Jun 30, 2008

IBM, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft & Juniper team to secure the net

Five of the biggest names in IT - IBM, Intel, Microsoft and arch-rivals Juniper Networks and Cisco have banded together to fight Internet security threats, just a month after the Malaysian Government put up $US13m to create an international partnership against cyber terrorism.

The five vendors have created the Industry Consortium for Advancement of Security on the Internet (Icasi), www.icasi.org , a non-profit organisation. Its members says it will enable them to work together to address multivendor security threats, providing a mechanism for international vendor and customer involvement, and a government-neutral way of resolving significant global, multi-product security incidents.

They claim that "To date there has not been a trusted vendor environment that allows companies to identify, assess and mitigate multi-product, global security challenges together on the customers' behalf." Icasi will not respond to every product security issue that emerges, but try and respond to and reduce the potential customer impact of global, multi-vendor cyber threats.

The organisation has been created to fill a critical gap in the global IT security landscape highlighted by CEOs and senior leaders from IT and communications firms in a 2007 report to the US president . They said that: "[existing] operational response frameworks are not sufficient to keep pace with globalisation and technological convergence…nor do they adequately include private sector participation in these processes."

Icasi is built around four guiding principles customer security; agility and effectiveness; collaboration and trust; leadership and innovation. It hopes to change how vendors work together on multi-product security fixes and to develop and share innovations for preventing and mitigating security challenges. It intends to work with other organisations with similar aims and interests.

Seamus Byrne: Securing the palm of your hand

HANDSETS aren't just phones anymore. Ensuring the safety and security of the data stored within is more critical than ever. Seamus Byrne explains how you can look after your devices better.
If you are still worried about phones being stolen, you can relax. It's so easy to shut a phone down once lost or stolen, thieves are getting the message that phones aren't the soft target they once were. But this doesn’t mean all your handset troubles are over - while a phone is easy to replace, the security of the data, both business and personal, is the final frontier of mobile safety.

Now that mobiles carry data, email, photos, documents, text messages, and even stored passwords, many are finding a lost phone is more painful than a lost wallet.

"It really isn't about losing your handset anymore," says Mark Corless, Business Product Manager at Vodafone. "Companies have processes in place to handle that. But it is the stored information found on handsets that people need to be concerned with."

At its most serious, corporations need to ensure data found on mobiles is secure if they are to maintain compliance with business regulations, whether that be the protection of private client information or their own intellectual property. For smaller business, it is less critical, but the loss of important contacts or documents can have an even more significant impact on these smaller teams.

The primary line of defence for data is synchronisation - maintaining up-to-date copies of all data on the phone in a trusted location. This could be through sync applications on a work desktop, or through one of a number of over-the-air channels.

With data reliably backed up, the other concern is prevention of access by an unauthorised user. Passwords are the simplest way to protect mobile data, and almost every mobile device offers such protection. But users find passwords to be a nuisance, so many workplaces fail to enforce password use in their mobile fleet. So how do you achieve a balance between freedom and data security?

"If we make security too difficult, people try to avoid it," says Corless. "When a user can't choose their password, for example, they may write it down - and that defeats the purpose. While there is a cost to buying new gear, updating handsets can make security procedures a lot more comfortable for both users and the business."

"BlackBerry, for example, is getting pretty smart with passwords, data synchronisation, and remote device administration."

Remote administration is a powerful tool when getting serious about the security of your mobile device fleet. If a handset is stolen, the simplest course of action is to have your service provider cancel the SIM and disable the handset IMEI number from use on any network. For lost phones there are a number of more useful options.

"An administrator can change the status notification on the screen to say the phone is lost and to call a certain number to return it," says Corless. "Often if a phone is handed in but is password protected, no one knows what to do with it. If the phone still doesn’t turn up, a 'kill pill' can be sent to the phone to wipe all data from the phone."

Essential steps to a securing your mobile business

• Always keep a detailed list of your devices, including the serial and SIM numbers.
• Put in place an after-hours process for employees to call in the event their device is lost or stolen.
• Ensure you have the BAN-level password with your telecoms service provider so you can disable or cancel a SIM
• Make sure your employees use passwords on their laptops and BlackBerry or Windows Mobile devices.
• Ensure you have replacement devices on hand that work, such as mobile phones with spare SIMs.
• Have mobile devices synced with your Outlook or mail contacts so contacts are backed up during your regular email server backups.

General security tips for all users:

• Always ensure you have checked and understand the security features available on your device and ensure these features are enabled
• Regularly back up your contacts or important data
• Ensure any sensitive information is saved to the phone memory, rather than to the SIM card and that there is a PIN enabled to lock the device. This ensures that a person cannot simply remove a • • SIM from one device and put into another device and have access to that information

Jun 24, 2008

Aussies fat, drunk and riddled with STDs

AUSTRALIANS are fatter, drunker and have more sexually transmitted diseases than ever before, but access to doctors is falling.

The appalling state of Aboriginal and rural health continues to stain the nation's bill of health, as these groups lag behind their non-indigenous and city counterparts in life expectancy and quality.

The good news from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) biennial national snapshot is we live longer than any other nation except for Japan.

Men who reach 65 can now expect to live to the age of 83 and women to 86 - about six years more than a century ago, according to Australia's Health 2008.

Death rates for cancer, heart disease, stroke and injury are declining.

Jun 23, 2008

Gartner: The Seven Main Challenges Facing It

Many of the emerging technologies that will be entering the market in 2033 are already known in some form in 2008, while many Many of the innovations that will unfold during the next 25 years can be found today in research papers, patents, or are in a prototype in production.

This is all according to research house Gartner, who believes that these long-term innovations, taking place in five to 20 years, go beyond the range of the typical IT project portfolio planning cycle.

These innovations are classified as “IT Grand Challenges”. Gartner defines an IT Grand Challenge as a fundamental issue to be overcome within the field of IT whose resolutions will have broad and extremely beneficial economic, scientific or societal effects on all aspects of our lives.

“IT leaders should always be looking ahead for the emerging technologies that will have a dramatic impact on their business, and information on many of these future innovations are already in some public domain,” said Ken McGee of Gartner. “Today, CIOs should identify which Gartner IT Grand Challenges will be most meaningful for their enterprise.”

The seven Gartner IT Grand Challenges are:

• Never having to manually recharge devices. The ubiquity of portable computing and communications devices powered by battery means that many people would find it highly desirable to either have their batteries charged remotely or their devices powered by a remote source, bypassing the use of batteries altogether.

• Parallel programming: Rather than simply creating faster single-core processors to perform tasks serially, another way to meet the constant demand for faster processor speed is to develop multiple, slower speed processors that perform tasks serially.

• Non tactile, natural computing interface: The idea of interacting with computers without any mechanical interface has long been a desirable
goal in computing. Some of the many challenges that remain in this area include the ability to detect gestures, developing a gesture dictionary and the need for real-time processing. Another set of challenges relate to natural language processing, which include speech synthesis, speech recognition, natural language understanding, natural language generation, machine translation and translating one natural language into another.

• Automated speech translation: Once the many hurdles of natural language processing are overcome to yield human-to-computer communications in one language, the complexity extends further when translation and output is required to a target language that is understandable to a human. Some rudimentary systems have already been created to accomplish basic speech translation, such as one-way and two-way translations.

• Persistent and reliable long-term storage: Current technologies are hard-pressed to perfectly preserve Dr. Francine Berman’s 2006 estimate of 161 Exabytes (x10 to the 18th power) of digital information on digital media for more than 20 years. The barriers to long-term archiving (in excess of 100 years) that must be overcome include format, hardware, software, metadata, information retrieval, just to mention a few.

• Increase programmer productivity 100-fold: As business and society’s demand for software development increases, and the apparent decline of students pursuing software engineering and computer science degrees intensifies, removing uncertainty from meeting future demands will have to be met by increasing the output, or productivity, per programmer.

• Identifying the financial consequences of IT investing: One of the most perplexing challenges faced by IT leaders has been to convey the business value of IT in terms readily understandable by business executives to assist in the uptake of technology. As a discipline that conveys the business performance and results to internal executives and personnel only, management accounting could offer business advice and recommendations that would quantify the consequences of a particular IT deployment.

Jun 19, 2008

Cybercrime risk to the internet economy

Government ministers from across the world have issued a call for greater vigilance against cybercrime at the close of meeting on the future of the internet economy.

The Seoul Declaration came at the end of a two day ministerial conference on the future of the web in the South Korean capital hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

OECD member countries, the European Community and ministers from Chile, Egypt, Estonia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Latvia, Senegal and Slovenia affirmed the declaration.

Participants agreed on the need for governments to work closely with business, civil society and technical experts on policies that promote competition, empower and protect consumers, and expand internet access and use worldwide.

“Given that this infrastructure has become critical to our economies and societies, we should all engage in developing better, more broad-based, governance arrangements and policies,” said OECD secretary general Angel GurrĂ­a in the closing session.

He called for a new approach to drawing up these policies. “A more decentralised, networked approach to policy formulation for the internet economy that includes the active participation of stakeholders.”

It is 10 years since the first OECD conference on the future of the web, and the Gurria committed to review the declaration within three years.

Jun 16, 2008

Honda begins production of cars with zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells

Honda Motor Co. has begun commercial production of its new zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell car, called the FCX Clarity.

The midsize four-seat sedan, which runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only wator vapor and none of the gases believed to be responsible for global warming.

Honda says the vehicle offers two times better fuel efficiency than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a traditional gasoline-powered vehicle.

The car will initially be available for lease starting July to a limited number of customers in southern California and then in Japan later this year.

Honda says it expects to lease a few dozen units in the U.S. and Japan within a year, and about 200 units within three years.

Jun 3, 2008

ATO tunes systems to track tax cheats

THE Australian Taxation Office will ramp up its crackdown on tax haven cheats by conducting more in-depth analysis of reports and data from the Australian financial transaction regulator.

The ATO is running a series of pilots exploring how systematic and detailed analysis of data from the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) can improve its risk assessment of specific tax havens.

Details of the trials emerged in an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report released last week into the ATO’s strategies to address tax haven compliance risks.

The ATO agreed with the report’s three recommendations, including improving its assessment of the extent of compliance risks through greater trend analysis of qualitative and quantitative data.

The Department already analyses AUSTRAC data to monitor financial flows into and out of Australia, profile geographical areas, and identify potential high-risk transactions.

The report said the Department was able to match 47 per cent of AUSTRAC tax haven transaction details with Tax Office information, which was ‘very promising’ considering the data doesn’t include any ATO identifiers.

However, the ANAO said significant resources and expertise are required to boost this figure.

Two million Australians give telemarketers the flick

More than two million telephone numbers have been listed on the on the Do-Not-Call Register since its launch one year ago but the expected impact on outbound telemarketing does not appear to have occurred. The register, which is overseen by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, was established in May 2007 under the Do Not Call Register Act 2006. It makes it illegal for most kinds of telemarketing calls to be made to domestic and private fixed line and mobile telephone numbers listed on the register. Business phone numbers cannot be registered.

Dimension Data, a company providing systems integration services to call centre operators, says that research it has commissioned shows that the register has not adversely effected large businesses: specifically it has not reduced call centres' outbound call volumes.

Fifty four Australian contact centres were surveyed for the report, including some of Australia's largest organisations in banking, government, insurance, retail, telecommunications and transport. When asked 'What has the impact of the Do Not Call Register been on your overall outbound calling volumes?' 91.7 percent said that it had either had no impact or no change on volumes.

A follow-up question 'What has the impact been on your campaign success rate?' elicited a similar response with 90.5 percent claiming that it has had no impact. Overall outbound call volumes include calls to existing customers exempt from the Do Not Call rules and unsolicited calls.

Co-author of the report, Ian Dundas, principal consultant, customer interactive solutions, said: "Given that the Register received over one million registrations in the first month of operation, and is now sitting at well over two million, this is really heartening news. In the lead-up to the introduction of the Register last year, there was a lot of anxiety as to its potential negative impact on Australia's contact centre industry."

Is Apple’s sway over the media and tech now complete?

For a company that owns less than ten percent of the computer market and isn’t even one of the top five revenue generators in the technology sector, Apple still attracts more attention from the media and the tech industry than any of its larger competitors. And, three stories in May have shown that Apple’s puissance over the press is greater than ever.

1.) The mysterious ocean containers

On May 23, Fortune published a report about a major spike in ocean containers labeled “electric computers” for Apple. The source was ImportGenius, which tracks U.S. Customs records looking for information on the activities of businesses. They recorded the arrival of 188 of these containers since mid-March from two of Apple’s primary Asian suppliers.

ImportGenius noted that Apple’s “electric computers” label is a new one and that the arrival of these new containers did not correspond with a drop in other types of containers such as the ones labeled “desktop computers.” Thus, the natural conclusion is that this is for a new product. The most likely candidate is a new 3G version of the iPhone, which is expected to be announced on June 9 when CEO Steve Jobs gives the opening keynote for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC08).

Alternatively, some have speculated that Apple could soon release a tablet computer.

2.) Closure of the 24-hour Apple Store

On May 29, Apple closed down its New York City Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, which is famous for being open 24/7/365. MacRumor.com reported Apple Store employees were telling customers who approached the store that it was closed because a commercial was being shot, and according to the site’s sources the commercial was for the 3G iPhone.

MacRumor.com also noted that the store had only closed on two previous occasions: the original iPhone launch and the Mac OS X Leopard launch.

3.) The AT&T vacation memo

On May 6, AT&T sent an internal e-mail to the sales employees of its stores to inform them that no one could take vacation between June 15 to July 15 because the company had “an exciting new promotion/product launch” during that time, as first revealed by The Boy Genius Report and later picked up by lots of other news outlets.

Since AT&T is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone and the company instituted a similar vacation black-out during last year’s iPhone launch, the obvious speculation is that June 15 will be when Apple and AT&T officially release iPhone 2.0 into retail stores.

Why does Apple have us in a trance?

Whatever new product Apple announces on June 9, this type of speculation and news coverage is unique to Apple. Can you imagine the press and the blogosphere following Customs data to try to find information about Microsoft’s next version of the Zune or Hewlett-Packard’s newest Tablet PC?

So why does Apple have such a strong hold over the press and the tech industry? Here are four reasons:

  • Apple is notoriously tight-lipped and dramatic about its new products. It likes to build the suspense and surprise everyone in order to build excitement and product demand.
  • By contrast, other companies such as Microsoft tend to be more transparent and also tend to leak out lots of details and teases for the media.
  • Apple is on a roll, having delivered a string of terrific products from the iPod to the MacBook to the iPhone, and so they have a captive audience wondering “what’s next?”
  • Steve Jobs is very charismatic and simply knows how to put on a good show.

Despite that fact that the members of the press are conscious of this, we continue to fuel Apple’s fire by reporting on Customs containers and vacation schedules. After all, we know that users will click on stories about Apple. In spite of its small market share, Apple draws user interest even from those who don’t have an iPhone or a Mac.

I’m following this story because the iPhone 2.0 includes a new move to enable Microsoft Exchange support and potentially a lot more business applications, which will make it a much stronger option for businesses and IT. But, if I’m honest with myself, I will admit that even if that weren’t the case, I’d probably be covering the iPhone 2.0 story out of sheer curiosity to see what’s next. In that way, I’m just as guilty as anyone in helping fuel the Apple hype machine, even though I severely dislike the thought of that.

Where does Google Health go from here?

Google Health is going after all the industry’s stakeholders and will let the open source process deliver applications, based on personal health records, which may or may not be free.

Google and some of its Google Health partners called ZDNet soon after participating in a Webcast for a “factory tour” of Google search which included a media update on the service.

As Google product manager Dr. Roni Zeiger told ZDNet, “We’re not just an application. We’re a platform. We have an API.” The API can be used to create tools which are now free, but may later be used on a for-pay basis.

Users with installed Personal Health Records (PHRs) can already get weekly alerts relevant to their conditions. They can also examine an “immunizations dashboard,” comparing the shots they’ve gotten to those the CDC recommends.

Cleveland Clinic CIO Dr. Martin Harris put 1,600 people into the Google Health pilot, and found they didn’t need to import all their Electronic Medical Record (EMR) data to gain benefits from the system.

“The most common transaction we need to improve is the collection of the medication information and some simple diagnostic testing.”

That’s why it’s key, he said, that drug store chains like Walgreens and Longs Drugs are already signed to export their records to patients using Google Health.

Space Shuttle tech works on brain tumors

A robotic surgeon based on military technology has performed its first brain operation in Canada.

The neuroArm was developed as a collaborative effort by the University of Calgary and MacDonald Dettwiler Associates Ltd. (MDA), a Vancouver military contractor whose best known device is Canadarm used on the Space Shuttle. The device removed a benign brain tumor from Paige Nickason, 21, who suffers from neurofibromatosis, which causes benign tumours to form on nerves. The procedure took about 9 hours.

The promise is that robotic surgeons like the neuroArm can be more accurate than a surgeon’s hands, which is vital in areas like brain surgery. MDA also hopes the spin-off will be profitable.
On a day when brain surgery is in the news it’s nice to know it’s getting better.

Jun 2, 2008

Wanna Harvest Power From the Sea?

Giant whirlpools, 100-knot winds, some of Europe's mightiest tides: The icy waters off Scotland's northern tip are no place for pleasure craft. But they're ideal for power-generation systems that harness the restless fury of the sea — which is why the European Marine Energy Centre has set up shop in the Orkney Islands.

Think of it as the Bonneville Salt Flats of hydrokinetics: EMEC offers companies a place to try out their clean tech. The center's remotely operated vehicles film underwater, and microphones will eventually monitor for noise pollution. First in was Dublin-based OpenHydro, which recently began trials on its second turbine (shown here raised for inspection).

Carbon-free hydrokinetic power could ultimately provide up to 20 percent of the UK's electricity needs. But environmental concerns may still sink the effort: Critics warn of industrialized coastlines and harm to sea life.

The US faces similar challenges — without a testing facility. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has okayed a pilot marine-power project for Makah Bay, off the Washington coast, but environmental approval is still pending. By the time the inevitable court battles are resolved, the waves may be lapping at our doorsteps.

A quarter of US PCs infected with malware

An OECD study into online crime says that increased activity by cyber criminals has left an estimated one-in-four US computers infected with malware.

The report, entitled Malicious Software (malware): a Security Threat to the Internet Economy, gives an impression of two worlds engaged in an uneven war of virus invasion and belated defence.

Cyber crime, to steal data, spy and attack government and business computer systems "is a potentially serious threat to the internet economy," the study, published on Friday, warns.

Organisations involved in "fighting malware offer essentially a fragmented local response to a global threat," the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says.

"Over the last 20 years, malware has evolved from occasional 'exploits' to a global multi-million-dollar criminal industry ... Cyber criminals are becoming wealthier and therefore have more financial power to create larger engines of destruction."

"It is estimated that 59 million users in the US have spyware or other types of malware on their computers," the OECD report said.

According to Nielsen/Netratings, the US internet population stood at an estimated 216 million at the end of 2007.

In the last five years there has been a upsurge in such criminal activity to attack systems and steal information, money and identities.

Using agents with names ranging from "zombies" and "worms" to "botnets," "Trojan horses" or "money mules," criminals can wreak havoc, usurping identities, recruiting and organising cohorts of computers for coordinated attacks, and even steal data for ransom.

"A botnet is a group of malware-infected computers also called 'zombies' or bots that can be used remotely to carry out attacks against other computer systems," the OECD said.

The report implied that some governments might also use similar techniques, saying: "It can also be assumed that nation states have the same capabilities."

The OECD warns that all forms of hacking have gone far beyond the adolescent disruption of the early days of the personal computer, to become a powerful and growing weapon in the hands of serious criminals.

It is highly profitable, at minimal cost to the criminals but a huge and unknown cost to honest users.

"There is no simple conclusion to the complex problems presented by malware," the report concludes.

Specialists debunk theory that positivity can cure cancer

AUSTRALIAN specialists have debunked the theory that a positive attitude can improve the chances of surviving cancer.
The researchers said they realised their findings, presented at a major cancer conference in Chicago today, might not impress the majority of patients who believed their outlook could help their diagnosis, but said it could be good news too.

"People often really beat themselves up and blame their attitude if their cancer relapses," said Professor Kelly-Anne Phillips, a medical oncologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

"We've shown absolutely that you're not at fault. You cannot influence your cancer with positive or negative thinking, depression, a fighting spirit, or any other factor.

"That should be reassuring, but I guess it could cut both ways."

The study involved 708 women in the Australian Breast Cancer Family Study who had been newly diagnosed with localised breast cancer and tracked them over eight years to see whether their cancer relapsed.

A quarter died over the period.

Levels of depression, anxiety and other factors like fatalist outlook, avoidance, anger, and feelings of hopelessness were also assessed.

"Essentially the bottom line is we didn't find any correlation at all between these issues and whether their cancer came back," Prof Phillips said.

"This goes against what the vast majority of patients believe."

Women who had an anxious preoccupation with their cancer were more likely to relapse but once the researchers adjusted for all the things known to cause recurrence, like size and grade of the tumour, this association disappeared, she said.

"The women who were anxiously preoccupied were the ones that had the worst tumours, so they were anxious and preoccupied for a reason," said Prof Phillips.

She said women may not like the news as it might make them feel like they have little control of their outcome, "but it's important to see the upside too".

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Professor Ian Olver said he had been involved in a smaller study in lung cancer that reached a similar conclusion.

"A positive attitude is great and it clearly helps quality of life when you're going through treatment but it makes an undetectable difference to disease," he said.