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About Alastair Revell
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 Thursday, 28 May 2009

I’ve recently had occasion to contact a number of professional service firms “out of the blue” about the services that they offer.

As an IT professional, I’ve naturally used email as my preferred means of communication. What concerns me is that in all cases, I’ve had to chase these emails because I’ve had no reply – no doubt because my original email has been eaten by my recipient’s anti-spam system.
 
This raises serious questions about the effectiveness of email for “first contact” communication and begs the question just how many leads are being lost by organisations in this recession!
 
Clearly, telephone contact or a written letter is probably both more efficient and more effective. In fact, as traditional (ie: paper-based) junk mail seems to be in decline, any written communication is more likely to stand out when marketing services to other firms, rather than being automatically hidden as frequently now happens with emarketing.
 
Where does this leave email?
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Thursday, 28 May 2009 10:26:13 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Wednesday, 20 May 2009

I attended the BCS South West AGM Talk “The Second World War Code Breaking Centre at Bletchley Park” at the University of Plymouth on Wednesday, 13th May 2009, given by John Gallehawk of The Bletchley Park Trust, who came complete with an Enigma machine – the code machine used by the German’s during the war to send encrypted messages between various fighting units and their commanders.

It was the first time that I had heard anyone from Bletchley Park talk and the speaker was very engaging. The history of the house, its role during the war and its more recent history were all fascinating.

The Enigma machine was clearly the star attraction of the talk and sparked a lot of discussion amongst the various IT professionals drawn from across the region and from a variety of computing disciplines.

 john gallehawk with an enigma machine 

John Gallehawk, from The Blethcley Park Trust,
demonstrating the use of an Enigma Machine.

The talk accidentally followed Stephen Fry’s visit to Bletchley in the same week, which had managed to draw a lot of attention to the plight of the centre. News of his informal visit seems to have escaped because he uses Twitter to keep his fans informed of his movements. He’d announced that he was as “excited as a kitten” about his visit.

I certainly believe that Bletchley Park needs as much publicity and money as it can get. It is very much the cradle of British computing and is arguably the birth place of the first modern computer, the so-called Collossus. It would be a terrible disgrace if our generation of IT professionals allowed this important piece of our history to decay and disappear, which it most certainly is in danger of doing.

I blogged last September about Dr Sue Black of the University of Westminster’s letter to The Times, which she had been spurred to write after the feedback she received from other heads of computing departments across the British higher education establishment. She’s right - the centre really does need saving.

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Wednesday, 20 May 2009 15:14:46 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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Review Entries for Day Tuesday, 19 May 2009

I periodically battle with SME clients who argue that no one really would want to “hack” their organisation – they are simply too small or too insignificant to warrant the effort. I suspect I am not alone and that many other advisers on IT have the same trouble persuading their clients of the very real risks they face.

The argument that is often recited is that when the partner or director was employed elsewhere, their previous firm was much slacker with their IT security and had no problems whatsoever. The issue, of course, is that the goal in hacking has changed from destruction to utilisation. The aim is to take unseen control of the computing resources of an organisation and to use those resources for crime. It simply doesn’t surprise me that there never are any signs of compromise!

The BBC recently reported that security firm Finjan had tracked down a botnet with over two million machines under its control to a group of criminals working in the Ukraine. This particular botnet had even ensnared computing resources inside both the UK and US governments, which in itself raises concerns.

I suspect that firms that take few steps to lock down their workstations will have background malware undertaking all sorts of malicious activities. These infections will probably have managed to enter their sites via the web or email, which is increasingly carrying malicious content.

The so-called drive-by attacks using infected third party web sites is particularly worrying. Few organisations seem to scan inbound data over the web for vulnerabilities, partly because of the impact on browsing speeds that this would have. Those organisations that then don’t lock down their desktops so users cannot install software run very real risks of users innocently and unknowingly installing something they really don’t want. Once such software is on the inside of the firewall, most SME organisations simply have little or no defence, especially if the software is not strictly considered a “virus” and ignored by their anti-virus product.

A technical colleague in another firm drew my attention recently to Sophos’ Security Threat Report 2009, which provides examples of firms that have suffered attacks on their web sites. Some of these web sites would have posed risks to casual browsers of those sites as well as to those who had previously provided them with confidential information.

The list included such well-known names as ITV, a site selling Euro 2008 football championship tickets, the anti-virus firm Trend Micro, Cambridge University Press, Sony’s US Playstation site, the Association of Tennis Professionals’ web site as Wimbledon opened in the UK in June 2008 and the Business Week web site.

Unfortunately, I doubt few SME business leaders that have small (if any) indigenous IT staff will actually ever get to read it.

However, the difficulty simply persists that many SME organisations believe that no symptoms means no underlying problems. I can see their dilemma – a bunch of (often external) IT professionals becoming excited about dangerous threats and advocating the spending of money in a recession is far from appealing, especially when the risks from a naïve perspective seems minimal.

I was recently a guest at The Institution of Analysts and Programmers Spring Seminar in the London Docklands at which Microsoft’s Chief Security Advisor in the United Kingdom, Ed Gibson, spoke. He is an engaging speaker, an attorney in the United States and a practising solicitor in England and Wales, as well as a former FBI agent. He has for sometime been trying to raise awareness of these issues in the United Kingdom.

While listening to him and while mulling over his thoughts at the (excellent) lunch that followed, I believe that we really do need some form of reliable reporting mechanism for attacks of the sort documented by Sophos and these need to become highly publicised, even if in an anonymous form.

SME business leaders need to have independently verified facts about the IT security risks they face that are both readily available and easily digested; and in a form that brings the message home.

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Tuesday, 19 May 2009 18:37:15 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #
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