Edward Miliband in confusion over tax

Edward Miliband had just announced he’s going to restore the 10p rate of Income Tax if anyone is stupid enough to vote for him. Interesting. He’s going to pay for it with a divisively-named “Mansion Tax” on properties worth more than £2M. This may be appealing for the numerically challenged, but does it makes sense? What are the figures  The BBC is reporting this kind of stuff without bothering to work it out.

First off, how many houses are worth more than £2M? No one really knows, but according to the Land Registry, 1,620 houses worth £2M+ were sold in 2012. Let’s say they change hands every ten years on average, so there are about 16,000. I don’t know if this is the correct figure, but hacks reporting the story aren’t even asking the this question.

How much did it cost when Gordon Brown scrapped the 10p rate of income tax?  Apparently it raised £3.5B. I’ve seen 7Bn bandied about, but £3.5Bn was the figure Alistair Darling was working with (according to reports in the Guardian at the time). So that works out at £218K tax a year per £2M house in the country. That’s more than 10% of the value of the asset. It’s not that difficult for someone in London to end up living in a £2M house but to otherwise be of limited wealth; it’s their house not their income. They certainly won’t be earning the kind of money to pay such a huge levy – they could very well be pensioners, albeit likely to have a relatively good private pension. But not that good!

So the arithmetic doesn’t work; is anything else thought through?

In Bradford today, Miliband said: “We would put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government.”

Funny that. In 2008 he said of abolishing  the 10p rate, “When you make a big set of changes in the tax system, some people do lose out. That is a matter of regret. Of course it is. But overall these changes make the tax system fairer.”

So having a 10p rate of tax is unfair? Taxing an asset value is certainly unfair.  Today he’s proposed to do both.

And that’s before you start looking at the practicalities – who knows the value of a property? A lot of it is already owned by overseas companies in order to avoid disproportionate taxation anyway.


Using ISO CD Images with Windows

When CD-R drives first turned up you needed special software to write anything – originally produced by Adaptec but soon overtaken by Nero, with NTI and Ulead having lower cost options. Now, when you get a PC it will usually come with one of the above bundled to do the job, and Microsoft has added the functionally to Windows since XP (for CD, if not DVD). Not good news for the independent producers, but Microsoft’s offering doesn’t quite make it so you do need something else.
My new Lenovo PC cable bundled with Corel Burn.Now. Corel recently bought the struggling Ulead, and this is fundamentally the same product. Unfortunately Burn.Now just doesn’t cut it – it can’t do the basics.
To duplicate a CD you need to copy all the data on it. Pretty obvious really! If you’re not copying drive-to-drive it makes sense to copy the data to a .ISO image on your hard disk. You can then transfer it to another machine, back it up or whatever, and write it to a new blank disk later. Burn.Now will create a CD from an ISO image, but if you ask it to copy a disk it uses its own weird and whacky .ixb format. Some versions of Burn.Now gave you the choice, but not with the new Corel one. This matters, because whilst everyone can write .ISO files, only Burn.Now can use .IXB.
So Burn.Now is no use. What about Microsoft’s current built-in options? You can actually write an ISO image using Windows 7 – just right-click on the file and select “Burn disc image”. Unfortunately there is no way to actually create such a file with Windows. To do this you need add Alex Feinman’s excellent ISO Recorder, which basically does the opposite: Right-click on the CD drive and select Create Image from CD/DVD.
I’ve yet to find an easy way of creating an ISO image using files and Lenovo’s Corel Burn.Now, but you can at least create a disk and then copy the ISO image off for archive and later duplication.
Unfortunately ISO Recorder doesn’t read all disks – it won’t handle Red Book for a start. This is a bit of a limitation – was Mr Feinman concerned about music piracy? Given Windows Media Player can clone everything on an Audio CD without difficult it won’t make a lot of difference.
So – Windows is its usual painful self. If you just want to simply create an image of a CD or DVD with no bells and whistles, go to UNIX where it’s been “built in” since the 1980’s (when CD-ROMs first appeared). Just use the original “dd” command:

dd if=/dev/acd0 of=my-file-name.iso bs=2048
An ISO file is simply a straight copy of the data on the disk, so this will create one for you. You can write it back using:

# burncd -f /dev/acd0 data my-file-name.iso fixate
# cdrecord dev=1,2,3 my-file-name.iso

Burncd is built in to FreeBSD (and Linux, IIRC), but only works with atapi drives. In the example it assumes the CD recorder is on /dev/acd0 (actually the default).
Cdrecord works with non atapi drives to, but has to be built from ports on FreeBSD and for other platforms it’s available here http://cdrecord.berlios.de/old/private/cdrecord.html – along with lots of other good stuff. The example assumes the device is 1,2,3 – which is unlikely! Run cdrecord -scanbus to locate the parameters for your drive.


A large minority of the UK population isn’t going to be at all surprised to hear horse DNA has been found in processed meat products – they’re already vegetarian/vegan or at a minimum, they choose organic meat products. The remainder either don’t know, or don’t want know. Either way, with the information on how animals are farmed widely available, I haven’t got a lot of sympathy with their current predicament.

But if you’re going to eat processed meat products, what’s so bad about horse? I’ve just been listening to an American campaigner on the radio warning that people go around the US buying old nags at auction and shipping them to Europe for food – horses that were probably pets (or from his soap-box, a race horse) and treated with drugs you wouldn’t give a farm animal such as phenylbutazone. He was particularly keen on mentioning this. Look it up – it’s an anti-inflammatory drug also given to people with arthritis and similar problems. It has side effects, including some rare but serious ones. Okay, so you wouldn’t want to dose anyone without good reason, but to get a dose from eating horse meat you’d have to literally eat the whole horse. And that would be one dose. I’m sure he was really motivated by the “horses are pets and we shouldn’t eat pets” attitude, but the BBC didn’t question his motivation at all.

So am I saying it’s okay to eat horses with phenylbutazone in their system? Well I wouldn’t eat it, but I wouldn’t eat any farmed meat, which is chocked full of legally introduced medication and kept, killed and processed in decidedly worrying conditions. Horses with shots of bute are no different to me. Think about it – if you don’t even know what species the meat is, you certainly can’t say much about where it came from. Actually finding a bit of horse in a beefburger sample changes nothing – it’s always been dodgy.

One thing you can probably say for certain is that New Labour and news media will be whipping up a bit of hysteria about this. They did it with the BSE crisis in the 1990s – remember that? Thousands will die due to eating disease contaminated meat? Of course it didn’t happen. They did it again when in power, in an over-reaction to Foot and Mouth, presumably to prevent the Conservative opposition playing the same trick on them. This is going to run and run (it’s bound to turn up everywhere following the inevitable further tests that are doubtless being considered right now).

If what’s in your meat worries you, become vegan (dairy products and eggs aren’t clean either). Otherwise, be aware that the meat processing business is pretty grim with this kind of thing going on behind the scenes all the time – and live with it. Can we have some real news now?

Nominet finally goes to court

Nominet Logo

If you’ve never heard of Nominet, you should have. It’s the organisation that manages most of the domain names ending in .uk. It was set up in 1996 as a company when the previous arrangements (known as the Naming Committee) became overwhelmed. The Naming Committee granted the use of domain names to their rightful owners for no charge, but only their rightful owners. Nominet charged, and was more relaxed about who it sold things to – being too picky meant less income, and it needed income to cope with the increased demand for Internet services.

The snag with this new arrangement was that it allowed speculators to register as many domain names as they wished, with a view to charging end users money to use something they’d pre-registered. This is known as cyber-squatting, although people in this business prefer to call themselves “domainers”.

Nominet was created for the benefit of Internet users in the UK, not cyber-squatters. Unfortunately, cyber-squatters register more domain names than anyone else (as they would), and started to get an undue influence based on their size. Cyber-squatters make various claims about how they’re important for a “vibrant market” in domain names, but there’s no benefit to society in such a market. You could say they’re trading in something that should be free to legitimate users. Some would go as far as to call them parasites. If any cyber-squatters or domainers wish to explain exactly why the label is unfair, please enlighten me.

Anyway, the Nominet board isn’t stupid and has, in recent years, done a lot to skew things in favour of UK Internet users. Not enough as far as I’m concerned, but they’re trying to look after the majority. The cyber-squatters don’t like this, and have started personal attacks on Nominet’s CEO, Lesley Cowley in an attempt to get rid of her with a view to installing someone more of their liking. What’s really upset them was a consultation to allow people to register names directly under .uk, without a .co.uk or .org.uk. For example, Tesco could have been tesco.uk, as is often the case in other countries. Legitimate UK ownership would have been verified, like in the old days, but they would also have cost more. Cyber-squatters hated the idea, because their current stock-pile of .co.uk names would have been somewhat devalued! They had to defeat Nominet in order to preserve their “investment”. The rest of us would have quite like to see the speculators clobbered, although I’ve never had the feeling that was Nominet’s intention.

Nominet has finally had enough, and late this afternoon launched a High Court action against Graeme Wingate and his company That Internet Ltd, citing “[unacceptable] harassment and victimisation of our staff”. What this is really about is whether Nominet is run for the benefit of everyone, or the cyber-squatters.


Vauxhall Helicopter Crash

I wouldn’t normally want to pre judge the reasons for an Air Accident but I’m getting a bit fed up with the twaddle appearing on the BBC and radio about the incident today where a helicopter appears to have hit a crane. Listening to Kate Hoey, MP for Vauxhall, making political points over it on the BBC just now is too much. Checking the NOTAMs for London, the following is in force between 07 Jan 2013 17:00 GMT and 15 Mar 2013 23:59 GMT.

12-10-0429/AS 2.

A NOTAM, or notice to Airman, is issued to all pilots and they’re required to check them against their flight plan in case there’s anything important they need to know about. In my day it was done on paper – now it’s on-line and really easy to check. This is basically saying there’s a crane erected that’s 770′ high at this location in Vauxhall. It’s lit at night (but not during the day). Keep at least a mile away.

It was clearly foggy, so the pilot should have given it a wide berth. On the face of it, it appears he didn’t. Eyewitnesses don’t report anything unusual about the helicopter.

Helicopters are supposed to be flying in to London over the Thames in order to provide a “safe” landing area in the event of trouble. (That’s safe to the people on the ground, at least). It appears to have been broadly in the right place. Ms Hoey is being populist, but then again, that’s her job.


Update 13:30

News reports now say that the helicopter had diverted; this might explain why the pilot wasn’t aware of the crane it the original route went nowhere near it, although flight plans should have diversion plans and NOTAMs for diversions should also be checked.

Much is now being made of people who said the lighting wasn’t good enough. Lighting in daylight isn’t normal (or useful) anyway, and neither is it any good in fog (day or night).

However, having seen aerial shots (they’re all up there with helicopters) the crane doesn’t appear to be at the location specified in the NOTAM. That could turn out to be a story, but I’m not on the ground to check it.

The NOTAM (reproduced above) doesn’t actually give an accurate Lat and Long – it actually puts the crane next to the Kennington Oval. Normally NOTAMs in central London are a lot more precise – a couple more digits of accuracy. This is starting to look like a story, and you saw it here first.


Red October or Red Herring

Kaspersky Labs has announced that someone had been conducting a hitherto unknown campaign wide-scale international espionage, dubbed Red October, for many years. Except it that I don’t think it has.

The story broke quietly on Friday in the Washington Post and has been repeated over some Internet news sites and blogs, almost verbatim, yesterday and today. Although keen for breaking news (especially where international intrigue is concerned), one should really take a step back and match the claims with the substance.

You can find the report here, although not the the Kaspersky site. It’s not the subject of any press release I’ve seen. No one could be contacted at Kaspersky for comment. Hmm. Specialist IT security sites, like Steve Gold’s IT Security Pro, aren’t treating this as a top story either. The only reason I’m hitting the keyboard is that people keep drawing it to my attention.

The report (assuming it isn’t a hoax) does contain a good analysis of what appears to be a new-ish botnet, although one that’s not very widespread (we’re not talking about Flame V2 here). Kaspersky has a lot of smart cookies working for them, and they do some very valuable research, but reading the posts on the subject you’d think they’d uncovered the next Watergate or similar. Perhaps they have, but all I’m seeing details so far  is of another botnet.

If their analysis is correct, the perpetrators do seem to be targeting government and diplomatic sites in particular, but this isn’t actually novel. They’ve identified targets in most of the developed world, with the interesting exception of England and China. As the code appears to be of Russian origin, and not particularly well obfuscated, it’s also noteworthy that the majority of the attacks have been launched against Russian targets.

So, as it stands, this looks like a competent investigations of a botnet. Well done Kaspersky. Now lets get some sleep.


New Java exploit in the wild

Today AlienVault reported yet another vulnerability in Java, similar to CVE-2012-4681. Their head of Labs Jaime Blasco got hold of it and has been playing with it on a fully patched Java installation, and according to them, it works. If you fancy trying  it yourself, here are the details.

With Java embedded in to most web browsers (and if you don’t know about yours, it’s probably is), this is serious stuff. All you need do is go to a web page with some nasty embedded Java on it (by following a link in an email) and your machine is vulnerable to takeover. If you want to check whether Java is enabled on your browser, click here and check the version. If it returns “”No working Java was detected on your system…” then you’re okay. Right now, the only good Java is a dead one.

When Java first appeared as a cross-platform application language, much play was made of it being “sandboxed”, so a Java application was insulated from other applications and the host operating system. It didn’t take long for features to be added to allow it to manipulate files on the local system, providing obvious ways to break out. Security consists of guessing the ways this may occur and blocking them. This is a recipe for disaster unless the code is very taught. Opening the gates and then screening is the opposite of secure system design.

I realised something was wrong when a Sun evangelist tried to sell me on the idea of embedded Java – “We’ve reduced the footprint to 4Mb”. This was back in 1998, and 4Mb of ROM  on an embedded system was a hell of a lot. And it’s not just the size – 4Mb of code for doing what should be pretty straightforward stuff rang alarm bells. I don’t know about embedded Java, but the current JVM running on PCs is now talking in Gb. It’s hugely inefficient, which is a price you might choose to pay, but from a security point of view there’s no way you’re going to have that much code without all sorts of nasty stuff lurking away forgotten. Which explains why it keeps on coming out to bite us.

The only way to avoid your PC (or Macintosh or Linux box) being compromised is to disable the JVM until Oracle issue a patch for it.


Bitlocker, PGP and TrueCrypt encryption broken (sort-of)

ElcomSoft has released a utility called Forensic Disk Decryptor that can get the data off encrypted hard drives without knowing the password. According to their web site it:

  • Decrypts information stored in three most popular crypto containers
  • Mounts encrypted BitLocker, PGP and TrueCrypt volumes


In complete decryption mode, Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor will automatically decrypt the entire content of the encrypted container, providing investigators with full, unrestricted access to absolutely all information stored on encrypted volumes.


Elcomsoft Disk Decryptor PackageReading the technical details further, it’s not quite so amazing – they haven’t found a back-door to these encryption algorithms. Instead they’re examining the machine’s core (memory/RAM in user-land parlance) and pinching the key when they find it. This does, unfortunately, require that the machine in question is already running and decryption to be taking place ‘cos its user has already entered the password. This isn’t has hopeless as it sounds as there may be a core-dump (hibernation file) kicking around on an unencrypted hard disk, and indeed this is a known technique (one of very few) for getting data off these drives. Other methods are  scaring your suspect with a slap on the wrist if they don’t cough up the password, or running a trojan on the suspect’s PC (questionable legality).

According to ElcomSoft’s CEO, Vladimir Katalov, “Our customers asked us for a tool like this for a long, long time. We’re finally releasing a product that’s able to access encrypted volumes produced by all three popular crypto containers.”

ElcomSoft is a company that certainly knows what it’s doing, and this tool appears to automate a process that’s a PITA to do manually, but Mr. Katalov’s miraculous claims for the product shouldn’t unduly worry the user’s of this technology. It’s probably a good tool but it can’t do anything that wasn’t possible before.

Government’s Daft Communications Bill

Never mind the privicy aspects, the communication’s bill is worrying because it shows the government has no idea at all about how communications on the Internet work. They seem to thing that passing a law allowing agencies to record the fact of, and possibly intercept, Internet communications will make it technically possible for them to do so. It will not. It’s as daft as passing a law to ban “recreational” drug use and then expecting the problem to disappear.

Steve Missham and the BBC – stranger than fiction

Whilst I smelled a rat in the Steve Missham affair and subsequent events have proved me justified, I’m not feeling that smug because I can’t actually claim I saw the latest developments coming. They’re just too incredible.

What Missham has done is announce to the world that his alleged abuser didn’t look like, and therefore wasn’t, the politician he’s been accusing to all and sundry for days. The news media appears to accept this, and has gone on a frenzy of blame culminating in the “resignation” of George Entwistle this evening. The one person not apparently in the firing line is Missham, who’s fantastic story is the cause of it. The idea that he didn’t know what the person he was accusing looked like before his recent publicity spree stretches credibility beyond my limit.

Okay, the BBC clearly didn’t check its facts either but then again this is hardly uncommon. As I said last week, they’re always on the lookout for anything negative they an say about the Conservative Party, and I’d assume they’re even less likely to check facts in such a case.

This morning I heard George Entwistle being savaged by John Humpharies on Today. After several minutes I couldn’t take it, but they were still on when the snooze button had timed out. Entwistle was protesting that no one had told him anything. Sadly, I have to say I believe him. This evening he “resigned”, but received a year’s inflated salary as a pay-off. That’s a neat trick. Who else can choose to resign and have their employer’s pay him a year’s salary? Some mistake, surely.

Apart from the peer who’s been accused of the most horrendous crimes for no reason whatsoever, the other victims in this affair are children who have been abused, and those who will be in the future. We’re always hearing the mantra that children don’t lie about such things and should always believed. This was Missham’s main theme too. It goes along with the notion that no women would falsely claim to be raped. Privately, people who work with children and alleged rape victims will contradict this – some people will claim all sorts of things if they think it will get them what they want. Having such a high-profile abuse victim who was clearly not telling the truth is not going to encourage genuine victims of such crimes to come forward.

As to the crisis at the BBC, it’s long been the case that some of their journalists have exhibited bias and inaccuracy in reporting, especially at the local and national level. They’re now engaged in reporting, 24/7 on their favourite subject (themselves). When Entwistle resigned it was blamed on “shoddy journalism”, but what of the shoddy journalists? They’re still there.

I’ve just been watching speculation as to who’s going to take over as Director General of the BBC. The journalists are complaining that Tim Davie, the caretaker DG, has no editorial experience, and is also an outsider. Other candidates have been criticised for being non-editorial and non-BBC types. Entwistle was from a 23-year BBC Editorial background (as previous DGs) but has failed spectacularly, cut and run (or was he really pushed?)

Of course the BBC hacks want one of their own, but that’s the last thing the BBC needs.