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Ministry of Defence tells contractors not to answer certain UK census questions over security fears • The Register

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The Ministry of Defence has ordered its contractors not to answer certain questions on the UK’s once-in-a-decade census – despite threats of £1,000 fines being handed to people who don’t complete the national survey.

“It’s a crime to ignore the census. You can be prosecuted if you don’t complete the census,” says GOV.UK’s webpage about what happens if you don’t fill it out.

Yet the Ministry of Defence has taken a curious line against the census, urging defence personnel and contractors to give incomplete answers to four questions – and to ignore one altogether.

An Industry Security Notice issued on 15 March and aimed at defence contractors urges them not to give full and complete answers to questions 41-42, 44, and 50. When filling in 41 (“What is (was) the name of the organisation or business you work (worked) for?”) contractors should not “give details about the place where you work”, according to the MoD.

Job titles* should simply become “MoD contractor”, while question 43, which asks what you do in your main job, “should not be answered” at all in the ministry’s view. Even the location of one’s workplace shouldn’t be revealed in the census, with the MoD urging people to give only the postcode.

Quite how giving “G84 8HL” instead of “HM Naval Base Clyde” (the nuclear submarine base in Faslane, Scotland) protects national security seems unclear.

An MoD spokeswoman told The Register: “Some census questions could identify contractors’ status and increase the security risk to themselves and others. This Defence Instruction Notice is intended to minimise the security risk to current service, civilian and contractor personnel within the armed forces.”

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Your census data will be kept secret – except from MI5, police, courts etc

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She added that this has been the advice to contractors since the last census in 2011. “We are confident in delivering a high quality and successful census that will meet all user needs.”

An Office for National Statistics spokesman told us: “The Defence Instruction was jointly developed by MoD and ONS to minimise the security risk to current serving members, civilian, and contractor personnel within the armed forces. These questions could identify their status within the national defence and in turn increase the security risk to themselves and any other people on their census return, if their paper questionnaire return was to be intercepted (i.e. through the public postal system). This procedure was also used in 2011 where similar instructions were provided and much a larger proportion of responses were on paper.”

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We are further told that the advice not to answer what you do won’t affect the census outputs: by way of example, the spokesman said a teacher who answered “I teach six-year-olds” might be classified as a primary school teacher if their first answer wasn’t precise enough.

There are some legal privacy protections around the census, though these are for form’s sake to reassure the public that the census needs completing. Last time around commentators wondered what the point of these protections was – and it looks as if the MoD has reached similar conclusions today. ®

Bootnote

*A well-known OSINT technique for finding Ministry of Defence personnel and contractors is to go on LinkedIn and search for “developed vetting”. DV is one of the higher levels of security clearance in the UK. It’s frowned upon to boast about holding it because that marks you out as a person of interest to hostile foreign countries.



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Amazon Web Services outage hits sites and apps such as IMDb and Tinder | Amazon

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Several Amazon services – including its website, Prime Video and applications that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) – went down for thousands of users on Tuesday.

Amazon said the outage was probably due to problems related to application programming interface (API), which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software, Reuters reported.

“We are experiencing API and console issues in the US-East-1 Region,” Amazon said in a report on its service health dashboard, adding that it had identified the cause. By late late afternoon the outage appeared to be partially resolved, with the company saying that it was “working towards full recovery”.

“With the network device issues resolved, we are now working towards recovery of any impaired services,” the company said on the dashboard.

Downdetector showed more than 24,000 incidents of people reporting problems with Amazon. It tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

The outage was also affecting delivery operations. Amazon’s warehouse operation use AWS and experienced disruptions, spokesperson Richard Rocha told the Washington Post. A Washington state Amazon driver said his facility had been “at a standstill” since Tuesday morning, CNBC reported.

Other services, including Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot were also facing difficulties, according to their social media pages.

Ring said it was aware of the issue and working to resolve it. “A major Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is currently impacting our iRobot Home App,” iRobot said on its website.

Other websites and apps affected include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), language learning provider Duolingo and dating site Tinder, according to Downdetector.

The outage also affected presale tickets for Adele’s upcoming performances in Las Vegas. “Due to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage impacting companies globally, all Adele Verified Fan Presales scheduled for today have been moved to tomorrow to ensure a better experience,” Ticketmaster said on Twitter.

In June, websites including the Guardian, Reddit, Amazon, CNN, PayPal, Spotify, Al Jazeera Media Network and the New York Times were hit by a widespread hour-long outage linked to US-based content delivery network provider Fastly Inc, a smaller rival of AWS.

In July, Amazon experienced a disruption in its online stores service, which lasted for nearly two hours and affected more than 38,000 users.

Users have experienced 27 outages over the past 12 months on Amazon, according to the web tool reviewing website ToolTester.



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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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