Archive for June 2017

Your Latest IT News Update

Cyber Attack on Parliament – Emails Compromised

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

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Virgin Media Advises Customers To Change Default Passwords

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

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Gmail Ads Will Not Be Scanned Anymore

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

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Amazon To Revolutionise Grocery Delivery?

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

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Government Boosts Digital/Tech Industry with £700m Fund

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

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Tech Tip: Using The Windows 10 Laptop Or Tablet ‘Battery Saver’

If you’d like to get the most out of every battery charge, Windows 10 has a ‘Battery Saver’ feature for your laptop or tablet.

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Tech Tip: Using The Windows 10 Laptop Or Tablet ‘Battery Saver’

If you’d like to get the most out of every battery charge, Windows 10 has a ‘Battery Saver’ feature for your laptop or tablet.

This disables unnecessary background functions such as live tile updates and email and calendar syncing, and it can also auto-dim your screen brightness.

To operate the feature, you can find it by clicking on it in the Action Centre, or under System in Settings. You will also be able to see which of your apps are using up the most battery life.

Government Boosts Digital/Tech Industry with £700m Fund

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

Announced Last Year

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

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

Divided Into Core Areas

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

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

Robots & AI First

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

The Largest Sum

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

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

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

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

Amazon To Revolutionise Grocery Delivery?

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

Not As Much Warehouse Space As Wal-Mart

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

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

Fresh Food Different To Parcels

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

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

Big Investment Needed

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

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

Space Issue

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

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

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

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

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

Gmail Ads Will Not Be Scanned Anymore

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

G Suite Gmail Already Not Used

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

Significant

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

How Do Personalised Ads Work?

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

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

Google

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

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

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

Not The Only Ones

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

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

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

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

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

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

Virgin Media Advises Customers To Change Default Passwords

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

Recent Which? Report

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

Hackers Could See Inside Your Home

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

IoT Risk

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

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

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

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

Virgin Media Super Hub 2 Security Flaw

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

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

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

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

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

Cyber Attack on Parliament – Emails Compromised

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

Remote Access Disabled

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

Weak Passwords

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

Measures Taken

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

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

WannaCry

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

Echoes Of The US Election

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

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

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

In the wake of this latest attack and the WannaCry attack, Internet and data security, particularly with GDPR due to come into force next year, must surely now be given high priority by businesses and must be championed at board level. The danger and false economy of staying with old operating systems as long as possible, and the favouring of potentially weak password-based systems have been painfully exposed.

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

Your Latest IT News Update

WannaCry Came From North Korea Say Experts

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) led investigation into the origins of the WannaCry ransomware attack that crippled NHS systems last month has concluded that it came from a hacking group in North Korea.

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Amazon’s Acquisition Of Whole Foods Disrupts US Grocery Retail Market

Amazon’s $14 billion acquisition of struggling grocery chain Whole Foods Market Inc, announced last Friday, will now see Amazon take on bricks-and-mortar grocery giants such Wal-Mart.

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SAP Driven Change At Greggs

The baking and retail high-street chain Greggs is reported to have undergone a £25m change programme for its 1,500 outlets, using a range of SAP software to simplify and better integrate its business processes, and make it more competitive in the lucrative ‘food-to-go’ market.

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Most UK People Trust AI Says Research

New research from US CRM and strategic applications company Pegasystems has found that 60% of UK people would use more Artificial Intelligence (AI) if it saved them time and money.

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EU Roaming Charges Finally Finished

After a decade of campaigning by EU citizens and after 2 years of preparing the mobile networks for the change, The European Commission has announced that there will be no more EU roaming charges.

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Tech Tip: Get a Screenshot of Just PARTS of Your Screen

Although getting a screenshot of the screen is relatively easy by pressing a single key on the keyboard—PrtSc, using this ‘primitive’ option means capturing unintended parts of the screen, hence the need to do some basic image editing or cropping.

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Tech Tip: Get a Screenshot of Just PARTS of Your Screen

Although getting a screenshot of the screen is relatively easy by pressing a single key on the keyboard—PrtSc, using this ‘primitive’ option means capturing unintended parts of the screen, hence the need to do some basic image editing or cropping.

Luckily, with the introduction of the so-called “Snipping Tool” since Windows 7, users have now been given the power to highlight on certain part of the screen and take a screenshot from there.

To enable the Snipping Tool:

• Go to the Start Menu.
• Use the Search feature and look for “Snipping Tool” by typing it letter for letter.
• The Snipping Tool will appear from the Start Menu.
• Make a shortcut for it for easy future access.
• Run the app as needed.
• Save it (PNG,GIF, JPG) Highlight it, Embed it, Email it … Whatever you want.

EU Roaming Charges Finally Finished

After a decade of campaigning by EU citizens and after 2 years of preparing the mobile networks for the change, The European Commission has announced that there will be no more EU roaming charges.

What Does This Mean?

The abolition of roaming charges applies to calls, texts and browsing the internet, and this means that citizens who travel within the 28 countries of the EU will be able to call, text and connect on their mobile devices at the same price as they pay at home.

Balance

Statements from the EU have focused on what a valuable achievement the agreement between mobile network operators and EU countries is in terms of its contribution to the idea of the EU’s Digital Single Market and accessibility for all citizens.

Other statements have focused on the balance that has been needed to strike the deal with the mobile phone networks. This means offering customers a better deal and maintaining profitability of mobile networks, and many people have taken this to mean the mobile networks could make up the charges lost in roaming fees in other ways e.g. increasing domestic phone tariffs and charges.

Are There Any Caveats And Exceptions?

Yes. Although, as the EU statements say that roaming charges have been abolished for travellers in the EU, there are some important caveats, exceptions and anomalies. These are:

  • Exceeding your agreed minutes, texts and data allowances are still chargeable in the in the EU, just as they are in the UK.
  • The fair use clause still applies to data roaming. This means that even though you can make as many calls and send as many texts as you like at domestic prices, if your roaming data use exceeds “a reasonably high volume” at domestic rates, you may have to pay a surcharge of approximately £8.30 per gigabyte (inc VAT).
  • If you spend more time abroad than at home and consequently use your mobile more abroad than at home, you may still receive roaming charges. This is a result of a clause that was designed to dissuade people from taking out a contract in a low-cost country e.g. Romania.
  • Different providers include different countries in their roaming territories. Also, some countries are not automatically covered by the new rules e.g. Switzerland, Monaco, Andorra, some Eastern European nations, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
  • Roaming charges will still apply when you are on board European ferries or cruise ships in the Mediterranean, the Baltic and across the English Channel. This is because you are between EU ports and are using a satellite link to the ship.
  • Calling another EU country from the UK will still incur extra charges.
  • Calls to any EU country are now cheaper as long as you make them from any EU country that isn’t the UK.
  • Three non-EU countries in the European economic area have not yet introduced ‘Roam Like at Home’ charges, but have said that they may do so a short time after 15th June. These are Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For business people who are frequent overseas travellers, and for UK citizens who plan to use their mobile while on holiday abroad, this announcement is good news. There is still a rational suspicion that the mobile operators will make their lost roaming charges back somehow e.g. with higher tariffs and extra charges.

Brexit could, however, mean that the UK may lose its right to freedom from roaming charges. Some commentators believe that the UK could avoid this by negotiating equivalent measures, and / or that the mobile networks will introduce some lesser charges.

Legally, the UK government could decide whether EU price restrictions on roaming apply after Brexit because EU price restrictions on roaming or not after the UK leaves the EU are part of a regulation (not a directive), and, therefore, are not technically part of UK law. At this stage, it is unknown exactly how Brexit will affect the roaming charges issue going forward.