Welcome to our latest round-up of news from the technology and hosting world. Here’s what we’ve discovered this week.
Zoom – just a flash in a pan?
The media has been full of news about video app, Zoom, over the last few weeks. When it first hit the headlines, it was seen as the video-conferencing tool of choice for millions of lockdowners keen to stay in touch with family and friends. It’s also been used by many businesses; pubs use it to run quizzes and fitness instructors to keep their classes going. It’s even been used by the UK government to hold a cabinet meeting.
While Zoom’s bubble hasn’t burst, more recent news shows that it’s certainly gone pear-shaped. The reason for this change of fortune is one which has plagued many other social apps in the past: data privacy. According to a report from Citizen Lab, the app uses ‘non-standard encryption’ which might not be suitable for organisations who need to keep confidential conversations secure.
This has now been compounded by the discovery that some of the app’s conversations have been routed through China, where Zoom has several hundred employees. This has led to the app being banned by the Taiwan and German governments, the Australian Military and schools across New York. A host of tech companies have also banned employees from installing it on their phones – these include Google and SpaceX.
Despite this, the app remains extremely popular, overtaking Microsoft Teams for usage by the end of March.
New for 2020 – the iMask
While Dyson has gone down the path of developing what is probably the world’s quietest and most expensive ventilator for UK medics, over in the US, Apple has begun delivering face shields that protect hospital staff working in Coronavirus affected environments. While ‘iMask’ is only a nickname given to it by the press, the device does have all the hallmarks of the Apple style: an aesthetic design, three-component simplicity and, crucially, easy assembly.
While the masks fulfil a desperate need to protect key workers, the urgency with which it has been developed and shipped means it’s not been through the stringent road tests that protective medical equipment would usually need. Though it’s probably safe for low-risk use, its ability to prevent infection hasn’t been fully scrutinised and so it can’t yet be used in theatres. It is, however, being given away free.
Cambridge Police use internet to enforce lockdown
While Tunisia is deploying robots and Moscow is using facial recognition to enforce lockdowns, police in Cambridgeshire have adopted a more low-fi strategy; one that incorporates the more traditional British approach of snooping on your neighbours.
According to the Cambridge Police Twitter account, operation ‘Online Form’ (not its real name) has been set up to allow residents to report anyone they see breaking lockdown rules directly to local police. All they need to do is fill in the simple online form and click send. The form has been optimised for mobile use so that those out and about for legitimate reasons can quickly report any behaviour that contravenes the guidelines. If it works in Cambridge, it may well be rolled out to other police authorities.
HP offers HP on HP
To help business customers hit by the COVID recession, HP’s financial arm is offering a $2 billion financing package to those with struggling cashflows.
Part of this figure will be used to implement its Payment Relief Programme, where it will offer customers their own products on generous lease or hire-purchase terms. The company’s buy-back initiative enables customers to sell their servers, networking and storage back to HP and then lease or buy them back. Payment Relief customers are cushioned by a deal which will see them pay only 1% of the contract value each month for the first eight months, rising to 3.3% in 2021.
While the $2 billion package is obviously helpful to HP customers, its also beneficial to HP itself as it knows many companies will put expensive IT investments on hold until they feel they are in a healthy enough position to move forward.
SuperVPN gets the chop
As the whole idea of having a VPN is to keep users secure, it comes as no surprise that Google has removed SuperVPN from its app store because of a vulnerability that enables hackers to redirect users to malicious servers. While that’s good news for people searching the app store, it still leaves 100 million users worldwide with the previously ‘Top 5’ ranking app installed on their phones.
According to Google’s security experts, the app’s vulnerabilities allowed hackers to carry out man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. These are used to intercept messages in transit and to redirect users away from genuine VPN servers. If you are currently using SuperVPN, Google urges that you uninstall it from your device.
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