The playful Chancellor?

The final Brown Budget was the preoccupation of many bloggers this week

The Chancellor took a battering in the blogosphere this week - part of the fallout from his Budget. Some may have seen this final performance as a display of prowess from a man whose character - on this occasion at least - came across as jolly and playful. But some bloggers thought otherwise.

Curly’s Corner Shop showed a picture of Bart Simpson doing lines at school, writing: "I must not think that 2p off is cleaver, I must not think that 2p off is clever, e.t.c." Yes, this was tongue in cheek, but it makes an interesting point. Many people saw through the Chancellor’s effort and blogs were of course leading the front line analysis of this Budget.

A reader at Iain Dale’s blog pointed out something very devious in the budget. For people on tax credits, the cut in income tax from 22 - 20 per cent is cancelled by the increase in tax credit withdrawal from 37 - 39 per cent.

Birkenhead Labour wrote in to say: "Is this what budgets are for these days, to help one megalomaniac achieve his political ambitions? This sort of thing reduces Britain to the level of a banana republic though thankfully, much of the media and the public are now cottoning on to Brown's con trick." At least some one is paying attention to the small print.

Guido Fawkes joined in with many who saw the Chancellor shed a layer of skin this week, evolving into someone who knows he is close to taking power. He said: "He is a completely changed man, we are being spun, in time for the coming of the feared dark days of his premiership."

But the Budget overshadowed another huge move in the political world this week as the Government finally published the Lyons Report on local government spending. Dizzy
points out how a “pay as you throw” tax on the rubbish we make adds to what will hit low income families when their council tax bills go up after their houses are revalued.

He said: "All those low earning families hit by the budget and likely to be hit by a rubbish tax need to make one simple investment of about £50 for an incinerator bin. Don't worry about the pollution, it's called the law of unintended consequences, something this Government specialises in."

We must give credit where credit’s due said Recess Monkey this week. He said Barry Beef’s interview with actor Guy Siner was the political blog interview of the year. Decide for yourself – watch it here.

And I leave you with news of Jeremy Scahill’s new book about Blackwater and its private contractor mercenary army in Iraq. Teambio says: "Blackwater charges $950 per day per soldier to the US government, and they pay the majority of their mercenaries $350 per day." This is quality journalism which has been painstaking meticulous in its research.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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Can Trident be hacked?

A former defence secretary has warned that Trident is vulnerable to cyber attacks. Is it?

What if, in the event of a destructive nuclear war, the prime minister goes to press the red button and it just doesn't work? 

This was the question raised by Des Browne, a former defence secretary, in an interview witht the Guardian this week. His argument, based on a report from the defence science board of the US Department of Defense, is that the UK's Trident nuclear weapons could be vulnerable to cyberattacks, and therefore rendered useless if hacked. 

Browne called for an "end-to-end" assessment of the system's cybersecurity: 

 The government ... have an obligation to assure parliament that all of the systems of the nuclear deterrent have been assessed end-to-end against cyber attacks to understand possible weak spots and that those weak spots are protected against a high-tier cyber threat. If they are unable to do that then there is no guarantee that we will have a reliable deterrent or the prime minister will be able to use this system when he needs to reach for it.

Is he right? Should we really be worried about Trident's potential cyber weaknesses?

Tangled webs 

The first, crucial thing to note is that Trident is not connected to the "internet" we use every day. Sure, it's connected to the main Ministry of Defence network, but this operates totally independently of the network that you visit Facebook through. In cyber-security terms, this means the network is "air-gapped" - it's isolated from other systems that could be less secure. 

In our minds, Trident is old and needs replacing (the submarines began patrolling in the 1990s), but any strike would be ordered and co-ordinated from Northwood, a military bunker 100m underground which would use the same modern networks as the rest of the MoD. Trident is basically as secure as the rest of the MoD. 

What the MoD said

I asked the Ministry of Defence for a statement on Trident's security, and while it obviously can't offer much information about how it all actually works, a spokesperson confirmed that the system is air-gapped and added: 

We wouldn't comment on the detail of our security arrangements for the nuclear deterrent but we can and do safeguard it from all threats including cyber.

What security experts said

Security experts agree that an air-gapped system tends to be more secure than one connected to the internet. Sean Sullivan, a security adviser at F-secure, told Infosecurity magazine that while some hackers have been able to "jump" air-gaps using code, this would cause "interference" at most and a major attack of this kind is still "a long way off". 

Franklin Miller, a former White House defence policy offer, told the Guardian that the original report cited by Browne was actually formulated in response to suggestions that some US defence networks should be connected to the internet. In that case, it actually represents an argument in favour of the type of air-gapped system used by the MoD. 

So... can it be hacked?

The answer is really that any system could be hacked, but a specialised, independent defence network is very, very unlikely to be. If a successful hack did happen, it would likely affect all aspects of defence, not just Trident. That doesn't mean that every effort shouldn't be made to make sure the MoD is using the most secure system possible, but it also means that scaremongering in the context of other, unrelated cybersecurity scares is a little unjustified. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.