Tag: government

VPN outfits expect to make a fortune out of Theresa May

teresa may evilVPN outfits are rubbing their paws with glee thanks to the UK government’s Investigatory Powers Bill.

Theresa May and her Conservative minions hope to save the UK from terrorists by insisting that ISPs keep detailed records of their customer’s online doings.

The Investigatory Powers Bill was approved by the House of Lords on 19 November and is due to become law before the end of 2016.

Now, several virtual private network (VPN) operators have seized on its introduction to promote their offerings.

For those who don’t know, VPNs digitally scramble a user’s internet traffic and send it to one of their own servers before passing it on to a site or app in a form they can make sense of. ISPs would only have a log to the VPN.

The VPNs can be based outside the UK in countries with no data retention laws.  Even if servers are confiscated, there would be nothing on them. To make matters worse for Mrs May, the UK government would find it difficult to prevent the use of such workarounds.

While the legislation specifically mentions connection service providers and not just ISPs, and the assumption is that VPNs based in the UK must give up their logs under this law. However that does not apply to foreign companies who can just ignore it.

Even if the UK government made VPN’s illegal, it could not stop those services being available.  Lots of businesses use VPNs to provide staff with remote access to their email and other work-related files would also make it difficult to restrict the technology’s use.


Government expert says apps are pointless

22260927371_52cd33ca75Ben Terrett, the former head of design at the UK Government Digital Service has sparked a row by pointing out that mobile apps are pointless.

Terrett had been chatting GovInsider which had told him about the Indonesian city with a target of 300 mobile apps built by government per year. As citizens increasingly use smartphones, officials believe this is the best way to reach them. However, Terrett banned apps at GDS.

For those who came in late the UK GDS was the first government digital service in the world, and is held up as a global pioneer for its award-winning approach. Terrett is responsible for creating services that have been copied all over the world.

He said that apps were difficult because they were too expensive to make and very expensive to maintain. However, they were also not needed because you could still reach a mobile population by building responsive websites.

Sites can adapt to any screen size, work on all devices, and are open to everyone to use regardless of their device. When an upgrade is required, only one-platform needs recoding.

It is strange that no one noticed this before. Apps were part of Apple marketing and took over the world’s thinking. Why should you create a programme to do something when HTML does the job just as well and citizens will be looking for the service first on Google?


SAP “patched” bug still has holes

bugThe expensive esoteric management software company which no-one is really sure what it does, SAP, is the subject of a US security alert over a vulnerability the firm disabled six years ago.

Apparently the hole still gives outside attackers remote control over older SAP systems if the software is not properly patched.

SAP fixed the problem, but left the decision over whether to switch off an easy access setting up to its customers.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Computer Emergency Response Team (US-CERT) issued an alert to the security industry warning SAP customers what they need to do to plug the holes.

Onapsis, a firm that specialises in securing business applications from SAP and  Oracle said that dozens of companies have been exposed to these security gaps in recent years, and a far larger number of SAP customers remain vulnerable.

Onapsis chief executive Mariano Nunez said that most SAP customers are unaware that this is going on.

SAP, whose software acts as the corporate plumbing for many multinationals and which claims 87 percent of the top 2000 global companies as customers, disclosed the vulnerability in 2010 and has offered software patches to fix the flaw.

SAP issued a statement that the vulnerable feature was fixed when the company introduced the software update six years ago. All SAP applications released since then are free of this vulnerability.

However, SAP acknowledged that these changes were known to break customised software developments that many customers had implemented using older versions of SAP’s programming language.

The problem continues because a sizeable number of big SAP customers are known to depend on these older versions of the software that in many cases date back years, or in extreme examples, even decades.


Japanese government gets in at the Sharp end

sharp2The Japanese government is going to write a $1.7 billion cheque to bail out the troubled electronics maker Sharp.

State-backed fund Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ) is leading the bailout and the restructuring plan for Japanese electronics firm Sharp is likely to be finalised as early as this week.

The bailout plan will include another $1.3 billion for from the banks. It is telling that you can go billions into debt when you are a company and still get a loan, but if you are debt free you can’t apply for a mortgage.

INCJ has been told to help revive Japan’s once-cutting edge consumer electronics sector and it wants to merge Sharp’s liquid-crystal display business with that of Japan Display. INCJ is the biggest shareholder in Japan Display.

Despite a $1.7 billion rescue in May, Sharp has shown few signs of a turnaround as it and other Japanese consumer electronics makers struggle to compete against the likes of Samsung.

Sharp has also received an investment offer from  Foxconn, although no one knows what is happening with that deal yet.

Intel drones at Government

orvillecopter-bart-jansen-cat-droneChipmaker Intel is threatening to take its ball back unless the US government stops stuffing up its drone research with red tape.

Intel said it would take its drone research and development operations overseas unless the federal government drops its “overly proscriptive” approach to unmanned aerial systems technology.

Joshua Walden, Intel’s senior vice president and general manager for new technology, told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade that the federal government approach that was overly prescriptive regarding the deployment of new hardware and software. This will deter the private sector’s ability to invent and compete in the marketplace.

“Worse, it will drive us to relocate our business planning and R&D overseas, where we are being welcomed by foreign countries eager for investment in this new technology area,” he said.

The government is under pressure from its big corporate masters to allow R&D so that drones can be used for everything including the delivery of packages. But they also face objections from those who think the government is going to use drones to take their guns away and spy and the very real concerts about air space management.

Governments bugging Facebook much more

bugSocial notworking site Facebook claims that government demands for its user data surged in the first half of 2015.

Facebook’s biannual report is one of the chief indicators of government interest in the company’s data. The social media giant is not allowed to publicise specific requests by law enforcement and spy agencies, but it is allowed to release statistics.

If you are worried about privacy, then the stats make chilling reading. Government requests for account data globally jumped 18 percent in the first half of 2015 to 41,214 accounts, up from 35,051 requests in the second half of 2014.

In the first half of this year, Facebook took down 20,568 posts and other pieces of content that violated local laws, more than doubling the number taken down in the second half of 2014. Such restricted content includes anything from Nazi propaganda in Germany to depictions of violent crimes.

Facebook’s user base has grown explosively to 1.55 billion people, up from 1.4 billion in the second half of last year.

The government often requests basic subscriber information, IP addresses or account content, including people’s posts online.

The bulk of government requests came from US law enforcement agencies. US agencies requested data from 26,579 accounts – comprising more than 60 percent of requests globally – up from 21,731 accounts in the second half of 2014.

France, Germany and Britain made up a large percentage of the requests and had far more content restricted in 2015. Some of the content taken down in Germany included Holocaust denial, Facebook said.

India and Turkey were responsible for most of the content taken down for violating local laws. India had 15,155 pieces of content restricted – nearly triple the amount in the second half of 2014 – while Turkey had 4,496, up from 3,624.

The number of Facebook users in India is up nearly 70 million since June 2014, to more than 190 million users.

Governments have increasingly relied on Facebook’s user data to help investigate criminal cases, which are responsible for most of the requests, Facebook said.

“Facebook does not provide any government with ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s data,” Facebook wrote.

India moves to open source

microsoft-open-sourceThe Government of India has moved to a comprehensive open source policy as part of a cunning plan to adopt open standards for buying.

The policy coincides with another broad initiative, Digital India, and requires the various ministries of the GOI “to adopt Open Source Software [OSS] in all e-Governance systems performed by various Government organisations, as a preferred option in comparison to Closed Source Software (CSS).

“All Government Organisations, while fulfilling e-Governance applications and systems must include a specific requirement in Request for Proposal (RFP) for all suppliers to consider OSS with CSS while responding. Suppliers shall provide justification for exclusion of OSS in their response, as the case may be. Government Organisations shall ensure compliance with this requirement and decide by comparing both OSS and CSS options with capability, strategic control, scalability, security, life-time costs and support requirements.”

Most departments were reported to be supportive of the policy, with none opposed to it. However the policy has received criticism, directly from some companies as well from organisations representing some parts of the IT industry.

Government IT spending falls

cashWorldwide spending by national, federal and local government will fall by 1.8 percent to $431 billion in 2015.

And that has led Gartner to outline what it considers to be the 10 most important tech trends for governments so they don’t fall behind.

The first on its list is to have digitally literate employees from top to bottom, with the workplace being open, flat and democratic.

And government with multiple channels need to develop an overall strategy by radically redesigning service models.

Government agencies also need to provide open data programmes with Gartner estimating that by 2018 over 30 percent of digital government projects will treat data as open data.

Governments also need to create trusted citizen electornic IDs, and use edge analytics. They also need to provide interoperability between their own data and external agencies.

And they’ll also have to take account of the internet of things and hybrid cloud, suggesting Gartner believes they all have some way to go.

French government wants a Dailymotion

OrangesFrance’s Orange has promised to look at all offers for its Dailymotion video-sharing site after being leaned on by the government.

The French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said that France was seeking to promote a strong European digital sector.

Speaking on BFM Business, Macron denied that he was opposed to an alliance with Asia’s PCCW, presumably because they did not know how to cook outside of a giant frypan.

“I did not say ‘no’ … They have an industrial project which is excellen… What I said was: ‘Should we enter into exclusive negotiations?’ The answer is no. We should look at all the offers,” he said.

Macron when asked about media reports that he favoured a European alliance for the operation.

He said: “We (France) are a state and we have a European digital policy.” Yes, but are you in favour of the sale, you could easily have just answered “I like Langue de boeuf for all the relevance that answer contained.

Part of Macron’s problem is that Dailymotion is one of those rarities – a French startup which did really well. The company, founded in 2005, has managed to attract funding and expand globally, but Orange has argued for years that to catch up with Google Inc.’s YouTube, it needs to find partners.

In 2013, then-Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg prevented Orange from selling a majority stake in the site to U.S. Web giant Yahoo Inc. After the deal fell apart, Mr. Montebourg said the U.S. tech firm might have “devoured” a French jewel.

Microsoft is still cheaper than open sauce

Everytime UK local government people look at open sauce, Microsoft products are always cheaper, claims a local government CIO – Jos Creese.

Speaking to Computing, Hampshire council’s Creese said part of the reason is that most staff are already familiar with Microsoft products. Voleware also works well with the thin client model employed at Hampshire council.

But there is an additional reason too. Microsoft has been flexible and more helpful.

The true cost is in the total cost of ownership and exploitation, not just the licence cost. Creese said he did not have a dogma about open source over Microsoft, but proprietary software – from Microsoft, SAP to Oracle and others – needed to justify themselves and to work doubly hard to have flexible business models to help further business aims.

Creese added that his organisation did use open source in some areas. But he said that generally vendors needed to show greater flexibility over contracts, with an appreciation that longer term deals may need to change over time to suit evolving business needs.

He said that there was a range of habits and behaviours he expected from big suppliers to justify continuing using any proprietary software.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has called for government departments to drop the Microsoft Office suite in favour of open source alternatives.

Creese said that there were areas where central government has often had an undue dependence on a few big suppliers, which makes it hard to be confident about best value and he could understand where the Cabinet Office is coming from.

But sometimes you need to do what’s best for the taxpayer, and sometimes that means a space can only be filled by a larger and proprietary supplier.