Archive for July 2018

Your Latest IT News Update

‘SiliconX’ Next-Generation Battery Material Discovered

Norwegian scientists at IFE claim to have discovered a new wonder-material for future battery production that they have dubbed ‘SiliconX’.

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Facebook Favours Free Speech Over Fake News Removal

In a recent Facebook media presentation in Manhattan, and despite the threat of social media regulation e.g. from Ofcom, Facebook said that removing fabricated posts would be “contrary to the basic principles of free speech”.

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First Blockchain ‘Cryptocurrency’ Smartphone

Taiwanese electronics company Huawei Technologies Ltd. (HTC), and Swiss-based Sirin Labs are both introducing blockchain smartphones.

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Windows 10: Fuelling PC Sales Recovery?

Reports by IDC and Gartner that shows PC sales registering their first quarterly rise in six years have led to some speculation that Windows 10 may be fuelling a Business PC sales recovery.

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Google Chrome’s New ‘Site Location’ Security Feature Activated

The new ‘Site Isolation’ security feature for Google’s Chrome browser has been switched on, and could protect users from log-in credentials theft.

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Tech Tip – Arrange Multiple File Explorer Windows Easily

If you have multiple File Explorer windows on your screen, the clutter and confusion can get in the way of the task at hand. Here’s the fast and easy way to re-arrange them:

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‘SiliconX’ Next-Generation Battery Material Discovered

Norwegian scientists at IFE claim to have discovered a new wonder-material for future battery production that they have dubbed ‘SiliconX’.

Years Of Research

The new material, discovered by scientists at Norway’s Department of Energy Technology (IFE) reportedly offers a way to stabilise silicon anodes for Li-ion batteries. This is an aim that years of targeted research and experimental trials with nano-particles has been intended to achieve.

The Challenge

The challenge has been that silicon anodes can far-exceed the lithium ion storage capacity of carbon anodes, and the change in size as they absorb the ions causes a physical swelling and shrinking that can destroy the structure of a Si-Li-ion battery.

The Solution – SiliconX

The solution that the Norwegian scientists claim to have found is to use nano-particles in a finely divided mixture of silicon and another material that the scientists have called ‘the matrix’. It is this matrix that helps the silicon to withstand the big volume changes, and thereby solve the bulging / shrinking problem that would normally wreck the battery.

Much Greater Charge Capacity

The end result has been, as well as the stability, that the new SiliconX battery is reported to have three to five times the charge capacity of the negative electrode compared to common graphite technology.

Freedom From Daily Phone Charging

In short, if your smartphone battery was made from SiliconX that behaves the way that the Norwegian scientists claim, you would not need to charge that smartphone every day.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Problems with phone batteries have damaged the performance of many phones, and tarnished the reputation of their manufacturers e.g. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 batteries catching fire.

The obvious benefits of a SiliconX battery for business users are the convenience of not having to keep charging your phone, and the elimination of the worry that a lack of sufficient battery charge will leave you incommunicado when you’re not near a charging socket / in the middle of nowhere, and / or in the middle of / needing to make calls that are vital to the business.

The fact that the battery materials are more stable may also eliminate some of the safety worries about batteries that have been in the back of many users’ minds since the Galaxy Note 7 fire incidents.

Facebook Favours Free Speech Over Fake News Removal

In a recent Facebook media presentation in Manhattan, and despite the threat of social media regulation e.g. from Ofcom, Facebook said that removing fabricated posts would be “contrary to the basic principles of free speech”.

Fake News

The term ‘fake news’ has become synonymous with the 2016 US general election and accusations that Facebook was a platform for fake political news to be spread e.g. by Russia. Also, fake news is a term that has become synonymous with President Trump, who frequently uses the term, often (some would say) to act as a catch-all term to discredit/counter critical stories in the media.

In essence, fake news refers to deliberate misinformation or hoaxes, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention, and it is spread mainly by social media. Facebook has tried to be seen to flag up and clean up obvious fake news ever since its reputation was tarnished by the election news scandals.

What About InfoWars?

The point was made to Facebook at the media presentation by a CNN reporter that the fact that InfoWars, a site having been known to have published false information and conspiracy theories, has been allowed to remain on the platform may be evidence that Facebook is not tackling fake news as well as it could.

A Matter of Perspective

To counter this and other similar accusations, Facebook has stated that it sees pages on both the left and the right side of politics distributing what they consider to be opinion or analysis but what others, from a different perspective, may call fake news.

Facebook also tweeted that banning those kinds of pages e.g. InfoWars, would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech.

A Matter of Trust

Ofcom research has suggested that people have relatively little trust in what they read in social media content anyway. The research showed that only 39% consider social media to be a trustworthy news source, compared to 63% for newspapers and 70% for TV.

Age Plays A Part

Other research from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, involving more than 7,800 responses from middle school, high school and college students in 12 US states focused on their ability to assess information sources. The results showed a shocking lack of ability to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles. When you consider that many young people get their news from social media, this shows that they may be more vulnerable and receptive to fake stories, and their wide networks of friends could mean that fake stories could be quickly and widely spread among other potentially vulnerable recipients.

Although Facebook is known to have an older demographic now, many young people still use it, Facebook has tried to launch a kind of Facebook for children to attract more young users, and Facebook owns Instagram, partly as a means to try and mop up young users who leave Facebook. It could be argued, therefore, that Facebook, and other social media platforms have a responsibility to regulate some content in order to protect users.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Fake news stories are not exclusive to social media platforms as the number of retractions and apologies in newspapers over the years are a testament. The real concern has arisen about social media, and Facebook particularly, because of what appears (allegedly) to have been the ability of actors from a foreign power being able to use fake news on Facebook to actually influence the election of a President. Which party and President is in power in the US can, in turn, have a dramatic effect on businesses and markets around the world, and the opportunities that other foreign powers think they have.

Facebook is also busy fighting another crisis in trust that has arisen from news of its sharing of users’ personal data with Cambridge Analytica, and the company is focusing much of its PR effort not on talking specifically about fake news, but about how Facebook has changed, why we should trust it again, and how much it cares about our privacy.

Meanwhile in the UK, Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, has clearly stated that she believes that media platforms need to be “more accountable” in their policing of content. While this may be understandable, many rights and privacy campaigners would not like the idea that free speech could be influenced and curbed by governments, perhaps to suit their own agenda. The arguments continue.

First Blockchain ‘Cryptocurrency’ Smartphone

Taiwanese electronics company Huawei Technologies Ltd. (HTC), and Swiss-based Sirin Labs are both introducing blockchain smartphones.

HTC

HTC’s Exodus blockchain smartphone, which it is believed will be priced at around $1,000, and is reported to have “tens of thousands” of reservations globally. The smartphone, from the world’s third largest phone manufacturer, will be released this year, will come with a built-in (offline) wallet for storing cryptocurrencies, and will act as a computer node in a blockchain network.

What Is Blockchain?

Blockchain is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network (a kind of ledger) that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way. Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes Blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”. Blockchain is the technology at the heart of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is open-source, and free.

Why A Blockchain Phone?

Giving a phone a blockchain element means that it has access to blockchain applications such as a crypto wallet, secure exchange access, encrypted communications and a P2P resource sharing ecosystems for payment and apps. It can also be used for cryptocurrency mining.

The built-in wallet for the HTC phone for example, will enable it to store bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital tokens.

Sirin Labs – The Finney Phone

The other blockchain smartphone, which is likely to be launched after HTC’s, is the ‘Finney’, named after the late bitcoin pioneer Hal Finney.

This smartphone, which also has a $1,000 price tag, has been described as an “ultra-secure blockchain smartphone”, and has been specifically designed to get around what Sirin Labs believe to be 2 main obstacles to mass market acceptance – security and user experience.

Sirin Labs even launched an initial coin offering / ICO (crowd funding from early backers of tokens for a new cryptocurrency) to fund the Finney. This resulted in over $157 million being raised.

The Big Advantage – The OS

Sirin claims that its big advantage with the Finney is not so much the phone, but more the Operating System (OS) that it claims, thanks to partnerships it is making, will soon be included in phones by other top OEM phone developers.

Security

In terms of how secure the phones are, the main question will be how both companies will keep sensitive cryptocurrency data secure. For example, unless a phone is in flight mode, there’s always a connection of some kind, and that offers a lot more attack surfaces than something like a USB stick that’s only occasionally connected.

Niche Product For Rich Enthusiasts?

Some critics have said that a blockchain smartphone is too much of a niche product that may just appeal to enthusiasts and speculators rather than a mass market, and that most people may struggle to understand what blockchain is and how / why they should use cryptocurrencies.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For HTC, many see this as being a way for the company to find a way back into the smartphone market, where it’s been struggling in recent times, but this time with a differentiated product that is a market first, ahead of competitors.

For Sirin Labs, it could also be a way to get into a new section of the market ahead of the competition, but many are sceptical as to whether the Finney will get the mass market acceptance that Sirin Labs hopes.

Most business people in the UK, for example, may be unlikely to see why they would need a blockchain phone with a crypto-currency wallet as part of their daily working life. If they’re going to spend £1,000+, they may be more likely to opt for new models of more familiar phones with more standard features e.g. iPhone or Samsung Galaxy.

Windows 10: Fuelling PC Sales Recovery?

Reports by IDC and Gartner that shows PC sales registering their first quarterly rise in six years have led to some speculation that Windows 10 may be fuelling a Business PC sales recovery.

Over 62 Million Q2 Shipments

According to Q2 figures compared to 2017, market analyst firms IDC and Gartner have both noted 62 million+ PC shipments.

Gartner’s figure of 62.1 million PC shipments represents a 1.4 % rise on last year, while IDC’s figure of 62.3 million PCs shipped represents a 2.7% rise on last year.

Either way, it looks like a small recovery in one segment of a market that many believed had been sent into decline by mobile device use.

Businesses Buying Windows 10 PCs

Most analysts agree that although the consumer side of the PC market has been negatively affected by people turning to their smartphones for even more daily tasks, this latest rise in PC sales is being fuelled by businesses.

Tech and business commentators appear to agree that the rise in PC sales is mainly due to businesses accepting that they need to make the switch to Windows 10, and buying the next office PC with Windows 10 already on it.

Big Brands

Not surprisingly, the manufacturers that are selling the most units are the big names i.e. Lenovo and HP, both with around 22% of the market, followed by Dell, Apple, then Acer in fifth place.

Supply Chain Problems Solved

Market analysts also believe that the solving of some of the supply chain problems that held back PC sales this time last year is contributing to the recent rise in sales.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

While individuals in businesses have their own smartphones, and while some smartphones may be used for business and personal use e.g. in SME’s, many UK businesses still have PCs / desktops in the office that are used purely for business. Since support has stopped for many older versions of Windows, many people have experience of using Windows10, and Microsoft is essentially forcing PC users down the Windows 10 and SaaS route, it is not surprising that many businesses have simply ordered fully equipped Windows 10 PCs as part of the office upgrade.

Although these sales figures do show a small recovery of sorts, the prevailing direction of travel for computing tasks for the future is still in the mobile direction.

Google Chrome’s New ‘Site Location’ Security Feature Activated

The new ‘Site Isolation’ security feature for Google’s Chrome browser has been switched on, and could protect users from log-in credentials theft.

Decade-Long History

The newly switched-on feature actually has a decade-long history in the making. It has been reported that Google invested those engineer-years, mostly in the last 6 years, and a lot of money in producing a DiD (defence-in-depth) feature, and what is a now essential defence against a prolific class of attack.

What Does Site Isolation Do?

It has recently been discovered that all modern chips / processors have security vulnerabilities in them that can contribute to the success of ‘data leakage’ attacks. These vulnerabilities, dubbed Spectre and Meltdown (Meltdown only on Intel chips), can be used by hackers to steal passwords or other confidential data from computers and mobile devices through popular web browsers like Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari for Macs or iOS.

With Site Isolation enabled, each renderer process contains documents from a maximum of one site which means that all navigations to cross-site documents cause a switch in processes, and all cross-site iframes are put into a different process than their parent frame. This ‘isolation’ of the processes provides effective detection against data leakage attacks like Spectre, which means that the vast majority of Chrome users are now theoretically safer from this one kind of attack. It has also been reported that work is underway to protect against attacks from compromised renderers.

It Does Sap Some Memory

One of the trade-offs that Google has had to make to in order to make this feature effective is greater resource consumption. With Site Isolation on, there is a 10-13% total memory overhead in real workloads due to the larger number of processes. Google is reported to be working on trying to reduce the memory burden.

Even 10-13% is good compared to the 20% memory overhead that was being used when Chrome 63 debuted with Site Isolation.

Not Android Yet – But Soon

Site Isolation is scheduled to be included in Chrome 68 for Android but reports indicate that Google is still working on resource consumption issues before that can be rolled out.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The switching on of this feature is, of course, good news for businesses, as it is an additional, free way to strengthen cyber resilience against a popular kind of attack that could have serious consequences. This is of particular importance when businesses are trying to do everything possible to achieve and maintain compliance with GDPR.

Up until now, all businesses have heard is that all modern processors have security flaws in them, and that software patching is the only real answer. Back in May, another 8 flaws, in addition to Spectre and Meltdown, were discovered in processors, dubbed Spectre Next Generation (Spectre NB). At least the switching-on of this Chrome feature is one tangible step in the journey to patch these vulnerabilities before cyber-criminals manage to exploit them all. Hopefully, more, similar features will be introduced across other browsers in the near future.

Tech Tip – Arrange Multiple File Explorer Windows Easily

If you have multiple File Explorer windows on your screen, the clutter and confusion can get in the way of the task at hand. Here’s the fast and easy way to re-arrange them:

– Right-click the taskbar.
– Choose Show windows stacked or Show windows side by side.
– That’s it!

Your Latest IT News Update

Microsoft Launches Free Version of Collaborative Chat App ‘Teams’

Microsoft has announced the launch of a free version of its collaborative chat app ‘Teams’ which doesn’t require an Office 365 subscription.

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NHS … Still Reliant On Fax Machines

A Poll by the Royal College of Surgeons using freedom of information requests has revealed that 8,946 fax machines are still in use in NHS Trusts in England.

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Misleading Broadband Adverts

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been criticised for a lack of regulation of the use of the term “fibre” in broadband adverts, which has meant that some consumers may have been misled.

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Cambridge Analytica Re-Born

A new offshoot of Cambridge Analytica, the disgraced data analysis company at the heart of the Facebook personal data sharing scandal, has been set up by former members of staff under the name ‘Auspex’.

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12 Russian Intelligence Officers Charged With Election Hacking

Even though, in an interview this week, President Trump appeared to absolve Russia of election interference (since retracted), the US Department of Justice has now charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections.

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Tech Tip – Open Files With The Right App

Sometimes in Windows, when you double click on a file to open it (e.g. a file that’s been sent to you) the wrong app can open. Here’s how to make sure you select the right app for your file:

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Tech Tip – Open Files With The Right App

Sometimes in Windows, when you double click on a file to open it e.g. a file that’s been sent to you, the wrong app can open. Here’s how to make sure you select the right app for your file:

– Right-click your file.
– Choose Open with, then Choose another app.
– Make sure the ‘Always use this app’ box is checked before you pick.
– Scroll down to ‘More apps’ if you can’t see the right one at the top of the list.

12 Russian Intelligence Officers Charged With Election Hacking

Even though, in an interview this week, President Trump appeared to absolve Russia of election interference (since retracted), the US Department of Justice has now charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 US elections.

The Allegations

It is alleged by the US Justice Department that, back in March 2016, on the run-up to the presidential election campaign which saw Republican Donald Trump elected as president, the Russian intelligence officers were responsible for cyber-attacks on the email accounts of staff for Hillary Clinton’s Democrat presidential campaign.

Also, the Justice Department alleges that the accused Russians corresponded with several Americans (but not in a conspiratorial way), used fictitious online personas, released thousands of stolen emails (beginning in June 2016), and even plotted to hack into the computers of state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and voter software.

No Evidence Says Kremlin

The Kremlin is reported to have said that it believes there is no evidence for the US allegations, describing the story as an “old duck” and a conspiracy theory.

32, So Far

The latest allegations are all part of the investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Meuller, into US intelligence findings that the Russians allegedly conspired in favour of Trump, and that some of his campaign aides may have colluded.
So far, 32 people (mostly Russians) have been indicted. 3 companies and 4 former Trump advisers have also been implicated.

Trump Says…

President Trump has dismissed allegations that the Russians help put him in the White House as a “rigged witch hunt” and “pure stupidity”.

In a press conference after his meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, President Trump, however, caused shock and disbelief when asked whether he thought Russia had been involved in US election interference, he said “I don’t see any reason why it would be”.

He has since appeared to backtrack by saying that he meant to say “wouldn’t” rather than “would”, and that he accepts his own intelligence agency’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and that other players may have been involved too.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Part of the fallout of constant struggle between states and super-powers are the cyber attacks that end up affecting many businesses in the UK. Also, if there has been interference in an election favouring one party, this, in turn, affects the political and economic decisions made in that country, and its foreign policy. These have a knock-on effect on markets, businesses and trade around the world, particularly for those businesses that export to, import from, or have other business interests in the US. Even though, in the US, one of the main results of the alleged electoral interference scandal appears to have been damaged reputations and disrupted politics, the wider effects have been felt in businesses around the world.

These matters and the links to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have also raised awareness among the public about their data security and privacy, whether they can actually trust corporations with it, and how they could be targeted with political messages which could influence their own beliefs.