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Press release issued by the UK e-Science Programme

Innovating through e-Science: 4th e-Science All Hands meeting
20-22 September 2005, East Midlands Conference Centre, Nottingham

Grid shows new way to thwart Wiki vandals

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web 15 years ago, he always intended that it should be easy for people to write to it, not just read from it. But if websites are opened up to anyone, they often get vandalised by people with axes to grind. Now, a researcher from Manchester has brought together two of computing's current buzzwords - the Grid, and Wikis - to overcome this problem.

A Wiki is a web site where users can easily add and edit its content. Although some Wikis ask contributors to pick a username and password, people running the sites have no idea who their users really are, and the better known Wikis have to be constantly on the look out for offensive or just irrelevant additions. The new open source software, GridSiteWiki, combines the functions of a Wiki with user authentication based on security tools developed for Grid computing. Dr Andrew McNab of Manchester University, who developed the new software, will be speaking on Grid security at the UK e-Science All Hands Conference in Nottingham on Thursday.

Dr McNab explains, “Wikis have been plagued with problems of trust and identity: how do you deal with internet vandals using fake accounts? Now we're able to tie in with the security being rolled out for the Grid, we can finally make a Web where you can visit a website for the first time and start contributing straight away, without the administrators having to worry about anonymous vandals with fake identities."

'Grid computing' harnesses the power of computers worldwide to tackle complex problems. Scientists who want to use the Grid need to have a 'digital certificate' – like an online ID card, which they can only get by showing up in person with their passport. So once someone has a digital certificate, the Grid knows who they are and that they can be trusted. GridSiteWiki extends this so that Wikis can use digital certificates to identify their contributors. As Dr McNab points out, some Wikis are deliberately open to anyone. But others are set up for a particular community, whether a science experiment, company employees or members of a cycling club, and need to identify their users.

Dr McNab works at Manchester University on the GridPP project. Funded by PPARC, GridPP is building a UK computing Grid to analyse the huge amounts of data expected from the next generation of particle physics experiments. The particle physics computing Grid allows scientists to obtain particle physics data and then have it analysed on one or more of 13,000 computers at nearly 200 sites globally, from Budapest to Illinois, without ever needing to know where the data comes from or where it is processed.

The new Wiki tool builds on the GridSite software developed previously by Dr McNab, which allows users to identify themselves to websites using a digital certificate. For users with a certificate, this means they don't have to remember user names and passwords to log onto a website or Wiki, they're automatically logged on using their Grid certificate. GridSiteWiki also automatically extracts the users' identity from their digital certificate and uses this to 'sign' their articles on the Wiki, so that other readers know who wrote or edited the article.

There are Wikis about nearly everything, from renewable energy to Romanian guitar chords. Probably the most famous Wiki is WikiPedia, a web-based encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers and with more than 2.3 million articles. GridSiteWiki is a version of MediaWiki - the same software used by WikiPedia.

So far, GridSiteWiki is used to provide the informal documentation area on the GridSite website, and for the Wikis running on the GridPP website (www.gridpp.ac.uk). It is open source, so GridSiteWiki is free for anyone to use. The source code is available under the same terms (the GNU GPL) as MediaWiki itself. More details are at www.gridsite.org/gridsitewiki/

For more information contact:

PPARC
Julia Maddock
PPARC Press Officer
Tel +44 (0)1793 442094
julia.maddock@pparc.ac.uk

GridPP
Sarah Pearce
GridPP Dissemination Officer
Tel 07870 404439
s.pearce@qmul.ac.uk

UK e-Science Programme
Judy Redfearn
Communications Officer
Tel: +44 (0)117 954 5082
judy.redfearn@epsrc.ac.uk

Notes for editors

  • GridPP is a six-year PPARC project with additional associated funding from HEFCE, SHEFC, CCLRC and the European Union. A collaboration of twenty UK Universities and research institutes and CERN, it will provide the UK's contribution to the Large Hadron Collider Computing Grid. For more information see http://www.gridpp.ac.uk. The GridPP Collaboration involves: The University of Birmingham; The University of Bristol; Brunel University; CERN, European Particle Physics Laboratory; The University of Cambridge; Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils; The University of Durham; The University of Edinburgh; The University of Glasgow; Imperial College London; Lancaster University; The University of Liverpool; The University of Manchester; Oxford University; Queen Mary, University of London; Royal Holloway, University of London; The University of Sheffield; The University of Sussex; University of Wales Swansea; The University of Warwick; University College London.
  • The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK’s strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.
  • PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.