Archive for March 2019

Your Latest IT News Update

$35 Billion Takeover of Worldpay Boosts Value of Euro Payments Tech Companies

The recent £35 billion takeover of Worldpay by US company FIS has boosted the share value of other European payments technology companies including Worldline, Ingenico and Wirecard.

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Microsoft Tests ‘Sandbox’ Safe Browsing Extension For Chrome & Firefox

Microsoft is testing an in-browser ‘sandbox’ security extension for Chrome and Firefox that lets users access untrusted pages, safely.

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Robot Programmed to Carry Out Unbiased Job Interviews

TNG and Furhat Robotics in Sweden have developed a social, unbiased recruitment robot called “Tengai” that can be used to conduct job interviews with human candidates.

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New Smart App Converts Your Sketches Into To Works Of Art In Seconds

A new smart drawing app that uses deep learning can convert simple sketches and doodles into photo-realistic landscape artworks in the style of famous artists.

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The Web @ 30

It was back in March 1989, 30 years ago, that the World Wide Web as we know it was created by a computer scientist at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

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Tech Tip – Check Your Screen Time on Apple Devices

If you’d like to be able to get a report about how you or your family members use your Apple devices, apps, and websites, how much time is spent on them, and (for example) set limits on your child’s device, there’s an app in the new iOS 12 to help you do it.  Here’s how:

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$35 Billion Takeover of Worldpay Boosts Value of Euro Payments Tech Companies

The recent £35 billion takeover of Worldpay by US company FIS has boosted the share value of other European payments technology companies including Worldline, Ingenico and Wirecard.

Worldpay

Worldpay, formerly known as Streamline, was set up as a subsidiary of NatWest bank back in 1989.  It was then bought by RBS in 2002 and re-christened ‘RBS Worldpay’.  Unfortunately for RBS, EU state aid rules meant that Worldpay had to be sold for £2 billion back in 2010 to Advent International and Bain Capital, although RBS Group still retained a 20% stake in the newly independent business.

Worldpay was able to become a big player in payment processing after several moves including buying UK credit and debit processing company Cardsave, launching a mobile card processing terminal which connects to smartphones (Worldpay Zinc), and acquiring SecureNet Payment Systems from Sterling Partners.

Worldpay was listed on the London Stock Exchange until 16 January 2018 after which it was acquired by Vantiv to form Worldpay, Inc.

Worldpay processes 40+ billion payments per year across 146 countries, in 126 currencies.

Largest Ever Deal

The £35 billion takeover of Worldpay by US-based FIS is the largest ever deal in the electronic payments industry and has created a consolidated company with combined revenues of over $12 billion.

Shares Boost

Following the announcement of the takeover, not only were shares in Worldpay up by 13% at one point, but the deal prompted a boost in the value of other payment technology companies. For example, Worldline share value was up 3.1%, and software company Atos, which owns half of Worldline was up 1.2%. The share values of Ingenico (based in France) and Wirecard (based in Germany) also received boosts with the takeover news.

FIS Says

FIS chairman and chief executive Gary Norcross said that the two companies would “combine forces to offer a customer-driven combination of scale, global presence and the industry’s broadest range of global financial solutions”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Market analysts have noted that this acquisition is the latest move in consolidation in the financial software and payments technology sectors where key existing companies are trying to increase their scale in order to compete with new entrants to a market where scale appears to be a necessary requirement to win at payments processing. The deal should also provide new business opportunities for both FIS and Worldpay.

Some commentators have noted the obvious compatibility of the two companies, and the hope is that deal may mean that businesses will have access to a wider portfolio of services that Worldpay can now provide.

Microsoft Tests ‘Sandbox’ Safe Browsing Extension For Chrome & Firefox

Microsoft is testing an in-browser ‘sandbox’ security extension for Chrome and Firefox that lets users access untrusted pages, safely.

Windows Defender Application Guard

The new browser extension, Windows Defender Application Guard, is already part of Microsoft’s Edge browser and will be rolled out as part of the next Windows 10 update ‘April 2019’ or 19H1 in the Spring.  It is currently being tested among Windows Insiders and will be available to Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise users when it goes live.

How Do You Use It?

When installed, users see a Windows Defender Application Guard landing page when they open their Chrome or Firefox browser. When the Firefox or Chrome user tries to access an untrusted web page / non-whitelisted URL, the new extension will work by loading a special isolated Edge tab (Windows Defender Application Guard page), not a tab in Firefox or Chrome. The sandbox page can also be initiated by the user at any time by toggling a switch in the menu settings.

Enterprise-Wide

Once the extension has been established by an enterprise network administrator it can be applied on devices across an entire company and configured by network isolation or application.  The enterprise administrator defines which web sites, cloud resources, and internal networks can be trusted, and everything that is not on this list is, therefore, considered untrusted.  In this way, it can isolate enterprise-defined untrusted sites eliminating any risk of opening potentially malicious apps on a work machine and protecting the company while employees browse the Internet.  With Windows Defender Application Guard there is less need to operate a fully-fledged virtual machine.

Why?

The new extension is part of a broader move by Microsoft to provide more convenient and secure features for its Enterprise and Pro users.

Types of Devices

The Windows Defender Application Guard was designed by Microsoft to work on enterprise desktops domain-joined and managed by the organisation, enterprise mobile laptops and BYOD mobile laptops, as well as personal devices that are not domain-joined or managed by an organisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This new extension of an existing Microsoft Edge security feature to Chrome and Firefox browser users gives enterprise admins greater and wider control to protect the organisation from threats to its network and systems that may be invited by employees who happen to browse untrusted websites. The extension is also a value-adding addition to a growing suite of features that are designed to help keep and attract valued enterprise customers.

Robot Programmed to Carry Out Unbiased Job Interview

TNG and Furhat Robotics in Sweden have developed a social, unbiased recruitment robot called “Tengai” that can be used to conduct job interviews with human candidates.

Existing Robot, Modified

The robot, ‘Furhat’, was developed several years ago by Stockholm based start-up Furhat Robotics. The Furhat robot, which looks like an internally projected human face on a white head sitting on top of a speaker (with camera and microphone built-in) is made with pre-built expressions and gestures as part of a pre-loaded OS which can be further customized to fit any character.

In conjunction with Swedish recruitment company TNG, the Furhat robot was modified by developing and adding a software HR-tech application to Furhat’s OS, and the recruitment version of Furhat has been named “Tengai”.

Talks, Listens and Transcribes

In a typical interview, the Tengai recruitment robot firstly shares information in a dialogue form about the interview and how it will be conducted.  It can then ask questions and understand what a candidate is saying, regardless of the number of words and sentences used.  During the interview Tengai record candidates’ speech, which it converts into text in real time.

The HR-tech application software that Tengai uses means that it can conduct situation and skill-based interviews in a way that is as close as possible to a human interviewer. This includes using “hum”, nodding its head, and asking follow-up questions.

Although the robot is currently only able to use the Swedish language, an English-speaking version is likely to be available by the end of 2019 / beginning of 2020.

Most Useful at The Beginning of the Process

The recruitment robot is designed to be used at the beginning of the candidate selection process where it can help by being very objective and skill-focused in order to find the competencies in candidates that are needed for the job.

Unbiased

According to TNG, one of the big advantages of the Tengai recruitment robot is that it is unbiased in its assessment of candidates.  For example, Tengai only records candidates’ speech and converts this into text in real time. The robot does not consider any other variables such as a person’s accent or the pitch of their voice, their looks or gender, and Tengai is not given any information about any candidate other than their name and email address.

Also, Tengai asks questions in the same way, in the same tone and typically in the same order for each candidate, thereby making it fairer and more objective.

Creepy or Not?

TNG conducted 80 interviews to find out about peoples’ perceptions of the robot.  TNG reports that most were surprised by how ’natural’ it felt talking to the robot, which is adept at social codes.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is vital that businesses can find and recruit the best possible candidate for a role. The big advantage of this kind of robot is that it can be very effective in the first part of the candidate selection process because it is very objective and skill-focused. An in-depth assessment by an experienced recruiter can then be used later on with the candidates that the robot has shortlisted in order to get the necessary detail and personalisation, giving a complete picture of a candidate’s suitability for a position.

Using an unbiased, objective and structured robot like Tengai can mean that recruiters/employers can shift the subjectivity further along the process where it is less damaging. Also, a robot interviewer can mean that more candidates can be invited to participate in the early stages of recruitment drive, allowing for greater diversity by ensuring a better and broader selection of talents. This can give a business a better chance of finding the right person to fit the role available.

New Smart App Converts Your Sketches Into To Works Of Art In Seconds

A new smart drawing app that uses deep learning can convert simple sketches and doodles into photo-realistic landscape artworks in the style of famous artists.

GauGAN

The “GauGAN” app from Nvidia, which is a play on the name of French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, is described as a “smart paintbrush” that works through the interplay of two generative adversarial networks, a generator and a discriminator, powered by deep learning.

How Does It Work?

When running the app, users can draw a simple sketch/doodle outline of a landscape in an on-screen grid/segmentation map. Users can label each segment (e.g. with sea, sky, trees etc). Using its deep learning training on a million images, GauGAN can then fill in labelled areas with photo-realistic images to create detailed artworks.

In creating the pictures, the generator network of GauGAN creates images that it presents to the discriminator. The discriminator, which is that part that has been trained on the one million real images coaches the generator with pixel-by-pixel feedback on how to improve the realism of its synthetic images, thereby enabling GauGAN to arrive at a stunning final image.

Not Just Landscapes

GauGAN can also add features such as buildings roads and people, as well as style filters.  Some filters enable users to produce an original artwork in the style of a famous artist or change the lighting of an artwork e.g. from day to night.

Like A Colouring Book Picture…

Nvidia’s blog describes it as being “like a colouring book picture that describes where a tree is, where the sun is, where the sky is,” and then “the neural network is able to fill in all of the detail and texture, and the reflections, shadows and colours, based on what it has learned about real images”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The GauGAN app is a tool that can offer time and cost-saving benefits, and new creative benefits to those who need to create virtual worlds as part of their work e.g. games developers, architects, urban planners and landscape designers.  The app offers them the chance to generate better prototype ideas and make rapid changes to synthetic scenes. This could prove to be an effective and time-saving tool when it comes to taking simple brainstormed ideas to the more detailed stage quickly.

The GauGAN app may also prove to be an interesting new, experimental tool for artists and graphic designers.

The Web @ 30

It was back in March 1989, 30 years ago, that the World Wide Web as we know it was created by a computer scientist at the CERN particle physics lab near Geneva, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

From Proposal To Reality

Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal in March 1989, entitled “Information Management: A Proposal” which was based upon his vision of having a unifying structure for multiple computers, which by 1991 had developed into the World Wide Web.

The proposal, which was mainly focused on how information could be easily stored, shared, and accessed by CERN staff (and scientists, universities and institutions) expressed concern about “the problems of loss of information about complex evolving systems” and how “a solution based on a distributed hypertext system” could be used to help.  It was envisioned that a web of notes with links (like references) between them could be more useful than the existing fixed hierarchical system.

The Internet, rather than the Web, had existed for quite some time but had been developed for military purposes so that communications in a country could be retained even when some hubs may have been damaged or destroyed.  This early Internet was also used by researchers and computer scientists, but did not have the user-friendly, hyperlinked structure that Sir Tim Berners-Lee created, which he based upon his experience of writing a linked, hotspot-based program for keeping track of software (back in 1980) called ‘Enquire’.

First Website

The first website was hosted on Sir Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer.  This was the computer built by the company set up by Steve Jobs after being ousted from the early Apple company.  The website was dedicated to the World Wide Web project itself.

Public Domain

The first World Wide Web software was introduced to the public domain on April 30th 1993.  With the next release available with an open licence, CERN was able to help provide a huge boost to the growth and popularity of the Web.

Celebrations at CERN

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, CERN hosted an event on 12th March 2019 in partnership with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and with the World Wide Web Foundation at which Sir Berners-Lee was the key speaker.

Web Memories

With the web being a relatively new, and constantly evolving part of modern life, many people reading this may have similar memories of using the Web from the 90s onwards.  These memories of the early Web include:

  • Being able to access library archives and records digitally for the first time, rather than actually having to go to a physical library and being able to copy and print off results rather than using a library photocopier (as was the pre-Web way).
  • The popular introduction of ‘chatrooms’ in the early 1990s – the forerunners of social networks.
  • In the late 90s bookshops stocked pocket-sized web directories, which were like mini phone books for the best websites.
  • Very slow dial-up modems using the telephone line, and CD-ROM disks to provide (relatively expensive) connections to the Internet.  Popular paid-for early service providers were AOL and Compuserve, but many people still used paid-for slots in Internet cafes. British ISP Freeserve opened up Internet access to the wider market in 1998 by providing free connections in the UK.
  • Lycos, Ask Jeeves and AltaVista (pre-Google days) were popular search engines in the late 90s, and the popular browsers in the UK were Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Netscape Navigator which could also be used as an early website builder.
  • Early animated Gifs were succeeded by the introduction of Flash.  This enabled animation to be incorporated into websites, flash games were created, as were whole cartoon-like websites in Flash. In the beginning, the only problem was that search engines couldn’t read Flash files, and therefore, Flash websites tended to suffer in the search engine results.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The evolution of the Web, originally envisioned and brought into being by Sir Berners-Lee, has revolutionized business, not least with email, and the ability to trade and shop online, globally.  In opening up the business world it has created many often unforeseen opportunities but has also opened businesses up to threats e.g. global competition and security issues.

In recent interviews, as well as expressing pride in his creation, and how it was mainly a force for good in the first 15 years, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has also expressed concern about how the Web has recently been used in a negative way to influence election results (the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook scandal), and that it has also shown how it can be used effectively to spread misinformation.  Sir Tim has also acknowledged, however, that the access that young people have had to information (in countries where Web use is not restricted) has created a generation who are more like online activists who are able to challenge and question the decisions of those in power.

Tech Tip – Check Your Screen Time on Apple Devices

If you’d like to be able to get a report about how you or your family members use your Apple devices, apps, and websites, how much time is spent on them, and (for example) set limits on your child’s device, there’s an app in the new iOS 12 to help you do it.  Here’s how :

– Turn on the ‘Screen Time’ app: on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, go to Settings > Screen Time.

– Select ‘Turn On Screen Time’.

– Select ‘Continue’.

– Select This is My (device) or This is My Child’s (device).

You can now get reports. To set limits, you can configure your child’s device from your own device using ‘Family Sharing’:

– Go to Settings > Screen Time (if you’re already in a Family Group).

– Tap your child’s name.

– If you need to create a new Apple ID for your child, go to Settings > (your name) > Family Sharing > Screen Time.

– If you’re new to Family Sharing, ‘Set up Screen Time for Family’.

– Follow the instructions to add a child and set up your family.

– Add any other family members from the Family Sharing settings at any time.

Your Latest IT News Update

Cash Under Threat

A new report has concluded that with the recent steep fall in the use of cash, particularly by young people, the government and regulators need to step in to ensure that cash remains a viable method of payment in the future.

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Fingerprint Bank Card

RBS is reportedly about to hold trials of a new, more secure biometric bank card where customers can use their fingerprint instead of a PIN to verify purchases.

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Businesses Delayed Security Breach Disclosure

An FoI request to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has revealed cause for concern over whether businesses on the run up to the implementation of GDPR were preventing, detecting and responding to security threats and breaches in a good and compliant way.

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Serious Windows 7 Bug Reported

Google has warned those who are still using Windows 7 that they are at risk of hackers being able to take over their computer by exploiting the combination of a flaw in the Window 7 OS and Google’s Chrome Browser.

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Chatbot Supports Students

Lancaster University has announced that it has launched a chatbot “companion” for students which allows them to ask almost any question about their university experience, from student life, and welfare, to academic studies and more.

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Tech Tip – Save Your Passwords Securely on Mobile Devices

If you’d like to be able to save all your login credentials in a secure and safe manner on your mobile device, an app like the ‘LastPass’ password manager may prove very helpful.  It’s one of many such apps, but it’s been rated highly.

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Cash Under Threat

A new report has concluded that with the recent steep fall in the use of cash, particularly by young people, the government and regulators need to step in to ensure that cash remains a viable method of payment in the future.

The ‘Independent’ Research

The independent research called ‘Access to Cash Review’ was authored Natalie Ceeney (a former financial ombudsman) and financed by cash machine network operator Link and used evidence from nearly 100 businesses and charities in the UK to reach its conclusions.

What’s The Problem?

The use of cash has been in decline while the use of cards (particularly contactless) has experienced a huge boost, particularly among the young. For example, for the first time, debit card use, driven by contactless payments, overtook the number of payment transactions made in cash in the UK back in 2017.

Also, the Access To Cash research has concluded that at its current rate of decline, cash use would end by as soon as 2026, although notes and coins may still be used in 15 years’ time, but only for an estimated 10% and 15% of transactions.

The declining use of cash has also forced the removal of many ATMs, and a move to online and mobile banking has contributed to the closure of many bank branches.

All these factors have put pressure on the whole cash system and have threatened to drive cash out of popular use within 10 years.

Benefits Of Cashless

In UK cities such as London and Manchester, there are already cashless cafés and pubs e.g. the Crown and Anchor pub in South London which, in October, switched to fully cashless with customers only able to use debit cards, credit cards and contactless payments including Android Pay and Apple Pay.

There are several key benefits for business that choose to go cashless including:

  • Saving time that could be used elsewhere in the business.  For example, going cashless means no more time spent cashing up, getting change, or going to and from the bank.
  • Cost savings e.g. no need for cash registers.
  • Faster transactions, which could lead to smaller queues and better customer experiences, which could improve customer loyalty and attract new customers.
  • Lower insurance premiums because there is no cash on the premises, thereby deterring burglars and thieves.

Drawbacks

There are some drawbacks to going cashless, which include:

  • Excluding poorer and older members of society, and those with mental health challenges, many of whom rely on cash and may not have a bank account.
  • Businesses in rural areas may be less able to go cashless due to those areas being less well served by broadband and mobile connections.

Ideas

Ideas to help save the use of cash as a viable system include:

  • Putting infrastructure in place before cash usage declines beyond anyone’s control.
  • Appointing an independent body to oversee a guarantee that people won’t need to travel too far to get access to cash.
  • Calling for a regulator (as Which? has done) who has a statutory duty to protect access to cash and build a sustainable cash infrastructure for the UK.
  • Local shops offering cash-back to customers, rather than expecting customers to rely on a dwindling number of ATMs.
  • Small businesses being allowed to deposit cash in secure lockers or “smart” ATMs, rather than having to make regular trips to a bank branch.
  • Big changes being made to the infrastructure behind cash, overseen by the Bank of England, in order to lower the cost and maintain free access for consumers.
  • Introducing a law that requires businesses to accept cash.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This latest research supports the findings of other research which shows cash use to be in decline and being overtaken by debit card and contactless in most lower value daily transactions.  Cashless and particularly contactless can be very convenient, fast, and beneficial for customers, businesses and banks alike when it comes to purchases of £30 and under and hence it can favour supermarkets, shops, bars and other retail and convenience outlets.

This new research appears to be making the point that the cash system could become a non-viable system much more quickly than many of us may have thought, and that work needs to be done now in order to prop it up and prolong its life.  Poorer and more disadvantaged and challenged members of society, of which there are many, need to use cash and may simply not have a bank account and a card with contactless/cashless payments enabled, and therefore, may find themselves being discriminated against, and facing real practical difficulties if the cash system were to collapse. Some businesses and events that deal in cash may also find it challenging and costly to convert to a cashless situation.

Cashless transactions look likely to increase in the UK, and many retail businesses may soon find themselves seriously considering whether a switch to cashless could be workable and beneficial. The likely introduction of biometric ‘fingerprint’ bank cards which allow individual transactions of more than £30 may also make a wider range of businesses see cashless as a real possibility.

Fingerprint Bank Card

RBS is reportedly about to hold trials of a new, more secure biometric bank card where customers can use their fingerprint instead of a PIN to verify purchases.

April

The trial, which will involve some 200 RBS and NatWest UK-based customers, is due to begin in April this year and will and last for three months. Although this is the first time this kind of advanced card technology has been trialled in the UK, a similar trial has already taken place in Cyprus.

Partners

RBS is working on the biometric fingerprint-verified card project in partnership with digital security company Gemalto, Visa, and Mastercard.

Advantages

The advantages of a biometric card of this kind include improved security, speed and convenience for customers with no need to worry (as with contactless) about the £30 limit because the biometric card will be able to verify payments of larger amounts.

Already Used For RBS App

RBS already offer their customers a mobile banking app that uses fingerprint log-in on iPhone, iPad or Android.

Fingerprint Sensor On The Card

Gemalto, one of the partners in the new RBS project explains that the fingerprint card works by using a fingerprint sensor on the card body.  When paying, a customer places the card next to the POS terminal (as with contactless) and places their finger on this part of the card.  This securely authenticates their fingerprint and enables the transaction to go through without the need for a PIN.  Gemalto says that the user’s biometric data never leaves the card, so is kept secure.

Enrolment

In order to activate and start using such a card, customers would have to record their fingerprint with an enrolment procedure.  This is likely to be possible from home a self-enrolment sleeve shipped with the card with activation which is then completed at the first transaction at the POS, or by going to a go bank branch and using a secure enrolment tablet or kiosk.

Own Research

Gemalto’s own research has found that 54% of UK cardholders who have evaluated the information about the card would get one today if it were available from their bank, and 82% said it would become their preferred payment card.

Security Concerns

Although biometrics are preferred over password verification systems in terms of security, there is still concern about where a person’s biometric data is stored, and how securely that data is stored.  Also, biometric voice-activated systems have already shown themselves to be vulnerable.  For example, back in May 2017, a BBC Click reporter was able to fool HSBC’s biometric voice recognition system by passing his brother’s voice off as his own.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Biometric authentication and verification systems appear to be much more secure than password and PIN systems, which is why banks and credit companies are already adopting and using them.  The popularity of contactless cards with businesses and users is clear, and introducing a more secure authentication method e.g. fingerprint, is a way of getting customers to feel more comfortable with spending over £30 amounts with a quick, contactless system.  This could bring benefits to a wider range of businesses, and contactless has mainly favoured those retail businesses with typically lower value transactions.

Many people are already getting used to mobile apps that use biometric authentication, so a card that uses a similar idea is not a big step, plus the unique nature of fingerprints would make card fraud less likely, which should please the banks and users.

Other types of biometric systems e.g. voice activated systems have run into problems and some opposition (e.g. privacy groups) challenging the lawfulness of HMRC’s Voice ID system which has collected and stored more than 7 million “audio signatures”.

This new type of fingerprint card is still awaiting its trial in the UK, but the signs are that it looks like it could be an acceptable next step for bank customers who want to use a more secure contactless card system that works for everything.