or eliminate competition is simply unacceptable,” EC vice president Joaquín Almunia said. “The commitments proposed by Apple and the four publishers will restore normal competitive conditions in this new and fast-moving market, to the benefit of the buyers and readers of e-books”.

Apple and the publishers have now agreed to terminate ongoing agency agreements, the EC stated, and to exclude certain clauses from agreements made over the next five years.

Proceedings opened in December 2011, with a fifth publisher, Pearson, also implicated.  The EC is involved in ongoing discussions with the owner of publishing house Penguin to reach make similar commitments.

The EC said that the companies would not receive financial penalties as a result of the anticompetitive pricing practices, in order to bring about a speedy resolution for the fast moving market. A potential fine had been discussed, with Apple potentially being told to hand over 10 percent of its global earnings, which could have amounted to $15 billion.

One author told TechEye that the EC’s decision, resulting in temporary commitments, failed to address underlying concerns in the publishing industry.

“The deal is short term and in a few years Apple and its cronies could go back to the current situation,” we were told.   “At the same time there is no checking of the power of Amazon on the market. 

“In short, the EU might have delayed the problems that are already existing in the ebook market, but they have not resolved them.”

NFC payments rolled out for London buses

London bus passengers will be able to pay for journeys with the swipe of an NFC-enabled debit card, with Transport for London rolling out the contactless payment scheme from today.

The use of debit, credit or charge cards to pay fares could mean less reliance on the Oyster cards which are typically used on London’s 8,500 buses.

The system will mean that passengers paying without an Oyster card will pay the lower fare of £1.35, rather than the cash payment of £2.30.

Apparently 85,000 journeys each day in the capital are paid for in cash, with at least 500 people being turned away for paying with a high denomination note, TfL said. There are also 36,000 people who have insufficient funds on their Oyster card to pay for a journey, making life easier for those who have forgotten to top up their balance.

TfL said that it is looking to extend the service to other parts of the public transport network, with contact payments enabled across the London Underground, DLR, London Overground and trams by late 2013. Daily and weekly capping will also be brought in at this stage too.Talks are  underway to allow the use of NFC payments through the national rail network.

London mayor Boris Johnson welcomed the news: “Lots of us have had the frustrating experience of dashing to board a bus only to discover that our Oyster card has run out of credit. 

“So the arrival of this latest technology is welcome news, meaning that with a simple touch of acontactless payment card, people can avoid having to scrabble for change and also still benefit from the Oyster fare discount.”

He added: “This is the latest in a range of ways we are working to make passenger journeys even easier and more convenient.”

Although TfL has not specified that NFC-enabled smartphones will be supported, it is likely that bus passengers will be able to pay with a flash of their mobile too.

Just how confident passengers will be to brandish their expensive smartphone when taking a perilous night bus is up for debate.  

A TfL spokesperson told TechEye that during this first phase, there will not be a daily ‘cap’ on spending, as with the Oyster card, although when NFC is rolled out to the other transport networks, a daily and weekly cap will be introduced. The idea for now is not to replace the Oyster Card, but to provide a cheaper alternative than physical cash if the card has run out, or you are caught without change.

As for fraud claims, this will be handled by card providers.

If a ticket inspector boards the bus, he or she will get a print out from the bus driver that displays the last four digits of every card used for contactless payments, which can then be verified.

GlobalFoundries urges EU to support chip industry

The European Union should do more to support the semiconductor manufacturing or risk losing out on innovation, GlobalFoundries has said, although its status as an impartial observer is, perhaps, questionable.

GloFo CEO Ajit Manocha highlighted the disparity between the incentives other regions give to chip manufacturers, he told Reuters, with the US and Asia able to offer more attractive conditions to companies.

Manocha said that while Asian companies will often give GloFo the red carpet treatment, as well as New York State authorities, Europe is “not playing that role properly”.

Although many of the prominent semi manufacturing firms are based in the East or in the US, Europe has its share of innovative companies Dutch manufacturing equipment firm ASML, for example, has received investment from Intel and Samsung this year, with its technology considered crucial for future chips production. 

According to Manocha, there should be more investment by EU authorities to stimulate production of chips within Europe.  Although this would not generate masses of jobs, Manocha said it would mean reaping the benefits of chip technology created by European companies which are often attracted by foreign countries offering attractive tax breaks.  This would also encourage more an environment for wider innovation, he said.

Although there is manufacturing in the EU by the region’s largest chip firm STMicro, it would benefit from the same drive that has seen increased investment in New York State, for example.

Of course, Manocha would say this. He runs a chip company.

Kaspersky puts untouchable Apple myth to bed

Kaspersky has seen the number of malicious programs detected rise massively during 2012, up from 125,000 a day to 200,000 over the course of the year, including those targeting Apple devices – which can put to bed the theory that the company’s kit is untouchable.

With the IT landscape changing for consumers and businesses as new devices and different operating systems become more commonplace, Kaspersky says that criminals are increasingly looking to capitalise on weaknesses.

In total Kaspersky Lab detected and blocked over 1.5 billion web based attacks during 2012, as well as catching more than 3 billion infected files, according to the firm’s Security Bulletin.

“What 2012 has shown is the strong inclination of cybercriminals to steal data from all devices used by consumers and businesses, be it a PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet,” commented Costin Raiu, Director of Global Research & Analysis Team, Kaspersky. “This is one of the most important trends of 2012.” 

He added: “We are also observing a strong increase in the overall number of threats, affecting all popular software environments.”

One of the key findings of the report is the “significant” growth of Mac-specific malware, as well as an “explosion” of threats aimed at the Android platform.      

This has helped push the UK to the ‘high risk group’ category, Kaspersky said, based on the number of web attacks and malicious files.

The Flashback botnet was cited as one of the main incidents of the year, made up of 700,000 infected Apple computers, which Kaspersky said put the nail in the coffin of the perception of the Mac OS X platform as being invulnerable to exploitation.   

Meanwhile Android devices saw an increased security threat, despite Google attempting to protect its users with its own anti-malware technology.   According to the report, there was rapid growth in Android malware, with 99 percent of all newly discovered mobile malware being targeted at the handsets using Google’s operating system.

In terms of browser based attacks, 4 million were detected a day during 2012, with cyber criminals looking to exploit vulnerabilities in programs and applications.   Java was the most frequently attacked, accounting for 50 percent of attacks, with Adobe Reader in second place, with 28 percent.

Half of EU organisations give employees mobile devices

Many European enterprises have made devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops available to staff, as mobility trends in the workplace continue to prevail.

A report from the European Union’s statistics arm EuroStats, shows that 48 percent of organisations in the EU27 have provided mobile devices to their employees, a figure which is much higher for large enterprises.   For the 27 countries, 88 percent provided staff with mobile devices.

Within the United Kingdom the figure was higher.   Across organisations of all sizes, 56 percent gave employees mobile devices to aid mobility and remote working.   51 percent of small businesses (between 10 and 49 employees) have handed people mobile devices, rising to 81 percent for mid sized businesses, (50 to 249) and 93 percent for enterprise class organisations (250 or more).

However the UK ranked lower than other European countries, particularly in the Nordic region, with large uptake in Sweden (63 percent), Norway (68 percent) and the biggest user of mobile devices, Finland (78 percent).

The type of device was equally split between portable computers, such as tablets and laptops, and smartphones or PDAs.  For the 27 European nations 40 percent of organisation providing mobile devices gave staff portable PCs, with 39 opting for other portable devices.    In the UK the figures were 45 percent for laptop and tablets, and 52 percent providing smartphones and other similar devices.

The most common use of mobile devices was to access work emails, with 88 percent of organisations in Europe allowing this.  Less were confident to allow wider access to IT systems, as 56 percent enabled the remote modification of documents, and less than half allowing dedicated business applications.  

This was roughly inline with the UK, with nearly all employees handed a mobile device allowed to access emails and readily available websites, while the majority were not allowed to use secure applications.

Mobile devices are becoming increasingly common in the workplace, as companies both provide hardware for their employees and, in many cases, allow them to bring their own device.  This has helped boost sales for mobile devices as the ubiquity of the dekstop PC is challenged.

According to research released by analyst house IDC yesterday, the total number of smart devices, including desktops, tablets, smartphones and other connected devices grew 27.1 percent in the past year. Unit shipments for all devices are also expected to continue to grow at a fast pace, with rising from 1.1 billion in 2012 to 2.1 billion in 2016.

Scientists plan test to see if the entire universe is a simulation created by futuristic supercomputers

US scientists are attempting to find out whether all of humanity is currently living a Matrix-style computer simulation being run on supercomputers of the future.

According to researchers at the University of Washington, there are tests that could be done to begin to work out whether we are in fact real, or merely a simulation created by a futuristic android on its lunch break.

Currently, computer simulations are decades away from creating even a primitive working model of the universe. In fact, scientists are able to accurately model only a 100 trillionth of a metre, with work to create a model of a full human being still out of reach.

By looking for underlying patterns, physicists believe that it may be possible to work out if we are existing in a computer created universe, created many years in the future.  Looking at constraints imposed on simulations by limited resources could show signs that we are mere bit-part players in a Matrix-style film plot.

It will take many years to reach the computational power to give a real glimpse of whether we are living in a simulation, the scientists contend, but even by looking at the tiny portion of the universe that we can currently accurately model, it may be possible to detect ‘signatures’ of constraints on physical processes that could point to a simulation.  

The researchers suggest that a signature could show up as a limitation in the energy of cosmic rays, for example.  By testing the behaviour of cosmic rays on underlying ‘lattice’ frameworks governing rules of physics that could exist in future models of the universe, the researchers could find patterns that could point to a simulation.

“This is the first testable signature of such an idea,” one of the researchers, Martin Savage, said.

Aside from the rather mind-boggling proposition that we may be part of a computer simulation, another researcher pointed out that this would bring up the possibility of inter-universe computer platforms, and the potential to communicate across these.

“Then the question is, ‘Can you communicate with those other universes if they are running on the same platform?’” UW graduate student, Zohreh Davoudi, asked.

Snooper's Charter blasted by MPs, Nick Clegg

Plans to introduce a “Snooper’s Charter” have received a wave of criticism, with MPs, public bodies and even the deputy Prime Minister attacking the Draft Communications Data Bill. 

A Joint Select Committee rejected initial plans to allow law enforcement agencies to access currently obtainable data such as in email communications, with proposed powers to monitor online data scaled back.

The scope of plans to monitor data should be significantly decreased, committee chair Lord Blencathra said, with major changes required to the Bill.

“There needs to be some substantial re-writing of the Bill before it is brought before Parliament as we feel that there is a case for legislation, but only if it strikes a better balance between the needs of law enforcement and other agencies and the right to privacy,”  Blencathra said.

The Lord added that there is “a fine but crucial line” between giving law enforcement and security agencies access to the information necessary for national security, and allowing UK citizens to go about their daily business “without a fear, however unjustified, that the state is monitoring their every move”.

Home Secretary Theresa May previously put forward plans which she claimed would protect against terrorism, for example, handing police and other agencies improved powers to monitor electronic communications.  However, the committee argued that May should not be given “carte blanche” to order the retention of all types of data.   The committee also rejected claims that it is necessary to put in stricter measures to ensure that plans are ‘future proofed’.

According to the committee recommendations, the types of data that are accessible should be reduced, with MPs able to vote on whether service providers should have to collect IP address data from subscribers for example.  The number of public bodies able to access the data should lowered, the committee recommended.

In addition, MPs said that there should be more consultation with privacy groups to avoid the gung-ho approach that has drawn widespread criticism from external bodies.

However, the committee indicated that it would be happy to pass proposals if they are changed to meet the recommendations.

The plans also received criticism from deputy PM Nick Clegg, who said that plans to increase powers to monitor online communications need to go “back to the drawing board”.

“It is for those reasons that I believe the coalition Government needs to have a fundamental rethink about this legislation,” Clegg said.  “We cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board.”

The Information Commissioner Christopher Graham also took aim at the recommendations, highlighting the problems it would cause in regulating the strict rules initially proposed by the government.   Withholding more data, and for longer periods of time would also be a drain on public finances, Graham said.

“My concern is around the adequacy of the proposed safeguards that the ICO would be responsible for regulating,” Graham said. 

“Ensuring the security of retained personal information and its destruction after 12 months would require increased powers and resources, and as it stands today we’ve not been given clear advice on where that will come from,” he said.

The Home Secretary defended the bill in a newspaper column today, stating that she is “determined” to see through the web monitoring plans.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, told TechEye:

“The committee has exposed weak evidence, misleading statements and fanciful figures and unanimously rejected this draft Bill’s proposal to monitor everyone’s emails, web visits and social media messages.

“The complexity and sensitivity of the subject required a radically different process and a totally different bill. There are challenges, but they can be solved in a proportionate way that protects privacy, is based on what is technically possible and focuses on maximising the effectiveness of data already held.

“After such a damming report, Parliament cannot support the draft Bill and it is now essential that if proposals are brought forward, they are comprehensively re-written and based upon the clear evidence and proper consultation that this draft Bill fundamentally lacked.”