Reg digging exposes holes in ContactPoint numbers

Complacent government estimates could endanger project


In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we now believe that it first surfaced in a feasibility study into information sharing carried out in 2004 on behalf of a cabinet office sub-committee - MISC9(D) - chaired by secretary of state for education and science Charles Clarke. This sub-committee was itself part of cabinet committee MISC9, which was chaired by the then chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Government appears to be placing a great deal of faith in this study. They quoted it in evidence to the Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments back in 2007.

As recently as a week ago, a spokesperson for the DCSF reaffirmed the Department’s confidence in the figure of 330,000 despite the fact that it was calculated before the legislation enabling ContactPoint to go ahead had been passed, and long before it was clear as to who might be using the system. The DCSF also appeared to prefer the 2004 figure over anything based on more recent research.

Since the original feasibility study, the DCSF has carried out a series of workforce analyses designed to identify potential users of ContactPoint on an authority by authority basis. Individual results are publicly available, either directly from local authorities, or published on the web, but until yesterday The Register was unable to get hold of the full national picture.

In an effort to get to the bottom of the most likely user figure, we looked at the user numbers estimated by a sample of authorities and used those to estimate a figure for the whole of England. Much caution is needed, since different authorities have adopted views of varying degrees of conservatism. Kingston on Thames expects to have a mere 420 users initially – which is about 3 people per 1,000 in the Borough.

Newcastle estimates it will have 4,000 users, which is around five times as many on a pro rata basis. Although authorities are supposed to include counts for all categories of professional who may be a user, the police have indicated that they have not yet determined how they will interface with ContactPoint.

Our result, from authorities representing around 10 per cent of England was about nine users per 1,000 population – or 450,000 users nationwide.

Whilst the DCSF may have been using a wider range internally, this has not been a feature of responses to inquiries on the subject, which have tended to focus on the single figure quoted above.

Does this have any impact on the project overall? The Register spoke with a UK expert on the building of high-profile IT systems and his response was cautionary. He said: "I would expect the system to work. However, it is likely that it would be much slower than originally envisaged – and there would also be issues with bandwidth. A worst case scenario would see some users having to wait a while before they could access the data they need.

"In the end, it all boils down to how much slack there was in the original brief. If the system designers allowed for a degree of expansion, then there should not be too great a problem. If they were required to pare it down to exact requirements in order to meet tight budgetary guidelines, then there could be trouble ahead."

Shadow Families Minister Maria Miller said: “The figures quoted by ministers about how many thousands of people will have access to this database of every child in the country keep changing all the time. At the very least, this suggests that they don’t really have anything more than a ballpark idea themselves. They have already been warned that this database can never be secure. It’s time to scrap Contactpoint and focus on a smaller, more targeted system of child protection.” ®


Other stories you might like

  • How ICE became a $2.8b domestic surveillance agency
    Your US tax dollars at work

    The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has spent about $2.8 billion over the past 14 years on a massive surveillance "dragnet" that uses big data and facial-recognition technology to secretly spy on most Americans, according to a report from Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology.

    The research took two years and included "hundreds" of Freedom of Information Act requests, along with reviews of ICE's contracting and procurement records. It details how ICE surveillance spending jumped from about $71 million annually in 2008 to about $388 million per year as of 2021. The network it has purchased with this $2.8 billion means that "ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency" and its methods cross "legal and ethical lines," the report concludes.

    ICE did not respond to The Register's request for comment.

    Continue reading
  • Fully automated AI networks less than 5 years away, reckons Juniper CEO
    You robot kids, get off my LAN

    AI will completely automate the network within five years, Juniper CEO Rami Rahim boasted during the company’s Global Summit this week.

    “I truly believe that just as there is this need today for a self-driving automobile, the future is around a self-driving network where humans literally have to do nothing,” he said. “It's probably weird for people to hear the CEO of a networking company say that… but that's exactly what we should be wishing for.”

    Rahim believes AI-driven automation is the latest phase in computer networking’s evolution, which began with the rise of TCP/IP and the internet, was accelerated by faster and more efficient silicon, and then made manageable by advances in software.

    Continue reading
  • Pictured: Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way
    We speak to scientists involved in historic first snap – and no, this isn't the M87*

    Astronomers have captured a clear image of the gigantic supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy for the first time.

    Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A* for short, is 27,000 light-years from Earth. Scientists knew for a while there was a mysterious object in the constellation of Sagittarius emitting strong radio waves, though it wasn't really discovered until the 1970s. Although astronomers managed to characterize some of the object's properties, experts weren't quite sure what exactly they were looking at.

    Years later, in 2020, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to a pair of scientists, who mathematically proved the object must be a supermassive black hole. Now, their work has been experimentally verified in the form of the first-ever snap of Sgr A*, captured by more than 300 researchers working across 80 institutions in the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. 

    Continue reading
  • Shopping for malware: $260 gets you a password stealer. $90 for a crypto-miner...
    We take a look at low, low subscription prices – not that we want to give anyone any ideas

    A Tor-hidden website dubbed the Eternity Project is offering a toolkit of malware, including ransomware, worms, and – coming soon – distributed denial-of-service programs, at low prices.

    According to researchers at cyber-intelligence outfit Cyble, the Eternity site's operators also have a channel on Telegram, where they provide videos detailing features and functions of the Windows malware. Once bought, it's up to the buyer how victims' computers are infected; we'll leave that to your imagination.

    The Telegram channel has about 500 subscribers, Team Cyble documented this week. Once someone decides to purchase of one or more of Eternity's malware components, they have the option to customize the final binary executable for whatever crimes they want to commit.

    Continue reading
  • Ukrainian crook jailed in US for selling thousands of stolen login credentials
    Touting info on 6,700 compromised systems will get you four years behind bars

    A Ukrainian man has been sentenced to four years in a US federal prison for selling on a dark-web marketplace stolen login credentials for more than 6,700 compromised servers.

    Glib Oleksandr Ivanov-Tolpintsev, 28, was arrested by Polish authorities in Korczowa, Poland, on October 3, 2020, and extradited to America. He pleaded guilty on February 22, and was sentenced on Thursday in a Florida federal district court. The court also ordered Ivanov-Tolpintsev, of Chernivtsi, Ukraine, to forfeit his ill-gotten gains of $82,648 from the credential theft scheme.

    The prosecution's documents [PDF] detail an unnamed, dark-web marketplace on which usernames and passwords along with personal data, including more than 330,000 dates of birth and social security numbers belonging to US residents, were bought and sold illegally.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022