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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 29th Feb 2016

EDF Energy has been criticised after a 13-year-old-boy won a competition that was part of a campaign to attract teenage girls to the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths.

Children were asked to think of ideas for a connected home bedroom product.
EDF said that while its Pretty Curious programme is still aimed at girls, the UK competition was later opened up to all 11 to 16-year-olds.

It continues to share the same website and branding as the girls' scheme.

The BBC understands that the decision had been made to open the competition up to both genders in the interests of fairness, and that the contest attracted "a couple of hundred" entries.

Following three events held in the UK for girls last year, the contest was extended online and made available to boys as well.

The winner's idea was for a games controller which harnesses kinetic energy from thumb action using wind-up triggers.

Three of the four runners-up, whose ideas included smart curtains, a smart fridge and a sleep monitor, were submitted by girls.

"We were really impressed with the ideas which were submitted. It's exciting to see so many young people getting involved in this type of initiative and engaging with Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths). We hope more young people will be inspired to pursue Stem subjects at school and consider Stem careers in future," said Amy Edmundson, an electrical maintenance technician at EDF.

Girls' perceptions
"Congratulations to the winner - but I'd love to hear from EDF how the winning solution meets their stated aim for the competition," said computer scientist Dr Sue Black OBE.

"It is taking me a bit of time to work out how this result will change girls' perceptions of Stem."
In a tweet, EDF said that while "the aim of #PrettyCurious was to encourage girls into #STEM, the #PrettyCuriousChallenge was a gender-neutral competition".

It added: "The winner was shortlisted by a panel of judges including the all-female winning team from our #PrettyCurious Glasgow workshop."

Suw Charman-Anderson, who founded the annual celebration of women in Stem, Ada Lovelace Day, told the BBC she had had reservations about the Pretty Curious campaign from the beginning.

"EDF Energy chose to link appearance and interest in Stem through the title of their campaign, despite many people pointing out that it was demeaning to girls," she said.

"Rather than challenging stereotypes, the focus on girls' looks rather than their intelligence reinforces them.

"EDF Energy have failed to understand both the nature of the problem [of women in Stem] and the negative impacts that their publicity stunt may well have on girls who took part with genuine enthusiasm and excitement."

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 29th Feb 2016

Security firm Webroot's Q2 results ending December 31st 2015 show double-digit year-over-year revenue growth and expansion of its network of strategic security alliances and channel partners.

Webroot saw strong bookings growth of 47% in the business segment with 97% growth in the OEM sub-segment and 7% in the consumer segment.

"This was another good quarter of growth for us across all markets and geographies," said Dick Williams, CEO at Webroot.

"Acceptance of our next-generation endpoint security solutions for businesses and consumers is driving growth and profitability."

Webroot benefited from its partnership with Virgin Media to deliver Web classification data for Virgin Media Parental Controls integrated with the Webroot BrightCloud Web Classification Service.

The Web classification data lets Virgin Media Parental Controls to establish granular policies that enable parents to selectively allow, block, or isolate websites that their children may find in their web surfing.

Source: comms-dealer.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 24th Feb 2016

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says the lesson he learned from India's recent ruling banning his project to bring free internet to its citizens is that "every country is different."

Zuckerberg spoke at Mobile World Congress, the annual trade event for the mobile phone industry. It was an audience filled with software developers, carriers, and hardware manufacturers.

"We recently had this ruling in India. There’s no differential pricing for services. Even if for free. That’s not allowed. That’s disappointing for the mission we’re trying to do and a major setback in India," Zuckberg said. "The main learning is that every country is different. The models that worked in one country are different in another. In India we’re going to focus on different programs. There are other parts of Internet.org that we’re going to focus on."

The Indian government ruled that Facebook's "Free Basics" plan was illegal, and blocked the company from launching free internet for citizens. That might sound strange, but the free version of the internet Facebook wanted to offered emphasised its own services and services offered by its partners. That upset net neutrality advocates, who wanted a free and open internet.

"We’ve had lots of different issues in our 12 years," Zuckerberg said. "We take the hits that we get and learn from them and try to do better."

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 24th Feb 2016

Bill Gates has published his annual letter on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and for the first time, he directs it specifically at high school students.

While last year's letter focused on eradicating disease, this year's note takes on the topic of energy. He directs it at young people because he believes they will be the ones responsible for coming up with the "crazy-seeming ideas" necessary to combat climate change.

The basic premise of the letter is that many people around the world still don't have access to electricity. Those people — about 18% of the world's population — deserve access to cheap, clean energy. And that "clean" part is very important: We need to get carbon dioxide emissions, which drive climate change, down to zero by the end of the century, in order to avoid dramatic, long-term changes to the world's climate.

Hitting zero will require an "energy miracle," he says, but that doesn't mean that it can't happen. People — like today's high schoolers — just need to come up with some powerful, economical solutions.

Gates calls for a massive amount of new research:

When I say 'miracle,' I don’t mean something that’s impossible. I’ve seen miracles happen before. The personal computer. The Internet. The polio vaccine. None of them happened by chance. They are the result of research and development and the human capacity to innovate.

In this case, however, time is not on our side. Every day we are releasing more and more CO2 into our atmosphere and making our climate change problem even worse. We need a massive amount of research into thousands of new ideas—even ones that might sound a little crazy—if we want to get to zero emissions by the end of this century.

He suggests that he's excited about new ways to make wind and solar power available to people even at night, on overcast days, or in areas that don't get much sun or wind ever — like through batteries that have huge storage capacity. He's also seen ideas for ways to use solar energy to produce fuel.

"We need to try lots of crazy seeming ideas so we can find a few that help us solve the world's energy challenge," he writes.

The note, in its entirety, is funny and inspiring; read it here.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 24th Feb 2016

Facebook has announced it will make highly detailed maps of places where it believes people are living available to the public later this year.

The social network has been using artificial intelligence software to scan satellite imagery and identify human-built structures.

It hopes to use the information to determine where internet-beaming drones would best be deployed.

But it suggests others could also make use of the maps.

"We believe this data has many more impactful applications, such as socio-economic research and risk assessment for natural disasters," Facebook said in a blog.

One expert raised concerns.
"I am torn in my reaction between excitement at the technical innovation and concern about the public policy issues," said Emily Taylor, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank.
"This takes knowing your customers to stalker-like levels."
But the British Red Cross charity said the initiative could potentially help it locate vulnerable communities.

Finer details
Facebook first detailed its work on the mapping project last year, in a briefing about its Aquila drones.
At the time, the social network's engineering chief, Jay Parikh, said the technology could spot structures as small as a tent.
He said the population maps it produced were many times more detailed than those of an alternative scheme co-ordinated by Columbia University, the Gridded Population of the World (GPW) project, which seeks to collate existing data.

Facebook used a map of Naivasha, Kenya to compare, the GPW project's data (bottom left) to its own (bottom right)
"You look at the Middle East, and all of a sudden there are big splotches," he said of the GPW's maps.
"Your intuition says that's probably not how people are distributed in terms of living.
"We can be much more precise and exact [with our] fine grain level of information."

Big data
In its update - released to coincide with the Mobile World Congress tech show - Facebook said it had analysed 14.6 billion satellite images covering 20 countries. This had resulted in 350TB of data.
"Our final data set has a spatial resolution of 5m [16.4ft] and thereby improves over previous countrywide data sets by multiple orders of magnitude," it said.
It added, however, the task had not been without problems.
"While recognising structures in aerial imagery is a popular task in computer vision, scaling it to a global level came with additional difficulty.
"Aside from processing billions of images, finding buildings with high fidelity in rural areas is really a needle-in-a-haystack problem.
"Typically, more than 99% of the landmass we analyse does not contain any human-made structure, and it therefore poses a challenge for the machine learning algorithms to learn from such an unbalanced data set."
Directing drones
Facebook intends to use the maps to inform its Internet.org initiative, which aims to connect more people to the internet.
The company is currently developing drones that would extend internet signals beyond cities via lasers beamed between the aircraft.

Facebook Aquila
Although it will be several years before Facebook hopes to have the technology ready, the maps could allow it to work out where the drones would have the most impact.
In the meantime, others hope the data could prove useful for their own efforts.
The Red Cross already has a map initiative of its own, the Missing Maps Project, developed in conjunction with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and Medecins Sans Frontieres.
It said the extra information could help the organisations respond more effectively to people in need.
The Red Cross says improved mapping data can help it get aid where it is needed
"There are many areas globally that still remain off the digital map," said British Red Cross maps expert Andrew Braye.
"These areas are also home to vulnerable communities at risk from natural disasters or conflict.
"Organisations that share open data are enabling the humanitarian sector to respond more rapidly.
"The information is then available to emergency responders and assists with decision-making."

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 23rd Feb 2016

Microsoft has acknowledged that Office 365 is experiencing a European outage, the second time in three months that the system has been unavailable for a sustained period.

Many users are unable to log-in to Office 365 through the front-end portal, resulting in perpetual lag, while the website promises that technicians are "working on it". Those who are able to log-in to services, for example Outlook, experience further lag inside the service environment when trying to open emails.

Office 365 seems to have been inaccessible by those affected since around 9am this morning.

Users on Twitter report "multiple customers experiencing outages, and accuse Microsoft of "fix[ing] one thing and breaking another".

Microsoft later issued a statement acknowledging there was a problem but claiming it only affected a small number of customers.
"A limited number of customers in Europe may have intermittent access to email on mobile devices, and we're working on a fix," said the statement.

"Customers can access email via Outlook client or Outlook on the web and can visit the O365 Service Health Dashboard for updates."

Office 365's last major outage was on 3 December and included Azure services. It lasted around four hours, and cloud email management firm Mimecast warned at the time that continued outages could begin to have "a detrimental impact on the country".

A further outage took place on 18 December and was attributed more directly to Microsoft's Azure functions.

The outages underline the problems that can occur with cloud-based services, which are becoming increasingly popular with organisations looking to remove the hassle of on-site systems management.

Source: v3.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 23rd Feb 2016

Everyone agrees a new law governing surveillance powers is required but the devil is in the detail, as a series of parliamentary reports have illustrated.

The existing law, all agree, is complex and lacking in transparency but all the signs are that the new one has not yet overcome this problem entirely.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee makes 86 recommendations overall but the central thrust is that while the direction of the draft bill is broadly correct, the government still needs to make significant changes, particularly in making a number of provisions clearer.

The bill aims to takes powers which were previously exercised using often obscure legal provisions and put them onto a clearer footing.

But one of the most controversial provisions is a new power - to compel companies to keep Internet Connection Records (ICRs) for 12 months which detail the sites everyone visits on the web (although not what exact page).

Not enough has been done to explain what is involved, the committee says.

Health records

Law enforcement rather than spies are the chief sponsors of this provision and the committee gives them support for the overall concept (even adding that they could be expanded to identify people visiting websites which hold illegal material rather than just for identifying forms of communication).

However, it says that more needs to be done on the detail. In particular there are problems over defining ICRs, over the technical feasibility of their collection and storage as well as the costs involved. All of this may make it challenging to deliver them in the timescale envisaged.

Bulk Personal Datasets are another area of concern.

Clear justifications and operational cases for why the powers are required remain lacking, the committee says, also criticising government for being unwilling to provide much detail of what kinds of datasets would be involved.

Some might be obvious such as passport records but others - like health records - would be far more sensitive.
It is notable in the report that the committee tried to get an answer on whether records such as health data would be excluded but was not given one by government.

There is relatively little detail on the issue of encryption which has been of concern to many companies (notably Apple which submitted detailed evidence).

Encrypted data

A report from the Science and Technology Committee raised concerns from industry about the potential impact of ambiguity in some provisions.

The indications are that the government wants to retain its right to seek unencrypted data even if it knows it may not always be possible to obtain it.

There are still some concerns from industry over what is meant when its said that companies need to take "practicable" steps to provide such data and what impact it has on end-to-end encryption systems.

Some companies also remain concerned they could be compelled to hack into their own products under equipment interference provisions.

The Joint Committee also calls for some significant changes to the way in which judges provide oversight over powers to increase independence.

On intelligence sharing, the Joint Committee also notably calls for it to be made illegal to get another country to spy on behalf of a UK agency or body when it does not have the authorisation to collect such information.

Privacy protection

The legislation is often technical by necessity and so a lot of weight is placed on "codes of practice" which outline how exactly the powers should be used. The committee say these should be published along with the bill to provide greater transparency and clarity.

The Intelligence and Security Committee report earlier in the week focused more narrowly on intelligence agency powers but took a tougher line.

It criticised the lack of an over-arching privacy protection and also said that when challenged about what the power of bulk equipment interference actually involved, officials were unable to provide an answer.

The committee have rejected the idea of a sunset clause in which the powers would expire after five years instead calling for a joint committee to review the use of the powers as the five year point approached.

There were clearly differences of opinion within the committee and despite the huge amount of evidence it took, some still feel it may have had to rush.

One member, Lord Strasburger argued the government had not learnt the lesson of drafting a bill too broadly and said that essential information was missing that parliament needed in order to decide if the powers were necessary and proportionate.

The issue now is how far the Home Office takes on board some of the criticisms and whether there is enough time to do so - a final bill is due to be introduced soon so that it can be debated and passed by the end of the year.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 23rd Feb 2016

HUMANS ARE THE BIGGEST CYBERSECURITY WEAKNESS

On Sunday, a hacker threatened to dump the contact information of thousands of FBI and Department of Homeland Security employees online. Then on Monday, the hacker made good on said threat and released the information, first from the DHS, then from the FBI. The hacker who released the information claimed to have had access to up to 200GB further of information, meaning there could be plenty more releases to come in the days ahead. So how did a person break into the systems of two of America’s most high-profile agencies? A phone call, it appears.

From Motherboard:

The data was obtained, the hacker told Motherboard, by first compromising the email account of a DoJ employee, although he would not elaborate on how that account was accessed in the first place. (On Monday, the hacker used the DoJ email account to contact this reporter). From there, he tried logging into a DoJ web portal, but when that didn't work, he phoned up the relevant department. “So I called up, told them I was new and I didn't understand how to get past [the portal],” the hacker told Motherboard. “They asked if I had a token code, I said no, they said that's fine—just use our one.”

As is so often the case, the easiest way into a secure system is by asking someone for the key. This is the same tactic that a teen hacker claims to have used to gain access to CIA chief John Brennan’s personal email. And it’s fairly similar to “spearphising” attacks, where emails with links to download malicious software are sent to specific people inside a network, in the hopes that they’ll open the email, follow the link, and compromise the system. This is reportedly how Russian hackers got into a Pentagon email server, Ukrainian power stations, and even less conspicious targets, like a German steel mill. Even as the Director of National Intelligence warns that the Internet of Things is a major threat, it appears IRL networks of people are at least as vulnerable. Fortunately for companies that want to find the vulnerabilities in their human networks, there’s an app for that.

Source: popsci.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 23rd Feb 2016

The row between Apple and the FBI over access to a dead murderer's phone should start a debate about government requests for data, says Bill Gates.

The FBI wants Apple to unlock the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook who killed 14 people in December last year.
Apple has resisted the demand saying the FBI order was "dangerous" and "unprecedented".

Speaking to the Financial Times, the Microsoft founder said complying would not put a backdoor in all iPhones.

"This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information," he said in the interview. "They are not asking for some general thing, they are asking for a particular case."

Mr Gates said the case was similar to the requests regularly made to phone companies and banks for information.

In a separate interview with the BBC, Mr Gates reiterated his view that the issue came down to a debate about whether governments can get at data they use to protect citizens.

"Should governments be able to access information at all or should they be blind, that's essentially what we are talking about," he told the BBC.

Microsoft itself has not formally commented on the row between the FBI and Apple. However, when pushed on the issue Microsoft referred to a statement issued by the Reform Government Surveillance group of which it is a member.

That statement sides with Apple saying: "Technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users' information secure."

It emerged this week that the US Department of Justice is asking for Apple's help to get at data on iPhones relevant to more than a dozen separate investigations. The Wall Street Journal said the cases came from several different criminal investigations and data locked on the handsets would help law enforcement.

None of the cases is believed to be related to terrorism and many involved older iPhones that lack the stronger security protections found on newer devices.

More recently, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said he was "sympathetic" to Apple's stance in the row.

The attack in San Bernadino by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik in December last year left 14 people dead and 22 injured.

In a statement published on Sunday, FBI director James Comey said its demand for access to the data on the phone was "about the victims and justice".

Slightly more than half of all Americans, 51%, when asked whether Apple should unlock the phone, believe it should comply with the FBI's order, according to a survey carried out by the Pew Research Center. Of those questioned, 38% said Apple should resist the call and 11% had no opinion.

On Monday, Apple boss Tim Cook sent a letter to the firm's employees about the row saying its refusal was about a broader civil rights issue not just this one case.

It also called for the US government to set up a government panel on encryption to look into the ways law enforcement can ask for access to data.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 22nd Feb 2016

Computer code written by women has a higher approval rating than that written by men - but only if their gender is not identifiable, new research suggests.

The US researchers analysed nearly 1.4 million users of the open source program-sharing service Github.
They found that pull requests - or suggested code changes - made on the service by women were more likely to be accepted than those by men.

The paper is awaiting peer review.

This means the results have yet to be critically appraised by other experts.

The researchers, from the computer science departments at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and North Carolina State University, looked at around four million people who logged on to Github on a single day - 1 April 2015.

Github is an enormous developer community which does not request gender information from its 12 million users.

However the team was able to identify whether roughly 1.4m were male or female - either because it was clear from the users' profiles or because their email addresses could be matched with the Google + social network.

The researchers accepted that this was a privacy risk but said they did not intend to publish the raw data.

The researchers found women fared better if their gender was not clear

The team found that 78.6% of pull requests made by women were accepted compared with 74.6% of those by men.

The researchers considered various factors, such as whether women were more likely to be responding to known issues, whether their contributions were shorter in length and so easier to appraise, and which programming language they were using, but they could not find a correlation.

However among users who were not well known within the community, those whose profiles made clear that they were women had a much lower acceptance rate than those whose gender was not obvious.

'Bias nonetheless'

"For outsiders, we see evidence for gender bias: women's acceptance rates are 71.8% when they use gender neutral profiles, but drop to 62.5% when their gender is identifiable . There is a similar drop for men, but the effect is not as strong," the paper noted.

"Women have a higher acceptance rate of pull requests overall, but when they're outsiders and their gender is identifiable, they have a lower acceptance rate than men.

"Our results suggest that although women on Github may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless," the researchers concluded.

Developer Isis Anchalee started a social media campaign last year when people questioned her career
Despite various high profile initiatives, tech firms continue to face challenges in terms of the diversity of their staff, in terms of both gender and ethnicity, particularly in more technical careers.

Just 16% of Facebook's tech staff and 18% of Google's are women according to figures released in 2015.

However the researchers' findings are still encouraging, computer scientist Dr Sue Black OBE told the BBC.
"I think we are going to see a resurgence of interest from women in not only coding but all sorts of tech-related careers over the next few years," she said.

"Knowing that women are great at coding gives strength to the case that it's better for everyone to have more women working in tech.

"It was a woman - Ada Lovelace - who came up with the idea of software in the first place, we owe it to her to make sure that we encourage and support women into the software industry," Dr Black added.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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