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The Raspberry Pi gets smaller

April 26, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Dr Search, Google, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The raspberry Pi launched in Feb 2012 with modest ambitions to give young people a small cheap programmable device.

The raspberry Pi launched in Feb 2012 with modest ambitions to give young people a small cheap programmable device.

Now Raspberry Pi is getting smaller and cheaper – and has become Britain’s most successful homegrown computer.

The latest edition is the Raspberry Pi Zero. It is slower than the full-size version (though faster than the original Raspberry Pi) and has fewer ports, but its main selling point is that it is so cheap.

The Zero, which like its predecessors is being manufactured in Wales, will sell for £4. And subscribers of the Magpi, a Raspberry Pi magazine, will find a Zero attached to the cover of the magazine – possibly the first time that a computer has been a free giveaway.

“We still meet people for whom cost remains a barrier to entry,” says Eben Upton, the man behind the whole project. He says driving down the cost of hardware has always been a key aim of the project, and he now expects more people to be able to get involved in computing.

The hope is that the whole Pi project can be clear about its mission

But it looks more likely that existing users will snap them up as extra components in computing projects. Upton sees it being used in “internet of things” or robotics projects, where a smaller device may be needed, or as a media player.

Throughout its history, Raspberry Pi has found a bigger audience amongst middle-aged hobbyists rather than the school children who were its original target. That is likely to be the case at first with the Zero, though school computing clubs may may find it a useful addition to their projects.

With more than seven million Raspberry Pis sold so far, and 270,000 in October alone, there is no doubt that it has been a commercial success. The challenge for those behind the project is to keep on remembering that the aim is to enthuse and inspire young people about computing, not to maximise profit.

By putting Eben Upton in charge of the commercial operation and appointing Philip Colligan as chief executive of the charitable foundation, the hope is that the whole project can be clear about its mission.

Meanwhile however, there are rival cheap computing devices, from the Arduino to Beagle Black, which also seek to get young people interested in coding. And the Raspberry Pi Zero has raced ahead of the BBC’s Microbit device, which will now be delivered to all Year 7 pupils in the UK early next year.

The Raspberry Pi was the right device at the right time, catching a wave of enthusiasm for improving understanding of computing. Now, in an increasingly crowded field, it will have to keep on innovating – while making sure that schools, teachers and children retain their enthusiasm for all things Raspberry Pi.

Dell faces fresh security questions as new issue found

April 25, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, data security, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

Dell is facing further questions after admitting to a second security issue with its computers this week.

Dell is facing further questions after admitting to a second security issue with its computers this week.

The new problem – similar to the first – could leave users’ personal information vulnerable, researchers backed by the US government said.

Dell said it had again released a fix, after doing the same for the first problem earlier this week.

The repeated issues raised concerns about the company’s attitude towards security, one expert told the BBC.

In a statement, Dell said that the second problem affected users who downloaded its Dell System Detect product. It said the second issue was not pre-installed on computers – as the first was.

It said the product was removed from its site once the issue was spotted and a replacement application was made available.

Earlier this week, Dell said it had inadvertently opened up a security hole in its computers when it pre-installed software on them. A self-signed root certificate authority (CA), which is used to identify trustworthy websites, was “implemented as part of a support tool and intended to make it faster and easier for our customers to service their system”, Dell said.

But the CA it installed, called “eDellRoot”, allowed hackers to intercept a Dell user’s internet traffic, while the private key that came installed with it could be used to trick the computer into thinking that unsafe websites were safe, security researchers pointed out.

The second vulnerability, another CA called “DSDTestProvider”, worked in much the same way, according to the Germany-based journalist who reported it to US Department of Homeland Security-backed researchers at Carnegie Mellon University: Hanno Bˆck.

In their subsequent report, the researchers wrote: “An attacker can generate certificates signed by the DSDTestProvider CA. Systems that trusts the DSDTestProvider CA will trust any certificate issued by the CA.

“An attacker can impersonate web sites and other services, sign software and email messages, and decrypt network traffic and other data.

“Common attack scenarios include impersonating a web site, performing a [man-in-the-middle] attack to decrypt HTTPS traffic, and installing malicious software.” Such an attack involves the hacker intercepting internet traffic between the user’s browser and the site they are accessing.

A Dell spokesman said: “When we became aware of eDellRoot earlier this week, we immediately dug into all our applications that get loaded on Dell PCs. We can confirm we have found no other root certificates on the factory-installed PC image.

“What we did find was that the Dell System Detect application and its DSDTestProvider root certificate had similar characteristics to eDellRoot. The application was removed from the Dell support site immediately and a replacement application without the certificate is now available.”

How data is shining a light on global property markets

April 14, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, data security, Dr Search, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, search engines, Uncategorized

The property market, like that of gold and oil, is a rather murky world.

The property market, like that of gold and oil, is a rather murky world.

The prices you’ll see on most websites are asking prices. The value of a done deal – the real price – can take land registries weeks to process, by which time a fast-paced market will have moved on.

So those on the inside doing the deals, such as estate agents and developers, have a distinct advantage.

Could technology help blast open this closed market?

Teun van den Dries, chief executive of Dutch software company GeoPhy, believes his data analytics software program could do just that, starting with commercial property, a global market worth about Ä22.5tn (£15.7tn), according to the European Public Real Estate Association.

His program crunches lots of different data sets – public transport, roads, congestion, location, demographics, local economy, building quality and so on – to calculate an estimated value for a property.

And he has data for 41 countries, from Singapore to Spain, Brazil to Belgium.

“If you look at the current property market, almost all transactions are handled by estate agents that will describe property as being well situated, with great accessibility and beautiful views,” he says. “And that could all be true, but it doesn’t mean anything and it doesn’t allow you to compare.”

Location accounts for 70%-75% of the weighting in the algorithm – a mathematical set of rules – and his pricing is accurate within about 5%, he says.

Estate agents are known for their creative euphemisms when it comes to property descriptions, but data could help cut through the sales speak to arrive at a more realistic assessment, he believes.

But, he notes, “a valuation is never right until someone pays. So, it’s the same price point a surveyor will put their signature on.”

The only difference is that it’s derived from data and a set of comparable rules, he says.

However, there are some valuations it can’t help us to understand – parts of London, such as St James’s Park or Mayfair, home of the £90m mansion, simply defy data analysis.

At present, his customers are pension funds and other large institutions that own property portfolios. They want quick access to property valuations, as well as other data, such as the energy efficiency of their buildings.

But he hopes this type of analysis could also help make the residential property and rentals markets more transparent, too.

So when your landlord says prices are rising in your area and hikes up your rent, you’ll be able to see if that’s really the case, says Mr van den Dries.

 

But not everyone is so sure about the benefits of data analytics in the commercial property market.

For example, a seller may offload a building to make a loss to offset against tax and as such will sell at a lower “rational” price, he says.

And shifts in economies thousands of miles away – China or in the Middle East, perhaps – could suddenly empty money out of a given market, without the data giving any warning.

While many large publicly owned property owners have talked about using data, many “just don’t really know where to start and are only at the start of the journey,” he says. “Commercial property is the last imperfect market.”

“Homes may be better, as they are more homogenous and could be more comparable,” he adds.

Mr van den Dries admits that there is some resistance to this new data-driven approach – a number of property owners have expressed displeasure at having their buildings benchmarked, he says.

But he, and others, remain convinced that better analysis of more data is key to a more efficient – and less mysterious – property market.

Tablets ‘eroding’ children’s digital skills

April 09, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, data security, Dr Search, Email, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, smart phones, Tablets, Uncategorized

Children are learning very different skills via tablets and smartphones, suggests a report.

Children are learning very different skills via tablets and smartphones, suggests a report.

Children’s growing use of mobile devices may hamper their learning of key technology skills, says a report.

An Australian educational body noted a “significant decline” in IT literacy among some students since 2011.

Its report said children learned very different skills on tablets and smartphones to the basic technology skills required for the workplace.

Changes to the way that ICT was being taught in Australian schools could explain some of the decline, it said.

The report added that significant alterations in the types of devices people use could also be behind some of the changes.
Poor performance

The report by Australia’s National Assessment Programme looked at technology literacy among two groups of children – one just leaving primary school and another in its fourth year of secondary school. More than 10,500 students took part.

It compared digital literacy scores from 2011 with those from a survey carried out in late 2014.

“This report shows a significant decline in their ICT literacy performance when compared to previous cycles,” it said.

Both age groups saw a decline in IT proficiencies, it added. Statistics revealed that the average performance of 16-year-olds in the 2014 group was lower than the average in any other year.

In addition it found that the number of children meeting basic ICT literacy standards in these age groups had dropped.

Pupils now made “increased” and “extensive” use of mobile technology and it was possible that this meant they were “practising fewer of the skills that have been associated with ICT literacy,” it said.

Tablets and smartphones were making children competent at using many forms of online communication, it said, at the expense of those other skills emphasised by the curriculum.

It warned against assuming that children who use tablets and other portable devices were more widely competent with technology.

“We cannot expect students to become proficient on important employability and life skills, just by using computing devices for games and social interaction,” it said. “They also need to be taught the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills.”

Eben Upton, who came up with the idea for the bare-bones Raspberry Pi computer, said the Australian research presented some “interesting” conclusions.

“It’s always been my belief that ‘appliance-like’ hardware platforms don’t encourage real computer literacy because there are missing rungs on the ladder between being a consumer and being a producer,” he told the BBC.

“There’s a place for tablets in education, but we need to get away from the idea that knowing how to pinch-zoom makes your toddler the next Bill Gates,” he said.

What losing the red button means for the BBC

March 28, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Amazon, Apple, Computers, Customer Service, Personal Security, Search Clinic, search engines, Televisions, Uncategorized, YouTube

The BBC is to explore closing its Red Button services as part of £150m of cuts that include a £35m reduction in sports rights spending.

The BBC is to explore closing its Red Button services as part of £150m of cuts that include a £35m reduction in sports rights spending.

What does this mean for the corporation, and the viewer?

In the UK, 97% of people use the BBC and on average spend 18 hours a week with it in one form or another. The BBC also needs to cut around £700m and something will have to go.

Reconciling those two facts is never going to please everybody.

The announcement that in the first £150m of cuts a “phased exit” from red button services is now being considered makes sense if you think the BBC will increasingly be accessed online via the iPlayer.

The red button, for instance, took on what remains of the old teletext service, Ceefax, and offers extra channels for events such as Wimbledon, the Proms and Glastonbury. It looks a bit old fashioned.

The BBC is rolling out its Red Button+, which gives people a chance to see the iPlayer on the big screen and a number of other internet services. The direction of travel is assumed to be towards an online system.

The problem is sport, weather, headlines, alternative commentaries and repeats of popular programmes on the old red button services are still used by large numbers of people.

They are more likely to be older viewers, but older viewers watch more TV and are a growing part of the population. The BBC knows it has to chase the viewers of tomorrow and deliver programmes in the way they want to watch them, but it can’t afford to alienate the people who are the heaviest users of its services.

The £35m of cuts to sports rights will also pose a problem for the part of the population whose viewing is dominated by sport. The loss of the Open Golf Championship is just the latest in a long line of events that have slipped through the BBC’s fingers.

The sport that it has hung on to, for instance Formula One and the Olympics, now look a little less secure.

Given the audience is becoming more fragmented, there is a marked reluctance to cut the size and scope of the BBC. If the corporation wants to reach 97% of people in the years to come, it will have to respond to a rapidly changing technological environment.

It is worth noting that at the moment the BBC announced its latest cuts, Sky was revealing its new Sky Q box that allows viewers to record four television programmes simultaneously and watch content around the house.

Sky isn’t alone. Amazon, Apple and Netflix are all in their own ways changing the landscape of TV with new services and technology.

YouTube has just announced a new kids service in the UK, while Disney is to launch a digital streaming service at the end of the month.
Future of television: big or tiny?

What is perhaps most interesting is how many of the new developments are aimed squarely at the big screen in the living room. For the people who said TV was dying, the future for the big screen is looking very perky.

Things, then, are changing fast, and huge amounts of money are being spent on creating programmes, especially drama, and devising new technology in order to win the battle for living-room viewing.

The BBC is in the midst of a process in which the government is considering its “size and scope” and also imposing big cuts on its funding. That question of “size and scope” is very clearly set as a question about whether the BBC is too big.

Paris attacks: Silicon Valley in crosshairs over encryption

February 18, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Apps, Computers, Customer Service, data security, Email, Hackers, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

Grief over the Paris attacks will soon make way to demands for action.

Grief over the Paris attacks will soon make way to demands for action.

As well as increased military activity, and the controversial suggestions to close the door on refugees, the next battle in the “surely something can be done” arena will be aimed squarely, and angrily, at Silicon Valley.

Tech companies were already under pressure to make it easier for governments to access “private” communication apps and services. Those calls have intensified greatly since the attacks in Paris.

The “problem” is to do with encryption.

Without encryption, all of the things we do online would be insecure, be it emailing, or shopping, or banking. They all rely on the principle that if you encrypt data using complex mathematics it is nigh-on impossible to crack.

If you’re using communication apps such as WhatsApp, Apple’s iMessage, WeChat and so on, your messages are encrypted by default.

It means that even if those companies wanted to hand over your messages to law enforcement, they couldn’t.

“There are a lot of technological capabilities that are available right now that make it exceptionally difficult, both technically as well as legally, for intelligence and security services to have the insight they need to uncover it,” said CIA director John Brennan at a security forum on Monday.

“And I do think this is a time for particularly Europe, as well as here in the United States, for us to take a look and see whether or not there have been some inadvertent or intentional gaps that have been created in the ability of intelligence and security services to protect the people that they are asked to serve.”

An opinion column in the New York Times, authored by Manhattan’s district attorney, and the City of London Police commissioner, said “encryption blocks justice”.

In the piece, published back in August, they wrote about a murder near Chicago in which a father of six had been shot. At the scene, officers found two mobile phones. But they were passcode locked. Neither Google or Apple (the phones ran their software) could unlock the phones, and therefore the data was inaccessible.

“On behalf of crime victims the world over,” the opinion piece read, “we are asking whether this encryption is truly worth the cost.”

It’s an argument that can be made with more vigour than ever after the Paris attacks.

With access to communications, the anti-encryption advocates say, we could perhaps stop these tragic events from occurring. That’s a claim worth scrutinising.

It’s early days in the investigation, and no evidence has yet been offered to show that encrypted communications were used to organise the atrocity.

But technology industry is, on the whole, against the suggestion that law enforcement should have “backdoors” into popular services – the term given to a hidden way of circumventing the app’s security.

A backdoor, in the infosec world, is the term given to a method in which a supposedly secure system can be accessed. It could be a quirk in some code, or a vulnerability in how a system communicates. Whatever the weakness, typically, once backdoors are made public, they are fixed.

Hackers make serious money by discovering backdoors and selling them on – often to government security services.

Many in law enforcement and government feel there should be a backdoor made just for those in authority to investigate and stop criminals and terrorists.

But some of tech’s most influential figures say that the notion of a secure, secret backdoor is dangerously misguided.

If any backdoor exists, hackers will find it eventually. It would mean data security for all of us, not just criminals, would evaporate.

 

Cost concerns over web spying proposals

February 13, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, data security, Dr Search, Google, internet, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

Disentangling data can be difficult and costly, say net experts.

Disentangling data can be difficult and costly, say net experts

UK MPs are investigating what it will cost ISPs to meet government proposals to log where Britons go online.

The House of Commons Science and Technology committee is looking at whether gathering data on net-using citizens is even feasible. It also wants to look into the potential impact that logging browsing will have on how people use the web.

The consultation comes as questions mount over the money the government will set aside to support monitoring.

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill) was unveiled last week and it attempts to update the way the state, police and spies gather data to fight crime, terrorism and other threats.

One of the most contentious aspects of the IP Bill obliges ISPs to record information about the services, websites and data every UK citizen uses. These “Internet

The Science and Technology committee has said it wants to look more deeply into this and its potential cost.

In a notice announcing the inquiry, the Committee said it wanted to find out if it was possible for ISPs to meet the IP Bill’s requirements. The text of the Bill asks ISPs to log where people go but not what they do when on a site or using a service.

MPs also want to find out how easy it is for ISPs to separate data about a visit to a site from what happens once people log in, because more stringent rules govern who can discover what people do on a site as opposed to the sites they use.

The Committee will also look at how much it might cost the providers to do this.

The government has said it will provide £175m to ISPs over 10 years to pay for data to be gathered and stored.

ISPs watch the flows of data across their networks to help manage traffic, he said, but they typically only sample these streams because they deal with such massive quantities of information every day.

How to protect your online brand against cybersquatters

February 02, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, Google, internet, Uncategorized

Cybersquatting is buying up website addresses, or domain names, that sound very similar to existing well known brand names.

 

When Google recently launched its new parent company Alphabet, and the abc.xyz web address, there were more than 20,000 registrations by people attempting to take advantage, registering names like googlefiber.xyz or googledocs.xyz.

And in January, eBay won one of the largest cybersquatting cases, winning the ownership of more than 1,000 domains that had used its trademark.

Protecting your brand name online is of critical business importance for smaller companies as well.

The potential for cybersquatting has grown since the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the international body responsible for co-ordinating all these addresses – began issuing hundreds of new generic top level domains (gTLDs), such as .xyz, and .nyc, as well as controversial ones like .sucks and .porn.

When ICANN proposed allowing these new generic top level domains, the trademark world was not receptive to that idea because they were so concerned about cybersquatting and poaching. Those concerns would appear to have been justified.

People were “just overwhelmed” by the number of gTLDs becoming available.

In the distant history you had .biz or .info and things like this coming online in a small round of five or six new gTLDs. Now the burden of protecting your brand online is potentially much higher as more extensions become available.

So how do you protect your brand online?

Registering it as a trademark is a good first step as it gives you more rights over related web addresses.

Under ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) rules, a domain registry must provide a “sunrise period,” during which trademarked brands registered in the TMCH can buy domains before they are publicly available.

Simply buying up lots of addresses that are variations of your brand name is one option. But this can get expensive for a small business, as domains can vary in price from 99p to several thousand pounds.

GoDaddy, a web hosting company, says: “Really, nobody has to go out and buy hundreds of domain names across their brands and keywords to protect themselves. Be thoughtful about the handful of names that are most important to you and think about registering those – ones that if you saw in the hands of your closest competitor, you wouldn’t be happy about it.”

If you think a cybersquatter has bought a domain name that infringes your trademark, you can go through ICANN’s uniform domain name dispute resolution (UDRP) system to have your case heard by a panel of experts.

“The UDRP keeps people out of court,” says the WIPO. “If you’re sitting in the United States and there’s somebody in Vietnam that’s squatting on your brand, you don’t have to go a local court.”

Another option is the uniform rapid suspension (URS) system, which is a “lighter version.”

At the end of the UDRP process, I get the domain back in my portfolio and keep it out of the hands of other infringers. Under the URS though, it just gets suspended or taken down for the duration of the registration period.

The brand owner then has the choice of trying to obtain the domain in the future or waiting to see if anyone takes it again.

The cybersquatting issue is likely to keep lawyers and dispute resolution panels busy for years to come.

TalkTalk hack to cost up to £35m

January 10, 2016 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, Hackers, internet, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The cyber-attack on TalkTalk could cost it up to £35m in one-off costs, the company has said.

The cyber-attack on TalkTalk could cost it up to £35m in one-off costs, the company has said.

Following the hack, which divulged some 255,000 users’ financial details, all customers of the telecoms group will be offered a free upgrade.

Chief executive Dido Harding said that despite the hack, TalkTalk was “well positioned to deliver strong and sustainable long-term growth”.

The firm expects still full year results to be in line with market expectations.

TalkTalk shares were still down more than 20% compared with their pre-hack value.

She added that in recognition of the uncertainty that this had caused customers, they would be offered an upgrade.

A spokesperson said the type of upgrade offered would depend on the kind of package customers already had. For example, customers with TV packages might be offered a sports channel that they did not already have.

Customers who were financially affected directly will be free to leave TalkTalk without financial penalty. They would have to be able to show they had lost money as a result of the hack.

Customers who wish to leave for a different reason – for example, if they feel their data is not secure – would still have to pay a contract termination fee.

Some of TalkTalk’s millions of customers might have been angry enough to try to terminate their contracts when the telecommunications company first revealed details of a major data security breach last month.

But, with contracts for mobile, fixed line, broadband and television services of up to two years (always worth looking at those few lines at the bottom of the paperwork) customers found they couldn’t leave TalkTalk without incurring hefty costs.

When Dido Harding, the chief executive, first announced two weeks ago that customers would only be able to leave if they could show a “direct impact” on their bank account – a pretty high bar – investors heaved a sigh of relief and TalkTalk’s share price bounced up.

It was up again this morning – by more than 12% – as the half-year results revealed that TalkTalk was still expected to make £300m profit before tax this year. And that revenues were up 6%.

On 21 October, hackers attacked TalkTalk’s website, stealing confidential customer data including passwords and bank accounts.

The firm was initially uncertain as to the extent of the hack, but after an investigation it said last week that 157,000 of its customers’ personal details had been accessed.

Ms Harding told the BBC that it was “too early to tell” what the longer-term impact of the breach would be on the business.

“We of course saw an immediate spike in customers cancelling their direct debit, but actually after a few days we saw many of those customers reinstating their direct debits again, so time will tell, but the early signs are that customers think we are doing the right thing,” she told BBC business editor Kamal Ahmed.

Fast circuit maker wins Dyson award

December 12, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

A high speed printer that can produce circuit boards in minutes has won the Dyson engineering award.

A high speed printer that can produce circuit boards in minutes has won the Dyson engineering award.

The Voltera One aims to speed up how quickly engineers can test designs for novel hardware. The laptop-sized Voltera V-One uses different inks to turn circuit board designs into working prototypes.

It won the prize because of its great potential for speeding up the hardware design process.

The global Dyson competition aims to reward engineering students who create devices that solve real world problems.

Jesus Zozaya, Alroy Ameida, James Pickard and Katarina Ilic, from the University of Waterloo, in Canada, win £30,000 cash to help them finish making the Voltera V-One.

They have also raised more than £331,000 on crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

James Dyson said they were “impressive” and looked set to make prototyping “easier and more accessible”.

Mr Almeida said: “When we first started the company, we spoke to many experts who told us we were too ambitious and that it was impossible to create a tool that could effectively prototype circuits.”

The Voltera works by laying down different types of inks – one conducting and one insulating – to form a two-layer circuit board.

It can also dispense solder on to the board so individual components can be added to quickly make working hardware.

Runners-up include:

Express Dive – a small, self-contained unit used to stay underwater for far longer than a snorkel will allow
Green Fairy – biodegradable beads loaded with micro-organisms that can consume algal blooms that, if left unchecked, can denude rivers and lakes of fish and plant life