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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Squirrel 'threat' to critical infrastructure

From The BBC

17th Jan 2017

The real threat to global critical infrastructure is not enemy states or organisations but squirrels, according to one security expert. Cris Thomas has been tracking power cuts caused by animals since 2013. Squirrels, birds, rats and snakes have been responsible for more than 1,700 power cuts affecting nearly 5 million people, he told a security conference. He explained that by tracking these issues, he was seeking to dispel the hype around cyber-attacks. His Cyber Squirrel 1 project was set up to counteract what he called the "ludicrousness of cyber-war claims by people at high levels in government and industry", he told the audience at the Shmoocon security conference in Washington.

Squirrels topped the list with 879 "attacks", followed by:

birds - 434
snakes - 83
raccoons - 72
rats - 36
martens - 22
frogs – 3

He concludes that the damage done by real cyber-attacks - Stuxnet's destruction of Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges and disruption to Ukrainian power plants being the most high profile - was tiny compared to the "cyber-threat" posed by animals. Most of the animal "attacks" were on power cables but Mr Thomas also discovered that jellyfish had shut down a Swedish nuclear power plant in 2013, by clogging the pipes that carry cool water to the turbines. He also discovered that there have been eight deaths attributed to animal attacks on infrastructure, including six caused by squirrels downing power lines that then struck people on the ground. Mr Thomas - better known as SpaceRogue - set up Cyber Squirrel 1 as a Twitter feed in March 2013 and initially collected information from Google alerts.

It has since evolved into a much larger project - collecting information from search engines and other web sources. Mr Thomas only collected reports compiled in the English language and admitted that he was probably only capturing "a fraction" of animal-related power cuts worldwide. "The major difference between natural events, be they geological, meteorological or furry, is that cyber-attacks are deliberate orchestrated by humans," said Luis Corrons, technical director of security firm PandaLabs. "While natural disasters are taken into account when critical infrastructure facilities are built, that's not the case with computers. Most critical facilities were never designed to connect to the rest of the world, so the kind of security they implemented was taking care of the physical world surrounding them. The number of potential attackers is growing, the number of potential targets is also going up. So we all need to reinforce our defences to the maximum - and also worry about squirrels."

[Well, it makes a nice change from all of the present hype around the bogyman of the week that the press and governments around the world present us with. Save the Future and start killing cute little animals! No, it really doesn’t have the same ring to it…..]

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Just Finished Reading: A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan (FP: 1974)

It was the largest aerial assault ever conceived, even bigger than that used as part of the D-Day invasion and was billed to be (and believed to be) capable of shortening the war by as much as a year. It was a bold plan, actually so beyond bold it was actually reckless and ambitious so much so that it reeked of hubris, yet oddly originating with a man known for his caution and meticulous planning – the British hero of the Western Desert - General Bernard Montgomery.

The plan itself was deceptively simple: drop troops and equipment up to 60 miles behind enemy lines in a blanket from the Dutch border to the Rhine with the aim to capture and hold all of the major bridges allowing Allied armour to punch a hole through the thinly held German defences into the heart of industrial Germany itself. Within a matter of days Allied forces could be in the Ruhr holding or destroying Germany’s mighty industries on which her military strength depended. The idea was so dazzling that few opposed it and even fewer raised the obvious concerns, of which there were many:

Could all of the bridges be captured intact and held long enough by lightly armed troops to give the amour time enough to arrive and rescue them?

Could the airborne forces be resupplied to the extent they needed to be?

What would happen if one or more of the bridges was destroyed or severally damaged?

What is German resistance proved more able than reports of the old, sick and inexperienced troop’s suspected to be in the area warranted?

What would happen if anything major went wrong? Anything at all?

Well, the British airborne forces in particular where about to find out, not when anything went wrong but when everything went wrong.

The last bridge in the long string of bridges was the magnificent structure at Arnhem. If that could not be captured or held for at least two days then everything else getting to that point was wasted. But with no near-by drop zones, ineffective communications, lost equipment and the earlier dismissed rumour of armour in the area proving true (to the tune of two SS Panzer divisions resting up from their retreat from France). Unable to report their situation it had to be assumed (hoped) that the bridge had been taken – where only one side was actually in British hands – and the armour was sent hell for leather to reach them. From the very first the assault was plagued with problems. Advancing down a single road the armoured columns were easy prey for well sighted anti-tank guns. Air support was intermittent due to bad weather and a seeming reluctance to engage enemy units as the opportunity arose. Expert knowledge from the Dutch resistance was politely declined by the British commanders (yet used to advantage by the less fussy Americans) so vital intelligence was missed – including opportunities to use the telephone system to overcome problems with the radios. Then, of course, the inevitable happened – they lost a bridge and the tight timetable, so vital and so achievable on paper fell apart. The Arnhem enclave, expected to last for two days, lasted for nine under increasingly heavy fire and mounting casualties before it was overrun with Allied tanks only a mile or so away. The operation – Market Garden – had failed.

Spectacularly filmed in 1977 movie of the same name this was unsurprisingly on an epic scale with a cast of (seemingly) every major star from England, America and German background – although whoever cast Gene Hackman as the Polish Major General Sosabowski should be shot. Much of the detail of the bestselling popular history made it into the movie although the film was considerably toned down from the often harrowing stories related in this honestly gripping tale. I was not surprised in the least that it had spent months on the bestseller list. It is still a great work of military history and should be a standard reference work for any military commander responsible for putting troop’s lives on the line to show what can go wrong especially with the most optimistic of plans. If you have any interest in WW2, ‘simple’ Heroism, military blunders or simply want to read a master study of Murphy’s Law in brutal action then this is definitely the book for you. Highly Recommended.      

Monday, January 16, 2017

I'll get right on it little guy....... [grin]

Just Finished Reading: Mr Holmes by Mitch Cullin (FP: 2005)

Sussex, England 1947. An aging and long retired Sherlock Holmes (played superbly by Sir Ian McKellen in the 2015 movie adaptation) returns to his favourite farmhouse residence and his consuming passion – his thriving apiary containing a fine collection of hives, busy bees and a steady production of fine honey. But Holmes is more than aware that his memory, often the vital component in his famous investigations, is increasingly failing him. He finds seemingly unconnected items in his pockets, others vanish from sight only to reappear minutes, hours or days later and, rather more worryingly he is starting to forget people’s names. Yet his memories of years gone by seem as strong as ever sometimes washing over him is astonishing detail. One case in particular continues to haunt him. Called in to explain the behaviour of Mrs Ann Keller in 1902 he is immediately struck both by her beauty and her tragic ethereal quality. Even after the passage of 45 years Holmes still ruminates on the reason why she had such a profound effect on him after such a brief acquaintance. More recently Holmes is troubled by his behaviour in Japan when, whilst searching for life extending herbs and discussing the properties of Royal Jelly with a fellow bee keeper, he is asked about his companions father who disappeared in London decades before after (apparently) meeting the famous detective. Having no memory of the encounter – either through memory loss or the fact that they never actually met – Holmes find himself torn between revealing the truth of the matter or manufacturing a face-saving lie which goes against all of his finely honed principles. Then there is Roger, the young boy, son of his new housekeeper, eager to hear stories of crimes solved and the mysterious ways of the beehive.

Both a rather odd film – definitely not your run-of-the-mill Sherlock Holmes story – and an equally strange book this turned out to be both a delight to watch (I saw it at the cinema when it came out) and to read. To use the much abused and overused appellation this was simply beautiful in the use of prose and you could have no problem understanding the frustration and the heart-breaking reality of a once towering intellect now unable to remember if he had in fact eaten dinner or where he had left his pipe. Inevitably whenever I visualised Holmes I ‘saw’ Ian McKellen in my mind as he was such a powerful presence on the screen portraying a once great detective in terminal decline. But that is not to say that this is simply a tragic novel of decay and ultimate death. There is much to wonder at and much that is original and surprising. I found it an easy read and kept turning the 253 pages until the very satisfying ending with something of a sigh and a thought that I should dig out more of Mr Cullin’s works if this was anything to go by. Recommended – and not just for Holmes fans.    

A Scottish newspaper's TV listing of President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration has caught people's attention both in the UK and the US.

The Sunday Herald TV critic Damien Love reimagined the ceremony as a return of the classic science fiction series The Twilight Zone.

President Trump: The Inauguration

4pm, BBC One/ STV

"After a long absence, The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history. Sci-fi writers have dabbled often with alternative history stories - among the most common is the "What If The Nazis Had Won The Second World War" setting - but this huge interactive virtual reality project, which will unfold on TV, in the press, and on Twitter over the next four years, sets out to build an ongoing alternative present.

The story begins in a nightmarish version of 2017 in which huge sections of the US electorate have somehow been duped into voting to make Donald Trump president. It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but as it goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible. Today's feature-length opener concentrates on the gaudy inauguration of President Trump, and the stirrings of protest and despair surrounding the ceremony, while pundits speculate gravely on what lies ahead. It's a flawed piece, but a disturbing glimpse of the horrors we could stumble into, if we're not careful."

[From the BBC]