London – from ghost city to ghosts running round it!

London. Picture it…

Big Ben? The Houses of Parliament? That cool bridge, which isn’t London Bridge? Buckingham Palace? Oxford Street?… All that.

But what normally comes with all those iconic landmarks? Yes, of course – crowds; or – if not quite crowds, at least plenty of folks milling about here and there: some – locals; plenty – tourists. At least, that’s how it used to be…

But last Sunday, early morning, the capital seemed to have been deserted. No folks, no noise, no cars. Oxford Street – totally empty; the crossroads along it – not a soul to be seen! Look! ->

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Once upon a time in London.

Spot the difference! ->

Once – in 2014 – in London:

And once – in 2021 – in London:

Of course, I didn’t go to the British capital (just!) to look at giraffes. We had a busy business schedule planned…

First course – cybersecurity conference, organized by Tortoise Media (please don’t ask me why it’s called Tortoise. Still, not a bad idea: how can you forget it?:). They’d asked me to come and give a speech, I’d duly replied it’d be my pleasure, and a few months later – it was my pleasure!

Read on…

Flickr photostream

  • Italy
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Instagram photostream

Formula-1 in Sochi: bright and colorful, despite the weather.

What a difference a couple weeks makes? From sunny Sochi to shivery-and-showery Sochi. Not that it seemed to make a difference to the numbers of folks promenade-ing, café-ing, and also now electro-scootering. You’d think is was July!…

The weather also didn’t put a dampener on the Grand Prix either, with this year’s stands being rammed full:

The only downside for us was that the VIP fans were permitted neither into the paddock, nor the garages by the pits: totally forbidden! All to do with folks having to stay in their separate bubbles.

Read on…

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Ransomware: what protects against it best?

What’s the No. 1 most unpleasant pain in the xxx thorn in the side of the modern-day cyber-world in terms of damage, evil sophistication, and headline-grabbing the world over? Can you guess?…

Ah, the title of this post may have given it away, but yes, of course, it’s ransomware (aka cryptomalware, but I’ll stick with the simpler, less tongue-twisting, and professional term ‘ransomware’).

So: ransomware. Bad. How bad?…

Well, it’s actually so bad, and has been so consistently bad for years, so deeply embedded in all things digital, and has so overwhelmed so many large organizations (even indirectly being followed by human deaths), which (large organizations) have forked out so much money to pay ransoms for, that the world’s news media has become almost indifferent to it. It’s stopped being headline news, having been transformed into an every-day casual event. And that’s what’s most worrying of all: it means the cyber-scumbags (apologies for such a strong language, but it’s really the best way to describe these folks) are winning; cyber-extortion is becoming a seemingly inevitable reality of today’s digital world and it seems there’s nothing can be done about it.

And they’re winning for three reasons:

Third (I’ll start at the end): the ‘big boys’ are still playing their schoolyard geopolitical games, which blocks national cyber-polices exchanging operational information for coordinated searching, catching, arresting and charging of ransomware operators.

Second: users aren’t prepared – resilient – enough to respond to such attacks.

And first (most important): not all washing powders are the same anti-ransomware technologies are equally effective – by a long way.

Often, ‘on the tin’, anti-ransomware technologies featured in cybersecurity solutions are claimed to be effective. But in practice they don’t quite do exactly what it says on the tin, or – if they do, consistently. And what does this mean? That users are scandalously unprotected against very professional, technically sophisticated ransomware attacks.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check what the trusted German testing institute – AV-TEST – say. They’ve just published complex research on the ability of cybersecurity products to tackle ransomware. They paid no attention whatsover to marketing claims (à la ‘this deodorant is guaranteed to last for 48 hours’), and didn’t just use widely-know in-the-wild ransomware samples. They besieged several of the top cybersecurity solutions in real ‘battlefield’ conditions, firing at them all sorts of live-ammunition ransomware artillery that’s actually out there today. As mentioned, no in-the-wild samples, but those technically capable of weaponizing a ransomware attack. And what did they find? On the whole – something thoroughly shocking and scary:

Read on…

1, 2, 3, 4… 56!

Aha – it’s that special day that comes just once a year. Actually, no – that’s not 100% accurate. It can come twice a year – over two consecutive repeated days! For example, you celebrate the first day somewhere like Fiji, and then you head over to Tahiti – still in yesterday – for a repeat day of fun and frolics. Well, why not? And I tried it once: a group of fellow travelers and I had a full March 29, 2018 twice! Does it mean we’re a day older – or is it younger? – I’m still not sure ).

However, this year I’m a little closer to home than the tropical islands in the middle of the Pacific, and it’s a little cooler too: for my 56th birthday I’m in full-on work mode on a brief northern-European business trip taking the route Moscow-London-Copenhagen-Moscow.

So what can be said about being 56? I guess it depends on who is saying it. For those who are already long past it, they may be… condescending! For those who were born around or even on October 4, 1965 – they’ll probably be full of familiar, nostalgic understanding ). For those for whom 56 is still a long way off, I guess they may not be able to even start to imagine what it could possibly be like to be… four years short of 60! So, what I will say about being 56 is directed at this latter group. All righty, here we go…:

Being 56 – it’s all just the same! No new feelings or sensations are added on this ‘special’ day, and all existing feelings and sensations don’t suddenly disappear off somewhere. No change; no worries!

Ok, at least – that’s what I can say about this particular day – compared with, say, yesterday, when I was still 55 years old. But there is one thing that’s been building up gradually over recent years that is a bit of a downer, albeit of a first-world-problems sort. See, I’ve been lucky enough, over the last few decades, to have been constantly traveling/flying/expeditioning around the globe – so much so that, well, the senses have become a little dulled. So many countries visited, so many places checked out (and keenly photographed), so many seas and oceans bathed in, so many hotels, so many… impressions overall. It’s come to the point where it’s hard to surprise me, much less amaze me. Of course, there are exceptions – for example, on the Kolyma Highway in January. Now that was surprisingly amazing! So much so I’m planning a repeat road trip next year.

Bah – enough complaining. Back to the good stuff: I am still experiencing some new things for the first time…

For example, I’d long (very long) dreamed of running a half-marathon. And thanks to the vile crowned virus of 2020 vintage, last year I managed to run a full two of them after being able to train so much due to my practically being grounded and having much more free time on my hands legs. And this year I’ve done another two. Just running on my own, mind – just ‘for me’, not in an official half-marathon with all the crowds. Oh, and last summer, after putting in so many hours at the gym pumping iron, I finally managed to bench 111kg, which for me of course is the ideal weight as it’s so much like 11-11 (inside-joke; apologies newbies; ok – here you go:).

So, in summary, as I enter my 57th year… life’s pretty good! So I raise a glass to new endeavors, new challenges, more travels (despite my gripes), and more, new, everything else!

Thank you, thank you! You’re all too kind! Hugs and kisses. From me xx.

Light at the end of the… reactor!

The other week a group of colleagues and I were up in St. Petersburg on business. And in among our busy schedule while there we paid a useful and informative visit to the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant. And it was there I got my first glimpse of Cherenkov radiation (and you thought radiation was invisible?), which I’d dreamed of doing for years. I also stood on the roof of a working reactor of RBMK (Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalniy, meaning ‘high-power channel-type reactor’). An unforgettable experience!

Note: since there’s absolutely no photography allowed at any nuclear facility, the photos below are all taken from the internet.

So, the main thing: Cherenkov radiation. In case you haven’t clicked the link, here’s what it says about it on its Wikipedia page: ‘Cherenkov radiation is electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle (such as an electron) passes through a dielectric medium at a speed greater than the phase velocity (speed of propagation of a wave in a medium) of light in that medium’ (the links –added by me).

And you can actually see this wonder of physics – and beautiful it is too: a fluorescent blue in the core of a nuclear reactor in cooling fluid. The spectacle is a cosmically fantastic one…

(photos from Wikipedia and here)

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Kamchatka-2021: Martian fields and canyon-kunst.

After inspecting Bezymianny, and had our nerves pushed to the limit by a near-miss violent mudflow, it was time for us to head in the direction of Tolbachik volcano…

After eight kilometers of trekking we came to our first rest-stop, which happened to be on the (Kamchatkan) Field of Mars (not to be confused with another Field of Mars, in St. Petersburg). This Field of Mars is so named for its covering of volcanic slag, and also features lava constructions of all sorts of bizarre random shapes, plus (bonus!) a distinctive volcanic cone + crater:

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So, what exactly is a ‘Kamchatkan mirage’?

Why have I use the word ‘mirages‘ more than once already in this series of posts on our Kamchatka-2021 expedition?

Normally this word describes images on a horizon which aren’t really there. Simply an optical illusion: the eye seems to see what isn’t there. Something caused by the bending of rays of light in hot places with distant horizons, like deserts. However, in the case of ‘Kamchatkan mirages’ it’s all the other way round: on the horizon there is (as per a map, for example) a substantial, often uniquely beautiful and meditation-inducing natural geological object – like a volcano, it’s just you can’t see it, as if it simply isn’t there!

For example, the ‘collar’ of Bezymianny volcano is one such Kamchatkan mirage; at least, it was when we were looking for it this year…

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Fully-vaxxed Sochi conference: a shot in the arm for industrial cybersecurity.

Personal experience, plus what I’m told by other clever folks, has taught me to treat with much skepticism any predictions regarding the future given by so-called experts – in fact all kinds of prognoses and prophesies about this, that and the other. Although I tend to share this view, I have to make an exception for the predictions of one single person in particular: me! Why? Because, unfortunately, those predictions normally come true…

Ten years ago, when we chose industrial cybersecurity as one of our new main areas for development of the company, attacks on industrial equipment were largely deemed hype and/or something out of Hollywood, or at least limited to relatively few specific enterprises; for example, ones like this. But since the beginning of the 2010s I’ve been repeating (ad nauseam!) that, sooner or later, attacks on industrial installations will go mainstream and become massive in scale, and that modern industrial security is sadly very lacking in its ability to cope with the realities of the digital world.

Today, attacks on industrial objects are becoming a daily – very expensive – reality. We’ve already seen how a ransomware-cyberattack on a mere office network of large pipeline can bring about a short-term rise in the price of gasoline in the U.S.A. So imagine how much more costly attacks on industrial components of critical infrastructure operators could be. And it’s not just a matter of financial losses incurred by targeted companies caused by their compelled down time – there’s also the hit taken by all the consumers of the companies’ products and services, which can be painful for regional economies and even national ones.

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Kamchatka can be fun; Kamchatka can be frightening.

Volcanic landscapes are capriciously changeable…

For example, a beautiful volcano can stand pretty much unchanged for 100, 200 or 1000 years, and then ‘bang!’ – volcanic debris is flying in all directions, lava rivers flowing from volcanic vents, smoke bellowing several kilometers up into the sky, and the earth fairly shuddering. Well, that’s one scenario – the longer-term one.

There’s another scenario – of a shorter term (i.e., more regular), and of a much smaller scale. And such regular scenarios mean that a volcanic landscape can – and should – be returned to again and again: the picture you’ll be presented with is bound to be different somehow. For example, Bezymianny (which I told you all about in my previous post) has a gradually growing cone rising up inside its colossal crater ->

While from the other side, it looks like no changes at all:

But, when we look a bit closer, we did see a few changes of an unexpected kind…

Read on…