Your PIN Numbers Can Be Guessed When You Tilt Your Phone

Researchers from Newcastle University have discovered that how you tilt your smart-phone when you type in your secret PINs and passwords could increase the likelihood of them been obtained by hackers due to mobile browsers and phone sensor vulnerabilities.

Accessing Your Smartphone’s ‘Silent’ Sensors

The team from the university’s School of Computing Science believe that the many (typically 25+) silent sensors such as gyroscopes, rotation sensors, and accelerometers that are included in today’s smart-phones, tablets and wearables could provide a way for criminals to use malware-loaded web pages (viewed through your mobile browser) to spy on what we type in.

The fact that the sensors in one device are made by many different companies is also thought to increase the risk of being spied upon.

Mobile Browser Flaw Means No Permission Needed

The researchers found that a security deficiency in all major mobile browsers (including Safari, Chrome, Opera and Firefox) means that embedded JavaScript code in a web page is able to access the motion and orientation sensors on a mobile phone without requiring any user permission.

Tilting Danger

One very interesting aspect of the research is that it was possible to work out which part of a web page that a smart-phone user is clicking on, and what they are typing in by the way that their smart-phone is tilted at the time.

The researchers (who were able to obtain 4-digt Android pins with 70% accuracy on the first guess and 100% on the 5th) have said that this was made possible using a known web page loaded with spyware program, coupled with each person’s unique way of holding (and tilting) a smart phone. This unique, personal phone holding / tapping pattern could be obtained from the sensor information in the phone.

Sounds A Bit Complicated

It has been reported that the vulnerability identified by the researchers is something that phone manufacturers are aware of, but have not yet figured out how to fix (or deemed the risk pressing enough to commit significant resources to).

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Even though the particular risk identified in this research appears to be one of the less obvious ones, and one for which there is no fix / patch as yet, taking general security precautions with your business mobile devices is important anyway. For example, keep security software current, delete the apps you no longer use, use strong passwords, use security and privacy settings on websites and apps, disable WiFi and Bluetooth when not in use, beware of fraudulent text messages / calls / voicemails, and be careful about what personal information you store on the device or give out through apps and websites.

Robot Wins Poker Competition

In only the second triumph of its kind, an AI program has beaten expert human competitors to the prize money in a series of exhibition poker matches.

Team Dragon Vs AI Program

In a series of poker matches totalling 360,000 hands and hosted in Hainan island (China) over a five-day period, a group of engineers, computer scientists and investors called "Team Dragon" played an AI program for prize money.

Team Dragon, led by a venture capitalist and World Series of Poker veteran Alan Du, ended up being convincingly beaten out of the prize money of £230,000 by an AI program called Lengpudashi.

Winning Pedigree

The Lengpudashi program (the name means ‘cold poker master’), housed in a supercomputing centre near Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is an updated version of the AI program called Libratus. That program famously won more than $1.5m (£1.2m) worth of chips when it defeated 4 human poker experts at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh in a 20-day tournament back in January.

The AI systems were developed by Tuomas Sandholm, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in the US and PhD student Noam Brown.

How Did It Win?

The AI program used algorithms based on the rules of the game and its ability to learn from each hand to develop winning strategies.

Learned to Bluff

One of the most exciting aspects of Lengpudashi’s victory is that poker is an “imperfect information game” i.e. unlike chess, all the pieces of the game are not visible. In order to win, the computer program not only has to learn complex strategies but must also learn how to bluff when it has a weak hand (in order to increase winnings). Up until now, this was an element of sophistication that people had thought computers could not learn.

One of the main reasons why AI programs are entered into these kinds of challenges is to hone their strategic decision-making and increase their abilities.

What About The Prize Money?

The AI program may know how to accumulate money but its intelligence has not yet extended to knowing how to spend it. The prize money from the program’s win is therefore going to be invested in a firm called Strategic Machine, a firm founded by Tuomas Sandholm and Noam Brown.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The fact that AI algorithms and program have now been developed that can use information and output a strategy in a range of scenarios means that they could have wider uses in the business world e.g. in negotiations, finance, medical treatment and cyber security.

This story also illustrates how important the investment has been in big data analysis for increasing the speed of development of AI, which in turn could benefit many businesses in the future.

The fact that the computing power on display over the poker competition could be had for under $20,000, also illustrates how affordable AI is becoming for businesses.

Tech Tip: Solve Network Problems Easily

If you have a network problem, Windows 10 gives you the ability to run a troubleshooter, or do a complete reset with a single click. Here’s how:

  • View your network status – go to Settings > Network & Internet > Status.

If the network connection is good, a status dialog box gives you details about the network. If there’s a problem you can either:

  • Click the Troubleshoot button, which opens the ‘Windows Network Diagnostics’ utility, which runs tests and can fix many common problems.

Or, if that doesn’t solve the issue:

  • Click the ‘Network Reset’ button at the foot of the ‘Settings’ page. This will delete all network settings and enable you to start things afresh.

Amazon Launches UK Online Trade Counter Called ‘Amazon Business’

Amazon has launched its ‘Amazon Business’ service in the UK. The service, which has been added to the existing website, is essentially a trade counter for UK businesses, where they can buy anything from office supplies and computers to power tools and industrial machinery.

Who & Where?

The new Business marketplace service is targeted squarely at UK businesses and organisations of all kinds, from sole traders to multinationals, to hospitals, and third sector organisations.

Why?

UK companies spend £97 billion a year (just less than the private spending total of £119bn) buying supplies online, and corporate customers account for about two-fifths of online spending. Amazon would clearly prefer companies to spend all that money through the Amazon website, thereby enabling Amazon to expand and diversify, increase its stock price, grow its profits, and get the most leverage out of its brand.

What?

‘Amazon Business’ is a service aimed at catering to the procurement needs of businesses and organisations of all kinds and sizes, offering their buyers and chief procurement officers a competitive, controllable, well-known and trusted alternative supply source.

The Amazon Business service was first launched in the US two years ago, where it signed up 400,000 corporate customers and brought in $1bn in revenues within the first year! The German version, which was launched in December 2016, has already signed up 10,000 independent suppliers for business goods.

100 Million Products!

It has been reported that UK companies who sign up to the new service are able to choose from more than a hundred million products!

The products on sale cover a wide range including the usual office supplies, furniture, and devices, plus power tools, lab supplies, industrial machinery, and cleaning equipment.

The Benefits

As well as the huge choice, buyers can benefit from:

  1. Discounts offered by suppliers without the inefficiencies of bulk buying.
  2. Maintaining control without burdening employees, through the ability to set limits and approve purchases.
  3. Saved time e.g. less time spent doing pricing research on products, because competitive pricing from independent suppliers who list their products on Amazon can be easily seen on-screen in one place. Also, the actual purchase transaction can be carried out quickly and easily.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you’re an independent supplier of products with a business application, you could benefit from increased sales by getting your product in front of more customers by signing up to Amazon Business. This may, however, require lower pricing.

If you’re B2B supplier to UK businesses and organisations (and if your products aren’t highly specialised) you could be in for some serious competition from Amazon Business and its signed-up, verified, business supply companies. This in itself may encourage you to sign up as a supplier.

If you’re a business customer, this could simplify many aspects of procurement, save you money and time, and give you more choice and control.

Businesses Explore More Uses For Blockchain

If you thought that Blockchain, the ‘incorruptible ledger’ technology behind Bitcoin was only of use in the financial sector, think again. Innovative uses for the new technology are now being found across multiple sectors.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is an incorruptible peer-to-peer network (a kind of ledger) that allows multiple parties to transfer value in a secure and transparent way. Blockchain’s Co-Founder Nic Carey describes Blockchain as being like “a big spreadsheet in the cloud that anyone can use, but no one can erase or modify”.

The developers of the Blockchain system say that the trust between participants is not necessary because trust is embedded in the system itself, and that access to all relevant information is available to participants.

Uses So Far

Many technical commentators have, so far, focused on Blockchain’s as e.g. as a global property rights / land registration system, as the basis of a non-centralised (and therefore faster) payment system, and as a system for exchanging / buying / selling all kinds of collateral such as stocks, bonds, land titles and more.

It has always been thought however that Blockchain had multiple other possible uses, and it has been the ingenuity and inventiveness of business people seeking new solutions to business challenges who have found a number of new applications for the technology.

In Dubai

Word about the potential value of Blockchain has now getting around the global community. Back in December Dubai committed to putting all of its documents on Blockchain in the next few years, and founded a public-private initiative called the Global Blockchain Council to foster the development and use of Blockchain technology in and between local government teams, local businesses and international start-ups.

New Uses

Recent, real-world examples of how Blockchain is being used outside of the financial, legal and public sectors include:

  • Using the data on a Blockchain ledger to record the temperature of sensitive medicines being transported from manufacturer to hospital in hot climates. The ‘incorruptible’ aspect of the Blockchain data gives a clear record of care and responsibility along the whole supply chain.
  • Using an IBM-based Blockchain ledger to record data about wine certification, ownership and storage history. This has helped to combat fraud in the industry and has provided provenance and reassurance to buyers.
  • Shipping Company Maersk using a Blockchain-based system for tracking consignments that addresses visibility and efficiency i.e. digitising a formerly paper-based process that involved multiple interactions.
  • Start-up company ‘Electron’ building a Blockchain-based system for sharing information between those involved in supplying energy which could speed up and simplify the supplier switching process. It may also be used for smart grid processes, such as local load-balancing of supply and demand.
  • Australian start-up Zimrii developing a Blockchain-based service that allows independent musicians to sell downloads to fans, distribute the proceeds between collaborators, and allow interaction with managers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Blockchain clearly has huge untapped potential for all kinds of businesses and could represent a major opportunity to improve services, and effectively tackle visibility, transparency and efficiency issues. Blockchain has proven itself to be particularly well suited to processes where there are a lot of steps e.g. supply chains, and where there’s a lack of trust in a business that relationship. The significant commitment that countries like Dubai have made to the technology and the success of the crypto-currency Bitcoin (which used Blockchain) are indicators that this new technology has real value in today’s business world, not just in the future.

Survey Exposes Poor Online Retailer Communications

A recent study by retail software company Eptica has found that only 7.5% of retailers respond to customers through web, email, Twitter and Facebook, and only 2.5% of retailers provide consistency in their answers to customers across all four channels.

Omnichannel Customer Expectations High

One of the factors that have amplified the apparently negative findings of the report about retailers is the fact that customer expectations of the level of service and communications in the modern omnichannel environment are so high. For example, the Eptica study showed that in an environment where consumers (particularly younger ones) are used to interacting with retailers online, in-store, and by mobile, 69% of consumers said their expectations are rising.

Immediate, High-Quality Shopping Experiences Valued

Retail experts agree that consumers demand and value a high-quality experience from retailers, and part of this is the speed and quality of their communications. Real-time communication is highly valued by customers.

Loyalty

The huge choice that the digital retail environment affords customers means that they can be very fickle. Even though brands still build loyalty to their products through multi-channel advertising and promotions, letting customers down through slow and poor communications e.g. when responding digital to queries / questions can quickly destroy customer loyalty. For example, the Eptica study showed that 93% of modern customers are more likely to be loyal to a brand if they receive a good customer experience.

Customisation

One other factor in the marketplace that retailers need to take account of is that customers value, and are coming to expect customised retail experiences.

Challenges For Retailers

One of the key challenges that the Eptica study has uncovered is that many retailers are struggling to keep up with queries submitted through single channels, let alone being able to communicate through multi-channels, answer queries in real-time, and switch channels during a conversation (which 77% of customers want them to do!).

Eptica figures show that companies admit that they can only answer less than half of the customer queries submitted over email, web, Twitter and Facebook, and that the number of queries answered across each channel has fallen year-on-year, with 39% of queries answered on Facebook (20% down), and a drop in answered Tweets from 45% to 44%.

The key reasons why retailers aren’t responding quickly or well enough appear to be a lack of resources, time, and expertise, as well as a lack of understanding of modern digital customer expectations.

Inconsistency

Another factor that the survey has shown to frustrate customers is the inconsistency in the answers to their queries. For example, the Eptica survey showed that 58% of retailers provided consumers with different answers to the same questions depending on the channel customers used to interact with the brand.

Dissatisfaction

According to the survey, all this has, of course, led to high levels of dissatisfaction among consumers. Only 47% of consumers surveyed said they have been happy with their experience of interacting with a retailer through web, email, social media and chat.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Based on the results of this survey, retailers clearly need to understand more about the value of fast, high-quality communications in providing good customer experiences and building loyalty. Retailers should, therefore, be giving greater to priority and allocating more time and resources to multi-channel communications as an important part of the selling process. Retailers could, therefore, consider providing more training to those within the company tasked with answering communication, or buy-in expertise in this area. Care should also be taken to ensure that consistent information is given out across all channels. This may require improvements in the retailer’s own internal communications systems.

US-Wide Expansion For Property Rental Auction Website Rentberry

A US website that allows landlords to set a preferred rent for properties, and prospective tenants to then bid against each other for the tenancy is planning a major expansion in the US.

What is Rentberry?

The Rentberry website, which was only launched a year ago, is described as a ‘transparent’ home rental service and price negotiation platform. It focuses on long-term rental properties, which, up until now, have been based in some major cities.

For Tenants

For tenants, it automates the normal US rental tasks such as submitting personal information, credit reports and custom offers (offers for less than the rental price), e-signing rental agreements and online rental payments. The fact that tenants can see the highest bids and the number of people who applied for a particular property means that tenants don’t have to enter into a closed or partially closed bidding system. With Rentberry, tenants can also see relevant information about the landlord.

With the Rentberry platform, tenants have the opportunity to perhaps (depending on the bidding) get a deal on the rental figure. The cost for tenants to use the platform is $25 fee, which is paid once the rental agreement has been signed.

For Landlords

The bidding aspect of the Rentberry platform arguably allows less certainty of reaching the preferred rental figure, but it enables landlords to advertise their properties quickly to a large number prospects. The platform also takes the work out of the admin tasks. Crucially though, the platform allows landlords to see the bids, and information about their would-be tenants – including their credit score.

Expansion for Rentberry

After just a year the Rentberry platform has 100,000 properties and more than 50,000 users on the site. This has fuelled the latest plans to expand to offer listings across the whole of the United States.

Growth Drivers

Drivers for the Rentberry platform have been the fact that in the US, more than one-third of households are renters (nearly 110 million people), mortgage rates are up, and there have been millions of foreclosures across the country in recent years.

Criticism

Despite the platform’s popularity and expansion, it has attracted plenty of criticism. The main criticisms are that:

  • The website will favour the most affluent, particularly at a time when rent increases have outpaced incomes in many US cities.
  • The website could help to push rental prices up.
  • Choosing tenants based on data alone may not lead to a successful rental arrangement. There is often no substitute for actually meeting each other.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With homes becoming less affordable, particularly for first-time buyers in the UK, with the UK rental market growing, and with more estate agency services going online, there could be an opportunity for this type of model to work in the UK. The fact that Rentberry has worked well and has the experience in the US could also mean that it could expand to other countries, thus becoming a threat to estate agent service providers already in the UK.

Warning: Hacking Group Based in China Targeting UK Business Data

The National Cyber Security Centre and cyber units at PwC and BAE Systems have warned UK businesses about a hacking group, operating inside China, targeting UK-based B2B IT outsourcing companies with a view to reaching their customers.

Identified Through Collaboration

It is believed that it was the collaboration between the NCSC (the cyber branch of GCHQ), PwC and BAE systems that was the key to uncovering the criminal gang, which is now known to have been active, albeit at a lower level, since 2014.

The gang’s campaign, known as “APT10”, was ramped-up in 2016, and the increased activity may also have been a contributing factor in the gang appearing on the NCSC’s radar. Some security commentators have suggested that these attacks represent sustained global cyber espionage on a spectacular scale.

Location

Two of the main giveaways to the likely geographical location of the hacking group were a pattern of work that was in line with China Standard Time (UTC+8), and the fact that the nature of the targets was consistent with what are understood to be current Chinese interests.

Two crucial facts that have not yet been uncovered are the actual identities of the individual gang members and backers, or exactly how the group has chosen its targets.

Which Companies Have Been Targeted?

The combined security and business operation to unmask the hacking group has been codenamed “Cloud Hopper”. So far, it has discovered that organisations and companies in 14 countries including the UK, other European countries, and Japan have been targeted.

Attacks in Japan have been on commercial firms and public bodies. Particular interest has been paid by the hacking group to technology service firms / outsourced It companies, and it is thought that APT10 plans to use them as a proxy for other attacks e.g. on their business customers.

Known victims of the cyber attacks are reported to have been informed, but the full extent of the gang’s hacking activities is not yet known.

How Do They Operate?

The APT10 campaign has used phishing emails loaded with custom-made malware. These have been sent to staff in IT services firms in the first stage of an attack. After gaining access to company systems, the attackers have sought out intellectual property and other sensitive data.

The gang of hackers is reported to have used a large network of websites and domains as hubs for their attacks, and as conduits for the stolen data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although the report about the full extent of the ATP10 campaign is yet to be released, companies are urged to take a proactive approach to check whether their systems have been targeted. Now may be a good time for businesses to seek professional advice about measures that could be taken to ensure cyber resilience such as cyber security training for staff, health checks, risk assessments / audits, cyber security policies, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans.

As well as the schemes such as the national filter for spam and malware, businesses in the UK could benefit from a boosted National Crime Agency, money for cyber security start-ups as well as the increased cyber security expertise and knowledge and other potential spin-offs from the government’s much-needed investment in this critical area.

The introduction of the EU’s new GDPR data security rules in the UK in 2018 means that an investment in cyber security help for the UK should be very much welcomed by businesses of all kinds.

Tech Tip: Share Your Windows Internet Connection By Making A Wireless Hotspot

If you’re looking for an easy and fast way to share your internet connection with your other devices, with Windows 10 you can do so by turning your computer into a wireless hotspot without extra software or advanced commands. Here’s how:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Network & Internet.
  3. Click on Mobile hotspot.
  4. Under "Share my Internet connection from" drop-down menu, select the network adapter connected to the internet that you want to share.
  5. Click Edit.
  6. Type an identifying name for the shared connection that others will use to find the network.
  7. Type a new password that others can use to connect to the hotspot.
  8. Click Save.
  9. Turn on the Share my Internet connection with other devices toggle switch.
  10. Up to 8 devices should then be able to connect using your new wireless hotspot 🙂

One-Third of Jobs At Risk From Automation

A new report by PwC claims that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation by the year 2030.

Robot Replacements

Advances in AI, robotics, and technology could mean that many jobs that need humans today may be carried out by robots in the next 15 years.

Which Jobs?

According to the report, 44% jobs in manufacturing (where there are already many robots e.g. car manufacturing), especially those involving manual work, look likely to go to AI led software or robots.

Transportation jobs are also in the high-risk category for robot replacements, and according to the report, 56% of jobs could be lost to autonomous vehicles.

Jobs in the UK’s largest sectors, wholesale retail jobs, also look vulnerable to automation.

For some jobs which are highly varied, require specific human interaction, where people are required to have high levels of education, and where automation may be less acceptable e.g. education, less than 10% of jobs likely to be at risk to robots.

Worse In Other Countries

Both the US and Germany, however, are countries that have even higher forecasts of between 35% and 40% of jobs likely to be lost to automated alternatives in the next decade and a half.

Share The Gains

Technical commentators have noted that, even though some types of jobs and industries may be more at risk than others, the situation could be improved for all by making sure that the benefits of automation are shared across society.

Employment commentators have made the point that one factor that may be making the figures in the report look more menacing than they should is the fact that current UK employment levels (75%) are at their highest since modern records began in 1971.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Most businesses are likely to be affected by some aspect of automation e.g. software or mechanical, in the near future, either themselves of through suppliers and stakeholders. There is an inevitability that AI and robotics will alter what jobs look like in the future, but it is also important to remember that they could provide huge advantages and opportunities for businesses. Workers can try to insulate themselves from the worst effects of automation by seeking more education / lifelong learning, and by trying to remain positive towards and adapting to changes. How much automation and what kind of automation individual businesses adopt will, of course, depend upon a cost / benefit analysis compared to human workers, and whether automation is appropriate and is acceptable to their customers.