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culture

WhatsApp security debate must be informed or we will all suffer

In the hours after last week s terrorist attack in Westminster that claimed the lives of four people, the message from the Government was one of defiance. Our way of life will not change, they said . It will be business as usual .

The British values of freedom and democracy will prevail. If there is going to be a debate on messaging and security it should at least be an informed one

Yet only four days after Khalid Masood s rampage, the Home Secretary took to the airwaves to demand that messaging services such as WhatsApp tear up their security features1, allowing police to intercept communications as part of criminal investigations. It appears that the debate about how to balance civil liberties against the Government s responsibility to keep the British public safe is about to start up all over again only four months after the so-called Snooper s Charter became law.

The Investigatory Powers Act, you may recall, requires web and phone companies to store the web and browsing histories of all users for a year. It also gives the police and security agencies powers to hack into computers and phones and to harvest vast amounts of data although the European Court of Justice s ruling in December has tempered this somewhat. Despite this major change, Amber Rudd is now targeting message services such as WhatsApp, claiming they provide a safe haven for terrorists by making it impossible for communications to be decoded, thanks to end-to-end encryption.

Giving police access in certain serious cases might sound reasonable, but unfortunately it is not that simple. Tech companies say that building a back door or security flaw into encrypted messaging systems naturally make them less secure for everyone. Ms Rudd also sounded less than clued-up when she talked about the technology she is trying to reform.

On extremist material, she asserted that the Government would speak to experts who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff ever being put up . As anyone who has ever used Twitter knows, this is utter nonsense. If there is going to be a debate on messaging and security, as the Government clearly wishes, it should at least be an informed one.

References

  1. ^ demand that messaging services such as WhatsApp tear up their security features (inews.co.uk)

National Gallery boss says security cuts not to blame after Gainsborough damaged

The director of the National Gallery insisted that security cuts have not placed priceless works of art at risk after a Gainsborough masterpiece was slashed by a visitor.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi said The Morning Walk, a 1785 painting by Thomas Gainsborough said to be worth at least 10m, would be back on public display as soon as possible.

Gallery conservationists are currently repairing the damage after a vandal used a sharp instrument, believed to be a drill bit, to make two long scratches on the work, on Saturday afternoon.

The perpetrator was apprehended with the help of visitors, triggering the evacuation of the East Wing of the central London gallery.

Reports suggested that the collection was more vulnerable to vandalism with gallery assistants or warders , required to guard two rooms, rather than one . Security was outsourced to the private company, Securitas, in 2015.

But Dr Finaldi said: I absolutely disagree . There has been no change in the way our operation has run in the gallery since we had contractors in.

He added: All our protocols worked exceptionally well . Security dealt with the incident extremely effectively and the public were kept safe . We have a very strict bag searching policy.

But inevitably as a result of this, and with such a precious collection, we will keep security under review.

The damage could have been worse . The scratches didn t go all the way through the canvas, Dr Finaldi told the i . It is relatively straightforward to deal with.

We are consolidating the pigment which has been lifted as a result of these scratches and repairing the damage .

I m confident we can get it back on public display quickly.

The incident was shocking for those in the gallery, said the director, who praised the members of the public and police who helped staff apprehend the vandal.

National Gallery Boss Says Security Cuts Not To Blame After Gainsborough DamagedThe new Gallery B opens to the public on Wednesday (photo National Gallery)

The Morning Walk depicts a wealthy young couple, Mr and Mrs William Hallett, both 21, strolling through woodland.

It formed the backdrop to a scene in the James Bond film Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig, which takes place in the Gallery s Room 34.

Keith Gregory, 63, of no fixed address, was appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court on Monday charged with causing criminal damage.

A unique display of paintings by the Flemish artist Rubens, hung opposite works by his Dutch counterpart, Rembrandt, will launch the first new exhibition space created at the National Gallery in 26 years.

National Gallery Boss Says Security Cuts Not To Blame After Gainsborough DamagedRubens and Rembrandt display in New Gallery B National Gallery, London

Gallery B, which opens to the public on Wednesday, will add an additional 200 square metres of display space to the ground floor.

The inaugural free show, Rubens and Rembrandt , creates a dynamic visual dialogue between the two great 17th-century masters.

Though the pair probably never met in person, their works will meet face-to-face, hung on opposing walls in the show designed to illuminate connections and contrasts between the artists.

The show feature nine works by Rubens and 11 paintings by Rembrandt, who was influenced by the older Flemish artist, from the National Gallery s extensive collection of Dutch and Flemish art.

Alongside the launch of the 1m Gallery B, Gallery A, previously open every Wednesday afternoon and one Sunday per month, will now be open to the public daily.

Visitors can now explore all of the Ground Floor Galleries and progress up to the Main Floor whilst enjoying a continuous viewing experience, the Gallery said.

The last new display space to open at the Gallery was the Sainsbury Wing in 1991.

@adamsherwin10

Why expensive security alarms could actually be putting your valuables at risk

Jun Cen

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In September 30, 2016, after an elaborate police operation, two van Gogh paintings were recovered from the home of a Neapolitan Mafia boss . They had been stolen nearly 14 years earlier from the world-famous Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on December 7, 2002 . The thieves weren’t too subtle about their approach: they smashed a window, probably with a sledgehammer wrapped in cloth . The expensive alarm system didn’t go off . The guards heard the commotion, but the thieves were too quick for them . They knew exactly which two paintings they wanted, so they walked straight up to them, ripped them off the walls and exited through the broken window. This case is just one of many, and not exclusively in the world of art crime, where expensive security is foiled through the simplest of methods . Most of the time, thieves can render useless a multi-million-pound defence system simply by acting quickly. To boards of directors and insurance companies, expensive, state-of-the-art security2 sounds like it should be the most effective and safest option .

But such an approach raises two problems . First, there always seem to be smart people who enjoy a challenge . When I worked at a major art museum, the computer technician was driven mad by some non-malevolent hacker3 who kept breaking into the system . The hacker wouldn’t do much – turn off a light here, send an email there4 – just enough to show that the system had been breached, and would require a complete overhaul of security protocols. Second, most high-tech security5 – whether for computer systems, banks, homes or museums – is alarm-based . When a perimeter is breached, an alarm – silent or sounding – is meant to notify authorities . This sounds fine in principle, but for the fact that technical devices sometimes don’t work properly, and someone must respond in a timely and effective fashion for the alarm to have served any purpose. In 2008, two museum incidents highlighted the dangers mentioned above . First, at the blockbuster British Museum exhibit of the Chinese terracotta warriors, an activist slipped surgical masks, scrawled with political slogans, over the faces of some of the figures .

Each statue had been expensively protected by a software that drew an invisible barrier around each warrior – if this barrier were breached, an alarm would sound . At least, that was the idea . Not only did the alarm not go off, but tourists had to look for a guard to tell them what was happening . Second, that same year, a bunch of drunken vandals smashed open the employee entrance to the Mus e d’Orsay in Paris . The alarms went off, but the intruders were able to rush in, punch a hole through a Monet and sprint out before guards could reach them. Human response is of critical importance to high-tech security, both in terms of the natural human prankster impulse and the practical response of guards or police to an alarm sounding. To counteract this over-reliance on technology, some ingenious security specialists have come up with low-tech, analogue defensive measures to compliment the laser barriers and heat-sensor cameras . Dennis Ahern, director of security UK at Christie’s auction house and previously head of security for the Tate museums, taught a course on museum security at the ARCA postgraduate programme in art crime and cultural heritage protection . He likes to combine low- and high-tech devices in the same gallery .

The analogue methods, some as mundane as affixing a sculpture to its plinth with high-tensile steel fishing line, offer an element of surprise . Hostile surveillance – casing a joint, as criminals are wont to do when considering a location for a crime – might spot CCTV cameras and motion detectors, but the last thing a thief expects is a bit of fishing line.

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Bolting statues to plinths, or frames to walls, is done less than you might think (there is some concern about speed of removal of objects in the event of a fire), but lashing a valuable that you don’t want going anywhere to an immobile surface is a tried-and-true safety mechanism, at least delaying potential thieves, if not stopping them altogether . Average police response time to a 999 call in cities is ten to 15 minutes, so delaying a thief is crucial . Add a surprise element to your alarm system, and that fishing line might buy police an extra minute or two to stop the bad guys . They also offer a failsafe if technology fails. Hanging side-by-side in London’s National Gallery are Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?) and Margaret, the Artist’s Wife, a pair of pendant portraits by Jan van Eyck . There they rest, doubtless secured by various alarms and tracking devices (museums don’t like to go public with the details of their security measures) . For centuries, these works were displayed together at the painter’s guild hall in Bruges . But back in the 18th century, Portrait of a Man was stolen .

To make sure its neighbour didn’t go anywhere, a heavy iron chain was affixed to it . Now that the two portraits are reunited in the National Gallery, perhaps it would be fitting (and safer) to have them both chained to the wall ? In addition to all that high-tech security, of course.

References

  1. ^ Subscribe to WIRED (www.wired.co.uk)
  2. ^ security (www.wired.co.uk)
  3. ^ hacker (www.wired.co.uk)
  4. ^ turn off a light here, send an email there (www.wired.co.uk)
  5. ^ security (www.wired.co.uk)