Friday roundup: A week in tech

Phone Apps

Mark Zuckerberg, head honcho of inept global disgrace Facebook, is to be issued with a ‘formal summons’ by MPs – though ‘formal summons’ would be more accurately put ‘will be asked’ as they wouldn’t appear to have the power to actually demand his presence.

Earlier this month, Mr Zuckerberg dispatched his sidekick, chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, to assure MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that everything’s ok in Facebook Land, even if it sometimes seems incredibly suspicious.

But, would you believe, after failing to sufficiently fully answer 40 points put to him, the CTO’s display was deemed ‘unsatisfactory’, stirring the committee’s chair, Damian Collins, to the following words: ‘Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand man, whom we were assured could represent his views, today failed to answer many specific and detailed questions about Facebook’s business practices.’ Ha, really?

Despite the panoply of ongoing scandals, the firm – remarkably, astonishingly, unbelievably – announced a massive increase in sales this week, with figures rising by almost 50% in the last quarter to $11.9 billion. What, exactly, does this firm have to do to dent its ability to make lots of money?

 ***

Talking of firms doing well despite experiencing rotten times, it seems that Intel isn’t doing too badly either.

The chipmaker was in disarray at the start of year after it was revealed that its CPUs were vulnerable to the Spectre and Meltdown security flaws.

The company attempted a number of fixes, some of which created even more problems such as impairing CPUs’ performance.

However, everyone, including me, seems to have forgotten about all of that, as Intel has just announced profits of $16.1 billion for 2018’s 1st quarter, up 13% year-on-year.

There seems little else to say but ‘well done for successfully navigating what appeared to be an irredeemable catastrophe’ I suppose.

***

Hotel doors around the world are vulnerable to hacks, researchers have found – so it might be an idea to jam a chair up under the handle before you settle down to sleep in that Travel Lodge outside Yeovil this evening.

Door checkers the F-Secure team found that software used in millions of electronic locks allowed them to forge master keys, which granted them access to hotel rooms without leaving an activity log.

The team was moved to investigate the locks after a colleague’s laptop was swiped from a hotel room with no electronic trace of illicit entry. (Did they interrogate the maid? It’s always the maid.)

Assa Abloy, the Swedish manufacturer of the loose locks, reckons there isn’t much to worry about, claiming that ‘these old locks represent only a small fraction’ of its products, and, besides, hotels began rolling out a fix months ago – so, in summary, keep buying our locks, ok?

F-Secure’s Timo Hirvonen said: ‘We wanted to find out if it’s possible to bypass the electronic lock without leaving a trace. Only after we thoroughly understood how it was designed were we able to identify seemingly innocuous shortcomings and come up with a method for creating master keys.’

As an added layer of terror for those who find hotel rooms spooky anyway, the hack has been called Ghosts In The Lock exploit, so sleep well.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Ticket-buying robots facing ban

parliament2

The UK government is drawing up plans to ban robots from buying tickets for concerts and musicals – and, I assume, other things you might need tickets for, such as An Evening With Les Dennis.

Robots buying tickets? What madness is this? Actually, what the authorities want to crack down on is ticket touts swallowing up vast amounts of tickets with automated software – which they then sell on at massively inflated prices to fill their greedy pockets.

The ticket-tackling legislation will be presented to MPs this week, and if passed those who use software in such a covetous manner will ‘face an unlimited fine’.

Back in December, the Telegraph reported that tickets to the hip-hop musical Hamilton were being sold by touts for up to £6,000. Meanwhile, and also in 2017, the inexplicably popular Ed Sheeran was so incensed by the antics of touts that he cancelled 10,000 tickets to some of his shows that were being sold online at ridiculous prices.

Anyway, Margot James, minister for the digital and creative industries, is ‘determined to make sure everyone has the chance to see their favourite stars at a fair price,’ adding bullishly that ‘this week we will reach the final stage in our fight to beat rip-off ticket touts using bots to buy huge numbers of tickets, only to sell them on at massively overinflated prices’.

In a broader sense, is this the start of the surely guaranteed war between the government and the artificial intelligence we are creating to one day replace us? If so, looks like it’s 1-0 to the carbon-based lifeforms.

Ticket-buying robots facing ban

Friday roundup: A week in tech

plane.jpg

If you’re to be jailed at any point in the future, try to get a transfer to an Icelandic prison – because things would appear to be pretty laid back there.

A man suspected of stealing 600 computers as part of a Bitcoin caper climbed out of a window at a low-security prison and then got on a plane to Sweden, which also had the Icelandic prime minister on board, naturally.

Sindri Thor Stefansson’s air ticket had someone else’s name on it, which was clearly enough to fox Iceland’s customs staff.

The PCs – worth a combined £1.45 million – were snatched over a series of raids at data centres in the volcanic country, in an spree apparently masterminded by the Beano-esque Stefansson.

The Icelandic media are calling the antic the ‘Big Bitcoin Heist’, but I can’t work out if the computers were stolen and then used to mine Bitcoins, or were already being used to mine Bitcoin when they were stolen.

Anyway, the prison Stefansson strolled out of is unfenced and guests are allowed phones and internet access. I’m not sure it’s even guarded. I mean, why bother?

An international warrant has been issued but the alleged computer thief is currently still on the run. Perhaps he’ll just make his own way back?

***

Tepid drinkery chain JD Wetherspoon has withdrawn from the universe of social media, choosing to focus instead on delivering its core business: tepid experiences.

Actually, the firm reckons its immediately dumping Facebook, Instagram and Twitter because of the ‘trolling’ of MPs, with chairman Tim Martin adding that society would be a nicer place if people stopped using social media.

However, some sniggering cynics have suggested the move is more likely driven by criticism the pub chain often receives online, plus Chairman Martin’s enthusiasm for Brexit, which has led to a backlash on the ol’ internet. Oh, and the fact that the company only has 44,000 Twitter followers and around 100,000 Facebook fans – pretty small beer, really.

Whatever the reason, will the move see other firms following suit? Chairman Martin certainly hopes not, claiming that ‘we’ve got a massive commercial advantage because everyone else is wasting hours of their time’ – which sounds a little goading, almost trolling, to me, but we’ll see, won’t we.

***

Google, Facebook and Amazon should be broken up, a man has said. Which man? Vince Cable. Who’s he? The leader of the Liberal Democrats. Who are they? (This joke can go on and on.)

Seriously, speaking somewhere in London yesterday, the MP said that scandals such as the Cambridge Analytica debacle meant that tech firms had ‘progressed from heroes to villains very quickly’.

The one-time business secretary under yesteryear’s coalition government added that internet things like YouTube are being used as a ‘conduit for content which society regards as unacceptable’.

He went on: ‘There is a case for splitting Amazon into three separate businesses – one offering cloud computing, one acting as a general retailer and one offering a third-party marketplace. Other examples would be Facebook being forced to divest itself of Instagram and WhatsApp as a condition for operating in the EU, creating two new social media networks. Divesting Google of YouTube would be another.’

He doesn’t want much, does he? Smart as his ideas are, there is about as much chance of, for instance, Google being forced to part with YouTube as there is of a UK student believing anything a Liberal Democrat says ever again.

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Top ten reasons to attend the Socitm President’s Conference

 

glasgow-2173449_640

On 8-9 May 2018, the Socitm President’s Conference will come to Glasgow, providing an in-depth view into the technologies and trends emerging in the public sector today. Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about citizen and community engagement, ethical automation, cybersecurity, and the new delivery models and technologies set to transform the sector in the years to come. Here are just a few reasons why we think you should attend this year’s conference.

Learn about digital transformation
Digital transformation has emerged as quite the hot topic over recent years, and the President’s Conference is taking that knowledge in its stride. With first-hand insights into case studies and exclusive information from digital leaders around the world who have already deployed successful digital strategies, you can learn exactly how to make transformation work for you.

World-class speakers
One of the best reasons to visit the President’s Conference is the impeccable collection of more than 20 renowned speakers set to share their knowledge about the IT and digital world. This is a fantastic opportunity for professionals to learn more from the best in the business and listen to the ideas of leaders who have been a part of the growing digital revolution in the public sector for numerous years.

Keynote address by Scotland’s Deputy First Minster
In what promises to be one of the highlights of the conference, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney will share his insights and visions on the future direction of public services.

Network with top IT professionals
The President’s Conference provides a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and chat with other IT professionals about new technology and the latest innovations in the public sector. It’s also a great way to learn about the challenges peers have faced and how they were met and overcome.

Important sector commercial backers
The supplier community have come together to commercially support the conference, too. These sponsors include, at the highest, Presidential, level, Trend Micro and SBL, with a number of other key public sector suppliers set to offer insights at the show, too.

Interactive and engaging panel discussions
We’re making our conference sessions even more interactive and engaging this year by using Poll Everywhere. With Poll Everywhere, we’ll be able to answer questions and run polls during the panel sessions. Responses will be displayed live on screen.

An evening of dinner, drinks and digital delights
The President’s Dinner on 8 May promises to be an exciting and enthralling event with a delicious three-course dinner, a goodie-filled auction and raffle in honour of our incoming President’s chosen charity, Headway, and an opportunity to network then dance the night away with our fantastic members and sponsors.

Learning is fun
Nobody leaves a Socitm event without learning something. On hand at the conference will be QA, the UK’s leading learning and skills development organisation. They’ll be running sessions that’ll equip you with the invaluable knowledge needed to meet the challenges facing the ICT and digital universe.

Your event, our expertise
We’re particularly excited to be producing the entire event in-house this year, and our talented and experienced team has taken exhaustive guidance from our members and commercial partners to design a conference that delivers the engaging and relevant content our members need, whilst offering the genuine engagement opportunities our commercial partners demand.

A vibrant and dynamic destination
As one of Europe’s most vibrant, welcoming and dynamic cities, Glasgow is justifiably renowned throughout the world for the friendliness, warmth and humour of its people whose civic pride lies at the heart of the city’s continuing success. The President’s Conference takes place the day after the Spring bank holiday so why not make a weekend of it and explore what Glasgow has to offer?

In short, the President’s Conference promises to deliver a lot of answers which your peers may not have access to. So take advantage if you can. Or recommend it to a colleague if you can’t make it yourself. To attend the conference click here to register now!

Top ten reasons to attend the Socitm President’s Conference

Legacy systems: Are we ready for the transition?

Clouds and Hand.jpg

By Chris Riley, Socitm Vice President and ICT Manager at Lancaster City Council

Why is there constant talk about replacing legacy systems? Ok, so we know that the cloud is where we will eventually be, but are local government workers ready for the transition?

Historically, local government decided to work in silos, so we needed computer systems that supported this silo working. A separate council housing system, a separate environmental health system, a separate social care case management system, etc., each with their own people database, property database, accounting module, creditor module, customer services module etc., etc.

We know that cloud solutions can provide better results from orchestrated re-use of targeted modules, so we’re not asking for the wheel to be reinvented over and over again, together with ongoing support and maintenance costs for these almost identical modules.

People on the frontline in local government today have huge amounts to do and constantly reducing resources, so they don’t want to go through the pain of changing their computer systems, despite how poor the systems may be, because they just do not have the time to do it.

Add to this that the suppliers of the legacy systems are not being the fastest at moving to the cloud, and it seems like we are stuck.

We in IT know that there are benefits to the front-line workers by making use of cloud technology. So, how do we get there?

A few years ago, I thought that it was cloud or on-premise for infrastructure, because of the savings from being able to remove a datacentre, but since then I have found that there are efficiency and support savings to be made from having a hybrid cloud/on-premise infrastructure. We moved to this by making small changes with little impact on the frontline services.

So now that I am looking at the applications, attempting a cloud first policy. It seems to me that just looking for a cloud solution to replace a legacy system, is not looking at the full internal customer experience. Again, we need to achieve radical change, but bit by bit rather than taking the staff directly from where we are to where we want to be, so that they are on-board with what we are doing, and there is minimal interference, with maximum benefit for them.

My cloud first policy is looking towards using cloud-based applications, but getting there by first using cloud-based tools to enhance the existing legacy systems, gradually moving our staff to a new, different and better experience. This means that I am looking for add-ons to the systems, to resolve issues, coming from SMEs working alongside the suppliers of legacy systems. And, who knows, by the time I finally want to replace the legacy system, those suppliers may have the perfect solution.

Legacy systems: Are we ready for the transition?

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Dark Web.jpg

The UK’s regularly bewildered Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has found nine million British pounds down the back of the government’s sofa to fight dark web villainy – which doesn’t seem like much to tackle such a behemoth of a problem, but what do I know?

Talking to a crowd of security types at this week’s CYBERUK conference in Manchester, Rudd spoke of a ‘dark and dangerous place where anonymity emboldens people to break the law in the most horrifying of ways’. (And, to be clear, she was talking about the dark web, not Twitter.)

She went on to describe the internet’s grotesque, twisted side as a ‘platform of dangerous crimes and horrific abuse’. (She’s still talking about the dark web, not Facebook.)

Wickedness abounds on the dark web: drug-dealing, illicit pornography, illegal fire arms, the theft of personal data to manipulate the outcomes of elections.

Anyway, the money will be used to ‘enhance’ the authorities’ ability to tackle the chicanery of dark web crooks. They must be terrified.

***

Facebook CEO and growing global pariah Mark Zuckerberg appeared before American lawmakers this week – though what was actually accomplished is anyone’s guess.

In better news for the troubled billionaire, his performance before the Senate led to a rise in Facebook’s stock value, increasing his personal fortune by $3 billion. (He’s already asked if he can make these Senate hearings a weekly thing.)

Like when VIRTUALLY ANYTHING happens these days, the public grilling inevitably led to thousands, perhaps millions, of memes flooding Twitter et al, most of them painfully rubbish, as per usual, so I won’t share any here.

Anyhow, in a classic #MeToo manoeuvre, Zuckerberg bleated that, like that of his millions of subjects, his data had also been compromised – so you could argue that he’s the real victim here. The senators seemed to buy it, and we don’t appear to be any nearer understanding let alone dealing with the mysterious Cambridge Analytica debacle.

Next week the fun continues, for Facebook’s CTO, Mike Schroepfner, will appear before British MPs for another session of ‘sorry, yes, we didn’t know, sorry, what?’

Here’s a video of him saying sorry.

***

Imagine getting the internet even faster when you’re out and about staring at your phone like a zombie on Valium when you should be looking into the faces of and talking to the people you’re in the presence of – no, I’m not coming to the pub with you anymore.

That is just what 5G promises to deliver, and this video explains things.

In it, the poor, demoralised souls of Bournemouth decant their hearts out, suffering as they do ‘temperamental’ 4G coverage. (It’s easy for me to mock. I’m tempted to throw my phone to the ground if the weather app takes longer than two seconds to update.)

But things could soon change, as Bournemouth may well be the first place in the UK to get 5G, allowing previously frustrated users to download a HD film ‘in seconds’. What a time to be alive!

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Friday roundup: A week in tech

Amazon Dot

America’s extremely interesting choice of leader, Donald Trump, has continued to attack his latest foe/absurd distraction, the online retailer Amazon.

According to the President, the US Post Office is losing $1.50 on every delivery it makes for Amazon. Worse still, the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, regularly publishes stories that criticise Mr Trump, an activity he cannot abide.

Taking to Twitter, the President declared that ‘This Post Office scam most stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!’.

Mr Trump, who has a noteworthy relationship with tax himself, has been told that the Postal Regulatory Commission has found that the Postal Service actually makes a profit from its dealings with Amazon.

But why let little things like facts, evidence and reality get in the way of a good Twitter rant-campaign, after all this time?

We’re just over a year into this. Just under three years to go. At least.

***

Facebook is at the centre of YET ANOTHER controversy, which is all it seems to do nowadays.

According to a report from US news outlet CNBC, the social media firm started discussions with large medical institutions about ‘sharing’ user data for some kind of research project.

If you can stand it, here’s the full story by a proper journalist. In the meanwhile, when do we reach the point where we can universally agree that Facebook and people’s data are not a good mix?

I mean, we can’t keep doing this every day for the rest of our lives. Can we?

***

Good news for doctors that can’t stand dealing with patients – one in four of those seeking medical attention in England are now using online GP services.

According to NHS England’s figures, 13.9 million people are ordering prescriptions, viewing their medical records and so on over the internet, with the amount of super information highway accessors climbing by 42% in the last year.

The NHS’s chief digital officer, Juliet Bauer, is stoked by the news, saying: ‘The work to improve GP engagement, patient awareness and the patient experience is resulting in more sign-ups and better use of these vital services. This is just one example of how we are increasing the use of technology in the NHS to empower people to take more control of their health, wellbeing and care.’

Personally, I still prefer face-to-face appointments with my GP – though, admittedly, that is because it’s just nice to get out of the house sometimes, isn’t it.

Friday roundup: A week in tech