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Alastair Revell is the Managing Consultant of Revell Research Systems, a Management and Technology Consulting Practice based at Exeter in the United Kingdom.
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The material published in this web log is for general purposes only. It does not constitute nor is it intended to represent professional advice. You should always seek specific professional advice in relation to particular issues. The information in this web log is provided "as is" with no warranties and confers no rights. The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions.

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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I came across an interesting article by Bruce Lawson on The Web Standards Project web site about the UK Government Accessibility Consultation that was held by the Cabinet Office last November.

The consultation clearly aimed at looking at ways of making web sites more accessible to people with disabilities. It proposed making it mandatory for government web sites to achieve World Wide Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) AA-level compliance (presumably to meet European objectives for inclusive e-government).

The bit that caught my eye was the proposal that government web sites should face withdrawal from the domain if they failed to comply.

It occurred to me that a similar approach could be very effective at ensuring commercial .uk web sites comply with existing UK legislation (such as the Companies Act 2006 and the Disability Discrimination Act 2005). What if the Internet domains publishing web sites that failed to comply with UK legislation simply couldn't be renewed?

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008 3:40:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Friday, March 07, 2008
I was interested to read Ben Limberg's article on the BBC News web site this morning about how stressful email is becoming. It highlighted for me that spam continues to grow and it reminded me of my earlier article on this blog about the need to start tackling the phenomenon rather than hiding it. The BBC article suggests that around two million emails are sent every minute in the United Kingdom. The majority of reports I read suggest that spam currently accounts for around 95% of all email in circulation, so the BBC statement implies that an amazing 1,900,000 junk emails are sent every minute in Britain!
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Friday, March 07, 2008 2:32:41 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, February 11, 2008

The lack of understanding of IT-related security issues in many small-to-medium sized businesses that I encounter as a management and technology consultant often worries me.

There seems to be a mindset amongst senior managers (often at partner and director level) that security breaches are only perpetrated by external human hackers and that their firms are not sufficiently important enough to attract attention.

These senior managers miss the fact that almost all initial external attacks are automated and that although many of these attacks may be unsuccessful in compromising their organisation’s data security, they may nonetheless seriously damage their internal infrastructure, resulting in significant costs in order to rectify the damage.

It would be a lucky organisation indeed that did not have its Internet defences probed at least once every couple of minutes. The most recent log I inspected for a small organisation was receiving an attack per minute in what appeared to be an attempt to swamp instant messaging clients with spam. The log also revealed port scans and other nefarious activity once every 10 minutes. These more serious attacks are often scanning for weaknesses through which to inject malware.

We have conducted occasional exercises in assessing just how bad this type of wanton vandalism is by simply connecting an unprotected set of newly built PCs to the Internet. Our somewhat primitive research shows that it takes around 15 minutes before machines in this condition are crippled with malware. Much of the malware also seems to be aimed at stealing credit card details and the like; and could cause enormous damage to an organisation’s reputation.

I’m often confronted by SME senior managers that argue that they have nothing of value on their networks, but my immediate retort is that neither did the machines mentioned above, but the cost of putting them back together again was expensive. It is clear from the subsequent discussions with these managers just how valuable having an operating computer system actually is to their organisations.

The irony is, of course, that the sort of dubious activity I see time and time again in firewall logs is the equivalent of a criminal gang casually walking down the road trying the doors and windows of each building they encounter for weaknesses, with a view to coming back later to investigate the weaker buildings further. I have little doubt if our streets were full of such marauding gangs then there would be huge public concern. The problem for IT is that this kind of behaviour is literally “out of sight, out of mind”.

I believe, like many other observers in the profession, that there is a discernible shift away from writing viruses for the sheer devilment of it to one of seriously making money out of it.

Indeed, Joe Telafici, vice president of operations for McAfee’s Avert Labs, recently said in a BBC interview that he felt 2007 had effectively seen the extinction of young hackers who wrote viruses and other malicious programs for fun and that writing Windows malware was now all about money.

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Monday, February 11, 2008 9:35:25 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I suspect the loss of 25 million child benefit records by HM Government in the United Kingdom will have considerable, long-term ramifications. I understand that the data represents the details of all the recipients of Child Benefit in the United Kingdom and includes names, addresses, dates of birth, national insurance numbers and, in many cases, the banking details of the parents or guardians involved.
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Tuesday, November 20, 2007 9:28:24 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Monday, November 05, 2007
I am often asked to give an opinion on whether a web site is good or not. I normally start by assessing whether the web site complies with relevant law and technical standards, since these are easy and objective tests to apply.
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Monday, November 05, 2007 5:43:17 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Friday, October 05, 2007

Unless I am greatly mistaken, there has been yet another surge in spam in the last few weeks. Like many firms, Revell Research Systems uses a fairly sophisticated anti-spam system, which generally performs pretty well. It occasionally needs tweaking to improve its detection rate, but on the whole, it does its job well.

However, I am acutely aware just how much spam is actually chucked into our email system on a daily basis. It is literally huge. There is the spam that is sent to our active email accounts and then there is the massive amount sent to random addresses in the hope that something might strike lucky!

Worse still, spam is increasingly being sent with large attachments, which eats away at our bandwidth.

I believe that the majority of Internet users are blissfully unaware of just how much spam is actually in circulation (although they know that they receive an unreasonable amount). The problem is that much of it is sent to non-existent people and is handled in the background by email servers, whose time is now mostly devoted to handling spam email, which means the sheer scale of it is well off most people's radars.

This is, of course, the nirvana that corporate IT departments are asked to achieve – no spam reaching their users.

However, I really can’t help but think that this is little more than sweeping spam under the carpet. Sooner or later, we are going to have to bite the bullet and work out how we are going to stop spam altogether rather than simply hiding it.

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Friday, October 05, 2007 6:43:11 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I'm pleased to announce that Darren Rees, from Llantwit Major in South Wales, formally received the 2007 Revell Research Systems Prize at the University of Plymouth at a small ceremony in Exeter this afternoon.

It was the first time I've actually met Darren, who is interested in pursuing a career in the highly competitive games industry. He is obviously a very able programmer and Dr Nigel Barlow, his tutor while at Plymouth, was clearly impressed with his final year project.

The prize (which we established last year to mark our 21st year in business) is awarded annually to the best final year student on the university's BSc(Hons) Computing programme. Essentially, Darren is the best computing graduate from the university this year.

Although he intends to take some time out to discover New Zealand, he would be a catch for any company looking for a young and talented C++/Java programmer with an interest in gaming.

More details about the prize are available at


darren rees (centre), with alastair revell (left) and dr nigel barlow (right)

Darren Rees (centre), receiving a certificate to mark his award of the 2007 Revell Research Systems Prize at the University of Plymouth, from myself (left), with his tutor while at Plymouth, Dr Nigel Barlow looking on (right).


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Wednesday, October 03, 2007 10:04:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Sunday, September 16, 2007

I’ve just read the BBC News report about the problems Northern Rock’s online savers are having in accessing their funds. Like many online accounts, it appears that Northern Rock’s online account holders can only access their funds online in accordance with their terms and conditions.

This is clearly both frustrating and alarming to the bank’s online customers, who like many of their offline counter-parts, are trying to withdraw their money quickly, since they all perceive their investments as being far from safe.

I can’t help but wonder whether this will have an impact on the public’s perception of online banking as a whole. I think people may conclude that online-only accounts are inherently less secure than traditional accounts.

It seems to be certainly true that the bank’s traditional customers have received better service when they’ve eventually managed to get inside their branch than their online counter-parts. The traditional customer has obviously had to queue for ages, but at least they could see their position advancing in the queue, which at least offered some comfort for their patience and perseverance.

The problem for online customers is that they have no way of knowing where they are in the queue. In fact, technically, there is no queue. Each time they try to gain access to the bank’s web site, it is something of a lottery as to whether a web server will be available to service the request.

I suspect that even if a customer has one web request satisfied then there is absolutely no guarantee that subsequent requests will be answered – something akin to being told in the branch to go to the back of the queue once you’ve been greeted by the cashier, which would probably result in considerably less calmness than we are currently seeing on the high street outside the bank's branches!

The message is clearly that Internet-customers are second-class citizens as far as the bank is concerned, especially if one accepts that actions speak louder than words.

I think that when the dust settles, many online bank customers will re-evaluate how much money they should keep in their online-only accounts. It may also have some impact on how safe people consider Internet transactions to be in general…

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Sunday, September 16, 2007 11:53:21 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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