Goverment IT News Open Source

Swiss Government Has Microsoft “Dependency”

Open source advocates claim that a Swiss government department must open its doors to non-proprietary software

An ongoing case brought by Red Hat and other open source vendors against the Swiss government’s decision to award an uncontested IT contract to Microsoft could prove pivotal, according to experts.

Commenting on a recent decision by Swiss courts to reject the group of open source suppliers objections against the Microsoft contract, Mark Taylor of the UK-based Open Source Consortium, said the case shows how some government departments find it extremely difficult to extracate themselves from using Microsoft’s technology.

“In effect the Judge said the Swiss Public Sector is so addicted that it would be damaging to withdraw the dependency right now,” said Taylor.

Taylor added that if the ongoing case finds in favour of Microsoft when it finally concludes, it could set a troubling precedent for open source technology uptake in the public sector.

“I suspect this is a watershed moment and this case will play a pivotal part in the public debate from now on…,” said Taylor.

According to comments sent to eWeek Europe by the Swiss law firm, BCCC AVOCATS, last month the Swiss Administrative Court reportedly rejected the claim filed by 18 open source software providers against the Swiss Confederation’s decision to renew a three-year agreement with Microsoft to supply servers and desktops to the Swiss Federal Bureau for Building and Logistics.

In May this year, the open source group led by Red Hat protested what they claim was a Swiss government contract given to Microsoft without any public bidding. The Red Hat group asked a Swiss federal to overturn a contract issued to Microsoft for 14 million Swiss Franc (£8 million) each year. The contract, for “standardised workstations”, was issued with no public bidding process, Red Hat’s legal team reported in a blog – because the Swiss agency asserted there was no sufficient alternative to Microsoft products.

Also commenting on the ongoing case, Karsten Gerloff from the Free Software Foundation said that the Swiss department concerned should break free from its dependance on one vendor.

“Free Software offers users strategic control over their infrastructure. This problem is by no means limited to Switzerland. Across Europe,
it’s quite common for public bodies to either hand out contracts to proprietary software vendors without a proper public bidding procedure,” he said in a blog posting.

Goverment IT Mobile & Wireless News

TalkTalk Threatens Legal Action Over Mandelson’s File-Sharing Strategy

But TalkTalk’s challenge to Mandelson’s plan to disconnect illegal file-sharers depends on EU laws that are still under debate

Internet service provider TalkTalk has threatened to take legal action over Lord Mandelson’s plan to disconnect illegal file-sharers – but lawyers say the ISP’s case depends on European laws that are not yet passed.

TalkTalk’s executive director of strategy and regulation Andrew Heaney said in a blog post that Mandelson’s approach was “based on the principle of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and substitutes proper judicial process for a kangaroo court”. He also warned that “TalkTalk will continue to resist any attempts to make it impose technical measures on its customers unless directed to do so by a court or recognised tribunal.”

The business secretary announced yesterday in a speech at the Cabinet Forum that the government’s “three strikes” policy on illegal file-sharing will be implemented by July 2011, unless his initial strategy of issuing warning letters brings about a 70 per cent reduction in online piracy. However, he emphasised that “technical measures will be a last resort and I have no expectation of mass suspensions resulting.”

Mandelson’s hard-line approach to file-sharing has already been heavily criticised by ISPs such as BT and TalkTalk, which have complained about the high costs of implementing such a scheme as well as the difficulties of enforcement. TalkTalk has even launched its ‘brightdancing’ ad campaign as a protest against Lord Mandelson’s plans to disconnect people accused of internet piracy without a trial.


Earlier in the month TalkTalk staged a demonstration in Middlesex, in which an internet security consultant used Wi-Fi hijacking to download content, including Barry Manilow’s hit Mandy. Within a couple of hours he had identified 23 wireless connections that were vulnerable to Wi-Fi hijacking on a single street . The aim was to demonstrate the difficulties of proving who is to blame for an illegal download, and that Mandelson’s plan to disconnect offenders could result in a large number of innocent victims.

However, the feasibility of TalkTalk having a serious legal case against the government over file-sharing depends largely on the outcome of formal talks in the European Commission to resolve differences of opinion on internet piracy laws. On 6 October, European telecoms ministers formally rejected the parliament’s key amendment – the now infamous Amendment 138 – which allowed governments and rights holders to force UK ISPs to disconnect their customers from the internet.

In its place, the new provision reads that “Any such measures liable to restrict those fundamental rights or freedoms may only be taken in exceptional circumstances and imposed if they are necessary, appropriate and proportionate within a democratic society… Any measures may only be adopted as a result of a prior, fair and impartial procedure ensuring inter alia that the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to be heard of the person or persons concerned be fully respected.”

Rob Bratby, partner in technology and media law firm Olswang, told eWEEK Europe that some kind of compromise should be reached in Europe over the next couple of months. However, with the date of the government’s digital economy bill in late November fast approaching, the question is whether there is enough time for Mandelson to unite public opinion.

Goverment IT News Security

UK Cyber Security Challenge Launched To Promote Skills

Autumn will see a Cyber Challenge in the UK, designed to create new security professional

A challenge is being launched to persuade users to develop necessary IT security skills in Britain.

The UK Cyber Security Challenge, modelled on the US Cyber Challenge will set tasks, such as treasure hunts or network break-ins, for people who want to establish their information security skills. Winners will get prizes, but will also be up for real jobs in the industry.

Demand for security experts exceeds supply

Details are scanty so far, but the challenge has backing from vendors and government bodies, for a programme which will “bridge the gap between the supply or cyber security experts and the demand,” according to Mohan Koo, managing director in the UK for Australian security firm Dtex – who is on the management team of the challenge.

“There are lots of graduates out there who are skilled, but don’t realise their skills can be harnessed to further a career.” said Koo. The management group surveyed 255 user companies in the UK, and 90 percent of them said they were already having trouble recruiting security professionals, with the majority expecting that difficulty to increase.

The group plans to launch its challenge in autumn, when graduates emerge from university, but aims to sign up more supporting organisations at the Infosec Europe show this week, where the programme will announce its existence.

With sufficient backing, the challenge should be able to offer significant opportunities. The US scheme launched in 2009 has already placed several graduates in jobs as well as creating interesting challenges on the way, said Koo.

Sponsors include the Metropolitan Police, the Cabinet Office, and the Institute of Information Security Professionals.

Goverment IT News

UK Donates Skills – Not Cash – For EU Supercomputer Plan

The EU initiative will allow sharing of supercomputers across Europe, but the UK is only donating “resources and expertise”

The UK is one of 20 European countries contributing to a newly launched supercomputing initiative, which will help to boost scientific research into areas such as climate change and drug development.

But while other countries are contributing substantial funds, the UK is joining the likes of Cyprus and Bulgaria in only donating “expertise and resources”.

Officially launched in Barcelona this week, the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) project aims to provide access to supercomputing technology to researchers across the region. The scheme is being funded by contributions of €100 million (£82m) each by Spain, France, Italy and Germany over the next five years. The EC is also contributing around €70 million (£58m) via the EU’s 7th Research Framework Programme.

Efficient Solar Cells

The scheme should make it easier for scientists to get access to supercomputing systems in other countries. The EU believes this could help to speed up projects such as the development of more efficient solar cells or how drugs interact in the body.

“I warmly welcome the launch of the PRACE supercomputer infrastructure as scientific computing is a key driver for the development of modern science and technology and for addressing the major challenges of our time, like climate change, energy saving and the aging population,” said Commission vice-president for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes.

The iniative should give researchers from across Europe access to compute power equivalent to more than 100,000 of today’s fastest PCs, the EC stated. The UK is among a group of 16 countries who will also be providing “resources and expertise” to the project but is not among the lead contributors providing significant funds.

The UK’s Technology Strategy Board was contacted for comment on why the UK was not providing funds for the project, when the likes of Spain and Italy were able to, but did not reply in time for this article. The TSB was set up in 2007 and describes its mission “to stimulate technology-enabled innovation in the areas which offer the greatest scope for boosting UK growth and productivity”.

JUGENE : Fastest In Europe

The PRACE scheme should be up and running by the 1 August 2010. The first supercomputing system being made available is the JUGENE system in Julich, Germany. The system is the fastest in Europe and the fifth fastest in the world, according to the EC. More super computers will join the scheme from 2011.

Last year, the previous government announced funding for supercomputing facility in Wales. The £44.27 million facility is a joint project between the Universities of Swansea and Cardiff and will concentrate on image processing, animation, 3D visualisation, data mining and simulations.

Goverment IT News Security

Wikileaks: Chinese Government Ordered Google Hack

US embassy documents say a Chinese Politburo member ordered attacks on Google

The Chinese government ordered the hack against Google in January, and backed many other acts of cyber-warfare, according to the US Embassy cables revealed by Wikileaks.

Wikileaks sparked a diplomatic crisis this weekend by releasing more than 250,000  confidential cables from its embassies round the world. Along with Arab leaders urging strikes on Iran’s nuclear plants, and embarassing assessments of foreign leaders, the massive leak shed new light on the incident in January, when Google was subject to hacking from within China.

Hack ordered by Politburo member?

The hack in January, which prompted Google to leave China temporarily, was “orchestrated by a senior member of the Politburo who typed his own name into the global version of the search engine and found articles criticising him personally,” according to a source in China, The Guardian reports.

The campaign used “government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government,” and was part of a concerted pattern of Chinese official hacking dating back to 2002, whose targets included other businesses, the US government and its allies, and the Dalai Lama.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that, in April, 15 percent of Internet traffic was routed through China, an incident which raised fears of further Chinese interventions.

The material in the cables is embarassing to the US government and, in the case of the Google hack, adds evidence to back existing suspicions, rather than providing any proof. Wikileaks is posting 251,000 documents from 274 embassies dating back to 1996, in an action which it says “reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors”.

The Chinese hack on Google was alleged to have stolen Google’s source code, and is believed to have originated from two Chinese colleges. Google stopped re-routing its traffic away from China in June.