Tech Insight : ISDN To be Switched Of

With BT Openreach officially setting the timeframe for switching off PSTN/ISDN, we look at what this means for businesses.

ISDN an PSTN

Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), which really came into being in the 1990s, is a set of communication standards that are used for simultaneous digital transmission of voice, video, data, and other network services over the digitised circuits of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The PSTN is a broad term for the world’s collection of interconnected, circuit-switched, voice-oriented, public telephone networks that (whether operated by national, regional, or local telephony operators) make up the infrastructure and services for public telecommunication.

Originally, ISDN offered the chance for digital services to operate through the same copper wire as the normal telephone system.  It became popular with businesses because it offered a faster Internet connection than dial-up. Fast-forwarding through different attempts to upgrade includes B-ISDN, transmitting data over fibre optic cable, and ISDN BRI (improving voice services), and the building of modern internet protocol (IP) based networks which can support both broadband and landline telephone services, and ISDN now seems to be only of real use for internet access in areas which haven’t yet been reached by broadband.

Also, as noted by Ofcom, the old PSTN is reaching the end of its life and is becoming increasingly difficult and costly to maintain, which is another reason why a switch-over to a better alternative is necessary.

What’s Happening With the Switch-Off?

BT Openreach have announced that starting from the end of this year and finishing in 2025, it will be “switching off the UK telephone network as we know it” by moving 15 million lines to a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) based replacement telephone service. In essence, this means that the Internet (broadband) will be used to carry telephone calls rather than traditional copper wires.  Since ISDN used the copper wire phone network, this change marks the ISDN switch-off.

The Alternatives

With the now inevitable switch-off of ISDN, the main alternatives for businesses are:

– SIP, which uses virtual, cloud-based phone lines rather than physical lines. This may be more suitable for businesses with an on-premise phone system. Many existing phone systems are already compatible with SIP.

– Hosted VoIP/ a Hosted IP phone system may suit businesses that don’t want to commit or retain an on-premise phone system.  As this option uses the business’s internet lines, it essentially means that the business rents a phone system.

What Are The Advantages?

Broadly speaking, the switch to VoIP should bring many advantages, such as:

– A greater breadth of capabilities.

– Cost savings and fewer system failures and outages.

– Scalability and portability (VoIP phone systems can go wherever the company goes).

– Greater communications mobility, flexibility, and increased productivity and collaboration. The importance of this has been particularly well-illustrated with the need to use remote, cloud-based communications and collaborative working platforms during the pandemic.

– Better security that’s continuously updated.

– Greater reliability.

– Improved customer experiences.

– Clearer calls, making it easier to keep existing numbers, and the choice to have broadband provided separately from the telephone service.

– Better identification and prevention of nuisance calls, thereby saving businesses time and money and potentially protecting against scammers.

What Are The Disadvantages?

Some disadvantages of switching to VoIP could be:

– Potential problems with latency.

– Vulnerability to phone systems going down if there’s a broadband outage or if the electricity supply is interrupted.

Possible Impact Downstream

Both Ofcom and Openreach have acknowledged that the area of concern, if preparations are not made sufficiently in advance of the switch-over, is downstream services such as security and fire alarms, telecare devices, retail payment terminals, and equipment for monitoring and controlling networks.  These rely on some attributes of the PSTN that may not be fully replicated in VoIP-based platforms, hence the importance of adequate preparation.  This will require service providers to test their equipment to see if it will continue to function over IP and then replace, upgrade, or reconfigure it as appropriate. These service provider businesses will also need to ensure that customers (from residential users to large commercial and public sector entities) are made aware of the issue well in advance so that necessary steps can be taken to maintain service(s).

Ofcom has stated that the government will work with the sectors that use these downstream services (e.g. health, energy, transport, and business) so that they are aware of the change and can prepare in time.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Although the move is industry-led, there is little doubt that analogue and old, expensive to maintain copper wire phone systems will not be able to provide the scope, flexibility, speed, capacity, and economies of the digital alternative as businesses now rely heavily on the Internet. The switch-over will be spread over four years. Provided that there is adequate information and support given by the regulator and BT Openreach, and coordination among communications service providers (CSPs), and adequate advice and help for downstream providers, then change should be manageable, and disruption should be minimised.

Particular attention clearly needs to be paid to those sectors and organisations (many of which are vital to UK business and infrastructure) that still rely on some attributes of the PSTN that may not yet look as though they can be fully replicated in VoIP-based platforms. With this already being acknowledged and working groups already planned to tackle the issue, a smooth transition looks more likely.

The pandemic has increased the digital transformation of many businesses and the advantages of the switch to VoIP and digital appear to be in-keeping with this, and look likely to benefit businesses going forward. 

More information about the switch and what to do about the migration can be found here: https://www.bttcomms.com/phasing-out-and-switch-off-of-isdn/.  Also, Ofcom provides some useful information about its plans for the switch-over here: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0032/137966/future-fixed-telephone-services.pdf.

Featured Article – How To Browse Privately

This article takes a brief look at what private browsing actually means with popular browsers and software, and how genuinely private browsing could be achieved.

Why Browse Privately?

Over 80 percent of websites use one or more tracking tools (Epic) and reasons for private browsing may be to avoid having your browsing history recorded, perhaps being on a shared or public computer (to avoid being tracked by your browser), or to avoid downloading cookies (to avoid being tracked by websites), or to be able to sign into multiple accounts simultaneously.

Tracking

The different ways that you can be tracked include:

– IP address. This string of numbers, set by the ISP, is a way for each computer using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a network. The IP address is necessary for accessing the Internet so that web servers know where to send the information that’s being requested.

– Cookies. These are text files loaded into a folder on the user’s web browser by the sites they visit. Cookies record details such as users’ preferences, and the last time they visited the website. Session cookies are used when a person is actively navigating a website but tracking cookies can be used to create long-term records of multiple visits to the same site. From the user point of view, cookies can serve a useful purpose (e.g. for logins) or can be used for targeted advertising.  Google recently announced an end to its third-party (tracking) cookies within 2 years for its Chrome browser following similar, earlier announcements by Safari (Apple), Mozilla’s Firefox (Mozilla) and Brave.

– Signed-in accounts. The accounts a user is signed-in to (e.g. Google or Facebook) can also track what a user has viewed, liked and more.

– Agent strings. When a user sends a request to a webserver to view a website, the request comes with information about the user attached to the User-Agent HTTP header.  This ‘agent string’ contains information such as the browser (type and version) and operating system being used.

Browsers – Private Browsing / Incognito Mode

Different browsers have different names for private browsing mode, e.g. InPrivate browsing (Edge), ‘Private’ for Firefox (Mozilla) and Safari, and Incognito for Google Chrome. 

Switching to this browser mode loads a news private window. This means that the new window is not signed to any accounts so can’t be tracked by them, cookies are not used, and any browsing is not added to the browser history. In this mode, however, the user’s IP address can still be tracked.

Do Not Track

‘Do Not Track’ (DNT) is a web browser setting that requests/asks that a web application to disable its tracking of an individual user. For example, switching the ‘do no’ track’ setting sends a signal to websites, analytics companies, ad networks, plug-in providers, and other services a user encounters while browsing.  However, due to a lack of consensus (or enforcement) most sites still track users despite the request not to.

Extensions For Browsers

Another option for users to try and maintain private browsing is to use an additional private browsing extension/add-on.  Examples include:

– Privacy Badger. This is a free extension that gradually learns to block invisible trackers.

– Ghostery. This is a free, open-source privacy and security-related browser extension and mobile browser app that blocks ads and stops trackers.

– Cookie AutoDelete.  This is an extension for erasing cookies for a browser tab when it closes.

– HTTPS Everywhere.  This free, open-source browser extension automatically switches thousands of sites from “http” to secure “https” thereby protecting the user from many different types of tracking/surveillance and account hijacking.

Whole Private Browsers/Search Engines

Users can opt for a whole browser that’s designed to be private, anonymous and to guard against tracking. Popular examples include:

– DuckDuckGo. This search engine, which is also available as a Chrome extension, doesn’t save the user’s browser history, forces sites to use encrypted connections, blocks cookies and trackers, and stops a user’s searches being sold to third parties for profiling and advertising.

– Epic Privacy Browser.  This is a secure web browser that blocks ads, trackers, fingerprinting, crypto mining, ultrasound, signalling, and offers free VPN (servers in 8 countries).

– Tor.  This browser uses a distributed network (randomly selected nodes) to anonymise the user’s IP address. Tor also encrypts traffic.  This makes it incredibly difficult for a user’s web traffic to be traced and very difficult for users to be tracked unless they reveal their IP address by enabling some browser plugins, downloading torrents, or opening documents downloaded using Tor.

– Brave. This is a free, open-source web browser, based on Chromium that blocks ads and trackers and allows users to use a Tor in a tab to hide history, and mask location from the sites a user visits by routing a user’s browsing through several servers before it reaches its destination.

VPNs

Many users now opt for a virtual private network (VPN) to allow them to make a secure connection to another network over the Internet, encrypt traffic, and hide their IP address. Since a VPN routes a user’s internet through another computer, where many other users of the VPN are using the same IP address, tracking is made very difficult. VPNs, however, don’t protect a user from being tracked, from cookies, from user-agent strings, or through the accounts they’re logged in to (e.g. Google), or from any VPN’s that keep logs of user activity and could sell those logs to third parties. Also, some services discourage the use of a certain VPN, and VPNs can slow down the user’s Internet connection dues to the re-routing and encrypting through the VPN server.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

What this all means depends upon what level of privacy, for what purpose, and when users require it.  For most daily use, Private/Incognito browsing functions provide a fast way to access a reasonable amount of protection from normal tracking. Additional extensions /add-ons may add a convenient route to greater privacy. For times when users may feel that more security is needed, they may decide to opt for a VPN or for a more complete private browsing solution such as the Tor browser. It may also be the case that some business users, as a matter of preference and security, may choose to only use the private services (e.g. DuckDuckGo, Brave, or Tor), thereby always working with a privacy level that they feel comfortable with.  For many businesses, it’s more likely to be a case of a combination of privacy solutions used as and when required in a way that is compatible with daily working practices, authorised, approved, and recommended by the company and other relevant stakeholders. With popular browsers now stopping tracking cookies and news that the next Apple iPhone software update, iOS 14.5 will include an AppTrackingTransparency requirement where whereby all apps will need to request permission to track a user’s activities across other companies’ apps, pressure is now mounting on advertisers to come up with other ways to track and target users and maintain revenue streams.

Tech News : EU To Ban “Unacceptable” Use of AI

Following last week’s leak of proposed new rules about the use of AI systems, The European Commission looks likely to ban some “unacceptable” usage of AI in Europe.

The Leak and the Letter

This latest announcement that the European Commission aims to ban “AI systems considered a clear threat to the safety, livelihoods and rights of people” (and thereby “unacceptable”) follows the ‘leak’ last week of the proposed new rules to govern the use of AI (particularly for biometric surveillance) and a letter for 40 MEPs calling for a ban on the use of facial recognition and other types of biometric surveillance in public places.

Latest

This latest round of announcements about the proposed new AI rules by the EC highlights how the rules will follow a risk-based approach, will apply across all EU Member States, and are based on a future-proof definition of AI.

Risk-Based

The European Commission’s new rules will class “unacceptable” risk as “AI systems considered a clear threat to the safety, livelihoods and rights of people”. Examples of unacceptable risks include “AI systems or applications that manipulate human behaviour to circumvent users’ free will (e.g. toys using voice assistance encouraging dangerous behaviour of minors) and systems that allow ‘social scoring’ by governments.”

High Risk – Remote Biometric Identification Systems

According to the new proposed rules, high-risk AI systems include law enforcement, critical infrastructures and migration, asylum, and border control management.  The EC says that these (and other high-risk AI systems) will be subject to strict obligations, especially “all remote biometric identification systems” which will only have “narrow exceptions” including searching for a missing child, preventing an imminent terrorist threat, or finding and identifying a perpetrator or suspect of a serious criminal offence.

Other Risk Categories

The other risk categories for citizens covered in the proposed new EC AI rules include limited risk (chatbots), and minimal risk (AI-enabled video games or spam filters).

Governance

Supervision of the new rules looks likely to be the responsibility of whichever market surveillance authority each nation sees as competent enough, and a European Artificial Intelligence Board will be set up to facilitate their implementation and drive the development of standards for AI.

It is understood that the rules will apply both inside and outside the EU if an AI system is available in the EU or if its use affects people who are located in the EU.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

AI is now being incorporated in so many systems and services across Europe that there is clearly a need for rules and legislation to keep up with technology rollout to protect citizens from its risks and threats. Mass, public biometric surveillance such as facial recognition systems is an obvious area of concern, as highlighted by its monitoring by privacy groups (e.g. Big Brother Watch) and by the recent letter calling for a ban by 40 MEPs. These proposed new rules, however, are designed to cover the many different uses of AI including low and minimal risk uses with the stated intention of making Europe a “global hub for trustworthy Artificial Intelligence (AI)”. If the rules can be enforced successfully, this will not only provide some protection for citizens but will also help businesses and their customers by providing guidance to ensure that any AI-based systems are used in a responsible and compliant way.

Tech News : MI5 ‘Think before You Link’ Campaign Warning To Staff

MI5 is using a ‘Think before You Link’ campaign to warn its workers about the growing threat of being targeted for information by actors for hostile states using fake profiles on platforms such as LinkedIn.

Think before You Link

It has been reported that MI5 believes that more than 10,000 British nationals have been targeted online in the past five years by hostile states.  With this in mind, the UK’s Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), an offshoot of MI5, has launched a ‘Think before You Link’ campaign. The idea of the campaign is to provide practical advice on how to identify, respond to, and minimise the risk of being targeted by criminals and hostile actors who may act anonymously or dishonestly online in an attempt to connect with people who have access to valuable and sensitive information.  

LinkedIn?

Although LinkedIn has not been explicitly named as a platform that is being used/could be used, LinkedIn has said in a statement published on its news page that “We welcome the online safety efforts of the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and its work to expand their Think Before You Link campaign in the United Kingdom”. The statement goes on to say that “We actively seek out signs of state-sponsored activity on the platform and quickly take action against bad actors in order to protect our members” highlighting how it has a “Threat Intelligence team” to remove fake accounts.

Who?

The campaign is aimed at those who “Identify as an employee or member of HMG or Civil Service” or “Identify as working in the private sector or academia with access to classified or commercially sensitive technology or research”.  These could include (among others) retired civil servants with access to technology relating to defence/defence equipment.

What?

CPNI (MI5) suggests that once links are made online with fake profiles (e.g. with LinkedIn), social manipulation could occur as business proposals/propositions could be made that require information to be given that could be of use to criminal actors/hostile states. For example, this could take the form of an invitation (paid) to speak at a conference/event as an expert, which could involve linking online with relevant people, submitting a CV and background information. This could also lead to bribery or blackmail.

Damage

According to CPNI, the risk of engaging with such profiles is ‘damage’ to individual careers, damage to the interests of the person’s organisation, and damage to the interests of UK national security and prosperity. This appears to be a way of warning those with national security-related work roles not to unwittingly put themselves in a position where they may give away secrets of valuable (to other states) information online.

Campaign Materials

The ‘Think before You Link’ campaign is using guidance for staff and organisations, flyers, poster sets, and videos to explain and illustrate the risks and what to do to minimise them.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With current difficult relations between the UK, the U.S. (and all the Five Eyes) and what are now seen as hostile or potentially hostile states (e.g. Russia and China), trade wars (US and China), cyberattacks on state agencies and big businesses as well as to get vaccine secrets, online interference in elections, and chemical weapon usage (poisonings) have all contributed to the apparent need to warn of approaches by hostile actors via social media. Remote working and physical separation during the pandemic have also made the need for this warning more urgent as the numbers of targeted social manipulation attempts have grown over the last year. Businesses with access to classified or commercially sensitive technology or research, or who have working relationships with academia, or with experts in certain fields (e.g. defence), may need to be particularly cautious when it comes to approaches by new or little-known friends and connections on social media.

Tech Tip – Receive Only Your Important Notifications in Outlook

If you would like to save time by configuring Outlook to only send you alerts when important emails arrive, here’s how:

This involves setting up custom alert rules for specific people whose emails are particularly important to you e.g., the boss and other colleagues. To set up a custom alerting rule for a specific person:

– Open Outlook, find an email from someone for whom you want an alert.

– Right-click the email (or go to the Home tab of the ribbon at the top).

– Select Rules > Create Rule.

– Switch on the checkbox by the sender’s name.

– Choose “Display In The New Item Alert Window” and/or “Play A Selected Sound”.

– Choose the sound file to play for the alert. You can use the play button in the “Create Rule” window to hear the sound before making your choice.

– Click ‘OK’ to set the rule.

– Repeat the process for the other contacts you would like to receive alerts for.

To set up a custom rule for a whole domain:

– In the Home tab, click on Rules > Manage Rules & Alerts.

– Click “New Rule.”

– Select “Apply Rule On Messages I Receive” and click the “Next” button.

– Scroll down and select “With Specific Words In The Sender’s Address”.

– Click the underlined “Specific Words” (bottom panel).

– Add the domain you need to receive alerts for (@therequireddomain.co.uk) and click OK. The domain will replace “Specific Words”. Then click “Next”.

– Choose whether you require a sound played, an alert displayed, or both, and then click “Finish.”

– In “Rules and Alerts”, click “Apply” to turn on the rule.

Tech Insight : What Is An API?

In this article, we take a brief look at what APIs are, why they are important, and how they are they are used.

What Is An API?

An Application Programming Interface (API) is intermediary software that allows different applications to talk to each other. In essence, it delivers your request to a provider and then delivers the provider’s response back to you. APIs provide operations and queries that developers can use to design and build apps and web applications, for example, using APIs to connect the user-facing front ends with the back-end functionality and data.

Examples of API Use

APIs are widely used, and some popular examples of their use include:

Real-time travel bookings in websites. These websites use third-party APIs to collect and display real-time aggregated flight and hotel availability from providers and use APIs to confirm the bookings with the providers. In other words, the APIs are the intermediaries that enable the website to communicate with the hotel and flight booking systems.  An example of a real-time flight data display API is the ‘Aviationstack’ API which provides flight stats for 200+ countries and more than 13,000 airlines.

Paying with PayPal

The option to pay with and to deposit and withdraw funds from PayPal in e-commerce (e.g shopping, better, booking) websites uses an API. This allows the end application to work without getting access to sensitive data or other unintended permissions.

Logins With Different Options

Websites that enable you login using different platforms (e.g. displaying login with Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn) use an API to authenticate the logins rather than having the security risk of actually logging in the social media account.

Types of APIs

There is a number of different types of APIs which include:

– Open APIs/Public APIs. Anyone can use these as they are publicly available/there are no restrictions.

– Partner APIs. These are not publicly available and are only exposed to strategic business partners through the granting/purchasing of rights or licenses.

– Internal APIs/Private APIs. These are used on a company’s internal systems, e.g. to improve products and services.

– Composite APIs. These enable batch requests, i.e. a client can make one API request with a batch/chain of calls and receive one response.

– Web APIs. As the name suggests, these are specifically for the web, e.g. using a web API to extend the functionality of a web browser or a server API to extend web server functionality.

Endpoints and Request Methods

One of the key ways in which an app interacts with an API is the ‘endpoint’.  This could be the specific web address that links to the functions required.

The ‘request methods’ refers to what action will be taken by referring to the API.  For example, these could be ‘GET’ to request data from a server, ‘POST’ to add new data to a server, ‘PUT’ to change existing information, or ‘DELETE’ to delete existing information.

To use an API generally requires getting an API Key, testing the API endpoints, and creating an App.

The Benefits of APIs

The many benefits of using APIs include:

– Time and money savings in development due to being able to take advantage of the functionality of different applications without having to type code yourself or pay for complicated development work to enable different programmes to communicate with each other.

– Security while tapping into data and external functionality.

– Efficiency as content generated through an API can be published automatically and made available for every channel.

– Improved services and user experience, e.g. on a website, due the ability to automatically display real-time, accurate information (such as flights and bookings).

– Convenience for users of websites with APIs links.

– Better integration leading to better results (whilst reducing development costs).

– Faster innovation by recharging applications with the latest technology, and easier monetisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

APIs tie disparate applications together, allowing them to complement and talk to each other, become greater than the sum of their parts, and in doing so they represent ways for businesses to gain efficiencies, improve and enrich services and gain competitive advantages, automate, and innovate.  Companies can develop APIs and apps or use existing APIs to integrate and add value and as such APIs offer many new advantages and opportunities.

Featured Article – What Is Greenwashing (in Technology)?

In this article, we look at what ‘greenwashing’ is, how and why it is being used, and what is being done to stop it.

What Is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing, a term coined by Jay Westerveld in 1986, refers to how some companies mislead stakeholders about their environmental and ethical credentials by spending more on marketing themselves as being environmentally friendly and ethical when, in fact, it is not the case.  This practice is most likely to be something found in industries where the environmental impact of production and waste are known to be great, e.g. oil and gas, consumer electronics, fashion, and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) packaging.

Why?

A widely publicised climate emergency, knowledge of ethical issues in production, publicity and pressure from campaigners and political movements, the availability of choice, and the rise of social media are all factors that have led to more consumers being better informed and more engaged with how their consumption is linked to environmental and ethical issues.  Many of these consumers are now more likely to reject products with known poor environmental/ethical credentials and favour those (i.e. choose to purchase and feel more loyal towards) entities whose credentials are believed to be good and whose values they share. For example, a Nielsen report showed that 66 percent of consumers said they would pay more for sustainable brands. Unfortunately, another survey (TerraChoice) has shown that 98 percent of green-labelled products may actually be greenwashed.

Until there is a more unified, global approach to climate change from institutions and governments, economic factors and mass consumption are, to a large extent, in conflict with tackling climate change. Making products from raw materials to feed demand at a competitive price and in a way that is profitable can lead some companies to make short-term, environmentally damaging, and perhaps unethical decisions. Some companies know, therefore that by disguising their operations they can reap the positive benefits of being perceived as green whilst not investing in green solutions and practices.

Greenwashing Methods

Some popular methods of greenwashing include:

– Making changes to logos, brands, names, labelling and packaging (using environmental images and claims about the nature of ingredients), and differentiating product lines.

– Irrelevant claims, ‘lesser of two evil’ claims, and hidden trade-offs.

– Associating themselves with charities, environmental and ethical organisations (e.g. using logos, and donation information).

– Presenting data and figures and making claims that would be difficult to substantiate.

– Publicising environmental programs that companies are/have been involved with and using distraction tactics.

– The use of language/environmental buzzwords and soundbites that could be misleading (e.g. eco-friendly, bio, mineral, happy, green, healthy, herbal, non-hazardous, pure, re-usable, recyclable, free-range).

Examples of Greenwashing

There are many, widely publicised examples of what could be called greenwashing, often by well known brands (as these are newsworthy and attract more publicity). Please note that it could also be argued (or dismissed) by these companies that rather than greenwashing, it was simply a mistake/not thought through/not intended to deceive etc, which in some cases, could be legitimate arguments. With this in mind, a few examples of greenwashing might include:

– The McDonalds fast-food company publicising a switch (in some UK branches) to ‘fully-recyclable’, paper straws from plastic straws in 2018. The move backfired when the thickness of the straws meant that they couldn’t be recycled in the normal way, and a packaging supplier pointed out the issue was not with the straws but the need for investment in the UK’s recycling infrastructure.

– The H&M clothes recycling scheme for World Recycle Week (2016), where customers could return their old H&M jumpers to the stores, from where they would be sent for recycling.  It was found that only a small amount of the fibre could be recycled and that, based on the company’s publicised figures, it could take 12 years for H&M to use up 1,000 tons of fashion waste (the same amount of clothes that the company produced in 48 hours).

– A recent move by Tesla to allow customers to buy their electric vehicles with Bitcoin led to criticism when a medium.com article pointed to how, ironically, the cost of buying an energy-saving, environmentally friendly electric-powered Tesla car in Bitcoins could equate to cancelling one third of the CO2 savings for its whole lifetime.

– Ryanair was recently criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for using old information to claim it was the UK’s lowest emission airline after the statistics it used in the advert didn’t include many rival airlines and were based on 2011 data.

– Back in 2008, oil and gas company Shell had an advert banned which claimed that a project involving strip-mining of 140,000 sq km of Alberta and the building of the world’s largest oil refinery equated to a ‘sustainable’ project. The advert about the project was banned due to a lack of supporting data about how operations would help manage climate change.

Related Issues

There are some practices that could be considered more in terms of hidden aspects and trade-offs that feed into greenwashing.  These include:

– Planned/built-in obsolescence. One example could be Apple products.  Although the company publicises its stores, offices, and data centres as being fully by renewable electricity, and all its operations (including commuting and business travel) as carbon neutral, older models of products (e.g. older iPhones and iPods) aren’t updatable with the latest operating systems and apps, thereby severely limiting the usefulness of the hardware.

– The right to repair.  The fact that many tech products/consumer devices, for example, are manufactured in a way, and/or contain labels (voiding warranties if opened) that appear to prevent third-party repairs or force the owner to use only the services of the maker, is a practice related to greenwashing in many cases. It has led to legislation, primarily in the US and the EU, to give consumers the right to repair their own consumer electronic devices, which they may have bought with green claims in mind, and thereby prevent the environmental impact of disposal.

– Carbon-offsetting. Companies may use carbon-offsetting, often in good faith, but as environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace point out, it may not really work because companies need to stop carbon emissions from getting into the atmosphere in the first place. There is also an argument that carbon offsetting doesn’t deliver the level of carbon savings that it claims, and that it may simply allow companies to continue with unsustainably carbon-intensive behaviours and lifestyles while feeling good about themselves and promoting a positive image.

What Does This Man For Your Business?

The economic and commercial reasons for greenwashing, on whatever scale, are obvious, and although it may enable companies to benefit in the short-term, it is a high-risk strategy for consumer trust and business continuity as well as for the environment. Being found-out for deceiving consumers in this way can be damaging for brands and profits, but the real damage comes from activities globally that are contributing to the climate emergency. A global effort, right from the individual level up to companies, institutions, governments is needed on all fronts to help tackle this monumental challenge. Greenwashing is a threat to the success of this because, by deception, it prevents good environmental choices being made whilst enabling companies to carry on with environmentally damaging practices, the losers being all of us, including those who are using greenwashing. As a greater focus and effort comes to bear upon tackling environmental issues, greenwashing attempts are now being spotted, scrutinised, and publicly called-out by pressure and environmental groups, consumer, and adverting standards associations, and punished through legislation.  For example, The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has proposed to introduce legislation within this year to tackle greenwashing and false claims surrounding ‘eco-friendly’ products. Keeping-up the effort to discourage and ‘out’ greenwashing practices is one important front in the fight to protect the planet.

Tech News : Russia Sanctioned Over Cyber Attacks

President Biden’s administration in the U.S. has placed new sanctions on Russia over alleged cyberattacks affecting the U.S. and its allies.

What Is Russia Accused Of?

The U.S. government sanctions relate to:

– The ‘SolarWinds attack’ where cyber-criminals accessed 18,000 government and private computer networks. The U.S. appears to blame the Cosy Bear hackers for carrying out the attacks which then (allegedly) enabled Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, to spy on and disrupt the systems of many different organisations around the world.

– Alleged Interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Executive Order

The Executive order, issued by President Biden, accuses the Russian Federation of engaging in “harmful foreign activities” such as, “efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners; to engage in and facilitate malicious cyber-enabled activities against the United States and its allies and partners; to foster and use transnational corruption to influence foreign governments; to pursue extraterritorial activities targeting dissidents or journalists; to undermine security in countries and regions important to United States national security; and to violate well-established principles of international law, including respect for the territorial integrity of states”.

The Sanctions

The Executive Order from President Biden contains a long and detailed list of sanctions, and targets 32 entities and officials who the U.S. believe were involved in influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election and engaged in other acts of disinformation. It is understood that the Order will initially lead to the expulsion of ten diplomats and will prohibit the purchase of rouble-denominated bonds by U.S. financial institutions, thereby causing Russia some financial pain.  The Executive Order can be viewed here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/04/15/executive-order-on-blocking-property-with-respect-to-specified-harmful-foreign-activities-of-the-government-of-the-russian-federation/.

Other Sanctions

The new, tougher stance towards Russia under the Biden administration led to other sanctions being imposed last month and targeted seven senior Russian officials and fourteen organisations.  The sanctions, which were mainly the freezing of assets held in the U.S. were made in response to the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and more broadly to curb what the U.S. sees as a developing pattern of the use of chemical weapons by Russia (poisonings).  One U.K. example of this pattern was the use of Novichok in Salisbury to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

It has also been reported that the same two Russian suspects wanted for the Salisbury poisonings are now wanted by the Czech Republic in relation to an ammunition depot explosion there in 2014. The Czech Republic is also expelling 18 Russian diplomats who it believes have been involved in spying.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With the Biden administration and cooperating EU countries now signalling that they will be taking a harder line with Russia with what are designed to be proportionate responses to curb some of its most worrying and damaging activities, the idea is to try and restore some balance and order and return to more dialogue and diplomatic process rather than an escalation and conflict. The Solar Winds cyberattack, for example, is believed to have compromised 100 companies and a dozen government agencies in the U.S., including the Infrastructure Security Agency/ CISA whose job it was to protect federal computer networks from cyberattacks! The malicious code was implanted in a simple software update from the Texas-based company that was downloaded 18,000 times.  As such, the damage to agencies and big businesses and their stakeholders (including the many businesses down the line who may have been compromised) is still not fully known, and the expertise and effectiveness of the attack has worried western governments. Interference in state processes such as elections and cyberattacks with the sophistication of the SolarWinds one are a serious threat to businesses, organisations and even whole economies, so if sanctions are an effective way to help stop these, then this latest round of sanctions may be one step towards protecting western business, organisations, state agencies, and economies.

Tech News : MEPs Seek Ban On Public Biometric Surveillance

Following the recent leak of an EU draft of rules for applying to AI, 40 MEPs have called for a ban on the use of facial recognition and other types of biometric surveillance in public places.

Draft Rules

The leaked draft rules by EU lawmakers to regulate the use of AI prompted the MEPs to publish a letter outlining how the draft rules could be strengthened to offer greater privacy protection and guard against discrimination, threats to privacy, and more.

Biometric Mass Surveillance

The MEPs noted that the draft rules do not include a ban on the use of facial recognition or similar biometric remote identification technologies in public places (e.g. facial recognition systems).  The letter from the MEPs highlighted how this type of surveillance has been shown to lead to mistaken identification/wrongful reporting of subjects, discrimination of “under-represented groups” and having a “chilling effect” in a society that is diverse and used to certain freedoms. The MEPs have, therefore called for a total ban on this type of surveillance.

Automated Inference Warning

The letter also warned of how automated inference, such as predictive policing and indiscriminate monitoring using biometrics, could violate rights to privacy and data protection, suppress free speech, be counter-productive in the fight against corruption, and pose a particular risk to “LGBTQI+ communities, people of colour, and other discriminated-against groups”. The MEPs, therefore, request in the letter that the new rules should prohibit “automatic recognition of gender, sexuality, race/ethnicity, disability and any other sensitive and protected characteristics”.

Other Areas of Concern

The letter also says that the MEPs would like the wording of the proposed new rules to be tightened up to cover all untargeted and indiscriminate mass-surveillance, and that the proposed exemption on the prohibition on mass-surveillance for public authorities (or commercial entities working for them) would threaten public security.

In the UK

The use of biometric public surveillance in the UK has also caused concern.  For example:

– In December 2018, Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s Information Commissioner launched a formal investigation into how police forces used FRT after high failure rates, misidentifications and worries about legality, bias, and privacy. This stemmed from the trial of ‘real-time’ facial recognition technology on Champions League final day June 2017 in Cardiff, by South Wales and Gwent Police forces, which was criticised for costing £177,000 and yet only resulting in one arrest of a local man (whose arrest was unconnected).

– Trials of FRT at the 2016 and 2017 Notting Hill Carnivals led to the Police facing criticism that FRT was ineffective, racially discriminatory, and confused men with women.

– In September 2018 a letter, written by Big Brother Watch (a privacy campaign group) and signed by more than 18 politicians, 25 campaign groups, and numerous academics and barristers, highlighted concerns that facial recognition is being adopted in the UK before it has been properly scrutinised.

– In May 2019 in the UK, following controversial incidents where facial recognition had been tested in some public places, Luciana Berger (MP) put forward a written parliamentary question about bringing forward ‘biometrics legislation’ related to how facial recognition was being used for immigration purposes at airports. Also, questions were asked in Parliament about possible safeguards to protect the security and privacy of citizens’ data that is held as part of the Home Office’s biometrics programme.

– In September 2019, it was revealed that the owners of King’s Cross Estate had been using FRT without telling the public, together with London’s Metropolitan Police Service supplying the images for a database.

– A letter published by London Assembly members Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM and Sian Berry AM to Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick asked whether the FRT technology could be withdrawn during the COVID-19 pandemic on the grounds that it has been shown to be generally inaccurate, and it still raises questions about civil liberties. The letter also highlighted concerns about the general inaccuracy of FRT and the example of the first two deployments of LFR this year, where more than 13,000 faces were scanned, only six individuals were stopped, and five of those six were misidentified and incorrectly stopped by the police. Also, of the eight people who created a ‘system alert’, seven were incorrectly identified. Concerns have also been raised about how the already questionable accuracy of FRT could be challenged further by people wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Biometric surveillance clearly has benefits in terms of being a tool to help with the work of government agencies and law enforcement, but many now feel that its use is advancing too far ahead of the legislation. In a diverse society where data protection rights have been tightened up and respect for privacy with it (due to GDPR), mass surveillance of this kind feels to many people like it goes against those rights, and in a ‘chilling’ way that feels as though it may affect freedom and could be used (if not properly regulated) to discriminate. The UK trials and usage of facial recognition to date has also revealed areas where the technology has been unreliable, and there may also be issues of bias.  It is not surprising, therefore, that a group of MEPs have chosen to apply pressure to tighten up the rules, although it remains to be seen if the concerns of the MEP group affect the final legislation.

Tech Tip – Creating An Email List In Outlook

If you’d like a quick and easy way to regularly email group of contacts (e.g. work colleagues or suppliers), Outlook gives you the ability to create a Distribution List (or Contact Group in 365). Here’s how it works:

For Outlook Online

– Log into outlook.com or select Outlook from the app launcher.

– On the Left-hand side, select Groups > New group.

– In the pop-up, name the group, give it a brief description, and select ‘Create’.

– Add group members by searching by name/email address, and they will appear under “This person will be added.”

– When all email addresses have been added, select the ‘Add’ button, and select ‘Close’.

– To send an email to the group, select ‘New message’ and in the ‘To’ field, type the name of the group you created.

For Outlook On Desktop

This is called a ‘Contact Group’ rather than a Distribution List. To build one:

– Launch Outlook and select ‘People’ (lower left).

– From the toolbar, select ‘New Contact Group’ (a ‘New Group’ button in 365).

– When the windows loads, name your contact group.

– To add members, select ‘Add Members’ and choose where to get members from – Outlook Contacts, Address Book, or New Email Contact.

– Search for the people/email addresses to add. When their entry is highlighted, select the ‘Members’ button (or double-click their entry) to add them.

– When this is one, select ‘OK’, save changes, and close the window.

– The name of the Contact Group will appear as an entry in the Outlook address book so can be selected in the ‘To’ field when creating a new email.