Top 10 IT news stories of the week: GCHQ staff lend a hand to the Tor Project and Sony gets slated for its security. Again

By Graeme Burton
29 Aug 2014 View Comments
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Security often dominates the stories at Computing. After all, if a company like Sony can get repeatedly whacked, whether for internal security shortcomings or having its services knocked offline by denial of service attacks, then what hope is there for the rest of us?

Computing readers will also be sending in their applications to Tesla Motors for the new positions testing the IT security of its high-tech cars. Please note, however, that the role does not come with a company car...

Further reading

10) Backbytes: Whatever you're doing, it's probably against the law

It used to be said that "ignorance of the law is no defence", but that's a little unfair given how voluminous it has become. You couldn't read it in a lifetime, let alone comprehend and memorise it all. Indeed, even the police themselves don't seem to know what is illegal and what isn't - as demonstrated by the shrill tweets of the Metropolitan Police, warning people that they may be committing a criminal offence by viewing the vile video of the murder of journalist James Foley by Islamist extremists in Syria. Um. Until they had to admit that perhaps it isn't. Well, not yet.

9) NHS shifts from ill-fated Spine to Spine 2

The National Programme for IT in the NHS cost an absolutely colossal amount of taxpayers' cash - and largely didn't work. It also tied in NHS trusts into costly and disadvantageous contracts for otherwise straightforward IT services. So it's nice to see something salvaged from the wreckage. In this case, the Spine infrastructure designed to store patient information and enabling electronic messaging. Let's hope it's not an IT "cut and shut" job and will actually work as intended.

8) Gmail can be hacked with 92 per cent success rate, says University of California

Maybe it was the lure of another supposed lapse in security of a popular and widely used application, or maybe it was the cheeky pic of Professor Denzil Dexter that accompanied it, but the story exposing how Gmail mobile apps can be hacked - if you do a lot of convoluted mucking about - proved wildly popular. Indeed, the researchers say that their crack requires a good dollop of social engineering in order to work - and who'd be stupid enough to fall for any of that, eh?

7) Car maker Tesla seeks 30 full-time hackers to break into its cars

Electric cars used to be associated with those awful blue "plastic pig" disability motors or those laughable G-Wiz noddy cars that fall apart if the driver sneezes too violently. However, Tesla Motors, which was set-up by the irritatingly clever Elon Musk, have helped to make electric cars sexy - if you have $100,000 to drop on a vehicle that can only do 100 miles on a nice sunny day, albeit very fast.

That's why it wouldn't surprise us if many of the Computing readers that clicked to read this story, were also updating their CVs on the side. The job spec? Come and work in sunny California to spend your days trying to crack Tesla cars' security. Applicants should note, as we did above: the position does not come with company car...

6) Using mobile and big data to accommodate customer needs - an interview with Hotels.com CTO Thierry Bedos

Okay, it might not have had the snappiest headline ever, but our readers are far too discerning to be put off by such a superficial shortcoming. However, Thierry Bedos at Hotels.com has it all: CTO in a hyper-competitive market, he's working on mobile and big data to help maintain the company's position against rivals - and doing a pretty good job by all accounts. The company needs to delve ever-deeper into analytics in order to present to customers and potential customers, who are only ever a click away from going elsewhere, more relevant information and to keep them engaged.

Good luck with that, Thierry!

5) NSA built 'Google-like' search tool to mine data from 850 billion communications records

It has long been suspected by privacy campaigners that the technology being developed at places like Google and Yahoo (don't laugh, that's where Hadoop was devised) is really blazing a trail for shadowy government agencies.

After all, the authorities no longer need to keep Stasi-style files on everyone, they need only serve a warrant on Google and examine the files that it is keeping on us all. However, the more complex communications data that the US National Security Agency is collecting requires an in-house tool that's also easy to use for even the stupidest spook.

Hence, the NSA's development of a ICREACH to make it nice and easy to mine the 850 billion records - and counting - that the NSA holds of communications across the world.

Let's hope no innocent people get inadvertently "linked" with any terrorist...

4) Don't fear the DevOps

Who could possibly fear nice, cuddly DevOp people? Apparently, the people that manage them. Computing therefore talked to some DevOps experts about how "development, operations and management can work in harmony". The conclusion, perhaps, was predictable: DevOps needs to talk more like "business" and less like "Klingon", while keeping a closer eye on the applications that are actually running across the organisation. 

3) Microsoft: Windows 9 'technology preview' to be unveiled on 30 September

Few operating systems will have been rushed out faster than Windows 9 - or Windows Next, as they insist on calling it in Redmond - with the possible exception of Windows 7, which replaced the monstrosity that was Windows Vista.

But Microsoft really is working at speed to erase and replace the carbuncle of Windows 8, which has probably done more than anything else to depress PC sales in recent years. We already knew shortly after Windows 8 was released, and already tanking, that Windows 9 would be following swiftly after - a release for April 2015 was penciled-in early on. Now, you can see exactly what Microsoft's got in mind from 30 September, after the software giant confirmed the release of its "technology preview". It had better be a big improvement on Windows 8.

2) GCHQ and NSA security staff tip-off Tor developers over bugs

Not everyone likes their employer: they turn up, do the work, go home again, bank the pay cheque. But when your employer is GCHQ and your role is to pick holes in popular applications for the spooks to exploit in various nefarious ways, it's little surprise that some of them may be inclined to tip-off the people responsible for those applications.

That, at least, is the suspicion of Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project. It's a pretty open secret that Tor is under daily attack from security services around the world. But according to Lewman, many of the people working for those security services, are somewhat disenchanted and tipping the nod to the Tor Project about some of the security shortcomings they've uncovered.

Or, maybe it's all a cunning ruse to put them off of the really devious work that the NSA and GCHQ are working on? 

1) 'Sony doesn't understand security': Why PlayStation Network is such an attractive target for hackers

Who said that gamers were sad individuals who sit in their bedrooms interacting with pixels on a screen instead of with real people? If that were ever true, broadband has certainly changed gaming into a social activity (or an anti-social activity in the case of people who play the game "Dayz") highly dependent on a high-speed internet connection.

That is why the distributed denial-of-service attack against Sony's Playstation Network made people sit up and take notice. If companies like Sony cannot keep a business that is dependent upon a reliable internet connection secure and free from hacker-related downtime, what hope is there for other organisations? 

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