Most UK People Trust AI Says Research

New research from US CRM and strategic applications company Pegasystems has found that 60% of UK people would use more Artificial Intelligence (AI) if it saved them time and money.

Real World Value

The UK results are drawn out of a larger survey which involved 6,000 people from 6 countries. The survey results show that British people accept and feel most comfortable using AI for specific, practical, real-world, time saving, benefit-delivering and value-adding purposes. These include personalising their online retail presence, getting a better diagnosis from the doctor using AI, and using AI for better financial services.

Supports Other Survey

The positive UK view of AI shown in the Pegasystems survey results appear to support the results of an Accenture survey carried out with 32,715 people (3,007 of them from the UK). This showed that 68% of UK consumers would use software robots for banking services. Many consumers found that the ‘artificial’ aspect was, in fact, a positive because it meant that there was impartiality.

Suspicion

Not all UK consumers are used to / comfortable with the idea of AI in their working lives, and many are clearly suspicious that they will lose their jobs to AI automation. In a YouGov survey for Konica Minolta involving 11,362 people from nine countries for example, 20% of respondents thought that their daily tasks could be automated through AI and robots, and 10% believed up to 60% of their role could be taken over completely by AI robots.

This is consistent with the findings of a report by PwC back in March this year which claimed that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation by the year 2030, and that 44% of jobs in manufacturing (where there are already many robots e.g. car manufacturing), especially those involving manual work, look likely to go to AI-led software or robots.

The same report singled out Transportation jobs as being at particularly high risk for robot replacements where 56% of jobs could be lost to autonomous vehicles. The report also highlighted jobs in the UK’s largest sectors, wholesale and retail as looking vulnerable to (AI) automation.

Already Used

Most of us already come into contact with AI as it is already used in many different ways. For example, the London Borough of Enfield uses a software AI robot to provide customer services so it can redirect resources, and Transport for London (TfL) has developed an intelligent agent-based chatbot on Facebook’s AI application programming interface (API) to be used as a digital travel assistant through Facebook’s Messenger app.

Google also introduced its AI Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT) to automatically display business reviews in the language that your phone / device is set to (for overseas travel), and Microsoft has added the new AI ‘Microsoft Team’ toolkit to Office 365 to help improve workplace communications and collaboration.

A Step Further

Developments that have taken AI a step further again to show even more of its potential include the Watch, Listen and Spell (WLAS) system that can read human lips better and interpret more words than a trained lip reading professional. Also, the Libratus (updated from Lengpudashi) AI poker program made the news by winning more than $1.5m (£1.2m) worth of chips when it defeated 4 human poker experts at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh in a 20-day tournament back in January.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Much of the popular use of AI up until now has benefitted business aspects such as customer service. Most businesses are likely to be affected by some aspect of automation e.g. software or mechanical, in the near future, either themselves of through suppliers and stakeholders. There is an inevitability that AI and robotics will alter what jobs look like in the future, and will take some jobs away from humans, but it is also important to remember that they could provide huge advantages and opportunities for businesses and their customers.

Workers can try to insulate themselves from the worst effects of automation by seeking more education / lifelong learning, and by trying to remain positive towards and adapting to changes. How much AI automation and what kind of AI automation individual businesses adopt will, of course, depend upon a cost / benefit analysis compared to human workers, and whether automation is appropriate and is acceptable to their customers.

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EU Roaming Charges Finally Finished

After a decade of campaigning by EU citizens and after 2 years of preparing the mobile networks for the change, The European Commission has announced that there will be no more EU roaming charges.

What Does This Mean?

The abolition of roaming charges applies to calls, texts and browsing the internet, and this means that citizens who travel within the 28 countries of the EU will be able to call, text and connect on their mobile devices at the same price as they pay at home.

Balance

Statements from the EU have focused on what a valuable achievement the agreement between mobile network operators and EU countries is in terms of its contribution to the idea of the EU’s Digital Single Market and accessibility for all citizens.

Other statements have focused on the balance that has been needed to strike the deal with the mobile phone networks. This means offering customers a better deal and maintaining profitability of mobile networks, and many people have taken this to mean the mobile networks could make up the charges lost in roaming fees in other ways e.g. increasing domestic phone tariffs and charges.

Are There Any Caveats And Exceptions?

Yes. Although, as the EU statements say that roaming charges have been abolished for travellers in the EU, there are some important caveats, exceptions and anomalies. These are:

  • Exceeding your agreed minutes, texts and data allowances are still chargeable in the in the EU, just as they are in the UK.
    The fair use clause still applies to data roaming. This means that even though you can make as many calls and send as many texts as you like at domestic prices, if your roaming data use exceeds “a reasonably high volume” at domestic rates, you may have to pay a surcharge of approximately £8.30 per gigabyte (inc VAT).
  • If you spend more time abroad than at home and consequently use your mobile more abroad than at home, you may still receive roaming charges. This is a result of a clause that was designed to dissuade people from taking out a contract in a low-cost country e.g. Romania.
  • Different providers include different countries in their roaming territories. Also, some countries are not automatically covered by the new rules e.g. Switzerland, Monaco, Andorra, some Eastern European nations, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
    Roaming charges will still apply when you are on board European ferries or cruise ships in the Mediterranean, the Baltic and across the English Channel. This is because you are between EU ports and are using a satellite link to the ship.
  • Calling another EU country from the UK will still incur extra charges.
  • Calls to any EU country are now cheaper as long as you make them from any EU country that isn’t the UK.
  • Three non-EU countries in the European economic area have not yet introduced ‘Roam Like at Home’ charges, but have said that they may do so a short time after 15th June. These are Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For business people who are frequent overseas travellers, and for UK citizens who plan to use their mobile while on holiday abroad, this announcement is good news. There is still a rational suspicion that the mobile operators will make their lost roaming charges back somehow e.g. with higher tariffs and extra charges.

Brexit could, however, mean that the UK may lose its right to freedom from roaming charges. Some commentators believe that the UK could avoid this by negotiating equivalent measures, and / or that the mobile networks will introduce some lesser charges.

Legally, the UK government could decide whether EU price restrictions on roaming apply after Brexit because EU price restrictions on roaming or not after the UK leaves the EU are part of a regulation (not a directive), and, therefore, are not technically part of UK law. At this stage, it is unknown exactly how Brexit will affect the roaming charges issue going forward.

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SAP Driven Change At Greggs

The baking and retail high-street chain Greggs is reported to have undergone a £25m change programme for its 1,500 outlets, using a range of SAP software to simplify and better integrate its business processes, and make it more competitive in the lucrative ‘food-to-go’ market.

What Is SAP?

Started in 1972 by IBM employees in Germany, SAP is a software and programming company that was on Forbes 2016 list of “The World’s Biggest Public Companies” in third place, just behind Microsoft and Oracle. According to SAP, 75% of all global business transactions come in contact with an SAP system, and the company now focuses mainly upon cloud computing options.

SAP’s Business Suite On Hana

One of the main elements of the transformation of Greggs is reported has been the use of Business Suite on Hana for its enterprise resource planning (ERP) since 2014, and now the use of the updated, (in-memory) S/4 Hana ERP system.

The introduction by Greggs of SAP’s Ariba for procurement and San Francisco-based SAP SuccessFactors cloud-based, software as a services learning management system for HR and training are reported to have helped Greggs to integrate, centralise and consolidate compatible systems right across the company, rather than relying on lots of different software suppliers and systems.

The combination of SAP elements is reported to be needed to help manage future growth as part of an ambitious five-year transformation project because of the increasing scale of the company, and because Greggs is a manufacturer, as well as a retail front-end distributor of its food. The ‘Sunrise’ programme from Greggs, therefore, aims to use SAP to centralise the business and make it more responsive to customers’ needs.

Training

It has been reported by the 70 strong IT team at Greggs that, so far, the SuccessFactors learning management system has delivered training to 16,000 staff, and that 1,500 shops (at the rate of 100 shops a week) have converted to the new SAP technology.

Keytree

Greggs is reported to be have been using international award winning design and technology consultancy Keytree to help with improving its production and warehousing in its supply chain. This will be the next phase of its change programme, but Keytree was first selected to work with Greggs back in 2015 as the SAP Systems Integrator for the first of two phases of the retailer’s business transformation programme.

Keytree also helped with the delivery of cloud-based Learning and Development solutions through SuccessFactors, and with the implementation of Source to Contract requirements using Ariba solutions, which wil have enabled Greggs to better manage 4,500 suppliers across its operations.

Keytree has worked with many large clients including Dyson, Mercedes-Benz, National Grid, and News International.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story is an example of how many businesses are switching to cloud-based technology and systems to improve management and collaboration, and to ensure that important functions can be homogenised, product availability and waste can be improved, consistency and quality can be maintained, and companies can keep pace with rapid growth while still allowing room for innovation.

Cloud-based systems such as these also help businesses to save costs (e.g. in training large numbers of employees) and adapt quickly to changes in the marketplace, both of which will be needed by Greggs to compete effectively in the future of the evolving and competitive food-to-go’ market.

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Amazon’s Acquisition Of Whole Foods Disrupts US Grocery Retail Market

Amazon’s $14 billion acquisition of struggling grocery chain Whole Foods Market Inc, announced last Friday, will now see Amazon take on bricks-and-mortar grocery giants such Wal-Mart.

Amazon In The Grocery Market

Last month, Amazon expanded upon its existing Amazon Fresh grocery service, which already operates in 16 cities worldwide, with a trial of the ‘Amazon Fresh Pickup’ service from two ‘bricks-and-mortar’ locations in its home city of Seattle.

Amazon Fresh offers attended delivery (hand-to-hand drop-off) or doorstep delivery of groceries, and the new Amazon Fresh Pickup service invites customers to come and pick their shopping up themselves from Amazon’s stores, rather than having it delivered to their door.

Why Buy Whole Foods?

US store Whole Foods, which has notoriously high prices, and has been struggling in recent years is believed to have been purchased by Amazon:

  • In order to fight back against traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer Wal-Mart who acquired retailer Jet.com for $3 billion last year in order to compete seriously with Amazon in the e-commerce world. Wal-Mart is also reported to have been going after Amazon’s higher-income customers with other online brand acquisitions including Moosejaw, Modcloth, and menswear e-tailer Bonobos. Wal-Mart is offering curbside pickup of online grocery purchases at 700 locations (with hundreds more planned), and is testing same-day fresh and frozen home delivery from 10 of its stores.
  • To compete directly with (and to take customers from) Wal-Mart at the heart of its business i.e. groceries, which accounted for 56% of its $486 billion revenue last year. It has been reported that Amazon intends to do so by reducing the Whole Foods prices and changing its assortment of products to attract a larger customer base i.e. Wal-Mart customers. Like Wal-Mart, Amazon is also large and resourceful enough to wage a price war.
  • To use the 460 Whole Foods stores which are within 10 miles of the main population centres in the US to test how Amazon can learn how to compete with Wal-Mart in the bricks-and-mortar grocery world.
  • To compete with Instacart which works with a network of 160 grocery chains and retailers across the US, and to pull Instacart’s customers into Amazon Fresh.

Concerns

Some of the concerns raised about the acquisition of Whole Foods Market Inc by Amazon (which have been denied by Amazon) are that it may cut jobs and / or use technology to automate jobs of cashiers.

Concerns have also been raised by some commentators about how the acquisition will affect Instacart with whom Whole Foods has a five-year contract. Whole Foods, however, only represents less than 10% of Instacart’s revenue, and Whole Foods has less than 1% equity in the company. Instacart is also confident that it has many more years experience in the grocery market than Amazon, and that it has spread its interests across a wide range of retailers, and that the move by Amazon may prompt other big grocery chains and retailers to seek Instacart as a partner

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Amazon has grown and diversified at an incredible rate in recent years, and this move (in response to Wal-Mart’s moves) has meant that the traditional retail dividing lines between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar hasve now been blurred even more. This has led some leading retail commentators to say that dominance in this sector will now depend upon who is better at both e-commerce and brick-and-mortar retailing rather than just being best at one (as Morrisons discovered in the UK when its e-commerce lagged behind competitors).

The move by Amazon does look set to disrupt the U.S. grocery sector, and as we have seen with Amazon in the past, it frequently tests strategies in its home country before exporting them to others. This could mean that Amazon has the power and resources to set itself up as a serious competitor in many different sectors in the UK, just as it has recently done with its Amazon Business online trade-counter.

In the case of Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods Market Inc, some grocery retail commentators have, however, noted that it may not be as easy as Amazon thinks to start taking Wal-Mart’s customers because as things stand now, the two stores appeal to two very different types of customer. In the UK however, we have seen discounters (Lidl, Aldi) take customers from all of the other main supermarkets.

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WannaCry Came From North Korea Say Experts

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) led investigation into the origins of the WannaCry ransomware attack that crippled NHS systems last month has concluded that it came from a hacking group in North Korea.

What Happened?

The WannaCry global cyber attack back in May spread worldwide, claiming victims in 150 countries and leading to around 130,000 ransomware infections of computers. The attack also made the headlines in the UK because it temporarily crippled NHS computer systems.

WannaCry was made to exploit a vulnerability on an NSA-developed hacking tool called ‘Eternal Blue’. The rapid, global spread of WannaCry was eventually thwarted when UK security researcher Marcus Hutchins registered and took over the domain that was written into the ransomware’s core code.

Lazarus

The recent NCSC investigation has concluded that WannaCry was made and distributed by the North Korea-based hacking group known as Lazarus. This is believed to be the same group that targeted Sony Pictures with a hack in 2014 over the release of the film ‘The Interview’ that satirised the North Korean leadership. The Lazarus group is also believed to have targeted a South Korean supermarket chain.

Indiscriminate

It is believed that the WannaCry ransomware attack was indiscriminate, and the fact that the (old) NHS systems were particularly badly affected may have made it appear that it was targeted.

Traced

Initial reports from cyber security experts ruled out Russian-based hackers and focused on the fact that the code showed that it may have been created on a machine in a +9 GMT timezone.

A study and reverse-engineering of the WannaCry code, combined with some overlaps with previous code developed by the Lazarus group, plus taking into account wider evidence gathered by GCHQ’s NCSC, have led experts to confirm that WannaCry was the product of the North Korean Lazarus group. It is believed that America’s NSA did not contribute heavily to the investigation because the U.S. was not hit as badly as the UK by the attack.

Was It Worth It?

The motivation of the group has been called into question since the amount of ransom paid by victims is thought to only have been around £40,000, and none of the money has been collected by the group. Also, unlike many other hacking groups, Lazarus doesn’t claim responsibility for its attacks, does not release communiqués, and does not tweet about its exploits.
IT security commentators have, therefore, concluded that WannaCry is likely to have been an attack that was far more successful and widespread than the group had intended or expected.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

In the wake of WannaCry’s rapid and extensive spread, 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 was painfully exposed in this attack. For businesses, where an attack comes from is not as relevant and important as knowing that protection is in place.

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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Death Penalty For Facebook Blasphemer

A 30-year-old man has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after being convicted of the crime of blasphemy over his Facebook and WhatsApp posts.

Unpardonable

Under current laws in Pakistan, blasphemy ranks alongside the most serious offences, and has been described by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as being ‘unpardonable’. However, although people have been attacked and killed by vigilantes after being accused of blasphemy in Pakistan, this is the first time that anyone has been given the death penalty for blasphemy on social media there.

Blasphemy / blasphemous libel laws (against Christianity), for example, still existed in England and Wales until they were abolished by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, and the last successful prosecution for blasphemy in the UK was Scotland was in 1843

What Happened?

In the recent case in Pakistan, it has been reported that Taimoor Raza, a Shiite Muslim (who is also, allegedly, a member of a banned Shiite group namely Sipah-e-Muhammad) got into an online argument on Facebook and WhatsApp with someone who turned out to be a counter-terrorism official.

It has been reported that Raza made 3,000 posts that could be considered blasphemous under Pakistan law, many of which related to the Prophet Muhammad, his wives and companions.

Much of the evidence is reported to have been gathered when Raza was arrested at a bus station in April 2016, where it has also been reported that he had showed the blasphemous content to others.

The Court

The case was heard in an anti-terrorism court in Bahawalpur (Punjab), some 309 miles from the capital Islamabad, where Judge Bashir Ahmed delivered the death penalty.

Climate Of Fear And Intimidation

It was reported earlier this year that Pakistan’s interior minister asked Facebook to identify people suspected of committing blasphemy so that they could be prosecuted. It has also been reported that the government in Pakistan has been making threats through TV and newspaper adverts about the consequences of blasphemous social media posts. The result is a climate of fear and intimidation, which has only been fuelled by this court case.

What Now?

Free speech campaigners have said that Raza’s conviction and sentencing are a violation of international human rights law, and it is believed that Raza will be able to appeal the sentence.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is an example of how different cultures and governments can respond to media that enables free speech. It can sometimes be challenging and inconvenient for institutions and also for corporations and businesses to know that comments or criticism of their actions, beliefs, ideology etc can be expressed and widely distributed beyond their control.

Even in the UK, for example, in the light of terrorist attacks, Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd have expressed a desire for greater online regulation in the form of less use of encryption, the disabling of automatic encryption on popular apps, and more ‘back doors’ for the authorities to use in popular apps. Critics have pointed out that, although the idea of protecting public safety sounds reasonable, too much / the wrong kind of regulation could restrict the freedoms enjoyed by the vast majority of social media users that have made the platforms so popular in the first place.

Also, although stopping or limiting encryption of messages, and building ‘back doors’ in popular devices and systems, for example, may sound helpful for governments trying to tackle extremists, this could mean more security and cyber crime risks for the rest of us, and could lead to more cyber attacks on businesses.

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May To Move Forward With Plans For Internet Regulation

Teresa May’s speech outside 10 Downing Street following the Conservative loss of parliamentary majority included an assurance that she would be pressing forward with changes to improve the UK’s security, including more Internet regulation and backdoors to encryption.

What Plans?

Prior to the UK general election (and in the wake of the London and Manchester terror attacks and the reported role that the Internet has played in enabling terrorists), Prime Minister Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd called for measures to regulate Internet use in the UK more tightly. The suggestion that a lack of regulation, social media platforms not doing enough, and the fact that encryption means that there are some messages that law enforcement are unable to read have lead to Conservative plans to:

  1. Operate an automated system of censorship for Internet use where algorithms decide what people can access.
  2. Restrict the use of encryption, and to disable automatic encryption on popular apps, thereby allowing the government / government agencies to view a person’s communications and data without permission from service providers, or the need for third party decryption skills.
  3. Continue with and broaden existing online surveillance activities.

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA), dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter, already grants the authorities a range of powers including retention of data, the interception of communications, the request for communications data, equipment interference, bulk warrants for communications data and technical capability notices. The legislation can apply to businesses globally that provide a platform for communications to persons in the UK.

Criticism

The most public criticism of Mrs May’s plans to push ahead with more Internet regulation and censorship has come from Internet freedom advocates the Open Rights Group (ORG). They have suggested that:

  • Mrs May is attempting to restore her damaged projected image as a strong leader, and that she is attempting to divert attention away from the failings of her election campaign, the controversy over having to deal with the DUP, and the upcoming Brexit negotiations.
  • Automated Internet censorship could mean that what UK citizens are allowed to see could be decided by private companies rather than the courts.
  • The government already has more than enough surveillance powers.
  • Enforcing encryption bans, and backdoors being built in tech tools could mean that all of us will then be at a greater risk of becoming victims of cyber crime.
  • These proposed measures could be the result of reactionary rather than considered policy making.
  • The changes are unrealistic and /or will be too difficult for our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to monitor.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The big social media platforms that have been the focus of the government’s plans have at the very least an interest in protecting their reputations. At the same time, they are likely to be cautious about kneejerk reactions to situations, and to be resistant to measures that could restrict freedoms enjoyed by the vast majority of law-abiding users that have made the platforms so popular in the first place. There may also be some truth in the fact that it may be convenient for governments to blame tech companies and social media platforms for security failings.

Stopping or limiting encryption of messages, and building ‘back doors’ in popular devices and systems may sound helpful for governments trying to tackle extremists, but this could mean more security and cyber crime risks for the rest of us, and could lead to more cyber attacks on businesses.

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First Arrest Made Via Facial Recognition Technology

The first arrest made using facial recognition technology took place in Cardiff two weeks ago, just days after trialling of the technology at the Champions League final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

Local Man

Despite police using the technology at the match, reports indicate that the person who was arrested (who was identified by a van-mounted camera days after the match) is actually a local man whose arrest was unconnected to the Champions League.

What Trial?

Back in May, a report on the Contacts Finder section of the gov.uk website indicated that South Wales and Gwent Police forces would be running a trial of the latest ‘real time’ facial recognition technology on Champions League final day in Cardiff. The technology was reported to have been deployed in order to try to match 500,000 custody images from the Police Record Management system to any of the attendees of the match, or persons at the train station that day.

The intelligent cameras (created by security firm NEC) link to a real time automated facial recognition (AFR) system that was used on the day (and to make the arrest days after). This system incorporates facial recognition, uses slow time static face search, and links to specialist software that can compare a camera image data to data stored in a database to find a potential match.

The trial of the system in Wales has been scheduled to last a month, and (if successful) could be extended, and could even be deployed across the country within a couple of years.

Could Have Helped To Identify Terrorists

Some security commentators have suggested that the system is so sophisticated that had it been deployed in the London Bridge area, it could have been able to identify the third London Bridge attacker more quickly.

Used For Public Safety & Security

The use of the camera system in Wales is reported to have been for public safety and security, and to fit in with policing aims of early intervention and prompt, positive action.

Criticism

Although the Police have stated that their primary reason for planning to use the system at the final in June is crowd safety, critics and privacy advocates have commented that the use of facial recognition systems in events (and at train stations) is intrusive, and there are public data and privacy security concerns about happens to the data collected, and where, and how securely everyone’s biometric data is stored.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The value of the contract for the AFR system used in Cardiff is £177,000. If this has only resulted in one arrest, and assuming that the appearance of the cameras didn’t act as a significant crime deterrent in themselves, you could be forgiven for thinking that the system hasn’t delivered much value so far.

Also, although the system could provide the police with valuable information e.g. if it was used with body cams, it is unlikely to act as any kind of replacement for human officers.

Despite the findings of a study from YouGov / GMX of August 2016 that showed that UK people still have a number of trust concerns about the use of biometrics for security, biometrics represents a good opportunity for businesses to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals. Biometric authentication / verification systems are thought to be far more secure than password-based systems, which is the reason why banks and credit companies have already started using them.

All this said, facial recognition systems are widely believed to have value-adding, real-life business applications. For example, last month a ride-hailing service called Careem (similar to Uber but operating in more than fifty cities in the Middle East and North Africa) announced that it was adding facial recognition software to its driver app to help with customer safety.

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Virgin Patches Wireless Security Flaw

Virgin Media have developed and distributed a security patch for their Super Hub home routers after a potentially serious security flaw was uncovered by cyber security consultancy ‘Context Information Security’.

What Security Flaw?

The flaw was found to be an encryption key in a feature that was designed to allow users to make encrypted back-ups of their custom configurations e.g. port forwarding and DNS settings. The problem was that all Virgin Super Hubs were found to have exactly the same private encryption key.

What’s The Big Deal?

The Super Hub Routers ‘Super Hub 2’ and ‘Super Hub 2 AC’ (made by Netgear) are the standard home routers that are used by one of the UK’s largest ISPs, and they are, therefore, used in millions of homes (and small businesses) across the UK. Having a common security flaw in all of them, which (it is believed) could be exploited by cyber criminals using a relatively low-tech approach and low cost method could represent a major security risk for millions of people.

What Could Happen?

In an un-patched router, and with access to the administrative interface, a cyber criminal could potentially be able to download the router’s config file (the file containing the parameters and settings for the device), add their own instructions to that file, and upload it to the router again. The type of instructions they could write-in could be allowing them remote access to the router. This could, therefore, mean that all traffic to and from a person / household’s / business’s devices (PC, phone and tablet) could be monitored, and personal data / details could be stolen e.g. payment details and passwords.

How Was The Flaw Discovered?

It is not uncommon for researchers from cyber security companies to test popular devices and programs for possible flaws, and then to report the flaws to the developers / distributors of the products. The discoveries made can often benefit the cyber security company in terms of good PR as well as benefitting the developers and the users of the products.

In this case, researchers from cyber security consultancy managed to gain administrative access to the Virgin routers by reverse engineering the software for them.

Reported & Patch Produced

After discovering the security flaw, Context shared its findings with Virgin Media who were then able to produce a patch for the routers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

If you already have a Virgin Super Hub router, it will have been patched automatically as part of scheduled firmware update at the end of May this year. If you are about to get / have just got a new Virgin Super Hub router, you will be pleased to know that the patch / update is included with it.

This story confirms that, even with popular IT / connectivity products / technologies, there are still security flaws that could put your valuable personal data at risk. This has long been a fear, for example, with many household IoT devices too, where the advice has been to make sure that the default password is changed. Devices with common keys / passwords make it much easier for criminals to launch large scale attacks.

The only thing we can really do is to make sure that our basic online / data security measures, practices and policies are kept up to scratch, are adhered to, and that we remain vigilant.

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Renewables Beat Coal & Gas For The First Time

National Grid figures show that renewable sources of energy such as wind farms, solar panels, hydro and the burning of renewable biomass / wood pellets have, for the first time, produced a greater energy output than coal and gas in the UK.

Record Breaking

It is believed that the blustery start to the summer may have been partly responsible for the UK’s renewable energy output breaking all previous records as the 19.3GW output of renewable energy (produced last Wednesday) was enough to meet more than 50% of the midday power demand which reached 35.4GW.

The record-breaking 19.3GW renewable power output was achieved thanks to solar panels producing around 7.6GW, wind farms generating 9.5GW, the burning of biomass generating 2 GW, and hydro electric power making up the rest.

Current levels show that around 10% of the UK’s power is now a generated by off-shore wind farms and renewable means and nuclear power together are now producing more power than gas and coal plants combined.

Mostly Low Carbon Now

Renewable industry trade body RenewableUK have confirmed National Grid figures which show that, with the inclusion of nuclear, low carbon sources now account for just over 70% of the UK’s energy generating output.

Prices Fall

Even though the news of record-breaking renewable output is much better news for the environment, it has caused quite a stir on the money markets. Last week’s renewable surge resulted in market prices falling into negative numbers. This meant that the National Grid paid big energy users to use more power in order to avoid the grid having too much supply, and to avoid paying energy companies to stop generating electricity.

The payments were made as part of the demand turn-up scheme and 6 businesses were chosen (through auction) to use the National Grid’s excess energy.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The UK is amongst the world’s wealthier countries and has an established grid, so switching more to renewables is a real option. Improvements in technology, bigger investments in renewables, and increasing support from the government have all helped to drive the costs of producing renewable energy down, and it is becoming cheaper to add a new renewable power source to the grid than a fossil fuel source.

Renewables have provided new business opportunities in the UK (solar panels and wind turbine technology), but most businesses will only really benefit financially if the cost savings of producing the power are passed along in lower energy bills.

In environmental terms, more renewables means good news in terms of lower carbon emissions but in many large countries with less well-developed grids, fossil fuel power is still needed. Also, environmental gains made by renewables here may be cancelled out by the actions of the U.S. (a large polluter) pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

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