Risk Factor iconRisk Factor

Cell Phone and Landline Spending Practically Equal in 2006


Data from the Bureau of Labor Statisticsâ'' Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) show that cellular phone expenditures increased rapidly from 2001 through 2006. When coupled with a decrease in spending on residential landline phone services (residential phone services) over the same period, spending on the two types of services were practically equal in 2006.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, expenditures for cellular phone services per consumer unit rose from $210 in 2001 to $524 in 2006, an increase of 149 percent. Expenditures for residential phone services per consumer unit fell from $686 in 2001 to $542 in 2006, a decline of 21 percent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provided no guess as to when landlines will be going the way of the telegraph.

More Lost UK Citizen Info: This Time in the US

The London Times reports that Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, told MPs today that the personal details of three million UK learner drivers have been lost this past May. The data, which contained contained the name of the test applicant, their mail address and telephone number but no details of any individualâ''s bank account or credit card, was housed on a hard drive in the Iowa City offices of Pearson Driving Assessments Ltd, a company employed by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

This unexpected disclosure came as Ms. Kelly was being asked to talk about the recent loss of two unencrypted computer discs containing the names and addresses of over 6,000 motorists in Northern Ireland.

In other news, the interim report of the "Poynter Review" investigating the loss of CDs containing the personal details of 25 million UK citizens that was expected last Friday appears not to be forthcoming after all. Now it looks like everyone is going to have to wait until the full report is finished, supposedly by June of next year, pending, of course, the amount of embarrassing information it contains.

Though no reasons was given, I suspect part of it was this little exchange during Parliamentary questioning of Mr. David Hartnett, acting Director of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

"Q356 Mr Todd: I suppose one of the puzzles to anyone who knows anything about the systems is that it was actually technically possible to do this. Not that some senior manager did not know about it; it should not have been possible for one individual member of staff to produce a file of this kind and despatch it; there should have been a built in bar in your system which required some sort of intervention to achieve that outcome. That has been a puzzle to me from the start. Can you throw any light on that?

Mr Hartnett: Mr Todd, it is a puzzle to me as well, I have to say, but let me explain what was going on here because I think it may help. I think Kieran Poynter's work really has got to help us with this. The data that was in Waterview Park in the North East was drawn off from the child benefit computer system. That is in a different building and it was needed for what we call claimant compliance, to check that we were paying child benefit in circumstances where it was due. It was brought to Waterview Park and loaded up on to a secure, stand-alone desk-top computer in a secure environment, and from that the people with access to it draw off samples for our claimant compliance people with our people saying, "This is the sort of sample I need." The emails are interesting in this context, because they show no expectation at all that the data would ever have left our offices, but I think you are onto a crucial question, and that is how on earth was it possible ever to draw down a full copy? At the moment I know it clearly was possible, but---

Q357 Mr Todd: That is an issue of system design.

Mr Hartnett: Exactly; absolutely."

So, from this and other bits of Harnett's testimony, it is clear that there is a systemic security problem at HM Revenue and Customs, even as Prime Minister Gordon Brown insists there isn't.

Expect Mr. Hartnett to be shown the door early next year - I bet he'll be "wanting to spend more time with his family."

Parking In Trondheim Norway? Bring Lots of Money

parking-meter.gif The AP wire service reported yesterday that last Wednesday a computer problem caused a parking machine dispensing windshield parking permits to multiply the amount of time a motorist bought using their bank debit cards by 10,000, and automatically deducted it from their bank accounts. At least 26 motorists in the central Norwegian city of Trondheim were affected.

Motorists who parked were charged between $37,000 and $148,000, which resulted in over-drawn and frozen bank accounts.

City and bank officials said that they are trying to clear the accounts by the end of this weekend.

The parking company offered no explanation on why the error occurred only on this one machine.

UK Data Protection Rules: Too Sensitive to Share

Top-Secret.gif The Guardian newspaper is reporting today that there is an official HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) manual describing official, strict instructions on how to share confidential information with other government departments. Unfortunately, the information contained within the manual was thought to be too sensitive to share will the staff at HMRC so instead only a few senior civil servants had access to it.

As you may recall, when the loss of the data was first announced by the UK government, it blamed junior civil servants for not following the rules. Now it appears the junior staff are not trusted with knowing what the rules are, but they will be help liable if they violate them. Sounds a little Kafkaesque.

The Guardian also reports that it has cost £2m in postage alone to send letters warning those whose data was lost that they should consider changing their bank passwords and pin numbers to prevent fraud.

Yes, Virginia: IT Security Does Seem to Be Getting Worse

USA Today reported this week that more than 162 million personal records have been reported lost or stolen in 2007, triple the 49.7 million that were reported missing in 2006.

The story notes that: "Volunteers at Attrition.org keep track of incidents, mostly in the USA, many of which are made public to meet new data-loss-disclosure laws. Of more than 300 cases tracked in 2007, 261 were reported in the USA, 16 in Great Britain, 15 in Canada, six in Japan, two in Australia, and one each in Denmark, Ireland, Sweden and Norway."

This is likely an undercount, since when the story was written, the latest cases in the Canada and the UK were not yet reported.

The story also noted that arrests or prosecutions have been reported in just 19 cases.

Okay, there is just a little under three weeks until 2008. Any guess for the final 2007 tally as provided by Attrition.org? I figure it will be around 170 million - I'm counting on the good folks in the UK government to help make the number.

Grab the Waders: UK Flood of Lost Personal Info

wading-boots-2.gif The Driver and Vehicle Agency in Coleraine, Co Derry has admitted Tuesday that two unencrypted computer discs containing the names and addresses of over 6 000 motorists in Northern Ireland have been lost in the post.

Separately, the HM Prison Service disclosed that confidential personal details of dozens of prisoners intended to be sent to Norfolk police were instead delivered to a private company. The letters gave names, criminal histories and addresses of more than 40 serious offenders that were being released - including pedophiles.

Similarly, the National Health Service (NHS) that Sefton Primary Care Trust has sent thousands of staff records to four private companies by mistake. The personal details included dates of birth, national insurance numbers, pensions and salary details.

Then yesterday, the NHS also confirmed that a computer disc containing the names, dates of birth and addresses of 160,000 children data was sent to St Leonard's Hospital in Hackney but failed to reach the right department - even though it was signed for by hospital staff. At least in this case, the data was encrypted using a 256 bit cipher.

UK Data Loss: No Harm, No Foul

CD_Object.gif UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was asked MP Edward Leigh during a meeting with the Parliamentary IT body Pitcom about the IT security issues at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and whether they represented a systemic failure. According to the Register, Brown said there was a difference between rules not being followed and failure of procedures and systems. (True, but irrelevant.)

Brown also added that no one had lost any money.

Right then, no harm, no foul. Play on!

Déjà vu - Sensitive Canadian Data Missing in Post

It is being reported by CTV.CA that private medical information on 140 British Columbia and 480 New Brunswick residents contained on four unencrypted magnetic tapes disappeared. Information on the tapes includes names, Medical Services Plan numbers, birth dates and possibly some description of services rendered and the costs of those services.

The information was "misplaced" on October 5, but New Brunswick medicare authorities were not made aware of the loss until Oct. 25. The province's director of medicare operations did not know about the vanished information until Nov. 29.

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis who is investigating the loss said that he was "appalled that health information is being transmitted in such an insecure way."

Who Speaks For Humans?

alien-mask-3.gif In today's Wall Street Journal, there was a note regarding a story that is in Seed science magazine regarding the question:

"If aliens are out there, how should Earthlings go about getting in touch with them?"

"The question has provoked arcane but furious debate among scientists searching for extraterrestrials. Because scientists haven't picked up signs of alien life near Earth, the debate is essentially philosophical, revolving around such issues as who rightly speaks for humanity and whether humans want to draw the attention of possibly hostile life forms."

"A dispute erupted recently among scientists over an effort to draft a protocol for messages going from Earth into space, reports David Grinspoon in Seed, a science magazine. Several scientists who believe that governments and other scientists should be consulted prior to any space-bound communications resigned in protest from a prominent study group on extraterrestrial intelligence."

This got me to thinking about my earlier post on Microsoft's error reporting, and my joking reference about it possibility being a search for artificial intelligence. However, what happens if a computer does indeed become self aware? Who speaks for the human race, and does the first self-aware computer speak for ones that come after it?

UK Data Scandal Was Predicted Years Ago

CD_Object.gif Last week, Forbes reported that Prime Minister Gordon Brown disagreed with the acting chairman of the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) David Hartnett's portrayal that the numerous HMRC data breaches over the past few years "may well" indicate a systemic operational failure.

"I don't accept that that is what the chairman ...said," said Brown.

Okay, I guess he didn't say it.

Over the weekend, the Sunday Telegraph published a story that said senior HMRC officials were warned by auditors in March 2004 that, ".. letting junior staff have access to the entire system was a recipe for disaster." The auditors also said, "... mistakes would not be detected and that the system was open to fraud."

Hmm, again I am left to wonder what actually does constitute a systemic operational failure in the eyes of senior UK government officials?


Risk Factor

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.

Willie D. Jones
Load More