Category Archives: Blog

Twelfth morning #ShortPoems

The master raises the drum to his chest on Folly Lane.
Resplendent with Lily, Sweet William too.
The band called to order, his domain.
He calls the tune. Killaloe, after two – one, two.

Its Twelfth morning and in this poem I reflect on years gone by.

Twenty years or more ago I used to line up with the drum corps of Lisnadill Flute Band each Twelfth of July morning on Folly Lane in the south of Armagh prior to setting off to join the rest of the lodges from that district. My two brothers and I formed half of the corp in front and to the side of the bass drum of the Band Master. My fourth brother played out high notes on piccolo at the back.

As the youngest and smallest my uniform was a mishmash of hand-me-downs and ill fitting items. Country bands didn’t have the money for new uniforms so ours was a second hand lot from God knows where. My cap had crowned perhaps a dozen heads in its lifetime. It stayed on my head through the grace of soggy rolled up newspaper inside the head band soaked with sweat. My white Andante snare drum hung round my neck like a millstone.

The band took its name from a small rural townland three miles further south from Armagh. It was what is known as a melody flute band. Its numbers would be swollen to over twenty on the twelfth, still a small unit compared to the blood and thunder bands. Hymns and tunes such as Our Director, Killaloe, Liberty Bell and Dolly’s Brae made up its repertoire.

We would have paraded Armagh in the morning, making our way through the town to the Co-Op at Alexander where buses would collect us and take us to the host town to join the main demonstration in places like Newtownhamilton, Tandragee and Killylea.

For us it was a grand day out. We’d march to the field, head off to meet friends and grab a burger before returning to where the drums and lodge banner had been stashed beside the lodge car. There we’d join older band members and sit on the grass with rolled up shirt sleaves in the sun drinking a can or two of warm Bass or Tennents, smoking Embassy Red, and chatting about women and cars and the price of cattle like men. We didn’t get drunk though. A full bladder and a sore head aren’t conducive to keeping time and the long walk home.

Those were great times before educational then economic migration scattered us to the four winds exposing some of us to different cultures and traditions.

Thoughts on the Apple #WWDC14 announcements, media crib sheet

I was asked last week by BBC Good Morning Ulster to come in to the show and talk about the announcements made at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference 2014. You can listen to it again here. Go to 55:50.

As with every media engagement I do I had done my homework the night before and prepared a crib sheet covering all potential areas for discussion which is shared with the show producer in advance so they can brief the presenter and prepare questions for them.

Tech bling
Little bit of tech bling. Always dress for the occasion – even if its only radio.

Having done a few of these now the key, in my opinion, is to get to the heart of the “so what” question. What does this mean to the person sitting in their car on their way to work or doing the school run? The trick is to avoid being over technical and to retain a level of company independence or favouritism – especially when contributing to the BBC.

I’m neither pro or anti Apple. While I use an MacBook for personal computing and an Apple iPad for work I also use a Google Nexus 5 phone and a Microsoft Window’s laptop for work purposes. It’s nice to have this broad level of experience when talking about new product announcements in this space.

The whole experience is definitely a positive one. If you are approached to contribute to programmes such as this I would highly recommend it as it allows you to hone writing and speaking skills for the day job.

In the end time only permitted us to discuss the Family Sharing feature. The full crib sheet is replicated below for those who haven’t OD’ed on WWDC commentary yet.

Intro

Apple announces new features that enable family sharing, home automation and our vital signs to be monitored all from our mobile phones.

Family sharing

Apple have announced a new family sharing feature in iOS version 8 for iPhones and iPads. This will allow whole families share and synchronise their photos, calendars and locations with each other.

  • Great for the busy family to keep track of each other and give parents piece of mind that their kids are where they say they are
  • Not so great for parents whose phones will be filled to the brim with selfies of their kids
  • Even worse for kids whose phones will be full of their parents selfies – take note Máirtín Ó Muilleoir’s kids
  • Definitely not good for kids bunking off school

There have been numerous examples of children running up hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of credit card bills due to innocently buying costly add-ons for games through the Apple App Store.

  • Last year a five year old ran up a bill of £1700 buying costly add-ons for a game called Zombie v Ninja in one ten minute period
  • Earlier this year Apple was forced to refund at least £20 million to disgruntled parents over in-app purchases made by their kids
  • Family sharing allows parents to implement tighter controls on App Store spending.
  • Kids can send App purchase requests to their parents phones when they wish to buy new games or make in app purchases.
  • Great for parents looking to reign in their kids spending on the Apple App Store
  • Not so great for some app developers who were making stacks of money from unsuspecting kids

Home automation

The smart home is now a key battle ground for companies like Apple and Google. Google recently bought Nest, a company that makes smart devices such as learning thermostats and intelligent smoke and carbon dioxide detectors for the home which can be controlled from mobile devices for a cool $3.2 billion.

Apples new Home app (HomeKit) allows an iPhone or iPad to control smart appliances, lights and locks around the home.

  • Partners include Philips, Honeywell and Osram that make a variety of smart widgets and lights
  • Great if you want to live in the home of the future and command all your home appliances by voice
  • Not so great when the power goes out.

Health app

HealthKit is a feature and package of tools that will allow developers to build bespoke apps around health and well being, from sleep monitoring and stress reduction to exercise and blood testing.

  • Great for helping to take pressure off a stretched NHS
  • Great for early alerting of serious health problems
  • Great for changing behaviour in unhealthy people
  • Not so great for couch potatoes
  • Question marks over patient privacy
Sakir Sezer 250 166

Queen’s researchers on the front line against cyber crime

On 2nd June 2014 numerous news outlets globally ran a story about a Russian man being charged with being behind a major cybercrime operation that affected individuals and businesses worldwide and added to the FBI’s most wanted list. Evgeniy Bogachev, also known as “lucky12345″ and “slavik”, is wanted for his alleged involvement in a wide-ranging racketeering enterprise and scheme that installed, without authorization, malicious software known as “Zeus” and a variant called “GameOver Zeus” on victims’ computers.

Zeus is a type of malware known as a bot which makes up part a network of hijacked home computers, typically controlled by a criminal gang called a botnet. The software was used to capture bank account numbers, passwords, personal identification numbers, and other information necessary to log into online banking accounts.

In a non-descript glass fronted building in the heart of the Northern Ireland Science Park the news came as no surprise to a crack team of cyber security researchers who barely raised an eyebrow. The team, based in Queen’s University Belfast’s (QUB) Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT), is at the forefront of researching and developing new technologies to detect bots, botnets, malware and Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) since it was established as the UK’s Information and Knowledge Centre (IKC) in 2009. The Zeus botnet, and the plethora of variants it has spawned, has been of particular interest to the team who work as part of the Secure Digital Systems research cluster headed by Professor Sakir Sezer.

Sakir Sezer 250 166Professor Sezer says: “As the internet has evolved into a multi-trillion pound business, the threats have evolved as well. To date members of the gang who operate the Zeus botnet have stolen an estimated $500 million. This represents a huge loss to citizens and businesses alike. Our research is helping minimise the fraud and theft enabled by this pernicious software through the development of hardware and software tools and technologies which have been proven to detect and prevent this type of malicious activity.”

In a secure laboratory within the facility Professor Sezer’s team of researchers and engineers have installed a complete botnet for the purposes of determining how it replicates, evolves over time and communicates with command and control systems. The team are reluctant to say too much about their findings in an effort to stay one step ahead of the criminals in this cat and mouse game. What they will say, however, is that the solution they have developed has the ability to analyse gigabytes of network traffic, in real-time, pinpointing botnet activity on corporate, mobile operator or Internet Service Provider (ISP) networks. This malicious activity can be traced to a specific machine, laptop or mobile device which has been infected with the malware.

Notwithstanding, the research isn’t a purely academic endeavour. Through its unique ‘Open Innovation’ model CSIT works to exploit and transfer knowledge to industry through member companies such as global giants McAfee and IBM, as well as via commercial R&D and consultancy engagements with local SME’s such as RepKnight and AirPOS. This ensures the research is both industrially relevant and that findings can be put to work as quickly as possible to limit the impact of malware and botnets on society as well as bringing new cyber security technologies to market.

Highlighting ISP and mobile network operator’s failure to adopt technology to limit the damage wreaked by malware and botnets Professor Sezer says: “We have the proven technology to detect and stop these malicious applications at the ISP and operator level but many are reluctant to take on responsibility for providing this service to their customers. Common Carrier status means the ISP is not responsible for anything illegal taking place over the network.  For example, Warner Brothers can’t sue BT because their digital content (films) are being illegally streamed to BT broadband subscribers.  The ISPs use this legal provision to see no evil.  Hence they make no attempt to protect subscribers from malware. However, they are quite happy to detect and block Skype traffic when it effect’s their bottom line. The legislative framework needs to change to enable broader use of this technology to protect internet consumers.”

MSc_in_Cyber_SecurityNew technology is only one part of the CSIT story.  Currently, the demand for cyber security experts is growing at twelve times the rate of the overall job market. The Centre has listened to the needs of industry and is complementing its technology research by developing a new Master’s degree in Cyber Security to skill up the next generation of cyber security professionals. The course is open for application now and will begin in September 2014.

Professor Maire O’Neill, Co-Ordinator of the new MSc in Cyber Security, says: “The emphasis of the MSc is to provide graduates with a comprehensive understanding of the cyber security challenges facing industry and society, today and in the future, and equipping them with the skills necessary to address those challenges.”

Finally, the Centre recognises its wider responsibilities to society in terms of supporting citizens, industry and government to tackle the scourge of cyber-crime as well as capitalising on the huge global demand for technologies in this area. CSIT staff are involved in a variety of prominent advisory bodies such as the Organised Crime Task Force’s Cyber Crime Sub Group, the UK Cyber Growth Partnership and chairing the Royal Society’s Cyber Security Research policy committee.

You can find out more about CSIT and the MSc in Cyber Security on its website here: http://www.csit.qub.ac.uk/

Hi-tech crime terms

  • Bot – one of the individual computers in a botnet; bots are also called drones or zombies
  • Botnet – a network of hijacked home computers, typically controlled by a criminal gang
  • Malware – an abbreviation for malicious software i.e. a virus, Trojan or worm that infects a PC
  • APT – Advanced Persistent Threats are a set of stealthy and continuous computer hacking processes, often orchestrated by human targeting a specific entity.

Advice from Get Safe Online

  • Install internet security software from companies listed on Get Safe Online’s website to download a free tool to scan for Gameover Zeus and remove it from your computer
  • Do not open attachments in emails unless you are 100% certain that they are authentic
  • Make sure your internet security software is up-to-date and switched on at all times
  • Make sure your Windows operating system has the latest Microsoft updates applied
  • Make sure your software programs have the latest manufacturers’ updates applied
  • Make sure all of your files including documents, photos, music and bookmarks are backed up and readily available in case you are no longer able to access them on your computer
  • Never store passwords on your computer in case they are accessed by Gameover Zeus or another aggressive malware program