Sunday, February 26, 2017

Terrorist? There’s An Algorithm For That

Facebook is reportedly planning to create Artificial Intelligence (AI) based algorithms that can spot posts that relate to terrorism and bullying, thereby making the platform safer for users, and making it less likely for those supporting and exporting violence and prejudice from using Facebook.

What’s The Problem?

The vast number of Facebook users, and the ease of signing up to and sharing widely across the platform, has meant that Facebook has become a place where posts reflect all views in society, from very good to very bad. It has also famously been a platform that defends the privacy of its users (and the use of encryption) e.g. as demonstrated by Mark Zuckerberg’s public support of Apple’s decision to not help the FBI to hack an iPhone that was used by one of the San Bernardino shooters.

Outlined in a Letter From Mark Zuckerberg

Now, in a 5,500-word letter discussing the future of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that, due to the sheer scale and popularity of Facebook, it is now impossible to police and censor the more subverted and criminal use of the platform using conventional and existing means.

Facebook has also faced criticism in recent times over how one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers spoke on the platform about murdering a soldier months before the attack, and the live streaming over Facebook of an attack on a Chicago Donald trump supporter in the so-called ‘Black Lives Matter kidnapping’.
How Will The Algorithm Work?

According to Mr Zuckerberg’s letter, the intention is to create an AI algorithm that can read text, and look at photos and videos in order to understand if anything dangerous may be happening, or to tell the difference between news stories about terrorism and actual terrorist propaganda. The aim is to create an algorithm that allows Facebook users to post (largely) whatever they like, within the law, because the algorithm will enable users to filter their news feed.

When?

The complexity of developing an AI algorithm of this kind means that it may not be fully ready for several years, although Mark Zuckerberg has stated that Facebook intends to start dealing with some of the cases this year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

An algorithm of this kind could lead to a much better and safer Facebook experience for all users. The ability of users to customise and to have greater power control over their own online experiences is attractive, although it is important that the algorithm is not so constrictive as to simply be a kind of heavy censoring.

If the algorithm makes the platform more attractive to more users, this would be good news for business advertisers, although the algorithm may mean that businesses will have to be more careful about the content of their promotional videos, photos and messages in order to be compliant and not to be screened out. 

Self-Flying Taxis Over Dubai From July

According to the head of Dubai's Roads and Transportation Agency, passengers could be able to use self-flying drone taxis from as early as July this year.

One-Person Drone Taxi Already Tested Over Dubai.

The Ehang 184, electric-powered, pilotless ‘taxi’ drone is reported to have already been tested over the skies of Dubai. The four-propellered, pod-shaped vehicle is able to transport one passenger and their bag (weighing not more than 100 kilograms / 220 pounds in total) on a journey of up to 23 minutes duration on a single charge. Charging the drone's battery up between journeys reportedly takes up to 2 hours.

Since the drone taxi can travel at 100 mph / 160km/hr top speed, this means that it can travel 31 miles in one trip, which should be more than enough for a taxi journey into and out of the United Arab Emirates’ most luxurious city.

Following Nevada.

Back in June last year, the state of Nevada in the US cleared the very same model of drone for testing of passenger-carrying.

Call Using an App.

People will be able to call and use a drone taxi by entering their location and destination into an app on their phone. The drone is then able to map the route, which will actually take it in hops from one set landing point to another rather than simply in a straight line.

The Benefits.

The benefits are, of course, huge time savings for passengers in being able to avoid traffic-jams, and labour cost savings for air-taxi operating companies. If the drone taxis prove popular, it could also lead to less congestion on Dubai’s roads and less pollution. The taxis may also be yet another draw and attraction for tourists to a city that is now a very popular destination.

Hyperloop Trains.

Back in November, Dubai struck a deal with US start-up Hyperloop to look into the construction of a vacuum-sealed, pod transportation system called Hyperloop. It is estimated that this transportation method could slash travel times between Dubai and Abu Dhabi (150 kilometres / 90 miles apart) to around 12 minutes! The dream is that Dubai could have a truly futuristic transport system in place that combines autonomous road taxis, drone taxis, and Hyperloop trains.

What Does This Mean For Your Businesses?

For businesses such as Amazon, Uber, and those in similar industries, Dubai’s adoption and use of autonomous vehicle and drone technology in a built-up environment could provide a real-life testing ground, which could present a strong argument and a demand-stimulator for the use of those technologies in many other countries and cities. For those travelling to Dubai on business, drone taxis and Hyperloop trains could save time and increase comfort in reaching important meetings.

Drivers Rewarded For Ignoring Their Phone

A new app called SafeDrive has been developed to reduce the number of phone distraction accidents on the roads by offering shopping discount points as a reward for ignoring your phone while driving.

Why The App?

The app was developed by 30 year-old Romanian businessman Tudor Cobalas, after he nearly crashed while he was texting and driving at the same time.

Even though a personal experience was the trigger for the idea, the app has proven popular because it meets a need that has been recognised worldwide - the need to cut road accident deaths. For example, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.25 million people die each year as a result of road traffic accidents. In the European Union, the average number of road deaths per million inhabitants is 51.5, and WHO figures show that drivers using a mobile phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash.

Smartphone distraction is now widely recognised as a cause of many accidents on UK roads. In November last year, for example, Police in England and Wales conducted a week-long campaign to catch and crack down on drivers using hand-held mobile phones while driving. This came just ahead of UK government plans to double fines and points for using a mobile phone while driving.

How Does The SafeDrive App Work?

The ‘SafeDrive’ app works by locking the phone as soon as the car exceeds 6mph (10kmh). If the app detects that the driver hasn’t released the lock by checking the phone during a journey, the driver is then rewarded with a number of points. These points can be converted into shopping discounts in the app’s own ‘SafeDrive Marketplace’.

If the driver presses the ‘Release’ button on the phone during the journey e.g. in order to check messages or take / make calls, the app wipes out any points that the driver had accumulated in the journey.

The voluntary SafeDrive app, which already has 10,000 users around the world, also has the backing of a wide variety of commercial partners, including retailers (for the SafeDrive Marketplace) and insurance companies.

Another App Aimed At Young Drivers.

Mr Cobalas has also developed another app aimed at teenage drivers. The ‘Milez’ app is intended to meet US parental concerns about the need to educate young drivers. The app offers positive reinforcement for safe driving behaviour in the form of financial rewards from relatives and friends.

More Similar Apps Available.

There are now several apps to help improve driving and prevent phone distraction while driving. The free DriveWell app from US company Cambridge Mobile Telematics, for example, gives drivers a safety score after each trip. High scores can earn drivers discounts on their car insurance with some insurers. The app also monitors how often drivers are distracted by their phones. More phone distractions mean a lower safety score.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As well as being refreshing to see a system that uses the phone itself as its own monitor, and uses incentives / positive reinforcement as motivator to change behaviour, the SafeDrive app and others like it could make the roads safer for all of us.

For your business in the UK, if you and your employees drive to and from work and( as part of your work) it is essential that a hands-free device is used for any calls, or that calls are only made or received when your vehicle is safely parked. Even checking texts constitutes a distraction.

The results of not heeding the law on this matter are not just the terrible human consequences, but also the potential damage to your business through driving penalties and reputational damage from the local publicity.

Brexit Blamed For Microsoft £400 Price Rise

The effects of the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the resulting fall in the value of the pound appear to be the reasons why Microsoft has raised the price of its Surface PCs by as much as 15% in the UK.

Big Hike

The price hike is likely to add up to £400 to the price of some Microsoft’s Surface and Surface Book PCs here in the UK.

Why?

The price rise came out of a recent price review by Microsoft for its PC sales in the UK. The problem from Microsoft’s point of view is that the UK’s vote to leave the EU back in June 2016, and the subsequent announcement in October 2016 by PM Theresa May that she intended to trigger Brexit proceedings by March 2017, saw the pound’s value plummet, and trade at a new 31-year low level against the dollar (at $1.2749).

The dollar is the currency in which the main IT vendors book their revenues, and therefore, the fall in pound’s value against the dollar has meant that big IT companies are looking to make ‘harmonisation’ / re-alignment efforts (in other words, raise their prices to cover the loss).

Expected Since October Last Year

Microsoft’s latest price rise announcement is no surprise, since it announced in October last year that it was raising the prices of its cloud and on-premise software in the UK by as much as 22%. It also said at the time that from January 2017, British pound prices for on-premise enterprise software would increase by 13% to realign close to euro levels.

Hardware Prices Went Up Last June

Almost as soon as the referendum result was in last June, hardware manufacturers such as Dell raised their prices.

Businesses With Volume Licensing Contracts Safe

Microsoft have, however, stated that the price hike for the Surface and Surface Book PCs here in the UK will only apply to individuals, and to organisations without volume licensing contracts.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you’re a multiple-user business with a Microsoft volume licensing contract, you’re safe from this particular price rise. Microsoft has also stated, however, that prices offered to businesses indirectly by Microsoft reseller partners for the PCs are likely to vary, because the prices are determined by those individual vendors.

It is, however difficult to see in the short term, how prices are not going to go up for UK businesses in some way e.g. higher costs for UK-based public cloud users.

Thousands of New UK Jobs at Amazon

Online retailer Amazon has announced that is going to create 5,000 new full-time jobs in the UK this year.

The new jobs will boost Amazon’s total, permanent UK workforce to 24,000.

What Kind of Jobs?

It has been reported that Amazon is going to be hiring people in a range of roles, including anything from software developers to warehouse staff. The new UK jobs will also include hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities.

Where?

It looks likely that the jobs will be created at Amazon’s new head office in London (where many of the most technical roles are situated) as well as at their Edinburgh customer service centre plus three more new warehouses / fulfilment centres in Tilbury, Doncaster and Daventry.

Why The Expansion Here?

The UK market is Amazon's second biggest outside the US, behind Germany. The extra 3 fulfilment centres are reported to be needed to allow Amazon to cope with its existing rate of growth and to help speed up deliveries. Amazon also needs more space and staff because it will be handling more deliveries for third-party retailers who use its website for sales and who need its delivery services.

Some analysts have also mentioned a possible move into clothing plus there are reports that Amazon may be close to launching an own-brand fashion label.
These reports have been fuelled by news of Amazon creating a fashion photography studio in London. It is not inconceivable therefore that some of the new jobs may be related to this new area of the business.

Signs Last Year.

The signs of Amazon’s popularity and expansion appeared to be everywhere in the UK last year. For example, Amazon launched a grocery delivery service in parts of the UK last summer (thought to be a test for the US). Last September, Amazon also increased its locker collection / delivery points by getting a presence in Morrisons stores.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon’s scale (and its economies thereof), the success of its business model plus the strength and reach of its delivery network, coupled with the power of its brand and the ease of online shopping for customers make it a serious competitor for many companies, which now include grocers and fashion retailers. Some businesses, however, benefit as third-parties using Amazon’s network, or through acting as hosts for Amazon’s collection points. News of new jobs being created by large international companies in the UK (particularly after Brexit) is welcome, particularly if the jobs are secure.

Search Engines to Bury Pirate Content

A new anti-piracy voluntary code of practice between search engines Google and Bing could see the filtering out of websites offering pirated films, music and illegally streamed sport.

What Was The Problem?

At the moment, search engine filtering is not in place to the point where search engine users clicking on high ranking search engine results don’t end up unwittingly arrive websites which present a possible security risk and/or offer illegal/pirated content.

Online piracy means that providers of content (e.g. films and sport) are currently losing out on significant amounts of potential income, as well as wasting part of their marketing spend and losing control over quality.

In terms of what anti-piracy action can currently be taken by and on behalf of UK content providers, court orders can be taken out to block certain sites, advertising can be restricted on illegal websites, and initiatives are in place to educate and gain support from consumers, such as the ‘Get it Right From A Genuine Site’ campaign.

Google Already Has Some Measures in Place.

Google already takes some anti-piracy measures, such as removing links from search engine results where rights holders are able to provide proof that their copyright has been infringed. Google also punishes web pages that have large numbers of takedown requests by giving them lower search engine ranking positions.

Government-Brokered Talks Produce ‘World First’ Code.

The two search engine titans and representatives of the entertainment industry reached agreement on the new code during talks brokered by the UK government. The talks brought the main UK interested parties together to reach a mutually beneficial solution, which is thought to be a world first code of practice.

Although the talks were led by the Intellectual Property Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and Ofcom also provided advisory support and assistance.

What Will The Code Mean in Practice?

Content commentators seem to broadly agree that a joined-up approach that takes into account the interests of multiple parties is a positive step. It is thought that adoption of the code by Google and Bing, which looks likely to begin this year, will mean fewer security risks for consumers online, and a greater likelihood that consumers will more quickly be able to access high quality content on fairer sites, and avoid any legal risks associated with downloading copyright-infringed content

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This can only be good news for businesses investing in and providing high quality and original content. Although it is not an out-right screening out of piracy, it looks likely to make life more difficult for those seeking to benefit financially from the work and investment of legitimate content providers.

Businesses will now also need to be more thorough in checking to make sure that any content they publish online is not infringing any copyrights.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Coop Bank For Sale.

The Co-op Bank, which is 20% owned by the Co-operative Group, and was rescued by a US hedge fund bail-out, is now up for sale. Meanwhile, it appears that some customers may also be experiencing the effects of its IT system transformation.

Bank For Sale.

In 2013, the Co-op Bank nearly collapsed, which was mainly attributed to it losing money on commercial property deals, and trying to buy 630 branches from Lloyds Banking Group. The headlines at the time were full of stories highlighting its more than £1 billion losses in 2012 and 2013, as well as disgraced former Co-op bank chairman Paul Flowers stepping down in 2013 over concerns about expenses, and then being charged the following year with possession of drugs.

Bailout and Back.

Co-op Bank, which now has 4 million customers, was brought back from the brink in 2013 when a rescue plan was devised to address a capital shortfall of around £1.9bn, and US hedge-fund money put it back on the right track. In 2015, the Co-op Bank said it would remain loss-making until the end of 2017, and it has now been put up of for sale
The Co-op bank is supported by selling points such as the strength of a widely recognised brand, and its ethical value associations, and a reputation for good customer service.

IT Growing Pains & Woes.

Where the IT side of Co-op banks recent journey is concerned, it appears to be a case of things getting slightly worse before they get better.
After a reported period of what some describe as ‘under-investment in its IT systems', the bank has, over a period of 18 months, been migrating its core IT systems to a new outsourced platform with IBM. It has also been involved in a contractual dispute with Capita, one of the results of which has been the dropping of an IT system transformation with Capita.
In addition to this, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) told the Co-op bank in 2015 that its technology constituted a breach of its Threshold Conditions. This apparent sailing too close to minimum technology standards was reportedly due to a lack of a proven end-to-end disaster recovery capability. This has meant that the FCA and the Prudential Regulation Authority have told the Co-op bank that they are closely supervising its return to technology compliance.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For some customers, including business customers, the migration to the new IT platform has meant that there have been outages when banking services couldn’t be accessed during the planned maintenance periods.
The fact that there have been recent problems with compliance to technology standards, at a time when cyber crime figures are high, and at a time where other banks have been targeted (hackers stole money from Tesco bank accounts) means that the Co-op bank may not currently look like the best banking option for many business customers. The fact that the bank is now up for sale, and the obvious uncertainty that this brings may also mean that some business customers may be tempted to switch, and potential new customers may be deterred until the bank has been sold, and the details of the sale and its implications publicised.

French Love Cheat Sues Uber After Getting Caught Out

A (now-divorced) French businessman is suing taxi-style operator Uber over the alleged role of its app in exposing evidence of his extra-marital affair to his wife.

Ticket To Ride.

According to recent news reports, the businessman in question, who has not been publicly named, but is being represented by his lawyer David-AndrĂ© Darmon, reportedly used his wife’s phone to request an Uber driver to take him to a rendezvous with his lover.
It has been reported that the businessman’s wife then received a number of notifications on her iPhone from the Uber app, after her husband had logged off. It was allegedly the information that was contained within these notifications, such as the man’s travel history, that aroused his wife’s suspicions.
The businessman’s lawyer, Mr Darmon, has stated that “a bug in an application” (the Uber app) was the alleged cause of the notifications and the subsequent discovery of the affair by the man’s wife.

Bye Bye Love.

Since the incident the couple are reported to have divorced. The lawsuit from the husband against Uber is thought to be in the region of £38m (€45m).

Software Bug Also Identified By Newspaper.

The French newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ carried out its own tests at the end of last year after hearing about possible problems with the Uber app. The newspaper’s test involved logging in and out of Uber on one iPhone, and then using another phone to login and order a driver. The newspaper has reported that both phones then received screen notifications from the Uber app, thus appearing to confirm claims made by the ill-fated French businessman. The newspaper concluded that there may have been a glitch with the Uber app that affected iPhones (but not android phones) before a software update in December.

Privacy Campaigners.

It appears that issues with the Uber app are nothing new. It was reported in December last year by privacy campaigners in the US on behalf of concerned customers, that an update to Uber’s app allows users’ GPS signals to be followed after they have left the vehicle at the end of their journey.

What Does Uber Say?

Uber has refused to comment on the specific case of the French businessman, but has said that protection of its clients' personal details is a priority.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story and other similar reports illustrate how more businesses are now using apps, and are using the data collected by those apps, perhaps in ways that we may not approve of due to their potential impact on our privacy. Data protection and privacy have become very important to consumers, particularly at a time where data breaches at large /well known companies appear to be fairly common.
In the UK, this should also be a reminder that GDPR is due to come into force in just over a year’s time, and that businesses need to become well acquainted with how they are able to collect and use customer data relating to EU citizens according to these regulations in order to be compliant, treat customers well, and to avoid any bad publicity or lawsuits.

Your Money. But Not As You Know It.

As predicted, debit and credit card, and other cashless payment systems now make up most financial transactions, but could this mean a change in the understanding of the value of money in the young generation?

In 2015 Cards Overtook Cash.

Back in May 2015, the number of cash transactions dipped below cashless transactions for businesses, consumers and financial organisations. At that time cash made up only 48% of financial transactions, beaten by cheques (to an ever decreasing extent), credit cards, debit cards, contactless cards, direct debits, and standing orders. This led experts to predict a continued downward trend for cash, perhaps reaching £13 billion in value by 2023 compared to cashless transactions of £27 billion+. This trend appears to be very much on the course predicted, with Millennials, and now Generation-Z getting used to a world where cash plays a smaller, and decreasing part in their lives, shunned in favour of online purchasing using cards and PayPal.

Different View of Value?

Some financial and technical commentators have suggested that a change in the perception of the ‘value’ of money could be something that could be taking / could soon take place among the young because of:
  • Money becoming more ‘invisible’ and intangible through the use of more cashless transactions.
  • Less emphasis on the importance of physical cash from parents who are themselves used to using cards for most transactions.
  • Money becoming more difficult to track because of so many card-based transactions.
  • Parents topping up phones for children rather than giving them cash.
  • The ability to make contactless payments with cards
  • The introduction of new currencies e.g. Bitcoin, which is web-based and doesn’t go through central banks.
Why The Move Away From Cash?
The reasons why the move from physical cash to cashless and invisible is still progressing include:
  • A fall in the price of card readers and card transactions, and banks making it easier for more smaller businesses to take cards, which means that many smaller businesses can now offer chip and PIN services.
  • The growth of self-service checkouts.
  • The continued growth of internet shopping.
  • The expanded use of top-up cards, and transport cards with longer terms than paper tickets e.g. Oyster card.
  • Vending, parking, and other machines accepting cards.
Will Cash Disappear Soon?

According to the Payments Council, cash is still an important way for many people to carry out day-to-day purchases, and to tightly control their spending. Plus, for 3.5 million people it is the only method that is used. Despite predictions of cash soon becoming a minority system, The Payments Council has said that cash will not disappear completely.

Different Perception of Value?

The idea that perceptions of the value of money are changing has not been fully tested and is currently based upon more anecdotal evidence, guesswork and assumptions.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Offering customers the chance to pay using very convenient, cashless means i.e. by card (on and offline over the phone), PayPal, top-up cards / top-up online accounts etc. is therefore likely to be an important way to contribute to positive customer experiences of your business, help your business to remain competitive, reduce the cost of sales, and get money quickly into the business in a convenient way.

Sex Education? Kids To Now Get Cyber Security Lessons

A 5 year pilot scheme is being introduced to English schools, which will focus on teaching children cyber security skills in a bid to fill a skills gap in this area across the UK.

Cyber Crime Now an Important National Issue.

The risk of criminals (or foreign powers) hacking into critical UK computer systems ranks as one of the top four threats to national security. The importance of combating cyber crime as a national and an international issue has been brought into sharp focus over the last year by (for example) :
  • Reports last year (such as Symantec’s in April) showing a big increase in cyber crimes such as online fraud in the UK.
  • Multiple high profile data breaches reported in the media such as the Tesco bank hack (and theft).
  • State-sponsored hacking threats outlined in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s National Cyber Security Strategy speech.
  • Alleged state-sponsored hacking in the US elections.
  • The setting up of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) with help from GCHQ, and the introduction of the National Cyber Security Programme, including ‘CyberFirst’.
  • A warning by the Commons committee last week that a cyber skills shortage is undermining confidence in the UK's cyber defences.
The Skills Gap.

The recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report highlights concerns about the UK government’s efforts to protect government data from attackers, with one of these concerns being for the apparent lack of suitable cyber security skills in the country i.e. a cyber skills gap.

The New Pilot Scheme.

Under the new five-year pilot scheme, 5,700 pupils aged 14 over in English schools will spend up to four hours a week studying cyber security. The lessons will take the form of classroom and online teaching, including the setting of real-world challenges, and the introduction of work experience opportunities from September this year. The lessons will fit around the pupils’ current courses and exams.

£20 Million To Spend.

It has been reported that The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is providing £20m for the new cyber security lessons, and the intention is that:
  • Pupils can learn cutting-edge cyber security skills which could help them to find employment in a fast-growing cyber security industry that currently employs 58,000 experts.
  • Talent in this area can be identified and nurtured.
  • UK businesses and governments can benefit from the skills of home-grown cyber-security experts, and the skills gap can be significantly narrowed in the near future.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses and governments need to get together and find effective ways to bridge the widening cyber-skills gap. Both governments and businesses are targets for cyber criminals, and both would benefit from the outcomes of the up-to-date education and training of a new generation of cyber security experts. This pilot, along with other initiatives could go some way to narrowing a UK cyber security skills gap, and therefore reducing the risk of each of us becoming a victim of cyber crime.

1.5 Million Wordpress Pages Hacked. Is Yours?

An estimated 1.5 million WordPress pages were attacked and defaced in January via a vulnerability in the platform’s REST API.

What Vulnerability?

The vulnerability in the REST API (the Application Programming Interface of the REST architecture that makes up the pages) meant that unauthorised persons could modify the content of any post or page in a Wordpress website. The fact that the vulnerability was there, and that attacks were taking place through it, was flagged up to Wordpress by web security firm Sucuri on 20th January. At that point, approximately 67,000 pages had been compromised and defaced in four separate attack campaigns. The latest figures put the number of compromised pages at 1.5 million, and the number of unique affected websites at around 40,000 (because many pages in the same website were attacked in most cases).

Hackers Competing.

A patch was developed and issued to all users on 26th January, but the vulnerability had already become widely known among hackers, and it appears that 20+ hackers or even groups of hackers had been competing with each other to compromise as many Wordpress pages as possible.

Defeated The Blocking Rules.

Hackers in this case were able to get around the blocking rules that had been put in place by web hosting companies and firewall suppliers in order to prevent attackers from exploiting just such vulnerability.

Defaced Pages.

Since the flaw allowed hackers to modify any page or post in the Wordpress websites, hackers defaced pages by leaving images and messages in pages / posts saying "was here" or similar.

Defacing Doesn’t Bring Money.

Technical and security commentators have pointed out that hackers are generally looking for ways to monetise website vulnerabilities, and defacing pages does not offer this. The fear is, therefore, that next move will be for hackers to use the vulnerability remaining in any sites to spread malware, or to launch spamming attacks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Wordpress is the most popular website platform in the world, and many businesses use them. A vulnerability of this kind is therefore a serious matter which could cause disruption to businesses, and create costs and other potential problems in trying to put the issue right. Many businesses may not have checked their web pages recently, and may not even be aware that they have been attacked, and their pages have been defaced. Businesses with Wordpress websites can therefore protect themselves against the vulnerability by upgrading to WordPress 4.7.2 or, e.g. signing up for WordFence's firewall service.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Government CyberFirst Initiative Gets A Much-Needed Supporter

Lockheed Martin UK has announced that it is supporting the UK government’s CyberFirst initiative, designed to attract and fast-track tomorrow’s online security experts.

What Is CyberFirst?

The CyberFirst skills initiative was piloted and launched by GCHQ in May 2016, as part of a government / industry partnership. CyberFirst is the next step on, and hopefully the beneficiary of GCHQ’s Cyber Summer Schools programme, and other UK initiatives designed to uncover cyber security expert potential, such as the Cyber Security Challenge and the National Maths Challenge.

CyberFirst is part of the National Cyber Security Programme at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), and under the scheme, it is hoped that 250 recruits could receive £4,000 student bursaries, paid work placements, and employment in cyber security work after their graduation.

Lockheed Martin UK

In supporting the initiative, global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin UK will be sponsoring students over 3 years, and providing them with work placements as part of their studies.

The Chief Executive of the company, Paul Ruddock, has publicly acknowledged the cyber skills gap that is widening in businesses, and has stated that Lockheed Martin are excited to be part of the CyberFirst.

Report Confirms Cyber Concerns

Lockheed Martin’s partnering with government to actually do something to bridge the cyber skills gap is music to the ears of those who have read the report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The report highlights concerns about the UK government’s efforts to protect government data from attackers, with one of these concerns being for the apparent lack of suitable cyber security skills in the country.

Change From Monitoring And Mopping Up To Proactive Prevention.

Richard Parris, chief executive at cyber security company Intercede, has been reported as highlighting the fact that most of the 120bn currently being spent on cyber security, is used up in monitoring for, and clearing up after breaches. He believes therefore that as well as having highly secure, user-friendly and cost-effective alternatives to often complicated authentication procedures on websites, more money should be spent on mitigating the initial risk of online data security breaches. The skilled individuals produced as part of the CyberFirst initiative, could help this pro-active risk spotting, and risk reducing process.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Lockheed Martin’s support of the CyberFirst initiative is a boost, and sends a message to other businesses and potential supporters that business and government need to get together, and find effective ways to bridge the widening cyber skills gap. Both governments and businesses are targets for cyber criminals, and both would benefit from the outcomes of the up-to-date education and training of a new generation of cyber security experts.

30 More Tech Firms Oppose Trump Immigration Ban

President Trump’s order to ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries has led to 30 more US technology firms openly expressing their opposition to it.

127 Total

The 30 technology firms, who have just signed a brief opposing the ban, join 97 others who have already filed a legal document objecting to the ban because they believe that the ban will not only harm their businesses, but that it could also be unconstitutional.

About The Ban

President Trump’s executive order meant that as well as the suspension of US entry permission for nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, Syrian refugees have also been banned indefinitely. There is, however, a temporary restraining order in place allowing visa holders from the seven named countries entry into the US until the case has been heard in its entirety.

The Objections From Tech Businesses

The order may be considered by many to be unconstitutional for several reasons. Firstly, it appears to have been poorly vetted and researched, and appears to be irrational. The order is also regarded by many as being unconstitutional because it appears to violate the separation of power between the federal government and the states, and it violates the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause because of its apparent bias against Muslims.

In terms of potential damage to technology businesses, the ban may make the US a less attractive country for tech businesses and tech workers to move to, and could, along with possible changes to H-1B visas, cause skilled immigrant tech workers and whole start-ups to move out of the US to other countries e.g. India or China. Innovation and the competitive edge that many US companies derive partly from their many immigrant workers could therefore also suffer.

The Brief and the New Signatories

The latest technology companies to object have signed up to the amicus brief. This allows parties not directly involved in a case, but who feel that they have been / could affected by it to give their view. The 30 new signatories include some big names, such as HP, Adobe, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This case illustrates how the attractiveness of the business environment is important in any country, in terms of attracting skilled labour and businesses. Governments and leaders who can make the business environment attractive, and manage security matters well at the same time can therefore bring economic benefits to their countries. This case also illustrates how some industries, more than others, such as the technology industry (which is the same in the UK also) rely on access to labour from many different countries. These industries can therefore suffer if government messages, rules, policies and interventions act not just as a deterrent to potential economic and wealth contributors, but also unsettles and upsets existing, well established existing, big companies.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Security Companies Exaggerating Hackers’ Skills?

The technical director of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre has said in a security conference speech that computer security companies may be exaggerating the abilities of malicious hackers.

Exaggerating to Boost Security Sales

During a speech at the Usenix Enigma security conference, Dr Ian Levy of the National Cyber Security Centre appeared to say that computer security companies who specialise in cyber security, may be simply playing up the abilities hackers' as a means to boost sales of their own security hardware and services to frightened businesses.

Like Witchcraft

During the speech, Dr Levy is reported as saying that the extent to which the hackers’ skills had been overplayed, and the way in which security companies appeared to be saying that only they could defeat them, were similar to the idea of medieval “witchcraft”. Carrying on the theme, Dr Levy is reported to have said that security companies have therefore been able to depict their hardware as being a kind of "magic amulet" that could defeat hackers.

Dr Levy reportedly drew attention to the fact that the security companies were incentivised to define, often using frightening language, a false public perception of hackers as being like highly skilled masterminds.

Not Always That Sophisticated

One example that Dr Levy used in the speech to illustrate the point that cyber attacks are often not very sophisticated, was from last year. Dr Levy highlighted the case of a UK telecommunications company that had been attacked using a technique that was even older than the teenager who was thought to be responsible for the attack.

NCSC Already Protecting Government Departments

One key message of the speech was that the work of the UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which was only set up in October, has already been responsible for protecting a government department from spam, phishing and other web-borne attacks. The system used by the NCSC for that department had been so successful that it may now be rolled out to other departments.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although Dr Levy made some good points, it should be viewed in the context of a speech made by someone with detailed insider knowledge, just before a Commons Public Accounts Committee issued a report that questioning the effectiveness of the UK's digital defences.

For Businesses, who are not experts on cyber threats and security, and who are faced with anecdotal evidence, regular media reports, perhaps personal experience, and reports showing cyber crime levels as being high, an assumption that cyber criminals are sophisticated and skilled is a healthy one. The NCSC does offer some useful cyber security advice to and recommendations to business. It is also important for businesses to take the threat of data breaches and cyber crime seriously and to, at the very least, set up simple systems and methods to tackle the basic known threats. This could include:
  1. Making sure that staff receive the relevant awareness raising messages and training to ensure compliance, best practices, and to help avoid costly human errors.
  2. Making sure that default passwords aren’t used, passwords are made strong and /or are changed frequently and / or making 2 factor authentication compulsory.
  3. Keeping up with patching and updates for all computers, even the old ones that don’t get used often. Make sure that third-party CMS plug-ins are patched too.
  4. Helping to defend against phishing by making sure that your email filtering works well, segmenting your network, and using layered authentication rather than static passwords when moving around networks.

Facebook Provides Secure Keys

Facebook’s 1.79 billion users can now benefit from new login security measures which use a security key alongside the password.

Security Keys.

The new security upgrade involves the introduction of a security key for Facebook users. The FIDO U2F is a physical key which can be inserted into the USB port of any device. After the user types in their Facebook login password, they can then press the small button.

The key therefore provides the user with as 2nd factor of authentication, thereby increasing security.

Other Services Also Protected By Key.

The security key can also be used when logging in to a number of other websites including Google, Dropbox, GitHub, GitLab, Salesforce, Bitbucket, Dashlane, RSA, PushCoin and Sentry.

Phishing and Man-in-the Middle Threats.

It has long been known that simple password protection can leave individuals and businesses vulnerable to cyber crime. This is the reason why many companies now use two-factor authentication for logging in e.g. an on-screen password login, coupled with an SMS verification code that is then typed in. Even some two-factor authentication methods however, including SMS authentication and mobile push apps, are thought to be vulnerable to the most sophisticated phishing and man-in-the middle attacks. This, therefore, is an important reason why security keys are now being introduced.

Hackers Blocked.

With the new security key system, hackers will effectively be blocked because they would need the login details as well as the physical key to get in to an account. Mobile users are also likely to benefit form the new system thanks to the two-factor authentication, and users of Android phone can use a YubiKey NEO to authenticate to Facebook’s mobile site.

Study Confirms Security Claims.

The results of a security key study by Google have confirmed that U2F security keys are secure, as well as being cost efficient, and easy to use. Users can have backup keys, and the fact that the keys aren’t liked to the users’ real identities means that users can have multiple, secure identities, thus making it incredibly difficult for cyber criminals to get around.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Security keys like U2F and YubiKeys appear to provide businesses with a simple, affordable, and effective way of beating many of the many annoying, disruptive, and often costly hacks and attacks that have been a threat for many years now. Security keys are practical, easy to use, and easily replaceable, and these qualities are valuable to all businesses, particularly in the complicated and often confusing world of internet security.

No Gmail From December ... Via Chrome, In XP and Vista

From December this year, if you are still using Windows XP or Vista, you will no longer be able to access your Googlemail / Gmail account in anything other than basic HTML interface.

Upgrade a Familiar Story.

Since the introduction of Windows 10, and since the ceasing of support for previous operating systems XP and soon Vista, Windows users have become used to Microsoft’s message that an upgrade is necessary and inevitable. It’s no big surprise, therefore, that Google is also now singing more loudly from the same upgrade hymn-sheet.

56 Next Version.

Google will soon be upgrading from version 55 to 56 of its Google Chrome browser, and Google actually stopped releasing Chrome updates for Windows XP and Vista version 49 more than year ago. Windows XP and Vista users will also have noticed that Google Drive is now inaccessible via those Operating systems.

Nag, Nag, Nag.

So-called ‘nag screens’ are one of the main ways that we are reminded that applications and systems will soon no-longer be supported or accessible. Google will therefore be using nag screens to remind anyone running versions of Chrome below the current version 55 that GSuite apps will stop working soon in Chrome prior to 53.

What’s So Good About The New Version of Chrome?

The big changes and the real necessity for the upgrade order is the fact that Google Chrome will essentially have much better security, and should be more able to handle more of the demands that modern browsers face with today’s content.
 Version 56 of Chrome will use HTML5 as its default, and this will contribute greatly to improving the user experience of the browser. Version 56 will also not need many of the plug-ins that previous versions relied upon, and that contributed to many operational and security issues.

What If You Just Do Nothing?

If you’re going to stay with Windows XP or Vista user for now, and you’re planning to keep using you’re current version of Chrome, it won’t be long until you try and log into your Gmail account, and you will see the most basic of HTML interfaces that is likely to prove quite difficult, and frustrating to use.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With all Windows Operating Systems prior to 10 being killed off, and moved the as-a-service model, and if you’re sticking with Windows rather than Apple, upgrading looks inevitable and helpful if you want to use many other many of the most up-to-date applications. If you use a Googlemail account and the GSuite apps as part of your business activities, and if you’re used to be using Chrome, and if you’d like to improve your online security, it looks as though an upgrade of your Operating System to 10, and of your Chrome browser to version 56 are decisions you may soon need to consider making.

FBI Given Access To Your Emails Stored Outside U.S.

Google have been told by a US magistrate that they must comply with an FBI search warrant that would allow US law enforcement agencies to access emails that are stored outside of the US.

The order, by Judge Thomas Rueter, refers to the fact that Google uses data centres around the world to store customer emails on. In essence, the order, if complied with, will require Google to move the emails back to data centres in the U.S.

Move But Not Show.

This latest ruling is one several court battles involving big tech companies and privacy / security issues that have been launched since 2013. One bizarre twist of this case is that, even though the order would require Google to move the emails form its data centre in Ireland to the US, it could actually be illegal for the FBI to then access / view the emails because that would constitute an infringement of privacy

Departing From Precedent.

Google’s argument against moving the emails appears to be that Judge Thomas Rueter’s ruling may have departed from precedent.

The precedent is the Microsoft Corporation v. United States of America case known as "Microsoft Ireland". In this case, which began back in December 2013, the US government issued a warrant to Microsoft to allow a search of Hotmail emails which were stored in a data centre in Dublin. The emails were sought by investigators as part of a narcotics case.

The court, in this case, ruled that American companies could not be compelled to produce data stored outside the US, and, On July 14, 2016, a three judge panel of the Second Circuit ruled unanimously in favour of Microsoft.

Move To Reverse Decision.

Even though the decision was welcomed by technology and media companies, privacy advocates, and the American Civil Liberties Union, in January this year, appeals court judges called on the US Supreme Court or Congress to reverse the decision. Their given reasons for wanting to reverse it were that the original decision had hurt law enforcement and raised national security concerns.

Outdated Act?

The cases against Google and Microsoft have both involved warrants issued under the 1986 federal law ‘Stored Communications Act’ which many people now feel is outdated

Google To Appeal.

Google, which receives more than 25,000 requests annually from US authorities for disclosures of user data in criminal matters, has said that it plans to appeal against this latest ruling.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The Google and Microsoft cases help to illustrate the importance and complexity of data security issues, and how governments, including our own, are now seeking greater powers to access and monitor our online communications and activities. For businesses it is therefore important to be clear on, and to comply with the current data security law and to prepare adequately for the introduction of GDPR early next year.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Travellers To The U.S. May Have To Provide Social Media Details

According to recent reports, the Trump administration may be about to introduce an immigration policy that will require foreign travellers to the U.S. to divulge their social media profiles, contacts and browsing history.

Not A New Idea.

Back in July 2016, the Federal Register of the U.S. government published a proposed change to travel and entry forms which indicated that the studying of social media accounts of those travelling to the U.S. would be added to the vetting process for entry to the country. It was suggested that the proposed change would apply to the I-94 travel form, and to the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) visa. The reason(s) given at the time was that the “social identifiers” would be:
“used for vetting purposes, as well as applicant contact information. Collecting social media data will enhance the existing investigative process and provide DHS greater clarity and visibility to possible nefarious activity and connections by providing an additional tool set which analysts and investigators may use to better analyze and investigate the case.”

There have been reports that U.S. border officials have actually been asking travellers to voluntarily surrender social media information since December 2016.

No Comply, No Entry.

The suggestion from the latest reports is that foreign visitors could now be denied entry if they refuse to comply. The reported possible upgrading of supplying personal social media profile information and web browsing histories for vetting purposes appears to be partly in response to the shootings in San Bernardino by Tashfeen Malik, who reportedly called for jihad.

Hot Topic.

Restrictions on eligibility for legally entering the U.S. have become a very hot topic since President Trump's executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. sparked international demonstrations and condemnation. The re-surfacing of “social identifiers” for vetting idea could therefore only add to U.S. and international concerns about the direction that President Trump’s administration is taking with immigration matters.

Excessive.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group has been quoted in the online media as describing the proposed checks of social media, contacts and web history as something that would be “excessive and insulting”.

Unclear When and How.

The timescale and how the policy of checking web browsing history as a possible U.S. entry requirement is, as yet, unclear.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The recent order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries for example has already prompted tech leaders to say that it could harm businesses in Silicon Valley, as it would also be likely to cause harem to businesses in other U.S. areas and industries.

A further potential restriction based on the Web activities could therefore also harm businesses.

The prevalence of recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the direction of the UK government in terms of its public revival of the ‘special relationship’ with the Trump administration, and its adoption of the Communications Data Bill / so-called ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ could mean that such border checks could potentially be introduced here, and as such, could have a negative effect on businesses in the UK with international connections and sites.

Hotel Pays Ransom To Let Guests Back In To Rooms

A luxury Austrian hotel had to pay a €1,500 ransom to hackers to allow guests back in to their locked rooms after the hackers disabled the hotel’s hi-tech room locking system.

What Happened?

Guests at the Brandstaetter hotel at the Romantik Seehotel Jaegerwirt resort in Austria found themselves locked out of their rooms and other areas of the hotel including the bar after the hotel was targeted by cyber criminals using a kind of malware known as ‘ransomware’. The ransomware specifically targeted the electronic key system, and although a safety feature in the system meant that guests could leave their rooms, they could no longer get back in while the system was down. At the time of the attack the hotel was fully booked with 180 guests.

Ransomware.

Ransomware is a form of malware that typically encrypts the important files on your computer and you are them given a ransom demand by the attackers, the payment of which should mean that your encrypted files can be released. In reality, some types of ransomware delete many important files anyway, and paying the ransom does not always guarantee that you will get access to your files back.

2016 saw a huge growth in ransomware attacks. For example, the ‘Trend Micro’ report showed that that the occurrence of ransomware was up by 172%, in the first half of 2016 compared with the whole of 2015. The report also identified 79 new ransomware families in the first six months of last year, with 58% of the attacks being launched via attachments in spam emails.

Paid The Ransom.

The Brandstaetter is reported to have paid the €1,500 in the digital bitcoin currency ransom demanded by the hackers. Bitcoin is often used for ransom demands because it does not go through central banks and therefore the cyber criminals have a greater chance of not being traced.

Paying the ransom in this case did mean that access was restored to some parts of the hotel and that guests were at least able to collect their coats from their rooms.

Third Time!

This was the third successful time that the Brandstaetter had been targeted by the hackers, but IT upgrades have reportedly now foiled a fourth attempt, and hopefully future attempts.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Hacking using malware and particularly ramsomware is now widespread, and all businesses using IT are potential targets. In order to provide maximum protection, 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 as possible. It is also important to have Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in place, should any attacks be successful.








Parliamentrary Inquiry Launched Into Fake News


Claims that U.S. voters may have been swayed by “fake news” stories in the recent U.S election campaign is the reason given by MPs for launching a new parliamentary inquiry into the phenomenon.

What Is Fake News?

As the name suggests, fake news refers to false news stories, propaganda and other kinds of disinformation that are disguised as real news, and deliberately distributed (mostly online first), often using social media to amplify the effect. The phenomenon became so large in 2016 that it was popularly dubbed “the year of the lie”.

Parliamentary Inquiry.

Claims that voters in the recent U.S elections may have been influenced to vote a certain way by believing fake news stories have spurred a group of UK MPs into action to make sure that fake news is not able to exert an influence on democracy here.

MPs from The Culture, Media and Sport Committee, headed by chairman Damian Collins, have decided to launch a parliamentary inquiry which will look at the dangers and sources of fake news, the motivation for, and the means of spreading fake news.

A Threat.

Mr Collins and the cross-party Commons committee who are conducting the parliamentary inquiry have stated that they believe that fake news is not harmless, indeed as well as being a threat to democracy, it is responsible for undermining public confidence in the media.

Responsibility.

As well as announcing the scope of the parliamentary inquiry, Mr Collins has also publicly stated that he believes that major tech companies have a social responsibility to tackle “piracy” online, and to address the issue of how the illegal sharing of content and fake news is able to take place on social media.

Help For Consumers.

As well a studying fake news and how it is circulated, the parliamentary inquiry also hopes to be able to provide consumers with tools to enable them to assess the origin of news stories that they find online.

Limited Impact?

The results of a recent U.S. Stanford University study of how fake news was spread in the recent presidential election show that fake news may actually have a more limited impact than Mr Collins and the cross-party Commons committee may think. The study results show that, even though fake news stories about President Trump were shared four times more than fake stories about Hilary Clinton, only half of people who actually saw the stories believed them, and the most widely shared fake stories were only actually seen by a very small number of voters.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There is clearly a danger that many people cannot distinguish fake from real news stories online and don’t have the time, inclination, or the tools to check the origins of everything they read. Dangers for businesses could therefore include negative stories or reviews of dubious origin that are posted online, or the use of perhaps false / flawed data or information found on line as a basis for business decision making.

Establishing trust and providing evidence of claims is therefore essential in business communication channels, and businesses should be careful to check sources when using web-based information as part of decision making or communications with customers.

Microsoft To Offer More Digital Apprenticeships and Technology

Tech giant Microsoft has announces that it will be offering a programme to improve digital literacy across the UK and this will include the offer of digital apprenticeships.

What’s The Problem In The UK?

The fast pace of technology has created several digital challenges in the UK such as:

The technology skills gap. Businesses in the UK have, for several years, identified a technology skills shortage to be a big barrier to growth and competitiveness. This skills gap is believed to be costing the economy approximately £63bn a year. A survey by TechUK in 2015 for example, found that 93% of technology firms believe the skills gap has a directly negative impact on their business. O2 research has also shown that the UK must fill 766,000 new digital jobs by 2020, which will require almost 2.3 million additional digital workers.

At the moment, it looks unlikely that the UK has enough people with the appropriate, diverse range of technology skills to fill those roles. The technology skills gap also appears to be particularly pronounced in the public sector, where Microsoft research has shown that only 35% of workers think they have a digitally literate leadership team. There are already initiatives operating in the UK to help bridge the skills gap, such as the not-for-profit #techmums campaign which has partnered with several large corporate firms with the aim of providing technology skills to one million mothers by 2020.

Cloud skills gap
. Although there has been a rapid growth and adoption of the cloud and cloud technologies in the business world, and in the public sector, there are not enough people in the UK with the necessary cloud skills and knowledge. Amazon Web Services (AWS) for example, has recently launched a series of skills-boosting initiatives targeted at school children, young adults and ex-military personnel with the goal of expanding the UK’s supply of cloud talent.

What Is Microsoft Offering?

In order to bridge the technology skills gap, and specifically the cloud skills gap in the UK, Microsoft is offering:
1.Digital literacy programmes and training. This will be in the form of free online digital literacy training, open to the entire UK population, and training for 30,000 UK public servants in how to deliver digital services to citizens.
2.A Cloud Skills Initiative to train 500,000 people in the UK to be cloud technology experts.
3.An extra 30,000 digital apprenticeships on its existing apprenticeships programme, with the aim of increasing the number of people learning on-the-job digital skills. Microsoft is reported to have already exceeded its 2012 target of training 4,000 digital apprentices, and in doing so has worked with 25,000 partners across the UK to train 11,000 digital apprentices.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In order for UK companies to stay competitive, particularly in uncharted post-Brexit waters, technology and especially the cloud skills gaps need to be filled. The training and apprenticeships from Microsoft is therefore good news for UK businesses as they will help to provide them with a UK supply of workers with the right level and diversity of technology skills to move businesses forward, and help UK businesses to reduce the cost of having to recruit workers from overseas.

Washable Smartphones

Japanese electronics manufacturer Kyocera is reported to have introduced a new range of waterproof smartphones that can be washed in soap and water.

Second Time Around.

This is the second time that Kyocera have launched a range of waterproof smartphones. Back in December 2015, the company unveiled the “Digno Rafre” soap-proof smartphone which came in a range of “bubble bath-like” colours, including coral pink, cashmere white and marine navy. The Digno Rafre smartphones were hand-soap washable, waterproof, dustproof, allowed users to operate the touch-screen when their fingers were wet, and also had a “scratch-healing" finish to avoid damage from accidental scrapes and drops.

The New Version.

The new and improved water, and soap-washable smartphone from Kyocera is now simply called the Rafre. It can reportedly do all the things that its Digno Rafre predecessor could, plus it is resistant to foaming body soap (not just hand-soap), it is resistant to hot water, and it has a cooking app which means that it that can be operated with just hand gestures while a person is cooking.

Why?

Consumers now want to be able to use devices anywhere, and the features of the new Rafre mean that it can be used while doing the dishes, while cooking, or even while in the bath or shower, let alone while swimming on holiday or in wet weather. The total waterproofing, soap and hot water resistance also means that owners can actually wash their phone to remove any dirt or contamination.

‘No Holes’ Technology.

The key technology which enables the Rafre to be fully waterproof is the Smart Sonic Receiver which is able to use vibrations on the display of the device, transmitted to the user's eardrums, rather than using holes in the earpiece and speaker.

Only Available in Japan.

At the moment, Kyocera are only releasing the Rafre to the Japanese market on the KDDI network. Although this is a Japanese-based, global telecoms operator with networks in over 190 countries, it may still make it difficult for UK customers to acquire the device.

Rugged Device History.

Kyocera is also known in the U.S. for introducing other ‘rugged’ mobile devices such as the DuraForce Pro shockproof device and the Verizon outdoor-equipped smartphone.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There are potentially many businesses within  manufacturing or construction where a fully water-resistant and washable phone would be a useful and valuable tool for members of the workforce. A wider-scale adoption of such devices would also not only be good news for telecoms companies and phone retailers, but could also benefit marketers using calls and SMS messages to reach prospects and customers literally anywhere. The introduction of these devices could also have an effect on the mobile phone insurance market.

Dropbox Delights

To kick off 2017, Dropbox has announced new productivity enhancements to its services, which include availability of its Paper document collaboration service and a Smart Sync feature that gives access to all shared files.

More Attractive in a Crowded Market.

Technical commentators have suggested that the new Dropbox enhancements are part of a strategy to help give the product more appeal, and a competitive edge in a market cloud storage market that has become very crowded in recent years. For example, Box has already just unveiled a version of Notes which offers similar functionality to the new Dropbox ‘Paper’ enhancement.

Some good news about the enhancements to the product may also help to cover over some of the bad publicity that Dropbox received in September 2016 when the customer usernames, email addresses and encrypted passwords of a staggering 68 million customers, which were stolen in a hack back in 2012, re-surfaced in a very public leak.

Paper.

The ‘Paper’ document collaboration service is the new enhancement that is designed to enable customers to be able to get to work quickly on business ideas, by allowing them to be able to easily collate information from many different sources, rather than being faced with the challenges of information fragmentation. Although it is essentially in a similar ball-park of tools such as Microsoft Office or Google Drive, Dropbox are keen to point out that it helps more with a “lifecycle of ideas”, and therefore also includes other applications. One such application is the new task management functionality within Paper, which simplifies the process of enabling users to assign people to tasks, and to set due dates, all contained within a Paper document.

Although Dropbox has publicly named several high profile companies who have worked with the beta version, it is too early to say how commercially successful Paper will become, particularly as it has already up against similar new competitor products.

Smart Sync.

The big advantage of the new a Smart Sync enhancement is that it allows each individual user to see a synced version of a potentially large team folder with multiple user inputs, without having to worry about hard drive space on their own computer, because the file is stored and synced in the cloud.

There have been some concerns about how some levels of functionality in Smart Sync could cause challenges for Mac users, who may need a kernel extension that could cause performance or security issues. Dropbox however have been quick to point out that, if businesses aren’t sure about the level of functionality, they can turn it off and Dropbox will continue to work without Smart Sync.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

These enhancements are likely to be good news for business Dropbox users because they are designed to dovetail with existing functionality and could be tools that could help users to reap more of the performance and competitive benefits that the cloud has to offer. For business generally, Dropbox is one well known branded route in what is now a vast array of different cloud storage options.