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Feb
1
Can the World Economic Forum Tackle Cybercrime?
Posted by S2C Staff on 01 February 2018 06:13 PM

What's New in Technology for February 2018

Can the World Economic Forum Tackle Cybercrime?


World Economic Forum, Davos

The Wannacry cyberattack in May 2017 highlighted the major problems that bedevil the various nations affected by devastating ransomware crime. Namely, that targeted nations are often slow to track down the source of such cyberattacks – and once they have done so, they also lack any effective means to punish the perpetrators. Technology experts quickly determined the Wannacry source – almost certainly North Korea – but the British and American governments took five to six months to come to the same conclusion. As for penalties for those responsible, neither country was able to effectively force the North Korean government to change their tactics.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that The World Economic Forum, which recently took place in Davos, Switzerland, announced the formation of a new group, The Global Centre for Cybersecurity. This is an effort to tackle cybercrime through faster, more effective information sharing between nations and private technology companies. Expected to be fully operational in March, the organization, which seeks voluntary participation, has already gained the support of BT Group (a major British telecommunications company); U.S. microchip maker Qualcomm; the Russian financial institution, Sberbank; and Interpol, an international crime fighting organization.

Few would argue with the idea that a truly collaborative effort based on common standards is needed to successfully counter organized digital crime. What remains to be seen is how this will work in a global community that lacks consensus on the following key issues:

  • Putting Rules in Place

    Cybercrime is the cheapest way for nations to undercut and disrupt other countries they deem adversaries. President Obama called cyberspace the “Wild, Wild West,” an accurate comparison considering the lack of accountability, lawlessness and anarchy that presides. To date, the nations of the world have yet to agree about what should be off-limits, and what should be allowed. If that sounds strange, consider this. The United States and European nations raised the alarm when they found foreign “implants” in their networks (e.g., tampering with last year’s elections) but they don’t want to see rules imposed that might limit their own espionage efforts. It is no secret that the Obama and Bush administrations both infiltrated Iran’s nuclear network with the so-called Stuxnet code. It remains to be seen how the new Global Centre for Cybersecurity plans to address this double-standard.
  • The Role of Technology Companies in Monitoring Content

    British Prime Minister Theresa May took technology leaders to task in Davos, accusing them of not doing enough to collaborate with world governments to police social networks. Ms. May decried social networks for failing to police their platforms for content that supports terrorism and child abuse (pornography). She urged investors to pressure entities like Facebook and Twitter to use their significant resources to better monitor for fake news, hate speech and other forms of abuse. While this might appear to be a reasonable goal, giving governments the right to step in to determine what “fake news” is has obvious dangers. Likewise, the call for social networks to reveal real identities on the internet might be abused by authoritarian governments wishing to crack down on dissent and free speech.

    The new global initiative is a step in the right direction. However, an effective cure for cybercrime has been elusive to date and may prove a significant challenge to this new international agency.

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Jan
2
Net Neutrality - What's All the Fuss About?
Posted by S2C Staff on 02 January 2018 05:55 PM

What's New in Technology

Net Neutrality - What's All the Fuss About?

Net NeutralityAccording to the pundits, the Dec. 14 move by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to repeal existing net neutrality rules is either a major blow to free communication or a storm in a teacup. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these polarizing viewpoints.

It appears that those who supported dismantling the rules put in place to ensure equal access to the Internet (a concept usually known as “net neutrality”) and those who wished them to remain want the same things. Both sides say they are opposed to Internet Service Providers putting discriminatory practices in place to slow down or block certain content, and neither wants ISPs to charge users more to see certain websites. The disagreement appears to center on how fair play on the Internet should be enforced and who exactly does the enforcing. Not surprisingly, President Trump’s appointee to the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai, believes less government regulation will be more beneficial, and that broadband should not be regulated as if it were a utility.

Most software companies disliked the FCC’s recent repeal of the Obama era regulations. Many small business owners and entrepreneurs also voiced their opposition to the repeal, fearing that the big ISPs will take advantage of their “gatekeeper” role. On the other hand, telecommunications companies were glad to see them repealed. The naysayers believe there are clear dangers in allowing market players to also be guardians of net neutrality. They argue that big telecom companies are already dabbling in preferential Internet usage practices to steer consumers to their sister companies and that Pai’s repeal opens the door for more ploys of this nature.

Here’s some of the history behind the headlines and some of the key issues to ponder:

  • Before 2015, Internet Service Providers were governed by general laws regarding anti-competitive policies and consumer protection. In 2015, under President Obama, ISPs were classified as utilities and so-called net neutrality rules were put in place to stop ISPs from slowing down service, blocking access or requiring payment to favor certain content providers.
  • When Ajit Pai, who had voted against the 2015 reclassification in his role as an FCC Commissioner, was nominated by President Trump to take over the top job, industry observers knew a reversal was on the horizon. Pai contends that heavy-handed government regulation inhibits innovation and investment.
  • Net neutrality existed prior to launch of the 2015 regulations. It might be argued that now, in 2017, we are back to pre-2015 conditions and that there is no call for the alarmist clamor.
  • On the other hand, Pai’s critics note that a neutral Internet is not guaranteed to last. Major companies already are deploying preferential usage patterns to boost sales – for example, AT&T customers who access DIRECTV Now (which AT&T owns) are able to do so without that access counting as part of their data package. AT&T competitors like T-Mobile and Verizon also have similar setups. This practice – zero rating – was scrutinized by the FCC under the Obama era regulations but, following Pai’s repeal, it isn’t any longer. Vertical integration by major ISPs is on the increase, and there could be a strong incentive for these industry leaders to favor their own content over all-comers.

Lawmakers have the power to overturn this recent decision, and to propose their own laws to provide some stability to the regulatory environment. Small business owners who want to see a fair and level playing field will want to continue to monitor this situation.


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Dec
28
Service2Client Calculator Notice
Posted by S2C Staff on 28 December 2017 10:36 AM

New Tax Law Changes to Financial Calculators

Clients affected - Dynamic Content, Calculator Stand Alone, Website Bundles

Post Date: 12/28/17

The calculator update in Jan 2018, will have all tax calculators updated for the 2017 tax year (for taxes payable for 2017 on returns that are to be filed on or before April 15th 2018).  New versions of the tax calculators normally are released as part of the March 31st update package, we are planning on getting a version out sooner with all of the attention to the tax law.


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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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