Microsoft-owned "Minecraft" continues to be a massive success.
The monthly player count is at 74 million, an increase of nearly 20 million players across 2017.
Nearly 150 million copies of the game have sold — a staggering sales number for any single video game.
"Minecraft" continues to be one of the most popular games ever made.
The creation/survival indie game that Microsoft purchased back in 2014 for $2.5 billion has now sold 144 million copies, and enjoys a monthly userbase of 74 million players. The latest numbers were revealed in an interview with Helen Chiang, the new head of Microsoft's "Minecraft" group, at PopSugar.
Those numbers are exceptional, even by "Minecraft" standards.
The game has been a notoriously explosive phenomenon since early in its life; "Minecraft" started as a work-in-progress game, made by a single man (Markus "Notch" Persson). It had rudimentary graphics and controls. It was only available on PC. It was prone to breaking, because it was an unfinished game being made by a single person.
And yet, millions of people bought and played that early version of "Minecraft." When Microsoft bought the game back in 2014, the tech world was surprised and confused by the purchase. Persson did not join Microsoft.
But clearly that early success has persisted under Microsoft's care. Just to compare, more people play Minecraft on a monthly basis than the populations of France, UK, Italy, or South Korea.
But why is it so popular? We're talking about a game that looks like this:
"Minecraft" is available on nearly every game platform available, including the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo
Think of "Minecraft" as virtual LEGO.
It's a system for fitting pieces together to create something — sometimes amazing somethings— from nothing. "Minecraft" provides endless building blocks and a blank canvas. It's up to you to create something incredible, or silly, or referential, or whatever, using the tools it provides. The tools are blessedly user-friendly, as are the systems for employing those tools.
With that in mind, it's not hard to understand why "Minecraft" has been such a hit. That it's graphically rudimentary and simple to play just makes it all the more accessible to a large audience — nearly 75 million people every month, apparently.
Mustafa Suleyman is cofounder and head of applied AI at Google DeepMind.DeepMind
Mustafa Suleyman is a 33-year-old entrepreneur and activist.
He sold his artificial intelligence company DeepMind to Google for £400 million in 2014.
Suleyman dropped out of university and worked as an activist before getting involved in artificial intelligence.
Mustafa Suleyman is one of the three cofounders of DeepMind, an artificial intelligence (AI) lab in London that was acquired by Google in 2014 for a reported £400 million — the search giant's largest acquisition in Europe to date.
Listen to a few of Suleyman's talks on YouTube and you'll quickly realise that he's a left-leaning activist who wants to make the world a better place for everyone as opposed to an elite few. He differs from many of today's tech founders in that he genuinely seems to care about the welfare of everyone on the planet.
The 33 year old — affectionately known as "Moose" internally at DeepMind and amongst his friends — lives in Peckham, South London, with his artist fiancée. He can often be seen on Twitter making his thoughts known on issues like homelessness, diversity, and inequality, and also once retweeted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
DeepMind may be owned by one of the largest companies in the world but Suleyman strongly believes capitalism is failing society in a number of areas. He explained this during a talk at a Google event last May.
"We believe today that in some sense, capitalism in many ways has delivered so much for us over the last couple of centuries," Suleyman said at a Google ZeitgeistMinds event in London. "We've delivered so much progress. No other construct or idea has been able to distribute benefits so broadly and so rapidly. And yet in many areas, capitalism is currently failing us. We actually need a new kind of set of incentives to tackle some of the most pressing and urgent social problems and we need a new kind of tool, a new kind of intelligence, that is distributed, that is scaled, that is accessible, to try and make sense of some of the complexity that is overwhelming us."
DeepMind's not-so-simple mission is to solve intelligence and then to use that to solve everything else. The company is building complex algorithms that can learn for themselves using techniques similar to those seen in the human brain. Ultimately, it hopes to end up with something that works like an artificial hippocampus — the part of the brain that is mainly associated with memory, and long-term memory in particular.
Since its incorporation in 2011, DeepMind has been aggressively hiring some of the smartest computer scientists, neuroscientists, mathematicians, and physicists around the world. Today it employs around 700 people across offices in the UK (London), Canada (Edmonton and Montreal), and the US (Mountain View). The vast majority of DeepMind's staff (over 500 people) are currently located across two floors in Google's main office in London's King's Cross.
Unlike his cofounders, Suleyman does not have a background in science. As a result, he is more focused on the business side of the company and today he is trying to find applications for DeepMind's technology both inside and outside of Google while also ensuring that the company's work in AI remains safe and ethical.
Suleyman grew up in North London and developed a passion for philosophy
Caledonian Road.Flickr/Matt Brown
Suleyman grew up just off Caledonian Road in North London where he lived with his parents and his two younger brothers. His father was a Syrian-born taxi driver and his mother was an English nurse in the NHS.
Suleyman went to Thornhill Primary School (a state school in Islington) followed by the free, but selective, Queen Elizabeth boys school in Barnet.
Suleyman read widely as a child, according to a Wired feature on DeepMind from June 2015, developing an early love for philosophy. He also had a passion for business and entrepreneurship from an early age and he wasn't afraid to try to hustle his fellow students on the school playground.
When I started secondary school at 11, me and my best friend started selling sweets in the playground.
"Ever since I was a kid I was always starting small businesses and dreaming they would one day grow like crazy," Suleyman told Business Insider.
"When I started secondary school at 11, me and my best friend started selling sweets in the playground. We would go to the wholesaler and buy in bulk and rent people’s lockers to store them in. We started hiring other kids out at break-times to sell for us. It got pretty big before the teachers shut it down."
Suleyman moved from selling sweets in the playground to exploring how he could help the disabled in his spare time.
"A few years later, a team of us got together and spent a summer visiting restaurants and attractions across London in a wheelchair we borrowed to review their accessibility for disabled people," he said. "Based on that, we published an 80-page guide to London for young disabled people.
"It's part of the reason why I believe so strongly that if we rewrite the incentives for businesses today to include social responsibility in addition to fiduciary duties, plenty of leaders will jump at the chance to redirect their energies toward building a better, fairer world."
As a straight A student, Suleyman could afford to be fairly selective about where he went to university. He chose to go to Oxford — one of the top (and most elite) universities in the world — to read philosophy and theology. Interestingly, Suleyman joined Oxford's Mansfield College, which is leading the charge on anti-elitism at the university; nine in 10 of the students it admitted in 2017 came from state schools.
"Philosophy and theology is an interesting course and I thought it was a nice combination," Suleyman said. "Mansfield is an amazing place to study theology, and my tutor was one of the leaders in the field."
But Suleyman realised that he didn't want to focus on education in his late teenage years.
Young and eager to get out into the world and use his intelligence to have an impact, he dropped out of the centuries-old institution at 19 because he didn't feel like his degree was practical enough.
"Throughout my life, I've always been focused on maximizing social impact with everything I do," said Suleyman. "At the time, I was enjoying studying philosophy and theology but it felt so abstract and impractical to me.
"Like many teenage activists I guess I was restless and angry at what I saw as such widespread injustice and inequality. And I felt compelled to do something to help people directly in the wider world."
Suleyman dropped out of Oxford to set up a counselling service for young Muslims
After dropping out, Suleyman and his university friend Mohammed Mamdani set up a telephone counselling service called the Muslim Youth Helpline which went on to become one of the largest mental health support services of its kind in the UK.
"I wanted to broaden my scope to tackle social challenges affecting all of society, not just a specific subgroup," Suleyman said. "At the Helpline I realised that the problems many of our service users were facing were actually rooted in the wider systemic inequalities and prejudices present in broader society."
At 22, Suleyman left Muslim Youth Helpline after realising non-profit organisations are held back by multiple factors.
"After three or four years, I realised in some sense the fundamental limitations of charities," Suleyman told The Financial Times. "It was really difficult to scale the organisation and to raise funds in a sustainable way."
Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.
He went on to work for former London mayor Ken Livingstone.
"When I got an offer to work for Mayor Ken Livingstone on human rights policy, it seemed like a brilliant opportunity to to fight the systemic injustices that create so much of the suffering I saw first hand at the Helpline."
He left City Hall when he realised that government wasn't the vehicle to promote radical systemic change either. "It was pretty challenging and despite all of the high-minded principles it was actually really difficult to get practical things done on a day-to-day basis," Suleyman told the FT.
Suleyman worked with the UN, the US government, and Shell
Following his stint in politics, Suleyman helped to cofound a consultancy called Reos Partners, which aims to help drive change on global issues like food production, waste, and diversity.
"[Through Reos Partners] I ended up working for a whole bunch of different organisations including the UN, the US government, the Dutch government, WWF, Shell," he told the FT. His work for Shell was on sustainability-related projects. "We worked all over the world, ended up growing [Reos Partners], which is still going today, to about five or six offices around the world — specialising in large scale conflict resolution and negotiation."
Suleyman left Reos Partners in 2010 after a year-long piece of facilitation work at the Copenhagen climate negotiations left him feeling frustrated. "There was a very natural alignment back in late 2009, early 2010 when I had just sort of finished the climate negotiations, which of course were at the time a massive disaster and everybody was really broken hearted" he told the FT.
He added: "Traditional vehicles for addressing climate change — the various meetings and minds, grassroots campaigning, high level political negotiations, waiting for spontaneous market driven outcomes — were, to put it bluntly, just not working fast enough. Time and again we found ourselves failing to come to grips with a dizzyingly complex world, with groups of the smartest experts struggling to make sense of the relationship between cause and effect.
"Of course climate change is just one of many strands of a complex, interdependent, and dynamic set of problems that we currently face as a species. If we don't tackle these problems, the future of humanity and the planet is at best uncertain. At worst, it's an extremely grim prognosis."
DeepMind was born in London in 2009
Realising the potential that technology and AI have to benefit the world, Suleyman set up DeepMind around the end of 2009 with his childhood friend Demis Hassabis and a New Zealander called Shane Legg.
DeepMind founders: Mustafa Suleyman (left), Demis Hassabis (centre), and Shane Legg (right).DeepMind
Before incorporating DeepMind, Suleyman and Hassabis (who were friends through Hassabis's younger brother) had many deep discussions and debates about how to improve the world. They typically approached the matter from different angles but they both say they're fundamentally motivated by the opportunity to alleviate human suffering at scale, and they've talked about how best to do that endlessly.
"Demis and I grew up in the same neighborhood and his younger brother and I were — and still are — best friends," said Suleyman. "We often had conversations about how to improve and impact the world — from solving inequality to malnutrition. He felt the solutions would come through simulations that could model the complex dynamics in the world causing these problems, while I would always emphasize more near-term practical change efforts.
"Building and applying general purpose learning systems combined our two different approaches. And after working in many different arenas — from government to think tanks and the charity sector — trying to tackle our most intractable social challenges, it was clear to me that we needed new institutions, creativity and knowledge in order to navigate the growing complexity of our social systems. Reapplying existing human knowledge was not going to be enough. Starting a new kind of organisation with the single purpose of building AI and using it to solve the world's toughest problems was our best shot at having a transformative, large scale impact on society’s most pressing challenges."
Suleyman is well-liked across DeepMind and the UK tech sector. Many people said they liked the fact that he's humble and down to Earth, and they respect the fact that he's willing to talk about difficult issues like equal pay and capitalism in a way that many other tech leaders aren't. He's seen by some as a revolutionary and whether he realises it or not, may people are more than willing to sign up to his mission and his way of thinking.
In the company's early days, Suleyman made several trips to Silicon Valley and successfully convinced billionaires like Peter Thiel and Elon Musk to invest in DeepMind, telling them that he and his cofounders planned to hoover up as much brain power in Europe as they could and get these smart young people working on the most advanced AI systems on the planet.
Frank Meehan, an early investor in DeepMind and a former board member on virtual assistant startup Siri, which was acquired by Apple in 2010, said he first met Suleyman when DeepMind employed about six or seven people and was based out of a tiny office in London's Russell Square.
"Mustafa is a key part of the whole thing," Meehan told Business Insider. "He's confident, he's energetic, and he stays on top of things," said Meehan. "He's focused and he gets things done."
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), former head of the No 10 Policy Unit, and an independent reviewer of DeepMind Health, described Suleyman as an "open" and "rounded" leader, adding that he respects his willingness to talk about the big issues facing the world's tech giants.
"Everyone thinks if Mustafa is running the world it would be a pretty amazing place, to be honest," Taylor told Business Insider.
Taylor said that if he were to take a cynical view of DeepMind, "the question is whether or not he is someone inside the system genuinely transforming the culture of Google, or, if you were cynical, is he the kind of acceptable face for an industry that knows it has its issues but is actually going to plough on regardless?"
Commenting on his relationship with Suleyman, Hassabis said: "Mustafa is a fantastic cofounder — we were family friends growing up together in North London and we share a deep belief in the potential of scientific and technical advances for positive social change. He brilliantly leads our applied and commercial efforts including spearheading our work in healthcare and energy, as well as being a respected thought leader on the ethical and societal impact of AI."
Suleyman is leading DeepMind's health projects
DeepMind's algorithms have been used by Google to reduce the amount of energy used in its vast fleet of enormous data centres by 15%. "Anything that we can do to reduce the amount of energy required to deliver the same service is fantastic for the planet and has a very significant dollar impact at the bottom line, which is also good," Suleyman said in July 2016. Google has also used DeepMind's WaveNet neural network to generate the Google Assistant voices for US English and Japanese.
DeepMind's Streams app.Google DeepMind
Looking outside Google, Suleyman, who oversees a growing DeepMind Health team, has convinced several NHS trusts to work with DeepMind on projects including a patient monitoring app for clinicians and an AI system that can learn to spot early signs of cancer.
DeepMind's work with the NHS didn't get off to the best start and Suleyman found himself under the spotlight when a freedom of information request from New Scientist revealed the extent of a data sharing agreement with the Royal Free Trust in North London, which was DeepMind's first NHS deal.
Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said in a statement at the time: "There's no doubt the huge potential that creative use of data could have on patient care and clinical improvements, but the price of innovation does not need to be the erosion of fundamental privacy rights. Our investigation found a number of shortcomings in the way patient records were shared for this trial. Patients would not have reasonably expected their information to have been used in this way, and the Trust could and should have been far more transparent with patients as to what was happening."
But that's the only major setback that the company has had since it was acquired by Google.
Looking ahead, DeepMind is keen to work with the National Grid to see how it can cut energy consumption across the UK in the same way that it's helped Google in its data centres.
Beyond that, Suleyman is also one of the founding members of the Partnership on AI — an organisation set up in September 2016 to ensure that AI is developed safely, ethically, and transparently — along with Facebook's AI head Yann LeCun, Microsoft Research director Eric Horvitz, and several others.
Suleyman accepts there are very real concerns about the future of AI
While AI clearly has great potential, academics, philosophers, and technologists have warned that AI may be humanity's biggest downfall if it is programmed incorrectly or harnessed for wrong doing.
Renowned scientist Stephen Hawking said at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon last November: "Success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization. Or the worst. We just don't know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it."
When it comes to DeepMind's research, Suleyman and his cofounders realise that there are two sides to the coin.
The DeepMind leaders allowed their startup to be acquired by Google on the condition that Google set up an internal AI ethics board to oversee AI developments across the entire organisation.
Little is known about the mysterious ethics board but Suleyman said at a Bloomberg conference in 2015 that he wanted Google to disclose the board members. He's been asked about the board several times since then but remained tight lipped.
"Getting these things right is not purely a matter of having good intentions," Suleyman wrote in Wired this month. "We need to do the hard, practical and messy work of finding out what ethical AI really means. If we manage to get AI to work for people and the planet, then the effects could be transformational. Right now, there's everything to play for."
SULEYMAN'S 3 FAVOURITE BOOKS
Ivan Illich's "Deschooling Society," a penetrating commentary on the shortcomings of institutionalised education. Illich accomplishes that most difficult of feats, complementing his critique with a set of practical and creative proposals for alternative approaches.
"Inventing the Future" by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams tackles the likely ramifications of intensified automation for the future of work, and the prospects for policies like UBI. The book distinguishes itself by taking absolutely seriously the difficult and contentious political dimensions to this debate.
"Transparency and the Open Society" by Roger Taylor and Tim Kelsey is a timely and detailed inquiry into the complexities that surround greater openness, together with a framework for thinking through transparency as effective policy.
Image captionCan apps and fitness trackers helps us kick bad habits into touch?
January is a peak time for downloading health and fitness apps and putting those Christmas present fitness trackers to work. But do they actually help you stay motivated?
After the Christmas self-indulgence comes the inevitable New Year's resolution to get fit, lose weight, and eat more healthily.
But while 65% of us make resolutions, only 12% successfully keep to them, polling firm ComRes finds. Can tech help?
When Sarah, 34, a law professor from Australia, wanted to lose weight last year, she took the unusual approach of placing bets that she would achieve her exercise goals.
Breast cancer had stopped her exercise routine, and she'd gained weight during a year which included three operations, she says.
"I was returning to exercise by hiking and trying to lose some of the weight I'd put on while being sedentary," she says.
Image copyrightSARAH STEELE
Image captionSarah bet that she would reach her fitness goals after treatment for breast cancer
She began a new exercise routine eight weeks after finishing breast reconstruction surgery. With a wearable activity tracker, she monitored the steps she took each day and the calories she burned.
But she also motivated herself with an app, Step Bet, that let her wager whether she would achieve her exercise goals.
"I did three one-month bets and three six-month bets, and lost 7kg [15 lbs] - 10% of my body weight," says Sarah.
She also says she made £358 [$458; €403].
"I like losing fat. I don't like losing money. The effect? Motivation!" she explains.
For the data-minded, tracking your progress with reams of measurements is enough to stay motivated.
Arshia Gratiot, who is 40 and originally from Bangalore, has been using a fitness tracker for a year, "to measure biometrics such as my heart rate, associated with my level of fitness," she says.
In 2016, she founded a technology start-up with offices in Finland, India, and London.
Image copyrightARSHIA GRATIOT
Image captionEntrepreneur Arshia Gratiot says exercising was "the only way I could stay sane"
Frequently travelling across time zones made her decide to go running each evening - sometimes in the middle of the night - while listening to podcasts.
"It was either lie in bed like a zombie, totally jet-lagged, or hit the road. It was the only way I could stay sane," she says.
Tracking her heart rate and metabolism offered "a visual way to track progress over time" and encouraged her, says Ms Gratiot.
But it's how we use such data that matters, argues Anil Aswani, an assistant professor in industrial engineering and operations research at the University of California, Berkeley.
"Personalized goal setting is a very important aspect of these apps," he says
The better exercise apps learn from how you've done in the past to tailor your goals, he argues. And doing this builds a sense of achievement, which behavioural psychologists say is important in altering your habits.
"If you're effective at meeting goals today, it boosts your confidence and makes you more likely to meet your goals in the future," says Prof Aswani.
Image copyrightJOSEPH LAWS
Image captionJoseph Laws used his military and Google experience to create a fitness app that adapts
In his own research, one group of test subjects was given a changing number of steps as a goal each day, based on their previous progress. Another was assigned the same number of steps every day.
The group given adaptive goals averaged about 1,000m more each day, he says.
Joseph Laws, a former US army Ranger who served in Afghanistan and afterwards worked as a software engineer at Google, has developed his own way of setting adaptive goals.
Based on his army experience, he began developing fitness routines for friends and family. Later, he started developing machine learning algorithms to find out which exercises best built fitness, based on age, sex, height, and weight.
Mr Laws released the official version of his app, Optimize, six months ago.
The challenge was "developing a model of fitness, and mapping those equations to actual exercises," he says.
Once he had the model in place, his algorithms could learn and improve each time a person exercised. The workouts would then adapt to the person's past performance.
Around 90% of users who make it to their fourth workout continue to use it for the next two months, he says. Most of the data comes from people "20 to 50 years old", he says, so the next challenge is gathering more data from older exercisers, and other non-typical groups, such as people with injuries.
Other fitness start-ups are trying to apply machine learning to calorie counting.
Charles Teague's app, Lose It!, began by asking users to log everything they ate, then keeping track of their calories and nutrients, he says.
This, as everyone knows who's tried it, is a bit of a faff.
"So wouldn't it be great if you could just take a picture of your food, and it was just logged?" he asks.
A year ago, he introduced a feature called Snap It, which is learning how to identify food on a plate.
Image captionThe LoseIt! app aims to count your calories by recognising snaps of your food
"The data we've accumulated today would do things like recognise that's pasta, that's an apple, that's a banana," says Mr Teague.
But more data is needed if the app is to discern spaghetti bolognese from fettuccine alfredo, for example.
At the moment, users train the algorithm as they use it, by selecting the precise type of food in front of them from options the algorithm identifies. So it will take time before the app becomes sufficiently clever to recognise most food variants.
With the World Health Organisation saying obesity is now more common than under-nutrition, researchers agree apps based on health and psychological research have the potential to transform how we eat and exercise.
But of 29,000 apps relating to weight loss and fitness, only 17 were based on verifiable scientific research, a 2016 study at the Catholic University of Louvain found.
Despite this, the global mobile fitness app market grew from $1.8bn in 2016 to $2.2bn, says research firm Statista, while the fitness wearables market was worth $6.1bn in 2017, a figure expected to reach $7.5bn by 2022.
So as well as thinking about what you eat and how far you run, it's worth checking out the credentials of the fitness app or tracker first before committing your hard-earned cash.
What works for you will depend largely on your personality and what pushes your motivational buttons.
Image captionMany firms are panicking as cyber-attacks and regulatory fines threaten profits
With cyber-attacks increasing in frequency and severity, many companies are turning to insurance to cover their mounting losses. But can insurers quantify the risk accurately and could insurance lead to corporate complacency?
Many firms feel like they're under siege.
Cyber-attacks are coming thick and fast and the tools at the hackers' disposal seem to be getting more, not less, powerful.
Estimated annual losses from cyber crime now top $400bn (£291bn), according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And the cost in lost productivity of last year's WannaCry ransomware attack alone was estimated at $4bn.
So many businesses are buying cyber insurance "in a mad panic", warns Char van der Walt of SecureData, a cyber-security company.
"Unfortunately this will mean that businesses of all sizes will seek out the minimum cyber-security investment laid out by insurers, government, and regulators, rather than going above and beyond to protect their own, and their customers', data."
Ransomware attacks, whereby criminals break in to your network, encrypt all your data, then demand money in return for the decryption key, are particularly virulent. Firms have even been stocking up on Bitcoins - the hackers' cryptocurrency payment of choice - to pay the ransoms.
Media captionTechnology explained: what is ransomware?
And it's not just the immediate ransom costs they have to worry about. There are the costs of investigating and closing the breach, legal and public relations costs, the damage to your share price as consumers and clients lose confidence, and the loss of business resulting from a damaged reputation.
There are also potential regulatory fines to pay - particularly when the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in May. Under the new rules your firm could be fined up to 4% of turnover or €20m, whichever is the greater, if regulators think you haven't protected customers' personal data adequately.
The average cost of a cyber breach was $349,000 in 2017, according to NetDiligence, whose data is based on actual cyber insurance claims. For a big company the average cost was $5.9m.
But US retailer Target, which had more than 40 million customer credit card details stolen in 2013, had to fork out $279m in total as a result of the breach, says specialist insurance market Lloyd's of London in a report compiled with consultancy KPMG and international law firm DCA Beachcroft.
Around $100m of that was on lawsuits.
Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionIf this is your firm's attitude to the rising cyber threat, you may be in trouble
Telecoms company TalkTalk suffered losses of nearly $100m after its breach in 2015, says Lloyd's, and this included a £400,000 fine from the UK Information Commissioner's Office.
So it's perhaps little surprise that interest in cyber insurance has spiked recently.
The number of insurers offering cyber insurance via Lloyd's of London has leapt to more than 70, nearly double the number a few years ago. And insurance giant Allianz predicts that global cyber insurance premiums will grow to $20bn by 2025, up from around $3-4bn now.
One insurer, Hiscox, says it has been enjoying robust growth in its cyber insurance business, particularly following the TalkTalk breach and as GDPR approaches.
"We're seeing annual growth of around 40% in cyber," says Gareth Wharton, chief executive of cyber at the insurer. "We expect to have taken around $100m in premiums in 2017."
Image copyrightSUKI DHANDA
Image captionGareth Wharton from insurer Hiscox admits that it's difficult to assess the value of lost data
But how do insurers know how to assess cyber risk accurately and set the right premium levels?
"Cyber isn't like car or house insurance where the risks are known and the products haven't changed that much," says Mr Wharton. "The types of risk are changing all the time and there's no easy way of quantifying the cost of stolen data."
So it's up to the insurer to make sure the client is an acceptable risk, he says.
"Firstly we need to understand how seriously the board takes cyber-security," says Mr Wharton. "Does it have a disaster recovery plan and how often does it test it?"
The firm checks obvious security measures, too, such as the presence of antivirus and firewall protection, the frequency of software updates and data back-ups, and whether critical data is encrypted, he says.
"We're trying to be a partner with our clients, not just a seller of insurance, so we offer free cyber security training as well. We have a responsibility to drive up standards and encourage better practice."
While there are several recognised ISO [International Organisation for Standardisation] standards covering various aspects of information security, there isn't one catch-all standard that global businesses can adopt to help insurers assess their cyber risk.
The UK government insists that any company it does business with has to conform to the Cyber Essentials standards set by the National Cyber Security Centre. That's a start at least.
"One of the biggest issues in cyber insurance is how to price it effectively and cover indirect as well as direct costs a company suffers following a cyber-attack," says Nik Whitfield, chief executive of Panaseer, a cyber risk assessor.
He anticipates companies like his offering cyber risk assessment services to insurers. Firms seeking insurance would be happy to be assessed in the hope of securing lower premiums, he argues.
"Such a service would be the equivalent of a telematics box in your car which tells the insurance company how well you're driving," says Mr Whitfield.
But if firms see cyber insurance merely as an excuse to skimp on their cyber-security defences, they could find themselves in trouble, he warns.
"Businesses must understand that cyber insurance is not a silver bullet - you don't get car insurance and drive like a maniac," he says.
Facebook is vetting local publishers that appear in this section.
Chris Hyde / Getty
Facebook wants to make it easier for people to find local news from vetted sources.
The social network is testing a new section inside its app called “Today In,” a feed made up entirely of local news, events and announcements.
The test is running in just six cities for now: New Orleans, La.; Little Rock, Ark.; Billings, Mont.; Peoria, Ill.; Olympia, Wash.; and Binghamton, N.Y. Facebook users who self-identify as living in those areas will be able to visit the new section to see local information, like stories from local publishers or emergency updates from local authorities.
Facebook is using machine-learning software to surface content in this new section. Local news publishers who appear there will all be approved and vetted by the company’s News Partnerships team, which is overseen by former NBC news anchor Campbell Brown, according to a company spokesperson.
The company says this is all part of Facebook’s Journalism Project initiative, which Facebook launched shortly after last year’s U.S. presidential election in which so-called fake news spread on the service, leading many to point to Facebook as part of the reason for Donald Trump’s surprising victory.
The company has tested and launched a handful of other news-related features this year as part of the effort, including a breaking news label for publishers and a label identifying stories disputed by outside fact-checkers. (It stopped using the “disputed” tags in December.)
All of this plays into the company’s broader efforts to cleanse the service of false information; hand-selecting local publishers to appear inside this new section of the app should (theoretically) help keep fake news to a minimum.
The question is whether or not the section will benefit local publishers. It’s possible that being part of a separate, local section of the app will help drive more traffic back to publishers’ stories and websites where they can make money through advertising, but there is no way for publishers to make money off the new local section at launch.
Even generating that extra traffic will depend on whether or not Facebook users frequent the new section. Facebook plans to alert people in the six test cities that the new feature exists, but after that, “Today In” will appear in the menu (☰) where Facebook has dozens of other lesser-used sections of the app that you might easily forget about.
Eventually, Facebook wants to roll this out to more cities. And users will eventually be able to follow local cities that they don’t currently live in (a childhood hometown, for example), according to a company spokesperson.
In November, Facebook also rebranded its standalone events app, calling it “Facebook Local,” which shows users where to find restaurants and nearby events. That app is completely separate from this new local news section, according to a company spokesperson.
Republican Sen. John Thune said Wednesday on CNBC that he wants to know why Apple hasn't been more "transparent" about why the company chose to deliberately slow the performance of batteries in some older iPhones.
Thune, who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, requested answers from the company in a letter released Wednesday. Apple is supposed to respond by Jan. 23.
The South Dakota Republican said he isn't "ruling anything out" should Apple fail to adequately answer his questions.
"We could have a hearing at some point and elevate this further," Thune told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Wednesday.
Apple disclosed in December that it had been slowing down batteries in older iPhones to save components from overuse without notifying users. It apologized to customers and dropped the price of a battery replacement to $29.
Millions of people trust WhatsApp's end-to-end encryption. But security researchers say a flaw could put some group chats at risk of infiltration.
When WhatsApp added end-to-end encryption to every conversation for its billion users two years ago, the mobile messaging giant significantly raised the bar for the privacy of digital communications worldwide. But one of the tricky elements of encryption—and even trickier in a group chat setting—has always been ensuring that a secure conversation reaches only the intended audience, rather than some impostor or infiltrator. And according to new research from one team of German cryptographers, flaws in WhatsApp make infiltrating the app's group chats much easier than ought to be possible.
At the Real World Crypto security conference Wednesday in Zurich, Switzerland, a group of researchers from the Ruhr University Bochum in Germany plan to describe a series of flaws in encrypted messaging apps including WhatsApp, Signal, and Threema. The team argues their findings undermine each app's security claims for multi-person group conversations to varying degrees.
But while the Signal and Threema flaws they found were relatively harmless, the researchers unearthed far more significant gaps in WhatsApp's security: They say that anyone who controls WhatsApp's servers could effortlessly insert new people into an otherwise private group, even without the permission of the administrator who ostensibly controls access to that conversation.
'It's just a total screwup. There's no excuse.'
MATTHEW GREEN, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
"The confidentiality of the group is broken as soon as the uninvited member can obtain all the new messages and read them," says Paul Rösler, one of the Ruhr University researchers who co-authored a paper on the group messaging vulnerabilities. "If I hear there's end-to-end encryption for both groups and two-party communications, that means adding of new members should be protected against. And if not, the value of encryption is very little."
That any would-be eavesdropper would have to control the WhatsApp server limits the spying method to sophisticated hackers who could compromise those servers, WhatsApp staffers, or governments who legally coerce WhatsApp to give them access. But the premise of so-called end-to-end encryption has always been that even a compromised server shouldn't expose secrets. Only people in a conversation should be able to read WhatsApp's messages, not the servers themselves.
"If you build a system where everything comes down to trusting the server, you might as well dispense with all the complexity and forget about end-to-end encryption," says Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University who reviewed the Ruhr University researchers' work. "It's just a total screwup. There's no excuse."
The German researchers say their WhatsApp attack takes advantage of a simple bug. Only an administrator of a WhatsApp group can invite new members, but WhatsApp doesn't use any authentication mechanism for that invitation that its own servers can't spoof. So the server can simply add a new member to a group with no interaction on the part of the administrator, and the phone of every participant in the group then automatically shares secret keys with that new member, giving him or her full access to any future messages. (Messages sent prior to an illicit invitation, fortunately, still can't be decrypted.)
Everyone in the group would see a message that a new member had joined, seemingly at the invitation of the unwitting administrator. If the administrator is watching closely, he or she could warn the group's intended members about the interloper and the spoofed invitation message.
But the Ruhr University researchers and Johns Hopkins' Green point out several tricks that could be used to delay detection. Once an attacker with control of the WhatsApp server had access to the conversation, he or she could also use the server to selectively block any messages in the group, including those that ask questions, or provide warnings about the new entrant.
"He can cache all the message and then decide which get sent to whom and which not," says Rösler. And in groups with multiple administrators, the hijacked server could spoof different messages to each administrator, making it appear that another one had invited the eavesdropper, so that none raises an alarm. It could even prevent any administrator's attempt to remove the eavesdropper from the group if discovered.
In a phone call with WIRED, a WhatsApp spokesperson confirmed the researchers' findings, but emphasized that no one can secretly add a new member to a group—a notification does go through that a new, unknown member has joined the group. The staffer added that if an administrator spots a fishy new addition to a group, they can always tell other users via another group, or in one-to-one messages. And the WhatsApp spokesperson also noted that preventing the Ruhr University researchers' attack would likely break a popular WhatsApp feature known as a "group invite link" that allows anyone to join a group simply by clicking on a URL.
“We've looked at this issue carefully," a WhatsApp spokesperson wrote in an email. "Existing members are notified when new people are added to a WhatsApp group. We built WhatsApp so group messages cannot be sent to a hidden user. The privacy and security of our users is incredibly important to WhatsApp. It's why we collect very little information and all messages sent on WhatsApp are end-to-end encrypted.”
To be fair, this technique wouldn't be a very stealthy strategy in the long run for government spying. Sooner or later, users would likely notice that unexpected strangers were showing up in their chats. But that possibility of detection isn't an adequate solution to WhatsApp's underlying problem, argues John Hopkins' Green. "That's like leaving the front door of a bank unlocked and then saying no one will rob it because there’s a security camera," Green says. "It's dumb."
The Ruhr University researchers say they alerted WhatsApp to the problem with group messaging security last July. In response to their report, WhatsApp's staff say they fixed one problem with a feature of their encryption that made it harder to crack future messages even after an attacker obtained one decryption key. But they told the researchers the group invitation bug they'd found was merely "theoretical" and didn't even qualify for the so-called bug bounty program run by Facebook, WhatsApp's corporate owner, in which security researchers are paid for reporting hackable flaws in the company's software.
'If I hear there's end-to-end encryption for both groups and two-party communications, that means adding of new members should be protected against.'
PAUL RÖSLER, RUHR UNIVERSITY
For some of WhatsApp's users, the stakes of the app's security could be high. WhatsApp's convenient group messaging system, in combination with its encryption promises, have made it a popular tool for "whisper networks" of grassroots organizing around sensitive or dangerous topics. Victims of sexual abuse and harassment have used it to organize the campaign against abusers, for instance. So have political insiders and Syria's embattled White Helmets, volunteer rescue brigades in Syria who are often targeted by the ruling regime.
But the shoddy security around WhatsApp's group chats should make its most sensitive users wary of interlopers, Rösler argues. If WhatsApp were to comply with a government request—in the US or abroad—agents could join any private group and listen along.
The researchers dug up less serious flaws in the more specialized secure messaging apps Signal and Threema, too. They warn that Signal allows the same group chat attack as WhatsApp, letting uninvited eavesdroppers join groups. But in Signal's case, that eavesdropper would have to not only control the Signal server, but also know a virtually unguessable number called the Group ID. That essentially blocks the attack, unless the Group ID can be obtained from one of the group member's phones—in which case the group is likely already compromised. The researchers say that Open Whisper Systems, the non-profit that runs and maintains Signal, nonetheless responded to their work, saying that it's currently redesigning how Signal handles group messaging. Open Whisper Systems declined to comment on the record to WIRED about the Ruhr researchers' findings.
For Threema, the researchers found even smaller bugs: An attacker who controls the server can replay messages or add users back into a group who have been removed. The researchers say Threema responded to their findings with a fix in an earlier version of its software.
As for WhatsApp, the researchers write that the company could fix its more egregious group chat flaw by adding an authentication mechanism for new group invitations. Using a secret key only the administrator possesses to sign those invitations could let the admin prove his or her identity and prevent the spoofed invites, locking out uninvited guests. WhatsApp has yet to take their advice.
Until they do, WhatsApp's most sensitive users should consider sticking with one-to-one conversations, or switching to a more secure group messaging app like Signal. Otherwise, they'd be wise to keep a vigilant eye out for any new entrants sliding into their private conversations. Until an administrator actively vouches for that newcomer, there's a small chance he or she might just be something other than a new friend.
Updated 10:00 pm EST with more information from WhatsApp.
If you have received the error "Can not create folder C:/Users/Username/AppData/Local/RoboForm/_mirrors_/rf-home-root: Access is denied. (error 5)'
This is related to the Windows Fall Creator update.
Follow the steps below to fix the issue............
1. Restart in Safe Mode with Networking on the Windows account in question. If you are not familiar with starting your pc in Safe Mode please use this link for the steps. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/12376/windows-10-start-your-pc-in-safe-mode
2. Navigate to C:/Users/Your Windows Username/AppData/Local/RoboForm/ then from here delete the mirrors folder.
3. Launch the Taskbar Icon from the Start Menu
4. Login to RoboForm with the Master Password
5. Select the RoboForm icon>>Sync>>Sync Now
(RoboForm will sync successfully and recreate the folder with the appropriate permissions.)
6. Restart in normal/standard Windows mode
7. Select RoboForm>>Sync>>Sync Now.
This should resolve the Windows Error 5 issue.
Last act of outgoing Chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin?
The Conservative Party doesn't have the best of reputations on matters of IT security...
While Prime Minister Theresa May spends Monday reshuffling her cabinet, her party has embarrassed itself after failing to renew the security certificate of the Conservative Party website.
People took to the internet to report the issue after being greeted with warnings when they tried to visit the Conservatives.com website.
The problem has now been resolved, but at one point, visitors were warned by their browsers: "Your connection is not private. Attackers might be trying to steal your information from www.conservatives.com (for example, passwords, messages or credit cards)."
Many users thought that the incident was ironic considering that the government is currently undergoing a cabinet reshuffle. One user wrote: "Conservative website is down because they forgot to do an IT update. Because they didn't update, the Conservative Party can't communicate."
Your connection is not private. Attackers might be trying to steal your information from www.conservatives.com
Another also found the situation funny, saying: "In the most appropriate possible metaphor for the party's failure to grasp 21st-century campaigning, the Conservative website is down, apparently because they've failed to upgrade to HTTPS."
One user pointed out several things that have gone wrong for the government, writing: "So far on #cabinetreshuffle day the Conservative Party website has gone down and the official Tory Twitter feed has announced the wrong person as new Party Chairman. Not the best of starts.
As part of the reshuffle, Conservative Party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin has stepped down.
McLoughlin has been widely criticised for being ineffective and will be replaced by Brandon Lewis, Conservative MP for Great Yarmouth, who'll be joined by Twitter user and MP for Braintree, Essex James Cleverly.
Hopefully, Lewis or Cleverly will do something about that auto-playing video on the party website home page.
People don't want to appear stupid in front of so-called smart assistants, suggest researchers
Smart device users will avoid using human-like virtual assistants for fear of looking "dumb" for asking stupid questions, according to research by psychologists.
In recent years, virtual assistants such as Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa have boomed in popularity with the tools pre-loaded onto smartphones and other devices.
But pyschologists have suggested that some people may be intimidated, rather than helped, by them. They suggest that the more human they are made, the less likely people will use them to ask questions.
The technologies are intended to improve the simplicity of apps and help users with everyday tasks. However, Daeun Park of Chungbuk National University claims that the more human assistants may deter people from using them.
They may end up asking themselves questions such as "Will I look dumb?" for asking this, according to the researcher. People, according to Park, are conscious about apps that measure achievement. These findings were published in the journal Psychological Science.
"We demonstrate that anthropomorphic features may not prove beneficial in online learning settings, especially among individuals who believe their abilities are fixed and who thus worry about presenting themselves as incompetent to others," said Park.
"Our results reveal that participants who saw intelligence as fixed were less likely to seek help, even at the cost of lower performance."
In the past, research has suggested that people view virtual assistants as "social beings", and this can make them "seem less intimidating and more user-friendly".
But Park and co-authors Sara Kim and Ke Zhang disagree with this claim, believing that people may feel like systems are trying to compete with their knowledge. This is particularly true when performance is concerned, they suggested.
"Online learning is an increasingly popular tool across most levels of education and most computer-based learning environments offer various forms of help, such as a tutoring system that provides context-specific help," said the researcher.
"Often, these help systems adopt human-like features. However, the effects of these kinds of help systems have never been tested."
It may, though, also be related to the knowledge or fear that the virtual assistants are slurping up data every time they are used, while the research might also only be exposing the embarrassment of looking ignorant in front of the research team.
The test involved exposing 187 people to a task that supposedly measured their intelligence. They were given three words and had to come up with a fourth one related to them all.
If they ended up running into difficulty, they could use an on-screen computer icon or a so-called helper. The research indicated that participants were "embarrassed" if they had to use the AI rather than the icon.
"Educators and program designers should pay special attention to unintended meanings that arise from humanlike features embedded online learning features," concluded Park.
"Furthermore, when purchasing educational software, we recommend parents review not only the contents but also the way the content is delivered."