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Dec
4
What's New in Technology
Posted by S2C Staff on 04 December 2017 03:01 PM

Are Cyber Attacks Acts of War?

Are Cyber Attacks Acts of War, European Union Community, HackingLast month, the European Union Community made headlines with their release of a diplomatic document that, for the first time, defines cyber-terrorism by a foreign power as an act of war. The EU document is expected to say that member states may respond to online espionage or cyber-attacks against their infrastructure or political processes with conventional weaponry in “the gravest of circumstances.” Coming at a time when we have seen months of media coverage worldwide of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 Presidential Election, as well as concerns in France and Germany regarding similar sabotage of their recent democratic processes, this move is regarded as an important step in redefining what nations regard as hostile to their sovereignty.

The issue is not new. News reports back in 2011 outlined the Pentagon’s warnings about the danger that cyber-terrorism posed to national security, and began the debate regarding when cyber-attacks may be considered to be acts of war.

By developing a diplomatic document that begins to clarify this issue, the European Union member nations are bringing it into the spotlight, and setting up a process that is expected to produce a similar response in the United States. This initiative aligns the EU community with NATO’s decision to regard cyber-attacks on one member as legitimate NATO business – or in other words, it means a serious online attack mounted against one nation could trigger NATO’s involvement through existing treaties that involve Europe’s collective defense.

Security experts in the cyber-crime community are not surprised by this move. They see how public outrage has been building. Ransomware attacks – many of which were paid off by large companies without any publicity – suddenly hit the big time when WannaCry ransomware attacks sabotaged the National Health Service in the U.K., forcing operating rooms to close and locking patients and their doctors out of the system. U.K. government minister Ben Wallace has gone on record saying his government is as “sure as possible” that North Korea was behind the WannaCry attack. This North Korean cyber group known as Dragonfly and believed to be state-sponsored, is also suspected of recently trying to hijack U.S. energy facilities.

In recent months, French and German government officials have alleged that North Korean and/or Russian hackers made attacks on their respective electoral processes in 2017. Russia, in particular, has been identified as the home of cyber-attackers who use social media and phishing platforms to try to affect election outcomes.

Digital attacks do not have laws and norms surrounding them like traditional acts of war. Nations have a long history of guidelines that define what constitutes hostile force – inflicted by one nation on another – but we don’t have similar metrics for online attacks. The recent European initiative is an attempt to address this. It will not be an easy matter. We may be able to form a consensus on what defines a cyber-attack used for espionage or to seriously disrupt a nation’s political or economic infrastructure, but it could prove more difficult to show that the attack is linked to an official government organization. 

One thing is clear. Cyber-attacks will remain a major source of concern for world leaders in 2018.


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Nov
6
What's New in Technology November 2017
Posted by S2C Staff on 06 November 2017 02:06 PM

The Importance of Quantum Computing

Quantum Computing qubitTo understand what quantum computing is and why scientists find it exciting, we need to understand how traditional computing works. Today’s computers use switching and memory units – known as transistors – to store and retrieve data. These transistors handle many of the tasks calculators used to handle. Transistors have become much smaller – almost as small as an atom – but essentially, they function just like the old calculators using a sequence of bits 0-1 (you can think of these as on-off) known as a binary system. This processes the data we provide by following a pre-arranged set of instructions, known as a program.

Binary Process

We have come a very long way with this binary process. Our computers can do some complicated processing and sorting tasks by using a string of binary mathematical operations known as an algorithm. Google and other search engines use algorithms to make the sorting process very fast. The binary system of conventional computing basically does the addition, subtraction and/or multiplication almost instantly.

So why do we need a different way of computing? Miniaturization has given us the ability to pack hundreds of millions of transistors on a chip of silicon about the size of a fingernail. However, as computer technology continues to advance, the more information we need to store, the more bits and transistors we need. Currently, our transistors are as small as we can make them. Most computer tasks we do are unlikely to max out computer power because they need more transistors than our computers can house. However, as computers continue to handle complex computing problems on behalf of companies (and private and public organizations), they will hit a ceiling and exceed the capacity and capability currently available. Scientists refer to these no-go situations as intractable problems – problems traditional computing cannot solve. Quantum computing – using atomic particles – is seen as a possible answer to the capacity and time limitations inherent in binary systems.

Quantum Computing

Quantum theory deals with atoms and the subatomic particles they contain. Atoms do not obey the basic rules of traditional physics. In quantum computing, qubits take the place of bits. Unlike a bit that is restricted to a binary system (think 0-1 or on-off), an atomic qubit can store an infinite range of values between 0 and 1 in multiple states. Don’t worry too much about understanding exactly how it works, just remember this means quantum computing could do multiple things at the same time – unlike conventional computing, which does a series of things one at a time – and that it could work up to millions of times faster than our current binary systems.

Will quantum computing render traditional computing obsolete? No, that is unlikely. Most of us will not need such powerful computing technology. And the commercial launch of quantum computing is by no means a certainty. It’s been about 30 years since researchers began to discuss quantum computing theory, and we have seen some significant progress in the past seven or eight years, with Google and MIT both producing prototypes. Researchers estimate we won’t see mainstream quantum computing for some years. Interestingly, if/when quantum computing comes of age, it would have huge impact on our current encryption technology (encryption is really the deliberate manufacture of an intractable problem). Now, that might be something for us all to think about.


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Oct
5
Small Business Embracing Chatbot Technology
Posted by S2C Staff on 05 October 2017 01:02 PM

What's New in Technology

Small Business Embracing Chatbot Technology

Small Business Embracing Chatbot TechnologyIn the past, small business owners sometimes lacked the resources – both financial and human – to capitalize upon the latest productivity and customer service technologies. Fortunately, the pace of change and the proliferation of new software programs have begun to make innovative technology accessible and affordable. Chatbots – software programs that can hold a two-way conversation with people – are a prime example of accessible and affordable technology.

Why Now?

Language is a complex process and, until recently, teaching a machine how to understand different jargon, accents and all the other variables involved in speech was only partially successful. Today, programmers use different methods to teach a machine to learn a language through experience, which is why the iPhone’s Siri gets better at understanding what you want the longer you use it. As the chatbots have become smarter, consumers have become happier dealing with them. In your everyday life, it is likely that you encounter chatbots in various modes – confirming a doctor’s appointment, ordering prescription medications or conducting simple financial transactions with your bank.

The technology research group Gartner has predicted that customers will soon interact via chatbots and other AI technology for a whopping 85 percent of their dealings with various companies used for personal and business purposes.

Small Businesses Reap Benefits

As consumer acceptance has increased, many small businesses have been quick to adopt chatbot technology to provide a consistent and affordable level of quality in customer service. Even businesses that provide professional services, such as banks and financial institutions, are using technology to manage and answer simple requests, forwarding more complex inquiries to a human being. For many small businesses, putting a live chatbot tool on their website to respond to questions typed in by website visitors has proven invaluable, providing a degree of customized service that a small firm with just a few employees would find difficult to deliver.

Chatbot’s Fastest Growth

Experts suggest we should expect to see chatbots take off in a variety of business sectors – especially those where customer service is a make or break proposition.

  • Restaurants – Some national restaurant chains are already using chatbots that customers can access through their Facebook messenger (instant messaging service) account to order food for delivery. Other quick-service chains have installed bots that act like waiters – answering questions, reading the menu, making recommendations and handling payment transactions.
  • Education or training – Facebook recently developed an experimental program –modeled on Albert Einstein – to provide answers and conduct conversations with consumers. This could be the springboard for a variety of educational purposes, using historical or fictional characters to make education accessible and fun for more people.
  • Personal Assistants – Consumers are becoming more comfortable with using voice commands for a variety of purposes in their work and home life. Perhaps the best-known examples are services like Amazon Echo and Google Home. These home-based assistants are connected to an operating system and can obey commands that include reprogramming heat/cooling systems, playing music or looking online for movies playing nearby. There are many ways they can assist people who run home-based businesses – locating a delivery service, determining where the nearest Fed Ex pickup point is, or finding flight and hotel recommendations.

Chatbots may be a relatively new trend in many industries, but their efficacy in natural and sophisticated customer dialogue suggests that they will play an increasingly important role in the future.


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Sep
18
How to Protect Yourself from the Equifax Data Breach
Posted by S2C Staff on 18 September 2017 12:45 PM
 

How to Protect Yourself from the Equifax Data Breach

Equifax Data BreachThe massive Equifax breach means consumers need to be on guard against data thieves. The credit-rating company hack earlier this year left approximately 143 million people’s personal information exposed and vulnerable. Here are the steps you take to help protect yourself in the wake of this event.

1)      Determine the exposure of your information: Go to Equifax's website here and follow the instructions provided. You’ll need your Social Security number handy to complete the check and to tell if you've been impacted by the breach.

2)      Enroll for free credit monitoring: Regardless of exposure, consumers who have information under Equifax are entitled to free credit monitoring for one year, along with other monitoring and protective services. You can learn more about what is available here.

3)      Monitor your credit reports and accounts for unusual activity: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, the three major credit reporting companies, are required to supply you with a credit report free of charge once every 12 months. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com and request them. Once you have the reports, monitor them to ensure there are no unauthorized accounts, incorrect personal information or credit inquiries you didn’t initiate. These are signs of fraud and you should follow up on them to ensure you weren’t the victim of identity theft.

4)      Consider implementing a credit freeze: If you see suspicious activity or are highly concerned, you can place a credit freeze to help deter an identity thief from opening new accounts in your name. Visit the consumer information section of the Federal Trade Commission website to learn more about credit freezes and how to activate one.

5)      Set up fraud alerts: Fraud alerts require potential creditors to verify your identity before they can open an account, issue a new card or increase a credit limit. Remember that fraud alerts won’t necessarily prevent identity theft, but they will make it much harder for someone with your personal information to use it.


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Aug
3
What's New in Technology for August 2017
Posted by S2C Staff on 03 August 2017 03:13 PM

What is Smart Luggage?

Smart SuitcasesThere are several brands of smart luggage out there. The brands you might encounter more frequently are Raden, Bluesmart and Away. Other brands include Horizn and Néit. There are some differences in features and price points, but most offer the following:

  • Apps that connect to your luggage using Bluetooth; and
  • Features that include proximity alarms to warn you if you are at a specific gate and your bag is somewhere else, distance indicators, the ability to weigh contents and the means to charge your portable electronics on the go.

Depending on how much time you spend traveling each week and how much use you would get out of the various apps, this new smart technology might appeal to you.

  • Most brands offer checked bag and carry-on sized bags. They feature TSA-approved battery packs to allow you to charge your device on the go. This might be helpful if you dash frequently from the plane to a taxi, or if crowds make finding a charging station impossible. There is a charging cable in the bag in many models – Raden offers USB ports next to the bag’s handles, which is very handy. Some products have battery packs that can be removed from the suitcase, allowing you access when your bag is stashed in the hold or baggage compartment.
  • Many offer a weight sensor, which is especially handy if you check your baggage frequently and need to know if your bag meets the airline’s weight limits. To use this feature, you calibrate it with the bag empty, pack and pick it up to have the sensor give you a weight reading.
  • Some offer a companion app for flight information (gate, departure time, weather alerts, etc.), which also includes a sensor that lets you know how far away the bag is located. The sensor might be helpful if you are waiting at a luggage carousel hoping your bag made a tight connection. Most frequent fliers have a slew of apps on portable devices that can deliver flight information, and so this particular app might be redundant for many business travelers.
  • Drawbacks include the price and potential issues with TSA. You will pay about $300 or more for a carry-on and $400 and upward for larger pieces. Although TSA has approved these bags, there is always the chance that this new type of bag may puzzle some TSA workers.

Summary

Smart luggage can offer some handy features to busy travelers. You might wish to check out the possibilities if you like exploring the latest in personal tech – and if you are willing to pay significantly more for your luggage. Also consider that if you usually travel with carry-ons only, many of the bells and whistles smart bags offer duplicate those on your smart phone or tablet. Airlines have made it easier to recharge electronics in-flight, so the battery pack features are less important than they might have been a few years ago. Also, the location finder feature is redundant if your bag is a carry-on and is stowed close at hand.


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