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Police set to step up hacking of home PCs
David Leppard

THE Home Office has quietly adopted a new plan to allow police across Britain routinely to hack into people’s personal computers without a warrant.

The move, which follows a decision by the European Union’s council of ministers in Brussels, has angered civil liberties groups and opposition MPs. They described it as a sinister extension of the surveillance state which drives “a coach and horses” through privacy laws.

The hacking is known as “remote searching”. It allows police or MI5 officers who may be hundreds of miles away to examine covertly the hard drive of someone’s PC at his home, office or hotel room.

Material gathered in this way includes the content of all e-mails, web-browsing habits and instant messaging.

Under the Brussels edict, police across the EU have been given the green light to expand the implementation of a rarely used power involving warrantless intrusive surveillance of private property. The strategy will allow French, German and other EU forces to ask British officers to hack into someone’s UK computer and pass over any material gleaned.

A remote search can be granted if a senior officer says he “believes” that it is “proportionate” and necessary to prevent or detect serious crime — defined as any offense attracting a jail sentence of more than three years.

However, opposition MPs and civil liberties groups say that the broadening of such intrusive surveillance powers should be regulated by a new act of parliament and court warrants.

They point out that in contrast to the legal safeguards for searching a suspect’s home, police undertaking a remote search do not need to apply to a magistrates’ court for a warrant.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, the human rights group, said she would challenge the legal basis of the move. “These are very intrusive powers – as intrusive as someone busting down your door and coming into your home,” she said.

“The public will want this to be controlled by new legislation and judicial authorization. Without those safeguards it’s a devastating blow to any notion of personal privacy.”

She said the move had parallels with the warrantless police search of the House of Commons office of Damian Green, the Tory MP: “It’s like giving police the power to do a Damian Green every day but to do it without anyone even knowing you were doing it.”

Richard Clayton, a researcher at Cambridge University’s computer laboratory, said that remote searches had been possible since 1994, although they were very rare. An amendment to the Computer Misuse Act 1990 made hacking legal if it was authorized and carried out by the state.

He said the authorities could break into a suspect’s home or office and insert a “key-logging” device into an individual’s computer. This would collect and, if necessary, transmit details of all the suspect’s keystrokes. “It’s just like putting a secret camera in someone’s living room,” he said.

Police might also send an e-mail to a suspect’s computer. The message would include an attachment that contained a virus or “malware”. If the attachment was opened, the remote search facility would be covertly activated. Alternatively, police could park outside a suspect’s home and hack into his or her hard drive using the wireless network.

Police say that such methods are necessary to investigate suspects who use cyberspace to carry out crimes. These include pedophiles, internet fraudsters, identity thieves and terrorists.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said such intrusive surveillance was closely regulated under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. A spokesman said police were already carrying out a small number of these operations which were among 194 clandestine searches last year of people’s homes, offices and hotel bedrooms.

“To be a valid authorization, the officer giving it must believe that when it is given it is necessary to prevent or detect serious crime and [the] action is proportionate to what it seeks to achieve,” Acpo said.

Dominic Grieve, the shadow home secretary, agreed that the development may benefit law enforcement. But he added: “The exercise of such intrusive powers raises serious privacy issues. The government must explain how they would work in practice and what safeguards will be in place to prevent abuse.”

The Home Office said it was working with other EU states to develop details of the proposals.

Leppard, David. "Police set to step up hacking of home PCs - Times Online." Times Online | News and Views from The Times and Sunday Times. 04 Jan. 2009. 06 Mar. 2009 <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5439604.ece>.


UK Schools or the next Bond movie?

Students register delight at new face-fit check-in

HIGH-TECH facial recognition technology has swept aside the old-fashioned signing of the register at a school.

Sixth-formers will now have their faces scanned as they arrive in the morning at the City of Ely Community College.

It is one of the first schools in the UK to trial the new technology with its students.

Face Register uses the latest high-tech gadgets to register students in and out of school in just 1.5 seconds.

The technology works by scanning faces with an infra-red light and matching their image with key facial features stored on a secure system.

Not only a hit with the students, who enjoy signing themselves in, the system is saving a member of staff about an hour and a half each day in recording data.

Principal Richard Barker said: "With this new registration technology, we are hoping to free up our teachers' time and allow them to spend it on what they are meant to be doing, which is teaching.

"As for the students, they love the idea of taking responsibility for their own registration and using Mission Impossible-style systems."

Hugh Carr-Archer, chief executive of Aurora, the company behind the system, said Face Register is aimed at reducing administrative duties and easing the burden on teaching staff.

St Neots Community College pioneered the system in Cambridgeshire in January.

Scott Preston, vice-chairman, said: "The system is working really well - sixth-formers and staff are pleased with the efficiency of it.

"Only today (Thursday, 05 March) we had a fire alarm test and the administration staff were able to quickly and effectively print data off from the system showing who was on site.

"We feel that with the technology, we are on top of health and safety."

For more information about the new technology, which will be available nationwide in April, visit www.facerec.co.uk

Day, Jordan. "Students register delight at new face-fit check-in." Cambridge News Home. 05 Mar. 2009. 06 Mar. 2009 <http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/cn_news_home/displayarticle.asp?id=396794>.



Writers of malicious software (malware) are at it again. This time, they are targeting you through Facebook. Check out the above link for information from Trend Micro's blog.


From Computerworld:

Particle beam's first lap around accelerator paves way for upcoming collision experiment.

September 10, 2008 (Computerworld) Today's successful test run of a massive particle collider is being called "one of the great engineering milestones of mankind."

On Wednesday morning, just outside of Geneva, scientists shot a particle beam fully around a 17-mile loop in the world's most powerful particle accelerator -- the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Twenty years after development of the collider began, a particle beam made the full journey around the accelerator for the first time. It's a forebear to the time when scientists will accelerate two particle beams toward each other at 99.9% of the speed of light.

Smashing the beams together will create showers of new particles that should recreate conditions in the universe just moments after its conception, giving scientists the chance to answer one of humanity's oldest questions: How was the universe created?

"This is truly one of the great engineering milestones of mankind," said Harvey Newman, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology. "It was characterized as having gone as 'smooth as silk,' considering everything that had to work."

Newman told Computerworld that scientists sent one beam around the tube and then sent a beam in the opposite direction -- each going one at a time. Each beam made one circle around the accelerator. And they hit 99.999998% of the speed of light.

"It's actually very exciting," said Bolek Wyslouch, a professor of physics at MIT who has been working on the collider project for the past seven years. "We were anxiously waiting, with the whole world watching, to see how this worked."

Wyslouch said he's not sure when scientists will run the first particle-collision experiment, but he estimated that it will be closer to days or weeks away rather than months.

"That's really exciting because just a few minutes of [that experiment] will give us a hint of where this is going … and confidence that we are on the right track," he added.

Scientists predicted that they will be running particle-collision experiments for the next 10 to 15 years.

The $9 billion LHC project, which sits astride the Franco-Swiss border, operates a tunnel buried 50 meters to 150 meters below the ground. The tunnel, or tube, is designed to facilitate and control a head-on collision between two beams of the same kind of particles -- either protons or ions. Traveling through a vacuum comparable to outer space, the beams are guided around the tube by more than 1,000 superconducting magnets.

According to documents from CERN, as the European Organization for Nuclear Research is known, each of the two beams will contain about 3,000 bunches of particles. Each bunch will hold as many as 100 billion particles. Despite these huge numbers, the particles are so tiny that a collision between any two is quite small. However, since the beams will be traveling at near light speed around the 17-mile tube, they'll cross each other about 30 million times per second, resulting in an estimated 600 million collisions.

If a beam circulates around the tunnel for 10 hours, for instance, it will travel more than 10 billion kilometers, which is the distance it would take to travel to Neptune and back.

With the Big Bang theory, scientists largely believe that more than 13 billion years ago, an amazingly dense object the size of maybe a coin expanded into the universe that we know now -- with planets, stars, black holes and life.

A main goal of the experiments is to find the elusive Higgs particle, which is believed to be responsible for giving other particles their mass. Though its existence hasn't been proven yet, it's believed that Higgs particles are what give electrons their weight, for instance.

Scientists are also hoping that the particle collider will give them information about so-called dark energy and dark matter.

"This is part of the quest to explore our surroundings. It's part of the quest to understand our world and ourselves," Wyslouch said in a previous interview.

Gaudin, Sharon. "Collider test called a 'great milestone of mankind'" Computerworld Development. 10 Sept. 2008. IDG. 11 Sept. 2008 <http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewarticlebasic&taxonomyname=development&articleid=9114435&taxonomyid=11&pagenumber=1>.



Ever wondered just what impact video games actually have on our health? The following video may give you an answer that you weren't expecting!

Let's join CNet as they take a look at today in tech history!


Happy System Administrator Day!

"The last Friday in July is now known worldwide as Systems Administrator Appreciation Day, or Sysadmin Day. Even though the name might not indicate it, the holiday really exists to show appreciation for all IT workers, not just those with a specific title. Let’s be realistic, specific titles often don’t mean anything outside of the IT staff anyway. (How many of you out there still get called “computer person”? Come on, show of hands…)

Originally thought up by Ted Kekatos, a sysadmin in Chicago, the holiday has gotten a lot of mainstream press in the last few years; mainly in a “how cute,” human-interest kind of way. The attention makes sense, though, and Sysadmin Day is built on a strong precedent: Administrative Professional’s Day has a long-established tradition in the United States. In both cases, the principle of the holiday is to honor those who make others’ lives easier.

While Sysadmin Day may be intended to remind the nontechnical public to appreciate the geeks in their life, I can’t think of an IT person who doesn’t owe some thanks to another techie for making his or her life easier. As a help desk pro, I rely on network administrators, vendor reps, OEM support teams, and techs in a wide variety of other departments and organizations. Sysadmin Day is a reminder to me to drop those people a note to thank them for their help.

I can’t say I’ve ever received gifts for a Sysadmin Day; no one’s ever baked me a cake. People have taken the day as an occasion to thank me for my work on their behalf, though, and that’s appreciation enough for me. I actually find that I do more giving than receiving on Sysadmin Day, and I encourage all support pros to follow my example. We spend a lot of time here on the User Support blog talking about customer service. It’s worth remembering that even as support personnel, we’re someone’s customers, and they’re charged with providing us with support. If you have people who take good care of you, consider using Sysadmin Day to thank them."

Jones, William. "Sysadmin Day: a Day for Techies to Celebrate Each Other." TechRepublic. 24 July 2008. 25 July 2008 <http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=259>.


Wireless SD Cards

Love taking pictures with your digital camera but hate having to find all of the cords to transfer the pictures to your computer or printer? I stumbled across a product today that might help eliminate that step. Most modern cameras take what is called a Secure Digital (SD) memory card for their internal storage of your pictures. The SD card comes in many brands and capacities, generally ranging from mere megabytes all the way up to eight or even sixteen gigabytes worth of data.

Actual size image of an SD memory card

A company known as Eye-Fi has taken your standard SD memory card and included a tiny wireless card into it. This alone is an impressive feat given the size of the SD card. The SD card is programed by your computer with the details of your wireless network at home, and then is inserted into your camera. Using the included software, you can then connect to your camera whenever you want using the new WiFi enabled SD cards. You can view the product details here:




Campaign + The Internet = AMAZING Success

Sean Tevis, a man from Kansas, has decided to run for State Representative. Concerned about being able to raise the money necessary to pay for advertisements in his campaign, he decided to turn to the Internet as a way to build his necessary campaign dollars. I recommend taking a look at the following link for more info!


This marks the first candidate for political office that I have seen demonstrate a true understanding of how powerful the Internet truly is these days. By communicating in a style that speaks to the Internet generation, he has managed to acquire over 2000 more donations than he had targeted. The adoption of the Internet as a viable communications medium by politicians has been slow at best. I was rather excited to see this attempt and hope that others will see it as a proof of concept.

Barack Obama has also shown some adoption of social networking applications out on the Internet as well. By going to http://www.barackobama.com/index.php and scrolling down the page, you will see a frame entitled "Obama Everywhere." This shows all of the places where Barack Obama has setup information for his campaign. Though this is not to the level of adoption seen above by Mr. Tevis, it still marks an increasing understanding of the potential that the Internet holds.