This week’s technology news – 15th August 2014

1.2 billion stolen credentials

Security and Investigations company Hold Security has discovered a Russian crime ring’s hacking efforts, penetrating websites big and small in search of the lucrative digital commodity of user credentials. From a mass of cyber attacks, the group has acquired over 4.5 billion records. Within these, 1.2 billion are genuine, unique login credentials. This was accomplished by successfully attacking over 420,000 websites and is suspected to be by method of SQL injection.

SQL injection occurs whereby someone inputs malicious code inside a SQL database. This can be via a standard web form or by taking advantage of a custom URL, which passes data back to the server. Once inside the database, the code can execute its custom command eg. taking lists of usernames and passwords and sending them to the desired location.

There are several measures you can put in place to combat SQL injection and save your own data from criminal attack.

1.When requesting data in forms that will be sent to your database make sure you assign length restrictions.
2.Check data type and check custom text for uses of execute code commands.
3.In addition, monitor your databases to check only the correct type of information is being collected is equally important.

With another huge credentials breach it highlights the urgency for regular password changes as part of good governance policies to keep your data secure.


Technology tracking study for Parkinsons patients and improved clinical decision making

In the same week that the world heard the sad news of brilliant US comedian Robin Williams’ suicide (disclosed as a Parkinson’s sufferer by his widow after his death), another Hollywood star and Parkinson’s sufferer, Michael J Fox has publicised an olive branch of hope for Parkinson sufferers.   His foundation, The Michael J Fox Foundation (MJFF) announced its support and co-funding for a study and new wearable healthcare technology app to help doctors study the effect of different medications for sufferers of the disease in the future.  In a joint venture with Intel division Basis (spurred into action by senior advisor, former chief executive – and Parkinson sufferer Andy Grove), patients were provided with smartwatches armed with sensors to track sufferers in realtime.

The disease is believed to be caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors, though its exact cause is still unknown.  Symptoms can include tremors, uncontrollable movements, impaired balance and co-ordination, stiffness, slowness of movement, loss of smell, decline in intellectual functioning, speech and swallowing problems.

In the tests, 16 patients and nine control volunteers wore watches which allowed more than 300 data points to be recorded ever second, translating to one gigabyte of data, per patient, per day over a four day period. The information gathered was then uploaded to Intel’s system by a smartphone carried by the wearers.   The data seeks to understand how people live with the disease and respond to treatments and drugs (which could also reveal unmet needs to improve treatment in the future). The digital tests were paired with hard copy diaries kept by the individuals, supplemented by two clinical visits for further tests.  The scientists intend to create new algorithms following assessment of the data, to enable body movement symptoms and sleep patterns to be automatically measured and made available for review in real time.

The next stage of the complex study will take place in Boston, New York and Israel and will involve releasing the app to enable patients to record how they are feeling and to report their medication intake, to inform future prescriptions and to understand gait, fluidity of movement, tremors, sleep habits etc. 24×7.   Mindful of the sensitivity of patient data, Intel confirmed it would encrypt and anonymise the data to safeguard privacy. They also hope that it will eventually lead to opening up the sensor driven platform to other research centres and wearable devices in future.

Other tech players involved in health tracking tech data and devices include Samsung’s Simband wristband, Apple’s Healthkit app and Google Fit software. Through their brand weight and increased market interest in digital healthcare including emerging names such as Theranos in blood testing and diagnosis, this is creating a momentum for the sector which is rapidly growing, as new possibilities and hope for sufferers of Parkinsons and other diseases open up in the future.

Females only a bitesize chunk of Apple’s apple

Apple CEO Tim Cook has voiced dis-satisfaction with the low ratio of female employees at Apple in a recent employee diversity report.  This disclosed a global 70:30 gender split in favour of a largely white male workforce.  This is by no means startling for the technology industry, but nonetheless marks Cook’s goal to see the ratio change over time.

Apple currently employs 35% females in non-tech roles, 20%  in tech positions and 28% in leadership roles.  For Cook though, the diversity message goes much deeper and wider:  “Our definition of diversity goes far beyond the traditional categories of race, gender and ethnicity.  It includes personal qualities that usually go unmeasured, like sexual orientation, veteran status, and disabilities.  Who we are, where we come from, and what we’ve experienced influence the way we perceive issues and solve problems.  We believe in celebrating that diversity and investing in it”.

In comparison, the UK IT sector currently employs just 15% females in tech positions and 9% in leadership roles (source ONS, Aug 2014). This is surprisingly down on the top job stats for women from just ten months ago at the back of the UK recession, when females held 15% of leadership positions in technology.

Given the future global growth for the technology and IT servicing sectors, it would great for the eoncomy for British female students exiting schools to get excited about jobs and career opportunities in the IT industry, as well as for employers to open their eyes to think about how they can attract this valuable talent pool that would change the skewed picture on both sides of the pond if we could take a leaf out of Cook’s book.


Microsoft squeezing Kinect into smart phones and more

Microsoft is no stranger to real-time 3D motion capture and has been facilitating developer’s innovative controller-free ideas for many years, using their Kinect for Windows sensor. The 3D sensor can let you navigate menus by moving your hands without actually touching any physical object. As clever as the device may be when utilised well, it is hard to argue the camera sensor is small.  On the contrary, the existing Kinect devices are big and bulky, limiting its use to larger areas with the sensor fixed and calibrated to a central, ideal position.

Microsoft’s Research labs are currently working on different technologies to miniaturise Kinect-like 3D depth sensing. One approach to accomplishing this task as demonstrated by Microsoft, involves turning a regular web camera into a depth camera. Using just low cost parts including a ring of LEDs, this transformation can take place in as little as 10 minutes, the down-side here being the greater accuracy and range from the bigger, more expensive units is lost.

When the technology hits the right size we could find Kinect branded cameras on future tablets and smartphones. Using face detection to unlock your device and sign in and even letting you take advantage of in-air hand gestures to control the interface. The most interesting uses of the mobile Kinect technology could be seen via third-parties, if Microsoft opens up the Kinect APIs upon a possible release. This would make the innovative ideas from existing and future developers a lot more accessible when more people have access to the technology.


This week’s technology news – 21st March 2014

Microsoft Office on an iPad near you soon
The first press engagement next week for new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, is rumoured to include an announcement for the long-awaited launch of an Office application for iPad.  Any misgivings internally about this move weakening the Windows platform is put into context when set against the estimated gap in revenue that this dedicated app would bring of around $2.5 billion per year.  Microsoft seem intent to ramp up the software onto as many platforms as possible having released applications onto iPhone, OneNote, Sky-Drive and Outlook for the iPad. 

Innovative evolution for wearable technology in US healthcare pilot
Wearable computing has moved one step further with the employment of Google Glass in a small pilot at the ED of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, USA.  Clinicians wearing unmissable orange specs, would glance at a bar code or QR code and receive patient details, location, lab results and other data through the glasses during examination.  The real time access to patient data through the glasses proved effective and life-saving during the pilot.  Concerns about data security were satisfactorily answered with data being held behind the BIDMC firewall and patient reaction and clinician usability both got approval.  With further testing ongoing, for limited or summarised information, the glasses have proved an effective compliment to current desktops and iPads in speeding up clinician workflow and enabling them to work hands free. The results will be closely monitored.  The potential for wider adoption across the US and internationally is tantalisingly close, whilst the use of tablets in healthcare may see a decline if it takes off.

Google Glass for clinicians
Google Glass for clinicians

The path of data security is never smooth

4th largest supermarket Morrisons, already facing a tough time in the UK press last week after announcing a sharp fall in profits, promptly endured a major security breach from a disgruntled employee, who published the payroll details of 100,000 of the company’s employees on a website including names, addresses and bank details.  Clearly, the need to secure confidential data from rogue internal use vs the cybercriminal bogeyman is less comfortable, but of equal necessity to firms.  This could have been the end of it, but perhaps the final lesson in what not to do, came with the retailers choice of messaging to inform and reassure staff about the data breach via social media behemoth, Facebook.  In this digital age, HR departments have the powerful and certainly more private tools of email and text to communicate private messages to staff. Perhaps if they had done this, it would have kept the last vestiges of their laundry from being aired quite so publicly.

Google – to infinity and beyond for mobile technology
Google has created an Android Wear mobile operating system to power smart watches. This smart strategy ties in with its move into robotics, Google Glass and data analytics.  As intelligence conjoins through Google Now, the company’s PA software, this helps inform and interact with the user to provide a more effective experience for the information and services received.  Globally, this strengthens Google’s wearable technology offerings promised in 2014, but they will not be on their own, as Motorola has announced it is launching the Moto 360 smart watch to run on Android Wear too.  Working with several consumer electronic partners including Samsung, Motorola, Asus, LG and HTC, plus chip makers, Google is ensuring that if it builds out this particular technology wardrobe, that it wants its software across as many devices as possible as the Android platform goes beyond today’s smartphones and laptops.