Monday, 30 November 2015

Drakula (stream) rises ! 60% improvement in Alexa ranking in 6 months

The former Drakula Stream / Streamhunter pirate site which was blocked in the UK by ISP's has popped up as RealstreamUnited and is now within the top 2000 websites in the UK. 6 months ago it was outside the top 115,000.

With the Police struggling for resources this presents a real dilemma for content owners as DMCA type activity is pretty pointless in respect of a site with this profile. A machine that goes ping and cleverly detects that this is a popular but pirate website is not bringing much to the party.

Our ongoing survey into attitudes to piracy shows that 33% of people would still use a pirate site even if they know it is illegal and 44 % think there is no need to subscribe to Pay TV services in sport.

Overall a more co-ordinated approach is necessary but that is easy to say and tricky to do.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Logic Bombs Away !

A logic bomb is a cyber weapon that is some code that triggers an event at a specific time. It is distinct from a virus in that it does not replicate. An example would be some code that destroys the Docs file on a computer on valentines day.

Made famous by Roger Duranio, a disgruntled IT insider, it showed the massive damage that can be done by a malicious insider. All files in the central server were deleted at Paine Webber and then all files on every server in every branch - 2000 servers and 400 branch offices. Duranio had shorted the stock but was perhaps ahead of the analysts who did not seem to notice. Fast forward to today and a less serious breach at Talk Talk took an axe to the share price.

It is a bit of an urban myth that hackers are all high IQ misfits with ADHD or suchlike. This "how to" video on YouTube gives you an idea of what information is freely available and the type of skill level needed.

For anybody wondering how secure public wi-fi is this provides a convincing answer. What is shown in this video may be an offence under the Computer Misuse Act and accessing paid for wifi for free doing this would be illegal but the skill level required is moderate. Do not try this at home !

The Destover trojan which is considered to have been the culprit in the Sony Pictures hack is a very different proposition however according to McDonald and Kharouni experts at Damballa;

“The Destover trojan is a wiper that deletes files off of an infected system, rendering it useless … for ideological and political reasons not for financial gain,”

The penny is dropping that those neutral looking pieces of computer hardware that are so useful to us all need very careful handling.

Friday, 20 November 2015

12-15 year olds prefer YouTube to TV

Technology clearly has its limits. When researching this piece and looking for a suitable image representing a "digital native" the stock photo library we use offered this good but rather irrelevant image. A world where humans are replaced by machines might have more laughs than we think.

To the point - Ofcom have released some new research which continues the tracking of the behaviour of the digital natives and some key points emerge;

12-15 year olds now spend 3.5 hours more per week online than watching TV. 15.5 hours for TV and 18.9 hours online.

Within that same group who watch both TV and YouTube a greater number now say they prefer YouTube to TV for the first time.

Whilst the spin on the report highlights that children trust the internet more than they should the substance of the report paints a picture of changed habits among the next generation that will make the traditional Pay TV model quite niche.

This possibly explains the new SkyQ ultra premium concept where a smallish group who are not price sensitive at all pay top dollar for an all you eat package while the bulk of the market take smaller pay as go type packages.

Into the mix will come YouTube Red (ad free subscription based), NetFlix etc etc and when the dust has settled the primarily linear pay tv model will be gone.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Cloudflare surf the wave - but gets caught between Anonymous and ISIL

Cloudflare protects websites from DDOS and provides a degree on anonymity online. Given that its entry level service is free it is highly popular - and sometimes with the wrong people.

It looks to be heading for a float in 2017 and a potential valuation of $8 billion dollars - hats off to CEO Matthew Prince if that works out.

Cloudflare do not provide hosting services but typical digital forensic activity such as traceroutes to an IP address end with them thus concealing the hosting entity and making removal activities more difficult. Not by design but as a consequence of providing DDOS protection.

It has been suggested by Anonymous that some ISIL related websites use Cloudflare and that therefore Cloudflare are protecting them with anonymity - an amusing turn of events from a group of that name.

In reality (and KLipcorp work with Cloudflare in this respect)  Cloudflare will reveal end point IP addresses if the proper procedures are followed so this is a bit of a misleading storm in a teacup - but a decent excuse for a good photo.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The dark side of digital needs regulation

The utopian idea that the internet would lead to the world uniting for the greater good (Tim Berners-Lee) is starting to look optimistic.

Tremendous benefits have come from improved communications and access to information but the internet economy has started to be a mirror to the human condition with a balance between good and bad.

The core difference is that the internet is unregulated in any effective sense and that behaviours that would not be tolerated elsewhere (such as totally disrespect for property / IP) are considered the norm.

Understandably freedom and privacy are jealously guarded but if the robber barons of history had been unregulated 12 year olds would still be working in factories for minimal wages in the name of progress. Some of the current tech giants, despite lots of cuddly advertising, are looking like wolves in sheeps clothing.

Andrew Keen has identified that the internet has driven income inequality, a crisis in jobs and a surveillance state but there are always 2 sides to any argument and libertarians like Peter Thiel argue effectively the other way. Even so the core argument that is starting to look shaky is that the internet should not be regulated.

The startling rise in cyber crime and hacking generally probably tips the balance towards sensible, democratically mandated regulation. The coming wave of cyber warfare will require that the intermediaries and pipes of the internet introduce more effective controls.

The jurisdictional hurdles need to be crossed or dramatically simplified as a matter of urgency as an unregulated internet that is very powerful can do significant damage. The majority of hacking tools used now are HaaS (or hacking as a service) requiring minimal skill from the operator.

This is a situation similar to having free automatic weapons with unlimited ammunition available on every street corner with minimal regulation. Certainly the Government should stress the need for companies and individuals to take reasonable steps to protect themselves but at the same time a clear regulatory framework needs to be in place to deter criminals and apply proportionate sanction when needed.

Any sane person would recognise that a free cyber weapon to launch DDOS attacks should not be easily available online and that there should be a simple process in place for instant removal. Currently no effective regulation exists in this regard which is great news for the bad guys (and girls).

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Do ISIL have a Stuxnet ?

The stamp commemorating Andre Maginot recognizes his sterling if ineffective efforts to prevent the Germans invading France in 1939.

As the German Panzers simply whizzed around the side of the heavily fortified emplacements he must have been spinning in his grave.

The emergence on the scene of the Stuxnet cyber weapon which was / is capable of closing down and controlling computer operating systems in heavy machinery showed the game had changed back in 2009. The worm was capable of closing down a nuclear reactor (and possibly worse). It was speculated that Stuxnet was created jointly by the USA and Israel.

A key question now is the extent of the online attack surface we present to those seeking to cause damage ? The attack surface is a term used in ethical hacking to identify the extent of a systems weaknesses. Footprinting is the process used to determine the extent of the attack surface.

George Osborne has clearly identified a potential weakness in UK cyber defences as the austerity Chancellor has suddenly started to find funds to shore up our cyber security and has doubled the budget. When Mr Dusty Wallet is suddenly getting the first round something is clearly up.

If ISIL have an equivalent of Stuxnet they could potentially wreak enormous financial damage. That said given that some of the leading people in digital (Turing, Berners-Lee) have been from the UK we should be able to hold our ground on the coming digital battleground.

In a new twist Anonymous have announced on their YouTube channel (see below) that they intend to track down members of ISIL and "totally mobilise" against them. I am sure we would all pay good money to attend the meeting where members of Anonymous and the UK Armed Forces met to share information.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Rise of the Machines - a challenge for free market capitalism

It is only human to think in quite black and white terms about the rise of artificial intelligence and imagine flashy looking robots roaming around doing all the jobs that we are so keen on. The more pessimistic may favour a "Terminator" based view of the future where malign machines crave power (oddly human) and seek to wipe us all out.

In reality artificial intelligence of a type has been with us for ages tied up in the programmes of Microsoft and the algorithms of Google. Jobs have certainly gone in the typing pool and basic analysis and information gathering is possible for anyone with an interest. The rate of change is phenomenal and the low cost automation that products like Google Adwords and Hootsuite offer makes a human alternative non viable. Hiring someone to manage a twitter / social media feed is a big ask with the range of cheap automated alternatives on offer.

This Attack Map showing live DDOS attacks would take a big group of people a really long time to maintain whereas it probably runs with attention as needed from a small group.

In conversation with a true digital native from the West Coast he remarked that in business, in his view, people were the problem in the way of generating massive profit.

A very small group of people armed with the right software, hardware and finance can achieve almost anything due to the global and networked nature of the internet. In this model there is no room for middle and lower management just the few key people supported by machines / software running 24/7. Those few people and machines can operate anywhere and may operate purely for financial return.

It might be then that the rise of the machines challenges free market capitalism more profoundly than any left wing activist and forces the development of new social norms.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Results from Disney and Time Warner show bleak outlook for traditional Pay TV

This week saw results from Time Warner and Disney both of which suggested that traditional Pay TV services are in managed decline.

Disney delivered a very solid cable performance against expectations but this had the feeling of an exceptional set of results (think Rugby World Cup Japan v South Africa) rather than a trend.

There are many potential explanations for this (piracy, OTT services etc) but clearly the search for yield is starting to look elsewhere. Most revealing perhaps was the stress placed by Bob Iger of Disney on the release of the Force Awakens (56 million views for the trailer on YouTube) and the opening of a massive theme park in China. The revenue opportunities from the distribution of content owned by other over Pay TV platforms was taking a back seat.

The rise of the broadband internet was always going to challenge the centralised command and control model of traditional pay tv distribution and the results of that shift are now obvious. Some of the media companies are better placed than others to adapt to the changed landscape and there is always the option of trying to acquire your way out of trouble.

In the meantime the Force Awakens keeps the show on the road at Disney while Time Warner absorbs a very big hit to its share price ($274 Dec 10 1999 to $69 Nov 5 2015);

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Have TalkTalk breached the Data Protection Act ? Certainly a possibility..........

With admirable gusto TalkTalk have answered the above question on their own website by saying "No, this is a criminal attack. We have notified the ICO and we will work closely with them over the coming weeks and months".

There we are - no need for any type of judicial system we can all simply decide for ourselves if we have complied with legislation.

In the real world (and given the sanctions from the ICO that TalkTalk has received previously) it is not likely to be as simple as that.

Principle 7 of the Data Protection Act states that "Appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data."

If reports are true that the attack on TalkTalk was based on SQL injection then, given that Input Validation methods will prevent this, a company the size of TalkTalk would not appear to have taken appropriate measures.

No doubt a commercial decision was taken somewhere within TalkTalk that the cost of defending against an SQL type attack was not justified and that the risk was acceptable.

The problem perhaps is that TalkTalk were trusted to keep customer data safe and had they asked the customer base to decide between staff bonuses or slightly better protection against having all their data stolen the decision would probably have been the latter.

Until we know the nature of the attack and whether appropriate measures had been taken to prevent it it is too early say if a breach has occurred.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Investigatory Powers Bill - are the politicians entitled to be trusted not to abuse power ?

The statement "War is a mere continuation of politics by others means" (von Clausewitz) illustrates that politics is a dirty business mainly about the pursuit of power. There are always exceptions but history shows a fairly consistent pattern with shameful incidents such as "weapons of mass destruction", IRA immunity letters, guantanomo bay  and such like. At a different level even highly respected organisations such as the RSPCA seem to have spun totally out of control when given too much power without effective checks and balances in place.

The current PR charm offensive seeks to blur the lines between the legitimate requirements of the Security Services and Armed Forces in the digital age and other branches of Government.

The forerunner to the Investigatory Powers Bill, RIPA, was sold in on the basis that the check and balance was the Investigatory Powers Tribunal which up until quite recently was so low key it made MI6 look like Graham Norton (sorry Graham) and has upheld only 10 cases since 2001. Go figure.

It is a terrible thing to give airtime to Joseph Goebbels (Hitler's PR man) but he pretty much sums it up;

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Over the course of history the doctrine of the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judiciary has been maintained to keep balance and prevent abuse of power.

Given how many Acts of Parliament, Statutory Instruments and sections of Common Law are currently "live" it is probably safe to say we are all guilty of something if you look hard enough for long enough.

It is therefore crucial that a signature from a judge is obtained before warrants are granted under the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill. This should reduce the extent to which the politicians and petty officials can target and destroy their enemies using these considerable powers. If the only remedy is an approach to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal we have a pretty clear idea already which way that one will go based on performances to date. Slip on the orange jumpsuit and prepare for the full cavity exam.

If national security is at risk there should be no problem securing a signature. Hopefully though the judges hand will pause if the real objective of the warrant is to help someone meet a budget target and keep their job or to destroy the reputation of a political enemy in the run up to an election.

If a politician is holding the pen I think it is clear what the outcome would be and how attempts would be made to cover it up. As Jean Claude Junker, President of the European Commission and "uber" politician in Europe famously said;

"I am for secret, dark debates.....when the going gets tough, you have to lie."

This is not an attack on politicians but a recognition that power needs to have independent checks and balances - we need judicial oversight.