Google and its "no comment" GIF

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Rumour and speculation is the fuel that much of the tech journalism world runs on, and for press officers working at firms like Google, responding to it all must be a wearying experience.

So much so, the search giant has found an alternative (and ultimately more interesting) way of responding to such stories, and that's through the use of animated GIFs.

The firm was asked to comment on a story about the rumoured re-launch of its YouTube live-streaming platform by a journalist at tech site The Daily Dot.

Rather than trot out the usual "we do not comment on rumour or speculation" line, championed by tech giants the world over, Google issued a GIF of an incredulous-looking little girl, shrugging her shoulders as its response.

Initially, the publication ignored it, and assumed Google had no comment to make, until one of the firm's press officers insisted they include the GIF as its official response.

Rest assured, readers, we're updating the Computer Weekly style guide now in light of this, with a view to publish our first case study written entirely in emojis before the year is out.

Cisco's postal service needs some work

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Cisco has hit on a novel way to stop the US National Security Agency (NSA) from tampering with its networking kit by sending its customer orders to the wrong address.

The shady US surveillance unit was previously accused by notorious whistle blower Edward Snowden of intercepting Cisco deliveries of networking stuff to install backdoors that could be used to keep tabs on customers.

To avoid this, the company has started shipping some of its customer orders to decoy addresses to stop the NSA getting its filthy paws on them.

This genius piece of subterfuge was revealed by Cisco security chief John Stewart earlier this month at a tech conference, which we're sure the NSA is thankful for.

"We ship to an address that has nothing to do with the customer, and then you have no idea who ultimately it's going to," Stewart chirruped.

Exact details about how this works in practice are thin on the ground, but we're assuming Cisco briefs its customers about its delivery plans beforehand. At least you'd hope.

It's also not clear if other tech firms are following Cisco's lead on this, but we have a sneaky suspicion Royal Mail might be, given how haphazard their deliveries seem to be these days.

Smartphones lack smart users

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Most smartphones lack smart users a survey by mobile security firm Lookout has revealed, with 52% of people who claimed to be security savvy admitting they do not read privacy policies for mobile apps.

Just over a third of smartphone users polled said they did not set up a passcode password to protect their devices, and 35% admitted downloading apps from untrusted sources.

Familiarity breeds false confidence, it seems, with those claiming to be privacy experts revealing themselves to be more likely to take risks like using unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

As Buzz Aldrin observed during television coverage of the recent solar eclipse, the computing power in most smartphones far exceeds that of the computers used for the Apollo 11 space mission to the moon.

Smartphones are prime targets for cyber criminals too because of all the personal data store and corporate IT systems they can access, yet most people do little or nothing to secure them. 

Kaspersky's sauna nights with the KGB

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When it comes to kicking back after work, most people open a bottle of wine, binge-watch a favourite show on Netflix and/or hit the gym to work off some of the day's frustrations.

Not anti-virus kingpin Eugene Kaspersky, though, who seems to have a penchant for spending his downtime in a sauna with a handful of his closest allies in the Russian intelligence services. Hmmm, cosy.

His predilection for sauna time came to light in a Bloomberg report that accused some members of the senior management team at Kaspersky Lab of passing on customer data to the Russian security services for law enforcement purposes.

"Unless Kaspersky is travelling, he rarely misses a weekly banya (sauna) night with a group of  about five-to-10 that usually includes Russian intelligence officials," the article states.

However, Eugene's not interested in talking shop while things get steamy, as he's just there to hang out (ahem) with his mates. "When I go banya, they're friends," he told an interviewer.

Smart ass watches

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Here's a couple of things to do  with your new smart watch:
  • You can check if your heart is still beating during the 25th PowerPoint slide in your boss's presentation
  • When you get mugged, you are now able to give the mugger the app that allows him to drive away in your swanky BMW.
  • Play the Intel Inside chime every hour on the hour with on Tag Heurer's Intel-based smart watch
  • Connect to other nearby smart watches over bluetooth, so you can tell what time they have without needing to ask.
  • Watch a digital animated analogue watch face that cost 10 times as much as the genuine Rolex you got from the bloke on Oxford Street. At least his lasts more than three hours before a recharge.

Solar eclipse pings network

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Downtime experienced the full effects of the solar eclipse today with its network inadvertently failing. Since London is all cloudy, the best views were those on the live stream from other parts of the country that were blessed with clear skies. Obviously the streaming had nothing to do with our network going down, did it? Not according to IT support...When we finally got through to the helpdesk (since it is on the network), the automated response helpfully informed us that due to the juxtaposition of the Sun and the Moon, a sub-atomic particle had whizzed across time and space and embedded itself in the network switch. Yup, that pretty much explains everything.

Ashes to ashes, tweet to tweet

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Saga - that well-known organisation famed for its popular use in taunts against your over-50 friends - is encouraging its elderly audience to get into the social media mindset before it's too late.

The company has suggested that people prepare a "last tweet" to leave their final thoughts to friends, family and followers in perpetuity - or at least, for as long as it passes through your Twitter timeline. Saga's advice comes as part of its newly published Guide to digital legacy detailing how to protect your online assets after death so your family can retain all your gurning selfies and cake pictures forever.

"All too often, last words are not heard or not remembered, and the internet provides a neat way of broadcasting your final message for all to see," said Emma Myers, head of wills, probate and lifetime planning for Saga Legal Services.

Presumably, at the tearful moment that whichever minister of the faith is blessing your passing into whichever paradise you subscribe to, he or she will press not only the button that starts the conveyor belt but also a hidden "send" button, eliciting a chorus of notification alerts across the room. Given suitable forewarning, your mourners could even co-ordinate their alert tones to play all your favourite memorial tunes, direct from your saved iTunes legacy.

As ever, Downtime is ahead of the pack here, and has set up our final tweet ready to go: "It's getting very hot in this box #notreallydead #nicetan LOL"

But we're sure you have already prepared better choices - there's a very, very small and inexpensive prize for whoever submits the best to the comments below...

The end isn't nigh, it's already here

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The BBC has recently launched a show on its maybe-soon-to-be digital channel BBC Three.

The premise of the show, titled 'I survived a Zombie apocalypse', is that the launch of the superfast 5G network has caused a human mutation, effectively rendering everyone with a smartphone a useless, yet violent, zombie.

Unfortunately, this isn't too far from the current state of affairs today. We are already plagued by selfie sticks and the internet is riddled with videos of people walking into things because they are too busy using their smartphone. And cats. 

We may not have to wait for 5G for the doomsday to arrive after all. 

Will astrology solve the NHS crisis?

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Well, will it?

In an interview with the Astrological Journal, Conservative MP David Tredinnick has made the bizarre claim that astrology could solve the NHS crisis.

"I do believe that astrology and complementary medicine would help take the huge pressure off doctors," said Tredinnick.

"I do foresee that one day astrology will have a role to play in healthcare."

Tredinnick, who a few years ago paid back over £700 of taxpayers' money that he had used to buy astrology software on parliamentary expenses, and also attempted to claim over £100 for a course on 'intimate relationships' also had harsh words for his critics.

"They are also ignorant, because they never study the subject and just say that it is all to do with what appears in the newspapers, which it is not, and they are deeply prejudiced, and racially prejudiced, which is troubling."

What does this mean? Well, apart from the worrying fact that David Tredinnick has been sitting on the Science and Technology Select Committee since 2013 for reasons passing all understanding, it also means that the NHS is a Cancer.

Here is today's horoscope for Cancer:

"You're coming out of your shell today -- if you know what's good for you, that is! Someone close needs you to step up and take over from them, and while it may seem minor, it's actually a big deal."

Oh, and Downtime is a huge racist.

No printers, exploding sockets, and a missing ' ' key

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A recent office move has left the Computer Weekly team's lack of practical technical knowledge tragically exposed.

Not only are we apparently incapa le of networking a printer properly, we have also overloaded the production team's sockets and  lown several fuses in the process.

To cap it all, the ' ' key on the key oard of this loaner computer is malfunctioning.

I wouldn't mind,  ut I've  een trying to write a story a out  telecoms company  T all morning and it's  ecoming a pro lem.

Colossus gets the ultimate accolade - its face (sort of) on a stamp

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Britain's contribution to computer history has received its ultimate accolade - Colossus, the world's first electronic computer, designed at Bletchley Park to help break secret German codes in World War 2, is to be featured in the latest set of Royal Mail stamps.

Thumbnail image for Colossus Stamp.jpg

Royal Mail has, presumably, chosen to ignore the irony of the fact that Colossus set in motion years of technological innovation that led to the creation of email, which has in turn threatened the very existence of the snail mail postal service.

Or perhaps the timing of the launch is instead a tribute to the key to Royal Mail's recent resurgence - the overwhelming success of online shopping in the UK which means demand for parcel post is going through the roof.

Although, as the stamp design above demonstrates, perhaps Royal Mail is having the last laugh after all, with its incredibly bland image of colourful paper tape code despite the many images of the rebuilt Colossus now housed at the National Museum of Computing. So, to that end, and exploiting the full and extensive Microsoft Paint talents at Downtime, here's our attempt to show how it might have been done better. Place your orders with Downtime through our usual channels:

Colossus Stamp2.jpg

Self destruction service

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If there is anything worse than waiting in the queue at the Post Office, it is using its new self service machine. First there are three staff - who would normally be behind the counter - keying in PIN numbers, because the Post Office doesn't trust you to buy a stamp on self service. Then there is the question of whether your package contains any of the following:

  • Biological Weapons of mass destruction
  • Chemical Weapons of mass destruction
  • Nuclear Fission Weapons of mass destruction
  • Deodorant Weapons of mass destruction
  • Shampoo Weapons of mass destruction
  • eBay sales Weapons of mass destruction
  • eBay returns Weapons of mass destruction
  • The thing I accidentally bough last night when I couldn't get to sleep Weapons of mass destruction
The list goes on and on... and then you say "Yup, I don't think I am trying to send any of those." Or was I supposed to click on "No?"

Why I turned off voice recognition on my Samsung Smart TV, and it's not why you think

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I'm going to tell you a true story about voice recognition, and how far we still have to go before it really works properly.

LG_smart_TV.jpgIf you own a Samsung Smart TV and have enabled its voice recognition feature, you may want to consider switching it off, because someone has finally read the privacy policy that you just ticked without looking at, and has found that it allows your television to record and transmit your voice to third party services that provide the voice recognition features on Smart TVs.

In the Ts&Cs, Samsung says:

"Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition."

This brings up all sorts of concerns about data protection and privacy, and inevitably my thoughts are drawn to dystopian futures set down in books like 1984 or Brave New World.

Are our devices spying on us? Well, yes, very probably they are.

But I actually turned off voice recognition on my Smart TV some time ago, and it wasn't because I thought my TV was spying on me.

That story in full

669px-Jean-Luc_Picard_2.jpgSo, one evening I flopped down in front of the TV with a beer and after zapping through the channels, settled on on old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It had been on for about five minutes.

I forget what, exactly was happening on the show, but what happened next in my living room was a little too close to the technological singularity for my taste.

If you own a Samsung Smart TV, you might know how its voice recognition feature is activated. You simply say, loudly and clearly "hello, TV" or words to that effect. Then a little menu pops up to ask you what you want to do next: you can get it to change the channel, or go to the Smart Hub or app store, it's all still pretty simple stuff.

So there I was, watching Star Trek, and, let's be clear, I had said absolutely nothing to my TV, when Captain Picard swept onto the bridge and intoned the words "Hello, computer!"

And up popped the voice menu. What had happened was that, because I use external speakers and not the in-built Samsung ones, the TV's microphone had picked up sound that it shouldn't have picked up.

But yes, my TV was literally being controlled by Sir Patrick Stewart. And technically I suppose, given this was a rerun of a show that ended 21 years ago, it was being controlled by Sir Patrick Stewart the Time Traveler.

I mean, I was honoured, obviously. Who wouldn't be? (Love you, Pat!)

But if the truth be told, I was also a little scared. If it responded to Captain Picard, might it respond to Data as well? Just to be on the safe side, I would probably have to stop watching Buffy too, in case Giles said anything authoritative sounding. And of course, anything with Sir Ian McKellen in was right out.... Imagine if I'd been watching an X-Men Blu-Ray? My TV would have exploded during their scenes.

So I deactivated the voice recognition features straight away, and ever since then my life has been less fraught and my personal data secure. Yeah, I'll stick with the remote control thanks, Samsung.

Of course, the only thing that now has me slightly worried following the revelation of the security hole, is that Samsung may have recorded me opening a hailing channel to the Romulan High Command.

Which I think might be a breach of several Starfleet protocols.

Security quote of the week

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Here at Downtime, we seem to get inundated by people who give their two bit's worth whenever there there is something security related. Here's this week's Top Five:

1. Lancope CTO, TK Keanini, on Anthem 
Changing your DNA is not an option - if only gingers were in

2. Tom Neaves, managing consultant at Trustwave
C-level executives must take a proactive approach to understanding the risks facing their businesses - or you'll end up like Alan Sugar

3. Dr. Martyn Jeffries, Head of Automotive Solutions at SQS on BMW hack
Automotive manufacturers need to build increasingly sophisticated 'computers on wheels' - or perhaps buy lighter laptops

4. Richard Moulds, VP Strategy, Thales e-Security
The Bitcoin community can sometimes look like the Wild West of payments - Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch

5. Francois Daumard, Vice President Global Channel Sales, AVG Technologies, on an AVG award
Our vision is to make the lives of MSPs and their business customers as easy as possible - maybe that's why they should do shake 'n vac

Spin me do

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"As the leading manufacturer in the networking of driver, vehicle and the surrounding environment, the BMW Group is increasing the security of data transmission in its vehicles."
This is what the car maker told its customers about a fix for its ConnectDrive app, that allowed car thieves to unlock cars in a matter of seconds.

Clearly there's a few lessons for anyone in IT the next time they make a boo boo with the mission-critical server.

And it doesn't stop there... the company went on to say how well it had issued the fix: "The BMW Group has responded promptly and increased the security of BMW Group ConnectedDrive, because no cases have come to light yet in which data has been called up actively by unauthorised persons from outside or an attempt of this kind is made in the first place."

"OK boss, as the best IT admin here I've taken the liberty to release a patch. I just want you to know, I've responded promptly and increased the security of the server, because no cases have come to light yet in which data has been called up actively by unauthorised persons from outside or an attempt of this kind is made in the first place."

Quick! Call 911, Facebook is offline!

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This week the two social networking giants Facebook and Instagram went offline. Facebook is blaming an internal fault caused by engineers, while others are blaming a DDos attack. Whatever the cause, the fact is they were offline for less than an hour.

But it seems those 60 precious minutes of life without Facebook caused an emergency to a few dim-witted souls, as a US 911 dispatcher received five emergency calls. That's right, FIVE!

The emergency services wrote to a Californian news blog to tell citizens not to call 911 when a website isn't working.

"We have nothing to do with Facebook and when Facebook isn't working, it's not an emergency. Our lines our dedicated to handle life and death calls, and even though Facebook is important to a lot of people, it's not a matter of life and death when it stops working. One caller even called back to tell me I was being rude because I told her it wasn't a life threatening emergency."

Now, we're all about technology at Computer Weekly, but on the news desk we actually thought a social media break was a nice little breather in an online world we all struggle to live in.

Think of what you could achieve in an hour without Facebook? I personally found time to finish off a feature I'd been struggling to concentrate on. Maybe you could go for a four mile run? Put on a load of washing? Take a full lunch break? Prepare for next week's big meeting? Or even watch an episode of your favourite TV show without updating all of your "friends"? How liberating. 

Mobile phones a waste of time

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While many people are obsessed with their mobile phones and never put them down for a minute, research shows that for many others they are just a waste of time.

In fact, the average Brit will spend more than three weeks of their life looking for lost mobile phones, according to a study by moneysaving site

Researchers found that the average time spent searching for mobile phones is 9.5 minutes a week, which works out at more than eight hours a year.

Even if the average life expectancy is reduced by 18 to reflect the time wasted by adults, it still works out at very nearly three weeks. 

While women in UK tend to live longer than men, the research found that men spend more of their shorter lives hunting for mobile phones, wasting almost a month on average. 

Data thieves face the music

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We found out this week that the younger generation are pretty lazy when it comes to protecting their payment data, with 20% of 16 to 24-year-olds having shared their PIN with a third party.

With lazy consumers such as this, you wouldn't think it would be too hard to take them for all they have.

In a half-hearted attempt at stealing customer's PINs and account numbers, a group of thieves as lackadaisical as their targets used duct tape to attach a poorly disguised iPod nano device to take pictures of PINs while a fake front recorded card data.

As the following tweet from Greater Manchester Police suggests, they didn't get away with it:

No patch for stupidity

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Proving the computer security lament that there is no patch for human stupidity, three UK students have been stung in a Skype scam.

They admitted to North Yorkshire Police that they accepted a friend request on Facebook from a total stranger who claimed to be Cathy Wong, according to Toms Guide

Seeing nothing "wong" in connecting online with someone you have never met is one thing, but agreeing to perform sexual on webcam via Skype takes it to another level of stupidity.

According to North Yorkshire Police, Wong secretly recorded these acts and later used the clips to blackmail the men. Now there's a surprise.

Wong first claimed her grandmother was ill and asked each man for £3,000  but threatened to post the videos to YouTube when they failed to come up with the money.

Police say gangs may be involved in the scam, which may have worldwide reach. In a general warning, North Yorkshire police urged users of social networking sites to be "wary of what they are getting into." 

Big wee data

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527953363-urinal-DenBoma-istock-Thinkstock.jpgHammersmith Hospital has just begun a molecular analysis programme, which will take a close look at what makes up urine. Apparently the machine doing the analysis produces as much data per day as the Large Hadron Collider. Jim in QA has volunteered to provide a sample. Sadly for Jim, with the whole of Downtime watching, getting enough data was harder than the search for the Higgs Boson particle at Cern. What a drip.

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