Building the blocks around the smartest cryptocurrency on the market



We’re talking Blockchain – but it began with Bitcoin.

So what is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency and a digital payment system.  Invented by an unknown programmer (or a group of programmers), it was released as open-source software in 2009. There is a market cap with Bitcoin.  The value of an individual Bitcoin has increased substantially during this time, every year more and more merchants and vendors accept bitcoin as payments for goods and services, and millions more unique users are using a cryptocurrency (digital) wallet.

Why is there a worry about Bitcoin?
There are many concerns related to Bitcoin, price volatility, doubts around legal status, tax and (lack of any) regulation, Bitcoin has been notorious in criminal activity, and is well renowned for the role it has in cyber-attacks like Ransomware.  But for believers, Bitcoin has huge upsides, de-centralised thus outside the control of a central authority, privacy, deflationary, low cost to transfer funds across borders, but most it is an attractive “store of value”.

Why is Bitcoin important?
Bitcoin is important because it requires a blockchain.  A blockchain is an undeniably ingenious invention, but since Bitcoin, blockchain has evolved into something greater.  And the main question every person is asking is – what is a blockchain?

So what is a blockchain?
The simplest explanation “Blockchain is to Bitcoin, what the internet is to email. A big electronic system, on top of which you can build applications. Currency is just one.”  Sally Davies, FT Technology Reporter.

How does blockchain work?
A blockchain is a distributed database that is used to maintain a continuously growing list of records, called ‘blocks’.   Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. A blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retrospectively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and a collusion of the network majority.   Functionally, a Blockchain can serve as “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.” Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016).

Blockchains are secure by design and are an example of a distributed computing system with high Byzantine fault tolerance.  Decentralised consensus has therefore been achieved with a Blockchain.  This makes Blockchains potentially suitable for the recording of events, medical records and other records management activities, such as Identity Management, transaction processing and documenting provenance.

The entire financial, legal, and record-keeping industries are being disrupted using this decentralised, secure, and inexpensive method. It has therefore caught the eye of the Bank of England plus other large organisations including Microsoft, IBM and Cisco have consequently started to take note of it.

In summary the opportunities are infinite.

People need to understand that “blockchain” is NOT the same thing as “Bitcoin”.

Bitcoin was the first blockchain system designed, but there have been a number of others since then which are very different, designed by different people, often for different purposes. These people are in the business of designing things for use by corporations to operate their businesses to drive a competitive edge. This is no different to what Amicus ITS has been doing for 30 years, problem solving and designing solutions that deliver business value as we look constantly to the horizon at future technologies.

Click here to read our White Paper

The Death of Flash

flash-logo

Adobe Flash, released in 1996 brought with it animations, games and of course ads to a mostly static web. The technology was greeted with almost universal praise and adoption by developers and web surfers alike.   Nowadays the software tool has a less favoured reputation; it’s unable to run on most mobile devices, consumes high amounts of devices’ processing power and battery life – and then of course there are the many security issues around Flash.

The adoption of Flash has decreased throughout the years but its most noticeable set-back was arguably the unveiling of Apple’s iPhone, bringing with it a new world of mobile internet which left Adobe behind technically, despite their willingness to be included.

Steve Jobs published his Thoughts on Flash on April, 2010 detailing why Apple don’t and won’t allow Flash onto their hugely successful iPhone, iPad and iPod. His main reason being that the mobile era is all about low powered devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where ‘Flash falls short’.

In August 2015 Amazon announced it would no longer be accepting Flash ads on its website.  This week Google announced, from the 30th June 2016 it will stop accepting Flash ads on its AdWords and DoubleClick networks and from 2nd January 2017 it won’t display any Flash ads on Display Network or DoubleClick.    Google has stated “We’ve rolled out tools to encourage advertisers to use HTML5, so you can reach the widest possible audience across screens.”     This move is likely to be the killing blow for Adobe’s Flash platform, with Google being the most prominent web ad provider around.

Adobe itself has come around to support open web standards, now providing its own Flash-alternative, HTML5 tools, for developers to create HTML5 content for both desktop and mobile.

With the almost inevitable demise of Flash in sight and modern, mobile-friendly web standards likes HTML5 ready to take over, appreciation of Adobe’s early efforts in making the web a more animated place should be acknowledged, though few will mourn all the security headaches that came with it.

The Microsoft Sim for Windows 10

cellular_data

Getting online on your PC or Microsoft tablet, outside a WiFi area may get easier soon with the new Windows Store listing called ‘Cellular Data’ by Microsoft.   The app is only designed to work with specific  Windows 10 devices and requires a Microsoft Sim.  The app details advise that you will be connect with and pay for a mobile data plan using your Microsoft account for payment, with no long term commitments.

This approach sounds similar to Apple’s with recent iPads, with an Apple Sim you can choose your network carrier on the device and choose a short-term rolling contract. So far the Apple Sim is limited to just the company’s iPad with no plans to date to bring the sim to its phones and laptops.

The safe bet is that the ‘specific Windows 10 devices’ mentioned in Microsoft’s store listing is referring to its own hardware like the Surface 3, which does come with a Sim card slot for LTE access and other future Surface devices with sim card slots. This would let consumers and businesses buy-in Surfaces from Microsoft and then decide later, commitment free which network carrier and tariffs to choose and on which devices.

The other, less safe, but more interesting bet is that in addition to Microsoft’s own hardware, the support for this app and service spans OEMs. So for example, an HP or Lenovo laptop or tablet could also come with Microsoft Sims, letting even more consumers and businesses take advantage of opting-in to mobile data as and when needed. Of course this would be a much more complex relationship between Microsoft and OEMs. If Microsoft didn’t want to cut OEM’s into a % of data plan profits they could offer one-off payments per Microsoft Sim shipped with device’s or simply offer Windows licencing discounts if Microsoft Sims are included with their laptops and tablets.

Whether we see the Microsoft Sim locked down to its own hardware or not, its presence still offers up some much needed flexibility and competition for mobile data users in the Microsoft ecosystem.

At the very least we would be surprised if we don’t see an announcement for an alternative Surface Pro 4 with cellular compatibility and a Microsoft Sim in the box in future.

Review of 2015 and 2016 Predictions

From Amicus ITS’s new cyber security specialist, associate Mark Heather.

2015
This year saw all sizes of business see an increase in attacks, but the nature of attack has changed.  Traditionally network and DoS attacks as well as malicious software (malvertising) were the main causes of a breach and continue to be disruptive to business.

However, at the same time there was an increase in networks being penetrated as breaches are becoming more targeted – and small businesses should not presume that they will escape and should ensure that they understand their information assets and networks to enable them to manage risk accordingly.

2016
Next year will see targeted attacks increase.  It is not a case of if, but when will we be breached and what do we do about it?

More will be made of “Cyber Intelligence,” (information about you and your organisation).  Companies will need to understand what is being said about them, what information can be gathered about the organisation and to turn this into meaningful contextualised intelligence.

This will be a major requirement of compliance regulations over the coming years. The lack of people able to interpret this information will lead to Cyber Intelligence platforms becoming automated and drive the need for Security-as-a-Service. This service will also be driven by the internet of things as more devices become internet connected.

Whilst the tenor of this might sound doomsday in tone and that currently there are too few skilled people truly trained in cyber security, organisations can ensure that they are well protected, by aligning themselves with data security experts who understand the Managed Service environment and can be your trusted advisor and partner.  Talk now to have a positive preventative discussion, rather than a remediation discussion after the event.

3D scanning is coming to a smartphone near you

mobile-fusion_550_png-550x0

3D scanning, used to make models which could be manipulated on a PC or printed on a 3D printer, requiring sophisticated depth-sensing cameras.  These 3D cameras can be both very expensive and much larger than a regular camera sensor, both traditionally being barriers to bringing the technology to mobile in a more mainstream way.

Microsoft, no stranger to 3D camera technology, has developed multiple commercial versions of its Xbox Kinect 3D motion camera and has shown off several prototypes on miniaturized, mobile versions of 3D cameras. They have now announced a new, software driven approach to bringing 3D scanning to the mass market called “MobileFusion”.

MobileFusion doesn’t rely on any special 3D hardware but is entirely driven by an app being developed for iOS, Android and Windows Phone. The main focus for the app is to create digital versions of real life objects that can be then printed on a 3D printer.

The trick to using a single camera to capture depth is that it needs to be slowly moved around the object, so it does take longer to capture, however the cost and availability bonuses of the app should make this an exciting addition to the phone’s feature set.

The reason why this is a major step forward is that currently 3D scanners are very limited and conversely, most people own a smartphone.  This remarkable technology will let anyone capture digital copies of real world objects be it at a museum, outside, in home or in the office.

With many more 3D objects available and the power to create them at ease, 3D printing may get its shot at mainstream success beyond the current niches that have adopted the technology so far.

Apple’s iOS 9 update hints at a bigger iPads for the office

Split_View

This Monday Apple held their annual Worldwide Developer Conference announcing upcoming features and services across their devices.

Arguably the most interesting development was for the iPad, finally allowing true split-screen multitasking to the tablet.

Like many Apple updates the amount of functionality you will get will be depending on which model you own, with only the iPad Air 2 being deemed sufficient to run the full experience called Split View.

The new feature comes as part of iOS 9 and will allow iPad users to launch two Apps at the same time divided by a vertical split in a very similar vein to Windows tablets. iOS 9 also allows apps such as video to be displayed in a floating windows above your current app.

These new multitasking features will help further validate the use of iPads in businesses, being able to both check emails and edit a document at the same time.

Splitting your view does allow you to get more done but it does also make your workspaces smaller.

The announcement of Split View also gives credence to the much rumoured 12” iPad, this will allow the iPad to go toe-to-toe with Windows tablets and potentially squash their momentum with their own market share.

It is likely we will see a 12” iPad Pro launched within the next 12 months and similarities to this and the Surface Pro line will definitely be drawn. With both potentially having similar design and form factor the true battle will be between iOS 9 and Windows 10.

Whilst Microsoft has proven Surface can replace your laptop can Apple do the same for the iPad?

Microsoft announces Nano Server

Microsoft has announced a new ‘small and lean’ version of its Windows Server Operation System that powers many organisations infrastructures, called Nano Server. The new Nano Server is based on the company’s current Sever Core and has been made to run “born-in-the-cloud applications and containers”.

As the name suggests Nano Server is a lot smaller compared to Windows Server and will take up 93% less space on a virtual hard drive in comparison. It also boasts faster reboots, cutting the time by 80%.

To achieve this the full graphic user interface is removed as well as support for older 32bit applications. In fact there is no option to remote in or log on at all and Nano Servers must be fully managed remotely by Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI)or PowerShell command line. With this in mind Microsoft are improving remote management in PowerShell with Desired State Configuration as well as remote file transfer, remote script authoring and remote de-bugging.

Nano Servers could prove a popular, quick and light platform for modern web applications and Cloud services as long as 32bit software isn’t required and the applications which are needed can be fully managed without logging on locally.

Nano Server is expected to launch alongside the next generation version of Windows Server in 2016 with a preview version appearing later in 2015.

Microsoft-Logo