Tech News : UK Government ‘Help to Grow’ Scheme : Software And Free Business Advice

The UK government has just announced the launch of its ‘Help to Grow’ digital scheme which offers discounted software and free advice to small businesses.

Applications Open Now

The Help to Grow scheme is designed to support smaller businesses in adopting digital technologies to help them to grow. Applications for the scheme opened on 20 January.

Free Advice and Online Support

The scheme offers access to free, impartial online support and advice about how digital technology can boost a business’s performance. The support and advice can be accessed via Help to Grow’s online platform here: https://helptogrow.campaign.gov.uk/

Discounted Software

Eligible business in any business sector can also access a discount of up to 50 per cent towards the costs of buying approved software (from a group of approved suppliers), worth up to £5,000.

The 4 criteria for eligibility for the discount are:

  1. Businesses must be based in the UK and registered with Companies House or be a registered society on the Financial Conduct Authorities Mutuals Register.
  2. Employing between 5 and 249 people.
  3. Actively trading for more than 12 months and having an incorporation date of at least 365 days prior to application.
  4. Businesses must be purchasing the approved software for the first time.

Currently Just For CRM And Digital Accounting Software

Each eligible business can receive only one financial discount towards the purchase of one approved software product up to a maximum of £5,000 (not including VAT) in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Digital Accounting software product categories. The government says that other software product categories will be available with the discount soon, including e-commerce software. The discount will cover 12 months’ worth of approved software product core costs, exclusive of VAT.

What Approved Software?

At this opening stage of the scheme, the approved CRM software suppliers whose products the discount applies to are Capsule CRM, Zymplify, Livepoint Software Solutions Ltd, Gold-Vision CRM, and Deskpro Ltd. The suppliers of the digital accounting software that the discount applies to are Sage, Intuit Ltd, and Crunch.

FSB and CBI

Mike Cherry, National Chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, said of the scheme: “For those small firms who are eligible, providing the means to make improvements through projects like this will make a real difference for those that are keen to expand their knowledge and skills.”

“We’re encouraging as many eligible small firms to apply and make the most of this new scheme.”

Also, Lord Karan Bilimoria, President of the CBI, said: “The launch of Help to Grow digital will help thousands of SME businesses invest in technologies. Supporting businesses on their digital transformation journey is fundamental to unlocking economic growth, boosting productivity, and creating a more resilient future for firms.”

Help to Grow: Management Scheme

The government already offers a ‘Help to Grow: Management’ scheme launched in 2021 as part of the wider government effort to back businesses and ‘level up’ the economy.

Under the ‘Help to Grow: Management’ scheme, small businesses can access 12-weeks of learning designed to fit alongside work commitments. The scheme can help businesses to develop a bespoke business growth plan, access 1:1 support from a business mentor, and learn from peers and network with other businesses. The scheme is 90 per cent funded by the government and participating businesses only need to pay £750. More information is available here: https://smallbusinesscharter.org/help-to-grow-management/

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The last two years have created an extremely tough business environment, particularly for small businesses and businesses from all sectors have been forced to undergo a rapid digital transformation and associated learning (and cost) curve. Tools like CRMs can be costly to small businesses, but their use can really improve efficiency and productivity. For example, Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) figures show that businesses who use CRMs see on average productivity boosts of 18 per cent, so a its possible to see how a big discount on (approved) CRM software could help with growth. Also, ERC figures show that businesses adopting digital accounting software can get an 11.8 per cent increase in employee sales over 3 years. Discounts on this type of software could also provide an extra means for small businesses to increase growth. Free help, such as that offered via the Help to Grow portal, as long as it has real value, is bound to be welcomed by small businesses at this time. The biggest help right now would, of course, be greater certainty and a real improvement globally in the COVID situation, but the government scheme is one of many small ways that eligible businesses could improve growth in the coming years. The relatively small choice of approved suppliers and software types in the current round of the scheme, however, may not suit many small businesses right now, meaning that they may need to wait longer for any value and benefit.

Tech News : Google Gives Upgrade Deadline For Legacy G Suite Accounts

Google has announced in an email that users with legacy (old) free G Suite accounts have until 1 July to upgrade to paid subscriptions or lose access to most services.

Ten Years Free

Google has said that legacy G Suite users i.e., those who have been able to use their custom domain accounts for free for ten years, must upgrade to a paid Google Workspace subscription to keep their services by July 1, 2022. The G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available starting from that date.

Google also says on its support site that, even if users choose to wait, Google will begin upgrading subscriptions automatically on May 1, 2022. This will mean that an organisation’s account will be upgraded to a new Google Workspace subscription based on the features that the organisation currently uses.

Setting Up Billing Required

Google is, therefore, asking Legacy G Suite account holders to set up Google Workspace billing before July 1, 2022, or the Google Workspace subscription will be suspended until this is set up. If users still haven’t set up their billing account for Workspace after 60 days, Google says that those users will no longer have access to Google Workspace core services, such as Gmail, Calendar, and Meet.

What Is The Legacy Free G Suite Account?

Google’s free edition was first made available to businesses, organisations, and schools from 2006 to December 6, 2012, with Google Apps. The free edition of G Suite—also known as the legacy free edition of Google Apps— gave users a reduced set of business features.

What Is Google Workspace?

Google Workspace, introduced in 2020 as part of a new brand identity, is Google’s cloud-based, collaborative working platform. Workspace, Google’s answer to competing products like Microsoft 365 with its ‘Teams’ app (and competitors like Zoom), is where its productivity apps (Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Meet, and more), and core communication and collaboration tools (chat, email, voice and video calling, content management) are grouped together. Workspace gained huge popularity during the pandemic lockdowns when demand surged for cloud-based platforms that enabled remote and hybrid working. Google Cloud claims that Workspace now has more than 3 billion active monthly users!

How Much Will It Cost To Upgrade To A Google Workspace Account?

The basic Business Starter subscription costs £4.60 per user per month (currently discounted to £4.14) and offers 30 GB of Drive storage, 99.9 per cent uptime guaranteed, and increased security. Users can also bolt-on extra subscriptions as required e.g., Google Voice to get a dedicated business phone number. Business Standard, and Business Plus packages are also available. The packages can be compared at https://workspace.google.com/intl/en_uk/pricing.html

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Google’s argument for the need to upgrade appears to be that legacy suite account holders should be pleased that they had 10 years for free, and that the legacy version never offered benefits like the Workspace platform does anyway e.g., 24/7 support, 99.9 per cent uptime and more storage. For Google, the introduction of Workspace would be a way to seriously challenge Microsoft’s Office/365 dominance and, as Javier Soltero, the VP of Google Workspace claimed in late 2020, “This is the end of the ‘office’ as we know it.” Google reported “strong” revenue growth for Workspace in its third-quarter results (October) indicating that it is a popular subscription. For those users who have enjoyed the legacy, an upgrade is clearly an additional cost, but there may be additional valued benefits. Those who don’t want to upgrade “may” still be able to keep YouTube and Google Photos, but Google clearly wants to strongly encourage users to at least take up a basic subscription as soon as possible.

Tech Insight : What Is A ‘Watering Hole’ Attack?

In this tech insight, we look at what a watering hole attack is, some examples of such attacks, and how businesses can defend against this threat.

Poisoning The Water

A watering hole attack is a targeted, ‘supply chain,’ cyber-attack strategy, similar to spear phishing. With this strategy, the attacker identifies a website that’s frequented by users of a targeted organisation, or entire sector. The attacker then infects the website(s) with malware and identifies weaknesses in the main target’s cyber-security. The attacker then manipulates the ‘watering hole’ site to deliver that malware, such as a Remote Access Trojan (RAT), so that it can exploit these weaknesses.
When a member of the target organisation’s device becomes infected (like drinking from a poisoned watering hole, hence the name) in a way that the target will not notice (also known as ‘drive by’), the attacker can then gain access to the infected device. This can, in turn, enable the attacker to access the target organisation’s network

Stealing and Spying

The goal(s) of this strategy, as with other strategies is/are to steal personal information, banking details, and intellectual property, and/or to conduct espionage. Also, it can enable the attacker to access corporate systems and assets, and potentially gain further details for even more cyber-attacks.

Examples

Examples of watering hole attacks include:

– The VOHO multi-phase Campaign. Back in 2012, attackers compromised a local government website in Maryland and a regional bank in Massachusetts, along with other sites related to the promotion of democracy in oppressed regions. The targets were organisations related to financial services, government agencies, and the defence industry, and the attack involved the use of re-directs and infection by Gh0st RAT malware. The attack saw 32,000 visitors from 731 unique global organisations being re-directed to an exploit site where around 4,000 hosts are believed to have downloaded exploit files, leading to a staggering 12 percent success rate for the attackers.

– From 2017 to 2018, a country-level watering-hole attack was launched in China by the “LuckyMouse”/ “Iron Tiger” group. This espionage campaign was reported to have targeted a national data centre of an unnamed central Asian country. The attackers injected malicious JavaScript code into the official government websites.

– The 2019 ‘Holy Water’ attack targeted Asian religious and charity groups. The attackers used an Adobe Flash update prompt to trigger the malware download. Although the motive was unclear, the attack may have been used for espionage.

How To Protect Your Business From Watering Hole Attacks

Ways that you can protect your business from watering hole attacks include:

– Keep anti-virus and software patches up to date.

– Use browser-based security tools to inform users of bad sites (bad reputation) and extra malware protection.

– Have a good email protection solution and consider using a secure web gateway (SWG) to filter out suspect traffic.

– Regularly inspect and monitor websites that are most visited by employees with a focus on malware detection. Also, have a procedure in place to quickly inform employees not to visit sites that have been identified as compromised.

– Check traffic from all third party and external sites before allowing employee access.

– Assess, know, and control the full extent of your supply chain (a watering hole attack is a supply chain attack).

– Educate/inform and train employees about the nature of the threat and how to avoid it.

– Never click on unknown/suspect links in emails or websites and exercise caution at all times when browsing.

– Consider adopting a ‘zero trust ‘security approach for the business/organisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is broadly a supply-chain related attack (web resources) where instead of actively hacking or sending phishing emails, the criminals set traps for unsuspecting victims to walk into. In this respect, it is less obvious for businesses to spot. The first step is recognising and raising awareness of the threat. Following normal security good practice is always helpful plus some additional measures in this case such as identifying, regularly inspecting and monitoring websites that are most visited by employees and focusing on what additional malware protection can be added to employees’ browsers and devices. With an increasing number of more complex and inventive attack methods, many businesses are shifting to a complete ‘Zero Trust’ approach for their IT security. A more a data-centred rather than ‘moat and castle’ view of IT security gives companies greater holistic control and reduces the potential for the kind of gaps that cyber criminals can exploit with strategies like watering hole attacks.

Featured Article: How To Stop Your Emails From Ending Up In Spam Filters

In this article, we look at how spam filers work and what can be done to ensure that our legitimate emails reach their target and aren’t wrongly filtered out as ‘spam’ .

Why We Need Spam Filters

Although we’re focusing on how to avoid spam filters, it’s worth noting how important they are to businesses. Figures vary between surveys but around half of email is known to be spam and more than 90 per cent of malware arrives in spam emails. For example, Gmail in 2020 recorded blocking more than 100 million phishing emails with its filtering system, and figures (Statista) from September 2020 show 88.88 billion spam emails were being sent worldwide every day.

It is therefore necessary to filter our emails to stop our email boxes from becoming filled with irrelevant and possibly dangerous emails such as phishing emails. Filtering out unwanted emails also makes it much easier to see our important emails. Bear in mind, mailbox providers have a commercial interest in wanting users to continue using their service and having an effective spam filter can help this happen.

How Spam Filters Work / Spam Filter Types

Spam filters vary in their design across mailbox providers, but there are broadly several types that use different signals and scores to judge an email as being spam (and direct them to your spam folder). For example:

– Bayesian filters (and other heuristic filters) spot suspicious word patterns and frequencies in messages.

– Blocklist filters block and remove emails from senders who are identified on a spammers list.

– Content filters, as the name suggests, study the contents of an email with regards to language, such as words often used by spammers (special offer, discount) and inappropriate language. There are also ‘language filters’ but these are used to filter out messages with a different geographic language than that’s indicted by the recipient.

– Header filters study an email’s legitimacy based on the characteristics of its header e.g., the IP address.

– Rule-based filters apply rules established by users to incoming emails to decide whether they are delivered to the spam filter rather than the inbox. For example, these rules could be based on words or phrases in the message or header.

Other spam filtering judgements may be made using:

– Engagement rates. For example, if a (sender) mailbox has a high number of emails that are sent, not looked-at at then deleted, this could indicate low engagement (a sign of spam) and lead to an email being filtered out.

– Low mailbox activity. If an email box is rarely used apart from sending out large numbers of emails at once, this can be judged to indicate that it is a spam email account.

– Identification and reputation (a reputation score signalling how trustworthy your emails are) are often the main reasons why emails land in the inbox or the spam folder, not just the email’s content.

Getting Your Emails Past Spam Filters

Most of us, however, are not spammers and have legitimate marketing, business, and personal messages, sent with good intentions that we need to ensure at least reach their target, hopefully to get read. Ways that emails can beat spam filters include:

– Whitelisting : Since most major email providers (Google, Yahoo and Microsoft) automatically exempt whitelisted addresses from more scanning, ask known contacts to whitelist your email address in their spam filter, or to add your address to their contact list.

– Use Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and DMARC email authentication. For example, attaching DKIM signatures to an email (as an encrypted header), SPF records to link your emails back to the domain, and the DMARC protocol to protect your domain from unauthorised use e.g., spoofing are all (more technical) ways to indicate that your emails are not spam.

– Where possible, avoid using spam trigger words in the header and content of an email e.g., buy, ‘double your’, XXX, earn, cash bonus, etc. There are many large lists of spam trigger words online and the guiding principles are to avoid anything that is sensationalising or over-promising.

– Personalise emails e.g., with the recipient’s first name. This indicates that the email is less likely to be unsolicited.

– Avoid using odd formatting (to stand out), strange use of punctuation or strangely formatted fonts. All of these are common signs of spam.

– Keep your email deliverability rates high e.g., keep your email list clean (remove inactive users and invalid emails), make sure emails are compliant with current web laws, and add engaging text.

– Only provide links to reputable websites.

– Include an unsubscribe button/link in marketing emails.

– Pay attention to spelling and grammar – use spelling/grammar checkers, and proof-read emails.

– Make sure the ‘sent from’ name is easily recognisable e.g., your name and business name together.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The number of different factors that spam filters use to spot and isolate spam is, of course, good for us all, but can make it more challenging to design legitimate business emails that make it to their target. Paying attention to basic rules and checks (spelling, grammar, formatting, links, personalising, avoiding spam trigger words) and using a legitimate, well-maintained email account/platform with a clean list can provide a good basis for getting past spam filters. Looking into using SPF, DKIM and DMARC may also be worthwhile. It is important to get the best ROI in terms of time and money spent in creating and sending marketing and company communications emails and designing-in deliverability of emails is, therefore, vital.

Tech Tip – 3 Helpful Chrome Tricks

Here are 3 tips/tricks for Google Chrome to help with queries and searches that can be typed directly into the address bar (also known as the Onnibox):

Find websites that are similar

– For example, type related:bbc.co.uk

– This will deliver results showing similar (media) websites.

– The same type of search can be carried out for any website.

Use Google Chrome as a calculator

– Type in the required calculation For example, 2*3+8.

– The returned result will show the answer (14) loaded into calculator which you can use for more calculations.

Use a search term and site: to search a specific website for specific term

– To look for specific reference for a term in a whole website try, for example, Sandwiches site:bbc.co.uk

– This should return all the pages in the site where that term is used.

Featured Article : Microsoft’s March Commercial Price Rises

With Microsoft poised to increase its first substantive commercial pricing increase for Microsoft 365 since the company launched Office 365 a decade ago, we take a look at the added benefits and value and the justification behind the price changes.

Six Months Ago

Microsoft made its official announcements about which prices it would change and by how much back in August 2021. The new prices for its commercial products come into effect on March 1, 2022 and range from increases of 9 per cent to 25 per cent depending on the product. However, as the company points out, some considerable value has been added to its services over the last 10 years that may more than justify the increases.

Value-Adding Innovation Over 10 Years

It would be hard to disagree that Microsoft 365 has dramatically improved its products over the last 10 years, mostly thanks to re-investment and keeping its products relevant to business needs. In fact, since the introduction of 365, the company has added no less than 1,400 features, and 24 apps to the suites! (Microsoft Teams, Power Apps, Power BI, Power Automate, Stream, Planner, Visio, OneDrive, Yammer, and Whiteboard).

Security

One extremely important challenge for businesses and organisations to tackle in today’s business environment is cyber security, both for business continuity and compliance. In fairness, Microsoft 365 has added plenty of security capabilities over the years to keep businesses ahead of prevailing threats. For example, data loss prevention (DLP) for email and documents, sensitivity labels, and message encryption help guard valuable company data and Content Search, as well as eDiscovery, and core Litigation Hold to help with compliance.

The Hybrid Working Security Challenge

Hybrid working has proven to be another big challenge to security for businesses and organisations around the world. On this point, Microsoft is keen to highlight how its “Built-in mobile device management (MDM) and other management tools like Microsoft Endpoint Manager help admins support remote and hybrid workforces.”

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is a technology that’s transforming many areas of business automation. Microsoft has also added many AI elements to 365. For example, cloud-powered AI helps create maps, charts, and tables in Excel, as well as sorting and uncluttering Outlook. Plus, AI-powered real-time translation, captions, and transcription have now been added to improve collaboration and communication.

Competition

There are, of course, other cloud-based productivity suite options for businesses such as the more browser-centric Google Workspace, Zoho Workspace, and more. For most businesses it’s a case of finding the best fit with the installed base of hardware, using a familiar environment that fits the needs and workflow of the organisation. As the marketing people at Microsoft know all too well, in respect of the classic relationship within the often-cited ‘Porter’s 5 Forces’, the company has considerable supplier power but there’s always competitive rivalry and threats of substitution, and its price rise can’t just be based on its market power.

Teams

It would also be difficult not to note the important contribution that Microsoft Teams has made to many businesses during the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions. Although by no means the only collaborative working platform around (e.g. Zoom, Slack) Microsoft Teams (launched in 2017) proved to be the right solution at the right time for many, providing a practical way forward at the most uncertain time in living memory.

It is not surprising that with staff suddenly finding themselves working remotely and businesses having to undergo rapid digital transformations, with Teams already being part of Microsoft’s suite, it proved very popular. In fact, as far back as pre-pandemic December 2019, it was reported as having 20 million daily active users, and when the first lockdown hit in March 2020, Microsoft reported that Teams saw a massive 12 million user boost in one week!

Today, Teams has become the main communications platform for many businesses and organisations across the UK and Microsoft has put some considerable effort and investment into keeping it that way. For example, in 2020 over 300 new capabilities were added to Teams (Together mode, background effects, large gallery view, and more). Also, collaborative applications in Teams have been added to help with hybrid working e.g., Power Platform, Whiteboard, Lists, Planner, Shifts, Forms, and SharePoint, plus there are now many popular third-party apps that can integrate with Teams e.g., Adobe, Atlassian, Salesforce, SAP, ServiceNow, and Workday.

Other Teams Boosts

Other ways that Microsoft has boosted the power and value of Teams are, for example, by introducing features like real-time collaboration in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint desktop apps, as well as adding and expanding OneDrive cloud storage and the Exchange Online mailboxes. Unlimited dial-in capabilities for Teams has also been introduced across Microsoft’s enterprise, business, frontline, and government suites.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Price increases are never great news for businesses but after such a long time with no substantive increases, it was to be expected. 10 years is a particularly long time in the tech world where many huge changes can take place and there’s no doubt that Microsoft has invested in (and improved) Office 365 to transform it into the Microsoft 365 of today. The use of the cloud and apps like Teams have proven vital over the lasts two years of remote and hybrid working and, as Microsoft points out, continuous innovation has been the way that it has tried to keep its products relevant, and this is the key justification behind its March commercial price rises. In a forthcoming article, we’ll take a look at the price rise figures and some of the opinions and reactions by tech commentators and in the marketplace.

Tech News : Phone Recordings Via App – Police Investigation

The ICO launched an investigation after more than 1,000 Sussex and Surrey police officers were found to have downloaded a free app to covertly record calls with members of the public on police-issued phones.

Google Play Store App

The app, free to download for the Google Play Store, and called ‘Another Call Recorder’ (ACR), had been approved for use in 2017 for negotiators when dealing with kidnaps/hostage and other crisis situations. The app, which reportedly works best on older Android phones is able to record and store all incoming and outgoing calls made on a mobile by accessing the microphone and the speaker’s data feeds, and by saving the recordings to the phone’s storage.

Problem – No Means To Restrict

As discovered by the ICO, the fact that any police officers were able to download the app for free from Google Play meant that its use couldn’t be restricted to just the purpose that it was originally approved for. The ICO’s investigation found, therefore, that the app had been used to make “indiscriminate” covert recordings of calls with members of the public on 700 police phones (545 installations of the app by Sussex, and 238 by Surrey). The indiscriminate, widespread, and apparently arbitrary use of the app by Police was stopped after Surrey and Sussex forces found out about the practice in March 2020 and referred themselves to the ICO and the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (ICPO) four months later.

Disclosure

The main legal issue to be investigated was that of ‘disclosure,’ i.e., whether it breached the Investigatory Powers Act by amounting to unlawful “interception” of a communication by means of a private or public telecommunication system.

Other potential legal issues relating to the use of the app could include:

– Whether the other party on the call had been warned that they were being recorded (relating to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

– Whether usage of the app may have breached data protection laws e.g., if it was used to record calls relating to a minor crime, rather than the major crime of hijacking that it has been passed for use with.

The Findings

The IPCO’s investigation concluded that:

– The app was recording the communication while it was being transmitted, which constituted recording at a “relevant time.”

– The version of the app used by police didn’t allow recordings of the calls to be automatically uploaded to cloud services i.e., didn’t make them available to a third party while in the course of transmission; it was only available to the app user once the recording had been stored locally on the device. This meant that the conduct was not sufficient by itself to render the call recording “interception”. Also, the IPCO concluded that the installation and use of the app is not interception.

– Since telephone calls are protected under Article 8, European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) the use of the app by police did constitute ‘covert’ surveillance i.e., it did not warn the other party that they were being recorded.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

It is a little shocking that hundreds of members of two police forces were using a free app for years to make arbitrary, covert recordings of people, without their consent or knowledge, and did not know that this could constitute a breach of laws. It should be noted that the particular app used by the police is in contrast to apps used by businesses, such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams and Zoom because these do inform users when a participant records the call, and their recording feature automatically warns all other parties.

As the IPCO report pointed-out, however, both forces, upon discovery of the issue, promptly brought it to the attention of the relevant authorities and took immediate steps on their own to stop the usage of the app and remove it from devices. In this case, because the app kept the recordings on the phone itself and didn’t send them to a third-party (the cloud) it was deemed not to be interception.

In the business world, a Prospect trade union poll from last November showed that 32 per cent of UK workers are being remotely monitored and tracked by employers. There is concern about a lack of regulation at present and the issue of consent is very important. Businesses should note that under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, individuals have a non-absolute right to respect for their private and family life and correspondence, and (UK) GDPR has some important details relating to data protection and consent that need to be considered. For businesses who want to monitor their employees, however, the broad rules are that workers are entitled to some privacy at work, and employers must tell employees about any monitoring arrangements and the reason for it. Also, employers should have procedures in place setting out what is and what isn’t allowed, and these procedures should be made clear and understood by all workers before monitoring begins. Generally, employers must have a genuine reason to conduct any covert monitoring such as criminal activities or malpractice, and any monitoring should be limited, targeted and within certain times, with employers having regard for private communications.

Tech News : New Graphene-Based Batteries Could Be Fireproof & Safer

Los Angeles based Nanotech Energy claims to have developed a fireproof, graphene-based lithium-ion battery that could be safer for Electric Vehicles.

What Is Graphene?

Extracted from graphite, graphene is a single layer (monolayer) of carbon atoms, tightly bound in a two-dimensional, hexagonal honeycomb lattice nanostructure. First observed through electron microscopes in 1962, it was re-discovered in 2004 (although Nanotech says 2002). Graphene has exceptionally high tensile strength – 10 times that of steel, electrical conductivity, transparency, is the thinnest two-dimensional material in the world, and is the second-strongest material in the world (to Borophene).

What Causes Fires With Traditional Lithium-Ion Batteries?

Volume changes (expansion) of lithium-ion battery electrodes during charge and discharge can cause an internal short circuit, which can lead to a fire. Also, lithium-ion batteries can catch fire if they have been improperly manufactured or damaged, or if the software that operates the battery isn’t designed correctly. Lithium-ion batteries can sometimes also simply overheat during charging.

In the case of using lithium-ion batteries in EV’s, the use of organic liquid electrolytes (the battery’s most flammable component), which can be volatile and flammable when operating at high temperatures can increase the fire risk e.g., if a car-crash causes a chemical leakage.

How Is A Graphene-Based Battery Different?

The new graphene-based battery from Nanotech is reported to be different because:

– It has graphene electrodes i.e., the positive (cathode) and negative (anode) terminals. This helps the battery to withstand its volume changes during charge and discharge, thereby reducing the potential fire risk. Also, with graphene being a highly effective conductor of electricity, it can help the battery to keep a lower internal resistance and temperature, thereby helping to prevent overheating during charging.

– It uses a non-flammable, stable, and inexpensive proprietary electrolyte solution, called Organolyte™. A non-flammable electrolyte means a dramatically reduced fire risk.

– It has a new proprietary separator. The graphene battery electrodes must be separated by a material through which the ions transfer. Instead of using a typical polyolefin separator Nanotech Energy has developed a new separator material that improves stability and makes the battery safer.

Performance

In terms of performance, Nanotech reports that the battery retains more than 80 percent of its rated capacity through 1,400 cycles and can charge “18 times faster than anything that is currently available on the market”. The battery is also reported to be able to maintain performance at extreme temperatures (-40 to 140 degrees F), hold charge at temperatures as high as 350 degrees, and won’t catch fire if damaged with a nail or heated to more than 1,300 degrees.

Easy To Manufacture And Better For The Environment.

Other reported benefits of the new battery are that it doesn’t require exotic materials and can be relatively easily manufactured on existing equipment in various form factors (cylindrical, pouch, etc.). Also, Nanotech says that using graphene-based batteries could help develop more cost-efficient, environmentally friendly personal electronic devices to create a more efficient way to harness renewable energy.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

EV’s are the way forward for domestic and commercial transport, but one of the big challenges that EV manufactures have faced is developing a battery that requires infrequent charging, charges very quickly, is durable, can go a long way on a charge, and is safe. This new graphene-based battery certainly appears to address the safety, fast charging and durability issues, and the fact that it is relatively easy to manufacture using existing equipment (keeping costs down) is also a big bonus. This discovery could go some way to helping push the EV market forward if widely adopted, although initial production looks set to concentrate on the consumer electronics market rather than electric vehicles pending more testing time. This means that these batteries may not go into big commercial production for another year, and there are still other EV challenges to overcome, such as meeting the charging network demand.

Tech Insight : How To Check Your VPN

In this article, we take a look at some of the ways users can assess how good their VPN really is.

What Is A VPN?

A ‘Virtual Private Network’ (VPN) is used to keep internet activity private, evade censorship / maintain net neutrality and use public Wi-Fi securely (e.g., avoid threats such as ‘man-in-the-middle’ attacks). A VPN achieves this by diverting a user’s traffic via a remote server to replace their IP address while offering the user a secure, encrypted connection (like a secure tunnel) between the user’s device and the VPN service. This should mean that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or anyone else cannot read what you’re doing while using your VPN.

VPN services apps are downloaded to devices and connected when they are needed, for example, for security when using public Wi-Fi and/or when working remotely.

Other VPN Uses

In addition to security, VPNs can also be used for:

– Hiding where and how you browse from your ISP so the details can’t be sold to advertisers or accessed in a data breach of your ISP.

– Accessing the latest film or series in a country where there are content restrictions in place.

Performance

A VPN should be fast and easy to operate and, obviously, secure, as well as being the right price (free ones are available).

Possible Issues With VPNs

Some of the possible issues with VPNs that could affect their performance include:

– Not being fast enough.

– Leaking a user’s IP address and/or DNS requests when the user goes online.

– Having broken features that may not secure a user’s true Internet Protocol Version 6 address (IPv6), which could expose the user’s details to third parties.

– Not having a good VPN ‘kill switch’ (Network Lock), thereby not keeping data secure if the connection drops for any reason. 

– As highlighted by a 2019 VPN Pro study, almost one-third of the most popular VPN services are secretly owned by Chinese companies that may be subject to weak privacy laws.

Checking

Ways you find out if your VPN is satisfactory include:

– Using speed test tools such as the new open-source speed-test tool from NordVPN that allows users to compare the speeds of different VPN services. See: https://nordvpn.com/vpn-speed-test/ for details. Other VPN speed test tools include SPEEDTEST online https://www.speedtest.net/ or app – SPEEDTEST VPN (https://www.speedtest.net/apps/vpn), or by checking online rankings e.g., CNET’s comparison (speed and privacy) https://www.cnet.com/tech/services-and-software/fastest-vpn/.

– Check for DNS leaks / perform a DNS leak test to help discover if your VPN is private. For example, see https://www.dnsleaktest.com/, https://ipleak.net/, or https://surfshark.com/dns-leak-test. Connect to a VPN server and load ipleak.net in your internet browser, manually (disconnect) while the VPN client is running and then load some test websites while the VPN is reconnecting. This may identify brief reconnection leaks.

– Check for IP address leaks such as DNS IP leaks (see dnsleaktest.com or dnsleak.com), Torrent IP Leaks – if using Torrent( see http://checkmyip.torrentprivacy.com/), WebRTC IP Leaks from the web browser (use a Chrome extension e.g., such as WebRTC Leak Prevent or WebRTC Prevent Shield), or an email IP leak (see https://emailipleak.com/).

– Check whether censorship can be bypassed e.g., the user switching their VPN on and off while trying to access restricted content.

Limitations With VPN Testing Tools

It should be remembered that VPN testing tools may not be entirely reliable due to limitations such as a lack of transparency in how speeds are measured, their reliability and the verification of their results, and whether they work for a wide range of different VPN providers.

Reviews and Trusted Brands

For many people, a little online research of reviews, rankings, comparisons, and opinions is the most effective way of assessing the comparative effectiveness of a VPN. Also, many people may simply prefer to go with personal recommendations or go with well-known trusted brands when it comes to allaying fears about making the wrong choice or tackling feelings of post-purchase dissonance.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

A VPN is one of several security tools that are now widely used by businesses/organisations and individuals. There is a wide choice available, and although it seems a fairly simple operation to sign up to one and start using it, making the wrong choice of VPN tool could potentially have serious consequences. Assessing just how good a particular VPN can, in reality, be quite complicated and time-consuming. Online measuring tools and apps can provide a reasonable idea, although they can also lack transparency and reliability. For many users, it’s a case of looking at different online comparisons or sticking with/switching to trusted, paid-for brands, or going with personal recommendations.

Tech Tip – Making Your Browser Remember Your Passwords

Your browser may have a Password Manager but sometimes an issue (e.g., conflicting extensions) may cause the browser not to save or remember your passwords. Here’s how to fix the issue for popular browsers Chrome and Edge:

For Google Chrome:

– Open the Chrome menu (the three dots top right) and select ‘Settings’.

– Select ‘Autofill’ on the sidebar.

– Choose the option labelled ‘Passwords’ (left side of the Settings screen).

– Turn on the ‘Offer to save passwords’ switch.

For Microsoft Edge:

– Open the Edge menu (the three dots top right) and select ‘Settings’.

– Select ‘Passwords’.

– Turn on the ‘Offer to save passwords’ switch.