October 2010 Archives

The cost of confused and conflicting guidance on Cybersecurity

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The launch of the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) report on Security by Design went very well and rather than blog on the event myself I will cross refer to Leonard Anderson's blog. he clearly enjoyed it. His concern over the need to also promote the messages to local government, including via SOCITM is apposite. So too is his concern over the cost of conflicting guidance,  including from CLAS consultants.

Can society afford to rely on security by afterthought not design?

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On 18th October, when the Government launched its security strategy, the Home Secretary, Theresa May argued that attacks on computer networks are among the biggest threats to the UK.  On 20th October the spending review announcement included an increase in the cybersecurity budget. Those attending the launch of the "Security by Design" report from the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) on this evening will be told that we have to make much better use of the funds available. We can no longer afford to treat security as an afterthought. Not only is it more expensive, it does not work.

 

Joining up training and immigration policy in time for the 2011 Cybersecurity Skills crisis

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A crisis in the supply of cybersecurity skills looks set to peak next spring as players compete for staff to deliver what they have contracted for 2012. The financial services industry is increasingly recruiting from India because of problems with UK consultancies which have  gone for numbers rather than quality.  When those in the public sector and its supply chain start recruiting again, after the moratorium, they will find that many of those they hoped to hire will be working in the Middle and Far East, supervising the graduates of the Indian security courses. They will have lost their security clearances and accreditations, even if they are willing to take the pay cut. 

 

Count down to Chaos - can we still meet the challenges of 2012

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Cybersecurity is one of the four Tier One threats identified in the new UK Security Policy. We have 18 months to get fit for purpose before the Olympics when the threats of overload and attack come together. Our broadband networks are too full of backhaul bottlenecks, even if the local access was adequatei. Our current and currently planned mobile networks look set to collapse as all those i-phones and i-pads are used to watch the Games. And that is before cyberattack. Meanwhile all the world's fraudsters are likely to be focussed on London and those visiting with credit and debit cards from around the world. 

Mixed messages: "Get Online Week" v. "National Identity Fraud Prevention Week"

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Monday 18th October sees the launch of two parallel campaigns. "Get Online Week 2010", (for which Martha Lane Fox has secured backing from the BBC, BT, Comet, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, the Post Office, Sky, Talk Talk etc.)  and "National Identity Fraud Prevention Week"  (supported by the British Retail Consortium, Federation of Small Business, the credit reference agencies, law enforcement and Royal Mail). Only the Post Office/Royal Mail - arguably Brtain's most trusted brand - has a foot in both camps. Just after Martha had described her plans to the "Parliament and the Internet" conference last week, those at the session on "On-line Safety" discussed the need to bring the two sets of messages together lest they cancel each other out.  

Towards a sustainable Skills (including Immigration and HE funding) policy

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The Browne report recommends a radical simplification of the HE funding system, so that fees reflect costs. This is the day before the deadline for submissions to the BIS consultations on "Sustainable Skills" and a "Simplified FE Funding System". I was pleased to see that the our submissions were compatible with his recommendations, even though the questions asked by BIS were very different. Now comes the task of bulldozing the obstacles to change out of the way and turning our current crises, of quality and relevance, not just funding, into shared opportunities.

Cut public sector on-line information bloat until we all have 2 mbps

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At the Conservative Party Conference I heard complaints from those in rural constituencies about demands for on-line returns from those unable to get much more than 56 kbps over their supposed broadband services. These was coupled with complaints about those whose information is now only available in multi-megabyte documents - most of which are taken up with photos or graphics which add little or nothing to the text. I blogged on this in the context of material from the Charity Commission but they are not only, or even the worst, offender. Given that most of Dorset is a "not spot" as are some of the areas around Horsham, I look forward to seeing Cabinet Office Ministers taking an interest.  Before readers say that I am among the offenders - with my long blog posts - I will stop. 

The sweet smell of success - or the stench of failure

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If IT works it is an app on a mobile phone - to be taken for granted.

If IT fails it is yet another damn computer system.  

Is that symptomatic of the success or failure of the IT industry and its acolytes and apoligists?

It took a comment from Richard Sarson for me to realise that the effective use of IT was at the heart of a great many of the discussions at the party conferences. What was missing was an understanding of the pre-conditions for success - in particular the intellectual disciplines necessary at every level, from end-user or intelligent customer, through implementation, integration and support technicians to those planning and developing robust, reliable and  easy to use products and services.

Mash up garbage data and the result can be more toxic than silage

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It has been pointed out to me that in my tweetminster interview, see yesterday's blog for the reference. I missed some of the most dangerous consequences of putting public sector data on-line and inviting the public to correct it. Sir Humphrey can, however, fight his own battles. Instead I would like to remind you of what Sean Barker said in his guest blog earlier this year on the need to pay more attention to old-fashioned data standards and be less dazzled by clever mash-up tools.  Common Data Standards are essential to making sense of the data that is put on-line, they are also central to realising the theoretical savings from shared systems. Without them we can spend the next decade arguing what the data means, let alone whose data is "correct". 

Big Society = Small State. On whose side is the ICT industry?

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I wrote the blog that appeared yesterday using "predictive software" - akin that to which has long infuriated me in "Word" and is now embedded in browsers. In other words, I wrote it before attending the Conservative Party Conference - because I expected to be too busy to blog and was guessing what I would hear. It was close enough to be condescendingly right, but also annoyingly wrong. My mother rang me after I got back to London to ask how the conference went. She had been listening to the closing speach. She did not understand why people were confused about the "Big Society". To her it was obvious: "The Government has spent all the money so we have to look after ourselves".

 

Stop optimising for the average (whether policies or systems)

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The average citizen of the United Kingdom is a forty year old hermaphrodite (with one mammary and one testicle), living near Watford Gap with an income (from a mix of earnings, benefits and savings of around £20,000).

Tax and welfare policies that are optimal for that mythical individual are sub-optimal for the rest of us.

Many are unfit for purpose, if the purpose is to cost-effectively and efficiently meet the needs of the 80% of us who deal with government as little as possible - because it is usually to pay a tax rather than receive any significant benefit.

Many, perhap even most, are also unfit for purpose, if the purpose is to humanely assist the 20% who account for most of government transactions with the public - leading lives of quiet despair as they lurch from crisis to crisis, often made worse by welfare systems which assume their needs are predictable and penalise them for any interludes of paid work.

Is HEFCE part of the solution or the problem ?

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Implicit in the current BIS Consultations on Skills on which I blogged recently, is an assumption that the HEFCE funding structures are part of the solution - as opposed to being one of the UKs most bloated quangos - long overdue for reform. One of my readers has reminded me of my previous blogs  on the damage done by the decision of HEFCE to stop funding university places for those working towards Equivalent and Lower Qualifications (ELQs). For example the Open University would get no central funding for some-one with a PhD in Archeology who wished to change careers. I should add that I know at least two Archeologists who used the experience of digging up the past to leverage ICT careers, helping to create the future. But that was before our current educational and professional structures ossified. 

Put your nomination where your mouth is

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I regularly hear complaints that we never hear any publicity for stories of success in the use of ICT products and services to improve the quality of public service delivery to those in most need, when and where they need it most. The e-Government National Awards provide an opportunity to redress the balance. Use the opportunity to nominate those who you think deserve the oxygen of publicity when they will most need it - while the axe is falling all around them during the public spending review.  I reproduce the press release in full below:

Allow market forces to let the UK Broadband to catch up with the rest of the world

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The main message from the Conservative Technology Form meeting on Broadband was that officials  still appear to be seeking to defend past decisions rather than admit that their idionsyncratic and equivocal guidance on what is, or is not, state aid are still blocking the public-private partnerships that are bringing 100 mbps, symmetric, and more, to small firms, not just consumers, across the rest of the EU.

They do not wish to have to admit that market forces can be used to address regulatory failure, provided that the communications needs (and budgets) of business and government are brought together to support funding models for new investment that are successfull in other parts of the world.

They do they wish to have to admit that even the French have used the devolution of authority to local government to succeed where central government had failed. The results are patchy, but even the worst departements, usually those which decided to allow the incumbent to retain its effective monopoly, are doing as well as the best UK counties. 

 

Give us the tools and we can win the WAR

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The scale of the arrests in the UK and the US in the recent global operation against those using the Zeus virus to loot the bank accounts of small firms using on-line banking illustrates what can be done when law enforcement gets its act together.

There are said to be dozens more cases in the pipeline while there are only the resources to investigate a couple at a time. Perhaps more worrying is that small firms in the US are being told that their banks will not refund losses caused by security compromise on their systems.

The US had to act to prevent a melt-down in the drive to on-line banking.

 

Charity Commission stops talking to the Final Third

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Apparently the Charity Commission will now only supply their publications, e.g. guidance for new trustees, on line.  This effectively means that it has stopped communicating with many, perhaps most, of the trustees of charities in rural Britain.

 

This has potentially very serious effects on the plans of the coalition Government to involve local volunteers in "big society" initiatives to help serve rural communities - given that:

 

·         the population is ageing

·         many older trustees are not computer literate

(only half the respondents to the recent national Village Halls survey completed it on line)

·         the difficulties with rural broadband

·         the responsibilities of trustees

·         the cost and difficulty of printing documents in rural areas

(5 - 25 miles to the copy shop or to buy more print cartridges if you forget when shopping). 

  

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