Promoting your malware by Twitter – what next an iPhone app?

It is a fact universally acknowledged that organised criminality is now heavily engaged in cyber-crime.

So much so that a secondary market has developed of entrepreneurs selling cyber-crime services to less technically advanced criminals.

The “malware authoring community” is apparently now promoting its activities on Twitter.

So what next?

An iPhone app?

It sounds as if we are getting close.

Coalition Government’s plans on DNA would have meant 23 rapists or killers would have gone free last year

At the last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the ubiquitous Jenny Jones AM asked the Commissioner the following question:

The new coalition government is planning to adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database. What will this mean for the Met and how are you preparing the ground for the changes?”

The written answer has just been released and includes the following piece of information:

In 2008/09, the ACPO Criminal Records Office found that 79 rape, murder or manslaughter cases in England and Wales were matched to the DNA database from DNA profiles that belonged to individuals who had been arrested but not convicted of any crime. Of that number, 36 cases were found to have had a direct and specific value to the investigation. If we were to have applied the Scottish model’s retention regime to this number and retained only those who were arrested but not convicted of a serious crime, then the number of potential detections would have reduced by almost 2/3 to just 13 detections. In short, 23 victims of the most serious crimes and their families could have been denied justice last year alone under the Scottish model.”

Maybe this is another area that the Coalition Government will have to start “reviewing”.

Old Etonian de Mauley mauled and fails to defend the Government’s spending cuts

It was rather like watching a train crash in slow motion – fascinating but nauseating at the same time.  It fell to Lord De Mauley, Old Etonian, “elected” hereditary peer and Government Whip, to repeat the statement in the Lords given in the Commons by David Laws MP, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on the spending cuts announced on Monday.  He responded to this challenge by reading the statement exceedingly slowly and in a monotone.

He was followed by Lord John Eatwell, a serious economist and President of Queens College, Cambridge, making a welcome return to the Labour frontbench, who was in devastating form:

“My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, for repeating the Answer given by his right honourable friend in another place. I congratulate him on his new responsibilities, and express the hope that he will display the same forensic ability in economic affairs displayed by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in the previous Parliament.

It is an axiom of sound financial management that actions have consequences. What is striking about the Statement made by Mr Laws is that the consequences of the expenditure cuts are not spelt out at all. Instead we are presented with £6 billion-plus of cuts in government expenditure, but not told what the true consequences will be. Of course I can understand the sheer delight with which the Chancellor imposed swingeing cuts on the Department for Business—or should it now be called the department for closure? That will teach Vince Cable to declare earlier this year that,

“cutting spending further … would be extremely dangerous”.

Try a cut of £836 million on for size, Vince!

The rationale for the cuts is declared to be,

“to start tackling the UK deficit and secure the recovery”.

The Chief Secretary cites the United States as following a similar policy. That is arrant nonsense. On the very day that Vince Cable suffered the unkindest cut of all, President Obama announced a £30 billion new initiative to support small businesses. Has the noble Lord read the speech of Professor Christina Romer, chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, delivered at the William and Mary College last week? Professor Romer said:

“I worry that policymakers may take the return of growth as license to withdraw the support that has been essential to the recovery. That is exactly what happened in 1936 and 1937. President Roosevelt, Congress and the Federal Reserve switched to fiscal and monetary contraction before the recovery from the Great Depression was complete. The result was a second recession in 1938 that pushed unemployment back up to 18 percent and delayed the return to normal for another three years”.

That is the potential cost of this Government’s deficit hysteria.

So will the noble Lord tell us, first, what is the Treasury’s estimate of the increase in unemployment directly attributable to these spending cuts? Secondly, what is the Treasury’s estimate of the number of business failures that will be directly attributable to these spending cuts?

The Government claim continuously to be protecting front-line services—a laudable objective. To enable your Lordships’ House to assess the Government’s achievement, will the noble Lord give the House a precise definition of what is a front-line service? A precise definition would enable your Lordships to assess whether the £1.7 billion of the contracts and projects delayed or stopped are front line. Can the noble Lord tell us exactly what the contracts and projects to be stopped might be? Can he also tell us exactly what are the £1.7 billion of local authority services that are no longer to be ring-fenced? Are they front line? Is the removal of funding to underwrite children’s futures in the children’s trust fund front line—they look jolly front line to me.

The Government have presented a policy without consequences, because they are unwilling to spell out the true consequences. It is a pretty poor start to open, transparent government. What is transparent is the evident relish with which Mr Laws wields the budgetary axe. He revels in the policy of shock and awe. Mr Laws is the Donald Rumsfeld of economic policy, and we can expect his activities to achieve equally constructive consequences. Lloyd George would be ashamed of him.”

Answers came there none.

As other Peers asked further questions, the responses became even more abbreviated and Lord De Mauley looked more and more discomfited.

And as the minutes wore on the Tory Leader of the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, stared fixedly at the clock – as though willing the minutes to pass so that the time limit for questions would be over and Lord De Mauley’s would be ended.

My “kitemark” suggestion for software security seems to have support

I gave the keynote address last week at the International Secure System Development Conference.  One of the suggestions I made was that there might be a “kitemark” system on software giving consumers some assurance that industry-agreed security standards were applied in any software that they bought displaying the mark.  Some people clearly liked what I said.

Colombian Presidential elections may come under cyber attack according to Defence Minister

There are Presidential Elections in Colombia at the end of this month.  Whilst there are no doubt attempts to influence the result through scare tactics, the country’s Defence Minister has warned that “hackers plan to disrupt” the Elections.  This apparently follows an attempt to disrupt the legislative elections that were held in March that affected the company hired to transmit the results over the internet and explains why the head of the National Electoral Council has said that the voting system is “falling apart”.  However, his solution was to propose a wider use of electronic voting systems, which would not obviously deal with the problems if there are concerns about people hacking into the existing systems.

It certainly raises questions about whether enough work has been done on the protection and security of electronic voting systems and of electronic counting systems like those used in the London Mayoral elections.

Lead responsibility for the “digital economy” is to rest with DCOMS

I hear that, although John Penrose MP is to be a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in both the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, in practice “digital economy” policy is to be led by DCOMS.

UPDATE: I now hear it is not John Penrose but Ed Vaisey MP who is the shared Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.  or at least that is what the No 10 website says – the Cabinet Office website still has John Penrose!

I do wonder about the logic of this.  The effective development of the digital economy is going to be vital for UK business.  It will require the effective utilisation of British innovation and as a nation we should be investing to a much greater extent in developing the skills of the next generation of the workforce in this area.  Surely, this is much more the core role of DBIS?

Maybe David Cameron was not prepared to trust Vince Cable with the overall responsibility for this area of policy.

Thinking outside the box on terrorism

The recent General Election means that I have only just spotted an item that was in the Daily Mail a week or so back.  This reports that:

“A routine traffic-stop in Switzerland has allegedly thwarted eco-terrorists from blowing up the site of the £55million nano-technology HQ of IBM in Europe.

The three members – two men and a woman – of the Italian terrorist group Il Silvestre were stopped just a few miles from their target with their explosive device primed and ready to go.

Italians Costantino Ragusa and Silvia Guerini, together with Italian-Swiss Luca Bernasconi, were arrested and jailed after a search of their vehicle revealed the bomb.

Guerini and Constantino – the 33-year-old leader of Il Silvestre – already have convictions for eco-terrorism offences and have served jail terms. 

The group describes itself as anarchist and is opposed to all forms of micro-technology as well as nuclear power and weapons.

Swiss police said today that their car was halted on the night of April 15 at Langnau en-route to the technology centre at Rueschlikon, near Zurich. 

The site is due to be opened next year and already has some of the most complex and advanced computer equipment in the world installed in it.

‘A large quantity of explosives was found,’ said a police spokesman.”

The report continues:

“The IBM facility that the Il Silvestre group was targeting is still under construction.  When finished, it will contain the most state-of-the-art facilities in Europe for nano-and-bio-technological research, with the probability of billions of pounds in profit for IBM.

Investigators are quizzing the suspects on whether the planned attack is part of a new co-ordinated wave of terror against such facilities on the continent.

Swiss media reported that the intended bombing was planned to coincide with a secret meeting of European anarchists on April 16 and 17 in the Swiss town of Winterthur.

Some newspapers speculated it was being planned to bring attention to the imprisonment of Il Silvestre member Marco Camenisch, currently in jail for the murder of a Swiss border guard.  Guerini and Constantino were in jail with him in 2006 and joined in a hunger strike.

Il Silvestre was spawned in the Tuscan countryside and is now considered to be one of the rising terror groups in Europe with a rigid cell structure, access to explosives and a membership that has no qualms about killing to achieve its goals.

It is considered as one of the successor groups to the lethal Red Brigades that scorched Italy in 70’s and 80’s.”

This is a timely reminder that – as I have repeatedly argued – the focus of counter-terrorist work must not just be on al Qaeda inspired groups.  There is a need to think outside the box and be aware of a much wider range of potential threats.

It is a shame that the Prime Minister cannot be at Obama’s nuclear summit

It is not a surprise, given the Manifesto launch yesterday and the Leaders’ Debate later this week, that the prime Minister is not able to attend president Obama’s summit co0nference in Washington on nuclear security.  However, given the Prime Minister’s skill at brokering deals at international summits, it is a real pity that he is not able to be there.

There are real concerns about nuclear materials falling into the hands of international terrorists and the UK Government is one of those with a real commitment to trying to make progress on this issue.

A few weeks ago I asked specifically about the summit:

Nuclear Disarmament


Asked by Lord Harris of Haringey

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government who will be representing the United Kingdom at the United Nations nuclear security summit in Washington in April; and what outcomes they will be seeking at that summit. [HL2151]

Baroness Crawley: The Prime Minister plans to attend the nuclear security summit in Washington DC in April.

The Government set out their aspirations for nuclear security in last summer’s Road to 2010 White Paper. Consistent with that vision, the UK will be seeking to: increase international awareness of the threat posed by nuclear terrorism; agree a robust set of guiding principles for nuclear security that will set the tone for developing international norms over the coming decades; secure commitment by participating nations to undertake a wide range of actions, domestically and in collaboration with other states, to improve the security of fissile material and sensitive information, and to prevent them from falling into the hands of malicious actors.

And I had also asked about some of the other initiatives that were being pursued by the UK:

Nuclear Disarmament


Asked by Lord Harris of Haringey

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in establishing the United Kingdom’s nuclear centre of excellence. [HL2153]

1 Mar 2010 : Column WA328

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The Road to 2010 White Paper (Cm7675) set out the Government’s commitment to establish a nuclear centre of excellence. Since publication of the White Paper the National Nuclear Centre of Excellence Steering Group, chaired by the Government’s chief scientific adviser, has overseen development of the centre, including the appointment of an interim director and agreement on the business model to be adopted. The project has strong support from key government, industry and academic stakeholders including the Technology Strategy Board, the National Nuclear Laboratory, the Nuclear Industries Association, UK research councils and universities. There has also been international interest in the centre of excellence.

Asked by Lord Harris of Haringey

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government what other countries support the Global Threat Reduction Programme; and what are its achievements so far. [HL2154]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): The Global Threat Reduction Programme delivers the UK contribution to the Global Partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction. The Global Partnership was established at the G8 summit in June 2002. The contributions made by other states are set out in the G8 Global Partnership Working Group 2009 annual report, annex A consolidated data sheets ( GPWG-Report-2009-AnnexA-Consolidated-Data-Sheets,2.pdf)

Asked by Lord Harris of Haringey

    To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many countries have now ratified the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material; and what changes are being implemented in the United Kingdom following ratification. [HL2155]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): Thirty-four countries have ratified the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM).

Will 2010 be the “IT” election

I have just spoken at a Smith Institute debate on whether the 2010 election will be the “IT” election.

The Smith Institute invite explains:

“This will be the first election campaign where ‘tweeting’, ‘social networking’ and ‘blogging’ will be in eveidence. But how much of a role will the new information technology play, and do the politicians really understand it? This debate will address these and other related issues concerning the use of new technology in election campaigning.”

I have to admit that when I heard the topic with IT shown as “IT”, my mind was inevitably drawn to the Wikipedia definition of an “IT” girl:

“An It girl or It-girl is a charming, sexy young woman who receives intense media coverage unrelated or disproportional to personal achievements. The reign of an “It girl” is usually temporary; some of the rising It girls will either become fully-fledged celebrities or their popularity will fade. The term “It boy”, much less frequently used, is the male equivalent. This term is unrelated to the abbreviation IT.”

I don’t know about IT or its proponents in the next election being charming or sexy, but they are certainly receiving intense media attention and in my view it is probably disproportionate to likely achievement.

And indeed my view is that 2010 is not going to be the General Election where the result will be determined by bloggers, Twitter or social media.  This opinion is no doubt a jaundiced one, but there were similar claims about the significance of IT before previous General Elections.  Some will remember the claims made for the Labour Party’s Excalibur system in the run up to the 1997 Election …..

My argument is that 95% of the electorate will cast their votes in blissful ignorance of what has been going on in the blogosphere and – as in previous Elections – their votes will be influenced by their past allegiances, their perceptions of what the Parties stand for in policy terms, and their assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the different Party leaderships.

So the question is what influences those perceptions and assessments – what creates the zeitgeist?  The answer is still predominantly television, radio and newspapers.

Over time this changes: television was not a factor in the elections of 1950 and 1951 and probably did not become really significant until 1964; newspapers are no longer decisive (The Sun may have boasted that it won it in 1992, but I doubt that the same will be plausible in 2010.).

People are increasingly getting their news and opinion in new ways.  However, the old media – at present, at least – are still central.  Nevertheless, politicians need to adapt to the changing media landscape and master the new ways of communicating – as Roosevelt did with radio in the 1930s and as Wilson and later Blair did with television in this country.

But – and it is a big but – even though the new media are not yet decisive and mastery of them is not yet obligatory for an effective politician, new media will have a significant indirect impact on the forthcoming Election.  This will be manifested in the way they impact on the terms of the debate reported by the traditional media.

Individual bloggers will from time to time set the agenda, rumours in hyperspace will eventually get reported, bloggers will subject policy statements from the main Parties to rigorous analysis and fact-checking, and the speed of the blogosphere and the rapidity with which material (particularly “gaffes”) can be spread on YouTube and via Twitter will challenge the traditional media and require a more fleet-of-foot response from the political parties and from politicians.

There will be a premium on seeding material in the blogosphere and on harvesting useful information or arguments that emerge there.  Political parties will be able to energise their supporters and communicate with them more rapidly.  And there will undoubtedly be benefits for those individual politicians who can communicate effectively in the new media, retaining their own authenticity whilst avoiding creating (too many)  hostages to fortune.

Are the political parties and our leading politicians going to be able to meet this challenge?  Well, we will soon find out.

Encouraging technology innovation to solve problems for Government

A few days ago I hosted an interesting seminar in the House of Lords on “Tackling Transmission of Healthcare-Associated Infections”.  The purpose of this was to bring together policy-makers on the subject from within the Department of Health, representatives from the voluntary sector and involved service users, researchers and legal experts, front-line NHS practitioners, and a number of Parliamentary colleagues to discuss what has been achieved and what are likely to be challenges in the future.

There were some interesting points made in the discussion, such as the need to empower patients to challenge doctors and nurses about whether they have washed their hands, and some excellent comments such as “Anyone who doubts Darwin should look at how pathogens respond to antibiotics”.

However, I was particularly pleased to hear a contribution from Sandra Barrow, the leader of the Department of Health’s Healthcare Associated Infection (HCAI) Technology Programme.  She described how the Programme is aiming to speed up the process of identifying useful technological innovations that can help deal with HCAIs, encouraging front-line NHS staff to work with industry to develop innovations, and then fast-tracking the evaluation process so that innovations can be utilised more rapidly.

The Programme recognises that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will often provide the most innovative ideas, but may also face the greatest difficulty in getting their ideas developed and adopted in the NHS.  The Programme has involved workshops involving 500 frontline NHS staff and a road show engaging with a similar number of SMEs to identify the most promising technologies for reducing and preventing HCAIs.  Several hundred ideas and products emerged from this process which have then been assessed by an expert panel to identify a short-list of products that are being evaluated in eight showcase hospitals.

The ideas emerging include innovative air disinfection technology, new infection detection techniques and the use of nano-technology to provide anti-bacterial protection layers for surfaces.

What excited me about this was the way it recognised that SMEs are a key engine for innovation and the way in which emerging innovations were being rapidly appraised and assessed for early adoption.

The approach being taken, like the INSTINCT programme designed to harness new innovative technologies to address challenges in counter-terrorism, demonstrates how Government can work with industry, especially SMEs, to make the best of British scientific ideas.