Monday, May 29, 2017

Bank's Voice Recognition Fooled By Twin

Last week, BBC Click reporter Dan Simmons reported that he had been able to fool HSBC’s biometric voice recognition system by passing his brother’s voice off as his own.

What Happened?

In an experiment that was filmed for the BBC Click technology digest TV programme, Mr Simmons initially set up an account with his own voice password, and then allowed his non-identical twin brother Joe to use the voice recognition account access procedure.

Despite claims that voice recognition is secure because of the unique aspects of each person’s voice, Joe’s voice was wrongly identified and authenticated as being Dan’s, and Joe was then granted access to his brother Dan’s bank account.

This granted him access to transfer and withdraw funds from the account, although this was not actually attempted.

Seven Attempts

Quite apart from the worrying fact that the voice recognition system could be fooled (albeit by a twin), the security procedure actually allowed the twin seven attempts before finally accessing his brother’s account using only his voiceprint.

Introduced By HSBC Last Year

Voice recognition software has been around for some years and was rolled out by Barclays in 2013. Other High Street Banks followed suit, with the expectation that by the end of this year, millions of banking customers will be using it.

A voice–based security system was first introduced by HSBC in 2016, and was designed to quantify 100 different attributes and traits of the human voice, used to validate a user’s identity.

When accessing HSBC and other High Street banking systems, a customer only needs to give their date of birth, account details, and then the command “My voice is my password”.

As each person’s voice is unique and always available (unless you’ve lost your voice of course), the system should be able to recognise a voice on the first attempt.

How It Works

In the same way that your fingerprint is unique, your voice is totally individual to you. Hackers and fraudsters may use their resourcefulness to guess or steal your passwords and PINs, but it should be impossible for your voice to be replicated.

Voice ID systems work by checking more than 100 physical and behavioural voice peculiarities, including the emphasis you place on certain words, the shape and size of your mouth, plus other less known physical and behavioural individualities.

HSBC To Increase Security

As a result of the recent “twin” findings, HSBC has now said that it intends to intensify the sensitivity of the software. Despite their discomfort of being duped by a BBC reporter and his twin, security experts still uphold that biometric voice recognition is undoubtedly a more effective and more secure means of accessing your bank account than using more traditional passwords.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The stubbornly high levels of cyber crime, as highlighted by many high-profile attacks including the recent WannaCry ransomware attack have led businesses to give greater priority to cyber and data security. Businesses would like (and expect) trusted institutions, such as banks, to give their security (on and offline) a very high degree of priority.

Some banks have notoriously old IT systems though, and many banks have been subject to attacks in recent times e.g. when money was actually taken from 9,000 Tesco current accounts earlier this year.

Password verification / authentication is known to be less secure than multi-stage and biometric security systems. A YouGov / GMX study back in August 2016, however, showed that UK people have a number of trust concerns about biometrics ranging from concerns about the providers to the technology itself.

Even though biometrics should be much more secure in theory, this report of a failure of a seemingly foolproof system will do nothing to improve the trust that business and home customers have in biometric banking security systems. Despite trust issues however, many customers accept that biometrics are still an important next step to beat the fraudsters, and that the loophole uncovered now in the voice-recognition system could mean that this avenue is now closed to fraudsters.

New 160 Terabytes Memory Machine

Hewlett Packard has reportedly unveiled a prototype computer with a massive 160TB of memory, enough to analyse the equivalent of 160 million books at the same time.

World’s Largest

Simply named “The Machine”, the Linux-based computer is thought to be the world’s largest single memory computer. The fact that the focus of the computer’s development has been placed upon memory rather than processing is thought to make it ideal for managing ‘Big Data’.

What Is Big Data?

Big Data refers to very large data sets, the fast and effective analysis of which by computers could reveal patterns and trends that have a value (usually commercially).

Big Data is essentially about empowering your company to make better, more accurate and faster choices about how best to run your sales, marketing and operations. From a sales point of view, for example, it can be harnessed to get that bit closer to your customers.

More Powerful And More Efficient

HP’s research division has developed “The Machine” with the idea that it would be more powerful than current products and certainly more energy efficient, thereby delivering greater value while keeping costs down.

This new, pioneering computer is part of a new dynasty of computers that use a different type of computer memory rather than the two current transferring methods that other computers employ.

New Operating System + Single Memory

The initial operating system for the new computer was designated to be Linux++ and then ultimately be replaced with “Carbon”, a unique system that developers designed from scratch that uses only a single memory for both short-term and long-term data storage. The new computer also benefits from the use of optical-fibre rather than copper wire to move data around.

Special Chip

The Machine’s OS is designed to work with a special nanoscale chip called the “Memristor” that consists of a stack of thin layers of tantalum oxide and other materials with a grid of wires that meet at each junction.

Leading To “Memory-Less” Design In Future

Designed to compete with the servers used by corporate networks and the expertise of internet companies such as Facebook and Google, HP designers suggest that this computer’s development could enable them to produce a version that is adapted for smaller devices in the future, thus providing the enticing prospect of as “memory-less” computer.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses now collect large amounts of data that can often only be of any commercial use if it can be properly managed, analysed, and translated into value-adding, cost-saving and differentiating changes to marketing. Companies that are able (and can afford) to use powerful, new generation computers designed with big data in mind, are the ones who can perhaps build a valuable and hard-to-copy competitive advantage from it in the marketplace.

More computer companies are now developing products and services to enable businesses to manage large amounts of data and / or to use superior processing power to innovate and overcome traditional challenges. Back in March for example, IBM announced that, for the first time, it was giving companies the chance to use a quantum computer (via the cloud) through its IBM Q service, thus enabling businesses to solve highly complex problems.

Dump Your Provider By Text

If Ofcom’s new automated 'text to switch' plan comes to fruition, mobile phone customers will be able to ditch their current provider just by sending them a text.

What’s The Problem?

Delivering exceptional customer service is now a key differentiator in business, and companies that don't go the 'extra mile' quickly find they lose customers to those that do.

Ensuring customer satisfaction however, does not seem to be a high priority in every sector of the economy. Utilities and telecommunications are often considered to be behind the game when it comes to adequately servicing their customers.
If you’ve ever tried to move your mobile contract to a new provider will know how difficult this can be. The process often seems overly complex, with numerous contract stipulations that make trying to change a costly and difficult experience.
In fact, around 2.5 million of us who have tried to switch or cancel a contract encountered at least one major difficulty when doing so. As a result, many phone users stay with their current mobile provider, and endure less than ideal service, rather than go through the trauma of moving to another.

Dumped By Text

After putting forward plans earlier this year to automatically compensate customers who experience slow broadband repairs or missed appointments by engineers, phone regulator Ofcom, has now turned its attention to the mobile phone industry.

If Ofcom's proposals become reality however, then in future mobile phone customers will be able to dump their current provider just by sending them a text. No more tortuous calls to someone who seems intent on doing all they can to make it as difficult as possible for you to leave.

Under Ofcom's new automated 'text to switch' plan once a provider receives your 'goodbye text' they must text back information about any termination fees, outstanding handset costs and account balance.

Supply PAC Code In One Working Day

Most importantly, your newly dumped ‘ex’ provider will have to supply the Porting Authorisation Code (PAC), needed by your new provider, who will also be obligated to get you up and running as a customer within just one working day!

No Additional Charges

Under the Ofcom plan, phone providers would also be prevented from making additional charges after your switch date. Collectively, this could save Britain's mobile users around £10m every year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For the 93% of us who own or use a mobile phone, this can only be good news. Mobile communications are now vital to modern businesses, and the quality, content and pricing of the mobile services offered by providers to businesses can be an important factor in the competitiveness of those businesses.

Business customers being able to switch more quickly and easily should, therefore, motivate mobile phone companies to improve their customer service, and provide services that add more value for lower prices.

For many businesses broadband speed is an important issue, and for example, A 10-week public consultation is to be held by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) about the advertised speeds of competing broadband services and whether they differ from real user experiences.

The recent introduction of ‘Voom Fibre’ from Virgin Business, which offers SMEs the chance to benefit from a broadband speed of 350Mbps, is just the sort of thing that is likely to trigger switching by many businesses.

No ... For Net Neutrality

The current Net Neutrality regulations, set in 2015 and designed to force ISPs to treat all data traffic as equal, have been overturned by two-to-one in a vote by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

What Is Net Neutrality?

The idea of having an Open Internet means that individuals and organisations should be able to easily access and use all of its resources. Part of ensuring that this can happen involves making sure that certain principles are adhered to, one of which (along with open standards, transparency, no Internet censorship and low barriers to entry) is ‘Net Neutrality’.

Net Neutrality is the idea that public information networks like the Internet can function best for their users if all content and data (e.g. emails, digital audio files, digital video) is treated equally. If this is allowed to happen, it is believed that innovation and trade will be enhanced.

What Are Net Neutrality Rules?

In order to ensure that this could have a chance of happening, it was believed that ISPs needed to have rules / regulations imposed upon them to make sure that they didn’t prioritise and fast track some data over other data i.e. fast-tracking data that companies had paid more to reach customers more quickly. This behaviour is often referred to as ‘blocking’ and ‘throttling' of data. In short, having common Net Neutrality rules could prevent access providers from deciding who 'wins' and 'loses' on the Internet.

This led to the introduction of Net Neutrality rules, but opposition (e.g. Comcast, along with Verizon and AT&T) meant that changes were made to the rules back in 2015.

In Europe, the first EU-wide Net Neutrality rules were adopted In October 2015.

Why The Vote To Overturn The Rules?

Objections to the rules back in 2015 centred around the idea that the rules acted like a kind of ‘big brother’ that potentially harmed jobs, discouraged investment, and may have negatively affected the enthusiasm of some ISPs to improve US broadband. Many commentators have noted that the changes made to the rules in 2015 rendered them less effective, and were the first stage of an obvious attempt to dismantle them.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

To allow fair competition and equal opportunities, there must be something that looks like an ‘equal playing field’ in place. Some Internet giants such as Facebook, and Alphabet (Google's parent company) have publicly backed the open net rules and even after this decisive vote against having rules, US ISPs like Comcast, Charter Communications and Altice NV have all pledged in public statements to keep the data flowing freely. It has also been reported that one million statements supporting neutrality have been filed on the FCC website. It is clear therefore that, despite the vote, there is an understanding that sometimes, especially where individual commercial interests are concerned, the only thing that can really force organizations to behave in a certain way are the existence of rules and adherence to them.

Who Really Benefits From Accelerated Mobile Pages?

Back in October 2015, Google announced that it was introducing a new open source initiative called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in order to dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web. In May 2017, AMPs are still attracting criticism and the accusation that Google may be the only real beneficiary.

What Are AMPs?

Accelerated Mobile Pages are ‘light-weight’ web pages that are designed using existing technologies e.g. faster, optimized HTML and a faster Google page caching system, to allow them to work across multiple platforms and devices. The idea is that, even if web pages have rich content like video, animations and graphics, AMPs will be able to load instantaneously (alongside smart ads) on phone, tablet or mobile devices of all types.

What’s The Problem?

AMP has been designed for speed and simplicity, and as such, critics of the initiative have said that the limited layout options make AMP web pages appear rather undistinguished and bland.

Also, if your website hasn’t been professionally made, for example, Google isn’t able to cache your coded AMP Web pages unless they’re guaranteed free of HTML errors.

Critics also say that, if more people create pages in AMP, they are optimized specifically for Google, and are, therefore, locked-in to Google (rather like Google’s own version of Facebook). This could be construed as being rather the opposite of ‘open’.

Rather than having your own detailed analytics data for your web pages, using AMP also means that you can only have access to a small subset of the data that Google gathers. This could therefore give you a less informed view of your online business.

Other critics have also pointed out that the stripped-out, uniform appearance of AMP (everything looking the same in AMP) , and the endorsement of Google means that AMP could be open to abuse by those looking to spread fake news, or to publish (potentially high ranking) low-quality content.

Advantages of using AMP

Despite drawing a large amount of criticism, there are reports to show that mobile websites are able to appear on devices at almost instant speeds and up to 85% faster than standard mobile pages.

In addition to racking up shares and views, AMP could also ensure that more people will read your content. It is important to make the point, however, that AMP pages are likely to get higher priority in Google’s mobile search than other web pages.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Back in October 2016 StatCounter figures showed the mobile access overtaking desktop for the first time with 51.3% of global web traffic accessing the web using smart-phones and tablets. Just a look at your own website analytics should confirm that most of your business website visitors are likely to be using mobiles and tablets. It is therefore important to have pages which rank well in mobile search and load quickly onto mobile devices (in under 3 seconds if possible). AMP appears to offer these benefits but it seems that these may be offset slightly by having to present relatively bland-looking pages to potential customers, risking getting too locked-in to Google, and forgoing some important analytic insights.

It is still relatively early days for AMP, and it is in Google’s interest to ensure that the criticisms by businesses and technical commentators are heeded so that more businesses choose to use AMP.

Report Blames Brexit Uncertainty For UK Tech Employment Challenges

A recent report by 'Hired' has shown that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has made UK employers less likely to seek migrant tech employees, and has made less overseas tech workers seek jobs in the UK.

The Report

The report (gathered data from over 20,000 foreign candidates, 200 UK candidates and 850 clients) focused on the attitudes of foreign workers towards UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The study discovered that the number of foreign candidates looking for work in the UK had dropped by more than 50% and that representation of foreign job-seekers in their total talent pool had decreased by over 60%.

Additionally, offers from UK employers had dropped from 25% at the start of 2016 to just 18% over the period of just one year.

Brexit - Negative Impact On Tech Sector

In the survey of UK-based candidates, Hired found that 71% said that UK’s withdrawal from the tech sector in the EU would have a negative impact on the industry.

When surveying job concerns, Brexit now came at the top of the list, followed by happiness at work, personal development, and salary.

31% anticipated that it would become increasingly difficult to find a job in the coming year, and 77% of those surveyed were sure that the uncertainty would last for at least a year.

In the wake of Brexit, 70% of survey participants contemplated leaving Britain to relocate to other cities in Europe. North America and Australia were also popular choices.

Less Likely To Start A Business In The UK

The report also showed that confidence in starting a business in the UK has also been diminished, with 41% of all tech workers declaring that they would now be less likely to do so.

Employment commentators have noted that foreign workers are still very uncertain about their likely immigration status after Brexit, and tech commentators have suggested that UK companies should still continue to look at workers through the tier 2 skilled worker programme, which focuses on workers from outside the EU, as well as local talent.

Other Options

With an existing skills gap in the UK and with the potential for it to be exacerbated by Brexit, UK companies could consider other options. These could include broadening the pool of institutions from which companies hire, or looking for people with the right skills but perhaps no formal degree could be other options. In-house tests could be conducted to confirm skills or capability.

Brain Drain Could Follow

If tech businesses are discouraged from starting up in the UK as the report appears to suggest, this could lead to a ‘brain drain from the UK’ to Europe.

Temporary

The report makes worrying reading now, but the more optimistic and pro-Brexit commentators tech commentators appear to agree that foreign candidates and companies will regain confidence in immigration to the UK once Brexit has actually happened, and the rules UK government’s Brexit rules and conditions are more clear to all.

What Does Mean For Your Business?

If you are a tech business this could, of course, mean that from now on (and much more so if Brexit goes ahead) you could find it much more challenging to attract skilled people from overseas.

Salaries for tech workers in London may also need to be increased anyway in order to keep existing talent let alone attract overseas talent.

The falling numbers of computer science graduates here in the UK means that employers will have to consider the passion and commitment of prospective, self-taught staff members alongside formal qualifications.

It is not down to just businesses alone to deal with the fallout of Brexit uncertainty and to solve the skills gap challenge. The government, the education system and businesses need to find ways to work together to develop a base of digital skills in the UK population and to make sure that the whole tech eco-system finds effective ways to keep attracting and retaining overseas tech talent, while addressing the skills gap challenge, and keeping the UK’s tech industries and business attractive and competitive in the global marketplace.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Hunt for WannaCry Ransomware Attackers

As organisations around the world recover and begin to count the cost of the biggest ransomware attack in history, cyber security and law enforcement agencies around the world have turned their attention to tracking down the perpetrators.

Cruel Irony

The irony of the WannaCry ransomware attacks is that it exploits a vulnerability that was identified by the US National Security Agency. The vulnerability is a hacking tool called ‘Eternal Blue’ that gives access to Microsoft Windows, and was originally developed by the NSA to access the computers of suspected terrorists.

Tracking Gangs

It has been reported that security companies and agencies have analysed the malware and are tracking over 100 different ransom Trojan gangs, with no success as yet.

The ransomware first appeared on 10th February this year and was then used two months later in a short ransomware campaign.

Almost no one fell for version 1.0, which used spam email and booby-trapped websites. However, version 2.0, which incorporated a single additional module to make it self-replicating, wrought much more havoc over the weekend.

Clean Launch Means No Clues

One factor that has frustrated the search for the WannaCry perpetrators is the absence of any real clues in the way that the ransomware code has been written and launched. For example, there were no clues based on strings of characters in the executables or whether it was uploaded to Virus Total to check for detections before distribution.

The relatively ‘clean’ launch of the ransomware has, therefore, meant that there are no real pointers as to which group is responsible for its creation and launch.

Probably Not the Russians

The ransomware does not seem to hesitate when infecting machines running Cyrillic script and systems in Russia, which has led security commentators to believe that the Russian State is unlikely to be responsible.

In addition, timestamps on the code show that it may have been created on a machine in a +9 GMT timezone – Japan, Indonesia, Philippines are part of this zone, as well as far eastern parts of China and Russia.

One of the other clues that hint to the creators being a new group is, ironically, the success of the malware. WannaCry has hit far more than the usual number of victims targeted by ransomware aimed at large organizations.

The huge number of victims makes ransom management very difficult.

WannaCry’s Achilles Heel

Another clue is the failure to register the domain written in its core code. By not doing so, the creators unwittingly crippled the malware by allowing security researcher Marcus Hutchins to register and take over the domain, limiting its spread.

Other methods that have been used to administer infected machines like the Tor dark web network are being monitored for activity.

Other useful artefacts in the code like a kill-switch domain may have provided clues e.g. to see if it was queried before WannaCry was distributed, but it is also worth noting that criminals sometimes put deliberate false flags in the code to confuse and frustrate attempts to crack it.

Following the Money

To make it easy for criminals to track ransoms and restore only the files of obliging victims, large-scale ransomware campaigns usually generate unique bitcoin addresses for every infection.

In contrast, WannaCry created only three hard-coded bitcoin addresses for ransom payments. This makes it difficult to keep track of who has paid, which calls into question the creators’ intention – or ability – to actually restore locked files, even if the Bitcoin payments are made.

However, Bitcoin is not as anonymous as most criminals appear to believe. Every bitcoin transaction is publicly recorded in the blockchain, creating a spending log, and analysis of transactions on the blockchain can help investigators follow the flow of money and hopefully lead them to the criminals.

Collecting The Money

All eyes are now on where/when the money is collected by the criminals (to provide a clue) plus any possible leads as to WHO actually collects the money. The total amount of ransom paid so far is estimated at £39,000, which many commentators have noted is a relatively small amount of money for a crime of this scale.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The massive ransomware attack that infected the computers of an estimated 300,000 victims in 150 countries worldwide, many of them large, well-known businesses and organisations (including 16 health service organisations in the UK) has been a massive Internet and data security wake-up call.

Internet and data security, particularly with GDPR due to come into force next year, must surely now be given high priority by businesses and must be championed at board level.

The danger and false economy of staying with old operating systems as long as possible has been painfully exposed in this attack.

One piece of sheer luck with the WannaCry ransomware is the fact that the domain written in its core code had not been registered, and a security researcher was, therefore, able to stop its spread by registering the domain himself. It is highly likely though that there will be more, large-scale ransomware attacks in the near future, and for businesses, relying on luck and minimal preparation is not an option.

Businesses need to take a range of measures to ensure that they are well defended against known cyber threats, and prepared for the aftermath, should defences be breached. Preparations could include making sure that all the latest updates and patches are installed on systems and that anti-virus software is up to date, all important data is regularly and securely backed-up, all staff are trained to spot and deal correctly with potential threats, and workable Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans are in place.

Ransomware - To Pay Or Not To Pay?

Ransomware such as WannaCry is used to extort money from people and organisations who are told that their important data is locked away until they pay a ransom. If you become a victim of ransomware, should you pay? Even if you do, will you get all of your data back?

Experts Say ‘Don’t Pay’

The WannaCry global attack has reportedly led to over 126,000 ransomware infections worldwide. PC users have been advised to update Windows to ensure that they are protected.

When vital and possibly irreplaceable data has been “lost” through forced encryption, £230 may seem like a small price to pay, but the expert advice for those affected by ransomware is ‘don’t pay’.

Some people seem to have been more than willing to fork out the money, according to a Twitter bot tracking the digital wallets set up to receiving the ransom, which is paid in Bitcoin. To date, £39,000 appears to have been paid to the attackers.

Returning Your Data Intact, Unlikely With WannaCry

However, the bitter truth is that even if you do pay the ransom, the actual chance of them being able to regain access to your files is probably next to nothing.

Aside from the fact that an honest transaction is not a given when dealing with criminals, WannaCry does not seem to have been built in a way that actually facilitates the efficient return of data access. Manual action will need to be taken to activate decryption (which looks unlikely to happen), and a viable decryption method may not even be a part of WannaCrypt’s code.

Even if victims pay to request a key to restore access, many security experts agree that, in reality, victims are unlikely to receive any response after paying.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In the case of WannaCry, although the global spread was huge, many home and business computer users are likely to have automatically installed a Microsoft update / patch that provides some protection.

The advice from many security commentators for those businesses unfortunate enough to suffer a ransomware attack is not to pay the ransom. Not only is it unlikely that you will get all of your data back if you do pay (some ransomware deletes files anyway), but you are unlikely to receive the key that will unlock your files, or indeed, any response at all from the people you pay the ransom to.

The best advice for businesses must surely be to be prepared and take security measures to ensure that your business is adequately protected in the first place against the known methods of malware (including ransomware) attacks. Investing in security now and in keeping security systems up to date is likely to be much better and more cost effective than paying ransoms, paying for disaster recovery and suffering the effects of business disruption, lost customers, and reputational damage that are the results of successful cyber attacks.

Sensible measures that businesses should take include taking regular and secure back-ups of your important files and data on a separate (secure) drive, machine, or in the cloud, the training of staff in spotting and dealing with cyber security threats, keeping software updated and patched, focusing on risk assessment and management, conducting penetration tests, tightening of data protection, having Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in place, and having a focus from the top down on IT governance and increasing cyber resilience.

Five-Minute-Charge Mobiles By 2018?

Israeli company StoreDot have reportedly claimed that their innovative “FlashBattery” technology means that five-minute charging smartphones could be on the market by 2018.

Minutes Rather Than Hours

On average it takes most of us anywhere between one to three hours to charge our smartphones depending on the size of the battery and the flow capacity of the charger.

Considering how pressed for time most of us are nowadays, five-minute charging may seem like a dream come true, although it may be a reality in 2018.

Flash Battery Technology

In 2015, Israeli start-up StoreDot demonstrated “FlashBattery” at the CES tech show in Las Vegas. The battery was said to contain nanomaterials and as yet unnamed organic compounds that allowed for “non-traditional” reactions and unusually rapid transfer of ions from an anode to cathode to charge batteries.

The initial versions of the battery were thicker than most smartphone batteries available at the time, but it has been reported that pilot production of the new batteries has already begun with two Asian battery manufacturers, and that “mass production” was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2018.

Scepticism

Some technical commentators have, however, been publicly sceptical of StoreDot’s claims, pointing out that achieving such a fast charge would mean solving the so far elusive problem of battery overheating. As well as negatively impacting battery performance and being dangerous, battery overheating has been a considerable challenge for big market competitors so far e.g. Samsung with its Galaxy Note 7 battery.

Not Just Smartphones

StoreDot is not the only tech company racing to create the perfect quick-charging battery. Qualcomm unveiled a similar technology, called the Quick Charge 4 system, in November, offering five hours of battery life after a 5-minute charge.

The Israeli tech firm did have another ace up its sleeve though – they have also claimed to produce an electric car battery that charged in 5-minutes for 300 miles of range.

The Myersdorf car battery was showcased in Berlin at the Cube Tech Fair, though their presentation was ironically too short for the battery to finish charging at the time. The company admitted that while they do not have any contracts yet, they are working with car companies to develop the battery, and estimate that it could take three years before it is roadworthy.

This is significant when contrasted against technology by competitors like electric vehicle firm Tesla by Elon Musk whose Supercharger technology takes 75 minutes to reach a full charge and can only offer 170 miles on a 30-minute charge.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Just as battery charge life is a limiting factor for businesspeople when using their laptops, phones running out of charge at just the wrong moment, not holding charges for long, or having to replace (expensive) phone batteries, and having to wait long periods of time for phones to charge up are all frustrating and costly to businesses. We also now live in a mobile, ‘cordless’ society (just look at the vacuum cleaner market) where we like and expect to be able to work uninterrupted, on the move, un-tethered.

If this new battery technology lives up its creator's claims it could deliver huge cost savings and convenience benefits, as well as having multiple other possible applications in many different industries wherever batteries are used. If the costs of the batteries are sufficiently low, this technology could also provide opportunities for UK businesses with existing and news products, to add value and differentiate.

Protecting Your Business Mobile From Junk Calls

Your phone rings and you pick up. Instead of a warm voice on the other end, you get the cold, robotic tones of an automated message trying to sell you something you probably don’t want. So, how can you make sure that your mobile is protected from disruptive and potentially costly cold-calls?

Record Fine

Unsolicited sales calls are known as ‘cold calls’, and they are something that millions of mobile phone owners are all-too-familiar with.

One piece of recent news that may warm the hearts of anyone who has been plagued by calls asking about the details of a road accident that you may have been involved in is news that a record fine of £400,000 was issued to a company called Keurboom for making nuisance calls of that kind to nearly 100 million people!

Know Your Rights - Report Callers To The ICO

Most people have resigned themselves to receiving the occasional irritating call but the truth is that these calls are actually illegal.

Keurboom received the fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) because commercial automated calls or text made to you without consent are against the law.

Over 1000 (only a fraction of the total calls made) of the people who were repeatedly called by Keurboom late at night made complaints to the ICO.

If you are harassed by unsolicited automated calls, reporting callers to the ICO can be an effective way of stopping the culprits at source, thereby saving us all the trouble of receiving their calls.

Register with the Telephone Preference Service

By registering your landline or mobile number with the Telephone Preference Service, you will have an additional layer of protection against automated cold calls.

After the 28-day processing period, companies will not be allowed to phone you for marketing reasons without prior consent (see the next section for more on this).

If you have already accidentally given company permission or you’ve changed your mind for any reason, contact them directly and ask them to stop doing so. According to the law, they must obey your request.

Registering with the TPS is free and can be easily done online on their website or by calling them at 0845 070 0707.

There are other companies offering a similar service, but they may charge a fee and telemarketers are only required to check with the TPS.

Even though this is a popular and helpful measure you can take, it does not guarantee immunity.

Did You Tick the Right Box?

Reading the fine print is generally a good idea (if you have the time). When you buy something online or sign up for a service or newsletter, always pay attention to the little boxes that are “optional” to tick.

Sometimes ticking them allows the company to share your details with other businesses for marketing purposes, and sometimes it’s the opposite. Occasionally however, boxes can even be pre-ticked for you. If there is more than one box, it could be a combination.

The message is, therefore, take time to read the accompanying print carefully, and to take note of what the ticks (or lack of them) in the boxes actually mean can save you a lot of trouble in the future.

Be Careful When You Reply To Texts

Depending on who the message is from, your reply could encourage more messages.

If you trust the company sending the message or if the sender's number is a five-digit number, sending a reply with just “STOP” will solve the problem, and prevent you from being charged.

If you do not recognise the sender, then replying can backfire by acting as confirmation that your phone number is valid, thus triggering more automated communication. In this case, the best thing to do would be to just ignore it.

What you can do instead is make a report to your network operator by forwarding the message to 7726, which coincidentally spells SPAM if you type it out on your keypad.

Go Ex-Directory & Keep Your Mobile Number Private

There are a number of ways your number can be obtained. BT has a directory service which allows companies to find telephone numbers and addresses online, over the phone, or in a phone book.

To prevent your number from being listed, make sure to sign up with the optional Ex-Directory scheme.

Opting out of the “edited register” of the electoral roll when you sign up as a voter is another step you can take to prevent having your contact details sold to unscrupulous marketers.

Get the Numbers Blocked

Some network operators offer a service that enables you to block calls from reported numbers, though there may be a fee incurred for the service.

If they do not, you can purchase a call blocker app for your phone that will work for numbers that you “blacklist”. You can check with your provider to see if it is already included in your mobile contract.

File a Complaint

A simple solution may just be to file an official complaint with the offending company.

When asked, the caller must provide the organisation’s name, address or a free phone number for getting in touch with them.

As mentioned earlier, a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) may also prompt the regulator to take action against the marketer (combined with complaints from other people).

If you decide to file a complaint, it may be helpful (though not essential) to make a note of the time and date of the call, the phone number, and the company’s name.

Just Ignore Them

In the unlikely event that you have exhausted all these options to no avail, the only option left would be to screen your calls and be selective as to which calls you choose to answer. The risk is that you may mistake some legitimate calls for nuisance ones, but at least you won’t have to listen to any more sales pitches, and after enough failed attempts, the callers may simply give up.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Time, and keeping your phone free to enable you to receive calls that could actually make you money rather than cost you money, are valuable to businesses. With more of us relying on our smartphones for more aspects of our business, and with more business people being more mobile than ever, taking these kinds of measures to eradicate junk calls from our mobiles is vital. With our mobile number, people also get directly through to us rather than the traditional company ‘gatekeeper’ e.g. the receptionist, so this is another good reason why it’s important to proactively take what steps we can to free-up our mobile time for value-adding, money making calls rather than frustrating, line-blocking, potentially costly calls.

Being aware of ways in which our online and offline behaviour could give fuel to junk-callers is therefore necessary, and this subject is a lesson in why taking some time to read the small print (within reason) now could actually make life easier and help us make more effective use of time and make / save money in the future.

Report Blames Brexit Uncertainty For UK Tech Employment Challenges


A recent report by 'Hired' has shown that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has made UK employers less likely to seek migrant tech employees, and has made less overseas tech workers seek jobs in the UK.

The Report

The report (gathered data from over 20,000 foreign candidates, 200 UK candidates and 850 clients) focused on the attitudes of foreign workers towards UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The study discovered that the number of foreign candidates looking for work in the UK had dropped by more than 50% and that representation of foreign job-seekers in their total talent pool had decreased by over 60%.

Additionally, offers from UK employers had dropped from 25% at the start of 2016 to just 18% over the period of just one year.

Brexit - Negative Impact On Tech Sector

In the survey of UK-based candidates, Hired found that 71% said that UK’s withdrawal from the tech sector in the EU would have a negative impact on the industry.

When surveying job concerns, Brexit now came at the top of the list, followed by happiness at work, personal development, and salary.

31% anticipated that it would become increasingly difficult to find a job in the coming year, and 77% of those surveyed were sure that the uncertainty would last for at least a year.

In the wake of Brexit, 70% of survey participants contemplated leaving Britain to relocate to other cities in Europe. North America and Australia were also popular choices.

Less Likely To Start A Business In The UK

The report also showed that confidence in starting a business in the UK has also been diminished, with 41% of all tech workers declaring that they would now be less likely to do so.

Employment commentators have noted that foreign workers are still very uncertain about their likely immigration status after Brexit, and tech commentators have suggested that UK companies should still continue to look at workers through the tier 2 skilled worker programme, which focuses on workers from outside the EU, as well as local talent.

Other Options

With an existing skills gap in the UK and with the potential for it to be exacerbated by Brexit, UK companies could consider other options. These could include broadening the pool of institutions from which companies hire, or looking for people with the right skills but perhaps no formal degree could be other options. In-house tests could be conducted to confirm skills or capability.

Brain Drain Could Follow

If tech businesses are discouraged from starting up in the UK as the report appears to suggest, this could lead to a ‘brain drain from the UK’ to Europe.

Temporary

The report makes worrying reading now, but the more optimistic and pro-Brexit commentators tech commentators appear to agree that foreign candidates and companies will regain confidence in immigration to the UK once Brexit has actually happened, and the rules UK government’s Brexit rules and conditions are more clear to all.

What Does Mean For Your Business?

If you are a tech business this could, of course, mean that from now on (and much more so if Brexit goes ahead) you could find it much more challenging to attract skilled people from overseas.

Salaries for tech workers in London may also need to be increased anyway in order to keep existing talent let alone attract overseas talent.

The falling numbers of computer science graduates here in the UK means that employers will have to consider the passion and commitment of prospective, self-taught staff members alongside formal qualifications.

It is not down to just businesses alone to deal with the fallout of Brexit uncertainty and to solve the skills gap challenge. The government, the education system and businesses need to find ways to work together to develop a base of digital skills in the UK population and to make sure that the whole tech eco-system finds effective ways to keep attracting and retaining overseas tech talent, while addressing the skills gap challenge, and keeping the UK’s tech industries and business attractive and competitive in the global marketplace.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Car Scammers Using eBay

Scammers in the Greater Manchester area are using eBay to sell cars that have been stolen and cloned.

What Is Car Cloning?

Car cloning involves using the identifying details of another, legitimate car (e.g. the number plate of your car) to disguise a stolen vehicle or to avoid speeding fines, parking tickets or other offences. The new number plate is either stolen from a legitimate car or purchased online and car cloning criminals even go to the lengths of changing the chassis numbers and accompanying documentation of the vehicles that they are illegally trying to sell-on.

Money Lost

Police have focused their investigation on the Greater Manchester area after receiving reports from several different motorists, all of whom had purchased cars (from sellers in and around that geographical area), but had lost their money and their newly purchased cars when it was discovered that the vehicles were stolen or cloned.

How Does The Scam Work?

Reports indicate that criminals have been using eBay accounts (using fake identities) to advertise stolen / cloned cars, but instead of asking for payment via the eBay platform, they have requested cash on collection from the buyers.

Buyers have then unwittingly purchased stolen vehicles which have had to be returned to their previous owners, with the new purchasers having no comeback and losing all of the purchase cash to the criminals

Victims of the scam are even reported to include a retired police officer who lost £17,000 buying a Mercedes from a seller based in the Rochdale area.

Criticism

Both eBay and the police have faced criticism from out-of-pocket buyers. The police have reportedly been criticised for knowing about the scam for some months but taking no action that was communicated to the victims.

eBay has also been criticised for allowing the criminal accounts to be set up and for not shutting them down quickly enough.

eBay has reportedly stated that it hasn’t been directly contacted by Greater Manchester Police about the incidents and that the eBay accounts in question have now been closed down.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When using eBay as a purchaser for business, it is always best to check reviews (number and quality) and percent scores attributed to sellers. It is also good practice to look at the other items they are selling via their eBay shop and to search for their company website in order to help establish their legitimacy. Payments should always be made via the platform rather than in cash to provide some protection and to maintain traceability.

3 Steps To Banking Security Heaven In The UK?

The results of an online survey by YouGov, sponsored by credit reference agency Equifax have shown that 55% of British people think that 3 or fewer verification steps are needed to keep their bank accounts safe from criminals.

Cyber Crime and Bank Fraud Levels Still High

Office of National Statistics (OFT) figures show that in a 12-month period from 2015 to 2016 2.47 million bank and credit account frauds took place in the UK. These were part of a 5.8 million cyber-crime explosion, where 1 in 10 people in England and Wales became victims of cyber-crime.

The results of this latest YouGov survey appear to show that things aren’t improving, as of the 2,000 people asked, 21% said they had previously had either their social media or email account hacked.

3 Layers Needed

These high levels of cyber-crime, plus the fact that bank account details top the list of what people are most worried about having stolen (closely followed by followed by debit or credit card pin numbers), mean that UK banking customers appear keen to keep their account holder verification steps to 3 (or less).

Quality Not Quantity

It does seem, however, that it’s not necessarily the number of authentication / verification steps that should make customers feel secure, but the quality of those steps in terms of how difficult they would be for criminals to crack or get around.

Password and single-step processes have been shown in recent years to be not particularly effective at keeping the criminals at bay. This is partly because people share passwords between online services, and the theft of personal details from one website can, combined perhaps with other hacked data, often lead to easier thefts from other accounts e.g. bank accounts.

Multi-layer authentication is more difficult for cyber criminals to get around and banks and financial organisations are also able to use extra layers of authentication that are invisible to customers.

Increased Security

Banks and financial institutions are now turning to other increased security methods such as biometrics and tactics such as Barclays new debit card controls that allow customers to enable or disable whether their card can be used to make remote purchases, or to set their own daily ATM withdrawal limits on the Barclays Mobile Banking app.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses clearly need to be able to effectively protect both their own and their customers’ banking details (note the GDPR regulations next year) from cyber attackers. Determined cyber criminals are now attacking businesses in multi-level ways, including phishing attacks combined with social engineering to steal money and data from businesses, and are using ransomware attacks to extort money. Even Google and Facebook both fell victim recently to a £77 million fraud that relied upon hacking, fake letters and invoices, and human error from staff.

As well as taking at least the basic security measures with systems, practices and password protection, businesses, now more than ever need to educate and train all staff to be able to spot possible fraudulent tactics. Staff should be encouraged and empowered to question and refer any suspicious activity, and clear systems for staff to follow, including carefully verifying new payment requests before authorising them, need to be put in place. Businesses should also make sure that they have up-to-date and workable Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in place.

Facebook Offers Tips For Spotting Fake News

Social media giant Facebook has published adverts in the UK popular press, giving readers a list of ten ways to spot ‘fake news’.

This marks a widening of an ‘educational’ campaign that saw the same message displayed on the news feeds of users in 14 countries back in April.

What Is Fake News?

As the name suggests, fake news describes false news stories, the like of which were distributed via social media, and came to prominence during the U.S. presidential election. Many people believe that these stories influenced the election result in Donald Trump’s favour and that fake news stories seen by the UK population through social media feeds influenced the UK (Brexit) referendum result.

Facebook’s definition of fake news, which is thought to have been kept narrow to avoid accusations of political censorship, refers to news or articles that are intended to deceive, contain objectively provable falsehoods, and pretend to be from a legitimate news site.

What Is Facebook Actually Doing?

As well as the ‘educational’ campaign i.e. distributing fake news spotting advice, Facebook is reported to be taking measures such as finding, flagging and removing fake accounts that fake news stories are being spread and shared from, and decreasing the rankings of fake news e.g. the stories that are read but not shared.

It has also been reported that Facebook will be using two separate third-party fact-checking companies (namely Full Fact and First Draft) to help it to weed out fake news stories, particularly those that appear in the run-up to the UK General Election in June.

There have also been reports from December 2016 that Facebook has given Snopes, Factcheck.org, ABC News, and PolitiFact (reportedly unpaid fact-checking partners) a tool to enable them to label stories in the News Feed as fake.

Criticism

Despite this latest campaign, Facebook has received criticism for quite some time now for now. The kind of criticism aimed at Facebook suggests that it:
  • Hasn’t been acting quickly or effectively enough to take down inappropriate and illegal content e.g. hate speech or sexualised images.
  • Was slow in accepting any responsibility for the spread of misinformation that appears to have influenced a major election outcome.
  • Lacks transparency over its approach to and processes for taking down content and tackling fake news.
  • Has launched the new educational campaign to divert attention away from itself and its role in the ‘clickbait economy’, some of which uses fake news.
  • Has used the new educational campaign to appease governments, and avoid possible fines (the German government are moving towards fining social networks), while producing 10 tips which could be seen as simply shifting the responsibility for determining the truth and spreading fake news stories back onto the reader.

What Does This Mean For Your Company

The larger picture is that, if Facebook has helped to influence the outcome of the U.S election and UK referendum through enabling the spread of fake news, then this had had a huge impact on the economic environment for businesses in the UK and overseas. This impact will not even be fully realised until after Brexit, and just the uncertainty about the UK’s economic future has already affected businesses.

Some online news businesses and digital advertising providers appear to benefit in the short term for sailing very close to wind with their ‘clickbait’ news stories, and the clickbait economy is therefore likely to continue for some time yet.
It is worth remembering, however, that fake news itself is not new. Many newspapers have been sued and have had to issue apologies for fake stories.

£23.97/min For 118 Directory Enquiries

Ofcom is reported to be concerned about the high costs of calling directory enquiries- services, and this looks likely to lead to another examination of this area of the market.

Directory Enquiries?

Historically, up until the 1990s, by calling directory enquiries (for free) you could get a business or domestic telephone number. Directory enquiries was de-regulated in 2003, when calls to the service were charged at a flat rate of 40p.


The now paid-for service is offered by over 200 different providers who can be reached by dialling a six-digit number beginning with 118. These providers supply information from the Operator Services Information System (OSIS). This is run by Directory Solutions, a division of BT Wholesale.
BT’s service is 118 500, but the service that has over 90% of the market is 118 118, and its market position has been built by large amounts of advertising (e.g. TV ads).

What’s The Problem?

The problem as identified by Ofcom is that the prices charged to end customers for calls to these services, and the per-minute prices for connecting (where the provider puts you through to the number you require). Concerns have also been raised that there is a lack of transparency of pricing for the services offered by directory enquiries service providers, and this can particularly affect older people who may have less knowledge about the new-style directory enquiry services. In many cases, this has reportedly led to shock bills.

How Expensive Are These Services?

Ofcom reformed the pricing structure for UK directory enquiries on 1st July 2015, but even under the present system, operators can charge up to a maximum of £23.97 for calls of less than a minute!

Call charges typically consist of an Access Charge (set and retained by the caller's landline or mobile provider) and a Service Charge (directory enquiries service but it is collected by the caller's phone provider).

Taking market leader 118 118 as an example, callers to the service can expect a flat-rate connection fee of £7, a per-minute charge of up to £3.50 (which may be much more under other operators) and an access charge of up to 50p a minute from the telecoms operator.

Horror Stories

Horror stories that have surfaced online include a report of someone contacting Citizens Advice after receiving a £150 bill for calling a 118 number.

Ofcom has also highlighted an incident where a consumer who called directory enquiries (in 2009) was presented with a bill for £350.

Choice?

Critics of the current system have pointed out that the de-regulation of directory enquiries has resulted in a failure of choice for consumers.

A new enquiry by Ofcom could mean that a stipulated price cap will be imposed on these charges.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many callers to directory enquiry service provider numbers are seeking business telephone numbers. High prices for call charges could deter potential customers from trying to contact a business via this method at that point. Customers may therefore seek other methods for finding numbers e.g. the Internet. This introduces competition (with the many search engine results and online ads), and businesses could therefore be losing out because of the high directory enquiries call charges. As users of these services, businesses also face the same high costs.

Broadband Speed Claims To Be Examined

A 10-week public consultation is to be held by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) about the advertised speeds of competing broadband services and whether they differ from real user experiences.

Why?

It has been reported that Research commissioned by the ASA has led CAP to believe that tougher standards need to be imposed on broadband providers to make them clearer, more transparent, and more realistic about exactly what they are offering, and what consumers can realistically expect from their services.

Also, since big changes in technology and the tech marketplace can happen quickly, and the current guidance on broadband advertising was introduced back in 2012, the advertising regulators think that it’s now time for the guidance to be updated. At the current time, and based on those 2012 guidelines, ISPs only need to advertise the maximum speed claims achievable by at least 10% of customers, which need be preceded by the words ‘up to.’

What Could The Consultation Mean?

The indications are that, even prior to the consultation, the advertising regulators may be thinking about making ISPs disclose clear information about peak-time median download speeds, 24-hour national median download speeds, the range of peak-time download speeds, and 24-hour national download speeds (available to the 20th to 80th percentile of consumers).

This would require companies who want to make specific claims about their broadband speeds to instruct end-users to check with their broadband provider what actual speed they are most likely to receive.

How Do You Know What Your Real Broadband Speed Is?

To find out what your real broadband speed is, you can use websites such as http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/ (which will give you separate download and upload speeds), or the Which? Broadband speed test page: http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/broadband-deals/article/broadband-speed-test

You can also look at the details published on broadband comparison websites like
thinkbroadband.com. This website also has a speed test page.

The Consultation

CAP say that, over the next 10 weeks (which critics think is a quite a short time period), they will be inviting views on four options for change, and remaining open to any other options that better manage consumers’ expectations of the likely real broadband speed that they could receive.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In a week when Virgin Media Business has announced the introduction of its ‘Voom’ 350Mbps broadband for SMEs (which in reality is at least 200Mbps), there is still a lot of confusion in the marketplace about the subject. Fast connections are vital to UK businesses. Virgin’s own commissioned research, for example, showed that if the UK’s digital potential was fulfilled (which includes faster broadband services) the UK’s GDP could increase by more than £90bn in just over two years.

If the consultation and the resulting guidelines cause providers to be more transparent about what business customers can realistically expect from broadband providers, this has to be a good thing.
Critics point out that physical distance issues play an inescapable part in broadband speeds, and simply switching to another broadband provider that is using the same technology as your current one may not improve matters anyway.

Touch Sensitive "Paint" Opens New Doors

A new system called Electrick (developed by Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh) uses conductive spray paint and electrodes to turn any surface into an electronic touch sensor.
Electric Field Tomography
The revolutionary new system w
as created by Created by CMU Ph.D. student Yang Zhang and works using a technique known as electric field tomography (EFT), which exploits the interaction of a high-frequency electric field with a conductive medium.

How Does It Work?

In short, a surface or object is coated with a spray-paint application of carbon conducting paint. N.B. whole, solid or pliable objects can also be cast / moulded from carbon-conductive material (a mixture of carbon fibre and conventional silicone).

The surface or object then has electrodes attached to the periphery, and a small current is then injected in. The field and direction of the current is rotated around so that it covers the whole surface or object with no blind-spots.

When a person touches or runs their finger along the flat / object surface, the exact location can be plotted by a computer / computerised gadget. This means that all areas of the surface can be made touch sensitive (as in a touch-screen for a tablet), and individual touches can then be used to e.g. launch specific applications or activate features (such as sound effects).

What Can It Be Used For?

As is usually the case with technological innovations, the real potential and multitude of possible applications are only realised later on and depend upon the needs of the user of the technology and the niches that have been spotted by businesses. Examples of possible applications identified by Electrick, which can be seen in their video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38h4-5FDdV4 include:
  • Making inexpensive flat touch-panels or touch sensitive 3D shapes by sticking conductive-coated surfaces to Velostat or by laminating it to thermoformable sheet.
  • Adding functionality to 3D printed objects and prototype objects to test them and improve their design.
  • Making a whole table surfaces touch-sensitive and able to e.g. launch computer programs and apps.
  • Making wall surfaces act as ‘dimmer-switch’-style controls for the wall / room lights.
  • Enabling the activation of guitar / musical instrument effects to linked to touching a single part of the instrument’s surface.
  • Adding sound effects to touch locations on e.g. toy figures, education / teaching aids.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This new system represents a real opportunity for businesses, particularly in manufacturing, to improve and augment existing products, create new and innovative products, and improve the R&D and testing processes while keeping costs down. This low-cost, relatively easy way to create touch surfaces on any scale could help to revolutionise services e.g. information delivery and aid the advancement of automation. The possibilities are potentially limitless and could provide countless business opportunities for those who can quickly identify an area within their own business or industry where use of the system could add value, reduce costs, simplify processes and save time, or provide greater convenience and value to customers / end-users.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Facebook AND Google Victims Of Massive Phishing Scam

Details have emerged of a phishing scam which took place from 2013 until 2015, allegedly run by one 48-year-old man who claimed both Google and Facebook as victims to the tune of £77 million.

Who?

The man currently accused of running a criminal scam (that ironically claimed online security advocates and tech giants Google and Facebook as victims) is Lithuanian man Evaldas Rimasauskas. Mr. Rimasauskas is reported to be currently facing charges of wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.

How?

It has been reported that Mr. Rimasauskas allegedly posed as an Asia-based (Taiwanese) electronics manufacturing company Quanta Computer and used phishing emails targeted at employees of the two tech giants to dupe them into wiring a total of £77 million into his account over what is believed to be a two-year period.

Phishing emails are a well-known and widely used fraudulent practice, which relies upon human error by sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, or to take other action such as wiring money to the apparent sender.

US Department of Justice (DOJ) reports show that search and social network giants Google and Facebook were likely to have been fooled to such a large degree because the company that Mr. Rimasauskas was allegedly pretending to be from (Quanta) was one which normally conducted multimillion-dollar transactions with them, and also had other tech giants such as Apple as clients.

Recent media reports of the details of the case against Mr. Rimasauskas show that he allegedly used a whole series of forged invoices, contracts and letters that had been made to look as though they had come from Quanta, and were allegedly falsely executed and signed by executives and agents of Facebook and Google.

Common

KPMG figures show that the value of (reported) fraud committed in the UK last year exceeded £1.1bn, which is part of a 55% year-on-year rise, and can be attributed to the huge growth of cybercrime.

The now all-too-common ways in which companies are duped include the hacking of company executives’ email accounts to send emails asking employees to send / wire money. Many attackers use time sensitive requests at close-of-business hours (to make if difficult for victims to check and verify), and take advantage of periods of uncertainty for staff e.g. during mergers.

Detected

It has been reported that Google eventually detected the scam and alerted the authorities. Although news of a large-scale fraud made the news earlier this year, Google and Facebook were not named as victims at the time. Both Google and Facebook are reported to have recouped the losses incurred by the fraud.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

You could be forgiven for thinking that if Google and Facebook can fall victim to online scammers to such a degree, what chance do the rest of us have? It is important to remember, however, that phishing scams and CEO frauds of this kind rely upon human error to work. Educating and training all staff to be able to spot possible fraudulent tactics, and encouraging and empowering them to question and refer any suspicious activity can help to protect your business. Having clear systems for staff to follow, including carefully verifying new payment requests before authorising them, and continuously promoting online vigilance can be well worth the effort.

Google And Facebook’s Digital Ad Dominance Highlighted By Report

The newly released Internet advertising industry’s annual report appears to show a continued duopoly-like dominance by Google and Facebook as the gatekeepers of the growth in new advertising spend.

Traced Back

The report highlights the extent to which Google and Facebook are taking most of the new money at the expense of the rest of the smaller players in the digital ad business. The real growth of the so-called duopoly situation goes back to 2015 where US venture capital fund Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers noted that the two tech giants accounted for 75 per cent of all new online ad spending.

New Figures

A new estimate of Google and Facebook’s dominance in handling the lion’s share of gross digital ad spending puts it at 77% plus.

In-Line With Predictions

This appears to be broadly in line with eMarketer predictions from earlier in the year that showed Google as looking likely to take business from Yahoo and Microsoft Bing, and expand its share to $28.6bn (nearly 78 per cent) of the US market.

Consumers’ increasing use of mobile search on their smartphones is believed to be one of the main drivers of growth in ad spend handling for Google. The share of the total digital ad market spend that can be attributed to just Google is now thought to be nearly 41%.

Facebook

Despite being grouped in the ‘duopoly’ with Google, Facebook has actually taken share from Google, along with Yahoo and Twitter. eMarketer figures put Facebook’s share of the total digital ad market this year at over 20 per cent. This has been helped to a significant extent by photo-sharing app Instagram.

Facebook’s focus on more use of video on its own platform and Instagram are believed to be key drivers of this growth.

Low Share

Those with a (perhaps surprisingly) small share of the mobile ad spending market are Snapchat and Twitter.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As a business looking to spend your advertising budget widely, the trend for customers to increasingly be using mobile search on Google for example, and being engaged by all things video (e.g. on Facebook) can be important indicators of where and how to spend advertising money. When there are a small number of large players offering advertising however, it may make it a little simpler to shop around, but it could also mean less choice of services and prices.

SMEs To Get 350Mbps ‘Voom Fibre’ Broadband From Virgin Media

Virgin Media Business have announced that they are offering a broadband package to SMEs that that gives broadband speeds that are more than four times faster than the equivalent speeds offered by its rivals.

Voom Gloom For Rivals

From 2nd May, the new fibre broadband called Voom Fibre, will offer SMEs the chance to benefit from a broadband speed of 350Mbps. In reality, although many of Virgin’s customers will be able to access the full 350Mbps, most customers will get the benefit of at least 200Mbps.

Nevertheless, this appears to compare very favourably with the top broadband speed of 76Mbps offered by rivals BT, Sky and TalkTalk (where customers are in areas where those speeds are possible).

Three Price Plans + Bolt-On Services

Voom Fibre customers can choose from 3 packages with different upload speeds:
  • A £30 per month package with upload speeds of 7Mbps (which can be increased to...)
  • A £40 per month package with upload speeds of 15Mbps
  • A £50 per month package with upload speeds of 20Mbps.

Vital Says MD

Peter Kelly, the managing director of Virgin Media Business has said that offering SMEs access to this kind of broadband speed removes a long-standing barrier, and enables them to be more able to compete effectively in “this evolving digital economy”.

Mr Kelly also pitched the introduction of the service as “a huge challenge to the market to do better”, and urged competitors to try and match the speed of Virgin’s offering to help small businesses, and therefore the wider UK economy.

Help The Economy?

FSB figures show that 99% of all 5.5. million UK private sector businesses (2016 figures) could be described as SMEs. Virgin’s own commissioned research showed that if the UK’s digital potential was fulfilled (which includes faster broadband services) the UK’s GDP could increase by more than £90bn in GDP over two years.

More Bad News For Broadband Competitors

The introduction of Voom is one part of a series of announcements that are likely to have been bad news to competitors. Last month Virgin announced that its standard basic broadband speed offering would be 100Mbps (up from 50Mbps). Virgin announced that it was opening up its top-tier 300Mbps service.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you are an SME and if you are in an area where it is possible to get the full benefits of Voom, this is likely to be very good news, and may even tempt you to switch from your existing provider. Fast broadband speeds can save time, and open up new possibilities for small businesses which could translate into sources of competitive advantage.

A Gap In The Clouds - Could Google And Microsoft Be Gaining On Amazon?

A slowing in Amazon’s Web Services’ astronomical growth rate of recent years has, according to some commentators, made it look as though Microsoft and Google have more of a chance of stealing at least some of its cloud market share.

Speculation Fuelled

This latest round of speculation about whether the two leaders of the pack chasing a bigger share of the enterprise cloud market has been triggered by the release and the trumpeting of the healthy financial figures by all three.

At the heart of the speculation that Microsoft and Google may be gaining a little on AWS (which is, realistically, still in a league of its own) is the assumption that a growth rate that big, combined with a huge number of customers (surely) can’t be sustainable.

Drivers

Major drivers for growth of in the enterprise cloud market have been the need to get way from the cost and risk of data centres, the attractiveness in the flexibility (and security) that the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud model offers.

Comparing The Three

Few analysts would doubt the complete dominance of AWS, and an accurate, side-by-side comparison of the latest figures is hampered by the fact that Google does not separate out the contribution that the cloud makes to its overall financial results. Nevertheless, it is possible to compare some key aspects of AWS, Google and Microsoft’s position in the IaaS market such as:
  • AWS went from Q2 results (in 2015) showing an 81% growth rate on the previous year (and $1.82bn revenue), to a slowing and declining year-on-year revenue growth rate of 78% in Q3 2015, down to 43% in its latest set of financial results (Q1 2017), published on 27 April. 43% is still a huge rate of growth, and is far higher than traditional infrastructure company growth rates. It is also important to bear in mind that AWS is a much bigger organisation than it was two years ago (when it started releasing its cloud figures), and expecting anything like an 80% growth rate for several consecutive years may be unrealistic. The size of the revenues associated with the growth rate is huge, as is the AWS market share.
  • In comparison, Alphabet released its Q1 results on 27 April (Google’s parent company). These showed $24.8bn in revenue during the three months to 31 March – up 22% on the previous year.
  • The revenue for Microsoft’s public cloud platform Azure was up 93% in Q3 (published 27 April). Its Commercial Cloud division reported a 52% increase in year-on-year business and $15.2bn of revenue.
The key point is, therefore, that even though Microsoft and Google are displaying impressive and rising growth rates in their cloud businesses, a declining but still good growth rate for a company such as AWS that already has huge market share, economies of scale and the resulting pass-along lower pricing, makes realistic challenges to its dominance look unlikely for the near future.

Google Trying To Be More Attractive To Enterprises

Alphabet (Google) has reported that its improved growth rate figures in the cloud business are the result of its two-year-long efforts to make its cloud business more enterprise-friendly.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Information Services Group (ISG) figures, for example, showed that in 2016, traditional business outsourcing contracts were being replaced by cloud-based services to the point where spending on cloud based contracts increased by 33% compared to 2015. Many more businesses are realising that new kinds of cloud-based contracts offer many different and attractive 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. With greater competition between AWS, Google, Microsoft, and other players in the cloud market, enterprises may enjoy even lower cloud costs and improved service offerings in the future.

Police Using Facial Recognition Technology at Football Match

More evidence of the adoption of sophisticated biometric security measures by organisations and agencies can be seen with news that Police in Wales will be using live facial recognition technology during the Champions League final in Cardiff on 3 June.

Pilot Scheme At Match And Railway Station

A report on the Contacts Finder section of the gov.uk website was the first indication of the pilot that South Wales and Gwent Police forces will be running to use the latest ‘real time’ facial recognition technology at a major event, in order to try to match its 500,000 custody images in its Record Management system to any of the attendees (or persons at the train station).

What Is Facial Recognition Technology?

Facial recognition software typically works by using a scanned image of a person’s face , and then uses algorithms to measure ‘landmarks’ on the face e.g. the position of features and the shape of the eyes, nose and cheekbones. This data is used to make a digital template of a person’s face, which is then converted into a unique code. High-powered cameras can then be used to link to specialist software that can compare the camera image data to data stored in a database to find a potential match.

Real Time Recognition And Slow Search

The real time automated facial recognition (AFR) system which incorporates facial recognition and slow time static face search that will be used in the Champions League final pilot, will give police the chance to make a good match (no pun intended), and to stop subjects who relate to cases on their Niche Record Management system.

It has been reported that facial recognition cameras will be in operation at Cardiff Central train station, and in and around the Principality Stadium on the day of the UCL Champions League Final.

It is believed that approximately 100,000 people will visit Cardiff on that day, with 70,000 of them heading towards the stadium to watch the match. Both police forces believe therefore that it will represent a significant opportunity to test the capacity and the true value of the technology in managing policing in and around large events.

Funding

According to the .gov.uk contracts web page, the value of the contract for the AFR system to be used in Cardiff is £177,000, and it has been reported that and South Wales Police secured Home Office funding for the technology.

Not The First Time

Facial recognition has been used before at large outdoor events, such as at the Download music festival in 2015.

Criticism

Although the Police have stated that their primary reason for planning to use the system at the final in June is crowd safety, critics and privacy advocates have commented that the use of facial recognition systems in events (and at train stations) is intrusive, and there are public data and privacy security concerns about happens to the data collected, and where, and how securely everyone's biometric data is stored.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Despite the findings of a study from YouGov / GMX of August 2016 that showed that UK people still have a number of trust concerns about the use of biometrics for security, biometrics represents a good opportunity for businesses to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals. Biometric authentication / verification systems are thought to be far more secure than password-based systems, which is the reason why banks and credit companies have already started using them.

Facial recognition systems have value-adding, real-life business applications. For example, last month a ride-hailing service called Careem (similar to Uber but operating in more than fifty cities in the Middle East and North Africa) announced that it was adding facial recognition software to its driver app to help with customer safety.

Millions Of ATMs Need Re-Inventing As Cash Declines

With the use of physical cash in decline, ATMs may need to be modified and reinvented to take on many more banking functions and to offer new services.

Cash In Decline

Despite the high profile media reports for the introduction of a news UK £1 coin, the truth is that physical cash as a popular form of payment is being replaced by cards and smartphone payment systems.

A British Retail Consortium's (BRC) Payments Survey found for example that cash was used for less than half of all retail transactions across the UK in 2015, and this amounted to 20% fewer transactions made with cash than in 2011. Debit cards now make up around 40% of transactions in the UK, and 54% in terms of overall value of retail sales.

Drivers

Card issuers are essentially driving the change in customer behaviour by introducing innovations like contactless payments. Contactless technology is popular for lower value transactions that have traditionally been the mainstay for cash. 55% of cards now feature contactless technology.

Retailers have, therefore, invested heavily in new payments technology so that it is easier and quicker for customers to securely complete transactions in store, and it is easier, cheaper and faster for retailers to get paid.

The trend of declining cash use in favour of cards is not just in the UK, but is happening worldwide.

What To Do With The Millions of ‘Cash Machines’

The primary function of an ATM is to dispense cash and there are an estimated 3 million ATMs worldwide with numbers growing in some area of the world like Brazil, Russia, India, China. In some countries where cash use is lowest e.g. Sweden, there is a relatively low number of ATMs (333 machines per one million inhabitants).

The problem is, therefore, that there are millions of cash dispensing machines for a worldwide population that is moving away from using cash, in favour of card-related technologies.

The solution, for the time being, is thought by many to be a reinvention of the ATM and a widening of the range of banking services (and perhaps other functions) that ATMs provide.

Example

An example of where this is happening is in Portugal, a country that has the highest proportion of cash machines in Western Europe. ATMs in Portugal are part of a fully integrated cross-bank network and offer customers a range of other bank-related functions and services e.g. cash and cheque deposits, purchasing cinema and concert ticket purchases, tax payments, bill payments, and mobile phone top-ups.

New Ideas

Other innovative technology-based ideas for the reinvention of ATMs include:
  • Making self-service ATMs that are more like tablet computers e.g. with swipe, pinch and zoom functions.
  • Drive-through ATMs that allow people to complete withdrawals or transactions that they started on their phones.
  • Contactless cash machines. Barclays, for example, are taking steps to avoid the threat posed by card skimmers with a trial of a system that allows customers to withdraw money from ATMS using only their smart-phones.

Anonymity Still Valued

Some people still prefer the anonymity of cash, as EPOS style systems have long-allowed companies and marketers to gather data about us and to profile us.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Technology and financial commentators both broadly agree that ATMs are certainly not dead yet. For many small businesses and sole traders in the 'real-world', cash payments from customers are still very practical and preferable. A bundling of other services into ATMs could also represent an opportunity for some businesses to reach customers through an established and frequently used network e.g. nationwide. Most of us know, for example, where our local ATMs are, and we are frequent visitors to them. This behaviour and knowledge instilled in the marketplace, and built-up over time has potential value for companies who can maintain this through clever ATM reinvention ideas.

Monday, May 01, 2017

27 Year Prison Sentence For Hacking. Yet More Kids Lured Into Hacking.

Youtube is putting on workshops around the UK to teach 13 to 18-year-olds about issues based around free speech, Internet safety and recognising 'Fake news'.

What’s The Problem?

Young people (particularly teenagers) spend the most time online, especially on social media.

The Google-owned video-sharing platform YouTube has faced criticism about not tackling ‘hate speech’ videos and inappropriate material on its website, even to the point where government and media adverts (including those of the BBC and Channel 4) were removed for fear of them being displayed next to such content.

Concerns have also been raised in the media about how vulnerable teenagers may be to the negative aspects of the Internet, such as being deceived and influenced by ‘fake news’ or drifting into cyber crime.

What’s The Solution?

YouTube, using the leverage of the awareness-raising National Internet Citizens day (the global Creators for Change initiative) and working in conjunction Upworthy (a company focusing stories about people trying to do good in the world), hopes to help create better and healthier online behaviour and experiences for the UK’s young people.

Youtube aims to do this by educating and inspiring teenagers to embrace and share the positive aspects of life online, and be equipped to spot and deal with the negative aspects in a healthy way.

Workshops and Ambassadors

YouTube will be offering educational workshops to teenagers in cities across the UK. Several prominent and influencial YouTubers will be also be acting as ambassadors for "social change", to help inspire and teach teenagers to tackle social issues and promote awareness, tolerance and empathy on their YouTube channels.

Powerful Peer Pressure And Bragging Rights

These efforts to help teenagers to deal with life online in a positive and healthy way come just as a widely publicised report by The National Crime Agency points to peer pressure and kudos / bragging rights, rather than financial gain as key reasons why youngsters engage in more dangerous online behaviour, such as cyber crimes like hacking and DDoS attacks.

The NCA report highlighted many of the reasons why young people, who are honest in other aspects of their life, could easily become criminals in the online world.

The report shows how low barriers to entry (due to widely available, cheap and easy hacking tools), easy access to illegal programs, a low risk of being caught, the possibility of making friends quickly and getting admiration from peers for hacking skills, can all contribute to the lines between right and wrong becoming blurred for some young people. Some technical commentators have noted that the Internet has therefore produced a new kind of criminal.

Wrongly Perceived As A Victimless Crime

One real worry, therefore, is that the mainly young perpetrators of cyber crime don’t appear to really perceive the implications of their actions, almost seeing their crimes as victimless. The fact that crimes can be committed from a safe, home environment, and can appear to be like the computer game challenges that perpetrators have essentially trained upon, make this a unique challenge for governments and businesses.

Courts Take A Very Dim View

Courts worldwide, however, take cyber crime very seriously, as is now reflected by their sentencing. The legal outcomes can be even worse where the states / countries involved don’t have the best relationship and where political points can be scored.

For example, the son of Russian parliament member Valery Seleznev, recently received the longest ever sentence for cyber crime in the U.S. (27 years in prison). Roman Seleznev, who was reported to be well known in the cybercrime world, was found guilty of stealing millions of payment card details from businesses by infecting their point-of-sale systems with malware.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Making the online environment more positive by inspiring, educating, protecting and equipping young people with the tools they need to cope with the challenges and opportunities of the Internet has to be a good thing for businesses.

Businesses can benefit as employers, and as recipients of services provided by bright young people who have been offered opportunities to make positive use of their online talents e.g. in cyber security. By working together, schools, cyber security agencies and companies, technology companies, government and businesses can reach young people before they ever become involved in cybercrime, and offer them opportunities to use their cyber skills as part of a productive, career helping and contributing to UK businesses, and helping to bridge the UK’s cyber skills gap.

Driverless Cars Being Tested On UK Roads

The ‘Driven’ consortium will begin an information-gathering trial of autonomous vehicles from next week, which will see manned but autonomous vehicles being tested on roads and motorways between London and Oxford.

Driven

The 10-member ‘Driven’ consortium of technology firms (which includes Nominet and the Atomic Energy Authority) who are conducting the trials over the next 30 months has AI company Oxbotica’s tech’s expertise and its links with Oxford Robotics Institute (University of Oxford) at its core.

Technical commentators have noted that this is the first time that a company or consortium has attempted tests of this kind and on this scale.

Oxbotica’s Selenium autonomous vehicle control software from the UK will be used to operate the vehicles.

Backed By A Big Grant

Much of the funding for the trial has come from an £8.6m government grant.

Why?

There are several main reasons why this trial is taking place, and why the government is investing in it. These include:
  • To learn how to successfully operate a fleet of autonomous vehicles in a way that has viable commercial applications.
  • To learn about the technical aspects of autonomous vehicles e.g. how each of the 6 vehicles involved in the test communicate with each other.
  • To learn lessons about data protection, cyber security and how driverless cars should be insured.
  • To develop and keep the expertise in AI and autonomous vehicle technology in the UK, and to develop a cluster of excellence” along the M40 corridor (Birmingham, Coventry, Oxford, Milton Keynes and London).
  • To let the public see and get used to the idea of autonomous vehicles.

Will The Trial Be Dangerous?

Although the cars taking part in the trial will be autonomous, like the autonomous Uber car trials in the US, there will be a person in the vehicle to ensure that things go to plan. The Driver Consortium has also given assurances that all safety-critical driving functions will be performed, and road conditions will be monitored for each entire trip.

Not The Only One

The Driver consortium’s government-funded test is not the only one of its kind. A consortium called Streetwise have won £12.8m in the UK government's Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles "CAV2" competition. This will go towards a £32m project by the consortium to get a road certified fleet of autonomous cars ready for use by 2019.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having an emerging industry, with all its talent, technology and development centres here in the UK represents a huge opportunity for UK businesses as potential suppliers, beneficiaries of the technologies and products, and spin-off market opportunities. It also represents an opportunity for UK insurers.

Whereas the UK has a skills gap in many areas of the technology market, with the right amount of support and backing from the government and other investors, this could be one area where home-grown talent is tempted to stay in what will be a world-centre of excellence for autonomous vehicle / AI technology.

New App Lets You Book Hotels By The Minute

The new ‘Recharge’ App has launched in the US, which lets users book big city hotel rooms ‘by the minute’.

Why Book By The Minute?

The app, developed by two-year old San Francisco-based start-up Recharge is designed to appeal to people who just need a base in the city for a short space of time. These user groups include business people who want to freshen up prior to a meeting, families who are shopping in the city but need a place to relax, or people who need a place to stay between spread-out meetings /appointments on the same day.

The app charges rooms out at anything from 66 cents to $3 a minute, depending on the quality of the hotel. The service offers an affordable, practical and flexible solution to users, and an opportunity for hotels to generate more revenue and gain new customers.

Good Hotels

Although some technical commentators have been quick to identify possible illicit uses for the service, Recharge now has partnerships with 15 high quality properties in its home town of San Francisco (including the five-star hotel Taj Campton Place), and now many good hotels in New York including Pierre, W New York, The Knickerbocker and 1 Hotel Central.

Popular

To date, the Recharge service, which was tested for a year in San Francisco prior to its New York launch this week, is reported to have been used by 25,000 people. The average stay using the services is two hours, and 75 percent of the people who’ve tried the service have used it more than once. Many customers are reported to have used the service several times a week, and sometimes more than once in the same day.

Scope

The Recharge service is already thought to have plenty of scope for augmenting and expanding the offering and focusing on more market segments. For example, partnerships with airlines could see Recharge being offered as a perk to for first-class travellers, Recharge packages of 10 hours to stay in hotels in San Francisco or New York could be offered, and food, massages, and even personal trainers could be included with the packages.

Venture Capital And Seed Funding

Recharge has been able to get off the ground so quickly thanks to venture capital from JetBlue Technology Ventures, and seed funding investment from a number of entrepreneurs and organisations including Binary Capital, Floodgate, Google engineer Harry Cheung, and entrepreneur Rick Marini.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is an example of how an existing need in a market can be met and new services and revenue streams can be developed with the addition technology in the form of a user-friendly app. Businesses that offer services, particularly those where space / physical locations lie empty for periods of time / spare capacity e.g. offices, storage facilities etc. may take inspiration from this kind of booking / scheduling innovation. This story goes to show that many businesses may have hitherto unnoticed strengths and opportunities that could be tapped with the addition of technology.