Archive for Cloud

Blockchain To Stop Counterfeit Disk-Drive Products

Data storage solutions company Seagate Technology (Seagate), and IBM are reported to be working together and using blockchain and advanced cryptographic product identification technology to reduce disk-drive product counterfeiting.

What’s The Problem?

The problem for Seagate and other manufacturers, integrators, and business partners is the problem of counterfeit hard disk drives (HDDs) being made available for sale online.  For example, these are usually sub-standard counterfeit drives, or old drives that have been re-labelled with false claims of higher speed and greater capacity.

The scale of the counterfeiting problem faced by electronics companies is illustrated by International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition figures which show that global trade in counterfeit and pirated electronic products is now worth more than US $1.7 Trillion!

What Is Blockchain and How Can It Help?

Blockchain, the open-source, free technology behind crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, 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”.

IBM has considerable blockchain expertise and powered by the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric distributed ledger framework, IBM’s Blockchain Platform on the IBM Cloud enables network participants to append and view blockchain data.

The collaboration with IBM means that whenever Seagate manufactures a hard drive, it will update the IBM blockchain platform with product authentication data which will include each Seagate Secure Electronic ID (eID).  This is a kind of electronic fingerprint that can verify the identity of a hard drive at any time during its product life cycle.  Also, Seagate will use cryptographic erasure technology (Certified Erase) to electronically sign the drive using Seagate Secure public key infrastructure (PKI), and this data will also be added to IBM’s blockchain platform.

With all this unique product-identifying data stored in secure and incorruptible blockchain on IBM’s cloud, technology vendors, service providers and end users will (depending on the permission they have) be able to check a disk-drive product’s provenance on the blockchain.

The Results

The hope is, of course, that by being able to provide an indisputable record of events, from manufacturing through to end-of-life for Seagate’s products, this should reduce data loss, cut warranty costs, go some way towards tackling the counterfeiting problem, and improve customer confidence.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another example of how businesses are only just beginning to realise the potential of blockchain and what it can offer.  Blockchain has so far proven itself to be particularly useful in applications where authentication, provenance, and proof of different aspects of a supply chain are needed.  For example, an IBM-based blockchain ledger has been used to record data about wine certification, ownership and storage history, and blockchain has been used to record the temperature of sensitive medicines being transported from manufacturers to hospitals in hot climates.  It makes sense, therefore, that blockchain could be an ideal solution in the fight against counterfeiting of electrical and other products and items.

VMware recently joined Microsoft and other companies in offering a blockchain-as-a-service product to companies.

Facial Recognition For Border Control

It has been reported that the UK Home Office will soon be using biometric facial recognition technology in a smartphone app to match a user’s selfie against the image read from a user’s passport chip as a means of self-service identity verification for UK border control.

Dutch & UK Technology

The self-service identity verification ‘enrolment service’ system uses biometric facial recognition technology that was developed in partnership with WorldReach Software, and immigration and border management company, with support from (Dutch) contactless document firm ReadID.

Flashmark By iProov

Flashmark technology, which will be used provide the biometric matching of a user’s selfie against the image read from a user’s passport chip, was developed by a London-based firm called iProov.  The idea behind it is to be able to prove that the person presenting themselves at the border for verification is genuinely the owner of an ID credential and not a photo, screen image, recording or doctored video.

Flashmark works by using a sequence of colours to illuminate a person’s face and the reflected light is analysed to determine whether the real face matches the image being presented.

iProov is a big name in the biometric border-control technology world, having won the 2017 National Cyber Security Centre’s Cyber Den competition at CyberUK, and winning a contract from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program.  In fact, iProov was the first British and non-US company to be awarded a contract by the DHS to enable travellers to use self-service of document checks at border crossing points.

Smartphone App

The new smartphone-based digital identity verification app from iProov has been developed to help support applications for The EU Settlement Scheme.  This is the mechanism for resident EU citizens, their family members, and the family members of certain British citizens, to apply on a voluntary basis for the UK immigration status which they will need to remain in the UK beyond the end of the planned post-exit implementation period on 31 December 2020.

It is believed that the smartphone app will help the UK Home Office to deliver secure, easy-to-use interactions with individuals.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Accurate and secure, automated biometric / facial recognition and identification / i.d. verification systems have many business applications and are becoming more popular.  For example, iProov’s technology is already used by banks (ING in the Netherlands) and governments around the world, and banks such Barclays already uses voice authentication for telephone banking customers.

Biometrics are already used by the UK government.  For example, in the biometric residence permit (BRP) system, those planning to stay longer than 6 months, or apply to settle in the UK need a biometric permit. This permit includes details such as name, date and place of birth, a scan of the applicant’s fingerprints and a digital photo of the applicant’s face (this is the biometric information), immigration status and conditions, and information about access public funds (benefits and health services).

Many people are already used to using some biometric element as security on their mobile device e.g. facial recognition, fingerprint, or even Samsung’s iris scanner on its Note ‘phablet’. Using a smartphone-based i.d. verification app for border purposes is therefore not such a huge step, and many of us are used to having our faces scanned and matched with our passports anyway as part UK border control’s move towards automation.

Smartphone apps have obvious cost and time savings as well as convenience benefits, plus biometrics provide a reliable and more secure verification system for services than passwords or paper documents. There are, of course, matters of privacy and security to consider, and as well as an obvious ‘big brother’ element, it is right that people should be concerned about where, and how securely their biometric details are stored.

Microsoft Launches ‘AccountGuard’ Email Service For Election Candidates

A new kind of pilot secure email service called ‘AccountGuard’ has been launched by Microsoft, specifically for use by election candidates, and as one answer to the kind of interference that took place during the last US presidential election campaign.

Ready For The Midterm Elections

The new, free email service (which people must useOffice 365 to register for) is an off-shoot of Microsoft’s ‘Defending Democracy’ Program. This program was launched in April with the aim of protecting campaigns from hacking, through increased cyber resilience measures, enhanced account monitoring and incident response capabilities.

The AccountGuard pilot has been launched in time for the US Midterm elections which are the general elections held in November every four years, around the midpoint of a president’s four-year term of office.

Who Can Use AccountGuard?

Microsoft says that its AccountGuard service can be used by all current candidates for federal, state and local office in the United States and their campaigns; the campaign organisations of all sitting members of Congress, national and state party committees, any technology vendors who primarily serve campaigns and committees, and some non-profit organisations and non-governmental organizations. Microsoft AccountGuard is offered free of charge and is full service, coming with free email and phone support.

Three Core Offerings

AccountGuard has three core offerings. These are:

  1. Unified threat detection and notification across accounts. This means providing notification about any cyber threats in a unified way across both email systems run by organisations and the personal accounts of these organizations’ leaders and staff who opt in. This part of the service will only be available only for Microsoft services including Office 365, Outlook.com and Hotmail to begin with, and Microsoft says it will draw on the expertise of the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC / MSTIC).
  2. Security guidance and ongoing education. Registering for Microsoft AccountGuard gives organisations best practice guidance and materials. These are in the form of off-the-shelf materials and in-depth live sessions.
  3. Early adopter opportunities. This means access to private previews of the kind of security features that are usually offered by Microsoft to large corporate and government account customers.

Similar To Google

Some commentators have highlighted similarities between the AccountGuard idea and Google’s Advanced Protection Program (APP), also launched this year, although APP is open to anyone, requires log in with hardware authentication keys, and locks out third-party app access.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When you think about it, what Microsoft appears to be admitting is that its everyday email programs are simply not secure enough to counter many of the threats that now look likely to come from other states when elections are underway. Microsoft’s other, non-political business customers who are also at risk from common cyber attacks e.g. phishing, may feel a little left out that they are apparently not being offered the same level of security.

Also, protecting democracy sounds like quite a grand aim for a service provider offering an email service. Microsoft does, however, accept that it can’t solve the threat to US democracy on its own and that it believes this will require technology companies, government, civil society, the academic community and researchers working together. Microsoft also acknowledges that AccountGuard is limited to protecting those using enterprise and consumer services, and that attacks can actually reach campaigns through a variety of other ways. Microsoft also appears to be hinting that it may be thinking of expanding AccountGuard to industry as well as government depending on how the pilot works.

90% Of Businesses Blindly Renew Software

A report by Clear Licensing (CCL) has highlighted the fact that most organisations simply renew software maintenance contracts without assessing whether those contracts deliver value.

1 In 10 Companies Check

The CCL report (which is based upon research conducted in and May this year), took into account the responses of 100 global participants, and was designed to understand current trends and identify best practices for the software maintenance market.

The key statistic that the research uncovered was that only 1 in 10 organisations involve the IT asset management function in the decision to renew software maintenance agreements. The inference from this is that software maintenance renewals appear to be blindly renewed without sufficient information to make an informed decision, and without any real assessment of the value they deliver.

In fact, the CCL report found that most software contracts are renewed by system owners or those in finance, and that typical survey respondents had no idea of support volumes, support quality or the strategic value of software maintenance renewals.

Big Spend

Organisations typically spend a large proportion of their annual IT budget on paying for existing software support and maintenance contracts in a market that is estimated to be worth $250 Billion. For example, IT buyers often pay around 20% of the licence fee per year in support and maintenance, thereby meaning that organisations will have paid for their software twice after a five-year term.

Lack of Clarity

Although a software support and maintenance contract typically involves things like bug fixes, security updates, technical assistance and access to upgrades, the CCL report notes that organisations are often confused about what they are actually entitled to and what they are actually getting for their money. For example, maintenance contracts are often perceived as insurance contracts when they are not, and organisations are often afraid and confused about whether they are legally allowed to access to security patches if they don’t have a support contract, and whether they can terminate a software maintenance contract and continue support at a later date.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses are worried about a number of things when it comes to deciding about software maintenance and support contract renewals, such as security, stakeholder perception, and the fear of penalties and back-maintenance problems. The CCL report has also highlighted the fact that a lack of clarity about the contracts, not enough scrutiny, the wrong departments making the renewal decisions, and a lack of alternatives at renewal time are just some of the reasons why the path of least resistance is being taken and contracts that may lack value are being blindly renewed.

According to the CCL report, some ways that businesses can avoid this happening include:

  • IT Asset Managers starting with a default position of “no” when it comes to software support renewals.
  • Using ITAM tools / SAM technology providers to help validate the business value of a support contract.
  • Performing a cost / benefit analysis of a contract to help decide about renewal.
  • Applying the 80 / 20 rule. IT Asset Managers can make a big impact on freeing up annual budgets by scrutinising spend on a few well chosen contracts.
  • Getting IT Asset Managers to create decision trees to empower smart decision -making.
  • Collaboration with legal professionals to clarify legal rights around contracts.

Apple Apps Taken Down For Spying

The Mac App Store has taken down a number of well known security apps for the Apple Mac after it was discovered that they are being used to spy on the browsing habits of their users.

Which Apps?

It has been reported that Dr Unarchiver, Dr Cleaner, Adware Medic, Adware Doctor and App Uninstall have all been removed from the Apple-curated Mac App Store on the grounds of spying on users.

Rumbled

A researcher in Germany, identified only by their @privacyis1st twitter identity is credited with alerting the Mac App Store to the fact that the Adware Doctor app attributed to a company called Yongming Zhang (the name of a well-known Chinese serial killer) and the Trend Micro apps were linked to the same suspect IP address in China.

It has also been reported that suspicions and concerns about the apps go back some years. For example, online reports about Adware Doctor from 2016 indicate that the app was using AppleScript to perform actions in violation of Apple’s App Store Guidelines. It has also been alleged that the glowing reviews of Adware Doctor and other applications by the same developer may have been faked.

How?

It has been reported that the suspect apps were able to spy by first tricking the user into giving them macOS home directory access with virus scanning and clear cache options. When this permission was granted, the apps were able to abuse access privileges by gathering browser-history data from Chrome, Firefox and Safari. This data was then sent back to suspected malicious operators.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is not the first time that there have been reports of dodgy apps lurking in legitimate stores. For example, back in January, 36 fake and malicious apps for Android that could harvest your data and track your location, masquerading as security tools were discovered in the trusted Google Play Store. All had reassuring names such as Security Defender and Security Keeper, and many performed some legitimate tasks on the surface, such as cleaning junk, saving battery, scanning, and CPU cooling, but all were found to be hiding malware, adware and tracking software.

Apple generally has a good brand reputation with regards to security so it will undoubtedly be very unhappy to have its name and the store that it curates associated in any way with any malicious apps.

This story is another reminder that, when it comes to apps, even though the obvious advice is to always check what you are downloading and the source of the download, the difference between fake apps and real apps can be subtle, and even Apple (in this case) didn’t immediately spot the hidden aspects of the apps. Also, we often don’t have the time to make checks on the apps that we download, and good reviews and the ‘halo effect’ of the good name of the store that they’re in are often enough of a recommendation for us to act.

The fact that many of us now store most of our personal lives on our smart phones makes reports such as these all the more alarming, and can undermine our confidence in (and cause costly damage to) the brands that are associated with such incidents.

To minimise the risk of falling victim to suspect apps, users should check the publisher of an app, check which permissions the app requests when you install it, delete apps from your phone that you no longer use, and contact your phone’s service provider or visit the High Street store if you think you’ve downloaded a malicious / suspect app.

The bad publicity from this story may also make Apple keen to review its systems and procedures for checking the apps that are offered in the store that it curates.

Microsoft Introduces AI Automated Audio and Video File Transcription

Microsoft’s new AI tool in OneDrive and SharePoint automatically transcribes the contents of video, audio, and image files, thereby making it much faster and easier to find specific topics and references made in those files.

No More Lengthy Transcribing

The growth of digital content, particularly in rich file types such as image, video, and audio files has made things particularly challenging when trying to search through them to find specific references, details, topics or quotes.

Up until now, it’s been a case of physically watching and listening, and transcribing the file into to text to get what you want.

Also, if you need to track down lost screenshots, snapshots and receipts, or if you have to categorise images by keywording them, or if you’re trying to search for images relating to a certain subject, this too has been a time-consuming challenge, up until now.

Search Through Audio or Video By What’s Said

The new AI-based automatic transcription system that’s been added to OneDrive and SharePoint means that users can now search through audio or video by what’s said in the file, and users can quickly find images by conducting searches using keywords based on the content.

How Does It Work?

According to a post on the Microsoft website by Omar Shahine, Partner Director of Program Management for OneDrive and SharePoint, AI can be used to extract the content from an audio or video file, and provide a full transcript which is shown in a viewer, which supports over 320 different file types.

Where automatic photo transcripts are concerned, native, secure AI is used to determine where photos were taken, recognize objects, and extract text in photos and images.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With the web, email, text / comms and chat apps now being regularly used as part of businesses, and with digital files and rich format files being favoured, used / displayed, swapped / shared and stored, and with the rise of collaborative online working, this new feature could prove very useful to users of OneDrive and SharePoint.

The many benefits it could bring include saved costs and time in searching and having to physically transcribe, helping to leverage existing content and improve productivity, improving accessibility, and making make life a lot easier for anyone who regularly transcribes audio files e.g. content writers, journalists and anyone involved with archiving and categorising different media types. It’s only a matter of time until other technology will be bolted-on to features like this e.g. facial recognition.

Also, for Microsoft this is a feature that can help it to compete in the collaborative working platform market.

AI, ML & ‘Robot’ Business Spending Will Hit $232bn by 2025 Says Report

A recent KPMG reports claims that whereas business spending on artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning(ML) and robotic process automation (RPA) technologies is $12.4bn this year, it will increase to $232bn in 2025.

Ready, Set, Fail?

The report, entitled “Ready, set, fail? Avoiding setbacks in the intelligent automation race” highlights how the potential of AI technology is already being examined by 37% of enterprises, and how its uptake is expected to accelerate over the next three years, with all enterprises using the technology to some extent, 49% of enterprises using it at scale, and 29% using it selectively. Currently, 13% of enterprises are missing out altogether on the opportunity of using AI to add value to their business.

Can’t All Be Like Leading ‘Digital First’ Companies

The report accepts that while most businesses can’t realistically expect to be leading ‘digital first’ companies, such as Amazon with its one-click experience linked to a complex back-end and digital supply chain, they can make good ground from now on by acting quickly, understanding the need for urgency, and defining and executing a comprehensive AI strategy.

What Is Digital First?

A ‘digital first’ / digital by default approach involves giving priority to new media channels and technologies to improve the business by bringing it into line with the needs and behaviours of today’s consumers. It involves adopting a whole new way of looking at the business in order to add the skills, and to change to culture and mindset in order to make it more effective.

What Is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)?

While many of us are now familiar with the terms artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), the report also focuses on ‘robotic process automation’ (RPA). This refers to an emerging form of business process automation technology that uses software robots or artificial intelligence (AI) workers.

Instead of software developers producing a list of actions to automate a task and interface to the back-end system using internal application programming interfaces (APIs) or dedicated scripting language, RPA systems develop the action list by watching the user perform that task in the application’s graphical user interface (GUI), and then they perform the automation by repeating those tasks directly in the GUI.

Expectations High But Readiness Low

The KMPG report shows that even though managers’ expectations are high for AI use in their company in the coming years, the readiness to implement AI is low. The reasons for this include the fact that two-thirds of enterprises lack the in-house talent, and half of businesses are still struggling to define goals and objectives for AI.

Also, the 33% of respondents in KPMG’s study said that management are lacking readiness to implement AI because of a concern over AI’s impact on employees.

Investment Available

According to the report, even though readiness is low, the investment needed for intelligent automation is available, and is expected to increase over the next 3 years, with 32% of organisations having approved more funding for robotic process automation, and 40% saying that they will increase spending on artificial intelligence by at least 20% over the next three years.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Artificial Intelligence holds many opportunities for businesses, and those businesses that have moved successfully to a digital first approach appear to be reaping the benefits in terms of competitive advantage and profitability in the modern marketplace.

There are many ways in which businesses can meet high marketplace expectations for AI. These include:

– Long-term planning with a sequence of steps, beginning with prioritised projects that can realise scale in one or two years, with the help of C-level buy-in and sponsorship. This can lead to a successful transformation built on new blueprints and architectures for operating models and business models.
– Taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to automating the service delivery model.
– Taking another look at the whole operating model and how AI can be best adopted and applied to the core business. This involves looking at the operational and technology infrastructure, organisational structure and governance, and people culture. This can be supported by measurement and incentive systems, and implemented in a way that causes minimum disruption to existing business processes.

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.

What Is Teams?

Introduced back in November 2016, ‘Teams’ (as the name suggests) is a platform designed to help collaborative working, and combines features such as workplace chat, meetings, notes, and attachments. Described by Microsoft as a “complete chat and online meetings solution”, it normally integrates with the company’s Office 365 subscription office productivity suite, and Teams is widely considered to be Microsoft’s answer to ‘Slack’.

Slack is a popular, multi-channel collaborative working hub that offers chat channels with companies and businesses you regularly work with, direct voice or video calls and screen-sharing, integrated drag-and-drop file sharing, and an App Directory with over 1,500 apps that can be integrated into Slack.

Teams is now believed to be used by around 200,000 organizations.

Free Version

The free version of Teams, which does not require an Office 365 account, offers the same basic features as regular Teams to anyone who wants to try it out. The hope is, of course, that this will increase user numbers, and tempt users away from Slack. Microsoft is also extending 365 cloud suite with the free version of Teams to try and bridge Microsoft 365 with Office 365.

Space and Features

The free version of Teams offers 10GB of team storage plus an additional 2GB for each user, with up to 300 people supported. Also, users have unlimited messages and search, there is guest access, as well as audio and video calls and screen sharing.

Within the Teams app, users can collaborate with colleagues on Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

What’s Missing?

Even though the free version offers quite a lot of storage space, the full version would offer users a massive 1TB. Also, unlike the full version, the free version doesn’t come with Yammer, Planner, SharePoint and OneDrive, plus the free version lacks some of the security features of the full version. This could make it less attractive to enterprises that are also looking to maximise compliance.

Warning To Help With Team Etiquette

One interesting aspect of Microsoft’s approach to the collaborative working platform is to build-on features that warn a user when they are doing something that goes against good practice and etiquette within teams. One key example of this is, with MyAnalytics, which works as an intelligent collaboration assistant in Outlook, is where users are warned / alerted if they are sending emails to co-workers outside their normal working hours.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

One good way to increase user numbers quickly, gain some ground in a battle with competitors, and to entice people to try and perhaps switch to a new service is to offer a good, usable, value-adding version of that service for free. That’s exactly what Microsoft is doing with its version of Teams.

Although larger enterprises may already be a long way down the road with their chosen collaborative working platform, and might be a bit put off by the idea of using a free version of a platform that is not quite on a par with the full version in terms of security features, a free version of Teams may be very attractive to SMEs looking to move into collaborative working with a low risk, trusted, scalable solution.

$13.5 Million In Customer Tokens Lost To Bancor Hackers

Hackers are reported to have stolen $13.5 million of user crypto-currency tokens from the Israeli start-up and decentralized crypto-currency trading platform Bancor.

What Happened?

It has been reported that on Monday, hackers were able to access and compromise a wallet on the Bancor platform that is used to upgrade smart contracts. These smart contracts have been likened to digital vending machines which manage crypto-currency transactions so there is no need for a middle-man.

This compromised wallet was then used by the hackers to steal different types of crypto-currency tokens from Bancor’s customers. The stolen tokens are reported to comprise 24,984 ($12.5 million) in Ethereum tokens, and 229, 356, 645 NPXS (approx. $1 million).

The total loss in the hack would have included an extra 3,200,00 of Bancor’s own token BNT (approx. $10 million), had Bancor not frozen the $10 million of its own Bancor tokens (BNT) as soon as it found out about the hack.
Bancor, which raised over $150 million in an ICO last year, is reported to have taken its exchange offline while it conducts an investigation of the incident.

Criticism

Following reports of the incident, some commentators have criticised Bancor for advertising itself as decentralized, and yet responding to the hack with strategies like those of a centralised system.

Centralised exchanges have received criticism for demanding large fees up front to list tokens, while not appearing to use those fees to help security, judging by the number and frequency of hacks.

User of MyEtherWallet Crypto-currency Also Hit By Hack

In the same week as customers of Bancor took a hit form a hack, so did one of the internet’s most popular services for managing crypto-currencies, MyEtherWallet. MyEtherWallet (MEW) is used to access crypto wallets and also to send and receive tokens to and from other wallets.

For the MEW hack, it has been reported that the hackers compromised ‘Hola’ for about 5 hours. Hola is a free VPN that plugs into browsers, and claims to have nearly 50 million users. Compromising Hola meant that any users who navigated to MEW and accessed their wallet with the VPN switched on are likely to be those who fell victim to the hackers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many businesses and individuals have been deterred from investing in and using crypto-currencies after the bad press surrounding the Bitcoin bubble and the associated crypto-jacking schemes, media reports of multiple hacks to different exchanges / platforms and crypto-currencies, and a general lack of knowledge and confidence about crypto-currencies. The Bancor and a MyEtherWallet hacks are just two more indications of the many existing security issues (particularly with centralised systems), and may be two more reasons why businesses may shy away from all things crypto-currecncy.

The fact is, however, that crypto-currencies could have many advantages for some businesses, such as the speed and ease with which transactions can take place due to the lack of central banking and traditional currency control. Some crypto-currencies e.g. Ripple, are actually products of banks. Crypto-currencies generally mean easier, faster and more convenient cross-border and global trading, but traditional currencies tend to have the backing of assets or promises of assets of some kind. Crypto-currencies, therefore, tend to be less trusted and more volatile in the markets and governments and banks don’t like the fact that they have no real control over them.

In the case of the MEW hack, this is also an example of why it is better to pay for a VPN service rather than use a free one.

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.