Featured Article – The Tech That The Parties Are Promising

With the UK’s General Election due to take place on 12 December, many issues have been covered in the media.  One key area of interest for businesses is technology and for those of you who may not have time to plough through the manifestos of the main parties, here’s a quick look at some of the technology-related pledges and ideas featured in those manifestos.

CONSERVATIVES

With the Conservative government being in power since May 2010 (firstly in coalition with the Lib Dems) the tech vision, policies and direction of travel is, of course, a little clearer to all. The EU referendum under David Cameron heralded the need for UK data protection laws to be aligned with a the EU’s GDPR and an uncertainty and concerns that UK employers would be less likely to seek migrant tech employees, and that fewer overseas tech workers seek on to stay in their jobs in the UK, in an environment where the challenge posed by a tech skills gap was already evident.  Having said that, back in 2017, the Conservative government under Teresa May announced a boost to the UK’s digital and technology industries in the form of £700m of funding as part of the launch of its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. Also, under the Conservatives, a National Cyber Security Centre was set up in London in February (to act as part of GCHQ in Cheltenham), which was intended to enable businesses to report serious data breaches to the NCSC in confidence.

Looking forward to this 2019 election then, the Conservative manifesto features some of the following technology ideas and pledges:

  • The setting up of a new, dedicated national cybercrime force and National Crime Laboratory, both of which are intended to help the police to safely get the benefits from the use of new technologies like biometrics and artificial intelligence, and to use DNA, all within a strict legal framework.
  • Providing gigabit broadband access for “every home and business” by 2025 to help businesses and remote workers, to be paid for under the ‘National Infrastructure Strategy’.
  • Investing £1bn in “completing a fast-charging network” for electric vehicles to make sure that “everyone is within 30 miles of a rapid electric vehicle charging station”.
  • With reference to R&D tax credits, increasing the tax credit rate to 13 per cent and reviewing the definition of R&D so that investments in innovation and productivity-boosting cloud computing and data are incentivised.
  • Creating a new £3 billion (over the next Parliament) National Skills Fund to provide matching funding for individuals and SMEs for high-quality education and training.
  • Creating 20 Institutes of Technology, to connect teaching in science, technology, engineering and maths to business and industry.
  • Investing in “world-class computing and health data systems” to help with research.

LABOUR

In the Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto, party leader and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn says that he’s planning to “launch the largest-scale investment programme in modern times to fund the jobs and industries of the future so that no one is held back and no community left behind.” 

Some of the key technology-related pledges and ideas that feature in the Labour Party’s manifesto for the coming 2019 General Election include:

  • A proposal which has attracted a lot of media attention (and criticism from the Conservatives) to re-nationalise part of BT and deliver free full-fibre broadband to all.
  • This will involve the creation of two new government entities: British Digital Infrastructure and British Broadband Service (BBS) to help roll out of full-fibre networks and coordinate the delivery of free broadband. Labour says this can all be paid for through the party’s planned Green Transformation Fund and a new tax regime for multinational companies, and there will be a jobs guarantee for all workers in existing broadband infrastructure and retail broadband work.
  • The appointing of a cabinet-level minister dedicated to cybersecurity to help ensure that the nation’s cybersecurity issues are tackled effectively and to offer regular reviews of cyber-readiness.
  • Giving officials working for National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which is the public-facing division of GCHQ, the power to audit public and private sector organisations’ cyber defences and issue warnings to organisations in order to reduce their cyber risk.
  • Ensuring that no services are offered on a “digital-only” basis in order to try and remove the so-called ‘digital barrier’ that may exclude vulnerable people, and also to offer telephone, face-to-face and outreach support.
  • Bringing in a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces in order to ensure more rights and protections for workers whose jobs may be at risk of being lost or reduced as a result of technological advancement.

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

The big news is that beyond the 12-key policies focused on by the media, the Jo Swinson-led Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) have their eyes set upon a “vision for an innovation-led economy”.  With stopping Brexit as their main focus, the party makes the point that retaining the Freedom of movement that EU membership has given could mean that British tech industries can “have access to the best and brightest talent from the EU” and thereby giving “businesses opportunities to grow and contribute to life and prosperity in the UK.”

Some of the other key technology areas that the Lib Dem’s say in their manifesto that their innovation-led vision will cover include:

  • Positioning the UK to become a world leader in new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).
  • A belief that the EU should make solid new legislation about blockchain, AI and other new technologies.
  • Giving high priority to matters relating to cybersecurity, data protection and privacy matters.
  • Seeking to encourage competition from companies in the “digital space” and supporting the use of European and UK competition powers to stop “tech giants” from exploiting consumers and ensuring innovation through competition.
  • Increasing the national spend on R&D to 3% of GDP (2.4% by no later than 2027), doubling innovation spend and creating “catapult” innovation and technology centres.
  • Allowing companies to claim R&D tax credits against the cost of purchasing datasets and cloud computing, as well as simplifying regulations speeding up regulatory change.
  • Creating a “startup allowance” to support fast-growing businesses e.g. tech startups.

THE GREEN PARTY

Even though the Green Party’s leader (and Brighton MP) Caroline Lucas was the party’s only MP elected in the last general election, they now have 7 MEPs in the European Parliament. Obviously, Green Party pledges and ideas relate strongly to environmental issues, and some of the technology-related pledges and ideas in their 2019 General Election manifesto (which pledges zero carbon by 2020) include:

  • Delivering financial mechanisms and the transfer of new technologies to help the Global South adapt to climate change in a just way.
  • As part of the “Green New Deal”, including finance and technology to “help the majority world adapt to climate change”, support human well-being,  and to break “the carbon chains of fossil fuel dependence”, thereby bringing about a “green economic and social revolution”.
  • Setting new clean technology standards and investing in research.
  • Applying a Carbon Tax to help incentivise industry to switch to low and zero-carbon technology and equipment.
  • Making finance and technology available to support developing nations.
  • Introducing a Digital Bill of Rights (a new law) in order make the UK a leading voice on standards for the rule of law and democracy in digital spaces and to ensure independent regulation of social media providers. This law will also be designed to safeguard elections from foreign interference.

General Election – 12 December

Obviously, there are other political parties that make up and influence the UK political landscape, and which have technology-related pledges, but hopefully, this shorthand summary of some of the key tech pledges from the main players has provided some insight into where they say they stand on technology matters.

Clearly, elections are decided on a wide range of different issues and subjects and even though Brexit has been a dominant issue for some time now, it remains to be seen how the political and economic landscape will be changed after 12 December.  Technology, however, will continue to advance, and exciting new areas such as AI promise to create new opportunities for businesses going forward.

Google Or Samsung Android Cameras Could Be Spying On You

Researchers at Checkmarx say they have discovered vulnerabilities in Google and Samsung smartphone apps that could allow hackers to remotely spy on users using their phone’s camera and speakers.

Study

The proof-of-concept (PoC) study results, highlighted on the Checkmarx blog reveal how the Checkmarx Security Research Team cracked into the apps that control android phone cameras (firstly using a Google Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 3) in order to identify potential abuse scenarios.

The team reported finding “multiple concerning vulnerabilities” (CVE-2019-2234) which stemmed from “permission bypass issues”.  The team later found that camera apps from other vendors i.e. Samsung are also affected by the same vulnerabilities.

The Checkmarx team have since shared a technical report of their findings with Google, Samsung, and other Android-based smartphone OEMs to enable those companies to find fixes.

What Could Happen?

According to Checkmarx, the vulnerabilities mean that a hacker could use a rogue application (that has no authorised permissions) to take control of another person’s Android phone camera app.  This could allow the attacker to take photos and/or record videos as well as to gain access stored videos and photos, GPS metadata embedded in photos, and even to locate the user by taking a photo or video and parsing the proper EXIF data.

The researchers also found a way to enable a rogue app to force camera apps to take photos and record video even when a phone was locked or the screen is turned off, or when a user was is in the middle of a voice call.

One particularly worrying aspect of the Checkmarx findings is that if the video can be initiated during a voice call the receiver and the caller’s voices can be recorded.  This could allow eavesdropping that could enable an attacker to discover potentially sensitive personal data or to gather information that could be used for extortion.

Google

According to Checkmarx, after they shared their findings with Google, the Checkmarx team were notified by Google that the vulnerabilities weren’t confined to the Google Pixel product line but also extended to products (Android) by other manufacturers.  For example, Samsung also reportedly acknowledged that the flaws impact their Camera apps and said that they had begun taking mitigating steps. Checkmarx reports that Google has said that the problem has now been addressed on impacted Google devices via a Play Store update to the Google Camera Application in July 2019. Also, a patch has been made available to all Google partners.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is very worrying that hundreds-of-millions of smartphone users may have been facing a serious privacy and security risk without being aware of it.  For business users, this may have left them open to industrial espionage and security threats, although there is no evidence that real hackers have exploited the vulnerabilities prior to them coming to light.

When it comes to smartphone apps, the best practice is to ensure that all apps on your device are kept updated. Other defensive actions you can take regarding your phone apps include checking the publisher of an app, checking which permissions the app requests when you install it, and deleting any apps from your phone that you no longer use.  It’s also now important to be aware of the threat posed by fake apps, and you may wish to contact your phone’s service provider or visit the high street store if you think you’ve downloaded a fake malicious/suspect app.

Uber Loses London Licence

A decision by Transport for London (TfL) means that ride-hailing service Uber has lost its licence to carry passengers in London over safety and security failures.

Why?

According to TfL, it had identified a pattern of failures by Uber, including breaches that had risked the safety of passengers and drivers, plus some uninsured journeys. 

Prior to the decision to remove its London Licence, Uber had pledged to improve its drivers’ safety training and provide a direct connection to emergency services.

Not The First Time

Uber had its London licence removed before by TfL back in 2017 after it was decided that the company was “not fit and proper” following security issues, public safety issues, poor reporting (of serious in-car crimes), poor medical checks (of drivers) and poor background checks (of drivers). Uber’s controversial founder and CEO Travis Kalanick had already resigned (in June 2017) amid rumours that he had possibly been “pushed” by unhappy shareholders.  Mr Kalanick was replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi.

In 2018, Uber was only given a probationary 15-month license in London following changes made to improve relations with city authorities and had most recently (September) only been granted only a two-month license, which is the licence that is now about to be allowed to expire.

Black Cab Battle

Uber has not had an easy ride in London from its competitors, the drivers of the famous black cabs. The 22,000 traditional “cabbies”, who are required to pass the notoriously difficult memory test of the city’s road network known as “the Knowledge” in order to pick up passengers have objected (many would say understandably) to the loss of business as a result of having to compete with a growing number of Uber drivers who don’t face the same costs or regulations, and who don’t take the same test, and who can rely on satnav apps.

Carry On and Appeal

It has been reported that although the decision to remove the London licence has been taken, Uber will appeal and it is likely that its 45,000 drivers in London may decide to keep accepting customers until the long process of the appeal has been considered.

Trouble Around The World

It’s certainly not just the UK where Uber has found itself facing legal challenges in recent years.  For example:

In the US, in March, the company had to pay $20 million in settlement of a lawsuit brought by drivers who claimed they were employees and were therefore entitled to some wage protections. Also, in November, Uber unsuccessfully challenged a city law which limited the number of licenses for ride-hailing services.

In Australia this year, the company faced a class action on behalf of thousands of drivers who alleged that Uber was operating illegally and harming them financially, and back in December 2018 in Germany, Uber’s limousine service (stopped in 2014) was ruled to have been illegal. Uber has also faced legal problems in the Netherlands, India, and Austria.

Other Woes

Back in November 2017, Uber was handed a £385,000 fine by the ICO in the UK for data protection failings during a cyber-attack back in 2016 which involved the compromising (and theft) of data relating to 600,000 US drivers and 57 million user accounts.

Also, back in May, Uber’s trading debut at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) proved to be somewhat underwhelming when the opening share price was much lower than had been expected at only $45 per share.

Move to Bikes and Scooters

In August 2018, Uber announced a shift in focus towards bikes and scooters in order to drive growth and keep people using the platform. It was thought that bikes and scooters would be more effective and efficient than cars in congested city areas, could represent a way to get another slice of the lucrative mobility market, and that they could be used to help shape consumer behaviour and keep levels of engagement high.

Popular With Users

It has to be said that despite Uber’s problems with the authorities and London cabbies, the service has been popular with many users having positive things to say about the convenience of the app, Uber prices and the speed of the service.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Uber had already been on borrowed time in London after finally being granted a two-month licence (following on from just a 15-month probationary one).  Uber’s relationship with the UK authorities and Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had accused Uber as adding to the city’s congestion problems, has been on the edge for quite some time, and it appears as though Uber may not have made the changes that it had pledged to make in order to retain its licence.  The appeal may take a few months, so it is likely that Uber drivers will simply carry on for the time being.

For users, it may come as a disappointment that a service that they found to be very convenient will soon no longer be available but it may be the case that a new London Mayor after May 2020 could take a different approach towards Uber.  For example, some Uber drivers have expressed the belief that Mayor Khan may be pandering too much to the black cabbies, and a hopeful future mayor candidate, Shaun Bailey (Conservative) has expressed regret over TfL’s decision to not grant another licence to Uber.  For the time being though, it’s a waiting game in London for Uber.

5G Mobile Network is 450% Faster Than 4G in Tests

Tests by Ookla, the developer of Speedtest.net, are reported to have shown that the new 5G mobile network is 450% faster than 4G.

Speed

According to the Speedtest.net website, the results of the testing of 5G in 29 UK cities during Q3 of 2019 generally show download speeds as being 450-475% faster than those on all mobile technologies combined, and that the 5G download speed in Northern Ireland showed a 618.3% improvement due to the fact that mean mobile download speeds on all technologies are slower in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the U.K.

The tests also revealed that mean 5G download speeds are uniformly high across the U.K., with only 6 Mbps difference between the fastest country (England) and the slowest (Northern Ireland).

Availability

Speedtest.net says that mobile operators have embraced 5G across the UK this year.  For example, 5G is now commercially available in 22 English cities such as London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester and Wolverhampton.

5G is also now available in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paisley in Scotland, in Belfast in Northern Ireland, and in Cardiff, Llandudno and Penarth in Wales.

Rankings

In terms of ranking operators in terms of their 5G download speed in the UK during Q3 2019, Speedtest.net put EE in first place, O2 in second and Vodafone in third place.

No Three

The Speedtest.net results and analysis didn’t include Three because they currently only offer 5G broadband in certain districts of London and their 5G has not yet been launched. 

Three announced earlier this year, however, that new and existing customers with compatible handsets will be able to get 5G at no extra cost(s) when its 5G service is launched. 

Upload Speeds Not As Impressive

The test results showed, however, that 5G upload speeds, although good, were not quite as impressive as the download speeds with percentage increases ranging from 38.5% to 110% faster.

Safety Concerns

One issue not covered by the testing was the safety fears surrounding 5G. For example, 5G uses 3 Spectrum bands, low-band spectrum (LTE), mid-band spectrum, and what some believe to be the potentially dangerous mmWave high-frequency spectrum.

The mmWave spectrum, however, is still not close to the kind of ionising wavelengths that can cause damage to DNA and mmWave will mostly be deployed in a spectrum that suffers from high reflection rates – 24 to 29GHz.  This should mean that any absorption by the body will be confined to the surface layers of the skin rather than the deeper tissue that is reached by lower frequency radiation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Ofcom is due to auction additional spectrum for 5G in the 700 MHz and 3.6-3.8 GHz bands in spring 2020 and this should help fuel the further expansion of the 5G networks.  This is likely to be good news for businesses who have been waiting for the speed benefits that 5G can bring, for example in improving file sharing and other communication capabilities.

Although the rollout is currently only confined to major UK cities, which will, of course, favour businesses in those areas, it is good news that 5G has been achieving consistent speeds in its deployments around the world, thereby improving on one of the challenges of 4G.

Different operators look set to take different approaches to their 5G rollouts and offerings, and greater 5G availability will provide a boost to the sales of new generation mobile handsets in the UK where many people and businesses have been holding back on purchasing the latest 5G models until they could reap the benefits of having a much more established 5G network in place.

Windows Still Need Some Work on Tesla’s New “Cybertruck”

Tesla’s Elon Musk proudly launched the new ‘Cybertruck’ in front of the world’s media last week, only to find that the distinctly breakable difficult-to-break windows were the main focus of media reports.

Cybertruck

The new Tesla all-electric Cybertruck is a futuristic pickup truck / armoured vehicle which will not be manufactured until late 2021 and will retail for between $39,000 and $76,900.  The Tesla website claims that the Cybertruck features “a nearly impenetrable exoskeleton” and that all of the components are “designed for superior strength and endurance”.  For example, the truck features an “Ultra-Hard” 30X Cold-Rolled stainless-steel structural skin and armour glass (toughened glass).  The smooth steel shell is intended to resist dents, damage and long-term corrosion as well as providing added safety to the truck’s occupants.

Features

Tesla says that the new Cybertruck can accelerate from 0-60 mph in only 2.9 seconds, has up to 500 miles of range (thanks to improved Tesla batteries),  a 3,500 pounds of payload capacity, offers 100 cu ft of “vault-like” storage, has adaptive suspension, and can seat six comfortably.

In addition to the futuristic exterior, the ‘cyber’ aspect of the truck appears to be focused around the 17” touchscreen with a new customized user interface.

That Glass Incident

The embarrassing aspect of the launch that international media outlets chose to focus on was when Tesla’s head of design, Franz von Holzhausen attempted to demonstrate how strong the window glass on the Cybertruck was by throwing a heavy metal ball at two different windows, only to find that both broke (although the ball didn’t end up inside the vehicle in either case).

Orders

Elon Musk tweeted on the Sunday after the Cybertruck’s (Thursday) launch that there had already been 200,000+ orders of the vehicle (with no advertising), but this figure appears to relate to pre-orders of the not-yet manufactured vehicle involving a commitment from potential customers of only $100 deposit (fully refundable).  As any car salesperson could tell you, the small deposit coupled with the long wait for manufacture may be unlikely to produce anywhere near the same number of actual sales as pre-orders.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

There is no doubt that the major car manufacturers are committed to producing electric cars, and Tesla has achieved a great deal in establishing itself as a major player in this market, particularly with its Model 3. Much of the media attention for Tesla, however, has focused on the claims and behaviour of its charismatic leading light and often double-edged sword Elon Musk, who appears to be no stranger to controversy e.g. when he was sued by (and settled with) The US Securities and Exchange Commission for a “false and misleading” tweet about his plans for Tesla that was thought to have upset the market and investors.

Unfortunately, unpredictable and embarrassing events at the launch appear to have slightly overshadowed many of the positive aspects of the Cybertruck. Sir James Dyson also found that his ambition in the electric car market didn’t live up to reality as Dyson recently had to scrap its £2.5 billion ‘N526’ electric car project with Sir James Dyson announcing that it was “not commercially viable”.  It remains to be seen if Tesla’s Cybertruck can achieve the same levels of popularity and approval as its Tesla 3 model.

Tech Tip – Record Your Screen (Easily)

Although the built-in Windows 10 feature ‘Game Bar’ was designed for ‘screenshotting’ games, it can actually be used by anybody as a fast and easy way to take and use a screenshot.

For example:

– Press Windows Key + G to open the Windows 10 game bar.

– Click on the ‘Take Screenshot’ option, top left ( The screenshot will be saved to C:\Users\Admin\Videos\Captures  )

– Or, Press Windows Key + G again and click on ‘View Captures’.  From here you can choose to open the file location of your screenshot (and see it saved in the folder), delete it, share it to Twitter, copy it, and even create a ‘meme’.

The End of Life … for Windows 7 …  is Nigh

Microsoft’s Windows 7 Operating system, introduced in 2009 and only intended to upgrade windows in the wake of the much-disliked Windows Vista finally reaches its end of life date on 14 January 2020.  Looking back, it was an unexpected success in many ways, and looking forward, if you’re one of the 39% of Windows users still running Windows 7 (only 44% are running Windows 10), you may feel that you’ve been left with little choice but to move away from the devil you know to the not-so-big-bad Windows 10.

Big Success For Microsoft

Evolving from early codename versions such as “Blackcomb”, “Longhorn,” and then “Vienna” (in early 2006), what was finally named as Windows 7 in October 2008 proved to be an immediate success on its release in 2009.  The update-turned Operating System, which was worked upon by an estimated 1,000 developers clocked-up more than 100 million sales worldwide within the first 6 months of its release. Windows 7 was made available in 6 different editions, with the most popularly recognised being the Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate editions.

Big Improvement

Windows 7 was considered to be a big improvement upon Windows Vista which, although achieving some impressive usage figures (still lower than XP though) came in for a lot of criticism for its high system requirements, longer boot time and compatibility problems with pre-Vista hardware and software.

Some of the key improvements that Windows 7 brought were the taskbar and a more intuitive feel, much-improved performance, and fewer annoying User Account Control popups. Some of the reasons for switching to Windows 7 back in 2009 were that it had been coded to support most pieces of software that ran on XP, it could automatically install device drivers, the Aero features provided a much better interface, it offered much better hardware support, the 64-bit version of Windows 7 could handle a bigger system memory, and the whole Operating System had a better look and feel.

End of Life = End of Support = Danger

After looking back at the successes of Windows 7 it seems a shame to have to focus on the impending ‘end of life’ on 14 January.  End of life isn’t quite as final as it sounds. Windows 7 will still run but support i.e. security patches, will no longer be available for it.

For Azure customers, the Windows Virtual Desktop does still mean that there’s the option of an extra three years of extended support as part of that package, but there may be some costs incurred in migrating to the cloud service.

Yes, ‘Extended Security Updates’ can be also purchased by customers with active Software Assurance for subscription licenses for 75% of the on-premises annual license cost, but this should only really be considered as a temporary measure to ease the transition to Windows 10, or if you’ve simply been caught out by the deadline.

Embracing the Positive

It may even be the case that in the process of worrying about the many complications and potential challenges of migrating to Windows 10 you haven’t allowed yourself to focus on the positive aspects of the OS such a faster and more dynamic environment and support for important business software like Office 365 and Windows server 2016.

Planning and Time

In order to maximise security and finally get round to taking the plunge and migrating to a new operating system, it’s worth noting that IT project deployment can be slow, some remedial work may be required in the transition, and you will need to make sure that you have identified any issues that you have in your environment.  This means that although the deadline is technically a couple of months away, there will be the interruption of the Christmas and New Year break to consider, and it may be wise to allow yourself enough time to gather all the information and to plan the project so that everything goes smoothly.  

What To Do Now

The deadline to the end of support/end of life for Windows 7 is just around the corner, but the stats show that, if you’ve not yet done your homework and planned your move of Windows 7, you’re not alone.  Ideally, a slow and measured approach to an upgrade of this kind and scale would allow enough time for planning and for the smoothest of transitions. Unfortunately, we no longer have the luxury of time and although there are some possible OS alternatives to Windows 10, these could bring their own challenges and risks that you may not yet have considered.

For most businesses then, there is a realisation that the threat of no more support means that continuing to run Windows 7 presents a real risk to the business e.g. from every new hacking and malware attack that comes along after January. If you choose to upgrade to Windows 10 on your existing computers, you will need to take into account factors such as the age and specification of those computers, and there are likely to be costs involved in upgrading existing computers.  You may also be considering, depending on the size/nature of your business and your IT budget, buying new computers with Windows 10 installed, and in addition to the cost implications you may also be wondering how and whether you can use any business existing systems or migrate any important existing data and programs to this platform.

One thing is clear: if you’re still running Windows 7, the time to act is now.

Google To Offer Bank Accounts

Tech giant Google is crossing over into the banking world by partnering with Citigroup to offer ‘smart checking’ accounts (bank current accounts) next year as part of its ‘Cache’ project.

Partnering, Not Self-Branding

Google is reported to be prepared to rely heavily on the knowledge of Citibank partner in the project and will not be self-branding the accounts. Google will, no doubt, be grateful for the guidance of its partner through the complicated regulatory aspects of banking.

Other Tech Companies Too

Google’s move into the finance world follows that of competitor tech giants, some of whom have experienced a bumpy ride in banking territory such as:

– Facebook developing its own cryptocurrency called Libra which has recently suffered the departure of big names from the association of organisations that was set up to run the currency – PayPal has dropped out with Mastercard, Visa, and digital payment platform and processor Strip soon to follow.

– Apple introducing its own credit card, the ‘Apple Card’ in the US in partnership with Goldman Sachs and with processing by Mastercard.  The card system operates through the Wallet app on iPhone (iPhone 6 and later), but Apple soon suffered criticism that the physical titanium card that accompanies each account would be vulnerable to damage by everyday material surfaces such as denim and leather, thereby rendering potentially impractical.

– Amazon offering credit card and business loans, with a view to boosting its own e-commerce business.

Uber Money offering credit cards, debit accounts and money tracking tools to help the company with its own taxi operations.

Why?

Like other tech companies, Google’s massive customer base and widely recognised brand mean that it can leverage this power through brand extension.  Google knows that by simply supplying more of peoples’ needs online, often by strategic alliance, it can stay competitive, and find new users and new opportunities.

Privacy & Trust Worries

Some technology commentators have, however, have expressed worries that giving tech companies access to our financial information could mean that they know too much about us, and may be tempted to share data with (or sell that data to) their advertising arm or other organisations. 

Although Google has said that it will not be selling or sharing its account holders’ financial data just as it doesn’t share data from its Google Pay service with advertisers, there has been a recent report that Google may be able to gain access to personal medical data of up to 50 million Americans through its partnership with the healthcare giant Ascendant.

Resea

Research has indicated that consumers are likely to trust Google with their financial affairs.  For example, a study by McKinsey & Company revealed that 58% of people (surveyed) said they would trust Google with financial products.

UK BoE Governor

Back in June UK BoE Governor, Mark Carney offered tech companies and all payment providers the chance to store funds overnight in interest-bearing accounts at the central bank and appeared to be adopting an “open mind but no open door” approach to Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It was more or less inevitable that the reach and brand power of tech giants, who are already trusted with many personal aspects of our lives would mean that they want (and would be able) to move into the world of our personal finances too.  The move may be a win/win for both the financial partners (who can learn how to upgrade the tech of their service) and the tech giants who can find out even more about us and can become even more essential partners to us in all parts of our digital life.

The damage to trust, however, caused by Facebook’s sharing of harvested user data with Cambridge Analytica has left some people with reservations about trusting tech companies with too much of our personal data.

New Brave Browser: Blocks Ads, Pays Rewards

The new 1.0 browser from Brave removes ads and ad trackers and pays users through a reward system for viewing the ads that Brave presents.

Brave?

Brave is a San Francisco based start-up company, founded in 2015 and led by CEO Brendan Eich, formally of Firefox.

Ad and Tracker-Free

Two of the key advantages of the new Brave browser are that it protects a user’s privacy by removing ad trackers and makes browsing a faster (download time) and less distracting experience by removing adverts.

Displays Its Own Adverts and Pays You For Viewing Them

The big difference about Brave is that it offers its own Brave Rewards system. Users who join the system only see adverts from Brave and are paid 70% of the resulting ad revenue using Brave’s own crypto-token, the Basic Attention Token (BAT).  Brave also sends the revenue you accrue back to the websites you’ve visited.

The advantages of this system should be that it can lure new users to Brave in a crowded browser market with the promise of money and a better browsing experience and improved privacy and that websites can still find a way to support themselves with advertising without having to share the personal data of users with tech companies.  The hope is that, if this browser and model gains user approval on a large-scale it will eventually deter publishers from trying to profile the behaviour of their users via privacy-invading trackers.

Earnings

Users who sign-up to the Brave Rewards system can choose where to direct the BAT they’ve earned e.g. send it certain sites, tip Twitter and Reddit users or choose to convert it into currency (which is unlikely to be a large amount).

Numbers

There are some very well-established players in the Browser market which is currently dominated by Google Chrome which has more than 65% of the market (around 2+ billion installs).

In comparison, Brave says that it is used 8.7 million times each month on Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. The company has, however, reported that the number of users is growing by 10% per month.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Privacy is a big concern for all web-users and trying to download web pages that are full of adverts can be a frustrating and a time and power-draining experience. Businesses also need to be able to use the tools available to them to make sure that they can get the maximum ROI from their advertising spend, plus the big tech companies need to be able to offer their business customers an ad system that delivers results, hence the perceived need for trackers and profiling the behaviour of customers.  Web publishers also need to have a viable way to help support their sites and offer content to their users (without a payment gateway) and this has traditionally been through advertising on their pages, much to the frustration of website visitors.  Brave’s browser, therefore, tries to meet the needs of all these groups in one package.  The combination of improved privacy, financial incentives and better browsing experience may prove appealing to users, and publishers may take note of the Brave model and realise that there is another way of supporting their sites. It remains to be seen, however, how much share of the browser market Brave can gain and how well it fares against some powerful and entrenched competitors. 

Despite Patches, Researchers Warn That Intel Chips Are Still Vulnerable

The New York Times has reported that despite Intel issuing patches for security flaws (that were discovered last year) in its processors, security researchers are alleging that the processors still have some serious vulnerabilities.

What Flaws?

In January 2018, it was discovered that nearly all computer processors made in the last 20 years contained two flaws known as ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’. The 2 flaws could make it easier for something like a malicious program to steal data that is stored in the memory of other running programs.

Meltdown, discovered by researchers from Google’s Project Zero, the Technical University of Graz in Austria and the security firm Cerberus Security in Germany, affects all Intel, ARM, and other processors that use ‘speculative execution’ to improve their performance; i.e. when a computer performs a task that may not be actually needed in order to reduce overall delays for the task (a kind of optimisation).

Meltdown could, for example, leave passwords and personal data vulnerable to attacks, and could be applied to different cloud service providers as well as individual devices. It is believed that Meltdown could affect every processor since 1995, except for Intel Itanium and Intel Atom before 2013.

Spectre, which affects Intel, AMD and ARM (mainly Cortex-A) processors, allows applications to be fooled into leaking confidential information. Spectre affects almost all systems including desktops, laptops, cloud servers, and smartphones.

8 More Flaws Discovered

Then, in May 2018, 8 more security flaws in chips/processors were discovered by several different security teams.  The new ‘family’ of bugs were dubbed Spectre Next Generation (Spectre NB).

September 2018

According to reports by The New York Times, the Dutch researchers (at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) also reported a range of security issues about Intel’s processors to the company in September 2018 and provided Intel with a proof-of-concept code to help them to develop fixes

14 Months On – Only Some Fixes

It has been reported that after waiting 8 months to allow Intel enough time to develop fixes (of which only some have issued), and more than a year after providing Intel with a proof-of-concept code, Intel has only just announced the issue of more security updates earlier this week.

More Vulnerabilities

Unfortunately for Intel, just as they announced the issue of new security fixes last week, the researchers notified them of more unfixed flaws, and it has been alleged that Intel asked the researchers to alter the report about the flaws and to effectively stay quiet about them.

MDS

The latest unpatched flaw in Intel processors that the researchers from Amsterdam, Belgium, Germany and Austria have gone public about is a hacking technique, which is a variant of ZombieLoad or RIDL (Rogue In-Flight Data Load). The technique which exploits a flaw in Intel processors is known as microarchitectural data sampling (MDS) and it can enable hackers to carry out several different exploits e.g. running code on the victim’s computer that forces the processor to leak data.

Criticism

The news that there may still be flaws in Intel’s processors after the company appears to have had a long time to fix them has prompted some criticism of Intel online, some of it reported in the New York Times e.g. allegations  that there has been a lack of transparency about the issue from Intel, that the company has tried to downplay the problems, and allegations that Intel may not decide to do much to fix the problem until its reputation is at stake.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Bearing in mind that these flaws are likely to exist at the architectural level in the majority of processors, this story is bad news for businesses that have been legitimately trying to make themselves totally compliant with GDPR and as secure as possible from attack.

For the time being, in the short term, and unless processor companies try to completely re-design processors to eliminate the flaws, closing hardware flaws using software patches is the only realistic way to tackle the problem and this can be a big job for manufacturers, software companies, and other organisations that choose to take that step. It is good practice anyway for businesses to install all available patches and make sure that they are receiving updates for all systems, software and devices.

The hope is now that researchers can put enough pressure on processor manufacturers e.g. through bad publicity to make them speed up their efforts to tackle the known security flaws in their products.