Sack police who are rubbish at IT, says think tank (but what about Home Secretary?)


Police officers who are puzzled by computers and internet stuff should be fired, a think tank has said.

According to Reform’s report, the rising threat of cyber and digital crime means that police bosses should be able to sack IT-illiterate officers, less their ignorance affects efforts to tackle modern wrongdoing. Which is all well and good, but I’m pretty sure most burglars still use a crowbar and a sack rather than an iPhone when ransacking your house.

The report’s co-author, Alexander Hitchcock, said: ‘Chiefs should have the ability to make officers redundant if officers’ roles have changed because of digital crime, and officers have not been able to develop the IT skills to fill these roles.’

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s not that bad, as Mr Hitchcock added: ‘But this will be a small minority of officers. We are arguing that forces should give officers every chance to develop IT skills through apps and university partnerships, as well as have the equipment to help them meet digital demand.’

The think tank complains that current restrictions that prevent officers being made redundant are leaving chiefs ‘hamstrung’ when trying to tackle digital felons.

So, that’s the word on the police – but what about their ultimate boss, Home Secretary Amber Rudd?

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show earlier in the year, Rudd claimed that she would get Google to take down terrorists’ webpages, apparently unaware that Google is a search engine and has no such power; and that she was going to talk to people ‘who understand the necessary hashtags’ which doesn’t make any sense at all.

Taking pity on Rudd’s plight, a man on the internet, Barry Collins, tweeted that he’d be pleased to bring together a team of internet security experts that could brief the Home Secretary on how things like phones, apps, software and wires actually work.

The mild mischief was spotted by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales who retweeted it. Collins has since pledged again to help Rudd, before she starts doing things like going after terrorists by trying to access their Ceefax usage.

Genuinely worrying stuff. The person who’s at least nominally in charge of the UK’s security doesn’t want to ban encrypted messages, no, that would be silly; but she does want to have legal access to them, failing to realise that that amounts to much the same thing as banning them. Oh well, maybe in revolt against the threat to net neutrality rules, ISIS will revert to telegrams.

Sack police who are rubbish at IT, says think tank (but what about Home Secretary?)

ICO tackles more ‘commercially driven scaremongering’ against GDPR

GDPR blog post images_blog

The Information Commissioner’s Office has continued its efforts to tackle what it calls the myths surrounding the government’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Set to come into law on 25 May 2018, the GDPR brings the EU’s new data rules into UK law – and plenty of complaints have already been made about it.

However, the ICO thinks it’s a great idea and has been at pains to deal with much of the ‘scaremongering’ that has grown up around the policy – some of which it insists is ‘commercially driven’.

In the latest blog, the ICO’s Deputy Commissioner, Steve Wood, has tackled the ‘myth’ that the GDPR is ‘an unnecessary burden on organisations’.

A little glibly perhaps, Mr Wood says the ‘new regime is an evolution in data protection, not a revolution’. (Note to ICO: try not to use the word ‘regime’ in connection with something you are trying to make sound nice.)

He goes on to say that the policy makes organisations more accountable in their use of people’s personal data while enhancing the rights of individuals, and merely builds on foundations that have been around for the last 20 years.

Addressing criticisms that the GDPR will be particularly troublesome for small and medium-sized (SMEs) enterprises, Mr Woods writes: ‘We have long recognised that SMEs may have limited time and resources for compliance and have acknowledged this in our regulatory approach. But many of these criticisms fail to recognise the flexibility that the key principles in the DPA and GDPR provide – they scale the task of compliance to the risk. Many of the principles reinforce tasks businesses will already to undertake in relation to record keeping – e.g. the principle on data minimisation.’

You can read the whole thing here. It’s good.





ICO tackles more ‘commercially driven scaremongering’ against GDPR

Very old computer wrote books


A man has discovered some stories written in the 60s by a computer.

Rummaging around somewhere or other, James Ryan of the University of California discovered some documentation by linguist Joseph Grimes, who apparently managed to get an IBM MODEL 650 to become a novelist.

Let’s read a bit of it, shall we: A lion has been in trouble for a long time. A dog steals something that belongs to the lion. The hero, lion, kills the villain, dog, without a fight. The hero, lion, thus is able to get his possession back.

Ok, it’s not exactly Margaret Attwood, but as anyone who has ever taken a glance at a Dan Brown or E. L. James novel will know, it’s not worst thing that’s ever been written either.

The IBM 650 was a punch card system that used magnetic drum memory, and could only hold 20,000 digits at 2,000 addresses. According to Mr Grimes, he was using it to try and generalise rules for folk tales, as you do.

It’s a strange story all round, and Mr Ryan’s paper on his discovery can be read here.

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, machines churn out rubbish literature to keep the masses entertained and pacified. Fortunately, this grim vision never came to pass; and in enlightened 2017, millions of people watch groups of broken celebrities prance meaninglessly about a house full of cameras instead.

Very old computer wrote books

Getting critical: UK’s infrastructure failing to take basic cyber security steps


In news that will delight hackers everywhere, it has been found that over a third of the UK’s national critical infrastructure (NCI) organisations haven’t implemented the government’s basic cyber security standards.

Cyber defence firm Corero Network Security’s FOI request revealed that 63 of 163 responding NCI organisations haven’t completed a 10-step security programme created by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

Amazingly, after the world-class fiasco that saw large sections of the NHS’s IT infrastructure massively disrupted by the WannaCry virus in May, 42% of NHS trusts are still failing to take the necessary basic steps to avoid another cyber catastrophe.

In more good, sorry, terrible news, it turns out that cyber sloppiness could lead to our hospitals, police forces and so on being fined up to £17 million per mishap under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will come into effect in May 2018.

Corero’s director of product management, Sean Newman, said: ‘Cyber attacks against national infrastructure have the potential to inflict significant, real life disruption and prevent access to critical services that are vital to the functioning of our economy and society. These findings suggest that many such organisations are not as cyber resilient as they should be, in the face of growing and sophisticated cyber threats.’

Here’s hoping the people looking after our nuclear weapons have at least installed Norton. I need a drink.



Getting critical: UK’s infrastructure failing to take basic cyber security steps

Digital workers: government wants to know what you know


The government has decided to find out how clued-up the UK’s workers are on digital matters (and then decide whether it needs to order some more robots, presumably).

Brought in by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Digital Skills and Inclusion Team, private firm Pye Tait Consulting is set to launch an online survey (first question answered automatically: do you know how to get on the internet?) to gauge the public’s knowledge.

The DCMS will use the survey’s findings to help develop policies – such as addressing ‘the digital skills challenge and works to develop the UK’s advanced and specialist digital skills pipeline to meet industry demand’.

If you’d like to take the survey but are worried about being exposed as a digital dunce (like I am) fear not – all the findings will be treated confidentially and reported to DCMS anonymously (so feel free to click ‘no’ if it asks you if you know what a mouse is).

According to the DCMS, the research won’t just cover the digital tech sector – the wider economy such as the worlds of retail and finance will also be invited to boast about their knowledge, or lack of it.

Topics such as whether organisations employ in-house digital specialists or use contractors, the age breakdown of staff and whether remote working is commonplace for those in digital roles will be covered.

The DCMS said: ‘The findings will help DCMS as it develops policy to address the digital skills challenge and works to develop the UK’s advanced and specialist digital skills pipeline to meet industry demand.’

Anyway, here’s the survey.






Digital workers: government wants to know what you know

AI could be trained to be naughty

AIArtificial intelligence (AI) could be covertly trained to misbehave, a new research paper has warned.

Confirming your luddite friends’ worst fears, a group of scientists from New York University discovered that AI systems can be corrupted by tampering with their training data, whether by jokers or worse. Apparently, such attacks are difficult to detect and could be used to create accidents.

With firms’ AI systems needing huge amounts of data for training, many are outsourcing the work to bigger companies like Google and Amazon – which, the researchers warn, could create security problems.

The paper explores the concept of a ‘backdoored neural network, or BadNet’, an attack scenario in which ‘the training process is either fully or (in the case of transfer learning) partially outsourced to a malicious party who wants to provide the user with a trained model that contains a backdoor’.

The paper continues: ‘The backdoored model should perform well on most inputs (including inputs that the end user may hold out as a validation set) but cause targeted misclassifications or degrade the accuracy of the model for inputs that satisfy some secret, attacker-chosen property, which we will refer to as the backdoor trigger.’

And here is the research team’s dense, esoteric report. I’ll buy a drink for anyone who gets through it.

We put out a less terrifying briefing on AI in the public sector earlier in the year, which you can read here.



AI could be trained to be naughty

£millions awarded to councils for greener buses


A number of English councils and bus firms have won funding totalling nearly £11 million to invest in green buses (that’s ‘green’ in the environmental sense rather than the actual colour of the things).

With the cash coming curtesy of the going places Department of Transport, the successful bidders applied under the government’s low emission bus scheme.

It means the likes of Denbighshire County Council now has £500,000 to spend on four electric buses, while South Gloucestershire Council has received £4.8m for 110 gas-powered buses. Hang on a second. Let’s do some maths: the electric buses are £125,000 each; a gas bus will set you back £43,600. Somebody better quickly have a word with Denbighshire.

Anyhow, the funds are part of a much bigger £660m fund from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles – as report after report indicates that we’re really making a hash of the air we all have to breathe.

Anybody over the age of 30 will probably remember what the UK’s buses used to be like: forever pumping out clouds of dense smoke, they were always covered in an unsettling black slime. It’s a miracle any of us survived, really.

Paul Maynard, Minister for Transport, said: ‘Low emission buses are an important part of our plans to make motoring cleaner and improve air quality across the country. New greener buses will be more comfortable for passengers, they are cost efficient and are good for the environment.’

The full list of winning bidders:

  • Denbighshire County Council, Wales – £500,000 for 4 electric buses to be used on services in mid-Denbighshire
  • City of York Council – £3.3m for 24 electric buses to be used on park and ride services in York
  • South Gloucestershire Council – £4.8m for 110 gas buses for services around Bristol
  • Surrey County Council, Guildford – £1.5m for 9 electric buses to be used on park and ride services in Guildford
  • The Big Lemon, £500,000 for 3 electric buses to be used in the Brighton area
  • Go South Coast / Wiltshire County Council – £500,000 for 3 electric buses to be used on park and ride services around Salisbury


£millions awarded to councils for greener buses