Precise Time on the Markets

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The stock market has been in the news a lot lately. As global uncertainty about national debts rise, the markets are in flux, with prices changing incredibly quickly. On a trading floor, every second counts and precise time is essential for global buying and selling of commodities, bonds and shares.

NTS 6001 from Galleon Systems

The international stock exchanges such as the NASDAQ and London Stock Exchange all require accurate and precise time. With traders buying and selling shares for customers across the globe, a few seconds of inaccuracy could cost millions as share prices fluctuate.

NTP servers linked to atomic clock timing signals ensure that the stock exchange keeps an accurate and precise time. As computers across the globe all receive the stock prices, as and when they change, these two use NTP server systems to maintain time.

The global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is used as the basis for atomic clock timing, so no matter where a trader is on the globe, the same timescale prevents confusion and errors when dealing with stocks and shares.

Because of the billions of pounds worth of stocks and shares that are bought and sold on trading floors every day, security is essential. NTP servers work externally to networks, getting their time from sources such as GPS (Global Positioning System) or radio signals put out by organisations like the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) or the National Institute for Standards and Time (NIST).

The stock exchanges can’t use a source of internet because of the risk this could pose. Hackers and malicious users could tamper with the time source, leading to mayhem and cost millions and perhaps billions if the wrong time was spread around the exchanges.

The precision of internet time is limited too. Latency over distance can create delays, which could lead to errors, and if the time source ever went down, the stock markets could hit trouble.

It is not only stock markets that need precise and accurate time, computer networks across the globe concerned about security use dedicated NTP servers like Galleon Systems’ NTS 6001. Providing accurate time from both GPS and radio signals from NPL and NIST, the NTS 6001 ensure accurate, precise and secure time every day of the year.

Hackers and Time Servers

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Computer hacking is a common subject in the news. Some of the biggest companies have fallen victim to hackers, and for a myriad of reasons. Protecting computer networks from invasion from malicious users is an expensive and sophisticated industry as hackers use many methods to invade a system.

Various forms of security exist to defend against unauthorised access to computer networks such as antivirus software and firewalls.

One area often overlooked, however, is where a computer network gets it source of time from, which can often be a vulnerable aspect to a network and a way in for hackers.

Most computer networks use NTP (Network Time Protocol) as a method of keeping synchronised. NTP is excellent at keeping computers at the same time, often to within a few milliseconds, but is dependent on a single source of time.

Because computer networks from different organisations need to communicate together, having the same source of time makes sense, which is the reason most computer networks synchronise to a source of UTC (Coordinated Universal Time).

UTC, the world’s global timescale, is kept true by atomic clocks and various methods of utilising UTC are available.

Quite often, computer networks use an internet time source to obtain UTC but this is often when they run into security issues.

Using internet time sources leave a computer network open to several vulnerabilities. Firstly, to allow access to the internet time source, a port needs keeping open in the system firewall (UDP 123). As with any open port, unauthorised users could take advantage of this, using the open port as a way into the network.

Secondly, if the internet time source itself if tampered with, such as by BGP injection (Border Gateway Protocol) this could lead to all sorts of problems. By telling internet time servers it was a different time or date, major havoc could ensue with data getting lost, system crashes—a type of Y2K effect!

Finally, internet time servers can’t be authenticated by NTP and can also be inaccurate. Vulnerable to latency and affected to distance, errors can also occur; earlier this year some reputable time servers lost several minutes, leading to thousands of computer networks receiving the wrong time.

To ensure complete protection, dedicated and external time servers, such as Galleon’s NTS 6001 are the only secure method of receiving UTC. Using GPS (or a radio transmission) an external NTP time server can’t be manipulated by malicious users, is accurate to a few milliseconds, can’t drift and is not susceptible to timing errors.

 

75 Years of the Speaking Clock

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Britain’s speaking clock celebrates its 75th birthday this week, with the service still providing the time to over 30 million callers a year.

The service, available by dialling 123 on any BT landline (British Telecom), began in 1936 when the General Post Office (GPO) controlled the telephone network. Back then, most people used mechanical clocks, which were prone to drift. Today, despite the prevalence of digital clocks, mobile phones, computers and a myriad number of other devices, the BT speaking clock still provides the time to 30 million callers a year, and other networks implement their own speaking clock systems.

Much of the speaking clock’s continuing success is perhaps down to the accuracy that it keeps. The modern speaking clock is accurate to five milliseconds (5/1000ths of a second), and kept precise by the atomic clock signals provided by NPL (National Physical Laboratory) and the GPS network.

But the announcer declaring the time ‘after the third stroke’ provides people with a human voice, something other time-telling methods don’t provide, and may have something to do with why so many people still use it.

Four people have had the honour of providing the voice for the speaking clock; the current voice of the BT clock is Sara Mendes da Costa, who has provided the voice since 2007.

Of course, many modern technologies require an accurate source of time. Computer networks that need to keep synchronised, for security reasons and to prevent of errors, require a source of atomic clock time.

Network time servers, commonly called NTP servers after Network Time Protocol that distributes the time across the computers on a network, use either GPS signals, which contain atomic clock time signals, or by radio signals broadcast by places like NPL and NIST (National Institute for Standards and Time) in the US.

Clock to Run for 10,000 Years

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The construction of clock, designed to tell the time for 10,000 years, is underway in Texas. The clock, when built, will stand over 60 metres tall and will have a clock face nearly three metres across.

Built by a non-profit organisation, the Long Now Foundation, the clock is being built so as to, not only still be standing in 10,000 years, but also still be telling the time.

Consisting of a 300kg gear wheel and a 140kg steel pendulum, the clock will tick every ten seconds and will feature a chime system that will allow 3.65 million unique chime variations—enough for 10,000 years of use.

Inspired by ancient engineering projects of the past, such as the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids—objects designed to last, the clock’s mechanism will feature state-of-the-art materials that don’t require lubrication of servicing.

However, being an mechanical clock, the Long Now Clock will not be very accurate and will require resetting to avoid drift otherwise the time in 10,000 years will not represent the time on Earth.

Even atomic clocks, the world’s most accurate clocks, require help in preventing drift, not because the clocks themselves drift—atomic clocks can remain accurate to a second for 100 million years, but the Earth’s rotation is slowing.

Every few years an extra second is added to a day. These Leap Seconds inserted on to UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) prevent the timescale and the movement of the Earth from drifting apart.

UTC is the global timescale that governs all modern technologies from satellite navigation systems, air traffic control and even computer networks.

While atomic clocks are expensive laboratory-based machines, receiving the time from an atomic clock is simple, requiring only a NTP time server (Network Time Protocol) that uses either GPs or radio frequencies to pick up time signals distributed by atomic clock sources. Installed on a network, and NTP time server can keep devices running to within a few milliseconds of each other and of UTC.

 

 

How Long is a Day?

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A day is something most of us take for granted, but the length of a day is not as simple as we may think.

A day, as most of us know, is the time it takes for the Earth to spin on its axis. Earth takes 24 hours to do one complete revolution, but other planets in our solar system have day lengths far different to ours.

Galleon NTS 6001

The largest planet, Jupiter, for instance, takes less than ten hours to spin a revolution making a Jovian day less than half of that of Earth, while a day on Venus is longer than its year with a Venusian day 224 Earth days.

And if you think of those plucky astronauts on the international Space Station, hurtling around the Earth at over 17,000 mph, a day for them is just 90 minutes long.

Of course, few of us will ever experience a day in space or on another planet, but the 24-hour day we take for granted is not as steadfast as you may think.

Several influences govern the revolution of the Earth, such as the movement of tidal forces and the effect of the Moon’s gravity. Millions of years ago, the Moon was much closer to Earth as it is now, which caused much higher tides, as a consequence the length of Earth’s day was shorter—just 22.5 hours during the time of the dinosaurs. And ever since the earth has been slowing.

When atomic clocks were first developed in the 1950’s, it was noticed that the length of a day varied. With the introduction of atomic time, and then Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), it became apparent that the length of a day was gradually lengthening. While this change is very minute, chorologists decided that to ensure equilibrium of UTC and the actual time on Earth—noon signifying when the sun is at its highest above the meridian—additional seconds needed to be added, once or twice a year.

So far, 24 of these ‘Leap Seconds’ have been since 1972 when UTC first became the international timescale.

Most technologies dependent on UTC use NTP servers like Galleon’s NTS 6001, which receives accurate atomic clock time from GPS satellites. With an NTP time server, automatic leap second calculations are done by the hardware ensuring all devices are kept accurate and precise to UTC.

 

Clocks that Changed Time

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If you’ve ever tried to keep track of time without a watch or clock, you’ll realise just how difficult it can be. Over a few hours, you may get to within half an hour of the right time, but precise time is very difficult to measure without some form of chronological device.

Before the use of clocks, keeping time was incredibly difficult, and even losing track of days of the years became easy to do unless you kept as daily tally. But the development of accurate timepieces took a long time, but several key steps in chronology evolved enabling closer and closer time measurements.

Today, with the benefit of atomic clocks, NTP servers and GPS clock systems, time can be monitored to within a billionth of a second (nanosecond), but this sort of accuracy has taken mankind thousands of years to accomplish.

 

Stonehenge–ancient timekeeping

Stonehenge

With no appointments to keep or a need to arrive at work on time, prehistoric man had little need for knowing the time of day. But when agriculture started, knowing when to plant crops became essential for survival. The first chronological devices such as Stonehenge are believed to have been built for such a purpose.

Identifying the longest and shortest days of the year (solstices) enabled early farmers to calculate when to plant their crops, and probably provided a lot of spiritual significance to such events.

Sundials

The provided the first attempts at keeping track of time throughout the day. Early man realised the sun moved across the sky at regular paths so they used it as a method of chronology. Sundials came in all sorts of guises, from obelisks that cast huge shadows to small ornamental sundials.

Mechanical Clock

The first true attempt at using mechanical clocks appeared in the thirteenth century. These used escapement mechanisms and weights to keep time, but the accuracy of these early clocks meant they’d lose over an hour a day.

Pendulum Clock

Clocks first became reliable and accurate when pendulums began appearing in the seventeenth century. While they would still drift, the swinging weight of pendulums meant that these clocks could keep track of first minutes, and then the seconds as engineering developed.

Electronic Clocks

Electronic clocks using quartz or other minerals enabled accuracy to parts of a second and enabled scaling down of accurate clocks to wristwatch size. While mechanical watches existed, they would drift too much and required constant winding. With electronic clocks, for the first time, true hassle free accuracy was achieved.

Atomic Clocks

Keeping time to thousands, millions and even billion parts of a second came when the first atomic clocks arrived in the 1950’s. Atomic clocks were even more accurate than the rotation of the Earth so Leap Seconds needed developing to make sure the global time based on atomic clocks, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) matched the path of the sun across the sky.

 

Leap Second Argument Rumbles On

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The argument about the use of the Leap Second continues to rumble on with astronomers again calling for the abolition of this chronological ‘fudge.’

Galleon's NTS 6001 GPS

The Leap Second is added to Coordinated Universal Time to ensure the global time, coincides with the movement of the Earth. The problems occur because modern atomic clocks are far more precise than the rotation of the planet, which varies minutely in the length of a day, and is gradually slowing down, albeit minutely.

Because of the differences in time of the Earth’s spin and the true time told by atomic clocks, occasional seconds need adding to the global timescale UTC—Leap Seconds. However, for astronomers, leap seconds are a nuisance as they need to keep track of both the Earth’s spin—astronomical time—to keep their telescopes fixed on studied objects, and UTC, which they need as atomic clock source to work out the true astronomical time.

Next year, however, a group of astronomical scientists and engineers, plan to draw attention to the forced nature of Leap Seconds at the World Radiocommunication Conference. They say that as the drift caused by not including leap seconds would take such a long time—probably over a millennia, to have any visible effect on the day, with noon gradually shifting to afternoon, there is little need for Leap Seconds.

Whether Leap Seconds remain or not, getting an accurate source of UTC time is essential for many modern technologies. With a global economy and so much trade conducted online, over continents, ensuring a single time source prevents the problems different time-zones could cause.

Making sure everybody’s clock reads the same time is also important and with many technologies millisecond accuracy to UTC is vital—such as air traffic control and international stock markets.

NTP time servers such as Galleon’s NTS 6001 GPS, which can provide millisecond accuracy using the highly precise and secure GPS signal, enable technologies and computer networks to function in perfect synchronicity to UTC, securely and without error.

A Guide to Securing Computer Networks in Business

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Security is an essential aspect for any computer network. With so much data now available online, giving ease of access to permitted users, it is important to prevent unauthorised access. Failure to secure a computer network can lead to all sorts of problems for a business, such as data theft, or the network crashing and preventing authorised users from working.

Most computer networks have a firewall, which controls access. A firewall is perhaps the first line of defence in preventing unauthorised access, as it can screen and filter traffic attempting to get on to the network.

All traffic attempting to gain access to the network has to pass through the firewall; however, not all unauthorised attempts to gain access to a network is from people, malicious software is often used to gain access to data or disrupt a compute network, and often these programs can get past this first line of defence.

Different forms of malicious software can gain access to computer networks, and include:

  • Computer Viruses and Worms

These can change or replicate existing files and programs. Computer viruses and worms often steal data and send it to unauthorised users.

  • Trojans

Trojans appear as harmless software but contains viruses or other malicious software hidden in the program and are often downloaded by people thinking they are normal and benign programs.

  • Spyware

Computer programs that spy on the network, reporting to unauthorised users. Often spyware can run undetected for a long time.

  • Botnet

A botnet is a collection of computers taken over and used to perform malicious tasks. A computer network can fall victim to a botnet or unwillingly become part of one.

Other threats

Computer networks are attacked in other ways too, such as bombarding the network with access requests. These targeted attacks, called denial-of-service attacks (DDoS attack), can prevent normal use as the network slows down as it tries to deal with all attempts at access.

Protecting Against Threats

Besides the firewall, antivirus software forms the next line of defence against malicious programs. Designed to detect these types of threats, these programs remove or quarantine malicious software before they can do damage to the network.

Antivirus software is essential for any business network and needs regular updating to make sure the program is familiar with all the latest types of threats.

Another essential method for ensuring security is to establish accurate synchronisation of the network. Making sure all machines are running the exact same time will prevent malicious software and users from taking advantage of time lapses. Synchronising to a NTP server (Network Time Protocol) is a common method of ensuring synchronised time. While many NTP servers exist online, these are not very secure as malicious software can hijack the time signal and enter the computer firewall via the NTP port.

Furthermore, online NTP servers can also be attacked leading to the incorrect time being sent to computer networks that access the time from them. A more secure method of getting precise time is to use a dedicated NTP server that works externally to the computer network and receives the time from a GPS (Global Positioning System) source.

 

Summer Solstice The Longest Day

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June 21 marks the summer solstice for 2011. The summer solstice is when the Earth’s axis is most inclined to the sun, providing the most amount of sunshine for any day of the year. Often known as Midsummer’s day, marking the exact middle of the summer, periods of daylight get shorter following the solstice.

For the ancients, the summer solstice was an important event. Knowing when the shortest and longest days of the year were important to enable early agricultural civilisations to establish when to plant and harvest crops.

Indeed, the ancient monument of Stonehenge, in Salisbury, Great Britain, is thought to have been erected to calculate such events, and is still a major tourist attraction during the solstice when people travel from all over the country to celebrate the event at the ancient site.

Stonehenge is, therefore, one of the oldest forms of timekeeping on Earth, dating back to 3100BC. While nobody knows exactly how the monument was built, the giant stones were thought to have been transported from miles away—a mammoth task considering the wheel hadn’t even been invented back then.

The building of Stonehenge shows that timekeeping was as important to the ancients as it is to us today. The need for acknowledging when the solstice occurred is perhaps the earliest example of synchronisation.

Stonehenge probably used the setting and rising of the sun to tell the time. Sundials also used the sun to tell the time way before the invention of clocks, but we have come a long way from using such primitive methods in our timekeeping now.

Mechanical clocks came first, and then electronic clocks which were many times more accurate; however, when atomic clocks were developed in the 1950’s, timekeeping became so accurate that even the Earth’s rotation couldn’t keep up and an entirely new timescale, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) was developed that accounted for discrepancies in the Earth’s spin by having leap seconds added.

Today, if you wish to synchronise to an atomic clock, you need to hook up to a NTP server which will receive an UTC time source from GPS or a radio signal and allow you to synchronise computer networks to maintain 100% accuracy and reliability.

Stonehenge–Ancient timekeeping

Cyber Attacks and the Importance Time Server Security

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The media is full of stories of cyber terrorism, state sponsored cyber warfare and internet sabotage. While these stories may seem like they come from a science fiction plot, but the reality is that with so much of the world now dependent on computers and the internet, cyber attacks are a real concern for governments and businesses alike.

Crippling a website, a government server or tampering with systems like air-traffic control can have catastrophic effects—so no wonder people are worried. Cyber attacks come in so many forms too. From computer viruses and trojans, that can infect a computer, disabling it or transferring data to malicious users; distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) where networks become clogged up preventing normal use; to border gateway protocol (BGP) injections, which hijack server routines causing havoc.

As precise time is so important for many technologies, with synchronisation crucial in global communication, one vulnerability that can be exploited is the online time server.

By sabotaging a NTP server (Network Time Protocol) with BGP injections, servers that rely on them can be told it’s a completely different time than it is; this can cause chaos and result in a myriad of problems as computers rely solely on time to establish if an action has or hasn’t taken place.

Securing a time source, therefore, is essential for internet security and for this reason, dedicated NTP time servers that operate externally to the internet are crucial.

Receiving time from the GPS network, or radio transmissions from NIST (National Institute for Standards and Time) or the European physical laboratories, these NTP servers can’t be tampered with by external forces, and ensure that the network’s time will always accurate.

All essential networks, from stock exchanges to air traffic controllers, utilise external NTP servers for these security reasons; however, despite the risks, many businesses still receive their time code from the internet, leaving them exposed to malicious users and cyber attacks.

Dedicated GPS Time Server--immune to cyber attacks