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H-1B Visa Sweepstakes Starts Today

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Beginning today, the US government begins accepting applications from employers for the 65,000 H-1B visas for Fiscal Year 2009. According to news reports, "Citizenship and Immigration Services has said it will accept H-1B visa petitions over five business days, ending April 7. In mid-April, the agency will run a computerized lottery to choose about 65,000 petitions."

For the first time, companies are prohibited from filing more than one petition for the same worker.

Reports also indicated that, "The three biggest users of the H-1B program in 2007 were three companies based in India that perform computer and software contract work here using foreign workers, mainly Indian."

"The three companies â'' Infosys Technologies and Wipro of Bangalore, and Satyam Computer Services of Hyderabad â'' accounted for more than 8,500 of the H-1B visas that received preliminary approval in 2007, figures show."

I wonder how many Microsoft is going to apply for?

Heathrow's Terminal 5's Never Ending Story

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British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh said Monday that he was "bitterly disappointed" about the problems at London Heathrow's Terminal 5, and admitted "we got it completely wrong on day one."

Some 54 flights were canceled today and 50 more are likely to be canceled on Tuesday.

Walsh also said that reports that 28,000 passengers bags were in storage were wrong - it was only 19,000 (although it appears that a total of 28,000 bags may have not traveled with their owners). BA brought in 400 volunteers to start working to reduce the luggage backlog.

It will take a while longer for the software problems affecting the new baggage system to be fully explained. There is a lot of conflicting information out there. Walsh has said that, "We continue to work towards increasing the number of services in the days ahead. The baggage system is now generally working well. From time to time, problems have developed that were not encountered during the extensive trials. These issues are being addressed as they arise," by computer and baggage system experts.

BAA, the airport operator, seems to be backing off the claim that the baggage system problems were caused by inexperienced baggage staff alone.

There were other software problems at Terminal 5. A patron was charged £361,514.97 for four cappuccinos at the Giraffe Juice Bar at Terminal 5. Airport food is expensive, but that is a bit much.

Australia: Can Anyone Tell Me What Time It Is?

It is being reported that thousands of mobile phones, PDAs, and some computer networks in parts of Australia switched from back from daylight savings a week early over the weekend due to software glitches. Daylight savings had been extended this year a week in New South Wales to harmonize changeover dates across most of Australia.

The only major inconveniences reported, other than people waking up at the wrong time and such, was that six flights out of Adelaide were delayed by up to one-and-a-half hours because of a daylight time-related computer error in the Qantas check-in system. No other Qantas terminals reported being affected.

IBM Suspended From Federal Contracts?

Government Executive has a story that says that "International Business Machines Corp. and its subsidiaries are suspended from receiving new federal contracts, certain subcontracts and some types of federal assistance and benefits, due to an action taken by the Environmental Protection Agency that extends government-wide, according to federal documents."

"According to the Excluded Parties List System, maintained by the General Services Administration, the EPA took action against IBM on March 27, pursuant to Executive Order 12549, created in 1986 to curb fraud, waste and abuse in federal programs."

The article says that neither the EPA or IBM will say why the suspension happened.

Update:

The AP is reporting that EPA lifted its suspension of IBM today (Friday, 04 April). The suspension resulted from an $84 million EPA contract IBM lost in 2007 and is protesting, and EPA's suspicion that there was some unethical bidding on the part of IBM in relation to the contract (which the company denies). IBM earlier this week said it was blindsided by the suspension.

Sainsbury's Good IT News

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As I wrote about here, in October 2005, the giant British food retailer J Sainsbury PLC had to write off its US $526 million investment in an automated supply-chain management system. Merchandise had become stuck in the company's depots and warehouses and was not getting through to many of its stores. Sainsbury was forced to hire about 3000 additional clerks to stock its shelves manually.

Sainsbury had outsourced its IT systems in 2000, but after the fiasco, decided to bring the work back in-house. Last week, chief executive Justin King said that the move placed the company on track towards saving £440m in costs a year.

It's nice to hear about good IT news.

Heathrow's Terminal 5 Problems Continue On

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The BBC is reporting that 15,000 â'' 20,000 bags belonging to BA (British Airways) passengers are now stranded across London Heathrowâ''s five terminals because of the on-going problems at Terminal 5. The BBC is reporting that, â''Other carriers bringing passengers into Heathrow, to transfer to BA flights, have been asked by the airline to hold on to their bags while it (BA) clears the existing backlog.â''

BA says it doesnâ''t know how long this will take, although it is privately estimating it may take weeks before Terminal 5 operates â''normally.â''

BA, after initially saying that 15% of its flights would be canceled today, actually had to cancel 20% because of additional unanticipated problems.

BA had promised that all long haul flights would operate normally Saturday, but that also didnâ''t happen as some flights left without passengersâ'' baggage.

Having the flight canceled may have been the wish of passengers on their way to Larnaca who waited on the tarmac for four hours, saw their luggage loaded, and then removed from the plane. They were told that it had not been screened properly. The plane left without its passengers' luggage, which BA said would be sent to Larnarca by the next available flight or air courier.

Another 10% to 15% of flights are expected to be canceled on Sunday.

BA, however, is ever upbeat, with spokespersons saying that â''onlyâ'' 244 flights out of 1320 would be canceled from Thursday to Sunday, and that, "On the whole, the day (Saturday) has gone reasonably well.â''

BA apologized again today to the 24,000 people whose flights were (or are going to be) affected. It also had to apologize to stranded passengers for saying that it would only compensate them £100 for the inconvenience, when European Union regulations state that airlines must provide hotels for all passengers delayed overnight with no maximum cost.

BA may face fines of up to £5,000 per passenger for misleading passengers over compensation rights for delayed or canceled flights.

And to add a bit more salt in the wound, the fiasco forced BA to scrap a multi-million pound advert campaign planned for next week that was going to emphasize how easy it is for travelers to go through Terminal 5 and collect their bags.

I wonder if passengers have started to sing Monty Python's "I'm So Worried" yet.

Hannaford Breach: A Potential Sea Change in Attack Approach

The Boston Globe reports that malware was secretly installed on every one of the 300 or so Hannaford grocery stores' servers. The malware, according to the Globe, "intercepted card data from customers as they paid with plastic at store checkout counters, and sent the data overseas." Over 4.2 million Hannaford customer credit and debit card numbers were stolen, and at least 1,800 fraud cases have so far been reported.

Hannaford is not certain how the malware got installed (although an inside job is suspected), but regardless intercepting data in transit ratchets up the level of sophistication of hacking attacks and the level of danger to customer data.

Hannaford was certified as being Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI) compliant, which means it probably won't have to pay banks and others any breach-related expenses, like the costs of re-issuing credit cards.

It also points out that PCI compliance does not mean total security, either.

Heathrow Terminal 5: A Bit Shambolic

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The problems at BA's (British Airways) London Heathrow's new Terminal 5 continued into today. Trying to stem more problems for occurring, BA canceled 20% of its flights before the day began. It also encouraged passengers to fly only with hand luggage. I guess that is better than what happened yesterday when passengers on a number of flights got off at their destination and only then were told that their luggage hadn't been put on the plane.

The Guardian has a story about the breakdown that happened yesterday - it describes "a catalogue of errors led by serious problems with BA's new baggage sorting regime (that) caused the entire system to collapse within hours." It started with "a lack of staff spaces in a specially-designated car park" for baggage system operators, followed quickly by baggage system operators "unable to log on to the computer system, which caused three flights to 'cut and run' and fly off without bags - creating the first backlog of the day." It degenerated from there.

Other new Terminal 5 IT systems like the one that is supposed to help allocate staff resources to problem areas in an event of a crisis occurring, failed to work as expected as well.

Today, the problems continue, mostly BA said, caused by the "knock-on" effects of yesterday's fiasco. The head of strategy for BAA, the airport operator, claimed that, "We're very comfortable in the performance of the (baggage) system itself ..." but that it was the baggage system operators' fault for the problems that were being experienced. Maybe next time, BAA should create a baggage system that can operate completely without any human intervention. I know, get some robots!

More flights are going to be canceled over the weekend, in hopes of getting over the "teething problems."

BA chief executive Willie Walsh finally figured out that his "things are great" view of yesterday didn't sync with reality. So, Walsh did what all CEOs do, he accepted responsibility without really accepting responsibility. This is what Walsh told the Guardian:

" 'I am accepting responsibility that the buck stops with me. ... It was definitely not our finest hour. Maybe we set our expectations too high. We clearly made mistakes but I am absolutely determined to make this work.' "

When asked whether he would resign, he said, "No, I am not."

Maybe things will be better for passengers by next week, if they can get to the airport. London Underground staff are vowing to go on strike for three days next week which will close down the Tube, and make traveling in the London area a right shambolic mess.

More Peeking at Passports at State Department?

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It is now being reported that other celebrities and politicians have had their passport applications peaked at. For instance, the late Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith, apparently was viewed at least 20 times since January 2007.

However, it is unclear if all accesses were unauthorized.

As a side note, a CNN report in February, well before this passport flap occurred, looked at the practice of not only government employees digging through confidential information, but employees at utilities, telecommunications and accounting companies who snoop through customer data.

The story noted that at one utility, Wisconsin's WE Energies, employees were searching its databases for information on their friends, local celebs, and others. The databases, the story noted, "include credit and banking information, payment histories, Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers, and energy usage. n some cases, it even includes income and medical information."

The CNN story also noted that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disciplined 219 employees last year for browsing through confidential taxpayer information; that was more than twice as many as in 2006.

Heathrow Baggage Meltdown Again - At New Terminal 5

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"It is all tried, tested and ready to go," or so said Tom Garside two weeks ago in reference to the new state of art baggage handling system at London Heathrow's new Terminal 5. Garside is the head of systems and integration for BAA, the airport operator, at Terminal 5.

For the last six months, both BAA and BA (British Airways) have been testing the baggage system and both have been supremely confident that it, the other Terminal 5 IT support systems, along with the staff were all up to speed ready to work on Terminal 5's opening day - today.

However, BAA and BA are blaming "technical glitches" and "staff familiarisation" issues for causing "teething problems" which have in turned created baggage delays of up to three hours and the cancellation of at least 34 flights by early this afternoon. In fact, except for the new digs, it sounds like a normal day over at BA's old Terminal 4.

In one reported case, a plane on its way to Los Angeles was still on the tarmac after more than three hours waiting for its luggage to be loaded. Unfortunately, it appears that the baggage system software indicated that the flight had already left. As a result, the bags which were ready to be loaded were returned instead to the terminal - I guess to be sent on other planes going to LA.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh was quoted today as saying "I'm absolutely delighted with the way things have gone so far. I think it's great."

If today was a great day, I really would hate to see what Walsh thinks is a bad day.

Update:

The wait time for luggage reached up to four hours late this afternoon.

In addition, the mounting problems with its baggage system has now forced BA to announce that check-in of all hold luggage would be suspended on Thursday evening. According to BA, "We are experiencing significant disruption to flights departing from Heathrow Terminal 5 due to problems associated with processing customersâ'' hold baggage. As a result, customers due to travel on flights departing Terminal 5 this evening will be able to travel with hand baggage only."

BA went on to say, "We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience this has caused our customers."

No news on whether BA chief executive Willie Walsh still thinks it has been a great opening day.

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IEEE Spectrum's risk analysis blog, featuring daily news, updates and analysis on computing and IT projects, software and systems failures, successes and innovations, security threats, and more.

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Willie D. Jones
 
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