Tag Archives: Internet access

Libya: We’re Back. Iran: We’re Not

In its latest quarterly report Opera looks a how quickly Libyans have gone back online with their mobile devices after six months in the dark. The graphic pretty much sums it up:

Talking of Internet blocking, Opera noticed that Iran continues to mess with Internet access for its citizens:

While we can speculate on government intervention or an operator shutting down Opera Mini access, the numbers are striking. Opera Mini usage in Iran dropped 36% in July. Most of the user loss occurred over five days, from July 4th to July 9th. Iran is no stranger to these quick drops. After reaching new highs, Opera Mini usage drops quickly. On June 14, 2011, Opera Mini reached an all-time high in Iran. The next day, usage plummeted more than 48%.

One can indeed only speculate, but the June plummet may be to do with the June 12 second anniversary of the 2009 election, when marchers took to the streets [Inter Press Service report via Asia Times]. (The lag between the Sunday June 12 march, the spike in traffic two days later, and then the plummet could either be explained by the marchers using their cellphones and then losing interest, or the sudden interest of the security services in curtailing mobile traffic to disrupt more planned marches.

The July drop in traffic I can’t explain: I’ve looked for events around that time, but can’t find any.

Broadbangladesh

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Illustration IHT, by Felipe Galindo

I wrote a piece for the IHT on a company of expats bringing wireless broadband to their native Bangladesh. Would love to have gone there to have a look, but budgets aren’t what they were (love the illustration):

In Bangladesh, where less than 1 percent of the population has Internet access and where the rare broadband connection is prohibitively expensive, bridging the digital divide may require new approaches.

A group of Bangladeshi expatriates think they have found one that could work – a plan to bring affordable Internet access to their homeland through a blend of high-end wireless technology and social entrepreneurship.

Bringing Bangladesh into the Internet age – International Herald Tribune

Heathrow’s Old Windows

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Snapped this on my way to Gate 1 at Heathrow’s Terminal 3. I know the London hub has its problems, but I didn’t realise one of them was that its passenger information system — or at least part of it — was running on Windows 95, a 12-year old operating system that has not been supported by Microsoft since 2001.

Does it matter that flight information is being run on a system that Microsoft not only no longer sells, but it no longer supports?

I guess not, in some ways. Who cares, if it’s still working? (Well, in the case above, where one screen is in permanent ‘shutdown’ mode, and the other seems to be in permanent ‘boot’ mode, leaving me waiting patiently in the hope of getting some flight information, I guess I do.)

But how about security? If a software manufacturer no longer supports a product, it doesn’t just mean their helpdesk is no longer taking calls from baffled customers. It also means they’re not pushing out updates to the software that solve problems like the one above, or security patches to cover holes bad guys have found in the software.

This bit is more worrying. If a bad guy knows that Heathrow is using Windows 95 for some of its operations (and I guess he does now) it should be pretty easy to find a way in. While not many people use the software anymore (I couldn’t find any surveys on this, but anecdotally there don’t seem to be many folk out there using it), new vulnerabilities are appearing that affect both newer and older versions of Windows. So while XP users might get a patch, Windows 95, 98 and Me users won’t.

Anyway, I caught my flight OK. So maybe there’s nothing to worry about. Apart from realising that an airport I entrust my life to a few times a year is relying on software that, when first launched, didn’t even support Internet access.

When a Country Goes Dark

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Ministers’ homes at the new capital, Pyinmana

Burma has shown us that we’re not as clever, or free, as we thought we are.

It’s a sign of how the Burmese generals don’t really understand things that it took them so long to cut off the Internet:

Reporters without Borders and the Burma Media Association reported that the government cut off all Internet access in the country on Friday morning and they said that all Internet cafes in the country also have been closed. The Web site of the Myanmar Post & Telecommunications, the government-run telecommunications provider, appears to be down.

The Internet was something we didn’t have to help us back in 1988 in covering the uprising. Actually we didn’t have very much: a total of about eight international telephone lines into the country, the official radio which would broadcast once or twice a day, and which we’d monitor courtesy of a weird contraption in a special room that also spewed out garbled copies of the official news agency reports.

We’d spend most of the day in the Bangkok office trying to get a line in, cajoling and sweet-talking the female or male (we knew no shame) operators into trying again, and again, to get a line. When we got a connection we’d ask the person who picked up as many questions as we could, whether it was Aung San Suu Kyi or just some guy who happened to have a telephone. Once a day we’d pick up the monitoring by the U.S. embassy of other official radio broadcasts and pore over them as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. Occasionally we’d interview someone who managed to get out; my first ever wire service story was the Dutch ambassador going on the record at Don Muang airport about some of the horrors he’d seen. When we did get into Burma all we had in the office was an ancient telex machine.

Nowadays, 19 years on, there’s more technology out there than we could dream of back then. Not just the Internet: camera phones, mobile phones, satellites, GPS. But I’m also surprised at how little these really help. Burmese have bravely organized demonstrations via cellphone, and sent out information by Internet, but those channels are largely closed now, leaving us to join a Facebook group, wear red, or turn to satellite to try to glean information.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has analyzed satellite photos which it says “pinpoints evidence consistent with village destruction, forced relocations, and a growing military presence at 25 sites across eastern Burma where eyewitnesses have reported human rights violations.” This is more about the continuing (and long-running) war against insurgents and populations in border areas caught up in those wars. But it’s instructive to see their before and after satellite photos, like these ones:

[PHOTOGRAPH]

Before-and-after satellite images show the site of an apparent military encampment in Burma on 11 November 2000, (top), and again on 13 December 2006 (bottom), when new bamboo fencing can be seen. The human rights group, Free Burma Rangers, reported a major expansion of this camp in 2006, corroborated by the AAAS analysis of images. (Lat: 18.42 N Long: 97.23 E.)

Credit: Top image: © GeoEye, Inc. Bottom image: © 2007 DigitalGlobe.

The AAAS has a Google Earth layer here to illustrate the before and after. The full report (PDF, big file) is here.

The AAAS is currently collecting satellite images of urban areas to see what it can glean; it reminds me of 1999 in East Timor when satellite imagery showed up some of the destruction cause by the retreating Indonesian army. But such images can do little more than illustrate something that has happened, and not bring to life the actual suffering and abuses on the ground.

Indeed, I’m surprised and a bit disappointed that technology can do so little to pry open a country if its government decides to close it off. We talk about information wanting to be free, but we tend to forget how that information still requires power and a channel in order to escape. Shut off the power, shut off the channel and the information is as much a prisoner as the Burmese people presently are.

AAAS – AAAS News Release

Cupid’s (Possibly) Poison Arrow

Could Valentine’s Day be a phishing day? Internet Security Systems, Inc. reckons so, saying in a press release (no URL available yet) that the number of dating sites across the world has increased by 17 per cent within the last twelve months. ISS reckons this rise “is partly attributed to the increase in malevolent websites used by developers of malicious code as an opportune moment for phishing, spam and hacker attacks on unsuspecting victims.”

Having said, that, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of strong evidence presented to back this claim up. “Organised criminal units have in the past timed their attacks to coincide with popular celebration occasions in order to achieve maximum success in compromising the integrity of computer systems,” the press release quotes Gunter Ollman, Director of X-Force at Internet Security Systems. “It is anticipated that Valentine’s Day is a day that is similarly marked on the criminals’ calendar for targeted attacks.” Makes sense, but isn’t this a tad alarmist? Should we ignore every Valentine Card we get (assuming we get any)?

ISS offers the usual suggestions about defending yourself from these poisoned Cupid arrows, as well as pointing out that it can provide its own solution, via a “Proventia Web Filter which blocks unwanted web content, optimises Internet access for employees and prevents any kind of non work related Internet use.”. Yes, of course. Ye old “press release as pitch posing as public service ad” trick.

Given that Internet Security Systems, Inc. has been, according to its own blurb, “an established world leader in security since 1994”, I guess I’d expect to see a bit more hard data to back up this kind of scaremongering. It’s not that I don’t believe that scumbags will use Valentine’s Day as a social engineering tool to pry open your gullibility, but I’m not sure security companies should just throw out warnings like this without more carefully callibrated data to justify it. Where is all the data about previous year’s attacks along these lines? Where are the examples to illustrate the problem, and the sophistication of the bad guys? What kind of data are they after? We deserve to be told if we’re going to bin potentially our only chance at happiness.

VoIP for Dial-up?

How well does Voice over Internet work for folks who rely on dial-up?

I’ve not had much luck with Skype — it comes across as crackly, jerky and fenerky (I made up the last word.) A company called NetZero is now offering a VoIP service it says works well for dial-up users:

“We believe consumers should not have to have broadband Internet access in order to enjoy the price savings and feature content of Internet phone calling,” said Mark R. Goldston, CEO of United Online, the company that owns NetZero.

While a broadband connection is still recommended for the best voice quality, NetZero claims that users with a 56k modem would be able to make calls successfully by using the company’s proprietary technology it has created to reduce echo, latency and other issues.

I haven’t tried it yet but I will do. Some folk commenting on the above BetaNews story ask what is the point of VoIP over dialup — if you’re using dialup you’ve got a phoneline already — which is easy to enough to respond to. Just because you have a phone line doesn’t mean you want to be making expensive interlocal or international calls on it.

Anyway, this is potentially good news for folk in the developing world who only have access to dial-up. I’m going to check it out. The only problem, of course, is that NetZero folks can only chat to NetZero folks unless you make a SkypeOut type call.

Wifi For The (Dialup) Masses

You’d think that dial-up Internet access is not the stuff of sexy business models. Not so.

Always On Wireless is about to launch the Always On WiFlyer, an 802.11b-based wireless hub that connects to a phone line and works with all the major dial-up ISPs. It is being touted as Wifi For The Masses, a term I thought we had coined in this blog for Wifi in the developing world. Still, it’s not copyright and the more the merrier.

Rudy Prince, CEO of Always On Wireless, is aiming at “both computer users who lack broadband in their homes and ‘road warriors’ who often find broadband connections unavailable when traveling. It eliminates the expense of hotel broadband connections, and is great for international travel where broadband is often more difficult to find.”

The device is smaller, according to Computer Technology’s TWICE, than a paperback book for easy travel and also has an Ethernet port, so it can turn any hotel room into an instant Wi-Fi hot spot. Cost: $150.

I actually think these ideas are great, and it’s good that people are thinking of dialup customers as well as broadband. Rudy’s right: There are a lot of folk out there who can only get dialup access all of the time, or some of the time. This would be a neat addition to their grab-bag, especially since it works with both broadband and dialup connections – especially if you’re stuck in a bad hotel room with poor access to phone sockets. I’ll take one.

BT Brings Broadband To ‘Remote’ Milton Keynes

I couldn’t help passing this one on, though I don’t mean to mock either Milton Keynes, a charming artificial town in England, or Online Journalism, a very worthy project of the USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review.

Online Journalism today picks up a piece from the BBC about how British Telecom is trying to extend broadband connections across the country. (I’ve written about this before after visiting a village in Northamptonshire, which got around the problem of BT’s glacial broadband program by building their own Wifi network.)

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the BBC article talked about extending ADSL reach from its present range from a broadband-enabled exchange from 6 km to 10. Testing site: Milton Keynes, a town that could not be more in the middle of England since that was why it was built there a few decades back. It’s a garden city, and its sprawling layout and majestic avenues make it the butt of jokes, and more importantly, broadband a hotbutton issue. not But remote it’s not: An hour from London, an hour from Birmingham, an hour from more or less everywhere.

Unfortunately Online Journalism got the wrong end of the stick and wrote about “Remote towns in U.K. to get broadband service: Soon, remote areas in the U.K. will have broadband Internet access, reports the BBC News. BT, the leading ISP in the U.K., is currently running a test in the remote town of Milton Keynes in hopes of establishing broadband service for the area. The town was chosen because 18% of residents experience great frustration over Internet access, a higher percentage than in most U.K. towns due to the city’s remote location.”

I don’t know whether Milton Keynesians are going to be happy about this. The Shetlands are remote. The Scilly Isles, maybe. Milton Keynes? No.

More Phishy Emails

Another year, another sea of phish. And such scams — called phishing, where scammers steal your personal and/or financial data by pretending in an email that they are your bank/credit card company etc — aren’t just about money. Here’s one I got this morning from ‘Microsoft’:

Dear Registered Microsoft User,

Due to validation issues with your Product Key for your Windows OS Platform, we need you to validate your information so we can insure nobody else is using your product key. Each computer must have a unique Product Key, this problem usually happins if you install Windows twice on the same machine and use the same product key.
We need you to verify your information so we can send you a New Product Key VIA USPS. This also includes a information packet including ways to secure your Windows Platform from malicious hackers. Your reply is needed so you can continue to receive updates from Microsoft and always be up to date with the newest Service Packs. Please follow the directions below to complete the process.

1. Click Here to be redirected to Microsoft Secure Server
2. Fill all the required fields and press “Continue”.
3. Insure your information is correct, and then fill in the required fields and press “Submit’.
4. Please print the final page to keep reference to.
5. Your done! Please except the package in 4 to 6 weeks.

Please do not reply to this e-mail confirmation. It was sent to you through an automated system that is not monitored. If you have additional questions, you can call Microsoft Customer Service Monday through Friday, 8 A.M. to 10 P.M. (Eastern Time), at (888) 218-5617 (toll-free in the United States).
Microsoft highly recommends that users with Internet access update their Microsoft software to protect against viruses and security vulnerabilities. The easiest way to do this is to visit the following website: http://www.microsoft.com/protect

The ‘Click Here’ link goes to a website called http://badkeymicrosoft.ch which doesn’t look to be too well hidden. But I’ve passed the email on to Daniel McNamara over at Codefish Spamwatch who says it’s a new trick he hasn’t seen before, and although the URL is visible in my email program some (read: snazzier) email programs might do a better job of hiding it.

So what do scammers want with your Microsoft profile? Not a lot, probably: Daniel reckons they’re after your bank account numbers, address etc. He says the site is down now, probably after complaints to the company hosting it, but that such sites only need a few hours to do their work, catching a few people unawares.