Posts Tagged problems

‘Open internet’ rules criticised (BBC)

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Man using phone on the move, AFP/Getty

Studies show 60% of users are interested in mobile internet access

Mobile providers have said that US proposals to ensure all traffic on the internet is treated equally should not be applied to wireless traffic.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants rules to prevent providers blocking or slowing down bandwidth-heavy usage such as streaming video.

Providers claim a two-tiered system is essential for the future vitality of the net.

Mobile operators said any regulation would damage innovation.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said doing nothing was not an option.

In his first major speech since his appointment earlier in the summer, he told an audience in Washington that the rules were “not about government regulation of the internet”.

“History’s lesson is clear. Ensuring a robust and open internet is the best thing we can do to promote investment and innovation,” he told the audience at Washington think tank the Brookings Institution.

“And while there are some who see every policy decision as either pro-business or pro-consumer, I reject that approach; it’s not the right way to see technology’s role in America.”

The FCC’s proposals are meant to ensure that internet service providers cannot block or slow down traffic, such as bandwidth-hogging video downloads. Operators must also be transparent about network management, it said.

But providers have argued that a two-tiered internet is essential to effectively manage their networks.

‘Phenomenal success’

Almost as soon as Mr Genachowski stepped off the podium, industry critics condemned the inclusion of wireless traffic in the new policy proposals.

Ethernet cable

The FCC says the internet is at a crossroads

“We are concerned the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America – wireless services,” said AT&T’s Jim Cicconi.

“The internet in America has been a phenomenal success that has spawned technological and business innovation unmatched anywhere else in the world,” said David Cohen, executive vice-president at Comcast.

“So it’s still fair to ask whether increased regulation of the internet is a solution in search of a problem.”

Verizon, the nation’s biggest cellphone operator, said it believed the FCC had no reason to impose “a new set of regulations that will limit customer choices and affect content providers, application developers, device manufacturers and network builders”.

Politicians also weighed in on the proposals.

Six Republican senators introduced a measure that would cut the FCC’s funding to “develop and implement new regulatory mandates”.

Meanwhile, the two Republicans on the FCC’s board said they were not convinced that there were widespread problems of internet providers blocking or slowing traffic that needed to be addressed with new rules.

‘Pivotal moment’

However, just as many supporters as critics stood up to praise the FCC’s move.

iPhone (Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Touch screens are changing the way people use mobiles

The FCC “took an important step in… ensuring that the internet remains a platform for innovation, economic growth, and free expression”, wrote Google internet evangelist Vint Cerf, on a company blog.

Consumer groups saw the move as a victory.

“This is a tremendous day for millions of us who have been clamouring to keep the internet free from discrimination,” said John Silver, executive director of advocacy group Free Press.

Mr Genachowski said the increasing number of people who went online using their mobile phones could not be ignored.

“The revolution in wireless technologies and the creation of path-breaking devices like the Blackberry and iPhone have enabled millions of us to carry the internet in our pockets and purses.”

Gigi Sohn of digital rights group Public Knowledge told BBC News the move was necessary given that “wireless is the next frontier and where the great growth of internet access is going to come from”.

Mr Genachowski said he wants as much feedback from consumers, the industry and others on the proposals.

“This is about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the internet,” said the FCC chairman.

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Obama shelves Europe missile plan (BBC)

Barack Obama: “I’m confident… we have strengthened America’s national security”

US President Barack Obama has shelved plans for controversial bases in Poland and the Czech Republic in a major overhaul of missile defence in Europe.

The bases are to be scrapped after a review of the threat from Iran.

Mr Obama said there would be a “proven, cost-effective” system using land- and sea-based interceptors against Iran’s short- and medium-range missile threat.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has welcomed the US decision, calling it a “responsible move”.

Russia had always seen the shield as a threat.

However, there has been criticism of the decision in conservative circles in the US.

The US signed a deal in August 2008 with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.

ANALYSIS
Kevin Connolly
Kevin Connolly, BBC News, Washington

It would be hard to invent a news story that tied together more strategic and political issues than the Obama administration’s decision to change its stance on the deployment of a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe.

It touches on Washington’s assessment of Iran’s military capabilities. There is an underlying assumption that Tehran’s capacity for mounting warheads on long-range missiles does not pose an immediate strategic headache.

It also sends a signal to the peoples of Central Europe about how President Barack Obama proposes to manage the post Cold War order in their neck of the woods in the next few years. And it raises questions about the administration’s much-talked-about desire to “hit the reset” button on its relationship with Russia.

The US had said the missile shield would be fully operational by 2012.

But President Obama this year ordered a review of the defence system, which was strongly backed by his predecessor George W Bush.

‘Stronger and smarter’

On Thursday, President Obama said in a live TV address that the change was needed to “deploy a defence system that best responds to the threats we face”.

He said a review had shown the need to switch strategy to defending against the short- and medium-range missiles that Iran could use to target Europe.

Twice Mr Obama referred to the need for a system that was “proven and cost effective”.

He said the new approach would provide “a stronger, smarter and swifter defence” of US and allied forces in Europe.

Mr Obama said he had spoken to both the Czech Republic and Poland and stressed his commitments to their defence.

But he said again that Russia’s concerns about the old system were “entirely unfounded”.

It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return
John Bolton,
former Bush undersecretary

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs later stressed the overhaul was “not about Russia”.

Although the White House said the US “no longer planned to move forward” with the old shield scheme for Poland and the Czech Republic, Defence Secretary Robert Gates stressed the US was not abandoning missile defence of Europe.

He said negotiations were under way with both nations about deploying upgraded SM-3 interceptors from 2015.

The first phase of the new strategy, he said, would be to deploy “current and proven missile defence systems in the next two years”, including the sea-based Aegis and the current SM-3.

Iran says its missile development programme is solely for scientific, surveillance or defensive purposes, but there are concerns in the West and among Iran’s neighbours that the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

‘Responsible’

Mr Medvedev said the US decision was a “positive” one.

He said he would discuss the missile defence issue with President Obama during a visit to the United Nations in New York next week.

Mr Medvedev said in a TV address: “We value the US president’s responsible approach towards implementing our agreements. I am ready to continue the dialogue.”

Ground-based Midcourse Defense locations map

The two countries are currently in talks about reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the US move could influence Russia to be more co-operative, correspondents say.

Mr Medvedev said there were now “good conditions” for talks on missile reduction.

Gates on missile shield overhaul

However, there has already been some criticism in the US.

John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, said the move was “unambiguously a bad decision”.

He said: “This gives away an important defensive mechanism against threats from countries like Iran and other rogue states, not only for the US but for Europe as well.

“It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return.”

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the US move was “a positive step”, Associated Press reported.

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Flight site hacker ‘identified’ (BBC)

Avsim logo

Avsim is one of the largest sites serving the flight sim community

The publisher of a flight simulator site targeted by a hacker in May says it has presented a file of evidence to UK police identifying the perpetrator.

Avsim said it had “incontrovertible evidence” about the hacker’s identity.

The attack wiped data held on two servers and “effectively destroyed” the site, which is still being rebuilt.

The US firm said it expected the criminal complaint, filed with London police, to lead to the alleged hacker spending “time behind bars”.

“We will not name any names, but have incontrovertible evidence of the individual that performed the hack,” said Tom Allensworth, the publisher and CEO of Avsim.

“We have protected the forensic evidence and provided that evidence to the London police. We are committed to bringing justice to bear on this case.”

Mr Allensworth told BBC News that the evidence was submitted on Monday to the Southwark division of the Metropolitan Police, which was “acting on behalf of another constabulary”.

‘Next level’

The US site, launched in 1996, covers all aspects of flight simulation, although its main focus is on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.

In addition it hosts a forum and allows enthusiasts to download extra content for flight simulations, such as new landscapes.

The firm claims it is the most-visited flight simulation site on the internet.

“Its contribution has been immeasurable,” said Derek Davis, editor of PC Pilot magazine, following the attack.

The firm said it had spent $50,000 (£30,000) to bring Avsim back online since the 12 May attack, including $25,000 from users.

It said it had filed the criminal complaint after giving the alleged hacker “two opportunities to settle” the case.

“The individual did not avail himself of the opportunity – in fact, he has ignored our proffers,” Mr Allensworth said in the statement.

“We are now doing as we promised this person we would do: ratcheting this up to the next, criminal, level.”

“We fully expect that the criminal complaint…will result in the perpetrator spending some time behind bars – under UK law.”

The firm said it was seeking prosecution under laws that “deal with unauthorised use of a computer, unauthorised and criminal theft of data, and numerous other violations of other computer and online laws”.

The Metropolitan Police could not confirm whether it had received the complaint.

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Russia ship mystery editor flees (BBC)

Mikhail Voitenko at a press conference in Moscow, 18 August 2009

Mr Voitenko said it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved

A journalist has fled Russia after suggesting the Arctic Sea cargo ship that was apparently hijacked in July may have been carrying illegal weapons.

Mikhail Voitenko said he had been told to leave Moscow or face arrest.

The editor of Sovfracht, an online maritime journal, fled on Wednesday, saying he may not be able to return as his life would be in danger.

Eight men, mainly from Estonia, have been charged with hijacking and piracy over the case.

The men are suspected of seizing the ship and its 15-man Russian crew after raiding it disguised as police.

The alleged hijackers were taken to Russia after the ship was spotted 300 miles (480km) off the west coast of Africa on 16 August.

Secret shipment

Mr Voitenko – who was among the first to cast doubt on official explanations about the ship’s disappearance – told the BBC it was nonsense to suggest pirates had been involved.

Suspected hijacker of the Arctic Sea being escorted in Moscow, 26 August 2009

Eight men have been charged with hijacking and piracy over the case

Instead he suggested the ship may have been carrying a secret shipment of weapons as part of a private business deal by state officials.

Speaking to the BBC from Turkey, Mr Voitenko said he had received a threatening phone call from “serious people” whom he suggested may have been members of Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB.

The caller told Mr Voitenko that those involved in the mysterious case of the Arctic Sea were very angry with him because he had spoken publicly, and were planning on taking action against him, he said.

“As long as I am out of Russia I feel safe,” Mr Voitenko told the BBC. “At least they won’t be able to get me back to Russia and convict [me].”

He also said Nato knew exactly what had happened to the Arctic Sea.

A Nato spokesman said the alliance had been in contact with Russia throughout the crisis, but would not say anything more.

The FSB refused to comment on the allegations.

Further inspection

Mystery continues to surround the ship’s disappearance, amid speculation the ship may have been intercepted by Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence service – in order to prevent a shipment of illegal arms to the Middle East.

Arctic Sea, file image

There has been much speculation over what actually happened on the ship

The 4,000-tonne Maltese-flagged vessel vanished in July days after leaving Finland with an apparent cargo of timber worth $1.8m (£1.1m), destined for the Algerian port of Bejaia.

Observers have questioned why the alleged hijackers would risk seizing the Arctic Sea in one of Europe’s busiest shipping lanes for a relatively inexpensive cargo.

Russian authorities said nothing suspicious was found aboard the ship when it was found last month, but have said a more thorough inspection would be carried out when the Arctic Sea arrives in the Russian port of Novorossiisk.

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Arctic Sea transported Russian missiles (Interfax)

TALLINN. Aug 19 (Interfax) – The dry cargo ship Arctic Sea that was
reportedly attacked by pirates recently could have been involved in arms
trafficking, which is indirectly evident from the fact that Russian
combat planes and ships were dispatched to release the vessel, said
Tarmo Kouts, an EU rapporteur on piracy and former commander of the
Estonian defense forces.
“Only the presence of cruise missiles on board the ship can explain
Russia’s strange behavior in this whole story,” Kouts said in an article
published in the Wednesday issue of the Estonian newspaper Postimees.
If the vessel had been transporting illegal drugs, Russia would not
have taken such energetic steps to find the missing vessel, he said.
“This whole story looks so farfetched that it would have been naive
to believe Russia’s official version,” he said.
“First, the dry cargo ship’s owner officially tied to Finland but
having relation to Latvians, who were ethnic Russians, reported the
ship’s disappearance to the Russian president, after which three big
battleships and a frigate from the Black Sea were sent to chase it,”
Kouts said.
This naval unit was significantly stronger than that engaged in a
recent Somali piracy crisis, he noted.
The cargo that was on board the Arctic Sea, i.e. timber bound for
Algeria, could have been the best camouflage for arms contraband, Kouts
said.
“A whole alley of guided missiles can easily be hidden under stacks
of timber, because, in order to uncover them, the vessel needs to be
brought to a port, and its hold has to be emptied. They are not so easy
to uncover at sea,” he said.
Kouts emphasized that only the transportation of weapons can
explain Russia’s controversial behavior during the incident.

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US cyber-security ‘embarrassing’ (BBC)

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

sign saying what's in your network

Experts say the threat is increasing fast

America’s cyber-security has been described as “broken” by one industry expert and as “childlike” by another.

The criticism comes as President Obama prepares to release the results of a review he had ordered.

Tim Mather, chief strategist for security firm RSA, told BBC News: “The approach we have relied on for years has effectively run out of steam.”

Alan Paller from security research firm SANS Institute said the government’s cyber defences were “embarrassing”.

The government review, which will outline a way forward, is expected to be opened up for public comment at the end of this month.

At the same time, President Obama is also expected to announce the appointment of a cyber-security tsar as part of the administration’s commitment to make the issue a priority.

For many attending last week’s RSA Conference in San Francisco, the biggest security event of its kind, such focus is welcome.

“I think we are seeing a real breaking point in security with consumers, business and even government saying enough, no more. Let’s rethink how we do this because the system is broken,” said Mr Mather.

‘Laws of procurement’

Over the past couple of weeks, the heat has been turned up on the issue of cyber-security following some high profile breaches.

One involved the country’s power grid which was said to have been infiltrated by nation states. The government subsequently admitted that it was “vulnerable to attack”.

US government computer

The review will provide a roadmap for tackling cyber-security

Meanwhile reports during the RSA Conference surfaced that spies had hacked into the Joint Strike Fighter Project.

The topic is very much on the radar of politicians, who have introduced a number of bills to address security in the virtual world.

One includes a provision to allow the president to disconnect government and private entities from the internet for national security reasons in an emergency.

The latest bill, introduced this week by Senator Tom Carper, has called for the creation of a chief information officer to monitor, detect and respond to threats.

Mr Paller, who is the director of research for SANS, believes the government’s multi-billion dollar budget is the most effective weapon it has to force change.

“The idea of cyber-security leadership isn’t if it’s the White House or DHS (Dept of Homeland Security). It’s whether you use the $70bn you spend per year to make the nation safer.”

He said the best way to ensure that was to require industry to provide more secure technology for federal acquisitions.

“If you want to change things, use the laws of procurement,” suggested Mr Paller.

Hot seat

There is a growing view that the industry is also at a crossroads and has a responsibility to alter the way it operates.

fraud sign

There are 32,000 suspected cyber-attacks every 24 hours

“I think we are more aware of security than ever before,” said Benjamin Jun, vice-president of technology at Cryptography Research.

“We are looking at risk in a new way and the good security practitioners are in the hot seat. It’s time for them to do their job.”

It is also time for them to come up with new technologies that can keep pace with, and move ahead of, the threats that affect the whole of cyberspace, says Asheem Chandna of venture firm Greylock Partners.

“For the evolution of the internet, I think we need the next wave of innovation. The industry clearly needs to step up and deliver the next set of technologies to protect people and stay ahead of the bad guys.”

He also believes the smaller innovative companies in Silicon Valley could help the government be more productive if they were not effectively locked out of the process by the big established firms.

“We want smaller companies that are innovating in Silicon Valley to be given a better chance to help government agencies meet their mandate but the bureaucracy to do this hinders these companies.

“Instead they go to commercial customers because they see the value, they move fast, they see the return on investment and the competitive advantage it can give them. The federal government is more of a laggard in this area,” said Mr Chandna.

‘Silver lining’

There is undoubtedly a consensus that the security of the internet needs to be improved and that attacks are taking their toll on everything from banks to credit card companies and from critical infrastructure to defence.

sign who's your hacker

The president has likened the threat to the internet to that of a nuclear attack

“There is a silver lining to this dark cloud,” said Mark Cohn, the vice-president of enterprise security at security firm Unisys.

“Public awareness, and that among the community and interested parties, has grown tremendously over the last year or two.

“Cyber-security affects us all from national security to the mundane level of identity theft and fraud. But that means society as a whole is more receptive to many of the things we need to do that would in the past have been seen as politically motivated.”

For security firm VeriSign, a shift in how people practise security is what is needed

“Security is a state of mind,” said the company’s chief technology officer, Ken Silva.

“Up until now we have relied on the inefficient system of user names and passwords for security. Those have been obsolete for some time now and that is why our research is focused on making authentication stronger and user friendly.”

To that end, VeriSign has introduced a security application that produces an ever-changing password credential for secure transactions on the iPhone or Blackberry. To date the free app has been downloaded more than 20,000 times.

“It’s one thing to say security is broken, but the consumer doesn’t care until it affects them,” said Mr Silva.

“But if we as an industry want them to use stronger security measures we have to make it easy and more user friendly.”

Indeed, Mr Cohn believes everybody has to play his or her part as the online world becomes increasingly integral to our lives.

“It may seem like we are under attack and the world is more dangerous but in some ways the threat environment is shifting.

“Now the greater concern for people is protecting their information, their identity, their financial security as we move to put more information online like our health records and our social security records.

“We are at a crossroads and this should be viewed as a healthy thing,” said Mr Cohn.

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Insider risk problem revealed (BBC)

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

front pages on cyber security

The headlines get the real cyber security threat wrong says the RSA

Security experts have turned the notion that so called “malicious insiders” are the biggest cyber security threat for companies on its head.

The security vendor RSA revealed that the majority of breaches are actually caused unintentionally by employees.

Its survey showed that firms believed 52% of incidents were accidental and 19% were deliberate.

“Unintentional risk gets overlooked, yet it’s the most serious threat to business,” said the RSA’s Chris Young.

“The sexy incident where someone gets arrested for stealing records and selling them to a third party for a lot of money is the stuff that catches the attention of the media, the regulators, executives and Congress people.

“But this is not necessarily where organisations have 100% of the risk,” said Mr Young, the RSA’s senior vice president of products.

The study conducted by the RSA and IT analysts IDC looked at 11 different categories of risk ranging from malware and spyware to employees having excessive access to systems and from unintentional data loss to malicious acts for personal gain.

The report concluded that the difference between the most frequent type of cyber breach – unintentional data loss, at 14.4% per year, and the bottom of the list – internal fraud, at 10.6% – is a clear sign that no single solution can address all potential internal security risks.

It covered over 400 firms from the US, UK, France and Germany across a variety of sectors including the financial industry, healthcare, telecommunications and technology.

‘Weakest link’

The report noted that whether the threats are accidental or deliberate, the cost to a company of a cyber breach is still the same.

The RSA and IDC said disclosure of sensitive information results in regulatory actions, failed audits, litigation, public ridicule and competitive fallout.

fraud sign

Government figures report 32,000 suspected cyber attacks every day

“The figures are hard to quantify, but the average annual financial loss to insider risk adds up to $800,000 (£480,000) overall per organisation in the US and between $300,000-$550,000 (£180,000-£330,000) in the UK, France and Germany.

“And that ties into the billions of dollars range when you think of the thousands of companies that comprise the IT industry,” said Mr Young.

A recent report by the Ponemon Institute found that the average cost of a data breach in 2008 was $202 (£122) per customer record.

The information security firm also determined that the expense continued to rise by 38% between 2004 and 2008.

The RSA and IDC discovered that the weakest link in any company is the temporary employee or contractor.

“They represent the greatest internal risk,” Mr Young told BBC News.

“Most organisations start with a principle of trust and you trust your employees to be able to do their job well and protect the interests of the company. There are always levels of trust which is greater or lesser depending on how closely tied an individual actor is to an individual organisation.

“It’s likely contractors may be less well-trained in organisational policy and it’s harder to maintain control over their access to systems because of the time they interact with an organisation. There is always a tension between letting an employee do his or her job versus security,” said Mr Young.

The Better Business Bureau has drawn up a list of simple things companies should do to secure its data, often regarded as the crown jewels of any company.

It advises limiting systems access to a few trusted employees, using a password protection system for logging in, equipping computers with firewalls and virus protection and educating employees.

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Autonomous tech ‘requires debate’ (BBC)

By Jason Palmer
Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Autonomous vehicle at Heathrow (PA)

Fully autonomous rapid transit systems already exist at Heathrow Airport

The coming age of lorries that drive themselves or robots that perform surgery is fraught with legal and ethical issues, says a new report.

The Royal Academy of Engineering says that automated freight transport could be on the roads in as few as 10 years.

Also, it says, robotic surgery will begin to need less human intervention.

But it suggests that much debate is needed to address the ethical and legal issues raised by putting responsibility in the hands of machines.

“We’re all used to automatic systems – lifts, washing machines. We’re talking about levels above that,” said Lambert Dopping-Heppenstal of the Academy’s engineering ethics working group.

“It’s about systems that have some level of self-determination.”

Coming era

Issues surrounding autonomous systems and robots with such self-determination have been discussed for a number years, particularly with regard to the autonomous machines of warfare .

However, the era of autonomous road vehicles and surgeons is slowly becoming reality, making the issues more urgent, the report says.

The removal of direct control from a car’s driver is already happening, with anti-lock braking systems and even automatic parking systems becoming commonplace.

But the next step is moving toward completely driverless road vehicles, which already exist in a number of contexts, including London’s Heathrow Airport.

Robotic surgery console (PA)

The time may come that robotic surgeons operate without human help

The Darpa Grand Challenge, a contest sponsored by the US defence department’s research arm, has driverless cars negotiating traffic and obstacles and obeying traffic rules over courses nearly 100km long.

“Those machines would have passed the California driving test, more than I would have,” said Professor Will Stewart, a fellow of the Academy.

“Autonomous vehicles will be safer. One of the compelling arguments for them is that the machine cannot have an argument with its wife; it can run 24 hours a day without getting tired. But it is making decisions on its own.”

Professor Stewart and report co-author Chris Elliott remain convinced that autonomous systems will prove, on average, to be better surgeons and better lorry drivers than humans are.

But when they are not, it could lead to a legal morass, they said.

“If a robot surgeon is actually better than a human one, most times you’re going to be better off with a robot surgeon,” Dr Elliott said. “But occasionally it might do something that a human being would never be so stupid as to do.”

Professor Stewart concluded: “It is fundamentally a big issue that we think the public ought to think through before we start trying to imprison a truck.”

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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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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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