Internet News (November 2017)

Hawking good read

Many great things occurred during the year of 1966. The first operational weather satellite was launched by the US, Muhammad Ali totally knocks out Henry Cooper in round 6 for the Heavyweight boxing title, Beatlemania hits New York, and NBC-TV premiered the first ever episode of Star Trek. But, while all of this was going on around the world, a 24 year old Cambridge postgraduate completed a paper that would go down in history.

A doctoral thesis, published in 1966 by Stephen Hawking has become an internet sensation following its release to the public for the first time. Cambridge University’s online storage facility crashed on Monday, following the high demand for the thesis; the University site was still inaccessible at 7.30pm that evening.

The work, titled ‘Properties of Expanding Universes‘ is a long awaited resource that will inspire others. In a recent article online, Hawking said of his work, “By making my PhD thesis open access, I hope to inspire people around the world to look up at the stars and not down at their feet; to wonder about our place in the universe and try to make sense of the cosmos”.

The work by Hawking, described as a “historic and compelling thesis” has since made history by becoming the most-requested piece of work throughout Cambridge’s open access resource library, Apollo. The essay by Hawking was made available to the public at midnight on Sunday, marking the start of Open Access Week. The 119-page document examines the implications and consequences of the expansion of the universe. It concludes that galaxies are not formed as a result of early perturbations, and provides information relating to gravitational radiation and expansion that shows that events such as singularities (Black Holes to the uninitiated) are certain.

Hawking’s PhD thesis has been requested on many occasions by thousands. It was following these requests that the University of Cambridge took the decision to make the work publicly available. In less than 24 hours, nearly 60,000 downloads were made of the full document. Due to the high demand, the Open Access site showed slower performance than ever before, to the point that the site eventually became temporarily unavailable to users.

Hawking is reported to have said that everyone around the world should have unconstrained access to all research documents, not just of Hawking’s but from other scientists and researchers. Inquiring minds should be fed the information they need to drive their enthusiasms and research forward to the next level.

WannaCry’s legacy

A ransomware attack that occurred in May 2017, was said to have been made possible to NHS trusts not acting in an  appropriate manner following receipt of critical alerts and warnings received from NHS Digital (NHS Digital is the trading name of the Health and Social Care Information Centre, the national provider of information, data and IT systems for commissioners, analysts and clinicians in health and social care in England, particularly those involved with the National Health Service), the Department of Health and the government. The advice given by all three offices was to move away from the out of date and vulnerable software that was used throughout the NHS and upgrade accordingly.

The ransomware attack affected over a third of the NHS Trusts in the United Kingdom, causing over 6,900 NHS patients appointments to be consequently cancelled according to information received from the National Audit Office. It is estimated that over 19,000 appointments were affected during the attack, however, this was not publicly confirmed. Appointments affected included patients with life threatening illnesses, including urgent referrals.

Following the attack, NHS England quickly confirmed that no confidential information had been stolen or compromised as a result, and praised NHS staff’s efforts with their rapid response.

The National Audit Office (NAO) have urged the NHS as well as the Department of Health to ensure that their computer systems are updated, and any cyberattack information and procedures are adhered to in the future.

The WannaCry outbreak affected over 150 countries across the globe, and has since been deemed the largest cyber-attack on the NHS ever recorded. Ransom demands were sent of up to £500, however, there is no recorded evidence that any organisation affected paid the ransom according to an NAO report. Prior to the attack, 88 out of 236 trusts had been assessed by NHS Digital, and it was found that all the trusts assessed failed to pass the required cyber-security standards that had been set. The report outlined the NHS Trusts inability to act on alerts that they had received, as well as the lack of important documentation that was a requirement.

It is believed that prior to May 2017, no formal policies or procedure had been set when the assessments took place with regards to advice and guidance given by the NAO. Reports have shown that organisations within the NHS failed to provide basic management of their firewalls.

The attack is believed to have originated from a foreign state, with North Korea being named a likely suspect according to Home Office Minister Ben Wallace. The attack was reported as an “unsophisticated attack”, but also an attack that could have been prevented had the correct procedures taken place once the NHS has received the warnings concerning their out of date computer systems.

Following the work of Cyber Security Researcher, Marcus Hitchens who assisted in the deactivation of the WannaCry outbreak, lessons have been learnt, and critical cyber-security updates will take place on a regular basis, as well as further research to ensure that the NHS is protected against any future attacks.

Paedogeddon…

Was Chris Morris more canny in his subversive predictions in Brass Eye than we first believed? Internet Interceptors, is a vigilante group that is comprised of a team of dedicated parents and carers hunting down paedophiles and other sexual predators in and around the United Kingdom, with the aim of keeping local communities and children safe. Their internet feeds are viewed by several hundreds of thousands of members on social media sites.

More recently and controversially, Internet Interceptors showed a live feed through Facebook. The interceptors are seen to approach and catch a male who had arrived at Paignton Railway Station. The male in question is then accused of attending the location in order to connect with an under-age girl that he had been communicating with on Facebook, where he is alleged to have groomed the young girl online and had been speaking to her frequently.

Four Interceptors continued to confront the male, and asked him to join them for a walk. The male agreed to speak with them, and walked across the road towards a metal staircase where they sat him down and continued with their questioning. The male is shown copies of the conversations that he had with the minor, as well as others that the interceptors had recorded, using decoys: adults pretending to be minors.

Internet Interceptors often use decoys to catch paedophiles and sexual predators, with new profiles and pictures, often of themselves but younger in order to lure them in. They use false names and ages, false locations, and engage in conversations with suspected paedophiles. The conversations are used to induce reactions, and to converse in a way that they would if they were children. The decoys are unknown adults deceiving the paedophile in such a way that they believe they are talking to a minor.

It is unknown how many belong to the Internet Interceptors group. Each case that is reported and shown live receives a vast amount of viewings. Live messages can also be seen on the screen, with comments coming in from around the world – all with the same views to see that the sexual predators caught receive the punishment that they deserve.

In this specific case, in Paignton, an Internet Interceptor asked the viewing public if they had any questions for the male in their midst. Many questions were asked, and the male caught admitted that he was terrified because of the situation that he had put himself in. During the live feed, a group of locals appeared on the street that had seen the live feed, with the voices of angry local residents audible during the broadcast.

A member of the Internet Interceptors team, told the male that an angry group had appeared, and threats were being made towards him following his movements. The team of four, kept the angry group away from the male during their exchange of words while waiting for the police to appear. The live feeds ends following the arrival of police officers who then search and place the male in handcuffs. The footage then shows the police putting the male into the back of a police patrol vehicle.

All of the information that the Internet Interceptors receive, including the live feeds and conversations between the suspected paedophiles and decoys are used in evidence against the accused. Following the event in Paignton, a 56 year old male has made an appeared in Plymouth Magistrates Court, and has been charged with “attempting to meet a child following sexual grooming” and “two counts of arranging and facilitating the commission of a child sexual offence”. He has since been remanded in custody and will be appearing at Exeter Crown Court on November 23rd 2017.

Currently, Internet Interceptors have 127,000 followers on their Facebook. At the end of each “sting” they acknowledge their thanks to the UK Database which assists their tracking of paedophiles.

Property exchange

A house owner in Grimsby wishes to sell his property for 18 Bitcoins (which equals to £81,305 due to the amount being higher than he would receive if he were to sell it by using British currency). His decision has come following a growth in the market that uses cryptocurrency when selling in the high-end property market. He wants to see the same in standard housing across the board.

The house owner is not the first in the local area to try and sell his property for above the market value in order to increase the profit on the property. It was only a week ago that a 4 bedroom property in Colchester, Essex went on sale. The property was had a listed price £375,000 or 82.55 in Bitcoins.

Sean Atkinson, the seller in Grimsby stated that as a long term investment, selling by Bitcoin is more profitable. Unfortunately due to the processes that need to be followed throughout the sale of properties, transactions cannot be made entirely by using this method, due to payments towards solicitors and other costs involved.

The family have resided within the property for over 25 years. Once the sale has been completed, a new residence is already in place ready for the move. Atkinson is involved in a range of different projects from filmmaking to festival organisation, as well as being a yoga laughter coach.

He has recently revealed on his website that “It’s been a family home and a shared house lived in by several artists. We are currently making it magnolia and white ready for new owners although get in touch quick if you want any of the wall and ceiling art leaving!”

Since Bitcoin was first introduced in 2009, it has seen its monetary value increase. The first value of a single bitcoin was a quarter of a cent, now in 2017 the value of that single Bitcoin is in the region of $2,200. The value of bitcoin has risen 600% in the last year, however there will come a time when that bubble will burst and its value will decrease as quickly as it has risen.

Atkinson, has declared that should he be unsuccessful with the sale using Bitcoins, he will then look to sell the house using British pounds and pence.

WHOIS EU referring to?

The arguably archaic WHOIS domain registration system, a system that logs a public record of the personal details of the registrant including name, address, email, and phone number, which has needed modernising for quite some time now for obvious privacy reasons has remained unchanged for some roughly 20 years because of heated arguments between proponents and detractors of the current system never reaching any kind of consensus, placing it firmly in limbo for all this time while the internet as a whole has evolved leaps and bounds since its inception.

Mounting pressure for change has reached a critical turning point due to the new European privacy policy, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which will take effect as of May 2018. This policy requires that any company, not just European companies, intending to hold data on European citizens acquire their express consent before gathering, storing, or publishing any personal data. The WHOIS system, in its current state, is entirely unable to comply with this new policy and has forced at least two internet registries to already simply refuse to offer a WHOIS service at all in order to ease their compliance with this new policy at the expense of earning the disapproving glare of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit internet authority that developed the current – and many would say – outdated system.

Following a legal warning from ICANN stating the registrar in possession of the .amsterdam and .frl domain suffixes was in breach of its contract due to this issue, the registrar set its lawyers on the case, and their reply? The relevant WHOIS clause of the contract is “null and void” due to the fact that it directly conflicts with European regulations.

The letter the lawyers penned states: “For the avoidance of doubt, given the lack of valid consent, no other condition of Article 6.1 of the GDPR allows for such publication”, with regards to the WHOIS system.

This refusal to comply with the WHOIS clause by domain registries has put ICANN in a difficult situation, an issue that is likely to comprise a large part of the discussions at the next members meeting in Abu Dhabi, alongside the already difficult conversation about the government vs. private sector regarding the .amazon domain.

ICANN’s efforts have failed time and again attempting to update the WHOIS system, largely because two large groups oppose changing the current one. Intellectual Property lawyers prefer the open nature of the details about ownership over domains, citing numerous reasons, not least of which being copyright infringing sites. Companies selling the domains, registrars, however, don’t want to take on the responsibility of verifying contact details of those who register with them, since it would make both financial and legal issues surrounding it easier.

ICANN has made concessions for European law in the past regarding these issues, awkwardly bending the rules in order to allow European registrars to write it and receive permission to be exempted from the current system, something that has gone on without major issue for some time. Of course, this rule bending was never going to be sustainable, and now that registries are outright refusing to even acknowledge and accept ICANN’s terms at all an alternate system that was developed and written up a few years previously dubbed the Registration Data Access Protocol (RDAP).

Some large registries, including Verisign that runs .com domains have launched early versions of their own RDAP systems, but the system enables certain details to be private except to authorised people or agencies such as law enforcement, in an attempt to curb the current completely open system with zero options to make anything private at all.

ICANN is thus attempting to force new contracts with RDAP instead now onto the current diverse array of registries, however the discussion is far from ended on the matter, with ICANN publishing legal advice in the form of a PDF regarding WHOIS and GDPR which was not received well, despite phrasing it in a way to denote the necessity for change, such as “publicly available WHOIS services cannot remain unchanged”, basically meaning that WHOIS needs to be replaced ASAP.

The response, of course, has been negative, with the US Business Constituency insisting on “broad community participation” such as its members being in a sort of “compliance task force”, arguing the need to be a “more holistic examination of WHOIS, rather than focus on one aspect.”

The deadline will likely be the thing that finally breaks this long stagnant debate as the fine for non compliance under GDPR is somewhere in the region of €20 million Euros or four percent of turnover, whichever is larger.

Black Friday’s here again…

Black Friday is soon to arrive on our doorsteps once again, with consumer experts reporting that us Brits had spent over £2 billion GBP in Black Friday of last year (2016), along with Amazon UK having 12 whole days of deals spanning hundreds, even thousands, of products.

Doug Gurr, UK country manager at Amazon, was quoted saying “In response to positive customer feedback for Black Friday deals, we are introducing the Black Friday Sale, 12 days of fantastic deals on must-have gifts and products, saving our customers millions of pounds.”

Will the same sales happen this year? It’s certainly a possibility, depending on the kinds of margins made on all these items and how effective it was after last year. The shopping event has certainly grown dramatically in size the last few years with many shoppers now preferring to go online to get the best deals rather than risking the stampeding hordes of the shopping high streets and department stores.

Early starts on Christmas shopping might be a huge reason to get in on these sales, saving some pretty pennies before the year is out, especially the pricier items such as smartphones, gaming consoles, and TVs.

Previously, Amazon had launched literally thousands of deals on products that are relatively highly sought after, allowing customers to buy while stocks last, as well as “lightning deals” which are sold in set limited quantities for a fraction of the price.

Last year, Amazon’s Echo voice assistant had been reduced in price by £30 to just £119.99 from £149.99, as well as savings on major gaming console games, mainly Xbox and Playstation games, along with many other accessories and day to day use items such as electric toothbrushes and much more.

It’s certainly going to be worth bookmarking those items you want now for the off chance that they might be on and off sale so fast you’ll blink and you’ll miss them!

Internet News – October 2017

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