#TechTop3 – Our top three tech stories of the week

By September 26, 2014EU

By the London Technology Team

The Internet’s ‘backbone’ under threat

Just as the furore around the ‘Heartbleed’ bug was dying down, another software bug has rocked the world of cyber-security. Cue ‘Shellshock’, a security vulnerability in ‘Bash’ (the command-line shell used in many Linux and Unix operating systems) that “threatens the internet’s backbone”. Of greatest fear is that attackers could use the bug to create ‘worms’; attacks that automatically replicate across machines. Cyber-security experts have recommended that anyone running systems using Bash should deploy the most up to date security patches and the news media have reported widely on the bug, including particularly thorough and accessible contributions from the FT’s Sam Jones.

Whilst many considered the Heartbleed bug to be about as serious as they came, ‘Shellshock’ is the new 10/10 on the severity scale. A dubious ‘silver lining’ for concerned members of the public (and unlike the ‘Heartbleed’ bug) there is nothing that a comprehensive session of resetting online passwords will do to help. ‘Shellshock’ has the capacity to allow attackers to take remote control of computers and mobile devices using Bash. There have been conflicting reports over the real world effect thus far and whether fears remain hypothetical. However, cyber security firms are reporting evidence of malicious attacks using the ‘Shellshock’ vulnerability, and as early as Wednesday GCHQ warned that critical national infrastructure was impacted by the bug.

Those looking for someone to blame for this latest critical breach are unlikely to find a satisfactory answer. However, the bug has further focused attention on the peculiar reliance that the technology industry has on engrained, Open Source Software maintained by small teams often made up of volunteers. For instance, the responsibility for Bash lies with one individual, a certain Chet Ramey from Ohio, a developer based at Case Western Reserve University. As human reliance on digital grows and 21st century life continues to migrate online, it will be of considerable concern to many that such great responsibility rests with so few.

Google versus the EU…again

The troubled relations between Google and the EU Commission saw no sign of abating this week as the company’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt warned that technology innovation will be “stifled and startups strangled” unless the status quo changed. Schmidt made those comments in a blog article for Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda for Europe, as part of a series entitled “Digital Minds for New Europe”. Schmidt welcomed new Commission President Juncker’s call for the completion of Europe’s digital single market and urged the EU to embrace disruptive technologies – praising Kroes’ decision to tweet against a Belgian court decision to ban the taxi sharing service Uber. Schmidt concluded that Europe will play a leading role in the global digital economy and in doing so will address its stubbornly high unemployment rate, if the Commission successfully introduces effective reform.

Schmidt’s intervention came as Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said that Google faced formal charges if it failed to formulate an appropriate plan to give equal prominence to rival search engines. The dispute dates back to 2010 when rivals lamented the way that the search engine displayed results, arguing that they favoured Google products and services. Google’s proposed solution, suggested in February, was rejected after 20 formal complaints and Almunia, who steps down in October, said if the next set of proposals failed to impress, the next logical step would be to issue a fine. EU rules stipulate that companies falling foul of anti-trust laws can be fined up to 10% of their annual sales.

You can read excellent summaries of these developments from the BBC, The Times and CNET.

Hello Ello? Is this the new Facebook?

The declaration by the news media that the ‘next Facebook’ has been discovered seems to be an almost weekly occurrence; however, the excitement surrounding Ello over the past week has been particularly widespread.  Ello, which is currently still in an invite-only beta format, is a new social network with a difference, positioning itself as having a social conscience.

Indeed, as explained by Ruby Murray in the Guardian it even has its own manifesto, featuring the claim – clearly targeted at its rivals – that social networks ‘can be a tool for empowerment, not a tool to deceive, coerce and manipulate – but a place to connect, create and celebrate life’. Ello’s goals of protecting user-data whilst remaining advertising free are striking due to their departure from the commonly used approach of the large social networks. Unsurprisingly, the website’s refusal to feature any advertising at all has resulted in a great deal of scepticism over whether the site will be able to monetise its user base. However, Ello claims that it will be able to make money and will do so through selling features – an approach that doesn’t appear entirely convincing at first glance.

The level of discussion and scrutiny of this new social network over the past few days has been remarkable, with the website coming under much criticism over pornographic content being featured, being accused of banning content due to incorrectly defining it as hate speech and also being described as being on the verge of collapse. This having been said, it is undeniable that the approach of Ello, and the contrast between its behaviour and that of Google and Facebook, will appeal to a great number of Internet users.

Particularly interesting articles on Ello have been featured this week in the Telegraph, Guardian and Independent.