Archive for Software

PayPal Drops Out of Facebook’s Libra Cryptocurrency

PayPal has announced that it is not going to be a part of the Switzerland-based Libra Association that is overseeing the introduction of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency.

What Is Libra?

Libra is a cryptocurrency, designed and coded by Facebook, that will enable payments to be made by a special phone app and by messaging services such as WhatsApp so that spending the new currency could be as easy and fast as texting.  Libra was announced as being targeted at the 1.7 billion adults worldwide who do not have a bank account (unbanked).

Unlike other cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Libra will offer the security from massive value fluctuation by being asset-backed and pegged to other currencies and it will not have a traditional bank ‘middleman’, therefore enabling fast and frictionless transactions.

Units of Libra units can be purchased via Libra’s platforms and stored it in a digital wallet called “Calibra”.

Libra Association

The Libra Association, which PayPal has just left, is a 28-member (now 27) association of multinational companies and non-profits, hoping to grow to 100 or more members.  The Libra Association, based in Switzerland will be responsible for the management of Libra and members of the Association include Mastercard, eBay, Spotify, Uber, Vodafone, and a variety of charities such as Women’s World Banking.

Why Has PayPal Left?

PayPal has not given a clear reason why it has left the Libra Association, but there is speculation among some commentators that it may be due to PayPal wanting to distance its brand from the fact that regulators, particularly in Washington and Brussels, appear to be concerned that the Libra project could be seen as a means to bypass rules relating to money laundering and tax evasion.  There is also speculation that PayPal may have been concerned that Facebook executives haven’t paid attention to PR that could counter much of the initial criticism of Libra.

PayPal has said, however, that “We remain supportive of Libra’s aspirations and look forward to continued dialogue on ways to work together in the future”.

Others?

There are also press reports that other Association members such as Mastercard, Visa, and digital payment platform and processor Stripe may be considering leaving the Libra Association due to concerns about the suggestions that Libra could potentially be used for money laundering to tax evasion.

France Says No

In September, France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, said that the development of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency will be blocked in Europe unless concerns over risks to consumers and to the monetary systems of countries can be addressed.

Warnings and Concerns

Back in July, finance chiefs from the Group of Seven democracies warned that cryptocurrencies like Libra would have to address “serious regulatory and systemic concerns” before they would be allowed.  Also, President Trump has said in a Tweet that he isn’t a fan of Libra, and central bank chiefs, including Mark Carney have also expressed concerns about Libra.

Some sceptical commentators have also noted that Libra may be less about money and blockchain anyway but more about gathering more information about the identity of clients.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Libra is now coming under increased scrutiny, and the mention of phrases like ‘money laundering’ or ‘tax evasion’ appear to be enough to scare some of the big financial brands away from the Libra project, at least until regulators’ questions have been answered and the heat has died down.  The fact that a big name like PayPal has pulled out, with other big names such as Mastercard and Visa looking likely to follow is undoubtedly going to be a big blow to the image and credibility of Libra, although the Libra Association still has 25+ other members and is hoping to grow this to include 100 or so other big names.

Countries and banks are clearly worried by the possible shift in control to big business that Libra could bring, and this shift in control could have a number of effects on the business environment and the economies of countries if Libra proves to be popular.

Even though Libra users are not intended to be businesses, if Libra does help the ‘unbanked’ this could have a knock-on effect in helping that segment of society to buy more goods and services, thereby helping businesses and the economy.

AI and the Fake News War

In a “post-truth” era, AI is one of the many protective tools and weapons involved in the battles that male up the current, ongoing “fake news” war.

Fake News

Fake news has become widespread in recent years, most prominently with the UK Brexit referendum, the 2017 UK general election, and the U.S. presidential election, all of which suffered interference in the form of so-called ‘fake news’ / misinformation spread via Facebook which appears to have affected the outcomes by influencing voters. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, where over 50 million Facebook profiles were illegally shared and harvested to build a software program to generate personalised political adverts led to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appearing before the U.S. Congress to discuss how Facebook is tackling false reports. A video that was shared via Facebook, for example (which had 4 million views before being taken down), falsely suggested that smart meters emit radiation levels that are harmful to health. The information in the video was believed by many even though it was false.

Government Efforts

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published a report (in February) on Disinformation and ‘fake news’ highlighting how “Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms”.  The UK government has, therefore, been calling for a shift in the balance of power between “platforms and people” and for tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament and overseen by an independent regulator.

Fact-Checking

One way that social media companies have sought to tackle the concerns of governments and users is to buy-in fact-checking services to weed out fake news from their platforms.  For example, back in January London-based, registered charity ‘Full Fact’ announced that it would be working for Facebook, reviewing stories, images and videos to tackle misinformation that could “damage people’s health or safety or undermine democratic processes”.

Moderation

A moderator-led response to fake news is one option, but its reliance upon humans means that this approach has faced criticism over its vulnerability to personal biases and perspectives.

Automation and AI

Many now consider automation and AI to be an approach and a technology that are ‘intelligent’, fast, and scalable enough to start to tackle the vast amount of fake news that is being produced and circulated.  For example, Google and Microsoft have been using AI to automatically assess the truth of articles.  Also, initiatives like the Fake News Challenge (http://www.fakenewschallenge.org/) seeks to explore how AI technologies, particularly machine learning and natural language processing, can be leveraged to combat fake news, and supports the idea that AI technologies hold promise for significantly automating parts of the procedure human fact-checkers use to determine if a story is real or a hoax.

However, the human-written rules underpinning AI, and how AI is ‘trained’ can also lead to bias.

Deepfake Videos

Deepfake videos are an example of how AI can be used to create fake news in the first place.  Deepfake videos use deep learning technology and manipulated images of target individuals (found online), often celebrities, politicians, and other well-known people to create an embarrassing or scandalous video. Deepfake audio can also be manipulated in a similar way.  Deepfake videos aren’t just used to create fake news sources, but they can also be used by cyber-criminals for extortion.

AI Voice

There has also been a case in March this year, where a group of hackers were able to use AI software to mimic an energy company CEO’s voice in order to steal £201,000.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Fake news is a real and growing threat, as has been demonstrated in the use of Facebook to disseminate fake news during the UK referendum, the 2017 UK general election, and the U.S. presidential election. State-sponsored politically targeted campaigns can have a massive influence on an entire economy, whereas other fake news campaigns can affect public attitudes to ideas and people and can lead to many other complex problems.

Moderation and automated AI may both suffer from bias, but at least they are both ways in which fake news can be tackled, to an extent.  Through adding fact-checking services, other monitoring, and software-based approaches e.g. through browsers, social media and other tech companies can take responsibility for weeding out and guarding against fake news.

Governments can also help in the fight by putting pressure on social media companies and by collaborating with them to keep the momentum going and to help develop and monitor ways to keep tackling fake news.

That said, it’s still a big problem, no solution is infallible, and all of us as individuals would do well to remember that, especially today, you really can’t believe everything you read and an eye to source and bias of news coupled with a degree of scepticism can often be healthy.

Google’s Chrome To Block Mixed Content Pages Without HTTPS

Google has announced that in a series of steps starting in Chrome 79, all mixed content will gradually be blocked by default.

What Is Mixed Content?

Mixed content refers to the insecure http:// sub-resources that load into https:// pages, thereby creating a possible way in for attackers to compromise what appears to be a secure web page.  For example, this could be any audio, video, and images that are loaded insecurely from HTTP but appear as part of an HTTPS page when it loads.  Many browsers are already able to block other types of mixed content by default such as scripts and iframes.

Why Worry?

Mixed content from a non-secure source poses privacy and security risks and could provide a way for attackers to spread misinformation.  For example, an attacker could alter a chart to mislead viewers or could hide a tracking cookie in a mixed resource load.  Also, the mix of secure and insecure content in a page could confuse browser security UX.  Google’s own research shows that Mobile devices account for the majority of unencrypted end-user traffic.

What Does HTTPS Do?

HTTPS provides a secure, encrypted channel for web connections that can protect users against issues such as eavesdroppers, man-in-the-middle attacks and hijackers spoofing a trusted website. The kind of encryption offered by HTTPS stops interception of your information and ensures the integrity of the information that you send and receive.

Older hardware and software can pose a privacy and security risk because it often doesn’t support modern encryption technologies.

Progress

Progress has been made to make web browsing more secure with the move towards the full introduction of HTTPS, and Google is keen to point out that Chrome users now spend over 90% of their browsing time on HTTPS on all major platforms.

Google now sees its next task as ensuring that HTTPS configurations across the web are secure and up to date.

Roll-Out In Steps

Google says that the roll-out of its blocking of mixed content will happen in a series of steps starting with the release of Chrome 79 (in December 2019) with its new setting to unblock mixed content on specific sites.  Next, Chrome 80 (due for release in January 2020) will auto-upgrade mixed audio and video resources to https://.  Chrome 80 will display a “Not Secure” chip in the Omnibox for mixed images.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The introduction of measures to display warnings about and to block mixed content will put pressure on some businesses to clean up their web pages and make it more difficult for cyber-criminals to find a way through browser security.  This is good news for businesses and web users alike.

It should be remembered, however, that secure websites with encrypted connections can still be harmed by certain cryptographic weaknesses e.g. due to external or related-domain hosts, so it’s important for businesses and individuals to keep up to date with software patches and fixes.

AI and Facial Analysis Job Interviews

Reports of the first job interviews conducted in the UK using Artificial Intelligence and facial analysis technology have been met with mixed reactions.

The Software

The AI and facial analysis technology used for the interviews comes from US firm HireVue. The main products available from HireVue for interviewing are Pre-Employment Assessments and Video Interviewing.

For the Pre-Employment Assessments, the software uses AI, video game technology, and game-based and coding challenges to collect candidate insights related to work style, how the candidate works with people, and general cognitive ability. The Assessments are customisable to specific hiring objectives or ready to deploy based on pre-validated models. The data points are analysed by HireVue’s proprietary machine learning algorithms, and the insights gained are intended to enable businesses to save time and use recruitment resources more effectively by enabling businesses to quickly prioritise which candidates to shortlist for interviews.

The Video Interviewing product uses real-time evaluation tools and can assess around 25,000 data points in one interview.  During interviews, candidates are asked to answer pre-scripted questions with HireVue Live offering a real-time collaborative video interview that can involve a whole recruitment team. The benefits of on-demand video-based assessments, which can be conducted in less than 30 minutes, are that recruiters and managers don’t have to synchronize candidates and calendars, and can evaluate more candidates, thereby being able to spend their time deciding between the best candidates.

Who Is Using The Software?

According to HireVue, 700+ companies use the software (not all in the UK) including Vodafone, Urban Outfitters, Intel, Ikea, Hilton, Unilever, Singapore Airlines, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. It has been reported, however, that the technology has already been used for 100,000 interviews in the UK.

Concerns

Even though there are obvious on-demand expertise, time and cost savings for companies, and HireVue displays case studies from satisfied customers on its website, AI and facial analysis technology use in interviews has been met with criticism by privacy and rights groups.

For example, it has been reported that Big Brother Watch representatives have voiced concerns about the ethics of using this method, possible bias and discrimination (if the AI hasn’t been trained on a diverse-enough range of people), and that unconventional but still good potential candidates could fall foul of algorithms that can’t take account of the complexities of human speech, body language and expression.

Robot Interviewer

Back in March, it was reported that TNG and Furhat Robotics in Sweden have developed a social, unbiased recruitment robot called “Tengai” that can be used to conduct job interviews with human candidates. The basic robot was developed several years ago and looks like an internally projected human face on a white head sitting on top of a speaker (with camera and microphone built-in).  The robot is made with pre-built expressions and gestures as part of a pre-loaded OS which can be further customised to fit any character, and the HR-tech application software that Tengai uses means that it can conduct situation and skill-based interviews in a way that is as close as possible to a human interviewer. This includes using “hum”, nodding its head, and asking follow-up questions.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Like the Swedish Tengai robot Interviews, the HireVue Pre-Employment Assessment (and possibly the video) appear to be have been designed to be used at the early part of the recruitment process as a way of enabling big companies to quickly create a shortlist of candidates to focus on. As businesses become used to, and realise the value of outsourcing as a way of making better use of resources and buying in scalable and on-demand skills and resources, it appears that bigger companies are also willing to trust new technology to the point where they outsource expertise and human judgement in exchange for the promise of better, and more cost-effective recruitment management.

AI, facial recognition, and other related new technologies and algorithms are being trusted and adopted more by big businesses which also need to remember, for the benefit of themselves and their customers and job candidates that they need to make sure that bias is minimised, and that technology is unlikely to be able to pick up on every (potentially important) nuance of human behaviour and speech.  It should never be forgotten that we each have the most powerful, amazing and perceptive ‘computer’ available in the form of our own brain, and for vast amount of medium and small businesses that probably can’t afford or don’t want to use AI to choose recruits, experienced human interviewers can also make good recruitment decisions.

That said, as technology progresses, AI-based recruitment systems are likely to improve by gaining their own experience, and be augmented, and become more widely available and affordable to the point that they become a standard first challenge for job applicants in many situations.

Email Signature Legally Binding For Lawyer

A recent ruling by the High Court that an email containing an automated signature is legally binding proved costly to the lawyer who sent such an email on behalf of his client that included the wrong price for a land sale.

£25,000 Below

The unfortunate lawyer, Daniel Tear, who sent an email to another lawyer setting out the terms for an owner’s land/property sale (but with the sale price listed as £25,000 lower than the asking price) the ruling about his email signature at the County Court in Manchester proved to be very costly.

In the case, which related to a dispute over the sale of land near Lake Windermere listed as a “jetty/boat landing plot/mooring”, it has been reported that the land should have been offered for sale at the asking price of £200,000 but (according to published court documents) but Mr Tear’s email to the lawyer of those wishing to purchase the land specified a price of “ £175,000 (one hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds”.

The lawyer acting for the buyer accepted the deal, and despite Mr Tear later emailing all the parties to say the deal had not been finalised by email, the court ruling went against him and his client.

Why?

According to the published court documents which refer to matters related to certain sections of the Law of Property Act of 1989, Mr Tear’s auto-signature (using Microsoft Outlook) which appeared at the bottom of his email, accompanied by the words “Many Thanks” (which link the email’s contents to the signature) were enough to make the contents of the email’s agreement binding.

In a hearing which considered the many difficulties around an email footer possibly being treated as a sufficient act of signing the judge stated that he was “satisfied that Mr Tear signed the relevant email on behalf of the Defendant” and that “the Claimants are entitled to the order for specific performance that is sought”.

Mr Tear’s argument that the case fell under Section 2 (1) of the Law of Property Act of 1989 i.e. “The document incorporating the terms or, where contracts are exchanged, one of the documents incorporating them (but not necessarily the same one) must be signed by or on behalf of each party to the contract” was, therefore, not accepted by the court.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As with most legal matters, if you read the court documents (here: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2019/2462.html) there were many different considerations based around the case. One thing that businesses can take away from this case, however, is that if you create and add an email signature section to the footer of your Outlook emails, even though it is automatically added to each of your emails, it may still prove to be enough to legally bind you to the contents of the email, even though you may have made a mistake. It goes without saying, therefore, that businesses need to be very careful to check that prices and quotes emails to clients (where an email signature is included) are correct and that any terms are clearly stated.  This ruling could now and in future have implications for many businesses in disputes relating to the contents of business emails.

Worldwide Rollout of ‘Personal Vault’ OneDrive Security Features

Microsoft has announced that the ‘Personal Vault’ security features for its OneDrive storage service are now available worldwide on all OneDrive consumer accounts.

What Is Personal Vault?

Personal Vault is a protected area in OneDrive that can only be accessed with a strong authentication method or a second step of identity verification.  These methods include a fingerprint, face, PIN, or a code sent to the OneDrive user via email or SMS.

The idea of Personal Vault is to add another layer of protection to important files, photos, and videos e.g. copies of documents such as a passport, driver’s licence, or insurance information. Even though the new feature means that users must go through a verification process, Microsoft has stressed that it won’t slow users down and that they should still be able to quickly access their files on a PC, OneDrive.com or on their mobile device.

Protection Against Lost, Stolen, or Unauthorised Access

The Personal Vault security measures should mean that files are not being stored unprotected on a PC and have additional protection, even if the Windows 10 PC or mobile device is lost, stolen, or if someone gains access to it or to the user’s account.

Other Security Measures

In addition to the second layer of identity verification, Personal Vault also includes security measures such as :

  • Scan and shoot, which enables documents to be scanned or photos to be shot directly into the secure Personal Vault area rather than leaving them on a camera or unsecured device.
  • Automatic locking of the Personal Vault after a period of inactivity to protect against private files being left open accidentally.
  • BitLocker encryption on Windows 10 PCs, so that all Personal Vault files are synced to a BitLocker-encrypted area of the local hard drive.
  • Restricted sharing so that Personal Vault and shared items moved into Personal Vault can’t be shared.

Some Limitations

Personal Vault does come with some limitations. For example, users with OneDrive’s free or standalone 100GB storage plan can store up to three files in Personal Vault, and Office 365 subscribers can store as many files as they wish as long as this doesn’t exceed their normal storage limits.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For Microsoft Personal Vault, this is another step in its competition with its most popular competitor, Dropbox, which recently partnered with BetterCloud to help with it provide cutting-edge data protection and orchestration.

For businesses using OneDrive, these new security features should prove attractive, particularly when most businesses need safe, fast Cloud storage for mobile devices and work PCs, and need an easy, reliable and convenient way to store sensitive and personal files and data.

Tech Tip – How To Sign a PDF Without Printing It

If you need to sign PDFs and return them (e.g. as part of your sales or buying processes) there is a way to do it without having to go to the time and trouble of printing out the PDFs, signing them, scanning them, and then emailing the scans back.

To sign the PDF’s electronically using Adobe:

– Open Adobe Reader.

– Open the PDF file you want to sign.

– Select ‘Fill & Sign’ and use the tools to create your signature – ‘Add Text’, ‘Add Checkmark’, ‘Place Initials’, and ‘Place Signature’. Other tools there include ‘Send or Collect Signatures’ and ‘Work with Certificates’.

– Select ‘Place Signature’ and use the pop-up window to select how e.g. Select ‘Type my signature’.

– Type your signature.

– Under the Review Your Signature, choose a signature style.

– Click Accept.

This signature can now be placed anywhere you want on a PDF.

Deepfake Ransomware Threat Highlighted 

Multinational IT security company ‘Trend Micro’ has highlighted the future threat of cybercriminals making and posting or threatening to post malicious ‘deep fake’ videos online in order to cause damage to reputations and/or to extract ransoms from their target victims.

What Are Deepfake Videos?

Deep fake videos use deep learning technology and manipulated images of target individuals (found online), often celebrities, politicians, and other well-known people to create an embarrassing or scandalous video such as pornography or violent behaviour. The AI aspect of the technology means that even the facial expressions of those individuals featured in the video can be eerily accurate, and on first viewing, the videos can be very convincing.

An example of the power of deepfake videos can be seen on the Mojo top 10 (US) deep fake video compilation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QvIX3cY4lc

Audio Too

Deepfake ‘ransomware’ can also involve using AI to manipulate audio in order to create a damaging or embarrassing recording of someone, or to mimic someone for fraud or extortion purposes.

A recent example was outlined in March this year, when a group of hackers were able to use AI software to mimic (create a deep fake) of an energy company CEO’s voice in order to successfully steal £201,000.

Little Fact-Checking

Rik Ferguson, VP of security research and Robert McArdle, director of forward-looking threat research at Trend Micro recently told delegates at Cloudsec 2019 that deepfake videos have the potential to be very effective not just because of their apparent accuracy, but also because we live in an age when few people carry out their own fact-checking.  This means that by simply uploading such a video, the damage to reputation and the public opinion of the person is done.

Scalable & Damaging

Two of the main threats of deepfake ransomware videos is that they are very flexible in terms of subject matter i.e. anyone can be targeted, from teenagers for bullying to politicians and celebrities for money, and they are a very scalable way for cybercriminals to launch potentially lucrative attacks.

Positive Use Too

It should be said that deepfakes don’t just have a negative purpose but can also be used to help filmmakers to reduce costs and speed up work, make humorous videos and advertisements, and even help in corporate training.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The speed at which AI is advancing has meant that deepfake videos are becoming more convincing, and more people have the resources and skills to make them.  This, coupled with the flexibility and scalability of the medium, and the fact that it is already being used for dishonest purposes means that it may soon become a real threat when used by cybercriminals e.g. to target specific business owners or members of staff.

In the wider environment, deepfake videos targeted at politicians in (state-sponsored) political campaigns could help to influence public opinion when voting which in turn could have an influence on the economic environment that businesses must operate in.

Report Says Public Cloud May Double In Just Four Years

The new cloud market report from the Synergy Research Group shows that cloud-associated markets, such as the public cloud, are growing at rates ranging from 10% to over 40% and the annual spending on the cloud may double in four years.

IaaS & PaaS Biggest Growth

Synergy’s half-yearly report shows that, across the seven key cloud service and infrastructure market segments, revenues for operator and vendors in the first half of 2019 exceeded $150 billion, which is a rise in growth of 24% from the first half of 2018.

The biggest area of growth in the cloud infrastructure sector was in the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) market segments where there was a massive 44% growth rate.  IaaS is online, virtualised computing resources over the internet, and PaaS is where a provider hosts the hardware and software on its own infrastructure with PaaS products enabling developers to build custom applications online without having to worry about data serving, storage, and management.

The Synergy report also showed growth rates of enterprise SaaS at 27%, UCaaS at 23% and hosted private cloud infrastructure services at 20%.  The report also shows that spending on cloud services is now much greater than spending on supporting data centre infrastructure.

Infrastructure Investments

In the first half of 2019, cloud service provides spent $55 billion on the hardware and software used to build cloud infrastructure (evenly split between public and private clouds).  These infrastructure investments helped cloud service providers to generate over $90 billion in revenues from their cloud infrastructure services (IaaS, PaaS, hosted private cloud services) and enterprise SaaS.

Leaders

The Synergy report shows that the leaders in the IaaS and PaaS segments in the first half of 2019 are Microsoft, Amazon/AWS, Dell EMC, Cisco, HPE and Google.  Back in February, Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) reported a massive 45% growth in the revenue of the fourth quarter, mostly fuelled by big profits in its public cloud arm.

Other big names in that market segment include Salesforce, Adobe, VMware, IBM, Digital Realty, Equinix and Rackspace.

All these big players together account for over half of all cloud-related revenues.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The public cloud is being embraced by businesses as they seek to outsource and ditch traditional capital investment and maintenance problems and costs while reaping the benefits of having the pay-as-you-go scalability, security, and outsourced expertise that allows them to free up more of their own resources.  Cloud service providers are now investing heavily to win large slices of the cloud market with Amazon and Microsoft as market leaders, and as the Synergy report shows, this investment is delivering big revenues and impressive growth rates, particularly in the IaaS and PaaS market segments.

IBM To Offer Largest Quantum Computer Available For External Access Via Cloud

IBM has announced that it is opening a Quantum Computation Centre in New York which will bring the world’s largest fleet of quantum computing systems online, including the new 53-Qubit Quantum System for broad use in the cloud.

Largest Universal Quantum System For External Access

The new 53-quantum bit/qubit model is the 14th system that IBM offers, and IBM says that it is the single largest universal quantum system made available for external access in the industry, to date. This new system will (within one month) give its users the ability to run more complex entanglement and connectivity experiments.

IBM Q

It was back in March 2017 that IBM announced that it was about to offer a service called IBM Q that would be the first time that a universal quantum computer had been commercially available, giving access to (and use of) a powerful, universal quantum computer, via the cloud.

Since then, a fleet composed of five 20-qubit systems, one 14-qubit system, and four 5-qubit systems have been made available, and since 2016 IBM says that a global community of users have run more than 14 million experiments on their quantum computers through the cloud, leading to the publishing of more than 200 scientific papers.

Who?

Although most uses of quantum computers have been for isolated lab experiments, IBM is keen to make quantum computing widely available in the cloud to tens of thousands of users, thereby empowering what it calls “an emerging quantum community of educators, researchers, and software developers that share a passion for revolutionising computing”.

Why?

The hope is that by making quantum computing more widely available, it could lead to greater innovation, more scientific discoveries e.g. new medicines and materials, improvements in the optimisation of supply chains, and even better ways to model financial data leading to better investments which could have an important and positive knock-on effect in businesses and economies.

Partners

Some of the partners and clients that IBM says it has already worked with its quantum computers include:

  • J.P. Morgan Chase for ‘Option Pricing’ – a way to price financial options and portfolios. The method devised using the quantum computer has speeded things up dramatically so that financial analysts can now perform option pricing and risk analysis in near real-time.
  • Mitsubishi Chemical, Keio University and IBM, on a simulation related to reactions in lithium-air batteries which could lead to making more efficient batteries for mobile devices or automotive vehicles.

Quantum Risk?

Back in November 2018, however, security architect for Benelux at IBM, Christiane Peters, warned of the possible threat of commercially available quantum computers being used by criminals to try and crack encrypted business data.

As far back as 2015 in the US, the National Security Agency (NSA) warned that progress in quantum computing was at such a point that organisations should deploy encryption algorithms that can withstand such attacks from quantum computers.

The encryption algorithms that can stand up to attacks from quantum computers are known by several names including post-quantum cryptography / quantum-proof cryptography, and quantum-safe / quantum-resistant cryptographic (usually public-key) algorithms.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The ability to use a commercially available quantum computer via the cloud will give businesses and organisations an unprecedented opportunity to solve many of their most complex problems, develop new and innovative potentially industry-leading products and services and perhaps discover new, hitherto unthought-of business opportunities, all without needed to invest in hitherto prohibitively expensive hardware themselves. The 14 hugely powerful systems now available to the wider computing and business community could offer the chance to develop products that could provide a real competitive advantage in a much shorter amount of time and at much less cost than traditional computer architecture and R&D practices previously allowed.

As with AI, just as new technologies and innovative services can be used for good, their availability could also mean that in the wrong hands they could be used to pose a new threat that’s very difficult for most business to defend against. Quantum computing service providers, such as IBM, need to ensure that the relevant checks, monitoring and safeguards are in place to protect the wider business community and economy against a potentially new and powerful threat.