Monthly Archives: August 2017

Wireless wave of change

This won’t be a gradual evolution. It is being driven by users and will be a fundamental change, similar to some of the other seismic shifts in computing such as the arrival of PCs, which freed users from the dominance of mainframes.

A key driver behind these developments is the introduction in 2013 of the new wireless standard 802.11ac, followed in the next couple of years by 802.11ad. These standards will fuel the increase in mobile devices and BYOD, leading to wireless becoming the status quo instead of wired.

There are many elements supporting this change. 4G with faster and bigger data-handling capabilities will drive expectations in the office. The growing deployment of mobile IPV6, with its significantly enhanced capabilities, enables better roaming. Cloud and virtualisation shift both the perception and the very nature of company boundaries, making mobility even more relevant.

The real dilemma is how do you secure, implement and manage what you don’t know? Already developments such as learning apps, Google Glass, payments from mobiles, Tizan 2.1 (multi-device operating system) and CloudOn (which allows users to run business apps on their mobile in the cloud) are all throwing up new areas to be defined and incorporated into security policies. Over the next few years, there will be many more innovations that will directly impact organisational structures and security.

One major challenge for IT managers is how to navigate their way through a fluid and fast-evolving situation where network infrastructures are changing rapidly and where it’s very hard to predict what the changes will be.

Questions arising include how to develop the network so users can get the best productivity and other benefits from existing and new mobile devices. How do you go about moving to wireless in a cost-effective way, with the least disruption to the business? How do you track and manage the growing number of mobile devices? How do you maintain control of the network? And how do you keep the network secure in this rapidly changing environment?

The move to wireless
The new wireless standard 802.11ac provides initial WLAN throughput of at least 1Gbps and up to 7Gbps in the future. 802.11ad, with multi Gbps throughput, will provide up to 7Gbps when it is ratified and introduced. And 4G will provide up to 100 Mbps mobile. This gives the potential for radically improved wi fi performance over what is available in the workplace today.

Many wireless deployments to date have been tactical, with more access points added, often unstructured, to meet increasing user demand or deal with cold spots. Usually, they have been neither fully pervasive nor capable of handling multi-media, high-volume and high-density traffic. Of course, they are based on the higher range of the old 2.4 GHz access points.

802.11ac will deliver the unfulfilled promise of 802.11n, but with a focus on 5GHz rather than 2.4GHz. With 5GHz providing shorter range but higher throughput, existing access point (AP) – based systems will be inadequate for the new requirements.

Migrating to 802.11ac will require entirely new APs, new antennas, upgraded or replaced controllers and new switches or power over ethernet (PoE) injectors. Similar to the evolution of 802.11n, there will be multiple versions and phases of 802.11ac. For some organisations, this will mean a rolling deployment, with the associated configuration and security risks.

An increasingly popular alternative to the AP approach is the modular array approach. With this method, an array can hold multiple, directionally tuneable APs. Unlike traditional broadcasting, directional focus minimises interference and enables clear control over geo overspill.

This is particularly relevant given the challenges that 5GHz and beyond will create for the old AP-based approach to coverage. With 2.4GHz, providing more coverage typically involves adding more APs. However, that has been shown to be increasingly self-limiting because interference between APs reduces coverage, rather than increasing it.

A major benefit of an array-based or directional-based approach is that it can be easier to upgrade as traffic usage and capacity evolve, allowing companies to react swiftly to changing circumstances. Key to success in adopting or extending wireless networks will be deployment pre-planning, risk assessment and determining the applicable policies.

Social political engagement

Existing social media platforms aren’t providing effective political engagement, because they weren’t designed to. BCS has been calling for a purpose-built platform to improve meaningful communication between the public and MPs. James Davies looks at the work to be done.

The way that many of us live our lives online nowadays is naturally spilling over into the way people engage with politics and with politicians. Accompanying the rise of online campaigns, e-petitions and political memes, the internet and social media specifically is shifting the ways in which citizens engage with their elected representatives.

This shift is as fundamental as the one that came with the advent of radio or television. Huge numbers of citizens have taken to social media platforms to communicate with their local MPs, but with wildly varying levels of success. Some MPs try to avoid digital communications altogether. Others struggle to manage the immense volume of direct public engagement made possible by social media channels. Many receive daily abuse or even death threats online.

Soon after being re-elected in June, Conservative MP Ranil Jayawardena let his constituents know he would not be using Twitter anymore, ‘because it has become a platform full of trolls, extremists and worse’, which he felt was producing a climate of fear for his colleagues and his constituents.

Not fit-for-purpose
Social media companies are not the enemy here; the problem is that these platforms received an average of 10,000 messages every day, while others received fewer than five a day. This obviously presents huge potential inconsistencies between MPs’ abilities to respond to members of the public using this medium. Political engagement online is not functioning in a manageable or societally beneficial way.

Joined-up approach
No one party can – or should – be responsible for this, and so BCS and Demos are calling for a cross-party allegiance to work with existing social media platforms to improve their offerings. A solution to the current situation would be a purpose-built platform established to facilitate meaningful and effective political engagement online. BCS and Demos have written to all mainstream political parties asking them to work with us and each other to address the issue.

Online political engagement is here to stay, and questions around how well it is serving our political process will only increase over time. We now have the chance to get ahead; to give proper consideration to how the situation can be improved and make IT better for society.

Make the Web Better for Everyone

The Web has serious problems: peddler of unreliable information, haven for criminals, spawning ground for irrational conspiracy fears, and tool for destructive people to broadcast their violence in real time and with posted recordings.

No doubt your list of Web pathologies is different from mine. But surely you agree that the Web disappoints as much as it delights.

Now the hard part—what to do about it?

Starting over is impossible. The Web is the ground of our global civilization, a pillar of contemporary existence. Even as we complain about the excesses and shortcomings of the Web, we can’t survive without it.

For engineers and technovisionaries, the solution flows from an admirable U.S. tradition: building a better mousetrap.

For redesigners of the broken Web, the popular impulse is to expand digital freedom by creating a Web so decentralized that governments can’t censor it and big corporations can’t dominate.

However noble, the freedom advocates fail to account for a major class of vexations arising from anonymity, which allows, say, Russian hackers to pose as legitimate tweeters and terrorist groups to recruit through Facebook pages.

To be sure, escape from government surveillance through digital masks has benefits, yet the path to improved governance across the world doesn’t chiefly lie with finding more clever ways to hide from official oppression. More freedom, ultimately, will only spawn more irresponsible, harmful behavior.

If more freedom and greater privacy won’t cure what ails the Web, might we consider older forms of control and the cooperation of essential public services?

In the 19th century, railroads gained such power over the lives of cities and towns across the United States that norms, rules, and laws emerged to impose a modicum of fairness on routes, fares, and services. Similarly, in the 20th century, the Bell telephone network, having gained a “natural” monopoly, came under the supervision of the U.S. government. So did the country’s leading computer company, IBM.

Because of government limits, Bell stayed out of the computer business—and licensed its revolutionary transistor to others. IBM’s management, meanwhile, felt pressured by the government to “unbundle” software that came free with its computers, which in one swoop created a nascent software industry that a half century later is the envy of the world.

Since governments can help make innovations fairer, what kind of interventions might the U.S. government make to reform the Web? First, it can support net neutrality. The policy helps sustain wider support for asking Amazon, ­Facebook, and Google to behave as “common carriers,” which must treat their vendors evenhandedly but also police their behavior, disallowing Web fraud in all forms.

The Language the Dark Web

Part of the mythology of the early Internet was that it was going to make the world a better place by giving voice to the masses and leveling playing fields. Light was the metaphor of choice. For example, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak once said that “when the Internet first came, I thought it was just the beacon of freedom.”

You can easily make a case for how much “brighter” the world is now, thanks to ubiquitous connectivity shining a light on misbehavior and malfeasance, but the Internet has a dark side as well.

For example, when you enter a search term into Google and it spits out the results, you might think that the search engine spent those few milliseconds querying the entire Web. Nope, not even close. What Google indexes is a fraction of all the available Web, perhaps just 4 percent of the total, by some estimates. That indexed soupçon is called the surface Web, or sometimes the visible Web. What about the other 96 percent? That nonsearchable content is called the deep Web, dark Web, or sometimes the invisible Web. A related idea is dark social, those online social interactions that are not public and cannot be directly tracked or traced (such as text messages and emails).

Most of this hidden Web is obscured either because it resides within databases that are inaccessible to search crawlers (because they require that information be entered into an HTML form), or because those crawlers don’t have permission to access certain types of data (such as the personal info that people store within the cloud).

But a significant subset of the hidden Web is the online equivalent of caves, lairs, and dungeons where hackers, criminals, and trolls gather. I speak now of the aforementioned dark Web, the collection of websites where miscreants and malefactors go to buy or sell narcotics, weapons, and stolen goods (these are known as dark markets), where the desperate and the desperadoes hire hitmen and arsonists, and where trolls and dark-side hackers gather covertly in forums and chat rooms. This so-called darknet is hidden from view not because an HTML form is in the way but because it requires special tools to get there at all. The most common of these is Tor, a worldwide network of relays run by volunteers that anonymizes and encrypts traffic to the black Web’s typical .onion URLs (Tor is short for The Onion Router).The darknet seems like a place populated only by the lawless and the anarchic, but does it have anything to offer the rest of us? Consider, for example, that the Tor network itself has also received considerable U.S. government funding, in part to protect democratic movements in authoritarian regimes.