Posts Tagged internet

Bing Search Share Rises, Google And Yahoo Slip (Information Week)

Summer, usually a slow time for search, has given Microsoft something to smile about: The company’s Bing search engine gained market share.

By Thomas Claburn,  InformationWeek
URL: http://www.informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=219400514

Microsoft’s share of the U.S. search market grew slightly in July, while Google and Yahoo experienced slight declines.

Of the 13.6 billion U.S. searches conducted in July, 64.7% were conducted through Google sites, a 0.3 percent point decline from June, according to ComScore.

Yahoo sites in July served 19.3% of those searches, also a 0.3 percentage point decline from the previous month.

Microsoft Bing’s search share increased by half of a percentage point in July. Its gain accounted for most of what Google and Yahoo lost. Microsoft sites served 8.9% of U.S. searches last month.

As a percentage change, Google’s search query total fell by 4%, Yahoo’s fell by 5%, and Microsoft’s increased by 2%.

Ask and AOL accounted for 3.9% and 3.1% of the search market in July, respectively.

ComScore’s search share figures do not include searches related to mapping, local directory, and user-generated video sites.

While any gain is good news, Microsoft still has a long way to go. In February, prior to Bing’s launch, ComScore put Microsoft’s share of the U.S. search market at 8.5%.

In terms of worldwide search market share, Google processed 78.45% of all searches in July, according to NetApplications. Bing had 3.17%, behind China’s Baidu (8.87%) and Yahoo (7.15%).

Not only does Microsoft have a lot of ground to cover before it draws even with Google, but it also faces a competitor that isn’t standing still.

Google last week unveiled a developer preview of its new Web search architecture called “Caffeine.” The search leader clearly has no intention of letting Bing’s gain go unchallenged.

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The problem with PowerPoint; celebrating 25 years (BBC)

If you have worked in an office in the Western world in the past 25 years, you will probably have sat through a PowerPoint presentation. But there’s a problem. They’re often boring, writes presentation expert Max Atkinson.

In the past 25 years, I’ve asked hundreds of people how many PowerPoint presentations they’ve seen that came across as really inspiring and enthusiastic.

Most struggle to come up with a single example, and the most optimistic answer I’ve heard was “two”.

So what are the main problems?

SCREENS ARE MAGNETS FOR EVERYONE’S EYES

Beware of anyone who says that they’re “just going to talk to some slides” – because that’s exactly what they’ll do – without realising that they’re spending most of their time with their backs to the audience.
Barack Obama
Even Barack Obama needs an autocue on occasion

Yet eye contact plays such a fundamental part in holding an audience’s attention that even as brilliant a speaker as Barack Obama depends on an autocue to simulate it.

So remember that the more slides you have and the more there is on each slide, the more distracting it will it be for the audience – whereas the fewer and simpler the slides are, the easier it will be to keep them listening.

READING AND LISTENING DISTRACTS AUDIENCES

If there’s nothing but text on the screen, people will try to read and listen at the same time – and won’t succeed in doing either very well.

If the print is too small to read, they’ll get irritated at being expected to do the impossible. Nor does it help when speakers say “as you can see”, or the equally annoying “you probably won’t be able to read this”.

SLIDES SHOULDN’T JUST BE NOTES

Few speakers are willing to open their mouths until they have their first slide safely in place. But all too often the slides are verbal crutches for the speaker, not visual aids for the audience.
Conference delegates sleep sweetly
Some presentations prove somewhat less than gripping

Projecting one slide after another might make it look as though you’ve prepared the presentation. But if you haven’t planned exactly what you’re going to say, you’ll have to ad lib and, if you start rambling, the audience will switch off.

To avoid this requires careful planning. Do this before thinking about slides and you won’t need as many of them – and the ones that you do decide to use are more likely to help to clarify things for the audience, rather than just remind you of what to say next.

INFORMATION OVERLOAD

You think bullet points make information more digestible? Think again. A dozen slides with five bullet points on each assumes that people are mentally capable of taking in a list of 60 points. If it’s a 30-minute presentation, that’s a rate of two-per-minute.
Monty Python scene with Frenchmen demonstrating sheep aircraft
This looks a fairly interesting visual aid

This highlights the biggest problem with slide-based presentations, which is that speakers mistakenly think that they can get far more information across than is actually possible in a presentation. At the heart of this is a widespread failure to appreciate that speaking and listening are fundamentally different from writing and reading.

In fact, the invention of writing was arguably the most important landmark in the history of information technology. Before writing, the amount of information that could be passed on to others was severely limited by what could be communicated in purely oral form (ie not much). But the ability to write meant that vast amounts of knowledge could be communicated at previously unimagined levels of detail.

The trouble is that PowerPoint makes it so easy to put detailed written and numerical information on slides that it leads presenters into the mistaken belief that all the detail will be successfully transmitted through the air into the brains of the audience.

THE BULLET POINT PROBLEM

A Microsoft executive recently said that one of the best PowerPoint presentations he’d ever heard had no slides with bullet points on them. This didn’t surprise me at all, because we’ve known for years that audiences don’t much like wordy slides and don’t find them as helpful as pictorial visual aids.

What does surprise me is that so many of the program’s standard templates invite users to produce lists of bullet points, when the program’s main benefits lie in the creation of images. If more presenters took advantage of that, inspiring PowerPoint presentations might become the norm, rather than the exception.

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Google Gmail Passes AOL, Becoming Third Most Popular E-mail (Information Week)

ByThomas Claburn
InformationWeek

With its growth rate climbing, Gmail is on track to pass Microsoft’s Hotmail in the first quarter of 2010.

Google’s Gmail has surpassed AOL as the third most visited e-mail service in the U.S. and is poised to pass Windows Live Hotmail in about seven months.Between July 2008 and July 2009, Gmail’s number of unique monthly visitors in the U.S. increased from 25.3 million to 36.9 million, according to ComScore.

Gmail’s rate of traffic growth has been increasing, too. In the July 2008 to July 2009 period, Gmail grew at a rate of 46%, up from 39% during the period between September 2007 and September 2008.From July 2008 to July 2009, AOL’s monthly visitor total declined by 19%, from 45.1 million to 36.4 million. Windows Live Hotmail, which lost 4% of its visitors between September 2007 and September 2008, managed to eke out a 3% gain during the July 2008 to July 2009 period.

But with 47.1 million monthly visitors, Windows Live Hotmail is more or less where it was in September 2007, when its monthly visitor share stood at 46.2 million.

If current trends continue, Gmail should surpass Hotmail by the end of February next year and take second place in visitor traffic behindYahoo Mail. The release of Windows 7, however, may contribute to renewed interest in Microsoft services like Hotmail and may delay Gmail’s move to second place.

Yahoo Mail, the leading free e-mail service, has been doing better lately. Its visitor traffic, 106.1 million last month by ComScore’s count, grew at a rate of about 11% in 2008 and at a rate of 22% between July 2008 and July 2009.

There are of course other metrics by which one can measure the popularity of e-mail services, like the number of registered accounts. Online traffic however can be correlated with active usage.

Gmail’s torrid growth coincides with a period of aggressive innovation. Google has delivered new Gmail features and capabilities every week, more or less, since the opening of Gmail Labs in June last year.

Google has also been encouraging businesses to start using Google Apps, which includes Gmail as well as online applications like Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Sites, and Google Video.

Google did not immediately respond to a request to confirm ComScore’s figures.

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US man ’stole 130m card numbers’

Credit card

The card details were allegedly stolen from three firms, including 7-Eleven

US prosecutors have charged a man with stealing data relating to 130 million credit and debit cards.

Officials say it is the biggest case of identity theft in American history.

They say Albert Gonzalez, 28, and two un-named Russian co-conspirators hacked into the payment systems of retailers, including the 7-Eleven chain.

Prosecutors say they aimed to sell the data on. If convicted, Mr Gonzalez faces up to 20 years in jail for wire fraud and five years for conspiracy.

He would also have to pay a fine of $250,000 (£150,000) for each of the two charges.

‘Standard’ attack

SQL INJECTION ATTACK
This is a fairly common way that fraudsters try to gain access to consumers’ card details.
They scour the internet for weaknesses in companies’ firewalls, which is simply a security wall designed to block unauthorised access to a computer network.
Once they find a weakness, they insert a specially designed code into the network that allows them to access card details.
There is little consumers can do to protect themselves from the effects of this type of attack.
The general advice to cardholders is to check bank statements carefully and report any suspicious transactions immediately.

Mr Gonzalez used a technique known as an “SQL injection attack” to access the databases and steal information, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said.

Edward Wilding, a fraud investigator, told the BBC that this method was “a pretty standard way” for fraudsters to try to access personal data.

It “exploits any vulnerability in a firewall and inserts a code to gather information,” he explained.

However, he added that this case probably “involved extremely well researched, especially configured codes, not standard attack codes downloaded from the internet”.

Mr Wilding said there was little consumers could do to protect themselves against this kind of fraud.

“The real vulnerability [for cardholders], I suspect, is internet and telephone transactions. But this is a failure in the configuration of [corporate] firewalls,” he said.

Michelle Whiteman, from anti-fraud organisation Financial Fraud Action UK, said that consumers must check their bank statements regularly and flag up any suspicious transactions to their bank.

She said that online, telephone and mail order fraud were on the increase, along with fraud committed abroad on UK cards, according to figures released in March.

But she stressed that any victim of fraud would “always be refunded in full”.

Further charges

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Mr Gonzales’ corporate victims included Heartland Payment Systems – a card payment processor – convenience store 7-Eleven and Hannaford Brothers, a supermarket chain, the DoJ said.

According to the indictment, the group researched the credit and debit card systems used by their victims, attacked their networks and sent the data to computer servers they operated in California, Illinois, Latvia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

The data could then be sold on, enabling others to make fraudulent purchases, it said.

Mr Gonzalez, who had once been an informant for the US Secret Service helping to track hackers, is already in custody on separate charges of hacking into the computer systems of a national restaurant chain and eight major retailers, including TJ Maxx, involving the theft of data related to 40 million credit cards.

Mr Gonzales is scheduled to go on trial for these charges in 2010.

This latest case will raise fresh concerns about the security of credit and debit cards used in the United States, the BBC’s Greg Wood reports.

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Mobile data show friend networks (BBC)

Representation of mobile data survey (Stephen Guerin, Redfish Group)

Movement and call data showed a different picture of connectivity than surveys

Friendships can be inferred with 95% accuracy from call records and the proximity of users, says a new report.

Researchers fitted 94 mobiles in the US with logging software to gather data.

The results also showed that those with friends near work were happier, while those who called friends while at work were less satisfied.

The data, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed a marked contrast with answers reported by the users themselves.

“We gave out a set of phones that were installed with a piece of ‘uber-spyware’,” said the study’s lead author Nathan Eagle, now at the Santa Fe Institute.

“It’s invisible to the user but logs everything: communication, users’ locations, people’s proximity by doing continuous Bluetooth scans.”

The researchers then compared the data with results from standard surveys given to the mobile users – and found, as the social sciences have found time and again, that people reported different behaviour than the mobile data revealed.

“What we found was that people’s responses were wildly inaccurate,” Dr Eagle told BBC News.

Mobile phone data are fantastic complements to the existing, very deep survey literature that the social sciences already have
Nathan Eagle
Santa Fe Institute

“For people who said that a given individual was a friend, they dramatically overestimated the amount of time they spent. But for people who were not friends, they dramatically underestimated that amount of time.”

The researchers were able to guess from the mobile data alone, with 95% accuracy, if any given pair of users were friends.

An analysis of the overall proximity of a given user to his or her friends – maximised if they worked together – was correlated to people who reported a high level of satisfaction at work.

Conversely, those who made calls to their friends while working were found to report lower levels of satisfaction at work.

Wide application

One principal question of such a small sample size, made up exclusively of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is how much the results really mean in a sociology context.

However, the group has gone on to carry out a larger study that just finished, comprising 1,000 people in Helsinki, Finland.

There is also an ongoing trial of the approach in Kenya, which Dr Eagle said includes participants ranging from computer science students to people who had never used a phone before.

Nokia 6600 (Nokia)

Standard Nokia 6600 handsets were fitted with “uber-spyware”

Dr Eagle sees the approach not as a means to supplant but rather to supplement traditional measures.

“Mobile phone data are fantastic complements to the existing, very deep survey literature that the social sciences already have,” he said.

Moreover, he sees it not just as a means to map out the networks of friends that mobile users might have, but to carry on this “reality mining” in contexts ranging from the modelling of the spread of disease to the design of urban spaces.

“We were capturing data when the Red Sox won the [baseball championship] World Series for the first time,” Dr Eagle recounted.

“Suddenly all our subjects became unpredictable; they all flooded into downtown Boston to a rally in the centre of the city.

“City planners approached us because they wanted to know how people were using urban infrastructure, to know when the people left the rally, how many walked across the bridge and how many took the subway, how many biked or took the bus.

“We can give them some real insight with the idea of helping them build a better city that reflects people’s actual behaviour.”

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Twitter tweets are 40% ‘babble’ (BBC)

Screengrab of Twitter page, PA

Micro-blogging site Twitter has some high profile user

A short-term study of Twitter has found that 40% of the messages sent via it are “pointless babble.”

Carried out by US market research firm Pear Analytics, the study aimed to produce a snapshot of what people do with the service.

Almost as prevalent as the babble were “conversational” tweets that used it as a surrogate instant messaging system.

The study found that only 8.7% of messages could be said to have “value” as they passed along news of interest.

Message stream

To get an idea of what Twitter was being used for, Pear Analytics dipped into the Tweet stream every 30 minutes between 11:00 and 17:00 on weekdays for a fortnight.

…a source for people to share their current activities that have little to do with everyone else
Ryan Kelly, Pear Analytics

In total it grabbed 2,000 messages and then put each message it grabbed into one of six categories; news, spam, self-promotion, pointless babble, conversational and those with pass-along value.

Conversational tweets were those that bounced back and forth between two users, and those dubbed “pointless babble” were of the “I’m eating a sandwich” type.

When Pear Analytics started its short-term study, it assumed that most of the tweets would be either spam or self-promotion. This belief, it said, was driven by the growing number of firms starting to use Twitter as a tool to drum up sales.

Instead, it found that 40.5% could be classified as pointless babble, 37.5% as conversational and 8.7% as having pass-along value. Self promotion and spam stood at 5.85% and 3.75% respectively.

“With the new face of Twitter, it will be interesting to see if they take a heavier role in news, or continue to be a source for people to share their current activities that have little to do with everyone else,” said Ryan Kelly, founder of Pear Analytics, writing about its analysis.

Pear Analytics intends to repeat its study every quarter to track trends in usage.

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Alarm sounded over game futures (BBC)

By Daniel Emery
BBC technology reporter, Edinburgh

Screenshot from Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online, EA

EA is experimenting with novel ways for players to pay for games

A stark warning about the finances of the games industry has been aired at the Edinburgh Interactive conference.

The sector had suffered “significant disruption” to its business model, Edward Williams, from BMO Capital Markets told the industry gathering.

“For Western publishers, profitability hasn’t grown at all in the past few years and that’s before we take 2009 into account,” he said.

By contrast, he said, Chinese firms were still seeing improved profits.

What makes the difference between Western firms and Chinese developers was the way they went about getting products to players.

Western publishers, said Mr Williams, still relied on the traditional develop methods of putting a game on a DVD and then selling that through retail channels.

Chinese developers focussed primarily on the PC market and used direct download, rather than retail stores, to get games to consumers.

Those Chinese developers were also helped by the low number of console users in South East Asia which meant developers there did not have to pay royalties to console makers.

Future models

Three factors, said Mr. Williams, were forcing the operating costs of Western firms to spiral upwards:

• Games are getting larger, which meant longer development time and larger staff costs.

• After its release in the 1990s the PlayStation accounted for 80% of the market. Today the console space is very fragmented, so developers have to work on many platforms at any one time.

• The cost of licensing intellectual property or gaining official sports body endorsement (such as FIFA or FIA) has gone up.

These factors, said Mr. Williams, explained the stagnation in overall profitability despite sales in the games sector increasing by $30bn (£24.17bn) over the past four years.

Recent figures suggest sales are also coming under pressure. US game sales fell by 29% in the last 12 months suggest statistics from research group NPD.

PS2 console, AP

The PlayStation no longer dominates pushing up costs for game makers

Speaking to the BBC, Peter Moore – president of EA Sports – said that while the Chinese and Western markets were still very different, he expected to see some significant changes in the way Westerners buy games in the future.

“In China, PC and mobile platforms will continue to dominate,” he said. “There isn’t the necessity to buy other pieces of hardware and it is our job to service that.”

“In Europe we are going to see more content that’s delivered electronically, be that through Steam, Xbox Live or whatever.”

Mr Moore added that while this may have some impact on retailers, the future of the high street shop was still bright, especially if you factor in sales of hardware, peripherals and game-time cards.

“The release of Tiger Woods online as a free to play experience will be the real test of the Western consumer’s appetite for digital downloading,” he said.

The game, scheduled for release in late 2009, has a segment which gamers can play for free online but can also pay for additional content as required.

Now in its sixth year, the Edinburgh Interactive Conference brings together industry figures, developers, publishers and the media to discuss issues facing the interactive game sector and to try to promote creativity.

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Microsoft-Nokia Deal Could Kill Windows Mobile (Information Week)

Alliance means Redmond may have thrown in the towel on mobile OS market, analyst says.

By InformationWeek

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT)’s mobile alliance with Finnish smartphone maker Nokia (NYSE: NOK), while boosting Redmond’s ability to compete in the corporate market, could ultimately sound the death knell for the Windows Mobile portable operating system, according to an analyst at influential research firm Gartner.Under the deal, announced Wednesday, Microsoft will port the mobile version of its Office suite to Nokia’s Symbian operating system, leaving Windows Mobile out in the cold.
“Despite loud protestations that Microsoft is deeply committed to WinMo they wouldn’t have needed this alliance with Nokia if WinMo were the leading smartphone operating system,” said Gartner’s Nick Jones, in a blog post on the deal.Jones went as far as to suggest that Windows Mobile 7, expected to ship later this year, could be Microsoft’s last stab at the mobile OS market.

“I’ve noted before in my blog that I am becoming more concerned about its future and I worry that WM7 could even be the last throw of the dice,” said Jones. “Imagine you’re [Microsoft CEO] Steve Balmer, and in two years time WinMo was still 4th in smartphone market share. How much longer would you keep throwing money at it?” Jones continued.

Indeed, Gartner’s data shows that Symbian controls about 50% of the worldwide mobile OS market, while Windows Mobile holds less than 10%.

Jones, however, said the tie-up with Nokia holds significant upside for Microsoft as it seeks to challenge Research In Motion’s Blackberry and others in the lucrative corporate mobile market.

“Over the next couple of years Microsoft will face greater competition in mobile email, unified communications and collaboration from a wide range of organisations such as Cisco (NSDQ: CSCO), Google and RIM (NSDQ: RIMM). Being available on Symbian – the dominant smartphone platform – will help Microsoft fight these competitors,” said Jones.

The first line of Nokia phones to be covered under the pact is the business-oriented Eseries. Microsoft and Nokia will also co-develop mobile middleware and other tools, including Exchange ActiveSync, to help businesses integrate Nokia mobile devices into their Microsoft enterprise computer networks.

Nokia also plans to ship Microsoft Office Communicator Mobile on its phones starting in 2010.

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Major US cities hail crime reduction (BBC)

By Claire Prentice
BBC News, Washington

A Washington DC police officer consults his in-car computer

In-car computers are helping DC police reduce crime rates

It is mid-morning and, despite being several hours into his shift, Officer Frank Buentello of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department has not received a single call for assistance.

It was a different story when he started his police career in Washington DC 20 years ago.

“The city has really cleaned up. Even 10 years ago this street here was a crime hotspot,” he said, pointing towards bustling Columbia Road.

The murder rate in the District of Columbia is down 22% this year, with 84 murders so far in 2009.

The district is on track to have fewer killings than in any year since 1964.

It is a remarkable turnaround for an area which, as recently as 1991, was dubbed “the murder capital of the United States”.

New technology

And DC is not alone. Across America, major cities have experienced a significant drop in violent crime, a definition which includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

They include once-notorious crime hubs like New York and Los Angeles, both of which are on track for their lowest homicide rates in 40 years.

Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Minneapolis are among other cities seeing notable reductions in murders.

Mr Buentello and DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier say a return to beat policing combined with the introduction of sophisticated new crime fighting technology are responsible for slashing DC crime rates.

We are using our pooled expertise to gain a better understanding of crime and to more precisely target the perpetrators of violent crime
Cecil Thomas
Policing expert

Inside Mr Buentello’s patrol car, a small computer, or Mobile Data Terminal, receives minute-by-minute updates of all emergency calls coming into the department along with any new information on cases under investigation or crimes taking place in the area.

Commanders also receive regular updates on their mobile phones.

On the roof of his vehicle, Mr Buentello points out a “Tag Meter” which automatically scans licence plates and identifies vehicles which are stolen or are suspected of being used in a crime.

The DC police force also uses Shot Detectors to monitor activity in parts of the city associated with gun crime.

This information is then sent electronically to officers patrolling the area.

“All of these things add up to a powerful crime fighting weapon,” said Officer Buentello. “They help us solve cases and act as a powerful deterrent.”

In New York, police send a mobile data unit to murder scenes, allowing police there to listen to emergency calls and search databases listing everyone in a certain building who is on parole.

Cincinnati police have in-car computers which allow them to use surveillance cameras to zoom in on everything happening within a known trouble area.

In New York, murder has dropped 8.8% over the last two years, and 77.2% since 1993.

It is a similar story in Los Angeles, where murder is down 20.8% in the last two years.

PhD policing

Some experts warn that police departments may be celebrating prematurely, however.

“I’m sceptical about the claim that violent crime is down because policing has got better,” says Andrew Karmen, a criminologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and author of New York Murder Mystery.

“The truth is that not all violent crimes are down in all cities.”

Baltimore, Denver and Dallas are among cities experiencing a higher number of homicides compared with last year.

According to experts factors contributing to a rise in crime include poverty, unemployment, the size of the police force, the efficiency of the local criminal justice system in identifying and locking up repeat offenders and whether there is an entrenched gang, drug and gun culture.

Despite some regional discrepancies, most observers agree, however, that the drop in violent crime in many cities is significant.

The trend also cast doubt on the widely-held view that crime increases during times of economic hardship.

Criminologists point out that crime rates were relatively low during the Great Depression compared with the Roaring Twenties, when there was more violence across America.

Policing expert and Cincinnati councilman Cecil Thomas worked for the Cincinnati police force for 27 years.

He said that a greater willingness to pool resources with criminologists, the FBI, other police departments and crime fighting bodies has led to more effective policing.

“We all used to be very territorial but what you are seeing now is ‘PhD policing’ – we are using our pooled expertise to gain a better understanding of crime and to more precisely target the perpetrators of violent crime,” said Mr Thomas.

Chief Lanier stresses that new technology alone cannot fight crime.

She has introduced a number of initiatives aimed at building relationships with the community, including All Hands On Deck, whereby every police officer in DC goes out simultaneously on foot patrol.

The introduction of these measures has led to a greater volume of tip-offs from the public.

“We’ll never kick back and relax and think we’ve done our work,” said Chief Lanier. “We can always do better.”

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Defending virtual borders (BBC)

By Mark Cieslak
BBC Click

The risk to government networks and major financial institutions from cyber warfare is increasing every day but what is being done to defend national borders?

Globe

“Cyber war” is an emerging global security risk

Estonia is an online savvy state and champion of so called ‘e-government,’ a paperless system with many government services online. The population can even vote via the web.

In 2007 a large number of Estonian government and financial websites were brought to a standstill as they came under sustained online attack.

On 4 July 2009, US and South Korean government websites and those of certain banks and businesses ground to a halt as they came under denial of service assaults. In the United States, the Pentagon and the White House were also targeted.

These cyber attacks were all initially thought to be orchestrated by countries unfriendly to Estonia, South Korea and the US and to date have been the highest profile examples of so-called cyber warfare.

Digital battlefield

Conventional warfare relies on tanks, troops, artillery, aircraft and a whole gamut of weapons systems. Cyber warfare requires a computer and an internet connection.

Professor Sommer

Professor Sommer claims that most of the attacks are over the internet

Rather than sending in the marines, the act of typing a command on a keyboard can have a devastating effect on computer systems and networks.

According to Clive Room of Portcullis Computer Security: “It is possible to bring an entire state to a standstill theoretically and we’ve seen it done on a small scale practically, so the threat ahead of us is very big indeed.”

From criminal gangs trying to steal cash, to foreign intelligence services trying to steal secrets, the threat of cyber warfare is now very real.

Nato suspects that along with the tanks and troops involved in the conflict in Georgia in 2008, Russian forces also engaged in cyber attacks against Georgian government computer systems.

Professor Peter Sommer of the London School of Economics explained that cyber warfare should just be seen as a part of modern warfare in general:

“[Carl Von] Clausewitz said war is diplomacy conducted by other means. What cyber warfare gives you is a whole range of new types of technologies which you can apply.”

Zombie machines

These international attacks are not isolated instances. Everyday government and corporate websites fend off thousands of attempts to infiltrate hack and cause disruption.

Twitter, Facebook and other high-profile sites have recently been brought to their knees by similar attacks.

The popular weapon of choice in cyber warfare is the directed denial of service attack or DDOS. Unknown to their owners, infected computers become zombie machines digitally press-ganged to do the bidding of hackers, this is known as a botnet.

My experience of doing investigations of all sizes is that very often the initial diagnosis is wrong
Professor Sommer, London School of Economics

In their thousands these zombie machines attempt to log on to a particular website, forcing it to fail or collapse under the sheer weight of data it is receiving.

The threat of cyber warfare is being taken seriously by Western governments and Nato. Online assets are being deployed to bolster national and international digital defences.

NATO has set up a cyber defence facility in Estonia codenamed K5. The American government has launched a national cyber security strategy and the UK has responded by creating two organisations, the Office of Cyber Security and the Cyber Security Operations Centre based at GCHQ in Cheltenham.

However the amount of people involved is still small, said Clive Room.

“The government’s own reckoning is about 40. About 20 people within each of those two offices.”

In comparison he estimates that there are about 40,000 people “listening in to us in China” and “working round the clock.”

For Professor Sommer, the UK has had a response to cyber warfare in place for 10 years, but “it’s been pretty hidden so far.”

“You tended to get to know about it if you were an academic or you moved in certain sort of technical circles,” he said.

“More recently because the problems got bigger and because of greater public alarm and interest they have decided to make it more public.”

Misdiagnosis

If defending against cyber warfare is tough, trying to pin point, track back and identify the origin of an online attack can be a near impossible task.

Computer mouse and keyboard

PCs inside a botnet can be forced to carry out instructions

In the case of the Estonian attacks, initial reports suggested that Russia was to blame. These allegations have been strongly denied by Russian authorities, and to date only one individual, an ethnic Russian student living in Estonia, has been fined as a result of the attacks.

For Professor Sommer, misdiagnosis is easy: “All too quickly people say they know where the attack is coming from.”

“My experience of doing investigations of all sizes is that very often the initial diagnosis is wrong.”

“If you look at the recent Korean attacks it seems, at a political level, a reasonable supposition that it originated in North Korea because they’re the people that are most active at the moment.

“On the other hand, some of the reports say at a technical level they seem to have originated here in the United Kingdom, which makes no sense. So diagnosis is quite difficult.”

However, one thing is certain: cyber warfare is here to stay.

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