Brexit Blamed For Microsoft £400 Price Rise

The effects of the UK’s vote to leave the EU and the resulting fall in the value of the pound appear to be the reasons why Microsoft has raised the price of its Surface PCs by as much as 15% in the UK.

Big Hike.

The price hike is likely to add up to £400 to the price of some Microsoft’s Surface and Surface Book PCs here in the UK.

Why?

The price rise came out of a recent price review by Microsoft for its PC sales in the UK. The problem from Microsoft’s point of view is that the UK’s vote to leave the EU back in June 2016, and the subsequent announcement in October 2016 by PM Theresa May that she intended to trigger Brexit proceedings by March 2017, saw the pound’s value plummet, and trade at a new 31-year low level against the dollar (at $1.2749).

The dollar is the currency in which the main IT vendors book their revenues, and therefore, the fall in pound’s value against the dollar has meant that big IT companies are looking to make ‘harmonisation’ / re-alignment efforts (in other words, raise their prices to cover the loss).

Expected Since October Last Year.

Microsoft’s latest price rise announcement is no surprise, since it announced in October last year that it was raising the prices of its cloud and on-premise software in the UK by as much as 22%. It also said at the time that from January 2017, British pound prices for on-premise enterprise software would increase by 13% to realign close to euro levels.

Hardware Prices Went Up Last June.

Almost as soon as the referendum result was in last June, hardware manufacturers such as Dell raised their prices.

Businesses With Volume Licensing Contracts Safe.

Microsoft has, however, stated that the price hike for the Surface and Surface Book PCs here in the UK will only apply to individuals, and to organisations without volume licensing contracts.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you’re a multiple-user business with a Microsoft volume licensing contract, you’re safe from this particular price rise. Microsoft has also stated, however, that prices offered to businesses indirectly by Microsoft reseller partners for the PCs are likely to vary, because the prices are determined by those individual vendors.

It is, however difficult to see in the short term, how prices are not going to go up for UK businesses in some way e.g. higher costs for UK-based public cloud users.

Thousands of New UK Jobs at Amazon

Online retailer Amazon has announced that is going to create 5,000 new full-time jobs in the UK this year.

The new jobs will boost Amazon’s total, permanent UK workforce to 24,000.

What Kind of Jobs?

It has been reported that Amazon is going to be hiring people in a range of roles, including anything from software developers to warehouse staff. The new UK jobs will also include hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities.

Where?

It looks likely that the jobs will be created at Amazon’s new head office in London (where many of the most technical roles are situated) as well as at their Edinburgh customer service centre plus three more new warehouses / fulfilment centres in Tilbury, Doncaster and Daventry.

Why The Expansion Here?

The UK market is Amazon’s second biggest outside the US, behind Germany. The extra 3 fulfilment centres are reported to be needed to allow Amazon to cope with its existing rate of growth and to help speed up deliveries. Amazon also needs more space and staff because it will be handling more deliveries for third-party retailers who use its website for sales and who need its delivery services.

Some analysts have also mentioned a possible move into clothing plus there are reports that Amazon may be close to launching an own-brand fashion label.

These reports have been fuelled by news of Amazon creating a fashion photography studio in London. It is not inconceivable therefore that some of the new jobs may be related to this new area of the business.

Signs Last Year.

The signs of Amazon’s popularity and expansion appeared to be everywhere in the UK last year. For example, Amazon launched a grocery delivery service in parts of the UK last summer (thought to be a test for the US). Last September, Amazon also increased its locker collection / delivery points by getting a presence in Morrisons stores.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon’s scale (and its economies thereof), the success of its business model plus the strength and reach of its delivery network, coupled with the power of its brand and the ease of online shopping for customers make it a serious competitor for many companies, which now include grocers and fashion retailers. Some businesses, however, benefit as third-parties using Amazon’s network, or through acting as hosts for Amazon’s collection points. News of new jobs being created by large international companies in the UK (particularly after Brexit) is welcome, particularly if the jobs are secure.

Tech Tip: Use The Performance Monitor To Troubleshoot

If you need to troubleshoot in Windows 10, using the performance monitor can help you get to the bottom of issues like a PC slowing or freezing.

Activate the Performance Monitor by:

• Going to the "Performance" tab in Task Manager.
• Selecting the Performance Monitor.
• Using the analyze application and hardware data to fix your PC’s performance related problems.

You can customize data to collect in log files, define alerts, generate reports, and replay collected performance data.

1.5 Million WordPress Pages Hacked. Is Yours?

An estimated 1.5 million WordPress pages were attacked and defaced in January via a vulnerability in the platform’s REST API.

What Vulnerability?

The vulnerability in the REST API (the Application Programming Interface of the REST architecture that makes up the pages) meant that unauthorised persons could modify the content of any post or page in a WordPress website. The fact that the vulnerability was there, and that attacks were taking place through it, was flagged up to WordPress by web security firm Sucuri on 20th January. At that point, approximately 67,000 pages had been compromised and defaced in four separate attack campaigns. The latest figures put the number of compromised pages at 1.5 million, and the number of unique affected websites at around 40,000 (because many pages in the same website were attacked in most cases).

Hackers Competing.

A patch was developed and issued to all users on 26th January, but the vulnerability had already become widely known among hackers, and it appears that 20+ hackers or even groups of hackers had been competing with each other to compromise as many WordPress pages as possible.

Defeated The Blocking Rules.

Hackers in this case were able to get around the blocking rules that had been put in place by web hosting companies and firewall suppliers in order to prevent attackers from exploiting just such vulnerability.

Defaced Pages.

Since the flaw allowed hackers to modify any page or post in the WordPress websites, hackers defaced pages by leaving images and messages in pages / posts saying "was here" or similar.

Defacing Doesn’t Bring Money.

Technical and security commentators have pointed out that hackers are generally looking for ways to monetise website vulnerabilities, and defacing pages does not offer this. The fear is, therefore, that next move will be for hackers to use the vulnerability remaining in any sites to spread malware, or to launch spamming attacks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

WordPress is the most popular website platform in the world, and many businesses use them. A vulnerability of this kind is therefore a serious matter which could cause disruption to businesses, and create costs and other potential problems in trying to put the issue right. Many businesses may not have checked their web pages recently, and may not even be aware that they have been attacked, and their pages have been defaced. Businesses with WordPress websites can therefore protect themselves against the vulnerability by upgrading to WordPress 4.7.2 or, e.g. signing up for WordFence’s firewall service.

Sex Education? Kids To Now Get Cyber Security Lessons

A 5 year pilot scheme is being introduced to English schools, which will focus on teaching children cyber security skills in a bid to fill a skills gap in this area across the UK.

Cyber Crime Now an Important National Issue.

The risk of criminals (or foreign powers) hacking into critical UK computer systems ranks as one of the top four threats to national security. The importance of combating cyber crime as a national and an international issue has been brought into sharp focus over the last year by (for example) :

  • Reports last year (such as Symantec’s in April) showing a big increase in cyber crimes such as online fraud in the UK.
  • Multiple high profile data breaches reported in the media such as the Tesco bank hack (and theft).
  • State-sponsored hacking threats outlined in Chancellor Philip Hammond’s National Cyber Security Strategy speech.
  • Alleged state-sponsored hacking in the US elections.
  • The setting up of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) with help from GCHQ, and the introduction of the National Cyber Security Programme, including ‘CyberFirst’.
  • A warning by the Commons committee last week that a cyber skills shortage is undermining confidence in the UK’s cyber defences.

The Skills Gap.

The recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report highlights concerns about the UK government’s efforts to protect government data from attackers, with one of these concerns being for the apparent lack of suitable cyber security skills in the country i.e. a cyber skills gap.

The New Pilot Scheme.

Under the new five-year pilot scheme, 5,700 pupils aged 14 over in English schools will spend up to four hours a week studying cyber security. The lessons will take the form of classroom and online teaching, including the setting of real-world challenges, and the introduction of work experience opportunities from September this year. The lessons will fit around the pupils’ current courses and exams.

£20 Million To Spend.

It has been reported that The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is providing £20m for the new cyber security lessons, and the intention is that:

  • Pupils can learn cutting-edge cyber security skills which could help them to find employment in a fast-growing cyber security industry that currently employs 58,000 experts.
  • Talent in this area can be identified and nurtured.
  • UK businesses and governments can benefit from the skills of home-grown cyber-security experts, and the skills gap can be significantly narrowed in the near future.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses and governments need to get together and find effective ways to bridge the widening cyber-skills gap. Both governments and businesses are targets for cyber criminals, and both would benefit from the outcomes of the up-to-date education and training of a new generation of cyber security experts. This pilot, along with other initiatives could go some way to narrowing a UK cyber security skills gap, and therefore reducing the risk of each of us becoming a victim of cyber crime.

Your Money, But Not As You Know It

As predicted, debit and credit card, and other cashless payment systems now make up most financial transactions, but could this mean a change in the understanding of the value of money in the young generation?

In 2015 Cards Overtook Cash.

Back in May 2015, the number of cash transactions dipped below cashless transactions for businesses, consumers and financial organisations. At that time cash made up only 48% of financial transactions, beaten by cheques (to an ever decreasing extent), credit cards, debit cards, contactless cards, direct debits, and standing orders. This led experts to predict a continued downward trend for cash, perhaps reaching £13 billion in value by 2023 compared to cashless transactions of £27 billion+. This trend appears to be very much on the course predicted, with Millennials, and now Generation-Z getting used to a world where cash plays a smaller, and decreasing part in their lives, shunned in favour of online purchasing using cards and PayPal.

Different View of Value?

Some financial and technical commentators have suggested that a change in the perception of the ‘value’ of money could be something that could be taking / could soon take place among the young because of:

  • Money becoming more ‘invisible’ and intangible through the use of more cashless transactions.
  • Less emphasis on the importance of physical cash from parents who are themselves used to using cards for most transactions.
  • Money becoming more difficult to track because of so many card-based transactions.
  • Parents topping up phones for children rather than giving them cash.
  • The ability to make contactless payments with cards
  • The introduction of new currencies e.g. Bitcoin, which is web-based and doesn’t go through central banks.

Why The Move Away From Cash?

The reasons why the move from physical cash to cashless and invisible is still progressing include:

  • A fall in the price of card readers and card transactions, and banks making it easier for more smaller businesses to take cards, which means that many smaller businesses can now offer chip and PIN services.
  • The growth of self-service checkouts.
  • The continued growth of internet shopping.
  • The expanded use of top-up cards, and transport cards with longer terms than paper tickets e.g. Oyster card.
  • Vending, parking, and other machines accepting cards.

Will Cash Disappear Soon?

According to the Payments Council, cash is still an important way for many people to carry out day-to-day purchases, and to tightly control their spending. Plus, for 3.5 million people it is the only method that is used. Despite predictions of cash soon becoming a minority system, The Payments Council has said that cash will not disappear completely.

Different Perception of Value?

The idea that perceptions of the value of money are changing has not been fully tested and is currently based upon more anecdotal evidence, guesswork and assumptions.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Offering customers the chance to pay using very convenient, cashless means i.e. by card (on and offline over the phone), PayPal, top-up cards / top-up online accounts etc. is therefore likely to be an important way to contribute to positive customer experiences of your business, help your business to remain competitive, reduce the cost of sales, and get money quickly into the business in a convenient way.

French Love Cheat Sues Uber After Getting Caught Out

A (now-divorced) French businessman is suing taxi-style operator Uber over the alleged role of its app in exposing evidence of his extra-marital affair to his wife.

Ticket To Ride.

According to recent news reports, the businessman in question, who has not been publicly named, but is being represented by his lawyer David-André Darmon, reportedly used his wife’s phone to request an Uber driver to take him to a rendezvous with his lover.

It has been reported that the businessman’s wife then received a number of notifications on her iPhone from the Uber app, after her husband had logged off. It was allegedly the information that was contained within these notifications, such as the man’s travel history, that aroused his wife’s suspicions.

The businessman’s lawyer, Mr Darmon, has stated that “a bug in an application” (the Uber app) was the alleged cause of the notifications and the subsequent discovery of the affair by the man’s wife.

Bye Bye Love.

Since the incident, the couple are reported to have divorced. The lawsuit from the husband against Uber is thought to be in the region of £38m (€45m).

Software Bug Also Identified By Newspaper.

The French newspaper ‘Le Figaro’ carried out its own tests at the end of last year after hearing about possible problems with the Uber app. The newspaper’s test involved logging in and out of Uber on one iPhone, and then using another phone to login and order a driver. The newspaper has reported that both phones then received screen notifications from the Uber app, thus appearing to confirm claims made by the ill-fated French businessman. The newspaper concluded that there may have been a glitch with the Uber app that affected iPhones (but not android phones) before a software update in December.

Privacy Campaigners.

It appears that issues with the Uber app are nothing new. It was reported in December last year by privacy campaigners in the US on behalf of concerned customers, that an update to Uber’s app allows users’ GPS signals to be followed after they have left the vehicle at the end of their journey.

What Does Uber Say?

Uber has refused to comment on the specific case of the French businessman, but has said that protection of its clients’ personal details is a priority.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story and other similar reports illustrate how more businesses are now using apps, and are using the data collected by those apps, perhaps in ways that we may not approve of due to their potential impact on our privacy. Data protection and privacy have become very important to consumers, particularly at a time where data breaches at large /well known companies appear to be fairly common.

In the UK, this should also be a reminder that GDPR is due to come into force in just over a year’s time, and that businesses need to become well acquainted with how they are able to collect and use customer data relating to EU citizens according to these regulations in order to be compliant, treat customers well, and to avoid any bad publicity or lawsuits.

Co-op Bank For Sale

The Co-op Bank, which is 20% owned by the Co-operative Group, and was rescued by a US hedge fund bail-out, is now up for sale. Meanwhile, it appears that some customers may also be experiencing the effects of its IT system transformation.

Bank For Sale.

In 2013, the Co-op Bank nearly collapsed, which was mainly attributed to it losing money on commercial property deals, and trying to buy 630 branches from Lloyds Banking Group. The headlines at the time were full of stories highlighting its more than £1 billion losses in 2012 and 2013, as well as disgraced former Co-op bank chairman Paul Flowers stepping down in 2013 over concerns about expenses, and then being charged the following year with possession of drugs.

Bailout and Back.

Co-op Bank, which now has 4 million customers, was brought back from the brink in 2013 when a rescue plan was devised to address a capital shortfall of around £1.9bn, and US hedge-fund money put it back on the right track. In 2015, the Co-op Bank said it would remain loss-making until the end of 2017, and it has now been put up of for sale

The Co-op bank is supported by selling points such as the strength of a widely recognised brand, and its ethical value associations, and a reputation for good customer service.

IT Growing Pains & Woes.

Where the IT side of Co-op banks recent journey is concerned, it appears to be a case of things getting slightly worse before they get better.

After a reported period of what some describe as ‘under-investment in its IT systems’, the bank has, over a period of 18 months, been migrating its core IT systems to a new outsourced platform with IBM. It has also been involved in a contractual dispute with Capita, one of the results of which has been the dropping of an IT system transformation with Capita.

In addition to this, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) told the Co-op bank in 2015 that its technology constituted a breach of its Threshold Conditions. This apparent sailing too close to minimum technology standards was reportedly due to a lack of a proven end-to-end disaster recovery capability. This has meant that the FCA and the Prudential Regulation Authority have told the Co-op bank that they are closely supervising its return to technology compliance.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For some customers, including business customers, the migration to the new IT platform has meant that there have been outages when banking services couldn’t be accessed during the planned maintenance periods.

The fact that there have been recent problems with compliance to technology standards, at a time when cyber crime figures are high, and at a time where other banks have been targeted (hackers stole money from Tesco bank accounts) means that the Co-op bank may not currently look like the best banking option for many business customers. The fact that the bank is now up for sale, and the obvious uncertainty that this brings may also mean that some business customers may be tempted to switch, and potential new customers may be deterred until the bank has been sold, and the details of the sale and its implications publicised.

Tech Tip: Customise Quick Access

Quick Access allows you to immediately jump into your favourite folder and most recently used files in Windows 10.

To customise the Quick Access feature:

  • Switch to the ‘View’ tab in Explorer.
  • Hit ‘Options’.
  • Choose your custom options.

30 More Tech Firms Oppose Trump Immigration Ban

President Trump’s order to ban immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries has led to 30 more US technology firms openly expressing their opposition to it.

127 Total.

The 30 technology firms, who have just signed a brief opposing the ban, join 97 others who have already filed a legal document objecting to the ban because they believe that the ban will not only harm their businesses, but that it could also be unconstitutional.

About The Ban.

President Trump’s executive order meant that as well as the suspension of US entry permission for nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, Syrian refugees have also been banned indefinitely. There is, however, a temporary restraining order in place allowing visa holders from the seven named countries entry into the US until the case has been heard in its entirety.

The Objections From Tech Businesses.

The order may be considered by many to be unconstitutional for several reasons. Firstly, it appears to have been poorly vetted and researched, and appears to be irrational. The order is also regarded by many as being unconstitutional because it appears to violate the separation of power between the federal government and the states, and it violates the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause because of its apparent bias against Muslims.

In terms of potential damage to technology businesses, the ban may make the US a less attractive country for tech businesses and tech workers to move to, and could, along with possible changes to H-1B visas, cause skilled immigrant tech workers and whole start-ups to move out of the US to other countries e.g. India or China. Innovation and the competitive edge that many US companies derive partly from their many immigrant workers could therefore also suffer.

The Brief and the New Signatories.

The latest technology companies to object have signed up to the amicus brief. This allows parties not directly involved in a case, but who feel that they have been / could affected by it to give their view. The 30 new signatories include some big names, such as HP, Adobe, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This case illustrates how the attractiveness of the business environment is important in any country, in terms of attracting skilled labour and businesses. Governments and leaders who can make the business environment attractive, and manage security matters well at the same time can therefore bring economic benefits to their countries. This case also illustrates how some industries, more than others, such as the technology industry (which is the same in the UK also) rely on access to labour from many different countries. These industries can therefore suffer if government messages, rules, policies and interventions act not just as a deterrent to potential economic and wealth contributors, but also unsettles and upsets existing, well established existing, big companies.