Friday, August 25, 2017

Speech Recognition Now As Good As A Human

It has been reported that Microsoft’s speech recognition system has reached its lowest ever Word Error Rate (WER) of 5.1%, a rate that puts it on par with humans.

What Speech Recognition System?

For the last 25 years, reaching human parity with a speech recognition system has been a goal of Microsoft, and the company has, therefore, committed to investing in long-term research associated with it. The research, investment, and the resulting system (which includes an AI element) have fed into products and services like Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

The 5.1% Error Rate

Last September, Microsoft’s speech engine is reported to have registered a 6.3% word WER , but Microsoft was able to bring it down to 5.9%. Further recent work on the engine lowered that rate 5.1%, which is the human word error rate.

Microsoft’s system is benchmarked against the Switchboard corpus, which is a dataset of recorded telephone conversations that speech research technologists have been using for more than 20 years to measure the capability of transcription systems.

Human parity of the kind that Microsoft has now achieved has obviously been a goal of the company’s research, and puts it well on the way to creating a system that can be an effective central component of many of its future products and services.

Why The Big Improvement?

Microsoft’s recent advances in AI techniques like neural-net based acoustic and language models, and innovations in enabling the system to take into account the context of the speech to make better guesses as to what unclear words are have led to the reduced error rate.

What’s Next?

Now that Microsoft has an advanced human speech recognition system, reports indicate that future work will focus on tackling the challenges posed by recognising accented speech, dialects, and conversations in noisy surroundings.

Getting a grip on accented speech and dialects could open the speech recognition system to more users globally, and recognising and capturing conversation in noisy environments could make the system more versatile and useful.

Another project in the works is improving the system’s ability to understand the meaning and intent of speech, which Microsoft sees as the next frontier for speech technology.

With all of these advances, and with more research in the pipeline, we can expect more improvements to be rolled out in the future updates of e.g. Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI and the use of speech recognition are now becoming familiar as a way in which we interact with entertainment devices e.g. Amazon Echo and Siri controlled systems like Apple’s new HomePod, and how we interact with our PCs and mobile devices e.g. with Cortana. They are also playing an important role in how we interact with, and how security can be improved with company services e.g. via bots and verification / authentication systems used by banks.

AI and machine learning offer companies the chance to develop innovative products and services that offer the kind of customized, personalized experiences are highly valued by modern consumers. The ability of devices and services to adapt intelligently and relate more closely than ever to our personal likes and needs saves us time, and increase our loyalty to those products and services.

AI developments have been such that back in April, an AI program learned how to ‘bluff’ and beat expert human competitors to the prize money in a series of exhibition poker matches, and this month an AI program cracked a (physical) combination safe in 30 minutes by reducing a possible million combinations to just one correct code. Also, Google’s AI company DeepMind and Oxford University has developed WLAS, a system that can lip read better than a trained professional, and Google has reportedly used AI machine learning technology on its Gmail service with a reported 99.9% blocking of all phishing attempts that it detected.

Not all share the view that the rapid development of AI and machine learning of this kind is a positive thing as Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently described AI as a "fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation”, and a report in March this year by PwC claimed that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation (aided by AI developments) by the year 2030. Recently, concerns have also been raised about how AI could be used to create custom malware to defeat antivirus software by learning how to tweak malicious binaries.

AI technology is finding its way into our daily lives to enhance and tie together existing products and services and new security technologies (biometrics) in new ways, and an essential element of communication, value addition, and convenience, must surely be an effective speech recognition system that is as close to our own as possible.

Banned Neo-Nazi Website Causes Freedom of Speech Concerns

Google, GoDaddy, and Cloudflare’s decision to stop serving a neo-Nazi site has prompted a US-based digital rights group to express concerns about freedom of speech being compromised.

Daily Stormer Kicked Out

After much public pressure, all three web companies pulled the rug from under The Daily Stormer, saying it violated their terms of service. The Daily Stormer is a neo-Nazi and white supremacist news and commentary website that has recently gained media attention after vilifying Heather Heyer, the 32-year old killed in the car attack in the Charlottesville violence.

GoDaddy were reportedly first to act by pulling DNS services for the neo-Nazis, followed by Google (Domains) when The Daily Stormer tried to move its site there, and finally, Cloudflare (which had initially provided the site's DNS and a proxy service) followed suit when the neo-Nazi website implied that Cloudflare supported their cause and agreed with the content of their articles.

EEF Reacts

The decisions of these 3 web companies did not sit well with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which has reportedly stated that no-one, not even the government and private companies, should decide who can speak or not. The EFF has pointed out that internet companies control so much online that their decisions about this particular matter that will impact freedom of speech in future, and could have far-reaching effects.

Not Just Because They’re Nazis Says Cloudflare

Cloudfire’s CEO Matthew Prince explained on the company’s blog that the reason for expelling the site from their servers was not because of the Nazi views that it expressed, but because it had said that Cloudfire secretly agreed with its views (which Cloudfire has clearly stated that it does not).

Hiding In The Dark Web

With no company now wanting to host the site, and with hackers worldwide relishing the opportunity of launching all manner of attacks on the website, The Daily Stormer has had to retreat to the Dark Web.

What / Where Is The Dark Web?

The Dark Web refers to a collection of websites on private, encrypted networks built from connections between trusted peers using unconventional protocols. It is only accessible by means of special software, configurations or authorization. Most websites on the Dark Web hide their identity using something called the Tor encryption tool, and sites on the Dark Web cannot be found through search engines or by using traditional browsers. The Dark Web is just one part of a massive network not indexed by search engines like Google, known as the Deep Web.

Freedom of Speech For All

While the EEF has acknowledges that a stand against violence and aggression must be made, it has also pointed out that the methods used to silence neo-Nazis could, in theory, be used on anyone. For this reason, the EEF believes that the expulsion from the Internet by GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudfare could have a compromising effect on freedom of speech on the Web in future.

The EEF occupies a clear position to protect free speech, especially on the Internet, regardless whether they agree with what is being said, and with the principle that no one (including governments and private companies) should be able to decide on who can speak or not

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

While freedom of speech is important, in the business world, being publicly associated in any way with unpopular, racist, hate-promoting violent groups / organisations is very bad for business, and could become a PR disaster with long-lasting negative effects if not handled correctly. It is, therefore, not surprising that some big web players were able to make a very quick decision to distance themselves from The Daily Stormer, and their actions in this case could also be justified on moral and ethical grounds too.

This story also raises other important issues and angles including:
  • The initial request to Cloudfire to terminate The Daily Stormer’s service actually came from hackers who wanted Cloudfire’s online protection removed so that they could knock the site out e.g. with a DDoS attack. Hacking is now a powerful threat on the Internet for governments, companies, and all kinds of organizations. As well as being used for theft and fraud, it can also be used as a kind of direct action motivated by social justice issues. In this case, both the host companies, and the Daily Stormer could have had reason to fear the hackers.
  • As Cloudfire’s CEO pointed out, the decision to dump The Daily Stormer could have come at a price for his company (which has never made such an exception before), because it could make it harder for them (and other web companies) to argue against e.g. a government pressuring them into taking down a site they don't like. This is a particularly pertinent point in a time where e.g. in the UK we have the Investigatory Powers Act and pressure from the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to gain more powers online for surveillance and gaining back doors into social media platforms.
  • For many free speech advocates, what happened to The Daily Stormer’s website could have far reaching effects because it has, in a way, breached a more or less united front by web companies against censorship, and could provide leverage to those seeking influence over the Internet.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Tougher Sentences For Online Abusers


The UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has said that the Crown Prosecution Service will treat online hate crime as seriously as offences carried out face to face, and will seek tougher penalties and sentences for online abuse on social media platforms.

Crackdown On Online Hate Speech

Online hate speech has proliferated on (and been enabled by) social media in recent years, and trolling has resulted in misery for victims, and even suicides. With online hate speech and hate crime on the rise, the CPS has announced that it plans to erase the line between real-world , face to face offences and online abuse, and take into account the effects on the victim and on the community.

The reason for this new move by the CPS is the now widely accepted belief that, left unchallenged, low-level abuse (offending) can fuel dangerous and hostile hate crimes e.g. like those seen recently in Charlottesville in the US.

Different Experiences And Needs

In its new policy documents, the CPS covers many different types of hate crimes e.g. racist, religious, disability. The CPS has also now acknowledges that different victim types have different needs and experiences e.g. differences in the experiences of victims of biphobic crime (aimed at bi-sexuals) and victims of homophobic and transphobic offences.

As such, the CPS now intends to remove obstacles to justice for all kinds of victims in all kinds of hate crimes, and wants to ensure that (for example) disabled victims and witnesses get the right support they need to allow them to give their best evidence.

Hate Crimes Defined And Contextualised

According to the CPS, hate crimes are committed by a person motivated by hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. The CPS has now prioritized hate crime because it recognises the corrosive and lasting impact that such crime can have on communities and citizens, and how it can drive people to change the way they live and to live in fear.

The new policy also takes into consideration the current breadth and context of the offence, giving the prosecutors the best probable chance of getting justice for the victims. It also lets the victims and witnesses know what they can expect from the CPS.

Public Encouraged To Report Hate Crime

The CPS is encouraging the public to report hate crime with confidence, knowing that the CPS will take them seriously and give them the needed support. Its campaign, #hatecrimematters, aims to educate and inform the public about the new policy by the CPS.

ORG Warning

Although the Open Rights Group (ORG) broadly supports the idea of holding perpetrators of online hate speech / hate crime to account, it has warned internet companies against a blanket policing of online free speech.

For The Record

Currently, CPS has a record of 83.2% conviction rate in its completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions, the highest figure thus far.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The business world works best when customers, investors, and other stakeholders have confidence in companies, brands, products and services. Those businesses that supply platforms for, or enable the sharing / distribution free speech of any kind e.g. social media and web companies, are now supported in UK law by their common duty to provide a safe online environment for their users e.g. by removing hate speech promptly, and by making their part of the online environment particularly safe for children, young people, and the vulnerable.

Businesses and organisations of all kinds can help the common purpose of minimising online hate crime through education of their staff / pupils / customers / users / stakeholders about their own policies for the treatment of those discovered to be using hate speech e.g. at work online.

We can all play our own individual part in making the online environment safe for all by reporting hate speech where we find it, and, although the stance of open rights / free speech organisations such as the ORG is important, so is ensuring that the Internet is a safe place for all.

68% of UK Firms Not Trained Against Cyber Attacks

The annual Cyber Governance Health Check has shown that 68% of the UK’s top business board members have received no training in how to respond to a cyber attack.

No Plan For One In Ten FTSE Companies

Also, according to the report from The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), even though 54% acknowledge that cyber attack is a top threat to their business, 10% of the FTSE 350 companies don’t have a plan in place for what to do in the event of an attack.

Board-Level Awareness

The report shows that although board-level awareness on the importance of cyber security has risen by almost 10% over the year (up from 21% to 31%), two-thirds of UK Board members are not up-to-date with cyber security risk information.

Customer Data Safety

On a slightly more promising note, however, 50% of board members said that they review and challenge reports on the security of customer’s data.

Better Training Needed

The survey results have prompted industry experts to rally senior executives and their staff to get proper training in managing cyber attacks in order to ensure that companies can minimise damage to their systems and reputation, and avoid possible lawsuits.

Adopting Best Practice

Digital Minister Matt Hancock has publicly acknowledged that there is a need to adopt best practice in cyber security to avoid the devastating effects of a cyber attack in the first place. Mr Hancock has highlighted how the UK’s world-leading businesses and charities are naturally going to be targets for hackers. It is therefore vital that senior executives work with the National Cyber Security Centre and heed Government’s advice and training.

UK charities can also take advantage of a tailored programme of support that has been developed alongside the Charity Commission and the National Cyber Security Centre.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Cyber crime is a major threat to all UK businesses and organisations, and knowledge about it is no longer something that can be left to the IT Department. Given the level of risk that cyber crime poses to the very life of the business, board members and senior executives should be among those most well informed, should be prioritizing and championing the promotion of cyber security best practice throughout the company.

If businesses have not done so already, now is the time to prioritise the issue and make sure that basic cyber security steps are taken at the very least - see https://www.cyberstreetwise.com/cyberessentials/
Now may also be a good time therefore for businesses to seek other professional advice about measures that could be taken to ensure cyber resilience in the first place, such as quality cyber security training for all staff (including Board members), health checks, risk assessments / audits, cyber security policies, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans.

Less Than 10% Completing Computing A-levels Are Female

According to statistics on A-level results released recently, only 9.8% of those completing A-level computing courses are female.

Shortfall

While almost 7,600 UK students took A-level computing in the UK, less than 10% completing those courses were females. These figures also highlight a huge shortfall from the UK’s aim and expectation of 40,000 students taking A-level computing.

Why Such Low Numbers?

Many industry commentators have given possible causes and reasons for the low numbers of females ending up with computing A-levels. These include:
  • The failure of the UK education system to attract girls to the subject from primary school level and beyond.
  • Negative stereotyping of females, including an unconscious bias and gender stereotyping which assigns females to particular tech jobs. This was partly reflected recently, for example, in an incident where a Google engineer was sacked for authoring a controversial 10-page memo arguing for less emphasis on gender diversity in the workplace, and criticizing Google for its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  • The expectation that females will be paid less than their male counterparts. For example, research from April this year by Korn Ferry Hay Group found that the Technology sector has the largest ‘like-for-like’ gender pay gap In UK, with women being paid an average of 16% less than men in the same job.
  • The effects of teachers, parents, and other opinion leaders cautioning young girls, when they entertain the idea of working in the tech industry (because of some the reasons shown above).
  • According to the Stemettes charity foundation (one that encourages girls to pursue careers in the sciences, technology engineering, and maths), girls are unlikely to pick a subject to study if they believe that they will be all alone in taking that subject.

Not All Bad News

Data from Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has revealed a little bit of good news. There was an increase of 34% in the number of females taking up computer science exams, from 609 in 2016 to 816 this year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The UK not only has a major challenge with a skills gap in IT, but it is also facing the possibility of almost entirely missing out on the contribution that women could be making to the sector. Not only are there proven, more obvious barriers (gender pay gaps and stereotyping), but there is a more difficult to pin down combination of circumstances earlier in girls' lives that is steering them away from, and giving them a negative attitude towards tech careers.

Technology and employment commentators have suggested that the next generation needs to be shown early on (at home, at school, and in wider society influences) that gender is not a part of the equation if a person is seeking a career in the tech industry. Young women need to be encouraged and equipped with the digital skills they need to get work or to pursue further studies in the tech area, and women who have achieved success in the technology IT world could be championed as examples, role models and mentors.

Work also needs to be done within the tech industry and tech companies themselves to challenge the kinds of mistaken beliefs, attitudes, and cultures that lead to extra challenges for women who want to get on, and receive equal opportunities, equal pay, and recognition.

Closing Time For Lovefilm’s Postal DVD Service

Lovefilm has announced that it will be ceasing its postal DVD rental service on 31st October this year, as the format is being superseded by streaming services.

Streaming Kills DVD Demand

A decrease in demand for DVD and Blu-ray rentals, caused by the huge increase in demand for streaming movies and TV series are cited for the reasons why the Amazon-owned DVD rental service will be closing down Lovefilm in the UK and Germany.

Founded in 2002, Lovefilm rented out DVD and Blu-ray discs via the post for a monthly subscription fee. Amazon acquired the service in 2011, and at its peak, Lovefilm had more than 1.4 million subscribers.

From Rental to Streaming

Back in 2010, Lovefilm started to offer some content for online streaming, earning the tag (in 2011) “the Netflix of Europe” before Netflix was actually rolled out there in 2012. The streaming service was then rebranded as Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Discs Donated To Charities

Lovefilm’s film catalogue is vast, comprising of more than 80,000 titles. It has been reported that Amazon now intends to donate all of the DVD and Blu-ray discs to charity partners.

Some Disappointed

The Lovefilm service still has many fans, some of whom have expressed their disappointment at the closing of the service because:
  • Many more film titles appear to be available on DVD and Blu-ray compared to streaming services.
  • DVDs and Blu-ray don’t suffer from the buffering that streaming can suffer from.
  • Some film buffs prefer the ritual and the experience (and the excitement) of receiving a physical film through the post and putting it in a player.
  • Committed DVD and Blue-ray watchers may not have video shops nearby.

Dead Formats?

Streaming has now become common, with high-quality 4K and HDR being offered by streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Google Play Movies. Sales of DVDs and Blu-rays in the US, for example, have gone down 7% year-on-year, while subscriptions for streaming services grew 23% last year.

Here in the UK, streaming services have overtaken DVD and Blu-ray sales and rentals for the first time, with revenues surging to almost £1.3bn in the UK last year. Sales of physical video discs fell 17% to £894m, with the physical rental market down 21% to just £49m.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how physical (disc-based) formats have become less popular with consumers, who now prefer digital and streamed film and TV content. The benefits to customers are that it is immediate, convenient, can be watched on mobile devices, doesn’t require storage space in the home (eliminates DVD clutter), it is available on-demand any time, and it eliminates local / regional variations in available titles (you’re not limited by what the local shop stocks).

For businesses offering these services, there are many benefits including the elimination of costs associated with the storage and distribution of social media, fewer piracy worries, greater knowledge about customers and their viewing habits / preferences, and better billing and price / plan segmentation opportunities. It also offers more advertising revenue opportunities.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Guest Wi-Fi - Setting up a private hotspot

If you have frequent visitors at your business or home, you will probably be fed up with them asking for your WLAN key (password) every time. You may want to share your WLAN with friends or visitors, but really you shouldn’t reveal your main network key, but rather set up a guest WLAN for them to use.

Why would you need to set up a WLAN? Quite simply, if you let friends or visitors onto your own network, you are legally responsible for all that they do on the World Wide Web. If, for example, they visit illegal sites or download content, the “owner” of the WLAN will be held responsible. Another problem is that if malicious software has been installed i.e viruses or trojans on one of your friends’ devices, you will open the door to them on your own network.

Guest wifi in your business or home

Our service for you: We come to your home and set up your guest Wifi
Guest WLAN
No matter where you are, everyone is permanently online on their smartphone or tablet. If you are surfing using LTE or 3G your data allowance is used up very quickly. Apps and Internet will run very slowly or only partially load or not at all. So because of this. If WLAN is available, whether it be in a shopping centre or at a friends house: we will use it if we can.  Of course you agree to share your wireless LAN because you are a good friend. But ideally you should set up a guest WLAN for them.

How does a guest WLAN or private hotspot work?

A guest WLAN operates independently of its “mother” WLAN, has its own SSID (network identification). This can be individually configured. Users connect to the Internet as usual, but have no access to the local network and the devices installed there. Many of the current routers already provide a default feature, such as ” guest network “, ” guests “, ” guest access “, or ” virtual access points “. Certain pages or services can also be completely blocked or restricted by the filter system for guest WLAN.  For example, with the right settings, you can ensure that pornographic content will not be shown.

Guest WLAN securely

When setting up a guest WLAN access, you also need to exercise caution. Often, the basic settings of the routers are configured to provide an open network without additional password protection. This means that anyone and everyone can connect to it. Even the guy parked outside of a neighbours house – or your neighbours themselves. Therefore, the guest WLAN should also be secured via WPA2 and password.

At Limbtec we can assist you in setting up your WLAN and also advise you on how to set up guest access.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Consumers Still Unaware of Current Account Switching Service

Recent research has shown that despite spending £750m on an IT system that has simplified and sped up the process of changing bank account providers, only 28% of us know that the Current Account Switching Service (CASS) exists.

What Is CASS And What Does It Do?

CASS was introduced by the Banking Commission in 2013 as a result of concerns from consumers and because of a widely recognised lack of competition in the banking industry. The service simplifies and speeds up the process of changing banks. Before CASS, this process typically took 30 days, but using CASS it now only takes a week to switch bank accounts. CASS also makes sure all payments made to the old account are redirected to the new account, thereby ensuring that payments are not lost if the old account details are erroneously used.

Less Than One-Third Aware

Recent research by the TSB has shown that, 4 years after its introduction, less than one-third of consumers are aware of CASS and its benefits.

Why?

The research revealed that CASS is underused because there has been a lack of communication to consumers about the service.

What is also revealing in the TSB’s research findings is the fact that in the past 12 months, the number of consumers using the CASS service to switch bank accounts has fallen by 14%.

Challenger Banks

The TSB research has shown that, even though are new players in the banking industry, and an increase in the visibility of so-called ‘challenger banks’ in the UK, 68% of consumers still think that there is less competition in the market compared to last year.

The TSB appears to see itself as a challenger bank, and its research does not bode well for other challengers in the banking sector.

No Informed Choice

The results of the research appear to justify the TSB’s conclusions. It found that 41% of consumers believe it’s hard to make an informed choice when switching, 38% do not see the benefits of switching, and 28% think that all products are essentially the same.

The reporting of the TSB’s research may therefore have gone some way towards making more people aware of their right to switch banks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The results of the TSB research shows that, even after a 3-year long investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into competition in retail banking, the big banks still have a stronghold on the market, and consumers are missing out. It is of course advantageous to the big banks that this lack of awareness about CASS exists, and it appears to be getting worse. Indeed, some have accused the big banks of taking their customers for granted, trapping them on poor deals, and then making it impossible to switch.

It has been estimated that the average person could be £70 better off by switching, and that equates to a collective £10 million in savings that consumers are missing out on because of the lack of awareness about CASS.

The solution may be, therefore, to force banks to promote CASS and to explain its benefits to their customers. Many think that the CMA also needs to make more of an effort to promote the CSS and to encourage consumers to shop around for a bank account.

Li-Fi Could Boost Wi-Fi

Upcoming wireless protocol Light Fidelity or Li-Fi could be used to complement and boost Wi-Fi by turning special LED light bulbs into network access points, and by co-existing in mobile devices to improve performance.

What Is Li-Fi?

Light Fidelity or Li-Fi is a wireless protocol that uses the visible light spectrum to provide wireless networking access. It essentially a way of using light to transfer data.

Li-Fi was first introduced in 2011 at a TEDGlobal conference by Professor Harald Haas. Professor Haas is reported to have created Li-Fi because he believed that the RF spectrum wasn’t enough for things like multimedia, and he was inspired by the spectrum crunch i.e. the lack of available wireless frequencies needed to support a growing number of consumer devices.

How Could It Work?

Professor Harald Haas demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress how a Li-Fi dongle, an integrated Li-Fi luminaire (light bulb), and a bi-directional link with special photo detector at both ends (in each) could be used to send and receive data. The dongle (plugged into a mobile device) can thereby send infrared LED data to the ceiling light. The light(s) can be hooked up to a network for example.

As a person moves around with the device, multiple Li-Fi lights in the room could mean that the device is able to automatically detect where the strongest signal is coming from, and can shift to that light source so the signal always stays connected and at full strength. In this way Wi-Fi could be boosted and improved with the help of Li-Fi.

Faster Than Wi-Fi

With Li-Fi, a Li-Fi transmitter uses LED lights to control light intensity. This data can then be read by a photosensitive receiver. The advantage here is speed. This is because LEDs use chips to control light output and thereby achieve millions of modulations per second, thus enabling LEDs to transmit data up to 100 times faster than Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi’s Impact

Many of us now rely upon Wi-Fi as we increasingly need and use mobile computing and communications for our work and social lives. Employees use Wi-Fi to access corporate networks, and independent workers turn coffee shops into offices using Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi’s Shortcomings

Although Wi-Fi is now used widely, it has several known shortcomings. For example, distance is often an issue, walls are literal barriers for connection, and Wi-Fi connections can be insecure and easily hacked. Also, despite the increase in bandwidth over time, an access point becomes a bottleneck when many users access it all at the same time, and there are real issues with security and scalability.

Complementary

Although Li-Fi cannot penetrate a wall, it could be used to complement and help reduce some of the shortcomings of Wi-Fi. Both technologies could co-exist in devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

A Long Way Off

Many technical commentators have pointed out that the use of Li-Fi e.g. in mobile devices, is still likely to be at least 5 years off. Challenges to its wide scale introduction, for example, include the fact that special receivers and transmitters will need to be incorporated in mobile devices, and specially designed chips will be needed to encode and decode to convert light signals into data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As more of us rely on an increasing number of smart and mobile devices, and with the challenges of a limited number of frequencies we can use, coupled with the obvious shortcomings of Wi-Fi, something needs to be done. Li-Fi provides a workable way to overcome many of the challenges we face with Wi-Fi and to give it a much needed boost. It’s also an innovative way of linking existing technologies together that could provide new opportunities for businesses as suppliers e.g. marketing Li-Fi light bulbs, and as users.

It is important to realise, however, that, for all its promise, Li-Fi is still a work in progress, and the predictions are that it could be very costly and politically difficult to introduce any time soon on a large scale.

Encoded DNA Used To Carry Computer Malware

Researchers in the US have used digitised human DNA loaded with malware to infect a computer as part of an experiment to demonstrate that open-source programs used by laboratories worldwide are vulnerable to hackers.

What?

It has been reported that researchers at the University of Washington's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering have successfully infected a computer system by using a strand of encoded human DNA (not actual human DNA), loaded with malware.

As well as causing some alarm, the experiment, conducted by biologists and cyber security researchers, brings to the fore concerns about the vulnerabilities to hackers of open-source software being used in laboratories around the world.

Laboratories Vulnerable

The reason for the experiment was to explore the possibility that future attacks may come from the source material being handled for analysis, in this case DNA that can be transcribed and digitised.

Laboratories world-wide use computers to handle the large amount of processing that is necessary to filter through billions of DNA cases from one sample alone. The processing of data to store the basic units that make up DNA uses multiple open-source programs. The experiment has, therefore, shown that these open-source programs have vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers.

What Kind of Programs?

The programs highlighted by the researchers on their blog are C and C++ languages. These are commonly used to create laboratory bioinformatics tools. These programs are known to have security vulnerabilities, and may not have followed best security processes, and could have a number of insecure functions.

What Could Happen?

The full and precise implications would depend on the type and purpose of the malware, but hackers could embed malware into the base of an artificial (digitised) DNA strand so that, once this strand undergoes transcription, malware may be transferred onto the computer system.

Typically, this could give cyber criminals remote access to (and a way to) take control of an important laboratory computer system. Since the motivation for hackers is often money, ransomware could be used, or malware could be used to gather sensitive personal data or valuable industrial / commercial secrets, and payment details. Data could also be used to launch wider attacks across the organisation e.g. phishing and other social engineering attacks.

Just Raising Awareness

Although the focus of this particular experiment i.e. using digitised human DNA as a Trojan horse for hackers, seems a little leftfield, the researchers said that security around DNA sequencing is not under attack, and that the research was just conducted to raise awareness of the possibility.

The research team are due to present their full findings next week at the USENIX Security Symposium in Vancouver.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although this research had a niche industry focus, it does highlight the fact that no industry, segment or niche wordwide is safe from the risk of hackers.

Also, as the WannaCry malware attack demonstrated, malware makes no distinction between industries and organisations (the NHS was badly affected), but simply exploits the weaknesses that it has been written to exploit in order to spread and achieve the aim of its writers / users.

Another important point raised by this research that is not industry specific is the potential vulnerabilities of business programs written in open-source languages to cyber criminals.

Companies and organisations of all kinds should, along with their other security measures, conduct a security audit and risk assessment of purpose-written, open-source programs. This could allow potential vulnerabilities to be fixed / patched / protected.

Blockchain Links Students To Employers

A new Sony Global Education (SGE) service uses Blockchain to enable students to more easily share their qualifications with employers.

Building on IBM’s Blockchain

SGE, the international education services development subsidiary of Sony, will use IBM’s Blockchain to develop a platform that will allow educational institutions to host the entire educational history of a student. The aim is to thereby give companies and educational authorities a means to access and verify accurate information about a person’s credentials.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain technology operates using the IBM cloud and is powered by Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 of Linux Foundation. Blockchain is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network (a kind of ledger) that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way. Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes Blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”.

The developers of the Blockchain system say that the trust between participants is not necessary because trust is embedded in the system itself, and that access to all relevant information is available to participants.

Blockchain is the same technology behind cryptocurrencies e.g. Bitcoin, and it is now being applied to new industries and sectors, like education.

Digital Hub For Education Records…And More

The new Sony system will be a hub for all education records, including a variety of documents, such as informal records of achievements, and credentials gained during training or seminars. This hub will be securely accessible to organisations that need to verify education information about individuals from the educational institution.

Anytime, Anywhere Access

Users who want to move to other areas or work in other parts of the world will benefit from Sony’s Blockchain-based system because it will be accessible anytime, anywhere, and will standardise and prove the authenticity of scholastic records easily. This means that users with access to the Blockchain-based service will be able to effectively carry their education history with them wherever they are, in a system that any organisation can gain access to.

SGE has said that it has developed this system to prevent fraud while giving access to third parties who will need information for job interviews and assessments.

Ready Next Year

It has been reported that SGE is working with selected educational institutions to have something ready by 2018.

Huge Potential For Blockchain
As well as working with the education sector, SGE is also reported to be exploring how Blockchain-based technology could be used to benefit other industries like logistics and supply chains.

The potential for Blockchain-based systems is huge, and examples of how they have been used in other industries include:
  • Using the data on a Blockchain ledger to record the temperature of sensitive medicines being transported from manufacturer to hospital in hot climates. The ‘incorruptible’ aspect of the Blockchain data gives a clear record of care and responsibility along the whole supply chain.
  • Using a Blockchain ledger to record data about wine certification, ownership and storage history. This has helped to combat fraud in the industry and has provided provenance and re-assurance to buyers.
  • Shipping Company Maersk using a Blockchain-based system for tracking consignments that addresses visibility and efficiency i.e. digitising a formerly paper-based process that involved multiple interactions.
  • Start-up company ‘Electron’ building a Blockchain-based system for sharing information between those involved in supplying energy which could speed up and simplify the supplier switching process. It may also be used for smart grid processes, such as local load-balancing of supply and demand.
  • Australian start-up Zimrii developing a Blockchain-based service that allows independent musicians to sell downloads to fans, distribute the proceeds between collaborators, and allow interaction with managers.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?

A system like Sony’s could make life much easier for employers worldwide to accurately check the educational credentials of job applicants. If this kind of system was searchable (through consent) by employers and / or offered through employment agencies, it could be a great way for employers to source individuals with the qualifications they’re looking for. This kind of system would, however, have several challenges to overcome first e.g. consent, privacy, security and rights, differences in international laws, and the potential for existing employees to be poached.

Blockchain clearly has huge untapped potential for all kinds of businesses and organisations, and could represent a major opportunity to improve services, and effectively tackle visibility, transparency and efficiency issues.

Blockchain has proven itself to be particularly well suited to processes where there are a lot of steps e.g. supply chains, and where there’s a lack of trust in a business / business relationship, and the need for accurate authentication / verification.

The significant commitment that countries like Dubai have made to the technology and the success of the crypto-currency Bitcoin (which have used Blockchain) are indicators that this new technology has real value in today’s business world, and its potential has not yet been realised.

Cryptocurrency Scam Foiled By London Police

A scam which involved duping investors out of £160,000 by selling fake cyber cash has been foiled by London police and has resulted in the arrest of one man.

What Is A Cryptocurrency?

A cryptocurrency is a digital (virtual) currency which uses encryption techniques to regulate the generation of units of currency, and to verify the transfer of funds. The most famous cryptocurrency is Bitcoin, which reached a record high value this month of £2,651 per coin.

Cryptocurrencies don’t conform to the normal economic fundamentals because their value is mainly based on speculation and betting.

What Happened?

A fraudulent cryptocurrency boiler room scam call centre in the City of London was reportedly shut down by the City of London Police last week, after it was allegedly discovered to be the centre of an operation to dupe investors by selling fake cyber cash. The call centre workers were allegedly cold-calling UK consumers, trying to convince them to invest in a fake cryptocurrency.

The alleged fraudsters were discovered to have set up the boiler room in London’s square mile, specifically on Old Broad Street near the Bank of England, to try to legitimise their activity.

The police swoop came after 9 alleged victims reported the company to Action Fraud. Although the name of the fake cryptocurrency has not been confirmed, some online commentators have suggested that it was ‘OneCoin’.

Similar To Other Fraud

It has been reported that police shut down a similar fraud earlier this month. That scam involved attempting to sell wine investments in the same way.

Leading Fraud

Back in February this year, OneCoin was identified as the number one currency fraud doing the worldwide rounds, with the selling of S-Coin and EarthCoin coming second and third.

A lack of knowledge about cryptocurrencies, reports of the high value of Bitcoin, greed, and the need to find profitable investments in difficult global economic times, are all factors fuelling the success of cryptocurrency investment scams.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Potential investors in new currencies should really do their homework and find and choose a reputable company to help them invest, rather than simply responding to cold callers.

If you are / have been targeted by cold callers about cryptocurrency investment, you should report the incident to Action Fraud (the UK's consumer fraud and cyber crime watchdog) and alert the police.

You can also report cold callers that you are unhappy about, and the details of the call to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). It can also help others to avoid being scammed by checking on and reporting the number that you were called on (if you were unavailable for that call) to websites such as who-called.co.uk (or similar).

Many people also find that registering with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) offers a basic level of protection against unwanted calls in the first place, although this service may be ignored by determined fraudsters.

This story illustrates how fraud is still a very popular crime in the UK, both on and offline, and how fraudsters can use aggressive, cunning tactics, and how they can be well informed about technology and how to use it as part their crime.

With much of the focus now switching to online protection against fraud, many people forget that telephone fraud is a tried and tested way for bold and persuasive fraudsters to reach their victims.

Introducing Facebook's New ‘Watch’ Video Service

Facebook might just give YouTube and some TV networks a run for their money with the introduction of new video service called ‘Watch’ that also offers all of Facebook’s basic functions.

Watch Tab

The current Facebook service will soon be equipped with a ‘Watch’ tab, offering users an array of shows and some even sponsored by the social network itself. What gives this feature an edge is its seemingly personalised content for the user, based on what their friends are watching.

Basic Facebook Functionalities

According to comments by Mark Zuckerberg, the idea is to leverage Facebook’s power at bringing people who like the same things together, and to make watching TV shows more of an experience.

Monetizing

To fund the service Facebook, like YouTube, will need to run adverts on the video service, and a small group of approved publishers will be featured in the ad breaks at the beginning of the service.

One challenge for Facebook will be how it develops the advertising in the service going forward i.e. whether it wants to follow YouTube’s model of breaking up the video-watching experience by showing adverts for a set period of time before the user’s chosen video runs. Many media commentators believe that that it will be difficult for Facbook’s video service not to follow the idea of showing ads before and during videos, both of which can be annoying for users.

From Amateur Clips To Original Content

In terms of content, Facebook’s video service will feature amateur clips, news clips, and possibly some clips that are linked to YouTube. Facebook is reported to have hinted that it may soon produce original content (like Netflix does). This well-timed hint just happens to come in the week that Disney has announced its split with Netflix in order to create its own direct-to-consumer streaming-video services.

Niche and Broad

Facebook appears to be aiming to cover a wide base of consumer interest by picking shows that address both niche and broad topics, and Facebook looks likely to focus on shows that are ‘easy’ watch, and shows that play well on smartphones, such as cookery, fitness, health, and travel shows.

Competition

The video channel market (and its TV counterpart) is now a crowded one, and Facebook will be in broad competition with players like YouTube, Netflix, Disney, and various TV networks. It is, therefore, important that each player chooses the right content for its target customer.

Facebook is reported to have partnered with other organisations to help produce content and shows that will be of interest to its target market. These partners include Vox Media, BuzzFeed, ATTN, and Group Nine Media. Other measures taken by Facebook to ensure the success of its new service are the setting up an ESPN streaming service for next year (like Disney is doing), and the selection of some shows known to have popular appeal (particularly in the US) e.g. Major League Baseball and a safari programme from National Geographic.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For consumers, getting access to another quality channel of easy to watch, factual entertainment shows that is designed with smartphone viewing in mind is good news. Similarly, for programme makers, this will provide another channel to promote their output and to gain loyalty for their shows in the wider marketplace. It is also good news for programme makers of all sizes that Facebook plans to allow anyone to be able to make shows for Watch in future.

From an advertising point of view however, Facebook has only chosen a small number of publishers for the trial period of the service, and this means that content-makers and advertisers are likely to stay with YouTube for the time-being. It is also likely that Google's video streaming site will offer an easier way for vloggers and those outside the mainstream media industry to make money in the short term until Facebook’s Watch gains momentum, and until it becomes clearer what the advertising situation is on the service. For now it’s a case of waiting until its roll-out out beyond the US, which looks unlikely to happen before the end of the year.

Monday, August 07, 2017

EE Clutches Onto No.1 Spot

The level of competition in the mobile network market has now become so fierce that O2, Three, and Vodafone have made inroads into EE’s lead in overall market share.

EE Still Leading

The latest mobile network performance report from RootMetrics, which covers the first half of 2017, has revealed that that BT-owned EE is still the UK’s top-performing network even though its rivals have been giving it some serious competition in the market by investing in network improvements.

Depends Which Country

According to the report, mobile performance is split and differs across the UK’s four countries—England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. EE emerged as the top network because of its advantage in England over other competitors.

According to the report, Vodafone is the best-performing network in Northern Ireland, while Three is the choice in Scotland and Wales. The report named Three as the most reliable network nationally.

Increasing Competitiveness

The results in RootMetrics report illustrate increasing competitiveness in the UK mobile market this year. The report shows each network operator showing strong performance in a particular country, without one dominating all four countries. As a result of this geographic difference, some UK consumers have stronger mobile options than others and further differences are made by the level of functionality of the individual devices they use.

Diminishing Dominance

Because the rivals of EE have been heavily investing in its network upgrades like uninterrupted 4G coverage, it has found itself almost side-by-side with the competition.
While EE still leads in this offering with 4G network availability across the UK at 90%, O2 and Vodafone is providing some stiff competition at 81% and 82% respectively. Three is trailing behind at 67%.

Elements of Success

Rootmetrics’ parent organisation has identified some elements that are needed to succeed in the mobile network industry. Mobile operators must secure enough radio spectrum and invest in the needed logistics—from equipment, to site, and to operational teams—so that consumers can enjoy fast and reliable mobile broadband service.

Prepping for 5G

The performance results also show how the ground is being levelled across competition, highlighting which mobile network operators need to purchase new spectrum capacity if they want to lead the market. This also shows how competition is gearing up for the new spectrum allocations to be auctioned soon for the 5G upgrade.

Performance Criteria

Besides overall network performance, RootMetrics also measures call performance. Three and Vodafone tied in this race. EE came out on top in network speed and data performance, but it was a draw between EE and Vodafone for text performance.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With the UK’s aspirations to become a leading digital economy, and with businesses needing more reliable and faster communications networks (broadband and phone) to compete effectively in an increasingly mobile business world, network companies have needed to up their game and invest in infrastructure. Being owned by BT is certainly an advantage for EE so it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s still leading the field, but it’s also not a guarantee that service levels will be much better than its rivals.

For example, although all the main networks are currently competing fiercely with each other, many customers of those networks are still experiencing problems with the service they receive. For example, Vodafone was fined £4.6m by Ofcom last October for broken rules concerning complaint handling and for misleading customers about aspects of pay-as-you-go services, and Ofcom also fined EE £1 million for not handling parts of the complaints process properly. Also, BT topped the customer complaints table last Christmas with an eye-watering 36 complaints for every 100,000 customers, closely followed by two other BT owned companies Plusnet and EE.

The announcement in the broadband market that BT is to be separated from Openreach has been welcomed by BT’s competitors and by many businesses, but greater investment is needed in its network, and action needs to be taken to improve broadband and phone services across the UK before UK businesses get the kind of services and speeds they need to put them on a level playing field with many local and European competitors.

Google Stopping Instant Search

With the huge rise in the use of mobile devices, and to promote design consistency across platforms, Google has dropped its Instant Search feature for desktops.

What Is Instant Search

Introduced in 2010, Google Instant Search offers pre-emptive, dynamically generated search results as you type, and was, at first, a revolutionary experience, as desktop users were given possible search results based on their history, thus simplifying and speeding up the act of searching. Google estimated that collectively, millions of seconds per hour could be saved by suggesting search results.

Fast Forward

Fast forward 7 years and studies have now shown that Internet search via mobile has grown so much that Google Instant Search on desktops is being left behind. In 2015 alone, Google recorded that more than half of Google searches happened on mobile, and Instant Search can’t be used as easily or effectively on a mobile device as it can on a desktop.

A Design Concern

The move to immediately remove Instant Search will, therefore, bring desktop searches in line with mobile searches that have never offered Instant Search from the start.

Suggested search results powered by auto-complete now show up in the standard drop-down menu. The results page will not load in real time. When desktop users use Google Search, they will see search suggestions that Google provides. They will actually have to click on those suggestions to see results.

Google reportedly believes that dropping Instant Search should make search more fluid on all devices.

3 Changes

The Instant Search phase out news comes on the same day as Google appears to have started to roll out auto-play theatrical trailers before YouTube videos. This is a sign that Google is maximising the opportunity of reconfiguring not only its Google search but also YouTube.

The third bit of Google news is that it has launched SOS as an alert feature for Search. This tool is designed to help users in times of crises. SOS is designed to give out all the essential information about any natural or human-caused disaster. According to Google, maps, top stories, and authoritative local information like emergency phone numbers, websites, and translations of useful phrases, can be accessed by users via the tool, thus helping their chances of keeping safe and avoiding problem areas.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For many users, pages loading in the background as you typed, and receiving a number of search results that weren’t that relevant to what you were typing was an annoyance and a hindrance, and many people will be glad to see the back of Instant Search. It also makes no sense to keep a service that doesn’t work well on mobiles since mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) are now widely used for business and home. Back in November last year for example, StatCounter figures showed 51.3% of global web traffic accessing the web using smartphones and tablets.

This story illustrates how important mobile devices are now, and some tech commentators have said that killing off Instant Search, and prioritizing mobile websites in a personalised feed is part of Google’s desire to make users spend more time in search.

You Can Be Easily Identified From Your Browsing Data

German researchers have reported that the browsing data used by some companies to create customised display adverts can also be easily tracked to individual users, and could be used against us by cyber criminals.

What Research?

The results of research by Svea Eckert and Andreas Dewes was revealed at the Def Con hacking conference held in Las Vegas over the weekend. It showed that a user’s search history can generate reams of information that companies can use (called ‘clickstreams’) to customise display adverts, but, that it is actually relatively easy to identify an individual user from this data (when correlated with other publicly available data).

Any data in these clickstreams that could successfully identify individual users is supposed to be anonymised and removed by marketing companies. The research has, however, highlighted the issue that marketing companies are not doing their due diligence in protecting the information gathered, and that, with the right know-how, individual users can be identified from existing, collected browsing data.

Potentially Used For Crime

The worry is, of course, that a user who has been identified and linked with dubious / potentially damaging / embarrassing browsing data and search history could be blackmailed.

In the case of crimes such as stalking, for example, it is potentially easy for a stalker now to be able to gather information about their victim by opening up an address book.

How Can A User’s Identity Be Traced?

Datasets typically record a list of every site and link clicked by a user. This assigns the history to a customer identifier so that appropriate ad content can be generated.

The two researchers demonstrated that by using this customer identifier and public information shared across social media sites, it was possible to correlate the data with an individual user.

For example, links shared through Twitter, announcements about which YouTube videos a person is watching, or shares about which items a person has just bought online, could all be used to accurately pinpoint the user and the user’s history. Once combined, the user’s entire search history could then be seen and possibly exposed.

More Public Information

Public information about users is growing because of social media sites. This means that using just a few domains, data can be found and linked to users. Some clickstreams have even been found to contain links to the social media page of the user, thereby immediately revealing who the search history belonged to.

Research Data Deleted


The two researchers have reportedly deleted the data they have gathered for the research to eliminate risks of being hacked.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how difficult it can be for individuals and businesses to use the Internet in a completely secure way. More users are now likely to use private browsing for searches (particularly sensitive searches), and it is good security practice not to publicly share too much personal information and ID details on social media. It is, however, virtually impossible to keep track of which sites data / information has been shared with e.g. via online purchasing or for services, and how much of that information may have already fallen into the wrong hands e.g. in data breaches.

It is the responsibility of all businesses to protect personal data that they have collected in a compliant way (particularly with GDPR just around the corner), and marketing / advertising companies have a clear responsibility to protect the browsing data / clickstream data that they collect. Google is known to track users and use their history, activity and content to deliver targeted ads (although it will no longer scan Gmail accounts for information). Facebook, for example, tracks likes and shares, and many websites that we all visit and share our activities with networks of third parties who share, collaborate, link and de-link personal information to generate target ads. We as users are therefore often left with just the hope that as many companies as possible in the chain of data sharing are using secure systems and practices.

One other security / privacy risk that we all now have is how securely the data collected from our browsing history as part of the Investigatory Powers Act (also known as the Snooper’s Charter) is stored. Under the Act, it has to be stored for one year.

VPNs Blocked In China, Banned In Russia

Global Internet freedom has experienced some setbacks recently as Apple pulled VPNs from its Chinese App Store, and Russia has banned VPNs completely.

What Are VPNs?

VPN stands for ‘Virtual Private Network’ and a VPN allows a user to connect to the internet via a server run by a VPN provider. This means that all data traveling between the user’s computer, phone or tablet, and the VPN server is securely encrypted.

Russia and China Dissent

More than a year ago, the UN ruled that the rights people have offline must also be protected online. Although the resolution was not binding, there were notable dissenters that included Russia and China. These states are often highlighted by the west as being more restrictive in terms of the level of freedom of individuals, so it may no surprise to hear that these nations are not taking the resolution to heart, and would oppose networks that were closed to state.

Blocked in Beijing

China has regulated Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) through the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. It has required that developers need to have a license from the government before creating VPNs.

The “Great Firewall of China”

The so-called “Great Firewall of China” censors politically sensitive websites and prevents access to other websites blocked by the country, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. VPNs allow citizens access to these sites, and therefore defy government laws.

Apple Complies

Apple has conformed to China’s tough regulations this weekend, by banning at least three VPN apps from its Chinese App Store, namely ExpressVPN, VyprVPN and StarVPN. Apple has said that it was just following the local laws, as they would have done in other countries.

China has said that the VPN apps do not meet the new regulations, hence, Apple is stopping them in China, but these apps remain available in other markets where Apple do business.

Censorship

Some commentators have criticised Apple for taking the VPN apps out of its China store saying that a company as large as Apple should have chosen human rights over profits.

Apple, however, may be caught between a rock and a hard place on this issue, because much of Apple’s hardware is made in China, and China is also becoming a significant sales market for Apple.

Apple is also likely to know how seriously China takes censorship issues. A classic example of this is the ban on Google in 2012, after it tried to rally public opinion for internet freedom in China way back in 2010.

Russian Block

President Vladimir Putin has just signed a law banning VPNs and proxies in Russia effective 1st November. It has also signed another law which requires chat apps to have phone numbers attached starting from 2018. With this move, Russia has joined China, Syria, and Iran in blocking VPNs.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is probably not that surprising that UN resolutions have little clout when it comes to states such as Russia and China. Given that China blocks large parts of the Internet, it is also no surprise that they would not want citizens to be able to use encrypted networks to exchange and view information that is not approved by the state.

In the case of Russia, with elections coming up there in 7 months, and given the allegations of their interference in the US elections, and the fear of a possible tit for tat response from the US, it is also no surprise that VPNs are not welcome there.

It is worth remembering, at the end of the day, companies such as Facebook and Apple are just that - companies, and therefore, ultimately exist to make profits. Huge territories such as China and Russia represent massive market potential for Apple, and it therefore seems unlikely that it would want to deny itself access to this over the use of certain Apps.

It is also worth remembering that our own UK government has passed (and is using) the Investigatory Powers Act (Snooper’s Charter), and that Prime Minister and Home Secretary both want to stop end-to-end encryption in popular apps and platforms, and make social media companies build back-doors into platforms to allow more state surveillance (with the stated aim of protection against terrorist attacks).

Kaspersky Rolls Out Free Antivirus Software Worldwide

Antivirus software company Kaspersky is starting a free global rollout of the bare essentials of its famous antivirus software.

Free Basic Protection

Kaspersky wants to offer basic protection like file, email, and web protection, quarantine function, and automatic updates, to web users who can’t afford to buy premium protection. Despite the risks of cyber attack, many users are deterred by the high prices of some leading antivirus software and turn to relying on Windows Defender or downloading and installing freebies that are not necessarily secure.

A free version of Kaspersky therefore provides an effective alternative to both.

Kaspersky Free vs. Windows Defender

Kaspersky filed three antitrust cases against Microsoft for apparently promoting its own basic antivirus, Windows Defender over competitors’ products on its Windows machines (something that’s denied by Microsoft).

With the creation of a free level for its own antivirus, Kaspersky is now on a par with Microsoft’s Windows Defender, which is the default antivirus of Windows 10. If users decide to switch, they may well turn to Kaspersky.

Not Directly Competing With Itself

Kaspersky antivirus offers paid-for protection with a yearly licence for £24.99. Premium features like virtual private network (VPN), online payment protection, and parental controls, will not be carried over to the free version. This means that the free version will not, in theory, compete directly with Kaspersky’s own premium version.

Kaspersky has argued that the move will benefit existing paid users as the company's databases will now have more user data to trawl through and to feed into machine learning algorithms, thus improving the program for all. The free version is also much lighter on system resources but still able to detect any cyber threat.

Success With Little Promotion

There was little marketing promotion for the free version but initial trials in Russia and Scandinavia yielded several million new installations.

Despite this success, Kaspersky is reported to still be focused on raising the overall level of protection on the internet and not necessarily increasing its market share.

Ties To The Russian Government?

Recent US investigations have, however, hinted at possible ties between Kaspersky and the Russian government. Kaspersky has denied this. Nevertheless, a proposed bill has made its way through Congress attempting to block the use of any Kaspersky-related products by the US Department of Defence.

Earlier this month, Kaspersky defended itself from accusations when leaked emails said it was working with Russian security forces.

18 Months In Development

Kaspersky Free has been in development over an 18 month period. Now that it has been trialled and released in Russia, Scandinavia, and China, it will be rolled out worldwide in the coming months, landing in the UK this October.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Kaspersky is widely recognised as being one of the better types of antivirus software programs available, so the chance of getting a more basic, but still good version of it free may be helpful and cost-saving for individuals and small businesses. As well as promoting its brand globally, and picking up some more market share from Microsoft and from businesses that (after trying Kaspersky) switch up to the full version, freely available antivirus software of this calibre could also create a safer online environment.

Some other attractive features of the free version are that it works with USB sticks and other portable storage media, it provides protection against phishing and infected files being run, and, unlike other free antivirus software, it is ad-free.

It is important to remember, however, that cyber criminals now conduct sophisticated, multi-level attacks, and often target weak spots away from the traditional firewall and antivirus perimeter. There is also the near-future threat of AI being used to get around antivirus programs of all kinds (unless they are modified with their own AI manufacturers). Antivirus should, therefore, be considered as just one element in a multi-level defence that businesses now need to be truly protected against known, popular types of cyber attack.

AI Can Defeat Anti-Virus Software

The potential of AI to be used against businesses when in the wrong hands has been highlighted with the news that an AI robot has been able to crack open a safe and that AI can be used to create custom malware that can defeat antivirus software.

Safe Cracking Robot

Witnessed live by several hundred hackers in DefCon over the weekend, a low-cost robot, developed by a team from SparkFun Electronics, was able to open a safe in around 30 minutes. The safe was developed by SentrySafe, a leading safe maker in the market.

AI Process of Elimination

The AI robot was able to quickly reduce a possible million combinations to just 1,000, which meant that the robot was then able to try the remaining combinations until it cracked the safe with 51.36.93 as the combination.

When the safe popped open, it was reportedly greeted with thunderous applause from the many hundreds of hackers attending the demonstration.

The robot’s creators, SparkFun, were reported to have been especially happy with the successful safecracking because, prior to the DefCon event, it had only previously been tried on a smaller safe and in the presence of a much smaller audience.

Budget Bot

The apparent sophistication of the bot and its abilities were especially surprising given its ‘budget’ origins. The robot only cost around $200 to assemble, and used 3D-printed parts. The parts are easily replaceable, and can be custom-designed to fit different brands of safes that use combination security features.

Machine-Learning Tools ‘Own Language’

Quite apart from cracking safes, it has been recently discovered that machine-learning tools can also develop their own communication language.

One potentially worrying development is that some AI machines can even create custom malware to defeat antivirus software by learning how to tweak malicious binaries, and using the modified code to slip past antivirus tools.

Modifying OpenAI

Technical director of data science at security shop Endgame, Hyrum Anderson, showed at DefCon how the research his company has been able to adapt Elon Musk’s OpenAI framework, and apply it to the task of creating malware that current anti-virus software will be unable to spot.

Posted Online

The antivirus defeating machine-learning software has been posted on the Github page, and Anderson has reportedly encouraged people to try it out for themselves.

It is thought that antivirus / security firms will be among the first to try out this particular AI development with a view to assessing how their security products could be affected, and how to guard against this new potential threat.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Hackers and cyber criminals have access to same technology as the rest of us, and this story illustrates that just as AI can be used to make beneficial and commercial developments and innovations in the right hands and with good intentions, it also represents the next wave of threats to business and, indeed, state security when in the wrong hands. Businesses have long-trusted antivirus and other security software to provide a basic low maintenance, low cost, but effective defence against popular forms or attack. With sophisticated, low cost AI options potentially being used by cyber criminals against businesses and other organisations, the worry is that popular security solutions will have to be re-designed, constantly re-modified, and may not be able to keep up with more ‘intelligent’ threats. It may even be the case that business software security solutions will need their own AI element to be able to combat AI threats. This could have cost implications for businesses, as well as the need to re-visit risk assessments, and to check that security suppliers have adequate protection measures in place to take account of and deal with known, possible AI-based security threats.