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Swiss email firm pays web attack ransom

December 06, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Email, Hackers, internet, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

A secure email firm, based in Switzerland, has paid a ransom of more than £3,600 after web attacks crippled its website.

A secure email firm, based in Switzerland, has paid a ransom of more than £3,600 after web attacks crippled its website.

The anonymous network behind Bitcoins has made the virtual cash popular with cyber thieves.

The hi-tech criminals behind the web attacks said the payment would stop the deluge of data hitting the site. But despite paying up, the web attacks continued, leaving Protonmail struggling to operate.

It has now launched a fund-raising drive to raise cash to tackle any future attacks.

In a blogpost, Protonmail said it received an email on 3 December that contained a threat to attack its website unless it paid a ransom of 15 bitcoins (£3,640).

Protonmail did not respond to the message and, soon afterwards, was hit by what is known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. This tries to knock a server offline by bombarding it with more data than it can handle.

Protonmail is a free, web-based, encrypted email service that needs its site up and running to serve customers.

The first attack knocked out Protonmail for about 15 minutes and then stopped. A second attack the next day was much bigger and overwhelmed efforts by the email firm and its ISP to stop it.

“This co-ordinated assault on key infrastructure eventually managed to bring down both the datacenter and the ISP, which impacted hundreds of other companies, not just Protonmail,” it said on the blog.

In a bid to halt the attack, Protonmail said it “grudgingly” paid the 15 bitcoin ransom.

However, it said, this did not stop the attacks which continued to cause problems for many other firms.

Eventually, Protonmail’s ISP took action to remove the company’s site from the net to stem the flow of data.

Post-attack analysis suggests Protonmail was targeted in two phases, the company said. The first aided the ransom demand but the second was “not afraid of causing massive collateral damage in order to get at us”.

Switzerland’s national Computer Emergency Response Team (Cert), which helped Protonmail cope, said the attack was carried out by a cybercrime group known as the Armada Collective. This group has also targeted many other Swiss web companies over the last few weeks, the team said.

It said anyone who received ransom email should not pay up. Instead, they should talk to their ISPs about the best way to defend themselves against attacks.

Protonmail said that despite its work to harden itself against attack, it was still vulnerable to DDoS data deluges. It said it planned to sign up with a commercial service that can defend against the attacks but this would be likely to cost it more than £66,000 a year. It has started a fund-raising drive to gather the cash to pay this fee.

New payment systems taking off

November 19, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Customer Service, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The use of new electronic payment systems are rapidly growing

The use of new electronic payment systems are rapidly growing

Consumers have never had a broader choice of ways to spend their money:

conventional credit and debit cards
contactless or “tap-to-pay” cards
digital wallets on smart phones and smart watches.

As well as Google’s Android Pay and Apple’s Apple Pay, South Korean smartphone maker Samsung plans the UK launch of its own contactless system, Samsung Pay, in the near future.

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For small UK businesses this poses quite a challenge: 40% don’t even accept conventional card payments today, let alone contactless technologies.

Yet consumers want to use them: contactless transactions more than tripled in the last year, from payments worth £653 million in 2013 to £2.32 billion in 2014.

In the past, businesses have had to pay fixed monthly fees for card capabilities, making them too expensive for many small businesses.

And the long contracts were a particular problem in the rapidly growing pop-up retail sector where shops and restaurants come and go quickly.

A recent report from telecoms company EE and the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that Britain’s pop-up sector grew by 12.3% last year.

The only likely security risk is that a retailer is fooled into downloading malware onto their phone or tablet which could intercept the card payment details.

Some see the solution is to use one of the new breed of card reader devices that link to a smart phone or tablet running a sales app and providing internet connectivity.

These devices are either free or low cost. The companies that provide them – iZettle, PayPal, Payleven, SumUp, for example – charge a percentage of each transaction (typically around 2% to 3%), with no long contract or monthly fee.

Crucially, that figure is below the £30 limit for contactless card payments, and contactless transactions now make up about 30% of sales.

In common with most card readers of this type, the iZettle device comes with software that runs on a smart phone or tablet to manage transactions and generate sales reports.

Are homes about to get a lot smarter with the Internet Of Things?

November 09, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, internet, Online Marketing, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

Gartner forecasts that there could be more than 500 Internet Of Things connected devices in the home by 2022

Gartner forecasts that there could be more than 500 Internet Of Things connected devices in the home by 2022

Gartner has just launched a report highlighting the huge business opportunity of teh Internet Of Things- which it believes the connected home presents for retailers, insurers, manufacturers, utilities and telecoms companies.

Theyrealised that the smart home will be a mass market – 50% to 80% of people say they’re interested in smart home services.

We could end up paying Ä5 to Ä10 a month, which equates to more than £11 billion (Ä15bn, $17bn) a year in Western Europe by 2019.

His firm is developing an open platform, similar to Samsung’s SmartThings, to act as a gateway for all these connected gadgets, from motion-detecting lighting systems to smart energy meters.

Nearly 40 partners, including big names such as Philips, Bosch, Sonos and Samsung, have signed up to the platform so far.

BMW is already testing car-to-home communications in its 7 Series luxury saloon.

But it seems we’ve been talking about the connected home for years. Why hasn’t it taken off yet?

Well, we didn’t have smartphones, fast home wi-fi or a wide-enough selection of gadgets equipped with networked computer chips. Now, the conditions maybe rightm

Smart meters and thermostats – given an added push by governments – will be able to regulate energy usage in the home, and it’s this ability to save on heating and electricity bills which will be one of the key drivers of growth in connected home technology, he believes.

As more of us use smartphones and apps, retailers and manufacturers are gaining confidence that there is a market for connected products.

But the service most likely to propel the smart home into the mainstream is home security, some believe.

US telecoms giant AT&T is building its Digital Life smart home product around security, offering subscribers video cameras, window and door opening sensors, remote door locking, and motion detectors, all operable from a smartphone, tablet or PC.

In the UK about 30% of homes have some kind of home alarm, and about 10% of those pay monthly for a professional home security service.

But lack of interoperability could be one reason why the smart home boom takes longer to happen than some analysts and tech companies are forecasting.

First 8K TV screen to be put on sale by Sharp in Autumn

October 26, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Customer Service, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The high resolution of 8K screens means you can stand very close to them without seeing the individual pixels

The high resolution of 8K screens means you can stand very close to them without seeing the individual pixels

Although several companies have developed “super hi-vision” resolution test models, this is the first such TV to be made commercially available.

The 8K format provides 16 times as many pixels as 1080p high definition. It creates an image so detailed that it can appear three-dimensional.

However, the 85in device’s 16m yen ($133,000; £86,000) price is likely to limit sales.

Interest is expected to come mainly from broadcasters and other companies involved in testing the format.

One analyst suggested it would not become a serious proposition for members of the public until the turn of the decade.

Japan’s NHK is the only broadcaster so far to announce plans to create and broadcast 8K content.

Japan’s a region in which the average size of TVs sold tends to be smaller, and we think the minimum size 8K TVs would be sold at would be 65in.

So for the time being, he expected manufacturers to focus their efforts on trying to convince families to buy 4K sets instead.

They provide a quarter of the resolution of 8K, but are being made in sizes of up to about 100in to create “cinema-like” experiences in the home.

Due to technological restraints, owners of Sharp’s LV-85001 will have to use workarounds to take advantage of its full capabilities.

Its built-in TV tuner cannot actually receive broadcasts in 8K. Instead, video has to be fed in via four separate HDMI cables, which are needed to handle the quantities of data involved.

The resulting image delivers 104 pixels per inch.

That is about a fifth of the density of modern high-end smartphone displays, but is more than enough to allow people to read relatively small-sized text or make out intricate details when standing close to the screen.

MI5 boss warns of cyber terror risk

October 17, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Cyber Security, Personal Security, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The serving boss of the UK’s home security agency told the Today programme it was becoming more difficult to obtain online information.

The serving boss of the UK's home security agency told the Today programme it was becoming more difficult to obtain online information.

Advances in technology are allowing terrorists to communicate “out of the reach of authorities”, head of MI5 Andrew Parker has told the BBC.

He said internet companies had an “ethical responsibility” to alert agencies to potential threats. But MI5 was not about “browsing the lives” of the public, he added.

Ministers are preparing legislation on the powers for carrying out electronic surveillance. Mr Parker, in the first live interview by a serving MI5 boss, said what should be included in new legislation was a matter “for Parliament to decide”.

MI5 boss Mr Parker also told the BBC:

The terrorism threat is the “most serious threat Britain faces in security terms”
Six alleged terror plots have been foiled in the past 12 months, which Mr Parker said was the highest number he could recall in his 32-year career “certainly the highest number since 9/11”
MI5 had to “make choices” about where to put resources, and make sure they were “focused where the sharpest threat is”
On the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby: “There cannot be a guarantee that we will find and stop everything. That’s not possible. We can’t monitor them all the time.”
He rejected the suggestion that security service tactics can lead to radicalisation saying it was “completely untrue”
He paid tribute to the people who work at MI5 and their work “which so often goes unrecognised”

He said online data encryption was creating a situation where the police and intelligence agencies “can no longer obtain under proper legal warrant the communication of people they believe to be terrorists”.

It was a “very serious” issue, he said, adding: “It’s in nobody’s interests that terrorists should be able to plot and communicate out of the reach of authorities.”

The overall context is a terrorist threat, that MI5 says is growing, technological change and recent concerns over privacy and surveillance.

The question of whether new legislation will maintain existing capabilities against a backdrop of technological change or provide new powers will not be clear until the detail is revealed.

Much of the communications material MI5 needs is held abroad, often by US companies, and he made clear he would like more co-operation from them.

There is recognition from the security and intelligence services that justifying their intrusive capabilities will require more transparency.

That openness may be provided not just by legislation but also by speaking publicly and even coming into a BBC studio.

Mr Parker said the shape of the terror threat had changed “because of the internet and the way terrorists use social media”.

He said they were using secure and encrypted apps and the internet to “broadcast their message and incite terrorism among people who live here”.

The UK’s terror threat is rated as “severe”, which means an attack is highly likely.

Big banks consider using Bitcoin blockchain technology

October 07, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Blogs, Customer Service, Google, internet, Search Clinic, Uncategorized

The basic technology underpinning the Bitcoin virtual currency could be used by some of the world’s biggest banks.

The basic technology underpinning the Bitcoin virtual currency could be used by some of the world's biggest banks.

Nine banks, including Barclays and Goldman Sachs, may adopt the blockchain system that logs who spends which virtual coins in an ever-expanding computer equivalent of a ledger.

The banks want to use the blockchain method because it is hard to fool – making fraud more difficult.

It could also speed up trading systems and make deals more transparent.

The project to test blockchain-like technology is being led by financial technology firm R3 which has signed nine banks up to the initiative.

The other seven are JP Morgan, State Street, UBS, Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse, BBVA and Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

Technical meetings with the banks had prompted discussion of how it could be used within banks’ trading arms.

For Bitcoin, the blockchain acts as a globally-distributed ledger that logs transactions. Everyone involved with the virtual currency contributes to the way the blockchain verifies each deal. The sheer number of people involved makes it very hard for one bitcoin user to get fraudulent deals verified and approved.

Despite this, Bitcoin has been hit by a series of scandals and thefts although most of these came about because hackers exploited weaknesses on exchanges where coins are traded or in digital wallets where they are held.

The banks were most interested in the technical architecture underpinning the blockchain that could be adapted for their own ends. The first place the blockchain was likely to find a role was as a log of who bought which stocks or shares, he said.

By adopting the technology banks could cut the cost of reporting transactions and working out who bought what and when, he added.

No timetable has been given for when technical trials of the blockchain-like technology might begin.

Facebook has a billion users in a single day, says Mark Zuckerberg

September 25, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Broadband, Browser, Computers, Customer Service, Facebook, Google, internet, Search Clinic, Social Media, Social Networking, Uncategorized

For the first time over a billion people used Facebook on a single day, according to company founder Mark Zuckerberg.

For the first time over a billion people used Facebook on a single day, according to company founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The “milestone” was reached when “1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family”, he said in a post.

Facebook has nearly 1.5 billion users who log in at least once a month, but this was the most in a single day.

The company gained its billionth user in October 2012. It was founded in 2004 by Mr Zuckerberg while he was a Harvard student.

In his post on Thursday, he predicted that Facebook’s reach would continue to grow.

“This was the first time we reached this milestone, and it’s just the beginning of connecting the whole world,” Mr Zuckerberg wrote.

In July, Facebook claimed that over half of the world’s online users visited the site at least once a month.

It was only back in October 2012 when Facebook first announced it had one billion users using the site at least once a month – and now, just under three years later, the site has managed to pull in that many in a single day.

The question is how can it continue to grow? Surely it will plateau at some point, right? Yes – but we’re a long way off that.

In Facebook’s headquarters in California on the wall a map of the world highlighted the countries with lots of Facebook users.

Sure, the US, Europe and India are almost at peak Facebook. But there are huge gaps – Africa, much of Asia, some of Latin America. That’s where Facebook is focused on now.

One billion in a day? No big deal.

Can technology keep us safe from nuisance drones?

September 15, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Computers, Cyber Security, Google, Personal Security, Uncategorized

A minority of irresponsible users has been flying drones too close to aeroplanes and helicopters; wandering into restricted military airspace; spying on neighbours; disrupting sporting events; and even injuring people.

A minority of irresponsible users has been flying drones too close to aeroplanes and helicopters; wandering into restricted military airspace; spying on neighbours; disrupting sporting events; and even injuring people.

Regulators and law enforcers are struggling to cope with the growth in their popularity, increasing the likelihood that heavy-handed legislation could stifle innovation in a sector that has great commercial potential for businesses large and small.

Drones are already being used extensively by farmers to monitor the health of their crops and livestock. Multi-spectral cameras can analyse the level of moisture in the soil, plant health, and spot areas of blight or insect infestation. This saves them time and money and can help improve crop yields.

Advanced drones equipped with high-definition rotatable cameras, anti-shake technology, and the ability to track fast-moving action, are offering spectacular aerial photography and film-making capabilities for the news and creative media sectors.

Drones can reach places that are difficult and dangerous for humans to get to, and this is proving very useful in industry. Drones are now inspecting oil rigs, gas pipelines, electricity networks, chimneys, wind turbines, nuclear facilities, roofs – even underwater structures and cables. They are also useful for creating 3D maps of rural and urban landscapes.

The latest drones also allow users to specify the geo-fence area, reducing the chance of inexperienced pilots losing control and flying their drones into people or buildings.

While “return-to-home” and geo-fencing features are a step in the right direction, the proliferation of drones in our skies is likely to need a more comprehensive approach to policing and safety.

In the US, Nasa (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) is co-ordinating the development of a traffic management system for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that fly below 500ft (152m).

When there are hundreds of low-flying drones carrying out a range of duties, from deliveries to traffic monitoring, disaster relief to building inspections, we are going to need “sense-and-avoid” systems so they don’t crash into each other, as well as flight corridors similar to those used by passenger aircraft.

Such a system will also need bang up-to-date terrain maps, dynamic route planning and weather data integration. Not surprisingly then, Nasa thinks a prototype of its traffic management system will not be ready before 2019.

But how do you police drone use effectively?

The CAA regulations are clear: the operator of a hobby drone must keep the drone in sight at all times and not fly it above 400ft. If it’s a surveillance drone, you cannot fly it over or within 150m of any congested area or organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 people.

But given that the latest, most sophisticated drones have a range of up to two miles and can be programmed to fly automatically along prescribed routes, enforcing such rules is no easy task.

Only a few irresponsible drone users have been prosecuted so far around the world, and no-one has yet been sent to prison.

Until the police have the means to identify drones remotely, and access to a central database of owners, it is hard to see how they will be able to catch the growing number of miscreants.

Android’s biggest update ever to fix security flaws

August 24, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Android, Cyber Security, data security, Google, Hackers, mobile phones, Samsung, Uncategorized

Last month a major bug was discovered in the Android software that could let hijackers access data on up to a billion phones.

Last month a major bug was discovered in the Android software that could let hijackers access data on up to a billion phones.

Samsung, LG and Google have pledged to provide monthly security updates for smartphones running the Android operating system.
Manufacturers have been slow to roll out a fix because many variations of Android are widely used.
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One Android expert said it was “about time” phone makers issued security fixes more quickly as Android is the most widely-used mobile operating system

Android has been working to patch a vulnerability, known as Stagefright, which could let hackers access a phone’s data simply by sending somebody a video message.

“My guess is that this is the single largest software update the world has ever seen,” said Adrian Ludwig, Android’s lead engineer for security, at hacking conference Black Hat.

LG, Samsung and Google have all said a number of their handsets will get the fix, with further updates every month.

Android is an open source operating system, with the software freely available for phone manufacturers to modify and use on their handsets.

The Google-led project does provide security fixes for the software, but phone manufacturers are responsible for sending the updates to their devices.

Some phones running old versions of Android are no longer updated by the manufacturer. Many companies also deploy customised versions of Android which take time to rebuild with the security changes.

Apple and BlackBerry can patch security problems more quickly because they develop both the software and the hardware for their devices.

BlackBerry’s software is reviewed by mobile networks before being sent to handsets, while Apple can push updates to its phones whenever it wants.
Some phone-makers add their own software to Android

“The very nature of Android is that manufacturers add their own software on top, so there have been delays in software roll-outs,” said Jack Parsons, editor of Android Magazine.

“In the US it’s even worse because mobile carriers often add their own software too, adding another layer of bureaucracy holding up security fixes.

First 3D printed pill approved by US authorities

August 14, 2015 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Blogs, Computers, Google, internet, Search Clinic, Tablets, Uncategorized

In a world first, the US Food and Drug Administration has given the go-ahead for a 3D-printed pill to be produced.

First 3D printed pill approved by US authorities

3D printed pills could pave way for bespoke medicines for individual patients. The FDA has previously approved medical devices – including prosthetics – that have been 3D printed.

The new drug, dubbed Spritam, was developed by Aprecia Pharmaceuticals to control seizures brought on by epilepsy. The company said that it planned to develop other medications using its 3D platform.

Printing the drugs allows layers of medication to be packaged more tightly in precise dosages.

A separate technology developed by the firm, known as ZipDose, makes high dose medications easier to swallow.

Printing the drug meant it could package up to 1,000 milligrams into individual tablets.

The 3D-printed pill dissolves in the same manner as other oral medicines.

Being able to 3D print a tablet offers the potential to create bespoke drugs based on the specific needs of patients, rather than having a one product fits all approach, according to experts.

“For the last 50 years we have manufactured tablets in factories and shipped them to hospitals and for the first time this process means we can produce tablets much closer to the patient,” said Dr Mohamed Albed Alhnan, a lecturer in pharmaceutics at the University of Central Lancashire.

It would mean that medical institutions could adjust the dose for individual patients with just a simple tweak to the software before printing. Previously, such personalised medicine would have been extremely expensive to produce, said Dr Alhnan.

3D printing works by creating an object layer by layer. In the case of medicines, printers are adapted to produce pharmaceutical compounds rather than polymers which are more usually used.

Such methods are already proving very useful in healthcare with doctors using the system to create customised implants for patients with injuries or other conditions.

And dentists, for example, use 3D printers to create replica jaws and teeth as well as other dental implants.

Spritam will launch in the first quarter of 2016, according to Aprecia.