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Showing posts from September, 2014

Bigger than Heartbleed? Bug in bash leaves millions of web servers vulnerable ...

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University

A first and quite reasonable thought readers may have will be to wonder: what is bash?
When you use a computer you probably interact with it through a point-and-click, visual interface such as Windows or Mac OS. More advanced users or specific tasks might require a text-only interface, using typed commands. This command line program is known as a shell, and bash is the acronym for Bourne Again SHell (a successor to the Bourne shell, written by Stephen Bourne – that’s geek humour right there), known to everyone as bash.

So what you need to know is that a shell is essential, and that bash as the most common shell in use is installed on pretty much every machine that runs a flavour of Linux or Unix. That includes Mac OS X – which behind its shiny desktop is a Unix-based operating system too.

What has systems administrators hot under the collar right now is the discovery by Red Hat, a firm that produces one of the long-established distributions of Lin…

Greed + Arrogance != good combination...

In the past 12 months I've been busy at work. Quietly liaising with different partners within Cisco Academy programme. Working to secure and ensure the future of the Cisco day schools at the Open University.
Sadly this means for some centres they're not going to have their contracts renewed. 
One tends to be very patient giving different centres many opportunities. Forgiving of mistakes forgiving of misunderstandings and appreciative of the organisational pressures they are under.
But when you see the arrogance and mismanagement of all day schools. Silly attempts to overprice, overcharge and undersell. Mucking on their own staff around who are also our Cisco instructors. And making the mistake of trying to tell us what is what.
So with pleasure we have two new Phoenix organisations; I am sure will give excellent service to Open University day school students. Also one centre that is just oblivious to the fact that they have totally lost the contract.



The real @CiscoNetAcad heroes can be found @suitcasemedia ...

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One of the wonders of working with the Cisco Networking Academy programme for too many years, far too indecent to mention. Is the diverse souls who want to reach underserved communities. Today I had the privilege of meeting Suitcase Media. A community based company whose sole purpose is to teach the homeless computing skills.

They are starting on the journey of becoming a CCNA academy, they already have the tools and two souls who already have their CCNA certifications. As we quietly boot them into instructor mode, I think that today the UK has gained an invaluable member of the academy programme.


As a Cisco ASC, the Open University is pleased to be able to support unique organisations like Suitcase media.

The @OUCisco Netlab sitting in Venables ...

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Somewhat of a hidden gem, many are unaware of the Netlab system that sits in our Venables Server room supporting 600+ students at any time. Netlab is a collection of commercial grade routers and switches set up in a remote lab. So that our students get get 'real' hands on experience during our Cisco modules.

The video is no longer than three minutes, filmed and edited on my iPhone. So no real production values applied here.



So here is the plan for @OULinux ...

First become an enthusiastic advocate of education ... check, been doing this for eighteen years.

Second ... allow someone to ignite an idea that using ones reach, we could enable Linux education in a wide range of educational establishments. Fell for that one. Check.

Then, create a community structure that could be self sustaining ... its on the way, check, but lets refine.

Finally find a large collection of enthusiastic volunteers who would support each other as well as this community of educators who for many will never have used Linux before. Next stage, it is on the way, you may want to look here.

Eventually, ensure that these centres and others may grow in process. Fingers crossed.

Connected computing offers a new life for blind people, and job opportunities too ...

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University and Iain Murray, Curtin University

There are many examples of individuals with different disabilities who excel and accomplish much in their lifetime, rendering physical or mental attributes meaningless – consider Stephen Hawking, Stevie Wonder and Helen Keller, among many others.

But certain tasks and careers are more or less suited to some disabilities than others. Thankfully Ray Charles could sing and compose without his sight, but if his natural talent had been as a sportsman then the world may have not seen him rise to fame. Today’s technology offers many new possibilities, not least the opportunity to work in the information technology field itself.

Network engineers are the plumbers of the internet, setting up and configuring network equipment such as routers and switches which ensure that data is carried swiftly and surely from one side of the world to other. They spend most of their time studying a text-based terminal, the command line int…

Words of wisdom ...

If you are ever stuck for something smart to say, consider the following poem ...


On the Ning Nang Nong  Where the Cows go Bong!  and the monkeys all say BOO!  There's a Nong Nang Ning  Where the trees go Ping!  And the tea pots jibber jabber joo.  On the Nong Ning Nang  All the mice go Clang  And you just can't catch 'em when they do!  So its Ning Nang Nong  Cows go Bong!  Nong Nang Ning  Trees go ping  Nong Ning Nang  The mice go Clang  What a noisy place to belong  is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!! 

Spike Milligan, 1968

The keys may be on your fingertips, but that doesn't mean biometric locks can't be picked ...

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University

How can we ensure that someone is who they say they are? How can be sure that the person in our system, both digitally speaking or physically in front of us, is who whom they claim to be?

You may think that a good password is the answer, but with so many ways to break into a computer system these methods are clearly not always effective – as can be seen from the unfortunate hacked celebrities whose naked pictures were strewn across the internet recently, or the Oleg Pliss ransomware that locks iPhones until the extortioner is paid. Even a combination of a good username and password may not be enough.
An organic alternative to passwords What about biometrics? This technology uses human physical attributes as locks and keys, such as fingerprints, iris scans or, as is now suggested, the veins in the human fingertip, making them highly individual ways to identify one user from another.

Using biometrics is not especially new. For example, while the lik…

Seems that I need to educate a new batch of calendar hogs ...

In the last couple of hours, I have needed to extract a couple of presumptuous souls from my work calendar. Without asking, checking or looking at some of the tools available in outlook, they have created meetings assuming that I may be available or on campus.

Fortunately I do have control over my schedule and a level of autonomy based on a pragmatic view of what I can (and cannot) do at the behest of others.


Stuck in the Middle ...

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Many of you may know this song by Stealers Wheel ...


Being quite insane, I have always used it as the basis for teaching subnetting ... a technology that we used to organise networks in IP version 4.
So, for networking geeks everywhere ... I have adapted the lyrics; you can hear the song, now can someone work with me to create a soundtrack that could go viral.
Well I don't know why I came here tonight,
I got the feeling that something ain't right,
I'm so scared the network isn't there,
And I'm wondering how I'll ping the next hop o'er there,
Networks to the left of me,
Hosts to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you,
And I'm wondering what it is I should do,
It's so hard to keep this smile from my face,
Losing control, yeah, I'm all over the place,
1's to the left of me, 0's to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Well you started out with nothing,
And you're proud that you're …

There will be @CiscoNetAcad superheroes at @RNC_official ...

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Have you ever started a conversation that seemed like a good idea and soon becomes very interesting and then evolves into a fantastic opportunity.

Since chatting with our Cisco contact, Nuno earlier this year, the conversation and opportunity has rapidly developed. Managing to acquire funding, resources and a world expert to boot.

Together we are building the first Cisco Networking academy for the blind in the UK and maybe even Europe and Africa. You may be impressed by this, who knows. But, let us be sure of what is truly impressive.

Iain Murray of Curtin University and I are working with a team of fantastic educators and technical experts. The staff at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford are some of the most wonderful souls you could ever meet. Watching their commitment, care and dedication is a wonder to behold and something to learn from.




Ok, my latest @ConversationUK article was a bit of a surprise ...

At the point I write this entry, my article on the iCloud hack, is ticking past 390,000 and still pulling in a few hundred readers a day.

Written in response to a request from one of the senior editors, it was hastily penned while I was attending the keynote at ALT-C. The keynote was worthwhile, but I must admit the time was spent in the cloud quickly shifting out the core content behind this article. So best not ask me about the detail of the message.

Having written around 28 articles, my best to date reached over 50,000 with some notable contributions in the 20's, 30's and 40's. Nothing is less than four digits and the lowly articles in the 1000+ readers still attract minor interest.

I have a colleague in my faculty with whom there is friendly banter, we have been edging past each other in the leader stakes, until now. But, to be fair, if it was not for their kindness and integrity, I would not have been introduced to writing for the Conversation.

So, if you are an acad…

Won't get fooled again ... do you think ...

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Being a bit of a The Who fan, some recent news from a destroyed further education college has reminded me of the lyrics from "Won't get fooled again". If you do not know the song, the YouTube video below,  is all that you need, a rock classic, always worth a listen.

The sadness is that with a set of 'rats' escaping from the ship they have jointly sunk. I am aware that by Christmas three high profile souls are exiting. I am sure that some would say 'good riddance', I cannot disagree. But, with the damage done, they seem to be exiting to leave others to pick up the pieces.

It does not take any great wit to realise, that in the nine years since the the college was in safe, capable hands. The entire remaining leadership and come and gone. With those long established in the old tradition having long left beforehand. Even if they were able to maintain any of the ideals.

The previous leadership held onto the college and helped it succeed over a considerably lon…

Three ways your personal photos are vulnerable to hackers ...

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By Andrew Smith, The Open University

By means of an introduction, to date this has been my most popular article yet. While scheduling this, it has reached 263,000 readers, pushing me to over 1/2 a million readers in total. 

Recent reports of celebrities having nude or risqué photos of themselves leaked online highlights the serious risk of hackers getting access to our personal pictures.

While many of us take inane and uninteresting photos that we wouldn’t mind anyone seeing, some of us do like to share more interesting pictures with other individuals that we wouldn’t wish to be seen on the twitter feeds of millions. I am not personally interested in value judgements around taking nude pictures but I do appreciate the impact on those who have seen their intimate moments shared without their permission.

How were these pictures hacked? The reality is going to be the work of cyber-security and forensic experts to discover. But as there are now so many private photo streaming services, th…