Archive for May 2017

Your Latest IT News Update

BA Says ‘Never Again’ After Weekend Meltdown

BA has moved to try and mitigate some of the damage caused to its reputation as a result of an IT systems meltdown that left 75,000 passengers stranded at airports and separated from their luggage over the busy Bank Holiday weekend, by announcing that it will never allow it to happen again.

<More>

Are YOU The Best Defence Against Cyber Attack?

In the wake of the crippling WannaCry ransomware attack, experts at the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) are keen to point out that a technology-led approach to cyber security means that the strengths of staff in the fight against cyber-crime are being overlooked.

<More>

Is GDPR More Opportunity Than Threat?

With UK businesses needing to comply with the European Union’s (EU’s) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by 25 May 2018 (when enforcement begins), should it be seen by businesses as an more of an opportunity to get the data protection house in order, and find new competitive advantages for the future?

<More>

Cash Second To Contactless Payments

Projected figures from payments industry trade body ‘Payments UK’ have shown that by as soon as next year, more payments will be made using debit cards than using cash.

<More>

Amazon Grocery-Collect Shopping Launched

Amazon is reported to have extended its business reach into fresh grocery provision and is operating a trial of the ‘Amazon Fresh Pickup’ service from two ‘bricks-and-mortar’ locations in its home city of Seattle.

<More>

Most Microsoft Engineers Now Use ‘Git’ To Help Develop Windows

Microsoft has announced that it has now moved 90% of its engineers over to using the open source ‘Git Version Control System’ (VCS) for developing the Windows Operating system.

<More>

Tech Tip: Write Digital ‘Sticky Note’ Reminders For Your Desktop

Instead of using Notepad or WordPad to make a note for yourself and risk missing it because the file is saved ‘out of sight’, Windows 10 allows you to attach a ‘sticky note’ to your desktop for an instant, obvious reminder. You can achieve this using Windows 10’s built-in program, ‘Sticky Note’.

<More>

Tech Tip – Write Digital ‘Sticky Note’ Reminders For Your Desktop

Instead of using Notepad or WordPad to make a note for yourself and risk missing it because the file is saved ‘out of sight’, Windows 10 allows you to attach a ‘sticky note’ to your desktop for an instant, obvious reminder.

You can achieve this using Windows 10’s built-in program, ‘Sticky Note’. Here’s how it works:

  • Go to the Start Menu.
  • Using the Search feature, type in ‘Sticky Note’.
  • Sticky Note should appear from the Start Menu.
  • Make a shortcut to it for easier accessibility in future.
  • Run the program, and leave a note for yourself on your desktop.

 

Most Microsoft Engineers Now Use ‘Git’ To Help Develop Windows

Microsoft has announced that it has now moved 90% of its engineers over to using the open source ‘Git Version Control System’ (VCS) for developing the Windows Operating system.

What is Git?

Git is a kind of software that is used in source code management to help manage a project by tracking changes to computer files, and helping co-ordinate the work on those files among multiple people. Developed in 2005, its benefits are that it is fast, ensures data integrity, and keeps things organised, even though there may be distributed, non-linear work by many different parties on the same project.

What Was The Problem?

Microsoft engineers had previously been using software called SourceDepot, but Microsoft’s large-scale development needs, the need to combine multiple different repositories (data structures), and the huge size of many of the files that Microsoft developers were dealing with meant that SouceDepot was longer deemed as being up to the job.

It is hoped, therefore, that Git will be the right choice for effectively managing the vast amount of (changing) code that the Windows Operating System uses as its source, as well as minimising any shared performance issues.

The Solution – A Customised Version of Git

Microsoft has, therefore, moved 90% of its engineers (in only a 3 month time period) over to using a customised version of GIT. The customisation involved making changes to algorithms and building-in greater elasticity to accommodate the large file sizes that developers need to work with, and to manage the bandwidth issues that could arise from the distributed nature of Microsoft’s development team.

The resulting customised system has been dubbed the ‘Git Virtual File System’ (GVFS), and its superior ability to differentiate between which files are available to use locally and which ones aren’t means that status commands that would have taken hours can now take seconds.

Location Less Of An Issue

With the new system, the location of an engineer will be much less of an issue thanks to the large amount of bandwidth (provided by Azure), and proxy servers that clone every 25 seconds.

Not All Plain Sailing

Reports from some technical commentators have emerged that focus on the results of an internal survey which showed that 28% of the 251 engineer staff aren’t happy with the change, with reasons reported as being that some development tools don’t support Git, there is a need to learn how the new process works, and performance is not as good as was expected.

Concerns have also been expressed about the wisdom and compatibility of using an open source code for a closed source operating system.

What Does Mean For Your Business?

As many businesses are users of the Microsoft Operating System, the fact that its source code is better organised and allows for faster work and updating by multiple developers should translate in to fewer problems in using the OS, better and faster fixes if there are problems, and more features being more easily developed and introduced. Other developers and third party organisations stand to benefit from the fact that the code for the news GVFS being made available under the MIT license on GitHub and open for community contributions.

Amazon Grocery-Collect Shopping Launched

Amazon is reported to have extended its business reach into fresh grocery provision and is operating a trial of the ‘Amazon Fresh Pickup’ service from two ‘bricks-and-mortar’ locations in its home city of Seattle.

Order Online and Pickup From Fresh Food Warehouse

The Amazon Fresh Pickup pilot service is now being offered to Amazon Prime members who can shop online for fresh groceries and then drive to pick them up (as quickly as 15 minutes after the order has been placed) from warehouses in the Ballard and Sodo neighbourhoods of Seattle in the US.

The obvious difference to the Amazon Fresh service, which already operates in 16 cities (14 US metropolitan centres, Tokyo, and London) is that customers are invited to come and pick their shopping up themselves, rather than having it delivered to their door.

What?

As the name suggests, the produce offered in this pilot service includes meats, fresh produce, bread, dairy, and other household essentials.

Initial reports indicate that users of the service in Seattle need to select delivery or pickup before browsing on the website, and that customer choice of produce is limited by the region and by which distribution agreements Amazon has in that region at the time i.e. prices and available items vary between their pickup and delivery services.

Advantages

Some of the advantages of the Amazon Fresh Pickup service (apart from the convenience of online ordering, which is not unique to Amazon) are that there is no minimum order, there are no extra shipping, handling, or any store-related fees (other than the cost of your own petrol and a proportion of Prime membership), and Amazon staff will also load the order directly into your car if you choose not to pick it up yourself from the ‘waiting room’.

There is also the fact that rather than having to wait in for the shopping delivery to arrive, you can control when you go and pick it up, and you may decide to combine it with other business that you have along the same route.

Some customers, most likely those who order online anyway and / or don’t want / aren’t able to walk around e.g. a large supermarket and wait in long checkout queues, are likely to see the benefits of the service.

Fingers In A Lot Of Pies

This move into fresh groceries is not unexpected from a company that has extended its brand and its reach into many different markets. For example, there is now a physical Amazon-branded bookstore in New York City (Manhattan), the new digital subscription service ‘Subscribe With Amazon’ opened last month, as did the ‘Amazon Business’ online ‘trade counter’ service in the UK.

Some analysts have also mentioned a possible move into clothing plus there are reports that Amazon may be close to launching an own-brand fashion label. These reports have been fuelled by news of Amazon creating a fashion photography studio in London.

Amazon is also reportedly creating 5,000 new full-time jobs at its new head office in London, its Edinburgh customer service centre, and at three more new warehouses / fulfilment centres in Tilbury, Doncaster and Daventry.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon’s global scale (and its economies thereof), the success of its business model and its ability to run pilots in major locations, plus the ability, strength and reach of its delivery network and its distribution and packing expertise, coupled with the power of its brand and the ease of online shopping for customers now make it a serious competitor for many companies in many different markets. Amazon is also at the forefront of innovation for distribution e.g. drone and autonomous robot deliveries, which could also be a source of competitive advantage in the future.

Where fresh groceries are concerned, UK supermarket brands’ experience and expertise, and delivery services will still give Amazon some serious competition, plus, many UK consumers enjoy the physical experience of shopping, and online ordering gives retailers (which could now include Amazon) less control over the shopping environment, and less ability to cause customers to make the unplanned purchases that are vital to bricks-and-mortar grocery retailers’ profits.

Cash Second To Contactless Payments

Projected figures from payments industry trade body ‘Payments UK’ have shown that by as soon as next year, more payments will be made using debit cards than using cash.

Driven By The Popularity of Contactless Payments

The convenience and effectiveness of contactless payments are the drivers behind a trend that will see cash payments taking a backseat to debit card payments years earlier than expected.

Payments UK figures show that UK contactless payments in 2016 nearly trebled in 2016 compared to 2015 (to £2.9 billion), and they accounted for 7% the total number of payments.

By 2018 it is predicted that contactless payments will account for one-third of all debit card payments and that there will be more debit card payments (13.4 billion) than cash payments (13.3 billion).

If the trend continues, payment commentators predict that contactless debit card payments could account for more than 25% of payments by 2026.

Contactless Technology

Contactless technology enables users to ‘tap and pay’ without entering a PIN for items up to £30 at a time. This is achieved using a special chip in the customer’s credit / debit card / key fob, smart card (also a smartphone or other mobile device) that emits radio waves in the form of radio-frequency identification (RFID), near field communication (NFC), or Samsung Pay (MST). The shop terminal picks up the radio signal and then processes the transaction.

Contactless Cash Machines Trial

Back in November 2016, Barclays conducted a trial of a new system which allowed customers to use their normal PIN in combination with leaving their smart-phone handset near to the bank machine, thereby enabling “contactless” near-field communication (NFC) transmission for cash withdrawal.

Concerns

Despite the obvious popularity of contactless and the bold predictions by Payment UK, not all customers trust the system. A Which? survey in August 2016 for example, showed that although 73% of people think that contactless cards make it quicker to pay for things, 69% are concerned about their contactless card being stolen and used to make purchases.

These concerns may not be completely unfounded because a recent Which? investigation into the contactless card security of 12 leading credit and debit cards found that they did have some security flaws.

Research has also shown that, even though banks pledge to refund any fraudulent purchases, this can often take some time, and refunds can be wrongly refused.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The decline in the use of cash is a worldwide trend and card issuers have essentially been driving the change in customer behaviour by introducing innovations like contactless payments. For retail businesses this has meant the need to invest heavily in new payments technology in order to make it easier and quicker for customers to securely complete transactions in-store. Retailers have, however, benefited from cost and time savings (and having to deal with less cash).

Although cash is declining in relation to card payments, in the real world (especially with small businesses), cash payments from customers are still very practical and preferable. From a customer’s point of view, although many now find contactless convenient for small purchases, some groups of society need to use cash to manage their finances, and some people prefer the anonymity of cash, as EPOS style systems have long-allowed companies and marketers to gather data about us and to profile us.

Experts predict that cash will not be dying out anytime soon and most businesses realise that they need to take account of the fact that people will always want to choose the payment method that best suits them.

Is GDPR More Opportunity Than Threat?

With UK businesses needing to comply with the European Union’s (EU’s) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by 25 May 2018 (when enforcement begins), should it be seen by businesses as an more of an opportunity to get the data protection house in order, and find new competitive advantages for the future?

Who / What Does GDPR Apply To?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will apply to all UK (and worldwide) companies that store, process and use the data of EU citizens. The UK was very involved in the drafting of the regulation which was designed to make companies take the issue of data protection more seriously and to strengthen the rights that EU citizens have over their data.

What About Brexit?

GDPR will still come into force long before Brexit matters are concluded, and since it applies to companies that deal with the data of EU citizens, it (or something very similar) will apply after Brexit. UK Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham has said that she supports the UK adopting the EU regulation even post-Brexit because if the UK is to continue doing business with Europe, British businesses will need to share information and provide services for EU customers. It should (according to Ms Denham) therefore follow that the UK data protection law should be equivalent.

Threat

Up until now, the introduction of GDPR has made many businesses view it as more than a threat than an opportunity because:

  • There is perceived complexity in compliance. For example, a Compuware survey has shown that 75% of organisations said the complexity of modern IT services means that it is not always clear where customer data actually resides, and many organisations don’t believe they can locate individual customer data quickly enough (which could lead to penalties). Companies will also need to analyse carefully what data they are collecting and how they are using it
  • There are perceived challenges in ensuring data quality to achieve compliance.
  • Much has been made in the news about the size of the penalties for non-compliance e.g. PCI Security Standards Council threats that that under GDPR, groups of companies could face fines of up to €20m or 4% of annual worldwide turnover, whichever is greatest for data breaches (fines could exceed the current £500,000 mark).
  • There are perceived extra costs e.g. from implementing new systems and procedures, and from potentially having to a hire an in-house data security specialist manger.
  • There is no clear perception of the scale of the effort needed to comply (the effort and planning needed), or how far to go with compliance to satisfy regulators.

Advantages

Security commentators have pointed out that larger companies and those which store and use large amounts of data e.g. companies in the finance, health and retail sectors, are most likely to have started early (out of perceived necessity) in planning for GDPR. It is likely that companies that have been more proactive and have started early in their preparations, and / or have focused on privacy before, and have a framework in place that defines roles and responsibilities, will have an advantage when GDPR comes into force.

Opportunities

Some security experts have highlighted the fact that the preparation for, and the focusing on compliance with GDPR could, in fact, be an opportunity because:

  • It will motivate companies to face and tackle data security challenges that they may have been putting off or ignoring i.e. finally getting their house in order.
  • Using data in a transparent, privacy-friendly way could be seen as a competitive advantage by customers in the future, thus allowing companies to grow their customer base, collect more data and monetise it more, and build their brand through trust.
  • Adopting good data handling practices could help companies to avoid damage to brand reputation through doing something consumers would not want to happen to their data.
  • Spending more on data protection compliance and doing a better job of protecting data in the company could improve the cyber security posture of the company too.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Not only is compliance with GDPR (or its very similar successor) necessary, but it could actually make sound commercial sense, through providing competitive advantages (because data security is valued by customers), and could have knock-on effects to the cyber resilience of companies.

Companies that have been proactive and moved quickly on this issue could therefore be the ones most likely to minimise the threat of penalties (the law profession is already geared-up to respond to customer complaints), and gain advantages in a marketplace.

Are YOU The Best Defence Against Cyber Attack?

In the wake of the crippling WannaCry ransomware attack, experts at the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) are keen to point out that a technology-led approach to cyber security means that the strengths of staff in the fight against cyber-crime are being overlooked.

Unreasonable Expectations

According to recent reports from the NCSC, too much of a technology-led security culture in an organisation can mean that unreasonable expectations are placed upon people in terms of making them do things that are difficult, impractical, and bordering on unrealistic in the name of security.

A prime example is a password policy that expects people to remember multiple, complex passwords that have to be frequently changed.

The Result

Evidence shows that when people in organisations are forced to use IT security systems that are impractical, incongruent with the flow of work and where people feel that they are unable to reveal that they can’t work within the system (for fear of punishment / sanctions), the results can be:

Employees are blamed for password failures and are accused of being incapable or uncooperative.
Employees look for other (unauthorised) ways of working and take matters into their own hands so that they can get their work done on time while avoiding punishment e.g. Shadow IT. The term ‘Shadow IT’ refers to apps and services that employees bring into the company systems without going through the approved channels. These are their own ideas to solve their own specific work problems.

New Relationship Needed

Experts at the NCSC now believe that, rather than locking themselves away in a kind of IT ‘bunker’ and issuing orders, there needs to be a change in the nature of the relationship between the IT Security Team in an organisation and the users of the IT systems. IT Security Teams may be able to achieve more effective results for the organisation by adopting a collaborative approach with employees.

Employees As Assets

If IT Security Teams work on the assumption that employees are assets who have information that the security professionals do not have about how the business runs and how it needs to run, through meaningful communication and collaboration, lessons can be learned, and systems and security can be improved in a more realistic way.

This re-framing and new IT security paradigm can mean that old, often ineffective security assumptions are challenged e.g. the idea that long, complex and regularly change passwords provide more than just a little extra protection.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Cyber and data security are vital to businesses, but only by collaborating, communicating, and creating a culture where employees are listened to, empowered and supported can businesses build security systems that are practical, effective, and work in harmony with the day-to-day business.

Although there are of course security and compatibility issues based around the idea of people introducing their own unapproved IT methods to the workplace (Shadow IT), some businesses find that allowing it to continue can mean that innovative and up-to-date solutions are found that can ultimately work better than the approved ways of doing things.

It is worth remembering that a large amount of cyber-crime now relies upon social engineering and human error to be successful. Businesses, therefore, need to provide IT and data security education and training to all employees, and understand that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

BA Says ‘Never Again’ After Weekend Meltdown

BA has moved to try and mitigate some of the damage caused to its reputation as a result of an IT systems meltdown that left 75,000 passengers stranded at airports and separated from their luggage over the busy Bank Holiday weekend, by announcing that it will never allow it to happen again.

Power Surge

BA has stated that its flights from Heathrow and Gatwick airports on Saturday were cancelled, and flights into Britain were severely affected because a power surge shut down BA’s baggage and communication systems.

The failure of the IT systems really became less of an incident and more of a disaster because they were out of action for a day, so not only did this mean flight cancellations, but also that the airline struggled to locate and contact its staff.

Costs

In financial terms, the immediate, foreseeable costs of the IT meltdown to BA are estimated to be in the region of £170m on the market value of BA owner’s IAG share value (a 4% fall). In addition to this, compensation claims from passengers could reach as much as £150m as many had to pay for overnight accommodation, pay extra for spare seats in premium economy cabins to get to their destinations, or incur the costs of travelling with other airlines.

The cost to BA’s reputation, and damage caused to customer loyalty and the BA brand are much harder to calculate, but look likely to be significant.

Criticisms

Passengers and media criticisms have centred around the way the incident was handled e.g. a lack of communication with customers at the time, and the length of time that it took the BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz, to make an apology. Some IT commentators also pointed to the apparent lack of workable Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans.

Despite BA’s claims that the problem was a local one with a local fix (problem at a data centre), the GMB union suggested that the problem was more international in nature since BA had made hundreds of its dedicated UK IT staff redundant in favour of outsourcing the work to India, presumably as a cost-cutting measure.

Scepticism

This week, IT commentators in the media have expressed scepticism about BA’s claims that a power surge was the cause of the problem. Critics of the claim have pointed out that not only is the airline industry notorious for running outdated infrastructure, but that surge protection is usually built into data centres.

A report in the Times even indicated that SSE and UK Power Networks, the two electricity companies that provide the power to the area in which BA has its data centre, have denied there was a power surge.

Some IT commentators have suggested that the real problem may have been more related to what happened when the power was switched back on, such as reboots of crucial databases taking a very long time and not being tested recently.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story is an example of how, where IT systems are so vital to the running of day-to-day business, having a modern infrastructure that is monitored and tested regularly is vital (also from a security perspective).

The story also illustrates how important having current, workable, well thought-out and well-communicated Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans are in modern business, particularly for businesses of this scale.

Reports of the criticisms by affected passengers also illustrates how important communication, a fast response, and a fast, clear apology can go towards mitigating some of the damaging and costly effects of a PR disaster.

Your Latest IT News Update

Bank’s Voice Recognition Fooled By Twin

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

<More>

New 160 Terabytes Memory Machine

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

<More>

Dump Your Provider … By Text

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

<More>

No … For Net Neutrality

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

<More>

Who Really Benefits From Accelerated Mobile Pages?

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

<More>

UK Tech Industry To Be ‘Taxed On Talent’?

The changes outlined by Prime Minister, Theresa May, to government employment policies in the recently published Conservative manifesto have led to fears that the UK tech industry could be a hit by a so-called ‘tax on talent’.

<More>

Tech Tip: The Malicious Software Removal Tool

While Windows Defender (that comes with Windows 10) offers some virus and malware protection, if you are unlucky enough to pick up a computer virus that has somehow circumvented your anti- virus, you can download the post-infection ‘Malicious Software Removal Tool’ to help.

<More>

Tech Tip: The Malicious Software Removal Tool

While Windows Defender (that comes with Windows 10) offers some virus and malware protection, if you are unlucky enough to pick up a computer virus that has somehow circumvented your anti- virus, you can download the post-infection ‘Malicious Software Removal Tool’ to help.

This tool focuses on the detection and removal of any active malicious software that is currently running on your computer. It runs in quiet mode in the background and alerts you of any problems the next time that you log on to your computer.

To activate the Malicious Software Removal Tool:

  • Go to the Start Menu
  • In the Search bar, type in the name of the program in full or just type in “mrt” (Malicious Software Removal Tool)
  • The Malicious Software Removal Tool will appear on the Start Menu
  • Click on it to run it and begin scanning your computer.