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January 8, 2008 18:12 - Privacy Report Classes US & UK As Endemic Surveillance Societies

The Privacy & Human Rights Report has defined the US and the UK each as an endemic surveillance culture. Each year since 1997, the US-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the UK-based Privacy International have undertaken what has now become the most comprehensive survey of global privacy ever published. The Privacy & Human Rights Report surveys developments in 70 countries, assessing the state of surveillance and privacy protection.

The most recent report published, is probably the most comprehensive single volume report published in the human rights field. The report runs over 1,100 pages and includes 6,000 footnotes. More than 200 experts from around the world have provided materials and commentary.

In terms of statutory protections and privacy enforcement, the US is the worst ranking country in the democratic world. In overall privacy protection the United States has performed very poorly, being out-ranked by both India and the Philippines and falling into the "black" category, denoting endemic surveillance.

The worst ranking EU country is the United Kingdom, which again fell into the "black" category along with Russia and Singapore. However for the first time Scotland has been given its own ranking score and performed significantly better than England & Wales.

Surveillance initiatives initiated by Brussels have caused a substantial decline in privacy across Europe, eroding protections even in those countries that have shown a traditionally high regard for privacy. However, in general, the privacy performance of older democracies in Europe is generally failing, while the performance of newer democracies is becoming generally stronger.

Across the globe, the report shows the lowest ranking countries in the survey continue to be Malaysia, Russia and China. The highest-ranking countries in 2007 are Greece, Romania and Canada.

The report makes for a depressing but fascinating read. Did you know, for instance, that Venezuela requires an identification card number, fingerprints, and a signature in order to get a telephone or cellphone? Or that Zimbabwe requires journalists to be licensed by the state? Or that Switzerland runs a "national hooligan database" for unruly football fans?

For more details, see the Privacy Report highlights.

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January 18, 2008 19:17 - Increasing Surveillance At Work Related To Soaring Stress Levels

Following on from my last blog on the U.S. and U.K. being classed as surveillance societies, new research shows a significant new source of stress in the modern workplace is the use of surveillance equipment to keep track of how hard employees are working.

Surveillance equipment is increasingly being used by companies to monitor employee productivity. Research shows that more than half (52 per cent) of all British employees report that a computerised system keeps a log or record of their work. The same research reports that the management of one in five work places admit that all employees are now covered by computer-based monitoring systems.

The constant monitoring has led to a sharp increase in work strain, reflected by feelings of exhaustion, anxiety and work-related worry. There is an overall 7.5 per cent rise in strain among employees whose work is checked by surveillance systems compared with those in similar jobs which are controlled by more traditional methods.

"Computers and IT systems are bringing surveillance to most work places," comments Michael White, who co-directed the research study, funded as part of the Economic and Social Research Council's Future of Work. "Now for the first time we can see how this development is damaging employees' well-being."

Details of sales, deliveries, contact with customers, phone calls, and the time taken to complete tasks are routinely logged on computer systems and the information used by bosses to evaluate their staff.

A growing number of employers were also monitoring their staff's internet use using spyware to ensure they were not wasting time on social networking or other personal matters.

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January 24, 2008 22:14 - Look Out For These Changed Tactics By Malicious Hackers

The approach by which malicious hackers (crackers) and cybercriminals steal data for financial gain has started to change. As individuals and organizations have put in place stronger network defenses such as intrusion detection and prevention systems and firewalls, hackers attack methods have lost much of their impact.

In response, attackers have turned to making a series of smaller attacks to lower their profile. The aim is the same... to compromise an unsuspecting user's computer to steal financial data and to secretly launch attacks on other computers.

Many of these new, multi-staged attacks use a Trojan to initially compromise the computer. For instance, a Trojan installed when a user visits a malicious website or downloads and opens a malicious file is less likely to be noticed because no high-volume traffic is associated with it.

Trojans that download and install other malicious code are known as staged downloaders or modular malicious code. Such staged downloaders show clearly the transition to multi-staged attacks.

For instance, after the initial infection, a Trojan could download a keystroke logger, often used to record keystrokes on a compromised computer and then e-mail the log to the attacker or upload it to a website under the attacker's control. This information can then be used to launch further attacks or to conduct identity theft.

Due to the success of these methods, it is likely that smaller scale, multi-staged attacks will be favored by attackers.
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