The Death of Flash

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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.

The new flexible and affordable British Smart Phones

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Smart phones have been a phenomenal success world-wide, with many manufacturers around the world fighting for a slice of the smart devices pie.

The newest participant is British-based WileyFox with the launch of 2 new smart phones. The first is the cheaper WileyFox Swift at £129 with a 5.0” display, 13MP camera and 2GB memory. The second is the WileyFox Storm priced at £199 with a bigger 5.5” display, better 20MP camera and larger 3GB memory.    Both of these phones also support dual SIM, expandable memory, 4G LTE and are powered by the open, Cyanogen OS, which is itself built on Google’s Android.

The WileyFox phones offer good value for money for those seeking to buy their phone outright instead of facing carrier subsidies or for UK buyers looking for a dual SIM phone as they rarely make it to our shores.
Of course good value for money doesn’t equal success, with many of the established smart phone giants failing to find profitability in the field including both Sony and LG who’s Q3 fiscal reports showed declining smartphone shipments.

WileyFox could find more success in the UK compared to markets with similarly position phones such as the US where consumers are tied to pricey monthly plans and do not have the flexibility to choose any network of their choosing, due to a lack of phone signal overlap between network providers.   In the UK not only can the average consumer choose from any network of their own preference, but many are becoming more savvy with their smart phone purchases, either buying phones outright and using either pay-as-you-go SIMs or cheap SIM-only plans.  All of which plays well into Wileyfox’s new affordable and flexible dual SIM options.

The Week’s Technology News – 28th November 2014

Coldfinger not goldfinger, as smartphone biometrics not a panacea

Former GCHQ boss, Sir John Adye, has just given evidence about his concerns regarding the unsupervised use of biometrics on smartphones to an audience of British MPs in the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

Adoption of fingerprint technology has taken off most notably with smartphone giant Apple’s iPhone6 and users can now make payments and access services using a fingerprint. However, as the GCHQ security expert who runs his own biometrics company commented:  “I don’t know what happens to my personal data when I use it on a smartphone… there’s no physical supervision of the system (unlike an ATM which a bank oversees)”.  “You need to design security methods… which are going to be strong to protect the interests of the individual who is using the phone and the relying party at the other end… the bank or whoever it is, who is providing a service to them.”    Apple says it uses the most technologically advanced fingerprint security and puts security and privacy at the core of the “Apple Pay” system.   But Adye also wants more transparency in the way personal information is passed to third parties.  He does not believe users fully read through the notices in the tick box procedures layering complacency, when in the background, the criminal community get ever more clever about seeking ways in.

Another biometrics engineer presenting to the Committee, Ben Fairhead, advised there were various anti-spoofing and other methods to work out whether the finger was real, but acknowledged spurious results got thrown up if for example blood flow to the finger was low, which would reject the verification.  In a twist to the old tales of criminals smuggling a file into prison now we have criminals adding iron filings to fake fingers to mirror the conductivity of human skin.  From the Government’s point of view there will come increasing pressure to demonstrate they have weighed up the increased approval of biometrics in border controls and public services with sufficient measures to safeguard against the risks and possible flaws.
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Forget me not
With the ‘right to be forgotten’ now in situ, the European Commission has finally published guidelines to tell search providers how to handle individuals take down requests (first discussed in our blog of 16 May 2014).

Mostly requests synch with what Google has already been doing – and the balance is successfully struck between an individual’s search for privacy against the public’s rights to know something.  One area that has created consternation though in the EU is Google’s tendency to warn both users and site operators when it takes a notice down. This lacks legal basis according to the Commission, when they could be contravening data protection laws.

This was recently experienced by US singer Barbara Streisand, who sought to have some online information taken down, but the ensuing actions actually drew attention to the very issue she was trying to keep secret.

The Commission also wants a level playing field so it applies to all web domains, not just removing them on country centric ones (ie. ‘.co.uk’ or ‘.fr’) and leaving uncensored results on a ‘.com’ page.   This comes at a time when Microsoft’s ‘Forget.me’ has just started reviewing requests through its Bing search engine and using the EU advice as a template, but it remains to be seen if the guidelines can please both sides AND the regulators.
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This week’s technology news – 22nd August 2014

Cloud savings for all

Cloud storage has always had its advantages over traditional options but price was often a premium. Thanks to heavy competition from providers both big and small, the cost per GB has been falling steadily over the last few years with some sharper drops being made recently. With price options now a relatively non-issue, the balance of pros and cons to cloud storage now sit very comfortably on the pro side of the scale.  Non-cloud setups now have one less obstacle to worry about when moving to Cloud, whether completely replacing their existing solution or as a hybrid.

With less focus on cost therefore, it is now much easier to have a clear discussion on the true flexibility and benefits Cloud can offer over traditional storage solutions. As adoption increases, so will employee expectations of having their data available via the web and mobile, but most importantly, securely. With a lower bar of entry, cloud adoption is likely to be boosted. Gartner predicts half of large enterprises will be using hybrid cloud deployments by 2017.

So the question that needs to be asked is – if you are not on cloud yet, why not?

US healthcare data hacking on vast scale revealed

Community Health Systems (CHS), the second largest hospital chain in the US running 206 hospitals in 29 states,  confirmed this week it had been hacked with a systems breach and the theft of personal data for 4.5 million people as a result of the Heartbleed flaw.  The open SSL code run by Jupiter for CHS which would normally scramble sensitive data proved ineffective against Heartbleed and despite fixes being issued, proved too late to stop what appears to be one of the largest known worldwide data breaches.

Back in April, UK’s Mumsnet had 1.5 million members details exposed whilst the Canadian tax authority, The Canada Revenue Agency, had 900 people’s social insurance numbers stolen and these two incidents were the previous “world record holders”.  The Heartbleed bug allowed names, phone numbers, addresses, and social security numbers to be stolen.

It is understood that the same malicious players have been targeting companies in the healthcare and medical device industry to gather intellectual property data.  A new report by Gartner has shown that worldwide spending on information security is estimated to reach US$71.1 billion in 2014, an increase of 7.9% over 2013 as organizations adapt to the growing threat of cybercrime. This is expected to rise further to 8.2% in 2015 and reach $76.9 billion, with a greater reliance on mobile, cloud and social platforms with greater reliance on mobile, cloud and social platforms. Gartner estimates that more than 30% of security controls used by small or mid size organisations will be Cloud based by 2015 and drive the use of security technology through 2016 and beyond.

Fixing this healthcare breach (believed to have originated in China) is one thing, fixing the trust with the patients involved is another and whilst neither medical nor financial data is believed to have been accessed, it once again highlights the imperatives for organisations to ensure their data is secured and protected as the sheer volume of bits of data to be managed, wherever it is held, increases exponentially year on year.

Met Police want lock down on phones

The Met in London are seeking pre-set pin locks from manufacturers to secure mobile phones, installed pre-sale at the factory, as a deterrent to the high numbers of mobile thefts.   Their research reveals that three in five people do not set a pin code lock of any kind on their phone. This leaves a user exposed to the theft of personal (or corporate data depending on the use of the device), plus the potential for expensive bills to be run up from web downloads without them knowing.  If factory set, it would also ensure that devices bought online vs from high street retailers would similarly benefit from the security layer.  Apple’s Activation Lock has produced results which show direct falls in crime as a result of its activation.  Whilst hopefully a factory code would be randomised already, the UK Mobile Phone Crime Unit (NMPCU) comment that they would encourage users to set their own memorable personal code thereafter (though not a generic ie. 1234 or 1111).   Previously, such lazy security enabled journalists from the News of the World to hack data of celeb mobiles as well as listen to their voicemails.  Opting-out vs opting-in is always going to be a better route to maintaining adoption for security measures – and anything that thwarts unauthorised use exposing consumers and companies to risk is to be lauded.

Don’t just miniaturize for mobile

When creating content for smart phones it can be easy to think; “Let’s take what we have on PC and shrink it down to fit on Smartphones” but this approach is rarely the best. Whether it is a website or an app, taking a step back to re-think how to best display content is key.   True, smartphones have a lot smaller displays than PCs but they also pack their own tricks often not seen on their bigger brothers such as GPS location, cameras, touch screen, accelerometers and more.

Mobile users often have lots of frequently used Apps installed on their device so breaking this behaviour to add your own app into their stable can be challenging. The key is not to replicate, but to create something unique for the platform, redesign your user interface (so all vital info can be seen once the app is launched) – and don’t be afraid to use sensors such as GPS to detect a device’s location and deliver relevant information (this can also be combined with a QR code scanner in-app to quickly load relevant information of a product or service).

As smart as you can make your app by taking advantage of the devices smart features, it can also be too easy to go overboard.  One area in particular where having restraint will be appreciated by your users is push-notifications. Don’t bombard your users with pop-up messages – or they are likely to delete your app, no matter how smart, instead of turning the feature off.

Google Glass gets The Minority Report feel

One of the main obstacles to wider adoption of Google Glass has been the awkward control methods, however that may be in the past with the introduction by US Thalmic Labs of muscle sensor armbands to the technology. The new enterprise has integrated its clever wearable sensors with Google Glass, Epson Moverio and Recon Jet. The net effect is that users can quickly flick through documents, contacts and apps with subtle hand and finger gestures vs tapping the Glasses at the side of the head and fiddling with a tiny trackpad.  With this practical physical change, wider adoption by industry could be faster than anticipated and could make wearable technologies a relied on technology vs a curiosity at present.

This week’s technology news from Amicus ITS – Friday 10th May 2013

What is Big Data?
Small data – is single-source, often batch-processed, and locally managed. So what is big data? It is multi-source, requires connecting between data sources, multi-structured, real time, and uses information in aggregate. This is a huge difference from traditional business intelligence (BI). So what are some of the interesting things found in healthcare from big data analysis? People with higher pain scores tend to crash more. Credit scores, of all things, tell you whether patients will take their medicine.

Windows 8 hits 100 million sales
Microsoft report passing the 100 million mark in licence sales for Windows 8 since its launch in October 2012. Despite doubters casting aspersions in the early days of release, Windows 8 seems to have greater staying power, given the sheer weight of sales now. This may be spurred on by news of the expiry of earlier versions of XP in April 2014. Businesses who have not reviewed their OS platforms should discuss the various options sooner rather than later, or find themselves in deep water.

It’s official – we’re up in the clouds!
In an effort to expedite government cloud (G-Cloud) progress, the U.K. government plans to formally adopt a “cloud-first” procurement policy. And it would like to see the entire British public sector follow suit. US federal agencies adopted cloud last December and two thirds of SMBs in the UK already use and invest in cloud storage solutions. This is a clear indicator of widespread confidence in cloud as the future storage solution.

Smart Phones for Emerging Markets, the key to phone supremacy?
Nokia have unveiled their latest Asha phones designed for emerging markets (low on price, high on feature), ideal to those unable to purchase high end brands such as iPhones, Galaxys and Lumias. With a brand new OS, Asha phones make the big and all-important jump from feature phone to smart phones. This could see them leap over Samsung’s current No1 position in shipment numbers, but crucially smartphone market share.

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