Tag: british

GCHQ builds a very British supercomputer

logoBritish spooks have built themselves a new supercomputer made by connecting Blackberry Pis all made in Britain.

GCHQ, the UK equivalent of the NSA, has created a 66 Raspberry Pi cluster called the Bramble for “educational” purposes. It is not clear what those education purposes are, but you are unlikely to need a supercomputer to make a dry martini, or do your seven times table.

The spooks had an internal competition to invent something and three, unnamed, GCHQ technologists decided that other Pi clusters were too ad-hoc. They set created a cluster that could be reproduced as a standard architecture to create a commodity cluster.

The basic unit of the cluster is a set of eight networked Pis, called an “OctaPi” – one thing you have to admit is that the Raspberry Pi. The size of the OctaPi was dictated by the need to make the unit reasonable from the point of view of size, power consumption, cooling and so on. The Pis are driven by power over ethernet (PoE) to reduce the wiring and each one has an LED display.

Each OctaPi can be used standalone or hooked up to make a bigger cluster. In the case of the Bramble a total of eight OctaPis makes the cluster 64 processors strong.

There are two head control nodes, which couple the cluster to the outside world. Each head node has one Pi, a wired and WiFi connection, realtime clock, a touch screen and a camera.

All of the Pis are model Bs, but changing to a B2 would make the cluster a lot more powerful and cost about the same.

Rather than just adopt a standard cluster application like Hadoop, OctaPi’s creators decided to develop their own. The software to manage the cluster is now based on Node.js, Bootstrap and Angular.

The Bramble was shown off at the recent Big Bang Fair held in Birmingham, UK, which was aimed at getting children interested in science and engineering.

According to the press release: “The initial aim for the cluster was as a teaching tool for GCHQ’s software engineering community… The ultimate aim is to use the OctaPi concept in schools to help teach efficient and effective programming. Watch this space for more details!”

British army gets its own social networking unit

article-2630396-1DE5D1E700000578-447_470x721The British Army is setting up a psy-ops unit that will fight its battles on social media “in the information age”.

Head of the Army General Sir Nick Carter said the move was about trying to operate “smarter”.

Dubbed the 77th Brigade, the unit will be made up of reservists and regular troops and based in Hermitage, Berkshire.

Apparently, it has been inspired by the Chindits who fought in Burma in World War Two and seeks “new ways of allowing civilians with bespoke skills to serve alongside their military counterparts”.

Chindits was the name given to the Long Range Penetration (LRP) groups that operated in the Burmese jungle behind enemy lines, targeting Japanese communications.

The new unit will also use the old Chindit insignia of a Chinthe, a mythical Burmese creature which is half-lion and half-dragon.

The unit recognises that the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent and it draws heavily on important lessons from our commitments to operations in Afghanistan amongst others.

Recruitment for the brigade, 42 percent of whose personnel will be reservists, will begin this spring.

Its members will come from the Royal Navy and RAF as well as from the Army.



Obama joins British calls for encryption back-doors

 revolutionPresident Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David “One is an Ordinary Bloke” Cameron are singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to the matter of encryption.

Obama has issued a statement that he can’t see why police and spies should not be locked out of encrypted smartphones and messaging apps.  Clearly he has not been paying much attention to the Snowden affair where it appears that the lack of encryption gave US and UK snoops huge powers over the lives of the great unwashed, while not making much difference to terrorists or criminals.

Apple, Google  and Facebook  have introduced encrypted products in the past half year that the companies say they could not unscramble, even if faced with a search warrant. That’s prompted vocal complaints from spy chiefs, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In fact Obama’s comments came after two days of meetings with Cameron, and were made with his loyal lapdog at his side.

“If we find evidence of a terrorist plot… and despite having a phone number, despite having a social media address or email address, we can’t penetrate that, that’s a problem,” Obama said.

He insisted that US tech-giants are on the side of the spooks.

He said that “They’re patriots.”  Standing next to a British Prime Minister claiming that people who are publically claiming they are working to stop UK and US spooks are actually working for them is a hugely ironic piece of disinformation.

Google, Apple and Microsoft have spent a fortune encrypting links to their networks to keep “tyranny” out. If they are patriots then they are unlikely to side with the British, if US history is anything to go by.

In the US, governments have long been able to access the contents of electronic communication, including phone calls, consumer email and social media, with warrants, through wiretaps and from technology companies themselves.

But the law that governs these practices is dated and doesn’t mandate tech firms incorporate such features into modern apps.

The president wants a technical way to keep information private, but ensure that police and spies can listen in when a court approves. He is on a hiding to no-where with this one. Bill Clinton tried for a “clipper chip” that would allow only the government to decrypt scrambled messages.

Security experts have long argued such systems would tigger anti-hacking tools, leaving computers exposed. An encryption algorithm with a master key, it is inherently weaker because it’s possible for an outsider to steal that master key and crack the code.

What is worrying about this particular transatlantic accord is that the UK is more likely to get it into law than the US.

Security experts have warned that you can’t have secure systems with backdoors and that if you bring in such rules you will be making it easier for terrorists to take control of systems.


Cameron wants to read all internet communication

stupid cameronBritish Prime Minister David “one is an ordinary bloke” Cameron is insisting that he should be allowed to read any internet communication on the planet.

Cameron claims that there are places on the world wide wibble where terrorists can hide and he wants a  “comprehensive piece of legislation” to close the “safe spaces”. To do this he wants authorities to be able to access the details of communications and their content.

Apparently all the surveillance powers Cameron already has were not enough to stop an attack similar to the one which happened in Paris taking place in Blighty.

Mr Cameron said the recent attacks in Paris showed the need for such a move and he said he was comfortable that it was appropriate in a “modern liberal democracy”.  After all he and his chums will not be snooped on.

Speaking at an event in the East Midlands, Cameron said he recognised such powers were “very intrusive” but he believed that they were justified to counter the growing threat to the UK, as long as proper legal safeguards were in place.

The coalition introduced emergency legislation last year to maintain internet and phone companies’ obligation to store their customers’ personal communications data and to give access to the police.

But an attempt to extend these powers to include internet browsing history and social media sites were dropped following opposition from the Liberal Democrats.

Legislation would be needed to allow for “more modern forms of communication.”

He would also legislate in the “more contentious” area of the content of these online communications. There should be no “means of communication” which “we cannot read,” he said.

Previous governments had backed away from going down such a route, Cameron said, but he believed this would have to change so that, “in extremis,” such material could be obtained with a signed warrant from the home secretary.

It looks like voting him out will not get rid of such a law either — Labour leader Ed Miliband said it was important for security services to “keep up to date with technology” but said it had to be “done in the right way”, with “basic liberties” protected.

“That’s why we said there needs to be an independent look at these issues, to make recommendations about what needs to be changed for the future,” he added.

In other words, it is not fair you letting Cameron look at your emails I want a peek too.

Liberal Democrat Civil Liberties Minister Simon Hughes said he would not support “blanket powers” that would take away the liberties of “innocent civilians.”

What no one seems to be understanding is that if any government brings in laws the terrorists will work out a way to avoid them and it will be ordinary people who cannot get around the laws who will lose their privacy.