Featured Article – ‘Vishing’ and How to Guard Against It

‘Vishing’, or ‘phishing over the phone’ is on the rise and in this article, we look at vishing techniques and examples, and how to prevent them.

Vishing

The word Vishing is a combination of ‘voice’ and ‘phishing’ and describes the criminal process of using internet telephone service (VoIP) calls to deceive victims into divulging personal and payment data. 

Vishing scams to homes often use recorded voice messages e.g. claiming to be from banks and government agencies to make victims respond in the first instance.

The technology used by scammers is now such that voice simulation may even be used in more sophisticated attacks on big businesses. 

Vishing Vs Phishing

Phishing attacks can take different forms and can employ different combinations, such emails, bogus websites, and phone calls.  Vishing focuses on using VoIP to complete the scam and this can include using a ‘spoofed’ phone number of a real business or company to add the appearance of authenticity. 

Smishing

Smishing uses SMS text messages rather than phone calls to deceive victims into responding.

Selection

Victims are selected using large call lists where little or nothing is known about the target (‘shotgun’ attacks), or where some information is known from sources such as personal data that has come from website data breaches and perhaps from data interception data gathered from phishing and other social engineering attacks. Vishing attacks where some important data is already known by the attacker are referred to as ‘spear vishing’ attacks.

Motivation

The motivation for attackers is, of course, easy money or data which leads to the acquisition of more money, and perhaps use in further attacks on other sites which can give access to a person’s financial and personal data. In the U.S., for example, if attackers already have the first few digits of a Social Security Number, gaining the remaining numbers can give them access to many other sources of funds and data.

The motivation presented by the attacker to the target to make them part with their data is the promise of bogus rewards e.g. prizes and taking advantage of amazing limited offers, the need to avoid a negative outcome, and the need to be helpful/contribute positively to society e.g. in scams whereby a victim is asked to help police/fraud investigations.

In most cases, fraudsters use emotional manipulation, deception techniques and the illusion of limited time (act now) as ways to gain access to personal data. The internet telephone service (VoIP) calls also provide them with anonymity and flexibility that they need to target their attacks.

The Scale of the Problem

The scale of the vishing threat is now huge.  For example:

– First Orion’s 2018 Scam Call Trends and Projections Report showed that nearly 30% of incoming mobile calls were spam calls.

– The “Quarterly Threat Intelligence Report: Risk and Resilience Insights” report from Mimecast researchers warned that in 2020, “voicemail will feature more prominently” in attacks and showed vishing as becoming a likely daily occurrence in 2020.

– Proofpoint’s 2020 State of the Phish report (worldwide survey) found that 25% of workers could correctly define the term.

Examples of Vishing

Popular examples of vishing calls include:

– Calls from banks or credit card companies with messages asking the victim to call a certain number to reset their password.

– Unsolicited offers for credit and loans.

– Exaggerated (almost too good to be true) investment opportunities.

– Bogus charitable requests for urgent causes and recent disasters.

– Calls about extended car warranties.

– Calls claiming to be from fraud officers to (ironically) help people who have recently fallen victim to scams and attacks, asking people for their help in operations to catch fraudsters e.g. by transferring funds to a specified account.

– Calls claiming to be from government agencies e.g. tax office calls offering rebates or warning of an investigation.

– Tech support calls to fix bogus problems with computers.  This method can also use popup windows on a victim’s computer, often planted by malware, to issue a bogus warning from the OS about a technical problem.

– Travel and holiday company calls relating to (bogus) holiday bookings and cancellations.

– Calls relating to insurance e.g. for weddings, holidays, and flight cancellations.

– ‘One ring and cut’ (Wangiri – Japanese) calls where criminals trick victims into calling premium-rate numbers. For example, the fraudster’s system calls a large number of random phone numbers with each ringing once.  If someone calls back (replying to a missed call) they are directed to a premium rate number.

Real Examples

– In May 2018, in the North-East,  vishing calls over a three-week period resulted in the theft of £1Million by fraudsters pretending to be from their victim’s bank saying they were investigating fraudulent activity by staff within the organisation and asking victims to move large sums money into foreign accounts for safe-keeping.  This was coupled with a request that the victim did not report the call for fear of jeopardising the investigation.

– In September 2019 AI voice simulation software was used to impersonate the voice of a UK-based energy company CEO and to thereby make the company transfer £200,000 into the account of the fraudsters.

– In October 2019, Police in Derbyshire warned that scammers had called victims claiming to be “tech support representatives” from Microsoft, telling people there was something wrong with their computer and offering to fix the problem by remote access.

Government Fights Back

Earlier this month (May 2020), Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) asked UK Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to remove 292 websites exploiting the coronavirus outbreak since the national lockdown began on March 23.

How To Guard Against Vishing

Ways that you and your business can guard against vishing attacks include:

– Don’t trust caller ID to be 100 per cent accurate, numbers can be faked.

– Don’t answer phone calls to unknown numbers, block numbers of spam callers, register your phone number with the Telephone Preference Services (TPS) and report any suspicious spam calls to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).

– Beware of unsolicited alleged calls from banks, credit card companies or government agencies, particularly those asking to you to call certain numbers and/or change password details. The real organisations and agencies would not make calls of this kind.

– Include phishing, vishing, smishing and other variants with your security awareness training for employees.

– Avoid using a gift card or a wire/direct money transfer, and make sure that there is a policy and process in place for any money transfers that all employees must adhere to, even if the request appears to come from someone within the company. 

– Don’t give in to pressure; remember that you can ditch any call at any time, and give yourself the option of looking up the number of the company/agency/organisation that claims to be calling you and calling them back yourself to check.

Looking Ahead

The predictions from security researchers and commentators are that vishing, along with phishing and smishing are set to increase this year, and their success could be helped by the COVID-19 outbreak as people wait and search for information about financial and health matters, details about government payments and help, and details about cancellations e.g. holidays and flights. Companies and organisations need to educate their staff about the threat, while businesses and individuals need to be vigilant and cautious about any unsolicited phone calls, particularly those that offer rewards, create panic or warn of dire consequences, and those that apply pressure.

NHS Immunity “Passport” App

Andrew Bud, chief executive of iProov, the company behind the NHS app, has floated the idea of using facial recognition for Covid-19 “immunity passports”.

App

The iProov-made NHS app system, for Android and iOS, not to be confused with the in-development COVID-19 app, is a system for use in England that allows users to access a range of NHS services via smartphone or tablet.

The app can currently be used to get advice about coronavirus, order repeat prescriptions, book appointments, check symptoms (against NHS information), view the user’s medical records, register a user’s organ donation decision, and to find out how the NHS uses a user’s data.

Facial Recognition

Users of the app have to submit a photo of themselves from an official document such as their passport or driving license which the app system uses as the basis for facial recognition to enable a user to verify their identity and access NHS services via the app.

Each time the user logs in using facial recognition, the system scans a person’s face using their phone/tablet camera which involves the user seeing a short sequence of flashing colours.

The Basis of an Immunity Passport

In support of a suggestion made previously by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Andrew Bud, chief executive iProov has suggested that the trusted identity system of the NHS app could provide the basis for an “immunity passport”.

Immunity Passports

According to the Lancet, an immunity passport is a “digital or physical document that certify an individual has been infected and is purportedly immune to SARS-CoV-2” (the disease associated with the 2019 COVId-19 virus).  The idea of an immunity passport is something that has been considered by governments including Chile, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the USA.  An immunity passport could be used to exempt individuals from physical restrictions and could enable them to return to work, school, and daily life.

Issues

While an immunity passport is an option, some of the issues with this idea are that:

– There is no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection (as stated by the WHO, April 24).

– A false-positive and an immune status could make that passport holder change their behaviour, despite still being susceptible to infection and able to infect others.

– Artificial restrictions in society could result for those who don’t have an immunity passport, and this could lead to discrimination, inequality, corruption, bias and even to extra costs for those in countries that don’t have access to (free) health care at the point of delivery.

– Immunity passports for some could restrict travel and civil liberties and could even incentivise people to become infected in order to get the benefits that such a passport could bring.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

All businesses want to provide a safe environment for their staff, their customers, and other stakeholders as we move out of lockdown restrictions where economies still must function in an environment where COVID-19 is still a serious threat.  Whereas an immunity passport sounds as though it could indicate that a person is less of a risk e.g. when accessing services, not enough is known about whether a person can contract the virus more than once, thereby limiting the effectiveness and validity of the system.  Also, it depends upon how rigidly and widely such a system is used as to its effectiveness, and there are clearly many other issues based around discrimination to consider.

Facial recognition on an app however does sound like it could form a trusted base for a system that requires accurate verification.

eBay Port Scanning Causes Alarm

Reports that eBay has been running port scans against the computers of visitors to the platform have caused alarm over potential security issues.

Port Scans

Port scanning is something that many people associate with cyber-attacks and penetration (‘pen’) testing.  Port scanning scripts are used to determine which ports a system may be listening via, by sending packets of information to a user’s machine and varying the destination port. This can help an attacker to determine what services may be running on the system and, therefore, get an idea of the operating system a target user has.

Port scanning can also be used to counter the activities of cybercriminals by scanning for remote-control access ports to detect any criminals that may be logged into a user’s computer in order to impersonate them on various platforms/sites e.g. to make fraudulent purchases.

eBay

In the recent observations of port scanning by eBay according to US-based security researcher Charlie Belmer and recorded on his nullsweep.com blog, Mr Belmer reported that eBay appeared to be looking for VNC services being run on the host (the same thing that was reported for bank sites).  The ports scanned by eBay are generally used for remote access and remote support tools e.g. Windows Remote Desktop, VNC, TeamViewer and others.

Mr Belmer has listed the 14 different ports he observed as being scanned by eBay and has concluded that the port scanning he observed being run from eBay was “clearly malicious behaviour and may fall on the wrong side of the law”.

Advice

On his blog, Mr Belmer urges anyone else who observes this port scanning behaviour to “complain to the institution performing the scans, and install extensions that attempt to block this kind of phenomenon in your browser, generally by preventing these types of scripts from loading in the first place”.

Maybe Just Fighting Fraud

Bearing in mind that there were reports 4 years ago of cybercriminals taking over users’ computers using TeamViewer to make fraudulent purchases on eBay, it may be very likely that the port scanning observed is simply part of eBay’s efforts to fight fraud by trying to detect if a compromised computer is being used to make fraudulent purchases on its platform.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Being an auction site, eBay clearly must take measures to ensure that fraudulent purchases cannot be made and to guard against and problems similar to those experienced with TeamViewer four years ago.  It is understandable, however, that a practice often associated with criminal activity and penetration testing may cause alarm among those familiar with the more technical aspects of Internet security. Although the matter has been reported by Mr Belmer on his blog, it is unclear yet what action or statements, if any, are likely to come from eBay.

Internet Speed Record

Researchers from Australia’s Monash, Swinburne, and RMIT universities claim to have set a new Internet speed record of 44.2 Tbps.

Fibre Connection

The claim, which is featured in the ‘Nature Communications’ journal (https://www.nature.com/) refers to setting the bandwidth world record for ultra-dense optical data transmission over 75 km of standard optical fibre, with a single chip source.  It has been reported that the fibre connection was run between RMIT’s Melbourne City campus and Monash University’s Clayton campus in order to represent the infrastructure that is used by Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN).

Micro-Comb

The exceptional speed and bandwidth achieved in the test, enough to download the contents of more than 50 100GB Ultra HD Blu-ray discs in one second, has been attributed not just to the capacity and capabilities of fibre, but also to the addition of micro-combs to the cable fibres. 

Micro-combs are optical frequency combs based on micro-cavity resonators, and the researchers report that the ability to phase-lock, or mode-lock, these comb lines were key to breaking this speed record.

Micro-comb technology, therefore, appears to be a highly efficient way to transmit data and micro-combs offer the full potential of their bulk counterparts but in an integrated footprint.

Integrate With Existing Infrastructure

RMIT’s Professor Arnan Mitchell has been quoted as saying that the challenge will now be how to turn the micro-comb technology into something that can integrate with the existing cable infrastructure, and the that the long-term hope is to “create integrated photonic chips that could enable this sort of data rate to be achieved across existing optical fibre links with minimal cost”.

Data Centres First

Communications commentators have suggested that once the new technology is commercialised, data centres are most likely to benefit first from its introduction and that home and business users may have to wait years before they can use it, provided that it is affordable.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For communications infrastructure companies, this development means that they can augment the fibres that are already in the ground with this new micro-comb technology, thereby meaning that their existing networks are still good and scalable for the future.

This speed record and the new technology is also good news for the autonomous vehicles industry, gaming industry, medical fields, and other industries, segments, organisations, agencies and businesses that need greater speed and capacity to help them deal with increasing data demands.

Tech Tip – Background Change in Zoom

If you or anyone you know has used Zoom recently, perhaps to communicate during the lockdown, here is a way to change the background view to something a little more interesting than an overcrowded bookshelf:

– In the Zoom app, click your profile (top right), and click Settings. 

– On the left-hand menu, click Virtual Background. 

– Choose a default background (provided by Zoom) by clicking on it.  There is an option for a green screen. 

To upload a photo of your choice to use as your background:

– On the Virtual Background Page, click the + icon next to Choose Virtual Background.

– Choose the photo using the pop-up box and this photo will be featured alongside the other photos as an option for you to choose from.

– To remove any photos you upload, tap the X in their top left corner. 

– You could also choose Zoom video conferencing backgrounds from a number of websites including Storyblocks, Canva, Pixar, West Elm or Modsy.

Featured Article – Does Your Phone Have A Virus?

Phones are essentially powerful mobile computers that contain vast amounts of valuable personal information. This article looks at how to tell if your phone has a virus, what to do if you think it has, and how to protect your phone.

Virus or Malware

Both a virus and malware are malicious programs, but in security terms, a virus is a type of malware that copies itself onto your device and malware, the general terms for malicious software, is a type of threat.

Types of Mobile Malware

There are many different types of malware that can infect mobile phones, including:

– Banking malware, many of which are Trojans designed to infiltrate devices and collect bank login and passwords.

– Spyware, used to steal a variety of personal data.

– Ransomware, which locks the phone until the user pays a ransom.

– Mobile Adware, whereby “malvertising” code can infect a device, forcing it to download specific adware types which can then allow attackers to steal personal data.

– Crypto-mining apps, which use the victim’s device to mine crypto-currency. For example, in February 2019, security researchers at Symantec claimed to have discovered 8 crypto-mining apps in the Microsoft Store.

– MMS Malware, whereby attackers can send a text message embedded with malware to any mobile number.

– SMS Trojans, which can send SMS messages to premium-rate numbers across the world thereby landing the user with an exceptionally large phone bill.

Android Vulnerable To Malware From Malicious Apps

Android phones are known to be vulnerable to malicious software that usually arrives via a malicious app that the user has downloaded, sometimes via the Google Play Store or an app from a third-party app shop.  A recent Nokia Threat Intelligence report showed that Android devices are nearly fifty times more likely to be infected by malware than Apple devices.

For example, back in September 2019, Security researcher Aleksejs Kuprins of CSIS cybersecurity services company discovered 24 apps which had been available for download in the Google Play Store that contained spy and premium subscription bot ‘Joker’ malware.  Also, in January 2019, security researchers discovered 36 fake and malicious apps for Android that could harvest data and track a victim’s location, masquerading as security tools in the trusted Google Play Store.

Android phones are also vulnerable to malware and viruses if users download message attachments from an email or SMS, download to the phone from the internet, or connect the phone to another device.

Why?

Reasons why Google’s open-source Android is vulnerable to malware include:

– The complicated processes involved in the issuing of security updates means that important software security updates often get delayed.  This is because unlike Apple iPhones, there are thousands of different Android devices made by hundreds of different manufacturers, each with a range of hardware quality and capabilities. 

– The open-source nature of Android, which is also one of its strengths in terms of scope and flexibility, can also lead to more human error and potential security holes.

Apple iOS

Apple iPhones are generally thought to be much less at risk from viruses and malware because they have protections systems built-in which include:

– The need to go through the Apple App Store to download an app. Apple reviews each app for malicious code before it makes it into the store, thereby stopping an obvious method of infection.

– iOS “sandboxing” stops apps from touching data from other apps or from touching the operating system, thereby protecting a user’s contact and other personal data.

– The majority of iOS apps do not run as an administrator, thereby limiting their ability to do damage.

– Apple issues frequent updates to patch any known vulnerabilities, which everyone with a compatible device receives at the same time.

Still Targeted

Although the vast majority of viruses/malware attacks on phones affect Google’s Android phone OS (97 per cent), and viruses are rare on Apple iPhones due to the built-in security measures, they are also still targeted by cybercriminals, and vulnerabilities in iOS platforms do exist.

For example:

– Phishing attacks e.g. bogus pop-up ads are used to trick iPhone users into downloading malicious software.

– Back in August 2019 a Google Project Zero contributor reported discovering a set of hacked websites (from February 2019) that were being used to attack iPhones to infect them with iOS malware and had most likely been doing so over a two-year period.

Signs That Your Phone May Have a Virus

Some of the main signs that your phone may already have a virus/be infected by malicious software are:

– Unusual and/or unexpected charges on your phone bill e.g. additional texting charges.

– Your phone contacts reporting that they have received strange messages from you.

– The phone crashes regularly. 

– New/unexpected apps are present.

– Apps crash more often than usual.

– An increase in the number of invasive adverts on your phone (a sign of adware).

– Slowing down of the phone and poor performance.

– Large amounts of data being used, without an obvious cause.

– The battery life is noticeably reduced.

What Next?

If your phone is infected with a virus, take the following steps:

– Switch the phone to airplane mode to stop malicious apps from receiving and sending data.

– Check the most recently installed apps against the listed number of downloads (in the App Store and Google Play).  Low download numbers, low ratings and bad reviews may indicate the need to delete the app.

– Install anti-virus software and carry out a scan of your handset.

– You can also contact your phone’s service provider or visit the high street store if you think you have downloaded a malicious/suspect app

iPhones

If you suspect that your iPhone may be infected:

– Check your apps and delete any unwanted ones.

– Clear the phone’s history and data, and restart.

– Consider installing mobile anti-virus software.

Prevention

Prevention is the best form of cure, and the steps you can take to ensure that your phone is both secure and not infected with a virus include:

– Using mobile security and antivirus scan apps.

– Only using trusted apps / trusted app sources.

– Check the publisher of an app (which other apps they have created), check the numbers of installations and positive reviews before installing an app, and check which permissions the app requests when you install it.

– Uninstalling old apps and turning off connections when not using them.

– Locking phones when they are not in use.

– Not ‘jailbreaking’ or ‘rooting’ a phone.

– Using 2-factor authentication.

– Using secure Wi-Fi and VPN rather than just the free Wi-Fi when out and about. 

– Being careful with email security and hygiene e.g. monitor for phishing emails and not clicking on unknown/suspicious attachments and links.

– Being careful with security around texts, social media messages and ads.

App Developers

With apps being the source of many infections of phones, there is an argument that there is responsibility among mobile app developers and those commissioning mobile apps to ensure that security is built-in from the ground up. This should mean making sure that all source code is secure and known bug-free, all data exchanged over app should be encrypted, caution should be exercised when using third-party libraries for code, and only authorised APIs should be used.

Also, developers should be building-in high levels of authentication, using tamper-detection technologies, using tokens instead of device identifiers to identify a session, using the best cryptography practices e.g. store keys in secure containers, and conducting regular, thorough testing.

Going Forward

If you train yourself to regard your phone as another mobile computer (that probably has a lot more personal data on it) that can be targeted by cybercriminals and needs protection, and are cautious regarding apps, emails, texts and adverts, then you are less likely to end up with a damaging virus/malware program on your phone.

Fuel Engine Car Sales Fall Faster Than Electric Cars

A Bloomberg NEF (BNEF) report forecasts that sales of combustion engine cars will drop 23 per cent in 2020, whereas worldwide electric car registrations are set to fall by only 18 per cent.

Pandemic Causing Huge Car Sales Downturn

With lockdown measures, a mass loss of income and jobs, the closure of car plants and showrooms worldwide, and a huge dent in ‘consumer confidence’ has come an inevitable downturn in the sales and registrations of new cars in 2020.

Three Years

Colin McKerracher, head of advanced transport at BNEF has said: “The long-term trajectory has not changed, but the market will be bumpy for the next three years.”

Electric Models

The BNEF has also forecast that electric vehicle models will reach 31 per cent of the overall car fleet by 2040, accounting for 58 per cent of new passenger car sales. Combustion engine cars, however, are forecast to continue to gradually decline from their peak in 2017.

There are already 7 million electric cars on the road and electric car sales for this year have been 1.7 million. 

Implications For Oil and Electricity

The demand for oil is predicted by BNEF to reduce by 17.6 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2040 as anti-pollution legislation and the resulting increase in electric-powered transport takes over. BNEF also says that the increased number of electric cars could mean a 5.2% increase in the demand for power as well as the need for 290 million charging points by 2040.

Cars Not Sold

The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) figures show that only 4,321 cars were registered in the UK in April, which is the lowest monthly level since 1946 and marks a massive 97 per cent plunge in sales from the same month in 2019.

Large numbers of unsold cars are now simply stored outside, waiting for lockdown restrictions to be lifted and some kind of upturn in the economy.  For example, the Upper Heyford airbase close to Bicester, in Oxfordshire is currently home to a vast quantity of cars estimated to be worth £35 million.

Air Quality

Lockdown around the world has brought a fast and dramatic decrease in air pollution and subsequent increase in air quality.  For example, nitrogen dioxide levels are reported to have fallen by 40 per cent around over urban areas in China, 20 per cent over Belgium and Germany, and anywhere from 19 to 40 per cent in different parts of the U.S.

The chance to see how much the environment has benefitted from coronavirus restrictions on industry and transport (road, aircraft, and rail) is likely to strengthen the case for electric vehicle ownership worldwide.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

New car registrations are often used as a key economic indicator and the pandemic has clearly been disastrous for the car market including manufacturers and their supply chains around the world. Little or no demand from hard-hit consumers is, of course, at the heart of this massive slump in a huge industry.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the BNEF is suggesting very bumpy times in the industry over the next 3 years.  Electric car ownership, driven by climate targets, industry investment and commitment, and now a perhaps improved perception by consumers who can see how a clean-air electric future could look appears to be something that, once the initial round of recessions starts to lessen could increase towards its projected trajectory.  As well as having implications for the oil and electric industries, increased demand for electric cars could create more opportunities for businesses going forward.

Virtual Restart For Housing Market

The housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, has said in a speech about safely restarting the housing market that technology such as virtual viewings looks set to play an important part.

Hard Hit Housing

The housing market has been hit extremely hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and by the measures taken to curb the spread of the virus. Mr Jenrick highlighted how 450,000 property buyers had to put their plans on hold and 300,000 tenancies come up for renewal each month.  Also, the pandemic has meant that people have been unable to move, many people have been forced to take mortgage holidays or have struggled with rent payments and estate and letting agents around the country have been closed. Housing experts are now predicting a sharp drop in house prices this year.

The construction industry also ground to a halt as lockdown measures were introduced.

It is only now that some estate agents and housebuilding firms have begun to reopen as lockdown restrictions have been relaxed.

How Technology Is Helping

Technology is reported to be helping with the restart of the housing and construction industries in several ways including:

– Estate agents being encouraged to conduct virtual viewings rather than in-person visits to properties.

– Digital transformation projects under the Digital Street plan by HM Land Registry that should allow buyers to carry out parts of the property buying process digitally e.g. using blockchain for contracts and signing deeds online.

– The first-ever virtual hearings for the planning inspectorate which Mr Jenrick has said should take place “within weeks”.

– The UK government using video, phones, and computers to vote remotely on debates.

Measures

On 13 May Mr Jenrick announced the following other measures to help get the housing market and construction moving in the right direction again:

– The First Homes programme (later this year) will give a 30% discount on new homes for key workers including nurses and teachers and police officers as well as local first-time buyers.

– The opening of estate agents’ offices and show homes and allowing and removal companies and the other essential parts of the sales and letting process to re-start.

– Allowing house-building sites to apply to extend their working hours to 9 pm Monday to Saturday in residential areas and beyond that in non-residential areas.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The pandemic has forced many of those in government, business and other walks of life to use and realise the value of technology in order to carry out what work they can whether it is video conferencing, collaborative cloud-based working platforms, or other tech tools. The fact that aspects of the housing market and planning can be carried out in a ‘virtual’ way provides safe and effective ways to help to get things moving again and is making a positive contribution at an exceedingly difficult time.

Are Masks A Challenge To Facial Recognition Technology?

In addition to questions about the continued use of potentially unreliable and unregulated live facial recognition (LFR) technology, masks to protect against the spread of coronavirus may be presenting a further challenge to the technology.

Questions From London Assembly Members

A recently published letter by London Assembly members Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM and Sian Berry AM to Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick have asked whether the LFR technology could be withdrawn during the COVID-19 pandemic on the ground that it has been shown to be generally inaccurate, and it still raises questions about civil liberties. 

Also, concerns are now being raised about how the already questionable accuracy of LFR could be challenged further by people wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Civil Liberties of Londoners

The two London Assembly members argue in the letter that a lack of laws, national guidelines,  regulations and debate about LFR’s use could mean that stopping Londoners or visitors to London “incorrectly, without democratic public consent and without clear justification erodes our civil liberties”.  The pair also said that this could continue to erode trust in the police, which has been declining anyway in recent years.

Inaccurate

The letter highlights concerns about the general inaccuracy of LFR. This is illustrated by the example of first two deployments of LFR this year, where more than 13,000 faces were scanned,  only six individuals were stopped, and five of those six were misidentified and incorrectly stopped by the police. Also, of the eight people who created a ‘system alert’, seven were incorrectly identified.

Others Concerns

Other concerns by the pair outlined in the letter about the continued deployment of LFR include worries about the possibility of mission creep, the lack of transparency about which watchlists are being used, worries that LFR will be used operationally at protests, demonstrations, or public events in future e.g. Notting Hill Carnival, and fears that the technology will continue to be used without clarity, accountability or full democratic consent

Masks Are A Further Challenge

Many commentators from both sides of the facial recognition debate have raised concerns about how the wearing of face masks could affect the accuracy of facial recognition technology.

China and Russia

It has been reported that Chinese electronics manufacturer Hanwang has produced facial recognition technology that is 95% accurate in identifying the faces of people who are wearing masks.

Also, in Moscow, where the many existing cameras have been deployed to help enforce the city’s lockdown and to identify those who don’t comply, systems have been able to identify those wearing masks.

France

In France, after the easing of lockdown restrictions, it has been reported that surveillance cameras will be used to monitor compliance with social distancing and the wearing of masks.  A recent trial in Cannes using French firm Datakalab’s surveillance software, which includes an automatic alert to city authorities and police for breaches of mask-wearing and social distancing rules looks set to be rolled out to other French cities.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Facial recognition is another tool which, under normal circumstances (if used responsibly as intended) could help to fight crime in towns and city centres, thereby helping the mainly retail businesses that operate there.  The worry is that there are still general questions about the accuracy of LFR, its impact on our privacy and civil liberties and that the COVId-19 pandemic could be used as an excuse to use it more and in a way that leads to mission creep. It does appear that in China and Russia for example, even individuals wearing face masks can be identified by facial recognition camera systems, although many in the west regard these as states where a great deal of control on the privacy and civil liberties population is exercised and may be alarmed at such systems being used in the UK.  The pandemic, however, appears to be making states less worried about infringing civil liberties for the time being as they battle to control a virus that has devastated lives and economies, and technology must be one of the tools being used in the fight against COVID-19.

Tech Tip – 3 Ways to help speed up your Windows 10 PC

Here are 3 tips to help speed up a Windows 10 PC:

1. Change Power Settings

If you are using a power saver plan, you can change your power settings to “Higher Performance” or “Balanced” to speed things up. This can be done via the Control Panel app, then select Hardware and Sound > Power Options.

2. Halt Windows Tips and Tricks

Stopping many of the (often unhelpful) tips and tricks that are triggered by how you use the PC can speed things up.  To do this:

– Go to the Start button.

– Select Settings.

– Go to System > Notifications & actions.

– Scroll down to Notifications and uncheck the box marked “Get tips, tricks, and suggestions as you use Windows.”

3. Clean Out Your Hard Disk

Your hard disk can contain many old files that just slow things down.  The ‘Storage Sense’ tool can help you to clean out the hard disk and speed things up.

– Go to Settings > System > Storage.

– Top of the screen, move the toggle ‘On’. This will let Windows monitor for and delete old junk files.

– To customize Storage Sense, go to “Configure Storage Sense or run it now” and set your requirements on the screen that appears e.g. how often Storage Sense deletes files (daily, weekly, monthly or when storage space is low).