Friday, July 31, 2009

50% of Young Children Suffer Side Effects from Tamiflu

More than half of children taking Tamiflu suffer side-effects, research suggests
pa.press.net
More than half of children taking Tamiflu suffer side-effects such as nausea, insomnia and nightmares, researchers have said.

Two studies from experts at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) showed a "high proportion" of British schoolchildren reporting problems after taking the anti-viral drug.

Data was gathered from children at three schools in London and one in the South West who were given Tamiflu earlier this year after classmates became infected.

The researchers behind one study said that, although children may have attributed symptoms that were due to other illnesses to the use of Tamiflu, "this is unlikely to account for all the symptoms experienced".

Their research, published in Eurosurveillance, looked at side-effects reported by 11 and 12-year-old pupils in one school year in a secondary school in South West England. The school was closed for 10 days in response to a pupil being confirmed with swine flu on return from a holiday in Cancun, Mexico.

A total of 248 pupils took part in the study and were given Tamiflu prophylactically. Compliance with prophylaxis was high, with 77% of children taking the full course, the researchers said. But they added: "Fifty-one per cent experienced symptoms such as feeling sick (31.2%), headaches (24.3%) and stomach ache (21.1%).

The researchers said "likely side-effects were common" and the "burden of side-effects needs to be considered" when deciding on giving Tamiflu to children prophylactically. The researchers concluded that a "high proportion of school children may experience side-effects of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) medication".

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Changing Role of HR now and in the Future

Human Resource functions and responsibilities are changing and intensifying at a faster pace and to a greater degree than many other areas of the corporate organisation.

Once relegated to the back office and concerned mainly or exclusively with transactional processes and functions, HR organisations are taking a greater role in strategic business activities.


Efficiency remains the foundation of HR. More transactions must be completed at a lower cost, while processes are becoming increasingly complex to manage.

A typical 10,000 employee company handles more than a million employee related transactions annually, each of which costs in the region of 50 Euros.

The top 10 recruiters in Europ report that they are placing 35k to 95k employees annually. Managing the recruitment pipeline, the selection process, and the induction process is a complicated endeavour.

At the same time, however, leading HR organisations are looking far beyond the execution of HR transactions, to a more value-added and strategic focus.

These organisations are aligning human resources and workforce planning functions with the overall business strategy, to help increase profit margins and support long term goals.

The study analyses several dimensions; staffing, cost, organisational model, IT deployment, and best practice adoption. The following key conclusions demonstrate how companies are meeting today's human capital challenges;

1) As a first step, HR managers strive to optimise the efficiency of transactional processes by standardising, automating and integrating business processes, based on Best Practice process and technology models.

2) Optimising transactional processes frees up resources that allow HR organisations to invest in more strategic functions that facilitate business growth and increase employee productivity.

3) Centralising and consolidating HR operations in a shared services environment helps increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the HR processes.

4) Outsourcing, while used frequently for transactional processes, does not always drive top performance, either in cost or service quality. Organisations need to carefully evaluate the value, performance and cost benefit trade off in outsourced versus in-house service delivery.

5) Information Technology continues to provide the basic foundation for efficiency and acts as the key driver for efficectiveness and future innovation.

Leading organisations recognise that IT supports the development of many best practices and they continue to invest in IT to integrate systems, data and processes across the enterprise.

Briefly, the study finds that the best human capital management organisations are constantly re-assessing their processes, to strike the correct balance in the drive to optimise efficiency, cost and service delivery in a continually changing global environment.

Top performers in this area balance the traditional demands that drive company profits and growth and help prepare for future innovations.

Foreign Banks mopping up business in the UK

Despite lowering house prices and apparent rock bottom interest rates, it's not getting any easier to borrow money or find a mortgage in the UK. Certainly not with the local banks.

This is leaving the door open for foreign banks to muscle in and capture a share of the UK housing market.

Rates are continuing to climb and research found that the number of mortgage deals available to buyers has slumped 60% over the past 12 months.

Some simplification of offerings has taken place as part of cost cutting exercises and because it is a less competitive market place now, with fewer lenders dominating the scene.

The Bank of China has announced it will start lending to British borrowers and it isn't the only overseas bank to have entered the lucrative UK mortgage market. This, like the Curate's egg, is partly good and partly bad.

The big question; Is the Bank of China a knight on a White Charger, riding in to save the UK home owners from the fiery dragon of the UK banks, that has held such a strangehold over them for so long.

More likely and more cynically, they are in reality an economic Trojan Horse, willing to buy into the UK market and infiltrate deeper over the coming years, to the point where they can change and influence Treasury decisions.

What is the Bank of China offering?
The Bank of China has announced it will start offering mortgages in the UK to both residential and buy-to-let borrowers. It's a well defined market and the risks are known and clearly visible, if you follow the standard format.

It's residential deal is available for loans up the 75% of the property's value. It has a lifetime tracker at 2.5% above the Bank of England base rate, giving a current pay rate of 3% with a £995 arrangement fee. While not quite market-leading this is highly competitive.

Bank of China is also launching a buy-to-let loan at 3.5% above base rate, so it is currently 4%.

HSBC (Hong Kong & Shanghi Banking Corporation!)

Perhaps the Chinese are not such strangers to the UK banking system after all. Consequently the HSBC are offerinf better deals. Those deals are the HSBC lifetime tracker at 2.74% with a £999 fee which is available for loans up to 60%of the property's value. Alternatively, HSBC has a version available up to 75% which has a rate of 2.95% and a £799 fee.

First Direct (CitiBank in USA)

First Direct also has a competitive lifetime tracker at 2.98%. This is an offset so you can reduce the amount of interest you pay by setting your savings against your borrowings. The fee on this deal is £999 and it is available on loans up to 75%.

UK Lenders

This is likely to prove quite attractive because unlike most UK lenders which require the monthly rental income to be 125% of the mortgage payments (meaning you'd need to be getting at least £625 a month in rent if your mortgage payments were £500), the Bank of China only requires the rent to equal the mortgage payments.

Many say that the entry of Bank of China into the UK market, however tentative, has got to be positive news for a market that has been starved of choice and where lenders are increasingly able to call the shots as competition diminishes.

A Matter of Conscience

So, if you can conveniently forget their history of brutality and oppression, the invasion and cultural destruction of Tibet and their continuing breaches of human rights at home, you may be seduced by their offerings.

Is it simply a matter of conscience, or should you not be naturaly cautious. Have we learned nothing from the recent crisis or are we willing to close our minds and simply jump headlong into another fire. Be very wary of Chinese bearing gifts, loans and bonds. Look behind the bamboo curtain for stability and sustainable growth, in the long term.

Which other overseas banks are now operating in the UK?
As we mentioned earlier, the Bank of China isn't the only foreign institution to spot the shortage of mortgage supply in the British market.

Leumi

The Isreali bank, Leumi is offering a competitive five-year tracker. Most trackers from UK lenders are linked to the Bank of England base rate, but Leumi's deal tracks the three-month Libor rate (this is the funding rate banks and building societies borrow from the wholesale markets at). The rate is 1.625% above Libor, giving a current rate of 2.56%.

Of course, this is great while the Libor rate is low but this rate tends to be more volatile than the base rate, meaning monthly payments could fluctuate.

Handelsbanken

Handelsbanken, a Swedish bank, is also offering deals to UK mortgage borrowers, although it is operating at the top end of the market so its loans won't be available to the majority of borrowers.

Nonetheless, for those needing a large mortgage having another player in this market is welcome news. Handlesbanken is willing to consider loans up to £2.7 million which is much more than most UK lenders will advance.

In summary

With such a shortage of mortgage deals available the arrival of new lenders is good news. This doesn't mean the problems affecting the market will disappear overnight: if you don't have a sizeable deposit and a good credit history you will still struggle to get a UK mortgage.

3 Growth Areas for the Automotive Industry

What does the future hold? A Firey Red Ferrari 458 for all?

Millions of people around the world take part in the daily commute. Making their weary way into cities and using automobiles as a means to sustain a better more comfortable life.

That momentum may have slowed in 2008 and 2009, but it hasn’t vanished and can only grow. Recent research conducted by Booz & Company shows that the global customer base for automobiles over the next 10 years falls into three broad categories, based primarily on which countries customers live in.

  1. The rapidly emerging economies (REEs) consist of the so-called BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and a group of other relatively wealthy developing nations, such as Malaysia, Argentina, Mexico, Turkey, Thailand, Iran, and Indonesia. Millions of families in these countries are making or contemplating the purchase of their first automobile.
  2. The lower-growth economies (compared to the REEs) consist of about 100 nations with relatively impoverished populations and poor economic prospects. However, their political leaders are interested in building up the middle class and see personal mobility as a major stepping stone. These countries may become markets for motorised transportation after 2020.
  3. The mature economies include the established industrialised nations in North America, Europe, and Japan. Population growth and vehicle replacement, rather than economic growth, will determine the market for automobiles there.

These three groups add up to an enormous amount of market potential: Booz & Company estimates suggest that more than 370 million additional vehicles could be sold by 2013 and more than 715 million by 2018, but business models in the auto industry are not currently equipped to capture these increases.

Social Engineering - The biggest Threat to Security is still You and your People

Social Engineering - Are you Tempted?
Whether they are going through the eTrash, dumpster diving, pod slurping, or impersonating other people, our constant companions, the hackers know that social engineering is still the best way to by-pass security.

People Skills
Social engineering finds and hits directly at our weak spot, you're a nice gal /guy, a people person and people are still the weakest link in security. Yes, it is difficult to change this because it means changing people's attitude and behaviour. Plus you have just spent 10's of thousands of Dollars, Pounds and Euros, to give them better customer facing skills.

Why? It Works!
Why are hackers still using social engineering to gain access to organisations? Because it still works better than anything else and it provides quicker results. It's easier to infiltrate an organisation via the people because the security is focused elsewhere, on the building and on Technology. Plus your guard is down, your complacent because you 'think' you are secure.

Who? People!
Front-of-House contact people are the most succeptible to intrusions. Partly because they form the first barrier but also because they are often bored, busy, isolated. Almost certainly, the least aware, uninformed or not adequately trained, concerning social engineering techniques and their risk to security. After all, who doesn't like to help a nicely dressed, sexy gal /guy and be rewarded by a smile, a compliment or just some friendly attention? What 'bait' would work on you?

What are the most likely vulnerabilities versus bad behaviours:

1. People want to be, and are trained to be helpful and co-operative. Sometimes this help can go too far and they give away too much information. - Make it clear to them what they can and cannot reveal, in writing.

2. People want to avoid confrontation and are trained towards compromise. It's difficult for some people to ask others to prove who they are. They don't like or want confrontation, especially with a possible 'authority' figure. Support your staff's doubts and back them up, review and clarify their decisions.

3. People like convenience and easy options. No one wants to take the complex additional security check route because they are busy or distracted, even if it may protect or benefit the organisation. Make the secure route the easy option for your staff.

4. People are messy, unorganised and easily distracted. They leave paper around, leave screens open to view, copy multiple people on e-mails, gossip and leak data. Provide them with pleasant incentives to change their behaviour and give them other, more positive things to talk about.

5. People are curious, inquisitive creatures. A great example is an employee who finds a USB drive in the parking lot. The first thing they do when they get to their desk is plug it in to see what's on it. You have to tell them why this is a threat to security and also a violation of someone else's privacy.

Is there light?
Social engineering attacks are some of the most difficult to defend against, but not all is darkness. Your greatest weapon is training and education. Maintaining awareness of current threat profiles and passing those on as a simple and easy to implement 'cheat sheet' or guidelines. Address all of peoples' senses, sight, sound and listenning. Use the technology Podcasts, MP3s, YouTube Videos, Twit and Facebook them. Whatever it takes.

Technical Barriers
There are very few technical solutions to people problems but here are some technical controls that are sensible to put in place:

* Lock down or limit capability of all peripheral devices, especially USB ports. There are now many commercial products that allow security administrators to completely lock down USB ports. This might be difficult but not impossible, because many devices are connected via USB ports.
* Use Data Loss Prevention techniques and products. Know who has access to your data, when they access it, and what they are accessing. Not very effective if someone's profile has been duplicated, stolen or access has been incorrectly allowed.
* Use encryption on every device and wherever systems talk to systems.

Remember 'If your employees don't know what social engineering is and how it operates, why should they change their behaviour?" You are the Agent of Change! Make it so!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Project failures and Change Management strategy

Tight budgets have upped the ante in what IT projects organisations choose to pursue this year, and in some cases the executive involvement in those projects has substantially increased as a result, consultants and practitioners say.

Yet the executive contribution to project and portfolio management (PPM) at large enterprises is more often about communication and change management strategy than other parts of the process.


Project Portfolio Management

Executives are involved with managing the project portfolio or adjusting priorities among projects at less than 20% of organisations with more than 1,000 employees. Rather, those duties are most often performed by IT directors or governing bodies.

Instead, the executive's role is one of communicating a vision and driving a change management strategy that will result in greater user and organizational acceptance of the projects selected for development.

Lead by Example
There is more riding on the executive's decisions in the project management space than ever before. The executive can't just delegate project management responsiveness to the staff because he must lead by example.

Organisational Change
Organisational change management is crucial. Before rolling out new PPM solution from anyone consider having a soft launch, configuring resource pools and providing training for resource managers, senior leadership team members and project managers.

Change Management
Change management should be the starting point because the overall project management strategy will succeed or fail based on this.

A change management strategy formally introduces initiatives to everyone affected by them, and should also introduce any new roles or expectations to team members to get everyone on the same page at the same time.

Creating a Change Culture
Creating a culture where everyone understands their roles, responsibilities and expectations from the get-go increases the chances for project success and it reduces surprises.

Indeed, surprises are one reason for project failures, which persist despite governance and tools like PPM software to keep projects on track. It regularly comes down to the fact that the business didn't realise the impact the change was going to have, and therefore didn't plan for it.

Project Success rates
Research on project success rates found that 24% of projects are cancelled part-way through or delivered and not used. Surveys showed that just 11% of large organisations complete all projects in their development queue; the majority (54%) report an abandonment rate of 1% to 10%. The final third don't even finish 11% to 50% of their projects!

Consolidation
Consolidation can go smoothly if you lay out an extensive workflow for change management prior to or during the implementation process. Pay special attention to the rigorous standardisation that needs to take place while developing a realistic timeline.

Small Changes
Start out by changing small things; changes grow in complexity as the organisation works toward its goals. Remember, you need to be able to crawl before you can run. Whenever you are changing business culture you first need to plan out the procedure for it, or else the tools will just sit there, unused and unwanted.

Starting point
Change management should be the starting point because the overall project management strategy will succeed or fail based on this but too much process can also be a problem, resulting in a slow death "by a thousand cuts".

Approval Points
Before the recent economic crisis, there were two or three approval points to get a project going. Now it feels like the number of stringent checkpoints has increased, leaving new, creative projects to die on the vine before they even have a chance.

Tight Budgets
Tighter budgets have led many organisations to add tight checkpoints for proposals, aimed at weeding out unnecessary or unrealistic projects before they even start. Although these processes can prevent wasting time and money on projects that don't provide a lot of value, they also stifle innovation and discourage new ideas. Finding the middle ground can be difficult.

If there are too many approval points, people get frustrated and throw up their hands in premature defeat but if there is not enough, the engagement can fizzle out.

A Vision
Developing a vision that meets business objectives and the needs of stakeholders can be the first step in finding that happy medium. Start basic, envisioning a plan that doesn't necessarily require a lot of tools and processes but has better stakeholder alignment and overall clarity into what the business problem is that you are trying to solve.

Balance in all things
Strike a balance by staying open to the potential for project adjustments along the way while also following Lean Six Sigma methodologies and ITIL best practices. You can run Lean Six Sigma in parallel to the business processes of the project and you can streamline every project to fit into this overall strategy.

Keeping costs down
At the end of the day, executives are trying desperately to keep operational costs and spending under control while still making progress on IT strategies. They need very honest and accurate information on the projects rolling up to them. It's very important not just for managing IT but also for engaging the stakeholders and the entire business leadership team. It is one of the IT executive's most important responsibilities.

Tools are not the answer

You can have the most expensive and beautiful project management tool out there, but without the support of the management and your project team, it just won't happen.

The Sacred Cows of Roles, Process and Metrics

A View on Sacred Cows
There has long been some academic argument, theoretical disconnect and the occasional raised tension between the dedicated followers of business intelligence /performance management (BI) and those that stand behind business process management (BPM).

KPI and data evangelists sometimes view process advocates as bureaucrats no longer tuned to the dynamics of changing businesses, and are now more interested in outcomes than processes.

Meanwhile, the process faithful have worked incrementally and under a long-held premise that 'where business/technology initiatives fail, there’s normally a clumsy process to blame'.

Inside Process Initiatives
By their very nature, inside process initiatives draw little attention, being as they are usually secretive. The greater effect of business process outsourcing (BPO) has already shifted workforces for scale.

What started with call centre outsourcing, sooner or later touched internal departments for travel, payroll, time and expense, software development/maintenance and even CRM or other customer-facing applications.

Process and Data Converge
In the last few years we’ve seen the process and data worlds merge to the point where process conference speakers actually discuss business intelligence and vice versa. It’s that tentative connection of processes and KPIs (or service levels for BPO providers) that has led to some recent rationalising thoughts on soft skills and the beginning of what might someday become a wider and mor comprehensive use of on-demand employment.

Executive Ambitions and Goals
We have been learning about executive ambitions and goals inside global corporations. These normally culminate in the establishment of internal priorities for employees and the outsourcing of everything else. We have to be more thoughtful now and need to consider that data centre managed service offerings are replacing not only IT infrastructure, but also their discrete IT functions.

Where is this leading?
Well, as service based infrastructure and process providers move deeper up and into the enterprise, old roles are slowly moving towards silo containment and tiers of competence. This leads more and more towards the virtual external providers whose value has becomes more nad more commoditised over time.

Driving or Steering SMEs
This use of comoditised outsourced suppliers is what is driving or steering small and mid-sized organisations and feed the continuous discussions to appraise and determine if even key undertakings like business intelligence are effectively outsourced to service providers.

Corporations' Citadel Approach
The larger corporations are not going to be outsourcing business intelligence or even key data functions anytime soon. Having said this, the previous years of rapid organic growth has created a jumble of capital assets, business architecture and roles in enterprises, which are becoming less controllable and therefore less defensible to maintain in-house.

Proven Competency
If you accept that BPO vendors have demonstrated and proven their competency, it may be more likely that core competencies will be begrudgingly and tentatively handed over to process owners inside the organisation, to manage internal and external resources.

Controlled Handover
This handover is already happening in a controlled way at companies like HP, Ford and Cisco. We already have people managing this transition, in the form of project and program managers, whose roles are enjoying elevated backing and status.

The Future
There is still some work to be done but there is good reason to believe that, improved operational metrics, performance management and business intelligence, will bring with it the mover and shakers of the process and on-demand movements. We just have to keep to the path, fight the fight and hold the faith.

BT relocates call-centre jobs to the UK. Bringing Further Gloom for India

In a complete reversal of the normal outsourcing policy for some years now, BT has decided to relocate 2,000 call centre jobs, currently held in India to the UK.

This is seen as a wholly predictable cost cutting measure that will slash half of BT's India-based customer service operations.

Backlash hits India
India is facing further decline in its business of providing customer support and response centres as an outsourced operation, over the coming months. BT insisted that the move is entirely cost-based and is “not about customer service”.

Shareholder Questions
The decision was revealed during a shareholder question session at BT’s annual meeting. When one BT shareholder asked when the company would close its Indian call centres. Her question was met with an enthusiastic round of applause by other investors. Demonstrating a substantial rise in support for in-country and UK national providers.

Chief Executive Statement
Chief executive Ian Livingston then disclosed the decision. After the meeting a BT spokesperson said: “This is not about customer service, as the service in our operations around the globe is of very similar standards. One shareholder commented that they would have preferred that he had used the term 'a very similar high standard of service'.

Mr Livingston went on to say; “It is about the effective deployment of our resources.” BT currently has 11,000 customer-facing call centre staff in the UK.

What Colour is the Future?
Last year the telecoms giant, BT axed 15,000 jobs across the company, and plans to cut a further 15,000 posts this year, to meet shareholders expectations, after reporting a net loss of £83 million in the year to March 2009.

Vodafone gives free Facebook access for a week

A Leap of Faith for Vodafone
Beginning on Friday July 24th, Vodafone customers that use mobile or computer mobile broadband service will be able to access the popular social networking website Facebook for free.

Free Access
The free access will continue for one week and launch the premier of Vodafone UK’s new Free Friday series.

Free Friday
Vodafone has offered Free Friday since the beginning of May, when it introduced first the low rate of just 50p to surf mobile internet for the month and continued with a Free Music download day on a June Friday.

Facebook is the first free event offered by Vodafone, scheduled to last for an entire week.

No Usage Fees
Any Vodafone customer who access Facebook on mobile broadband during this time period will not be charged any usage fees, but any other website will cost the typical rate as a plan denotes or 50p for prepaid customers.

Free Text Alerts
Free text alerts will also be sent from Facebook, and users can choose which notifications they want to receive from throughout the week, although it will cost mobile users the standard fees to respond to the alerts with a text message.

Skype is Declared a Security Risk to Russia: Putin put out

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's most powerful business lobby moved to clamp down on Skype and its peers this week, telling lawmakers that the Internet phone services are a threat to Russian businesses and to national security.

Vladimir Putin v Skype
In partnership with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's political party, the lobby created a working group to draft legal safeguards against what they said were the risks of Skype and other Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services.

Voice Over IP
VoIP software has used the Internet to let hundreds of millions of people talk long-distance for free, or at far cheaper rates than traditional service providers can offer.

Foreign Entities Encroaching
At a meeting of the lobby this week, telecom executives portrayed the most popular VoIP programmes like Skype and Icq as encroaching foreign entities that the government must control.

Government Restrictions
"Without government restrictions, IP telephony causes certain concerns about security," the lobby's press release said. "Most of the service operators working in Russia, such as Skype and Icq, are foreign. It is therefore necessary to protect the native companies in this sector and so forth."

Skype's Response - Busy!
A spokesperson for Skype was not immediately available for comment.

No Swine Flu Vaccine for the Elderly


What has happened to the normal adage of Woman and Children first?

Elderly swine flu victims should be sacrificed and sent to the back of the queue for anti-viral treatment, when supplies of the drugs are limited, according to new research in Italy.

Scientists found there were circumstances in which anti-virals such as the relatively ineffective Tamiflu, should be rationed in favour of younger adults.

The controversial strategy could be the most effective way to save lives and prevent illness, it was claimed.

Priorities
It is very interesting because it is not only indicative as to how these organisations think now but it is also how they will respond in the face of a fully blown Pandemic, when lives will be sacrificed and priorities will be established.

Italian Research
The research focused on Italy, which was said to have only enough anti-virals to treat seven million people, or 12% of the population.

Mathematical modeling showed that governments should stockpile enough drugs to treat at least a quarter of their populations, assuming moderate levels of infection. This in itself may lead to strategic prioritisation against the poor and elderly.

If supplies were lower than this, it made sense to ration the anti-virals according to age-specific fatality rates.

Historical Influence
When swine flu followed the pattern of the great 1918 pandemic and was most lethal to younger adults, treatment should not be targeted at the elderly, said the researchers. Instead, it should be reserved for the young.

This is the reverse of the policy adopted during outbreaks of normal seasonal flu, when priority is given to the over-65s. It is also academic because a new and effective ant-viral vaccine has yet to be developed and tested safely, prior to its distribution.

New Vaccine Risks
On release of the new vaccine, the risks are clear; the priority will be given to those deemed to be the youngest and most important; economically and politically powerful and influencial.

Unfortunately, if the vaccine is flawed, this will damage these very same people and cause a shift in the balance of power across the globe, affecting a tidal change in a large number of countries, organisations and populations.

Weathering the Storm
The first ones into the lifeboats to save their sinful souls, may find themselves in further peril at sea. Like rats jumping off the Titanic onto the iceberg for safety. Their fate remains unchanged, just the method is different.

We are all victims in a Pandemic but the great benefit of being economically and politically powerful and influencial is that you can make choices, whereas others can only wait, endure and accept, with stoicism and dignity.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Change and Business Analysis

What makes a good and effective Business Analyst in these days of economic storms, tightened belts and changing political tides.

While strong abilities in communication, collaboration and analysis will always be the mainstays of strong business analysts, our changing technology environment is altering the world in which business analysts commonly work and therefore, their skills have to change in line with this and meet current business requirements.

While a Business Analyst's traditional skill set is still king, those decidedly non-technical leadership, communication and business-process understanding traits, the changes in software delivery methods have altered what business analysts need to offer right now.

The Rise of Agile Methodologies and Lean Concepts
It's the end of traditional software delivery as we know it, thanks to Agile and Lean. A recent survey found that 41 percent of respondents are using Agile techniques and 10 percent are exposed to Lean concepts.

Organisations are planning and implementing new, lighter-weight software delivery processes on a large scale, and this is largely changing the world of the business analysts. The BA's need to stay up to date with recent approaches and changes in methodologies, understand the subtle changes to their roles, and modify their practices accordingly.

Agile Approaches Change the Business Analyst Role
Requirements look very different in an Agile project than they do in a traditional waterfall endeavour. With Agile, the team typically describes requirements at a high level early on in the process and only elaborates on them when it's time to implement them.

The team uses different artifacts such as user stories, and the requirements definition process is much more collaborative and iterative.

Agile Methodologies

With an increase in the adoption of Agile methodologies inside businesses today, BAs need to understand what's changed and what's different in the methodologies so that they can help guide the transformation of their role and practices.

If their CIOs and business-unit leaders aren't already adapting the business analyst role to new software delivery methods and process changes, then the BAs might need to do it themselves.

Cross-Functional Knowledge

Business analysts need to obtain cross-functional knowledge and experience by being exposed to new technologies and different business units. Cross-training in project management, software development and quality assurance would help.

As with most roles in technology, it's never safe to rely on the skills you already possess. Effective business analysts are constantly seeking to improve their core skills and staying up to date with technology changes to add the most value to their organisation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

All Roads Lead to Somewhere

If you don't know where you want to go, as the Cheshire cat once advised in Alice in Wonderland, any road will take you there.

If you have very specific and significant goals, you need a detailed map to make sure you know where you are at all times and when you have arrived.

The Vision

Most IT leaders have a reasonable understanding of where they'd like their IT services provider to take them. Some point to the future, the vision of a promised land where the state of the organisation has been greatly transformed; improved by saving money, increased efficiency, or the succesful implementation of a new enterprise systems, but alas, few executives actually know where it is and how to get there.

The Danger

The danger here is clear. Even if you have the resources and a valid strategy, there is a real risk that you will put greater distance between your goals and the solution, by heading in the wrong direction or by going in ever increasing circles. It is very like being lost in a barren desert, a thick fog or a frozen snowscape, there are very few clues along the way.

The First Step is the most Courageous

The roadmap is a communication's document, a touchstone for continuous reference and re-validation. It is essential that one of your project legs is not more dominant than th eothers because this will divert you from the path.

The roadmap takes the vision and vague notion of direction, efficiency and continual improvement and puts it into concrete structure that can be readily and easily communicated. Additionally, it helps set expectations on both sides for the journey ahead and establishes a criteria for change and re-direction, when they are required and when they simply occur.

The Devil is in the Details but now, at least you are going in the right Direction

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is Innovation a Healthcare Solution?

While we don't yet have holographic physicians to consult, healthcare is moving online, encouraged by an international coalition of medical and technology companies.

Medical devices from weighing scales to asthma inhalers could soon carry the technology to connect directly to the web, shuttling data between doctors and their patients.

For practical reasons, health workers are often unable to talk to home-based patients with chronic conditions on a daily basis but they could keep in contact online. Medical records automatically updated whenever the patient measures their own blood pressure, checks their weight, or takes their medication. Such technology could help medical workers ensure remote patients are healthy, and detect any problems at an early stage before they become serious.

The move beyond traditional telehealth, remote contact with a patient through phone calls or video conferencing, is being encouraged by the Continua Health Alliance, a non-profit open industry group. The alliance boasts some powerful players in both the technology and medical arenas, including IBM, Intel, Google, Kaiser Permanente and the UK's National Health Service.

We're moving into a 'Web 2.0'-style healthcare model. The medical provider doesn't have to be logged in at the same time as the patient to see the data.

Remote control

The technology for a "Health 2.0" model already exists, but the standards needed to guarantee its smooth running have been lacking, until now. In February, Continua announced guidelines aimed to ensure the interoperability of new medical gadgets. Continua-certified devices will use USB or Bluetooth, and data transmitted between devices will use an IEEE standard in the same way that Wi-Fi networks do.

At the beginning of the year US firm Nonin unveiled the world's first Continua-certified product, a USB handheld pulse oximeter for blood oxygen monitoring.

More devices have followed: in May, international technology development firm Cambridge Consultants announced a wireless inhaler built around the company's Continua-compatible Vena platform.

The device receives a wireless signal and alerts the user when a dose should be inhaled. Once it has sensed the medication being issued, the gadget transmits a confirmation signal back to a central server, and the patient's health record is automatically updated.

'Ecosystem approach'

"To be honest the technology is the easy bit," says Paul Jones, chief technology officer for the National Health Service. "It's all very well having a clever weighing device in your room that notices your weight has increased and you're at risk of diabetes but if that alert doesn't reach the right people the whole system falls apart."

The UK Department of Health has begun trials involving thousands of patients to test whether patients and medics could benefit from the Health 2.0 system, although it's too early yet to draw any conclusions.

Parker is confident that tests of this nature will show the power of the Continua model, because the Continua Alliance already links professional healthcare workers with technology providers. "It's a whole ecosystem approach," he says, which provides technology companies with feedback from healthcare experts to improve their products.

FaceBook for health?

Health 2.0 might involve more than patient-medic interactions. The social networking sites that have emerged in recent years could have their healthcare counterparts, says Paul Williamson of Cambridge Consultants, which is based in the UK.

"We made some concept websites that go with our inhaler to show how you could use the data to benefit the patient," he says. The sites receive signals from medical devices and award points for every compliant dose of medicine. Friends with similar conditions could then informally compete against each other to improve compliance.

Watch a video of Cambridge Consultants' inhaler and concept social network site in action (YouTube)

In research, it's been found that the biggest motivation to take care of your health is co-workers and family. If we can tie compliance to social situations we can create the right environment for people to help themselves.

Sharing society

Parker acknowledges that some may find talk of merging health records and social networks unsettling given the privacy concerns dogging existing services like Facebook. Indeed, any talk of moving medical records online is met with unease, when Continua Alliance member Google launched the Google Health service last year, privacy and security issues were raised. Data security will always remain a high priority.

Thankfully attitudes are changing. With online services like Twitter, people are sharing more personal information than ever before, and some web users may have few qualms about sharing personal data. There's been a sociological shift from not sharing any information to sharing everything, your location and what you're doing every hour of the day.

Jones stresses that patients won't be forced to use the new technology, even in the publicly funded NHS. Those in the UK that do opt for an online service can expect their data to be stored in NHS-run systems rather than Google Health or similar private-sector databases.

"It's about understanding that there's a trade-off," says Parker. A patient might decide that the benefits from using the latest technology to interact with medics, and their peers, outweigh the potential privacy cost – or they might not. "I think a lot of people are now looking at this and deciding it's worth it."

Reaganism and Thatcherism: Damned Lies

They sold the US and the UK a handful of 'magic beans' an economic fantasy, based on greed and selfish monetarism and the participants were only too willing to believe in it, wear the mantle and sing the praises, until it went bad on them.

Exploiters exploited, consumers consumed, by their own self centred greed, how ironic!

Capitalism, Monetarism and Consumerism drives global warming, ecological exploitation, the destruction of habitats and cultural diversity and its other bi-product the imposition of overwhelming poverty, wherever it goes.

It is a predictable but fickle beast that positively imposes a minimum wage policy wherever it goes whilst threatening to withdraw employment entirely, all in the name of 'monetary profit' and gain. It is a simple inverse proportionate equation; a huge loss for many results in, or is equal to, a huge gain for very small group of the privileged few.

Reagan and Thatcher styled economics, was never intended to be the answer for sustaining the populus of the World, let's not keep making or defending this grave mistake, over and over again.

These people are not your friends, in any way. Simply ask yourself the question; 'Who gains from this?' and 'When I put my hand in my pocket and take it out again, what have I gained?' Just think about it.

(Image: Rex Features)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Swine flu - UK absentees from work 'triple in a week'

The number of people calling in sick with swine flu symptoms has tripled in a week, with 130,000 people staying away from work.

Worldwide, 700 people have died!

News of the increase in absenteeism came as the British death toll from the virus rose to 31, with a 51-year-old woman from Wiltshire and the 15-year-old from Glasgow the latest victims.

Greatest Challenge to NHS
Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, yesterday warned that swine flu “almost certainly” posed the biggest challenge to the NHS for a generation. Fears of swine flu crisis grow as six-year-old girl and doctor dieAlmost 130,000 people stayed off work with flu, coughs and colds on July 14, up from 45,000 a week before, according to FirstCare, an absence management company.

Absentees triple
While absences tripled, the number of people who have actually contracted the virus is thought to have only doubled over the same period, highlighting how fear of infection is damaging business.

Septic Shock
Meanwhile, it has emerged that Chloe Buckley, the girl thought to have been the first healthy young victim of swine flu, died from septic shock after a bout of tonsillitis, a post mortem examination indicated. The death of Chloe, six, from West Drayton, west London, alarmed parents of young children.

Dr Simon Tanner, London’s regional director of public health, said it was impossible “to say to what degree swine flu contributed to her death”.

Andrew McCombe, a leading surgeon, said it was rare for a child to die from septic shock after contracting tonsillitis. “Normally septic shock affects old people,” he said.

Human Vaccine Trials to Begin
Human trials of a vaccine to protect against the H1N1 swine flu virus have begun in Australia.
Vaxine and CSL have both started injecting human volunteers this week, but it will be at least six weeks before the initial results are known.

Morbidity rate increases
The overall morbidity figure is likely to climb on Thursday when the Department of Health gives its weekly update. Worldwide, more than 700 people have died.

Chinese News Sites Go Down After Reporting on Government Scandal

The Namib Desert a source of wealth and minerals as well as stunning beauty and mystery!

Two of China's most popular technology news Web sites went offline Tuesday, after carrying news reports that linked the son of China's president to a corrupt African deal.

The technology news sections disappeared for several hours from major Chinese portals Sina.com.cn and NetEase.com early Tuesday afternoon, when they started redirecting viewers to general news pages.

Both tech sections had carried reports on a state-owned company accused of bribing Namibian officials in the last day, but those reports were missing when the Web pages reappeared.

The suspensions appeared to be a government penalty against the companies for reporting on a sensitive political anti-government issues.

Media Censorship - "I'm impressed by the bravery of Sina and Netease in attempting to report this at all," said Rebecca MacKinnon, a Hong Kong-based expert on the Internet in China, in an online message. Clearly, the threats and intimidation being meeted out is having an effect in the media's self-censorship.

The Golden Children - Information on top leaders' children has always been off-limits in Chinese media, though the Internet has made it more difficult to control discussions on such topics, MacKinnon said.

Internet Police - Chinese police heavily patrol the Internet, and Internet companies run rigorous screening to prevent sensitive information from appearing on user forums or in search results on their sites. Companies can be punished if that process fails to catch certain political or pornographic content.

"This is not particularly surprising or different from long-standing censorship patterns," MacKinnon said.

NetEase story canned - A story posted on the NetEase tech page the night before its suspension cited English broadcaster BBC as saying that Nuctech, a Chinese company, was suspected of bribery in a deal to provide scanners for airports and ports in Namibia.

The BBC report had said Namibian authorities wanted to question Hu Haifeng, the former company president and son of Chinese president Hu Jintao, but did not suspect him in the case.

The NetEase story was careful not mention Hu, but it said that Namibia wanted to question "relevant" Nuctech executives.

Sina's article blocked - Sina's tech page carried a similar article the next morning, hours before the sites went down. After the tech sections returned to the portals, visiting the URLs of the scandal reports returned messages that they could not be found or had been deleted.

An employee who answered the phone at NetEase Tuesday said its tech section was down for tests. Sina did not respond to a request for comment.

Big Brother Tsinghua - Nuctech's parent company, Tsinghua Holdings, controls a range of other technology companies including Chinese PC maker Tsinghua Tongfang.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Iran using more Sophisticated Tactics to Block Internet Access for Government Critics

Iran is using a number of new technologies to censor the Web. Some of these Government tools are simplistic and blunt, while others are more precise and surgical. Both are intended to stifle so-called dissidents.

One month after a disputed presidential election sparked widespread unrest in Iran, the country's government has initiated a cyber-crackdown that is challenging hackers across the globe to find new ways to help keep Iranian dissidents connected to the Web.

Iranian Government Strategy step-up
While the government's initial efforts to censor the Internet were crude and consequently ineffective, it has started employing more sophisticated tools to thwart dissidents' attempts to communicate with each other and the outside world. Iranian dissidents are not alone in their struggle, however, as several sympathetic hacker groups have been working to keep them online.

NedaNet

One such group is NedaNet, whose mission is to "help the Iranian people by setting up networks of proxy severs, anonymisers, and any other appropriate technologies that can enable them to communicate and organise."

NedaNet project coordinator Morgan Sennhauser, who has just written a paper detailing the Iranian government's latest efforts to thwart hackers, says that the government's actions have been surprisingly robust and have challenged hackers in ways that the Chinese government's efforts at censorship have not.

Chinese Internet censorship: An inside look
"China has several gigabytes per second of traffic to deal with and has a lot more international businesses," he says. "They can't be as heavy-handed with their filtration. The Iranians aren't as concerned about that, so they get to use all these fancy toys that, if the Chinese used them, could cripple their economy."

Here are five of the most commonly-used technologies the Iranian government has been using to stifle dissents, as outlined in Sennhauser's paper.

IP Blocking
IP Blocking is one of the most basic methods that governments such as Iran are using for online censorship. It simply prevents all packets going to or from targeted IP addresses. Sennhauser says that this was how the government banned access to the BBC's Persian news services and how it took down websites that were critical or in any way negative about the election.

While these operations are relatively simple to execute, they don't tackle the problem of individual communications between users, especially if the users have set up multi-hop circuits that, in themselves use multiple servers to create a proxy ring.

Traffic Classification (QoS)
QoS is a much more sophisticated method of blocking traffic than IP blocking, because governments can halt any file sent through a certain type of protocol, such as FTP. They can simply limit the bandwidth available on that port and throttle transfers because the government knows that FTP transfers are most often sent through TCP port 21.

Sennhauser says that this type of traffic shaping practice is the most common one used by governments today, as "it is not too resource intensive and is fairly easy to set up."

Shallow Packet Inspection
Shallow packet inspection is basically a blunter, broader version of the deep packet inspection (DPI) technique that is used to block packets based on their content. 'Shallow packet' inspection makes broad generalities about traffic, based solely on checking out the packet header, unlike DPI, which intercepts packets and inspects their fingerprints, headers and payloads.

Although shallow packet inspection can't provide the Iranian government with the same detailed traffic assessments as DPI, Sennhauser says that it is much better at handling volume than DPI.

Reading the label on the packet

"It's a less refined tool, but it can also deal with a lot more traffic than true DPI." he explains. "Shallow packet inspection is more like judging a book by its cover. If a packet says that it's SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) in the header, then a shallow packet inspector takes it at face value."

However, this is a double-edged sword. If a user disguises their SSL packets as FTP packets in the header, the shallow packet inspector won't be able to tell the difference.

Packet Fingerprinting

This is a slightly more refined method of throttling packets than 'shallow packet' inspection, as it looks not only at the packet header but at its length, frequency of transmission and other characteristics to make a rough determination of its content.

Sennhauser says the government can use this technique to better classify packets and not throttle traffic sent out by key businesses.

Mix 'n Match

"A lot of things don't explicitly say what they are, e.g. a lot of VPN traffic is indistinguishable from SSH traffic, which means that it would be throttled if SSH was," he says. "but what if businesses relied on VPN connections? You'd move the system to fingerprinting, where the two are easily distinguishable."

Deep Packet Inspection / Packet Content Filtering
DPI is the most refined method that the government has for blocking Internet traffic. As mentioned above, deep packet inspectors examine not only a packet's header but also its payload. This gives governments the ability to filter packets at a more surgical level than any of the other techniques discussed so far.

"Viewing a packet's contents doesn't tell you much on its own, especially if it's encrypted," he says. "But combining it with the knowledge gained from fingerprinting and shallow packet inspection, it is usually more than enough to figure out what sort of traffic you're looking at."

DPI Downside

There are downsides to using DPI, of course: it's much more complicated to run and is far more labour-intensive than other traffic-shaping technologies. On the down side, Sennhauser says there is no magic bullet for getting around DPI. Users can usually only temporarily elude it by "finding flaws in their system." and even this won't help for long, as the government can simply correct their system's flaws once they're discovered.

"Once they fix the flaw, you've lost unless you can figure out some real way to circumvent it," Sennhauser notes.

Endgame still unclear

Sennhauser says that the government has employed these technologies very quickly and very smartly, despite being caught flat-footed by the initial furor after the election. Indeed, he thinks the only reason that Iran hasn't yet completely shut down dissidents' communications is that they've had to fight with an army of hackers who tirelessly search for flaws in their system.

"It really is like an arms race," he says. "They create a problem, we circumvent it, they create another, we get around that one. This continues on until the need to do so is removed. The circumstances which will end the competition aren't clear yet."

Monday, July 20, 2009

NYPD Spend $1M on New Typewriters! Change what change?

They say you can't stop or turn back Time but the NYPD have found another option for not progressing, avoid change and live in the Past!

Why is IT Change so Difficult for Political and Government bodies alike? It is bad enough that Typewriters are still in use by the NYPD but now the city of New York has signed a new three-year, $1 million deal for MORE typewriters, the majority of which will be used by the NYPD.

While the department has endured a major, multiyear technology overhaul, with some big success, it demonstrates that IT change is often well intended, meticulously planned but not always carried out or implemented in its entirety.

New York Post
Technological change is never easy, or quick, or perfect, especially for big bureaucracies. Unfortunately, the NYPD made news this week when the New York Post reported that the City of New York had signed up a $1 million contract with a typewriter vendor to purchase thousands of new manual and electric typewriters, during the next three years.

Improvements made
The NYPD's typewriter requirements, accounted for the bulk of the contract. The article describes how NYPD Deputy Commissioner and CIO Jim Onalfo, who took over the reins in May 2003, had invigourated the NYPD's IT department and brought them into the 21st century.

The article also reported that changes to the insular and bureaucratic culture and legacy loaded IT environment, had been vast. Massive improvements were made in areas of disaster recovery, wireless communications, networking infrastructure, and many others.

Three Years In
Even three years into Onalfo's serious IT overhaul in 2006, glaring disconnects were still present: "Each of the 76 precincts is now connected by a videoconferencing system that ties into a command center at One Police Plaza," the article stated. "Within some of the precincts, however, there are still detectives using typewriters to fill out paper reports and filing carbon copies."

Essential Typewriters
NYPD cops "still use typewriters to fill out property and evidence vouchers, which are printed on carbon-paper forms. There are typewriters in every police precinct, including one in every detective squad." This is not felt to be part of a strategic disaster recovery solution but the NYPD stated; "We are working on software to eliminate the old machines," a police representative stated.

Huge Strides with RTCC
It should be noted that NYPD IT and CIO Onalfo have made huge strides in overhauling how the NYPD uses new technologies. The NYPD relies heavily on the Real-Time Crime Center (RTCC), a high-tech "war room" where detectives are able to tap into dozens of police, government and other related databases. As an example of the RTCC's power, real-time information from police officers at the scenes of crime can be meshed with the sophisticated database queries made at the RTCC to help to track down criminals.

Crime Stoppers Hotline
In addition, emergency 911 capabilities allow citizens to directly transmit photos and videos to the police at the RTCC. New Yorkers can also send text messages and multi-language e-mails to its Crime Stoppers hotline program.

Typewriters Everywhere
In truth, there are probably a lot of businesses and government agencies that have stashes of typewriters in their offices, just like the NYPD does. But until everything is digitized, there will be a seemingly mind-boggling need for typewriters.

The NYPD's typewriters are both a lasting vestige of the way things were and how they uses to be done in the past but it is a shocking reminder of just how much more change and education needs to be done.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Woman with swine flu dies 'after giving birth'

A woman in the UK who had contracted swine flu, died shortly after giving birth prematurely.

The woman, who died in Whipps Cross Hospital, was named by her brother as Ruptara Miah.She is thought to be from Bangladesh.

Abdul Malik told BBC News his sister had used a wheelchair for 15 years after a road traffic accident but had led a normal life and had brought up six daughters. "We are very, very upset as a family. It has really taken me by shock," he said. "We thought she was going to recover."

His sister, the eldest of 10 children, was admitted to hospital three weeks ago with a cough and chest infection, he said. She was treated in intensive care, where she gave birth to a son prematurely, but never regained full consciousness, he added.

The baby is now in intensive care as a precaution

A spokesman for Whipps Cross said: "Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust can confirm that a 39-year-old woman passed away on July 13 2009, and that she was infected with pandemic H1N1. The trust can confirm that she had underlying health conditions. No further comments can be made at this time."

Friday, July 17, 2009

UK Investigation into Cyber Attack goes Global

UK authorities have launched an investigation into the recent cyberattacks that crippled Web sites in the U.S. and South Korea, as the trail to find the perpetrators stretches around the world.

On Tuesday, the Vietnamese security vendor Bach Khoa Internetwork Security (Bkis) said it had identified a master command-and-control server used to coordinate the denial-of-service attacks, which took down major U.S. and South Korean government Web sites.

Zombie PCs

A command-and-control server is used to distribute instructions to zombie PCs, which form a botnet that can be used to bombard Web sites with traffic, rendering the sites useless. The server was on an IP (Internet Protocol) address used by Global Digital Broadcast, an IP TV technology company based in Brighton, England, according to Bkis.

BKIS control

That master server distributed instructions to eight other command-and-control servers used in the attacks. Bkis, which managed to gain control of two of the eight servers, said that 166,908 hacked computers in 74 countries were used in the attacks and were programmed to seek out and download new instructions every three minutes, from designated random sites.

Miami Master Server

But the master server isn't in the U.K.; it's in Miami, according to Tim Wray, one of the owners of Digital Global Broadcast, who spoke to IDG News Service on Tuesday evening, London time.
The server belongs to Digital Latin America (DLA), which is one of Digital Global Broadcast's partners. DLA encodes Latin American programming for distribution over IP TV-compatible devices, such as set-top boxes.

VPN Connections
New programs are taken from satellite and encoded into the proper format, then sent over VPN (Virtual Private Network) to the U.K., where Digital Global Broadcast distributes the content, Wray said. The VPN connection made it appear the master server belonged to Digital Global Broadcast when it actually is in DLA's Miami data center.

Engineers from Digital Global Broadcast quickly discounted that the attacks originated with the North Korean government, which South Korean authorities have suggested may be responsible.

Digital Global Broadcast notified

Digital Global Broadcast was notified of a problem by its hosting provider, C4L, Wray said. His company has also been contacted by the U.K.'s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). A SOCA official said she could not confirm or deny an investigation.

Amaya Ariztoy, general counsel for DLA, said the company examined the server in question today and found "viruses" on it. "We are conducting an investigation internally," Ariztoy said.

Forensic Analysis
Investigators will need to seize that master server for forensic analysis. It's often a race against the hackers, since if the server is still under their control, critical data could be erased that would help an investigation.

"It's a tedious process and you want to do it as quickly as possible," said Jose Nazario, manager of security research for Arbor Networks.

Data Logs Audit
Data such as log files, audit trails and uploaded files will be sought by investigators, Nazario said. "The holy grail you are looking for are pieces of forensics that reveal where the attacker connected from and when," he said.

D-o-S MyDoom Variant
To conduct the attacks, the hackers modified a relatively old piece of malware called MyDoom, which first appeared in January 2004. MyDoom has e-mail worm characteristics and can also download other malware to a PC and be programmed to conduct denial-of-service attacks against Web sites.

The Evidence Trail
Analysis of the MyDoom variant used in the attacks isn't that impressive. "I still think the code is pretty sloppy, which I hope means they [the hackers] leave a good evidence trail," Nazario said.

Perpetrator Profile
It could also be that the perpetrator is either very confident that they will not be found, is trying to hide in the pseudo amateur world of the cyber geeks and cyber vandals, is not concerned or is immune from discovery.

Maybe, a virtual self destructive personality that is implementing a non fatal 'suicide' mission for yet to be revealed reasons.

Surf the Internet Freely and Safely: Care of Symantec

Everything you wanted to know about safety and security on the Internet but were afraid to ask!
Symantec have created a really friendly easy to use web page that provides basic information and advice on Internet and Credit card security, etc.

Chinese Hackers Exploit Microsoft Internet Explorer Weakness!

Symantec, Sunbelt Software and SANS' Internet Storm Center (ISC) increased their threat level warnings yesterday, after Microsoft announced that attackers were exploiting a bug in an ActiveX control used by Internet Explorer (IE) to display Excel spreadsheets.

There is no patch for the vulnerability, nor will Microsoft release one later today when it issues its July batch of patches.

Temporary Fixes
A temporary fix that sets the "kill bits" of the ActiveX control is available, but experts believe it's likely most users won't take advantage of the protection.

Threat Ranking
Symantec raised its ThreatCon ranking to the second of four steps. "We're seeing it exploited, but currently on a limited scale," said Ben Greenbaum, a senior researcher with Symantec security response.

Sunbelt Ranking raised
Sunbelt also bumped up its ranking, to high, the company noted today. "We just set the Sunbelt Threat Level to high since our researchers and at least two other major organizations have found in-the-wild exploit code," said Tom Kelchner, malware researcher with the Florida-based firm.

ISC at Condition Yellow
Meanwhile, the ISC went to condition Yellow after discovering numerous sites hosting attack code. The ISC reported both broad and targeted attacks using exploit code against the new zero-day. "[There was] a highly-targeted attack against an organization earlier today who received a Microsoft Office document with embedded HTML," said the ISC in a frequently-updated blog post. "This one was particularly nasty.... It was specifically crafted for the target, with the document being tailored with appropriate contact information and subject matter that were specific to the targeted recipient."

China sites Compromised
Broader attacks are originating from compromised sites in China, the ISC added. "A .cn domain [is] using a heavily obfuscated version of the exploit, which may become an attack kit (think MPACK), and is similar to recent DirectShow attacks," said the center.

Unpatched Microsoft Bug
Last week, Microsoft confirmed that hackers were exploiting an unpatched bug in an ActiveX control that's part of DirectShow, a component of the DirectX graphics platform within Windows.

McAfee confirm attack code targeting
McAfee echoed the ISC late on Monday, confirming that attack code targeting yesterday's ActiveX bug has been added to a Web exploit toolkit and is being distributed from hijacked Chinese sites. The toolkit also contained attack code for last week's DirectShow vulnerability. Some computers in Spain, the U.K. and Germany also showed evidence of compromises, McAfee researcher Haowei Ren said in an entry to the company's security blog.

Early Days
Symantec's Greenbaum added that while his company is seeing only a small number of attacks currently "It's not in the top 500 attacks," he said. This has the potential to get big, and big quickly. "It's the kind of attack that can be very easily hosted on a Web server, and meets all the criteria for large-scale attacks in the relatively near future," Greenbaum said.

The number and diversity of attacks will likely increase because working exploit code is publicly available, he said.

Microsoft Patch
Although Microsoft is working on a patch for the new vulnerability, it's unclear when it will be ready. Users will definitely not receive any automatic protection today, however.

"Unfortunately, the comprehensive update for this vulnerability is not quite ready for broad distribution," a company spokesman said yesterday afternoon. "We recommend that customers follow the automatic 'Fix It' workaround ... to help secure their environment against this vulnerability while we finish up development and testing of the comprehensive update."

Manually Steer Browser
Fix It requires users to manually steer their browser to Microsoft's support site and download, install and run the tool to disable the ActiveX control.

That means many users won't currently be protected. "Most users won't [manually] mitigate," agreed Greenbaum. The message is clear 'Don't be in this vulnerable group.'

Thursday, July 16, 2009

China Human rights violations: China Finally bans electric shock treatment for Internet addiction

Internet Webmasters and Bloggers have written about being tied down and given electric shocks for 30 minutes at a time at one notorious hospital

China has finally banned the use of shock therapy to treat, what they describe as, ' Internet addiction', after its use at one hospital sparked nationwide controversy.

Widespread Protests

The hospital drew widespread protests and media coverage in recent months after Internet users, claiming to have received shock treatment, wrote in their blogs and forums about being tied down and subjected to electric shocks for 30 minutes at a time.

Chinese Health Ministry

A statement on the Chinese health ministry's Web site said the practice had no medical foundation and forbid its clinical use. The order banned the practice nationwide but specifically mentioned the notorious hospital in eastern Shandong province.

Shandong Hospital
Calls to the notorious Shandong hospital went unanswered Wednesday morning, but a hospital spokeswoman last week said "sensationalised" media reports had already led it to a cesation of the shock treatment. The shocks were meant to cause subjects to associate a negative result with Internet use, according to the hospital. Subjects were forced to admit to faults in their behaviour and thinking, while receiving the electric shocks.

Government Funded

Government-funded treatment centers for Internet addiction have sprouted up around China in recent years, though the health ministry has not officially labeled it a diagnosable condition. Many children are coerced and tricked by parents into going to the centres, which often deliver a mix of military boot camp treat ment and shock therapy sessions.

World of Warcraft

Staff at the 'treatment centres' blame hugely popular online games like World of Warcraft for getting most Chinese teens hooked on the Web.

Many Chinese medical experts still believe that electric shock treatment for Internet addiction and other 'behavioural issues' does not harm children, but others disavow it, said Tao Ran, during a recent interview. He is the founder of a Beijing 'treatment centre' for Web-addicted teens. Experts meeting at the health ministry last month signed a document recommending its ban, he said.

Internet users celebrated the move

"This news should truly make people happy," one user wrote in a forum run by local search engine Baidu. "After all, this kind of thing is inhuman cruelty."

H1N1 Pandemic in UK: Sudden Increase in Cases

Around 40,000 people a week in England and Wales now complaining of 'flu-like illness'
pa.press.net
GPs have seen a leap of almost 50% in the numbers of people contacting them with fears they have swine flu in the last week, new figures reveal.

Around 40,000 people a week in England and Wales are now complaining to their doctor of "flu-like illness", with a dramatic rise in the number of young children being affected.

The Royal College
The figures, from the Royal College of GPs' monitoring system, showed 50.3 people per 100,000 were reporting flu-like illness between June 29 and July 5, but this leapt by 46% to 73.4 people per 100,000 between July 6 and 12.

Financial Times
Almost one in eight workers are likely to be kept at home with the virus in the next few weeks, according to Government figures. This could leave many businesses struggling to run as normal, the Financial Times reported.

Sir Liam Donaldson is expected to announce that 30% of the population is likely to be infected during this first wave of the pandemic, the FT newspaper said.

Young at most Risk
Wednesday's weekly report from the Royal College of GPs said: "National incidence of influenza-like illness increased for all regions and is now evident in all age groups but remains highest in five to 14 age groups."

Central England Hotspot
The study said the highest number of cases was being seen in central England but the North had seen "a marked increase compared to previous weeks".

There has been a small decrease in the number of cases being seen in London although the capital remains a major hot spot for the virus.

Statistics
The rate of influenza-like illness is highest among those aged five to 14, at 159.57 per 100,000 population. The next most affected group is youngsters and babies aged up to four, at 114.12 per 100,00 population. This is followed by people aged 15 to 44, those aged 45 to 64 and then people aged 65 and over.

Ant-viral Vaccine
The Government has insisted that the swine flu vaccine should begin arriving at the end of August, amid genuine fears of a delay in this delivery date, and further delay before people receive jabs.

The UK claims, it is in line to get around 60 million doses of the vaccine - enough to cover half the population - by the end of December, with the rest of the doses following next year.

Vaccine Production Delayed
This is a substantial turn around in their earlier claims and the first phase of the virus should have run its course by then. The mutated second phase will take over and the vaccine will be ineffective against it.

Virus Dictates Timeline
It is impossible to determine how the H1N1 virus will mutate, so scientists are unable to prepare in advance for this strain. Only when the new strain is identified will they be able to start on development of a new anti-viral vaccine.

So, the development, testing and distribution of a second antiviral vaccine will need to start after January 2010 and is therefore unlikely to be in production before the Spring 2010.