Tech Tip – Windows 10: Keep Unwanted Software Off Computers You Support

If you help support your business and / or home computer, and you want to keep things secure and tidy by stopping other users from downloading unwanted software from sources you don’t trust onto the computer, here’s how…

To lock down Windows 10 so users can’t install new software unless it comes from a trusted source:

  • Go to Settings > Apps > Apps & Features.

Look for the Installing Apps setting at the top of the page. There should be three choices:

  1. Allow apps from anywhere (the default).
  2. Warn me before installing apps from outside the Windows Store. Selecting this option will mean that any standard user accounts will need your permission to continue.
  3. Allow apps from the Store only. Select this option if you don’t want users to be able to install apps from anywhere except the trusted Windows Store.

Desktop programs that you’ve already installed before enabling this restriction will continue to run.

Using these restrictions, you can set up a PC with a selection of trusted apps and then lock it down so nothing changes without your permission.

Technostress

The results of a survey by Microsoft indicate that constant contact with technology such as emails, messages and notifications in the workplace can reduce productivity, make workers less productive, and increase stress levels.

It’s All Down To The Company’s ‘Digital Culture’

The survey, which involved the opinions of 20,000 workers from 21 European nations, found that how technology is viewed and deployed in the workplace can make a big difference in worker productivity and well-being. Microsoft’s findings therefore, indicated that a company’s chosen “digital culture” can improve workers’ productivity and help them feel more involved in the business.

Too Much

It will come as no surprise to many people reading this that too much exposure to and emphasis on technology (e.g. large amounts of updates and notifications arriving via social media during the day) makes people less productive and more distracted.

The Microsoft report makes the point that one of the reasons why only 11.4% of European workers said they felt highly productive at work may be that even though there is an abundance of technology around, that doesn’t necessarily translate into impact.

Productivity comes from creative interchange rather than people simply working on computers, and Management Scientists now believe that technologies can overload people and make them less productive by making them focus too much on trying to deal with the technology itself, rather than working at using the technology to improve the delivery of a product or service.

‘Technostress’

Management Science experts now recognise the existence of ‘technostress’, which can occur when workers have to deal with the adverse consequences of adopting novel computer systems or software.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The main message for businesses is that simply introducing lots of interruptive and / or novel technology to the working environment can actually cause stress and make workers less productive. Businesses need to pay attention to building the right kind of digital culture. For example, organisations first need to know what they want to do with the software and systems they have adopted, and give staff the correct training and other help to use it.

A planned and managed digital culture with supporting conditions, such as appropriate email response times and measuring whether people are happy with the tech they use to do their day-to-day jobs, can help workers to get the most out of technology. This can lead to higher productivity, fewer staff feeling disengaged, and can ultimately benefit the aims and objectives of the business.

Firefox Users Advised To Update

Cisco’s security team has advised Firefox users to install Mozilla’s latest update for its web browser after a potentially serious security vulnerability was discovered.

Malicious Code Danger

According to Cisco’s researchers (and confirmed by Mozilla), the vulnerability has been caused by “insufficient sanitization of HTML fragments in chrome-privileged documents by the affected software”.

This means that unless Firefox users install the latest security patch update, they run the risk of remote hackers exploiting the vulnerability by persuading them to access a link or file that submits malicious code to the affected browser software.

Take Control Of The System

This kind of exploit could then enable an attacker to execute arbitrary code with the privileges of the user. If a user has elevated privileges, for example, this could even mean that the attacker could compromise the entire system. Once an entire system has been taken over, the attacker is then free to install programmes, create new accounts with full user rights, and to view, change or delete data.

Which Firefox Versions Are Affected?

The vulnerability is reported to affect Firefox web browser versions 56 (.0, .0.1, .0.2), 57 (.0, .0.1, .0.2, .0.3, .0.4), and 58 (.0). The Android Firefox browser app and Firefox 52 ESR are not affected.

How Can You Protect Your Systems?

The advice appears to be that Firefox users should download the browser update patch as soon as possible. The advisory information can be found here https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/security/advisories/mfsa2018-05/ and the patch can be found on the Mozilla website here: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/?scene=2

Administrators can also help to safeguard systems by using an unprivileged account when browsing the Internet, and by monitoring critical systems.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The recent Malwarebytes annual State of Malware report showed that the UK is now the most targeted region in the world for cyber threats, so it is important for businesses to take action to patch any known vulnerabilities as soon a possible.

Since an exploit via Firefox of this kind would first require malicious software to be downloaded, users should remember, businesses should instruct all staff members not to open any email messages from suspicious or unrecognised sources. If users cannot verify that links or attachments included in email messages are safe, they should also be advised not to open them. Businesses should make it a matter of email policy and good practice that users should first verify if any unsolicited links are safe to follow.

Staying up to date with patching known vulnerabilities is an important part of the basic cyber security of business systems. For example, back in August 2017, the Fortinet Global Threat Landscape Report found that not only are 9 out of 10 businesses being hacked through un-patched vulnerabilities, but that many of these vulnerabilities are 3 or more years old, and already have patches available for them. In the case of Firefox, therefore, the patch should be downloaded immediately.

Bitcoin Battered

Cryptocurrency Bitcoin’s value has now dropped to $6,000, a fall of $13,000 since November 2017.

What Is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is a digital web-based currency that operates without the need for central banks and uses highly secure encryption to regulate the currency units and to verify transfers of funds. Bitcoin, which was first produced in 2009, uses the ‘Blockchain’, an open and programmable technology that can be used to record transactions for virtually anything of value that can be converted to code and is often referred to as a kind of ‘incorruptible ledger’.

In order to receive a Bitcoin, a user must have a Bitcoin address i.e. a ‘purse’ (of which there is no central register).

Bubble

Warnings of a Bitcoin ‘bubble’ were being delivered last year after its value rocketed from $1,000 to £19,000 in the space of less than a year.

Why The Fall In Value?

Several factors have led to the rapid fall in value since November last year. These include:

  • Tightening legislation and government opposition. Back in September, for example, China ordered exchanges to cease trading in the cryptocurrency as a way to gain control of the cryptocurrency through forced licensing. Also, China and South Korea have now banned initial coin offerings, Japan and Australia have taken steps to tighten Bitcoin regulations, and US restrictions look set to follow.
  • Negative predictions by currency experts. The news reports of the Bitcoin ‘bubble’ plus financial regulators in the UK and France warning investors that they could lose their money if they buy digital currencies issued by companies, known as “initial coin offerings”.
  • Banks and Credit Card Companies banning cryptocurrency purchases using credit cards. With less people able to buy cryptocurrencies, this has had the most recent downward effect on the value of Bitcoin.
  • Cyber criminals cashing-in. Crime is toxic to reputations, and Bitcoin has been increasingly targeted by criminals. For example, Slovenian-based Bitcoin mining marketplace NiceHash reported the theft of Bitcoin to an estimated value of $80m back in December, and an escalation of ‘crypto-jacking’. This happens where people’s devices are taken over by criminals trying to mine crypto-currencies such as via the Android phone-wrecking Trojan malware, dubbed ‘Loapi’. Bitcoin has been widely publicised as having link with crime e.g. to evade traditional money laundering checks and other regulations. Bitcoin is often named as the currency that ransomware scammers request their victims to pay with because of the anonymity that it offers. Some currency commentators have even suggested that the recent surge in the value of Bitcoin towards the end of last year was partly caused by European banks buying Bitcoin to pay off ransomware as a short-term way to deal with cyber-security.
  • Investors purchasing alternatives. As investors look for alternatives to the volatile Bitcoin bubble, this has had a negative effect on the value of Bitcoin, and a brief positive effect on the value of other cryptocurrencies.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

From an investment point of view, Bitcoin is clearly risky. There are other cryptocurrency alternatives e.g. Ripple, Ethereum, Litecoin, but they all appear to have been tarred with the same brush as Bitcoin, particularly with the announcement that credit cards can’t be used to buy them.

Many of the possible advantages of cryptocurrencies to businesses e.g. to use for fast global trading and investing outside of bank controls, delays and red tape, are currently being overshadowed by the actions of banks and governments.

Cryptocurrencies may be currently in a dip, but the importance of other new technologies to businesses such as AI and driverless vehicles is finally being reflected in the value of the shares of companies who are leading the charge in those technologies, which are likely to provide many global business opportunities going forward.

Virgin Credit Cards : No To Crypto

Shortly after Lloyds Bank announced that it would be banning customers from buying crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin using their credit cards, Virgin Money is now adopting the same policy.

Why?

The volatility of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have led Lloyds, and now Virgin Money to try to protect their customers from running up large debts following a sharp fall in the value of a digital currency they’ve bought. Several of the biggest issuers of credit cards in the US including Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Capital One and Discover, have also banned customers from using their cards to buy digital currency.

Bitcoin is a perfect example of how volatile a digital currency can be. For example, at the start of 2017, one Bitcoin was worth $1,000, reached highs of around $19,000 at the end of last year, and has since plummeted to $8,291.87, its worst performance since April 2013.

The rapid rise in the value of Bitcoin last year, was also accompanied by consumers being targeted by adverts and information which acted as a temptation and incentive to invest with the promise of big returns, with many investors being inexperienced in currency investments, and unaware of the potential risks. Facebook, for example, has recently announced that it will now block any advertising that promotes crypto-currency products and services.

Bank Could Lose

Some money commentators have made the point that although the move by Lloyds and now Virgin Money could offer some protection for customers, the banks are also helping themselves because if a person buys anything on credit, such as large amounts of cryptocurrencies, it’s the bank that stands to lose if the person can’t repay the debt.

Bitcoin, for example, also operates outside of the control of banks, which may be another reason why banks may not like it.

Used By Criminals?

The police and the UK government have also taken the opportunity presented by the announcements of Lloyds and Virgin Money to make the point that digital currencies are also popular among criminals because they can use them to evade traditional money laundering checks and other regulations.

Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, has stated that action against digital currencies may be needed because of their connection to criminal activity. At the risk of sounding cynical, some money commentators have pointed out that governments tend not to like some crypotocurrencies because they are beyond their control, and they can’t (yet) make revenue from them. For example, the Chinese government has long battled with the challenges posed by Bitcoin.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This move by two banks, with more likely to follow, sets a new precedent. Banks don’t like unsecured risks being taken with their money, and buying cryptocurrencies on credit appears to represent a far greater risk to them than traditional gambling which you can still use a credit card for (although it will be treated as a high interest cash loan).

It’s also worth remembering that banks and governments are likely to be less happy about things that they can’t control, regulate, and raise revenue from.

Even though criminals are known to use cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin for just these reasons (and the anonymity), it is also worth pointing out that Bitcoin actually has many attractive advantages for businesses such as the speed and ease with which transactions can take place, which is actually due to the lack of central bank and traditional currency control. Using Bitcoin also means that cross-border and global trading is made much easier and faster.

Also, even though Bitcoin looks too volatile for many to invest in at the moment, the cryptocurrency has lasted through many ups and downs (hacks and government opposition), it is still popular, and its widening popularity and potential uses for its underlying technology ‘Blockchain’ mean that Bitcoin still has a future.

From a consumer / potential individual investor’s perspective, the move by Lloyds, Virgin, and the big US credit card companies does, however, look likely to provide some responsible and sensible protection for the time-being.

Facial Recognition Arrest Claims Via Twitter

South Wales Police have taken to social media to announce news of the latest arrests made using Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) technology.

First Used At Champions League Finals Week

The AFR system was first used by South Wales Police last June at the Champions League final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. AFR incorporates facial recognition, uses slow time static face search, and links to specialist software that can compare a camera image of a face to 500,000 custody images from the Police Record Management system in order to find a match.

Ironically, the first arrest made in Cardiff at the time using AFR was actually a local man whose arrest was unconnected to the Champions League, and who was identified by a van-mounted camera days after the match.

Police Tweets

The latest announcements of AFR-related arrests have made the news because they relate to the use of AFR at the recent Six Nations rugby tournament, the announcements have been delivered via Twitter, and have been seen by some media commentators as being boastful in style.

For example, Project leader Scott Lloyd took to Twitter to publicise the first identification and arrest made “within an hour”, and the drugs arrest of another man on a warrant using AFR Cardiff City Centre a short time later. Mr Lloyd also announced another “UK policing first” with the arrest of a third person, identified from night club CCTV a month earlier.

Controversy

The increased use of AFR at events has, however, been criticised by groups such as Big Brother Watch for infringing peoples’ rights, having no clear basis for its use, and for edging the UK closer to a ‘surveillance state’.

There have also been reports of a possible 35 false matches and one wrongful arrest after the London Metropolitan Police used AFR at the last Notting Hill Carnival.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

So far, AFR has proven to be a relatively expensive system for the number of arrests it has delivered (£177,000 for its use in Cardiff for 1 arrest), and it has generated a lot of negative publicity and suspicion. It is little wonder, therefore, that a police spokesperson has been only too happy to take to an immediate way (Twitter) of announcing every arrest as it happens in an attempt to boost public confidence in the system, and to demonstrate some value for money.

With the introduction of GDPR this year, however, questions will no doubt be asked about the security and privacy of the images captured by the AFR system, as personal images do fall under the category of personal data.

Despite the findings of a study from YouGov / GMX of August 2016 that showed that UK people still have a number of trust concerns about the use of biometrics for security, biometrics actually represents a good opportunity for businesses to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals. This is because biometric authentication / verification systems are thought to be far more secure than password-based systems, which is the reason why banks and credit companies have already started using them.

All this said, facial recognition systems are widely believed to have value-adding, real-life business applications. For example, last May, a ride-hailing service called Careem (similar to Uber but operating in more than fifty cities in the Middle East and North Africa) announced that it was adding facial recognition software to its driver app to help with customer safety.

Tech Tip – Timeline For Windows 10

Currently being tested and likely to come out soon in an update is a browser history for your Windows desktop known as ‘Timeline’. This feature will allow you to search through files, apps and sites you’ve previously had open, and jump back and pick up what you were doing.

What’s more, it will extend to PCs, Android handsets and iPhones running Microsoft’s Cortana. This means that you will be able to resume what you were doing on another device. Cortana will also suggest tasks to continue.

How it will work:

  1. An icon will be added (bottom left, next to search) on the Windows 10 desktop.
  2. Clicking the icon will show the running applications.
  3. Timeline activities will be displayed below this, plus a vertical dated timeline will be shown on the right-hand side of the screen. You will be able to see activities you were working on in the past and quickly click back to them.

Keep an eye out for this helpful feature in the next update.

Tech Tip – Malware Protection With Windows 10

As the Malwarebytes annual State of Malware report shows, malware is a popular tool used by cyber criminals. With this in mind, “Windows Defender” on Windows 10 can help you to adopt a multi-layered approach to protect your systems. Windows Defender is a security tool that can be set up to block malware attacks in real time, or it can perform a scan when you need it.

To use it:
Type “Windows Defender” into your taskbar.
Select Windows Defender app.
Make sure Real-time protection is on.

Amazon Announces SMS Messaging Via Alexa

Amazon has announced that it is introducing a service that will allow users of Alexa devices to send text messages to any contact via the digital assistant using just their voice.

Builds Upon Alexa Calling

The new service builds upon the Alexa Calling service introduced last year, which allowed owners of the Echo Dot to call a friend’s landline via the device, and to use it to call or message a friend if they had a smartphone with the Alexa app downloaded (and Alexa Calling enabled).

The difference with this new service is that, as well as being able to use the Alexa Calling service, voice dictated SMS messages can be sent using Alexa to recipients who don’t even have an Alexa device (Amazon Echo) of their own. With the new service, Alexa will decide which route is appropriate and will set up the communication accordingly.

Too Much Information

When the free Alexa calling service was introduced, Amazon faced criticism that the Alexa app tried to import users’ entire address books. This led to Amazon having to introduce contact blocking.

Just Android & Just In The US

Before you get too excited, as of now the new service will initially only be available in the US for Alexa devices that support Alexa calling and messaging, and will only work with Android phones. Amazon has reportedly said that it can’t yet offer a similar feature for iPhone users because Apple doesn’t offer their messaging API to third-parties.

How To Use The Service

User instructions are issued via a pop-up in the Alexa app on Android, and in the ‘Conversations’ tab of the app, users select ‘Contacts’, then ‘My Profile’, and then switch the ‘Send SMS’ feature to on. Messages can then be sent to Android phones by a person using voice on an Alexa device.

The service allows the sender to specify whether they would like to send the message just as a text / SMS, or as a general message which will be sent to Alexa devices first, and then as SMS if the intended recipient does not have an Alexa device.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This new service seems to be an inevitable way to build upon the strengths of the Amazon Echo system, is consistent with its ‘Amazon Everywhere’ philosophy, and brings Alexa closer to Siri and Google Assistant in the voice messaging department. Although it takes the communication aspect of Alexa one step further, some critics have pointed at some limitations of the new service which are that it can’t be used to text 911, or to participate in group messages or send MMS, and users are limited to what they can do when they can’t actually see the chats anyway.

For businesses, this service may become especially useful when combined with Amazon’s plans to launch Alexa for Business – a small businesses-focused version of the Echo for the workplace. Amazon’s Echo dominates the voice-assistant market with a more than 70% share, and Alexa for business will have many useful functions from booking meeting rooms, reporting IT issues, providing directions around a building, and answering questions about the business, to enabling employees to make calls, manage calendars, run to-do lists, and set reminders. A voice-activated SMS service via a workplace Echo could, therefore, add value, save time and save costs.

 

Facebook Pushes Local News

In a move to improve the quality and trustworthiness of content, and to increase civic engagement, Facebook has announced that it will be focusing on local news sources.

Misleading News Problems

Even though Mark Zuckerberg has been keen to promote the view that the change to the prominence given to local community news sources in News Feeds will make people more aware of what is happening in their communities and, therefore, more likely to get involved, many commentators see it simply as a further move to distance itself from accusations of spreading misinformation.

What Happened?

After the last US election and accusations of Facebook being used to spread misinformation which may have influenced the result, Facebook released figures ahead of a Senate hearing showing that Russia-based operatives uploaded 80,000 posts to Facebook in the last 2 years. This meant that 29 million Americans may have seen the posts directly, and 26 million Americans have seen, ( and perhaps been influenced by) liked and shared messages and comments that could have originated in Russia.

Since then, Facebook has tried to distance itself from any ways in which it could be used for the spread of misinformation e.g. by adjusting its centrepiece News Feed to prioritize what friends and family share, and by reducing the amount of non-advertising content from publishers and brands (to the alarm of Facebook investors).

What Will The New Change Mean?

This latest change is likely to mean that Facebook will begin to promote or prioritise local over national news.

There will also be a “See First” feature that will allow users to choose which news sources, including local or national publications, they want to see at the top of their feeds.

The update to Facebook’s algorithms will first be rolled out in the United States and expanded to more countries later this year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you are a local publisher, smaller local business, and / or your business is actively involved in the community, this kind of change could be good news. If you’re a larger brand or publisher (publishing non-advertising content), this is unlikely to welcome news.

For Facebook investors, this change is likely to make them worry that it could cause people to spend less time on Facebook. This would be bad from both a financial and a competitive point of view, since Facebook is facing challenges from other, newer and popular social media platforms e.g. WhatsApp. This may have been one of the reasons why, in December 2017, Facebook launched its ‘Messenger Kids’ standalone app (essentially Facebook for children). Many saw the introduction of Facebook Messenger as a way to bring a new, young generation of users to Facebook’s platform in difficult times, to find a way to compete with other platforms for the attention of other users, and to do so in a way that has the approval and involvement of parents, particularly if children are going to use social networks anyway.