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Fujitsu CTO sees the lighter side of Internet of Things security concerns

06 Nov 2013

Dr Joseph Reger of Fujitsu brandishes a smart light bulb

MUNICH: Afraid of the dark? Perhaps you should be afraid of the lights. That's the twisted future envisioned by light bulb-wielding Fujitsu chief technology officer Joseph Reger.

Patrolling the floors of the Fujitsu Forum in Germany, Dr Reger explained to onlookers how one of the most innocuous objects in your house could become part of a global attack.

The Internet of Things, perhaps one of the most highly-talked about technologies nobody in the real world actually uses, is expected to take hold within the next decade, and with it will inevitably come cyber threats, as with any new technology. Reger chose to use intelligent light bulbs as an example:

"I'm not concerned about someone hacking into your home and turning off your lights," he said. We at V3 are very concerned about that, for the record. "What I'm talking about is that someone hacking into your home and looking at the usage pattern of your light bulbs and determining whether you're on vacation. And when it might be a good time to break in."

Such concerns have been voiced before with Philips' Hue lightbulb singled out as a cause for concern by security researchers. Reger went further, though, to envision a world of slave lightbulbs run by some sort of domestic super villain.

"If this light bulb is a little bit more intelligent, if they're intelligent enough, you can inject malicious code into the bulb itself if it's not protected properly. What's the problem with that? All of a sudden I have an army of attackers I've just programmed and I can launch a denial of service attack on anybody using billions of soldiers."

We've heard this described before in the form of toaster armies mining the currency Bitcoin - and perhaps the metaphors are getting out of hand - we're sure Reger knows this, and we have to say we enjoyed his demonstration.

The real point here is that we haven't moved on from this novelty, this funny notion of light bulbs stealing your lunch money and laughing at you. In the world of business and industry, machine-to-machine communication is commonplace. That's not to say it isn't serious either - a recent UK government report highlighted the notion of a need for a ramping up of security among connected machines.

So, who to believe? It's very difficult to know exactly how much of a threat these things are, especially because the amount of people with intelligent light bulbs in there home is so low crooks probably couldn't even DDoS your mum's laptop.

Until there's more of this stuff out there, we can't know for sure what possibilities - positive or negative - IoT can offer.

By V3's Michael Passingham, whose army of fridges is coming along nicely

Big business could be the saviour of computing education

04 Nov 2013

An empty classroom with a white board and a number of laptops

As with all ambitious plans, focus on the Department for Education's sweeping IT teaching reform have turned from "what" to "how". There are certainly a lot of loose ends still to be tied up, not least how to actually train teachers to teach computing well.

There is a school of thought that says big businesses can and should help out with this. After all, it's in their interests for there to be more skilled employees to choose from.

MyKindaCrowd, a social enterprise firm, seems to be doing just this. It markets itself as bringing big businesses closer to school pupils through the use of branded educational challenges, many of which result in the cream of the crop of pupils winning placements. The group already works with brands including McDonald's, Tesco and Cisco on other areas of the curriculum.

Will Akerman, managing director of MyKindaCrowd, told V3 that businesses could do more to invest in their future employees if they begin when they are at a younger age. "We're not a lobbying organisation," he began. "Our mission is to connect young people to the world of work." For example, the firm currently works with UK gaming startup Mind Candy to produce a Moshi Monsters coding course, bringing a brand that's recognisable to kids into the classroom in order to teach lessons that have relevance in the wider computing industry.

It's not just about the businesses working within the IT services industry, either: it's every single business that uses computers. We'd hazard a guess that this means most of them. "Every company can take an active part to support. It might be as simple as mentoring teachers to help them get a better understanding of computing in general, or it could be work experience," Akerman said. "There are small actions which can make a difference."

This is particularly pertinent as some of the new computing curriculum's biggest detractors have cited a lack of relevance to "every day" computing. For instance, the Corporate IT Forum told V3 in July it would like to see more focus on skills that will make employees better IT users, not just programmers.

This is where a big business could come in and create a mini-curriculum in the form of challenges that would suit their own needs and find talent early on.

Akerman added that it's not just about finding the best of the best; he claims it's the pupils with the best attitudes who tend to earn work placements and job offers. "There are many jobs where the best candidates aren't those with five A stars or 10 A stars. They've demonstrated that they've got that passion and drive, not that they've got the academic achievement. That they want to further themselves is far more important."

Could we see phrases such as: "This morning's computing lesson is brought to you by the McChicken Sandwich"? It's unlikely, but some forward thinking from the UK's most influential employers could go a long way.

By V3's Michael Passingham, whose IT education was lacklustre at best

Photo blog: Huawei brings Asian cool to Apple-style store

24 Oct 2013

huawei-flagship-store-shenzhen

It's no secret that the further East you go in the world, the bigger the smartphone screens get, and this was blindingly obvious when V3 visited Huawei's flagship store in downtown Shenzhen.

Housed in the Digital World mall on Digital Square, which is, incidentally, halfway up Electric Avenue - where you'll also find shops selling pretty much all the big-name tech brand you can think of - the store puts large-screen phablets such as the Ascend Mate in pride of place as the first thing you see when you walk in.

Looking for anything smaller than the Ascend P6, with its 4.7in screen? Forget it: you won't find it here.

big-phones-huawei-store-shenzhen

But, on the other hand, if you're after a place to sit back and watch a bit of telly while testing out an enormous phone's capabilities, then you've come to the right place. Far from the image of fast, cheap, mass-produced tech, it's relaxed and comfortable; there's an LA-style sofa to kick back on while you watch a bit of Chinese MTV.

sofa-and-tv-at-the-huawei-store-shenzhen

Or you can gently swing on the chair in the corner while working your way through a potential new phone's features. You won't find these in an Apple store.

A hanging chair in the Huawei store in Shenzhen

Once you've picked out a device, you might be unsure of its camera quality. But that's OK: take a picture on the phone, then upload it to an enormous screen or try printing a copy to see what its snapper can really do.

huawei-store-shenzhen-camera-testing

Overall, we're pretty impressed by Huawei's flagship store, especially the idea of encouraging people to stick around, relax and have fun while making a decision on what to buy. Just remember not to leave any embarrassing selfies on the big screen.

Photo blog: Inside Huawei's hardware testing centre in Shenzhen, China

22 Oct 2013

SHENZHEN: V3 took a tour of Huawei's Global Compliance Testing Centre, during a media visit to the telecoms firm's Chinese campus in Shenzhen.

This is where the firm tests devices, networking equipment and other hardware against impact, extreme weather and other hazards. A sign outside reads: "Lab quality objective: scientific, honest, accurate, reliable. Serve the design and production departments with whole heart."

The chambers below test devices in extreme high and low temperatures.

huawei-testing-centre-machines

Huawei's Research and Development division employs a staggering 70,000 people worldwide, while there are 140 staff in the Shenzhen campus. The testing lab has been internationally accredited for Electromagnetic compatibility, RF, telecoms, safety and environmental reliability.

inside-huawei-radiation-chamber-2

Above, a worker waits for a device to go through temperature testing.

huawei-walk-in-testing-machine

This walk-in climatic testing chamber reaches temperatures as low as -70C and as high as 95C, as well as humidity of 15 percent relative humidity (RH) 98 percent RH, to ensure devices can withstand harsh environments.

"But, really, if it was that hot, you wouldn't be worried about your phone anymore, because it'd be the end of the world and you'd be dead," quipped Joe Kelly, vice president of international media affairs.

Some of the machines can recreate sandstorms to ensure durability, which is handy to know if you're planning to take your phone to the beach.

inside-a-huawei-testing-chamber

Above is the inside of a temperature and vibration testing chamber. And finally, below is the most exciting: the radiation testing chamber, which tests devices to make sure they are not emitting any unsafe particles. Otherwise, the soundproofed room can be a really good place to practise karaoke.

huawei-radiation-chamber-with-lab-worker

By V3's Clare Vooght, who is pretty clumsy with her phone

Apple iOS 7 and Windows 8 woes prove difficulty of operating system builds

18 Oct 2013

iOS 7 features redesigned applications include Music and Safari

Can anyone make a decent operating system? That’s the question tech lovers around the world appear to be asking as the biggest vendors appear unable to just make a decent platform that's easy to use and nice to look at.

Microsoft – the daddy of the operating system world – has been flailing for a while now to try and entice people to Windows 8. But so far it is failing. While Windows 8.1 is improving some areas, it is unlikely to prove a panacea for all its ills.

In fact, Microsoft could be said to have peaked as far back as 2001 when its beloved XP platform hit the market. Even now, 12 years later, there are those who see no reason to upgrade, even if support is set to end in six months.

Meanwhile Apple, the darling of the tech world, is facing unprecedented levels of criticism for numerous issues that users of its new iOS 7 operating system have found with the platform.

These range from functionality to design and many V3 readers have implored others not to move to the new platform if they haven't done so already. Such criticism of Apple, especially on a design and functionality level, would have been unthinkable a year or so ago.

So what is going on? In some ways it appears firms are trying to be too clever, to be too innovative. At the end of a day an operating system should be the base layer for everything else. It should be easy to use, simple to understand and allow you to run other applications over the top.

With too much focus now given to all-singing systems that can do everything and out-innovate rivals it almost seems as if the firms are forgetting to do any user feedback to find out if stuff just works.

One good example was raised by a V3 reader who noticed this bizarre iOS 7 issue. The phone automatically dims its display brightness when you open the new control panel menu. This means, though, if you’re trying to adjust screen brightness, you can’t accurately gauge the brightness of the screen. It’s almost comic in its failure to work at the most basic level.

Similarly, while one can understand Microsoft may have thought the bold and radical change of Windows 8 may have made them seem, well, bold and radical, someone really should have stepped in and said it was too much.

People never like change, even when it's good for them, so for Microsoft to develop Windows 8 was always going to prove an incredibly disruptive situation. And while the tech world loves the term disrupt for conjuring up the feeling they're changing the world, for most people disruption is a negative that can be done without.


The firm was probably so blinded by the need to innovate and impress that it overlooked the basic notion of KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. A motto that works well in a surprisingly large number of instances. Let's hope Apple has taken it on board for its Mac OS X Mavericks update, due to be unveiled next week.

By V3's Dan Worth, who loves a good operating system

Ada Lovelace Day celebrates female tech and science heroines

15 Oct 2013

Ada Lovelace portrait

As we have often reported on V3 there is a clear lack of female workers in the tech and science industries. This is not just an issue about balance in workforces but one that could affect the whole industry as a growing skills crisis looms

As such, the importance of events such as Ada Lovelace Day being celebrated on Tuesday cannot be overlooked. Not only are they vital to ensure the historic legacy of the likes of Lovelace herself are remembered, but to show future generations the potential for exciting and fulfilling careers in the IT industry.

The day itself runs across the world, with events in Brazil, Canada, Ecuador and of course here in the UK. A full list of all the events – some of which run later in the month – can be found on the FindingAda.com website.

The efforts by the organisers to celebrate Lovelace – a Victorian mathematician who is often referred to as the first computer programmer – have been welcomed by many.

Sheila Flavell, the chief operating officer of IT consultant firm FDM Group, which has been a vocal supporter of getting more women into IT, said Lovelace is the ideal role model for female techies.

“Ada Lovelace Day is always an important date in my calendar. Writing computer programmes in a time when women rarely received the same education as men (let alone in science, technology and mathematics), Lovelace is a role model to every woman in the industry, which is why we chose to launch our global Women in IT campaign two years ago on this day," she told V3.
 
“It is not only important to create a positive working environment to develop the careers of your current female workforce, but it is also vital to encourage and support women of all ages to consider an IT career. Whether it is your daughter, your sister, your mother, your aunt or your grandmother, FDM aims to create a new generation of Ada Lovelaces and I hope that other companies do the same.”

Jane Richardson, head of Oracle Academy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the IT industry must take on its burden of responsibility too, and ensure it does everything it can to appeal to young females. “The IT industry will have an important role to play in helping attract women to IT. In the short term, for young people and adults today this role will lie in showing to women just how open to them a career in IT is, and how rewarding they will find it,” she said.

“Longer term we need to work closely with governments to place IT at the heart of curricula, making it a core skill that all students, regardless of gender, will learn at the earliest stage possible.”

Clearly, with support from firms such as Oracle and the FDM Group, the Ada Lovelace Day has major backing and V3 would also add its support to anything that encourages any individual, male or female, to realise the IT and tech sector offers the opportunity for a fascinating, diverse and challenging career, with huge potential for the future.

If the efforts result in the discovery of a few more Ada Lovelace geniuses, all the better.

Ada Lovelace plaque

Plaque celebrating Ada Lovelace in St James's Sq, London

Steve Jobs' legacy still looms large at Apple but device design moves on

04 Oct 2013

Steve Jobs

Saturday marked two years since the tech industry came together to mourn the passing of Steve Jobs after his long-running battle with cancer.

His legacy has, if anything, only grown since, with films made to celebrate his life and every decision made at Apple in the last two years scrutinised with the question: “What would Steve have done?”.

Jobs still does – and probably always will – loom in the background of Apple, as shown by a message on Twitter from chief executive Tim Cook posted on the weekend.

Cook also sent an email to staff urging them to remember the legacy of Jobs and reflect on what his work meant to them, and the company as a whole.

"Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of Steve’s death. I hope everyone will reflect on what he meant to all of us and to the world. Steve was an amazing human being and left the world a better place. I think of him often and find enormous strength in memories of his friendship, vision and leadership," he wrote.

"He left behind a company that only he could have built and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple. We will continue to honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to the work he loved so much. There is no higher tribute to his memory. I know that he would be proud of all of you."

However, despite this remembrance and reverence for Jobs, there has been a clear move over the last two years by the firm, led by Cook, to move on and break old directives set by Jobs.

Nowhere is this more obvious than screen size. Jobs was always adamant that a 3.5in screen was more than enough for any smartphone, ignoring the craze for larger screens led by a raft of Android phones.

But since then Apple has brought out a trio of 4in devices – the iPhone 5, 5C and 5S – which everyone would now agree have improved the iPhone range.

In tablets, too, Jobs once decried the notion of a 7in iPad. “Seven-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad. Seven-inch tablets are dead on arrival,” he said.

Now the iPad Mini – just sneaking in at 7.9in – has arrived on the market and is a revelation, making the larger iPad devices look clunky and unwieldy. 

In many ways Apple had to make these moves, and one could quite easily imagine Jobs applying his ‘Reality distortion field (RDF)‘ to his former statements as he unveiled the same devices anyway to ensure the firm remained at the top of the market.

Nevertheless, it is now an Apple that has changed since Jobs, with new designs and ideas coming to the fore. This can also be seen in the iOS 7 operating system, which, under the leadership of Sir Jony Ive, represents a new chapter in Apple's history in which Jobs has had no direct influence.

Elsewhere, the firm also appears ever so slightly mellower, with Cook able to swallow his pride and apologise for mistakes – such as the Apple Maps launch – in a way that Jobs seemed incapable of doing, as the 'antennagate' saga proved.

Despite these changes, Apple's success, as witnessed by the huge sales of the iPhone 5S, continues thanks to the decisions set down and seen through by Jobs that have seen tablets and smartphones radically alter both the business and consumer landscapes.

Green smartphones to take the world by storm...at some point

01 Oct 2013

up-arrows-green

Among business users, the closest you can get to a discussion about the eco-friendliness of a smartphone is battery life. And even then, it's a purely pragmatic discussion that amounts to: "Will this phone make it through the day?"

Unlike appliances such as dishwashers and fridges, you won't normally come across clear eco-friendly ratings denoting how much energy a smartphone uses. What's more, there's been plenty of talk in the past about the materials used in smartphones: rare metals and harmful chemicals tend to make the smartphone industry a rather environmentally unfriendly business.

Aside from power consumption, conflict minerals are particularly problematic. As it stands, almost every tech company you can name produces hardware that contains minerals taken from regions of conflict in the Congo. While some firms are taking steps towards reducing this, the issue is still rife, and it's not as simple as just finding an alternative source.

It's not an issue that's regularly discussed by the general public, mostly because they probably aren't aware of the issues as there is no easy way to find out how eco-friendly your device is.

The lack of clarity for consumers should soon change, however. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an offshoot of the UN, is working alongside a group of smartphone makers including Apple, Samsung and Nokia to create a universally recognised rating system for smartphones. But who will benefit?

Bettina Tratz-Ryan, a Gartner research vice president, told V3 it isn't just a marketing exercise for the handset makers and mobile networks involved. "Initially, it will be more important for the manufacturers and the mobile service providers who want to show in their sustainability and environmental management reports that they look for eco standards and environmentally green technology."

She added that it will also help the bottom line, with better-designed phones reducing the costs of refurbishment and repairs.

It's interesting to note that Apple is involved with the scheme. The Cupertino firm always seems to do their own thing, ignoring the unofficial rule that smartphones should all make use of a standard micro-USB port to save on the disposal of thousands of tonnes of useless chargers, and instead choosing to adopt yet another proprietary connector for their most recent generations of iPads and iPhones.

Last year, Apple chose to opt out of EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) in order to take its own direction with its manufacturing methods only to opt back in again two days later. But nonetheless, here they are, seemingly taking an active part in the development of this new, customer-facing environmental scheme and working alongside other manufacturers.

Tratz-Ryan said the new scheme will take some time to filter down to consumers, especially as it may see the spread of smart technologies, which could tell devices when to turn off automatically, among other things. She likened this to technology that switches off the engines of some vehicles when they are stationary.

"Many drivers of new cars with automatic turn off during wait time at traffic lights were uncomfortable at first, but now this is a normality. We will see the same thing with eco-certified technology. The positioning will come through social media, portals, service domains as well as conventional marketing material."

It'll be very interesting to not only see what form this new scheme takes, but how manufacturers respond.

By V3's Michael Passingham, who wants a green iPhone 5C

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