Archive for IT Infrastructure

02 Outage – What Happened

After last week’s major O2 4G mobile network outage which left millions of customers with no network data access has been blamed on an expired software certificate that 3rd party supplier Ericsson had installed for some customers at business-critical part of the network.

What Happened?

On Thursday last week, O2 smartphone users were unable to use their mobile phone data for 24 hours.  O2, which is owned Spanish communications company Telefonica, has the UK’s second-largest mobile network, which is part of BT, and as well as having 25 million users, it provides services for the Sky, Tesco, Giffgaff and Lycamobile networks (whose networks were also affected).  It is estimated, therefore, that the outage affected around 35 million users in the UK and other parts of Europe (and even Japan’s SoftBank).

As well as the considerable disruption and inconvenience caused to individual customers, there were knock-on disruptive effects for organisations that run connectivity services on O2’s network, including Transport for London (TfL), Shropshire Council and a number of NHS trusts. In the case of TfL, bus information display boards, part of the Countdown Systems network, stopped working at approximately 5 am. Shropshire Council reported problems with its car park payment machines, which use O2 data connections.

£Millions In Damages + Compensation Expected

The scope, severity and duration of O2’s data network outage, and the impact on the company’s reputation as well as on its users have led to reports that 02 looks likely to seek up to £100 million in damages from Ericsson.

Also, O2 has already made announcements about how it plans to compensate customers.  For example, Pay As You Go customers look set to get 10% extra when they top up their phone in the new year or 10% off when they buy data for mobile broadband devices.

Both O2 and Ericsson have apologised.  It has been reported that Telefonica’s UK chief executive Mark Evans has promised a full audit of the problem across both organisations, and Marielle Lindgren, chief executive of Ericsson UK and Ireland has said that the software that caused the issues will be decommissioned.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Modern businesses now rely heavily on stable and reliable broadband connections and data network services.  Any disruption to these can be very disruptive and costly to businesses with potentially disastrous consequences.  In this case, a whole day was lost, and the true cost to UK businesses  (and their customers) may be difficult to calculate. For O2 and Ericsson, the incident appears to have caused some damage to their reputations.

As several tech commentators have since pointed out, the incident has illustrated how complex IT infrastructure has become and how, despite this complexity, organisations must stay on top of matters relating to software certificates, particularly those in business-critical systems. This incident also illustrates how problems with machine identities at critical nodes can have a wide-reaching impact on business and the economy.

Some commentators have also highlighted how operators picking up more IoT traffic and the introduction of 5G could mean that businesses are likely to experience more outages of this nature in the future.  The incident with O2 may also make some businesses take another look at their mobile strategies, feel less comfortable putting all their communications through a mobile operator, and take steps to reduce their dependence on any single external point of failure.

5G Explained

Whereas most carriers use low-band spectrum or LTE, which offers great coverage area and penetration, it is getting very crowded, and peak data speeds only top out at around 100Mbps.

5G, on the other hand, offers 3 different Spectrum bands, which are:

  • Low-band spectrum or LTE.
  • Mid-band spectrum.  This gives faster coverage and better latency than low-band but isn’t as good at penetrating buildings. Mid-band spectrum will offer peak speeds up to 1Gbps.
  • High-band spectrum /  mmWave .  This spectrum can offer peak speeds up to 10 Gbps and has very low latency, although it has a low coverage area and building penetration is poor.
  • In the UK, it is likely that there will be 2 different, location-based frequencies. Sub-6GHz (gigahertz) is likely to be the first offered to users, and the (expensive) high-band spectrum / mmWave for use in densely populated areas. This could mean limitations on where an owner can use their 5G phone (when they eventually get one).

What Can We Expect From 5G?

More frequencies, faster speeds and less latency should mean big improvements in broadband (particularly commercial) and an end to slowdowns during busy times of day that have been experienced due to the overcrowding of the current limited LTE.

Also, the frequency spectrum needed for 5G is finite, and even with additional spectrum that has been auctioned to the UK’s mobile networks, more will be needed. This may mean some crowded traffic in the first wave, with things not improving until more auctions have taken place.

It is also likely that other technologies will need to be developed and trialled in order to help 5G live up to its promise. Lessons learned about 5G in other countries (e.g. China) will take time to be noted and incorporated in the UK network to help it deliver maximum benefits.

Real-Life Business / Life Applications

Anticipated ways that 5G could improve things in our lives and for businesses include:

  • Improvements to health care.  Communications and sensor networks in health care are likely to be improved, therefore, benefiting patients, doctors and other staff.
  • Improvements in the IoT as devices require fewer resources, and huge numbers of devices can connect to a single base station, making them much more efficient. IoT improvements could help with all kinds of services e.g. public services such as smart bins and smart lighting, remote healthcare services, and CCTV / surveillance services.
  • A boost to virtual and augmented reality.
  • Benefits for the growing autonomous vehicle market as 5G provides the constant, guaranteed connection that they need.
  • Advantages for companies operating delivery drone / robot services e.g. Amazon may also get a boost from reliable and powerful 5G connections.
  • The low latency of 5G offering allowing more remote device control e.g. reducing risk in hazardous environments and allowing technicians with specialized skills to control machinery from anywhere in the world.

What About 5G Phones?

For phone manufacturers, manufacturing 5G phones will be a slightly different and more complex proposition. For example:

  • 5G phones are more complex e.g. they need a more complex antenna. These mean extra production costs which are likely to be passed on (with first-wave prices) to customers. It is thought that 5G compatible phones will be priced between £450-£540, with higher prices for leading brand models e.g. Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
  • Miniaturisation of a more complex 5G phone presents challenges. The first generation of 5G phones may, therefore, be a little larger than a normal smart-phone.
  • Launching new handsets before the new network has been rolled out could simply annoy buyers and damage brand reputation, and many customers may simply delay buying a 5G anyway until they are confident that 5G is performing well and will offer them all the benefits.
  • The first 5G smart-phones will need two modems, one standalone 5G modem, and one that still works on 4G and older networks (for when 4G isn’t available).

When?

5G has taken nearly10 years to develop and although some companies may already be rolling out fixed 5G to some cities in the developed world, mobile 5G won’t start making appearances in cities around the world until later in 2019.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The same increased speed and lower latency of 5G that allows downloading films and games in seconds and watching them without any buffering, is also likely to provide many new and innovative opportunities, and could help provide a boost to new industries

Many different types of businesses could benefit from improved connectivity with remote workers or with salespeople in remote areas.

Also, the news from an O2 forecast is that 5G could deliver time savings that could bring £6 billion a year in productivity savings in the UK, and that 5G-enabled tools and smart items could save UK householders £450 a year in food, council and fuel bills.

We will, however, have to wait for 5G networks and services to be operating and offering all the predicted benefits, and as well as being somewhat expensive, purchasing a 5G phone may be something that many people will hold-off doing until they’re confident they’ll get the promised value from it.

Automatic Broadband Compensation Is Nigh

After Ofcom announced back in November 2017 that broadband and landline customers will automatically be able to get compensation from their providers when things go wrong without the need for a claim, it appears that an £8-per-day deal agreement has finally been reached between Openreach and five of the UK’s internet service providers.

Agreement

The voluntary agreement, which will only apply only if a fault takes longer than two days to fix, is between BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, and Zen. Plusnet and EE had indicated previously that they would be prepared to sign up.

This should now mean that the new automatic compensation system will, from early 2019, bring automatic compensation to consumers (home, small and medium business customers) for a total loss of fixed broadband and phone connectivity.

Although Openreach, which looks after the infrastructure, is keen to point out that it has been offering compensation for broadband failures since 2008 and would pay compensation even when others prevented it from accessing its network, it has said that it is not prepared to pay-out for measures beyond reasonable control / force majeure events e.g. flooding. Openreach also has another exclusion under its Service Level Guarantee (SLG) arrangements.

The new agreement, which was reached after more than 6 months negotiations, and is subject to a 12-month review of Cancelled Provisions, will mean £8 compensation per-day, £25 compensation if an engineer does not arrive on schedule, or cancels within 24 hours, and an offer of £5-per-day for new services not starting on.

What Happened?

The voluntary, automatic compensation agreement only came about because of a review and intervention in the broadband market by regulator Ofcom, which introduced a voluntary Code of Practice.

It was found that compensation was only paid in approximately one in seven cases (15%) where landline or broadband customers suffered slow repairs, delayed installations or missed engineer appointments. The actual amount of compensation paid in these cases was also widely recognised to be small.

Considering that BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media and Zen Internet, collectively serve around 90% of landline and broadband customers in the UK, it was thought that an automatic compensation agreement that reflects the harm consumers suffer when things go wrong would help consumers and the industry alike as well as satisfying Ofcom.

Openreach

Openreach has been set its own set of tough Quality of Service (QoS) standards by Ofcom, but Openreach’s position of not paying out for force majeure-type events, and Ofcom expecting retail ISPs to cover those costs themselves has led to ISPs perhaps feeling that they will end up paying for Openreach’s failures.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For retail ISPs, although the agreement may go some way to making them improve their quality standards (which is good for customers), the regulator estimated in 2017 that such an agreement could mean that 2.6 million UK customers could receive up to £142 million per year in automated compensation payments.  This could represent a significant extra service cost to the ISPs, and hopefully one that won’t end up being passed on to customers in raised prices.

Ofcom’s research shows that nine in ten adults report going online every day and three-quarters of internet users say it is important to their daily lives. For businesses, a fast and reliable broadband connection is now vital for them to operate and compete effectively in today’s marketplace. Problems with broadband services can be very costly and frustrating for businesses, and many businesses feel that they shouldn’t have to fight for compensation on top of the problems caused by poor broadband services, and that current levels of compensation are too low, and don’t come close to reflecting the harm caused. Automatic compensation at higher levels is, therefore, good news, and it is good news that an agreement has finally reached and the (voluntary) scheme can start operating as soon as early 2019 (we hope).

The new automatic compensation scheme is particularly good news for small businesses because one-third of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) choose residential landline and broadband services, and around half (49%) of SMEs don’t know if they’re entitled to compensation when service falls short (Ofcom figures).

Superfast Broadband Boosts Business and Jobs

Among the findings of a recent government report about superfast broadband in the UK are claims that superfast broadband rollout so far has led to job creation and a £12.28 benefit for firms for every £1 invested by central and local authorities.

Measurable Benefits

The Evaluation of the Economic Impact and Public Value of the Superfast Broadband Programme report, by The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), covering 2012 to 2016, claims that the fact that superfast broadband has now reached almost five million homes and businesses (Openeach puts the figure at 10 million) has provided noticeable, measurable and business and economic benefits.

Fewer Jobseekers, More Jobs

For example, according to the report, superfast broadband has driven a reduction of almost 9,000 jobseekers allowance claims, and the creation of 49,000 local jobs.

What Is Superfast Broadband?

Superfast broadband refers to connections with broadband speeds of 24 megabits per second and above.

Where?

Superfast broadband is more available in some parts of the UK than others. For example, the highest rate of superfast broadband availability is in North East England (97.19%). Also offering high rates of superfast broadband availability are South East England (97.07%) and the West Midlands (96.56%).

Unfortunately, those who live and work in Northern Ireland are currently treated to the lowest rates of availability in the UK at 87.74%.

Boost

The growth in the levels of superfast broadband availability has been given a boost by factors such as Openreach, the firm that runs the vast majority of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, reducing the wholesale price of broadband.

This is thought to have helped take-up for superfast and fibre broadband services by homes and businesses, and given competitors e.g. Sky and TalkTalk the opportunity to reduce the cost of using the network, provided that they can get enough sign-ups.

Back in March last year, Ofcom (the telecoms regulator) announced that BT has agreed to legally separate from Openreach, which owns and operates the UK’s broadband infrastructure. This move was intended to enable greater competition among broadband providers and greater investment in the network infrastructure.

Fibre

Fibre has offered greater broadband speeds and reliability, but at the moment, most connections have fibre-optic lines up to the local street cabinet, but then copper phone lines from the cabinet to the house.

The government says that its aim is to give all of the UK full-fibre broadband (fibre to and from the cabinet) – rather than rely on broadband delivered over copper networks, by 2033.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Broadband is now an essential service for business, and businesses would obviously welcome any improvement in broadband speeds in the UK as it would undoubtedly help UK companies to become more competitive, and would boost the economy.
Unfortunately, while those who are able to benefit from superfast and (full) fibre broadband are clearly reaping the benefits, this is not the case in many areas of the UK. For example, in April this year, a survey by consumer watchdog ‘Which?’ has revealed that more than half of UK customers across 12 providers, are having problems with their broadband service or price.

Although this latest government announcement paints a positive picture of superfast broadband in the UK, the UK is now only at 35th place in the global average broadband speed league tables. This is because it has been too late in embracing a full-fibre solution – FTTP (fibre to the premises). Many critics have pointed to UK infrastructure provider Openreach shying away from FTTP because of the perceived costs and level of difficulty of large-scale rollouts.

For the time being then, UK businesses have to rely on the slower FTTC (fibre to the cabinet), and this has put UK businesses at a competitive disadvantage with businesses in many other European countries.

Major improvements to broadband speeds for UK businesses in most areas are still a long way off as the UK may only actually have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020, with full coverage unlikely for another 15+ years.

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.

UK Slips To 35th Place In Global Broadband Speed Table

A recent comparison of 163 million broadband speed tests across 200 countries shows that the UK has slipped from 31st to 35th place in the global average broadband speed league tables.

Lagging In Europe

This latest result means that, even though average speeds in the UK have risen in the past year and, at 18.5Mbps, are above the global average, the UK is now lagging behind 25 other European countries.

Although the UK’s ranking is now actually above 165 other countries, it is still in the bottom third of EU member states.

Top Speeds

Globally, Singapore tops the average broadband speed table with 60 Mbps. In Europe, the Scandinavian countries are top of the league with Sweden at 46Mbps, Denmark at 43.9Mbps, and Norway at 40.1Mbps.

To give some idea of the gulf between broadband speeds at the top and bottom of the table, the lowest average broadband speeds can be found in Yemen (0.3Mbps), East Timor (0.49Mbps), and Turkmenistan (0.56Mbps).

Why The UK Fall In The Rankings?

It is widely believed that the UK is starting to drop further behind many of its European neighbours in average broadband speeds because it has been too late in embracing a full-fibre solution – FTTP (fibre to the premises). Many critics have pointed to UK infrastructure provider Openreach shying away from FTTP because of the perceived costs and level of difficulty of large-scale rollouts.

At present, many UK homes and businesses, therefore, have to rely on the slower FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) alternative, which uses copper wires to carry broadband from street cabinets to homes.

Openreach

Back in November 2016, partly because of its slowness to move to super-fast broadband but mainly because of a perceived monopoly, BT-owned Openreach was ordered by Ofcom to become a legally separate entity.

Hope

As well as Openreach’s competitors such as Hyperoptic moving forward with plans to offer FTTP to 2 million urban premises by 2022, the UK government has also recently updated its plans to bring FTTC to the UK. For example, the UK government’s National Infrastructure Commission (Nic) is now pushing for FTTC to be deployed around the UK by 2033, and hopefully, to be available to 15 million homes by 2025.

At the end of last year, the UK government announced that six regions of the UK would host trials of full fibre broadband for businesses, schools and hospitals as part of a £200m scheme by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). The regions are Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, West Sussex, Coventry and Warwickshire, Bristol and Bath & North East Somerset, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This latest drop down the table of average broadband speeds is bad news, but not a surprise for UK businesses. Broadband is now an essential service for business, and businesses know from their own experience that broadband services in the UK can sometimes be slow, patchy, and often expensive. A recent survey by watchdog ‘Which?’, for example, revealed that more than half of UK customers across 12 providers, are having problems with their broadband service or price.

At the moment, better broadband services, particularly for businesses in rural locations, still seem a very long way off as the reality is that the UK ranks only 35th in the world for average broadband speeds, and we may only actually have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020, with full coverage unlikely for another 15 years. This could affect the competitiveness of UK companies compared to their European neighbours and other global competitors for a long time to come.

NHS Booking App and Doc Bot

In the NHS’s 70th year, and as part of the push for digitisation, the introduction of an appointment-booking app has been praised, while a GP chatbot has been given the thumbs-down by The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

Book Appointments With A Free NHS App

A free app, due to be launched at the end of this year, will enable NHS patients to make GP appointments, order repeat prescriptions, and access the 111 helpline for urgent medical needs.

The app, which is being jointly developed by NHS Digital and NHS England, and is part of NHS England’s wider strategy to digitise the health service, will be made available through the App Store or Google.

Other Options

As well as booking appointments and ordering prescriptions, the app will also give patients other options such as allowing them to opt-out of sharing their personal information for research and planning purposes across the health service, mark their preferences on organ donation, and register their choices for end-of-life care.

Helpful

Many commentators have praised the idea of the app as something that could provide extra convenience to patients e.g. reducing the 8am scramble for GP appointments, and take some of the increasing load off some areas of the NHS.

Security Caution

Some commentators have stressed the need to ensure that the security, reliability, and the identity verification processes of the app are of the highest international security standards in order to protect the personal details and medical history of patients.

Big No for Doc App

While the NHS appointment-booking app has been receiving cautious praise, the new Babylon AI chatbot that can diagnose medical conditions (and offer health advice based on what users tell it) got the thumbs-down at an event held by The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

Accuracy?

One of the main aspects of the bot that upset physicians were claims by Babylon that the bot has achieved medical exam scores of the same level as or higher than a human doctor. The company says that according to its robust testing program, which includes relevant sections of the MRCGP exam, which is the final test for a trainee GP, Babylon’s AI bot’s average pass mark was 81%. This mark is higher than the 72% average pass mark achieved by real doctors over the past five years.

These claims have been disputed by RCGP, which has stressed the point that no app or algorithm is able to do what a GP does.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Apps are being used in useful and value-adding ways in so many other sectors, it is no surprise that they are being developed for healthcare, and with the purpose of taking some of the burden off the NHS. For most people, the NHS is s trusted organisation anyway, and an app that can essentially perform administrative functions, such as booking appointments, sounds as though it could be very useful. The trust that many have in the NHS may also be enough to minimise security concerns. One criticism may be, however, that it may exclude the older members of society, many of whom are regular users of NHS services.

Even though an AI app may be able to pass theoretical exams (such as the Babylon AI app) getting people to trust it to make a diagnosis and then health suggestions, particularly when it has been criticised by real doctors, may be a step too far at the current time. That particular app company, however, has faced criticism in the past over its ‘GP at Hand’ app for the NHS, which allows patients at five London clinics to consult with their GP via a video call. The RCGP criticised it for cherry-picking patients, and leaving GPs to deal with the most complex patients without sufficient resources.

Either way, the NHS is committed to digitising some aspects of its services, and in introducing technology, a balance needs to be struck between adding real value in a fair way to all, while not being to the detriment of any NHS users and practitioners.

Visa Crash In Europe Causes ‘Cash Only’ Chaos

On Friday 1st from 2.30pm, a Europe-wide system failure at Visa that left shoppers embarrassed as their card payments were declined and stores switched to ‘cash only’.

Not Just Visa Customers

To make matters worse, because a range of different banks and other financial institutions use Visa’s payment system, even those making transactions using non-Visa branded cards were affected and were unable to make purchases.

The problem was compounded by the fact that it happened at a time when many people were leaving work on a Friday. There have also been reports circulating that even if some card purchases were declined, the money may still have been taken from accounts, and customers have been urged to check.

What Happened?

There are no precise details as to the reason for the system crash other than Visa’s explanation as a “hardware failure”.
Visa has also been quick to announce that it has no reason to believe that the system crash was associated with any unauthorised access or malicious events.

ATMs Still Working in UK

In the UK, although many customers found themselves in extremely awkward situations e.g. unable to pay for meals or petrol, customers were still able to take cash out of ATMs (if there was one nearby). This led to large queues forming at ATMs in towns and cities across the country.

Queues

Whereas many customers faced the embarrassment and inconvenience of having their cards declined in shops across Europe, others found themselves being forced to wait in queues because of the disruption. For example, in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, it was reported that Primark customers had to queue for 20 minutes to pay, and staff were unable to note the reasons why transactions were failing. Also, it was reported that the Visa system failure caused a 45 minute wait for those trying to use the Severn Bridge as drivers were unable to pay the toll by card.

Anger

Not surprisingly, many people took to social media to vent their anger at Visa for the embarrassment and inconvenience caused. In Spain, the Guardia Civil tried to calm and re-assure people by sending a tweet urging everyone to stay calm, and used a picture of Captain Jack Sparrow to help explain that if they couldn’t pay, it wasn’t because they had been robbed or hacked.
Visa has apologised, and has stated that its payment system is operating at “full capacity”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though the problems only lasted a day, it is only a matter of weeks since TSB’s catastrophic computer meltdown caused misery to customers after the bank tried to migrate its computer systems from its old Lloyds Bank systems to its new core banking system, Proteo4UK.

We are now a society that is moving away from cash, in favour of cards and particularly contactless payments. Also, this move away from cash has meant the closing of many ATMs. Both of these factors mean that system failures of this kind can be particularly disruptive.

For businesses, customers not being able to pay meant that profits were hit, their premises experienced disruption with some staff being left to face angry customers, and unable to offer a clear explanation.

The incident has, no doubt, also illustrated to any potential hackers how interconnected payment systems are across Europe and how many countries could be brought to a virtual standstill if they were able to breach the systems of major payment processing companies such as Visa.

7-Fold Rise in Mobile Fraud

It seems that as we spend more time using mobile devices, the fraudsters are following us as a new RSA Security report shows a massive rise in mobile fraud over the last 3 years.

Up Nearly 700%!

The latest quarterly report by fraud and risk intelligence experts at RSA Security shows that as the volume of mobile app transactions has risen by 200% since 2015, accordingly the growth rate for fraudulent transactions has increased to a massive 680%.

New Accounts and ‘Burner Phones’

One of the key trends at the heart of the rise in mobile fraud is the apparent rise of the use of fake new accounts and ‘burner / burn phones’ to commit fraud.

A burner / burn phone is a mobile phone handset that is acquired for temporary use, is usually prepaid / without a contract in order to retain the user’s anonymity, and can be discarded if necessary.

Alongside the burner phone, fraudsters are also known to use stolen identities to set up fake ‘money mule’ accounts, purely for the purpose of collecting the cash from their fraudulent activities.

The RSA report shows that new accounts and new devices have been used in this way in 32% of all the fraudulent transactions in the last quarter.

Phishing Still Top

The report shows that phishing is still the top fraudulent activity accounting for 48% of all fraud attacks in Q1 of 2018.

Trojan Malware & Payment Card Compromise

Other popular frauds involve the use of Trojan malware to steal financial credentials. This method was used in one in four fraud attacks in Q1 2018.

Also, using details from compromised cards is still a very common activity among fraudsters, and the RSA researchers who compiled the report claim to have recovered more than 3.1 million unique compromised cards and card details (which included verification numbers) on offer from online sources in Q1.

Mobile App Security

It is believed that poor security in mobile apps is allowing many criminals to hijack mobile applications and siphon off credentials and funds from many unwitting users.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

These figures show that our increasing use of mobile devices and apps has opened the door to even more channels for fraudsters. There is clearly a responsibility among mobile app developers and those commissioning mobile apps to deliver their services to ensure that security is built-in from the ground up. This should mean making sure that all source code is secure and known bug-free, all data exchanged over app should be encrypted, caution should be exercised when using third-party libraries for code, and only authorised APIs should be used. Also, developers should be building-in high levels of authentication, using tamper-detection technologies, using tokens instead of device identifiers to identify a session, using the best cryptography practices e.g. store keys in secure containers, and conducting regular, thorough testing.

As users of mobile devices and apps, we also need to pay attention to our own levels of security. For example, we can take precautions to stop ourselves from falling victim to mobile fraud by using mobile security and antivirus scan apps, only using trusted apps / trusted app sources, uninstalling old apps and turning off connections when not using them, locking our phones when not in use, using 2-factor authentication, and using a VPN rather than just the free Wi-Fi when out and about.

Facial Recognition In The Classroom

A school in Hangzhou, capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang, is reportedly using facial recognition software to monitor pupils and teachers.

Intelligent Classroom Behaviour Management System

The facial recognition software is part of what has been dubbed The “intelligent classroom behaviour management system”. The reason for the use of the system is reported to be to supervise both the students’ learning, and the teachers’ teaching.

How?

The system uses cameras to scan classrooms every 30 seconds. These cameras are part of a facial recognition system that is reported to be able to record students’ facial expressions, and categorize them into happy, angry, fearful, confused, or upset.

The system, which acts as a kind of ‘virtual teaching assistant’, is also believed to be able to record students’ actions such as writing, reading, raising a hand, and even sleeping at a desk.

The system also measures levels of attendance by using a database of pupils’ faces and names to check who is in the classroom.

As well as providing the school with added value monitoring of pupils, it may also prove to be a motivator for pupils to modify their behaviour to suit the rules of the school and the expectations of staff.

Teachers Watched Too

In addition to monitoring pupils, the system has also been designed to monitor the performance of teachers in order to provide pointers on how they could improve their classroom technique.

Safety, Security and Privacy

One other reason why these systems are reported to be increasing in popularity in China is to provide greater safety for pupils by recording and deterring violence and questionable practices at Chinese kindergartens.

In terms of privacy and security, the vice principal of the Hangzhou No.11 High School is reported to have said that the privacy of students is protected because the technology doesn’t save images from the classroom, and stores data on a local server rather than on the cloud. Some critics have, however, said that storing images on a local server does not necessarily make them more secure.

Inaccurate?

If the experiences of the facial recognition software that has been used by UK police forces is anything to go by, there may be questions about the accuracy of what the Chinese system records. For example, an investigation by campaign group Big Brother Watch, the UK’s information Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has recently said that the Police could face legal action if concerns over accuracy and privacy with facial recognition systems are not addressed.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There are several important aspects to this story. Many UK businesses already use their own internal CCTV systems as a softer way of monitoring and recording staff behaviour, and as a way to modify their behaviour i.e. simply by knowing their being watched. Employees could argue that this is intrusive to an extent, and that a more positive way of getting the right kind of behaviour should (also) have a system that rewards positive / good behaviour and good results.

Using intelligent facial recognition software could clearly have a place in many businesses for monitoring customers / service users e.g. in shops and venues. It could be used to enhance security. It could also, as in the school example, be used to monitor staff in any number of situations, particularly those where concentration is required and where positive signals need to be displayed to customers. These systems could arguably increase productivity, improve behaviour and reduce hostility / violence in the workplace, and provide a whole new level of information to management that could be used to add value.

However, it could be argued that using these kinds of systems in the workplace could make people feel as though ‘big brother’ is watching them, could lead to underlying stress, and could have big implications where privacy and security rights are concerned. It remains to be seen how these systems are justified, regulated and deployed in future, and how concerns over accuracy, cost-effectiveness, and personal privacy and security are dealt with.