The Anonymous Widower

Protecting Your Company, Organisation Or Workgroup From Viruses, Ransomware And Other Malware

I am not a computer malware expert and since 1970, I have generally worked alone, with one or more computers , not connected by a network.

But after all the problems of the last few weeks with ransomware, I feel that one of my experiences of a few years ago, should be put into this blog.

A Daisy Demonstration

The Research Department of a major corporation were interested in using my software; Daisy to analyse data being collected in their local offices.

So I was summoned to their offices to the South West of London, so that they could have a proper demonstration.

I found something extremely sensible that I’d not seen before.

The Department had the usual corporate network, as you would expect, with logins, malware protection, but for my demonstration I used another computer.

The Lonely PC

We moved to a lonely PC sitting on a desk in the corner. It had the following characteristics.

  • Adequate power.
  • A recent version of Windows.
  • Direct connection to the Internet through a landline.
  • No connection to the main network.
  • A directly connected printer.
  • A selection of browsers.
  • Microsoft Office, but no e-mail program.

The only thing, that the computer lacked was a large screen.

Uses Of The Isolated Computer

The isolated computer was used for the following.

  • Demonstrations
  • Checking out ideas and web sites in suspect locations.
  • Testing software.

I think that after the recent ransomware attacks, emergency Internet access could probably be added to the list of uses.

Rules For Using The Computer

The Department had setup a series of rules for the use of the computer.

  • The computer could be booked by anybody in the Department.
  • Comprehensive data transfer rules using physical devices had been setup.
  • No software could be installed on computers on the main network, without full testing on the isolated computer.
  • The computer was regularly checked for any viruses or malware.
  • If any nasties were found on this computer, it was immediately restored to a pristine state.

Incidentally, whether it was for my benefit or not, it was one of the cleanest corporate computers, I’ve used for a demonstration.

Benefits

I was told that since the computer had been installed, malware problems on the network had decreased.

But how much was this down to a constantly improving and rigorously updated malware-protection system for the Department’s main network?

An Ideal System

A lot would depend on the type of company and their needs.

The system I used needed a big screen, as often a demonstration needs to be seen by several people.

I also think, that with a large screen, it could be a valuable tool in Corporate Communications.

Some might think, that this type of computer, which bypasses the corporate network, could be used by those with access for nefarious purposes.

Years ago, my software; Artemis was used to do the Project Management on Chevaline. The Ministry of Defence was worried that the Russians might use some unknown technology to read the electromagnetic radiation from the cathode-ray tube of the VDU. So I suggested they put the desk-sized computer in a shielded internal room. But what about the door, they said! I suggested that they get Chubb to put one of their best locks on the door.

A few weeks later, when a software problem struck, I went home with a complete copy of the project on a disc.

I had encoded the data using a personally-designed method that I still believe is unbreakable. But that is another story! Especially, as I’ve never signed the Official Secrets Act!

As this tale illustrates, there are ways to enforce security and holes will always appear.

 

 

 

May 18, 2017 Posted by | Computing | , , , , | Leave a comment

Brexit – Signalling Implications For The UK

The title of this post is that of an article on Rail Engineer.

It looks at how rail signalling will be affected by Brexit.

It is an article worth reading.

Remember that signalling is the instructions that keeps a railway functioning, just like the operating system does on your computer.

The article starts like this.

With Britain on a course to leave the EU, how might the plans for signalling (control and communications) be affected? In short, nobody really knows, but a number of factors might now change the policy that had existed hitherto. Not having to comply with EU rules on interoperability, the non-inclusion of TEN routes and the advertising of large contracts in the European Journal might all lead to a different (or modified) approach.

So will it lead to different approach?

I don’t know either, but if you read the article we have gone a long way to creating a signalling system, that is some way along the path to meeting the ultimate EU aims.

ERTMS

The article says this about ERTMS or \European Rail Transport Management System.

ERTMS, and its constituent parts of ETCS and GSM-R, has been a corner stone of European signalling policy for over two decades. Both have taken far too long to come to maturity, with ETCS Level 2 just about at a stable level and GSM-R, whilst rolled out throughout the UK, facing an obsolescence crisis within the next ten years.

ETCS or European Train Control System is not fully deployed, but in the UK, we have made some progress.

  • The Cambrian Line has been equipped as a learning exercise.
  • Significant testing has been performed on the Hertford Loop Line
  • ETCS is being installed and has been tested in the central core of Thameslink.
  • Crossrail will be using ETCS.
  • ETCS is being implemented on the Southern part of the East Coast Main Line.

GSM-R is the communication system from train to signallers.

Looking at this , shows that although the UK fully implemented a GSM-R network by January 2016, not many countries have got as far as the UK.

Surely, you need decent communications to run an efficient and safe railway.

I think it is true to say we’ve not been idle.

The article talks about alternatives and shows a few cases where an alternative approach has been taken.

  • Norwich-Ely and Crewe-Shrewsbury have been resignalled using a modular system.
  • Scotland has decided to go its own way in the Far North.
  • The article talks about CBTC or Commuincations-Based Train Control, which is used on several systems around the world including London’s Jubilee and Northern Lines.

The article also says this about CBTC

The endless committees to discuss and agree how the standards will be implemented do not get in the way. Whilst not suitable for main line usage (at least in the foreseeable future), there could be suburban routes around cities (for example Merseyrail) that could benefit from CBTC deployment.

Could CBTC be a practical system without the bureaucracy?

But these alternatives all smell of pragmatism, where the best system is chosen for a particular line.

But we have one great advantage in that we have imnplemented a comprehensive digital network covering the whole network.

This is no Internet of Things, but an Internet of Trains.

Software

As a computer programmer, I couldn’t leave this out of the signalling recipe.

You can bet your house, that somewhere there are programmers devising solutions to get round our problems.

And they will!

Conclusion

I can’t believe that other industries are not giving the same opportunities to the disruptive innovators of the UK.

Brexit might be good for us, in a surprising way!

Nothing to do with politics or immigration and all to do with innovation!

 

October 11, 2016 Posted by | Computing, Travel | , , , | 2 Comments

Let’s Have Some Rules For Software!

I am in the process of moving my contacts and e-mails from a Windows Vista computer with Outlook 2007 to another with Windows 7 and Outlook 2010, as the first computer has a disc fault, that means you can’t use Outlook.  I can’t even copy or zip the Outlook file, which I suspect means it’s seriously fucked.

I have backups of everything I need from perhaps thirty days ago. But of course you then have the problem of transferring the data from one format to the other.

My preferred solution would have been just to buy a new Windows Vista computer with Outlook 2007, but of course that’s not possible, even if I don’t need support.

So I’m stuck in the process of transferring data from one data format to the other.

I would assume the transfer system was designed by an idiot who was as cruel as Stalin or Hitler, with the intelligence of the Prince Regent as portrayed in Blackadder. Dl Microsoft sub-contract their program design to Boko Horam or ISIS.

Surely, if you want to transfer data from Outlook 2007 to Outlook 2010, it should be just a matter of opening the file in the new program and then letting the program do all the work!

It’s been similar with transferring from my Galaxy S4 to S5, where things are all different and some features don’t even exist.

I suppose computer companies don’t see us as consumers who know what we want, but idiots to be ripped-off.

 

June 16, 2014 Posted by | Computing | , , , | Leave a comment

Train Information To Be Free To Developers

The Rail Industry is going to open up its database, so that all train running and timetabling information will be available free to software developers. It is reported here on the Modern Railways web site.

This may seem quite small and technical, but it is an interesting change of philosophy by a public body.

I’ve always believed in giving access to data in a comprehensive manner, when that data is anonymous and disclosure is in the public interest.

For instance, a programme could be written, that collates and analyses some specific data on the rail network, that might be required by a local politician, who is getting complaints about the rail service.

But that is only a simple example and knowing the skill of software developers, free access to the data, will spawn some very useful applications.

The article doesn’t say if passenger journey statistics will be available, but this might be very useful to develop a system, which helped show a company, which would be the best location for their next coffee shop or office development. Or perhaps it could suggest to a coach company, which might be the best route for a new service.

A lot of these applications are speculative, but because the data is available and free, companies with a need will use it to their advantage to grow, increase profits and create jobs.

Let’s hope that this is a first small step to opening up public data,so that companies and organisations can improve their products and services, and consumers can benefit.

May 24, 2014 Posted by | Computing, Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Open Data Will Improve Public Transport

I was actually looking to see if anybody else had spotted that London buses now have time displays, which I reported here.

But I did find this article entitled, Smart data will only work if the network data is truly open.

The article says that London has one of the biggest real-time passenger information systems in the world. All of the data is available free for developers. The article then says this.

Developers have created more than 100 apps for the city’s buses alone. They offer everything from route planners for the disabled to scalable tube maps, with live updates when lines are disrupted, and apps that let you know where to board a train so you can get off as close to your exit as possible.

So is it right to think that as time goes on, more and better apps will be written to make difficult journeys easier?

You could envisage apps, where you entered your start and destination and the system made suggestions, as to how to get there fastest, when say the local low life had nicked the signal cable or a bus or train had broken down.

The one thing that the article misses, is the data connection from the smart device to the central system.

Surely to cope in the near future, all vehicles will have a wi-fi connection. First Manchester is reported here to be fitting wi-fi to all its buses.

Once you have a fast local connection between vehicles and passengers, other possibilities will become feasible.

As an example, I often catch a 38 bus to the Angel, where to get to Kings Cross, I change to a 73 bus or take the Northern line. If the bus had a rearward facing camera, I could link to this to check for the 73 bus.

One of the great things about this technology is that you don’t need everybody to be using it on a bus, as bus passengers will talk to each other and share their information. I say this because you see people at bus stops texting to find the arrivals and then showing them to other passengers.

None of the apps because of the open data will cost Transport for London a penny. The reverse could be true in that the apps might encourage more passengers to travel and travel on the more lightly-used part of the network. If more people travelled by bus, hopefully this would reduce car traffic, thus allowing more road space for buses.

Such is the power of software!

April 11, 2014 Posted by | Computing, Travel | , | Leave a comment

The Computer Software Update Problem

I don’t like automatic updates of computer software and this story from the BBC about Kaspersky Labs and their anti-virus software is vindication of my view . Here’s the first two paragraphs.

Thousands of computers running Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system were unable to connect to the internet after installing an anti-virus update.

Users said they were also unable to access their internal company networks.

I only update my software, when I find the current system has a serious bug, as I’ve been stung so many times in the past. And then I update software, when I want to, so I have time to test it before it drops me in the doo-dah.

Another question thatr has to be asked here, is given the current political situation, why would anybody use Russian anti-virus software.

March 27, 2014 Posted by | Computing | , | Leave a comment

Why Does Software Go Backwards?

My ten-year-old Hewlett-Packard laptop is at death’s door, so I’ve had to switch to a much newer Sony. I bought the Sony, because i found the keyboard easy with my gammy left hand, which means I have difficulty with the shift key. Most capital letters are done by spanning my right hand.

Why is the version of Windows and Office 2010 so inferior to Windows Vista and Office 2007?

I would love to go out and buy a new laptop pre-loaded with Vista and Office 2007! And if it cost me more than it was worth, I wouldn’t mind.

Let’s face it, the hardware and software are the canvas on which a writer of software or all sorts of documents weave their fantasies.

So why should computer companies tell me what I can buy? If I wanted a part for most ten-year-old cars, it’s usually an easy purchase.

And then when you buy a new standalone product, like my Samsung mobile phone, it’s got more bugs than the insect house at the London Zoo. They may be clever and get a lot of sales, but the designers don’t think like users, which is the key to writing good software.

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Computing | , , | 2 Comments

Why Does Everyone Have To Fiddle?

I’ve just returned home and I wanted to get the football on quickly, whilst I put my shopping away.

But some idiot has decided that my Sky box needs updating with yet more features that I will never use.

Whilst I was getting round their unwanted help and demo, a goal was scored.

Luckily it was only scored by that prawn sandwich mob in red from Manchester, but it could have been scored by Aston Villa.

There’s an old adage, that says if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it!

The trouble with updates involving any form of computing or software, is that I’ve only known one person, who never created a bug when writing updates. On the other hand, they never delivered anything on time!

December 15, 2013 Posted by | World | , , | 1 Comment

Microsoft Outlook Is Full Of Bugs

I would be annoyed with myself, if I’d written software with as many bugs as Microsoft Outlook.

What is driving me hairless at the moment is trying to send the e-mail address, telephone numbers and physical address of a sick friend, to those in my address book who know him. I’m using a vcf format Business Card.

Unfortunately, since I first sent his address by this method a couple of years ago, the entry has changed, as my friend has moved.

But Outlook persists in sending the old details.  Do I have to delete the entry and reenter everything?

That to me is a triple-X rated bug.

November 29, 2013 Posted by | Computing | , | Leave a comment

Poor Computer System Design

I just tried to make a payment through my on-line bank account. As the payee  has moved their account since last time, I needed to change the sort code and account umber. But you have to delete the old entry and re-enter a new one, as there is no other way.

I finally did the transfer, but even then, there were quite a few textual bugs in the screens I saw.

This is very poor system design and is another entry in that fat book called How Not To Design A Banking System.

September 13, 2013 Posted by | Computing, Finance | , , | Leave a comment