Five-Minute-Charge Mobiles By 2018?

Israeli company StoreDot have reportedly claimed that their innovative “FlashBattery” technology means that five-minute charging smartphones could be on the market by 2018.

Minutes Rather Than Hours

On average it takes most of us anywhere between one to three hours to charge our smartphones depending on the size of the battery and the flow capacity of the charger.

Considering how pressed for time most of us are nowadays, five-minute charging may seem like a dream come true, although it may be a reality in 2018.

Flash Battery Technology

In 2015, Israeli start-up StoreDot demonstrated “FlashBattery” at the CES tech show in Las Vegas. The battery was said to contain nanomaterials and as yet unnamed organic compounds that allowed for “non-traditional” reactions and unusually rapid transfer of ions from an anode to cathode to charge batteries.

The initial versions of the battery were thicker than most smartphone batteries available at the time, but it has been reported that pilot production of the new batteries has already begun with two Asian battery manufacturers, and that “mass production” was expected to begin in the first quarter of 2018.

Scepticism

Some technical commentators have, however, been publicly sceptical of StoreDot’s claims, pointing out that achieving such a fast charge would mean solving the so far elusive problem of battery overheating. As well as negatively impacting battery performance and being dangerous, battery overheating has been a considerable challenge for big market competitors so far e.g. Samsung with its Galaxy Note 7 battery.

Not Just Smartphones

StoreDot is not the only tech company racing to create the perfect quick-charging battery. Qualcomm unveiled a similar technology, called the Quick Charge 4 system, in November, offering five hours of battery life after a 5-minute charge.

The Israeli tech firm did have another ace up its sleeve though – they have also claimed to produce an electric car battery that charged in 5-minutes for 300 miles of range.

The Myersdorf car battery was showcased in Berlin at the Cube Tech Fair, though their presentation was ironically too short for the battery to finish charging at the time. The company admitted that while they do not have any contracts yet, they are working with car companies to develop the battery, and estimate that it could take three years before it is roadworthy.

This is significant when contrasted against technology by competitors like electric vehicle firm Tesla by Elon Musk whose Supercharger technology takes 75 minutes to reach a full charge and can only offer 170 miles on a 30-minute charge.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Just as battery charge life is a limiting factor for businesspeople when using their laptops, phones running out of charge at just the wrong moment, not holding charges for long, or having to replace (expensive) phone batteries, and having to wait long periods of time for phones to charge up are all frustrating and costly to businesses. We also now live in a mobile, ‘cordless’ society (just look at the vacuum cleaner market) where we like and expect to be able to work uninterrupted, on the move, un-tethered.

If this new battery technology lives up its creator’s claims it could deliver huge cost savings and convenience benefits, as well as having multiple other possible applications in many different industries wherever batteries are used. If the costs of the batteries are sufficiently low, this technology could also provide opportunities for UK businesses with existing and news products, to add value and differentiate.

Ransomware – To Pay Or Not To Pay?

Ransomware such as WannaCry is used to extort money from people and organisations who are told that their important data is locked away until they pay a ransom. If you become a victim of ransomware, should you pay? Even if you do, will you get all of your data back?

Experts Say ‘Don’t Pay’

The WannaCry global attack has reportedly led to over 126,000 ransomware infections worldwide. PC users have been advised to update Windows to ensure that they are protected.

When vital and possibly irreplaceable data has been “lost” through forced encryption, £230 may seem like a small price to pay, but the expert advice for those affected by ransomware is ‘don’t pay’.

Some people seem to have been more than willing to fork out the money, according to a Twitter bot tracking the digital wallets set up to receiving the ransom, which is paid in Bitcoin. To date, £39,000 appears to have been paid to the attackers.

Returning Your Data Intact, Unlikely With WannaCry

However, the bitter truth is that even if you do pay the ransom, the actual chance of them being able to regain access to your files is probably next to nothing.

Aside from the fact that an honest transaction is not a given when dealing with criminals, WannaCry does not seem to have been built in a way that actually facilitates the efficient return of data access. Manual action will need to be taken to activate decryption (which looks unlikely to happen), and a viable decryption method may not even be a part of WannaCrypt’s code

even if victims pay to request a key to restore access, many security experts agree that, in reality, victims are unlikely to receive any response after paying.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In the case of WannaCry, although the global spread was huge, many home and business computer users are likely to have automatically installed a Microsoft update / patch that provides some protection.

The advice from many security commentators for those businesses unfortunate enough to suffer a ransomware attack is not to pay the ransom. Not only is it unlikely that you will get all of your data back if you do pay (some ransomware deletes files anyway), but you are unlikely to receive the key that will unlock your files, or indeed, any response at all from the people you pay the ransom to.

The best advice for businesses must surely be to be prepared and take security measures to ensure that your business is adequately protected in the first place against the known methods of malware (including ransomware) attacks. Investing in security now and in keeping security systems up to date is likely to be much better and more cost effective than paying ransoms, paying for disaster recovery and suffering the effects of business disruption, lost customers, and reputational damage that are the results of successful cyber attacks.

Sensible measures that businesses should take include taking regular and secure back-ups of your important files and data on a separate (secure) drive, machine, or in the cloud, the training of staff in spotting and dealing with cyber security threats, keeping software updated and patched, focusing on risk assessment and management, conducting penetration tests, tightening of data protection, having Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in place, and having a focus from the top down on IT governance and increasing cyber resilience.

Hunt for WannaCry Ransomware Attackers

As organisations around the world recover and begin to count the cost of the biggest ransomware attack in history, cyber security and law enforcement agencies around the world have turned their attention to tracking down the perpetrators.

Cruel Irony

The irony of the WannaCry ransomware attacks is that it exploits a vulnerability that was identified by the US National Security Agency. The vulnerability is a hacking tool called ‘Eternal Blue’ that gives access to Microsoft Windows, and was originally developed by the NSA to access the computers of suspected terrorists.

Tracking Gangs

It has been reported that security companies and agencies have analysed the malware and are tracking over 100 different ransom Trojan gangs, with no success as yet.

The ransomware first appeared on 10th February this year and was then used two months later in a short ransomware campaign.

Almost no one fell for version 1.0, which used spam email and booby-trapped websites. However, version 2.0, which incorporated a single additional module to make it self-replicating, wrought much more havoc over the weekend.

Clean Launch Means No Clues

One factor that has frustrated the search for the WannaCry perpetrators is the absence of any real clues in the way that the ransomware code has been written and launched. For example, there were no clues based on strings of characters in the executables or whether it was uploaded to Virus Total to check for detections before distribution.

The relatively ‘clean’ launch of the ransomware has, therefore, meant that there are no real pointers as to which group is responsible for its creation and launch.

Probably Not the Russians

The ransomware does not seem to hesitate when infecting machines running Cyrillic script and systems in Russia, which has led security commentators to believe that the Russian State is unlikely to be responsible.

In addition, timestamps on the code show that it may have been created on a machine in a +9 GMT timezone – Japan, Indonesia, Philippines are part of this zone, as well as far eastern parts of China and Russia.

One of the other clues that hint to the creators being a new group is, ironically, the success of the malware. WannaCry has hit far more than the usual number of victims targeted by ransomware aimed at large organizations.

The huge number of victims makes ransom management very difficult.

WannaCry’s Achilles Heel

Another clue is the failure to register the domain written in its core code. By not doing so, the creators unwittingly crippled the malware by allowing security researcher Marcus Hutchins to register and take over the domain, limiting its spread.
Other methods that have been used to administer infected machines like the Tor dark web network are being monitored for activity.

Other useful artifacts in the code like a kill-switch domain may have provided clues e.g. to see if it was queried before WannaCry was distributed, but it is also worth noting that criminals sometimes put deliberate false flags in the code to confuse and frustrate attempts to crack it.

Following the Money

To make it easy for criminals to track ransoms and restore only the files of obliging victims, large-scale ransomware campaigns usually generate unique bitcoin addresses for every infection.

In contrast, WannaCry created only three hard-coded bitcoin addresses for ransom payments.This makes it difficult to keep track of who has paid, which calls into question the creators’ intention – or ability – to actually restore locked files, even if the Bitcoin payments are made.

However, Bitcoin is not as anonymous as most criminals appear to believe. Every bitcoin transaction is publicly recorded in the blockchain, creating a spending log, and analysis of transactions on the blockchain can help investigators follow the flow of money and hopefully lead them to the criminals.

Collecting The Money

All eyes are now on where/when the money is collected by the criminals (to provide a clue) plus any possible leads as to WHO actually collects the money. The total amount of ransom paid so far is estimated at £39,000, which many commentators have noted is a relatively small amount of money for a crime of this scale.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The massive ransomware attack that infected the computers of an estimated 300,000 victims in 150 countries worldwide, many of them large, well-known businesses and organisations (including 16 health service organisations in the UK) has been a massive Internet and data security wake-up call.

Internet and data security, particularly with GDPR due to come into force next year, must surely now be given high priority by businesses and must be championed at board level.

The danger and false economy of staying with old operating systems as long as possible has been painfully exposed in this attack.

One piece of sheer luck with the WannaCry ransomware is the fact that the domain written in its core code had not been registered, and a security researcher was, therefore, able to stop its spread by registering the domain himself. It is highly likely though that there will be more, large-scale ransomware attacks in the near future, and for businesses, relying on luck and minimal preparation is not an option.

Businesses need to take a range of measures to ensure that they are well defended against known cyber threats, and prepared for the aftermath, should defences be breached. Preparations could include making sure that all the latest updates and patches are installed on systems and that anti-virus software is up to date, all important data is regularly and securely backed-up, all staff are trained to spot and deal correctly with potential threats, and workable Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans are in place.

Tech Tip – Snap Windows For Multi-Tasking

Windows 10 has a handy feature that allows you to snap the current window to one side of your screen, and simultaneously open a second one on the other side, thus enabling the often elusive multi-tasking! Here’s how:

To activate the feature, and to enable able you to effectively pin different apps to either side of the screen, its just a case of pressing Win and the right / left arrow key. You can just scroll through the windows without clicks. Try:

• Win + 1 — first app
• Win + 2 — second app, and so on.

Tech Tip: Set Power Button to Turn Off Monitors

If you have the Windows 10 Creators Update, you can make your computer power button into a monitor switch that lets you turn off all your monitors.

With this tip you can turn off your monitor and still leave your computer running. Applications won’t be closed, and downloads won’t be terminated. If you have multiple monitors set up, it will turn off all your monitors at once for you.

To set this up:

  • Go to Start menu.
  • Type Power Options.
  • Click Edit Power Plan.
  • Open Power Options by clicking In the Edit Power Plan Settings Window.
  • Click on the Change advanced power settings link.
  • In the Power Options window that pops up, find and expand ‘Power buttons and Lid’ and ‘Power button action’.
  • Select ‘Turn off the display’ from the Settings list.
  • Click OK.

 

Touch Sensitive “Paint” Opens New Doors

A new system called Electrick (developed by Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University Pittsburgh) uses conductive spray paint and electrodes to turn any surface into an electronic touch sensor.

Electric Field Tomography

The revolutionary new system was created by Created by CMU Ph.D. student Yang Zhang and works using a technique known as electric field tomography (EFT), which exploits the interaction of a high-frequency electric field with a conductive medium.

How Does It Work?

In short, a surface or object is coated with a spray-paint application of carbon conducting paint. N.B. whole, solid or pliable objects can also be cast / moulded from carbon-conductive material (a mixture of carbon fibre and conventional silicone).

The surface or object then has electrodes attached to the periphery, and a small current is then injected in. The field and direction of the current is rotated around so that it covers the whole surface or object with no blind-spots.

When a person touches or runs their finger along the flat / object surface, the exact location can be plotted by a computer / computerised gadget. This means that all areas of the surface can be made touch sensitive (as in a touch-screen for a tablet), and individual touches can then be used to e.g. launch specific applications or activate features (such as sound effects).

What Can It Be Used For?

As is usually the case with technological innovations, the real potential and multitude of possible applications are only realised later on and depend upon the needs of the user of the technology and the niches that have been spotted by businesses. Examples of possible applications identified by Electrick, which can be seen in their video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38h4-5FDdV4 include:

  • Making inexpensive flat touch-panels or touch sensitive 3D shapes by sticking conductive-coated surfaces to Velostat or by laminating it to thermoformable sheet.
  • Adding functionality to 3D printed objects and prototype objects to test them and improve their design.
  • Making a whole table surfaces touch-sensitive and able to e.g. launch computer programs and apps.
  • Making wall surfaces act as ‘dimmer-switch’-style controls for the wall / room lights.
  • Enabling the activation of guitar / musical instrument effects to linked to touching a single part of the instrument’s surface.
  • Adding sound effects to touch locations on e.g. toy figures, education / teaching aids.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This new system represents a real opportunity for businesses, particularly in manufacturing, to improve and augment existing products, create new and innovative products, and improve the R&D and testing processes while keeping costs down. This low-cost, relatively easy way to create touch surfaces on any scale could help to revolutionise services e.g. information delivery and aid the advancement of automation. The possibilities are potentially limitless and could provide countless business opportunities for those who can quickly identify an area within their own business or industry where use of the system could add value, reduce costs, simplify processes and save time, or provide greater convenience and value to customers / end-users.

Broadband Speed Claims To Be Examined

A 10-week public consultation is to be held by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) about the advertised speeds of competing broadband services and whether they differ from real user experiences.

Why?

It has been reported that Research commissioned by the ASA has led CAP to believe that tougher standards need to be imposed on broadband providers to make them clearer, more transparent, and more realistic about exactly what they are offering, and what consumers can realistically expect from their services.

Also, since big changes in technology and the tech marketplace can happen quickly, and the current guidance on broadband advertising was introduced back in 2012, the advertising regulators think that it’s now time for the guidance to be updated. At the current time, and based on those 2012 guidelines, ISPs only need to advertise the maximum speed claims achievable by at least 10% of customers, which need be preceded by the words ‘up to.’

What Could The Consultation Mean?

The indications are that, even prior to the consultation, the advertising regulators may be thinking about making ISPs disclose clear information about peak-time median download speeds, 24-hour national median download speeds, the range of peak-time download speeds, and 24-hour national download speeds (available to the 20th to 80th percentile of consumers).

This would require companies who want to make specific claims about their broadband speeds to instruct end-users to check with their broadband provider what actual speed they are most likely to receive.

How Do You Know What Your Real Broadband Speed Is?

To find out what your real broadband speed is, you can use websites such as http://www.broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk/ (which will give you separate download and upload speeds), or the Which? Broadband speed test page: http://www.which.co.uk/reviews/broadband-deals/article/broadband-speed-test

You can also look at the details published on broadband comparison websites like
thinkbroadband.com. This website also has a speed test page.

The Consultation

CAP say that, over the next 10 weeks (which critics think is a quite a short time period), they will be inviting views on four options for change, and remaining open to any other options that better manage consumers’ expectations of the likely real broadband speed that they could receive.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In a week when Virgin Media Business has announced the introduction of its ‘Voom’ 350Mbps broadband for SMEs (which in reality is at least 200Mbps), there is still a lot of confusion in the marketplace about the subject. Fast connections are vital to UK businesses. Virgin’s own commissioned research, for example, showed that if the UK’s digital potential was fulfilled (which includes faster broadband services) the UK’s GDP could increase by more than £90bn in just over two years.

If the consultation and the resulting guidelines cause providers to be more transparent about what business customers can realistically expect from broadband providers, this has to be a good thing.

Critics point out that physical distance issues play an inescapable part in broadband speeds, and simply switching to another broadband provider that is using the same technology as your current one may not improve matters anyway.

£23.97/min For 118 Directory Enquiries

Ofcom is reported to be concerned about the high costs of calling directory enquiries services, and this looks likely to lead to another examination of this area of the market.

Directory Enquiries?

Historically, up until the 1990s, by calling directory enquiries (for free) you could get a business or domestic telephone number. Directory enquiries was de-regulated in 2003, when calls to the service were charged at a flat rate of 40p.

The now paid-for service is offered by over 200 different providers who can be reached by dialling a six-digit number beginning with 118. These providers supply information from the Operator Services Information System (OSIS). This is run by Directory Solutions, a division of BT Wholesale.

BT’s service is 118 500, but the service that has over 90% of the market is 118 118, and its market position has been built by large amounts of advertising (e.g. TV ads).

What’s The Problem?

The problem as identified by Ofcom is that the prices charged to end customers for calls to these services, and the per-minute prices for connecting (where the provider puts you through to the number you require). Concerns have also been raised that there is a lack of transparency of pricing for the services offered by directory enquiries service providers, and this can particularly affect older people who may have less knowledge about the new-style directory enquiry services. In many cases, this has reportedly led to shock bills.

How Expensive Are These Services?

Ofcom reformed the pricing structure for UK directory enquiries on 1st July 2015, but even under the present system, operators can charge up to a maximum of £23.97 for calls of less than a minute!

Call charges typically consist of an Access Charge (set and retained by the caller’s landline or mobile provider) and a Service Charge (directory enquiries service but it is collected by the caller’s phone provider).

Taking market leader 118 118 as an example, callers to the service can expect a flat-rate connection fee of £7, a per-minute charge of up to £3.50 (which may be much more under other operators) and an access charge of up to 50p a minute from the telecoms operator.

Horror Stories

Horror stories that have surfaced online include a report of someone contacting Citizens Advice after receiving a £150 bill for calling a 118 number.

Ofcom has also highlighted an incident where a consumer who called directory enquiries (in 2009) was presented with a bill for £350.

Choice?

Critics of the current system have pointed out that the de-regulation of directory enquiries has resulted in a failure of choice for consumers.

A new enquiry by Ofcom could mean that a stipulated price cap will be imposed on these charges.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Many callers to directory enquiry service provider numbers are seeking business telephone numbers. High prices for call charges could deter potential customers from trying to contact a business via this method at that point. Customers may therefore seek other methods for finding numbers e.g. the Internet. This introduces competition (with the many search engine results and online ads), and businesses could therefore be losing out because of the high directory enquiries call charges. As users of these services, businesses also face the same high costs.

Facebook Offers Tips For Spotting Fake News

Social media giant Facebook has published adverts in the UK popular press, giving readers a list of ten ways to spot ‘fake news’.

This marks a widening of an ‘educational’ campaign that saw the same message displayed on the news feeds of users in 14 countries back in April.

What Is Fake News?

As the name suggests, fake news describes false news stories, the like of which were distributed via social media, and came to prominence during the U.S. presidential election. Many people believe that these stories influenced the election result in Donald Trump’s favour and that fake news stories seen by the UK population through social media feeds influenced the UK (Brexit) referendum result.

Facebook’s definition of fake news, which is thought to have been kept narrow to avoid accusations of political censorship, refers to news or articles that are intended to deceive, contain objectively provable falsehoods, and pretend to be from a legitimate news site.

What Is Facebook Actually Doing?

As well as the ‘educational’ campaign i.e. distributing fake news spotting advice, Facebook is reported to be taking measures such as finding, flagging and removing fake accounts that fake news stories are being spread and shared from, and decreasing the rankings of fake news e.g. the stories that are read but not shared.

It has also been reported that Facebook will be using two separate third-party fact-checking companies (namely Full Fact and First Draft) to help it to weed out fake news stories, particularly those that appear in the run-up to the UK General Election in June.

There have also been reports from December 2016 that Facebook has given Snopes, Factcheck.org, ABC News, and PolitiFact (reportedly unpaid fact-checking partners) a tool to enable them to label stories in the News Feed as fake.

Criticism

Despite this latest campaign, Facebook has received criticism for quite some time now for now. The kind of criticism aimed at Facebook suggests that it:

  • Hasn’t been acting quickly or effectively enough to take down inappropriate and illegal content e.g. hate speech or sexualised images.
  • Was slow in accepting any responsibility for the spread of misinformation that appears to have influenced a major election outcome.
  • Lacks transparency over its approach to and processes for taking down content and tackling fake news.
  • Has launched the new educational campaign to divert attention away from itself and its role in the ‘clickbait economy’, some of which uses fake news.
  • Has used the new educational campaign to appease governments, and avoid possible fines (the German government is moving towards fining social networks), while producing 10 tips which could be seen as simply shifting the responsibility for determining the truth and spreading fake news stories back onto the reader.

What Does This Mean For Your Company

The larger picture is that, if Facebook has helped to influence the outcome of the U.S election and UK referendum through enabling the spread of fake news, then this had had a huge impact on the economic environment for businesses in the UK and overseas. This impact will not even be fully realised until after Brexit, and just the uncertainty about the UK’s economic future has already affected businesses.

Some online news businesses and digital advertising providers appear to benefit in the short term for sailing very close to wind with their ‘clickbait’ news stories, and the clickbait economy is therefore likely to continue for some time yet.

It is worth remembering, however, that fake news itself is not new. Many newspapers have been sued and have had to issue apologies for fake stories.

3 Steps To Banking Security Heaven In The UK?

The results of an online survey by YouGov, sponsored by credit reference agency Equifax have shown that 55% of British people think that 3 or fewer verification steps are needed to keep their bank accounts safe from criminals.

Cyber Crime and Bank Fraud Levels Still High

Office of National Statistics (OFT) figures show that in a 12-month period from 2015 to 2016 2.47 million bank and credit account frauds took place in the UK. These were part of a 5.8 million cyber-crime explosion, where 1 in 10 people in England and Wales became victims of cyber-crime.

The results of this latest YouGov survey appear to show that things aren’t improving, as of the 2,000 people asked, 21% said they had previously had either their social media or email account hacked.

3 Layers Needed

These high levels of cyber-crime, plus the fact that bank account details top the list of what people are most worried about having stolen (closely followed by followed by debit or credit card pin numbers), mean that UK banking customers appear keen to keep their account holder verification steps to 3 (or less).

Quality Not Quantity

It does seem, however, that it’s not necessarily the number of authentication / verification steps that should make customers feel secure, but the quality of those steps in terms of how difficult they would be for criminals to crack or get around.

Password and single-step processes have been shown in recent years to be not particularly effective at keeping the criminals at bay. This is partly because people share passwords between online services, and the theft of personal details from one website can, combined perhaps with other hacked data, often lead to easier thefts from other accounts e.g. bank accounts.

Multi-layer authentication is more difficult for cyber criminals to get around and banks and financial organisations are also able to use extra layers of authentication that are invisible to customers.

Increased Security

Banks and financial institutions are now turning to other increased security methods such as biometrics and tactics such as Barclays new debit card controls that allow customers to enable or disable whether their card can be used to make remote purchases, or to set their own daily ATM withdrawal limits on the Barclays Mobile Banking app.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses clearly need to be able to effectively protect both their own and their customers’ banking details (note the GDPR regulations next year) from cyber attackers. Determined cyber criminals are now attacking businesses in multi-level ways, including phishing attacks combined with social engineering to steal money and data from businesses, and are using ransomware attacks to extort money. Even Google and Facebook both fell victim recently to a £77 million fraud that relied upon hacking, fake letters and invoices, and human error from staff.

As well as taking at least the basic security measures with systems, practices and password protection, businesses, now more than ever need to educate and train all staff to be able to spot possible fraudulent tactics. Staff should be encouraged and empowered to question and refer any suspicious activity, and clear systems for staff to follow, including carefully verifying new payment requests before authorising them, need to be put in place. Businesses should also make sure that they have up-to-date and workable Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans in place.