Apr 29, 2010

Stress levels linked to weight

It's no exaggeration - your job may be slowly killing you, one kilogram at a time.

Years of research have shown that your job can help make you fat - sitting in front of a computer all day, eating bad takeaway food. But your workplace stress level also can have an effect on your weight, according to a study from the University of Rochester.

Worse, the stress and corollary weight gain can increase chances of cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety, according to the study's main author, Diana Fernandez, of the University of Rochester Medical Centre's department of community and preventative medicine.

And all that stress means you're likely to collapse on your couch when you get home, watching too much TV and "vegging out."

"In a poor economy, companies should take care of the people who survive layoffs and end up staying in stressful jobs," Fernandez said, in a statement publicising the study.

Workplace stress "affects how people sleep, which means they drink too much caffeine" at work, said Eric Braverman, a professor of neurological surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital and weight loss columnist for the Huffington Post. "The carbs make them fat, the salt makes them tired," and all of that leads to lethargy after work and the potential for weight gain.

Doctors and dietitians say most people need to eat better at work - and that takes planning ahead, keeping healthful snacks, meals and vitamins at the ready.

Unfortunately, "they're not really set up to strategically think of health" while at work, Braverman said.

So will keeping apples and fibre bars at your desk do the trick? Surprisingly, the Rochester study also reported that trying to eat more fruits and vegetables during the day didn't help much to curb weight gain among chronically stressed employees. Instead, exercise "seems to be the key to managing stress and keeping a healthy weight," the study said.

Other recent studies, though, show that even exercise does little to curb weight gain (even if it does have other benefits, like reducing incidence of certain illnesses). A 2009 study in the Public Library of Science journal followed 464 overweight women who didn't regularly exercise, and randomly assigned them to one of four groups.

Women in the control group kept to their usual physical-activity routines and diets. The results?

"The women who exercised - sweating it out with a trainer several days a week for six months - did not lose significantly more weight than the control subjects did," the study found.

That might be because strenuous activity makes people hungry and thirsty, and more likely to overeat after exercise, counteracting the effects of the workout.

For the University of Rochester report, researchers studied 2782 "mostly sedentary" employees at a manufacturing facility in New York, but said the results were applicable to most jobs and workplaces.

Apr 23, 2010

Antivirus program sends computers berserk

Computers in companies, hospitals and schools around the world got stuck repeatedly rebooting themselves on Wednesday after an antivirus program identified a normal Windows file as a virus.  Antivirus vendor McAfee confirmed that a software update posted on Wednesday morning caused its antivirus program for corporate customers to misidentify a harmless file. It has posted a replacement update for download.

"We are not aware of significant impact on consumers and believe we have effectively limited such occurrence," the company said in a statement.

Online bloggers begged to differ, saying thousands of computers running Windows XP with Service Pack 3 were affected.  

At Rhode Island Hospital in the US, the computer lock-up prompted personnel to divert emergency room visitors without traumas to other hospitals. The hospital also postponed some elective surgeries.  Patient care continued uninterrupted using back-up procedures, according to Nancy Jean, spokeswoman for the health system.

In Kentucky in the US, state police were told to shut down the computers in their patrol cars as technicians tried to fix the problem.

Peter Juvinall, systems administrator at Illinois State University in Normal, US, said that when the first computer started rebooting it quickly became evident that it was a major problem, affecting dozens of computers at the College of Business alone.

"I originally thought it was a virus," he said. When the tech support people concluded McAfee's update was to blame, they stopped further downloads of the faulty software update and started shuttling from computer to computer to get them working again.

Intel also appeared to be one of the victims, said employee posts on Twitter. Intel did not return calls for comment.

Botched McAfee anti-virus update cripples 10% of Coles Win XP SP3

Havoc descended on Coles stores across the country this morning after 10 per cent of the company's cash registers were knocked out by a botched McAfee anti-virus update.
Virgin Mobile was also affected, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed, but she did not know off hand how many computers were knocked out.

The routine anti-virus update confused a valid Windows file with a virus, disrupting millions of computers around the world.

Universities, hospitals and businesses were among those reporting problems after the update misidentified a valid Windows system file as malicious code and caused computers to continually reboot.
Coles spokesman Jim Cooper confirmed today that 1100, or 10 per cent, of Coles's cash registers were knocked out by the issue.
"It's a moveable feast with us but we have been affected by it - so it's been a pretty tough morning out there," Cooper said.
"The registers that were affected couldn't be operated and there were a number of stores that actually had to be closed because there were too many registers down in those stores for the store to be able to trade.
"So at this stage it's been 14-18 stores [that] were closed at any point in time. Some of them are still closed. Most of them are coming back online as we speak."
Cooper said the issue predominantly affected stores in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia.
It is not clear how many other Australian businesses were affected but it is believed the issue is widespread among McAfee's business customers. Several affected workers in Australia have vented on Twitter.
The problem hit corporate users of Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 3 operating system, according to McAfee, which released another update later in the day to fix the problem and urged customers to download it.
The Internet Storm Centre, an initiative of the SANS Technology Institute which monitors problems on the web, said "the affected systems will enter a reboot loop and lose all network access".
The centre said it received reports of "networks with thousands of down machines and organisations who had to shut down for business until this is fixed".
The McAfee software slip "pretty much took Intel down today", said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.
Enderle told of being at the computer chip titan's headquarters in Northern California for an afternoon of meetings when laptop computers began crashing around him.
"Much of Intel was actually taken out," Enderle told AFP. "I imagine most companies running Intel and McAfee were literally taken out."
But McAfee's head of global support, Barry McPherson, said the company believed less than one half of 1 per cent of its enterprise accounts globally were affected.

How to get over the bad boss blues

Working for a toxic boss - the type that bullies you, criticises everything you touch and makes you wish for an invisibility cloak every time she walks past your office - is not a person you can easily forget. Or get over, even weeks or months after you've parted ways.

Being subjected to a constant stream of negative feedback takes its toll and grinds you down to the point where you eventually begin to believe: Wow, maybe I really do have zero talent. Maybe a child could do my job better. It's called buying into the brainwashing.

Cut to the point where you come to your senses. That is, you were fired or you quit. Regardless, the hardest part is moving beyond the experience and rebuilding your ego so you can walk into your next job and not feel like you have a kick-me sign on your back or a deer-in-the-headlights mentality every time you get an email from your new boss.

"My first boss hated me so much that I think I must have killed her mother in a former life," says Alexandra Levit, syndicated columnist and author of several career books including They Don't Teach You Corporate in College. "She raked me over the coals...But it's true in life that we have endings that are not ideal, and just like any relationship, it's important to get closure in order to put it behind you."

In fact, the sooner you can let go of the anger and resentment, the better shape your head will be in, says Mark Goulston, MD, co-author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. "Even if your gripes are legitimate, continuing to blame your boss turns off others and will quickly cause people to lose respect for you," he says. Not the desired outcome.

So while you can't ransack your bosses office (tempting) or change the past, you can learn from the ordeal of a toxic boss, points out Harvey Mackay, a business advice columnist and author of We Got Fired!...And It's The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Us. Begin with an often-used stroke on your keypad: delete. Get rid of any reminders, including old emails and memos.

Don't let your anger or bitterness get the best of you. Before you leave the job - or soon thereafter - take a moment to send your boss a quick note or email with your new contact information, mentioning also that you hope you can stay in touch. No matter if you never hear back; at least you did your part. Also, take the high road when people ask you about your former boss. Gossiping and bad-mouthing him brings back negative thoughts and doesn't serve your reputation in the long run, says Mackay.

It's worth examining how and why the employer-employee relationship turned so sour. Forget about your bosses tone of voice and hooded eyes. The real lesson is: was there a kernel of truth in your boss's criticisms about your organisational skills or lack of leadership? If so, make the internal change so that you don't carry them over to your new job.

In the wake of this self-assessment, take the time to also focus on what you're good at. "After I left my job with a bad boss, I took a personal development class, and it really helped improve my confidence and how I was presenting myself to others," says Levit. And the more you can get some positive feedback from your new boss, the more confident you'll feel. Ask for a three-month review and weekly check-in and other ways to keep the lines of communication open.

Finally, Goulston offers this sage piece of advice: "Holding a grudge is like swallowing poison and hoping it poisons the other person." The best revenge in this case is wishing your boss well with no hard feelings-and really meaning it.

Apr 22, 2010

Dollars don't equal reform

KEVIN Rudd's claim that he has a new health plan is true. His plan is to confuse Australia and bore critics into submission with bureaucratic waffle and disgraceful evasiveness.  On Wednesday, this man who surely deserves an honours degree in gobbledegook, reached new lows as he tried to disguise the unavoidable fact that his "reform" is not a plan, it is a compromise.

After two years of "structural review", and endless hospital tours that must have frightened the daylights out of sick people, little has been fixed. For the most part, he has patched problems and shuffled numbers.

Now, through a blur of media interviews, he's tried to sell that as a genuine reform with a robotic recitation of statements purporting to be answers.

He is convincing nobody. Waffle is not argument and Australians are not idiots.

When a politician is so much on-message he answers only questions that he asks himself, the people will smell a rat. And they're right.

A worthwhile health plan should mean reform. It should guarantee better treatment for patients, shorter waiting lists and greater administrative efficiency.

It should mean health dollars are spent on medicine and on patients instead of buildings full of paper-shuffling public servants and sloppy managers.

A worthwhile plan should be considered and constructed carefully over time through review, ideas and discussion.

A worthwhile plan cannot be thrashed out at a negotiating table with extra dollars thrown around like incentives in a sly-grog shop.

Reform doesn't come from political argy-bargy. Compromise does.

What we have here is a "reform" worse than the classic camel, which has been defined as a horse designed by committee. This package is a beast designed by politicians for reasons of politics, not health.

That's the real obscenity. This whole ugly business has been conducted over the beds of the sick and has its origins in a deal between political comrades made to save the Government embarrassment in an election year.

If leaders cannot manage to put aside political priorities for the common purpose of improving the lives of sick people and their families, they don't deserve to be leaders.

Privately, few people are happy with this. If it does provide any type of reform it is reform of the tax system, not health.

The Victorian Government is certainly displeased. John Brumby said he needed $1.2 billion a year extra to run health properly. He got $222 million. Analyse the figures any way you want, but that's about $1 billion a year short.

In the end, the Victorian negotiators felt they had to agree because the Prime Minister would not budge on his demand that 30 per cent of the GST be handed back.

While it's true there's more money available now, it is not a lot. And money does not equal reform.

It's true that in return for the GST the Federal Government accepts the long-term risk in maintaining funding. But where's the risk? The GST is a growth tax that will increase with the funding.

It's true there will be 1300 more beds, 2500 more aged care places and more doctors. All that is welcome and overdue. But it is a necessary Band-Aid, not life-changing surgery.

It's also true the Federal Government takes over funding for primary care like GPs, and aged care, but there remains a health no-man's land between the hospitals and such areas.

What we have is several systems trying to work as one, rather than what should be a co-ordinated, sensible and smooth machine offering health care from start to finish.

But one of the biggest failures is the failure to end the bloating of duplication. Australia has eight health departments serving 22 million people. While the country is short of doctors and nurses, these public servants spend their time sending each other memos and justifying their existence.

Back in March Kevin Rudd was going to fix that: "For the first time eight state-run systems will become part of one national network," he said.

Now, he promises only that there will be no growth in bureaucracy. Any talk of cuts or reallocated dollars has gone because the states have been left in charge.

Perhaps, given his appalling failure with the home insulation scheme and school rebuilding, that's a good thing. It is not what was needed.

But the key to this is people. Patients were offered false hope and now are victims of politics.

Before the election Kevin Rudd promised: "On health ... the buck stops with me."

Yesterday, when asked where it stopped now, he said: "When it comes to funding of the system, because we are now dominant funders of the public hospital system and exclusive funders of the primary care system and exclusive funders of aged care for the funding of our system in future, the buck stops with the Australian Government."


Really, what does that mean?

The Victorian Health Minister, Daniel Andrews, was more direct. If elective surgery was delayed unreasonably, he said, or if the waiting time in emergency blew out, come to me. The buck, he said, stopped with him.

But the problem is mostly as it was before this all began.

Who is accountable? If the system fails, the state can blame the Commonwealth because there is not enough money, and the Commonwealth can blame the state because it is not running things properly.

CONSIDER your Prime Minister's waffle and then think what nonsense will come from him if a family tries to make him accountable when a sick grandmother waits too long for treatment.

More, there are still no answers on where any extra money will come from. This is a complex deal, as only Kevin Rudd can complicate, so it is difficult to nail down exactly how many new dollars must be found.

But at the very least the premiers have collected new sweeteners worth $5.4 billion. So what will be cut? How will that bill be paid?

From the Prime Minister, more waffle.

There's every chance he doesn't even know the answer. It seems entirely possible that the dollars offered this week will now have to be gouged out of a budget somewhere.

But don't bother asking Kevin Rudd about that. He is doing as he did with the emissions trading scheme, which was recite bureaucratic jargon, waffle endlessly, and consider it a sales pitch.

The Australian people did not buy that, and they should not buy this.

Australian firms fear Beijing's cyber tentacles

AUSTRALIAN corporations are increasingly being targeted by cyber attacks from unknown parties in China, and as yet there is no effective defence.
The attacks come as cyber warfare intensifies globally, and as the Australia-China relationship stabilises after a turbulent 2009, including debate about Chinese investment, the arrest of Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu and the visit of Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. On Friday, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will deliver an address at the Australian National University on the subject of "Australia and China in the world".
Google has become the first major corporate victim of cyber attacks to speak out on the issue, as it pulled out of China.

The New York Times revealed yesterday that cyber-intruders stole "one of Google's crown jewels", the Gaia password system that controls access by millions of international users to almost all of Google's web services. Last week the Optus network in Australia came under a denial of service (DOS) attack from China for about two hours, hitting a number of clients.
Jose Nazario, manager of security research at Arbor Networks in the US, said afterwards: "At this point, it's rare to see countries filing complaints, formal or informal, over this sort of attack."
So far, only the US has tackled China head-on over the cyber warfare issue. Mr Nazario said India and South Korea had complained about attacks from China, but not through official diplomatic channels.
In 2007, Estonia complained to Russia about cyber attacks.

Mr Nazario said in a paper for Britain's parliament: "Previously, DOS attacks were designed to inflict punitive damage on the victim, but have since grown into sophisticated censorship tools.
Britain's Government Communications Headquarters has reported that "the greatest threat of electronic attack to the UK comes from state actors", especially Russia and China.
BHP-Billiton has always run its marketing operation out of Singapore, and Rio Tinto followed suit for its iron ore sales after the arrest of Hu and his Chinese colleagues last year.
Commercial espionage -- or concern about it -- has become so pervasive in China that international companies fly China-based staff overseas for especially sensitive conference calls.

Health deal fails to deliver real reform

After all the noise and spin, little will change in Victoria's hospitals.    AFTER what has been touted as the biggest health reform in more than two decades, the state's hospitals may end up looking worryingly similar to the way they do now. Politics and spin aside, the health financing agreement will deliver only moderate improvements for Victoria's hospitals - not the real reform our system has been crying out for.

The additional 332-bed package falls far short of what is needed to improve hospital access.

At present, our hospitals are struggling to cope with the increased demand for in-patient services, and patients are being left with long waits for emergency care and elective surgery. This inevitably increases the patients' risk of complications.

The target to treat 95 per cent of elective surgery patients within clinically recommended time frames and limit emergency department waits to four hours is terrific in theory, but will be close to impossible to put into practice.

More worrying is the fact that it could lead to inappropriate patient care in order to achieve hospital targets.

Despite some additional Commonwealth funds to treat more patients in emergency departments and hospital operating theatres, the shortfall of extra serviced beds limits the effect this money is likely to have.

Government funds already increase each year to meet the growing demand for emergency department care - turning patients away is not an option. The problem is that access to timely care won't improve if there are not enough beds to care for ill patients who need to be admitted.

When a patient is treated in hospital, they might be cared for in a number of different settings, depending on their needs. A patient who is admitted for surgery may initially recover in the intensive care unit, then move to the ward and, finally, to a lower level of care in a rehabilitation unit.

Without enough beds, log jams occur and patients are not able to move through the system. Likewise, if there are no ward beds to transfer patients from the emergency department, the bottleneck occurs in the emergency cubicles and ambulances are put on bypass to the nearest hospital.

We need an immediate 578 serviced beds to fill the recent back-log, then 187 extra beds each year to keep up with population growth. A 332-bed package over four years meets less than a third of this demand.

As Victoria's population grows, develops higher levels of chronic disease and ages, shortages will become critical and plugging holes will no longer be an option. The pressure is now on the Brumby government to pick up some of the slack on beds and begin planning a major capacity increase.

Increasing capacity isn't just about adding extra acute beds to the public hospital system. Victorian government programs such as Hospital in the Home and the Hospital Admissions Risk Program provide less expensive and often more comfortable care than an acute setting.

Victoria may be ahead of other states in developing alternatives to hospital care, but there is a lot more scope to expand on these programs and develop other innovative solutions to keep patients out of hospitals - for example ''step-down'' beds for aged care and mental health care.

The other elements of COAG's hospital financing agreement will offer significant improvements in other states, but will be more of the same for Victoria. Casemix funding and local hospital boards of governance have been operating successfully in this state for a number of years.

Casemix, or activity-based, funding has been successful in driving efficiencies in our hospitals and allowing patients to return home quicker. Victorian hospitals treat more patients than other states yet our per-person spending on hospital care is the lowest in the country.

The maintenance of state control of public hospitals will allow us to avoid added bureaucracy, set-up costs and upheaval. The funding pool financing model is a welcome alternative to the Commonwealth funding the local hospital networks directly. A funding pool should reduce the blame-game and cost-shifting as long as the funding and the way it is used are transparent.

Now that the states have come to an agreement on health financing, we can move beyond the Brumby versus Rudd showdown that has dominated health discussions over the past six weeks to focus again on patient care.

Improving future health outcomes requires much more than an agreement on hospital financing. To bring about real reform for Victorian patients, we need to treat the system as a whole and develop a long-term, sustainable health reform plan.

We have a long way to go in primary and community care discussions. The current agreement includes funds for very important parts - preventive mental healthcare, ageing and chronic disease management in general practice - but is a long way from being a comprehensive reform plan.

An agreement on a solid base for future health funding is a sensible starting point, but there is a long way to go. This will take time and must include more meaningful consultation and debate than was allowed for by the Prime Minister in his haste to be seen to fulfil his promise to reform healthcare.

Apr 21, 2010

Iceland turns to jokes -- and soul-searching

Economic implosion, then volcanic explosion: not since the Viking raiders has Iceland been associated with so much tumult in Europe.  There are only 317,000 people on this barren north-Atlantic island and until recently, with the exception of eccentric pop singer Bjork, they'd barely caught the outside world's attention.  But now Iceland is famous -- infamous, even.

The Eyjafjoell volcano on the south coast may have caused relatively little damage here since erupting last week. Only 700 people, mostly farmers, are affected and no one has been killed.  Yet in Europe, ash from the hard-to-pronounce volcano has inflicted spectacular disruption, shutting down the continent's air travel network and stranding passengers around the globe.  The ash cloud is the second storm from this once quiet corner in the near past.

During the 2008 world economic crisis the country's high-flying main banks collapsed, taking with them the savings of 340,000 people in Britain and the Netherlands and forcing Iceland, until then among the world's wealthiest nations, to seek an IMF bailout.

When the British and Dutch governments demanded 3.9 billion dollars compensation, furious voters in Iceland used a referendum to tell their powerful neighbors to get lost unless they came back with a fairer deal.

A joke gleefully repeated since the volcano erupted relates that Britain "wanted cash, but because the Icelandic alphabet contains no letter C, they got only ash."

Another quip goes like this: "When Iceland's economy died, its final wish was that its ashes would be spread across Europe."

That humor is one way Icelanders are dealing with the shock of turmoil in their formerly stable country -- and with finding themselves in the unfamiliar position of being cast as villains abroad.

One joke perfectly catches the absurdity of tiny Iceland, which doesn't even have a standing army, going out to bully the world.

"You mess with Iceland?" goes the gag, in full Mafioso mode: "We shut down all your airports."

The laughter masks soul-searching about how Iceland got into such a mess and about who should be held responsible.

"It's been one thing after the other, a lot of stress," said farmer Berglind Hilmarsdottir, 53. "The economic disaster made people really angry. They were mad."

Erna Kaaber, owner of a fish-and-chip restaurant in the capital Reykjavik, said Iceland lost its way during the "insane" economic boom leading to the banking crash, which an official report has blamed squarely on government incompetence.

"We thought our image was all fresh and clear and clean," Kaaber, 36, said. "Suddenly we had people with private jets and flying helicopters to go buy a hot a hot dog. All this glamour -- it wasn't Icelandic."

Many Icelanders believe the March referendum halting the government's plan to use taxpayer money and compensate Britain and The Netherlands at an exorbitant interest rate was a proud moment.

The vote amounted to a revolt against a scheme that effectively would have punished regular people for problems caused by out-of-control banks.

But if the banking fiasco embarrasses and upsets Icelanders, they feel no guilt regarding the havoc caused by the glacier-capped Eyjafjoell volcano.

If anything, the eruption is healing social divisions caused by the economy and encouraging a return to older values.

"The natural disaster has brought us together. In the manmade disaster people got so angry. They wanted heads to roll. But now everyone wants to help and we're proud of that," said photographer and film maker Svavar Jonatansson, 28.

Thoroddur Bjarnason, a political science professor of at the University of Akureyri, agreed.

"What the nation is going through now is totally different. This type of trouble brings people together and we handle things much better," he said.

"We know it's not our fault at all. Even the farmers whose lifework is greatly affected if not ruined, are just calm and humble, knowing that there's nothing anyone can do."

Apr 20, 2010

China Cyberattack on Google Said to Hit Password System

Ever since Google disclosed in January that Internet intruders had stolen information from its computers, the exact nature and extent of the theft has been a closely guarded company secret. But a person with direct knowledge of the investigation now says that the losses included one of Google’s crown jewels, a password system that controls access by millions of users worldwide to almost all of the company’s Web services, including e-mail and business applications.

The program, code named Gaia for the Greek goddess of the earth, was attacked in a lightning raid taking less than two days last December, the person said. Described publicly only once at a technical conference four years ago, the software is intended to enable users and employees to sign in with their password just once to operate a range of services.
The intruders do not appear to have stolen passwords of Gmail users, and the company quickly started making significant changes to the security of its networks after the intrusions. But the theft leaves open the possibility, however faint, that the intruders may find weaknesses that Google might not even be aware of, independent computer experts said.
The new details seem likely to increase the debate about the security and privacy of vast computing systems such as Google’s that now centralize the personal information of millions of individuals and businesses. Because vast amounts of digital information are stored in a cluster of computers, popularly referred to as “cloud” computing, a single breach can lead to disastrous losses.
The theft began with an instant message sent to a Google employee in China who was using Microsoft’s Messenger program, according to the person with knowledge of the internal inquiry, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
By clicking on a link and connecting to a “poisoned” Web site, the employee inadvertently permitted the intruders to gain access to his (or her) personal computer and then to the computers of a critical group of software developers at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Ultimately, the intruders were able to gain control of a software repository used by the development team.
The details surrounding the theft of the software have been a closely guarded secret by the company. Google first publicly disclosed the theft in a Jan. 12 posting on the company’s Web site, which stated that the company was changing its policy toward China in the wake of the theft of unidentified “intellectual property” and the apparent compromise of the e-mail accounts of two human rights advocates in China.
The accusations became a significant source of tension between the United States and China, leading Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to urge China to conduct a “transparent” inquiry into the attack. In March, after difficult discussions with the Chinese government, Google said it would move its mainland Chinese-language Web site and begin rerouting search queries to its Hong Kong-based site.
Company executives on Monday declined to comment about the new details of the case, saying they had dealt with the security issues raised by the theft of the company’s intellectual property in their initial statement in January.
Google executives have also said privately that the company had been far more transparent about the intrusions than any of the more than two dozen other companies that were compromised, the vast majority of which have not acknowledged the attacks.
Google continues to use the Gaia system, now known as Single Sign-On. Hours after announcing the intrusions, Google said it would activate a new layer of encryption for Gmail service. The company also tightened the security of its data centers and further secured the communications links between its services and the computers of its users.
Several technical experts said that because Google had quickly learned of the theft of the software, it was unclear what the consequences of the theft had been. One of the most alarming possibilities is that the attackers might have intended to insert a Trojan horse — a secret back door — into the Gaia program and install it in dozens of Google’s global data centers to establish clandestine entry points. But the independent security specialists emphasized that such an undertaking would have been remarkably difficult, particularly because Google’s security specialists had been alerted to the theft of the program.
However, having access to the original programmer’s instructions, or source code, could also provide technically skilled hackers with knowledge about subtle security vulnerabilities in the Gaia code that may have eluded Google’s engineers.
“If you can get to the software repository where the bugs are housed before they are patched, that’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” said George Kurtz, chief technology officer for McAfee Inc., a software security company that was one of the companies that analyzed the illicit software used in the intrusions at Google and at other companies last year.
Rodney Joffe, a vice president at Neustar, a developer of Internet infrastructure services, said, “It’s obviously a real issue if you can understand how the system works.” Understanding the algorithms on which the software is based might be of great value to an attacker looking for weak points in the system, he said.
When Google first announced the thefts, the company said it had evidence that the intrusions had come from China. The attacks have been traced to computers at two campuses in China, but investigators acknowledge that the true origin may have been concealed, a quintessential problem of cyberattacks.
Several people involved in the investigation of break-ins at more than two dozen other technology firms said that while there were similarities between the attacks on the companies, there were also significant differences, like the use of different types of software in intrusions. At one high-profile Silicon Valley company, investigators found evidence of intrusions going back more than two years, according to the person involved in Google’s inquiry.
In Google’s case, the intruders seemed to have precise intelligence about the names of the Gaia software developers, and they first tried to access their work computers and then used a set of sophisticated techniques to gain access to the repositories where the source code for the program was stored.
They then transferred the stolen software to computers owned by Rackspace, a Texas company that offers Web-hosting services, which had no knowledge of the transaction. It is not known where the software was sent from there. The intruders had access to an internal Google corporate directory known as Moma, which holds information about the work activities of each Google employee, and they may have used it to find specific employees.

Miners fear secrets stolen by Chinese cyber-spies

THE internal communications of Australia's major iron ore producers have been aggressively targeted by cyber attacks that many senior executives and members of the Rudd government suspect originate in China. The potential breaches of security and the continuing threat of more are thought to be so widespread that some senior industry executives have their more sensitive phone and email communications - even when in Australia - encrypted, with the assistance of the federal government.

The issue is so politically and commercially explosive that neither the companies involved nor the Rudd government will talk about the issue publicly. China has always emphatically denied any suggestions it was involved in cyber attacks on Western companies.

A report on the ABC's Four Corners program last night outlined cases of cyber attacks against BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals at times of extreme tension in the relationship with their main customer, China. Although the program offered no proof that any of these attacks came from China, the companies and the Rudd government are believed to be operating unofficially on that assumption.

The Australian has also been told of a concerted cyber attack on a major iron ore company leading to radical changes, organised by Canberra, in the way its executives communicate to ensure confidentiality.

An unnamed senior BHP Billiton executive told Four Corners about several attacks during the company's bid to take over Rio Tinto in 2008 and that its network security was regularly upgraded to counter these.

According to the program, Rio Tinto also discovered an intruder had launched a major hacking attack on its computer network around the time of the arrest of Stern Hu and three other Rio executives in China last June.

This was regarded as so serious that Rio took its Singapore office offline for almost three days immediately following Hu's arrest on charges of bribery and commercial espionage.

Hu pleaded guilty to bribery last month but the charges of stealing trade secrets were vague and held in closed court.

Fortescue Metals Group has also been targeted, leading to a serious upgrading of its IT systems and the encryption of highly confidential communications.

According to Four Corners and information given to The Australian, Australia's own electronic spying agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, and ASIO are helping some major companies to protect themselves from cyber attack.

Alan Dupont, director of the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, said cyber penetration was a growing global problem.

"There's a general attempt by the government to educate the business community about the level of threat to their communications systems," Professor Dupont said.

"I am reasonably certain China is getting specific mention, as a lot of the attacks appear to have come through China, although no one can prove it categorically.

"Politically the government would have to be very careful about explicitly identifying any country, but the perception is that China has been the main perpetrator over the past two to three years. It is difficult to know whether, and at what level, it is co-ordinated and controlled by the state."

Internet services to several Australian companies were dramatically slowed last week following an internet attack on Optus that was believed to have originated in China. Internet giant Google announced this year it had been hit by a cyber attack mounted from China and said at least 20 other major corporations had been similarly targeted.

But the outraged reaction of the Chinese to any suggestions they are responsible - and the commercial importance of doing business in China - make Australian companies reluctant to raise the issue in public.

Major iron ore producers are already facing antagonism in China over the rising price of iron ore and a proposed joint venture between BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

At the same time, the Rudd government is trying to improve relations with Beijing after a rocky period, exacerbated by tensions over the level of Chinese investment in Australian resources companies.

The federal government opened a new Cyber Security Operations Centre last January.

Apr 19, 2010

Virtualise for operational excellence

During the troubled times of the Global Financial Crisis, it’s fair to say that many perceived non-critical societal initiatives, started in boom times with such high energy and good intention, fell by the wayside.

And unfortunately, sustainability and preserving our environment within the realm of information technology were among the casualties of the downturn, given that high-profile examples of ‘green IT’ are not yet widely available to demonstrate the considerable and wide-ranging benefits such a strategy can deliver our society. These include, though are not limited to, power consumption, cost savings, productivity, resource allocation and operational efficiency. However, green IT, and associated topics, such as virtualisation and collaboration, were put on the backburner because it was perceived as the wrong time to invest in these technologies, despite them delivering long-term energy, cost and productivity benefits.

In pressing financial markets, IT managers have a difficult conundrum. They need to manage and reduce a very diverse set of costs from their IT budgets. For example, this might include the costs associated with powering core infrastructure and a cooling system to prevent it from overheating. IT managers also need to deliver more and better services which typically have resulted in the deployment of new systems, thus requiring even more power and cooling costs. As these costs increase then the organisation’s carbon footprint will also rise. So with the prospect of carbon taxation in the future, how does an IT manager look to improve server utilisation and reduce costs?

I firmly believe the answer comes through server virtualisation. It’s a technical solution to a business, and societal, challenge.

As we know, many companies run old IT environments with older servers requiring significant rack space which inefficiently consume vast amounts of power, in turn racking up large bills. The opposite solution would see IT managers buying new servers upon which to cram more applications, data and processes; however, this, in my opinion, is an expensive and largely short-term solution. Instead, I believe virtualisation is the welcome and inevitable way forward for cost and for our environment.

Virtualisation can help resolve this challenge. Essentially, virtualisation is extremely clever technology that helps IT managers virtually host all kinds of servers and keep all manner of technology processes up and running without the physical requirement (quantities of hardware, power consumption, cooling etc) to do so. Literally, it means you can have one server running a multitude of different applications (giving a ratio of many applications:one server) with no change to the service delivered. Previously you needed the inverse application:server ratio with each requiring its own power supply and cooling mechanism to ensure reliability.

Put simply, fewer and more efficient servers consume less energy to run, and require less to keep cool. Less hardware and lower energy demands are not only better for our environment, but save in many other areas, such as reduced data centre size, fewer hardware maintenance contracts, less cabling and better hardware utilisation.

As businesses dust themselves off from having braced themselves for tough times, now is the window of opportunity to gain cost benefits and leapfrog the competition.

Furthermore, with web, email and internet security eternally top-ranking subjects, there’s an opportunity to introduce virtualisation within an IT security strategy to ensure green IT goes hand in hand with securing online communications and collaboration.

The fact is that online threats are never going to disappear, and the volume of collaborative communications conducted online is only going to increase. Both of these require solid security policy, a premium content filtering capability and an underlying technology environment to support them. Choosing a virtualised security environment not only delivers peace of mind that an organisation is secure, but it’s also a lower cost, lower consumption way of preparing for the inevitable increases in email, web and online traffic.

It’s important that in improving your server and security environment that you don’t just add boxes to what you have. Instead, look for advanced solutions that integrate functions and reduce the number of point products necessary. Through this, it’s possible to reduce licensing, hardware, support and training in one easy-to-use, easy-to-administer solution. In fact, VMWare estimates that customers can save an additional 50-75% on overall IT resources through virtualisation.

All in all, if IT departments can keep an organisation running efficiently, at less cost, with more manageability and collaboration based on a virtualised environment, then already ‘green IT’ is winning out, irrespective of the fallout of a downturn.

PM'S phony piety and postures make for poor policy

HYPOCRISY is in the eye of the beholder. When we reproach our politicians for saying one thing when they mean another, all we are saying is that we would prefer to be humoured and deceived. Rather than accept the world as it is, with all its trials and frailties, we would rather be told that it is possible to be an effective political leader as well as some kind of latter-day St Anthony emerging from the silence of his desert cave. And in so wishing, we ask ourselves to be deluded by empty posturers and phrase-mongers for our own moral convenience.

In the eyes of many who observed him, there could never have been a greater rogue in American politics than Lyndon Baines Johnson. He wheedled, connived, flattered, haggled and manoeuvred his way through some of the greatest legislative triumphs of the modern American presidency. Yet despite that "exquisite hole", that "unfillable void" which one cool observer detected at the centre of his heart, as a consequence of all his grandiose imperfections, endless petty vanities and self-delusions, Americans found themselves in possession of that grand amalgam of civil rights, education and health legislation which has been, for better and for worse, the foundation of public life in the modern US for the past 40 years.

Politics by its nature will always be impure, and its best practitioners will always be profoundly impure as a result. (Saint Catherine of Siena went so far as to partake of the pus and sores of her invalid charges to remind herself that she was immersed in the well of human impurity.) And yet the best practitioners, knowing this, deploy their impurity to a greater goal -- like Johnson's civil rights legislation, and his Medicare and Medicaid programs -- in the attainment of which endless unedifying deals, compromises and petty shortcuts are necessary. There is a current of authentic and serious impurity in politics, out of the veins of which most public policy that is genuinely enduring passes.

Woe betide us when -- in our need for some kind of facsimile of moral purity -- we settle instead for a meagre diet of phony piety and political posturing. Then we'll be plagued with leaders who'll use church attendance as a substitute for some genuine moral creed; who'll adopt impeccable moral heroes of no earthly relevance to their own situations; and who'll pretend to lofty pseudo-philosophies, such as the fashionable anti-neoliberal catechism, which are only balms for other people's psychic wounds and to which they pay no more attention than they might to a rapidly murmured church sermon.

Perhaps the most unnerving feature of the federal government's health proposals -- stripped of their voguish talk of "listening to the experts" and following an imagined policy consensus -- is how perfectly they reproduce the protocols of this kind of phony piety. It's hard to recall a public policy proposal of such moment that has been introduced with so little serious political purpose, but with such fastidious attention to political appearance, so that by now many citizens must have a mental image of the PM as a linear descendant of Mother Teresa.

Stripped of its grand phrases, the funding architecture of the National Health and Hospitals Network serves chiefly to move existing funds into other locations, so that it appears as if the federal government, rather than the states, is doing the financial heavy lifting. Likewise, the proposed local health networks amount to nothing more than convenient assemblages of local professional bossy-boots, each spruiking their particular institutions and localities, with the inevitable effect, as former Labor adviser John Deeble observed last week, that "the more affluent areas in which doctors and nurses would most like to work" are bound to become, over time, also the best resourced.

Unravel the righteous words about the importance of primary and community care, and it becomes clear that nothing much is about to change there, either. There are no specific proposals about nurturing "wellness", or better treating the epidemic of breast cancers, or dealing with mental health more effectively. Nor is there any evident revision of the received view that treats old age as if it were a form of illness, so that the elderly are condemned to spending their autumn years under the cold fluorescent lighting of hospital waiting rooms.

The federal proposals won't make the business of hospitals easier, by keeping people out of them. They won't make the system fairer in any discernible way; nor, so far we can be told, will they work to restrain overall costs. They propose to revise our awkward and cumbersome state-federal division of health responsibilities, but in such a manner as to involve no extra policy work by the federal government whatever. In short, they are the perfect paradigm of political piety, devised with no purpose other than to displease as few of the major interests as possible, and involving an endless series of petty squabbles carefully pre-designed to have only one possible victor.

We're told the PM is trying to emulate Barack Obama's single-mindedness during his own health reform travails. And yet the contrast between the two is not a flattering one. Obama's year-long policy fight led to a messy and thoroughly unheroic outcome: but as a result 30 million Americans will sleep easier at night. Further, the Obama legislation came out of more than a year's worth of pragmatic but humble politicking, in the course of which the President (like Johnson 40 years earlier) must have abased himself before many people with whom he had little desire even to share the time of day.

Rudd's purely telegenic approach to leadership, by contrast, is accompanied by endless purposeless displays of strength. And yet on each occasion this is exercised only on those he already knows he has under his thumb:

such as the unfortunate NSW Premier Kristina Keneally, who endured a ritual humiliation under television lighting, purely to provide the PM with a similitude of toughness.

In several decades we may be able to look back and say of Obama that he took the first halting steps in the genuine reform of American public health provision. Looking back on Rudd's proposals, by contrast, we will be bound to ask: was that really all there was?

Apr 17, 2010

States revolt shakes Rudd's health strategy

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd's health plan was at risk of collapse last night after a revolt by key premiers against his push for control of hospital funding around the nation.

Mr Rudd suffered a further blow when New South Wales joined Victoria and Western Australia in refusing to cede 30 per cent of its GST funds to the Commonwealth to enable the Prime Minister to fund his election-year plan.

NSW also joined Victoria's call for a joint federal-state pool, administered by each state, to fund hospitals, a proposition Mr Rudd has repeatedly rejected.

During a two-hour phone hook-up of premiers and chief ministers, the states and territories backed in principle a Victorian proposal that would ensure they continued to run their hospital systems.

Sources told The Age that all had also resolved to urge Mr Rudd at Monday's national health summit to provide more Commonwealth money for hospitals immediately. Victoria wants $1.2 billion a year, while NSW has asked for $686 million over four years.

The parts of the Rudd plan that won clear agreement were its non-contentious aspects, including local networks to run the hospitals and activity-based funding.

Mr Rudd, who visited three NSW hospitals yesterday, continued to insist there must be a deal at Monday's Council of Australian Governments meeting, rather than support for principles and further negotiations, as proposed by Mr Brumby.

''Let's not shilly-shally around this,'' Mr Rudd said. ''No ifs, no buts, no maybes - we want an intergovernmental agreement.'' He has threatened a referendum to take power if he does not get his way.

NSW premier Kristina Keneally said after a cabinet meeting to determine her state's position: ''I will not sign up to a deal that disadvantages NSW taxpayers.'' But her position is likely to be more flexible than Mr Brumby's. ''There is nothing to gain by a my-way-or-the-highway approach,'' she said.

NSW was willing to dedicate - but not have the Commonwealth retain - up to a third of its GST for health spending, Ms Keneally said. This would not change the present intergovernmental agreement on the GST and would give the state protection from further Commonwealth clawbacks in future, she said.

South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and the territories are basically on side with the Commonwealth.

The federal government was highly anxious about where NSW would come down, with ministers phoning state counterparts before the cabinet meeting seeking information.

Mr Brumby yesterday dug in on his fundamental opposition to the Rudd plan, saying it would cost Victoria money rather than benefit patients.

He accused Mr Rudd of proposing to ''steal'' GST revenue from the states, and reaffirmed that Victoria would refuse to hand over any GST funds.

''It's money that currently comes from Victoria and what's proposed in this new plan is to take that off Victoria, take it up to Canberra and send it back with a note saying 'courtesy of Canberra','' Mr Brumby said.

''It's not going to change a thing … I can't support that.''

Mr Rudd reiterated that he would not give the premiers a blank cheque.

''Blank cheques given out to states don't solve the problem,'' he said. ''What deals with the problem is fundamental reform to get rid of duplication, overlap and waste - and then to grow the system.''

Mr Brumby hit back at criticism of Victoria's health system by Mr Rudd, saying the federal plan was based on the best aspects of Victoria's system.

''Our reforms are of such value that the PM wants to take them national,'' he said.

But Mr Brumby also kept the door open to some advances on Monday. ''It will be possible to get an agreement around key principles,'' he said.

The premiers will meet again tomorrow, and also dine with Mr Rudd.

Apr 16, 2010

Reality mugs Rudd goals

Rudd's Spin Mountain
It looked easy from opposition, but the PM is finding it tough to convert rhetoric into action.

FOR an opposition on a roll and heading for government, the nation's problems are its opportunities. There's little that can't be done better. Kevin '07 was full of bright solutions for almost everything. The blame game between Canberra and the states? It could be ended with a rationalisation of functions and co-operation between leaders. The clogged, underperforming hospital system? We'll get a plan, have the states lift their game, or take things over.

The Howard government's inhumane approach to asylum seekers? Abolishing the ''Pacific Solution'' and guaranteeing quick processing are morally right and won't encourage more boats.  Not only did Kevin '07 have lots of answers, but he came to the prime ministerial job as a one-time bureaucrat expected to insist on good administration.

In government, as in life, romance gives way to reality. Near the end of its first term, the Rudd government can point to major achievements (such as heading off recession (umm.. since when is "some" actually one maybe!)) but also to some of its key aspirations and programs that have been hit by circumstances, politics or inadequate planning.

As John Brumby and Kevin Rudd throw punches at each other and Mike Rann taunts the Victorian Premier like a kid watching a schoolyard fight, ''co-operative federalism'' has a sour taste. It was always going to be thus: when it is in the mutual interests of state and federal governments to get along, they will; when they have different interests, views, or political imperatives, they'll scrap.

Rudd's ambition to fix the hospitals, however, is now encountering more than the resistance of a recalcitrant premier (or two). Respected experts are entering the fray. Rudd has travelled the country visiting hospitals (journeys that usefully take him to many electorates) but has yet to fully answer the mounting detailed criticisms being made. He doesn't want to dally in new debate, because the coming election and his threat to have a referendum if he doesn't get his way mean he hasn't time to lose. But the issues need more discussion.

The end of the easy ideals of opposition has been most keenly felt on the asylum issue. This splits Labor voters into the blue collar (ex-Howard) ''battlers'' who are suspicious of people in boats, and middle-class ''progressives'' who want to see Australia take a sympathetic approach. Labor's 2008 policy changes were in line with the thinking of the latter. But after it found that liberalising policy did not come without consequences, it is now pitching to the former.

For a long while, the government argued that the increasing number of boats arriving - more than 100 on Labor's watch - were driven by changed ''push'' factors: the situations in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. But as the political fallout became dangerous, it has dramatically changed its tune. The situations in the two countries are now better, it maintains, justifying its decision to suspend processing Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum applications. The government pushes the facts into the shape that suits its case: it played up, as something special, a routine review by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees of guidelines for processing these people.  The real reason for the government's decision is that more and more boats have been coming and it can think of no other way of dealing with a politically potent situation.

One characteristic of this government is a tendency to deny difficulties - or at least to refuse to properly acknowledge them - until they become so obvious that they have to be recognised and addressed.

The boats were one example, the administration of the stimulus programs another. The insulation debacle was the standout. This week, Education Minister Julia Gillard, announcing a taskforce to investigate allegations, finally and belatedly admitted that more had to be done on claims of waste and rorting in the school building program.

Not that she talks much about the ''school building program''. The jargon is ''building the education revolution''- just like, in the days when we heard constantly about climate change, ministers referred religiously to the ''carbon pollution reduction scheme'' rather than using the more descriptive ''emissions trading scheme''.

These are just two of a plethora of highfalutin and semi-meaningless names for programs. ''Building the education revolution'' (BER, if you want to be familiar) is a particularly egregious bit of Rudd government-speak. Leaving aside the administrative trouble in the building program, Labor's education aims are admirable - more facilities for kids, an attempt to improve teaching, greater transparency with the ''My School'' website, and the like - but by no stretch is this a ''revolution''. The term sounds like something out of the old USSR, circa 1930.

You might say it's harmless to call things by fancy names, and certainly this isn't the first government to do so. It's a symptom of a modern intersection, where the world of advertising meets the political universe. But it's also a symbol of how the government sometimes deludes itself, and tries to delude the rest of us, with the packaging.  The government's problems should not be exaggerated, particularly when they are set against an opposition with hardly any alternative policies on display.

But Rudd's difficulties have become especially troublesome for two reasons. He did not admit to or act on them fast enough (administrative faults), and he allowed some things to run too late or too long (hospital reform, the Henry tax inquiry). This has meant a unseemly rush to get out the gaffer tape as the election approaches and, unlike in opposition, more than words are needed.

Apr 15, 2010

Facebook moves to oust sex pests and criminals

Sex offenders and people suspected of terrorist activity can now be reported to Facebook in a major upgrade of user safety features by the global social networking company.

With 400 million users worldwide, Facebook has been criticised for being too slow to respond to complaints of online bullying and sexual predators.

In response the website has launched a safety centre, an internal site which gives advice to users about cyber bullying, with a designated area for teens on how to report offensive or inappropriate material, as well as information for parents.

The site also includes advice for teachers on how to create professional environments to interact with students and deal with cyber bullying.

Users can now report profiles belonging to registered sex offenders, or those offering support for terrorist activity.

''If you find material that promotes terrorist behaviour or that raises funds for a terrorist organisation, Facebook strongly encourages you to report this here,'' it says.

Chinese cyber attackers hit Optus

The Optus network was in disarray yesterday following cyber attacks from China, which affected a number of its customers including Australia's national news agency, AAP.

Web-based attacks originating from China have become a growing issue for Australian businesses and government departments.

In January, at the opening of the Cyber Security Operations Centre, the government revealed that Defence had investigated about 200 electronic security incidents on its own network every month in 2009. It also responded to about 220 incidents reported by other Australian government agencies last year.

Optus said that, about 1.10pm yesterday, one of its corporate customers was hit with a "denial of service attack", which originated in China. It would not say which customer had been targeted, but The Australian reported that the target was a multinational financial services company.

"The attack caused congestion on one of Optus's international links leading to slow internet and delayed email for some Optus corporate customers," an Optus spokeswoman said.

The publishers AAP, IDG and News Ltd are known to have been among the affected corporate customers.

China-based cyber attack hits Uecomm

Internet services to several Australian companies have been affected by a China-based internet attack targeting an Australian financial institution.

Optus said its customer was hit by the attack which originated in China on Wednesday afternoon and slowed international email and web browsing services for other costumers on the system.

"The attack caused congestion on one of Optus' international links leading to slow internet and delayed email for some Optus corporate customers," an Optus spokesperson said.

Optus said it resolved the issue within a couple of hours by blocking the source of the attack.

Australian Associated Press (AAP) chief executive Bruce Davidson said the national news wire service was one of the companies indirectly affected by the attack.

"While AAP confirms we had some problems with our internet provider yesterday, investigations into the incident have satisfied us that this was not a direct attack on the agency itself," he said in a statement.

Optus confirms DDos attack

A CYBER attack earlier today left Optus's business customers with limited internet access to the US and wreaked havoc on corporate email systems.

An Optus spokeswoman confirmed that a denial-of-service attack on one of the carrier's business customers swamped the link, slowing internet traffic to a trickle.

It's understood that the attack caused major email outages for companies using US-based spam-filtering services. As the link slowed down hundreds of thousands of messages were caught in a backlog that delayed email service by hours.

Optus declined to reveal which of its customers had been hit by the attack.

The carrier said that the link was restored at around 3.30 pm EST.

Apr 13, 2010

Facebook must 'turn words into action' and install panic button, says child safety chief

The social network - the most popular in the world - has been criticised for defying calls to add a specialist link to every page.  Jim Gamble, Britain's most senior official responsible for protecting youngsters online, met with senior figures on Monday in Washington DC.   Speaking after a four-hour meeting, Mr Gamble said Facebook is "one small step from doing the right thing" but it's representatives had not agreed to his demands outright.

Mr Gamble said he was "disappointed" the website could not produce any cases where they had intervened to protect a child and told police.   He said: "What I am pleased about is there is a commitment from them to improve what they provide to UK policing.   "Given that and the positive nature of it and their commitment to working much more closely with us, I still remain of the same view that the button is key.

"I felt that at the end of what were lengthy and at times tense negotiation we are able to move towards a position. They are one small step away from doing the right thing.   "I am more optimistic than when I came. They are not saying no, that is very clear. But they were equally direct and they came with their own agenda.

"There is no doubt they are looking to improve their position around child safety and we recognise that. What I am looking for is turning words into action."  The meeting came amid an increasingly bitter and public feud over Facebook's refusal to add a "panic" button to its site's most popular pages.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), wants the button, which enables users to report abuse, to be given prominent use.  Mr Gamble, who leads Ceop, said the button has cross-party political support in Britain and is also backed by leading child and anti-bullying charities.

Chief constables from across England and Wales, including Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, have signed a letter supporting the move.  Last week, Mr Gamble revealed Facebook has never passed a concern to British police and that complaints about the site are spiralling.

Investigators received 252 complaints about sexual grooming, bullying and hacking from users in the first three months of 2010, compared with 297 in the whole of last year.

Last month schoolgirl Ashleigh Hall was murdered after a serial rapist made contact with her through Facebook.

Peter Chapman posed as a young boy on the site to lure the 17-year-old to her death in Sedgefield, County Durham.

Speaking about the meeting, Mr Gamble added: "We shared our concerns and we continue to impress on them to do what we think is the right thing.

"When they had the report we gave them I think the issue for them is whether or not the button would deliver the deterrent we claim it does.

"In our view they are experts at creating a fantastic online environment but they are not experts in law enforcement, the power of deterrents and the reassurance it brings for mums and dads."

Mr Gamble said the Facebook negotiators were travelling back to the company's California base to discuss their next move.

Apr 12, 2010

Facebook 'arrogant' for child safety stance

Police in Britain have accused Facebook of being arrogant for failing to install a child safety button on its web pages.
The social networking site is said to have failed to report a case to British police of a suspected pedophile attempting to groom a child.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has received 252 complaints about possible illegal activity on Facebook in the first three months of this year. None came from Facebook.
More than 40 per cent have been about attempted grooming while others relate to hacking into personal information and cyber-bullying.
CEOP chief Jim Gamble said social networking sites were the "principal cause of concern" for his investigators. "Reports are increasing month by month," he said. "Facebook say they have a robust system that produces millions of reports.
"But when we checked with police child protection teams across the UK, we can't find evidence of any reports passed from Facebook to the police."
Other networking sites, including Bebo and MSN, have added the CEOP alert button to their sites, giving users the ability to report concerns to police or charities instantly.
But Facebook has refused to bow to pressure to add the button, even after the murder of Ashleigh Hall. The schoolgirl was groomed online by Peter Chapman, a serial rapist who posed as a 17-year-old boy to lure her to a meeting then abducted, raped and killed her.
Mr Gamble will meet senior Facebook executives in Washington next week and present them with a dossier of child abuse cases in which the site has been exploited by offenders.
He said he would present the CEOP's case with the support of all three main political parties and child protection charities.
"Is Facebook so arrogant that it doesn't matter what the collective child protection community thinks?" he said.
A Facebook spokesman said: "We take the issue of safety very seriously, and recently met the Home Secretary to discuss online safety."

ANZ faces $285m fight over collapse

ANZ faces two lawsuits totalling $285 million over its role in the collapse of stock lending company Primebroker Securities. The legal action could lead to several prominent Melbourne business identities taking the witness stand, including ANZ chief executive Mike Smith.

The lawsuits concern the final months of Primebroker, a boutique stock lending company that boasted an elite list of wealthy clients until ANZ called in the receivers in July 2008.

According to sworn witness statements, those clients included Belgravia Group, the investment company operated by Melbourne Victory chairman Geoff Lord, and Yellowrock, which is operated by Melbourne property developer Garry Reichert.

BDO, the liquidator of Primebroker, will lodge a statement of claim with the Federal Court as soon as this week. That claim is for the receivership of Primebroker to be set aside, and for $86.2 million Primebroker repaid to ANZ in the six months before it collapsed to be returned.

Laurie Fitzgerald, of BDO, confirmed that legal action against ANZ would begin soon.

''Our review of the facts indicates that ANZ sought to advance their priority as against other creditors through the charge that they took,'' Mr Fitzgerald said. ''They have subsequently received substantial preferential payments and significant commercial advantages at the expense of the unsecured creditors.''

A second $200 million claim funded by Chimaera Capital, which controlled Primebroker, and a number of former clients is expected to follow the initial lawsuit.

Central to that claim is the allegation ANZ failed to clear share trades on behalf of Primebroker in three working days, as required by the Australian Securities Exchange. That alleged inaction, coupled with market rumours the company was insolvent, led to a ''run'' on Primebroker by stockbroking firms.

ANZ spokesman Paul Edwards said the bank was aware of the accusations being made by Primebroker and its liquidator.

''There have been threats of legal action by the Primebroker liquidator and the Primebroker principals for many months now,'' Mr Edwards said.

''This is nothing new and in the event any actions materialise, ANZ will defend them appropriately. The matters associated with securities lending including the Primebroker receivership are now two years old and ANZ is completely covered in terms of the provisions that are necessary in relation to those matters.''

As part of the second lawsuit, ANZ's chief executive is expected to be quizzed about personal assurances he is alleged to have given Chimaera principal Sal Catalano, while other ANZ executives will be asked about assurances given to Primebroker clients before the bank called in the receivers.

Mr Catalano told The Age that representations made by senior ANZ staff - that ANZ would not withdraw from the stock lending business and would support Primebroker - were central to its claim.

''We are working with the liquidator to finalise a broader action against the ANZ which will seek to address the conduct and representations made by the bank during January to June 2008,'' he said.

''We have personally funded the development of the legal actions to this point. Going forward, we have established a litigation fund to finance the actions.''

That fund is called Special Situations LFF and includes a number of other ''investors'' and former Primebroker clients.

The legal battle could lead to current and former ANZ executives and leading business figures taking the stand. These include former ANZ chief of institutional banking Peter Hodgson, who departed the bank after an internal review of ANZ's disastrous forays into the securities lending business.

Former St Kilda Football Club president Rod Butterss, who made a last-minute offer to help recapitalise Primebroker, is another business figure named in witness statements who may be asked to provide a statement.

A due diligence report on Primebroker, compiled for ANZ by corporate advisers KordaMentha in 2008, will also form part of the evidence provided by the liquidator of Primebroker.

Mark Mentha is expected to be quizzed on statements he allegedly made regarding that report, including telling Chimaera's directors that the reason for the report was to confirm ''there were no dead bodies and no Maseratis'' - a reference to the woes at margin lending rival Opes Prime.

According to the witness statement of Mr Catalano, Mr Mentha told him: ''Don't worry, as [ANZ] won't let a bank subsidiary go down.''

The increasing stink of ANZ

NINE months after settling a messy $260 million lawsuit with Opes Prime creditors, ANZ Bank is set to have its reputation dragged through the mud as parties associated with the now defunct securities lender Primebroker seek compensation from ANZ over its actions back in 2008.

The two impending lawsuits, the first of which is expected to be lodged in the Federal Court this week, threaten to hurt the bank's reputation far more than its hip pocket. ANZ is expected to report a profit of $4.5 billion later this year, while the lawsuits are seeking a total of $285 million.

The nub of the second lawsuit, to be lodged by a group of investors including the founders of Primebroker, is that between January and July 2008 - on the watch of ANZ chief executive Mike Smith (pictured) - a series of failed trades by ANZ, coupled with rumours in the market that Primebroker was insolvent, led to a run on Primebroker, which ultimately led to its demise.

The pattern of failed trades continued right up until ANZ put Primebroker into receivership on July 4. These included the alleged failure of ANZ on March 13, 2008, to redeliver securities to settle a sale trade of 45,950 shares in Allco Finance Group Ltd, and failed trades in Great Southern, Timbercorp, and Babcock & Brown.

An ANZ spokesman yesterday said the bank would defend the lawsuits appropriately in the event any of the legal actions materialise.

While these claims are yet to be tested in court, what makes these allegations of failed trades fascinating is they occurred under the leadership of chief executive Mike Smith, who, until now, has largely been seen as the man who joined ANZ and inherited the can of worms that had been squirming away in its securities-lending business for more than a decade.

Reputational damage is hard to put a price on and ANZ has already suffered greatly from its actions in 2008 relating to its exposure to three brokers, Tricom Equities, Opes Prime and Primebroker, through its securities lending business. As ANZ tries to increase its footprint in Asia, legal controversies about the way it does business will be closely watched.

In the case of ANZ's securities lending business, it hit the spotlight when the Australian Securities Exchange went into meltdown after the three brokers had their share portfolios seized and sold by ANZ Bank and other financiers to recover secured loans.  These actions resulted in more than a quarter of listed companies being caught up in the bloodbath, and dozens of companies placed in trading halts as they rushed to find buyers to prevent their share prices collapsing.

After spending four months investigating ANZ's securities lending business, the internal review recommended the sacking of eight people, the implementation of a new reputation-risk framework and training for ANZ senior executives. Its conclusion? ''The gravity of the issues relating to the equity finance business should have been, but was not, properly brought to the attention of the chief executive and the board.''
That might be so, but once things started to unravel in January 2008, the board and the chief executive became very aware of this controversial business and the havoc it was wreaking on the market. From late January 2008, when Tricom nearly blew up, ANZ was in the press most days. How ANZ handled itself during this period and the impact it had on Primebroker's viability will play a big role in the second lawsuit, which is being funded by a litigation fund set up by investors including directors of Primebroker.

In a sworn statement by one of Primebroker's directors, Sal Catalano, obtained by BusinessDay, at a meeting in April 2008 - less than three weeks after Opes Prime had collapsed - ''[Mr] Smith briefly entered the meeting and introduced himself … He said words to the effect, 'You need to do something about the media. Why are they writing these things about you?' and I replied, 'Unfortunately we could not control the press.' He told us that we had a sound business and operated a very different business to our competition including Opes and he counselled us to 'differentiate ourselves' from the pack. Mr Smith also stated the stock loan business was a good business but not well understood locally by the media.''

To date, the bank's credibility has been hit by the stock lending debacle, but it could have been much worse. In relation to Tricom, what went on has never fully been brought into the public arena because of deals done and reports never released.

In the case of Opes Prime, ANZ managed to settle with the creditors of Opes Prime for 37¢ in the dollar in return for being granted legal indemnity from corporate regulator ASIC. The directors of Opes were not so lucky. ASIC hit them with criminal charges over alleged breaches of directors' duties in January this year.
The Primebroker debacle was much smaller in scale than Tricom and Opes Prime, but it could prove to be a thorn in ANZ and Mike Smith's side. ANZ put Primebroker into receivership on July 4, and the principals and a few creditors want compensation.

ANZ might have sold its securities lending business, but the fallout continues. If the second lawsuit ever gets to court it will detail how current management handled a legacy issue. The findings could prove illuminating. So too is the fact that these securities-lending businesses, with their flawed models, operated under the watch of the ASX and ultimately ASIC.

Apr 11, 2010

Facebook Rage consumes partners' lives

A GROWING number of people are suffering from "Facebook Rage", a condition where trusting partners hunt for evidence of partners' misdemeanours.
Researchers from University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, said the more time we spend on these websites, the more jealous partners get.
For some people, just a glimpse of their other half in a slightly over-friendly photo or reading cheeky messages from friends can make them sick with jealousy.
Once "Facebook Rage" has set in, many people will spend hours stalking their partner online in a bid to find further proof to fuel their suspicions.
The study by psychologists looked at students in a relationship and using Facebook, and found a direct correlation between time spent on the site and feelings of jealousy.
Cyberpsychology & Behaviour journal editor Dr Brenda Wiederhold said social networking sites may be having a bigger impact on relationships than many imagine.
"This research on university-age individuals is an excellent starting point to begin asking additional questions on how this new forum might be impacting the dynamics of adult relationships and other social processes," she said.
Researchers say results may be similar in older users.

Couples in strife as Facebook cited in divorces

THE dangers of social networking sites for the young are well documented, but increasing numbers of middle-aged users are also having their private lives thrown into turmoil by online activity.  Marriage counsellors claim sites like Facebook are contributing to separations and divorce as bored 40 and 50-somethings try to reconnect with childhood sweethearts.

British divorce firm Divorce-Online said Facebook was cited in one-fifth of the divorce petitions it processed last year, The Sunday Mail reports.  Australian Family Relationships Clearing House manager Elly Robinson said online behaviour was causing friction in households.

"People will come in (for counselling) where one partner may deny their online behaviour has been any sort of problem, but the issue is ... if it's upsetting one of those people in the relationship, it's a problem," she said.  Ms Robinson said the lack of research on the effect of online behaviour on relationships was surprising, considering the widespread use of social networking.

"Relationships develop more quickly online because inhibitions are lowered, it's easy to exchange information, people are online 24/7, there's an (endless) amount of people you can link up with who are there for the same reason, real life pressures fade away ... it's a bit of a fantasy world," she said.    Relationships Australia vice-president Anne Hollonds said while the internet had made it easier to reconnect with lost loves, people ultimately had to take responsibility for their actions.  "The internet doesn't make people have affairs.

"It's become the pathway of choice for many people but I don't think that means the internet is breaking up families," she said.   "Everyone has some degree of fantasy about a love that might have been from the past and the technology now helps you find these people.

HIT: Where Healthcare meets Technology

The nation is a-buzz with health care reform, and the buzz has found its way into the healthcare technology industry. A cornerstone element to the Obama administration’s plans for healthcare reform is the national digitization of medical records. Already, the Administration has invested $19 billion dollars in the effort. This task requires the industry expertise of companies specializing in Healthcare Information Technology – companies like Cerner Corp.

Proponents of health care reform claim that the computerized medical records will promote patient safety and will be cost-effective for both hospitals and patients. According to the National Business group on health, 98,000 preventable hospital deaths occur in the U.S. annually, as a result of inadequate Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) systems. At present, health providers use of undeveloped or obsolete HIT systems also cause thousands of preventable medical errors each year. The Institute of Medicine reports that the loss of income, disability and health care costs that thousands of patients then face as a result of these errors can cost up to $29 billion dollars annually.

Support for the digitization of medical records within the health care industry puts Cerner Corp. at an advantage. As a leader in Health Information Technology, company growth is not only anticipated, but inevitable. Since January, health care sector stocks have faired better than the overall broader market. Cerner Corp., traded on the Nasdaq-100 index, is just one company included in the recent health-care services earnings.

Cerner Corp. is welcoming support for its HIT solutions from the technology industry as well. In late 2008, Silicon Valley based Cisco Systems Inc., a publicly traded pioneer in networking and internet solutions, opened an on-site primary care health facility. Cerner Corp. manages the administrative services for the $38 million dollar facility, including maintenance of employee’s electronic health records.

Cerner Corp. is at the cusp of where health care meets technology. Look out for Cerner Corp. in the upcoming days. Q2 2009 earnings are to be released on July 29.

Rethinking a Gospel of the Web

FOR about a decade now, ever since it became clear that the jungle of the World Wide Web would triumph over the walled gardens of CompuServe, AOL and MSN, a general consensus has solidified among the otherwise fractious population of People Who Think Big Thoughts About the Internet.
That unifying creed is this: Open platforms promote innovation and diversity more effectively than proprietary ones.
In the words of one of the Web’s brightest theorists, Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard, the Web displays the “generative” power of a platform where you don’t have to ask permission to create and share new ideas. If you want democratic media, where small, innovative start-ups can compete with giant multinationals, open platforms are the way to go.
I’ve long considered myself a believer in this gospel and have probably written a hundred pages of book chapters, essays and blog posts spreading the word. Believing in open platforms is not simple techno-utopianism. Open platforms come with undeniable costs. The Web is rife with pornography and vitriol for the very same reasons it’s so consistently ingenious. It’s not that the Web is perfect, by any means, but as an engine of innovation and democratization, its supremacy has been undeniable.
Over the last two years, however, that story has grown far more complicated, thanks to the runaway success of the iPhone (and now iPad) developers platform — known as the App Store to consumers.
The App Store must rank among the most carefully policed software platforms in history. Every single application has to be approved by Apple before it can be offered to consumers, and all software purchases are routed through Apple’s cash register. Most of the development tools are created inside Apple, in conditions of C.I.A.-level secrecy. Next to the iPhone platform, Microsoft’s Windows platform looks like a Berkeley commune from the late 60s.
And yet, by just about any measure, the iPhone software platform has been, out of the gate, the most innovative in the history of computing. More than 150,000 applications have been created for it in less than two years, transforming the iPhone into an e-book reader, a flight control deck, a musical instrument, a physician’s companion, a dictation device and countless other things that were impossible just 24 months ago.
Perhaps more impressively, the iPhone has been a boon for small developers. As of now, more than half the top-grossing iPad apps were created by small shops.
Those of us who have championed open platforms cannot ignore these facts. It’s conceivable that, had Apple loosened the restrictions surrounding the App Store, the iPhone ecosystem would have been even more innovative, even more democratic. But I suspect that this view is too simplistic. The more complicated reality is that the closed architecture of the iPhone platform has contributed to its generativity in important ways.
The decision to route all purchases through a single payment mechanism makes great sense for Apple, which takes 30 percent of all sales, but it has also helped nurture the ecosystem by making it easier for consumers to buy small apps impulsively with one-click ordering. People don’t want to thumb-type credit card information into their phones each time they download a game to distract the kids during a long drive in the car. One-click purchase also supports lightweight, inexpensive apps, the revenue from which can support small software teams.
Consumers are also willing to experiment with new apps because they know that they have been screened for viruses, malware and other stability problems as part of the App Store’s approval process.
The fact that the iPhone platform runs exclusively on Apple hardware helps developers innovate, because it means they have a finite number of hardware configurations to surmount. Developers building apps for, say, Windows Mobile have to create programs that work on hundreds of different devices, each with its own set of hardware features. But a developer who wants to build a game that uses an accelerometer for control, for example, knows that every iPhone OS device in the world contains an accelerometer.
The maniacal attention to detail and usability in Apple’s consumer products also applies to its software development platforms. However much developers might complain about the torturous app approval process or the sharing of revenue, most will tell you that the iPhone development tools are a delight.
Apple took a lot of heat waiting a year after the introduction of the first-generation iPhone to open the App Store. At the time, it contended that it wanted to ensure that the development tools it shipped met its standards. The success of the App Store suggests that this patience was well worth it.
None of which is to suggest that the iPhone/iPad ecosystem couldn’t benefit from a little more openness. Apple should stop blocking apps that compete with the iPhone’s default apps — e-mail clients, for instance — as this is the one area where innovation has truly suffered.
Of course, innovation and democratization are not the only reasons to champion open platforms. Given the current size of the iPhone’s installed base, as well as the projections for the iPad’s adoption, it is troubling that one company can single-handedly veto any new application on a whim.
Apple could certainly quiet a lot of its critics by creating some kind of side door that enables developers to bypass the App Store if they wish. An overwhelming majority of developers and consumers would continue to use the store, retaining all the benefits of that closed system, but a secondary market could develop where more experimental ideas could flourish.
But whatever Apple chooses to do with its platform in the coming years, it has made one thing clear: sometimes, if you get the conditions right, a walled garden can turn into a rain forest.