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Business Matters: Cognitive computers and the future of cyber crime
Back in the mid-1990s, the word “phishing” popped up in an AOL forum to describe a basic email scam.
Dupe people with something that looks more or less authentic and they’ll click a link that installs malware on their machine or allows hackers through the virtual door to wreak havoc.
Over time, the simple scam has become ever more sophisticated and subtle – to the point where even experts find it hard to tell the authentic and bogus apart.
Intel-McAfee asked 100 cyber security professionals to take a test but they fell short, and not just a little short, a long way short. Only six of the experts managed to separate the bonafide emails from the bogus ones.
Most of the other experts could only identify six or seven out of 10 emails as being fraudulent or suspicious.
So if 94 out of 100 so-called experts were fooled even when they knew what to look for – what hope is there for us, the non-expert?
The impact on the workplace is severe
According to a PWC survey conducted for the UK government, half of the worst security breaches suffered by British businesses last year were caused by “inadvertent human error”.
And as email has become a primary route to break into businesses, we need a system that’s much better at judging digital risk than the human brain.
Say hello to behavioural biometrics
Last month Google’s head of advanced technology projects said that behavioural biometric authenticators would be applied to its Android mobile platform next year.
In plain English that means your mobile device could look at your location, your Wi-Fi network, the time – and even how quickly you were typing – to calculate risk based on your known patterns of behaviour.
Your “trust score” would vary depending on what you were trying to do at any given moment. The operating system might then decide to limit your access to a financial app or a gambling app even, but in the same circumstances allow access to a social media app. In other words, it would do more than nudge you in the right direction. It would actively prevent you from accessing apps or other software perhaps that it considered might facilitate risky behaviour.
It’s elementary my dear Watson
Meanwhile, IBM is starting to teach its supercomputer, Watson, about cyber security. In February 2011 Watson hit headlines around the world for beating two all-time human champions at the American quiz show Jeopardy.
It was the perfect demonstration of Watson’s ability to surpass the human brain in unravelling answers from disparate and seemingly unrelated fragments of information. Watson’s accomplishment was all the more astonishing precisely because it appeared to show a solid grasp of the idiosyncrasies of human language: puns, metaphor, similes, euphemisms and riddles.
This was the beginning of the era of cognitive computing: machines built to interpret, learn and apply that knowledge to solve complex problems.
Eighty per cent of information online is “unstructured” – a tangled mess of knowledge in different formats and places, from news or scholarly articles to blogs and eBooks. Cognitive computers are trying to make sense of that jungle of data and detect previously unseen – and perhaps previosuly undetectable – patterns and connections.
Forget winning Jeopardy; that was just a stepping stone – albeit an almighty one – today, Watson is drawing on IBM’s two decades’ worth of cyber security research and a library containing the details of eight million spam and phishing attacks and tens of thousands of other known vulnerabilities. Further, eight universities in the US and Canada have been enlisted to help build its knowledge of cyber threats and tactics.
Watson is becoming Holmes, learning how to detect identify and address cyber-threats when traditional tools like firewalls and antivirus are struggling to stay up to date.
Computers are conned too
Humans aren’t the only ones that cyber-criminals can trick. Computers aren’t perfect at spotting suspicious emails or malware: “misidentification” happens to man and machine.
According to the Ponemon Institute’s 2015 Cost of Breach Study: Global Analysis, malicious attacks can take an average of 256 days to identify. Data breaches caused by human error take an average of 158 days to identify.
Two-thirds of the time IT staff spend dealing with security alerts is spent on false-positives or false-negatives. So time is wasted on misidentification of a potential threat.
What we need is something much faster and more accurate at detecting threats and dealing with them: something faster and smarter than what’s already available.
While we wait for faster and smarter, the costs will continue to rise. According to a UK Government-backed report last year, the “starting point” for a large business to recover from a security breach – counting the cost of business disruption, lost sales, recovery of assets, and fines and compensation – is now £1.46 million. Small businesses fare a little better, for them it’s a mere £75,000 but neither business can afford the expense or the time or damage to their brand.
We need more Watsons, today
Think of the forthcoming wave of cognitive computers, like Watson, as the smartest assistants you’ll ever have.
They’ll know your working habits (and probably your personal ones too), your quirks and patterns of behaviour well enough to spot when something’s out of the ordinary and whether that’s nothing to be worried about or something to pay closer attention to.
They’ll never have an off-day, or perform below par. But they’ll also have unprecedented knowledge. If something has been published about cyber security at any point – from a blog to a PhD thesis – they’ll know about it and incorporate it into their bottomless databank. And they could apply that knowledge to what’s going on in the world, or your world, today – and even what’s happening right now.
What will be the long-term impact of cognitive systems like Watson and Google’s behavioural biometric analysis? For one, cyber-criminals will “find the payoffs to be harder and harder to achieve.” But for you? Well, you’ll have more time to focus on the work that matters – and less time worrying about whether or not you’re going to make a silly mistake.
Mike Foreman is a veteran of the cyber-security industry and European Managing Director of Nuro Secure Messaging: an enterprise instant messaging app with military grade security.
Business Matters: Increasing business and customer interactions through Google Tag Manager
In the online world, whereby potential customers can window shop hundreds of options in minutes, there’s a need to not only capture new users but to also be aware of interaction, pitfalls and success trends that define lead data and conversion rates.
Physical stores, showrooms or warehouses are laid out with efficiency in mind, websites should be no different. Google Tag Manager opens the door to SMEs to gather data and adapt websites with conversion rates in mind at an incredibly fast rate.
What is Google Tag Manager?
Simply put, it’s a user experience and conversion monitoring tool. And unlike user engagement and tracking tools within the marketplace – it’s free to use and can be set up alone or with an SEO agency.
What are the benefits of Google Tag Manager?
The benefits of Google Tag Manager vary from the obvious ability to track conversions and interactions to the more complex nature of understanding user experience (UX) and conversion rate optimisation (CRO).
All of these benefits lead back to one point – improving business and website performance through long-term, unique, targeted user data.
Getting the Most from Google Tag Manager
Improving UX and increasing leads through CRO can be done in three very clear steps:
- Setting up relevant tags and triggers
- Gathering data
- Acting upon the data
Before starting, distinguish each element on the website you would want to be tracked into groups of action types. This will help determine how you structure your Google Tag Manager from a business perspective for ease of use.
For this example, we are concentrating on two interactions in high, medium and low business categories – sites with a number of interaction types are likely to have anywhere upwards of 20 specific actions worth tracking:
||Business Priority Level
||Contact Form Popup
||Email address click
||Service Page View
||Service Page Exit
Once each type of the desired event is mapped out you’ll need to create each of the tags and triggers relevant.
This is where categories and actions are apparent – for example enquiries fall under one category, but the action might be the difference between a form fill and an email.
To set up a trigger you’ll need to use the preview mode to determine what the action is, these range from Click Classes (for physical clicks such as mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) or Form Classes for form fills, to video starts and button interactions.
Each action will have a unique identifier in the preview pane, and a piece of information to determine this in the trigger details.
You can use identifiers such as Page Paths and Page URLs will allow for the tracking better or worse performing URLs in the audit stage. These can be selected from Action, Category or Label sections
Using the Data for Business
Getting Google Tag Manager set up will admittedly take a bit of time and in the first instance can feel like a laborious task, but the beauty of the system means, following its setup, tags and triggers can be turned on and off as needed within seconds.
Apart from its simplicity, the real magic comes from gathering the data from tags and triggers and auditing it for business growth.
For example, if 5% of users onsite make an enquiry and 70% of those viewed a video, the potential to use video more widely on the website becomes apparent.
Likewise, if a Page Change category with an action of Service Page Exit is hugely apparent on just one of four services pages, SMEs are able to determine further investigation on on-page elements is needed. If all elements are already tagged and tracking, with a key element on the successful page, it is then possible to update the rest of the site based on actual data as opposed to guesswork.
Remember, high priority interactions may be fed by mid and low priority interactions with the additional elements of page paths and URLs creating a second level of data for additional analysis.
Elements which may have in the past been ignored, suddenly become critical to business success and straight away business decisions can be made and engagement improvements made.
In essence, the online storefront needs to be prepared, run and optimised based on what a user wants and needs and the best way to get this data is to effectively ask the users themselves.
Keith Hodges is an Account Manager at POLARIS. Joining the agency in 2014, Keith specialises in SEO & Campaign Strategy. Keith works across many of POLARIS’s key accounts, ensuring clients gain continual growth from their SEO Campaigns. Keith enjoys technical strategy, keeping up to date with search engine developments and algorithms, and reporting to clients. Keith is based at our London office.
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Business Matters: Digital Myths: Busting the Misconceptions around the Silicon Valley State of Mind
Quite simply, they are all nonsense.
President Washington had multiple sets of teeth – though none were wooden; bats have eyes that can see three times better than a human; and while the belief in a Flat Earth still bafflingly exists today, the vast majority of scholars in the Middle Ages maintained that the earth was spherical.
As with many other common misconceptions, these ideas have sprung up throughout the years and, thanks to a lack of refuting evidence, have become stuck in the public consciousness. Coming from a lack of understanding, these myths are easy to create yet difficult to dispel.
At its heart, the ‘Silicon Valley State of Mind’’ is about putting a tech-centric strategy at the core of a business – embracing everything from mobile working to the ‘as-a-Service’ IT model. However, still a nascent concept, the term is yet to be fully understood by the mainstream – and as a result is very much at risk of being drowned in a number of misconceptions.
So what is the truth of the matter? Read on as we play myth busters to some of the most frequent misunderstandings:
Myth One: Innovation only happens in Silicon Valley
Possibly the biggest myth of them all, while Silicon Valley is a highly innovative and exciting place to be, innovation, digital-thinking and unique ideas are not restricted to the Bay Area. With the right mind-set, Silicon Valley can be everywhere – and anywhere in your company.
Myth Two: Silicon Valley is only about IT
This couldn’t be more wrong. Transformation is a team sport, requiring all parts of the company – from HR to finance, legal to IT. A move to a ‘digital-first’ strategy represents more than further investment in IT, it is a shift in mind-set that cuts to the core of every organisation. While in many cases it may be implemented by the CIO, the driving force behind this movement is the demands from employees and customers.
Myth Three: The Silicon Valley approach is about increasing the speed to market of our software delivery
Perhaps more of a half-truth than a full myth, the Silicon Valley mind-set is about speeding up an organisation’s ability to identify and create the right product in the right way.
Whatever the industry, there can be no denying that markets are moving faster. In order to stay on top, your business must be faster as well. This means having in place the processes and practices to ensure your organisation is agile enough to deliver the new ideas and innovations that will be able to fully capitalise on your customer’s immediate, and future, demands.
It’s been said that every company is now a software company, and if you aren’t yet then you better be soon! Digitally-led transformation is playing a crucial role in bringing this trend to life – providing organisations with the tools to best engage with their customers and prospects.
Myth Four: The Silicon Valley transformation requires sweeping changes
If this were true, achieving the Silicon Valley approach would be nearly impossible – after all, how many organisations can afford the downtime or disruption to completely transform their business model. It would be like changing an aircraft’s engine mid-flight: disastrous.
In actuality, transformation comes as a result of small changes; marginal gains that, over time, accumulate to transformation.
Myth Five: We’re too complex an organisation to adapt to this ‘agile’ approach
If you consider your own organisation to be ‘too complex’ then you need a digital approach more than most. Streamlining processes, increasing efficiencies and simplifying working practices are no longer nice-to-haves but are essential in remaining competitive and retaining the best employees.
Today’s most successful businesses are the ones who have brought a digital-first approach to the heart of their strategy. Through new applications, services, and software, business will find new and exciting ways to answer traditional customer demands. Digital is now the differentiator. Organisations that don’t move fast enough to embrace the digital revolution will be left by the wayside as digital-savvy competitors cut through the myths, misconceptions and misunderstanding to optimise their business for this new world.
Robbie Clutton, Director at Pivotal Labs
BBC Business News: UK factories report pick-up in activity in June
UK manufacturers saw activity pick-up in June, according to a closely watched survey, but the effects of the Brexit vote will not be seen until July.
Business Matters: British Gas offers free electricity at weekends
Customers will be able to chose whether to take advantage of the deal between 9am and 5pm on a Saturday or a Sunday, reports The Telegraph.
British Gas said consumers should see savings of about £60 a year.
But experts said it will not necessarily be the cheapest deal on the market, and advised people to shop around with other suppliers.
Most of British Gas’s 11 million customers will not be eligible, as only 2.4 million of these have smart meters.
For the first time, smart meters enable energy firms to work out the time of day when people are using power.
The move follows an announcement by British Gas in April that it had lost 224,000 customers in the first three months of 2016.
British Gas said the new FreeTime tariff will be the cheapest dual fuel deal on offer from the company.
But independent energy expert Ann Robinson said consumers might still find a lower tariff elsewhere.
“Consumers need to think about the small print, shop around and see if there’s a better deal out there,” she said.
However, she welcomed the innovative use of smart meters, saying people might be prepared to change habits to save money.
“It’s worth thinking about cooking your major roasts and stews, or doing two or three rounds of laundry on the same day,” she said.
Experts expect other suppliers to follow suit.
Large energy suppliers have now installed 2.75 million residential smart meters across the UK, less than 6% of all meters, according to the latest government figures.
In total, 53 million smart meters are due to be installed by 2020.
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Business Matters: Mark Carney prepares to cut rates and raises prospect of more quantitative easing
In his second intervention since the UK voted to walk away from the EU, Carney laid the groundwork for the Bank’s rate-setting monetary policy committee (MPC) to slash interest rates even further below their record low of 0.5 per cent, reports CityAM.
More extreme and unconventional measures, such as quantitative easing, would also be considered by the Bank, with Carney indicating rate cuts or an extension to the £375bn bond-buying programme could come as early as the next MPC meeting on 14 July.
Speaking to an audience of business and finance figures at the Bank of England, Carney said: “In my view, and I am not pre-judging the views of the other independent MPC members, the economic outlook has deteriorated and some monetary policy easing will likely be required over the summer.”
Carney did not address his previous claim a vote to leave could tip the UK into recession, though his expectation that growth will fall considerably suggests the governor still believes a contraction is a distinct possibility.
After the results of the referendum became clear, markets immediately moved to fully price-in a cut to interest rates by the end of the year. Today’s comments will cement the idea the Bank is laying the groundwork to go even lower in its quest to protect the UK economy from the spillovers of the vote.
With both the Conservatives and Labour squabbling over their next leader, and the UK at odds with Europe over when to begin negotiations on formally exiting the EU, Carney also told the country to prepare for an extended period of uncertainty and lower economic growth.
“It now seems plausible that uncertainty could remain elevated for some time, with a more persistent drag on activity than we had previously projected,” he said.
“Moreover, its effects will be reinforced by tighter financial conditions and possible negative spillovers to growth in the UK’s major trading partners.”
Carney stood by his pre-referendum assertions that a vote to breakaway from the EU “could lead to a materially lower path for growth and a notably higher path for inflation”. He added the UK should expect “lower real incomes” and is facing the “possibility that heightened uncertainty may last a while longer”.
The Bank also announced it will extend its programme of special weekly liquidity auctions until September to allow banks to swap their assets for cash. In the most recent auction – which took place on Tuesday – lenders asked for £3.1bn of emergency credit from the Old Lady.
While stressing the Bank would take a “whatever it takes” approach to protecting the UK, Carney added he could not do everything alone.
He said: “Over the coming weeks, the Bank will consider a host of other measures and policies to promote monetary and financial stability.
“Part of that plan is ruthless truth telling. And one uncomfortable truth is that there are limits to what the Bank of England can do. The future potential of this economy and its implications for jobs, real wages and wealth are not the gifts of monetary policymakers.
“In particular, monetary policy cannot immediately or fully offset the implications of a large, negative shock.”
Addressing the impasse that is likely to ensue over the summer as the government descends into a potentially bitter leadership contest and arguments with leaders on the continent, Carney said swift clarification of the UK’s future relationship with the EU was needed.
“A plan for the UK’s current challenges would include a comprehensive strategy for engaging with the EU and the rest of the world – including clarifying the UK’s future trading arrangements, calibrating its openness to migration, ensuring the continuity of capital flows, and confirming the appropriate regulatory framework for the UK financial system.”
Business Matters: Standard & Poor’s cuts EU credit rating after British vote to leave
The European Union has suffered a downgrade of its long-term credit rating following the UK’s Brexit vote last week, reports The Guardian.
In a move that will increase the borrowing costs for the 28-member bloc, the credit ratings agency S&P said the EU should see its status as a safe haven for investors reduced to AA from AA+.
The agency said: “After the decision by the UK electorate to leave the EU … we have reassessed our opinion of cohesion within the EU, which we now consider to be a neutral rather than positive rating factor.”
International investors use credit agency reports to gauge the safety of their funds and the likelihood that their investments will become insolvent. Pension funds and other investors typically move their money to safe havens in times of uncertainty.
But concerns that the ripple effects of the Brexit vote will hit the profits of corporations in Europe, the US and Japan and hurt government finances have grown in recent days.
Earlier this week S&P became the last of the three major ratings agencies to strip the UK of its last AAA rating as it warned that the economic, fiscal and constitutional risks the country faced had increased following the EU referendum result.
The UK was placed on negative watch, which puts the government on notice of possible further downgrades, after S&P described the result of the vote as “a seminal event” that would “lead to a less predictable, stable and effective policy framework in the UK”.
The agency added that the vote to remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland “creates wider constitutional issues for the country as a whole”.
The EU’s outlook was considered stable after analysts at S&P said it was unlikely other countries would seek to follow the UK and leave the union.
S&P was the last of the big three ratings agencies to have a blue-chip rating on the UK’s credit-worthiness. Moody’s, which stripped the UK of its top-notch rating amid the austerity cuts of 2013, said last week it might further cut its view of the UK.
Business Matters: Heathrow dealt huge blow as Government delays airport expansion decision
Adam Marshall, the acting director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, accused ministers of “a cop out” after Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, said it would be “at least October” before an announcement is made about where to build more runway capacity in the south east, reports The Telegraph.
Mr Cameron had been due to unveil a decision in early July, but the surprise vote to leave the European Union and his subsequent resignation, which sparked political chaos, scuppered that plan. He also postponed a decision in December, and it will now fall to his successor.
The fresh delay, which came almost exactly a year after the Government-appointed Airports Commission recommended Heathrow should have a third runway, sparked widespread anger.
Terry Scuoler, the head of the manufacturers’ organisation EEF, branded it “a missed opportunity to let the world know that post-Brexit Britain is open for business” and “extremely frustrating that internal party politics prevents a key infrastructure decision from being taken”. The Confederation of British Industry estimated Britain now stood to lose £22.5bn in trade with major emerging markets to Germany and France.
“If you’re outside the EU, you’ve got to have a plan for how you’re going to trade with the rest of the world,” said Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye. “Heathrow’s the only game in town to do that.”
Expanding Heathrow to avoid a capacity crunch has long been controversial. Britain’s biggest airport, which is almost full, handled 75m passengers last year and there are worries a third runway will increase air and noise pollution. Theresa May, a leading contender to succeed Mr Cameron, is concerned about the impact expansion would have on her Maidenhead constituency, which is near the airport.
The delay is a fillip for two rival schemes: a second Gatwick runway and an independent proposal to lengthen an existing Heathrow runway. The leaders of both projects said that it increased their chances of receiving the green-light from a future prime minister.
It is embarrassing for the Government, however, because the Airports Commission spent £20m and almost three years coming up with its recommendation for a third Heathrow runway.