The Death of Flash

flash-logo

Adobe Flash, released in 1996 brought with it animations, games and of course ads to a mostly static web. The technology was greeted with almost universal praise and adoption by developers and web surfers alike.   Nowadays the software tool has a less favoured reputation; it’s unable to run on most mobile devices, consumes high amounts of devices’ processing power and battery life – and then of course there are the many security issues around Flash.

The adoption of Flash has decreased throughout the years but its most noticeable set-back was arguably the unveiling of Apple’s iPhone, bringing with it a new world of mobile internet which left Adobe behind technically, despite their willingness to be included.

Steve Jobs published his Thoughts on Flash on April, 2010 detailing why Apple don’t and won’t allow Flash onto their hugely successful iPhone, iPad and iPod. His main reason being that the mobile era is all about low powered devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where ‘Flash falls short’.

In August 2015 Amazon announced it would no longer be accepting Flash ads on its website.  This week Google announced, from the 30th June 2016 it will stop accepting Flash ads on its AdWords and DoubleClick networks and from 2nd January 2017 it won’t display any Flash ads on Display Network or DoubleClick.    Google has stated “We’ve rolled out tools to encourage advertisers to use HTML5, so you can reach the widest possible audience across screens.”     This move is likely to be the killing blow for Adobe’s Flash platform, with Google being the most prominent web ad provider around.

Adobe itself has come around to support open web standards, now providing its own Flash-alternative, HTML5 tools, for developers to create HTML5 content for both desktop and mobile.

With the almost inevitable demise of Flash in sight and modern, mobile-friendly web standards likes HTML5 ready to take over, appreciation of Adobe’s early efforts in making the web a more animated place should be acknowledged, though few will mourn all the security headaches that came with it.

Alibaba secures US foothold as part of its global strategy

Following the building of its first datacentre in the US, as first announced in our blog of 10th November 2014, Chinese e-commerce company, Alibaba, has launched an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud offering called Aliyun in the US. The company offers a range of IaaS cloud services including elastic compute, storage databases, content delivery, security and analytics products.

This is all part of a long term globalisation strategy to create data centres in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  In the fourth quarter of 2014 Aliyun reported revenues of $147 million. So far Alibaba has been targeting Chinese enterprises in the US, but confirmed it is setting its sights on America’s largest ecommerce company, Amazon and its cloud computing division Amazon Web Services in the longer term to attract US business.  Alibaba’s cloud computing President, Simon Hu said, “We strongly believe our products and services can not only tap into demand from Chinese companies, but also serve overseas clients who run international businesses”.  By building up relationships with US hosting partners in Silicon Valley in recent weeks, Alibaba has taken a real step closer to achieving its early goals by gaining this foothold in the States.

Both companies are dominant in their respective markets for ecommerce and IaaS and the race is on now as each targets the others core customer base. However, both companies face a significant challenge in overcoming the natural suspicions of each nation towards the other on the topic of security.  Despite China being the world’s richest economy (having shipped US$1.623 trillion worth of goods around the globe in 2014, up by 48.5% since 2010), data control is a very different beast to sell in contrast to electronics, manufacturing and clothes.

Amazon along with Microsoft has sought to enter the Chinese cloud market, but legal regulations are making it difficult for both of them.  Alibaba for its part, had to develop datacentres outside China, if it was to argue against accusations of interference and controls from the Chinese government. However, given the speed of its economy’s growth in the last decade there is clearly significant opportunity in the world market for Chinese businesses to use Alibaba.

China-based Forrester cloud analyst Frank Liu believes this niche position of Alibaba’s having a China-centric customer base (going global), could prove compelling as China’s economy continues to expand.   This heritage may yet prove a difficult pill for US customers to swallow though. With only one week since the mass ‘cyber intrusion’ of 4 million US public sector workers (which security experts believe could only have originated from China or Russia), the thorny issue of trust within the data community will remain at the top of the agenda.

aliyun-logo

This week’s technology news – 17th October 2014

Human OS – are we the biggest risk?
Increasingly sophisticated and convincing cyber attacks have continued throughout 2014 to catch out the weakest link in the security chain – namely us humans.   In 2014, despite the best efforts of all the tech giants wizardry, updates, patches and fixes, humans have remained the root cause of some of the biggest data breaches of the year.

McAfee’s recent Phishing Quiz polled 30,000+ participants in 49 countries.  Alarmingly, 80% fell for at least one phishing email in the 10-question quiz. Among business users, the best score came from IT and R&D teams – but their score was just 69% correct in detecting which emails were legitimate – so even the more informed can be duped.  A further new development to watch out for is the rise of “vishing” where an attacker makes a phone call, alluding to be a colleague in another department and encourages the employee to click on a link in an email without checking it thoroughly. Once the attachment is launched, pandora’s box is opened.

Three main causes identified for the rise were:
1. Our innate desire to help others
2. Lack of education about security threats.
3. Open source intelligence (OSINT) or online information gathering (the connections identified make social engineering an easy next stage for most effective attack.

There are many things management can do to reduce risk and it is not about a tick in the box from Compliance – there has to be engagement with staff.  Often staff will ignore security warnings to get things done.  There is an argument, put forward by the White House’s former cyber security expert Howard Schmidt that software companies should design better security controls to create a safer “ecosystem” including strong authentication, encryption and secure email to help users do what they need to do without risk.

Fundamentally, it is everyone’s responsibility to think about security and employee awareness should be constant vs being left to a management one off training session they will soon forget about.  Understanding different employees interaction and understanding of technology will help make your message relevant to say different departments, workers/managers.  Impact will ramp up with staff if you provide real life examples to get their eyes trained on so they can spot spam and phishing attempts.   Ultimately the culture has to be one of vigilance and encouraging staff not to trust what you see, just because it is in your business inbox, is the only way to avoid paying a high price in the long term.

21492120_s (2)

Managing passwords securely
In a world of biometrics, two-factor and other authentication methods most still use traditional passwords to login to servers and services. To keep as secure as possible, passwords must be unique for each account and complex enough to resist brute force attacks.

When you only need to access a handful of accounts, these passwords can all sit in the safest possible place – your head. When these accounts need to be accessed by others, or when you need to access dozens of accounts, this is less practical. To relieve this headache Password Managers can lend a secure hand, but choosing the right one to store the keys to the kingdom is vitally important to avoid a single point of failure arising.

The correct Password Manager needs to allow a user to login and access account details without compromising the data it holds. If all that stops someone accessing your list of passwords is a simple password itself, then you risk exposing everything.  Passwords, accounts and any customer details held must be encrypted and the authentication method allowing access needs to come from another already trusted source – and not the application’s own database. In additional the tool should never list the passwords themselves in a big viewable list which can be easily screen captured and shared outside the application.

Important as all this is, the user experience of the tool needs to be intuitive, fast and reliable. If the Password Manager itself is not quick or a pleasant experience you may end up finding employees bypass the app and your passwords get stored in other far less secure ways, such as physical notes or documents on employees storage, and no matter how secure a password is, if it can be found by unauthorised personnel you are leaving your company systems open to all.

passwords

Googles greatest competitor
Google is in the midst of an anti-trust complaint for its monopoly on online search (for more details click here to read our coverage). Google holds a hefty 90% search market share with other search options Bing, Yahoo and others taking the rest.

Technically Microsoft’s Bing is the next biggest name in search, but Google Chairman Eric Schmidt doesn’t see things quite the same: “Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo. But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon,” he said in a recent speech in Berlin.  With Amazon having no search product of its own this is peculiar to hear. Mr Schmidt went on to point out the difficulty in comparing search like-for-like. “People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon,” he said. “They are obviously more focused on the commerce side of the equation, but, at their roots, they are answering users’ questions and searches, just as we are.”

The timing of this of course cannot be ignored.  If Google was not being observed as closely as it is, with such a huge fine looming over its head, would their stance be quite the same?  Microsoft and Google have not always enjoyed each other’s company, making playful jabs at each other when appropriate.  Even with Google’s search and arguably smartphone monopoly, the tech giant is still very wary.  Admitting who their greatest competitor is, Schmidt says its “Someone, somewhere in a garage.. gunning for us.  I know, because not long ago we were in that garage.  Change comes from where you least expect it.”

google_logo_3D_online_hires

Data analytics use to prevent spread of Ebola
The terrifying spread of virus outbreak Ebola in West Africa has caused thousands to die and threatens countries throughout the world.  Data scientists believe that data analytics could help in tracking and directing aid faster and more effectively. Even in the poorest countries in Africa, mobile phones are widely owned and could be the source for authorities deploying medical treatment centres, as well as identifying places where perhaps movement controls need to be put into place rapidly to stop the spread of disease further.  With passenger travel, the availability of digital data means that at least here, the ability to track and chase potentially infected people is easier, if somewhat retrospective.

The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with a mapping software company Esri to collect and display mobile phone mast activity data from mobile operators to identify where calls to helplines are mostly coming from. Sharp increases from one area would suggest an outbreak, requiring urgent response.  Where the alternative is anecdotal information, ground surveys or police and hospital reports, this use of technology is more dynamic and holds greater chance of having impact (as it did for UN relief operations defending cholera outbreaks after the Haiti earthquake of 2010).

Mobile phone data alone though is not enough.  Big data analytics is about pulling together many different data sources from which it can see patterns.  Frances Dare, MD of Accenture Health comments:  “We have health clinic and physician reports, media reports, comment on social media, information from public health workers on the ground, transactional data from retailers and pharmacies, travel ticket purchases, helpline data, as well as geo-spatial tracking.”  There has certainly never been so much data available.  Whether it can have any impact on the rate and spread of the disease is questionable, but if it can help allocate resources more effectively, then it has to be a step in the right direction if supported by global resources and commitment, which currently are all too lacking.

_78236645_w_africa_trips

Humanity’s public library
To have knowledge is a great thing.  To share knowledge is greater.  Technology is making a huge difference throughout the world and nowhere more so than in the developing world. Two thirds of the world’s population is estimated to be without internet access and it is the communication part, not the information part which costs the money.

In step Outernet, an innovative company seeking to put knowledge on a more level playing field by creating a core archive of the world’s most valuable knowledge for free, updated monthly and providing regular news in future.  Delivery is via re-purposed broadcast satellite TV equipment to DIY receivers which can relay information to smartphones and computers.

Technology research company Ovum comment that locals are more likely to be interested in things affecting their livelihoods ie. weather, healthcare, crops etc. However, the needs and opportunities for this group have captured the attention of some of the heaviest technology players:  Google announced in June 2013 it was looking to use balloons in the stratosphere to give internet access to buildings below, and Facebook announced in March 2014 it was planning to use drones and satellites similar to Outernet’s with Mark Zuckerberg creating a business consortium Internet.org to drive their project forward.  In such a consumerist world, we are likely to witness more innovation through technology recycling as resources become scarce – and sometimes a simple solution can be as effective and have greater impact as its  more costly first world cousin’s solution.

_78183991_5faa1848-f3e2-4451-a27a-3e41f82bae81

 

This week’s technology news – 20th June 2014

Euro business facing tech deficit creates opportunity for leading IT MSPs
A new report fielding results from over 850 Euro technology decision makers, has identified 72% of Euro businesses acknowledge they face a moderate or significant tech deficit as they weigh up their commercial plans against their ability to support their existing IT infrastructure.

The research marks a change in outlook as 76% of companies are seeing suppliers more as partners. In addition to this, 63% saw benefits in using providers with a range of IT service and infrastructure solution offerings, creating a complete portfolio of solutions, as opposed to businesses relying on a chain of individual suppliers.

Most prominent on the shopping list for priority tech resolution in the next 2 years were: voice and communications (88%), data centre infrastructure (90%) and network infrastructure (85%).
The researchers found that the use of a service based model would become more important, with IaaS, SaaS and data centre colocation to increase resilience, expected to grow by 52%, 55% and 33% respectively.

The report also identified a growing preference for simplicity and automation in organisations’ infrastructure to safeguard future development and growth, whilst maintaining flexibility and seeking OPEX vs CAPEX outlay – all of which will be a more attractive sell to the board.

There is a clear steer for progressive IT managed service providers to respond with intelligent mapping of best in market supplier partnerships and match the diverse requirements of their customer base to ensure highest standards of governance to wrap the complete offering as their trusted advisor.

Microsoft’s Machine Learning heads to the Cloud
Microsoft Research has been developing machine learning technologies for some time now. The technology is a branch of artificial intelligence utilised to complete complex computing tasks. Microsoft uses this tech to help power Xbox Live, Bing and has worked with its partners so they can also take advantage of machine learning. However this comes in the form of complex, physical infrastructure work. Now, Microsoft has announced it is bringing machine learning to its Azure Cloud to combat this issue.

“Soon, machine learning will help to drastically reduce wait times in emergency rooms, predict disease outbreaks and predict and prevent crime. To realize that future, we need to make machine learning more accessible – to every enterprise and, over time, everyone,” wrote Joseph Sirosh, corporate VP of Machine Learning, on the Microsoft blog.
The public launch of the service is expected to hit next month for Azure users, so they can also take advantage of artificial intelligence based computing.

“Google Earth” mapping for Joe Bloggs in the UK
Real-time computer simulations determining diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease are at the heart of a groundbreaking new book, “Computational Biomedicine: Modelling the Human Body”. The authors advocate that drugs will soon be selected on the basis of a patient’s “digital profile”, with treatments tailored accordingly and that clinical decisions made in the UK’s operating theatres will be determined by such technology by the end of the century.

The speed of technological advances is altering what historically would have been purely hypothetical research, into real time plans in healthcare according to author, Professor Pete Coveney. In parallel, 123 academics and clinicians working under the collective name, the Insigneo Institute, are working on a major EC backed project called “Virtual Physiological Human”, a computerised replica of the human body that allows virtual testing of treatments on patients, based on their own specific needs.

Whilst a virtual human is still a long way off, scientists have recently used images of a patient’s heart to build virtual arteries from which predictions for most effective operations can be made. Separately, one of Professor Coveney’s colleagues is modelling the blood flow in a patient’s brain and relying on the UK’s most powerful supercomputer at the University of Edinburgh, capable of more than a million billion calculations per second. An interesting question of liability pops up with regard to supercomputers themselves, not all of which are in the UK. If a supercomputer in the States made a calculation that led to the death of a patient in the UK, could it be held liable?

Finally, to make such technological advances in virtual medicine happen, vast amounts of patient data is required. However, the spate of NHS data scandals does little to progress the cause. Whilst the arguments against making data available from patient groups and lobbyists is frequently heard (and often with good reason in terms of governance), Professor Coveney argues that individuals are far more receptive to their personal data being used, especially where they have a direct interest as it could offer even a limited chance of finding a cure for them.

For medical practitioners and CISOs, these fascinating developments and intriguing prognostications will continue to be voiced and require solutions as governance and the law fight to keep up with each other at the high table of technology.

Amazon unveils a smartphone equipped with 6 cameras
Ever since Amazon successfully entered the tablet space, with a modified Android slab there has been rumours of an Amazon Phone. This week it became a reality, the phone simply being called Fire. Again running on a modified Android platform the main gimmick is how it uses cameras. In addition to the standard snapper on the front and back, there are also 4 other front facing cameras, utilised to detect what angle you are looking at the phone, to create a quasi-3D effect allowing you to see the content on your phone at different angles, not to be mistaken with stereoscopic tech which simulates depth.

The phone also includes a new Amazon service called Firefly, after pressing the dedicated button, the phone looks and listens and if you point it at an ad in real life, you can tap on a phone number or web address. If it can hear music, a TV show or a movie, it can show relevant info and of course a button to buy from the Amazon store. There are also some other special features, including Mayday, Amazon’s live-video tech support which should be handy for first time smart phone buyers who lose their way.

Despite some clever tech under the hood, it is clear that this is a product which unlike Google, Apple and Microsoft will not also be competing for the office space, at least yet and is setting its multitude of sights directly at the home.

Amazon_Fire_Phone

This Week’s technology news – 6th December 2013

Little chance of privacy on Liberty’s shores
America’s NSA is trawling a whopping 5 billion mobile phone records per month in an attempt to connect terrorists by location and conversations. The volume almost defies analysis when only 1% is useful in anti-terror work. Microsoft plans to counter this invasion of privacy by encrypting its services to thwart tracking. The power player also confirmed it will continue to fight legal orders to release consumers’ details to government departments. Commercial security for customers with a mobile workforce remains a key priority for MSPs. Top players including Mobile Iron, Airwatch and Good ensure that the positivity of identifying location, plus wipe and lock device management remain a desirable paid-for feature with their audiences and not a threat.

DDoS caused Natwest’s service failure last Friday
Last Friday shoppers around the UK were unable to use their Natwest accounts. RBS Group have reported the reason for service failure was due to a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. This news comes shortly after Monday’s IT failure, where cash machines and card payments were also affected. RBS are stating Monday’s IT failure and Friday’s DDoS were not connected and no customer information was compromised. No comment has been made whether any further action has been taken to prevent future attacks, but whether customers trust them enough to remain with the bank remains to be seen.

Apple add Topsy to the shopping basket
Apple may have recently bought the 3D sensor company PrimeSense but their shopping spree has not ended yet. This week Apple purchased Topsy a Twitter analytics firm for an estimated $200m. Topsy is one of a few companies with access to Twitter’s entire data stream and archive of 400 billion tweets. Apple has mostly stayed out of the social networking game, with iTunes Ping their now closed social network attempt, falling flat on its face shortly after release. Although Apple has no native search tools (unlike Google or Microsoft) to take advantage of this large datastream, they could be looking to integrate it into their virtual voice assistant tool Siri for iPhone and iPad. The other advantage this data could have for Apple is a better understanding of consumers’ habits, utilising what people are talking about to help place effective advertising in social media.

Amazon drones on about their courier service
Online retailer, Amazon, has announced plans to launch Prime Air, a possible new drone delivery service expected to be in development till 2015. Using a gyrocopter to fly small packages under 5 lbs, it would have a range of 30 minutes from its distribution centres. The hurdles are considerable and create more questions than answers currently: FAA approval needed for flightpath clearance, limited address viability (delivery to flats, offices and pavement access headaches), plus a very limited payload. Similar drones are being developed in Australia and China, so no opportunity for patenting. However, if approved, the upside for the US economy is a potential $13.6 billion injection plus 70,000 new jobs over 3 years and an estimated economic development of $82 billion over 10 years. Like all good technology revolutions there is lots of hype – whether it “delivers” on speeding business up remains to be seen?

This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 19th April 2013

UK SMBs Main Target For Cyber Threats
Symantec’s latest Threat Report shows cyber attacks having risen by 42% in 2012, with the UK being the subject of 20% of all global threats. Whilst smaller businesses with weaker security systems are traditionally the initial target, these are seen merely as stepping stones for larger company breaches. BYOD trends have added to the headache with virtualisation, mobility and cloud requiring security across all devices (32% of all mobile threats were aiming to steal information). Even if companies have not been directly attacked, their websites have been compromised, spreading malware (30% up on the previous year). We believe companies must be more proactive and create “defence in depth” security measures, as it is no longer an option to ignore this issue if they are to stave off future attacks.

Microsoft obtains its largest patent licensee with Foxconn
Microsoft will be celebrating this week with the news it has secured its largest ever patent licensee with Taiwanese phone maker Hon Hai, owners of Foxconn. Although details of the deal are currently scarce, Microsoft will be getting a flat fee per Android device produced, accounting for 40% of Smart Phones worldwide including Kindle Fire. These patents include how file names are implemented, data management and contact databases. Microsoft already extracts royalties from most big name Android manufactures such as Samsung, LG and HTC. Adding Foxconn gives Microsoft a highly profitable new revenue stream, which is more per device than the manufacturers make on the sale of phones themselves.

Amazon takes on Google with their App Store
Amazon has announced over the next few months it will be extending support to almost 200 countries from their app store that runs on top of Android for the Kindle Fire tablets. The Amazon Appstore for Android will support more countries than the native app store available on other Android tablets, such as Samsung and HTC. Indicating Amazon’s commitment and momentum in the mobile sector it will drive sales of Kindle devices in countries where Google’s app store is not supported. In our opinion, it also fuels rumours of Amazon’s move to the Smart Phone sector later this year. Without the support of additional countries, the company would have trouble launching worldwide.

Sony streams in to lay claim to world’s fastest home internet
Google Fiber has been generating internet chatter with its rollout of 1Gbs internet access in America. However Sony have announced what they claim is the ‘world’s fastest commercially-provided home internet service’, which launched in Japan this week providing 2Gbps downloads. We think Sony may be using the service to help the launch of their next-gen HD streaming service later in the year, driven by their acquisition of Gaikai. The launches of these super speed internet connections could make the commercial and business thin client PCs mainstream. From our point of view, it is no coincidence that Google and Sony who would be interested in delivering these services, are preparing the groundwork to make this a reality.

Money on a flashstick
Bitcoin a new virtual currency is making waves. Whilst used for buying goods and services online its distinct feature is its anonymity and independence. Hard to regulate and with transactions tough to trace, it’s a growing honeypot for black marketeers. It’s also an interesting alternative to cash if you are in a country caught in a crisis. Largely disliked by banks and governments, it appealed sufficiently however to the Wikelvoss twins, who went public this week claiming to own 1% of the internet currency worldwide ($11m). They have preserved security from hackers by keeping their digital cash on flashsticks in safe deposits in different banks. Anonymity is a big attraction, however the risk due to wild fluctuation in bitcoin value will keep the meek at bay. We consider that if it continues to grow, it could signal a new player in the global economy. In the meantime, businesses will be more comforted by traditional forms of payment for services, rather than in kind.

This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 5th April 2013

Amazon’s Cloud Drive finally includes File Synching
Amazon who holds more Cloud market share than both Google and Microsoft have finally added a file synching feature to Cloud Drive. Cloud storage services are a hugely competitive sector and with Google Drive having suffered 3 service fallouts recently lasting up to 3 hours, it could mark an opportunity for Amazon to promote their alternative further. Amazon’s main differential with Cloud Drive in addition to its vast access to users, is its incorporation into the Kindle Fire tablets. This has helped Amazon gain market share. In conclusion the Cloud storage war will be decided not only on features, but the depth and reach to users and its integration onto different mobile platforms.

ICO compulsory audits of the NHS
The NHS is described as having “significant and widespread data protection compliance concerns” in a consultation document, based on an ICO submitted business case. The Government is investigating making data protection auditing compulsory for the NHS. Currently when a serious data protection problem occurs and is exposed, organisations often do not submit to an audit. ICO reveal that only 53% of NHS organisations referred for audit agreed to it, compared to 71% across the whole public sector. Compulsory audits for the NHS will be the right move to increase patient confidence in what is one of the UK’s largest and most important data control areas.

Windows Phone 123% growth
This week Kantar released its latest data of smartphone market share including data for the UK. Over the last 12 months Windows Phone has shown 123.3% growth in the UK, officially making Microsoft 3rd for Smart Phone market share behind Google and Apple, while Blackberry sits in 4th. This surge of customer interest in Windows Phone is likely due to the launch of Windows Phone 8 and a large marketing campaign, still on-going by Microsoft and Nokia. We predict over the next 12 months Windows Phone will see further growth, while both iOS and Android take the hit to make this happen.

IT Outsourcing on the up
In a recessionary market where cost-savings have included bringing services inhouse, one exception may be the ever increasing outsourcing of IT services. A recent study by Bluewolf (a global business consulting firm), found that out of 200 IT decision makers, 32% said they planned to increase IT outsourcing in the next 12-18 months. Additionally 48% believed they would be hiring more contractors vs full time staff. The ability to capture the best talent managing the latest technology, allied to elasticity of workforce, mobile application assistance, infrastructure support services, cloud data management and disaster planning tailored to a company’s needs will be fundamental to providing the necessary resilience and business continuity to firms in a fast changing commercial environment.