Archive for September 2017

Your Latest It News Update

Uber Loses London Licence

Taxi-booking giant Uber will lose its licence to operate in London at the end of September. The ruling, made by regulators at Transport for London, was because they deemed Uber was “not fit and proper”.

<More>

Two Hours Or Less To Remove Terrorist Content

Speaking at the United Nations, Prime minister Theresa May said technology companies must go “further and faster” in removing extremist content.

<More>

Cops Get Younger, Windows Gets Older

Via a freedom of information release, the BBC has uncovered some embarrassing information about the technology used by some of our boys in blue.

<More>

Equifax… Spoof Site

Equifax, the firm beleaguered by a record hack which compromised millions of sensitive, personal details (multi-nationally) has made yet another world-class slip-up.

<More>

The Battle For Delivering Groceries

A new, “hyper-convenience” delivery service is being trialled by US giant Wal-Mart. They’re testing the market viability of delivering goods directly into consumer’s refrigerators.

<More>

Tech Tip: Remove Clutter From Your Search Results

If you ever find that you’re getting unwanted search results, you can quickly and easily narrow down the list by using the minus sign.

<More>

Tech Tip: Remove Clutter From Your Search Results

If you ever find that you’re getting unwanted search results, you can quickly and easily narrow down the list by using the minus sign.

Here’s a classic example; let’s say that you’re interested in natural history and wanted to know more about a jaguar.

However, the (organic) results may display local Jaguar dealerships. You can modify your search with a negative keyword like this :

Jaguar -car.

Or even use several modifiers like this to suppress even more irrelevant results, like this …

Jaguar -car -vehicle -sales -garage

… and there you have it … more accurate search results.

Uber Loses London Licence

Taxi-booking giant Uber will lose its licence to operate in London at the end of September.

The ruling, made by regulators at Transport for London, was because they deemed Uber was “not fit and proper”. London Mayor Sadiq Khan publicly endorsed the decision.

Uber has had a catalogue of complaints and bad press recently so this decision was not a massive surprise.

Security Concerns

Citing security issues, public safety issues, poor reporting (of serious in-car crimes), poor medical checks (of drivers) and poor background checks (of drivers) it seems the regulators were not short of material to support their decision.

Uber was run until recently by controversial founder and CEO Travis Kalanick. Further to an extended leave, he finally resigned in June of this year (possibly “pushed” by unhappy shareholders). He currently still retains a seat on the board.

Unsurprisingly, the firm hit back by declaring that “far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies” and plans to appeal. It had 21 days to lodge an appeal which could then take a long time to investigate, during which it can continue to operate. Doubtless delaying tactics by Uber’s lawyers could extend this state of affairs for the forseeable future.

Who’s Affected?

In this instance, the directly affected stakeholders appear to be Uber’s drivers, staff and shareholders, London Black cab drivers (who obviously want the ban as well as mini-cab companies), the paying (passenger) public and ultimately, the UK tax office.

Additionally, this decision may well give life-breathing oxygen for the other, lesser-known car-sharing firms, startups and social initiatives.

Meanwhile, there is an online petition on change.org, already signed by circa half a million people, requesting that the ban be reversed. This is not surprising as London has 3.5 million Uber users and 40,000 Uber drivers … around as many as the number of traditional, licensed drivers.

London is Not Alone

Uber’s challenges are by no means limited to London. Cab-drivers in many countries have lobbied hard and protested to stop or slow-down Uber’s impact and threat to their livelihoods.

Given the number of potential legal loopholes and appeals, it is unlikely the car-sharing leviathan will be stopped in the immediate future. For example, Uber was banned earlier this year in Italy after taxi unions argued their case. However, the ban was appealed and later reversed.

How Does This Affect Your Business?

This decision just goes to show that a company that’s grown to be worth tens of billions of dollars within less than a decade can’t have everything its own way.

There’s a reason these companies are labelled “disruptive” business models. It’s clear that changing an entire industry in such a short period of time will inevitably ruffle a lot of feathers with the incumbent businesses operating in that space. Job displacement will ripple out to other industries.

Whilst this decision was apparently based on issues such as bad practice and security, the impact to the livelihoods of traditional cab drivers will doubtless have been an influence.

This type of business model relies on the sharing of privately owned assets. In this case, it’s cars. In Airbnb’s case, it’s private rooms. The ‘sharing economy’ model has become hugely successful in recent years due to the obvious scalability (it doesn’t have to buy “stock”) and appeals to individuals that want to supplement or replace their income.

However, the societal costs and effects of these types of businesses (and decisions like the London ban if it sticks) will take a lot longer to determine.

Two Hours Or Less To Remove Terrorist Content

Speaking at the United Nations, Prime minister Theresa May said technology companies must go “further and faster” in removing extremist content.

Given the recent increase in terror-related incidents in London and Manchester (and other European cities), it’s likely her statements will have resonated with many leaders.

Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft will also meet with the PM, where she will request them to find ways to remove content within a 2 hour-or-less timeframe.

Companies and Governments Must Work Together

Google has responded that they’re doing their best but that they need help from outside as well as simply more investment on the inside. Youtube (owned by Google) is the centre of much of the concern and Google have pledged to sponsor £3.7 million in UK based counter- terrorism initiatives.

With AI and other emerging technologies in mind, May believes (and is pressing for) the tech giants to do more to combat the spread of material promoting terrorism.

Information pertaining to low-tech terror techniques (e.g.driving into people or stabbing people) together with higher-tech techniques and bomb-making instructions must be removed as soon as they appear.

An End … to End to End Encryption

May, (supported by home secretary Amber Rudd) back in June called for an end to “Hiding places” on the web, essentially demanding ‘back-doors’ for technologies such as those employing end-to-end encryption.

This would mean enabling the security services to be able to access and view material they consider pose a risk.

Worrying

Last Tuesday’s report published by think tank ‘Policy Exchange’ showed that more people clicked online in the UK (than in any other country in Europe) on jihadist propaganda.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Encryption ‘Backdoors’ would represent a huge loss of confidence in the security of any communications system as whole as essentially, the ‘unbreakable’ nature of the technology is totally compromised.

The aim of terror is to cause as much disruption as possible and the slew of hacks and embarrassing government data-breaches that would almost inevitably occur if government staff were able to access previously secure information would doubtless be considered a success of some kind by the terrorists themselves.

Given the muscle, might and money required to be able to effectively ensure dangerous content is taken down very quickly, it’s very likely that the technology and industry produced as a result will have ramifications in completely different areas such as PR, SEO and reputation-management for example.

It seems that coming from an age where material can be published instantly, we might be heading into an age where material can be removed and/or deleted very quickly too.

Whilst this has clear advantages in terms of removing terrorist content, one might wonder what other content could be removed ‘instantly’ too. Food for thought … or possibly the legal profession.

Equifax… Spoof Site

Equifax, the firm beleaguered by a record hack which compromised millions of sensitive, personal details (multi-nationally) has made yet another world-class slip-up.

Wrong URL Tweeted

Further to the recent revelations that over 143 million people had been compromised (potentially 44 million+ in the UK alone), it appears that their staff mistakenly tweeted an incorrect web address, causing people to be sent to a false website which could have had disastrous consequences.

In the wake of the controversy about the company keeping quiet for weeks before the issue was made public (compounded by key-executive shareholders selling their shares before the news went out), this momentous gaffe has only added fuel to the flames. The share price dropped from 142.72 points on Thursday 7th September when the announcement was made, to 92.98 on Friday the following week.

A separate website, namely a micro-site with address equifaxsecurity2017.com was hastily constructed after the hack, with the purpose of allowing people to find out more information about this specific incident. Additionally, visitors are supposed to be able to find out if they were part of the original hack, which required that they entered their private details to be checked.

Beware Online Forms

As well as pertinent information about the breach, the micro-site also contains an enrolment form, which naturally requires visitors to enter private information.

The domain name in question, equifaxsecurity2017.com, is separate from the main domain of equifax.com and therefore people are either naturally skeptical of it or – more worryingly – don’t know that this could easily be a spoofed website which is what one software engineer created, within minutes.

“Yeah… no thanks… it would take me literally 20 mins to build a clone of this site.” tweeted Nick Sweeting … and then he went on to do exactly that. He setup the similar-sounding website securityequifax2017.com very quickly and then made people aware of it via Twitter.

“Bamboozled”

In this instance, the site simply told visitors who had completed the spoofed form that they’d been “bamboozled”, just to highlight the issue. Nick Sweeting was not out to maliciously attack anyone, merely point out the flaws.

The problem started when Equifax staff themselves mistakenly shared the wrong website (i.e. the spoof site) on their Twitter feed, causing chaos which lasted over a week.

Security commentators have been less than complimentary about the debacle, although Equifax have now stated they’ve removed all the incorrect URL’s from their feed.

How Does This Affect Your Business?

This story shows the importance of ensuring you declare any known data-breaches at the earliest opportunity (which you are legally obliged to do) and then handling the inevitable fall-out as quickly and professionally as possible to limit the damage.

It can be difficult to spot a fake website, so here’s a few things you can look out for :

  • The URL : In this instance, a sub-domain would have been a more secure and logical choice of website address e.g. securitynotice.equifax.com rather than having a completely separate domain name, which is trivial to register.
  • Look out for “schoolboy errors” in the page structure and text e.g. spelling mistakes and poor syntax.
  • Check who owns the domain with a site such as Whois.com
  • See whether the site has an up to date security certificate (look for a padlock icon. Your browser should warn you if it’s out of date) .The url should start with https://
  • Google any phone numbers on the web page and ensure they’re not reported as false. Call them!
  • Enter the company name into Google and the proper URL *should* be returned.
  • Enter the website under suspicion into Google and look out for any obvious issues.
  • You could consider a browser plug in such as Google Chrome’s WOT (Web of Trust) which reports back on a URL’s reputation.

The Battle For Delivering Groceries

A new, “hyper-convenience” delivery service is being trialled by US giant Wal-Mart. They’re testing the market viability of delivering goods directly into consumer’s refrigerators.

This bold move is seen as a direct challenge to online retail heavyweight Amazon.

King Retailer Roars a Challenge

Given that Wal-Mart is the largest “bricks and mortar” retailer in the world, this will undoubtedly cause ripples with both online and offline businesses. To effect this service proposition, Wal-Mart has teamed up with strategic partner August Home, who provide home accessories and smart locks.

Is a Retail War Inevitable?

This development comes (presumably) as a response to Amazon’s recent foray into both the bricks-and-mortar grocery market. Amazon acquired retailer Whole Foods a month ago in another strategic deal to provide groceries and thereby take a provocative step into the space dominated by Wal-Mart.

As Amazon is apparently investing more resources within their (already-established) restaurant market, the fight between these retail heavyweights for wallet-share will inevitably heat up.

How Do The Delivery People Gain Access?

Clearly, issues surrounding trust need to be overcome whenever someone needs to gain access to a private residence to deliver goods.

Innovative solutions are being tested, such as providing the delivery person with a “one-time-access-code”, a similar principle used by some people letting out rooms by, for example, Airbnb.

Recipients of the goods can also watch (and record) the whole process via an online video feed for their own piece of mind.

Amazon – The Restaurant

In the latest twist, Amazon’s restaurant business (aptly named Amazon Restaurant) paired up with Olo last week, a food ordering company with an enviable network of restaurants to their name.

How Does This Affect Your Business?

Hyper convenience within the retail sector is a growing marketplace and exciting times are now here. From drones delivering books to robots providing pizzas, this retail-revolution shows no signs of slowing down.

Brands that were historically either purely online (e.g. Amazon) or offline (e.g. Wal-Mart) appear to be converging around (and competing in) a hybrid online/offline proposition.

This, in turn, is pushing innovation across the board to offer a joined-up-service with the consumer being able to satisfy their ever-insatiable need for instant gratification like never before.

A golden nugget to take away from this example is the synergy created when joint ventures are brokered between non-competing brands.

As well as being able to leverage a larger joint client base and capitalise on the scale of economies and ready-made specialist knowledge, the benefits (in this instance) include literally “bolting on” other services such as delivery, security, logistics et al, thereby massively increasing sales opportunities.

Cops Get Younger, Windows Gets Older

Via a freedom of information release, the BBC has uncovered some embarrassing information about the technology used by some of our boys in blue.

With regards to the Greater Manchester Police (GMP), they discovered that around a fifth of the force are still trying to do their work whilst using the outdated Windows XP operating system.
The police spokesperson admitted to the BBC : “The remaining XP machines are still in place due to complex technical requirements from a small number of externally provided highly specialised applications.”. He later went on to say : “Work is well advanced to mitigate each of these special requirements within this calendar year, typically through the replacement or removal of the software applications in question.”
Whole Country Surveyed
The BBC queried multiple forces around the country using the freedom of information request system. However, the majority of forces didn’t play ball and were reluctant to release their information, citing security concerns as their reason.
By comparison, of those that did reveal their information, Northern Ireland’s Police Service had just 0.05% using the ageing OS, i.e. less than 1 in 200.
Better yet were the forces of Gwent, North Wales, Lancashire and Wiltshire with zero XP machines whatsoever being deployed.

Shock Met Figures

When asked, London’s Metropolitan Police Service (‘The Met’) refused to cite their numbers.
Paul Mayger (the force’s information manager) was quoted as saying: “Disclosing further information would reveal potential weaknesses and vulnerability.” who then went on to say “This would be damaging as criminals/terrorists would gain a greater understanding of the MPS’s systems, enabling them to take steps to counter them.” Not to be deterred, the BBC appealed against its refusal.
It was revealed back in June that the Met actively uses 18,000 XP machines, equating to over 50% of the total in their arsenal.
Ominously, the ICO has warned that this situation means personal information could be compromised. For example, the recent WannaCry virus meant that Microsoft had to rush out patches, even though they (technically) stopped support back in 2014.

Windows XP – An Overview

Windows XP was launched way back in 2001. (Extended) support was withdrawn in April 2014. Nonetheless it still represents a large share of all the operating systems in existence – especially overseas.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This illustrates the leviathan task that large public organisations face, when simply trying to keep up to date in a rapidly changing tech landscape. Large commercial enterprises face similar challenges and therefore smaller, more agile organisations can use this to their competitive advantage.
It should be noted that the roll-out of newer equipment is not necessarily being hampered by budget constraints (although this will certainly be a factor) but rather that complex and/or bespoke specialist systems/software can often make upgrading difficult.
These legacy systems requiring obsolete technology to make them function can hamper both the public and private sector alike. Adopting cloud-based solutions may provide one solution.
When choosing critical systems for a smaller company (Such as a CRM for example), one must weigh up the advantages of a system that is designed specifically for you against the
potential threat that the (specialist) provider may cease to exist and therefore upgrades, support and transferability will be difficult.
As far as security is concerned, using outdated operating systems which are no longer supported is clearly asking for trouble.
On a positive note, there will doubtless be opportunities waiting to be exploited by leveraging the Freedom of Information Act itself in terms of acquiring specialist information and data for marketing purposes.

Your Latest IT News Update

China Bans Bitcoin: Value Plummets

The value of Bitcoin has taken a tumble on worldwide currency markets after China ordered exchanges to cease trading in the crypto-currency.

<More>

Embarrassing iPhone Face Recognition Blunder Explained

Apple’s on-stage demo of the new iPhone X in front of the world’s media last Tuesday suffered an unexpected glitch as its new face recognition feature didn’t work, and now Apple is offering an explanation of what went wrong.

<More>

Government Could Share Data To Reduce Immigration

In order for the government to cut net migration numbers to the UK post-Brexit, it has been reported that three government departments will be sharing data on citizens so that immigration status checks can be made more easily.

<More>

Parking Chatbot Could Help You Sue Equifax

In the wake of the recent, massive Equifax hack, a well-known chatbot developed to overturn parking fines has been modified to help victims file legal claims against Equifax.

<More>

Online Hate Bans Appear To Work, According To Reddit

Contrary to concerns that social news platform Reddit would drive abusive user groups to other areas of the site by banning them, research has shown that bans have cut hate speech and bad online behaviour for the longer term.

<More>

Tech Tip: Access Cortana’s Secret Calculator

Sometimes the calculator on your computer can come in very handy, and Cortana in Windows 10 gives you access to a full featured calculator via the search box. Here’s how. With Cortana enabled:

<More>

China Bans Bitcoin: Value Falls

The value of Bitcoin has taken a tumble on worldwide currency markets after China ordered exchanges to cease trading in the cryptocurrency.

What Is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital web-based currency that operates without the need for central banks and uses highly secure encryption (a crypto-currency) to regulate the currency units and to verify transfers of funds. Bitcoin uses the ‘Blockchain’ technology. Blockchain is an open and programmable technology that can be used to record transactions for virtually anything of value that can be converted to code and is often referred to as a kind of ‘incorruptible ledger’.
There are approximately 15 million Bitcoins in existence, and in order to receive a Bitcoin, a user must have a Bitcoin address (of which there is no central register).

Why The Halt In Trading in China?

It has been reported that China has ordered a halt in Bitcoin trading at its exchanges because they have been told that they don’t have a licence to operate with the crypoto-currency. The instruction issued by Leading Group of Beijing Internet Financial Risks Remediation is reported to have listed a series of steps that each exchange has to go through before handling Bitcoin, and to cancel any accounts that don’t have bank accounts connected to them. It has also been ordered that the details of user and trading data will have to be recorded on DVDs and submitted to local authorities.

As part of the required steps, Chinese exchanges will need to devise a wind-down plan so that cryptocurrencies can be paid into user bank accounts.

Why Really?

Some commentators have speculated that this could be a move to force companies to shut down and then get officially licensed, as this will give the government access to their back-end systems. This move by China could therefore be as much about gaining control through licensing as it is about cryptocurrencies.

China also has a history of problems with Bitcoin in that it appears to dislike the lack of transparency and control, and that it was allegedly used by criminal and money laundering gangs. For example, as far back as December 2013, the People’s Bank of China and several other government ministries issued an official notice entitled ‘Guarding Against the Risks of Bitcoin’, which stated Bitcoin may not be used as a currency.

Was At A High

Before the panic and subsequent fall in the value of Bitcoin, caused by moves in China, in August Bitcoin hit new highs as its value exceeded the value of a troy ounce of gold for the first time.

Other Cryptocurrencies Affected

The news in China sent the crypto currency markets into a downward spiral as the main cryptocurrency values fell by between 20 and 40 %. For example, Litecoin (the fifth-largest cryptocurrency) fell 37% in value after the news of the decisions about to be taken about Bitcoin in China.

AI Contrast

The value of growing technologies such as AI currently provide a contrast to the dipping fortunes of cryptocurrencies. Shares of Nvidia Corp, who have expanded into AI, cloud computing and self-driving cars (as well as, ironically, chips used to process cryptocurrency transactions), reached a record high for the second straight day on Monday.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The rise of cypto-currencies, such as Bitcoin, to the point where it was finally being taken up by investors, businesses and governments, has been filled with high profile ups and downs e.g. a fall in its value on the Tokyo-based Mt. Gox exchange following a hack in late 2013. Despite its problems and bad press, in recent years (up until now), Bitcoin has had a decrease in volatility. 2017 has also actually seen a lot of optimism for the crytocurrency, which reached a point back in January where its worth was around the same value as that of a FTSE 100 company. Bitcoin has many attractive advantages for businesses such as the speed and ease with which transactions can take place due to the lack of central bank and traditional currency control. Using Bitcoin also means that cross-border and global trading is simpler and faster and the ‘crypto’ aspect of the currency makes it secure. This latest challenge unfortunately involves a very large market, and has created more uncertainty and mistrust that has rubbed off on other crypto-currencies. Fingers-crossed for Bitcoin, this may be more about licensing in China, and Bitcoin, as it has done many times, will most likely bounce back.

The importance of other new technologies such as AI and driverless vehicles is finally being reflected in the value of the shares of companies who are leading the charge in those technologies, and these technologies are likely to provide many global business opportunities going forward.

Embarrassing iPhone Face Recognition Blunder Explained

Apple’s on-stage demo of the new iPhone X in front of the world’s media last Tuesday suffered an unexpected glitch as its new face recognition feature didn’t work, and now Apple is offering an explanation of what went wrong.

Not Recognised

The nearly two-hour on-stage demo of the new phone, by Craig Mr Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering at the company’s Cupertino, California headquarters, failed to hit the right note as it was overshadowed by the failure of the new handset to recognise his face as a means of authentication.

Others Moving The Handset

Statements by Apple since the incident have placed the blame on the fact that the phone’s authentication system tried to recognise the face of those moving the phone into position, ready for the presentation. These attempts, therefore, counted as two unsuccessful authentication attempts because the faces were not those of Craig Federighi.

Unfortunately for Mr Federighi, the phone, for reasons of security, is designed to only accept 2 unsuccessful authentication attempts using the facial recognition feature, before the feature is disabled and the user has to go to the trouble of manually typing in a passcode.

Irony

The awful irony of the presentation was that ‘Touch ID’, which was being replaced with the 10th anniversary iPhone X, would have allowed five failed attempts before seeking a passcode.

What made things seem worse was the fact that this new iPhone feature had been developed after Apple reportedly gathered a billion images to ‘train’ the feature to recognise broad geographic and ethnic data sets, and that Apple had earlier described Face ID as being “effortless” to use, and even more accurate than its fingerprint-based Touch ID system.

Apple has also said that the 3D front-facing camera has been designed to learn what users look like and is only inaccurate one in 1 million times.

Also For Payment and Emojis

As well as providing authentication to unlock the phone, The Face ID feature has also been designed to authenticate Apple Pay and create the customisable animated emoji.

Spare

Fortunately for Mr Federighi, he had a spare phone standing by so that he could at least continue the presentation.

Theories

Prior to Apple’s attempt to explain what went wrong with the feature, different theories had been offered online as to what may have caused the problem, including the idea that Mr Federighi’s wiping of the stage make-up on his face before this second attempt may have interfered with the system.

Concerns

Some commentators have expressed concerns about how the use of Face ID could affect the privacy and security of users, and that the technology may not be entirely effective where users need to keep their face partially covered e.g. for religious / cultural or work reasons.

The largest concern for many people, however, has been the substantial $999 price tag for the phone ($999 for the 64GB version and £1,149 for 256GB).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having an up to date phone that can cope with the demands of doing business on the move are the main concerns for many businesses, and having a time-saving, new security feature such as Face ID would be a bonus. For many business people, however, the high price of the phone, and the loss of trust in its Face ID abilities already (remember that Face ID also authorises Apple Pay as well as the phone itself) have meant that they may stick with their existing phone for the time being.

For Apple, which is not doing as well as it would like in large markets such as China, the public Face ID failure, which may well have been legitimately caused by features designed to protect the security of users, could prove to be costly. It may also have done nothing to boost business confidence in the kinds of biometric security measures that are being introduced to so many business services e.g. banking.

This story also helps to illustrate the delicate balance between price, value, and perceived benefits in products and services. Even though the sophisticated AI / biometric technology in Face ID is really quite spectacular, if a product has no real perceived benefits compared to existing products / versions, customers may not see the value that they will gain by paying the high price.