FryUp: E-Passport BSoD

More banned advertising strategies, e-passport madness grips the world and inflexible corporate IT looks remarkably Dilbertish

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- E-Passport BSoD

- Systems upgrade completed

Banned ad cogliones

How do you ensure your ad campaign is a striking success? Easy: run the commercials on TV first, but see to it that they’re banned after the first airing for being injurious to the sensitivities of the public in some form or the other.

Then, upload the clips to some Internet video sharing site, and you’re done.

- Banned Volkswagen “Bollocks” commercial

E-Passport BSoD

The amazing thing about increasingly stricter and more complex security measures is that they encourage some rather brilliant thinking to evade them, and to create vulnerabilities large enough to drive a horse and carriage through.

Last year, Computerworld talked to Peter Gutmann about the new “e-passports” that contain RFID chips. Gutmann imagined that the chips could be used to trigger bombs for instance, targeting specific nationalities perhaps. This could make it lethal to carry a certain country’s passports — and, it’s not actually that hard to do, technically speaking.

Now German security researcher Lukas Grunwald has managed to turn the digitised picture of the passport holder inside the RFID chip into a poison pill that kills scanners trying to read the image. As it seems to be possible to freely muck around with the contents of the RFID chip — Grunwald has found more attack vectors than just the image — there are probably many other “creative” uses for the data, in the hands of evil-doers.

Gutmann has pointed out, several times, that the RFID chips don’t actually enhance security, but only serve as beacons beaming data and attack vectors. They’re not actually necessary either, but more an idea pushed by RFID vendors into dim-witted US government departments. And, since the US now dictates what apparently sovereign nations can and cannot do, according to Pax Americana, we must follow them down the path to the unknown, at great expense and inconvenience for travellers.

- Scan This Guy's E-Passport and Watch Your System Crash

- Britain’s e-passports cracked in 48 hours

Systems upgrade completed

Trying to get your head around corporate IT policies that have filtered through many layers of disconnected MIS managers is quite fun, as there are plenty of absurdities to observe. I’ve had giggles this week at noting how one department had all its monitors upgraded to LCD flat-screens, a move I sort of agree with. Sort of, because the screens aren’t quite right for the task, but were apparently cheap due to a package deal.

The computers they sit atop of however weren’t upgraded. As a result, staffers can’t for instance install software that comes on DVDs because the optical drives only take CD-ROMs.

This and other similar things may seem comical, but they do take their toll on staff morale. Worker bees are supposed to keep up with increasing amounts of assorted data but can’t because their gear is out of date. So, they sit there with their crashing and impotent PCs, watching project deadlines disappear on the horizon. That’s no fun.

Obviously, being passive and not doing your job isn’t an option, and it’s interesting to observe how people route around inflexible MIS policy damage. Much of it involves working with your own gear, from home, using resources available on the internet.

Even that can fail however. I was recently told of one manager objecting to a senior staffer working from home because, well, that was the only place he could do his job. He was assigned to test and evaluate software, but due to restrictive policies, couldn’t install it on his work PC.

It would seem fair enough that if he couldn’t do the work at erm, work, he should get some time off in lieu for doing it from home. Not so, however: the manager in question likes noses to the grindstone at 8.30 am sharp. What about the fact that the work was undoable in the office though? “Not my problem – you sort it out,” was the manager’s response.


Cartoon from

Robert X Cringely

Doing the Microsoft Mash

It's been a good week for Microsoft and surveys. The Redmond reprobates own the most valuable technology brand in the world, according to a survey by Interbrand and Business Week magazine. The Windows wonks are second overall to Coca-Cola (I see a new slogan coming on: “Our software may suck, but it won't rot your teeth”).  In another survey conducted by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), Internet Explorer was named the most influential product of the past 25 years (strangely, Netscape Navigator, from whose loins IE was whelped, barely made the top ten.)  In second place: MS Word (not XyWrite, WordStar, or WordPerfect). Windows 95 came in third, and fourth place was a tie between the Apple iPod and Microsoft Excel.

You get the impression these guys have been walking around handing out Rolex watches? That might influence me.

Even Ballmer has been rehabilitated. According to a story in The Register, a Microsoft employee has taken Ballmer's infamous monkey dance and mashed it up into an iPoddish commercial for the Zune. (you can watch it here) It's a brilliant piece of work, but he apparently hosted it on an internal Microsoft server, which means he's probably enjoying some enhanced interrogation techniques in a server closet somewhere in the Northwest.

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