Another mobile OS bites the dust

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The smartphone OS market is incredibly competitive, made up of just 3 main players. In the UK Android is in the lead with 51.9%, iOS in second with 39.5% and Windows in third with 8.2%, leaving just 0.4% for the rest of the market.

Firefox OS by Mozilla is one of these other OS’s, however this week Mozilla announced it is now throwing in the towel after just a few years of pushing FireFox OS on Smartphones. These were aimed at the low-end without great success. The OS will live on as an open source project but will cease to support smartphones as they were not able to offer “the best user experience possible”.

Firefox OS is not the first in exiting the smartphone market with other examples in smartphone history including: Symbian, Bada, MeeGo, Palm OS and WebOS.

There are also other current OS’s making up the ‘other’ category with Blackberry, Sailfish OS, Tizen and Ubuntu Touch.

Android was the latest introduced platform that has found large success, overtaking at-the-time most popular OS Symbian, back in 2010.

So why have we not seen any companies make a significant impact in the mobile market since Google’s entry with Android?

We’re seeing both a maturation of the smartphone landscape and costs of entry skyrocketing, even with these two large factors it is possible that the ‘other’ category could increase in market share instead of diminish over the next few years as we see more informed consumers looking elsewhere amongst the mature and arguably creatively stagnant platforms.

Blackberry announces privacy focused Android phone

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Blackberry’s much rumoured android venture has finally become official with the announcement of the companies first Google powered smart phone called the Priv due to be released later this year.

Priv stands for privacy which has been the cornerstone of BlackBerry’s business over the last 20 years.

Both the phone and the strategy announcement of a non-BlackBerry OS phone came out from a simple press release from the company after many rumours and substantial leaks showing much of the device. The announcement also confirmed that BlackBerry is not yet cancelling development of its own BlackBerry OS but will be developing both Android and BlackBerry OS handsets in the future to give consumer the choice of which they prefer.

The dual development approach however may not be a long term strategy and it is very possible that this time next year BlackBerry, if their Android phones are more successful than their own developed counterparts, could announce plans to drop their own OS in favour of providing additional development resources into their Android security layer that will be their unique selling point going forwards.

Many have been calling doom and gloom for the Canadian company and its easy to see why with BlackBerry currently holding less than 1% of the smart phone market, however with the Priv and future business and security focused smart phones they could start to carve back a market from both corporate users and smart phone fans that still long for the days of durable, long lasting battery phones with a physical keyboard but don’t want to compromise with an unsupported OS that won’t run the many applications the modern mobile user would want to use.

BlackBerry going Android could actually provide a breath of fresh air from smartphone slabs that mostly all look and act the same today.

BlackBerry’s Good acquisition

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It’s no secret that Canadian based Telecoms Company BlackBerry has been struggling over the last five  years to sell its own smart phones against fierce competition from Google and Apple.

During this time the company has turned its primary focus on its enterprise mobile security plans, opening up its proprietary BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) to additionally support competing platforms such as Android and iPhone.

On the 4th September 2015, BlackBerry surprised many by announcing its largest acquisition in the company’s 31 year history by purchasing MDM (Mobile Device Management) company Good Technology for $425 million.

Most news out of BlackBerry of recent years has been on the negative side, mass job cuts and a huge decrease in marketshare, which has seen Blackberry trimming down to form a smaller, leaner company.  So few would have predicted it was preparing itself for a large acquisition to re-position itself in the highly competitive mobile security sector.

Over half of the Fortune 100 are using Good Technology to secure mobile devices so the purchase is a great fit, BlackBerry bolsters its security capabilities as well as opening doors to many high profile business opportunities to sell both hardware and services.

In relation to BlackBerry’s ongoing hardware, Good Technology could also prove very useful in both the ongoing development of their own BlackBerry OS and the much rumoured Android-powered smart devices. Good Technology could provide a similar security layer similar to Samsung does with Knox on future devices.

In conclusion, the future for BlackBerry is now a lot more interesting than it was hitherto.  The company, despite shrinking marketshare is not afraid to take big risks to shake things up – and the one they have chosen here makes a lot of sense. With a big bet like this, it will truly be feast or famine for BlackBerry as they try and conquer enterprise mobile security.

This week’s technology news – 20th March 2015

The Windows 10 launch party welcomes all including pirates

Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 will be launching this summer to 190 countries. A new feature of the system called Windows Hello was also demo’d for the first time. It also lets users log in via fingerprint, face recognition or iris recognition.

To get ready for Windows 10’s big launch party, Microsoft has been teaming up with app service providers worldwide including Chinese internet giant Tencent who will bring their hugely popular (over 32 million active players) online game ‘League of Legends’ onto the Windows 10 store and their QQ social app which has over 800 million active users.

Microsoft sees China as a huge opportunity for Windows 10 and getting companies onboard in providing relevant and highly successful apps, games and services to the Windows 10 store will go a long way to securing Chinese users to upgrade to Windows 10 this summer.

The biggest challenge has always been getting users to adopt genuine Windows instead of pirated versions. Currently two-thirds of all PCs in China run pirated versions, not purchased from Microsoft.

In an unprecedented move, Microsoft will be allowing these ‘non-genuine’ versions of Windows to also be upgraded to Windows 10 for free. Those who do upgrade in this fashion will still have non-genuine, non-supported systems, but will have access to the new features of Windows 10 – most importantly for Microsoft, being the new Windows 10 store where Microsoft takes 30% of all profits made.

Microsoft continues to be very aggressive in its push of the upcoming Windows 10.  It’s strategy of allowing pirated system upgrades and free upgrades in general, is tactically cunning, showing that its first goal is to get as many people as possible using the new system, sooner rather than later and gain maximum marketshare.

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Amicus ITS explores a trio of cyber security stories in this week’s roundup of technology news:

US healthcare provider Premera not so premier following cyber attack

The FBI were recently called in by Premera Blue Cross, a US non-profit health insurance company which posted revenues in 2013 of $7.6 billion, to investigate a cyber attack on their IT systems which occurred over an eight month period without detection from May 2014.  It is not clear yet how the attackers broke in and the company has not identified how the breach was discovered. However, 1.8 million records were illegally accessed, with medical records, personal data and employee data exposed, as well as any company which did business with Premera Blue Cross.   The data penetrated included:  access to names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers, member identification number, medical claims information and financial information (though no customer credit card information was held).

This comes on top of another huge cyber attack on Blue Cross Shield insurance giant Anthem, which recently had 78.8 million customer records illegally accessed.

The correct professional PR stance of both Premera and Anthem has been to publish a direct response on the front pages of their websites to try and assuage customer concerns by advising of their remedial steps with their security partners, including offering 24 months of free credit monitoring and ID protection services.

Whether either company will fully regain the trust of their clientele only time will tell, but at least the right reactive steps were taken to tackle the issue head on with its customers.

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Get me insured – I’m under attack!

The US Department of Homeland Security (US DHS) has started a wholesale review of cybersecurity insurance, as it has emerged that security issues have been marginalised and are not forming a core part of an organisation’s enterprise risk management framework.

Cyber insurance is a relatively new aspect for the financial markets and given the rise in cyber attacks and major data breaches worldwide in recent months, it seeks to offer an olive branch to the financial toll companies can face from the fall out of attack.  However, delivering the insurance is another matter as data to evaluate the threat landscape is thin on the ground.

Senior Cybersecurity Strategist at the US DHS Tom Finan comments:  “Perhaps unsurprisingly, companies are not publicly disclosing their own damages from cyber incidents they’re experiencing….. big data about cyber incidents could be a potential treasure trove that would aid their efforts (to get insured) immensely.”

Meanwhile in the UK, HM Government in its November 2014 summit between Government departments, leading UK insurers, trade and industry representatives and GCHQ, agreed a joint statement to commit industry and government to closer working to develop the UK’s cyber insurance market. They also recognised the role insurers can play in driving improvements in cyber security risk management.  The cyber insurance market report will be supplied to the Cabinet Office in April 2015.  In the meantime, practical measures for businesses to undertake include:

• Detailed insurance gap analysis
• Network security survey
• Security policy review and development
• Cyber risk identification and quantification exercise
• Risk financing optimisation.

Plus, evaluation by experts on internet and network exposures, including:

• Liability: privacy and confidentiality
• Copyright, trademark, defamation
• Malicious code and viruses
• Business interruption: network outages, computer failures
• Attacks, unauthorised access, theft, website defacement and cyber extortion
• Technology errors and omissions
• Intellectual property infringement.

Clearly, Finan adds, “CISOs need to be a central part of any business risk management discussion going forwards,” he said. “And until they do so, businesses will miss out on otherwise more extensive cybersecurity insurance offerings than would otherwise be available to them.”

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World Economic Forum publishes cyber threat risk framework

The World Economic Forum (WEF) launched a new framework in collaboration with Deloitte recently based on resiliency, to help companies calculate the risk of cyberattacks. The risk calculation involves three components:

• An assessment of a company’s vulnerabilities and defences
• The potential cost of data breaches and
• A profile of the attacker

Understanding the risk vs cost is still very difficult even amongst expert voices.  However, it should force Boards globally to sit up and work through the problem, identifying risk areas within their organisation as they try to get inside the mind of a potential attacker.

The lack of historical data required to estimate the probability of attacks from particular types of attackers in particular industry sectors is a stumbling block. However, if, as the WEF have proposed, businesses globally start to openly share information about cyberthreats, instead of burying their shame, all businesses will gain.  Mass learning will ensure companies start to deploy better strategies, policies and more resilient tactics including education, training and staff awareness which can only be a good thing.

Amicus ITS is part of the new Government led UK IT Cyber Security Forum.  Any enterprise seeking advice about major infrastructure security concerns is invited to contact JP Norman or one of the Sales team on 02380 429429.
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Samsung and Blackberry team up for new secure tablet     

Blackberry has announced a new tablet called SecuTABLET for the public sector and government use.

The SecuTABLET differs greatly from the company’s only previous tablet, the ‘Playbook’, which launched in early 2011. Unlike the Playbook which ran on Blackberry’s own OS and hardware, this new tablet runs on Android for the OS and the hardware is being provided by Samsung.

Samsung is also providing part of the security with its KNOX security layer which helps separate personal and professional apps and data, by having two distinct modes that the user can switch between.

The now Blackberry-owned ‘Secusmart’ is providing encryption, including an inhouse built secured microSD card, equipped with a range of encryption features.

Finally, IBM is providing a software wrapper for secure apps to keep the data of each app separated and protected from others apps and services.

Altogether the SecuTABLET comes with an impressive list of security features, built on-top of a reliable Samsung tablet foundation – but these do come at a cost. The tablet won’t be available for general consumer purchase – and the reported retail price will be $2,380!   This incredibly high price point makes the SecuTABLET very hard to recommend.

Although the amount of security features is impressive, each of the three core security components seem to overlap in actual usage. Blackberry is going to have an uphill battle convincing organisations to go with one of their new tablets instead of, for the same price, three Samsung tablets with KNOX – or even a Microsoft Surface 3.

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This week’s technology news – 8th August 2014

Microsoft’s fight against the Feds ramps up another notch

The US Government is seeking to have email data from Microsoft’s Dublin server handed over, but the technology giant has been firmly resisting any such interference in a unique legal case that has been escalating since December 2013.  One of Microsoft’s main attractions for data sensitive companies is to allow its users to choose where their data is stored, helping them maintain strict governance and compliance controls and they argue that this case is about protecting data customers’ rights to privacy in the US and around the world.  As part of an ongoing drug-trafficking trial, a New York federal judge dismissed Microsoft’s latest appeal against a government warrant demanding access to emails stored on servers in Ireland.  Microsoft immediately announced plans to challenge the decision.    Tech companies worldwide have rallied around in support of their competitor on the issue.

The UK Government acted swiftly last month with emergency legislation to close a loophole, following a change in European law, which would have left a gap in the Government’s ability to provide unbroken access for the security services to people’s phone and internet records. as part of wider Government counter-terrorism measures.    Whilst not implying that the sort of data held by businesses is on a par with terrorism threats being tracked, it is the principle of privacy at stake – and the impact of this case will have important ramifications for business users regarding their data storage in the UK and Europe.

Bitcoin bandwagon

First it was the banks seeking to regulate Bitcoin, now the UK Government wants to enter the fray and explore commercial opportunity for virtual/cryptocurrency.   The tenet of its value (currently 1 Bitcoin is worth £347), is held by people’s belief that the virtual tokens have value – and there is a finite number of them being traded.   With retailers increased adoption of Bitcoin (60,000 worldwide), this growth in popularity and rising trade endorsement, has prompted Chancellor George Osborne to undertake a review of the merits and risks of including virtual currency as part of his flagship aim to promote the UK as the “global centre of financial innovation”.

Bitcoin has proved popular with the public, but it still holds risks as it remains unregulated. This is part of the public attraction, being alternative, but also part of the explanation of its allure to criminals as there is no registry identification, only a randomised Bitcoin address (27 – 34 letters and numbers creating a virtual postbox and traded in a Bitcoin “wallet”.  The European Banking Authority is concerned at the lack of consumer protection and the Bitcoin market IS volatile.  Market value is swayed by the volume of online enquiries, chatter and “mining” from the downloads (part of a reinforcement cycle identified in recent research by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich).

With the Government aspiring to identify alternative sources of finance for lending to business, Bitcoin might leave too strong a taste of risk on the tongue of industry for the timebeing, and would have to demonstrate greater stability – the exact antithesis of what Bitcoin wants.  This might prove one hurdle too far at present for a Chancellor seeking to be innovative and “on trend” with the City.

The end of an era – Apple and Samsung agree to drop patent lawsuits

Many will recall that following the success of the iPhone, Apple started filing lawsuits for copyright infringement because they believed Samsung’s phones looked a bit too similar to theirs (both on the outside and what was on screen – including the individual designs of App Icons).  This has been ongoing for many years until now.    We are happy to report that an agreement has been made (ex US) covering Australia, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, France and the UK – where all claims have been abandoned.

This potentially signals the closure of the saga (which will include the US) and this incredibly expensive, drawn out and occasional rather nasty patent fight, which has resulted in products being withheld from sale.

Despite the assumption that the outcome would be some new form of cross licencing deal, the two companies have put out statements stating they are NOT pursuing any new licencing deals or other pacts.  Samsung’s shareprice fell after the news.  However, whether this will change the ultimate judgement or outlook for the US case has yet to be seen.  Such a strategic alliance would certainly shake up the mobile industry, putting the squeeze on anyone who is not Apple or Samsung.

BlackBerry has finished the job cuts, but what does its future look like?

After a brutal three years for BlackBerry it seems the worst (the job cuts),  is finally over. Current CEO John Chen hopes to bring the company back into the black in 2016.  So how should the former smart phone juggernaut rebuild themselves in an Apple, Google and Microsoft world?  Being realistic, even in a best case scenario BlackBerry will not be eating Apple’s or Google’s marketshare in the short term, so what’s their best option?

Future Smart Phones should be designed with their primary audience in mind; corporations and governments, these customers demand ultra-secure comms and this should be the main area of focus for their devices. BlackBerry should also not shy away from their roots, while an all-touch option is good, their flagship device should have that old-school Blackberry physical keyboard. Despite popular opinion, they still have their strengths which make them stand out from the slab crowd.  Finally, services are where the real money will be made – and a chance to win over other phone users without getting them to change their phone.

Blackberry has already delivered their BBM app to iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, and they also support their competitors’ devices on their latest servers.  If they made a bigger push in this direction they could substantially build a new user base and really get businesses excited about using BlackBerry once again.

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This Week’s technology news – 8th November 2013

Motorola see a future in Modular smartphones
Motorola has announced that it’s developing a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. The idea is that you can build a phone like you can a PC. Priorities battery life? Then fit in an extra battery module, Camera enthusiast? Then pick out the best camera module available and snap it in. A company could even build their own company standard phones. The possibilities, especially with an open platform are potentially endless. Naturally as Motorola is owned by Google, it is of no surprise this project, titled Ara is exclusive to the Android platform however it is likely a necessity to turn this seemingly farfetched idea into reality.

Lenovo fights against fall PC decline in the UK
Gartner reports that PC sales in the UK continue to fall. Between July and September 2013 PC sales fell by more than a quarter. The reason for the decline should surprise no one. “The transition from PCs to tablets continued to reduce PC sales” said Meike Escerich of Gartner. In fact of the top 5 PC OEM’s including Apple’s unit shipments were down with one big exception; Lenovo, who managed to increase shipments by 26.4%. Gartner’s reasoning on Lenovo’s rise is their ability in successfully delivering mobile PCs to businesses whilst continuing to grow their consumer market.

EE set to launch the world’s fastest 4G network in London
UK mobile network EE which launched last year combining T-mobile and Orange is getting ready to launch what it claims as the world’s faster 4G network, starting in London. The LTE-Advanced network will be capable of speeds up to a scorching 300 Mbps. This takes advantage of spectrum EE acquired in the Ofcom auction earlier this year. EE announced the network is aimed at business users who wish to access cloud–based business systems such as SAP and other ERP solutions. In addition to business users the new super speed network will likely also attract mobile enthusiasts which will help EE secure itself as the go to name for 4G who so far have 1.2 million 4G users.

The Blackberry saga continues
In a move that will surely turn heads, BlackBerry has now decided against selling off the company and instead axing chief exec Thorsten Heins in the hopes of a billion dollar bond deal. Fairfax will arrange this billion dollar bond deal, investing $250m, Canso investment Counsel putting in $300m, Mackenzie Financil $200m, Market Corporation $100m, Qatar Holding, another $100m and Brookfield Asset Management $50m. There is also an option for Fairfax to arrange another $250m. This billion dollar deal is expected to be completed within two weeks. Blackberry has not revealed what their plans are next, but it seems we are unable to count them out yet.

This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 18th October 2013

Beware The Great Firewall of China
Recent reports of interest from Chinese electronics company Lenovo in taking over Blackberry have aroused serious concern with US regulators. A preliminary consortium deal from Fairfax Holdings remains on the table, along with a second consortium bid being prepared by Blackberry co-founder Mike Lazaridis. A large number of US corporate and government customers use Blackberry’s platform, so proposed Chinese control would attract a high level of scrutiny and concern. Last year, the manufacture of telecom network equipment by two Chinese companies was deemed to pose a threat to national security. Blackberry has historically routed messages via their own datacentre before crossing the network. This would not be a welcome precedent if the company were to have a Chinese parent, given the lack of freedom for users currently in the dragon State and their draconian interest in data control.

Windows 8.1 is now Live
Microsoft has released its first big update to the latest and controversial OS Windows 8, Windows 8.1. Microsoft has listened to feedback and re-introduced the Start button, conjoining the Start menu and desktop once more. With personalization options, the ability to boot to desktop, disable ‘hot corners’ and includes 3D printer support etc. Arguably the most important addition is the new integrated tutorials which should solve a lot of confusion for new users. Free to upgrade from Windows 8 it is a no-brainer for those existing desktop and tablet users. Anyone who has held off upgrading to Windows 8, should re-evaluate their decision now, as with the ability to control the user experience, you get the best of both worlds AND the reassurance of being supported.

Where a good BYOD policy would avoid conflict
With a rigid imposition of security policies on US government workers, a survey of cyber security professionals and non-cyber workers has found that resentment of controls so high, that 31% of employees sought a workaround to the security protocols at least once a week, whilst 49% of federal security breaches were attributed to end user non-compliance. Workarounds might include staff using their own devices and network, or altering network settings. Whatever the means, strictures and policies were found to be too burdensome, time consuming and hindered productivity. Harmonising security policies with end user behaviour is a challenge for CIOs, but one which should deliver better results for security by working as a team not adversaries – and improve the spirit of shared responsibility.

UK Government gets up to speed
With the first overhaul of its security banding since World War II, the Government is finally catching up with the digital age and removing over-complicated systems. Six security classification levels will drop to three. Currently classifications are listed as: Unclassified, Protect, Restricted, Confidential, Secret and Top Secret. These will become: Official, Secret and Top Secret. Affecting over 700,000 civil servant users, this is a further part of the Civil Service Reform Programme. It follows the Government’s endorsement of an adoption of Cloud earlier this year. Following the move away from paper, it reflects the increased use of mobile devices providing greater flexibility for the workforce, whilst controlling the distribution of sensitive data and saving costs.