Samsung: all over the news, again

Gotta hand it to their PR team.

Another day and another set of positive Samsung stories, wherever you look.

A special mention goes to the consultants IDC. Last week when Samsung released a strong set of first quarter results – another quarterly record profit – IDC reported that Samsung shipped more smartphones than the next four vendors combined. Even better for Samsung was confirmation that of the top 5 vendors globally, only Apple suffered a drop in market share; LG, Huawei and ZTE made small gains while Samsung’s market share soared.

Although Apple grew sales volume by around 6 percent to 37m phones, its market share fell sharply from 23 per cent to 17 per cent. By contrast, Samsung’s mobile sales skyrocketed by 60 per cent to 70.7m for a 32.7 per cent market share, up from 28.8 per cent ayear ago.

There was a time, not so long ago, when mobile phones were used just to make calls and send texts? It seems a long time ago.

In the UK, 31.7m (out of a total of UK mobile phone audience of 49.5m) are smartphones. UK smartphone penetration stands at 64 per cent and rising. In December, 82 per cent of all phones acquired were smartphones. There is a common misconception that the digital drive is being driven by 20 and 30 somethings, with nothing better to spend their money on than the latest gadget.

Wrong.  In December 2012, 71 per cent of new devices acquired by Brits aged 55 plus were smartphones, according to the consultant’s comScore. For aficionados of the Samsung v Apple battle, interest has just ramped up with the Samsung flagship handset, the Galaxy S4, which hit the shops over the weekend. Except, those cunning PR sorts at Samsung were busy dampening expectations – or trying to create a false sense of excitement depending on your point of view - by warning of possible S4 shortages.

Demand for the S4 will be so fierce, according to vested interests by the names of Carphonewarehouse and Phones4U that they may not be able to keep up with demand. The cool and sensible response to the media frenzy resulting from the release of the S4 is to rise above it; better still, ignore it.

Better to stick to one’s existing, trusty and reliable handset. On the other hand: the writer’s existing handset, a Samsung S3, is already fully 12 months old. It has perhaps, just perhaps, been slowing down just a tad.

It is after all, an essential tool for work these days. There is also not the slightest danger of anyone – even close friends or family – accusing the writer of being cool, about anything. It is even a rare luxury to answer to the charge of being sensible. After an appropriate period – there is no point hurrying or appearing to be a tech anorak so we are talking a few days at least – the S3 can be replaced by a S4. Vague efforts will be made, with little success, to exclude from regular vocabulary words such as flagship, thinner, lighter, faster processor, best Android ever, eye recognition and smart screen.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

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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.