Posts in News

Microcomms ongoing commitment to support mental health in the workplace

August 28th, 2018 Posted by Latest News, News

Here at Microcomms, we believe that the biggest asset of our business is our staff, so it’s important that we continue to value them and create an inclusive environment which supports their mental health in the workplace. 

 

We continually train and develop our people and strive to provide them with the best working environment we can. Whether it’s a ping pong table for a board table or crossfit for all staff twice a week; we are committed to healthy bodies, healthy minds and the wellbeing of our staff and their families.

 

The Health and Safety Executive’s Health Priority Plan

This is in line with the Health and Safety Executive’s Health Priority Plan which includes work related stress as one of the three key focal areas that need attention.   This represents 37% of all work- related ill health issues, and is the second most commonly reported cause of occupational ill health in Great Britain.  It accounts for 45% of all working days lost due to ill health.   Mental health in the workplace is important! 

 

Through their priority plan, the Health and Safety Executive are looking to see an increase in the number of employers taking a proactive stance to manage work related stress, through the management standards approach and improve mental health in the workplace. 

 

Our commitment to employee wellbeing

As a proactive employer, with a genuine interest and concern in our staff’s wellbeing, we manage work related stress through the Management Standards approach.   We have trained some of our staff through the Adult Mental Health First Aid two-day training. 

 

Our Operations Manager, Janet Reed recently attended the internationally recognised Mental Health First Aid training course, delivered by Healthy Cornwall. Head of Operations, Paul Hodgson is also planning on attending the course.  The course covers important topics such as identifying signs of issues, how to offer and provide initial help and how to guide someone towards appropriate treatment.  It also helps attendees to better understand the stigma that exists around mental health, help stop ill mental health from getting worse, preserve life where a person may be at risk of harm and promote recovery of good mental health.

 

With staff on hand to recognise any early symptoms of mental illness amongst our employees, it’s hoped that we can prevent a downward spiral of ill health and support our staff in regaining their mental health. 

 

Amazon files for Alexa patent that means she’s listening all the time

April 17th, 2018 Posted by News

The Amazon Alexa of the future could be listening to you all the time – and building up a detailed picture of what you want to buy.

That’s the suggestion of a patent filed by the company that details the idea of ‘voice-sniffing’ technology. Such software would allow the device to eavesdrop on conversations and analyse them, feeding that into a database for ads.

At the moment, Amazon’s Echo products are hardwired so they will only listen to users when they say the “Alexa” wake word. Amazon has denied that it uses voice recordings for advertising at the moment, and said that the patent might never actually come to the market. 

Alexa’s voice capabilities are currently used for playing music, controlling smart home devices and ordering things on Amazon, though only if the user asks for it. The recordings of people’s voices are stored on Amazon’s servers, but they can listen to those files and delete them.

However, the patent gets to a widespread fear about not only Amazon’s voice assistant but other technology too. A range of conspiracy theories – particularly about Facebook – suggest that companies are using their kit to secretly listen in on their customers, and then using that to show ads. 

The patent suggests that the Alexa of the future could listen out for specific words such as “love” or “hate”. The device could then listen to what people like or don’t like – and suggest they buy things, presumably through Amazon, on that basis.

If someone mentions they want to go on a journey to Paris, for instance, an ad might pop up suggesting the travel site they could book it from. If they say that they are looking to go to a particular restaurant on a particular day, it might ‘whisper’ that there is a table available. 

Amazon could even do the same for friends or relatives of the customer, the patent suggests. So, for instance, if someone says their parents are interested in a certain topic, it could associate that information with the person and use it to build up advertising data.

The company made clear that it does and is not able to collect such data at the moment, and might never use the technology described in the patent.

“We take privacy seriously and have built multiple layers of privacy into our Echo devices,” said an Amazon spokesperson. “We do not use customers’ voice recordings for targeted advertising. Like many companies, we file a number of forward-looking patent applications that explore the full possibilities of new technology. Patents take multiple years to receive and do not necessarily reflect current developments to products and services.

Amazon Echo uses on-device keyword spotting to detect the wake word. When these devices detect the wake word, they stream audio to the Cloud. You can review voice interactions with Alexa by visiting History in Settings in the Alexa App.

 

 
 
 

Perfect online privacy?

March 23rd, 2018 Posted by News

True internet privacy could finally become possible thanks to a new tool that canfor instancelet you prove you’re over 18 without revealing your date of birth, or prove you have enough money in the bank for a financial transaction without revealing your balance or other details. That limits the risk of a privacy breach or identity theft.

The tool is an emerging cryptographic protocol called a zero-­knowledge proof. Though researchers have worked on it for decades, interest has exploded in the past year, thanks in part to the growing obsession with cryptocurrencies, most of which aren’t private.

Zero Knowledge Protocol (or Zero Knowledge Password Proof, ZKP) is a way of doing authentication where no passwords are exchanged, which means they cannot be stolen. This is cool because it makes your communication so secure and protected that nobody else can find out what you’re communicating about or what files you are sharing with each other.

ZKP allows you proving that you know some secret (or many secrets) to somebody at the other “end” of communication without actually revealing it. The very term “zero knowledge” originates from the fact that no (“zero”) information about the secret is revealed, but the second party (called “Verifier”) is (rightfully) convinced that the first party (called “Prover”) knows the secret in question. Why would you need to prove you know the secret without telling it? When you don’t trust the other person, but still need to persuade them that you know it. 

Much of the credit for a practical zero-knowledge proof goes to Zcash, a digital currency that launched in late 2016. Zcash’s developers used a method called a zk-SNARK (for “zero-knowledge succinct non-interactive argument of knowledge”) to give users the power to transact anonymously.

That’s not normally possible in Bitcoin and most other public blockchain systems, in which transactions are visible to everyone. Though these transactions are theoretically anonymous, they can be combined with other data to track and even identify users. Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum, the world’s second-most-popular blockchain network, has described zk-SNARKs as an “absolutely game-changing technology.”

For banks, this could be a way to use blockchains in payment systems without sacrificing their clients’ privacy. Last year, JPMorgan Chase added zk-SNARKs to its own blockchain-based payment system.

For all their promise, though, zk-SNARKs are computation-heavy and slow. They also require a so-called “trusted setup,” creating a cryptographic key that could compromise the whole system if it fell into the wrong hands. But researchers are looking at alternatives that deploy zero-knowledge proofs more efficiently and don’t require such a key. 

Your next activity tracker could be a pair of glasses

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Latest News, News

If wearing a Fitbit on your wrist is too difficult, maybe you should consider a fitness tracker on your face. Eye insurance provider VSP Global is launching a pair of smart glasses today called Level that keep track of a wearer’s movement. They pair over Bluetooth to a companion iOS / Android app. A frame costs $270, which doesn’t include lenses.

The inside of the glasses is relatively simple and what you’d expect. There’s an accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer that work together to track steps, distance, calories burned, and total activity time. It charges over a magnetic connector and should last about five days on a single charge. There are three different frame styles available in four different colors: black, tortoise, slate, and grey tortoise.

VSP has also added gamified the experience: if wearers reach daily step goals, they earn points that translate to care for people who need help affording vision care. So 50 points provides an eye exam and eyewear to someone in need, which is nice! But strangely, users can qualify their donations so that they only go to one specific group, including veterans, children, the elderly, or people who are homeless. 

As far as the product goes, activity-tracking glasses seem useful. Most spectacle wearers wear their glasses every day. However the challenge may come when keeping them charged, charging will have to happen at night when wearers are sleeping. If that’s forgotten then the lenses won’t be ready to track fitness as wearers will need to wear them during the day not charge them!

The future is now – the Cornwall Lecture 2018

February 6th, 2018 Posted by News, Uncategorized

Last night Microcomms had the pleasure in attending the newly realaunched ‘Cornwall Lecture’ at Hall for Cornwall. The very first lecture happened in 1997 with the key speaker Sir Nicholas Grimshaw discussing the future of environmentalism, buildings and global responsibility. Last night the keynote was delivered by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, space scientist and co-presenter of ‘The Sky at Night’. The focus was “Innovation – the big picture” focusing on the space and technology sectors.

We heard Dr Aderin-Pocock’s life story, how her ‘desire to aspire’ pushed her through child-hood barriers such as dyslexia, 13 schools and growing up in a world where space scientists were still very much thought of as nerdy boffins with massive brains. It was an inspiring story and very much spoke to the heart of the blossoming space sector here in Cornwall. Our country is known for it’s beautiful natural landscapes, surfing and tourism – it’s not often spoken of as a tech hub  – even though through Superfast, we are one of the best connected places in Europe. We also have a long history of space innovation at Goonhilly – scientists there received the first messages from the Telestar programme. Cornwall gets overlooked and left in the ‘remedial class’ as Dr Aderin-Pocock put it, because our underlying potential is hidden by what people see on the surface.

At the Q&A session after the lecture, a very pertinent question was asked “If Cornwall wins the Spaceport bid, what will that mean for local businesses? What jobs will it create?”. This was answered by Toby Parkins of Headforwards, who said that if we are successful in the bid, it will be time for local companies to start thinking laterally – what transferable skills do we have to move into this  sector? How can we take the knowledge and expertise that already exist in Cornwall and translate them into commercial space ventures? We may not think we have anything to offer – but many companies do.

This is a really exciting opportunity. Here at Microcomms, we are going to be putting our heads together as a whole team to look at our collective skills and knowledge and look at where we are best placed to work within the market. There are many complex challenges faced by space progress and it will be a mixture of skills and disciplines that work together to overcome them. 

 

Four ways to avoid being a victim of Russian cyberwarfare

January 22nd, 2018 Posted by News

Russian cyberwarfare is the new threat to the nation, according to Nick Carter, the head of the British army, which means that the new frontline is, well, you. So it’s now more than just simple self-care to be smart about your online security – it’s your patriotic duty.

Update your devices – and upgrade the ones you can’t

Some of the most damaging cyber-attacks in recent years haven’t come through elite hackers crafting one-of-a-kind viruses to break into secure government devices, but from exploiting the old and out-of-date hardware that normal people use every day.

Take the Mirai botnet: a swarm of millions of hacked devices, it was used to overload servers by bombarding them with traffic requests. But the basic elements of the botnet were simple, cheap, “internet of things” devices such as security cameras or smart lightbulbs, which had glaring security flaws that no one ever bothered to fix.

Don’t be a John Podesta

“Fancy Bear” is the organisation behind the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. He fell prey to a phishing campaign, well-executed but simplistic, that allowed the attackers to download – and leak – every email he had sent or received.

At its heart, the hack used a fake warning from Google, asking Podesta to click a link and log in to respond to a security alert. After an aide mistakenly told him the link looked legitimate (he meant to type “illegitimate”), he did – but the link didn’t go to Google, and so he ended up sharing his username and password with the attackers.

The easy-to-say, hard-to-do advice is “always make sure links are from who they say they are”. A more useful recommendation may be to join the 10% who have “two-factor authentication” turned on their email.

Avoid paying the ransom

The WannaCry ransomware attack has been credibly linked to North Korea, which has apparently been stepping up its use of cybercrime as a method of fundraising – a technological improvement from recent history, when the nation was one of the largest forgers of US currency.

Keeping a backup of your critical data is a good idea anyway (who knows when a stray cup of coffee will fry your treasured photos?), but it is twice as useful if you can avoid paying a bitcoin ransom to a pariah state.

Think twice before retweeting and sharing

According to new figures from Twitter, more than 50,000 accounts on the site were created for the express purpose of spreading Russian misinformation during the US election. Of course, the point of the misinformation accounts was to blend in with conventional US political activists, so … maybe just log off altogether?

Thanks to Alex Hern at The Guardian for this article.

Samsung launches modular TV called The Wall

January 10th, 2018 Posted by A/V, News

Samsung has announced a giant 146in (396cm) TV called The Wall at the CES tech show in Las Vegas.

The TV features a micro-LED display, which is pitched as a superior alternative to OLED because it offers both deep blacks and bright highlights.

Samsung also says its modular technology will allow for TVs of customised sizes to be ordered.

This is because the display is actually composed of many smaller modules that can be arranged to form unusual dimensions – one example that was squat and super-wide was briefly shown at the presentation.

‘Millions’ of LEDs

The micro-LED display, thanks to its self-emitting LEDs, should allow for a bright picture without the need for a backlight.

Backlights normally make it hard to produce deep blacks on screen because their illumination spills beyond the pixels they are targeted at.

Sony tried to produce TVs made from the same basic technology back in 2012 but they proved too expensive to make en masse.

Samsung’s decision to bet on micro-LED puts it in direct competition with rivals that have opted to go with OLED displays. Micro-LED screens are difficult to manufacture because the LEDs need to be individually placed onto a layer by machines, explained analyst Paul Gray at IHS Technology. “You have millions for a single display,” he said.”But maybe Samsung has made some breakthroughs on multiple placement [at once].”

Mr Gray added that, although Samsung was pitching the technology as a “consumer” product, it would likely only appear in very expensive devices.

Samsung has not yet revealed details on pricing itself.

Samsung modular TV in an elongated rectangular formatThe modular technology allows for TVs of unusual shapes and sizes to be made, according to Samsung

Other options for giant TV displays have been shown off at CES this year.

Hisense unveiled a 150in 4K TV projector system that can beam a picture onto its owner’s wall.

The firm did not announce a price for the product, though a 100in version costs $10,000 (£7,300).

And there were TVs with improved brains, too.

Samsung promised that its next generation of smart TVs would be more intelligent than ever before, thanks to the inclusion of the firm’s voice-activated assistant Bixby.

Users can even ask Bixby to display the inside of their fridge on screen – if they have a compatible Samsung smart fridge with internal camera.

AI assistants have cropped up several smart TV’s at CES this year, including Philips’ 7703 Series 24in Android TV, which comes perched on a Bluetooth speaker and is designed for kitchen worktops.

CES – shines a light on 5G

January 2nd, 2018 Posted by News

CES 2018 is where you’ll start caring about 5G

This year, the world’s biggest consumer electronics show in Las Vegas will shine a light on the next-gen wireless technology that will shape the coming decade.

fd-5gpromowithwave.jpg

At this year’s CES there will be plenty of talk about driverless cars, connected homes and the internet of things.

Here’s the technology that will drive all of those innovations over the next decade: 5G.

The shorthand tag “5G” stands for fifth-generation wireless technology. Those broadbandlike wireless speeds you’re getting on your phone now? That’s 4G technology. So just think about what happens next.

If you’re excited about the prospects, you aren’t alone. Tech observers see 5G as the foundation for a host of other trends. At last year’s CES, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf described 5G as the biggest thing since the introduction of electricity.

Remember, a lot of work needs to be done for 5G to achieve broad scale. But with networks set to go live by 2019 and coverage reaching 20 percent of the population by 2023, now’s the time to start caring about it.

The lowdown on 5G

The brave new world of 5G isn’t just about speed. Sure, you can look forward to ridiculously high download speeds and bufferless 4K streaming. The real advantages, however, come down to three other things:

  1. Reliability: 5G doesn’t just deliver peak speeds in ideal conditions. The technology offers superhigh speeds that are reliable and consistent, even indoors or in congested areas.
  2. Bandwidth: 5G can support a massive increase in connected devices. Ericsson forecasts 1 billion 5G subscriptions by 2023. Think sensors on everything.
  3. Latency: Phones today have an annoying lag between when you send a request for a website or video and when the network responds. With 5G, that’ll be reduced to 1 millisecond. That’s 400 times faster than the blink of an eye. It’s so fast, some companies see it opening up the possibility of remote surgery.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich is devoting his preshow keynote presentation to the data-driven future that 5G enables. Nokia and Ericsson will be on stage touting the new network technology. Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES, has already been hitting the media circuit to talk up the tech.

Smart home

According to Intel, the future of 5G means everything will be connected.

The company, known for processors, is positioning itself at the forefront of the 5G revolution. Leading the charge is Asha Keddy, who heads up Intel’s efforts on IoT, connected devices and next generation networks.

Thanks to CNET for the above info!

Hakers using Starbucks cafe’s wi-fi made computers mine crypto-currency

December 14th, 2017 Posted by News

Starbucks has acknowledged that visitors to one of its branches were unwittingly recruited into a crypto-currency mining operation.

The wi-fi service provided by one of the coffee chain’s Buenos Aires outlets surreptitiously hijacked connected computers to use their processing power to create digital cash.

Starbucks said that it had taken “swift action” to address the problem.

But one expert said it highlighted the risks of using public wi-fi.

It is not clear how long the malware involved was active or how many customers were affected.

The issue was identified only when the chief executive of a New York-based technology company logged into the service and noticed the problem.

Noah Dinkin was alerted to the issue by a delay he experienced before being able to start using the net, and posted his discovery to Twitter.

Although he initially believed the code had been designed to force his laptop to try to create bitcoins, other users noted that it had in fact been designed to mine another digital currency, Monero.

Mining involves solving complicated mathematical equations to verify crypto-currency transactions.

Those involved are attracted by the promise of being rewarded with newly minted “coins” if their computer is first to solve a challenge.

But because lots of processing power is required to have a good chance of success, some people have tried to infect other people’s computers with mining code to boost their chances.

Victims’ computers are normally targeted via infected websites, but it is relatively unusual for a wi-fi hotspot to be involved.

“As soon as we were alerted of the situation in this specific store last week, we took swift action to ensure our third-party support provider resolved the issue and made the changes needed in order to ensure our customers could use wi-fi in our store safely,” a spokeswoman for Starbucks told the BBC.

The company had earlier told the Motherboard news website that it did not “have any concern that this is widespread” across its other stores.

Richard Howard, Microcomms Cyber-Security expert said “people need to be careful when using public WiFi. When connecting ensure you have up to date security software and be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Public WiFi does offer a useful service  and the abuse is definitely the exception not the rule. Also, as applications and websites move towards encryption by default – overall security improves and makes life much harder for hackers.”

Uber concealed huge data breach

November 22nd, 2017 Posted by News

Uber concealed a hack that affected 57 million customers and drivers, the company has confirmed.

The 2016 breach was hidden by the ride-sharing firm which paid hackers $100,000 (£75,000) to delete the data.

The company’s former chief executive Travis Kalanick knew about the breach over a year ago. The hackers found 57 million names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers, Uber said.

Within that number, 600,000 drivers had their names and licence details exposed.

Drivers have been offered free credit monitoring protection, but according to Uber’s statement, affected customers will not be given the same.

‘None of this should have happened’

“While we have not seen evidence of fraud or misuse tied to the incident, we are monitoring the affected accounts and have flagged them for additional fraud protection,” Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said.

“None of this should have happened, and I will not make excuses for it,” he added.

“While I can’t erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes.”

In the wake of the news, Uber’s chief security officer Joe Sullivan has left the company.

Uber did not confirm precise details of the hack – and it is not known which countries were affected – but according to Bloomberg’s report, two hackers were able to access a private area of Github, an online resource for developers.

From there it is understood they found Uber’s log-in credentials to Amazon Web Services. AWS is a cloud computing service used by companies to store data.

As is often the case, it will likely be the cover up that proves more bothersome for Uber than the hack itself.

Companies are required to disclose significant data breaches to regulators, something it has by its own admission failed to do in this case.

Uber has form. In January it was fined $20,000 for failing to disclose a considerably less serious breach in 2014.

With the impending legislation of GDPR coming in to place in May 2018 – the firm could have been liable for fines of £20m or 4% of it’s worldwide turnover. It’s time companies started taking data security seriously.