Friday, September 04, 2015

Internet for all – Bridging the digital divide

From the 90’s onwards, the Internet is steadily replacing all other technologies to become the most sought after medium for the global population. It has given us a platform for communication, innovation, and economic opportunity. More and more chunks of populations are being connected to it and more societies being opened to this abundance of ideas. If the initial form of Internet in the 90’s was just for communicating via e-mail and for web pages, new ideas are being introduced day-by-day and we are experiencing a myriad of applications capable of doing what we had never thought of. Realizing the potential of this medium, even the UN recently proposed that the ‘Internet access should be made a human right’.

Access for all

As the Internet use become a universal phenomenon, the question of ‘network neutrality’ and ‘open access’ gains much importance. Simply speaking, it’s a neutral architecture that’s open to every conceivable type of application that could be developed around the world, be it databases, transfer of documents, videos on YouTube, etc. Technological evangelists visualize a neutral architecture as one which is unaware of the application it is bearing and which is open to all populations, irrespective of services. The ideal one proposed is the one which focuses on end-users and whose policies are not formulated by the owners of the network.  But lately, some developments have occurred which questions such a concept and which are shaped by the technology giants. We could examine some such efforts:

It is a Facebook-led initiative which has its motto as to ‘provide affordable internet, which offers selected services to two-thirds of the world that doesn’t have the internet access’. It aims to deploy various technologies like mesh networks, unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite links and optical communication to provide connectivity based on geographical position of the target audience. Even though the aim seems good, the embedded restrictions in offering services which are nicknamed ‘packages’ drew lots of flak from the supporters of open access.

2.      Project ‘Loon’ from Google

The champion of search and connectivity world, Google is behind this project which aims to provide connectivity to remote and rural areas with the help of high-altitude balloons placed in stratosphere. An offshoot of this project visualizes cellular communication also through this means in future. As of now, the technology giant has not talked of any ‘restriction’ of services that it intend to offer through this way.

3.      White Space initiative

White Space Coalition is a set of technology companies including Microsoft, Dell, Google, HP, Intel, Samsung, EarthLink etc which is working to deliver internet through analog TV signals for remote areas.For example, Microsoft has come up with its own concept of using the White space which is the unused TV spectrum (now owned by Doordarshan) to offer costless connectivity to selected areas of rural India. It has opened up the project in collusion with the ‘Digital India’ initiative charted out by the present Government of India. The project is funded by the tech giant and the necessary infrastructure at the operational level is also provided by it.

4.      Outernet/Hughesnet

They are Internet access initiatives by US companies which offers low-cost access to web through satellite hotspots which receive signals from small satellite constellation positioned on outer space. It has been currently launched in US, Europe, North Africa and Middle East.
Along with these, mobile giants like Telenor, Orange etc ,space exploration companies like SpaceX and tech giants like Amazon are starting to take part in such initiative aimed at bridging the digital divide.

Initiatives at Government level

If we look at the initiatives in public space, Many governments and organisations in the world are developing broadband policies to address the digital infrastructure divide, by stimulating investment in high-speed broadband infrastructure in rural areas; for example, through the provision of public–private partnerships and structural funds.Some projects as part of ‘Digital India’ proposed by the Government of India is one such initiative.The government is working with the Department of Telecommunications so as to ensure low-cost access in all parts of India. Bharat Net, a high speed digital highway to connect all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats of country. This would be the world's largest rural broadband connectivity project using optical fibre. BSNL has undertaken large scale deployment of Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country. It has been actively working to take the benefits of optical technology through NKN(National Knowledge Network)to all academic institutions including Universities and Colleges throughout India.
Looking to the outer space

If we review all the projects  by private internet companies outlined above, we could see that the essential approach is to migrate from terrestrial mode of service to service from outer space. It is the result of some changes that have come from the late 90’s – satellite technology has advanced and the cost of deployment has been down, new types of drones, unmanned aerial vehicles have been developed, abundant use of spectrum has been achieved – all these contribute to the focus on outer space and atmosphere.

Censorship – a thorn in the path

Censorship is the most important impediment in the path to an open internet platform. It is the control of information and ideas circulated within a society. In old days, it was enforced by examination of plays, books, television/radio, news reports etc. But in the age of internet, under the guise of censorship, governments or societies enforce this in the name of protecting family, state or religious beliefs. The argument which takes the first place is religious sentiments; the close second goes to national security and government secrecy, parental controls take the next position and so on. To control the damage done to their reputation, the governments have climbed down from their stance and paved way for milder controls. Most governments resort now to adopting PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selections)as a means of enforcing censorship.. The ‘Great Firewall’ implemented in mainland China is an example of tight restrictions in the censorship of content .It is a government-sponsored framework for censorship of Internet.

The Wikileaks and Snowden Saga

In the opening years of the new Century, US and UK governments had enforced laws like ‘Patriot Act’ and ‘Freedom Act’ or ‘Communications Data Bill’ and snooping mechanisms like PRISM. Global groups like Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC), American Civil Liberties Union(ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF), private groups like Anonymous, etc have carried the campaigns for a neutral and open Internet to the next level by exposing the loopholes in these mechanisms for mass surveillance which leads to attack on the privacy of common man. But the crusades of ‘Wikileaks’ owned by Julian Assange and exposes by Edward Snowden, a former FBI operative have successfully exposed the behind-the-scene stories of surveillance programs by governments that have reached alarming levels. 

The Age of Social Engineering

Nowadays, the stress of censor mechanisms has focused on Social media platforms as they have been recognized as the ‘happening areas’ of information dissemination. Using latest data mining technologies and expert surveillance techniques, the censors, agencies, governments etc are collecting the online history of individuals so as to serve as indicators for collective social trands. These data could even help them in finding how individuals or even populations could act to change agents. It is no secret that such data can be used for social engineering by media, corporations and governments as they please.

Closing Note

We now know that no nation can exist as an island in the connected world.The initiatives outlined above by big and small players is to ensure free and fair connectivity. When a country goes “online,” the Internet has the capacity to accelerate its economy and prompt almost immediate growth. From the experiences in developed countries, it is now evident that the exposure to such a world without boundaries in communication is not without its flaws. While the reason behind the endeavors for open and free internet vary and all of them cannot be surely said as having a positive note for the general public, in the terms of connectivity, it is the humanity which stand to benefit ultimately. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dealing with Browser Hijacking

Have you experienced a browser which runs sluggish in nature, starts up with a thousand uninvited redirect pages and pop-ups which you have not intended to open even once in your life? Have you recently experienced a barrage of ads on each page you browse that was once clean ? Have you started to view graphics redirecting you to web-porn in even the prime news sites you often open to hunt for news ?. Have you seen new and unheard toolbars and add-ons on your favourite browser which offer fake search results? Then you maybe the victim of Browser Hijacking,a not much recent phenomenon, which can compromise your PC security and online security as a whole.

This is a situation where primarily Scammers use malicious software to take control of your computer's Internet browser and change how and what it displays when you're surfing the web. You can keep the hijackers away by keeping your computer updated with the latest security software updates and practice safe Internet browsing. The following instructions can help you to keep defended against compromised security, and malicious attacks accompanying this type of threat:

  1. Check using the test listed here if your computer is infected with malware.
  2. Apart from antivirus and antispyware check, 'Hijackthis' and 'CWShredder' are good tools to enumerate  browser and system security against malware.
  3. Check you browser settings and go through the plugins/add-ons and disable/uninstall any malicious/unintended entries in this sections.
  4. Check toolbars section in browser menu and disable those which you have not intentionally enabled.
  5. Check you ‘hosts’ file (at C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc)and remove any entries other than : #       localhost      and  #            ::1             localhost
  6. Check the advanced security setting in your browser using the US-CERT guide:
  7. Norton Power Eraser is a free, downloadable tool that uses aggressive methods to detect threats related to browser hijack.Check the link
The above read may be time-consuming and steps listed shall be painful for those who can’t wait much…But devoting some time towards this can be a life-saving one for most of you.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Another first in Linux hall of fame

The apex organization that played the most major role in experiments leading to existance of the 'god particle' a.k.a, the Higgs Boson particle, privately and publicly lauds the part of three factors greatly helping in the process - Linux, coffee and C++.

An unnamed physicist at CERN has quoted "I need to mention how Linux(Specifically Scientific Linux and Ubuntu) had a vital role in the discovery of the new particle at CERN" in a recent 'Ubuntu Vibes' article.

But those watching the High Performance Computing scene closely will not be amused at this as it's not exactly any secret that Linux dominates the world of high-performance computing."We use it every day in our analyses, together with hosts of open software, such as ROOT, and it plays a major role in the running of our networks of computers (in the grid etc.) used for the intensive work in our calculations", the officials at CERN adds.

CERN website has a recently featured support site for Scientific Linux at the address :

Then again, an anonymous scientist noted "The most important members of the team: the folks who made coffee, those who managed linux OS and apps and finally who codes in C++"

Robert Pogson, a noted blogger wrote "Then, too, there's the fact that "the data-analysis needed at CERN for the Higgs boson is immense," he pointed out. "No scientist at a time like this wants an OS that wants to re-re-reboot, slow down, welcome malware or phone home." In short, "the fact that that other OS charges more to do less makes the choice of OS for number-crunching easy," Pogson concluded. "Go, GNU/Linux!"

In fact the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid (WLCG), which combines the power of more than 170 computing centres in 36 countries, is based on Scientific Linux. You can get a live real-time information of the worldwide LHC data processing mapped on top of Google Earth from here:

It is felt by everyone that when talk is of serious scientific computing, linux is the standard and is practically synonymous to High Performance Computing.Sadly,as we are now aware, the Higgs Boson is not a 'God particle' any more than any other particle can be said to have a divine connection; but it might be the elusive phenomenon of nature that helps cement Linux's reputation as science's best friend. 

NOTE: The views expressed here are exclusively the personal views of those who expressed them. This blog doesnt endorse them to any degree of exactness.The discretion of reader is advised.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Case for MeeGo

(Cross-posted on Blog Inquirer Mind)

Nokia unveiled its latest smartphone, N9, at the "Nokia Connection 2011" summit on June 21 at Singapore.On a first look,it is everything you'd ever wanted from the company: a smartphone with a competitive spec sheet, and a touch-centric UI that looks futuristic.

The company had laid claims that is would be the only high-end smartphone line based on MeeGo,- which is an open source, Linux project which brings together the Moblin project, headed up by Intel, and Maemo, by Nokia, into a single open source activity.

Observers believe that Nokia is at crossroads as it has announced it is abandoning the Symbian platform in favour of Windows Mobile but had to take U-turn with announcement of the N9 handset powered by MeeGo which is another open source platform.

The compelling features touted by the manufacturer as being highlight of this handset are as follows:

- Polycarbonate material
- Carl zeiss lens 8mp camera
- Gorilla glass Display,
- HD playing capability upto 1080p,
- Dolby Sound Enhancement" etc.

The real story

But the real story behind this new gadget is the war between two platforms (Windows Mobile and MeeGo(or the larger open source bandwagon to be exact))on one side and two mobile giants (Nokia and Intel)on other.

Earlier, after release of Nokia N8,Nokia announced it would make Windows Phone 7 Nokia's primary mobile platform, not MeeGo. This halted a bold initiative to bring Linux to a new class of Nokia mobile devices.This had been deplored by scores of mobile enthusiasts and platform developers (especially from open source arena)as a behind the scene understanding between Nokia and Microsoft to put brakes on open-source based mobile OS's to emerge as a strong contender in market through Nokia handsets.

Moreover, Nokia at the corporate level had tried to use the wings of some negative reviews by tech gurus on MeeGo OS that is was yet to develop a viable development community. But after negative reviews from public and also the resignation of its technical head in this issue,Nokia had second thoughts and made a u-turn by this announcement that MeeGo shall be the primary OS for at least the upcoming high-end release from Nokia.

Another noted observation on the current market is that if Nokia completely turned to Propreitory OS, it would have to suffer stiff competition from MeeGo + Android on one hand and also possibility of losing its current market space to other giants which is already happening on a large scale.

The case of MeeGo

But the fact remains that MeeGo also continues to be a viable choice for device manufacturers looking to enter a competitive mobile market providing a clearly differentiated experience.Nokia hadn't expected such rave reviews from onlookers when it decided to go for Windows Mobile platform forever.Intel is actively behind MeeGo and QT and this company is going to go full throttle at the mobile space over the next few years. Maybe this has prompted Nokia who want to be another monopoly to thwart the emergence of another competitor in the market.

"The fundamentals fundamentally favor open source", said Jim Zemlin, Linux foundation director, at the Mobile World conference keynote at Singapore.The late reviews on features of new handset N9 is also positive as it sports video call facility which is not included even in latest iPhone version which claims to own the major player in smarphones.

If Intel wants MeeGo to be viable in its future, it is also needed that the platform should try to evolve as a robust one within a short span of time.The current situation though is changing soon though, as the fundamentals aren't completely horrible and the frameworks, community and ecosystem are quietly being built up for MeeGo.

The author doesn't claim that the information published in the post is authentic and is purely based on observations

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Facebook comments : A farewell to anonymity ?

On April 2011, Facebook, the leading social networking site announced its new 'comment-box add-on' aimed at what it terms "more personalized chats on third-party sites".This has become a serious concern for those who believe in anonymous and frank discussions on the corners of the net.

Even though the new feature was aimed to make comments more relevant in social networking arena, the fact that facebook adds the personal info of users next to their posts and had added links to these third party sites and feeds in the posts have increased risks on privacy of the users who comment.
All this is helpful to those interested in tying thier general online activities with Facebook. But consider the scenario if you 'don't want your comments on a site to be visible to your 500 facebook friends?'.It is suggested that in this case, by default, the "Post to Facebook" box underneath the comments widget in third-party sites should be checked.Even though your comments are hidden, the people on that site will still see your Facebook Profile picture and if they click, can access your profile.

Sometimes serious issues of free speech can be underlying like this observation where U.S. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin of Illinois asked Facebook Chief Executive Officer to allow users to choose anonymity, invoking the political situations in Egypt and Tunisia just a day before the former achieved freedom.The fact that many of the activists couldnt use anonymity as shield aided the state to crackdown on them.

Christopher "moot" Poole, the founder of Internet anonymity haven 4chan, thinks Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is wrong when it comes to online identities. Remaining unknown online frees people to blaze ahead with creative endeavors they might otherwise shy away from for fear of being embarrassed.

TechCrunch, which implemented Facebook Comments as an experiment last week, reports that while the total volume of comments is down significantly, the comment nastiness quotient is approaching zero -- except, apparently, for nasty comments about their new commenting system.In other words, people who might have left casual comments under the cloak of anonymity are choosing not to comment at all under the new system, turning TechCrunch into a sloppy space. This is the verification of the arguiment that the nature of commenting on the web needs to feel organic and fluid, just like it does in real life and should be anonymous if necessary.

But being such an extremely social company, Facebook's insistence that you have one identity across the web is both short-sighted and flawed, and people are starting to realize this. And i want to remind you if you are concerned about online security, switch over to anonymous browsing options and see how online anonymity can make your Facebook experience safe and secure.