WannaCry, Ransomware and Bitcoin

The recent”WannaCry” Ransomware attack that hit the NHS (and more than 200,000 other victims across 150 countries) has focused attention on the CryptoCurrency called Bitcoin.

There have been numerous calls to outlaw Bitcoin and other CryptoCurrencies but there’s a lot of mis-understanding and a belief that they are only used to fund criminal activities.

In fact, over the last couple of years there have been numerous articles in the mainstream media about Bitcoin. Most have focused on their use by the criminal fraternity, whether for the payment of Ransomware ransoms to decrypt company data through to the purchasing of illegal weapons and drugs on the Dark Web, including The Silk Road, a dark web site where drugs, weapons and illegal services were traded online – before the site was taken down by the FBI in 2014.

However, Bitcoin, and other digital currencies, are now experiencing a significant uplift in their use for legitimate purposes and we thought that this is an ideal time to send out an explanatory email so that you can be better informed.

We’ll be looking at

  • What is a digital/virtual currency?
  • What is a Bitcoin?What is Distributed Ledger Technology / Blockchain?
  • How do I get digital money?
  • How can I spend digital money?
  • Where do I keep my Bitcoin?
  • How safe/secure is my digital money bank?

What is a digital/virtual currency?

A virtual currency is simply a digital form of money for online transactions. Virtual currencies only exist electronically, there’s no bank notes or coins and no bank deposits, hence their description as a Virtual Currency.

Virtual Currencies bring innovation and benefits to more traditional forms of banking and financial systems. Transactions are much cheaper and faster with international payments being much simplified due to freedom from exchange rate worries and bank transfer fees.

This means there are no currency exchange barriers, digital currencies are genuinely international, unaffected by national boundaries and traditional currency issues and associated exchange rate issues – until you want to exchange them for traditional cash.

The most well known Virtual Currency is Bitcoin although other examples include Dogecoin, Ether, Dash, Litecoin and Stellar.

In the early days, Virtual Currencies were seen as a way to pay for online transactions but these days you can use them as a form of payment in physical stores. There are even Bitcoin ATMs where you can buy and sell Bitcoins from your account – there are 20 in London alone and a total of 60 across the UK

What is a Bitcoin

All digital currencies only exist in the virtual form, being recorded in a public Distributed Ledger which is basically a secure database of digital currencies and which holds a record of every Bitcoin transaction

Bitcoins were one of the earliest forms of virtual currency, first introduced in 2008. In 2013 Bloomberg effectively endorsed the legitimacy of Bitcoin by testing Bitcoin on its trading terminals and later that year the US Federal Reserve gave their apparent blessing, stating that Bitcoin “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure and more efficient payment system” and is the most well known form of Digital Currency. In 2014 our own HMRC classifies Bitcoin as assets or private money which means that no VAT will be charged on the mining of, or exchange of Bitcoin. Later that year, Microsoft started accepting payment made by Bitcoin and a 2015 HMRC report on digital currencies further marked the acceptance of Virtual Currencies by mainstream financial services.

What is the Blockchain

The Blockchain is a database that records all Bitcoin transactions. It’s basically a distributed database, is totally separate from the banking industry and free from central interference.

Transactions are recorded in the form of payer x sends y bitcoins to payee z and payments are verified and validated and added to the Blockchain

How do I get digital money

Bitcoin Mining in IcelandBelieve it or not, it’s possible to make your own, legitimate, Bitcoin through a technique called “mining” which uses high performance computers to carry out sophisticated cryptological processing to effectively make new currency that’s then added to the Blockchain.

However, it’s not as easy at it sounds and most people simply buy their Bitcoins, and other virtual currencies, through more traditional routes – including the Bitcoin ATMs mentioned earlier in this article

How can I spend digital money

You can use Bitcoins to purchase traditional currencies, products and services and you can acquire Bitcoins in a similar manner.

Small amounts of Bitcoin can be traded. They are the millibitcoin (0.001 bitcoin), microbitcoin (0.0000001 bitcoin) and the satoshi which is the smallest amount and named after the inventor (0.00000001 bitcoin)

As noted earlier, transactions follow payer x sends y bitcoins to payee z format. Although transactions on the Blockchain are open to inspection, the reason why Bitcoin is so attractive to criminals is that transactions are pseudonymous. This means that “payer x” is only identified by his or her Bitcoin address.

In 2014, Bitcoin Payment Service Provider (A PayPal for Bitcoin) started accepting Bitcoin payments for tickets and concession sales at the St. Petersburg Bowl in the USA and in 2015 Barclays started to accept Bitcoin, the first UK high street bank to do so. Over 100,000 establishments were accepting payment by Bitcoin by the end of 2015.

You can buy technology from Aria and Dell, pre-owned technology, media and games from CeX around the UK, you can sign up for language courses, buy a beer and a meal in a pub, book theatre tickets, accommodation, home and garden furniture, new windows and much more – full list of UK companies accepting Bitcoin here.

In 2013 a Bitcoin was worth $13 and at the time of writing a Bitcoin would cost $1,033.43 ( £830.81) having peaked in 2017 at $1216.73.

The downside is the lack of protection because virtual currencies lien outside of the established banking regulations, Bitcoin users are not protected by refund rights or chargebacks and transactions are non-reversible.

Where do I keep my Bitcoin?

Your Digital Wallet stores all the information required to transact bitcoins. Although they’re frequently described as a place to hold, or store your Bitcoins, the reality is that Bitcoins ONLY exist in the Blockchain and your Digital Wallet simply stores your credentials to access your Bitcoin holdings. It’s similar to the way your debit card doesn’t store your money but allows you to access your account and arrange for the transfer for funds from your account to that of the seller.

How safe/secure is my digital money bank

Because your Virtual Currency is held centrally, there’s actually nothing to steal, in the conventional sense.

However, your Wallet needs to be secured. You need to use a strong password – and don’t forget it because there’s no “password recovery” routine. Lose your password and you lose your Bitcoin.You should keep your Wallet backedup, preferably in a number of locations, online, USB etc. Just as you would for your other computer data

So, is traditional money dead?

Far from it, and it’s probably a long way from dying simply because each country likes to have it’s own currency regulations in place and the fear associated with the disruption that Virtual Currencies will cause.

As a result, banks are making it easier for customers to spend their traditional money. We say the introduction of cheques – now on the decline. Credit and payment cards that facilitate the easy transfer of money. Internet banking, making it easier to manage our own funds. Contactless payments speeding up transactions, Apple and Android Pay., facilitating payment by simply tapping your phone on a payment terminal and the migration of these services to Smart Watches. Soon, you’ll have contactless payment capability added to pieces of jewellery (A payment wedding ring anyone?) followed by the embedding of a suitable chip under the skin of a fingertip.
However, as world governments become more centralised, the benefits of Virtual Currencies may begin to outweigh the pressures (and costs involved) to maintain more traditional Fiat based monetary systems and all we can suggest is that you “watch this space”

Microsoft and Linkedin, a purchase made in heaven – or the Cloud at least

Linkedin Logo Microsoft LogoI’ve been a Linkedin member since August 2005, apparently was one of the first million subscribers and have found it an invaluable tool for network building, staying up to date with, and in contact with, my Connections and even generating enquiries.

Linkedin History
Linkedin was started in 2002 by Reid Hoffman with money his stake in PayPal when it was sold to eBay. From that small beginning Linkedin has become the No.1 business networking site, a Facebook for business if you like and now has more than 440m subscribers.

In 2011, Linkedin went public (IPO) at $45 per share, raising $350m and valuing the company at $9bn, making it one of the most successful public offerings since Google in 2004.

Linkedin’s share price very quickly doubled and continued to rise, peaking at $269 in early 2015. After that it’s been a bit up and down and fears of a downturn earlier this year saw share prices falling to $101 in February after which there was a recovery to $135 in May

Then, to everyone’s surprise, in June 2016 Linkedin was bought by Microsoft for $26.2 billion (a significant $61 premium on the share price), in an all cash deal, making it Microsoft’s largest acquisition by a long way

Why did Microsoft buy Linkedin, where did it see the value and what will it do with this highly respected business networking site?~
Although Microsoft and LinkedIn don’t, at first glance, appear natural partners, they are closer than you might think. Under Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, there has been a strong move away from consumer software and operating systems (Windows) to business and cloud subscription services such as Office 365, enterprise solutions like Microsoft Dynamics and cloud storage – Onedrive and it’s possible that this, allied to the fact that Linkedin has over 440m active users, helped in the decision making process, that’s just over $59.54 per user.

The addition of Skype (Microsoft owned) to LinkedIn could make the platform even more attractive, allowing voice and video conversations to take place within Linkedin (possibly limited to Linkedin subscribers).

Potential Benefits
Linkedin already has some really basic Customer Relationship Management tools built in to “My Network” which enables you to add Tags to your Connections so that you can search by your own custom categories as well as directly Message groups of contacts.

Now, imagine how much more powerful this would be if there were full CRM functionality.

  • Send emails to your Connections with a click with the contents held in the Client account
  • Have incoming emails automatically added to client records rather than a simple folder in Outlook.
  • Grouping sent and received emails together, in your Contact records
  • Click to call via Skype
  • Click to Video call via Skype
  • Click to open pre-templated documents through Office 365 and have them stored in Contact records

The reality is that the world is their oyster – with a little thought, good programming and over 430m pre-existing accounts there’s a great deal for Microsoft to leverage..

Lynda.com an “Outstanding Resource for Learning”
It’s also easy to forget that Linkedin owns lynda.com. An online education provider with more than 3,000 online learning video courses, created by industry experts and covering topics across business and leadership, creative and technology.

A service that was described as “an outstanding resource for video based learning” by PCmag

What happens Now
Although the deal has been approved by both boards and is expected to be finalised by the end of this year it still needs approval from a number of regulatory bodies

Microsoft have said that “Linkedin will retain its distinct brand, culture and independence” which is good news for fans and users, although analysts at Credit Suisse have said “We recognise that Microsoft will be able to realise several strategic synergies”

A side effect of the sale has pushed Twitter shares 5.5% higher on speculation that it will be next to go, perhaps to Google – which has expressed interest on several occasions in the previous 4 years.

What actually happens is still to be decided but I’ll keep you up to date as, and when more news becomes available.

In the meantime, if you need help with Linkedin and want to learn how it can really help you grow your business just get in touch for a free chat, give me a call on 01793 238020 or drop me an email at andy@enterprise-oms.co.uk

Got Stagefright? You probably have if you own an Android phone

Android Robot logoIf you have a SmartPhone and it’s not an iPhone, not a Windows Phone and not a Blackberry then you probably do, and this puts you at serious risk.

Simply put, using a flaw that’s been called “StageFright” hackers could easily steal contact information, personal details, track your location and install malicious apps without your knowledge.

All they have to do is send you an infected MMS, effectively a text message with a picture, and just receiving the message is enough to infect your phone.

Security provider, Lookout, has developed a free test that will check whether your phone is at risk – there are probably other test but I use, and trust, Lookout which is why I’ve made this recommendation.

If you are vulnerable, Lookout will advise you as to how you can minimise the risk – but you can do this without running the test, if you wish.

Open your Text Message App, go to “Settings” and disable “Auto Retrieve”. You might have to do the same for Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger too – if you use them.

Now, Google is working hard on a fix but it’s not going to be rolled out for a little while due to a whole range of complexities

Are you watching Meerkat through your Periscope?

Meerkat and PeriscopeOver the past couple of weeks there’s been quite a lot of chatter in a variety of media channels about two relatively new Apps, called Meerkat and Periscope.

They both do the same thing, enabling you to broadcast live video (streaming) from your iPad or iPhone. Meerkat has an Android App under development and I’m sure Periscope won’t be too far behind with Microsoft and Blackberry probably following later.

One way of thinking about both Apps is as though they offer live video selfies although there’s a lot more to them than that.

Although Meerkat was first to market, Periscope was quickly snapped up by Twitter and so quickly generated a great deal of interest. Both apps are available through the iTunes store and are easy to download.

So, what are they, who are they, how do they work and what do they do?

Once you have downloaded your App and signed in through Twitter – yes, you have to have a Twitter account because that’s where your broadcast is published, all you have to do is to point your camera at your topic of interest and start broadcasting.

As soon as you start broadcasting, a Tweet is sent to all your followers so that they can tune in and watch your stream.

What do people stream?

Business tips, health tips, recipes and cooking, news and updates, views from around the world and TV broadcasts –  the recent Pacquiao / Mayweather bout was live streamed by someone pointing their iPhone camera at the TV and causing great angst amongst the Pay Per View broadcasters because they were charging £20 in the UK whilst App users could watch it for free.

What are the drawbacks

Well, it’s another Social Media channel that you might have to pay attention too, but more importantly there’s the potential cost. If you are streaming on Wi-Fi then you’re OK but if you’re broadcasting on 4G then you might find that you eat through your data allowance pretty quickly and, if you are not careful, even run up some hefty data charges

So, is it a “game changer”

It’s really too early to say, the Apps have only been around a couple of months. A lot of tech journalists have used them to stream from major tech shows, product launches and demos, just like live news broadcasts and just like any live broadcast you have to watch it live or miss it.

In my opinion, it’s certainly “one to watch” and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch

Bristol IT Company learns of secret plans to speed up the internet

World Wide Web speeded upWe’ve all had that feeling at one time or another when surfing the internet and felt that everything was running slower than it should? You could reboot your computing device, PC or Mac, Laptop or Desktop, Phone or Tablet but things won’t be much better.

You reboot your router in the hope that will make a difference but after the 5 minutes that it takes to restart you realise that you’ve forgotten the password and your master password list is stored in the cloud so you get on your phone and struggle to log on to Google docs. You get there eventually, find your password and key it in – only to remember that you changed it 2 weeks ago and forgot to update your master list so you try to log in to your router from your phone – but can’t remember the password so you Google how to reset your router and make a note of the master password.

Frustrated laptop userFinally, you are back online but nothing has changed, accessing websites is still like struggling through deep snow.

You run a “speed test” and everything appears as it should be and yet everything still feels slow, just like when you input an address into your SatNav and it lets you know that the journey will take 1 hour, you set off at 2pm and don’t arrive until 4:30 but you didn’t get caught in any traffic jams, there was just way too much traffic on the roads..

You go to your favourite search engine to see whether anyone else has the same problem and the interweb is full of people with the same complaint.

Bits and BytesThe reality is that the interweb is just too congested, too many people are using it, there are just too many bits, bytes and bobs zooming around and it’s going to get worse. More and more people are buying phones and tablets to get online whilst out and about, Smart Thermostats are connected to the internet so that people can turn their heating up and down whilst out and about, light bulbs are getting internet connections so that you can turn them on and off, up and down and even change colour whilst away from the house.

Fridges are getting connected so that they can order groceries as soon as you take them out of the fridge, connected microwaves will enable you to zap your food when you are minutes from home so that it’s ready for you the moment you walk through your front door even spectacles will soon be useless without a connection to the internet.

And on top of all this, your toilet will soon be connected, emailing an analysis of your urine or faeces directly to your GP for close examination

However, Bristol IT Company have been snooping around some of the hidden places on the interweb and have discovered that a solution could be close at hand.

You won’t have heard about it yet because it’s a big, big, big secret but we’ve found about it, tucked away in an article in Hello magazine when they were covering Benedict Cumberbatch’s wedding plans.

Apparently Benedict had a lot of very smart people around for tea and discussions about his choice of Best Man one afternoon. Being a bit of a geek he’d got some of the brightest tech people together to crunch this difficult problem. Bill Gates was there, as was Stephen Hawking, Tim Berners Lee, Vint Cerf, Brian Cox, Dara O’ Briain and even the late Steve Jobs (by séance).

The conversation meandered (as they do) and one of the topics touched on was the frustration caused by the slowness of the interwebs and they decided to work on a solution, there and then, and the solution they reached will blow you away with its amazing simplicity.

All that needs to happen is the introduction of another w and all we need to do is get used to this. www. is changing to wwww. and we have a year to get used to it because the Wider World Wide Web is being introduced on April 1st 2016 .
You can discover how this is being achieved at wwww.bristolitcompany.com

Questions or comments to Andy Poulton
• Email andy.poulton@bristolitcompany.com
• Tweet @SupportBristol & @SupportSwindon
• Phone 07966 547146

Stop burning the candle at both ends

ClockTime – the master of all of us. I never seem to have enough and most of the people that I meet are the same.

If a day could be made longer it still wouldn’t be long enough to cram in family, work, play, sleep, relaxation etc. The candle is frequently burned at both ends and everybody suffers.

So, what’s the solution? If we can’t make more time we have to make time work more effectively for us and here are some time management tips that I came across recently, a goodly number of which being new to me.

1. Days always fill up, often faster than you anticipate.
Be realistic and never plan for an eight-hour day. Instead, always factor in some buffer time. Hofstadter’s Law says that “It always takes longer than you expect”.

2. Work more when you feel at your best and relax when you’re not.
Some days you’ll feel alert, inspired and raring to go; but other days you’ll be struggling to maintain any sort of focus. Recognise these times and make the most of them. On the days when you can’t seem to focus, take a break. your body will thank you and your output will benefit too.

3. Stop multitasking. It doesn’t work
Multitasking doesn’t mean that you achieve more – just that it takes longer to finish tasks and projects and can allow errors to creep in. Learn to group your work into tasks, such as emails, phone, writing, preparing a presentation and plan to work through one task at a time. Your brain will work more efficiently this way, you’ll be able to focus better, and ultimately you’ll be more productive.

Time4. Limited time always focuses the mind.
Many people produce their best work when the deadline is tight. So set shorter time limits for your tasks to keep the pressure on to get things done.

5. Start your day with short tasks to get the ball rolling.
Begin your day with simple actions that you can easily complete. This will help you to cross off smaller items from your to-do list so you can feel productive immediately, inspired and ready to delve into more mentally taxing work.

6. More hours doesn’t mean more productivity. Use constraints as opportunities.
Just because you may sit at your desk for longer, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re being the most productive. Aim to complete your work within normal office hours so that working late is an exception rather than the rule.

7. It’s easy to waste the time leading up to a meeting so hold them first thing.
I often find it hard to concentrate on other tasks, if an important meeting is scheduled for later in the day. Plan your meetings so that happen earlier rather than later in your day leaving you free after the meting to focus on what needs doing.

8. Switching between projects/clients is unproductive.
Much like multitasking, switching between projects and clients is often unproductive. Keeping a consistent focus on a project will give you the chance to think more deeply and creatively about the task in hand. Switching between projects/tasks means that you waste time getting up to speed every time you switch.

9. Concentration works best in short bursts. Take “thinking” breaks.
Concentration works best in short bursts. You may find Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique worth trialing. Break your work into 25 minute increments and take frequent five-minute breaks in between. If you want a planner that works on all platforms give TeuxDeux a try

10. Only ever work on the thing that will have the biggest impact.
If you’re already write a daily to-do list at the start of the day, be sure to identify the task that is the highest priority. Once you’re in the zone, get to that task as soon as possible, so that you don’t run out of time.

With thanks to GoToMeeting for these tips

17 other things you can do with Google

17 Ways to use GoogleWe are all familiar with Google as a search engine, in fact for most of us it’s the first place we go online when looking for something, and for many of us it’s our browser’s default home page.

But have you ever looked deeper and worked out how to make Google work harder for you?

Here’s a short list of 17 ways that you can fine tune Google and use it more effectively.

1. Use search operators
Google does a pretty good job of working out what you’re looking for, but the more specific you are the better your results will be.

Using operators does just that, so for example enclosing a phrase in quotation marks — “like this” — searches for that specific phrase, adding a minus sign excludes that word (salsa recipe -tomatoes) and using OR gives Google a choice, eg. World Cup location 2014 or 2022.

2. Search a single site
You can restrict your search to a single website by using the site: operator, so for example if you wanted to look for Android content on TechRadar you might type   android site:techradar.com

3. Get definitions
The define: operator, as you might expect, gives you definitions — so define:search gives you the dictionary definition of search and synonyms such as hunt, look, scout and dig.

4. See what’s on
Fancy a film? Movie times Bristol tells you what’s on in that particular city, and if you use a specific cinema name, such as movie times Cineworld, you’ll see what’s on in that particular cinema.

5. Find similar sites
Here’s another handy operator: Related. This one helps you find pages that are similar to one you already know about, so for example   related:techradar.com tells you about sites related to tech Radar..

6. Do sums and currency conversions
You probably already know that Google will carry out sums if you type them in the search box — 4*15 gives you 60, 2*2*3*4 gives you 48 but it can also convert units and currencies. Convert 200 USD to £ converts dollars to pounds, and you can also convert measurements such as distance, weight and temperature.

7. Get nutritional information
Some food-related searches will display nutritional information, so looking for chocolate cake will display the calories, nutrients, vitamins and fat in a typical recipe.

Where it gets clever is when you tell Google to compare things, such as compare apples and oranges or compare bacon and tofu.

8. Get essential info, fast
You can quickly check details on Google. Type weather and you’ll see the current conditions and a seven-day forecast; add the name of a town to get the weather report from a different location.

Type flight BA1491 to see the status of a flight, time New York to see the local time in that location, sunrise London to see when the sun’s coming up or GOOG to see Google’s stock information.

9. Search by location
If you type a generic term such as “Italian restaurant”, Google will show you results in and around your current location along with a map showing where they are. If you’d rather be more specific, enter the postal code at the end of your query.

10. Use your voice
If you’re using Chrome, Android or the Google iOS app, you can search by voice: press or click on the microphone icon and tell Google what you’re looking for – provided you have a microphone plugged in of course.

If you have an Android phone running the latest version all you have to do is say “OK Google” when the search bar is visible and you can dictate your search – or other commands – directly.

11. Filter your image search
Image search often throws up seemingly unrelated pictures, so filter your searches. Some terms produce all kinds of search results, so for example an image search for “heather” brings you plants, Heather Graham and Heather from EastEnders.

Google will offer to filter those results for you — so for example our search for heather gives us the options “plant”, “flower”, “eastenders”, “scottish” and so on.

You can use the Search Tools button to filter by size, colour, type — such as photos of people or illustrations, time and whether you can use the photos without payment.

Remember your operators too: heather -graham produces a screen full of Heathers but no Heather Graham.

Finally, if you drag an image to the Google search box it will search for similar images

12. Filter your web search
If you click on Search Tools you’ll see four filtering options: The country, so for example in the UK you can search anywhere or limit your results to UK websites; the date and/or time of publication, ranging from the last hour to the last year; by reading level; and whether Google should use your current location.

13. Find out what links to what
It’s easy to discover who’s linking to your site, or to any other page you want to know about: Just use the link: operator, link:techradar.com tells you who’s linking to us.

14. Find specific files
The filetype: operator enables you to search for specific kinds of file, such as Word documents or PDFs. Google indexes most things, so it’s just a matter of dropping the dot from the file extension and searching for filetype:xml, filetype:svg or filetype:cs. It’s important to note that Google only searches for the file extension, so an XML document that isn’t saved with the .xml extension won’t show up in a filetype:xml search.

15. Translate from one language to another
Now you can quickly offer flowery insults in any language. Need to translate something in a hurry? Just type translate language A language B (where language A is the language you’re translating from and language B the language you’re translating to) and you’ll see a big friendly translator at the top of the page.

16. See what others are searching for
Google Trends shows you what others in your country are searching for, with occasionally puzzling results: at the time of writing the UK is interested in Boris Johnson, FIFA 15 and Vitamin D. Google even provides a screensaver that shows you real-time searches – presumably with filtering to screen out the scary stuff.

17. Uncover Easter eggs
Travel in style, or at least pretend to with Google Maps. If you search for Google in 1998 you’ll see Google as it was when it first launched. It’s not the only Google Easter egg: searching “do the harlem shake” in YouTube makes the screen dance while “do a barrel roll” will spin the screen around. In maps, getting directions from Fort Augustus to Urquhart Castle in Scotland enables you to travel by Loch Ness Monster.