Speech Recognition Now As Good As A Human

It has been reported that Microsoft’s speech recognition system has reached its lowest ever Word Error Rate (WER) of 5.1%, a rate that puts it on par with humans.

What Speech Recognition System?

For the last 25 years, reaching human parity with a speech recognition system has been a goal of Microsoft, and the company has, therefore, committed to investing in long-term research associated with it. The research, investment, and the resulting system (which includes an AI element) have fed into products and services like Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

The 5.1% Error Rate

Last September, Microsoft’s speech engine is reported to have registered a 6.3% word WER , but Microsoft was able to bring it down to 5.9%. Further recent work on the engine lowered that rate 5.1%, which is the human word error rate.

Microsoft’s system is benchmarked against the Switchboard corpus, which is a dataset of recorded telephone conversations that speech research technologists have been using for more than 20 years to measure the capability of transcription systems.

Human parity of the kind that Microsoft has now achieved has obviously been a goal of the company’s research, and puts it well on the way to creating a system that can be an effective central component of many of its future products and services.

Why The Big Improvement?

Microsoft’s recent advances in AI techniques like neural-net based acoustic and language models, and innovations in enabling the system to take into account the context of the speech to make better guesses as to what unclear words are have led to the reduced error rate.

What’s Next?

Now that Microsoft has an advanced human speech recognition system, reports indicate that future work will focus on tackling the challenges posed by recognising accented speech, dialects, and conversations in noisy surroundings.

Getting a grip on accented speech and dialects could open the speech recognition system to more users globally, and recognising and capturing conversation in noisy environments could make the system more versatile and useful.

Another project in the works is improving the system’s ability to understand the meaning and intent of speech, which Microsoft sees as the next frontier for speech technology.

With all of these advances, and with more research in the pipeline, we can expect more improvements to be rolled out in the future updates of e.g. Cortana, Presentation Translator, and Microsoft Cognitive Services.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI and the use of speech recognition are now becoming familiar as a way in which we interact with entertainment devices e.g. Amazon Echo and Siri controlled systems like Apple’s new HomePod, and how we interact with our PCs and mobile devices e.g. with Cortana. They are also playing an important role in how we interact with, and how security can be improved with company services e.g. via bots and verification / authentication systems used by banks.

AI and machine learning offer companies the chance to develop innovative products and services that offer the kind of customized, personalized experiences are highly valued by modern consumers. The ability of devices and services to adapt intelligently and relate more closely than ever to our personal likes and needs saves us time, and increase our loyalty to those products and services.

AI developments have been such that back in April, an AI program learned how to ‘bluff’ and beat expert human competitors to the prize money in a series of exhibition poker matches, and this month an AI program cracked a (physical) combination safe in 30 minutes by reducing a possible million combinations to just one correct code. Also, Google’s AI company DeepMind and Oxford University has developed WLAS, a system that can lip read better than a trained professional, and Google has reportedly used AI machine learning technology on its Gmail service with a reported 99.9% blocking of all phishing attempts that it detected.

Not all share the view that the rapid development of AI and machine learning of this kind is a positive thing as Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently described AI as a “fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation”, and a report in March this year by PwC claimed that over 30% of UK jobs could be lost to automation (aided by AI developments) by the year 2030. Recently, concerns have also been raised about how AI could be used to create custom malware to defeat antivirus software by learning how to tweak malicious binaries.

AI technology is finding its way into our daily lives to enhance and tie together existing products and services and new security technologies (biometrics) in new ways, and an essential element of communication, value addition, and convenience, must surely be an effective speech recognition system that is as close to our own as possible.

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Banned Neo-Nazi Website Causes Freedom of Speech Concerns

Google, GoDaddy, and Cloudflare’s decision to stop serving a neo-Nazi site has prompted a US-based digital rights group to express concerns about freedom of speech being compromised.

Daily Stormer Kicked Out

After much public pressure, all three web companies pulled the rug from under The Daily Stormer, saying it violated their terms of service. The Daily Stormer is a neo-Nazi and white supremacist news and commentary website that has recently gained media attention after vilifying Heather Heyer, the 32-year old killed in the car attack in the Charlottesville violence.

GoDaddy were reportedly first to act by pulling DNS services for the neo-Nazis, followed by Google (Domains) when The Daily Stormer tried to move its site there, and finally, Cloudflare (which had initially provided the site’s DNS and a proxy service) followed suit when the neo-Nazi website implied that Cloudflare supported their cause and agreed with the content of their articles.

EEF Reacts

The decisions of these 3 web companies did not sit well with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which has reportedly stated that no-one, not even the government and private companies, should decide who can speak or not. The EFF has pointed out that internet companies control so much online that their decisions about this particular matter that will impact freedom of speech in future, and could have far-reaching effects.

Not Just Because They’re Nazis Says Cloudflare

Cloudfire’s CEO Matthew Prince explained on the company’s blog that the reason for expelling the site from their servers was not because of the Nazi views that it expressed, but because it had said that Cloudfire secretly agreed with its views (which Cloudfire has clearly stated that it does not).

Hiding In The Dark Web

With no company now wanting to host the site, and with hackers worldwide relishing the opportunity of launching all manner of attacks on the website, The Daily Stormer has had to retreat to the Dark Web.

What / Where Is The Dark Web?

The Dark Web refers to a collection of websites on private, encrypted networks built from connections between trusted peers using unconventional protocols. It is only accessible by means of special software, configurations or authorization. Most websites on the Dark Web hide their identity using something called the Tor encryption tool, and sites on the Dark Web cannot be found through search engines or by using traditional browsers. The Dark Web is just one part of a massive network not indexed by search engines like Google, known as the Deep Web.

Freedom of Speech For All

While the EEF has acknowledges that a stand against violence and aggression must be made, it has also pointed out that the methods used to silence neo-Nazis could, in theory, be used on anyone. For this reason, the EEF believes that the expulsion from the Internet by GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudfare could have a compromising effect on freedom of speech on the Web in future.

The EEF occupies a clear position to protect free speech, especially on the Internet, regardless whether they agree with what is being said, and with the principle that no one (including governments and private companies) should be able to decide on who can speak or not

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

While freedom of speech is important, in the business world, being publicly associated in any way with unpopular, racist, hate-promoting violent groups / organisations is very bad for business, and could become a PR disaster with long-lasting negative effects if not handled correctly. It is, therefore, not surprising that some big web players were able to make a very quick decision to distance themselves from The Daily Stormer, and their actions in this case could also be justified on moral and ethical grounds too.

This story also raises other important issues and angles including:

  • The initial request to Cloudfire to terminate The Daily Stormer’s service actually came from hackers who wanted Cloudfire’s online protection removed so that they could knock the site out e.g. with a DDoS attack. Hacking is now a powerful threat on the Internet for governments, companies, and all kinds of organizations. As well as being used for theft and fraud, it can also be used as a kind of direct action motivated by social justice issues. In this case, both the host companies, and the Daily Stormer could have had reason to fear the hackers.
  • As Cloudfire’s CEO pointed out, the decision to dump The Daily Stormer could have come at a price for his company (which has never made such an exception before), because it could make it harder for them (and other web companies) to argue against e.g. a government pressuring them into taking down a site they don’t like. This is a particularly pertinent point in a time where e.g. in the UK we have the Investigatory Powers Act and pressure from the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to gain more powers online for surveillance and gaining back doors into social media platforms.
  • For many free speech advocates, what happened to The Daily Stormer’s website could have far reaching effects because it has, in a way, breached a more or less united front by web companies against censorship, and could provide leverage to those seeking influence over the Internet.
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Tougher Sentences For Online Abusers

The UK’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, has said that the Crown Prosecution Service will treat online hate crime as seriously as offences carried out face to face, and will seek tougher penalties and sentences for online abuse on social media platforms.

Crackdown On Online Hate Speech

Online hate speech has proliferated on (and been enabled by) social media in recent years, and trolling has resulted in misery for victims, and even suicides. With online hate speech and hate crime on the rise, the CPS has announced that it plans to erase the line between real-world , face to face offences and online abuse, and take into account the effects on the victim and on the community.

The reason for this new move by the CPS is the now widely accepted belief that, left unchallenged, low-level abuse (offending) can fuel dangerous and hostile hate crimes e.g. like those seen recently in Charlottesville in the US.

Different Experiences And Needs

In its new policy documents, the CPS covers many different types of hate crimes e.g. racist, religious, disability. The CPS has also now acknowledges that different victim types have different needs and experiences e.g. differences in the experiences of victims of biphobic crime (aimed at bi-sexuals) and victims of homophobic and transphobic offences.

As such, the CPS now intends to remove obstacles to justice for all kinds of victims in all kinds of hate crimes, and wants to ensure that (for example) disabled victims and witnesses get the right support they need to allow them to give their best evidence.

Hate Crimes Defined And Contextualised

According to the CPS, hate crimes are committed by a person motivated by hostility towards the victim’s disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. The CPS has now prioritized hate crime because it recognises the corrosive and lasting impact that such crime can have on communities and citizens, and how it can drive people to change the way they live and to live in fear.

The new policy also takes into consideration the current breadth and context of the offence, giving the prosecutors the best probable chance of getting justice for the victims. It also lets the victims and witnesses know what they can expect from the CPS.

Public Encouraged To Report Hate Crime

The CPS is encouraging the public to report hate crime with confidence, knowing that the CPS will take them seriously and give them the needed support. Its campaign, #hatecrimematters, aims to educate and inform the public about the new policy by the CPS.

ORG Warning

Although the Open Rights Group (ORG) broadly supports the idea of holding perpetrators of online hate speech / hate crime to account, it has warned internet companies against a blanket policing of online free speech.

For The Record

Currently, CPS has a record of 83.2% conviction rate in its completed 15,442 hate crime prosecutions, the highest figure thus far.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The business world works best when customers, investors, and other stakeholders have confidence in companies, brands, products and services. Those businesses that supply platforms for, or enable the sharing / distribution free speech of any kind e.g. social media and web companies, are now supported in UK law by their common duty to provide a safe online environment for their users e.g. by removing hate speech promptly, and by making their part of the online environment particularly safe for children, young people, and the vulnerable.

Businesses and organisations of all kinds can help the common purpose of minimising online hate crime through education of their staff / pupils / customers / users / stakeholders about their own policies for the treatment of those discovered to be using hate speech e.g. at work online.

We can all play our own individual part in making the online environment safe for all by reporting hate speech where we find it, and, although the stance of open rights / free speech organisations such as the ORG is important, so is ensuring that the Internet is a safe place for all.

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68% of UK Firms Not Trained Against Cyber Attacks

The annual Cyber Governance Health Check has shown that 68% of the UK’s top business board members have received no training in how to respond to a cyber attack.

No Plan For One In Ten FTSE Companies

Also, according to the report from The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), even though 54% acknowledge that cyber attack is a top threat to their business, 10% of the FTSE 350 companies don’t have a plan in place for what to do in the event of an attack.

Board-Level Awareness

The report shows that although board-level awareness on the importance of cyber security has risen by almost 10% over the year (up from 21% to 31%), two-thirds of UK Board members are not up-to-date with cyber security risk information.

Customer Data Safety

On a slightly more promising note, however, 50% of board members said that they review and challenge reports on the security of customer’s data.

Better Training Needed

The survey results have prompted industry experts to rally senior executives and their staff to get proper training in managing cyber attacks in order to ensure that companies can minimise damage to their systems and reputation, and avoid possible lawsuits.

Adopting Best Practice

Digital Minister Matt Hancock has publicly acknowledged that there is a need to adopt best practice in cyber security to avoid the devastating effects of a cyber attack in the first place. Mr Hancock has highlighted how the UK’s world-leading businesses and charities are naturally going to be targets for hackers. It is therefore vital that senior executives work with the National Cyber Security Centre and heed Government’s advice and training.

UK charities can also take advantage of a tailored programme of support that has been developed alongside the Charity Commission and the National Cyber Security Centre.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Cyber crime is a major threat to all UK businesses and organisations, and knowledge about it is no longer something that can be left to the IT Department. Given the level of risk that cyber crime poses to the very life of the business, board members and senior executives should be among those most well informed, should be prioritizing and championing the promotion of cyber security best practice throughout the company.

If businesses have not done so already, now is the time to prioritise the issue and make sure that basic cyber security steps are taken at the very least – see https://www.cyberstreetwise.com/cyberessentials/
Now may also be a good time therefore for businesses to seek other professional advice about measures that could be taken to ensure cyber resilience in the first place, such as quality cyber security training for all staff (including Board members), health checks, risk assessments / audits, cyber security policies, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans.

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Less Than 10% Completing Computing A-levels Are Female

According to statistics on A-level results released recently, only 9.8% of those completing A-level computing courses are female.

Shortfall

While almost 7,600 UK students took A-level computing in the UK, less than 10% completing those courses were females. These figures also highlight a huge shortfall from the UK’s aim and expectation of 40,000 students taking A-level computing.

Why Such Low Numbers?

Many industry commentators have given possible causes and reasons for the low numbers of females ending up with computing A-levels. These include:

  • The failure of the UK education system to attract girls to the subject from primary school level and beyond.
  • Negative stereotyping of females, including an unconscious bias and gender stereotyping which assigns females to particular tech jobs. This was partly reflected recently, for example, in an incident where a Google engineer was sacked for authoring a controversial 10-page memo arguing for less emphasis on gender diversity in the workplace, and criticizing Google for its diversity and inclusion initiatives.
  • The expectation that females will be paid less than their male counterparts. For example, research from April this year by Korn Ferry Hay Group found that the Technology sector has the largest ‘like-for-like’ gender pay gap In UK, with women being paid an average of 16% less than men in the same job.
  • The effects of teachers, parents, and other opinion leaders cautioning young girls, when they entertain the idea of working in the tech industry (because of some the reasons shown above).
  • According to the Stemettes charity foundation (one that encourages girls to pursue careers in the sciences, technology engineering, and maths), girls are unlikely to pick a subject to study if they believe that they will be all alone in taking that subject.

Not All Bad News

Data from Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has revealed a little bit of good news. There was an increase of 34% in the number of females taking up computer science exams, from 609 in 2016 to 816 this year.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The UK not only has a major challenge with a skills gap in IT, but it is also facing the possibility of almost entirely missing out on the contribution that women could be making to the sector. Not only are there proven, more obvious barriers (gender pay gaps and stereotyping), but there is a more difficult to pin down combination of circumstances earlier in girls’ lives that is steering them away from, and giving them a negative attitude towards tech careers.

Technology and employment commentators have suggested that the next generation needs to be shown early on (at home, at school, and in wider society influences) that gender is not a part of the equation if a person is seeking a career in the tech industry. Young women need to be encouraged and equipped with the digital skills they need to get work or to pursue further studies in the tech area, and women who have achieved success in the technology IT world could be championed as examples, role models and mentors.

Work also needs to be done within the tech industry and tech companies themselves to challenge the kinds of mistaken beliefs, attitudes, and cultures that lead to extra challenges for women who want to get on, and receive equal opportunities, equal pay, and recognition.

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Closing Time For Lovefilm’s Postal DVD Service

Lovefilm has announced that it will be ceasing its postal DVD rental service on 31st October this year, as the format is being superseded by streaming services.

Streaming Kills DVD Demand

A decrease in demand for DVD and Blu-ray rentals, caused by the huge increase in demand for streaming movies and TV series are cited for the reasons why the Amazon-owned DVD rental service will be closing down Lovefilm in the UK and Germany.

Founded in 2002, Lovefilm rented out DVD and Blu-ray discs via the post for a monthly subscription fee. Amazon acquired the service in 2011, and at its peak, Lovefilm had more than 1.4 million subscribers.

From Rental to Streaming

Back in 2010, Lovefilm started to offer some content for online streaming, earning the tag (in 2011) “the Netflix of Europe” before Netflix was actually rolled out there in 2012. The streaming service was then rebranded as Amazon Prime Instant Video.

Discs Donated To Charities

Lovefilm’s film catalogue is vast, comprising of more than 80,000 titles. It has been reported that Amazon now intends to donate all of the DVD and Blu-ray discs to charity partners.

Some Disappointed

The Lovefilm service still has many fans, some of whom have expressed their disappointment at the closing of the service because:

  • Many more film titles appear to be available on DVD and Blu-ray compared to streaming services.
  • DVDs and Blu-ray don’t suffer from the buffering that streaming can suffer from.
  • Some film buffs prefer the ritual and the experience (and the excitement) of receiving a physical film through the post and putting it in a player.
  • Committed DVD and Blue-ray watchers may not have video shops nearby.

Dead Formats?

Streaming has now become common, with high-quality 4K and HDR being offered by streaming giants like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Google Play Movies. Sales of DVDs and Blu-rays in the US, for example, have gone down 7% year-on-year, while subscriptions for streaming services grew 23% last year.

Here in the UK, streaming services have overtaken DVD and Blu-ray sales and rentals for the first time, with revenues surging to almost £1.3bn in the UK last year. Sales of physical video discs fell 17% to £894m, with the physical rental market down 21% to just £49m.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This story illustrates how physical (disc-based) formats have become less popular with consumers, who now prefer digital and streamed film and TV content. The benefits to customers are that it is immediate, convenient, can be watched on mobile devices, doesn’t require storage space in the home (eliminates DVD clutter), it is available on-demand any time, and it eliminates local / regional variations in available titles (you’re not limited by what the local shop stocks).

For businesses offering these services, there are many benefits including the elimination of costs associated with the storage and distribution of social media, fewer piracy worries, greater knowledge about customers and their viewing habits / preferences, and better billing and price / plan segmentation opportunities. It also offers more advertising revenue opportunities.

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Guest Wi-Fi – Setting up a private hotspot

If you have frequent visitors at your business or home, you will probably be fed up with them asking for your WLAN key (password) every time. You may want to share your WLAN with friends or visitors, but really you shouldn’t reveal your main network key, but rather set up a guest WLAN for them to use.

Why would you need to set up a WLAN? Quite simply, if you let friends or visitors onto your own network, you are legally responsible for all that they do on the World Wide Web. If, for example, they visit illegal sites or download content, the “owner” of the WLAN will be held responsible. Another problem is that if malicious software has been installed i.e viruses or trojans on one of your friends’ devices, you will open the door to them on your own network.

Guest wifi in your business or home

Our service for you: We come to your home and set up your guest Wifi
Guest WLAN
No matter where you are, everyone is permanently online on their smartphone or tablet. If you are surfing using LTE or 3G your data allowance is used up very quickly. Apps and Internet will run very slowly or only partially load or not at all. So because of this. If WLAN is available, whether it be in a shopping centre or at a friends house: we will use it if we can.  Of course you agree to share your wireless LAN because you are a good friend. But ideally you should set up a guest WLAN for them.

How does a guest WLAN or private hotspot work?

A guest WLAN operates independently of its “mother” WLAN, has its own SSID (network identification). This can be individually configured. Users connect to the Internet as usual, but have no access to the local network and the devices installed there. Many of the current routers already provide a default feature, such as ” guest network “, ” guests “, ” guest access “, or ” virtual access points “. Certain pages or services can also be completely blocked or restricted by the filter system for guest WLAN.  For example, with the right settings, you can ensure that pornographic content will not be shown.

Guest WLAN securely

When setting up a guest WLAN access, you also need to exercise caution. Often, the basic settings of the routers are configured to provide an open network without additional password protection. This means that anyone and everyone can connect to it. Even the guy parked outside of a neighbours house – or your neighbours themselves. Therefore, the guest WLAN should also be secured via WPA2 and password.

At Limbtec we can assist you in setting up your WLAN and also advise you on how to set up guest access.

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Consumers Still Unaware of Current Account Switching Service

Recent research has shown that despite spending £750m on an IT system that has simplified and sped up the process of changing bank account providers, only 28% of us know that the Current Account Switching Service (CASS) exists.

What Is CASS And What Does It Do?

CASS was introduced by the Banking Commission in 2013 as a result of concerns from consumers and because of a widely recognised lack of competition in the banking industry. The service simplifies and speeds up the process of changing banks. Before CASS, this process typically took 30 days, but using CASS it now only takes a week to switch bank accounts. CASS also makes sure all payments made to the old account are redirected to the new account, thereby ensuring that payments are not lost if the old account details are erroneously used.

Less Than One-Third Aware

Recent research by the TSB has shown that, 4 years after its introduction, less than one-third of consumers are aware of CASS and its benefits.

Why?

The research revealed that CASS is underused because there has been a lack of communication to consumers about the service.

What is also revealing in the TSB’s research findings is the fact that in the past 12 months, the number of consumers using the CASS service to switch bank accounts has fallen by 14%.

Challenger Banks

The TSB research has shown that, even though are new players in the banking industry, and an increase in the visibility of so-called ‘challenger banks’ in the UK, 68% of consumers still think that there is less competition in the market compared to last year.

The TSB appears to see itself as a challenger bank, and its research does not bode well for other challengers in the banking sector.

No Informed Choice

The results of the research appear to justify the TSB’s conclusions. It found that 41% of consumers believe it’s hard to make an informed choice when switching, 38% do not see the benefits of switching, and 28% think that all products are essentially the same.

The reporting of the TSB’s research may therefore have gone some way towards making more people aware of their right to switch banks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The results of the TSB research shows that, even after a 3-year long investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) into competition in retail banking, the big banks still have a stronghold on the market, and consumers are missing out. It is of course advantageous to the big banks that this lack of awareness about CASS exists, and it appears to be getting worse. Indeed, some have accused the big banks of taking their customers for granted, trapping them on poor deals, and then making it impossible to switch.

It has been estimated that the average person could be £70 better off by switching, and that equates to a collective £10 million in savings that consumers are missing out on because of the lack of awareness about CASS.

The solution may be, therefore, to force banks to promote CASS and to explain its benefits to their customers. Many think that the CMA also needs to make more of an effort to promote the CSS and to encourage consumers to shop around for a bank account.

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Li-Fi Could Boost Wi-Fi

Upcoming wireless protocol Light Fidelity or Li-Fi could be used to complement and boost Wi-Fi by turning special LED light bulbs into network access points, and by co-existing in mobile devices to improve performance.

What Is Li-Fi?

Light Fidelity or Li-Fi is a wireless protocol that uses the visible light spectrum to provide wireless networking access. It essentially a way of using light to transfer data.

Li-Fi was first introduced in 2011 at a TEDGlobal conference by Professor Harald Haas. Professor Haas is reported to have created Li-Fi because he believed that the RF spectrum wasn’t enough for things like multimedia, and he was inspired by the spectrum crunch i.e. the lack of available wireless frequencies needed to support a growing number of consumer devices.

How Could It Work?

Professor Harald Haas demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress how a Li-Fi dongle, an integrated Li-Fi luminaire (light bulb), and a bi-directional link with special photo detector at both ends (in each) could be used to send and receive data. The dongle (plugged into a mobile device) can thereby send infrared LED data to the ceiling light. The light(s) can be hooked up to a network for example.

As a person moves around with the device, multiple Li-Fi lights in the room could mean that the device is able to automatically detect where the strongest signal is coming from, and can shift to that light source so the signal always stays connected and at full strength. In this way Wi-Fi could be boosted and improved with the help of Li-Fi.

Faster Than Wi-Fi

With Li-Fi, a Li-Fi transmitter uses LED lights to control light intensity. This data can then be read by a photosensitive receiver. The advantage here is speed. This is because LEDs use chips to control light output and thereby achieve millions of modulations per second, thus enabling LEDs to transmit data up to 100 times faster than Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi’s Impact

Many of us now rely upon Wi-Fi as we increasingly need and use mobile computing and communications for our work and social lives. Employees use Wi-Fi to access corporate networks, and independent workers turn coffee shops into offices using Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi’s Shortcomings

Although Wi-Fi is now used widely, it has several known shortcomings. For example, distance is often an issue, walls are literal barriers for connection, and Wi-Fi connections can be insecure and easily hacked. Also, despite the increase in bandwidth over time, an access point becomes a bottleneck when many users access it all at the same time, and there are real issues with security and scalability.

Complementary

Although Li-Fi cannot penetrate a wall, it could be used to complement and help reduce some of the shortcomings of Wi-Fi. Both technologies could co-exist in devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

A Long Way Off

Many technical commentators have pointed out that the use of Li-Fi e.g. in mobile devices, is still likely to be at least 5 years off. Challenges to its wide scale introduction, for example, include the fact that special receivers and transmitters will need to be incorporated in mobile devices, and specially designed chips will be needed to encode and decode to convert light signals into data.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

As more of us rely on an increasing number of smart and mobile devices, and with the challenges of a limited number of frequencies we can use, coupled with the obvious shortcomings of Wi-Fi, something needs to be done. Li-Fi provides a workable way to overcome many of the challenges we face with Wi-Fi and to give it a much needed boost. It’s also an innovative way of linking existing technologies together that could provide new opportunities for businesses as suppliers e.g. marketing Li-Fi light bulbs, and as users.

It is important to realise, however, that, for all its promise, Li-Fi is still a work in progress, and the predictions are that it could be very costly and politically difficult to introduce any time soon on a large scale.

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Encoded DNA Used To Carry Computer Malware

Researchers in the US have used digitised human DNA loaded with malware to infect a computer as part of an experiment to demonstrate that open-source programs used by laboratories worldwide are vulnerable to hackers.

What?

It has been reported that researchers at the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering have successfully infected a computer system by using a strand of encoded human DNA (not actual human DNA), loaded with malware.

As well as causing some alarm, the experiment, conducted by biologists and cyber security researchers, brings to the fore concerns about the vulnerabilities to hackers of open-source software being used in laboratories around the world.

Laboratories Vulnerable

The reason for the experiment was to explore the possibility that future attacks may come from the source material being handled for analysis, in this case DNA that can be transcribed and digitised.

Laboratories world-wide use computers to handle the large amount of processing that is necessary to filter through billions of DNA cases from one sample alone. The processing of data to store the basic units that make up DNA uses multiple open-source programs. The experiment has, therefore, shown that these open-source programs have vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers.

What Kind of Programs?

The programs highlighted by the researchers on their blog are C and C++ languages. These are commonly used to create laboratory bioinformatics tools. These programs are known to have security vulnerabilities, and may not have followed best security processes, and could have a number of insecure functions.

What Could Happen?

The full and precise implications would depend on the type and purpose of the malware, but hackers could embed malware into the base of an artificial (digitised) DNA strand so that, once this strand undergoes transcription, malware may be transferred onto the computer system.

Typically, this could give cyber criminals remote access to (and a way to) take control of an important laboratory computer system. Since the motivation for hackers is often money, ransomware could be used, or malware could be used to gather sensitive personal data or valuable industrial / commercial secrets, and payment details. Data could also be used to launch wider attacks across the organisation e.g. phishing and other social engineering attacks.

Just Raising Awareness

Although the focus of this particular experiment i.e. using digitised human DNA as a Trojan horse for hackers, seems a little leftfield, the researchers said that security around DNA sequencing is not under attack, and that the research was just conducted to raise awareness of the possibility.

The research team are due to present their full findings next week at the USENIX Security Symposium in Vancouver.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although this research had a niche industry focus, it does highlight the fact that no industry, segment or niche wordwide is safe from the risk of hackers.

Also, as the WannaCry malware attack demonstrated, malware makes no distinction between industries and organisations (the NHS was badly affected), but simply exploits the weaknesses that it has been written to exploit in order to spread and achieve the aim of its writers / users.

Another important point raised by this research that is not industry specific is the potential vulnerabilities of business programs written in open-source languages to cyber criminals.

Companies and organisations of all kinds should, along with their other security measures, conduct a security audit and risk assessment of purpose-written, open-source programs. This could allow potential vulnerabilities to be fixed / patched / protected.

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