NHS COVID-19 update blocked for breaching privacy rules

The NHS COVID-19 app, run by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), has had its latest update blocked due to a breach in the privacy terms outlined by Apple and Google.

NHS Coronavirus app, available on Apple and Android devices, was designed to include a new feature that would allow users (upon showing a positive COVID test result) to upload a list of all locations and establishments they have visited using a phone scan QR code.

The Exposure Notification System built into the app’s software would then alert other users who had entered the same venue to monitor their symptoms or to immediately be tested. This update relies on location tracking for its function – a tracking type heavily reliant on Bluetooth monitoring of surrounding devices with the app installed – outlawed by Apple and Google privacy agreements.

This is the latest in a calamitous string of COVID app mishaps by the UK Government who had only recently scrapped plans for their own rival system to the Apple and Android contact tracing system.

Total development of the UK based rival tracking app cost £12 million over a 3 month period, but was eventually rejected due to battery life issues, privacy concerns over Bluetooth’s potentially invasive interaction with, and data collection from, other apps installed on the device such as Facebook and Twitter. As a consequence, the Apple and Android app was adopted even with the concerns over restrictions of location data.

As the UK returns to a quasi-normal state with Phase 2 of lockdown lifting measures being rolled out today, this news comes as a blow for the Department of Health who have released a statement reassuring the public that the update blockage does not affect the overall functionality of the NHS COVID-19 app and that there are “discussions ongoing with our partners to provide beneficial updates to the app which protect the public”

Instead of the updated version, the previous form of the app will still be obtainable in both the Google Play and iOS App Stores.


Cyber Aware Launch new Action Plan tool for Small Businesses

The UK National Cyber Security Centre have launched a new online Cyber Aware ‘Cyber Security Self-Assessment Tool’ to help small businesses.

Free to use, and aimed at organisations with fewer than ten staff, the short online questionnaire generates a handy to-do list of actionable cybersecurity recommendations and points to check, with guidance for each – depending on the answers submitted.

Questions are branching depending on the circumstances of each small business, but covers topics including backups, passwords, technology lifecycle management and more. Small business owners are also directed to useful plain-English resources to address each point highlighted.

Cyber Aware is a campaign launched by the UK National Cyber Security Centre (the public-facing arm of GCHQ) designed to provide simple guidance for individuals and small businesses to use technology more safely.

You can learn more about Cyber Aware, the NCSC, and get your own Action Plan here.

 

For IT Support and cybersecurity expertise: please contact our team today.


81,000 .eu Domains Frozen

Approximately 50,000 UK customers have had .eu domains suspended, following Brexit.

The .eu domain registrar EURid has formally suspended 81,000 such domains as of 1st January 2021, following the decision that .eu ownership requires the owner to be resident in a country that holds membership of the European Union.

Many internationally trading UK companies hold foreign domain versions of their websites to assist trading overseas, support multiple languages, improve web performance in other territories and develop export markets.

Numerous IT services, including email, websites, directories and more are often also tied to domains which represent a key pillar of many companies’ authentication technology.

Many British domain holders cancelled their domains as the transition period approached – over 200,000 .eu domains held by UK customers were cancelled between 2018 and 2021, with registrars contacting customers multiple times to alert them to the changes.

Although the remaining 81,000 have not been not cancelled outright, UK customers have no way to recover these domains without being able to prove the owner holds citizenship of an EU member state, and provide a suitable registered address.

Britain’s exit from the EU also begins a countdown for these customers – who must either have an EU company representative to renew on their behalf, or face their domains put back up for sale again by 2022.

 

Need IT Support expertise? Contact Lineal today.


Internet Providers Announce 2021 Broadband Price Rises

A number of major UK internet service providers (ISPs) have announced above-inflation broadband price rises for 2021.

Virgin Media says an average customer will face a 4% rise this year – announcing that the increase is part of a plan to invest £1 billion in its network infrastructure.

BT, EE and Plusnet have also amended their terms of service, and are expected to publish above-inflation price rises over 4% shortly. Sky have already raised prices, with some customers seeing increases of up to 10%.

Ofcom figures suggest market rates for broadband have remained broadly consistent over the course of the last decade prior to 2020 – driven in part by more of the UK being brought on-stream under Openreach’s superfast fibre roll-out.

broadband price rise

Although network investment is likely to be welcomed, many customers will no doubt suspect ISPs are raising profits at a time that the UK is particularly dependent on home use of connectivity.

Where investment also supports fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) rollouts, the increase may also represent a regressive step – charging customers in less well-connected parts of the country with slower broadband to fund upgrades in already better-connected areas.

Approximately 41% of broadband customers are not in contract, and the best deals are gained by those who look for options rather than renewing automatically. New Ofcom rules mean that price rises from an ISP allow escape from contract terms, giving customers other options.

Contact Lineal – Placing your connectivity with a trusted IT provider can be both more organised, and sometimes better value. Contact us today!


Network-locked phone sales banned

From December 2021 UK mobile networks will be forbidden from selling network locked mobile handsets.

Communications industry regulator Ofcom believe locked-handsets is anticompetitive, and prevents customers switching mobile providers easily.

Network providers have claimed locked handsets are a deterrent to phone theft, although Three mobile, O2, Sky mobile and Virgin mobile have already ended the practice.

Mobile providers also argue locked handsets help justify better promotional rates (blocking customers exploiting the cheapest handsets deals and then swapping networks) although consumers often claim it is an attempt to hold onto customers who would otherwise have switched provider anyway, such as after the end of their contract.

Unlocking a phone typically costs around £10, but customers must normally find a third-party provider to assist, and face a delay or technical problem during switching – which Ofcom believes is unfairly difficult.

The change to consumer law brings the UK into line with the rest of the EU, although the UK changes have been under consideration since before recent EU rulings on the mobile market.

In addition a number of other changes are planned or June 2022, including more accessibility provisions for disabled customers and greater exit-rights where contract terms change unexpectedly.

 

For Business mobile advice and expertise, please contact our team today.


Bletchley Park Rescued by £1m Facebook Donation

Bletchley Park, the historic home of Britain’s WW2 codebreakers, will receive a £1m donation from Facebook to help it survive financial difficulties.

The Buckinghamshire country house and grounds, now a museum, was the secret home of allied cryptographers who famously cracked the Enigma and Lorenz ciphers during the Second World War.

Facing an income shortfall of around £2m due to falling visitor numbers during lockdown, the Bletchley Park Trust, which is a registered charity, was facing extensive redundancies – some of which will now be avoided.

In a statement, Facebook said the heritage site was a ‘birthplace of modern computing’, and acknowledged the important strategic role the wartime location played in shortening the war.

Bletchley was home to a number of famous mathematicians, linguists and other intellectuals working in secret on behalf of the war effort, including Alan Turing – now considered the father of modern computing – Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and others. At its peak, almost 10,000 personnel, around 75% of which were women, worked as part of Bletchley’s operation, who remained bound by the Official Secrets Act until at least the 1970s.

The National Computing Museum, based at Bletchley, is also home to a replica of the Colossus Mark 2, lovingly rebuilt by volunteers: the world’s first ‘programmable’ electronic, digital computer.

 

You can learn more about Bletchley Park, and support the trust here.


UK Gigabit Voucher Scheme FAQs

Qualifying businesses in many rural parts of the UK are eligible for a Voucher worth up to £3,500 to help get new leased-line fibre broadband installed under the UK Gigabit Voucher scheme.

The Government recently urged SMEs to apply, with Digital Minister Matt Warman MP arguing the £70m pot is “still there for the taking.”

But what is the Gigabit voucher scheme, and how does it work?

 

How fast is gigabit?

Gigabit broadband is 1,000 megabits/per second (around twenty-times the download speed of a normal domestic FTTC connection) and unlike conventional broadband, supports a ‘symmetrical’ upload rate that is equally as fast as the download.

In most cases however, SMEs will deliberately opt for a more limited connection speed on a gigabit ‘bearer’ (eg: 200Mbit/s up and down) to keep costs manageable, while retaining the capacity and option of regrading up to a maximum of 1,000 Mbit/s at a later date if needed.

 

What does the voucher get used for?

Most connectivity providers charge an installation cost on new Leased Line installations – normally based on the length of fibre cabling that must be ‘dug in’ to connect the business. The voucher is a refund to help offset this upfront cost. Businesses must pay the ongoing monthly connectivity charges as normal, but the voucher is intended to help firms overcome the initial barrier-to-entry.

 

I’d like £3,500 please.

Quite! Although the the voucher is paid direct to your chosen supplier. Once your business has applied and been deemed eligible, your supplier will submit your voucher with your details when you place the initial order for your leased line. After your fibre is dug-in and connected, the scheme will check that your service is live before paying your supplier the due amount.

If your install is less than £3,500 you are likely to only be awarded the relevant cost, rather than the full amount. In most cases businesses will be signing a leased-line term with their provider for the ongoing cost of connectivity – normally between one and five years.

 

Can I use my voucher via Lineal?

Yes! We use Gamma Telecom Ltd for fibre leased-line connectivity, who are an approved supplier under the Gigabit Voucher Scheme.

 

Why is this funding being offered?

Successive Governments have reasoned that investing in better broadband is good for UK business growth, but the logistics of physically digging in fibre cabling is left to third-parties such as Openreach. Those providers insist ‘hard-to-reach’ properties are not economic to connect under the regional FTTC and FTTP broadband roll-outs because of the upfront cost of this installation work, or that gigabit fibre to the entire country is only achievable over the long term. For the best return on investment, the Government wants to prioritise upgrading businesses that already suffer slow speeds.

Gigabit fibre installations to commercial properties are also a capital project – the physical fibre, once ‘dug-in’ to a business premises, may end up being used for years to come by future businesses who take over the site, allowing more companies to benefit from widespread upgrades to the existing infrastructure.

 

What are other businesses doing?

To date around £90m worth of vouchers have been awarded so far, and around 29,000 connections have already gone live. The Government’s election pledge during 2019 was for gigabit fibre for the whole of the UK by 2025, a target which is widely expected to be missed.

This leaves rural businesses dependant on inclusion in their regional fibre-to-the-cabinet broadband roll-out as a stopgap, hoping to be included in an early tranche of Openreach’s future FTTP roll-out, or looking to fund the upgrade to a leased lined themselves.

 

Help! We really are out in the sticks!

If the cost of your install is still too large, there are other options: such as pooling your vouchers with neighbouring eligible businesses, accessing faster connections via 4G or point-to-point link. Speak to us to learn more.

 

How do I find out more?

You can learn more about eligibility and how to apply for your voucher via the UK Government’s Gigabit Voucher Scheme website here: https://gigabitvoucher.culture.gov.uk/ or get in touch with Lineal for more information.


Securing the NHS C19 Contact Tracing App

The combined NHS Digital Taskforce, NHSX, recently beta tested the new UK Covid-19 contact tracing app on the Isle of Wight, and have released code to the cyber security community to review.

The app logs interactions with other bluetooth-enabled smartphones each day, and allows the NHS to notify users who have been in contact with self-reporting Covid-19 cases that they should re-enter isolation as a precaution.

A recent blog post by the UK National Cyber Security Centre identified a number of areas for improvement, with the contact tracing app itself expected to be officially released in June 2020.

 

The Pairing Problem

NHS servers ping the app every 8 seconds to confirm active connections, and the app itself records received signal strength indicators (RSSI) via Bluetooth to gauge where users have been in contact with each other. Users then upload their records if they experience symptoms.

Any attacker with access to this upload traffic, (which does not include the user ID but is unencrypted) could begin comparing submissions via start/end times and signal strength readings, and would theoretically be able to pair these users together.

This problem of uniquely identifiable pairs potentially compromises the identity of the individuals using the app, as well as their location history relative to each other.

The NCSC have confirmed that in the release version, even ‘anonymised’ RSSI data will itself be encrypted, to stop any third-parties attempting to ‘re-identify’ either or both of the users.

 

Intercepting the Public Key

In beta testing, the Authority’s Public Key was not transferred to the user’s phone via TLS encryption (like a secured web-page) raising the possibility that although the app could be downloaded successfully, this important piece of information used for submitting data could be compromised.

This would be akin to a kind of ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack, where a user’s encrypted uploads could be (even if not unencrypted) sabotaged or withheld during transmission back to NHS systems.

Security researchers have suggested that since this key is not secret, it should be wrapped into the installation of the app itself.

The NCSC have since confirmed that intermediate certificate pinning has been used to reduce the risk of this happening, and that this limitation will be fixed once the Isle of Wight trial ends.

 

Bluetooth Broadcast Values

The app operates via broadcast values with change every 24 hours to prevent a device being tracked by Bluetooth over longer periods of time. This is significantly longer than the industry standard 15 minutes.

However, more controversially, a predictable ‘KeepAlive’ counter is used to connect old and new broadcast values, raising the potential for an attacker to re-identify the user beyond the 24-hour limit.

The NCSC defends the longer-term tracing as necessary to establish social interactions more accurately, but has resolved to randomise the counter to stop broadcast values being easily matched or the user re-identified endlessly.

 

Whistleblowing

Under beta testing, the app’s original policy documentation contained the line: “You may not publicly disclose any details of the vulnerability [that you’re reporting] without consent from NHSX.”

This would have run counter to the NCSC’s own vulnerability disclosure policy, which suggests that members of the technology community should be encouraged to highlight system weaknesses (particularly during public consultation beta-tests) for correction.

This line is to be removed from the public release version.

 

For cybersecurity support & IT expertise, please contact our team today.


easyJet Hit by Cyber Attack

Popular short-haul airline easyJet has been hit by a cyber attack, affecting around nine million customers.

In a statement, easyJet says that a “highly sophisticated cyber-attack” discovered in January 2020 compromised email addresses and travel details of roughly nine million travellers. For 2,208 customers, credit card information was also accessed.

No further detail has yet been publicised as to the nature of the breach, although the company stated that it had “closed off unauthorised access”.

The bad news comes at a difficult time for airlines, as air-travel has declined dramatically in the wake of Covid-19 restrictions. When faced with a similar situation in 2018, British Airways received a large financial penalty of £183m from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The airline are making contact with all affected customers warning extra vigilance towards ‘unsolicited communications’, due to the heightened risk of phishing attempts from criminals masquerading as easyJet who may have gained access to customers’ personal details.

Under new GDPR guidelines introduced in 2019, it is mandatory that breached organisations report to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), who are currently investigating.

 

For cybersecurity and IT Support expertise, please contact Lineal today.


NCSC Whitelist & Blacklist Terms Replaced

The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) are officially removing the technical terms ‘Whitelist’ and ‘Blacklist’ from their organisation in an effort to be more inclusive.

The terms ‘Whitelist’ and ‘Blacklist’, which refer to lists of permitted and not-permitted things in the cybersecurity world, will be replaced with the more literal and accurate ‘Allow List’ and ‘Deny List’.

Prolific spam email domains for example are often ‘Blacklisted’ by system administrators – a negative association the NCSC feels should not, even inadvertently, imply a connection to skin colour.

The organisation, a more public extension of GCHQ, acknowledged in a statement on their website that whilst “…it’s not the biggest issue in the world…”, the organisation is acting positively in response to requests from the public, is making an effort to be more inclusive, and that using such terms might otherwise have impaired the recruitment of valued “future colleagues.”

‘Blacklisting’ also has an unfortunate connotation with an illegal practice of barring whistle-blowing employees and trade union members from working across certain sectors, which has a history within the construction industry among others.

Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and others have made similar terminology decisions – deciding that pejorative references to colour should not be used in cybersecurity terminology.

 

For IT Support and cybersecurity expertise, please contact Lineal today.


Number of Covid-19 Scams Explodes

The volume of Covid-19 scams and phishing emails has increased dramatically in recent weeks according to cybersecurity authorities.

Email security software and cybersecurity provider Barracuda Networks has reported a 667% increase in phishing emails throughout the pandemic.

Common scams include pretending to represent Government, law enforcement or medical authorities to obtain information or financial payment, blackmailing users with threat of infection, donation requests for fake organisations, and malware distribution – including one new ransomware even dubbed ‘Coronavirus.’

Barracuda Covid-19 email scams graph

Via Barracuda: Source 

In a joint statement published in April, the UK National Crime Cyber Security Centre and US CISA (Dept. of Homeland Security) notes the sudden rise in Covid-19 scams, and even highlight instances of SMS text-messaging phishing attempts mimicking UK Government text alerts.

In the example cited, a fake compensation payment is offered to entice the user to hand over details via an imitation UK Government website.

covid-19 scam sms phishing example

There has also been a growth in online hackers and trolls targeting Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. Users unfamiliar with this kind of software in particular may prove an easy target for cyber criminals.

Phishing scams are part of a larger trend of online Covid-19 themed fraud. In March, the NCSC removed around 500 fake online shops claiming to be selling fraudulent virus-related items over the internet.

Google currently estimate that Gmail filtering is blocking over 100 million phishing emails each day, and that almost 20% of online email scams now refer to Coronavirus (around 18 million) – likely to be the largest phishing ‘theme’ in history.

 

For cybersecurity expertise and assistance, please contact Lineal today.


SQLWorks Guest Post: Diamedica rises to UK Ventilator Challenge

Lineal SQLWorks company Diamedica (UK) Ltd., who manufacture specialist medical solutions, are providing vital support to the NHS as part of the UK Government’s Ventilator Challenge:

Developed by Lineal’s in-house software development team, SQLWorks integrated business management software, is the core of Diamedica’s accounting, order-processing, stock and production control.

(Guest Post Via. http://www.diamedica.co.uk/english/news_detail.cfm?id=3219)


“…Diamedica (UK) Ltd confirmed today they are playing a critical role in the Government’s efforts to accelerate production of ventilators to support the fight against COVID-19. Diamedica’s ventilator designs were shared with the Cabinet Office team leading the challenge, who have been able to match the plans with specialist manufacturers who are able to start ramping up production quickly, and at scale.

Diamedica are now providing consulting services to the matched specialist manufacturers who are contracted to produce ventilators.

Robert Neighbour, Managing Director, commented “We are exceptionally proud to be a part of the effort to deliver ventilators for the NHS. Our product is already the leader within emerging markets and has now been selected to support the UK’s fight against COVID-19. I want to thank our team here at Diamedica for their dedication and efforts thus far, and all the manufacturing partners who are critical to this effort.”

For further information please contact Charlotte Green, Head of Sales and Marketing at Diamedica (UK) Ltd.”

Learn more at http://www.diamedica.co.uk/english/

 

For software enquiries and questions, please contact our team today.


ISPs Lift Data Caps on Home Broadband

The UK’s biggest telecoms providers have agreed to remove data caps from Home broadband packages during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Although most UK home broadband packages now come with an ‘unlimited’ data allowance (subject to fair usage), many legacy products still enforce a data limit which may incur financial penalties if exceeded. Much like mobile data contracts, historically these were usually set at a specific monthly data usage, eg: 200GB.

The move follows discussions with the Government and telecoms regulator Ofcom, who are seeking to support vulnerable customers during the Coronavirus lockdown.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has also stated that the measure will be ‘effective immediately’ and help ‘people to stay connected whilst they stay at home.’

In particular, the BBC notes that many ISPs offer cut-price, limited broadband packages for those receiving benefits – although some limits on gaming, streaming and other high data-usage activities may remain in place for these packages.

Providers lifting data caps include BT (EE & Openreach), Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk, O2, Vodafone, Three, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear and KCOM.

 

For technology expertise and support, please contact Lineal today.


Crowdfunding Launched to Pay Eagles’ Roaming Bill

An online crowdfunding campaign has been launched to pay the mobile roaming bill of migrating eagles being tracked the Russian Wild Animal Rehabilitation Team at the Siberian Environmental Centre.

The thirteen tagged Steppe Eagles, being tracked via bi-hourly SMS messages containing GPS coordinates, ran up a hefty data roaming bill after migrating across countries as far afield as Egypt, Georgia and India.

One eagle, named ‘Min’ by researchers, unexpectedly flew from Kazakhstan via Iran, initially losing signal but then sending a backlog of messages at high rates, before crossing into Saudi Arabia and reaching as far South as the Yemen.

At a cost of 7,000 roubles (£85 per day), Min quickly used up the programme’s entire budget for tracking all 13 Eagles, forcing the Russian team of environmentalists to turn to social media for financial support.

Considered endangered by the IUCN, the Steppe Eagle once commonly reached as far afield the Ukraine, but researchers were unprepared for expensive data charges across the Middle East, which can be three-times higher than those in the Russian Federation.

The centre’s crowdfunding campaign has raised more than 250,000 roubles (roughly £3,000), although Russian telecoms provider MegaFon has since agreed to write-off the wayward Eagles’ data roaming bill debt as a gesture of goodwill.

Modern business mobile packages offer in-built policies to support data roaming limits across multiple countries worldwide, and to allow data ‘pooling’ across an entire organisation to offer some protection against any one individual breaking their data limit. Even if you migrate South for the Winter.

 

For Business Mobile expertise, please contact our team today.


Free Charity Microsoft 365 for Nonprofits

Microsoft are offering an initial ten free Charity Microsoft 365 licenses for Nonprofit organisations.

Microsoft 365 allows users across an organisation to work more flexibly, collaborate on shared work and maintain an ‘always-up-to-date’ software base across a charitable organisation.

The flagship ‘Microsoft 365 Business’ cloud IT bundle, which normally retails at £15.10+VAT per user per month (Or £3.80+VAT per month for NonProfits) includes everyone’s favourite Microsoft Office 365 apps such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook and more. 50GB of Exchange Online email hosting per user is also included as standard, with 1TB of cloud OneDrive storage, and Windows 10 Pro licensing for each user’s device, packaged with a host of organisational security features.

Lineal’s Head of Technical Services Matt Norris explained: “This is a super offer which we’re expecting to do some real good in the Charitable sector especially – and hopefully nonprofits will snap up their free Charity Microsoft 365 licensing while it’s available. Office 365 makes flexible working and collaborative projects much easier, advantages that we know are a key concern for many in the voluntary sector.”

Interested in this offer for your organisation? Please click here.

 

Lineal are a trusted Microsoft Gold Partner, click here to learn more about Microsoft Office 365 cloud working.


4 Brexit Considerations for your IT

With the Government publishing official Brexit guidance, we take a closer look at 4 items likely to be important for the technology of UK businesses:


 

  • .eu Domains

For UK businesses using .eu registered domains, it’s expected that these will not available for purchase or renewal after April 2019.

Official Government guidance is for businesses to purchase .co.uk, .com and/or .uk versions of important domains, and re-direct traffic in case of a ’No Deal’. Such action is likely to be more challenging for domain-linked services such as email.

This is also a difficult prospect for the unprepared: .com domains alone outnumber their .eu counterparts almost 40-1, so UK businesses may find themselves in a race to grab vital digital real-estate. Web developers and marketing teams might also have built significant reputational presence for the .EU versions of their company websites, and won’t relish the prospect of having to start over.

 

  • Mobile Roaming

UK Mobile users abroad currently benefit from EU roaming regulations that limit mobile operators to a default data usage cost of €50, with alerts generated as the mobile user approaches the roaming limit.

Official Government guidance states that in the event of a Deal this limit would continue during the ‘implementation period’ so mobile workers abroad would temporarily be protected against high roaming costs after 1st April.

roaming after brexit

In the event of ’No Deal’ outcome, EU roaming regulations would no longer applies to UK mobile users abroad, and restrictions on how much European mobile operators could charge roaming UK mobile users would be removed.

The Government states UK networks will soon be bound by new UK laws upholding the same financial penalties for their roamers abroad – although these UK-based networks are ultimately responsible for whether roaming services are available via foreign networks. Mobile users working internationally need to be wary when consuming mobile data abroad after 1st April 2019.

 

  • Data Sharing

Whether UK businesses can access customers’ (or any) personal data from the EU will be determined by an ‘Adequacy Decision’ taken by the European Commission; deciding whether UK data protection rules are sufficiently close to those of the EU for data transfers to be permitted.

The UK formally adopted the EU’s ‘General Data Protection Regulation’ (GDPR) during 2018 and will retain this beyond April 2019, suggesting that a common framework for a company’s ‘Legal Basis’ to process personal data is likely. However, the EC have stated this decision will not be taken until the UK leaves the EU.

Government guidance suggests companies dealing with any personal data from the EU, or with operations abroad, proactively seek legal advice to ensure they continue to be legally watertight when transferring data internationally after 1st April.

 

  • Geo-Blocking

‘Geo-blocking’ certain customers online based on their location is currently not permitted, but this restriction will effectively be lifted after 1st April – for UK trading businesses.

This affects many online retailers: for example those who deliver goods ordered online, online services (such as streaming or cloud hosting) or take bookings for services at physical locations (such as ticketing.)

UK businesses trading to the EU will still be expected to uphold EU rules – for example offering the same service to both French or German customers.

However, the lifting of Geo-blocking restrictions effectively opens the door for UK-based online retailers to offer different services to different UK customers, or UK customers when compared to EU customers. Businesses are still advised to seek independent legal guidance for any variations to their service.

 

Businesses can access GOV.uk’s recommended Brexit guidance specific to their business sector here: https://www.gov.uk/prepare-business-uk-leaving-eu


Cisco launch Meraki GO for Small Businesses

Cisco’s Meraki have announced the release of Meraki Go, a new range of wireless access-point infrastructure designed for small businesses and the service sector.

The move suggests Cisco is seeking to expand their enterprise WI-Fi offering to a wider market, supporting smaller installations and public-access areas such as cafes, shops, hotels and small offices. Pricing is currently only available via certain routes (including Lineal), however many expect Go to represent a more cost-effective way to deploy the premium Wi-Fi features for which Cisco’s Meraki technology has become famous.

New access points have been previewed, for both indoor and outdoor settings. Slightly smaller than the enterprise range, these include a simple 1 Year hardware warranty, suggesting the hardware may be better suited to public-access locations, carry a lower cost of entry, and make more regular replacement a viable option.

Not that Cisco have fallen short on the feature set. In addition to web blocking of unwanted websites and usage limits on traffic, Meraki have included the all-important ability to run multiple Wi-Fi networks in parallel via the same hardware – an important tool for the service sector businesses needing both staff and public access Wi-Fi.

Both indoor and outdoor access-point models can be powered via a single ethernet cable from a POE switch to minimise cabling, include wall mountings as standard, and act as a ‘Mesh’ network; passing connected devices between the access-point with the strongest connection, without the need for the end-user to re-connect to the network as they move location.

Like its big brother, Meraki Go will require a subscription (either 1, 3 or 5 years), which provides support and security updates to Meraki’s supporting cloud-management app. As before, system admins can cloud-manage and configure their whole Meraki Go network via the Meraki management app, on PC/Mac, remotely or via their smartphone.

 

For Wi-Fi installations and support, contact Lineal today.


New Surface Go launched by Microsoft

Microsoft has announced the release of a new Surface Go tablet, adding to it’s acclaimed Surface lineup.

The new addition to the touchscreen range is designed to be an entry-level offering, offering more basic specifications but far greater portability at just 1.15 lbs and 8.3mm thin.

At around $399, it’s difficult to say exactly what Microsoft is trying to achieve: the new model is less consistent with Surface’s more ‘premium’ brand, and doesn’t stack up particularly well on price against Apple’s entry-level iPad, or against cheaper Windows laptops on technical specification. Limited to Windows 10 S and an Intel Pentium Gold processor, the additional elements which makes the Surface range more interesting, like the keyboard and stylus controls for touchscreen artwork, are also optional extras.

Instead it’s widely believed the tech giant is attempting to win over customers in the education sector, where a budget offering from a reputable manufacturer is likely to appeal to departments looking to provision sets of devices.

As always, Microsoft may also be hoping that the Surface Go owners of today will be the Surface ‘Pro’ owners of tomorrow.

While a 9 hour maximum battery life and a 10-inch screen is likely to prove limiting for business use, Chief Product Officer Panos Panay noted it was the ‘perfect device’ for his youngest daughters – and the internet seems to agree, noting the release timing is suspiciously good for the new term.

Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – IT assistance and expertise, contact us today.


Lineal officially turns 30 Years Young

North Devon IT support and software company, Lineal Software Solutions Ltd, has celebrated 30 years’ success in business.

First founded in 1988, our company, which supports businesses and organisations across the UK and beyond with a range of IT services, are preparing to move to larger offices in central Barnstaple in the Spring.

Managing Director Mike Matthews thanked staff past and present for all their hard work over the last 30 years:

“Technology (and hairstyles) have changed considerably since 1988, but for us the best is yet to come. I’m proud that during that time, we’ve played a role in the success of some of North Devon’s best-known companies.”

We have doubled in size in the last two years, now employing over 20 locally-based staff who work in IT support and software development on behalf of other businesses and organisations across the UK and, increasingly, overseas.

Lineal also now includes staff from disability social enterprise Pluss, apprentices and degree apprentices, training in cooperation with Petroc.

The company has been recognised as one of the South West’s few Microsoft Gold Partners, helped to launch the Barnstaple Town Centre Wi-Fi project, and is part of DigitalND – a new group designed to promote digital connectivity and skills in North Devon.

Mike added: “The South West still has important connectivity and IT skills challenges to address, but public internet access didn’t even exist thirty years ago. Now the small company we originally started in my back room supports trusted clients as far afield as Australia. Ten Years from now? Watch this space.”

 

For IT Support and expertise, get in touch with our team today.


$100,000 top prize pledged for 2018 Imagine Cup

Microsoft is seeking student UK technology developers to enter the 2018 Imagine Cup – with a chance to win $100,000.

The prestigious technology trophy, awarded every year to a team of three young people who develop a groundbreaking technology idea, are currently accepting entries for 2018’s Imagine Cup UK finals.

UK finalists are expected to be chosen in March (top prize $5000) with global finalists travelling to Redmond, Virginia (the home of Microsoft) for 2018’s worldwide finals, and a chance at a grand prize of $100,000.

The winning entry must be an original technology project, created from an initial idea to implementation and run from the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Entries can be on any theme, although recent competitions have been dominated by inventions designed to not only demonstrate innovation, but contribute to human well-being.

Entries from the UK will be judged by an expert panel, including Clare Barclay Chief Operating Office of Microsoft UK; Haiyan Zhang, Innovation Director at Microsoft Research; Michael Wignall, National Technology Office at Microsoft UK; and Rob Fraser, Commercial Software Engineering Lead at Microsoft UK.

Microsoft’s insistence on the final solution operating via Microsoft Azure no doubt reflects their ‘cloud-first’ business approach, in addition to a recognition that the ‘global’ finalist’s winning idea should be a truly global possibility.

Winning Imagine Cup entries from previous years include a solution to help those with diabetes manage symptoms, a charity donation app that embeds into news articles, and the ‘Emma Watch’ – recently featured on the BBC for assisting those with Parkinson’s in reducing limb tremors.

Teams can learn more, and enter the competition, here.

 

Lineal are a certified Microsoft Gold Partner – learn more.


What is Microsoft Azure? A Beginner’s Guide

Microsoft’s Azure Cloud platform has taken the business world by storm, adding a record 120 thousand customers every month last year, 6 million total users, and holding an estimated 1.4 million SQL databases.

If you’re not technical, you could be forgiven for being unsure of what it actually is or how it works. We can’t hope to cover the over six hundred potential applications, but here’s a crash course guide to understanding Azure.

 

What is it?

Microsoft Azure is a business ‘cloud computing’ service created by Microsoft for operating IT applications and services from the cloud.

Everything run, tested, built, shared, stored (and more) from Azure exists in one or more of a number of secure Microsoft data centres around the World (or via a local service if you prefer.)

azure datacentre map

 

OK, but what is it actually?

Think servers. Lots and lots of servers. Locked down, climate controlled warehouses full of servers humming away running every computing process imaginable from email to databases, virtual desktops to machine learning, file storage to phone apps.

Customers who purchase Microsoft Azure services get access, via the internet, to a tiny fraction of this worldwide supercomputing infrastructure, with the option to run a huge variety of potential services in the cloud.

Azure itself has no-upfront charges, and is instead billed by the minute based on usage and the computing demands of the service purchased.

 

Why is that good?

This is instant access computing. Need 50 extra virtual servers by this afternoon? Tap a few buttons and they’re available.

The staggering economies of scale means Microsoft always has practically unlimited scalable computing power available, on demand, at subscription pricing.

The ability to spin up temporary services (impossibly impractical if you tried to resort to urgently buying physical hardware) and remove them again, allows businesses to react instantly and cost-effectively to even the most wildly fluctuating IT demands.

Even more mundane computing processes – such as large numbers of hosted desktop sessions can be delivered from Azure, without being such a logistical challenge.

 

OK, but what if it goes wrong?

Azure is reliable. Crazily reliable. Microsoft’s uptime statistics are as dependable as you would expect from their leading enterprise cloud service – in 2015 achieving a remarkable 99.9936% of annual uptime.

Much as with other Microsoft Cloud services (like Office 365’s OneDrive) an array of backup procedures ensures copies of data stored are protected and duplicates available for recovery. Virtualisation, where everything runs in an isolated software environment kept independent of the physical hardware, means individual drives and servers are expendable – your IT lives on, supported by the rest of the hundreds of remaining server racks.

Microsoft are discrete about their security, but in a data centre empire where every email is tested through a minimum of 3 independent antivirus services, it’s safe to say both physical and digital security is extremely tight. Centralised infrastructure also gives Azure (and every Azure customer) the kind of specialist professional and cybersecurity defences unavailable to all but the very largest enterprise corporations.

Users can check the live status of every process on 29 data centres globally via an online dashboard, which refreshes its table of successfully ‘available’ uptime ticks every minute.

Need access to the remaining 0.0064% of the year? Remember that for at least half of the World’s inhabitants, it’s likely these 29 minutes of annual downtime will fall whilst you’re asleep.

 

Do I need a computing PHD to use it?

Yes and no. Anyone can, in theory, get started with a free account (and $150 of free credits) today from Azure’s website, and test out the service.

The interface is relatively intuitive and, like all Microsoft’s cloud services, works consistently across tablet and mobile devices if you wish to play about with Microsoft’s cloud until your free credits have expired.

However, in reality what you demand of the infrastructure is likely to require a more complex setup. Unless you’re a true enthusiast with some special requirements, Azure’s cloud infrastructure is like a private helicopter: not really optimal for personal use (and there are far more sensible options available)

Cost by the minute also means that, when choosing from the bewildering array of virtual machine specs and other services available, it would be easy to overspend if you’re not careful. Indeed part of Azure’s business model is based on ambitious, technology-hungry companies biting off slightly more than they can chew.

To make sure your Azure deployment is both effective and proportional to your budget, call the experts.

 

Lineal are a Gold Microsoft Partner – contact us today: 01271 375999


Are you in the 46%? Studying 2017’s UK Govt. Cyber Security Report

DCMS has published this year’s 2017 UK Government Cyber Security Report, suggesting a staggering 46% of businesses have been hit by a cyber security breach in the past year.

The average cost of a cyber security breach is reported to be £1,570, although larger businesses (of which 68% reported falling victim) show figures of £20,000 or higher.

The polling, conducted by research institute Ipsos Mori, suggests businesses are increasingly seeking external IT or security advice as insurance against potential losses – particularly basic training for non-specialist staff and information on specific threats to their industry.

Certain positives jump out: basic technical standards laid out in the Government’s ‘Cyber Essentials’ scheme have been rolled out by half of all firms (although this was always a low bar, and the report admits that fewer than one in twenty firms have referred to public sector sources for security advice)

More encouragingly, the most common cyber breaches all involve an element of preventable human error: those reporting a breach in cyber security cited the most common cause as staff clicking links in fraudulent emails (72%) with other typical risks including viruses, spyware & ransomware (33%) and impersonation (27%.)

Specific dangers identified included:

  • Less than 40% of businesses have segregated WiFi networks, or any rules for encrypting personal data.
  • More than 70% do not have any input from someone responsible for IT security at a senior level.
  • Only 20% have run any kind of cyber security training in the last 12 months.

 

With the planned changes next year brought about by the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the potential costs associated with a data breach could be set to rise. Having measures in place to mitigate this risk well in advance is sound advice.

 

For IT Security support and advice, contact Lineal today: 01271 375999


Lineal become a Bitdefender Partner

Lineal Software have been certified as a Bitdefender Partner for Bitdefender security software.

Bitdefender’s range of security products are used on millions of devices worldwide and the provider ranks highly in independent Virus Bulleton’s VB100 tests, as well as winning numerous quality awards for software innovation.

A wide variety of both Bitdefender Home and Business security products are available, across platforms including Windows, Mac and Android and more.

Lineal’s Head of Technical Services Matt Norris explained: ‘We’re very pleased to qualify as Bronze Bitdefender partners – this qualification only expands the range of IT security options which Lineal can offer to our customers and we look forward to delivering a high quality service for those interested in using Bitdefender.’

‘There are only a handful of Bitdefender partners in the South West, and Lineal are delighted to be one of them.’

 

For IT security advice and support, contact Lineal today.


Microsoft opens new UK Data Centres

UK data centres –

Microsoft’s Office 365 Team have announced the availability of multiple UK data centres for customer data.

The move follows increasingly strict rules on data compliance in the financial, security, health and public sectors – with more cloud IT users looking to ensure their data remains safely located in the UK.

Prospective customers considering the implications of Office 365 are able to view the locations of Microsoft’s uk data centres with this online ‘Where Is My Data?’ map, which now displays both the additional data centres and the Microsoft cloud services they support, in both London and Durham, with a third site anticipated for Cardiff.

Office365 and Azure Users will also have the ability to ‘re-locate’ their data from regional data centres (in most cases based within mainland Europe) to the new UK service.

In addition to the security and legal advantages for protecting sensitive data, cloud users of Office 365 are likely to benefit from lower costs, online backups and collaborative, remote access to files.

For now, the ability to re-locate Office365 or Azure data to the UK is likely to be restricted, with priority expected to be given to high-profile UK public sector customers including NHS Trusts and the Ministry of Defence – the latter mirroring many customers belated move to the cloud, upgrading legacy on-site systems in use since 2005.

The new infrastructure has been widely praised, with Microsoft clearly investing heavily in addressing the doubts many have about moving their IT to the cloud; reducing Office365 downtime to just 4 hours per year, and now re-locating data within country of origin for compliance with a high standard of data protection.

 

Contact Lineal for advice on moving to the cloud, or for a free trial of Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium, click here.