Archive for June 2018

Your Latest IT News Update

Tesla Traps Tripp

California-based vehicle tech corporation ‘Tesla’ is suing a former employee, who some saw simply as a Whistleblower, over alleged acts of industrial espionage.

<More>

Apple Offers Free Replacements / Repairs On Butterfly Keyboards

After numerous complaints over the last two years and even an online petition by a customer, Apple has decided to offer free repairs or replacements for the butterfly keyboard on its MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops.

<More>

GDPR Exemption Sought

It has been reported that financial market regulators from the US, the UK and Asia are pressing for an exemption from GDPR.

<More>

Calls to Stop Storing of Personal Communications Data and Voiceprints

Privacy groups have led calls to halt the blanket collection and storing of communications data in the EU area, and the creation and storing of the “audio signatures” of 5.1 million people by HMRC.

<More>

New ‘No Cheat’ “Locked Mode” For Classroom on Chromebooks

The Google Forms Quiz in its free, browser-based educational software “Classroom” now features a “locked mode” on Chromebooks which prevents students from cheating during quizzes.

<More>

Tech Tip – Rename Multiple Files at Once

If you have a number of files in Windows that you want to rename but don’t want to waste time renaming them all one-by-one, here’s a quick way to rename them all at once:

<More>

Tesla Traps Tripp

California-based vehicle tech corporation ‘Tesla’ is suing a former employee, who some saw simply as a Whistleblower, over alleged acts of industrial espionage.

Named

The former Tesla technician who stands accused by Tesla boss Elon Musk of industrial espionage has been named as Martin Tripp. The allegations made against Mr Tripp include that he was hacking and stealing company secrets, and that he wrote software that was designed to aid in the theft of photos and videos.

Tesla has also alleged that Mr Tripp was partly motivated to commit malicious acts against the company after he failed to get a promotion. Tesla has filed a federal lawsuit against him.

Tesla is also reported as saying that 40-year old forces veteran Tripp made false claims to the media about the information he (allegedly) stole, particularly where claims about punctured battery cells, excess scrap material and manufacturing delays are concerned.

Whistleblower?

Far from being an alleged criminal who meant the company harm, Mr Tripp claims that he is simply a Whistleblower who the company is trying to get rid of in order to cover up details about products / components that could damage the company’s reputation if they were known.

For example, Mr Tripp claims that he has simply been trying to expose “some really scary things” at Tesla, including punctured batteries being used in vehicles. Mr Tripp has also alleged that he became disillusioned with Tesla when (as he alleges) he saw how Elon Musk was lying to investors about how many cars they were making.

Mr Tripp has also been reported as saying that he didn’t write any software to aid the theft of photos and videos because he has no patience for coding, and that he didn’t care about failing to get a promotion.

Tripp is looking for legal protection as a whistleblower.

Silencing a Scapegoat?

Mr Tripp has been reported as saying that he is being made a scapegoat because he provided information that was true, that Tesla are doing everything they can to silence him, and that he feels that he had no rights as a whistleblower.

The local Sheriff’s office is reported as announcing that there is no credible threat to the Tesla’s lithium-ion battery factory, known as the Gigafactory.

Mr Tripp has been reported as saying that he allegedly turned whistleblower after his concerns were not taken seriously by anyone in the company.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It would certainly not be unheard-of for a disgruntled employee / former employee to pose a security risk or commit acts of sabotage. For example, back in 2014, Andrew Skelton, who was an auditor at the head office of Morrisons (supermarket chain) in Bradford, leaked the personal details of almost 100,000 staff. Mr Skelton is believed to have deliberately stolen and leaked the data in a move to get back at the company after he was accused of dealing in legal highs at work.

We are also familiar with how difficult companies / organisations and other interested parties can make it for people who are ‘whistleblowers’ e.g. reports in the media about Dr Hayley Dare who received poison-pen letters was dismissed from a 20 year unblemished career with a 3 line email after raising concerns over a patient’s safety with her employer, an NHS Trust.

In the case of Tesla, it is currently not possible to say whether or not Mr Tripp is a whistleblower or a disgruntled former-employee with malicious intent. What it does remind us though is that corporate / company culture should be such that employees feel able to express their concerns, are listened to, and that it is viewed as a positive way to find areas to make improvements and modifications that could actually help a company in the long-run.

The Tesla story should also remind companies to plug some basic security loopholes in IT systems when employees leave / are dismissed. This includes simply changing passwords, access rights, and monitoring systems to ensure that nothing untoward is happening.

Apple Offers Free Replacements / Repairs On Butterfly Keyboards

After numerous complaints over the last two years and even an online petition by a customer, Apple has decided to offer free repairs or replacements for the butterfly keyboard on its MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops.

What Happened?

For quite some time now, some MacBook and MacBook Pro laptop users have been complaining about problems they have experienced with the ‘Butterfly keyboard’. These problems have included letters or characters repeating unexpectedly, letters or characters not appearing, and keys feeling “sticky” or not responding in a consistent manner.

Petition and Lawsuit

The problems have been so bad that one user set up a Change.org online petition asking Apple to recall every MacBook Pro released since late 2016, and two fed up Apple customers have filed a lawsuit against the company (both back in May) in a San Jose, California, federal court.

The petition, which attracted over 21,000 signatures, was set up by someone listed as Matthew Taylor, who claimed that every one of Apple’s current-generation MacBook Pro models, 13in and 15in, is sold with a keyboard that can become defective at any moment because of a design failure. Mr Taylor is reported as saying that he believes that the problems are widespread and consistent, and can be infuriating for users.

The lawsuit has been brought by Zixuan Rao, of San Diego, California, and Kyle Barbaro, of Melrose, Massachusetts, who allege that Apple’s model year 2015 or later MacBooks and model year 2016 or later MacBook Pros are defective.

Hands Up … Maybe

Apple has now held its hands up and acknowledged in a statement online, that the problems of characters repeating unexpectedly, letters or characters not appearing, and keys feeling “sticky” or not responding in a consistent manner “may” exist in a “small percentage” of its Butterfly keyboards.

Program

Apple has, therefore, launched a program which will mean that Apple or an Apple Authorised Service Provider will service eligible MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards, free of charge. The type of service that Apple / the Apple Authorized Service Provider can offer will be determined after the keyboard has been examined, and Apple says that this may involve the replacement of one or more keys or the whole keyboard.

Eligible Models

Apple has released a list of models that are eligible for the repair / replacement program. These models are (courtesy of the Apple website):

– MacBook (Retina, 12 inch, Early 2015)
– MacBook (Retina, 12 inch, Early 2016)
– MacBook (Retina, 12 inch, 2017)
– MacBook Pro (13 inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
– MacBook Pro (13 inch, 2017, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
– MacBook Pro (13 inch, 2016, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
– MacBook Pro (13 inch, 2017, Four Thunderbolt 3 Ports)
– MacBook Pro (15 inch, 2016)
– MacBook Pro (15 inch, 2017)

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

On the one hand it is good news that Apple is prepared to repair / replace keyboards free of charge. On the other hand, some would say that it’s a shame that it’s taken 2 years, thousands of complaints, a petition with tens of thousands of signatures, bad publicity, and even a lawsuit to bring Apple to the point of admitting that there “may” be a problem with the keyboards that warrants free repair / replacement program to be set up at some cost to Apple.

It is all-too-common in the technology industry for products (usually software) to be distributed before all the bugs have been discovered and ironed-out or patched. In this case, many Apple customers were clearly saying that their keyboards didn’t work as they should, and it is this kind of thing that can turn happy customers into very vocal critics of a company. For businesses that have been affected by the problem, the repair / replacement program is likely to be welcome … but long overdue.

If you / your business has been affected by the problem, the advice from Apple is to first back up your data, then find an Apple authorised service provider and make an appointment at an Apple Retail Store (or send your device by mail to the Apple Repair Centre). Apple says that your MacBook or MacBook Pro will be examined prior to any service to verify that it is eligible for this program, and examination will determine the type of service, or whether a replacement will be needed. It is estimated that the service could take a few days, and Apple says that the program covers eligible MacBook and MacBook Pro models for 4 years after the first retail sale of the unit.

GDPR Exemption Sought

It has been reported that financial market regulators from the US, the UK and Asia are pressing for an exemption from GDPR.

Growing Calls For Exemption

Even though GDPR only came into force a little over a month ago (May 25th), financial regulators from several countries, most notably the US, have been pressing over several years for an exemption to be built-in, and have hosted multiple meetings about the matter on both sides of the Atlantic.

What’s The Problem?

Before GDPR, financial regulators could use their exemption to share vital information e.g. bank and trading account data, to advance misconduct probes. Now that GDPR is in force, regulators are, therefore, arguing that no exemption means that international probes and enforcement actions in cases involving market manipulation and fraud could be hampered.

Regulators say that they are particularly concerned about the effects on U.S. investigations into crypto-currency fraud and market manipulation (for which many actors are based overseas) could be at risk. Without an exemption, regulators say that cross-border information sharing could be challenged because some countries’ privacy safeguards now fall short of those now offered by the EU under GDPR.

Seeking An “Administrative Arrangement”

The form of exemption that regulators are reported to be seeking is a formal “administrative arrangement” with the Brussels-based European Data Protection Board (EDPB), headed by Andrea Jelinek. The written arrangement would clarify if and how the public interest exemption can be applied to their cross-border information sharing.

Which Regulators?

Reports indicate that the regulators involved in discussions about getting an exemption include the EU’s European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA), the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC), the Japan Financial Services Agency (FSA), Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC).

Why Not?

The worry from the EDPB is that granting exemptions could lead to the illegitimate circumventing and watering down of the new GDPR privacy safeguards, now among the toughest in the world. This, in turn, could lead to the harming EU citizens which is exactly the opposite of the reason for the introduction of GDPR.

The matter has, however, been complicated by the fact that regulators’ slow response to the 2007-2009 global financial crisis was partly blamed on poor cross-border coordination, which has since been improved, and better information sharing after the crisis is reported to have lead to billions of dollars in fines for banks e.g. for trying to rig Libor interest rate benchmarks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

A financial crisis (e.g. involving bad behaviour by banks) can create serious knock-on costs and problems for businesses worldwide, and it is, therefore, possible to see why financial regulators feel they need an exemption so that they can continue to share information which will ultimately be in the interest of business and the public. It is likely, therefore, that discussions will continue for some time yet to try to find a way to grant exemptions in certain circumstances.

The contrary view is that granting exemptions will water down legislation that was designed to offer stronger protection to us all, potentially putting EU citizens at risk, and allowing organisations that we can’t effectively monitor to simply circumvent the new law and behave how they like. This could undermine the privacy and rights of EU citizens.

Calls to Stop Storing of Personal Communications Data and Voiceprints

Privacy groups have led calls to halt the blanket collection and storing of communications data in the EU area, and the creation and storing of the “audio signatures” of 5.1 million people by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Collection of Communications Data

The privacy groups Privacy International, Liberty, and Open Rights Group, have filed complaints to the European Commission which call for EU governments to stop making companies collect and store all communications data. Their complaints have also been echoed by dozens of community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and academics.

What’s The Problem?

The main complaint is that communications companies in EU states indiscriminately collect and retain all of our communications data. This includes the details of all calls, texts and so forth (i.e. who with, dates, times etc).

The privacy groups and their supporters argue that not only does this amount to a form of intrusive surveillance, but that the practice was actually ruled unlawful by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in two judgments in 2014 and 2016.

Privacy groups have expressed concern that some companies in some EU states have tried to circumvent the CJEU judgements, and the CJEU have clearly stated that general and indiscriminate retention of communications data is disproportionate and can’t be justified.

In the UK, for example, the intelligence agencies collect details of thousands of calls daily, but under the CJEU judgements, this amounts to breaking the law.

HMRC Collecting Recordings of Voices

Perhaps even more shocking is the news this week that, according to privacy group Big Brother Watch, the UK HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has a Voice ID system that has collected 5.1 million audio signatures.

The accusation is that HMRC is creating biometric ID cards or voiceprints by the back door. These voiceprints could conceivably be used by government agencies to identify UK citizens across other areas of their private lives.

Big Brother Watch has also expressed concern that customers are not given the choice to opt out of the use of this system.

Helpful and Secure

HMRC, which launched the Voice ID scheme last year, asks callers to repeat the phrase “my voice is my password” to register and access their tax details, and says that the system has been very popular with customers. HMRC has also said that the 5 million+ voice recordings that it already has are stored securely.

Privacy campaigners are calling for the deletion of the voiceprints that are currently stored, and for a different system to be implemented, or to at least allow customers to opt out of Voice ID and to be able to use an alternative method.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses may be very aware, after having to adjust their own systems to be compliant to the recently introduced GDPR, that all EU citizens should now have more rights about what happens to their personal data. The term ‘personal data’ in the GDPR sense now covers things like our images on CCTV footage, and should, therefore, cover recordings of our personal conversations and biometric data such as recordings of our voices / voice prints / audio signatures.

While we may accept that there are arguments for monitoring our communications data e.g. fighting terrorism, many people clearly feel that the blanket collection of all communications data, not just that of suspects, is a step too far, is an invasion of privacy, and has echoes of ‘big brother’.

Biometrics e.g. using a fingerprint / face-print to access a phone or as part of security to access a bank account is now becoming more commonplace, and can be a helpful, more secure way of validating / authenticating access. Again, images of our faces, fingerprints, and our audio signatures (in the case of HMRC) are our personal data, and it is right that we would want them to be secure, and as with GDPR, that they are only used for the one purpose that we have given consent for, and not to be passed secretly among states and unknown agencies. Also, the ideas that we can opt in or opt out of systems, and are given a choice of which system we use i.e. not being forced to submit a voice recording, is an important issue, and one that many thought GDPR would address.

As more and more biometric systems come into use in the future, legislation will, no doubt, need to be updated again to take account of the changes.

New ‘No Cheat’ “Locked Mode” For Classroom on Chromebooks

The Google Forms Quiz in its free, browser-based educational software “Classroom” now features a “locked mode” on Chromebooks which prevents students from cheating during quizzes.

What Is ‘Classroom’?

Google Classroom is a free web service (app) for schools, non-profits or indeed anyone with a personal Google Account, that aims to simplify creating, distributing and grading assignments in a paperless way. It is reported to be used by over 30 million students globally.

Used in an actual educational setting, it enables teachers to ‘create’ classes (set up a class online), distribute assignments, communicate, and stay organised, all in one place. Teachers can invite students and co-teachers, and in the class stream, they can then share information, assignments, announcements, and questions. They can also see who has or hasn’t completed the work, and give direct, real-time feedback and grades.

Classroom works with Google Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Drive, and Forms.

What About Chromebooks?

In the context of this story, Chromebooks are laptops that are sold with the sole purpose of being used in the classroom. They run Google’s Chrome OS and are designed to be used while connected to the Internet, with most applications and documents stored in the cloud.

Cheating?

The problem that many teachers have reported experiencing is that in order to answer questions during Classroom quizzes and tests, some students are tempted to use the Internet connection on Chromebooks to look up the answers (also known as cheating).

Cheat-Proof Feature: Locked Mode

The newly added “locked mode” feature in the Google Forms Quiz prohibits students from surfing the web or opening apps until the answers are submitted. This is the first feature added to the app that’s exclusive to managed Chromebooks, and as such, it has meant that specialised controls have been added to what was basically a standardised system.

Other Features

Other features that have also been added include the ability to organise by topic or unit in the Classwork page, whereas everything was previously just categorised by date. Also, a new People page lets teachers add and remove fellow teachers, students and guardians. The Stream and system settings pages have also received some small improvements.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For educators and trainers who use the system, the “locked mode” gives them greater control, and allows them to get a more accurate view of the level of knowledge of their students. More accurate measurements can help with the better planning and application of teaching resources, and can highlight areas that need improvement.

For Google, with such a popular system that has made inroads into the teaching / training market, it makes sense to keep their customers loyal and happy by introducing value adding improvements that solve long-running problems.

Tech Tip – Rename Multiple Files at Once

If you have a number of files in Windows that you want to rename but don’t want to waste time renaming them all one-by-one, here’s a quick way to rename them all at once:

– Select multiple files (with Shift+click or Ctrl+click) in File Explorer.

– Right-click on them and choose ‘Rename’.

– The filename you enter is given to all the selected files, with a different number added on the end.

Your Latest IT News Update

Foldable Phones

After its official launch, planned for next year, it has been reported that the new Samsung Galaxy X smartphone (complete with foldable screen) could be priced at as much as £1,400!

<More>

Trump’s Tariff’s For Tech

While Apple Inc has had good news that it will not face traded tariffs on its iPhones assembled in China, Intel Corp may need to shift its assembly work away from China to avoid a big revenue hit.

<More>

Appeal Dismissed After Asylum Seeker Data Breach

An appeal by the UK Home Office to limit the number of potential claimants from a 2013 data breach has been dismissed on the grounds that an accidentally uploaded spreadsheet exposed the confidential information and personal data of asylum applicants and their family members.

<More>

Bank Uses AI To Screen Job Applicants

A Singapore bank is reported to be using an AI-based system to make savings in the process of recruitment by automating the pre-screening of job applicants.

<More>

AI Creates Phishing URLs That Can Beat Auto-Detection

A group of computer scientists from Florida-based cyber security company, Cyxtera Technologies, are reported to have built machine-learning software that can generate phishing URLs that can beat popular security tools.

<More>

Tech Tip – Improve Phone Speed With Lightweight Apps

If your phone has limited memory storage and you regularly use Facebook and Twitter, installing lightweight versions of these apps could help to speed up your phone.

<More>

Foldable Galaxy X Smartphone Could Cost You £1,400!

After its official launch, planned for next year, it has been reported that the new Samsung Galaxy X smartphone could be priced at as much as £1,400!

More Than The iPhone X

This will mean that the world-first flexible-screened, foldable smartphone will be entering the market with a price that’s one-third higher than even the Apple iPhone X which was criticised by some for its £999 price tag.

The high price is thought to reflect the high R&D budget that went into its development, and as a premium for its innovative features.

The Galaxy X has essentially been 7 years in the making, as a prototype version of the foldable phone was shown by Samsung back in 2011.

What’s So Special About It?

The Galaxy X has two inside panels and one outside panel with the two inside panels forming the 7.3-inch OLED screen when the phone is unfolded, thereby giving the user a much larger screen area. As well as having a large screen area, the resolution is expected to be 4K (3840×2160 pixels), thereby giving it high-res when folded.

It is also rumoured that the new phone will have a dual-camera at the rear with one of the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.

LG Also Going Foldable?

There have been rumours that Samsung’s rival LG is also planning to release foldable devices that could feature more advanced outward folding tech than Samsung.

To Be Shown February 2019?

Even though Samsung investors were informed that the new Galaxy X would be launched in 2018, it now looks likely that it won’t actually be shown until the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February 2019.

Production Problems

Part of the delay in the production of a commercial version of the Galaxy X from the first sighting of its prototype 7 years ago is thought to be down to production problems in the development of the flexible plastic screens.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

So much of business is now conducted using smartphones, and innovative smartphones that provide the user with features that have a real value are likely to be popular. It seems that the main benefits of the Galaxy X are that it will offer flexibility and convenience to the user with a screen area between a phone and a tablet (that can be folded), and for the initial interest factor that being seen to own and use one will create.

For the manufacturers, Galaxy X also provides a way to compete with Apple and some of its other larger competitors such as LG, and to be first to the marketplace with a foldable, flexible smartphone.

Trump’s Tariff’s For Tech Firms With China Links

While Apple Inc has had good news that it will not face traded tariffs on its iPhones assembled in China, Intel Corp may need to shift its assembly work away from China to avoid a big revenue hit.

What Tariffs?

President Donald Trump’s administration’s focus on putting America first, its accusations that China has been unfairly benefiting from a trade imbalance with the US for years, and its plans to impose 25% tariffs on $50bn worth of Chinese goods (with the threat of an additional $200bn / £151bn of tariffs) have caused many companies that have a Chinese link in their production chain to fear being hit with tariffs along the way.

Apple Told Its OK

Tech giant Apple Inc, for example, has its iPhones assembled in China, and has, therefore, feared for some time that its phones would be hit by tariffs when being brought back into the US after assembly. This would, of course, mean a potentially large increase in costs, and possibly the need to re-organise production.

It has been reported, however, that Apple Inc Chief Executive Tim Cook travelled to the White House last month, and was reassured by Mr Trump that US government would not levy tariffs on iPhones assembled in China.

Intel Not So Lucky

Unfortunately for chip maker Intel Corp the news has not been so good. Although chips were not a main target in the initial list of targeted goods released in April, U.S. trade officials have released a new tariff list of 284 products worth $16 billion that includes the processor and memory chips that are the ‘core’ of Intel’s business.

If there is no revision or change of heart by the US government over this new list, Intel may need to seriously consider shifting its production strategies to avoid putting its $12.5 billion revenue from the United States that is at risk. This could mean that, rather than sending chips to China for low-level assembly work and then bringing them back to be put into devices manufactured in the United States (which would attract a tariff), Intel may need to spread all aspects of production and assembly among its US and other tariff-safe plants.

Also, many of Intel’s customers, large computer brands or contract manufacturers who work Intel’s behalf are legally based in China because that is where most electronics are built. A tariff trade war with China would, therefore, be bad news for Intel, which made $14.8 billion from China revenue in 2017.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The tariff-based trade war that seems to be escalating between the US and this has fuelled fears that there could be a significant negative impact on the U.S. technology sector. When news of the tariffs on chips was announced, investor concerns meant that Intel shares dropped 3.4 percent to $53.22. Economists have noted that this kind of tariff war could mean that US consumers will have to pay higher prices for technology products, and this could actually hurt some of the businesses that Mr Trump’s administration says that it is trying to protect.

EU countries have also been hit with US tariffs on steel and aluminium, and have responded by producing a 10-page list of tariffs on US goods as part of a ‘re-balancing action’.