This week’s technology news – 29th August 2014

Progress with IoT – But Security Concerns Still Dominate Public Opinion
The likelihood of The Internet of Things (IoT) becoming a reality, seems to be gathering pace and fast if public opinion is anything to go by.  According to a recent global report “Internet of Things: Connected Home,” 1,800 20-50 year old tech savvy consumers across 11 countries (including US, Australia, China, Germany, India, and the UK) were polled.  61% thought IoT, in which seamless connections between appliances and electronics are connected to the internet could happen, was “extremely likely” to happen in next five years (with 84% conclusion in China).

The IoT market is expected to grow to US$7.1 trillion over the next six years.  Is it all good news, well no.  Not surprisingly, the greatest concern was the risk of sensitive data being exposed as a result of IoT.

70% of those surveyed said they were either “extremely concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the risk of data breaches or personal information being compromised.

60% stated that “privacy is important to me and I do not trust how this type of data may be used”.

67% of those in the US advised that if personal data was accessed without their knowledge or consent, they would “feel violated and extremely angry to the point where (they) would take action”.  The majority of those surveyed suggested that their government should regulate how data is collected and what vendors are allowed to do and not do with the collected data.

The risk of losing public trust by not having well through through security and governance protocols in place from the start is too great for governments and network administrators to ignore.
In the UK, the Government has invested a further £1.6m on wireless project HyperCat, a thin interoperability layer which allows devices using different communication platforms to exchange data.  This is part of a £6.4 million package of public funding into IoT. The Government’s contribution to this non-profit making project provides a degree of independent assurance and secure interoperability.  Whilst Qualcomm, Microsoft, Cisco, HTC and Symantec are behind a similar “AllSeen Alliance” and Apple creates its own proprietary IoT standard called “HomeKit”, in the UK, 40+ technology companies including ARM, BT and KPMG are investing £45 million in the hope that their synchronised wireless communication standards version will become the globally accepted international standard, published through the British Standards Institute (BSI).

With the spec for Hypercat due to be published in 2015, for organisations everywhere, the advice is to treat IoT with care and fully consider the value of any data gathered and the potential impact of any breach.  As the volume of data in circulation increases and its storage and mining carries ever greater personal and commercial significance, the way in which business handles corporate responsibility and public may determine loyalty and their bottom line.


The good and evil of 3D printing

Since the development of 3D printing technology, there have been a myriad of different uses coming to market. Two have recently been brought into public focus this week – and they could not be more polar opposites.

The first (good use) is a 3D printed vertebra which has been successfully implanted in a 12 year-old boy with cancer in his spinal cord. The benefits of 3D printing the required part is that it could be specifically designed to match the child’s original vertebra.  The design also includes small holes that let the natural bone grow inside. This makes the 3D printed vertebra a permanent part of the spine which will not need adjustment in the future as the child grows.

On the negative side, like the 3D printed gun before it, not all uses of 3D printing technology we are destined to see will be for the good.   A new “bump key” has been invented using the technology.  A combination of locksmith know-how and 3D printing equipment has resulted in locks you can open without having the original key.   Happily, it is never as simple as it sounds.   First a photo of the lock itself has to be taken to assist in the printing of the “bump key”.  Then with the bump key in the lock it has to be hit with a special mallet at several points of the key turn.   If done correctly, the mechanism will unlock without damage to the lock itself.

As 3D printing equipment costs fall, ever more uses for the printing technology will be discovered. It has the potential to be a disruptive technology and so markets, law enforcers and regulators will need to keep an eye on developments in order to safeguard or counter its good use.



Shocking jailbreak for prison data
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has been fined £180,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for “serious failings” following the loss of a hard drive containing confidential details of 3,000 prisoners at Erlestoke Prison in Wiltshire in 2013.  The data included information on organised crime, prisoners’ health and drug misuse, along with details about offenders’ victims and visitors.  Central to the severity of the breach was the fact that the disk had not been encrypted.

When a similar incident took place back in 2011, this triggered the issue of new back-up drives across the Prison Service which could be encrypted. However, the upgraded process was flawed from the start, as The Prison Service failed to provide instructions to employees to activate the encryption option which had to be done manually.

The ICO’s Head of Enforcement, Stephen Eckersley did not mince words in his damning report:   “The fact that a government department with security oversight for prisons can supply equipment to 75 prisons throughout England and Wales without properly understanding, let alone telling them how to use it, beggars belief”.  The sensitive information for prisoners, the public and victims remained insecure for over a year.  A spokeswoman for the MOJ advised that this had now been replaced with a secure centralised system.

The lesson for organisations to take from this shocker is simple, to have technology is one thing, to understand and implement the relevant security measures to safeguard the data is the fundamental partner in the equation for good gatekeeping and providing a safe pair of hands.

Questionable use of results from data collection of wearables

Wearables are out in the wild collecting metrics of user’s daily lives where users can see and track their own data. However, it can be tricky to visualise this without example of what the benefit of all this information has on a larger scale.

Jawbone, producers of some wearable fitness technology, published a report showing some live trends which arose following an earthquake this week in South Napa, San Francisco.   People wearing the devices in the vicinity were monitored and the results recorded those who awoke when it struck at 3.20am local time and who got up (90%). This is against those who carried on sleeping, having been located further away from the quake’s epicentre.

This on its own is interesting, but not remarkable.  However, Jawbone’s publication of its data findings from region to region, flags up the notable concern that how personal data is to be used can often be hidden in the small print of terms of conditions. Whilst data is frequently used anonymously, as wearables become more adopted – and especially when being infused with existing technology such as smart phones, this type of data collection will need to become a lot more transparent to prevent consumer backlash.


This week’s technology news – 22nd August 2014

Cloud savings for all

Cloud storage has always had its advantages over traditional options but price was often a premium. Thanks to heavy competition from providers both big and small, the cost per GB has been falling steadily over the last few years with some sharper drops being made recently. With price options now a relatively non-issue, the balance of pros and cons to cloud storage now sit very comfortably on the pro side of the scale.  Non-cloud setups now have one less obstacle to worry about when moving to Cloud, whether completely replacing their existing solution or as a hybrid.

With less focus on cost therefore, it is now much easier to have a clear discussion on the true flexibility and benefits Cloud can offer over traditional storage solutions. As adoption increases, so will employee expectations of having their data available via the web and mobile, but most importantly, securely. With a lower bar of entry, cloud adoption is likely to be boosted. Gartner predicts half of large enterprises will be using hybrid cloud deployments by 2017.

So the question that needs to be asked is – if you are not on cloud yet, why not?

US healthcare data hacking on vast scale revealed

Community Health Systems (CHS), the second largest hospital chain in the US running 206 hospitals in 29 states,  confirmed this week it had been hacked with a systems breach and the theft of personal data for 4.5 million people as a result of the Heartbleed flaw.  The open SSL code run by Jupiter for CHS which would normally scramble sensitive data proved ineffective against Heartbleed and despite fixes being issued, proved too late to stop what appears to be one of the largest known worldwide data breaches.

Back in April, UK’s Mumsnet had 1.5 million members details exposed whilst the Canadian tax authority, The Canada Revenue Agency, had 900 people’s social insurance numbers stolen and these two incidents were the previous “world record holders”.  The Heartbleed bug allowed names, phone numbers, addresses, and social security numbers to be stolen.

It is understood that the same malicious players have been targeting companies in the healthcare and medical device industry to gather intellectual property data.  A new report by Gartner has shown that worldwide spending on information security is estimated to reach US$71.1 billion in 2014, an increase of 7.9% over 2013 as organizations adapt to the growing threat of cybercrime. This is expected to rise further to 8.2% in 2015 and reach $76.9 billion, with a greater reliance on mobile, cloud and social platforms with greater reliance on mobile, cloud and social platforms. Gartner estimates that more than 30% of security controls used by small or mid size organisations will be Cloud based by 2015 and drive the use of security technology through 2016 and beyond.

Fixing this healthcare breach (believed to have originated in China) is one thing, fixing the trust with the patients involved is another and whilst neither medical nor financial data is believed to have been accessed, it once again highlights the imperatives for organisations to ensure their data is secured and protected as the sheer volume of bits of data to be managed, wherever it is held, increases exponentially year on year.

Met Police want lock down on phones

The Met in London are seeking pre-set pin locks from manufacturers to secure mobile phones, installed pre-sale at the factory, as a deterrent to the high numbers of mobile thefts.   Their research reveals that three in five people do not set a pin code lock of any kind on their phone. This leaves a user exposed to the theft of personal (or corporate data depending on the use of the device), plus the potential for expensive bills to be run up from web downloads without them knowing.  If factory set, it would also ensure that devices bought online vs from high street retailers would similarly benefit from the security layer.  Apple’s Activation Lock has produced results which show direct falls in crime as a result of its activation.  Whilst hopefully a factory code would be randomised already, the UK Mobile Phone Crime Unit (NMPCU) comment that they would encourage users to set their own memorable personal code thereafter (though not a generic ie. 1234 or 1111).   Previously, such lazy security enabled journalists from the News of the World to hack data of celeb mobiles as well as listen to their voicemails.  Opting-out vs opting-in is always going to be a better route to maintaining adoption for security measures – and anything that thwarts unauthorised use exposing consumers and companies to risk is to be lauded.

Don’t just miniaturize for mobile

When creating content for smart phones it can be easy to think; “Let’s take what we have on PC and shrink it down to fit on Smartphones” but this approach is rarely the best. Whether it is a website or an app, taking a step back to re-think how to best display content is key.   True, smartphones have a lot smaller displays than PCs but they also pack their own tricks often not seen on their bigger brothers such as GPS location, cameras, touch screen, accelerometers and more.

Mobile users often have lots of frequently used Apps installed on their device so breaking this behaviour to add your own app into their stable can be challenging. The key is not to replicate, but to create something unique for the platform, redesign your user interface (so all vital info can be seen once the app is launched) – and don’t be afraid to use sensors such as GPS to detect a device’s location and deliver relevant information (this can also be combined with a QR code scanner in-app to quickly load relevant information of a product or service).

As smart as you can make your app by taking advantage of the devices smart features, it can also be too easy to go overboard.  One area in particular where having restraint will be appreciated by your users is push-notifications. Don’t bombard your users with pop-up messages – or they are likely to delete your app, no matter how smart, instead of turning the feature off.

Google Glass gets The Minority Report feel

One of the main obstacles to wider adoption of Google Glass has been the awkward control methods, however that may be in the past with the introduction by US Thalmic Labs of muscle sensor armbands to the technology. The new enterprise has integrated its clever wearable sensors with Google Glass, Epson Moverio and Recon Jet. The net effect is that users can quickly flick through documents, contacts and apps with subtle hand and finger gestures vs tapping the Glasses at the side of the head and fiddling with a tiny trackpad.  With this practical physical change, wider adoption by industry could be faster than anticipated and could make wearable technologies a relied on technology vs a curiosity at present.

This week’s technology news – 15th August 2014

1.2 billion stolen credentials

Security and Investigations company Hold Security has discovered a Russian crime ring’s hacking efforts, penetrating websites big and small in search of the lucrative digital commodity of user credentials. From a mass of cyber attacks, the group has acquired over 4.5 billion records. Within these, 1.2 billion are genuine, unique login credentials. This was accomplished by successfully attacking over 420,000 websites and is suspected to be by method of SQL injection.

SQL injection occurs whereby someone inputs malicious code inside a SQL database. This can be via a standard web form or by taking advantage of a custom URL, which passes data back to the server. Once inside the database, the code can execute its custom command eg. taking lists of usernames and passwords and sending them to the desired location.

There are several measures you can put in place to combat SQL injection and save your own data from criminal attack.

1.When requesting data in forms that will be sent to your database make sure you assign length restrictions.
2.Check data type and check custom text for uses of execute code commands.
3.In addition, monitor your databases to check only the correct type of information is being collected is equally important.

With another huge credentials breach it highlights the urgency for regular password changes as part of good governance policies to keep your data secure.


Technology tracking study for Parkinsons patients and improved clinical decision making

In the same week that the world heard the sad news of brilliant US comedian Robin Williams’ suicide (disclosed as a Parkinson’s sufferer by his widow after his death), another Hollywood star and Parkinson’s sufferer, Michael J Fox has publicised an olive branch of hope for Parkinson sufferers.   His foundation, The Michael J Fox Foundation (MJFF) announced its support and co-funding for a study and new wearable healthcare technology app to help doctors study the effect of different medications for sufferers of the disease in the future.  In a joint venture with Intel division Basis (spurred into action by senior advisor, former chief executive – and Parkinson sufferer Andy Grove), patients were provided with smartwatches armed with sensors to track sufferers in realtime.

The disease is believed to be caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors, though its exact cause is still unknown.  Symptoms can include tremors, uncontrollable movements, impaired balance and co-ordination, stiffness, slowness of movement, loss of smell, decline in intellectual functioning, speech and swallowing problems.

In the tests, 16 patients and nine control volunteers wore watches which allowed more than 300 data points to be recorded ever second, translating to one gigabyte of data, per patient, per day over a four day period. The information gathered was then uploaded to Intel’s system by a smartphone carried by the wearers.   The data seeks to understand how people live with the disease and respond to treatments and drugs (which could also reveal unmet needs to improve treatment in the future). The digital tests were paired with hard copy diaries kept by the individuals, supplemented by two clinical visits for further tests.  The scientists intend to create new algorithms following assessment of the data, to enable body movement symptoms and sleep patterns to be automatically measured and made available for review in real time.

The next stage of the complex study will take place in Boston, New York and Israel and will involve releasing the app to enable patients to record how they are feeling and to report their medication intake, to inform future prescriptions and to understand gait, fluidity of movement, tremors, sleep habits etc. 24×7.   Mindful of the sensitivity of patient data, Intel confirmed it would encrypt and anonymise the data to safeguard privacy. They also hope that it will eventually lead to opening up the sensor driven platform to other research centres and wearable devices in future.

Other tech players involved in health tracking tech data and devices include Samsung’s Simband wristband, Apple’s Healthkit app and Google Fit software. Through their brand weight and increased market interest in digital healthcare including emerging names such as Theranos in blood testing and diagnosis, this is creating a momentum for the sector which is rapidly growing, as new possibilities and hope for sufferers of Parkinsons and other diseases open up in the future.

Females only a bitesize chunk of Apple’s apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook has voiced dis-satisfaction with the low ratio of female employees at Apple in a recent employee diversity report.  This disclosed a global 70:30 gender split in favour of a largely white male workforce.  This is by no means startling for the technology industry, but nonetheless marks Cook’s goal to see the ratio change over time.

Apple currently employs 35% females in non-tech roles, 20%  in tech positions and 28% in leadership roles.  For Cook though, the diversity message goes much deeper and wider:  “Our definition of diversity goes far beyond the traditional categories of race, gender and ethnicity.  It includes personal qualities that usually go unmeasured, like sexual orientation, veteran status, and disabilities.  Who we are, where we come from, and what we’ve experienced influence the way we perceive issues and solve problems.  We believe in celebrating that diversity and investing in it”.

In comparison, the UK IT sector currently employs just 15% females in tech positions and 9% in leadership roles (source ONS, Aug 2014). This is surprisingly down on the top job stats for women from just ten months ago at the back of the UK recession, when females held 15% of leadership positions in technology.

Given the future global growth for the technology and IT servicing sectors, it would great for the eoncomy for British female students exiting schools to get excited about jobs and career opportunities in the IT industry, as well as for employers to open their eyes to think about how they can attract this valuable talent pool that would change the skewed picture on both sides of the pond if we could take a leaf out of Cook’s book.


Microsoft squeezing Kinect into smart phones and more

Microsoft is no stranger to real-time 3D motion capture and has been facilitating developer’s innovative controller-free ideas for many years, using their Kinect for Windows sensor. The 3D sensor can let you navigate menus by moving your hands without actually touching any physical object. As clever as the device may be when utilised well, it is hard to argue the camera sensor is small.  On the contrary, the existing Kinect devices are big and bulky, limiting its use to larger areas with the sensor fixed and calibrated to a central, ideal position.

Microsoft’s Research labs are currently working on different technologies to miniaturise Kinect-like 3D depth sensing. One approach to accomplishing this task as demonstrated by Microsoft, involves turning a regular web camera into a depth camera. Using just low cost parts including a ring of LEDs, this transformation can take place in as little as 10 minutes, the down-side here being the greater accuracy and range from the bigger, more expensive units is lost.

When the technology hits the right size we could find Kinect branded cameras on future tablets and smartphones. Using face detection to unlock your device and sign in and even letting you take advantage of in-air hand gestures to control the interface. The most interesting uses of the mobile Kinect technology could be seen via third-parties, if Microsoft opens up the Kinect APIs upon a possible release. This would make the innovative ideas from existing and future developers a lot more accessible when more people have access to the technology.


This week’s technology news – 8th August 2014

Microsoft’s fight against the Feds ramps up another notch

The US Government is seeking to have email data from Microsoft’s Dublin server handed over, but the technology giant has been firmly resisting any such interference in a unique legal case that has been escalating since December 2013.  One of Microsoft’s main attractions for data sensitive companies is to allow its users to choose where their data is stored, helping them maintain strict governance and compliance controls and they argue that this case is about protecting data customers’ rights to privacy in the US and around the world.  As part of an ongoing drug-trafficking trial, a New York federal judge dismissed Microsoft’s latest appeal against a government warrant demanding access to emails stored on servers in Ireland.  Microsoft immediately announced plans to challenge the decision.    Tech companies worldwide have rallied around in support of their competitor on the issue.

The UK Government acted swiftly last month with emergency legislation to close a loophole, following a change in European law, which would have left a gap in the Government’s ability to provide unbroken access for the security services to people’s phone and internet records. as part of wider Government counter-terrorism measures.    Whilst not implying that the sort of data held by businesses is on a par with terrorism threats being tracked, it is the principle of privacy at stake – and the impact of this case will have important ramifications for business users regarding their data storage in the UK and Europe.

Bitcoin bandwagon

First it was the banks seeking to regulate Bitcoin, now the UK Government wants to enter the fray and explore commercial opportunity for virtual/cryptocurrency.   The tenet of its value (currently 1 Bitcoin is worth £347), is held by people’s belief that the virtual tokens have value – and there is a finite number of them being traded.   With retailers increased adoption of Bitcoin (60,000 worldwide), this growth in popularity and rising trade endorsement, has prompted Chancellor George Osborne to undertake a review of the merits and risks of including virtual currency as part of his flagship aim to promote the UK as the “global centre of financial innovation”.

Bitcoin has proved popular with the public, but it still holds risks as it remains unregulated. This is part of the public attraction, being alternative, but also part of the explanation of its allure to criminals as there is no registry identification, only a randomised Bitcoin address (27 – 34 letters and numbers creating a virtual postbox and traded in a Bitcoin “wallet”.  The European Banking Authority is concerned at the lack of consumer protection and the Bitcoin market IS volatile.  Market value is swayed by the volume of online enquiries, chatter and “mining” from the downloads (part of a reinforcement cycle identified in recent research by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich).

With the Government aspiring to identify alternative sources of finance for lending to business, Bitcoin might leave too strong a taste of risk on the tongue of industry for the timebeing, and would have to demonstrate greater stability – the exact antithesis of what Bitcoin wants.  This might prove one hurdle too far at present for a Chancellor seeking to be innovative and “on trend” with the City.

The end of an era – Apple and Samsung agree to drop patent lawsuits

Many will recall that following the success of the iPhone, Apple started filing lawsuits for copyright infringement because they believed Samsung’s phones looked a bit too similar to theirs (both on the outside and what was on screen – including the individual designs of App Icons).  This has been ongoing for many years until now.    We are happy to report that an agreement has been made (ex US) covering Australia, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, France and the UK – where all claims have been abandoned.

This potentially signals the closure of the saga (which will include the US) and this incredibly expensive, drawn out and occasional rather nasty patent fight, which has resulted in products being withheld from sale.

Despite the assumption that the outcome would be some new form of cross licencing deal, the two companies have put out statements stating they are NOT pursuing any new licencing deals or other pacts.  Samsung’s shareprice fell after the news.  However, whether this will change the ultimate judgement or outlook for the US case has yet to be seen.  Such a strategic alliance would certainly shake up the mobile industry, putting the squeeze on anyone who is not Apple or Samsung.

BlackBerry has finished the job cuts, but what does its future look like?

After a brutal three years for BlackBerry it seems the worst (the job cuts),  is finally over. Current CEO John Chen hopes to bring the company back into the black in 2016.  So how should the former smart phone juggernaut rebuild themselves in an Apple, Google and Microsoft world?  Being realistic, even in a best case scenario BlackBerry will not be eating Apple’s or Google’s marketshare in the short term, so what’s their best option?

Future Smart Phones should be designed with their primary audience in mind; corporations and governments, these customers demand ultra-secure comms and this should be the main area of focus for their devices. BlackBerry should also not shy away from their roots, while an all-touch option is good, their flagship device should have that old-school Blackberry physical keyboard. Despite popular opinion, they still have their strengths which make them stand out from the slab crowd.  Finally, services are where the real money will be made – and a chance to win over other phone users without getting them to change their phone.

Blackberry has already delivered their BBM app to iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, and they also support their competitors’ devices on their latest servers.  If they made a bigger push in this direction they could substantially build a new user base and really get businesses excited about using BlackBerry once again.



This week’s technology news – 1st August 2014

Who is really in control of that car?

January 2015 has been announced by the Government as the start date for trials in three cities in the UK for the generation of driverless cars.   Tests will run for 18-36 months and cities have until October to declare their interest with a £10m shared funding pot to cover costs. Originally scheduled for rollout in December 2013, it places the UK, according to Vince Cable, at the “forefront of this transformational technology”.  Not strictly true when other countries have been faster:   California (with Google’s autonomous vehicle), Nevada and Florida in the US have all approved driverless cars, Japan did their first public road tests in 2013 and Sweden last year approved 100 driverless cars to start trialling (albeit in 2017).

Public concerns remain about liability in the event of a crash, terrorism through vindictive use of the technology, as well as software hacking (and use of data trapped about the person or their journey/habits). And all of this is additional to the weird concept of it all.  The British love affair with the cars and driving, despite being caught in increasing traffic queues, has been going on for generations and updates the story of Herbie.  Will this cause some of the older or younger generation to throw in the key?

Wireless charging at home in the workplace

A lot of new technologies emerge, promoted as the next best thing, usually to sell the latest PC, tablet or smart phone. Most of the time these ideas are later written off as gimmicks and buried with the devices they were bundled with. Sometimes though these ideas break through their launch devices, picked up by more manufacturers and become homestays going forwards. Wireless charging is arguably there; Nokia, Samsung, LG and Sony are all actively using the technology. If you walk into a phone shop today you will have a good choice of devices today. With support continuing, and in fact growing, the future of wireless charging technology, specifically the Qi standard which enables the above manufacturers to share the charger, it looks less gimmick and a more established tech feature.

The convenience of wireless charging can be handy at home but it makes so much more sense in the office. For employees working at a desk, it is just as easy to place the mobile on a wireless charger whilst working at a PC to ensure the battery is always fully charged, with no wires to get tangled up with when picking up a call whilst charging.

New developments in the Qi wireless technology have been revealed this week. Dubbed v1.2 the next wave of charging pads will keep the compatibility and extend the charging range, letting a single wireless charging unit charge multiple devices at once. This of course gives another advantage to wireless in the office, along with less chargers plugged into wall sockets for a more power efficient environment, with mobiles always charged and ready to go.