Friday roundup: A week in tech

Russia

The Russian government was behind a large-scale cyber assault last year, the British government reckons.

According to defence minister Gavin Williamson, Russia deployed the NotPetya virus against Ukraine – which subsequently spread around the world costing global firms an estimated $1.2 billion, though how that figure was arrived at is anybody’s guess.

Unsurprisingly, the Russians have denied all of this, pointing out that Russian firms also took a kicking from the NotPetya ransomware.

Mr Williamson MP has claimed that the Russians are ‘ripping up the rule book’ – no, I have no idea what rule book he’s talking about either.

Lord Ahmad, a Foreign Office minister, has also chimed in, saying that the UK government will not countenance ‘malicious cyber activity’. No, of course not.

In summary: isn’t it nice that we’re all getting on so well?

***

The new bad boy of the money universe, crypto-currency, has claimed another victim, as it continues on its mission to relentlessly baffle the world’s financial journalists.

Miffed radio-astronomers have claimed that the yobbish virtual coinage is hindering their search for extraterrestrials – and can there be a more damning indictment than that?

The folks at SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) are desperate to expand their explorations but a global dearth of graphics processing units (GPUs) is spoiling things.

Alien seeker Dr Dan Werthimer said: ‘We’d like to use the latest GPUs and we can’t get ’em. That’s limiting our search for extraterrestrials…This is a new problem, it’s only happened on orders we’ve been trying to make in the last couple of months.’

Crypto-miners use processing power to unravel complicated mathematics, which validates purchases made with the likes of Bitcoin. Similarly, those searching the galaxy for life need large amounts of computing power to process the huge amount of data their sweepings of the heavens generate.

The situation is somewhat similar to billionaire industrialist Max Zorin’s scheme to hoard microchips in the 1980s, which was covered in this documentary.

***

The UK government believes it is in possession of software that will help to thwart the spread of jihadists’ online propoganda.

The generally tech-illiterate Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced the artificial intelligence (AI) tool that can apparently detect extremist material and automatically block it – and she also threatened to make it a legal requirement for firms to apply it.

London-based ASI Data Science received £600,000 from the government towards the creation of the jihadi-foiling app, which the firm says can be shaped to identify 94% of Islamic State’s online films.

Speaking in Silicon Valley for some reason when I’m pretty sure she could have done it from somewhere in the UK where she governs, Mrs Rudd said: ‘It’s really nice and hot here today, now where’s that kid with my latte?’

No, she didn’t. What she really said was: ‘It’s a very convincing example of the fact that you can have the information you need to make sure this material doesn’t go online in the first place.

‘The technology is there. There are tools out there that can do exactly what we’re asking for. For smaller companies, this could be ideal. We’re not going to rule out taking legislative action if we need to do it.

‘But I remain convinced that the best way to take real action, to have the best outcomes, is to have an industry-led forum like the one we’ve got.’

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Webinar Wednesdays Part 2

Webinar-wednesday-21-february-blog

If you love Wednesdays AND webinars I have excellent news: Socitm’s next Webinar Wednesday is almost upon us (it’s next Wednesday, if you haven’t worked that out yet).

Our brand new member service, the first broadcast – which went out last month and covered data privacy impact assessments (DPIAs), a vital component of the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – was a huge success, and can still be accessed by Socitm corporate members here: http://dashboard.socitm.net/account/

This month’s broadcast will have a look at how to lockdown the behemoth that is Office 365.

You may be surprised, or appalled, to learn that once you have moved your users to Office 365, you’ll have to review and change the default settings to meet your organisation’s security needs.

And that’s why we’ve asked Pauline Dahne, an experienced technical instructor, to walk you through the process of changing the various default settings to ensure your Office 365 environment is set up right.

Members should have been sent an invitation to next week’s show, which will go out Wednesday 21 February at 1pm. If you haven’t received an invitation it means you aren’t a member – so maybe now’s the time to become one? You can find out more about the benefits of Socitm membership here: https://www.socitm.net/membership

The webinar is on Wednesday 21 February at 1pm. Check out the details by opening the calendar invitation.

I hope you can make it!

Webinar Wednesdays Part 2

Tech firms must clean up networks, says massive advertiser

Mustard

One of the world’s largest splashers of marketing money has demanded that the big tech firms clean up their acts – or it’ll take its money away.

Unilever, which makes everything from Marmite to Domestos (I hope at separate factories), claims it’s tired of online hate, fake news and child abuse, and doesn’t wish to be associated with things like that, which is understandable.

Thusly, the likes of Facebook and Google need to take online action if they want the firm to continue wheel-barrowing money into their comfy lairs.

The Anglo-Dutch combine, which manufactures everything from 80s-throwback neck-sweetener Brut to 90s-throwback pseudo-luxury ice cream Viennetta, spent a nuts £6.8 billion on advertising last year.

In a speech today, the company’s chief marketing officer, Keith Weed, will claim that its customers ‘have trust in our brands’ – and remember, these people make I can’t believe it’s not Butter.

Unless he changes his mind between now and the speech, Mr Weed will tell listeners at California’s stimulating-sounding Interactive Advertising Bureau conference: ‘As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.

‘Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate. We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.’

It’ll be interesting to see if the likes of Facebook and Google do suddenly find a way to clear their networks of child abuse, hatred and lies – because if they do it will rather demonstrate that the threat of losing money is the one thing they cannot countenance, and is far more motivating than, say, regulation, or a moral backbone.

But, anyway, the amount of stuff that Unilever makes

As well as I can’t believe it’s not Butter, it makes Bertolli, Flora and Stork (that’s sort of all the same stuff, isn’t it?); Colman’s mustard; Vaseline; Marmite’s insipid cousin Bovril; Pot Noodle; PG Tips; and even that staple of childhood bath times, Matey bubble bath, which caused quite a nostalgic tremor when I saw the branding on its website earlier.

Tech firms must clean up networks, says massive advertiser

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Sunglasses.jpg

The Chinese have deployed yet another piece of surveillance technology that is either A) very creepy, or B) terrifying, depending on your point of view.

Chinese cops are now equipped with sunglasses that house facial recognition features, to help identify ‘criminals’.

According to the famously impartial and balanced Chinese state media, the technology has already led to the capture of seven ‘criminals’.

This BBC story reckons there are fears that China’s government may use the face-spotting specs to further suppress ‘dissidents’. In other news, it has been revealed that the Pope has Catholic leanings.

***

Is the game up for the internet’s latest utterly shameful horror show, a mere five minutes after the furore started?

Gigantic web gibberish bin Reddit has moved to ban so-called ‘deepfake’ videos from its nebulous network, after that bastion of morality and enlightenment Twitter invoked the same edict.

Deepfake videos see the faces of famous people, mostly women, digitally plastered onto the heads of actors in other films, mostly pornographic ones, for the amusement and/or satisfaction of others, mostly pitiful men.

Is this an indication that the internet can move as one, fight back and strike a blow for basic common decency if it really puts its mind to it? Maybe! Let’s be optimistic, for a change.

***

Lots of things are going to happen for the first time this May: a member of the royal family is going to marry an American (this isn’t actually even slightly accurate); I’m going to be [redacted] years old for the first time; and Socitm’s first ever President’s Conference is going to take place!

The two-day event, nestled in the glorious city of Glasgow, is going to be packed with THE workshops, panel discussions, training sessions, coaching classes, insights, debates, lightning talks and general network-mingling that YOU need in your ICT life.

PLUS there’s the President’s Dinner to look forward to – an evening of top food, luscious drinks and dazzling entertainment. I’ll be there, too, but please don’t let that put you off.

Do you really want to miss THE EVENT of the digital calendar? I thought not.

Click here to read more and book your place now.

***

Do you live in the country? Do you balance the peace and serenity of your verdant surroundings with the hellish daily experience of trying to do things on the internet? Well, here’s another proposed solution (number 546).

EE has announced plans to retail a 4G aerial which it claims will deliver nice, fast broadband to those who spend their days crying and thumping their table tops as the iPlayer takes 14 hours to run an episode of Silent Witness.

It’ll cost you £100 and will deliver speeds of up to 100Mbps – surely only IF you’ve got good 4G coverage in your area.

Tim Till, a man who apparently works for EE but I don’t know in what capacity, said: ‘If your home has access to fixed broadband, then that would probably be the right choice, but if you can’t then this is an option. We’re in the business of providing connectivity to those that don’t have it.’

If you live in the country, which do you find more aggravating: slow internet speeds OR constant proposed solutions to said slow speeds that ultimately come to nothing?

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Southend robot clocks on at residential care home

By SA Mathieson, editor of Socitm In Our View magazine

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has used a humanoid robot showing clips of George Formby and the Queen’s coronation to help older people reminisce about their lives.

In December the council used the robot, known as Pepper, in a reminiscence therapy session at Southend Care’s Priory House residential care home. Pepper showed videos on its built-in screen and staff asked questions about when residents first saw the clips and how they made them feel.

Residents also sang along to audio played by Pepper, which the council believes is the first robot used by a UK local authority.

Paul Mavin, group manager business support at the council, says that he was “a bit taken aback” by how easily the seven or eight residents accepted the robot. “We were half expecting a little bit of fear or trepidation from some of the residents, but they really took to Pepper straight away,” he says.

Southend is planning more such sessions, but with an expanded role for Pepper. “We were asking questions, they were directing their answers to Pepper,” says Phil Webster, manager of Southend’s equipment service. “At the end of the session, they said ‘goodbye Pepper, thank you Pepper’.” The robot will be programmed to ask initial questions in future sessions, which will also use shorter audio clips to match the length of time residents like to sing for, as well as larger images.

Sharon Houlden, Southend’s director of adult social care, says the council bought Pepper to move social care innovation beyond assistive technology such as flashing light doorbells. “As part of our social care transformation programme we wanted to do something that genuinely was very different to anything else we saw out there,” she says.

Photo: Southend-on-Sea Borough Council

Pepper’s Twitter account: http://www.twitter.com/peppersouthend

Read a longer version of this article in the new issue of Socitm’s In Our View magazine, now available to everyone.

Southend robot clocks on at residential care home

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Screenshot_20180202-094805

Our digital minister has, rather fittingly, launched an app, which I’ve dutifully downloaded so I can tell you all about it.

Matthew Hancock MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (they like to keep him busy), launched the software for IOS and Android to ‘promote healthy, open and constructive discourse on the issues that matter to you,’ and is ‘intended to engage, update and inform West Suffolk constituents’.

But users are also warned that ‘offensive conduct will not be tolerated, and offenders may be removed’. Oh dear, the jokers have ignored that, as anybody living could have told you they would, and the thing is already deep in flood with frenzied wackiness.

According to the Guardian, the majority ‘of the users are political journalists, people trolling Matt Hancock, or both,’ which sounds like a perfect storm of utter tedium.

More interestingly and alarmingly are the concerns raised by privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, whose director has described the Hancock app as a ‘fascinating comedy of errors’.

The superbly named Silkie Carlo said: ‘It is quite fitting, given this government’s incompetence on digital privacy issues, that our digital minister’s app steals a bank of users’ personal photographs, even when permission to access them is denied.’ Opps!

…actually, I’d better uninstall it sharpish.

***

Apple didn’t sell as many phones last year, but before you fret and weep on behalf of the company you should know that profits rose anyway. Phew.

In fact, Apple made record quarterly profits of £14 billion – driven by sales of its very expensive iPhone X in Europe and Japan.

Actually, it’s year-on-year handset sales only dropped by 1% to 77.3 million, and as the iPhone X starts around £1,000 and has been the best-selling Apple device since its launch in November it’s not really surprising that they’re rolling in yet more money.

But are things about to turn to dust? The firm has forecast weaker sales in the coming months, so maybe the great Apple is about to tumble. Seems unlikely, but let’s wait and see.

Incidentally, Apple are currently in a three-way race with Amazon and Google to become the world’s first trillion dollar company – a contest which I’m sure you find as gripping as I do.

***

The resurgent Nintendo has reported that its latest games console has outsold its predecessor in under a year.

The Nintendo Switch has sold 14.86 units in 10 months since its launch; Nintendo’s previous system, the Wii U, sold a mere 13.56 million in five years.

Consequently, the firm has announced its greatest quarterly profits since 2009.

And I can vouch for all this: the Switch is the first console I’ve bought in years and it is superb.

However, apparently intent on ruining things, Nintendo has announced plans to make a film based on its popular character Mario, a truly rubbish idea not least because they did that once before and it was, predictably, truly rubbish.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Deletion of ‘deepfake’ porn films begins (no doubt fruitlessly)

film camera

Have you heard about the internet’s latest squalid, debasing, grotesque and vile pastime? Well, here we go – let’s be depressed together.

‘Deepfake’ films employ simple tech to allow even the ineptest and dim of users to trace people’s faces onto actors in pre-existing video – with the commonest output of this ‘art’ the hoisting of the visages of famous female actresses, singers and so on onto the heads of porn stars. Naturally.

Now a firm that hosts the degrading clips has begun deleting them, after claiming that they are ‘objectionable’.

Tat hosting site Gfycat simpered: ‘Our terms of service allow us to remove content that we find objectionable. We are actively removing this content.’

Fakeapp, the software that powers the sordid enterprise, has been downloaded over 100,000 times, presumably primarily by weak, inadequate men, for whom lust, aesthetics and revenge are all the same sort of thing.

The actress Emma Watson and the singer Ariana Grande are two of those lucky enough to have been virtually planted into pornographic films without their consent, for the gratification of literally thousands of…I suppose you could call them ‘men’, at a push.

Of course, it’s very hard if not totally impossible to completely remove a video from the internet, so this abysmal stuff will be out there forever.

The internet’s proud, mad, baffling war on women continues!

Deletion of ‘deepfake’ porn films begins (no doubt fruitlessly)