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The Schmoozer: Last Straw for the evil hacker underground

The Schmoozer is ZDNet UK's new perceptive and hard-hitting roundup of the news behind the week's news, appearing every Friday.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor on

Mel Gibson was defaced, BT failed to connect, and you may have already won a free digital telly...

The scene: the Science Museum, with its bizarre new exhibit, "Cybercrime", supposed to expose the "underground world of hacking" featuring an "in-depth look at hacker culture" that reveals "the people behind the stereotypes". While, at the same time, of course, shocking visitors with "the state of the criminal threat lurking on the Internet". (Who can these mysterious underworld figures be?! For a more realistic depiction of the geek in his natural environment, the new movie The Centre of the World is supposed to be pretty good.)

More shocking, possibly, was Jack Straw's exposure of his terrifying tech ignorance. He explained that he had discovered spam for himself that morning: "For those of you who do not know, spamming is when your computer receives so many emails that it suffers the equivalent of a nervous breakdown." Email, incidentally, is a way of using electrical signals to move things you write on your computer over phone lines to someone else's computer...

This could explain why the government is mooting plans to store logs of all UK Internet traffic for up to five years, even though the plan would go against human rights legislation and be physically impossible.

Straw was unveiling the government's new anti-cybercrime unit, attractively named NHTCU (National High-Tech Crime Unit), which takes spammers and the like so seriously it will be headed by a detective formerly responsible for investigating gangland murder, extortion and serial rape. Yes, but how are his Perl skillz?

Mel Gibson, Jennifer Aniston and Denzel Washington must be praying for help from the NHTCU, after their official Web sites were all defaced this week -- and by Brazilians at that. They can only hope to prosecute the hackers as successfully as the eBay fake-painting fraudsters are being taken down -- although the Schmoozer wonders vaguely what sort of person would buy expensive Richard Diebenkorn paintings from somebody they met on the Internet.

Straw's performance was just about matched by that of BT with its stunning next-generation mobile announcement. BT set an 18 May date for launching consumer GPRS and had the phones to prove it, too bad none of them worked. The "Connecting..." message on the screens was probably the most optimistic and forward-looking statement made that afternoon.

BTopenworld is also looking forward with its ADSL plans. Already predicting a dry-up in consumer uptake, despite the present massive queues of unfilled orders, the telco is planning to pull back a bit from the consumer market in favour of more lucrative businesses. Broadband just isn't taking off, the de facto monopoly argues, though the Schmoozer notes it might have something to do with the extortionate prices BT charges -- the highest in Europe.

BT's announcement a couple of weeks ago that it plans to rent out its phone boxes to help reduce its massive debt should send out a warning signal. The plan entails turning its famous red boxes into base stations for mobile phones -- but given recent fears over health risks, the Schmoozer couldn't help wondering if this is just part of the government's plan to get rid of the Digital Divide: simply microwave the have-nots.

Or, an alternative plan: why not give away loads of free digital tellies to those pathetic few who haven't already subscribed to The Murdoch Channel, thus dragging the Luddites kicking and screaming into the interactive age? The Schmoozer has learned of a government plan to do just that. They haven't said where the "digital neighbourhoods" will be yet, but send them a note (preferably handwritten) explaining why you would never buy a digital TV, and maybe you'll get lucky.

Lightning may be more likely to strike you when you're blabbing away on your mobile phone, but the early demise of trendy tech/biz mag Industry Standard Europe seems to have been due to more earthbound factors, like a short-sighted dependency on that fickle high-tech market bubble. Sources say that sky-high salaries, a huge staff and bottomless expense accounts might also have had something to do with it. But then again, if you can't succeed spectacularly, you might as well fail spectacularly.

Pointless inventions department: German researchers have figured out a way to make batteries in your PDA and mobile obsolete, using solar power. Hasn't anyone told them the sun has been permanently banned from the UK on health grounds?

Along the same lines, expect big things from a forum on Monday covering location-based advertising. As of mid-week this week they hadn't yet settled on a location.

Among those gratified by Robin Cook's speech this week about racial and ethnic diversity in Britain were countless adherers to the Jedi religion. An anonymous email is now rallying them to declare themselves on their census forms -- if enough sign up, the government will have to recognise "Jedi" as a legally established religion. Take note, however: this assertion is not actually true.

If you were wondering whether Microsoft has got rid of the Windows Scripting Host, the feature beloved by viruses from BubbleBoy to "ILOVEYOU", the answer is: no, it hasn't... thus providing the hacker underworld something to keep it occupied for the conceivable future, and to provide the general public with a proper "criminal threat lurking on the Internet".

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