Author Archive for Andy Wilkinson

Your Latest IT News Update

Russia Suspected of Hacking Campaign

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security have warned that Russia may be behind a broad hacking offensive targeting millions of machines that direct data around the net.

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UK Launched Major Cyber Attack Against ISIS

GCHQ’s new director has revealed that last year, the UK has conducted a large-scale cyber-attack against ISIS that was designed to suppress online terrorist propaganda and hinder ISIS’s ability to coordinate attacks.

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Phishing Attack Simulator: Microsoft Goodies

Microsoft has announced a set of business security tools, including a phishing attack simulator, that make it easier and more affordable for businesses to identify and fix vulnerabilities before they become an issue.

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Facebook … Face Recognition Woes

Facebook is in the news yet again, this time for having to face a class action lawsuit for allegedly gathering biometric information without users’ explicit consent, via facial recognition technology.

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Google, The Law and Your ‘Right To Be Forgotten’

A businessman has won the “right to be forgotten” by Google after taking his case to the High Court, because he wanted a past crime he had committed to be removed from Google’s search engine results.

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Tech Tip – Emails: ‘Undo Send’ … !

If you use a Gmail account, and if you’ve ever sent an email and then experienced the terror of immediately wishing that you hadn’t, you could find the ‘Undo Send’ feature very useful.

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Russia Suspected of Hacking Campaign

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security have warned that Russia may be behind a broad hacking offensive targeting millions of machines that direct data around the net.

Networking Equipment Targeted

US and UK security agencies have issued a joint internet security alert warning and have been reported as suggesting that a surge in global hacks targeting the networking equipment used to move traffic across the net is the result of a Russian state-sponsored campaign.

Why?

Some commentators have suggested that the deterioration between the relationship between Russia and the West resulting from issues like accusations of election meddling, the poisonings in Salisbury, and arguments over the Syrian conflict may have contributed to an online revenge offensive.

As well as the disruption caused, the aim appears to be espionage / the theft of information (which actually dates back at least to the late 1990s), and the threat (so far) of destructive acts of sabotage e.g. disabling parts of the electricity grid. These kinds of suspicions have arisen because many recent hacks appear to be pre-positioning in networks that are part of the critical national infrastructure.

Cyber War Ahead?

While we are being told that we have returned to another ‘Cold War’ situation, some commentators have suggested that we may be on the brink of a cyber-war with Russia, even though there has not been any real significant cyber-attack or change of behaviour from Russia.

Although Russia has been accused of launching destructive attacks against Ukraine, which had a negative effect on businesses there, and despite the apparent reported increase in cyber-attacks from Russia, it is still difficult for many to say whether Russia has the capability to carry out very destructive cyber attacks. Cyber attacks are often harder to trace and easier to deny than military attacks.

UK’s Own Offensive

It is worth remembering too, that as well as having defences in place, the UK has its own offensive cyber-capability, honed for over a decade, starting in the conflict in Afghanistan. Recently, for example, the UK and the US are reported to have targeted the Islamic State group with cyber attacks, with some degree of success. It would be naive to assume, therefore, that the UK is not planning / undertaking its own activities in Russia e.g. pre-positioning in Russian networks to be able to respond to any Russian cyber aggression.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

At the moment, it is simply a case that a warning has been issued. If a cyber-conflict does start in a noticeable way, as in real war, it is likely to be individuals, businesses, and other organisations and other services that suffer e.g. service providers, firms running critical infrastructure, government departments and large companies first, followed by other UK businesses. The Internet plays an essential role in modern business and disruption of vital network infrastructure could damage UK businesses and their competitiveness in the home and global market.

UK businesses also face the threat of foreign state-sponsored attacks designed to spy on / steal data, and undermine firewalls and intrusion detection systems used to spot malicious traffic before it reaches users. It has never been more important, therefore, for businesses to configure security systems correctly, apply patches and address any hardware vulnerabilities, and to make sure that their cyber resilience is at its best across all possible channels.

UK Launched Major Cyber Attack Against ISIS

GCHQ’s new director has revealed that last year, the UK has conducted a large-scale cyber-attack against ISIS that was designed to suppress online terrorist propaganda and hinder ISIS’s ability to coordinate attacks.

Growing For A Decade

Confirmation that the attack took place came as part of the first public speech by GCHQ’s new director and former MI5 agent, Jeremy Fleming. During his speech at the National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) flagship event in Manchester, Mr Fleming said that the cyber attack is just the latest part in what have been GCHQ’s efforts to grow its online counterterrorism capabilities over more than a decade.

The outcomes of cyber attacks as weapons against any enemy can range from denying online services, disrupting a specific online activity, and deterring individuals or groups, to effectively destroying equipment and networks.

Degraded Infrastructure

The UK’s cyber-attack against ISIS is reported to have degraded the terror group’s online infrastructure, made a significant contribution to coalition efforts to suppress any Daesh propaganda, hindered the terror group’s ability to coordinate attacks, and provided more protection for coalition forces on the battlefield.

Over-Achievers

It seems that this latest big cyber-attack success is only the tip of the iceberg, as a report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has said that GCHQ spies had “over-achieved” in 2017, and that GCHQ had delivered on the first of three stages in its mission to bolster its cyber capabilities thanks to staging almost twice as many potential hacks than its targets.

Russia In The Spotlight

The recent deterioration of the relationship between the West and Russia means that its cyber-behaviour, as well as that of ISIS, is now reported to be more of a focus for GCHQ. In the director’s speech in Manchester, Mr Fleming said that the Russian state should be held accountable for what it does, and that the UK will continue to respond to malicious cyber-activity in conjunction with international partners such as the United States.

Helpful Tool

Another helpful tool that could be used to combat terrorist propaganda online could include the auto-blocker for extremist content that was mentioned by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. The tool, which Home Secretary Rudd would like to see adopted by ISPs can be configured to detect 94% of extremist video uploads.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It stands to reason that the UK is launching its own cyber-attacks against what it sees as legitimate targets elsewhere in the world. Cyber-attack and security capabilities are now being used worldwide to support military operations, damage enemy communications and infrastructure and thereby degrade the threat they pose, as well as protecting home infrastructure and vital networks.

Attacks by other states, criminal and terror groups e.g. hacks, DDoS attacks and viruses, can end up impacting many UK businesses, so its good to hear that GCQH, MI5 and other actors are ‘over-achieving’ in their efforts to protect the UK, and reduce the threats that we face in a time of shifting geopolitical and technological landscapes. We can assume, therefore, that the successful actions of our security agencies must be indirectly protecting many of the interests of UK businesses.

Phishing Attack Simulator : Microsoft Goodies

Microsoft has announced a set of business security tools, including a phishing attack simulator, that make it easier and more affordable for businesses to identify and fix vulnerabilities before they become an issue.

Attack Simulator

One of the key tools announced to coincide with the annual RSA conference in San Francisco, is the Attack Simulator. This tool is included in Office 365 Threat Intelligence, and is currently still in preview.

Spear Phishing Simulator

The tool, which simulates display name spear-phishing attacks, password-spray attacks, and brute-force password attacks, enables businesses to determine how end users behave in the event of an attack, and update policies to ensure that appropriate security tools are in place to protect the organization from threats.

A spear-phishing attack, for example, is used to gain access to users’ credentials or financial information, and often involves sending emails, purporting to be from a person of influence in an organisation to other users. The Microsoft attack simulator tool applies machine learning models and impersonation detection algorithms to incoming email messages. The AI system is trained to detect phishing messages. It also uses algorithms to protect against various user and domain impersonation attacks.

Intelligent Security Graph

Microsoft credits its ‘Intelligent Security Graph’ as being the ‘central nervous system’ that is at the heart of its tools for tracking and mitigation of attacks across platforms and services. This combines AI with data gained from analyzing web pages, emails and malware threats on Windows 10 and the cloud. This enables Microsoft to warn users of existing and new threats.

Only Access SaaS Service If Your Device Is Healthy

Another important development of Office 365’s Conditional Access service is an update (currently in preview) which combines Conditional Access Information with data from the Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) security scanner to ensure that a user can only access a given SaaS service if their device is healthy.

Security Score

A potentially important new tool that Microsoft has developed for IT admins is an expanded version of the Office 365 Secure Score tool, which gives a single measure for evaluating the risk profile across Office 365 service and their users’ devices.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For many businesses e.g. SMEs, up-to-date cyber attack simulators would be beyond their resources. These new tools from Microsoft have been ‘trained’ thanks to AI and real-world analysis via Windows 10, thereby making them an affordable, accessible, and hopefully effective and welcome addition to the security options that businesses have at their disposal.

There is no doubt that human / employee error is at the heart of many successful cyber-attacks. With a phishing attack simulator that allows the creation of a fake phishing email, companies can see, for example, which employees fall for them, and this could serve as a way of identifying who needs extra security extra security training.

The combination of these new tools from Microsoft could provide an effective way that companies of all sizes could take proactive measures to plug gaps in their cyber-security shield, and guard against the kind of breaches that could be expensive and damaging, especially with the introduction of GDPR.

Facebook … Face Recognition Woes

Facebook is in the news yet again, this time for having to face a class action lawsuit for allegedly gathering biometric information without users’ explicit consent, via facial recognition technology.

What Facial Recognition Technology?

A facial recognition technology feature in Facebook’s platform suggests who might be present in uploaded photos, based on an existing database of faces, and uses “tag suggestions” technology.

The feature works by trying to detect any faces in an uploaded photo, standardises and aligns those faces for size and direction, then, for each face, Facebook computes a face signature which is a mathematical representation of the face in that photo. Finally, the face signatures are run through a stored database of user face templates to look for similar matches

What’s The Problem?

The problem in legal terms is that the software allegedly gathers (and presumably stores) biometric information about individuals i.e. makes and stores face templates of them, without them giving their explicit consent for it to do so. This sounds as though it may breach Illinois state law – this is the state from which the class of people in the lawsuit question is made up.

The court order is reported to apply to Facebook users in Illinois for whom Facebook created and stored a face template after 7 June 2011.

What Are The Chances?

Although Facebook reportedly intends to fight the case and believes that it has no merit, the fact that the judge, James Donato, has ruled to certify a class of Facebook users, and has said that Facebook could be expecting billions in statutory damages, does not appear to bode well for Facebook.

Not Available Here

Privacy regulations mean that the facial recognition and tagging feature is not available in Europe or Canada, and can be turned off in settings for US users.

Facebook also said back in December 2017 that users would be notified if a picture of them was uploaded by someone else, even if they hadn’t been tagged in it.

Hearing In A Crowd Technology Developed By Google

Just as Facebook appears to be in trouble over voice technology, Google has announced that its research team has just developed technology that can recognise individual voices in a crowd, just as a human can.

The tech giant has made a demonstration video for the technology. The video shows how, with lots of people talking at once in a room, a user can select a particular face and hear the soundtrack of just that person. Users of this technology can also select the context of a conversation, and only references to that conversation are played, even if more than one person in the room is discussing that subject matter.

The AI technology behind the feature was developed using data collated from 100,000 videos of lectures and training videos on YouTube.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With GDPR on the way, the case against Facebook’s voice recognition technology is another reminder of how businesses need to get to grips with the sometimes complicated area of consent. Video images and face templates of individual faces are also likely to qualify as personal data that consent for collection and storage will be needed for under GDPR. Privacy, as well as security, is a right that is getting even greater protection in law.

The technology from Google that can recognise individual voices, and can follow individual conversations in crowds could unlock valuable business opportunities in e.g. improving the function and scope of hearing aids, or improving video conferencing tools by enabling them to take place in the middle of an office space rather than only in a separate, soundproofed meeting room (provided other visual distractions are minimised). It seems that new technology is beginning to be developed to help tackle age-old human challenges.

Google, The Law and Your ‘Right To Be Forgotten’

A businessman has won the “right to be forgotten” by Google after taking his case to the High Court, because he wanted a past crime he had committed to be removed from Google’s search engine results.

What Crime?

The (un-named) businessman was hoping to remove details from Google of a conviction from 10 years ago, and of the six months jail sentence he was given for ‘conspiring to intercept communications’. The businessman was forced to take Google to court after Google refused his requests to have the information removed from its search engine results. The man’s legal argument was that the details of his past conviction were disproportionately impacting his life, and were no longer relevant, and therefore, it was not it was not in the public or the man’s interest for Google to show the details in searches.

What Does The “Right To Be Forgotten” Mean?

The legal precedent for what has become known as ‘the right to be forgotten’ was set by the Court of Justice of the European Union back in 2014. It was the result of a case brought by Spaniard Mario Costeja Gonzalez who had asked Google to remove information about his financial history from its search engine results.

In this particular case, the ‘right to be forgotten’ means that Google has to remove all search results about the businessman’s conviction, including links to news articles.

Had Shown Remorse

The judge ruled in favour of the businessman, stating that he had shown remorse. Google has said that it will respect the judgement made in the case and pointed out that it has removed 800,000 pages from its results following ‘right to be forgotten’ requests.

Not So Lucky

Another businessman who also brought a ‘right to be forgotten’ case against Google, and who had committed a more serious crime of ‘conspiring to account falsely’ was not so lucky, and lost his case. It was decided, in the High Court, that the man, who had spent four years in jail for the crime, had “mislead the public”, and that it would still be in the public interest for Google to keep the information about the man and his crimes in the search engine results.

Less Than Half

Google’s own Transparency Report from May this year revealed that of the 2.4 million requests made since 2014 to remove certain URLs from its search results, Google has only complied with less than half. Google doesn’t actually have to comply with a request, and can refuse to take links down if can demonstrate that there is a public interest in the information remaining in the search results. Google can also re-instate links that it has already taken down in a previous request if it can show that it has grounds to do so.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is good news that powerful international tech companies whose services are widely used, and who have the power to influence opinion and affect lives can sometimes be held accountable to national courts. There is a strong argument that they should not be a law unto themselves, and that they may not always be the best party to judge what is in the public interest.

The ‘right to be forgotten’ is particularly significant because it is something that all EU citizens will have when GDPR comes into force next month. This will impact businesses, many of whom may expect to receive ‘right to be forgotten’ requests, and will need to get their data management in order to both comply with GDPR generally, and to be able to respond quickly to such requests and avoid possible fines.

Tech Tip – Emails : ‘Undo Send’ … !

If you use a Gmail account, and if you’ve ever sent an email and then experienced the terror of immediately wishing that you hadn’t, you could find the ‘Undo Send’ feature very useful.

The Undo feature allows you to set a buffer / cancellation time period between the time that you hit the send button to when the email is actually sent, during which time you can decide instruct Gmail not to cancel the email. Here’s how it works:

– On your computer, open Gmail.
– In the top right, click Settings.
– In the “Undo Send” section, check the box next to “Enable Undo Send.”
– In the “Send cancellation period” section, set the amount of time you want to decide if you want to unsend an email.

Your Latest IT News Update

Facebook Notifies People Affected By Scandal

Facebook has begun notifying any of those users whose data is known to have been harvested and shared with data mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

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Apple Claims 100% Renewable Energy At All Data Centres

The latest energy report from Apple has stated that the company has hit a new milestone in green energy usage by making all of its 43 data-centre sites across the world operate using 100% renewable energy.

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Digital Number Plates

Dubai is once again in the news for being an adopter of new technologies after an announcement that it will be hosting a trial of digital vehicle number plates next month.

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1 In 10 Fooled By Social Engineering Attacks

A new report by security firm Positive Technologies shows that 1 in 10 employees would fall for a social engineering attack.

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Killer Bot Boycott

Reports that the state-run university-based ‘Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology’ (KAIST) has been working on military robot research with defence company Hanwa have resulted in threats of a boycott by more than 50 AI researchers from 30 countries.

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Tech Tip – Identify Objects In Your Phone Photos With Google Lens

If you’d like a handy way to search your photos and identify important buildings / landmarks, places, names, Wi-Fi passwords and other valuable contextual information depicted in them, Google Lens may be for you.

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Facebook Notifies People Affected By Scandal

Facebook has begun notifying any of those users whose data is known to have been harvested and shared with data mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

On Your News Feed

If you are one of the 87 million people whose data has been shared, 1 million of whom are in the UK, when you log into your Facebook account, you will see a detailed message beginning with the words “We understand the importance of keeping your data safe.”

It is now understood that the data of 2.2 billion Facebook users was actually shared by Facebook, and all of these users will be receiving a message entitled “Protecting Your Information”. This message will include a link which will allow them to see what apps they use, and what information they have shared with those apps. Users will also be given the option to stop sharing information with the apps or to stop any access to third-party apps altogether.

It should be noted, however, that Facebook stopped allowing third-party apps from gathering data about the likes, status updates and other information shared by users’ friends back in 2015. Also, Facebook has taken action recently to make information such as religious and political views out-of-bounds to apps.

If you don’t trust Facebook to notify you if your information has been shared with Cambridge Analytica, you can check for yourself by following this link: https://www.facebook.com/help/1873665312923476?helpref=search&sr=1&query=cambridge

What Happened?

This relates, of course, to revelations that Facebook shared the data of its users with London-based data mining firm Cambridge Analytica via a personality quiz app, called “You Are What You Like” (later replaced by the “Apply Magic Sauce” app), that had reportedly been developed for legitimate academic purposes. Revelations that the website from the original quiz re-directed uses to a new one with different terms and conditions, thereby enabling users data to be harvested and reportedly used for political purposes by Cambridge Analytica (the same company used by the Trump election campaign) and by Canadian data company AggregateIQ (AIQ) who were involved in the Vote Leave campaign in the UK referendum, have caused wide-scale outrage.

Facebook is also reported to have suspended a data analytics firm involved with targeted advertising and marketing called Cubeyou. Cubeyou is reported to have collected data for academic purposes, and allegedly used it commercially, as part of a partnership with Cambridge University in the UK (who have also found themselves implicated in the scandal).

Game Changer Says ICO Chief

The head of the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), Elizabeth Denham, has said that what happened with Facebook’s data sharing with Cambridge Analytica can be seen as a game-changer in data protection. The ICO has revealed that Facebook is now one of 30 organisations under wider investigation for the sharing and use of personal data and analytics with political campaigns, parties, social media companies and other commercial organisations.

Denham has said that although the Facebook scandal has drawn attention to the ICO’s ‘Your data matters’ campaign, it is too early to say whether the changes the social networking firm is making are sufficient under the law.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you have been directly affected by Facebook’s data sharing you will have been informed in your Facebook account, and you can follow the link (given earlier in this article) to check for yourself.

As ICO Chief Elizabeth Denham has rightly said, this is an important time for privacy rights, particularly since the introduction of GDPR is little more than a month away. The widespread outrage and condemnation of Facebook’s data sharing with Cambridge Analytica highlights how important data protection and privacy rights are to us all. This should serve as a reminder to businesses and other organisations that as well as making sure that they comply with GDPR to avoid negative consequences, GDPR preparation is an opportunity to fully examine the important issue of how data is being used and stored, and where vulnerabilities are, and how simple improvements could be made that could protect and help the business as a whole.

Apple Claims 100% Renewable Energy At All Data Centres

The latest energy report from Apple has stated that the company has hit a new milestone in green energy usage by making all of its 43 data centre sites across the world operate using 100% renewable energy.

Not Quite What It Seems

Although the effort is admirable, the claim that has led Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to stress that the company is committed to leaving the world better than it found it, is not as transparent as it appears.

It is not possible for all the data centres to be connected to a completely renewable energy supply at the moment, so what Apple actually means is that the data centres can be 100% ‘renewables powered’, thanks to the clean energy that Apple buys and puts back into the power grid that can be offset against its global power consumption.

For example, Apple has explained that, where it can’t create new renewable energy projects due to local constraints, the tech giant purchases renewable energy from newer projects in nearby markets, or through available utility green energy programs.

What About The Manufacturing of Phones and iPads?

Some critics have pointed out that the manufacturing of iPhones, iPads and other machines creates carbon emissions. Apple is reported to be taking steps to tackling this less environmentally-friendly aspect of its work by sourcing lower-carbon materials, and by making suppliers commit to using green energy when making Apple hardware.

6 Years of Effort

Apple’s announcement is the culmination of six years of financing, building, or locating new renewable energy sources e.g. solar and wind farms, near the company’s facilities. According to Apple, it now has 25 operational renewable energy projects, and 15 more in construction, spread across in 11 countries. In contrast, 8 years ago, only 16% of its facilities were powered by renewable energy. That number had increased to 93% by 2015, and to 96% by 2016.

Lisa Jackson Hired To Help

One of the ways that Apple has been able to steer itself to its current position on the environmental high ground was to hire former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson as VP of environment, policy, and social initiatives. Lisa Jackson was better known at the time for serving under President Barack Obama 2009 to 2013 to tackle matters such as climate change, improving air quality, and expanding the conservation of environmentalism.

Goal

Apple’s goal of going 100% green has meant reducing its greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e) by 58% since 2011, thereby preventing 2.2 million metric tons of CO2e from entering the atmosphere.

Growing The Clean Energy Market Around The Facilities

One of the key ways that Apple has reached its latest milestone target is by growing the clean energy market around the facilities of the company. This has involved working with local utilities and regulators to build places such as new solar or wind farms that pump new green power onto the public grid. This method has worked well in markets where most of the existing energy comes from ecologically unfriendly sources like coal or oil.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Some critics would say that with $285 billion in cash reserves, Apple has the money to plough into working towards this environmental goal. However, even though it could afford to buy up existing green power to get to the 100% goal, it has chosen to take adopt an “additionality” standard, which is a preference for sponsoring the creation of new renewable power sources. This, and the idea that it can grow clean energy market around the facilities of the company have been real environmental benefits rather than just paper exercises. Apple has also hired-in expertise to help guide its efforts.

This story is an example of how businesses, albeit a giant (wealthy) tech businesses can choose to operate in a more value-led, socially responsible and ethical way that has wider benefits for society, as well as for the company’s brand image. A greater focus on reducing environmental impact and working to develop more renewable energy sources are things that more companies will need to adopt in the future, and is something that is likely to be valued by customers and other stakeholders.