WhatsApp Launches Self-Destruct Messages

From the end of November, Facebook’s WhatsApp users will have the option to automatically delete chats between the sender and recipient after 7 days.

Disappearing Messages

The new “disappearing messages” feature is not going to be the default setting and needs to be switched on by the user in the settings (or by the Admin in a group).  The 7-day time-limit will apply to read and unread messages. It will still be possible, however, for users who have the feature switched on to forward or screenshot any messages that they would like to keep.

Why? Several Reasons…

The idea for this feature is similar to rival Snapchat’s “Stories” feature which allowed users to post videos and photos to their profile which then disappeared after 24 hours. As well as being a feature needed to help compete, disappearing messages also works in Instagram, and its addition to WhatsApp highlights Facebooks hopes to integrate and make Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram interoperable in the near future.

Close To Real Conversations

Also, the WhatsApp blog says that “most of what we send doesn’t need to be everlasting”, and that “Our goal is to make conversations on WhatsApp feel as close to in-person as possible, which means they shouldn’t have to stick around forever”. WhatsApp has said that this feature is a way of keeping the app light.

Privacy

One other key reason why this feature is being added is to further emphasise the privacy aspects of the end-to-end encrypted WhatsApp.  WhatsApp’s desire to retain the end-to-end encryption of the app that is thought to be the reason why it has taken WhatsApp so long to add this feature.  On the privacy point, WhatsApp has also said that deletion of conversations after 7 days is a way to give users “peace of mind” i.e. improved privacy.

Relevance and Memory

The practical realities of people leaving things on platforms that are no longer relevant or likely to be needed again (and yet being able to remember what a conversation was about) are also things which WhatsApp says it has considered in arriving at a 7-day deletion point.

Users Getting More Control

The addition of the feature at this time can also be attributed to a general push by WhatsApp to add more features that give users more control and keep the app attractive to business users.  For example, a new storage management tool was added earlier this week to help users to manage the space taken up on their phones by gifs, videos and images sent via WhatsApp.

Good News

It can’t do any harm to roll out an essentially positive feature at a time when WhatsApp is trying to recover from criticism in recent years about e2e apps providing a safe communications channel for wrong-doers (e.g. the London Bridge attack), and recent allegations that third-party apps may be able to use WhatsApp’s online signalling feature to enable monitoring of the digital habits of anyone using WhatsApp.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

For WhatsApp users, this feature is a value-adding option that could help to compete with rival message apps, retain their loyalty, and improve some practical aspects of the app (saving space on user’s phones), feeling more in control as well as bringing a feel-good factor about privacy. These factors are all valued by business users, who WhatsApp claim to have more than 50 million more of each month. For Facebook, not only is this one way to keep its pledge on improving privacy, but this is also an important stepping-stone in the integration and the interoperability of WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.  Disappearing messages is also one of many augmentations of the WhatsApp service (along with WhatsApp Business and a new storage feature) that will keep this very successful free app up-to-date and relevant to current user needs going forward.

Scammer Accidentally Calls Cyber-Crime Squad

A hapless scammer pretending to be from a broadband network got more than he bargained for when he accidentally called (and tried to work his scam) on the cyber-crime squad of an Australian police force.

Claimed To Be From Broadband Network

The scammer, claiming to be from Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN), which does not make such calls to end-users, accidentally called the Financial and Cybercrime Investigation Branch (FCIB) of South Australia.  The purpose of the call appeared to direct the recipient to a website imitating the NBN website. Once there, the call recipient would be encouraged to download remote access software onto their computer with the ultimate aim of gaining access to personal information, including passwords for online banking details.

Tech Support Hoax

The caller, who is believed to have been part of a group of scammers calling Adelaide landlines, claimed to be a tech support person and that the call recipient needed to download software in order to fix an Internet problem (after an alleged hack).

Police Answered

Unfortunately for the scammer, the call was answered by a member of the FCIB who then used secure software in order to safely follow the caller’s instructions and thereby understand the true nature of the scam.

Directed To A Poorly Designed Website

The member of the FCIB reported being directed by the scammer to a “poorly designed” website where they were told to carry out the steps needed to download software.  The FCIB member reported seeing that the fake website had Web-hosting text preceding the .com, thereby indicating that it was not affiliated with the NBN and was most probably a fake.

Following failed attempts by the scammer to convince the FCIB member to download the software (malware), the scammer terminated the call.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Luckily, in this case, the FCIB were able to see exactly how a group of scammers were operating and were able to issue detailed warnings in the local area.  This story is a reminder to all that no-one is safe from scam calls and that scammers using phishing and social engineering pose a serious risk.  Even though many businesses may know that legitimate companies do not call out of the blue and ask people to download software, all staff in an organisation should be made aware (e.g. by training) of the policy and procedures regarding this kind of risk (e.g. never to click on unfamiliar emails, links or to download unfamiliar software). Businesses should instruct staff that if they are in any doubt of who a caller is, hang up and only call the organisation back on the known, reputable number.  Incidents should, ideally, be reported to the police, Action Fraud, and to the relevant member of staff in the call recipient’s company.

That said, cyber-criminals are becoming more sophisticated in their attacks on businesses, and a Proofpoint Human Factor report from last year showed that as many as 99 per cent of cyber-attacks now involve social engineering through cloud applications, email or social media.  This illustrates how attackers are now much keener on trying to enable a macro, or trick people into opening a malicious file or follow a malicious link through human error, rather than having to face the considerable and time-consuming challenge of trying to hack into the (often well-defended) systems and infrastructure of enterprises and other organisations.  Businesses should therefore boost their efforts in guarding against this type of attack.

Language Used Reveals Societal Pandemic Anxiety

An AI study of the language used on social media platform Reddit has revealed increasing levels of anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic.

Study

The study, by MIT and Harvard University researchers, sought to leverage natural language processing (NLP) algorithms to characterise changes in some of the world’s largest mental health (15 groups) and non-mental health support groups (11), by using AI, machine learning and topic modelling to study, and classify the language used in conversations on Reddit. The study looked for changes in 90 text-derived features of 826,961 unique users in their conversations from 2018 to 2020.

Results and Conclusions

The study revealed that levels of anxiety among those in mental health support groups spiked in posts about COVID-19 in January, two months before other support groups started posting about the pandemic. Machine learning analyses found that health anxiety emerged as a general theme across Reddit and, interestingly, the study found that the concerns of a diverse set of individuals converged i.e. the more users posted about COVID-19, the more linguistically similar the mental health support groups became to the Health/Anxiety groups.

Other Language/Stress Research

A study back in 2017, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, highlighted in the ‘Nature’ science journal, also showed how the subtleties in the language people could reveal physiological stress. The research involved 143 adults wearing audio recorders, which switched on every few minutes for two days.  The researchers then compared the language used by the volunteers with the expression in their white blood cells of 50 genes that are known to be influenced by adversity. The study found that when people are stressed, they talk less but use more “emotional intensifiers” e.g. ‘really’ or ‘incredibly’ and use fewer third-person plural pronouns, such as ‘they’ or ‘their’ because when under threat, people focus less on others and the outside world.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The AI study showed that the way certain language is used can be an identifier of those at risk from mental health problems and that textual analysis can uncover mental health complaints as they appear in real-time.  This could, in future, be used to help businesses and organisations to spot those employees who are struggling with stress and anxiety, perhaps due to work or home issues.  This could enable businesses and organisations to provide support and help at the right time, thereby addressing the needs of key employees, preventing absenteeism, uncovering potential work issues e.g. the need for training or suffering from by bullying, and could help with the retention and increased loyalty of key staff. If this kind of technology was applied across a business at this time (during the pandemic), it may prove to be another useful tool in helping to manage the softer factors of a physically divided workforce, where stress may not have been spotted by colleagues due to everyone working from home.

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

n this article, we look at why bring your own device (BYOD) is still popular and we look at some of the risks businesses face by allowing BYOD.

BYOD

BYOD has been around since 2004 and essentially allows employees to bring in their personally owned laptops, tablets, and smartphones to work and use them to access company information and applications and solve work problems. There are other variants of BYOD whereby the business or organisation owns the device or the app container that the devices apps work in, and these are outlined later in this article.

How Popular is BYOD?

The BYOD and enterprise mobility market size has been estimated to reach USD $73.30 Billion by 2021 (marketsandmarkets.com). A 2018 survey (Statista) found that 45 per cent of UK businesses have BYOD, but this figure is much higher in certain businesses and industries e.g. 60 per cent of finance or insurance firms.

Why BYOD?

There are many benefits to be gained by allowing staff to use their own devices for work purposes.  These include:

– Productivity. Employees often work faster (with less training needed) using their own devices and, therefore, becoming more productive.

– Costs savings.  For example, a much-quoted Cisco report from 2016 estimated that with a BYOD policy in place, companies save an average of $350 per year.

– Speed. It has been estimated that using portable devices for work can save employees 58 minutes per day (Samsung + Frost and Sullivan).

– Convenience. Most people now bring at least their own smartphone to work and, for example, LaptopsDirect research found that 84 per cent of British employees use their smartphones at work.  The same research showed that those in the marketing, information and communications, creative and photographic industries and in professional services are the top smartphone users.

– Harnessing the skills of tech-savvy employees.

– Innovation by finding new, better, and faster ways of getting work done.

– Improved morale and employee satisfaction, and productivity gains.

– Reduced IT Dependence. BYOD typically means fewer IT-related issues for the business to deal with, therefore saving on IT resources.

– Reliance over time. Many businesses, particularly smaller businesses, have come to rely on the fact that employees own devices are available for work use.

Risks and Threats

There are, of course, a number of security risks and threats associated with introducing BYOD. These include:

– The likelihood of more security incidents.  For example, a Paymentsense study, involving more than 500 UK SMEs found a direct correlation between the introduction of a BYOD policy and cyber-security incidents. 61 per cent of the SME’s said that they had experienced a cyber-security incident since introducing a BYOD policy. The kinds of security risks related to BYOD include:

– The loss or theft of personal devices.  This can also impact upon productivity.

– Not keeping personal devices, programs and patches up to date, thereby risking the exploitation of known security vulnerabilities.

– Not having adequate security on personal devices.

– A lack of monitoring of personal devices, thereby risking a spread of malware to company systems and networks.

– Straying into areas of stealth/shadow IT that may be risky and outside of approved guidelines. ‘Stealth IT’ refers to where employees go outside of the company’s central IT control and set up their own infrastructure, without organisational approval or oversight, often motivated by the need to work around the shortcomings of central IT systems. The lack of oversight and therefore, management of stealth IT infrastructures can put corporate data, service continuity, and businesses at risk of cyber-attacks, breaches, data theft, fines and more.

– Malicious exfiltration of data.  This can happen when users accidentally consent to access by malicious applications and allow the leaking of potentially sensitive company data.

Types of BYOD

There are variations in BYOD modes that companies can adopt with different levels of control.  These include:

– Corporately owned/managed, personally enabled (COPE).  This is where the business takes full management control of the device and allows personal use in approved situations. This mode can work with Android and iOS (wiped beforehand).

– Choose your own device (CYOD).  With this idea, employees can choose from a range of equipment purchased by the company, but any private use is subject to the strict conditions of the company’s policy.

– Personally owned, partially enterprise managed.  This mode allows the enforcement of some policies for device-wide configuration and corporate data protection, although users can still change the security settings of the device, thereby injecting some risk.

– Personally owned, with managed container application.  With this mode, employees work on their own device, but all within one or several container applications provided by a third party.  Management can take place using Mobile Application Management (MAM) i.e. software and services that can provide controls at the application level.  MAM, therefore, manages the provisioning and controlling access to mobile apps used in business settings for BYOD.  The container apps help to isolate corporate data from the user’s personal applications and allow for some monitoring of the device.

Training and Devices

Introducing BYOD with certain devices provided by the company may mean that there is a need for training of employees in the use of the devices, either in-house or via a third-party training supplier.

It is also important for businesses to choose mobile devices for BYOD that are compatible with (and are easily able to support) the work that they are required for.  For example, companies may choose/favour a specific device e.g. the latest Apple iPhone, because it offers security, flexibility, and capacity, and has features similar to a laptop or tablet.

Managing BYOD

Important ways in which companies manage the introduction and running of BYOD include:

– Assess and understand the risks of BYOD (many of which are listed above).

– Develop a clear BYOD policy that works for both the business and the employee.

A BYOD policy typically covers areas like:

– Permitted and not permitted tasks with personal devices e.g. submitting expenses but not sending emails.

– Services/business areas that can be accessed by personal devices e.g. booking holidays.

– Control limits over devices e.g. whether they can be accessed and wiped remotely by managers.

– Enforcement measures.  Part of this may involve the technical spec controls for devices.  These controls could specify the type of access allowed (apps and browsers), minimum hardware and software standards, what policies can be enforced, security specifications e.g. multi-factor authentication, where the boundaries of restricted access are, and where enforcement will take place e.g. at an authentication service, the network firewall, or on specific services.

Guidance

There are many online resources providing guidance and help with BOYD.  For example, both Microsoft and Google have provided online guidance for BYOD:

Microsoft – Office 365 UK Blueprint – BYOD Access Patterns.

Google – 6 ways that G Suite helps IT admins safely use BYOD.

Also, there is the UK National Cyber Security Centre guide.

Solutions and Software

There are also many different solutions and software options to enable the management of BYOD.  These include CrowdStrike Falcon for mobile, SolarWinds RMM, ManageEngine Mobile Device Manager Plus, AirWatch Workspace One, and more.

Looking Ahead

BYOD is often a balance or trade-off between improved productivity and security risks.  Companies need to fully assess the risks, challenges, and cost implications before considering embarking on BYOD and having a clear, detailed policy that is widely communicated and supported by appropriate and effective enforcement is a vital element.

The pandemic (forcing staff to work from home) has reminded those businesses allowing BYOD how important effective management of the policy is and has made many other businesses take a closer look at the potential areas of risk when employees work off-site, and added new challenges, but has also demonstrated that other ways of working with IT can still bring productivity and results.

Which? Reveals Truth About EV Battery Life

A recent (Which?) survey of 1,016 electric vehicle (EV) owners has revealed that worries about battery degradation should not be an issue for potential EV buyers.

The Survey

The survey by consumer champion Which? was conducted from December 2019 to February 2020 and recorded the views of 47,013 people of which 1,016 were electric car owners.

Range and Charging Times
Two areas that potential EV buyers have questions about are the driving range on a single charge and charging times, i.e. how long it takes to re-charge the battery after a journey.  Which? reports that its independent lab tests have verified that even relatively affordable models can now travel more than 240 miles on a single charge.

Also, Which? reports that advances in charger and battery technology and recent developments by Tesla, Samsung and academic researchers mean that cheap batteries with ultra-low recharging times are close to being a reality for most EV’s.

Older Models Battery Decline

The Which? survey revealed that drivers of older models (2014) reported a steady decline in usable battery life, and the oldest models were reported to be capable of 92 per cent of battery range from new.

Newer Models

Owners of newer EV models (up to 3 years old) reported that their batteries still have around 98 per cent of their original range available.

Average

Which?’s research showed overall that EV owners with older models can expect the maximum range of their batteries to fall to around 173 miles over six years which equates to only an 8 per cent reduction in usable range in that time.  Also, owners of newer models can expect the usable range of their batteries to reduce by only 2 per cent.

After Six Years?

For those worried about battery life after 6 years, many EV manufacturers guarantee their batteries and motors for up to eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever is first.  Also, if cars last an average of 10 years, it may be the case that another mechanical fault may be more likely to take the car off the road than a battery failure.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The research by Which? appears to show that buyers of new EV cars have little to worry about as regards the life, performance, duration and range of the battery, thereby putting to bed one of the main challenges that car manufacturers face in selling the electric models that they have now committed themselves to making. This fact, increasing customer awareness and knowledge in the market, and a need for countries to meet environmental targets and are likely to be major contributing factors to electric vehicle models reaching 31 per cent of the overall car fleet by 2040, accounting for 58 per cent of new passenger car sales (as forecasted by BloombergNEF).  There is no doubt that innovations in battery development are an important sales-boosting factor for car companies and recent reports show that Chinese car battery-maker Contemporary Amperex Technology has developed a battery that can power an electric vehicle for an incredible 1.2 million miles over a 16-year lifespan. Reports indicate that deals may already be in place for the Chinese battery-maker to supply Tesla, BMW, Daimler, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo for the next two years.

PayPal To Support Cryptocurrencies

It has been reported that US-based payments giant PayPal is ready to allow its users to buy, sell, and hold Bitcoin BTC and other cryptocurrencies.

Millions of Merchants

The decision by PayPal will also mean that 26 million merchants who use the PayPal platform will, eventually, be able to accept cryptocurrencies as a funding source.

App

It is believed that PayPal will be adding its cryptocurrency services to its Venmo app and international markets during the first half of next year.

Leap In Value

The reports that PayPal is about to join fintech company Square and trading app Robinhood in supporting cryptocurrencies caused Bitcoin‘s price (BTC) to jump and briefly break $13,000, its highest point since July 2019.  Bitcoin’s value means that it now outperforms gold and silver as a commodity, but its current value of $12,978.30 is still much lower than its 2017 peak of nearly $20,000.

Settled In Fiat Currencies

Even though cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin will be supported by PayPal, any of the cryptocurrency it processes will happen in fiat currencies i.e. normal government-issued currencies.

Pleased

PayPal’s announcement has prompted positive reactions from known cryptocurrency advocates such as Matt Odell and billionaire investor Mike Novogratz (formerly of crypto-focused Galaxy Investment Partners).

Possible Acquisitions

There have also been reports that PayPal may be looking to buy cryptocurrency companies such as Bitcoin custodian BitGo Inc which offers digital wallets and offline vaults for storing Bitcoin and rival currencies.  BitGo is backed by many large investors including Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Digital Currency Group, and Craft Ventures.

PayPal has also reportedly said that it would partner with a competitor of Bitcoin, Paxos Trust Company.

Others Buying Bitcoin

Other signs that Bitcoin is getting a new life and that ‘the word is out’ included Square buying $50 million of Bitcoin earlier this month, saying that it could become a more ubiquitous currency soon.

Facebook

Last year there was news that Facebook was developing its own digital ‘coins’ cryptocurrency that could be sold to users of its WhatsApp messaging platform.

Also, last February, U.S. mega-bank J.P. Morgan launched its own blockchain-based digital coin, the ‘JPM Coin’, and IBM has also launched a blockchain-backed stable ‘coin’ for international money transfers.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The benefits and the need for digital currencies have been understood for some time but their adoption by mainstream financial players was delayed by many issues including concerns about extra regulation in the US, a lack of regulation of cryptocurrencies generally, concerns about price swings, as well concerns about investigations and hacks and not wanting to be associated with either.

Some critics of PayPal’s move have expressed surprise and wondered who this new service of PayPal’s is aimed at because Bitcoin is normally within the realm of those with knowledge of the stock market and dealing with larger sums who are used to the idea that cryptocurrencies can be volatile and can still present some risk. It may therefore be the case that, for the time being, the service may not find much of a market beyond existing cryptocurrency holders.

Also, although PayPal will be adding this cryptocurrency service, the fact that processes will happen in fiat currencies has been criticised for somewhat defeating the object.

The underlying Blockchain technology behind Bitcoin, however, has been widely adopted and used in many different industries and businesses and has proven to be a trusted technology that still has huge potential.

Each week we bring you the latest tech news and tips that may relate to your business, re-written in an techy free style.