Why the Sunday Sun is a No-Brainer

There’s lots of talk now that Murdoch is going to sell up his UK newspapers, all his newspapers, and that he’s not going to launch a Sunday edition of The Sun. They may all be true. But if he did any of those, he’d be throwing money away.

2011 07 Newspapers in UK

Take a look at the readership figures, courtesy of the National Readership Survey – Latest Top line Readership. All the UK newspapers have a Sunday edition, with the exception of the Financial Times. And, with the exception of The Times and the Sunday Times, there’s a close relationship between those who buy the dailies and the Sunday, in terms of numbers, and of their socio-economic group:

To me it’s pretty obvious that the News of the World was, in essence, the Sunday edition of The Sun in all but name. Of course, Murdoch may have bigger fish to fry, but in raw numbers, the way to go is obvious.

Virus Hits British Defences


I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how KL’s airport information system had been infected by a virus. I shouldn’t have gotten so het up. Turns out that the UK’s air force and navy have bigger problems.

ITV News reported on Friday that the Ministry of Defence’s computer network has been shut down “because of a mysterious virus that is causing wholesale disruption of MoD sites.” Among those affected were Royal Navy ships including the Ark Royal and RAF [Royal Air Force] bases including Brize Norton.

The Register quotes a statement from the “MoD that [s]ince 6 Jan 09 the performance of the MOD IT systems in a number of areas was affected by a virus.” The Register says “no command or operational systems had been affected, though many of these are based on similar hardware. Spokespersons also stated that “no classified or personal data has been or will be at risk of compromise” due to “pre-existing security measures”.”

This is less than a month after the Royal Navy announced it had switched its nuclear submarines to a “customized Microsoft Windows system” dubbed, snappily, Submarine Command System Next Generation (SMCS NG).

In 1998 the USS Yorktown was “dead in the water” for about two and a half hours after a glitch in its new Smart Ship system, which used off-the-shelf PCs to automate tasks sailors traditionally did manually. The mishap sunk the Smart Ship initiative, which was quietly dropped a couple of years later.

A report in Portsmouth Today said the virus had affected 75% of the navy’s ships, preventing sailors from sending email and performing tasks (like finding out how many sailors are joining the ship at its next port of call). A blog on the Ministry of Defence’s website denied a report in The Sunday Times that ‘all email traffic from a number of RAF stations has been sent to a Russian internet server’ as a result of a ‘worm virus that entered MOD systems 12 days ago’. (The report makes it appear like it was a Russian attack, which is unlikely. But I’m not sure how the MoD can be so sure that emails were not diverted in that way.)

Neither do I know how they can be sure that it wasn’t a targeted attack. As Graham Cluley of Sophos points out, it’s more likely it was human error. But aside from the issues that raises—just how many MoD computers are hooked up to the Internet, and how smart is this? What kind of antivirus software do they have installed on the computers that are?—I would prefer the MoD not to jump to the conclusion that it’s not a targeted attack.

The reason? We need to stop thinking about cyberwar and malware as two different things. Governments rarely launch cyberattacks. But individuals and gangs do—and they usually do it for a mix of nationalistic and commercial motives. This case probably is just a screw-up. But it’s foolish to discount the notion that the information that may have been gleaned—accidentally, perhaps—would prove of value to a government or an agency.

(Image above is the result of my trying to search the Royal Navy website for the word “virus”. )

Articles | MoD computers attacked by virus – ITV News

Suspected Fraudsters Behind the Sony DRM Virus Arrested

Three men have been arrested in the UK and Finland following an investigation into internet fraud. The three are a motley bunch, according to The Sunday Times: a 63-year-old from England, a 28-year-old from Scotland and a 19-year-old from Finland. Together they are alleged to have formed a gang called M00P. They are accused of being behind a virus known as Ryknos, Breplibot or Stinx-Q, which apparently allowed the gang access to commercial information through a back door. Thousands of computers, most of them in the UK, were infected. Infection here means total control over the computer in question. The virus was first spotted in November 2005.

What’s particularly interesting about this, and doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the mainstream press, is that the virus used a vulnerability created by Sony’s much despised DRM copy-protection software — a program installed as part of software to play Sony’s CDs on computers, but which would secretly install extra code designed to protect the CD from being copied beyond a limited number of times. The virus basically piggybacked the hole left by Sony’s software, so unless users who had installed Sony’s software had removed it, they were at the virus’ mercy.

The virus was well targeted and used clever social engineering tricks. It was tailored to businesses, disguised as a requested update for a photo attached to an email that read, in part, “Hello, Your photograph was forwarded to us as part of an article we are publishing for our December edition of Total Business Monthly. Can you check over the format and get back to us with your approval or any changes? If the picture is not to your liking then please send a preferred one. We have attached the photo with the article here.” Who’s not going to click on that? I know I nearly did.

If those detained were involved, it’ll be interesting to hear what they’ve got to say about the Sony rootkit (which has long been abandoned. Great piece on the saga by Wade Roush in this month’s Technology Review.

What Blogs Have Over Old Media

Blogs have at least one significant advantage over newspapers: They are naturally configured to make the source of information clear. Whether a blogger indicates it in words (“according to Loose Wire, the earth is spinning”) as well as a link to the original source, or just via a link embedded into the declaration, the reader can easily figure out where the information is coming from. It’s neat, it’s simple, and it’s what the Web is all about.

Traditional media don’t have this inbuilt emphasis on sourcing, although they should. A good journalist always indicates, as high up as possible, the source of his/her information: “The earth is spinning, according to Internet blogger Loose Wire.” If the information seems somewhat hard to believe, or could be obviously a expression of opinion rather than fact, the source is placed first: “Loose Wire blogger says the earth is spinning.” But there’s no easy way in traditional print to offer the hypertext function of allowing the reader to automatically jump to the original source material to gauge its credibility for himself/herself, nor to check whether the original source has been quoted accurately and fairly.

But there’s a more important weakness, and it has nothing to do the shortcomings of the medium. It’s when traditonal media bury the source, leaving any but the most seasoned reader in the dark about where, in fact, the information is coming from. Take this account, for example, from the Sunday Times of London of reports that an immigration officer sought sex in return for helping an asylum seeker:

A SENIOR Home Office immigration officer has been suspended after allegations that he offered to help an 18-year-old Zimbabwean rape victim obtain asylum in the UK if she had sex with him.

James Dawute, 53, who works at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate in London, allegedly told the girl: “I know how to win your case . . . I can handle it, don’t worry,” before asking her to go to a hotel with him for sex.

The immigration centre at Lunar House in Croydon, south London, was the subject of a separate “sex for visas” scandal in January, prompting an inquiry into whether immigration officials were trading favours for sex.

Dawute is alleged to have signalled to a security guard to bring the girl forward after seeing her waiting at the centre. He is said to have passed her his telephone number on a piece of paper and asked for her number in return.

He then signed forms allowing the girl to claim emergency accommodation. According to the girl, Dawute called her two days later, saying he liked her and wanted to meet to discuss her application.

At the meeting in a Croydon noodle bar the immigration officer was recorded by reporters from The Observer as he told the girl he wanted to take her to a hotel to have sex and indicated he might be able to help her application.

It’s only in the sixth paragraph of an 11 paragraph story that the source of the information is made clear: a rival newspaper. As far as I can make out there is no original reporting at all in the whole story. This is not just sloppy journalism. It’s a reflection of the fact that competition between newspapers is often conducted to the detriment of the reader. Here, the reader has no idea where the allegations come from (four “allegations/alleged/said to” weasel words in as many paragraphs) until the source is mentioned. (There’s an example of how the story was better handled in The Independent, which mentions the source in the second paragraph.) When the reader’s interests — who alleges this? Where did you get your information from? Is this your material or someone elses? Can I trust you on this and future stories to be straight with me? — are thrust aside for the interests of obfuscating the fact that a rival got the better of you, you can understand why some folk don’t mourn the slow demise of the traditional newspaper.

Imagine how this might have been handled in a blog picking up The Observer story: the link to the original in the first sentence, along with a “report in today’s Observer”, perhaps even a mention of the byline. In the meantime, I think traditional newspapers could do well to focus on raising their game to compete with blogs — not just in aping the technology that makes them so powerful, but the transparent sourcing, that invites readers to check with the original and draw their own conclusions.

It’s all about the reader, and always will be.