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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 4th Nov 2015

Reaction Engines, one of the brightest prospects in European space plane technology, has big news Monday morning.

BAE Systems, the globetrotting defence and aeronautics giant, just bought 20% of the firm, and it's making a major investment in Reaction Engines' most promising ideas.

The idea is an unpiloted and reusable hypersonic space plane. It's called Sabre. Here's how Reaction Engines describes it:

A new aerospace engine class that combines both jet and rocket technologies with the potential to revolutionise hypersonic flight and the economics of space access ...

This new class of aerospace engine is designed to enable aircraft to operate from standstill on the runway to speeds of over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. SABRE can then transition to a rocket mode of operation, allowing spaceflight at speeds up to orbital velocity, equivalent to twenty five times the speed of sound. Reaction Engines' technology has undergone extensive independent technical assessments which have confirmed its viability and potential vehicle applications.

According to a press release from the Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines, BAE has bought 20% of the company and invested £20.6 million ($31.79 million). Reaction Engines is expecting another £60 million ($92.60 million) in the form of a government grant.

The engine is a hybrid, using air-breathing technology like a jet, as well as a rocket engine:

The engine transitions as the plane climbs into space:

Here's what Reaction Engines says it is getting from BAE:

The working partnership will draw on BAE Systems' extensive aerospace technology development and project management expertise and will provide Reaction Engines with access to critical industrial, technical and capital resources to progress towards the demonstration of a ground based engine — a key milestone in the development of the technology.

According to the Financial Times, David Parker, head of the UK Space Agency, called it "a vote of confidence in the technology."

If it all sounds cool, that's because it is. Take a look at the lofty expectations for this plane:

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 4th Nov 2015

On the Internet, search queries are used to target vulnerable consumers.

Google knows the questions that people wouldn’t dare ask aloud, and it silently offers reams of answers. But it is a mistake to think of a search engine as an oracle for anonymous queries. It isn’t. Not even close.

In some cases, the most intimate questions a person is asking—about health worries, relationship woes, financial hardship—are the ones that set off a chain reaction that can have troubling consequences both online and offline.

All this is because being online increasingly means being put into categories based on a socioeconomic portrait of you that’s built over time by advertisers and search engines collecting your data—a portrait that data brokers buy and sell, but that you cannot control or even see. (Not if you’re in the United States, anyway.)

Consider, for example, a person who googles “need rent money fast” or “can’t pay rent.” Among the search results that Google returns, there may be ads that promise to help provide payday loans—ads designed to circumvent Google’s policies against predatory financial advertising. They’re placed by companies called lead generators, and they work by collecting and distributing personal information about consumers online. So while Google says it bans ads that guarantee foreclosure prevention or promise short-term loans without conveying accurate loan terms, lead generators may direct consumers to a landing page where they’re asked to input sensitive identifiable information. Then, payday lenders buy that information from the lead generators and, in some cases, target those consumers—online, via phone, and by mail—for the very sorts of short-term loans that Google prohibits.

“It’s a sucker list. And people will buy that information for all different kinds of reasons.”
“Google has a decent policy—including ‘obey the law’—but it’s a very hard policy for Google to effectively enforce,” said Aaron Rieke, a projects director at Upturn, a technology policy consulting group in Washington, D.C. “As a result, payday advertisers are often violating it and skirting around it. The result is that online payday marketers are reaching out to people nationwide, even to people who live in states where payday lending—and the solicitation of payday loans—is effectively illegal.” Google declined multiple requests to describe how it developed its policies on ads for financial services.

Lead generators are increasingly under scrutiny by federal agencies and consumer advocates. Upturn recently released a damning report about lead generators, and the practice was at the center of a workshop held by the Federal Trade Commission last week.

“I find the entire online ecosystem that is designed to track consumers and then to place them in boxes ... too opaque and too under-regulated,” said Ed Mierzwinski, the consumer-program director at the consumer-advocacy group U.S. PIRG, during the FTC workshop on Friday. “So I think the entire online marketing, and advertising, and lead-generation system is a consumer protection problem of both deception, and unfairness, and maybe abuse as well.”

Online lead generation is complicated in part because it involves a long chain of different companies, including but not limited to search engines, lead aggregators, and the businesses that end up buying the leads. The practice also entails several layers of privacy and consumer-protection concerns.

Not only are lenders taking advantage of people in vulnerable financial situations, not only are lead generators sometimes skirting Google’s ad policies and even violating state laws, but companies are sharing individual data in a way that puts consumers directly at risk. All this comes down to the widespread availability and longevity of personal data online.

Imagine again the person who turns to Google with a search term like “need money fast.” Let’s say that person ends up at a lead generator’s landing page, providing various information in hopes of getting a quick loan. “A very small percentage of those folks are actually qualified for a loan,” said Michael Waller, an attorney in the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s enforcement division at the FTC. “And so the vast majority—95 percent of those applications, which means 95 percent of the folks whose social-security numbers and bank-account numbers fall to the cutting room floor—are referred to in the industry as ‘remnants.’”

Why Can't Americans Find Out What Big Data Knows About Them?

Those so-called remnants aren’t discarded, though. They are sold and resold and resold again. “What’s created over a period of time is the consumers just become suckers,” Waller said in the FTC workshop. “It’s a sucker list. And people will buy that information for all different kinds of reasons.”

“Data brokers, publishers, folks who have this information—and a lot of people have access to this information along the chain because it’s shared freely even if it isn’t purchased—there’s a lot of pressure on them to use, to monetize what they consider an asset,” Waller said. “Which is just a big pile of data, a big pile of data points.”

As the big piles of data online continue to grow, these issues will become more pronounced. Information filters that control what version of the Internet a person sees are calibrated based on how much money various algorithms think you have. Which means distinct digital-advertising landscapes are increasingly drawn on socioeconomic lines.

The effect may be a more pleasant online experience for someone who is perceived to have more income. In the same way that startups have put a premium on cutting out human interaction for those who can afford it, adlessness can be a luxury for those who choose to buy ad blockers so their webpages load faster. But distinct ad landscapes aren’t just about seeing more elegant corporate messages, or encountering fewer pop-up ads—or even none at all. Companies and individuals are working together to target consumers on a personal level, to use their most vulnerable Google searches against them.

“Fraudsters buy this data,” Waller said. “It’s easy to access, easy to buy, easy to find. They use it sometimes for really shocking, outright fraud and theft. Sometimes it’s a little more subtle than that.”

Source: theatlantic.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 2nd Nov 2015

Google believes it is on course to have enough internet-beaming balloons in the stratosphere to form a ring over part of the world next year.

It told the BBC the move would let it trial a continuous data service to people living below the balloons' path.
The declaration coincides with the announcement that three of Indonesia's mobile networks intend to start testing Project Loon's transmissions next year.

One expert said the plan had benefits over other solutions.
Sri Lanka previously signed a separate agreement signalling its wish to be another participant in the giant helium balloon-based scheme.

4G like speeds
Google first revealed its superpressure balloon plan in June 2013, when about 30 of the inflatable plastic "envelopes" were launched from New Zealand.

Project Loon
Beneath each lighter-than-air balloon are hung:
two radio transceivers to receive and send data streams, plus a third back-up radio
a flight computer and GPS location tracker
an altitude control system, which is used to move the balloon up and down to find winds that will take it in the desired direction
solar panels to power all the gear

The original set-up provided 3G-like data speeds, but the kit can now supply connected devices with about 10 megabits a second to connected devices via antennae on the ground. For comparison's sake, the average 4G connection in the UK is 15Mbit/sec.

There have also been other advances.
"In the early days, the balloons would last five or seven or 10 days. Now we have had balloons that have lasted as long as 187 days," Mike Cassidy, vice-president of Project Loon, told the BBC.

"We've also improved the launch process.
"It used to take 14 people an hour or two to launch a balloon, now with an automated crane we can launch a balloon every 15 minutes with two or three people."

The balloons are filled with helium before being sent more than 60,000ft high into the stratosphere
If all goes according to plan, he added, the experiment should achieve one of its goals in 2016.
"[We need] about 300 balloons or so to make a continuous string around the world," he explained.
"As one moves along with the wind out of range, another one comes to take its place.
"We hope next year to build our first continuous ring around the world, and to have some sort of continuous coverage for certain regions.
"And if all goes well after, then after that we will start rolling out our first beta commercial customers."

Because each balloon only provides connectivity to a ground area 40km (24.9 miles) in diameter below it, the initial ring will be limited to a relatively small part of the planet as it circles a section of the Southern Hemisphere.

What are superpressure balloons?

Superpressure balloons are made out of tightly sealed plastic capable of containing highly pressurised lighter-than-air gases.
The aim is to keep the volume of the balloon relatively stable, even if there are changes in temperature.
This allows them to stay aloft longer and be better at maintaining a specific altitude than balloons which stretch and contract.
In particular, it avoids the problem of balloons descending at night when their gases cool.

The concept was first developed for the US Air Force in the 1950s using a stretched polyester film called Mylar.
The effort resulted in the Ghost (global horizontal sounding technique) programme which launched superpressure balloons from Christchurch, New Zealand, to gather wind and temperature data over remote regions of the planet.

Over the following decade, 88 balloons were launched, the longest staying aloft for 744 days.
More recently, Nasa has experimented with the technology and suggested superpressure balloons could one day be deployed into Mars's atmosphere.

Google suggests that Project Loon would be a cheaper solution than installing fibre optic cables or building mobile phone masts across all of Indonesia's islands, which contain jungles and mountains.

Jump media playerMedia player helpOut of media player. Press enter to return or tab to continue.
Media captionThe giant balloons carrying computer equipment were first launched in New Zealand in 2013
It says the scheme would help address the fact that more than 100 million people out of the country's 255 million-strong population remain unconnected.

"From Sabang all the way to Merauke, many of these people live in areas without any existing internet infrastructure, so we hope balloon-powered internet could someday help give them access to the information and opportunity of the web," it said in a blog.
The three local networks that are partnering with the scheme are XL Axiata, Indostat and Telkomsel.

"[We recognise] Project Loon as one of the latest technological innovations, which would be very advantageous in expanding internet coverage in areas that are difficult to reach and also have a low population density," said Telkomsel's president Ririek Adriansyah.

"It can thoroughly complement our network."
One expert agreed the scheme has great potential.
"Any country that is struggling to get cabled or land-based wireless infrastructure out to its extreme edges will see satellites or other sky-based internet delivery mechanisms as a viable solution," commented Chris Green, a tech consultant at Davies Murphy Group.

The chief executives of the three Indonesian telecoms companies attended a press briefing with Google founder Sergey Brin
The advantage of a balloon-based system over satellites is that it should ultimately be cheaper to maintain - at least, if all the technological challenges can be overcome.

"What may initially seem like a complex delivery method could end up being a very innovative solution to a very difficult problem to solve at ground level," Mr Green added.

Google is, however, considering other options,
It is also pursuing a separate effort codenamed Titan, which aims to use solar-panelled drones to provide the internet to unconnected parts of the world.

Facebook is also developing a similar drone-based scheme.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 2nd Nov 2015

LIKE MANY SUCCESSFUL smartphone games, the goal of Send Me to Heaven is easily communicated. Unlike other games, the goal is to throw your phone as high as you can, then catch it.

It’s available on Android, but not the App Store. Apple determined the game was “encouraging behavior that could result in damage to the user’s device,” and thus did cast Send Me to Heaven out of its walled garden paradise. App creator Petr Svarovsky told WIRED that he was disappointed by the ban. The 50-year-old from Prague said he had hoped to have people shatter as many iPhones as possible.

“The original idea was to have very expensive gadgets, which people in certain societies buy just to show off, and to get them to throw it,” he said via Skype.

He has not been without some success, however. Send Me to Heaven has been causing ample destruction for reckless Android users, who have been leaving negative reviews on the Google Play store, where the game has been available since April 28.

“I have broken my S4,” one reviewer wrote. “I think they took the fun out of the game right before I failed to catch my phone. Fuuuuuuuuuuu.”

“Already got a good ding on the corner of my RAZR from it,” wrote another. “BAHAHAHAHA!”

Such are the hazards of playing Send Me to Heaven. And if you’re thinking of cheating the leaderboards to impress your friends with your willingness to chuck your phone, don’t bother. To determine the height to which you’ve flung your phone, the game detects the time that the phone is in zero gravity.

“When the phone leaves your hand,” Svarovsky said, “it starts to climb, and it is already in zero gravity. When it hits your hand again, it is sensing gravity again.”

Svarovsky takes the time that the phone was in zero gravity, divides it by two, and inserts it into a free-fall formula. It’s surprisingly precise on most phones, he says, although some models of Android phones work better than others.

“Sometimes they have accelerometers mounted out of the center, so when they rotate, they give a strange number,” he says.

The method Svarovsky uses to calculate the height means Send Me to Heaven won’t work with extreme stunts, like hurling it from a cliff or take it skydiving. Any time your phone falls further than it rose, the app returns an error.

The leaderboards for Send Me to Heaven show some players have managed to get their phones as high as 40 meters (131 feet). Svarovsky did a little investigating to learn how that impressive score was achieved and discovered some players are using slingshots.

Svarovsky first tested the game on attendees of a music festival in Oslo, and it was a hit. In fact, just the concept was enough to get some thrill-seekers trying it out: Without even bothering to download the app first, he says, people began throwing their own phones as high as they could, often failing to catch them.

Although Send Me to Heaven might not catch on with anyone who doesn’t have $500 to blow on a new phone every time they lose, there’s definitely a takeaway from a game design standpoint. With most videogames, Svarovsky observes, all the fun happens behind the screen. Not so with Send Me to Heaven.

“You know,” he says, “it’s possible to take the fun outside of the box.”

Or destroy the box entirely.

Source: wired.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 2nd Nov 2015

Microsoft Outlook for iOS and Android is already a pretty great app, helping you sift through your e-mail and calendar quickly and easily.

And today, it's getting even better, with a fresh new look, courtesy of the talent Microsoft snapped up in its acquisition of calendar app Sunrise.

The new design is live for iPhone users now, and will roll out to Android users in the next few weeks.

This redesign actually represents the first real team-up between two of Microsoft's most high-profile acquisitions: Outlook for iOS itself is based on Acompli, which Microsoft bought in late 2o14, and Sunrise, which joined Team Microsoft in early 2015.

The bad news for Sunrise fans is that this redesign also marks that app's death knell. Once all of Sunrise's best features are fully integrated into Outlook on mobile over the coming months, "Sunrise will be sunsetted," as Microsoft Corporate VP of Outlook Javier Soltero tells Business Insider.

The good news, at least for Outlook fans, is that this is the first step towards something bigger. And it starts what Soltero says is a six-month timeframe for big changes to hit the desktop version of Outlook, essentially the standard in the workplace.

Outlook is good
To commemorate the redesign, Soltero shared some usage statistics. In the eight months or so since Outlook for iOS launched, it's accrued almost 30 million active users, and hit 1.2 billion unique sessions — as in, times people opened the app — per month.

"This product didn't exist as either Acompli or Outlook two and a half years ago, but here we are," says Soltero.

It's also the "inflection point" where Microsoft and competitors meet, Soltero says, since plenty of people use Exchange with external services like Google's Gmail or Yahoo Mail.Outlook for iOS new design 2Microsoft
The new Outlook for iOS design.

When Soltero first joined Microsoft, he was only in charge of the Outlook for mobile. But largely due to the success of that app, Soltero now leads up development of all versions of Outlook.

The fact that Outlook has won over so many iPhone and Android users in such a short time is why this redesign is so important, says Soltero. E-mail and calendars are two of the things you need the most, both in your personal and professional life, Soltero says, so it matters how quickly you can get to things, read things, and reply to things.

And with Sunrise integrated with Outlook in a slick user interface, Soltero says the company has a foundation on which to build even further.

"The soul of Outlook"
"A muscle we're developing at Microsoft is determining the soul or essence of these products, and developing accordingly," Soltero says.

According to Soltero, "the soul of Outlook is a bundled experience," meaning that a lot of the benefit comes from having your calendar and e-mail in one place.

But you have to draw the line somewhere, Soltero says.

For all versions of Outlook, the four core pillars are e-mail, calendar, people, and files, he says. Anything that lets you collaborate or communicate around those things can stay; the rest have no place in Outlook..

That's why Sunrise is getting deeply integrated with Outlook for Mobile, but why fellow Microsoft acquisition Wunderlist, which provides to-do list functionalities, is being left as a standalone app.

And e-mail is the "critical piece" that ties it all together, Soltero says. As a free and open standard, it provides a lot of context within and without a user's tightknit social or work circles that newbies like Slack can't, since it relies on intra-office communication, Soltero says.

"Big steps in the world of Outlook"
But while Outlook for mobile and even Outlook for Mac are still relatively fresh, Soltero says that the Windows version of Outlook — still the most popular, thanks to Microsoft Office's enterprise ubiquity — has inherited a lot of baggage.

Outlook has slowly become more and more complicated as it bolsters its feature set. There are so many ways, both built-in and custom, to view, sort, send, and receive e-mail and calendars in Outlook, that it's become a bear to learn for anyone who hasn't been using it for years.

Outlook for iOS new design 4Microsoft

Soltero says that his team is going to "scrape off" some of those features and refocus Outlook on those four pillars. And while he's very clear that the eventual Outlook for Windows won't look exactly like the mobile versions, he says that he wants all of the slickness and ease of Outlook for iOS to come back home to the desktop.

"That's where this new era in Outlook begins for me," Soltero says.

The easy part is actually figuring out how to show people the e-mail they want to see, if only because Microsoft has access to so much data, Soltero says. Microsoft will never sort the inbox by a Facebook-style algorithm, he says, because that's "kind of sacred," and nobody actually wants that.

But Outlook can (and does) at least highlight your most important messages, and "put the things that really matter front and center," Soltero says.

The hard part is, again, the user experience. Outlook has to meet the needs of those power users who have been using it for years. But it also needs to be straightforward enough to appeal to people who don't need the sheer, complicated e-mailing system that Outlook offers. Microsoft OutlookDevan Joseph
The original Outlook for iOS design.

"That's a tough one," Soltero says.

And while Soltero can't provide exact dates, he says that the next six months will see "big steps in the world of Outlook," especially for PC.

"The opportunity is to make email awesome," says Soltero.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 2nd Nov 2015

Virgin Media announced today that it is launching a new technology accelerator in London that will be "powered" by TechStars.

The Virgin Media Accelerator, opening early 2016, will put 10 startups through a 13-week crash course in return for an equity stake in their business.

Richard Branson’s telco, TV, and broadband business is the latest corporate to try and get close to London’s most promising digital companies through an accelerator.

Corporates do this in the hope that their equity stake will one day be worth tens of millions. They also do it so they can sign up fast-growing businesses in their early days.

Barclays, Santander, Telefonica, and John Lewis have all launched similar initiatives in previous years but they’ve had mixed success.

Startups that enroll in the connectivity-focused Virgin Media accelerator programme will be forced to sacrifice 6% of their equity in exchange for a £13,000 investment in their business. Each company will also have the option to take an additional £65,000 convertible loan note for up to an additional 4% equity stake.

During the programme the startups will receive mentoring and guidance from Virgin Media executives and the TechStars team, as well as an office to work in and free internet from Virgin Media.

Once the programme has finished, the 10 startups will take part in a ‘Demo Day’ where they will each pitch to investors for the chance to raise capital.

Virgin Media wants startups focusing on a diverse set of backgrounds to apply, particularly those companies developing products and services that fall under: the Internet of Things, telecom infrastructures, customer data and experience, social enterprise, connected homes, connected goods and services, interactive home experiences, connected business services, home health and wellness, and connectivity for social good.

Some accelerators over-promise
The best known accelerator is arguably Y-Combinator in Silicon Valley, which nurtured companies like Airbnb and Dropbox in their early days. But not all accelerators are achieving the same levels of success.

Alice Bentinck, the cofounder of a company building organisation called Entrepreneur First, claims that too many of today’s accelerators over-promise.

Without naming any names, she said there are accelerators across London that just throw hundreds of mentors at startups in an attempt to impress them/make the programme seem valuable.

Entrepreneur First prides itself on the calibre of its mentors, which includes Phil Blunsom of Oxford University and Google DeepMind, as well as Zoubin Gharamani, head of computer science at Cambridge University.

Interestingly, Virgin Media has said that it will return equity to startups that aren’t happy with the programme.

Source: uk.businessinsider.com
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 2nd Nov 2015

Police will be able to see websites people have visited but not the specific pages they have viewed without a warrant, under new government plans.

Theresa May said the Investigatory Powers Bill will not have some "contentious" parts of the 2012 plan, dubbed a snooper's charter by critics.

The home secretary told the BBC there would be "world-leading" oversight of warrants to access digital records.
Labour said warrants should have to be approved by a judge, not politicians.

The new security bill, to be presented to Parliament on Wednesday, is the latest in a series of attempts to update the law to allow police and security services to access communications data, as more and more takes place online rather than on phones.

BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins says that, crucially, police sources expect the new bill to require communication firms to retain data on website addresses for a year.

This will mean existing powers allowing authorities to see which websites people have visited become practical to implement for the first time.

Such data would consist of a basic domain address, and not a full browsing history of pages within that site or search terms entered.

For example, police could see that someone visited www.bbc.co.uk - but not the individual pages they viewed.

'Strong oversight'

Mrs May told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "It doesn't have some of the more contentious powers that were in that (2012) bill.
"So, for example we won't be requiring communication service providers from in the UK to store third-party data, we won't be making the same requirements in relation to data retention on overseas CSPs.

"And crucially, we will not be giving powers to go through people's browsing history. That is not what the investigatory powers bill is about."

She said she would set out the "very strong" oversight and "world-beating" authorisation arrangements for warrants to access more intrusive data when the Investigatory Powers Bill goes before MPs.

Some of the more contentious powers proposed in the Coalition government's 2012 version of this bill have been removed after listening to industry figures and civil liberties' groups, Mrs May said.

More than 1,400 warrants authorising more intrusive measures cross the home secretary's desk a year, and she sets aside several hours a day to consider them, she said.

Ministers have looked at all the arguments about handing over this responsibility to independent judges and the decision will be announced on Wednesday, Mrs May added.

"Encryption is important for people to be able to keep themselves safe when they are dealing with these modern communications in the digital age but we will be setting out the current position, which does enable the authorities with proper authorisation to issue warrants," she said.

Outdated system
Former head of GCHQ Sir David Omand has called for internet firms to be forced by law to keep users' browsing history.
He said such data was not for spying on the public but to see "for example, whether a suspect has downloaded a terrorist manual".
Sir David, who was previously director of GCHQ - Britain's communications surveillance centre - said the new legislation did not need to grant "significant new powers".

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said there was a "broad acceptance" that a new law was needed and warned against an "over-hysterical" reaction which could leave the UK with an outdated system.

He and Sir Keir Starmer - former director of public prosecutions and current Labour shadow minister - said a judge should be in charge of allowing warrants, not a politician.

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Media captionKeir Starmer: Communication laws need to be modernised

Conservative MP David Davis agreed, saying: "It can't be the policeman in the office next door or a spook in the office next door and it can't be the home secretary. It's got to be independent."

Without judicial authorisation, he said, he did not think the bill would get through Parliament.
Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown told Sky News's Murnaghan programme that Mrs May's comments suggested the "worst aspects" of the previous version of the bill had been diminished.

But he warned that if the bill imposed blanket surveillance and did not have judicial oversight built in, the Lib Dems would seek to amend it in the House of Lords.

Encrypted apps
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "It's a traditional Home Office dance first to ask for the most outrageous, even impractical powers, so that the smallest so-called "concessions" seem more reasonable."

She also criticised the government for failing to include measures that would require judges to be in charge of allowing warrants to gather private communications, and for not moving away from the "blanket collection of our private data".

The emergence of encryption has been identified as a major headache for law enforcement bodies, with suggestions that it risks leaving them locked out of some areas of cyberspace.

There has been major growth in the use of encrypted apps which encode messages in a way that makes it harder for a third party to intercept the content.

With apps such as Apple's iMessage and WhatsApp, the service providers have no way to decrypt the messages users send.
Instead, a technique called end-to-end encryption employed by the apps means that only the sender and recipient can see what was posted.

Source: bbc.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 2nd Nov 2015

Think that picture you're about to send is temporary? Think again

The beauty of Snapchat is that the photos only last for a few seconds, unless your friend decides to screenshot them.
Even then, you get a notification, so can know exactly which photos of you are owned by someone else.
However, now, the app has changed its terms and conditions so it owns every single photo taken using the app.
Not only this, but if you use it, you're consenting to the app doing whatever it likes with your photographs.

Not only that, but the privacy policy also states that by sharing your content on the service, you are also granting Snapchat permission to use your name, likeness and voice anywhere in the world, with no restrictions, on all media and distribution channels, forever.

This means that the photos people take, thinking they are temporary and private, could appear on Snapchat's promotional material, on its website or even its social media accounts.

Snapchat has faced controversy before, as it claimed that all the photos sent on the device were automatically deleted from its servers.

This lead to a rise in 'sexting', where people would send risque images to one another using the app.

People who did this felt confident that the photos would self-destruct.

However, Snapchat admitted to the FTC that in fact the images are never actually truly deleted from a user's device, and it is actually possible to recover the images.

The app hasn't suffered from the scandals, however. It is valued at a reported $16 billion (£10 billion).

Evan Spiegel, the co-founder and chief executive of Snapchat, has spoken about what he thinks the app should be used for.
He said: "Historically photographs have been used to save really important memories, major life moments, but today, with the advent of the mobile phone and the connected camera, pictures are being used for talking.
"Now photographs are really used for talking, that’s why people are taking and sending so many photos on Snapchat."

Source: telegraph.co.uk
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Mon 2nd Nov 2015

Sure, our smartphones know a lot about who we are.

If you have an Android smartphone, you may not know that Google saves all of the voice commands you give it. They're archived online in your Google account.

Google says it keeps the audio search information to improve its voice recognition. Android users can opt out, which keeps your recordings anonymous. (Apple also stores voice commands collected by Siri users, though they're not so obviously associated to users.)

Google's upcoming "now on tap" feature will let smartphone users ask a question within an app like Spotify.

You can find your audio commands — as well as other histories, like all of the YouTube videos you've searched for and watched — by visiting your Google history page. You can disable this storage feature by managing your activity.

Otherwise, you can look through and listen to your Google voice searches — all those times you said "OK Google" and asked for directions, set alarms, dictated texts and searched for answers to the many questions that pop in your head throughout the day.

NPR producer Nick Fountain — who apparently has nothing to hide — shared his Google voice archive. Yes, it's an eerie reminder of how much is shared with Google. It also plays like a perfect distillation of life.

Source: npr.org
 
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Posted by Damien Biddulph on Wed 28th Oct 2015

Criminals are locking away victims’ files and charging vast sums to return them. We explain everything you need to know
Alphr 26 Oct 2015

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that installs itself on victims’ computers and encrypts data files. It then displays a message explaining to the victim that the only way to recover those files is to pay a ransom, after which the criminals promise to provide a decryption key that will allow the victim to recover the disabled files.

The encryption is typically very strong and the method used to encode the files is so effective that recovering the data is virtually impossible without the decryption key. Each attack uses a different key so you can’t reuse another victim’s key to decrypt your data. Everyone has to pay or face the possibility of never seeing their digital photos, documents and other data again.

To motivate their victims the criminals usually introduce the idea of a deadline, before which the payment must be made. Once the deadline passes the key will be deleted and, at that stage, even the attackers will be unable to decrypt the files.

Removing ransomware

"Good antivirus software will stop ransomware – your first line of defence should always be up-to-date security software."
Most good antivirus software will stop ransomware getting into your computer and your first line of defence should always be up-to-date security software, such as BullGuard Internet Security. Should you get infected kicking a ransomware off your computer is not particularly hard and any half-decent anti-malware product will be capable of deleting it thoroughly. The problem is that once your files are infected the criminal doesn’t care whether or not the malware is running on your system. The damage has already been done. In fact, if you intend to pay the ransom, you probably don’t want to remove the malware until you are sure that your files have been restored, as you’ll need it to help decrypt the files.

That said, if your anti-malware product detects ransomware arriving on the system it could stop it before it causes any significant damage. Every serious developer of anti-malware software provides removal tools and instructions to help avoid or, in the worst cases, remove a ransomware attack.

How much do the criminals charge?

If your system becomes infected with ransomware you can expect to face a bill running from £100 up to thousands. It depends entirely on the attacker behind each specific campaign of attack. In many cases, the amount is determined by the exchange rate between conventional currencies and Bitcoin. Recent attacks have demanded one or more bitcoins, and an average ransom is about £300.

How do they get away with it?

Payment options are designed to be anonymous. In some cases the malware will demand payment via the online cash payment service Ukash or using supposedly untraceable BitCoins. This makes tracking the hackers hard because they take great pains to distribute their malware without being caught. As a result following the money becomes very hard too.

The panic that many users feel once infected can lead to victims paying before giving the situation any real thought. If you were told you had 48 hours to pay or lose all your digital photos you might sympathise.

Should you pay?

If you become infected with ransomware you’ll face the basic decision – to pay or not to pay? As with kidnapping, there is no guarantee that the criminals will keep their side of the bargain once the ransom has been paid. You have to weigh up how much your data is worth to you versus the ransom amount, and factor in the possibility that you either won’t receive the decryption key or, if you do, it might not work.

Ways to avoid the threat

"The whole situation seems pretty hopeless but there is a relatively straightforward solution: back up your files!"
The whole situation seems pretty hopeless but there is actually a relatively straightforward solution: back up your files! You should be backing up your data anyway in case of hard disk failure and other causes of data loss, such as having your computer stolen.

Online backup services range from free to a few pounds per month but take the hassle out of the process. A good online backup service will maintain different versions of files and this is a critical feature when protecting against ransomware. If the service only keeps one version of each file then you could find that encrypted versions will end up in your backups, which defeats the backup’s purpose.

Many people back up to Network Access Storage (NAS) devices. This is an attractive option because you control the device and can back up as much data as you like without ongoing fees. However, ransomware has evolved to a point where it can encrypt files stored on NAS boxes. If you use a NAS, ensure that the backup software you use is capable of handling multiple file versions and hope that the version of ransomware that you encounter does not encrypt the actual backup files.

If you want to make offline backups you could attach an external hard disk and use that to store your backup archives. Be sure to disconnect it when not in use or you’ll face the same problem that you’d have with a NAS.

The future of ransomware

While most ransomware appears to affect Windows PCs today, attackers are already beginning to target mobile devices and ransomware already exists for smartphones and tablets. In every case so far users are tricked into installing the software, which poses as something attractive, such as a free photo editing utility.

It’s one short jump from these types of devices to smart TVs and other Windows or Android-based gadgets that we’ve started to integrate into our homes. The basic principle will always apply – your device contains some data or provides access to a service that you want to use, and you’ll have to pay a criminal to gain access to that data or service.

Here’s a realistic example: Imagine that you have settled down to match a major sporting event that you really care about and your TV, 30 minutes before the start, displays a message saying, “Your TV has been disabled. To return to regular service please use the following instructions to pay £99.” There is no technical reason why this could not happen with some of today’s smart TVs.

As threats start to attack home devices we’ll likely see the emergence of anti-malware products for those types of electronics.

This is an independent guide from the Alphr editorial team. This content was produced to the same impartial standards as the main content on our site but paid for by BullGuard.

Source: alphr.com
 
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