Sunday 26 June 2011

Cost-cutting exercise sees Blair on move – into millionaires' row

By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

THE INDEPENDENT Monday, 27 June 2011

Tony Blair's new seven-storey site in East Jerusalem


Tony Blair's new seven-storey site in East Jerusalem

After four years in five-star luxury, Tony Blair is moving out of the American Colony Hotel into a purpose-built seven-storey building now under construction in Sheikh Jarrah: the millionaires' row of East Jerusalem.

The new building will replace the 15 rooms Mr Blair's team rents at the American Colony for more than £1m each year. Since he was appointed as representative of the Middle East Quartet in 2007, his office and accommodation for his dozen-strong staff have been located on the fourth floor of Jerusalem's best known hotel.

The former prime minister's departure will remove a steady source of income from the American Colony just as hotel bookings in the region begin to plummet in response to the wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East.

The lease at the hotel originally expired on 30 June, but has been extended to the middle of the month to allow the completion of building work at the new location on Nablus Road.

When The Independent visited the new building on Sunday it was still under construction. Workers were hanging off the outside of the building fitting aluminium window frames. The site is screened by a high metal fence and at least five CCTV cameras, suggesting that Mr Blair's team have already installed some of the watertight security systems necessary to protect the former prime minister.

The Quartet will lease the new building from the influential Nashashibi family, who have constructed the block from local sandstone and smoked glass on land owned for decades by their family. Mr Blair and his team spend about one week in four in Jerusalem. He spends the rest of his time working for his foundation, and on commercial activities.

Officials say the move is intended to reduce costs and simplify security, though with a lease costing the Quartet about £750,000 a year, the new building will not be cheap. Sub-tenants from carefully-vetted organisations will occupy some of the space in order to offset the cost of the lease.

A spokesman said: "Yes, the Office of the Quartet Representative will be moving out of the American Colony Hotel, to an office building elsewhere in East Jerusalem this summer. This will reduce our office costs and provide more suitable office accommodation."

The move also suggests Mr Blair and the Quartet are digging in for a long haul and may be expanding their operations.

The building will house sleeping accommodation for Mr Blair and his travelling advisers, including the 24-hour security detail provided by the Scotland Yard diplomatic protection unit, but it is not clear who will provide housekeeping and laundry services.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Israel Vulnerable to Cyber Attack, Leaders Warn

Technology Review

A conference on cyber warfare in Tel Aviv reveals Israel's weaknesses—but a strategy to solve them is already in hand.

MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW Wednesday, June 15, 2011

By Matthew Kalman

The outgoing head of Israel's internal security service Shin Bet and the head of the country's cyber task force, among others, warned at a conference on cyber warfare at Tel Aviv University last week that strategic Israeli installations are essentially unguarded against cyber attack.

Around the world, a series of high-profile security breaches have afflicted major government and commercial institutions in recent weeks, including the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin, Sony, and Citibank. Earlier this month, hackers compromised the computer systems at two Israeli diplomatic legations in the U.S. and put them out of service for several hours.

Last year, it was discovered that cyber warfare had broken new ground with the Stuxnet worm attack, which targeted the control systems of nuclear plants. The U.S. and Israel have been accused of designing the worm, which disabled the Iranian nuclear plant at Natanz by causing extreme temperature variations, and which went undetected for months, perhaps years. Several speakers at the conference referred to Stuxnet as a game changer because it brought cyber warfare into the realm of offensive acts against critical infrastructure. But there was no public acknowledgement or even hint that Israel was indeed responsible for the worm. Instead, discussion focused on the country's defense against cyber attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the conference, "The more computerized we get, the more vulnerable we become. There is therefore no choice but to deal with this in a more systematic and focused manner."

The outgoing Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, blamed China for some recent computer security breaches around the world and said the Chinese government's cyber command now comprises "the largest number of hackers on earth." He said there was evidence that on April 8, 2010, China diverted 15 percent of U.S. Internet traffic through its routers. (He was referring to an incident described in the report of the Congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released last November. The attack lasted for 18 minutes and appears to have been a case of IP hijacking or BGP hijacking—the takeover of whole blocks of website addresses by corrupting Internet network routing.) Cyber warfare is already "an existing reality," he said.

Diskin asserted that Israeli networks critical to cell-phone communications, transport systems, finance, and the supply of electricity and water are all wide open to attack, and that this constitutes "a major threat to national security" because Israel, like all modern states, relies heavily on such systems to function normally.

In May 2011 the Israeli government appointed a National Cybernetic Taskforce led by Isaac Ben-Israel, a professor at Tel Aviv University, reserve major general, and former head of the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure at the Israeli Defense Ministry. The task force submitted a report last month that made a series of recommendations for defending Israel's strategic infrastructure from cyber attack.

The measures recommended include the establishment of a national cyber authority to oversee the protection of Israel's critical systems, the development of an Israeli research supercomputer, protocols to identify attacks in progress and repair any damage caused, and the creation of a simulation center to train and certify engineers who will specialize in system protection.

Ben-Israel told the conference that while Israeli military and intelligence networks are well protected, the country currently has "no defense for critical installations such as the electricity network." He warned, "You have systems that each one by itself is not critical, but someone who wants to attack Israel can attack three or four of these sub-critical systems in parallel and together will achieve the effect of paralyzing the country."

Ben-Israel also hinted that the government may be considering mounting an offense. "It's not enough to remain passive and defend yourself. You also have to do all sorts of things, but I won't talk about that," he said.

Danny Dolev, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the task force, agreed that Israel's civilian computer systems are "wide open, a weak point." He said, "To defend Israel, we need to develop sensing of many things happening at once, which individually may seem unimportant but as soon as we look at their correlation, suddenly something happens."

Other experts urged the adoption of new kinds of security measures, observing that technologies such as the firewall, which identifies potentially malicious inbound network traffic, cannot guard against attacks by people or malicious programs already within an organization's security cordon.

Nimrod Kozlovski, an adjunct professor at Tel Aviv University and chairman of Altal Security, said current security protocols were based on the outdated concept of "trusted" and "untrusted" people trying to access a system. But today's threats may come from a "trusted" person within the system—like Bradley Manning, who is accused of downloading thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables and passing them to WikiLeaks.

William Beer, director of the OneSecurity Practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers London and an adviser to the British government, said, "The current approach to cyber security is failing. People engaged in securing cyberspace face the challenge of continuing to raise their game faster than the attackers."

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Despite Promises of Research Funds, Israeli Colleges Feel Slighted

The announcement in April that Israeli colleges will be allowed to seek government funds for research has ended a decade-long battle, but college heads say the war is not yet won.

Colleges here have been fighting the country's eight research universities for accreditation and public financing since the colleges emerged in the 1970s as satellite campuses of the existing universities. Many colleges chafed at being subservient to their parent institutions, unable to make their own decisions.

But with the rapid expansion of Israel's population came growing pressure to offer more options for higher education. In 1995 the colleges were granted independent status and then were placed under the supervision of the Council for Higher Education, which oversees higher-education policy and financing in Israel. By 2006 there were 21 publicly subsidized colleges that couldn't use those funds to back research.

Meanwhile, there was a parallel development of 14 privately funded colleges, beginning with the College of Management Academic Studies, or COMAS, founded in Rishon LeZiyyon in 1978 as a school of business studies. COMAS has expanded into broader academic programs, and with 12,000 students, it is now the largest college in Israel. Private colleges like COMAS are also regulated—but not financed—by the Council for Higher Education.

The colleges helped nearly triple the number of students in higher education, from 76,000 in 1990 to 237,000 in 2010, and now teach a majority of Israeli undergraduates. But public colleges remain tightly controlled both in student numbers and the courses they can offer, including a ban on teaching law.

Aliza Shenhar, president of the publicly funded Max Stern Yezreel Valley College in northern Israel and chairperson of the Committee of College Presidents, has said the two-tier system is unsustainable.

"Strengthening access to higher education, the goal underlying the establishment of the public colleges, created a binary academic system under which these colleges concentrated exclusively on teaching, whereas universities dealt with teaching and research," Ms. Shenhar wrote recently in the journal Kivunim Hadashim.

The system "puts college faculty members at a competitive disadvantage, while also hamstringing the colleges' development and their ability to develop new fields of study," she wrote.

Competing Interests

The colleges' fight for funds coincided with a decade-long crisis, from 2000 to 2010, in which the Israeli government slashed some 20 percent of the budget for higher education.

Shlomo Grossman, chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education from 2003 to 2009, said the colleges received as much backing as possible at a difficult time.

"The main issue while I was chairman was to keep the system working, mainly to enable the universities to run both teaching and research, and the colleges to establish their infrastructure and facilities and to get a body of students," he said. "Due to the shortage in the budget, we couldn't support research in colleges."

Today, Mr. Grossman said, the government is focused on reversing a brain drain that has caused the country to lose 25 percent of its scientists. "The top priority is to bring back the brains that we lost," he said. "The second priority is to help the colleges to continue developing."

But Seev Neumann, president of COMAS, questioned the government's commitment to research financing for colleges. He said he feared the announcement of as-yet-undetermined research funds for colleges was "lip service."

He noted that another recent project, which will provide some $2-billion over the next five years for 30 "centers of excellence" to lure scientists back to Israel, is off limits to private colleges and some public ones.

"Even within the universities, it will create a system where some researchers who are part of the centers of excellence are getting better terms, better equipment, better laboratories than their colleagues," he said. "It's going to create tremendous tension."

Mr. Neumann said he had the flexibility to decide on acceptable salary ranges and was not bound by issues of tenure. But he said the private colleges still suffered from "discrimination." They are banned from offering doctoral degrees and must wait four to five years for new courses to be approved.

Despite these restrictions, the colleges are attracting growing numbers of students and international recognition. Today nearly 15 percent of Israeli students study at private colleges like COMAS, which has a joint business-studies program with the City University of New York and is pursuing more overseas partnerships. The private Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya has a joint master's program in European studies with Heinrich Heine University at Düsseldorf, and student-exchange agreements with 40 universities worldwide.

Monday 6 June 2011

Philanthropist Plans to Double $100-Million Gift to Israeli Institution


GLOBAL NEWS TICKER June 6, 2011, 11:46 am

Alfred Mann, the billionaire Jewish philanthropist, says he is redistributing his billion-dollar pledge to universities around the world, giving more money to fewer institutions, starting with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa. He established in 2007 the Alfred Mann Institute at the Technion, which commercializes medical technologies developed at the Technion with a gift of $100-million, but he now intends to double the donation.

“My original plan was to donate $100-million to 12 universities around the world, in other words $1.2-billion altogether,” Mr. Mann told the Israeli business newspaper Globes, “but I now think that I should invest more in fewer institutions, and invest more in each company.”

Some universities in the United States have declined Mr. Mann’s donations because of concerns about the strings attached to them regarding patent rights.

Friday 3 June 2011

Arabic Social Startup Stays Local shows the value of building a social networking site around local customs.
Technology Review

Published by MIT

Friday, June 3, 2011

By Matthew Kalman

In Arab culture, a diwan is a traditional ruling council, a social watering hole, and a political forum. A website called (pronounced "diwanji") aims to replicate this institution online.

Launched in 2007, is a platform for sharing videos, photos, audio, a forum, and a Q&A facility. Users can create new diwans around any subject. While less successful in the region than the U.S. giants Facebook and Twitter, the site is one of the Arab world's fastest-growing social-media and content-sharing websites, with more than 13 million users, 4.8 million unique monthly visitors, and 15 million videos. The company streams more Arabic videos than anyone else—600 terabytes of data per month. Many attribute the site's success to its adherence to local customs.

"People are crying out for quality Arabic content," says Marwan S. Juma, Jordan's former minister of information, communications, and technology. "There is clearly a niche there, a huge opportunity. It's not only the content, it's the culturalization. How can you make your content relevant to a regional audience? It's not a question of taking something in English and translating it."

Almost 100 percent of d1g's content is user-generated, and the small amount produced by the company is developed in Arabic in-house. Early diwans covered everything from movies to motorcycles. But became the most popular Arab social-media site (after Facebook and Twitter) when a user created the "Egyptstreet" diwan during the Egyptian revolution.

"We saw a huge spike in our traffic," says Fouad Jeryes, who oversees business development at the company's offices in central Amman. Unique visitors rose from three million to five million per month, and visits per month grew from six million to 13 million.

Although Facebook and Twitter, which both have Arabic functionality, dominate social networking in the Middle East, Jeryes says many users still prefer local sites. "From content to user interface, is tailored to address the needs of Arab users and fit our culture," says Jeryes.

The technology is also designed with the local audience in mind. Outside Jordan, broadband in the Arab world is generally capped at 1,024 or 512 kilobits per second, and many users are on dialup modems—a challenge for video streaming.

"If you put a video on YouTube and a video on d1g, and you stream them both to your computer, d1g will actually stream faster—to the Arab region at least," says Jeryes. "We take a hit on the quality in terms of getting the video delivered to the user."

Abdelmajeed Shamlawi, CEO of Jordan's Information Technology Association, agrees that non-English-speaking Arabs remain wary of global sites. "On Twitter and Facebook, I don't think that people are actually going for the Arabic versions," says Shamlawi. "In Saudi, the number of page views of d1g is almost equivalent to Facebook. It's not the Arabic content, it's the Arabic culture. It's user behavior."

Suspicion of foreigners is compounded by concerns about privacy and censorship, both required in traditional Arab societies. Fifty d1g moderators check each upload and remove material that could be culturally offensive or politically dangerous.

Mahmoud Jalajel, a Jordanian blogger and tech entrepreneur, says Arab society is not ready for an unfettered Web. "If you open a forum and your father opens the same forum and finds nudity, he will ban the whole family from the Internet. It's a cultural thing that it has to be this way."