Thursday, 29 October 2015

Ongoing Company Hacks Have People Worried and Asking 'Why?'

The latest DDoS attack launched against Talk Talk made all of the media rounds over the weekend. At first, the attack was advertised as being far more serious than it really was, leaving millions of Talk Talk customers wondering whether or not their identities would be stolen and their finances ruined. But this latest attack really is not news within the cyber security community. Thousands of attempted attacks happen every single day all across the globe. And, with every new attack, consumers are left worrying and asking why it continues to happen.

Unfortunately, the answer to the question is very uncomfortable. It comes down to two things: cyber-attacks are profitable and we do not have the will to truly stop the problem. What’s more, until things change, no amount of sophisticated hardware and software will prevent cyber criminals from attempting to do what they do.

The Laws of Nature Make It Easy

It is a well-understood law of nature that the more complex a system is, the easier it is to break that system. This is certainly true in the area of computer networks and cyber security. As technology has raced to make data communications faster and more reliable, we have introduced complex hardware and software systems that require a tremendous amount of effort just to maintain, let alone protect. We have, by our own doing, introduced systems that are so complex that it is almost impossible to recognise every potential security flaw before releasing a new product to the market.

The result of doing things this way is that we design and build network systems with a plethora of security weaknesses that go unidentified until hackers breach the data centre. Furthermore, every closed security breach opens the door to a new one within a very short amount of time. It is a no-win situation if we rely solely on software and hardware to protect the world's data communications from cybercrime.

Human Nature Makes It Possible

More uncomfortable is the universal reality of human nature. No matter how hard we try, there will always be those members of society who either delight in taking down networks with denial of service attacks or live to steal from other people by illegally acquiring their private information. No amount of software or hardware will change human nature. The only thing that will is swift and sure justice.

Successfully battling cybercrime on a global front will require the nations of the world to get together in an effort of information sharing, investigation, arrest and prosecution. And there must be no mercy. Unless the punishment for cybercrime is demonstrably more severe than the perceived benefits of such crime are attractive, law enforcement efforts will be in vain.

Cybercrime and attacks like the one experienced by Talk Talk over the weekend will continue in perpetuity therefore our best defence is to go on the offence in both developing new strategies and punishing wrongdoers.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Doubts Remain in the US over NSA Data Centre in Utah

Drive by the National Guard base in Bluffdale, Washington - just south of Salt Lake City - and you will notice a group of nondescript buildings that seem anything but out of place at a US military installation. However, among those buildings is a $1.7 billion data centre operated by the National Security Agency (NSA). Its location, combined with revelations about NSA spying back in 2013, have plenty of Americans suspicious about what goes on at Bluffdale. Doubts remain despite assurances by government officials that the facility is not being used to spy on citizens.

In an effort to present a cohesive message and unified communications, the government recently sponsored a national security conference at the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City. The conference included NSA Utah director Dave Winberg and Utah Congressman Rep. Chris Stewart. Both attempted to assuage American fears by explaining that the data centre was not used for any domestic spying.

Stewart claims that the data centre only provides support services for NASA activities relating to foreign cyber security threats. He told conference attendees that the centre was used to provide development services to several other NSA operations as well as language translation, description, analysis and reporting. He did not explicitly say any part of the data centre’s activities were not used for domestic spying efforts, merely saying that domestic spying was ‘not the purpose’ of the data centre.

The purposely evasive language used by both Stewart and Winberg was allegedly necessary because of the secure nature of the facility's mission, infrastructure and actual work. But such evasiveness only leads to further speculation among US citizens who still believe, by and large, that the NSA is spying on them. The conference did little to reassure the American public about the nature of the data centre.

Nothing to See Here

As far as data centre news is concerned, the NSA would likely prefer that the world take a 'nothing to see here' approach to operations in Bluffdale. They certainly don't want their own citizens continuing to be suspicious. But how can they not be, given the information made public by whistle-blower Edward Snowden? Mr Snowden confirmed the fears of millions of Americans when he revealed just how much data is being collected by the US government.

Interestingly enough, Rep. Stewart blasted Snowden, calling him one of the "most destructive traitors America has ever seen." He went on to say that those who support Snowden do so only because they do not understand the damage he did to the country. However, that may be only half of the equation. Snowden's supporters also don't understand why the US government is spying on its citizens despite a constitutional obligation not to do so. And until the US government comes clean, their citizens will continue to be suspicious. As for the NSA, it has no plans to abandon the facility in light of its mission to protect the US government and its people.

Source:  News Factor

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Calls for a Government “Not-Spot” Debate

Over the last five years, the UK government has been working hard to ensure that its goal of ninety-five per cent of households being connected to superfast broadband by 2017 is met. The whole effort has been in contract with just one company – BT.

However, on October 12th (2015) the House of Commons debated the matter of inadequate broadband coverage that still blights swathes of the country. The issue of the success (or not, as the case may be!) of the government roll-out was also up for debate. As of the time of this writing, the outcome of the session is as yet unknown. Nevertheless, a feisty affair was expected.

What is a “Not-Spot”?

Before we continue, it may be prudent to explain what a “not-spot” is. According to the Macmillan Dictionary, a not-spot is “an area that has no broadband internet or 3G mobile phone coverage, or where this is very slow and unreliable.”

The issue for many of the MPs that attended the House of Commons’ debate, and one of the reasons for the call for a not-spot summit, is the question of if the government’s broadband strategy is working as well as BT’s future as the contracted party.

What about BT’s Future?

Let us elaborate a little on the BT question. The contract between BT and the government was worth a total of £830 million to the company and, although some local campaigners disagree, for the most part everyone else agrees that the UK is actually one of the leaders in Europe when it comes to broadband availability, implementation and pricing.

The issues arising, though, championed by BT’s rivals, are the company’s continued use of copper. Many feel that this ‘betrays’ Britain’s broadband ambitions and that it should be all about fibre optics. Although BT does use fibre optics (upon which superfast broadband depends) as far as the street cabinet, from there it is connected to homes via copper cabling.

To Copper or Not to Copper

BT has thus far been extolling the virtues of its copper network, claiming that not only has it proved adaptable, but new technology (known as promises to push speeds to over 300MBps.

BT’s competitors are not convinced, though… and it all boils down to competition. They say that adopting fibre optics across the board will open up the industry to competition, which will then improve service and mean more money is invested in the network. Their answer is that BT should be split up by having to sell its OpenReach arm to allow such competition. BT obviously disagrees, 
stating that its current ‘innovations’ might stop occurring.

Ofcom is apparently looking into this and, at the moment, is ‘open-minded’.

The government itself would be against any splitting up of the company, citing the fact that, if it were to transpire, it would be incredibly time-consuming… with the potential to backfire.

It will be interesting to see how all of this pans out, especially in terms of the UK’s current not-spots. Until then, it will be fascinating to watch both sides of the debate bang their heads together.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Personal Data Storage in Russia – the canary in the coal mine for cloud?

The new amendment to the Information Law No. 242-FZ forbids storage of Russian citizens’ personal data outside of Russia. The change has posed new challenges to many foreign and domestic companies which already store their users’ data in borderless clouds.

According to the Russian authorities, up to 2.4 million companies are affected. Despite the fact that Russia is the largest (80 million users) and fastest growing Internet market in Europe, the country has suffered from negative media spin in the past regarding strict online censorship.  However the larger picture - data sovereignty, is becoming a global trend and is creating a seismic shock in the cloud industry. In Canada the government requested Microsoft to store its sensitive data locally; or Spain where the government is looking at locations where personal data of its student body is held. Perhaps Russia is at the forefront of the movement, which would explain some uncertainties still contained within the law. Nevertheless businesses should not view the new government restrictions as impenetrable, but rather look at the ways in which technology can enable them to continue their relationships with the fastest growing online market in Europe.

One of the easy solutions is enlisting the help of an MSP so that companies can host their data in Russia, while leaving the rest of their operations uninterrupted. The benefit of cloud technology means that hosting data abroad is a much smoother process than it was even just a few years ago. By enabling organisations to host data in different parts of the world, they are able to serve a truly global customer base while complying with regional data laws. For larger projects there are now a number of trustworthy and professional data centre operators in Russia, already providing service to many multinationals.

The local Russian regulator, Roskomnadzor, has been very accommodating working with international players who might need extensions on time in order to fully comply, however failure to start a dialogue and ignore the legal changes can prove to be disastrous with many websites shut within first week.

IXcellerate is a local Russian data centre operator - with its headquarters in London.  Here are IXcellerate’s suggested 5 simple steps to help companies to start with an effective compliance process:

1)     Engage with Roskomnadzor if you have not already.  If you have only started to look at the compliance, it is strongly advised to start a dialogue with Roskomnadzor. If you can show a current Russian datacentre contract it is likely you will be given an “extension to comply”.
2)     Find a reliable local partner to assist you with the process and involve the head office team in the selection process. The personal data processing trend is not about to change, as governments are becoming more and more occupied with this topic. The choice of a local reliable partner has a strategic meaning: changing this decision will be hard and costly in the future.
3)     Use existing import channels to move equipment.  Usually your Russia-based data centre will have a number of reliable and previously tested partners to recommend. These should be large local business integrators, or international suppliers who have a dealer network in the country.
4)     Manage complexity by transparent communication: make sure there is full understanding of the installation design by all parties involved.  Language barriers and complex terminology can create major problems between client and contractor in this regard.
5)     Don’t forget about after-migration support: the data centre team and other participating parties should be on stand-by after launch.  A properly-run data centre will have client service thoroughly specified with procedures, documentation, a 24-hour bi-lingual emergency telephone line in place and an online ticketing system to track status.

Guest blog written by Guy Willner, CEO of IXcellerate

Contact: Anna Kazaeva

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Facebook – To Boldly Go …

Social network giant Facebook has teamed up with French satellite operator Eutelsat in a bid to boldly go where no social network has gone before. Star Trek connotations aside, the deal is a deadly serious attempt by Facebook to beam - from space - free internet to those parts of sub-Saharan Africa that are still without an internet connection.

The deal, set to kick in sometime during the second half of 2016, will offer access to a variety of services via Facebook’s initiative, including news, weather, health and, of course, to Facebook itself - all free of charge.

Although large swathes of the African continent do have access to some form of internet connection - be that through mobile or fixed telecom networks - coverage is sketchy at best, and almost non-existent in the more sparsely-populated areas of this vast landmass.

Beamed Internet – More Star Trek?

When the operation does get up and running, the idea is for Facebook and Eutelsat to use capacity from the AMOS-6 satellite. This satellite from Spacecom, an Israeli company, is due in orbit by the end of 2015 and, all going well, will start beaming internet connections straight to the smartphones of Africans located in the east, west and southern portions of the continent.

The idea at the moment is to serve 14 of the most populous countries in sub-Saharan Africa, offering first-time internet to millions of people.

Silicon Valley Space Race Ends Before It Begins:

The news of the Facebook-Eutelsat tie-up follows recent reports that the social network giant has now abandoned its own attempts to build a satellite, which could have potentially cost the company up to one billion dollars. Rivals Google have also recently drawn back from plans to do something similar. 

It’s hard to see how the financials could be keeping such behemoths from their space-trotting 
fantasises, so one could only assume that the logistics of such an operation are beyond even these two.

Although Facebook’s initiative has come under fire from many quarters, due to a perceived violation of ‘net-neutrality’ principles, head of Chris Daniels said, “Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we believe that satellites will play an important role in addressing the significant barriers that exist in connecting the people of Africa.”

He continued: “We are looking forward to partnering with Eutelsat on this project and investigating new ways to use satellites to connect people in the most remote areas of the world more efficiently.”

In relation to the net-neutrality issues mentioned above, a consortium of advocacy groups recently released a statement which, among other things, mentioned, “It is our belief that Facebook is improperly defining net neutrality in public statements and building a walled garden in which the world's poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and services.”

In what looks like a response, last week rebranded its free offering to ‘Free Basics by Facebook’, a move designed, in its words, to “better distinguish the project itself from the service itself.”

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Digital Content Delivery Bombshell – Chicago Implementing ‘Cloud Tax’

To those of us residing in the United Kingdom, America’s system of taxation can be downright confusing – federal taxes, state taxes, city taxes … the list goes on. However, the latest taxation amendment in Chicago should have us all – and by all we mean anyone/thing connected to digital, including data centres – quaking in our boots.

Apparently, the city of Chicago has a whole raft of taxes in effect, one of them being an ‘amusement tax’ – basically, anything related to entertainment is taxed at nine per cent. Forbes have described this tax in a recent article as a tax “upon the patrons of every amusement within the city.” The city has recently ‘amended’ this tax to now include content-related services in the digital world. What do we mean by content-related services in this instance? Well, subscription streaming service Netflix is a good example. In the same article as mentioned above, Forbes describes this as “any paid television programming, whether transmitted by wire, cable, fibre optics, laser, microwave, radio, satellite or similar means.”

But this is where it gets interesting – the tax could also apply to a whole raft of cloud-service providers as well. Anything from cloud apps all the way up to cloud infrastructure such as data centres. The irony of this means that a company that actually hosts its content-based streaming service is in real danger of being taxed twice – both as a provider and a user!

What Effect Will This Really Have?

In trying to break this down, though, what effects will this really have on both users and providers? Well, for starters, it will no doubt put off new digital streaming service start-ups from setting up shop in Chicago. The extra costings will simply not be worth it for smaller organisations.
And should a new service provider bite the bullet and set up shop, the end user is going to ultimately suffer due to higher subscription rates. So Chicago residents could end up paying way more for the same service received by users elsewhere in the States.

At the end of the day, why would any data centre, cloud content delivery service or streaming service set up in a city that is going to over-tax them for the privilege?

Where is this Going?

The worry for such services in the States, but especially data centres, is that this type of tax is going to spread like a contagion. Other cities (and states?) are bound to sit up and take notice, especially in light of the fact that the way content is being processed and consumed digitally is evolving at a fast rate of knots.

The future of content delivery is entrenched in the digital; this means more providers will be required to deliver this content. In the end, it could mean the services we take for granted today being taxed to the hilt, putting them out of reach for many.

For the sake of the British data centre industry, let’s hope we do not suffer the same fate that could eventually sweep America. Fingers crossed!!!