Bank’s Voice Recognition Fooled By Twin

Last week, BBC Click reporter Dan Simmons reported that he had been able to fool HSBC’s biometric voice recognition system by passing his brother’s voice off as his own.

What Happened?

In an experiment that was filmed for the BBC Click technology digest TV programme, Mr Simmons initially set up an account with his own voice password, and then allowed his non-identical twin brother Joe to use the voice recognition account access procedure.

Despite claims that voice recognition is secure because of the unique aspects of each person’s voice, Joe’s voice was wrongly identified and authenticated as being Dan’s, and Joe was then granted access to his brother Dan’s bank account.

This granted him access to transfer and withdraw funds from the account, although this was not actually attempted.

Seven Attempts

Quite apart from the worrying fact that the voice recognition system could be fooled (albeit by a twin), the security procedure actually allowed the twin seven attempts before finally accessing his brother’s account using only his voiceprint.

Introduced By HSBC Last Year

Voice recognition software has been around for some years and was rolled out by Barclays in 2013. Other High Street Banks followed suit, with the expectation that by the end of this year, millions of banking customers will be using it.

A voice–based security system was first introduced by HSBC in 2016, and was designed to quantify 100 different attributes and traits of the human voice, used to validate a user’s identity.

When accessing HSBC and other High Street banking systems, a customer only needs to give their date of birth, account details, and then the command “My voice is my password”.

As each person’s voice is unique and always available (unless you’ve lost your voice of course), the system should be able to recognise a voice on the first attempt.

How It Works

In the same way that your fingerprint is unique, your voice is totally individual to you. Hackers and fraudsters may use their resourcefulness to guess or steal your passwords and PINs, but it should be impossible for your voice to be replicated.

Voice ID systems work by checking more than 100 physical and behavioural voice peculiarities, including the emphasis you place on certain words, the shape and size of your mouth, plus other less known physical and behavioural individualities.

HSBC To Increase Security

As a result of the recent “twin” findings, HSBC has now said that it intends to intensify the sensitivity of the software. Despite their discomfort of being duped by a BBC reporter and his twin, security experts still uphold that biometric voice recognition is undoubtedly a more effective and more secure means of accessing your bank account than using more traditional passwords.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The stubbornly high levels of cyber crime, as highlighted by many high-profile attacks including the recent WannaCry ransomware attack have led businesses to give greater priority to cyber and data security. Businesses would like (and expect) trusted institutions, such as banks, to give their security (on and offline) a very high degree of priority.

Some banks have notoriously old IT systems though, and many banks have been subject to attacks in recent times e.g. when money was actually taken from 9,000 Tesco current accounts earlier this year.

Password verification / authentication is known to be less secure than multi-stage and biometric security systems. A YouGov / GMX study back in August 2016, however, showed that UK people have a number of trust concerns about biometrics ranging from concerns about the providers to the technology itself.

Even though biometrics should be much more secure in theory, this report of a failure of a seemingly foolproof system will do nothing to improve the trust that business and home customers have in biometric banking security systems. Despite trust issues however, many customers accept that biometrics are still an important next step to beat the fraudsters, and that the loophole uncovered now in the voice-recognition system could mean that this avenue is now closed to fraudsters.

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New 160 Terabytes Memory Machine

Hewlett Packard has reportedly unveiled a prototype computer with a massive 160TB of memory, enough to analyse the equivalent of 160 million books at the same time.

World’s Largest

Simply named “The Machine”, the Linux-based computer is thought to be the world’s largest single memory computer. The fact that the focus of the computer’s development has been placed upon memory rather than processing is thought to make it ideal for managing ‘Big Data’.

What Is Big Data?

Big Data refers to very large data sets, the fast and effective analysis of which by computers could reveal patterns and trends that have a value (usually commercially).

Big Data is essentially about empowering your company to make better, more accurate and faster choices about how best to run your sales, marketing and operations. From a sales point of view, for example, it can be harnessed to get that bit closer to your customers.

More Powerful And More Efficient

HP’s research division has developed “The Machine” with the idea that it would be more powerful than current products and certainly more energy efficient, thereby delivering greater value while keeping costs down.

This new, pioneering computer is part of a new dynasty of computers that use a different type of computer memory rather than the two current transferring methods that other computers employ.

New Operating System + Single Memory

The initial operating system for the new computer was designated to be Linux++ and then ultimately be replaced with “Carbon”, a unique system that developers designed from scratch that uses only a single memory for both short-term and long-term data storage. The new computer also benefits from the use of optical-fibre rather than copper wire to move data around.

Special Chip

The Machine’s OS is designed to work with a special nanoscale chip called the “Memristor” that consists of a stack of thin layers of tantalum oxide and other materials with a grid of wires that meet at each junction.

Leading To “Memory-Less” Design In Future

Designed to compete with the servers used by corporate networks and the expertise of internet companies such as Facebook and Google, HP designers suggest that this computer’s development could enable them to produce a version that is adapted for smaller devices in the future, thus providing the enticing prospect of as “memory-less” computer.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses now collect large amounts of data that can often only be of any commercial use if it can be properly managed, analysed, and translated into value-adding, cost-saving and differentiating changes to marketing. Companies that are able (and can afford) to use powerful, new generation computers designed with big data in mind, are the ones who can perhaps build a valuable and hard-to-copy competitive advantage from it in the marketplace.

More computer companies are now developing products and services to enable businesses to manage large amounts of data and / or to use superior processing power to innovate and overcome traditional challenges. Back in March for example, IBM announced that, for the first time, it was giving companies the chance to use a quantum computer (via the cloud) through its IBM Q service, thus enabling businesses to solve highly complex problems.

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Dump Your Provider By Text

If Ofcom’s new automated ‘text to switch’ plan comes to fruition, mobile phone customers will be able to ditch their current provider just by sending them a text.

What’s The Problem?

Delivering exceptional customer service is now a key differentiator in business, and companies that don’t go the ‘extra mile’ quickly find they lose customers to those that do.

Ensuring customer satisfaction however, does not seem to be a high priority in every sector of the economy. Utilities and telecommunications are often considered to be behind the game when it comes to adequately servicing their customers.
If you’ve ever tried to move your mobile contract to a new provider will know how difficult this can be. The process often seems overly complex, with numerous contract stipulations that make trying to change a costly and difficult experience.
In fact, around 2.5 million of us who have tried to switch or cancel a contract encountered at least one major difficulty when doing so. As a result, many phone users stay with their current mobile provider, and endure less than ideal service, rather than go through the trauma of moving to another.

Dumped By Text

After putting forward plans earlier this year to automatically compensate customers who experience slow broadband repairs or missed appointments by engineers, phone regulator Ofcom, has now turned its attention to the mobile phone industry.

If Ofcom’s proposals become reality however, then in future mobile phone customers will be able to dump their current provider just by sending them a text. No more tortuous calls to someone who seems intent on doing all they can to make it as difficult as possible for you to leave.

Under Ofcom’s new automated ‘text to switch’ plan once a provider receives your ‘goodbye text’ they must text back information about any termination fees, outstanding handset costs and account balance.

Supply PAC Code In One Working Day

Most importantly, your newly dumped ‘ex’ provider will have to supply the Porting Authorisation Code (PAC), needed by your new provider, who will also be obligated to get you up and running as a customer within just one working day!

No Additional Charges

Under the Ofcom plan, phone providers would also be prevented from making additional charges after your switch date. Collectively, this could save Britain’s mobile users around £10m every year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For the 93% of us who own or use a mobile phone, this can only be good news. Mobile communications are now vital to modern businesses, and the quality, content and pricing of the mobile services offered by providers to businesses can be an important factor in the competitiveness of those businesses.

Business customers being able to switch more quickly and easily should, therefore, motivate mobile phone companies to improve their customer service, and provide services that add more value for lower prices.

For many businesses broadband speed is an important issue, and for example, 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.

The recent introduction of ‘Voom Fibre’ from Virgin Business, which offers SMEs the chance to benefit from a broadband speed of 350Mbps, is just the sort of thing that is likely to trigger switching by many businesses.

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No … For Net Neutrality

The current Net Neutrality regulations, set in 2015 and designed to force ISPs to treat all data traffic as equal, have been overturned by two-to-one in a vote by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

What Is Net Neutrality?

The idea of having an Open Internet means that individuals and organisations should be able to easily access and use all of its resources. Part of ensuring that this can happen involves making sure that certain principles are adhered to, one of which (along with open standards, transparency, no Internet censorship and low barriers to entry) is ‘Net Neutrality’.

Net Neutrality is the idea that public information networks like the Internet can function best for their users if all content and data (e.g. emails, digital audio files, digital video) is treated equally. If this is allowed to happen, it is believed that innovation and trade will be enhanced.

What Are Net Neutrality Rules?

In order to ensure that this could have a chance of happening, it was believed that ISPs needed to have rules / regulations imposed upon them to make sure that they didn’t prioritise and fast track some data over other data i.e. fast-tracking data that companies had paid more to reach customers more quickly. This behaviour is often referred to as ‘blocking’ and ‘throttling’ of data. In short, having common Net Neutrality rules could prevent access providers from deciding who ‘wins’ and ‘loses’ on the Internet.

This led to the introduction of Net Neutrality rules, but opposition (e.g. Comcast, along with Verizon and AT&T) meant that changes were made to the rules back in 2015.

In Europe, the first EU-wide Net Neutrality rules were adopted In October 2015.

Why The Vote To Overturn The Rules?

Objections to the rules back in 2015 centred around the idea that the rules acted like a kind of ‘big brother’ that potentially harmed jobs, discouraged investment, and may have negatively affected the enthusiasm of some ISPs to improve US broadband. Many commentators have noted that the changes made to the rules in 2015 rendered them less effective, and were the first stage of an obvious attempt to dismantle them.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

To allow fair competition and equal opportunities, there must be something that looks like an ‘equal playing field’ in place. Some Internet giants such as Facebook, and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) have publicly backed the open net rules and even after this decisive vote against having rules, US ISPs like Comcast, Charter Communications and Altice NV have all pledged in public statements to keep the data flowing freely. It has also been reported that one million statements supporting neutrality have been filed on the FCC website. It is clear therefore that, despite the vote, there is an understanding that sometimes, especially where individual commercial interests are concerned, the only thing that can really force organizations to behave in a certain way are the existence of rules and adherence to them.

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Who Really Benefits From Accelerated Mobile Pages?

Back in October 2015, Google announced that it was introducing a new open source initiative called Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in order to dramatically improve the performance of the mobile web. In May 2017, AMPs are still attracting criticism and the accusation that Google may be the only real beneficiary.

What Are AMPs?

Accelerated Mobile Pages are ‘light-weight’ web pages that are designed using existing technologies e.g. faster, optimized HTML and a faster Google page caching system, to allow them to work across multiple platforms and devices. The idea is that, even if web pages have rich content like video, animations and graphics, AMPs will be able to load instantaneously (alongside smart ads) on phone, tablet or mobile devices of all types.

What’s The Problem?

AMP has been designed for speed and simplicity, and as such, critics of the initiative have said that the limited layout options make AMP web pages appear rather undistinguished and bland.

Also, if your website hasn’t been professionally made, for example, Google isn’t able to cache your coded AMP Web pages unless they’re guaranteed free of HTML errors.

Critics also say that, if more people create pages in AMP, they are optimized specifically for Google, and are, therefore, locked-in to Google (rather like Google’s own version of Facebook). This could be construed as being rather the opposite of ‘open’.

Rather than having your own detailed analytics data for your web pages, using AMP also means that you can only have access to a small subset of the data that Google gathers. This could therefore give you a less informed view of your online business.

Other critics have also pointed out that the stripped-out, uniform appearance of AMP (everything looking the same in AMP) , and the endorsement of Google means that AMP could be open to abuse by those looking to spread fake news, or to publish (potentially high ranking) low-quality content.

Advantages of using AMP

Despite drawing a large amount of criticism, there are reports to show that mobile websites are able to appear on devices at almost instant speeds and up to 85% faster than standard mobile pages.

In addition to racking up shares and views, AMP could also ensure that more people will read your content. It is important to make the point, however, that AMP pages are likely to get higher priority in Google’s mobile search than other web pages.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Back in October 2016 StatCounter figures showed the mobile access overtaking desktop for the first time with 51.3% of global web traffic accessing the web using smart-phones and tablets. Just a look at your own website analytics should confirm that most of your business website visitors are likely to be using mobiles and tablets. It is therefore important to have pages which rank well in mobile search and load quickly onto mobile devices (in under 3 seconds if possible). AMP appears to offer these benefits but it seems that these may be offset slightly by having to present relatively bland-looking pages to potential customers, risking getting too locked-in to Google, and forgoing some important analytic insights.

It is still relatively early days for AMP, and it is in Google’s interest to ensure that the criticisms by businesses and technical commentators are heeded so that more businesses choose to use AMP.

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Report Blames Brexit Uncertainty For UK Tech Employment Challenges

A recent report by ‘Hired’ has shown that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit has made UK employers less likely to seek migrant tech employees, and has made less overseas tech workers seek jobs in the UK.

The Report

The report (gathered data from over 20,000 foreign candidates, 200 UK candidates and 850 clients) focused on the attitudes of foreign workers towards UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The study discovered that the number of foreign candidates looking for work in the UK had dropped by more than 50% and that representation of foreign job-seekers in their total talent pool had decreased by over 60%.

Additionally, offers from UK employers had dropped from 25% at the start of 2016 to just 18% over the period of just one year.

Brexit – Negative Impact On Tech Sector

In the survey of UK-based candidates, Hired found that 71% said that UK’s withdrawal from the tech sector in the EU would have a negative impact on the industry.

When surveying job concerns, Brexit now came at the top of the list, followed by happiness at work, personal development, and salary.

31% anticipated that it would become increasingly difficult to find a job in the coming year, and 77% of those surveyed were sure that the uncertainty would last for at least a year.

In the wake of Brexit, 70% of survey participants contemplated leaving Britain to relocate to other cities in Europe. North America and Australia were also popular choices.

Less Likely To Start A Business In The UK

The report also showed that confidence in starting a business in the UK has also been diminished, with 41% of all tech workers declaring that they would now be less likely to do so.

Employment commentators have noted that foreign workers are still very uncertain about their likely immigration status after Brexit, and tech commentators have suggested that UK companies should still continue to look at workers through the tier 2 skilled worker programme, which focuses on workers from outside the EU, as well as local talent.

Other Options

With an existing skills gap in the UK and with the potential for it to be exacerbated by Brexit, UK companies could consider other options. These could include broadening the pool of institutions from which companies hire, or looking for people with the right skills but perhaps no formal degree could be other options. In-house tests could be conducted to confirm skills or capability.

Brain Drain Could Follow

If tech businesses are discouraged from starting up in the UK as the report appears to suggest, this could lead to a ‘brain drain from the UK’ to Europe.

Temporary

The report makes worrying reading now, but the more optimistic and pro-Brexit commentators tech commentators appear to agree that foreign candidates and companies will regain confidence in immigration to the UK once Brexit has actually happened, and the rules UK government’s Brexit rules and conditions are more clear to all.

What Does Mean For Your Business?

If you are a tech business this could, of course, mean that from now on (and much more so if Brexit goes ahead) you could find it much more challenging to attract skilled people from overseas.

Salaries for tech workers in London may also need to be increased anyway in order to keep existing talent let alone attract overseas talent.

The falling numbers of computer science graduates here in the UK means that employers will have to consider the passion and commitment of prospective, self-taught staff members alongside formal qualifications.

It is not down to just businesses alone to deal with the fallout of Brexit uncertainty and to solve the skills gap challenge. The government, the education system and businesses need to find ways to work together to develop a base of digital skills in the UK population and to make sure that the whole tech eco-system finds effective ways to keep attracting and retaining overseas tech talent, while addressing the skills gap challenge, and keeping the UK’s tech industries and business attractive and competitive in the global marketplace.

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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 artefacts 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.

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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.

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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.

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Protecting Your Business Mobile From Junk Calls

Your phone rings and you pick up. Instead of a warm voice on the other end, you get the cold, robotic tones of an automated message trying to sell you something you probably don’t want. So, how can you make sure that your mobile is protected from disruptive and potentially costly cold-calls?

Record Fine

Unsolicited sales calls are known as ‘cold calls’, and they are something that millions of mobile phone owners are all-too-familiar with.

One piece of recent news that may warm the hearts of anyone who has been plagued by calls asking about the details of a road accident that you may have been involved in is news that a record fine of £400,000 was issued to a company called Keurboom for making nuisance calls of that kind to nearly 100 million people!

Know Your Rights – Report Callers To The ICO

Most people have resigned themselves to receiving the occasional irritating call but the truth is that these calls are actually illegal.

Keurboom received the fine from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) because commercial automated calls or text made to you without consent are against the law.

Over 1000 (only a fraction of the total calls made) of the people who were repeatedly called by Keurboom late at night made complaints to the ICO.

If you are harassed by unsolicited automated calls, reporting callers to the ICO can be an effective way of stopping the culprits at source, thereby saving us all the trouble of receiving their calls.

Register with the Telephone Preference Service

By registering your landline or mobile number with the Telephone Preference Service, you will have an additional layer of protection against automated cold calls.

After the 28-day processing period, companies will not be allowed to phone you for marketing reasons without prior consent (see the next section for more on this).

If you have already accidentally given company permission or you’ve changed your mind for any reason, contact them directly and ask them to stop doing so. According to the law, they must obey your request.

Registering with the TPS is free and can be easily done online on their website or by calling them at 0845 070 0707.

There are other companies offering a similar service, but they may charge a fee and telemarketers are only required to check with the TPS.

Even though this is a popular and helpful measure you can take, it does not guarantee immunity.

Did You Tick the Right Box?

Reading the fine print is generally a good idea (if you have the time). When you buy something online or sign up for a service or newsletter, always pay attention to the little boxes that are “optional” to tick.

Sometimes ticking them allows the company to share your details with other businesses for marketing purposes, and sometimes it’s the opposite. Occasionally however, boxes can even be pre-ticked for you. If there is more than one box, it could be a combination.

The message is, therefore, take time to read the accompanying print carefully, and to take note of what the ticks (or lack of them) in the boxes actually mean can save you a lot of trouble in the future.

Be Careful When You Reply To Texts

Depending on who the message is from, your reply could encourage more messages.

If you trust the company sending the message or if the sender’s number is a five-digit number, sending a reply with just “STOP” will solve the problem, and prevent you from being charged.

If you do not recognise the sender, then replying can backfire by acting as confirmation that your phone number is valid, thus triggering more automated communication. In this case, the best thing to do would be to just ignore it.

What you can do instead is make a report to your network operator by forwarding the message to 7726, which coincidentally spells SPAM if you type it out on your keypad.

Go Ex-Directory & Keep Your Mobile Number Private

There are a number of ways your number can be obtained. BT has a directory service which allows companies to find telephone numbers and addresses online, over the phone, or in a phone book.

To prevent your number from being listed, make sure to sign up with the optional Ex-Directory scheme.

Opting out of the “edited register” of the electoral roll when you sign up as a voter is another step you can take to prevent having your contact details sold to unscrupulous marketers.

Get the Numbers Blocked

Some network operators offer a service that enables you to block calls from reported numbers, though there may be a fee incurred for the service.

If they do not, you can purchase a call blocker app for your phone that will work for numbers that you “blacklist”. You can check with your provider to see if it is already included in your mobile contract.

File a Complaint

A simple solution may just be to file an official complaint with the offending company.

When asked, the caller must provide the organisation’s name, address or a free phone number for getting in touch with them.

As mentioned earlier, a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) may also prompt the regulator to take action against the marketer (combined with complaints from other people).

If you decide to file a complaint, it may be helpful (though not essential) to make a note of the time and date of the call, the phone number, and the company’s name.

Just Ignore Them

In the unlikely event that you have exhausted all these options to no avail, the only option left would be to screen your calls and be selective as to which calls you choose to answer. The risk is that you may mistake some legitimate calls for nuisance ones, but at least you won’t have to listen to any more sales pitches, and after enough failed attempts, the callers may simply give up.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Time, and keeping your phone free to enable you to receive calls that could actually make you money rather than cost you money, are valuable to businesses. With more of us relying on our smartphones for more aspects of our business, and with more business people being more mobile than ever, taking these kinds of measures to eradicate junk calls from our mobiles is vital. With our mobile number, people also get directly through to us rather than the traditional company ‘gatekeeper’ e.g. the receptionist, so this is another good reason why it’s important to proactively take what steps we can to free-up our mobile time for value-adding, money making calls rather than frustrating, line-blocking, potentially costly calls.

Being aware of ways in which our online and offline behaviour could give fuel to junk-callers is therefore necessary, and this subject is a lesson in why taking some time to read the small print (within reason) now could actually make life easier and help us make more effective use of time and make / save money in the future.

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