Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Unlimited Streaming Deals Contributing To Piracy

As Three becomes the first network provider in the UK to launch a tariff that lets its customers use unlimited streaming services without it affecting their monthly data allowance, some media commentators are concerned that more streaming services of this kind could lead to more piracy.

Streaming & Stream Ripping

Streaming is the real-time transmission of data (e.g. audio and video) over the internet to computers and mobile devices. Stream ripping is the process of using software to turn that streamed data (music and video) into files so that they can be watched / listened to offline on computers and phones. Stream ripping is possible because music and video streaming services have urls, and there are now many freely available programs to download that can stream-rip content.

What’s The Problem?

The problem is that films, video and recorded music are covered by copyright and intellectual property laws. Although many people are happy to pay to use legal streaming services in the form they are delivered such as Netflix and Spotify, stream ripping and the storage and distribution of the ripped files infringes those laws and is technically piracy.

According to research by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and PRS for Music, usage of stream-ripping sites increased by 141.3% between 2014 and 2016, thereby making them more popular than all other illegal music services. The same research showed that in September 2016, these sites were used 498,681 times to pirate music in the UK

Who?

According to the IPO and PRS, research 15% of UK adults are now using these illegal services, with 33% of them being in the 16-24 age bracket.

Why?

According to the research, the most popular reasons given for using stream-ripping include a belief that music was already owned by users in another format (31%), simply wanting to listen to music offline (26%) and on the move (25%), not being able to afford to buy the tracks legally (21%), and believing that music is overpriced (20%).

The Three Deal

There is no suggestion that the new Three ‘Go Binge’ service is causing or contributing to piracy. The fact is, however, that it is an unlimited streaming deal for data-heavy users averaging 6GB a month. It is conceivable that without Three imposing their own security measures, Go Binge could be used for stream ripping.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how difficult it can be in an online world to prevent publicly available content being shared for free, and how creative industries continue to suffer from not being able to find effective ways to get monetary rewards for recorded output or to make consumers comply with the law. In a share-everything-online world where users are used to content being free, copyright and intellectual laws are often either not widely known about or are ignored and circumvented in a kind of mass diffusion of responsibility due to the large numbers of people who are doing it without penalties.

The increased take-up of legal streaming services in recent years is, however, more promising but it is clear that more measures need to be taken, perhaps by companies offering streaming deals, to make sure that stream ripping is not taking place.

Smart Pest Control System Outsmarts Rats

A smart new system from Swedish company Anticimex is now using smart technology to bring pest control into the 21st century by tracing rats and revealing vital information about where they converge or nest.

Used To Be Manual

Like many companies in that industry sector, pest control for the main industrial clients of Anticimex used to involve the manual process of the setting up of traps, and stopping by once a week or once a month to check if the trap had caught a rat.

The Inspiration

Anticimex CIO Daniel Spahr is reported as saying that the inspiration for the change from manual checking to smart innovation came from when, as a regional manager in central Europe, he read about rat infestations in Copenhagen and the invention of a motion detector-based rat trap to be used in the sewer system.

Catching Rats The Smart Way

When smart traps first came into being, the system has some basic reporting features. These were improved upon over time, and this process was helped by Anticimex engaging software company IFS to further develop the new platform for smart traps. This led to a trial of the new Anticimex in Finland this April.

As well as tracing rats and giving information about where they converge or nest, the smart traps work by sending real-time data and reporting if motion is detected, or if a trap has been activated. The information collected by the units can be used to improve the sales and marketing of the product, and give customers a detailed idea of the pest control efforts happening in their properties.

Battery Powered

The traps themselves are powered by various sizes of rechargeable batteries. Equipped with SIM cards, the units send text messages via SMS through 2G and 3G networks, alerting Anticimex of any activity with its traps 24 hours a day. The units send out warnings if the batteries need to be recharged / batteries that need to be replaced, etc. This information can help Anticimex plan their resources for its smart traps.

Hard To Hack

Despite worries about how smart devices of all kinds can be vulnerable to attacks by cyber criminals, Anticimex are reported to be confident that the devices and their communications are highly secure and difficult to hack.

Financial Rewards

The move by Anticimex into innovative smart technology appears to be paying off as the pest control company is now achieving revenues of US$474 million.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another example of how some very old problems are now being solved using the latest smart technology. In the case of Anticimex, vision and inspiration, plus a strategic alliance with a technology company has delivered an important technical and competitive advantage, and could revolutionise a whole industry.

If this can be achieved with a pest control business, other businesses should be asking themselves how / if technology could play a part in solving some of the challenges for businesses and their customers in a cost-effective way, and whether the fresh perspectives and ideas offered by alliances e.g. with technology companies could help move things more quickly forward in new, exciting, and lucrative directions.

Hologram Phone Launched

Hollywood-based, high-quality camera manufacturer ‘Red’ has surprised the tech world by producing a holographic, virtual-augmented and mixed-reality-ready smartphone.

Hydrogen One

Red, a developer and manufacturer of high-quality cameras used in Hollywood blockbusters like Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and others, has just unveiled the Hydrogen One stand-alone, full-featured, unlocked multi-band smartphone, with an Android OS and holographic capabilities!

The idea of the phone is that it can form the basis of a modular, multi-dimensional media system, where parts can be added to enable it to do many different things.

World First?

The Hydrogen One is being positioned by Red a ‘world’s first’ holographic media machine that you can fit in your pocket, and that you don’t need to use special glasses with in order to experience the special effects.

The price tag for the Hydrogen One is $1,195 for the model with aluminium casing and $1,595 for a titanium-cased model. You can place an advance order for the Hydrogen One now but the devices won’t actually be shipped until sometime in the first quarter of 2018.

Features

According to Red, the features that make the Hydrogen One so “retina-riveting” include the fact that it uses nanotechnology that allows the user to switch between traditional 2D content, holographic multi-view content, 3D content and interactive games.

Another key feature of the Hydrogen One is that its operating system also has an algorithm that can reportedly convert stereo sound into the kind of multi-dimensional audio that is like 5.1 on headphones, and is intended to be a great match with holographic H4V.

Some Scepticism

Some technical commentators have been sceptical about the Hydrogen One because they believe that Red has yet to prove itself as a popular electronic device manufacturer. There is also some scepticism as to whether the products can / will actually deliver the level of feature quality that lives up to the current hype. Critics of the product have also said that it may be a bit too niche and that it caters to a very affluent audience.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The fact that this device is being positioned as a media machine that is simply the foundation of a future multi-dimensional media system helps the avoid product being simply classed as another phone (to compete with the big phone manufacturers). It also shows how businesses are combining technologies to create new offerings that are potentially more adaptable to the fast-changing requirements of tech-savvy new generations of customers who have very specific requirements and value customisation in their products. 

Smart Pest Control System Outsmarts Rats

A smart new system from Swedish company Anticimex is now using smart technology to bring pest control into the 21st century by tracing rats and revealing vital information about where they converge or nest.

Used To Be Manual

Like many companies in that industry sector, pest control for the main industrial clients of Anticimex used to involve the manual process of the setting up of traps, and stopping by once a week or once a month to check if the trap had caught a rat.

The Inspiration

Anticimex CIO Daniel Spahr is reported as saying that the inspiration for the change from manual checking to smart innovation came from when, as a regional manager in central Europe, he read about rat infestations in Copenhagen and the invention of a motion detector-based rat trap to be used in the sewer system.

Catching Rats The Smart Way

When smart traps first came into being, the system has some basic reporting features. These were improved upon over time, and this process was helped by Anticimex engaging software company IFS to further develop the new platform for smart traps. This led to a trial of the new Anticimex in Finland this April.

As well as tracing rats and giving information about where they converge or nest, the smart traps work by sending real-time data and reporting if motion is detected, or if a trap has been activated. The information collected by the units can be used to improve the sales and marketing of the product, and give customers a detailed idea of the pest control efforts happening in their properties.

Battery Powered

The traps themselves are powered by various sizes of rechargeable batteries. Equipped with SIM cards, the units send text messages via SMS through 2G and 3G networks, alerting Anticimex of any activity with its traps 24 hours a day. The units send out warnings if the batteries need to be recharged / batteries that need to be replaced, etc. This information can help Anticimex plan their resources for its smart traps.

Hard To Hack

Despite worries about how smart devices of all kinds can be vulnerable to attacks by cyber criminals, Anticimex are reported to be confident that the devices and their communications are highly secure and difficult to hack.

Financial Rewards

The move by Anticimex into innovative smart technology appears to be paying off as the pest control company is now achieving revenues of US$474 million.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another example of how some very old problems are now being solved using the latest smart technology. In the case of Anticimex, vision and inspiration, plus a strategic alliance with a technology company has delivered an important technical and competitive advantage, and could revolutionise a whole industry.

If this can be achieved with a pest control business, other businesses should be asking themselves how / if technology could play a part in solving some of the challenges for businesses and their customers in a cost-effective way, and whether the fresh perspectives and ideas offered by alliances e.g. with technology companies could help move things more quickly forward in new, exciting, and lucrative directions.

40% Of London Public Transport Customers Now Using Contactless Cards

The latest Transport for London (TfL) figures show that 40% of public transport customers in London are paying for their journeys with contactless payment cards.

This represents a 25% increase in contactless use for all journeys since last year and the convenience and speed of using contactless has seen people moving away from pay-as-you-go Oyster Cards.

1 Billion ‘Contactless’ Journeys

Since the introduction of contactless payment cards in 2012 on buses and in 2014 on the tube and London Overground, the use of contactless payment cards recorded a billion journeys.

Contactless technology enables users to ‘tap and pay’ without entering a PIN for items or services up to £30 at a time, and the TFL figures show that payment using contactless now averages two million journeys every day, and one in ten journeys is paid for using contactless payment technology on mobile devices.

World Leader

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has been reported as saying that the figures show the global lead that London now has in the use of contactless, and how the revenue generated from selling TfL’s technology to other major global cities will be used to further improve London’s own transport network.

Boost For Tourism & Leisure Too

It is not just London’s daily workers who are finding the contactless system easy and convenient. Tourism and leisure in London is also thought to be benefiting from this system of payment as it simplifies travel for all.

More Capacity - More Contactless

It has been reported that TfL will be introducing contactless payment options for the Elizabeth Line when it is fully opened in East London by December 2019. The Elizabeth line will increase central London’s rail capacity by 10% and will carry over half a million passengers each day, many of whom look likely to be using contactless for their journeys. The line is also designed to help deal with the increase in demand for public transport as London’s growing population is set to rise from 8.6m to around 10m by 2030.

Digital Rather Than Contactless Cards In Future

Some tech commentators have pointed out that digital payments using mobile devices will soon be taking over from contactless cards. Boston Consulting Group figures show that 20% of all consumer payments will be digital by 2021 (four times more than today), and just over half of that will be touch-and-go payments.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
This story is an example of how the ease and convenience of contactless technology is benefitting businesses and their customers, and how cash, traditional debit card transactions, and pre-paid card systems are likely to decline as a result. Projected figures from payments industry trade body ‘Payments UK’ for example, have shown that as soon as next year, more payments will be made using debit cards than using cash, and this is being fuelled by contactless technology.

For businesses, contactless payments can mean increased average transaction values (ATV), more footfall, a reduction in the costs and hassle of handling cash, and reduced business risks due to having a clear audit trail and assured payment.

US Laptop Bans Lifted on Kuwait Airways and Royal Jordanian

After security inspections of Kuwait Airways by US officials and the implementation of new security measures for US-bound flights by Royal Jordanian, the two carriers were allowed to lift the ban on laptops.

What Ban?

Back in March, the UK and US governments introduced a ban on taking laptops and tablets on planes as cabin baggage on flights from selected Middle East and North African Countries. The stated aim was to reduce the risk of concealed bombs being taken on board passenger aircraft.

For the UK, the ban was set to cover all flights from 6 countries: Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Lebanon. This means that 14 airlines, including British Airways and Easyjet, have been affected by the ban.

For the US, the ban has covered all flights from 8 countries: Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and the ban (up until now) has affected 9 airlines.

Kuwait Airways & Royal Jordanian

The ban has been lifted for Kuwait Airways and Royal Jordanian after both carriers reportedly worked with US officials in tightening their security measures for flights from Kuwait and Jordan. Kuwait Airways flies from Kuwait to New York via Ireland, while Royal Jordanian flies to three US cities from Amman, Jordan.

More Airlines Last Week

Last week, Etihad, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, and Qatar Airways became exempt from the ban. Meanwhile, airlines in Morocco, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have not yet announced the lifting of the ban.

Saudia

Saudia, the flagship carrier of Saudi Arabia, has announced that, as from 9th July, passengers will be able to take personal electronic devices on flights bound for the US.

Royal Air Maroc, the flagship carrier of Morocco, is reported to be confident that they too will be able to have the ban lifted on their flights out of Casablanca by the same date.

Tighter Security Announced Last Month

Last month it was reported that the US Department of Homeland Security had announced plans for stricter passenger screening and other tougher security measures for all commercial flights entering the United States. The new rules look likely to affect around 2,000 flights a day from 280 airports in 105 countries. The rules have, however, fallen short of banning laptop computers and e-readers in carry-on luggage for all.

It is believed that as well as screening laptops and other personal electronic devices, the new measures may include more vetting of travellers, more explosive-sniffing dogs, greater exchanging of terrorist watch lists, and putting more systems in place to prevent insider attacks (by airline employees).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although some airlines have enjoyed a relaxing of the rules, many are still being affected by the ban. For airline businesses, the continuation of the ban and the tightening of rules for the majority could hit profits by affecting passenger numbers, could increase baggage scanning and security costs (particularly at smaller airports), and could negatively affect customer satisfaction levels.

For business travellers, the ban can mean lost time where work could be done e.g. on the laptop during flights. The ban can also mean the hassle of having to find other means of entertainment on long flights, and perhaps having to suffer more distractions from other passengers who cannot use their electronic devices e.g. children.

For many travellers, the ban can mean greater disruption as a result of increased waiting times at security, and some commentators have also pointed out that there is the potential for electronic devices stored in the baggage hold to be damaged or lost, and this could have insurance implications. Other critics have also pointed out that forcing people to put laptops in cargo holds could pose other dangers because the lithium batteries could start fires.

The recent general tightening of the rules for flights entering the US (at a particularly busy time of year) have been criticised too for not having a great enough degree of collaboration and coordination to avoid the operational disruptions and frustrating consequences that could result from them. 

News Bots to Flood UK with 30,000 Articles a Month

Google’s has awarded €706,000 ($800,000) to the UK’s Press Association (PA) so they can develop robot reporters or news-bots that can generate 30,000 articles a month

Digital News Initiative

The funding is part of Google’s €150m Digital News Initiative, a three-year program in support of European journalism using technology. The initiative is in its third and final year, and lis looking to provide funding for 7 projects in 27 countries.

Codenamed RADAR, or Reporters and Data and Robots, the Press Association project is a joint effort with Urbs Media, a UK startup specialising in automated data journalism.

Why?

On the one hand, this is an effective and less labour-intensive way to satisfy the demand for more news. Some sceptics, however, have noted that the initiative could be a handy way for tech and advertising giant Google to help websites to get more readers and thereby gain more advertising business and revenue for itself.

On its website, the PA has issued a statement about RADAR’s role in meeting the growing demand “for consistent, fact-based insights into local communities, for the benefit of established regional media outlets, as well as the growing sector of independent publishers, hyperlocal outlets and bloggers.”

Natural Language Processing Software

For the news bots to generate information and stories, natural language processing software will be used on a grand scale. The PA and Urbs Media will reportedly select a team of five journalists to identify, template, and edit data-driven stories. These journalists will apply the code to publicly available government databases to churn out stories.

Hope For The Local Press

This comes at a most opportune time where Britain's hard-pressed and diminishing local press need to meet the demands for more and more page views, as well as filling spaces in print. PA Editor-in-Chief Pete Clifton has reportedly acknowledged the usefulness of RADAR in terms of cost-effectiveness in providing incisive local stories, and the fact that, although skilled human journalists are still vital in the process, local media would find it very difficult to produce articles in the numbers necessary with the limited number of journalists that they have.

Not Just The Press Association

Although the PA received the largest grant of UK recipients, Google also gave funding to other organisations as part of the initiative. These include Wikipedia (€385,000), City University (known for its popular journalism school (€335,113), fact-checking body ‘Full Fact’ (€300,000), owner of various computing titles ‘Dennis Publishing’ (€160,000), and Al Jazeera (€50,000).

News Bots Already Used In Some Countries

News bots are already being used by some media companies. In China, for example, Xiaomingbot generated hundreds of stories for last year’s Rio Olympics, and The Los Angeles Times’ own news bot, Quakebot, recently made headlines when it generated news of an earthquake off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This kind of initiative is another example of how many businesses are finding ways to promote and harness the power of technologies such as AI to help meet demand, particularly where services e.g. customer service, are concerned, in a cost effective, value adding way. It is also an example of how automation is beginning to be used to replace human jobs.

Research firm Gartner, for example, estimates that up to 85% of customer service centres will become virtual by 2020 e.g. by using more bots, and Facebook announced last April F8 that anyone can now make their own bot using Facebook’s application programming interface (API) known as ‘Messenger Platform’.

Also, in March this year, a report by PwC claimed that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation by the year 2030. How much automation and what kind of automation individual businesses adopt will, of course, depend upon a cost / benefit analysis compared to human workers, and whether automation is appropriate and is acceptable to their customers.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

AA Website Shop Data Breach

Reports have surfaced of a data breach in April this year in the website shop of motoring / breakdown company the AA which left a large (13 gigabyte) cache of data, including personal customer data viewable online for several days.

What Happened?
Security researcher Scott Helme from ‘Motherboard’, and Troy Hunt of website ‘Have I Been Pwned’ reportedly discovered that a breach in the AA website meant that, what the AA blamed on a server "misconfiguration" actually meant that a huge file, allegedly containing addresses, names and parts of payment card numbers was left exposed online.
Mr Hunt and Mr Helme reported finding 117,000 unique email addresses in the exposed file along with names, net addresses, credit card types, expiry dates and the final four digits of the card.
Motherboard and 'Have I Been Pwned' subscribers / victims whose information was included in the exposed database were contacted to verify if the details were genuine and accurate, which they were reportedly found to be.

The AA Said…
AA president Edmund King is reported to have said that they first learned about the problem on 22 April. Soon after discovery, the firm that runs the shop on the AA's behalf was told about the problem, and the vulnerability and the issue was resolved on 25 April. The AA has also reportedly said that, even though the database file was exposed, no (customer) payment details were compromised.

The AA Have Done…
Reports indicate that the AA have stated that they take data security very seriously, opened an independent inquiry into the issue, informed the UK's data watchdog, the ICO, and issued legal letters warning against a dissemination breach under the ‘Computer Misuse Act’.

Criticism
The reported criticism of those who discovered and made the details of the breach public appear to focus of accusations that the AA may have not informed of all of the affected customers about the existence and the seriousness of the breach, and may in effect have kept quiet about it until others made it public.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
This is another example, in what appears to be a long line of customer data breaches, involving high profile, well-known companies. This story is a reminder that, particularly with GDPR coming into force next year, companies need to be very familiar with, and to ensure that they comply with data protection regulations, and to realise that they are obliged by law to keep people's personal information safe and secure.
Companies need to be as transparent as possible to customers about data breaches, and to inform them when data is exposed, rather than trying to keep quiet.
Businesses can help themselves and their customers avoid heartache by making sure that web and data security are issues that are prioritised, practices and systems are regularly reviewed and assessed for risk to make sure they are effective, compliant, and up to date, and that Disaster Recovery Plans are in place.

NHS Sharing Data With Google Data Sharing Not Compliant Says ICO

A deal which led to the sharing of healthcare records of 1.6 million patients in the UK with Google’s AI company ‘DeepMind’ has been judged by the UK data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to have not complied with the Data Protection Act.

What Deal?
Back in May 2016 a data sharing agreement between Google’s A.I. Company DeepMind and the Royal Free NHS Trust meant that Google was granted access to the information of the patients for 5 years up to 2017 of 3 London Hospitals, namely;  Barnet, Chase Farm and the Royal Free Hospital.
The information was intended to be used by Google for the specific purpose of developing an app called ‘Streams’ to alert doctors when a person is at risk of developing acute kidney injury (AKI). NHS figures at the time showed the need for such an app because kidney injuries were believed to cause 40,000 deaths a year in the UK.

What Went Wrong?
A member of the public complained, the ICO investigation took place, and it was reportedly found that there were some shortcomings in how the data was handled e.g. some patients were not adequately informed that their data would be used as part of the deal. This led to concerns being raised about transparency for patients about how records were being used.

Protection
The Royal Free Trust originally stated that the patient data that Google would be given access would be encrypted, and that the Google DeepMind employees working on the project would not be able to identify any individuals from it.
There were also assurances that Google could not use the data in any other part of its business; that the data would be stored in the UK by a third party, and that all data will be deleted when the agreement expires at the end of September 2017.

Not Unusual
Despite concerns being raised in the media when the deal was first announced, the Royal Free NHS Trust pointed out that information sharing agreements of this kind weren’t unusual and that it was one of 1,500 agreements with third-party organisations that process NHS patient data.

Now What?
The ICO has now asked for the Trust to commit to changes which will ensure that it is acting within the law by signing an undertaking. The Trust has been asked to establish a proper legal basis under the Data Protection Act for the Google DeepMind project (and for future such projects), to complete a privacy impact assessment, to commission an audit of the trial and share the results with the ICO, and to show how it will comply with its duty of confidence to patients in any future trial involving personal data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
If your organisation works in a medical field or develops products or services with medical applications or inputs, an agreement of this nature with the NHS or a private health company could represent an R&D opportunity. As the national data guardian Fiona Caldicot pointed out in this case, there was huge potential that creative use of data could have on patient care and clinical improvements.
This story is, however, a reminder that companies / project partners should always be very clear on the Data Protection law (and GDPR as it will be next year) before embarking on a project. It also illustrates how privacy impact assessments are an important data protection tool in digital innovation, and how, just because new technologies enable businesses to do more, it does not mean these tools should always be fully utilised. The price of innovation shouldn’t be the erosion of legally ensured fundamental privacy rights, and the costs for companies that don’t take account of this could be great.

Charity Challenges (Snooper's) Charter

The human rights charity has been given the go-ahead by the UK High Court to make a legal challenge against the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter, and will be enabled to do so with the help of £50,000 of crowdfunding raised earlier this year via CrowdJustice.

What Is The Snooper’s Charter?
The Snooper’s Charter is another name for the Investigatory Powers Act which became law in November 2016. It was designed to extend the reach of state surveillance in Britain. The Charter requires web and phone companies (by law) to store everyone’s web browsing histories for 12 months, and also to give the police, security services and official agencies unprecedented access to that data. The Charter also means that security services and police can hack into computers and phones and collect communications data in bulk, and that judges can sign off police requests to view journalists’ call and web records.

Why Challenge It?
The charity ‘Liberty’ wants to challenge the Charter on the arguments that surveillance of everybody in the UK may not be lawful or necessary, and that whistle-blowers and experts have warned that the powers would actually make it more difficult for security services to do their jobs effectively.
There are also the arguments that the new law puts too much power in the state’s hands, could be and invasion of privacy, and that the government storing large amounts of sensitive information about each of us could in itself be irresponsible and a security risk.
Some critics have also expressed suspicions about the motives of the UK government for introducing the law e.g. to censor and control rather than to protect.

Helped By Recent Judgement
Liberty’s argument has been helped by the fact that last December, the European Court of Justice (in a separate case, represented by Liberty lawyers) ruled that the same powers in the old the UK state surveillance law the ‘Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act’ (DRIPA) were unlawful.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
It goes without saying that, especially in the light of the recent UK terrorist attacks, the UK’s ability to spot and foil potential plots is vital. Although the new surveillance Charter may include measures that could help with that, many people and businesses (communications companies, social media, web companies) are uneasy with the extent of the legislation and what it forces companies to do, how necessary it is, and what effect it will have on businesses publicly known to be snooping on their customers on behalf of the state. The 200,000+ signatures on a petition calling for the repeal of the Investigatory Powers Act after it became law late last year, and the £50,000 crowdfunding raised from the public in less than a week to fight the bill, both emphasise the fact that UK citizens value their privacy and take the issues of privacy and data security very seriously.

Rogue Drone Over Gatwick

It has been reported that a drone being flown dangerously close to Gatwick airport was the reason why four Easyjet and one British Airways flights had to be diverted.

Runway Operations Suspended
Reports indicate that runway operations at Gatwick for two periods (one nine, and one five minute period) between 6pm and 7pm on Sunday 2nd July were suspended.
The resulting flight diversions during that period meant that many passengers ended up far from their intended destination (West Sussex), in places such as Stansted, Southend (Essex), and Bournemouth (Dorset).

The Drone
Reports about the exact nature of the drone itself are limited, other than to say that it was observed in the vicinity of Gatwick. Sussex Police are reported to be investigating the matter, but as yet the drone pilot has not been identified, and police were not able to recover the drone from the scene.

Certainly Not The First Time
The UK’s safety body jointly funded by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Defence known as Airprox has recorded 70 such incidents last year, and 33 so far in this year. In fact, there has been a total of 142 Airprox incidents involving drones since 2010, with 40 of them being recorded near Heathrow, and 6 (7 including the latest) being recorded near Gatwick.

Could Have Been Worse - Has Been Worse
Although this latest incident caused a good deal of disruption, previous encounters with drones have posed more immediate and apparent danger.
In June, for example, a Loganair pilot attempting to land Edinburgh airport had to take evasive action after a drone came within only 20 metres of his plane.

Revised Code
A code (recently revised) exists in the UK to help ensure that drone pilots operate their crafts safely. The code specifically states that drones shouldn’t be flown near airfields or near aircraft, and that they should be flown below 120m (400ft) and at least 50m (150ft) away from people. This latest incident, and the fact that drones have been sighted by aircraft 12,500ft from the ground, show that not all drone pilots have read / abide by the code.
The Civil Aviation Authority has warned that flying drones near airfields carries serious punishments under law, including possible imprisonment.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Drones have found a use in many current business applications e.g. monitoring construction projects, film and TV, and the aerial photography market. They have also been tested and tipped for use in the future by e.g. Amazon for parcel deliveries. A move towards autonomous vehicles and new transport technologies means that drones currently have a bright future when used responsibly and professionally in the commercial world. Incidents such as the one at Gatwick give unwanted bad publicity to technology that has a lot of safe, cost saving, and productive uses in the right hands. It also points to the need for regulations and guidelines to be developed and revised as such new industries grow.

Government’s Fibre Broadband Scheme Launched With £400m

The long-expected launch of the UK government’s plans to improve broadband speeds for homes and businesses by replacing copper phone wires with fibre-optic cable has been launched with a £400 million investment from the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund.

Not Full-Fibre For Most Properties
Although the aim is ‘full-fibre’, this first stage is intended to replace the copper cable that runs from individual properties to the roadside cabinets / green boxes at the end of the street. This means that most of the infrastructure for broadband, for the time being, will actually be ‘hybrid fibre’.
Full-fibre (where cables from the box are fibre-optic too) could potentially deliver multi-Gigabit speeds faster than 1000Mbps, but full-fibre is currently only available to 2% of UK premises (despite 89% of UK premises now being within reach of a fixed line superfast broadband service). This does not compare well to other European countries. In Spain for example, 80% of premises have full-fibre access.

Even Faster
The government’s focus until now has been to provide ‘super-fast’ broadband speed (24Mbps or more), but the government’s plans to start replacing copper with fibre-optic is intended to produce ‘ultra-fast’ broadband (anything over 100Mbps).

Two Technologies Together
There are in-fact two technologies which are being deployed to help the UK to work towards ultra-fast broadband. One is fibre, the other is BT' Openreach’s G.fast which can get high speeds (330Mbits) using a copper wire system. It is cheap to install because it can simply piggyback on existing cables, but it can degrade through too much contact with water.

The Money
Most telecoms commentators agree that the £400 million initial investment from the government will be nowhere near enough for the scheme to reach its aims. It is thought that lots more private money (private investors will bring the current total up to £1bn) and tax money will have to be used to bring about the desired updating of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure.

Criticism
There have been many criticisms of the government’s big plans for boosting broadband speeds with the widespread use of fibre-optic cables including:
  1. Even if you have a fibre-optic cable to your home / business premises, there will still be shared traffic points in the network which will slow down your broadband at certain times.
  2. The scheme will need a large number of construction workers. This could mean disruption, logistical challenges, and high costs.
  3. Full fibre-optic, ultra-fast broadband is not likely to be a reality in the UK anytime soon. At the current rate, BT Openreach has stated that only two million premises will have access to ‘full fibre’ by the end of 2020.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
With so much of business (with customers, suppliers, and internal communications / collaboration) now conducted over the Internet, a fast connection is essential to help UK businesses to remain competitive. It is disappointing, therefore, that UK businesses don’t have, and look unlikely to have any time soon, access to kind of speeds that overseas companies (e.g. competitors) enjoy. While it is good that funding and momentum for the task of delivering faster (fibre or fibre/G.fast) broadband for UK businesses looks to be increasing, the UK has a long way to go. The reality is that we may only have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Government Boosts Digital/Tech Industry with £700m Fund

The government has provided a boost to the UK’s digital and technology industries in the form of £700m of funding as part of the launch of its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Announced Last Year

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund was announced last year by Prime Minister Theresa May at the CBI Annual Conference in November, and is intended to be a strategic part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

The big idea is that the fund can enable businesses and researchers to work together to identify industrial and societal challenges that are crucial to the UK economy, and offer opportunities for UK businesses to exploit these through innovation and positioning in e.g. a large or fast-growing and sustainable global market.

Divided Into Core Areas

The funding, which will be managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the UK government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, will be divided into six core areas.

These are the development of new battery technologies for electric cars, robotics and AI systems for use in “extreme” environments, innovative technologies in aid of patients seeking new drugs and treatments faster, driverless automobile AI tech, aerospace materials and a satellite test facility.

Robots & AI First

The first competition for funding will be the development of robotics and artificial intelligence systems that can be deployed in extreme environments. In this first round, £42 million is up for grabs for research hubs that can translate fundamental science in robotics and AI into real-world applications.

The Largest Sum

The largest sum of £246 million funding will be available, as part of the ‘Faraday Challenge’, for businesses that can help the country move towards a low-carbon economy, through researching, developing and manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The UK has big ambitions to be a leading global digital and technology competitor, but also faces many challenges in enabling it to get there, such as a technology skills gap, difficulty in raising funding by traditional means, and the uncertainty of the possible effects of Brexit.

This Industrial Challenge fund could, therefore, be an important enabler for the tech industry and the economy as a whole by opening up new possibilities for the country, and by helping the UK to have an opportunity to lead the world in developing the kind of science that underpins new technologies and their applications. This could also provide many spin-off benefits and opportunities for many other UK businesses e.g. as suppliers to the new industries.

Amazon To Revolutionise Grocery Delivery?

Amazon is entering the grocery delivery business with its bid to buy Whole Foods Market Inc. for $13.7 billion but industry insiders say that it’s going to be a long and costly process for Amazon to revolutionize grocery delivery the way they revolutionized online retailing.

Not As Much Warehouse Space As Wal-Mart


Even though Amazon is well known for having a large amount of warehouse space, one key challenge that Amazon faces is the relative scale of its warehousing for the Whole Foods business. According to logistics consulting firm MWPVL International Inc., for example, Amazon has 3 million square feet of U.S. warehousing dedicated to its Amazon Fresh and Prime Pantry grocery programs. This is only one-tenth of the warehouse space that Wal-Mart has for specialized food distribution.

This has led some former Amazon Fresh employees and logistics experts to conclude that Amazon will need to significantly grow its network of specialized grocery distribution warehouses in order to compete with Wal-Mart.

Fresh Food Different To Parcels

Another challenge for Amazon is that even though it has warehouses strategically located throughout America, along with 100 million square feet of fulfilment and data centres equipped with the latest robotics, warehouse facilities for fresh food distribution are far different to (and more complicated than) ordinary warehouses.

A single facility may need more than six different temperature settings to store products from ice cream to fruits. Some facilities may require certification from the US Food and Drugs Administration. There are also additional maintenance and cleanliness factors to be addressed e.g. for pest control and to avoid food contamination.

Big Investment Needed

All of these factors have led industry commentators to conclude that Amazon will need to invest a very significant amount of money into its fresh grocery business in a short space of time if it wants to become a serious competitor to Wal-Mart.

For example, Industry analysts predict that Amazon will have to add 12 or more warehouses if it wants to supply Whole Food stores, as well as running its normal home delivery operation.

Space Issue

It is thought that Amazon will likely to use United Natural Foods Inc. to supply Whole Foods with hard-to-source products, but even if Amazon uses Whole Foods stores to provide food for delivery, many of their outlets lack space to handle thousands of online orders.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon has grown and diversified at an incredible rate in recent years, blurring the traditional retail dividing lines between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar. Its move to revolutionize US grocery delivery business and take on the entrenched might and experience of Wal-Mart through the acquisition of Whole Foods Market Inc could seriously disrupt the U.S. grocery sector, but this will clearly require a lot more investment from Amazon if it is to be successful.

Even though there are significant challenges ahead for Amazon in terms of the type and number of warehouses needed to handle fresh groceries, many commentators agree that Amazon’s size, financial might and track record of entering news markets mean that it could well succeed.

The worry is that, if Amazon is successful in revolutionizing the fresh grocery market in the US, it could use this experience to set up a similar operation in the UK. This would pose a serious threat to UK grocery retailers. It could also, however, provide new opportunities to fresh grocery producers in the UK.

Gmail Ads Will Not Be Scanned Anymore

Google Cloud Computing Chief Diane Greene said in a blog post on Friday that Google will stop scanning Gmail content for creating personalized ads. This move, due to happen later this year, is in line with Google’s enterprise offering, G Suite.

G Suite Gmail Already Not Used


Diane Greene has said that G Suite’s Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalization. G suite is Google’s set of (cloud based) intelligent apps (Gmail, Docs, Drive and Calendar) that is designed to help organizations to work collaboratively regardless of their physical location.

Significant


The announcement that Google will stop using the scanned content from Gmail outside of G Suite is significant because the Gmail service is estimated to have more than 1.2 billion users worldwide (compared to G Suite’s 3 million), and it should please privacy campaigners worldwide.

How Do Personalised Ads Work?

Personalised / targeted online adverts work by using a person’s browsing habits combined with other data collected from their online activities to display adverts that are more personalised or more likely to be relevant to that person’s likes and tastes, and may therefore be more successful. Advertisers claim that people look more positively on relevant adverts, and that their clients (the businesses buying the adverts) can make a better ROI using this method.

Privacy campaigners on the other hand object to too much monitoring and sharing and cross-referencing of a person’s data, and the fact that it can make the individual identifiable, and, therefore, could pose a security risk and / or give companies too much control.

Google

It is common knowledge that Google has in fact been accessing its users ‘Gmail’ email service since its inception, to create the adverts which are shown to individual users with that email service.

Back in June last year, Google changed the way it tracks its users across the internet by combining users’ personally identifiable information from Gmail, YouTube and other accounts with their browsing records, despite previously pledging that these data sets would be kept separate to protect individuals’ privacy.

Users could opt-out of being tracked this way by visiting the activity controls section of their account page, and by then unticking the box marked “Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services”.

Not The Only Ones

Google is certainly not the only company to track users and use their history, activity and content to deliver targeted ads. Facebook, for example, tracks likes and shares, and many websites that we all visit share our activities with networks of third parties who share, collaborate, link and de-link personal information to generate target ads.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses clearly need to be able to advertise their products and services in order to sell them, and online advertising can be an immediate and cost effective option, particularly if it is intelligently targeted.

Too much online advertising, however, can be very frustrating for web users because it can hinder access to content and waste time, plus, in times where cyber crime levels are high and GDPR is on the way, we all need to able to (and are being given more powers to) protect our personal data.

This move by Google is therefore likely to be broadly welcomed, and is likely to provide Google with some good PR, although there will still be other ways that Google will collect information about us online to keep tailoring advertisements. For example, this could still include data from the videos we watch on YouTube, and what we search for online and through Google Chrome (if we’re signed into our Google accounts). Google will also still be able to scan the contents of our emails for anti-spam, anti-phishing, malware detection services.

It is possible to check how Google targets its adverts by going to the "Ads settings" option within Gmail.

Virgin Media Advises Customers To Change Default Passwords

Virgin Media has advised its 800,000 customers to change their passwords to reduce the risk of hacking after finding that many customers were still using risky default network and router passwords.

Recent Which? Report

One of the catalysts for Virgin Media advising customers to change their passwords was an investigation by Which? highlighting the fact that keeping the default password could make it easier for hackers to potentially access the provider's Super Hub 2 router. This, in turn, could enable them to access a user’s smart appliances / IoT devices such as domestic CCTV cameras or even a child's toy.

Hackers Could See Inside Your Home


The investigative study by Which? in conjunction with ethical security researchers SureCloud found that fifteen devices were tested, eight of which were found to have security issues. In one case, a home CCTV system was hacked because the administrator account was not password protected. Hackers were able to see live pictures and in some instances, were able to move cameras inside the house. Which? is now calling for the industry to improve basic security provisions.

IoT Risk

It has long been known that not changing the default password in smart / Internet of Things (IoT) devices around the home for example, could put them at greater risk of being taken over by hackers.

The fact that IoT devices have a connection to the Internet, are prevalent, and are often overlooked in security planning (and are therefore likely left unguarded) means that they are vulnerable to hacks and attacks. Also, many tend to be connected to (or in control of) physical objects in homes and businesses e.g. white goods, CCTV cameras, printers elevators, doors, heating or fire safety systems.

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

Hackers have also shown that they can take over large numbers of IoT devices at once and use them as a botnet to attack other systems e.g. the ‘Mirai’ attack in October 2016.

Virgin Media Super Hub 2 Security Flaw

Earlier this month, Virgin Media’s (Netgear) Super Hub 2 and Super Hub 2 AC home routers made the news when a security patch had to be rolled out for them after they were found to all have exactly the same private encryption key, thus making them more vulnerable to hacks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In this case, Virgin Media has acted quickly to avoid potentially bigger problems and has assured customers that the security of their systems and equipment is continually upgraded.

One positive aspect of this situation is that it has raised awareness of the vulnerability of IoT devices to attack. The message to users is, of course, that it is good practice to change default passwords on new devices e.g. routers and other IoT devices as soon as possible after setup.

Manufacturers and retailers of smart home and business devices also need to take some responsibility for minimizing the security risks in their products e.g. by building in better security features and by issuing regular updates and patches, and by informing buyers of the security measures that they need to take to use devices safely .

Cyber Attack on Parliament - Emails Compromised

Parliament - suffered a cyber attack.
Parliament’ s IT system was hacked last Friday, compromising the email accounts of almost 1% of the 9,000 users of the system according to the latest reports.

Remote Access Disabled

After the sustained cyber attack, which some media commentators have already blamed on a state-sponsored attack by Russia (North Korea and Iran have also been mentioned), remote access to the emails of MPs, peers, and their staff was disabled in order to safeguard the system. As well as the disruption caused to the UK government by the attack, one fear is that some of the information stolen by the attackers could lead to blackmail attempts.

Weak Passwords

It has been reported that the attackers were looking for accounts with weak passwords as these would give them the best chance of gaining quick access.

Measures Taken

The parliamentary email system was shut down and MPs were also prevented from being able to access their email accounts remotely from outside of Westminster while the attack was investigated.

Also, it has been reported that any individuals whose accounts were compromised during the attack have been contacted and investigations are now under way to determine whether any data has been lost.

WannaCry

This new attack comes hot on the heels of the WannaCry attack in May in which ransomware infected the computers of an estimated 300,000 victims in 150 countries worldwide, many of them large, well-known businesses and organizations, including 16 health service organisations in the UK. That attack has since been attributed to a North Korea-based hacking group known as Lazarus, the same group that targeted Sony Pictures with a hack in 2014 over the release of the film ‘The Interview’ which satirised the North Korean leadership.

Echoes Of The US Election

The attack on the UK Parliament’s email system is also reminiscent of the cyber attacks against Democratic Party organisation during the 2016 election campaign where Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails were hacked and leaked, possibly influencing the presidential vote in Donald Trump’s favour. At the time, the finger of suspicion was pointed firmly at Russia as President Obama was reported to have warned Russian President Vladimir Putin about the possible consequences for the cyber attacks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another example of how even important and supposedly secure government systems can be vulnerable to cyber attack. Although we don’t know (and may never know) the full effects and the extent of this latest attack, it is a reminder that everyone, whether they are in Parliament or elsewhere, needs to do everything possible to maintain their own cyber-security.

In the wake of this latest attack and the WannaCry attack, 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, and the favouring of potentially weak password-based systems have been painfully exposed.

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