VSJ – July 2009 – Annual Spring Conference Report

As is traditional, we’re giving over the whole of our allotted space this month to a report on the annual Spring Conference, written by IAP Vice-president Paul Lynham.

This year’s Spring Conference was held at the Museum in Docklands, close to Canary Wharf.  Mike Ryan, Director General of the IAP, welcomed all the delegates and then introduced Peter Green, Technical Director of the Telegraph Newspaper Group.

Peter posed the question “What has the Web done for publishing, especially newspapers and, in particular, advertising”? He then outlined the scale of the work that is carried out in order to print three national newspaper editions each day. A typical change is around one third of the 120-150 pages sent to the printers. A twenty minute delay can result in a loss of 80,000 copies sold, so quick and reliable transmission of data is essential. He then played a video that demonstrated the changes and news items in the Telegraph over its 150-year history, emphasising those of the last 15 years resulting from the rise of the Worldwide Web.

He went on to describe the different types of media that the Telegraph is involved with, ensuring that they aren’t left behind in today’s quickly changing world. He compared the situation to that of saddle makers 100 years ago. Most of those who continued solely to serve the equestrian trade went out of business. The survivors had diversified to make leather goods and accessories for the mushrooming car market. One way that the Telegraph  utilises the Web is to use Google and YouTube to drive traffic back to their site. They also have Web offerings including Video and Video Advertising, Games (such as Fantasy Football), a Shopping Channel and Data selling (crosswords, for example). To add to this they have Audio offerings, including RSS and telephone commentary.   News and Features are also offered on video.

Peter proceeded to make an excellent point about the consumption of bandwidth. Most home users  have between 1 and 16 Megabit connections, whereas businesses may use 100 Megabits, with 500 Megabits for Web servers. However, with some technologies, such as video streaming, this can rise to a Gigabit. Network service providers use 20 Gigabit switches, while TV broadcasters, especially the BBC and ITV, use the Internet for TV channels. How much could industry put in the Cloud before the 20 Gigabit switches are overloaded? Peter displayed a formula for the cut off frequency for aluminium and copper wire and followed this with its equivalent for fibre optic cable. Just to add a biblical comparison, he summarised the story of Jesus feeding the multitude from 5 loaves and 2 fishes! Since the laws of Physics cannot be broken, ways around such restrictions must be found.

The Government wants high speed broadband in every home before 2012, which will need an investment of around £1.8 billion to achieve. Ofcom has announced the removal of the price cap that BT can levy on customers, so prices will increase to allow them to recover the cost of this investment.

Peter returned to the amount of data that must be transmitted from the Telegraph’s newsrooms to the printers. An average size plate is 3MB and there are four of these for each page (one per colour). Therefore you have 12MB x 120-150 pages, or around 1.7GB. Peter described some of the methods used to transmit this data, including specialised hardware he had designed, before high speed broadband was available. He looked at compression formats and found JPEG to be good for up to 16:1 compression.

Peter concluded that the Telegraph is the most advanced newspaper in utilising new media, but highlighted the current limits that need to be overcome.

Dr Hamid Jahankhani is Associate Dean of the School of Computing, IT and Engineering at the University of East London (UEL). He gave a thumbnail sketch of the university before delivering a very interesting talk on Cyber Crime.

UEL is a very cosmopolitan university with 21,000 students from over 120 countries. It has several campuses including Docklands and Stratford. Student growth in the last 5 years has been 80%, with 56% coming from East London. UEL is proud of its diversity and in 2007 was one of only 3 universities to be awarded a Charter Mark.

Dr Jahankhani pointed out that our society is nowadays protected by firewalls rather than firepower and such protection is of global importance. However, security is everyone’s responsibility. The menace of organised crime and terrorist activities grows ever more sophisticated. Email and the Internet are the most common forms of communication and information sharing. Just over a billion people use the Internet each day. There has been a mobility evolution as bandwidth has increased to support technologies from simple voice to video streaming. Because the goals of cyber crime are no different from those of traditional crime, cyber criminals will use whatever means are available to them. The difference is that cyber criminals are increasingly remote from their crimes and often, victims are not even aware of a crime having taken place!

The Internet has all the ingredients needed by organised crime to damage businesses. It is global, fast and vast sums of money can be made illegally. In the early days, computer crime meant stealing computers. Today the term spans a wide range of fast-evolving offences. The categories of cyber crime include those committed on-line such as hacking and phishing, while old-style crimes have simply been updated. Hackers are often lone operators, more interested in testing their abilities than in committing crime per se. Organised criminal gangs may have less expertise but they do have significant financial resources. So they recruit hackers to achieve their goals, rather like modern equivalents of Fagin in Oliver Twist.

Further points covered included kiddiots/script kiddies, virus writers, spare time hackers, professional hackers, phishers and cyber criminals for hire. The list of crimes range from credit card fraud to money laundering to child pornography. Identity theft can be carried out in a number of ways from armed robbery to scouring rubbish.

Dr Jahankhani reviewed the Computer Forensics scene, dealing with preservation, identification, extraction, recovery and documenting of computer evidence used for legal purposes.

He concluded that researchers are continually creating filtering and search engines to find and sort documents from multiple sources while criminals are using zero day vulnerabilities to get what they want, employing anti-forensic techniques to cover their tracks. Cyber crime is still a growing stigma for e-society despite a plethora of related legislation. For greatest effect, the latter really needs to span national boundaries and legal systems.

Long standing Fellow, Companion and Council Member Peter Ashby introduced the next speaker, Jim Goulding. Jim’s topic was entitled “Manual to Automatic – Computerisation of TV News”. He was a producer and director on ITV’s News at Ten and now runs his own production company specialising in documentaries.

News at Ten started in 1967 with a 10-week trial. Nearly everything was paper based, so scripts were typed, edited and re-edited using typewriters, before being copied and distributed. Jim displayed a running order for the first show with scripts. Pictures were shot on 16mm film,transported, developed, cut and edited, while the sound was on a separate magnetic tape that had to be synchronised with the pictures. TV cameras were large and cumbersome so positions needed to be carefully rehearsed. Graphics were provided by physical maps and super-animations (an operator pulling a paper arrow attached to a piece of string across a camera’s field of view for example), with special effects being provided by, for instance, Peter Snow’s sand table, which could be utilised for a variety of props such as toy soldiers.

In 1968 the show moved to colour with some computerisation in the form of caption generators and by 1978 there were computerised animations. The first real, mainly text based, computer system used was called ‘Basys’. In 1982 Channel 4 Newsroom started and  ITN bought the Basys company two years later. On the technology front, magnetic tapes were reducing in size, from 2 inch reel-to-reel eventually to half-inch cassettes. A company called Odetics made a computer-controlled machine to manage up to 100 tapes, with barcodes being used to identify them individually.

By the 1990s, ITN’s vision was of a system in which 250 clients could view, edit and play news items. Sony and Quantel submitted their designs to a set of ITN-created test scenarios. Quantel’s system performed best and was commissioned in 1999 but it was a further three years before it was fully operational. In 2006 ITN wanted computer control of the entire workflow and went to a company called Avid for this system. It was rolled out in January 2008 for Channel 4 and then to ITN in the following April. Strangely enough, ¼ inch tape is still used in cameras! However in the future, the environment will be totally tape-free with increased speed, digital acquisition and file transfer.

Fellow and Council Member Ian Walker introduced the final speaker, Ed Gibson, whose presentation dovetailed well with the previous speakers. Ed has had an interesting career both in law and law enforcement and is currently Microsoft’s Chief Security Adviser for the UK.

Ed noted that in the UK, e-crime and e-fraud has a safe haven because punishments are nowhere near as severe as those in the US. The UK has around 80,000 prison places and life sentences have gone down from 14 to 12 years, with many prisoners being released after only 8 years with good behaviour. In the US, a similar crime would see the criminal in jail for the term of his natural life! Another point was that police officers in the UK are not specifically credited for work in the e-crime area.

For Windows users, there is an automatic update on the second Tuesday of each month when millions of computers all over the world are updated. From this process, Microsoft can analyse the types and extent of the malware that is present on these machines. Ed was adamant that Botnets are infecting huge numbers of machines and commandeering users’ bandwidth. Trojan downloaders are growing rapidly (evident, again, from information gathered automatically by Microsoft) and these may reveal to the criminal valuable information such as passwords . The worry is that machines becomes  robot computers. Ed stressed that if you are running Windows (other OSs are also targeted), then you must regularly update your software or you will be compromised.

The UK has spam email laws that are among the tightest in the world, yet it has the highest spam levels! USB flash drives are another problem, especially in these tough times when employees can easily download a massive amount of their company’s information and walk out of the door with it on their MP3 players!

Ed posed the question “Where do spam emails come from”? Often, we can’t find out because senders hide behind proxy servers. If your computer becomes infected, it could be your machine that they are coming from – after having been hijacked as a spam server!

During a speech full of quips and joviality, Ed posed many other serious questions , among them, if e-crime happens to us, to whom do we report it? Individuals can’t talk directly to SOCA. Also he warned about the need to educate children about how to protect themselves when using social networking sites. They should all know how to configure privacy settings, for example. He pointed out that photographs posted by a teenager, which seemed funny at the time, will stay in the Cloud forever and might be seen by a prospective employer years later.

After a marvellous three-course lunch and plenty of wine, we were at liberty to explore the museum and were given a further two free museum tickets valid for 12 months! This was another informative, enjoyable and successful conference.

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