Your Latest IT News Update

£183 Million Fine (Biggest Ever) For BA Data Breach

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has imposed a £183 million fine on British Airways, the biggest fine to date under GDPR, for a data breach where the personal details of 500,000 customers were accessed by hackers.

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1000+ Android Apps Harvest Our Data Without Our Permission

Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute have reported that up to 1,325 Android apps are gathering data from devices after people have denied them permission, and Google claims that it will address the problem with the introduction of the new Android “Q” Operating System.

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Googlemail’s Tracking of Your Purchase History

CNBC research has highlighted how Googlemail creates a (difficult to delete) page of your purchase history by tracking your purchase receipt emails, and perhaps details stored in locations other than the inbox.

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Ad-Free Firefox Browser Service For $4.99 Per Month

Mozilla looks likely to be entering the premium browsing market later this year by offering a subscription-based (advert-free) browsing experience of selected journalism websites and other value-adding features via a special version of Firefox.

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Latest Windows 10 Update Causes Problems For VPN Enterprise Users

The latest update to Windows 10 could break the platform’s Remote Access Connection Manager (RASMAN) and, therefore, cause problems with VPN for Enterprise users with certain settings.

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Tech Tip – Apps To Stop Pocket Dialling

If you’ve ever accidentally pocket-dialled someone or accidentally clicked through things on your phone while it’s in your pocket, apps such as ‘Pocket Screen Lock’, ‘Pocket Mode’ and ‘Pocket Sensor’ can prevent this from happening.

<More>

£183 Million Fine (Biggest Ever) For BA Data Breach

183millionfine

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has imposed a £183 million fine on British Airways, the biggest fine to date under GDPR, for a data breach where the personal details of 500,000 customers were accessed by hackers.

The Breach

The breach, which involved criminals using what is known as a ‘supply chain hack’ took place between 21st August and 5th September 2018.  The attackers were able to insert a digital skimming file, made up of only 22 lines of JavaScript code, into the online payment forms of BA’s website and app. The malicious page in the app (identified by a RiskIQ researcher) was built using the same components as the real website, thereby giving a very close match to the design and functionality of the real thing. The skimming file meant that payment details entered into the malicious page by customers were intercepted live by the hackers who are believed to have been part of the Magecart group. Encryption was ineffective because the details were stolen before it reached company servers.

The fact that CVV codes were taken in the attack, which are not meant to be stored by companies, was a strong indicator of live skimming ‘supply chain’ attack.

Magecart is also believed to have used a similar digital skimmer hidden in a third-party element (chatbot) of the payment process to hack the Ticketmaster websites where 40,000 UK users were affected.

500,000 Affected In BA Breach

A staggering 500,000 personal and customer payment details were stolen in the BA Breach including names, email addresses, and credit card details including card numbers, expiry dates and the three-digit CVV codes.

Why Such A Big Fine?

The record-breaking £183 million fine was imposed because, under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a company can be fined 1.5% of its worldwide turnover and a maximum 4% of its worldwide turnover. In the case of BA, the £183 million equates to 1.5% of its worldwide turnover in 2017. 

The largest fine previous to this was imposed prior to GDPR under the old Data Protection Act where Facebook was fined £500,000 for its role in the sharing of customer data with Cambridge Analytica.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This enormous fine is a reminder of the powers granted to the ICO under GDPR and of just how seriously matters of data protection are now viewed, particularly where large companies which should have the protective measures in place are concerned. Even though BA has expressed surprise at the size of the fine it is worth remembering that 500,000 customer details were stolen including credit card numbers by what was actually a well-targeted and tailored but relatively simple method of attack.  This exposed vulnerabilities in the payment systems of a big company that should really have been picked up earlier.  

Despite the fine being £183 million at 1.5% of BA’s worldwide turnover, it could have been worse since the maximum fine is 4% of turnover. The fine for BA should send a powerful message to other corporations that they need to make the data protection of their customers a top priority.

1000+ Android Apps Harvest Our Data Without Our Permission

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Researchers from the International Computer Science Institute have reported that up to 1,325 Android apps are gathering data from devices after people have denied them permission, and Google claims that it will address the problem with the introduction of the new Android “Q” Operating System.

Apps Finding Way Around Privacy Restrictions

According to the ICSI researchers, who presented their findings last month at the Federal Trade Commission’s PrivacyCon, 1000+ apps are finding their way around privacy restrictions and are able to gather geolocation data, phone identifiers, and other data from users who may be thinking that they have successfully denied apps access to such data.

For example, in the study of 88,000+ apps from the Google Play store, the researchers were able to identify 1,325 apps that violate permissions on Android by using workarounds hidden in their code that can enable personal data to be taken from multiple sources including Wi-Fi connections and metadata stored in photos.

Which Apps?

The researchers highlighted apps such as Shutterfly photo-editing app which gathers GPS coordinates from photos and sends the data to its own servers, even after users have declined to give permission to access location data, and Baidu’s Hong Kong Disneyland park app and Samsung’s Health and Browser apps were found (like 13 other apps) to be able to piggyback off other apps that had been granted permission in order to obtain data like phone identifiers and IMEI numbers.

Android Q Could Help

It is thought the introduction of the latest (17th) version of Android’s Operating system, Android Q, released as a beta on March 13th and due for wider release later this year may be able to address many of these privacy concerns thanks to more stringent security features.  For example, users will be able to definitively choose and control when apps have permission to see their location i.e. never, only when the app is in use and running, or all the time when in the background. With Android Q, background apps won’t be able to jump into the foreground, and there will also be new permissions relating to the accessing of background photos, video, and audio files.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With mobile and app use being a normal part of everyday life, and with most people unable and unlikely to spend the time checking permissions and T&Cs on everything, we have to take on trust that when we deny it permissions, an app will abide by our decisions.  It may be a surprise, therefore, at a time when GDPR is in force and data privacy and security is a topic that many users think about and actively try to protect that so many apps are able to find workarounds that enable them to keep gathering data about us. It appears that it may be much more difficult to stay private online than many of us believe.

It is good news, therefore, that Android Q may provide a way to offer us greater protection and provide more of a challenge to companies and organisations that want access to our data e.g. to help target us with advertising, even though app developers may argue that they are simply using the gathered data to help enhance and personalise our experiences of their apps (to keep us using them).  App developers are in a highly competitive and crowded market and although gathering and using customer data to make their apps more indispensable may seem legitimate, most of us value our online privacy, would object to having our data permissions effectively ignored, and may feel frustrated that we still have so few tools and cues to help us effectively control our privacy.

Googlemail’s Tracking of Your Purchase History

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CNBC research has highlighted how Googlemail creates a (difficult to delete) page of your purchase history by tracking your purchase receipt emails, and perhaps details stored in locations other than the inbox.

Not Obvious

Back in May, CNBC researchers highlighted how your Googlemail account creates a page of your purchases, which it was believed was created by tracking the purchase receipts that arrive in the email inbox.  According to Google, the feature is included as a way of organising things “to help you get things done”.  In Google’s account help section, Google states that “Your Google Account includes purchases and reservations made using Search, Maps, and the Assistant, as well as your order confirmations from Gmail”.

In the announcements of the results of CNBC’s research back in May, it was noted that this “private destination” purchases page wasn’t mentioned on the Data & Personalization page in a Google Account and as such, it may have been inconvenient for users to have to search for it.  It was also noted by researchers at the time that the only way to ensure that purchase data was deleted from the page was to go to the time and trouble of finding the digital receipt in the Gmail account and deleting it.

Hard To Delete

In the latest CNBC research findings, it has been claimed that, even though researcher Todd Haselton deleted each single purchase email from his Gmail inbox in order to clear the purchases page, on returning three weeks later, he found that all of his purchases (over years) were again listed on the purchases page.  This has led to the assumed conclusion that the listing of our purchases may also be stored in another location other than the inbox.

How To Delete From Your Purchases Page

In Google’s help section here https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/7673989 and in the subsection ‘delete your purchases and reservations’, Google provides instructions on how to delete them i.e. sign in to your Google account, go to the Purchases page (for which a link is provided),  view your purchase details and select ‘Remove Purchase’, and follow the on-screen deletion instructions.

Privacy?

Some commentators have expressed the view that automatically collecting and storing online and offline purchase details in this way may appear to be at odds with Google’s public position of being focused on privacy.

This is certainly not the first time that Google has faced criticism over privacy matters.  For example, Google recently faced criticism over its reCaptcha V3 bot-detecting login system apparently requiring a Google cookie to be installed on a user’s browser which could potentially put the user’s browsing history privacy at risk.   Other examples of Google making the news over privacy concerns include a microphone was discovered in Google’s Nest Guard product that was not listed in tech spec (which was put down to an erroneous omission by Google), and in December last year, research by Internet Privacy Company DuckDuckGo reporting evidence that could show that even in Incognito mode, users of Google Chrome can still be tracked, and searches are still personalised accordingly.

Chrome Browser Alternatives

If you’re concerned about having aspects of your online behaviour tracked by Google’s Chrome browser, Wired recently compiled a list of anti-tracking web browsers which you may like to try.  These include new privacy-enhanced browser Brave, Ghostery which available as a standalone browser on mobile, Tor which provides layers of encryption and routing through various locations to protect your identity, DuckDuckGo for mobile devices, and FireFox Focus.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Google’s Chrome may be the most popular browser, but there may be many features about it that users may not be aware of and may be a little surprised about, the purchases page being one of them.  It’s a shame that users seem to have to actively seek out elements such as the purchases page and how to delete things from it rather than it being made more obvious and easily accessible with a Google account.  Even though Google has said that only the user can see it and that the details on the purchases page aren’t used for targeted advertising, it may still be of concern to many that data about their purchases over years is being collected and being stored, and that it may not be a simple task to delete it.  It is not surprising, therefore, that some users may be turning to privacy-enhanced browser alternatives as they feel less sure that tech giants such as Google are demonstrating that a real commitment to the kinds of privacy matters that are important to users.

Ad-Free Firefox Browser Service For $4.99 Per Month

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Mozilla looks likely to be entering the premium browsing market later this year by offering a subscription based (advert-free) browsing experience of selected journalism websites and other value-adding features via a special version of Firefox.

What’s The Problem?

Many news content websites rely on the revenue from adverts, but this can make for a distracting and annoying experience (adverts, pop-ups and auto-play videos) if you’re trying to browse the content on these websites.  This means that many people choose to use ad blockers, but these deprive the news websites of the ad revenue that enables them to produce free, quality content.

Google’s Idea

Google, for example, has entered the premium browsing market, but in a way that some commentators believe could alienate free Chrome users and non-Enterprise-level paying users. This is because Google has chosen to eliminate ad-blockers in Chrome unless users upgrade G Suite premium services.

Mozilla’s Firefox – Partnering With Publishers

Mozilla’s premium solution, however, is to include more value-adding features for a premium browsing subscription rather than simply taking away a browser feature (ad blocker) and to find a way for online content publishers to still make their money.  With the Firefox premium browsing deal, Mozilla is reported to have partnered with leading publishers so that Firefox’s premium service subscribers can access the content on key journalism websites, without being bothered by adverts, but with payments being made directly to the sites they read out of the revenue raised from subscriptions – a win/win.

The ad-free browsing deal will be available for desktop and mobile browsers, and it has been reported that a single monthly fee looks likely to cover ad-free browsing on all a subscriber’s devices.  One value-adding feature for subscribers reported to be built-in to the premium browsing experience is a reading sync system (already available on Pocket) that will enable Firefox users to pick up articles where they left off, even on other devices.

Other Features

It has also been reported that the Premium Firefox service could include bundled extra features (many of which are available as free add-ons now) such as audio versions of articles, a content discovery app and recommended reading selections.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For so-called ‘power users’ who like/need to access journalistic content from popular platforms in a fast, convenient way, across multiple devices, this premium service bundle may be a small price to pay and may prove popular. Google’s Chrome may be the market leader, but Mozilla may gain some ground here with a more inclusive and less alienating offering to all users.

Content providing websites may also find this to be quite an appealing service because it removes the need for the dreaded ad blockers and enables them to still make the necessary money to keep providing the content.

Latest Windows 10 Update Causes Problems For VPN Enterprise Users

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The latest update to Windows 10 could break the platform’s Remote Access Connection Manager (RASMAN) and, therefore, cause problems with VPN for Enterprise users with certain settings.

Potentially Millions

Given that the latest Windows update which contains the problem code accounts for 50 million users, it was initially thought that a problem may have been created on a massive scale. Microsoft has, however, said that the code problem will only impact Windows 10 Enterprise.

What’s The Problem?

With certain settings, the latest KB4501375 update for Windows 10 1903 contains code that appears to adversely affect the Remote Access Connection Manager (RASMAN), which manages how Windows 10 connects to the internet and, therefore, is affecting VPN services.  The interruption to VPN services happens for Windows 10 Enterprise and results from a non-default setting (the diagnostic data level being manually configured to the non-default setting of 0) when used in conjunction with a VPN profile being configured as ‘Always ON VPN’ (AOVPN).  This can result in an error “0xc0000005” being shown on devices as the RASMAN stops working, and reports indicate that users have also reported an error in the Application section of Windows Logs in the Event Viewer with Event ID 1000 listing “svchost.exe_RasMan” and “rasman.dll”.

VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) provides a secure, encrypted connection, between a user’s device and a server operated by the VPN service thereby meaning that apps running across a VPN benefit from the functionality, security, and management of the private network.

The VPN market has grown rapidly in recent years as users seek greater security, and the large number of mobile and wireless devices now used by businesses and organisations which need to access business applications from remote locations (employees securely accessing the corporate intranet while outside the office) has made VPN technology a crucial component across various business verticals.

What To Do

Microsoft is reported to be developing a fix for the problem with no timeframe as yet, but a workaround is shown near the bottom of the page on Microsoft’s support site here: https://support.microsoft.com/en-au/help/4501375/windows-10-update-kb4501375

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many businesses now have workers who need to access the company’s network securely from a variety of remote locations, and VPN has, therefore, become an important business tool.  Although there are many different VPN services, Microsoft is a big name, a trusted brand, and its Enterprise users (those with 500 or more computers and 250 for the public sector) may be those likely to be using Microsoft’s VPN.  The disruption to VPN caused by the update may, therefore, be significant and can’t help Microsoft in the highly competitive and growing VPN market. As well as being disruptive and potentially costly, having VPN problems could also pose a security and privacy risk to businesses. It may also be quite inconvenient having to wait for the fix to be developed, with no sign off it to date.

Tech Tip – Apps To Stop Pocket Dialling

techtippic

If you’ve ever accidentally pocket-dialled someone or accidentally clicked through things on your phone while it’s in your pocket, apps such as ‘Pocket Screen Lock’, ‘Pocket Mode’ and ‘Pocket Sensor’ can prevent this from happening.

These kinds of apps include a proximity sensor to enable them to detect when the phone is in your pocket whereupon it is locked and is unlocked again when it’s taken out of your pocket.

To find these and similar apps for Android, go to Google Play Store.

Your Latest IT News Update

‘Mobile-Sensing System’ Could Evaluate Your Workplace Performance

A newly developed ‘Mobile-Sensing System’ that uses a combination of smartphone, fitness bracelet, app and cloud-based machine learning algorithms can track and rank the workplace performance of employees with 80% accuracy.

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Visa Adopts Blockchain For Cross-Border, Bank To Bank B2B Payments

Visa is integrating blockchain technology with its core systems to enable participant businesses to make direct, cross-border, bank to bank payments to other corporate participants.

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Google’s reCAPTCHA v3 System Prompts Privacy Criticism

The widely used Google  reCaptcha V3 bot-detecting login system has come in for some criticism after two security researchers claimed that one of the ways that Google determines whether you’re a malicious user depends on whether you have a Google cookie installed on your browser, which could also mean that the privacy of your browsing habits may also be at risk in using the system.

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New Electric Cars Will Emit Noise For Safety Reasons

In contrast to the vision of a quieter, close-future utopia where vehicles pass noiselessly by, a new law means that from 2021, all new four-wheel electric cars will be required to include a noise emitting device so that pedestrians can hear the cars approaching. At low speeds, at least.

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E-Waste Inquiry

The growing number of connected electronic devices in use in the UK has led to an inquiry by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) which will focus on reducing ‘e-waste’ (dumped devices) and creating a circular economy.

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Tech Tip – ‘Over’ App

Stylish and engaging social media posts are an important part of marketing communications.  The Over app has the tools to help you to quickly and easily create stylish designs packed with photos, images and text, ready for Instagram, Facebook and other social sites, as well as for posters and flyers.

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‘Mobile-Sensing System’ Could Evaluate Your Workplace Performance

mobilesensing

A newly developed ‘Mobile-Sensing System’ that uses a combination of smartphone, fitness bracelet, app and cloud-based machine learning algorithms can track and rank the workplace performance of employees with 80% accuracy.

Based On Student Monitoring App

The underlying technology blueprint for the new system, which was developed by a group of researchers including Dartmouth University computer science professor Andrew Campbell, is a student monitoring app that was used to help improve productivity. The ‘StudentLife’ app monitored student behaviour and predicted academic performance.

The ‘Mobile-Sensing System’

The new ‘Mobile-Sensing System’ uses the combination of a smartphone to track physical activity, location, phone usage and ambient light, a wearable fitness tracker to monitor heart functions, sleep, stress, and body measurements e.g. weight and calorie consumption, and location beacons that can be placed in the home or office to provide information about time at work and breaks.

The number-crunching for the system is carried out by cloud-based machine learning algorithms that have been trained to classify workers by performance level.

Why?

The system provides feedback to both the employee and employer and, according to the researchers, by using this ‘passive’ sensing and machine learning system, companies have another way of assessing how individuals are doing in their jobs, and employees can be helped to see how they can optimise and boost their performance.

The researchers believe that the system can unlock and give greater insight into behaviours that drive performance and offers benefits over more traditional review techniques that can require manual effort and can be biased and unreliable.

Best Performers

The researchers have noted that, according to the new system, the best performers are likely to be those who have lower rates of phone usage, have longer deep sleep periods and are more physically active and mobile.

Surveillance?

Although the researchers have pitched the system as something that could help employer and employee, critics may say that, in the relationship where the employer has the power, this kind of close surveillance and micro-management tool could favour younger physically active people (those without disabilities or sleeping disorders), could create stress in individuals who feel that they are constantly being monitored and ‘ranked’ by a ‘big brother’ system with a view to being replaced based on numbers created by secret algorithms.

It could also mean that employees without home/family commitments or who live closer to work may be ranked as more productive because they are able to stay longer or come into the workplace outside normal hours.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This system does show how new technologies can be combined to provide closer insights into work and performance and in some jobs e.g. repetitive manual jobs where time is a key factor anyway.  For some employers, therefore, this system could have a real value in evaluating and improving working processes, particularly if it is accompanied by a positive rewards-based system, and if support is made available to those employees who don’t rank as highly.

This system, however, may not be able to take account of many of the other dynamics and soft factors that make up good performance, and may not be suitable as the main monitoring method in certain more specialised jobs and roles.  There is also a danger that this kind of system in the wrong hands could be used as a blunt instrument of surveillance and control over a workforce.

Privacy and security are also a major concern for businesses and employees, and whether or not the data and performance measurements can be linked to an individual, where (and how securely) that data is stored, and who the data can be shared with should be areas of concern.

Visa Adopts Blockchain For Cross-Border, Bank To Bank B2B Payments

vosaadopts

Visa is integrating blockchain technology with its core systems to enable participant businesses to make direct, cross-border, bank to bank payments to other corporate participants.

B2B Connect

The news system called Visa B2B Connect is being built using the Hyperledger Fabric framework from the Linux Foundation, and will mean that, rather than paying another corporate by cheque, automated clearing house or wire transfer, all of which require intermediary banks and exchanges, payments can be made directly and instantly from bank to bank of corporate customers.

This will mean cost and time savings, and the ability to pay and get paid 24-hours a day, regardless of location, local time differences, and other problematic traditional banking anomalies such as data truncation, payment delays and compliance issues.

Suite of APIs

The Visa B2B Connect system essentially provides a suite of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) which allow participating banks to automate B2B, cross-border and cross-currency payments, by developing an end-to-end B2B payments solution to onboard customers, set up their suppliers, check Visa B2B Connect foreign exchange rates and submit payments. Alternatively, banks can choose to integrate just a subset of the APIs to address more specific needs e.g. checking on the status of certain payments through the Visa B2B Connect site.

Expansion Plans

Although the new system will only work for those corporates signed-up as participants to Visa’s pilot scheme, there are already plans to expand it so that it will cover more than 30 global trade corridors and 90 markets by the end of this year.

Benefits

The benefits that the blockchain-based B2B Connect system offers include cryptographically secured B2B transactions, transaction transparency and predictability, and the peace of mind and security of operating within a trusted network where all parties are known participants on a permissioned blockchain operated by Visa.

Blockchain Lacking Functionality

Recent research by Gartner showed that Only 11% of CIOs have deployed or are in short-term planning with blockchain, partly because of the fact that, at the moment, blockchain is a technology and not a complete, ready to use application, and therefore, lacks business-friendly features like a user interface, business logic, data persistence and interoperability mechanisms.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For corporates, Visa’s B2B Connect system appears to unlock some of the long-promised benefits of blockchain in terms of fast and easy cross-border payments, security, transparency, and the reassurance of a trusted name in the payments world.  Also, the fact that a suite of APIs are available to participants means that the system can be set up relatively easily, thereby tackling the issue (as highlighted by the Gartner research) of confusion among corporate tech heads about how best to incorporate blockchain and worries about there being few ready to use, complete applications available.

For smaller businesses the hope of being able to use blockchain to add value, reduce costs and gain competitive advantages is being boosted by a growing Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) market which offers the chance to deploy distributed ledgers without the cost or risk of deploying it in-house, and without needing to find in-house developers.  The cloud-based CRM platform ‘Salesforce’ for example, is adding a low code, blockchain-powered service that will allow enterprise users to share data with third parties in a secure, transparent, and auditable way.