Samoa moves to the other side of the world - and misses a day!

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Regular readers of Naked Security will know that I have some strong feelings about timestamps in logfiles.

In particular, the ambiguities created by logfiles based on local time - which is subject to local timezone regulations and changes - can work against your security interests.

Here's one reason why:

"..Don't let year-ends, timezones, daylight saving changes or varying local conventions confuse your logs. If you suffer a breach, you will almost certainly want to put together an irrefutable historical sequence of events, based on your system logs, possibly from many systems and many locations.."

Local time can confuse even local residents, let alone outsiders trying to make sense of unqualified timestamps in logfiles some time after the event.

For example, in New South Wales, Australia, there are three official timezones: one for the far west of the state, 1000km inland; one for the bulk of the mainland; and a third for Lord Howe Island, 700km to the east of Sydney. And there are two different increments for daylight savings: one hour for most of us; but just half an hour for Lord Howe.

Furthermore, the Government of New South Wales has made three legislative tweaks to local time in the past six years: a switch from GMT to UTC in 2005; a temporary change to daylight savings for the Commonwealth Games in 2006; and a long-term change to prolong daylight savings in 2007.

Confused?

Don't be, because all of this is as nothing compared to what is going to happen in Samoa and the nearby New Zealand dependency of Tokelau tomorrow.

Or, to put it another way, the day after tomorrow.

As I write this, it's 1pm on Friday 30 December 2011 in Sydney. It's 2pm in Samoa, and 3pm in New Zealand.

That sounds pretty convenient, considering that the majority of Samoan expatriates live in New Zealand and Australia, and that the three countries have strong business and sporting ties.

Except that it's only Thursday 29 December in Samoa. Back in 1892, Samoa did quite a bit of trade with Hawaii and California, so it made sense to decide to be twelve hours behind Greenwich, rather than 12 hours ahead. (Hawaii is UTC-10; California is UTC-8 or UTC-7.)

But in the 21st century, being the most westerly country in the world has become a huge business pain to Samoans when it comes to dealing with Australia and New Zealand, since our weekends don't line up.

By Friday, Samoans trying to wrap up the week's business can no longer get hold of their counterparts across the South Pacific - we're all at the beach, at the shopping mall, or in the pub. And to contact us early on Monday to catch up, the Samoans have to work on their Sunday.

So the Samoan legislature has taken a surprisingly simple, but astonishingly bold, step. At midnight tonight, the country will make a timezone adjustment, switching from UTC-12 to UTC+12. Figuratively, at least, Samoa will jump from one side of the world to the other.

Clocks won't change at all. Just the calendar will.

Simply put, there will be no Friday 30 December 2011 in Samoa.

How funky is that?

(Samoa is surprisingly good at low-fuss but potentially high-impact bureaucratic change. In 1997, the country changed its name from Western Samoa; in 2009, it switched from driving on the right to driving on the left, as does most of the South Pacific; and in 2011, it will calmly skip an entire day.)

Let this remind you once again why standardised and unambiguous timestamps are vital in logfiles, and take a moment to revisit RFC3339: Date and Time on the Internet: Timestamps.

As I wrote back at the start of 2010:

"..Without reliable logs, you are unlikely to understand [a security] breach, which makes it harder to prevent it happening again. Without reliable logs, you are unlikely to be able to prove your case against the perpetrator, if you are even able to get anyone in your sights. And without reliable and consistent logs, you might not even spot breaches in the first place.."

To everyone in Samoa and Tokelau - Happy New Year! This time, we can celebrate together. And remember this: tomorrow, footy season will be two days closer, not one.


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9 Responses to Samoa moves to the other side of the world - and misses a day!

  1. Joe · 966 days ago

    On the one hand realignment maybe good for business, but to the average person losing a full day will confuse them for a period of time. Logs maybe to simple way of dealing with what is in effect a confusing issue.

  2. kryssy · 966 days ago

    wonder how much chaos thats gonna cause

  3. steff · 966 days ago

    so if my birthday was the 30th in Samoa does that mean no birthday :(

  4. The link that says "RFC3339" links to the 1997 Samoan name-change, rather than to the actual RFC: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3339.txt

  5. Michael · 966 days ago

    Probably a ploy to field a team in the NRL! :)

  6. jessi slaughter · 966 days ago

    .. not sure which RFC it is, but..

    "take a moment to revisit RFC3339: Date and Time on the Internet: Timestamps."

    .. i'm quite sure you're supposed to have hyperlink descriptions match the site that's linked; sadly, RFC3339 doesn't measure up.

    • Paul Ducklin · 966 days ago

      Thanks.

      Now fixed. The link to RFC3339 now links to RFC3339 (Date and Time on the Internet: Timestamps).

      (I had inadvertently linked it to the Samoan "change of country name" legislation referred to earlier in the article.)

  7. JohnB · 965 days ago

    And the reason - Money. Aus' will make more lucre out of being the first to celebrate N.Y. than Samoa.

    • Paul Ducklin · 963 days ago

      Australia isn't the first to celebrate NY. (And Australia doesn't celebrate NY as one, anyway - it is split into about 8 different summer timezones spread across 5 hours, from UTC+6:30 to UTC+11:30.)

      New Zealand, amongst others, is a full two hours ahead of Sydney at UTC+13 and the far Eastern islands of Kiribati are three hours ahead at UTC+14.

      Sydney's popularity as a New Year's vacation venue has nothing to do with its longitude. It has to do with the latitude (it's midsummer, not midwinter), the large selection of decent beaches, and the fact that the Harbour Bridge makes an almost unbeatable backdrop (and launchpad) for the city's famous NYE fireworks.

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog