Friday, January 27, 2017

Family Seek Redress Against Apple After Distraction Road Crash Death

A family in Texas is suing Apple because they believe that a driver who was allegedly distracted by a FaceTime call on his iPhone while at the wheel was the reason for a road accident which resulted in the death of their five-year-old daughter.

What Happened?
Media reports about the accident show that the Modisette family, with their young daughter Moriah, were travelling along a busy Texas interstate highway on Christmas Eve, 2014 when a car accident ahead of them caused the traffic to stop and queue. Unfortunately, while the Modisette family stopped, the driver behind them, named as 22-year-old Garrett Wilhelm, is reported to have driven into their car at 65mph. The accident resulted in the death of the Modisette family’s young daughter and it also meant the charging of Garrett Wilhelm with manslaughter.

FaceTime Call
The evidence which is now at the centre of the Modisette family’s decision to seek redress against Apple for what they believe its alleged role in the crash is the fact that Texas highway patrol have claimed that officers at the scene found Wilhelm's 6S Plus Apple iPhone still on the FaceTime call in the wreckage of his car.

Why Blame Apple?
Reports appear to point to a conclusion that Wilhelm may have allegedly been on a FaceTime call using his Apple iPhone at the time of the crash. It is also understood that an Apple patent for technology that might have saved young Moriah Modisette's life appears to be at the heart of lawsuit by the Modisette family against Apple, for gross negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Phone Locking System
It appears that Apple was granted permission in 2014 for a patent outlining a system that could reportedly be added to iPhones. The system could lock a smartphone when sensors detect that it is being used in a moving vehicle.
At the time of the crash, even though the patent permission had been granted, Apple had not added the system to the model of iPhone that Wilhelm was using. It appears therefore that the Modisette family’s claim for damages and the payment of their medical and legal fees is based upon their belief that Apple was allegedly negligent by not introducing the potentially life-saving system to that iPhone model and therefore they allegedly played a part in the death of young Moriah.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Following on from the UK police clampdown back in November of hand-held mobile use while driving, this is, of course, another reminder for us all of the dangers of distraction at the wheel by technology and of the need to use hands-free options (responsibly).
Third-party apps designed to stop mobile use while driving already exist, and this case, combined with evidence gathered on UK roads could show that there is a need and an opportunity for apps / technology development based around driving safety.

Streaming Top Trumps

Akamai figures show that the inauguration of President Donald Trump broke all live video streaming records in terms of the rate of data transmission in Terabytes per second (tbps).

Largest Single Live News Event.
The figures from Akami show that prior to President Trump’s inauguration, the largest live streaming event was U.S. Election Day (evening) back on 8th November 2016 when 7.5 Tbps was achieved. President Trump’s inauguration ‘trumped’ that figure with a high of 8.7 Tbps during the opening of his speech.

Context?
To put these figures in some kind of context, other figures from U.S. content delivery network (CDN) and cloud services provider Akami show that the UK 2011 Royal Wedding only managed 1.3 Tbps. It is accepted however that real comparisons over longer periods of time are difficult due to rapid advances in HD video streaming, which now requires higher bitrates and has more viewers.
Better comparisons could therefore be more recent ones such as the 7.3 Tbps and 3.3 million concurrent viewers for the 2016 Euro soccer tournament final which is clearly much closer to the figures achieved during the inauguration.

Mitigating Factors.
In attempting to explain how President Trump’s inauguration broke all previous live streaming records some commentators have also cited possible mitigating factors such as the fact that:
  • It was a mid-day event so many people may have been able to watch from computers at work, or they were live streaming the news via mobile devices.
  • There are now more mobile devices in use, and increased broadband speeds and more mobile broadband developments since many of the pre-2010 big-hitting live video streaming event records were set.
  • Numbers of video sites and services where people can watch big events are now at their most prevalent.
  • There has been a trend for some time now which sees people shifting away from traditional TV viewing to spend more of their time online.
  • This was an internationally newsworthy event given what some would consider to be some unprecedented circumstances and publicity leading up to it.
What Does This Mean For Your Businesses?
For businesses seeking to host events, one important publicity and participation avenue to seriously consider may be now be live video streaming. Figures show that more people than ever are now watching video online, it’s being done across more devices, and at increasingly higher levels of quality, and this could represent an important channel for business communications, particularly as more services become available and costs fall.

Cloud Contracts One Third Of Outsourcing

Information Services Group (ISG) figures show that in 2016, traditional outsourcing contracts were replaced by cloud-based services to the point where spending on cloud based contracts increased by 33% compared to 2015.

Fall and Rise
The ISG figures show that at the same time, cloud-based spending rose by such a huge amount, spending on traditional outsourcing dipped to its lowest level since 2009. In the UK, traditional outsourcing spending fell 10% with the number of contract awards declining by a third.

Global Trend
Across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) the replacing of traditional outsourcing contracts with cloud-based ones is fast becoming a clear trend. ISG figures in this geographical area show traditional outsourcing contract value falling by almost a third in 2016, while at the same time, 'as-a-service' contact value reaching a record high of €900m.
Globally the picture is the same. Outsourcing spend in 2016 increased by 9% to €30bn, and as-a-service contracts increased by a massive 38% over 2015 figures.

Traditional Vs Now
Traditional outsourcing contracts could be described as those where a supplier of IT Support Services uses its own people and in-house resources to handle that service e.g. developing and supporting software for the customer.
New kinds of contracts however offer different models such as software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS), all of which essentially provide flexibility / scalability, easier management and upgrades, and lower costs.

Evidence
As well as the ISG figures for example, technical commentators have pointed to evidence in the marketplace based on the actions taken by big companies in favour of the cloud.
Examples include the phenomenal growth of SaaS suppliers such as NetSuite and its acquisition by Oracle for $9.3 billion, as well as Centrica’s move away from Fujitsu data centres to Microsoft 365.

Why?
Technical commentators broadly appear to agree that the nature of outsourcing contracts is changing as cloud providers expand their data centre footprints, company spending moves towards business-led digital initiatives, and businesses continue to see the wide scale, successful adoption and use of the cloud by competitors.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
If it is not already happening, and if your business is outsourcing its IT Support, more elements of your contract are likely to be cloud-based in the near future. Your competitors are likely to be taking advantage of the flexibility and cost savings that the cloud offers, and its use looks like becoming an important source of competitive advantage that you may wish to give to your business. You may wish to consider compliance issues such as where your data is located.

Rural Broadband and 5G On Course

The UK government’s post-Brexit strategy green paper ‘Building our Industrial Strategy’ shows that its previous commitments to more funding for rural broadband and rolling-out and 5G mobile networks is still on the cards.

Commitments Last Year

Back in his 2016 Autumn Statement, UK Chancellor Philip Hammond said that the government would invest £400m in a digital infrastructure fund in order to boost commercial financing for new small fibre broadband providers / altnets. The Chancellor also committed to investing £750m in local full fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband roll-out in order to help ibusinesses and the public sector, and to help integrated 5G mobile and fibre projects.

The hope at the time was to help boost the economy more evenly across the UK, even in rural areas, rather than just concentrating on areas such as London and the South East.

What Does The New Green Paper Tell Us?

Apart from a re-confirmation of the £400m digital infrastructure fund investment and offering £10m less for the FTTP rollout, the new green paper outlined the expectations of the government in terms of what the investment could deliver in output and growth.

For example, the green paper highlighted research figures which show that better-connected businesses and customers and increased broadband speeds could add an estimated £17bn per annum to UK output. It also suggested that an increase in broadband penetration of just 10% could be responsible for a potential 0.25% increase in GDP growth.

What Doesn’t The Green Paper Tell Us?

Some critics of the new green paper have pointed out that it doesn’t actually tell us any more about what progress has been made with the improvements in the UK’s digital infrastructure since the November 2016 announcements. It also gives little indication of the timetable for the plan.

Met With Approval By Industry Insiders

It is perhaps not surprising that whatever the green paper may have lacked, its release and the surrounding publicity have been met with noises of approval by telecoms companies such as Telefónica UK.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although there is still no clear timescale, the post-Brexit government intention to carry on as planned with the UK communications upgrade has to be good news for businesses, particularly those in rural areas and those outside London and the South East who have felt at a disadvantage.

Comments in the media from businesses have so far included positive responses to the news that businesses nationwide could soon be able to benefit from 5G technology and the local growth that it could bring. There has also been recognition that there are challenges to overcome, such as (government) being able to facilitate an increase in the number of antenna sites for 5G, and the need for the right regulatory environment for coverage and data demands i.e. one that encourages investment and competition.

Extended Windows 10 Free Upgrade

Small- and mid-sized businesses who didn’t take up the earlier offer to get a free Microsoft Windows 10 upgrade are how being given another opportunity to do so.

Ended Last Summer
Microsoft’s previous offer of a Windows 10 upgrade, which was part of its push to get the new O/S out there and to move customers onto a new ‘as-a-service’ subscription based model, ended last August (i.e. 2016). The final months of the offer last time around however were not without controversy. For example, at the time, users complained about strong-arm forced upgrade tactics, Microsoft’s tracking practices, a lack of clarity about the upgrade and the upgrade process, a reliance on Microsoft’s store, and unhappiness about feeling forced into accepting upgrades from what could be perceived as a monopoly on the OS market.

The New Free Upgrade Opportunity
The new free upgrade extension applies to personal computers running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and is limited to businesses (SMBs) that have signed up for Windows 10 Enterprise E3, E5, and Secure Productive E3 and E5 Enterprise subscription plans.
Windows 10 Enterprise E3 or E5 subscriptions delivered through a CSP program by Microsoft resellers require customers to already be running Windows 10 Pro.
However, some customers may have already acquired Windows 10 / Windows 10 Pro outside of the offer by simply purchasing new equipment with it already installed.

Why The New Extension?
The new deal is, therefore, a second sweep intended to convert those remaining Windows 7 and 8.1 machines that were not replaced with newer hardware, or where a business (for whatever reason) did not decide to take up last year’s free upgrade. It is part of the broad strategy to maximise Microsoft’s revenue by moving all customers to the software-as-a-service model, to promote the partner-centric CSP, and perhaps to move customers to more expensive options such as Windows 10 Enterprise.

The License Giveaway
Whereas business customers who missed out on the previous upgrade opportunity would have needed to buy a 10 Pro license (because the offer was Windows 10 Pro based), this new upgrade opportunity is essentially giving them the license for free, which is something that would normally cost $199.
The license given as part of this new offer will, however, be perpetual, and device specific which means that it will continue even if customers end their Windows cloud subscription in the CSP.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Microsoft is clearly committed to the 'as-a-service' model with its current Windows 10 and future operating system versions. Moving forward with Microsoft therefore means that getting Windows 10 is inevitable, so this re-introduction of an old offer could be viewed as a chance to get something for free that you may probably have been intending to get anyway at some point in the near future.
It is of course still likely that some problems will occur when the automatic updates happen, as has already been the case on several occasions, but if you haven’t already upgraded, now may be a good time to consider the many benefits that Windows 10 offers.
You may also wish to get more advice about how Windows 10 could work for you.

Monday, January 23, 2017

3 Men Charged After Making $4 Million From Hacking U.S. Law Firms

Three Chinese citizens have been charged in the U.S. courts after it was found that they hacked U.S. law firms and then used the stolen information for insider-trading that netted them $4 million dollars.

A Manhattan federal court charged the 3 men this week with conspiracy, insider trading, wire fraud and computer intrusion in a case that mixed cyber-crime with securities fraud.

How They Did It

It has been reported that the trio aged 26, 30 and 50 hacked 2 U.S. law firms, specifically targeting the email accounts of partners working on mergers and acquisitions. The hacking trio used the law firms’ employee's credentials to install malware on the firm's servers in order to access emails from lawyers.

The hackers were searching for commercially sensitive information that would give them an advantage in the second level of the fraud which was to trade on company stocks based on the insider information they had gained about mergers and acquisitions.

Another U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission civil lawsuit has shown that the men were able to avoid suspicion by listing themselves in brokerage records as working at information technology companies.

Law Firms Not Yet Officially Identified

The 2 law firms have not yet been identified, although speculation in a technology news post on the Reuters website suggests that New York-based Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP may be a likely candidate. The speculation appears to be based on news that the bank represented Pitney Bowes in its 2015 acquisition of Borderfree Inc, which one of the mergers in question in the recent case. It has also come to light that in March 2015 Cravath was reported to have discovered what was described as a "limited breach" of its systems.

Accused of Making Money From Intel’s Altera Inc Acquisition

U.S. prosecutors are reported to have accused the trio of defendants of making large amounts of money by trading using information that they allegedly stole from the law firm that represented Intel on its acquisition of Altera Inc in 2015.

It is reported that the men bought more than 200,000 shares in early February 2015, and then sold them when the stock price peaked with the release of the acquisition, allegedly making the trio around $1.4 million in profit. There is speculation on the Reuters website that this law firm that was hacked in this case may have been Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, but this has not been confirmed.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It seems that governments, banks and now law firms can be hacked in sophisticated multi-level crimes, most of which result in fraud. This attack has been described as a wake-up call for law firms globally, although it also serves as a reminder to all businesses to prioritise cyber and data security. Businesses have a legal responsibility to protect client data and should take what action they can to protect themselves and their clients and to maintain confidentiality and client trust.

Having a robust information security management system (ISMS) with cyber security controls is now an important requirement.

Businesses should now take proactive steps to protect themselves and their clients. Clients need to be able to trust that their information is confidential and is well protected. Having a strong information security management system (ISMS) with cyber security controls is now an important requirement. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans are now also essential.

Attacks can occur for multiple reasons such as system vulnerabilities, human error, or even employees / ex-employees with malicious intent. Businesses should, therefore, take a holistic approach to information security that covers the people, the processes, and the technology.

IT Recruitment Challenges in 2017

The word from recruitment specialists to employers is that challenges in IT recruitment for 2017 will include a ‘High-Demand, Low Supply’ hiring landscape, and the need to adapt to the needs and expectations of millennials and Generation Z.

Complications and Challenges

The complications that businesses now face in areas such as security, big-data and cloud technologies, are among the reasons why IT recruitment has become an important issue.

The IT recruitment landscape, however, means that employers face many challenges in finding the skills they need. These challenges include a competitive, ‘high-demand but low supply’ hiring landscape, continued growth in the IT market, and the need to adapt to new technologies and the changing needs and expectations of the workforce. With these challenges in mind, employers can help equip themselves by recognising 8 of the key IT recruitment trends that are likely to affect them in 2017.

Trend 1 - User Interfaces Need To Be Easy-to-Use

Recruitment commentators are warning companies that since the bulk of the workforce is made up of millennials and Generation 'Z', when it comes recruitment (and technologies that they are expected to used at work), user interfaces need to be simple and user experience made as easy and intuitive as possible. This is because people from these generations expect (and are used to) easy-to-use technology and they are known to dislike complexity.

Trend 2 - More Technology Used in Interviews

Recruitment specialists are also reporting an increase in the use of technology in job interviews for 2017. Face to face, in-person Q & As are now being replaced by live chat, video interviewing, and more interactive processes such as whiteboard sessions.

Trend 3 - Companies Need To Look Further Afield For IT Candidates

Reports of a less than 2% unemployment rate for IT roles means that employers will need to look further afield geographically for candidates and will, therefore, need to consider using video interviewing.

Trend 4 - Specialists Rather Than Generalists Sought

One other trend identified by recruitment commentators is that in IT hiring, employers are now more likely to be looking for and hiring candidates with specialist knowledge and experience, rather than generalists. This is because IT roles in companies are now more focused on niche areas.

Trend 5 - Freedom and Flexibility

The trend of some specialist IT workers preferring the independence, freedom and flexibility of moving from one client to the next for specific jobs on temporary contracts (the gig economy), rather than staying with one main employer is forecast to continue in 2017.

Trend 6 - All Candidates Now Need IT Skills

The word from employers and recruitment specialist alike is that all roles in today’s business environment tend to involve the use of IT in some capacity, and therefore a reasonable level of IT skills is now expected in candidates across multiple industry sectors, simply to be considered for employment.

Trend 7 - Higher Pay For Technology Skills Expected

One message that recruitment analysts have for employers in 2017 is that they should expect to have to have to pay premium rates to attract and retain people with the right technology skills.

Trend 8 - Human Recruitment Specialists Will Still Be Still Needed

One (perhaps unsurprising) prediction for 2017 by recruitment experts is that their own skills, knowledge, experience and processes can’t be fully replaced by AI, bots, and other ‘robot’ technologies. This, of course, means that businesses are likely to need to use (and to pay for) specialist IT recruitment services to attract the right candidates.

Recruitment commentators have however acknowledged that some use of AI and bots can be used to speed up and streamline the administrative aspects of recruitment, and could, therefore enable improve performance from recruiters in the near future.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Adoption of evolving technologies (and the challenges posed by it), compliance and IT governance issues, and IT security challenges mean that businesses in 2017 and beyond may be more likely to require people with more and more specialised IT skills. This could come at a cost and could require businesses to understand and adapt more to the needs and expectations of millennials and Generation Z. 

PC Sales Falling

Figures from Gartner and IDC show that, apart from the 3 big vendors, sales of PCs fell in 2016, with technology improvements and innovations proving to be not strong enough motivators to stop the downward trend.

Fifth Year Running

According to Gartner figures, the fall in PC sales is part of a downward trend that’s been going on for the last 5 years. The last quarter of 2016 saw sales dip by 3.7%, and PC sales fell globally in 2016 by 6.2% to a still quite impressive 269.7 million unit shipments.

Why the Fall in Sales?

The PC market appears to be feeling the effects of a change in consumer behaviour and technology commentators broadly agree that there are 2 main reasons why PC sales are still in decline:
  1. Smart-phones and apps. The now wide-scale ownership of smart-phones, and the growth in app development has meant that many people now use their smart-phone for things they would have used a PC for several years ago.
  2. Technology improvements are not enough. The technology improvements in PCs in recent years have not been sufficient to stimulate growth in sales. Even the development of 2-in-1s, thinner and lighter notebooks, big improvements in battery life, the introduction of Intel’s Skylake microprocessors, virtual reality (VR), and the launch of Nvidia 10-series graphics cards have all failed to become big enough motivators to reverse the downward trend.
The launch of Apple’s new MacBooks did, however, prove to be a strong enough attraction to buck the trend slightly with 2.4% increase in shipments in the last quarter of 2016.

Bigger Manufacturers Winning Market Share

However, sales of PCs have  been growing in recent years for the 'big 3' manufacturers who have essentially been taking market share from other, smaller manufacturers rather than finding new, untapped markets. Lenovo, for example, increased its already leading market share by 1.6 per cent to 21.7%.

HP and Dell also gained ground to take 20.4% and 14.8% market share respectively. Figures indicate that growth in market share for these 3 companies may have been at the expense of Asus, Apple and Acer who all saw declines in unit shipments last year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Consumer habits are changing as we favour mobile devices over traditional PCs. Although PCs are still important to many businesses (PC sales are still strong for the business sector and gamers), a move to the cloud, collaborative working, trends like BYOT(Bring Your Own Technology) and more developments in mobile technology  will continue to see businesses moving more towards mobile device options for staff.  

Windows 10 Improvements From Insider Preview Build 15002

With many businesses now having upgraded to Windows 10, it’s useful to know which of the latest features the O/S can offer that can help you to work smarter, save time, and get better results.

New Features

Although Build 15007 has just been introduced (and it includes some new additions), many technical commentators agree that the most impact was made by the rollout of Build 15002 a few days earlier. Here are, arguably, some of the better and important changes from 15002 Build as identified reported by ‘Insider’ previews, that we can expect to be using soon:
  • Reduced Blue Light Pollution: Medical studies have shown that the blue light produced by your computer display at night could be a contributor to health problems e.g. obesity, and even cancer. Build 15002 allows you to decrease the amount of blue light produced at night.

  • Dealing with Tabs in Microsoft Edge: You can now minimize tabs that you aren’t using and then restore them later. You can also preview tabs in Edge by clicking the down-caret icon from the tab list, and then scrolling a tab carousel.
  • More sensible stroke erasing in ‘Ink’: The stroke eraser in Microsoft Ink now only erases one stroke at a time.
  • Cortana improvements: Predictive / suggested, legitimate commands for Cortana are now displayed as you type, and Cortana now delivers recurring reminders for your important events.
  • Control over update timing: With Windows Pro, Enterprise, and Education you can pause updates for 35 days.
  • Refresh Windows: Rather than a complete re-install there are times when a refresh is a better option. This is now possible via theSettings > Recovery menu, used as part of the Defender app.
  • Find all connected devices in one place: They are now (conveniently) all listed on one page.
  • Create your own Touchpad gestures: You can now create and set your own gestures using three and four-finger swipes in Touchpad (see Settings).
  • Personalisation tracking: Your desktop personalisation changes can now be tracked over time, and rolled back.
  • Simplified themes: The themes page (in the Settings Menu) is better organised and easier to use.
  • Display settings improvements: Display resolution is now in a more convenient front-and-centre position on the page.
  • Create virtual machines fast: In Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, or Education, Hyper-V can be used to quickly create virtual machines, thereby enabling you to securely test a new app, or new software without risk to your PC.
  • Accessibility improvements: Narrator now works with WinPE (repair Windows) and WinRE (Windows recovery), and Braille support will be available in Windows 10 soon.
  • Easy and effective icon scaling: Your screen icons can now be scaled to the right, consistent sizes.

  • Sharing options organized better: Now there is an organized panel on the right-hand side of the screen, rather than fly-out apps.
  • Easier web payments: Windows 10 will be able to work with Payment Request API, which stores checkout and shipping preferences in your Microsoft Wallet.
  • New calendar options: Windows 10 has will soon support the lunar calendar which is widely used throughout other parts of the world.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As more businesses switch to Windows 10 with its ‘as a service’ model and automatic updates, the O/S will incorporate more helpful and improved features. These could, of course, help to save money, time and improve efficiency.

This will also mean that businesses will have to find ways of keeping up with the latest updates, which could in itself be time-consuming. 

Robots Get Rights As ‘Robot People’

The EU has voted to give a Bill of Rights to robots that will give them "electronic personhood" status in the eyes of the Law in anticipation of a new kind of industrial robot revolution.

Why?

The need for European Parliament's legal affairs committee to vote in favour of extending rights to robots has come about in anticipation of a booming new age of robot, bot, and android development. The anticipated huge growth in this area of technology and the possible wide-scale effects on society have necessitated the laying down of some ground rules in order to enable the full economic exploitation of robotics and A.I., while safeguarding humanity.

What Are The Issues?

More robots with greater (artificial) intelligence, being produced in greater numbers, and having a greater impact on our work and home lives raises issues around privacy, human dignity, the human labour market, care to robots, and our physical safety if robot systems fail or are hacked.

The robot Bill of Rights (when completed) is therefore reported to be likely to cover issues like:
  • Control. With AI, robot intelligence could potentially surpass human intelligence. This could pose a threat to human survival. Safeguards will therefore be needed to allow the intelligence to be harnessed without it being able to pose a danger to humans.
  • Safeguards. Making sure that not only do robots remain in the service of humans, but also that they are unable to physically harm us. This could mean that designers, producers and operators of robots will need to comply with legislation which ensures that robots will act a certain way when they become self-aware i.e. in accordance with laws similar to those suggested by Isaac Asimov.
  • Off Switch. The need for the inclusion of a ‘Kill Switch’ in robots to give humans ultimate protection.
  • Job Security. The possible need for a universal basic income in EU member countries where jobs could be taken by AI or robots.
  • Technical Expertise. The possible need for a European agency that provides technical, ethical and regulatory expertise to those involved in robotics and AI.
  • Accountability. Robot designers may be required to register their robots, provide access to the source code, investigate any accidents and damage caused by their robots, and consult ethics committee about research for new robot designs.
  • Legal Issues. Decisions will need to be made about legal liabilities in relation to the results of robot behaviour, and to what degree an owner / designer is responsible for it, taking into account the robots instructions, level learning capability or autonomy.
What Happens Next?

Now that the EP’s legal affairs committee has voted in favour of “electronic personhood” for robots, the European Commission will now need to present a legislative proposal, and the full house / the European Parliament will vote on draft proposals in February.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI and robotics are now being introduced into many aspects of businesses e.g. IT systems, manufacture and production, customer service, and autonomous vehicles.

The fact that countries now feel the need to discuss the issues and produce guidelines and legislation for robots is a sign that a new kind of robot revolution may well be at hand. This could mean greater opportunities for businesses, but new laws will also mean new areas of legal responsibility and liability that businesses will need to become familiar with.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Greater Protection From IoT Hacks Needed Say Cyber Security Experts

There have been renewed warnings from cyber security experts that much more needs to be done to provide adequate protection from the potentially devastating effects of hacks involving IoT devices.

What Are IoT Devices?

IoT devices are those devices that are now present in most offices and homes that have a connection to the Internet and are, therefore, ‘smart’ and inter-connected. These devices could be anything from white goods and smart thermostats to CCTV cameras, medical implants and even industrial controllers.

What Are the Risks?

The fact that they have a connection to the Internet, are prevalent, and are often overlooked in security planning (and are therefore likely left unguarded) means that they are vulnerable to hacks and attacks.

What makes the risks physically greater, more immediate and more complicated is that the vast number of IoT devices now deployed worldwide tend to be connected to (or in control of) physical objects. These objects could be elevators, doors, heating or fire safety systems in office buildings ... the list is long. This means that a hack / breach could mean that there is a real risk of human casualties or fatalities, as opposed to the lesser, traditional, lower impact but still serious risks associated with hacks such as data loss and fines.

IoT devices are also deployed in many systems that link to and are supplied by major utilities e.g. smart meters in homes. This means that a large scale attack on these systems could affect the economy.

Hackers have also shown that they can take over large numbers of IoT devices at once and use them as a botnet to attack other systems. An example of this happened in October 2016 when the ‘Mirai’ attack used thousands of household IoT devices as a botnet to launch an online distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack (on the DNS service ‘Dyn’) with global consequences.

The devices included things like white goods, CCTV cameras and printers, and the major platforms that were put out of action by the attack included Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit.

No Risk Assessment & No Universal Standard

Technology commentators have noted that the true extent of the risks posed by IoT device vulnerabilities are unknown because the devices are so widely distributed globally, and large organisations have tended not to include them in risk assessments for devices, code, data, and infrastructure.

It has also been noted by many commentators that not only is it difficult for businesses to ascertain whether all their hardware, software, and service partners are maintaining effective IoT security, but there is also still no universal, certifiable standard for IoT security.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For businesses, one first step may be to conduct an audit and risk assessment for known IoT devices that are used in the business. One basic security measure is to make sure that any default username and passwords in these devices are changed as soon as possible.

Security experts also suggest that anyone deploying IoT devices in any environment should require the supply chain to provide evidence of adherence to a well-written set of procurement guidelines that relate to some kind of specific and measurable criteria.

Microsoft has also compiled a checklist of IoT security best practice. This highlights the different areas of security that need to be addressed by the organisations involved throughout the lifecycle of an IoT system e.g. manufacturing and integration, software development, deployment, and operations.

Monday, January 16, 2017

UK Schools Targeted With Ransomware

UK police have issued a warning to educational establishments to be vigilant, following an alert by ‘Action Fraud’ that fraudsters are targeting UK schools with ransomware in order to demand big payments.

Action Fraud Alert
The UK's fraud and cybercrime centre ‘Action Fraud’ issued an alert recently that schools are being targeted by fraudsters using a form of malware known ‘ransomware’.

What is Ransomware?
Ransomware is a form of malware that typically encrypts important files on the victim’s computer. The victim is then given a ransom demand, the payment of which should mean that the encrypted files can be released. In reality, some types of ransomware delete many important files anyway, and paying the ransom does not guarantee that any files will be released.

Targeting Schools
The Action Fraud alert and police warning relate to recent attempts by criminals to cold-call schools, claiming to be from the Department of Education. The object of the calls has been to obtain the email address of the head teacher / a senior staff member, with the excuse that forms containing sensitive information need to be sent to them. According to Action Fraud, the types of forms that fraudsters have claimed they need to send have varied; anything from exam guidance to mental health assessments.

Step Two - The Malware (Ransomware)
Once the email address of the head teacher / senior staff member has been obtained, a legitimate looking email is then sent that contains a zip file attachment which has been masked as an Excel or Word document. The attachment contains the ransomware. If the attachment is downloaded, key files on the computer are encrypted files (and often deleted, sometimes at timed intervals) and a demand for money is sent to the school to unlock the files. This type of attack is doubly disastrous for schools due to their data protection responsibilities and the fact that the data relates to children / vulnerable young people.

Example From America
An example of a very similar attack which took place at a Los Angeles School on New Year’s Eve resulted in unknown attackers using ransomware to encrypt hundreds of thousands of files affecting much of the campus' 1,800 staff and 20,000 students. The school, in this case, paid US$28,000 (in bitcoin currency) to release files.

2016 Was Ransomware Year
2016 was a huge year for ransomware attacks globally. For example, Kaspersky Labs estimated that in the 3rd quarter of 2016 a ransomware infection occurred every 30 seconds. Intel Security also reported that infections rose by more than a quarter in the first 3 months of the year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
For schools and businesses alike, it’s a case of always being on the lookout for suspicious emails, keeping security software up to date and regularly backing up critical data.

In order to provide maximum protection against more prevalent and varied threats this year, businesses should now adopt multi-layered security solutions. Businesses should accept that there is a real likelihood that they will be targeted and therefore prepare for this by implementing the most up to date security solutions, virtual patching and education of employees in order to mitigate risks from as many angles ('vectors') as possible.

Having workable and well communicated Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in place is now also an important requirement.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

TV Accidentally Sets Off Amazon Gadget

Amazon Echo’ gadgets in homes across the city of San Diego on the West Coast of the US were activated by a comment make by a TV presenter.

What is Amazon Echo?

Amazon Echo is a 23.5cm tall, cylindrical, smart ‘hands-free’, voice operated speaker. The product, which was developed by Amazon and is also known as Doppler or Project D, contains a 7 piece array of microphones to allow it to receive and respond to requests from the operator.

The Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service, and the user can ask the Echo to play music, provide information and news, sports scores, weather and more.

What Happened?

CW6 TV presenter Jim Patton was reporting on a news item about a 6-year-old child called Brooke Neitzel from Dallas who accidentally ordered a doll’s house for herself while talking during play to the family’s Amazon Echo Dot / Alexa Voice Service. The young girl’s request is reported to have resulted in a new doll’s house and a large tin of cookies turning up at the family’s home the following morning.

Brooke’s mother Megan’s subsequent investigation into the surprise delivery revealed what really happened.

A news item was then produced and aired about the incident by channel CW6 in the San Diego area. As part of this news the presenter, Mr. Patton used the phrase "I love the little girl saying 'Alexa ordered me a dollhouse'." Many Amazon Echo devices in viewers’ homes across the city of San Diego then picked up and responded to the comment as if it was a request from their users. The result was an attempt by many Echo devices to wake up and actually order a doll’s house.

Alerted By Complaints

Not long after the report was aired on the morning show, CW6 viewers phoned to complain that Mr. Patton’s on-air comment had woken up their Amazon Echo devices.

Echoes of 2014

This is not the first time that home devices have been activated by comments made on the TV. Back in June 2014, an advert featured Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul who used the phrase “Xbox On”. This prompted complaints from Xbox One owners that the on-air comment had activated the voice recognition software on their own consoles, and turned them on.

Preventing Unwanted Activation

Technical commentators have stated that Amazon Echo voice-driven buying is enabled by default. Users should, therefore disable voice purchasing or enable a four-digit confirmation code to prevent any accidental purchases.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is an example of how the introduction of smart devices and AI to our homes and workplaces is still in the relatively early stages and is resulting in some unforeseen consequences as a result.

It demonstrates how voice activated systems are causing some concern and are displaying vulnerabilities. Recently, for example, concerns were raised about a voice manipulation software system from Adobe that has the potential to possibly fool bank voice recognition authentication systems, thus leaving it open to abuse by pranksters or criminals.

The general advice with IoT / smart devices should be, therefore, to change any default passwords or settings to ensure that you at least have basic protection.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Greater Protection From IoT Hacks Needed Say Cyber Security Experts

There have been renewed warnings from cyber security experts that much more needs to be done to provide adequate protection from the potentially devastating effects of hacks involving IoT devices.

What Are IoT Devices?

IoT devices are those devices that are now present in most offices and homes that have a connection to the Internet and are, therefore, ‘smart’ and inter-connected. These devices could be anything from white goods and smart thermostats to CCTV cameras, medical implants and even industrial controllers.

What Are the Risks?

The fact that they have a connection to the Internet, are prevalent, and are often overlooked in security planning (and are therefore likely left unguarded) means that they are vulnerable to hacks and attacks.

What makes the risks physically greater, more immediate and more complicated is that the vast number of IoT devices now deployed worldwide tend to be connected to (or in control of) physical objects. These objects could be elevators, doors, heating or fire safety systems in office buildings ... the list is long. This means that a hack / breach could mean that there is a real risk of human casualties or fatalities, as opposed to the lesser, traditional, lower impact but still serious risks associated with hacks such as data loss and fines.

IoT devices are also deployed in many systems that link to and are supplied by major utilities e.g. smart meters in homes. This means that a large scale attack on these systems could affect the economy.

Hackers have also shown that they can take over large numbers of IoT devices at once and use them as a botnet to attack other systems. An example of this happened in October 2016 when the ‘Mirai’ attack used thousands of household IoT devices as a botnet to launch an online distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack (on the DNS service ‘Dyn’) with global consequences.

The devices included things like white goods, CCTV cameras and printers, and the major platforms that were put out of action by the attack included Twitter, Spotify, and Reddit.

No Risk Assessment & No Universal Standard

Technology commentators have noted that the true extent of the risks posed by IoT device vulnerabilities are unknown because the devices are so widely distributed globally, and large organisations have tended not to include them in risk assessments for devices, code, data, and infrastructure.

It has also been noted by many commentators that not only is it difficult for businesses to ascertain whether all their hardware, software, and service partners are maintaining effective IoT security, but there is also still no universal, certifiable standard for IoT security.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For businesses, one first step may be to conduct an audit and risk assessment for known IoT devices that are used in the business. One basic security measure is to make sure that any default username and passwords in these devices are changed as soon as possible.

Security experts also suggest that anyone deploying IoT devices in any environment should require the supply chain to provide evidence of adherence to a well-written set of procurement guidelines that relate to some kind of specific and measurable criteria.

Microsoft has also compiled a checklist of IoT security best practice. This highlights the different areas of security that need to be addressed by the organisations involved throughout the lifecycle of an IoT system e.g. manufacturing and integration, software development, deployment, and operations.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Tech Tip - Make A Windows 10 Full System Image Backup


Tech Tip -  Make A Windows 10 Full System Image Backup 


With Windows 10 you can make a system image backup which means that you can easily restore your computer to the way it was in the event of a critical failure or issue.

To make the backup:

  • Make sure you have a suitable storage medium e.g. secondary hard drive.
  • Press the Windows button on your keyboard.
  • Type "File History" and press Enter.
  • Click the "System Image Backup" button in the bottom-left corner.
  • Select "Create a system image."
  • Select the storage location for your system image - hard disk, DVD, or network location.
  • Click "Next," and then select the drives that you'd like to create an image backup of. Click "Next" again.
  • Click "Start backup”.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Obama Retaliates By Expelling 35 Russian ‘Spy’ Diplomats

Obama Retaliates By Expelling 35 Russian ‘Spy’ Diplomats

The outgoing US President Obama has commenced the public aspects of retaliation for the alleged Russian hacking of (and interference with) the US presidential election by expelling 35 Russian diplomats from the country.

What Happened?

The US government under President Obama claim that Russia took part in state-sponsored interference in the US presidential election, with the apparent intention of helping Donald Trump make it to the White House. Suspicions of the activities were voiced back in August 2016, even though more details of the alleged hacking didn’t appear until October.

One of the main alleged state-sponsored data theft and disclosure activities was the hacking of Hillary Clintons' emails. Additionally, the (alleged) state-sponsored activities included hacking of emails from the account of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, leaked emails forcing the D.N.C. chairwoman to resign, leaked documents stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and outlets created by hackers on the internet to make the Democratic documents public.

Statement Orders Actions.

A statement by President Obama was posted on the White House website on 29th December outlining some of the actions that the U.S. plans to take in response to what has been described as “malicious cyber activity and harassment”.

In the statement, President Obama talks about data theft and disclosure activities that he believes “could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government”, as well as describing the harassment of U.S. diplomats in Moscow by Russian security services and police in recent times.

The Expulsion.

In Obama’s statement, he outlined the sanctioning of 9 entities and individuals. This was followed by the expulsion from the US of 35 “intelligence operatives” who were declared “persona non grata” and then given 72 hours to leave the country.

The Response.

In addition to Mr Trump’s denial that his campaign was helped by Russian interference, one apparent response has been the closure of the Anglo-American School of Moscow which serves children of US, British and Canadian embassy personnel. Its closure means that it would more difficult for the US to post diplomats and their families in Moscow.

Lame Duck.

One public and derisory response also came from the Russian Embassy in London which tweeted a picture of duck with the word LAME written across the bottom and it described President Obama as “hapless”. The tweet stated “President Obama expels 35 (Russian flag) diplomats in Cold War déjà vu. As everybody, incl (US flag) people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm".

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

One thing that this story should do for businesses is to act as reminder of the importance of keeping IT, cyber and data security measures up to date. Although these were allegedly ‘state sponsored’ hackers, it demonstrates that not even governments and secure state institutions are completely safe from cyber crime. State-sponsored cyber attacks could also take the form of other disruptions to business and the economy.

If the allegations are true and if the alleged Russian hacking changed the outcome of the election, one of the biggest changes for businesses will be the changes to the US business environment and trade relations with a potentially more inward-looking US that a country under President-elect Trump and his Republican administration will bring.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Amazon’s Warehouse In The Sky

Amazon’s Warehouse In The Sky

News has surfaced of a patent that's reported to have been filed by Amazon back in December 2014 for a flying warehouse, or airborne fulfilment centre (AFC), that can use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to deliver items to users.

The patent has been recently unearthed and reported via Twitter by analyst Zoe Leavitt from CB Insights, who described the idea as ‘the Death Star of ecommerce”.

An Airship at High Altitude

The AFC warehouse proposed in the patent would be an airship that is kept at high altitude e.g. 45,000 feet. Within the details of the patent, it is suggested that UAVs (drones) with ordered items on board could deployed from the AFC to deliver those ordered items to users’ designated delivery locations.

Parcel Delivery Drone

According to the details of the patent, the UAVs /drones that deliver the parcels from the main airship could simply descend using the force of gravity while navigating a horizontal path towards their location. This could, therefore, keep costs down for Amazon, and the savings could be passed on to the end customer in lower delivery charges.

Shuttles Used To Replenish the Flying Warehouse.

The patent outlines how smaller airships could be used to replenish the AFC with stock, fuel and other supplies. The patent also suggests that human workers would be needed at the warehouse air-ship, and that they could be transported to and from airship using smaller airship shuttles.

On the U.S. Patent Website

Full details of the Amazon Technologies Inc. (Seattle) patent can be viewed on the U.S. Patent website here.

Amazon Delivery Drones Already Tested

Amazon announced back in July 2016 that it had paid the UK government to allow it to embark upon the project to test parcel delivery to UK households by drone. The programme was designed to test whether automated drones would be able to safely and effectively deliver small parcels to the homes of customers, ideally within 30 minutes of them being ordered online.

In December, Amazon’s founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos confirmed the that the company’s first successful drone parcel delivery had taken place in Cambridgeshire and it took just 13 minutes to complete from click to delivery.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The airship warehouse may sound a little far fetched but the fact is that Amazon is already well on the way to making drone parcel delivery a reality.

The drone technology market could develop into a market that is worth billions of pounds and it could mean potentially lucrative business opportunities, cost savings, and other advantages for businesses that adopt these developing technologies for deliveries, or for other elements of their services.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why Water Resistant Mobile Device Sales Are Up

Why Water Resistant Mobile Device Sales Are Up

A report by IDC has revealed that the fact that water damage is common and yet it is not covered by insurance policies is the reason why sales of water resistant mobile devices have increased so significantly in 2016.

Water Damage = No Payout

IDC’s European Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker report has lifted the lid on an experience that is surprisingly common among mobile device users i.e. you are relatively likely to drop your mobile device in water / get your mobile device wet and then not receive an insurance payout if it is damaged as a result.

Big Increase in Sales For Water Resistant Devices

The IDC report shows that sales of water resistant devices were up a massive 45% year-on-year in the first nine months of 2016. In fact, water resistant devices actually accounted for a substantial 23% of devices sold last year.

During the same period, sales of devices without the feature were found to be down 17%. This second statistic dispels the idea that it’s just a case that more phones are now water resistant, and it is an indicator that consumers place a possible deal-breaking value on the feature.

Accidental Water Damage Very Common.

Figures show that water damage to mobile devices is surprisingly common. IDC estimated figures show that as many as 100,000 smartphones are destroyed by liquid damage every single day in Western Europe. The cost to consumers (and potentially insurers) is therefore likely to be more than $10.7 billion (£8.5 billion) a year!
IDC figures also show that the vast majority (95%) of damage to smart phones is accidental anyway.

Most Manufacturers Offer Feature in One Model.

The response to an increase in customer demand for a water resistant phone is the fact that most major smartphone manufacturers now appear to offer at least one model with that feature.

For example, Samsung and Huawei do, and the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have an IP67 rating. With this rating the first number (6) indicates protection against solids, and the second number (7) indicates that the phone is capable of withstanding water immersion between 15 cm and 1 meter for 30 minutes.

Technical commentators have pointed out that advances in nano-technology and improvements in industrial design could mean that liquid damage to smartphones may soon become a thing of the past.

A Value-Adding, Differentiating Feature.

Mobile market commentators have noted that whereas some manufacturers compete on price, other manufacturers are finding that differentiating by improving the user experience i.e. resistance to liquids is a profitable strategy because more buyers now place real value on this feature.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As more businesses move to a model with a cloud-based centre, with communication and collaborative work undertaken in real-time via staff using mobile devices, the fitness for purpose of those devices and their ability to withstand real and common challenges appears to be increasingly important to business customers.

Spending a little more for important features such as water resistance could mean cost saving in real terms over time through avoiding the purchase of replacements due to water damage. For manufacturers and companies selling mobile devices it is an important lesson in the need to listen to and respond to real-life customer experiences and requirements in order to achieve competitive advantage and increase profits.

Bitcoin’s Biggest Increase in Value in 3 Years Fuels Renewed Optimism

Bitcoin’s Biggest Increase in Value in 3 Years Fuels Renewed Optimism

The growing optimism for the future of the web-based crypto-currency ‘Bitcoin’ received another boost this week as the value of 1 Bitcoin jumped above $1,000 (£815) for the first time in three years.

Performed Better Than Central-Bank-Issued Currencies.

On Sunday, the digital currency’s 2.5% increase in value helped it to not only reach a three-year high but its 125% boost in value for 2016 also meant that it performed better than all other all central-bank-issued currencies.

No Central Authority

Bitcoin has no central bank control and this makes it attractive to individuals, organisations and governments who want to move funds across the globe quickly and anonymously, and who want to get around any capital controls.

Since its introduction (in 2009), Bitcoin has cut out the need for central banks which has led to allegations and suggestions that it would be particularly attractive to the criminal element of society. The fact is, however, that Bitcoin is now looking like a viable alternative to cash for countries that have a shortage of it (e.g. India, which had high denomination bank-notes removed from circulation in November).

Doing Well Until Hack.

The last great high of Bitcoin’s value was back in late 2013 where it reached $1,163 (Bitstamp exchange). At this point, the currency had experienced a tenfold increase in its value in only two months. Unfortunately, a hack caused the value to topple again on the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange to less than $400 in the following weeks.

Same Value as a FTSE 100 Company Now.

Bitcoin has experienced a big boost in its value in recent months to the point where its total worth of $16 billion is around the same value as that of a FTSE 100 company.

It is estimated that at this record-high point in its growth, 12.5 Bitcoins are added to the system every 10 minutes. Despite its current value, some currency analysts say that Bitcoin’s biggest daily moves of 10% 2016 make it still a bit of a volatile currency compared to many others.

Why the Rise in Value Now?

Currency experts attribute the big rise in Bitcoin’s value to a big increase in demand in China due to the fall in the value of the Yuan in 2016. This has been the Chinese currency's weakest performance in more than 20 years.

What Does This Mean for Your Business?

For businesses, Bitcoin has many attractive advantages such as the speed and ease with which transactions can take place due to the lack of central bank and traditional currency control.

Using Bitcoin also means that cross-border and global trading is simpler and faster and the ‘crypto’ aspect of the currency makes it secure. Bitcoin’s decrease in volatility in recent years plus the widening of popularity and potential uses for its underlying technology ‘Blockchain’ mean that Bitcoin looks likely to look increasingly attractive to businesses and governments in 2017.