Amazon Blocking Non-Prime Members From Buying Certain Games

Amazon Prime started off as giving you quick one-day delivery options, expanding into the market for Video and music streaming, and with its latest offer of a monthly subscription system, its popularity keeps growing. That may change if you are a fan of big time games, with the latest news revealing that certain games may be locked behind the “prime wall”.

If you go on the Amazon site now and check out games like Grand Theft Auto 5 or Fallout 4, you may find yourself welcomed by a small blue button on the right-hand side. Replacing the welcoming yellow button that said buy now, the blue button instead asks you “join Prime”. Above the buttons it states that the games are “Exclusively for Prime Members”, giving you no option but to either seek them on different sites or use Amazon Prime to order your games from Amazon.

While you will still be able to buy the games through other sellers on Amazon, if you want to buy it directly from Amazon you will need Prime membership. With a yearly membership getting you 20% off pre-orders and new releases, if you like buying big releases when they come out it may be worth checking out the deals they offer.

For gamers and non-gamers alike, do you think its fair to have your ability to buy what you enjoy locked to an exclusive membership group or does the one-day delivery (or even one-hour delivery) tempt you to grab those new games that little bit sooner?

It should be noted that while the block originally seemed to affect both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com sales, some of the listings on Amazon.co.uk are now unrestricted, suggesting that the initial backlash may already have been enough to sway Amazons opinion on the “prime wall”. Currently, you can see the option featured on Amazon.com’s Grand Theft Auto 5 page.

Image courtesy of Engadget.

UK May Have Hit Broadband Targets

When it comes to the internet the coalition government made a pledge that by 2015, they would have the “best superfast broadband in Europe”. The UK may have hit broadband targets, but still fears remain over the future and if the targets are good enough.

The problem with setting targets with technology, they look great but they have to change as technology does. The original target for 90% of properties having superfast broadband by 2015 was changed in light of the difficulty and processes involved, eventually changing to 95% of properties by 2017. We may have hit the 90% marker now, but that last 5% needed to meet the goal posts next year may come at difficulty.

The difficulty comes from the properties located in rural areas, with fibre optic speeds slowly reaching those areas (although not as the speeds users want to gain access to the internet). The second problem though is the big one, what is super fast internet these days?

Back in 2010, the definition was 24 Mbps, but these days you can grab 100 or even 200 Mbps internet. With the kind of fibre optic cables needed to reach 24 Mbps used in its current roll out the question is being raised that if we compare ourselves on “superfast broadband” in a few years time, will we need to roll out new options all over again.

The standard option  for many European countries is now FTTH (Fiber to the house), an option that is only reaching 1.56% of British homes. The city of Hull has one of the lowest superfast broadband availability, listed at 37.6% because Hull’s independent telecoms provider, KCOM, has already opted to deploy the FTTH strategy, resulting in 37.6% of houses now getting fibre optic speed straight to the house.

Suspect In The UK Told To Decrypt His Devices For The US

Apple vs the FBI may be over but that doesn’t mean the question about decryption and the law is over. In the most recent case to catch our ears a suspect from the UK being asked to decrypt his devices for the US authorities.

Lauri Love is a British computer scientist, who is a suspect in the breach of US government networks, which are claimed to have caused “millions of dollars in damage”. After being initially arrested in 2013, and then released, Love was re-arrested back in 2015 and is facing extradition to the US for the suspected crime. While he has not been charged with any crimes, Love has been asked as part of a Section 49 RIPA notice (doesn’t sound that bad does it?) to decrypt his devices by providing them with the passwords and keys required to unlock his devices.

With his devices confiscated, something that Love is now fighting in a counter-sue in civil court, the authorities want to access the data on his devices which include, a Samsung Laptop, a Fujitsu Siemens laptop, a Compaq computer tower, an SD card and a Western Digital hard drive. Alongside this, the National Crime Authority, the UK branch that has demanded the devices be decrypted, are interested in files located on the SD card and external drive that are encrypted using TrueCrypt.

What is most worrying is that if Love was to provide the keys, and this evidence is used against him in the US, then it would breach his fifth amendment rights within the US. The fifth amendment can be described as allowing someone to present evidence against themselves, meaning that you can’t be forced to prove your guilt, by unlocking a computer for example.

In his argument, Love states that “the NCA are effectively arguing that any information that cannot be read and comprehended by the police has a presumption of guilt”. An argument that if extended to other circumstances, could be seen as worrying for any groups that share information and protect journalists, whistleblowers and anyone within the legal profession.

Android Pay Is Coming To The UK

These days your phone can replace a lot of things, from your contact list to your camera, they do it all. With thanks to Android, you may get to tick another thing off your list with several major banks in the UK starting to accept Android Pay.

Currently, the financial institutes that support Android Pay are the following:

  • Bank of Scotland
  • First Direct
  • Halifax
  • HSBC
  • Lloyds Bank
  • M&S Bank
  • MBNA
  • Nationwide

It won’t stop there with Android’s blog posting that the list will grow thanks to “new banks being added all the time”. Android pay will be accepted anywhere in the UK that supports contactless payments, meaning your weekly shopping trip or even your lunch treat could soon be provided by your mobile phone.

If that wasn’t enough the feature will also be supported in several apps, such as Kickstarter, JD Sports and Deliveroo while other the API that lets developers add the feature has been adjusted to make it easier to include the feature in any app’s that want you to pay for with your phone.

With 1.5 million registrations happening in the US each month for Android Pay, the success of the system could only grow by adding it to other countries and it looks like Apple Pay and other contactless systems may have a fight on their hands for which phone you use to pay your lunch bill.

Driverless Lorries Coming to the UK

When it comes to cars, there is one topic on every companies lips, driverless technology. The ability to take a car from your house to the shops, to work, and then back home without ever pressing the pedals or touching the steering wheel. From Formula E announcing that they will start racing driverless vehicles and London looking to get driverless pods within the year, what could be next? Driverless lorries.

The Department for Transport is keen on being seen as a forerunner for technology, from driverless cars to electric car charging roads. The latest plans seem to be creating a driverless “HGV platoon”, with up to 10 computer controlled lorries being driver mere metres away from one another. The trial for the project, set to take place later this year, will see the vehicles driving down the M6 with the front vehicle being driven by a person.

Some have been sceptical about the plan, though, with the president of the AA, Edmund King, saying that while it may work in other countries it might not be the right thing in the UK.

His reasoning for this doubt was that “The problem with the UK motorway network is that we have more entrances and exits of our motorways than any other motorways in Europe or indeed the world”.

While plans like these are great, I can see where King is coming from. Ten lorries blocking your exit on the road would be a pain. While having regular automated lorries would help reduce traffic in the long run and perhaps even ease congestion, I can see people be scared and sceptical until they are a regular sight on the roads.

Image courtesy of the Daily Mail

Shuttle’s New DH170 1-Liter Mini-PC Now Available in the UK

Shuttle has been on a roll as of late, releasing one new system after another, but one of the most impressive ones is probably the DH170 which features impressive options in a tiny 1.3-liter chassis. Now the Shuttle DH170 is officially available in the UK. The XPC Slim Series DH170 system is built upon the H170 chipset with support for the latest Skylake processors (up to 65W TDP) while only being 43m thick.

The Shuttle DH170 can be equipped with up to 32GB of dual-channel DDR3L 1600 RAM, but there is only one 2.5-inch SATA3 drive bay. Then again, there are limits to what fits inside such a small system so that’s an understandable limitation and one drive should still be plenty for most usage scenarios for this system. While I just said that it only had room for one drive, that’s technically incorrect as the DH170 also features an M.2 2260/2242 Type B M key socket and a Half-size Mini-PCIe socket.

You get an impressive external connectivity with the DH170 as it features four USB 3.0, four USB 2.0, and two Intel Gigabit Ethernet controllers (i211 and i219LM) that support teaming. It also features a Realtek ALC662 HD audio solution as well as triple monitor connection via two DisplayPort and one HDMI connector. A wireless antenna fixture, serial ports, and a card reader are also included in the DH170.

This tiny reliable system is rated for continues 24/7 usage in 50-degree environments without the smart fan having any trouble keeping everything cool. It’s also economical with its 90W power supply. The DH170 is available now for £194 (VAT excluded).

Key Features:

  • Intel H170 chipset supports the latest Intel Skylake processors
  • Compact 1.3-liter chassis only 43mm thick
  • Rugged design and construction for 24/7 stability and high-temperature environments
  • Supports three independent displays even at 4K resolution; two DisplayPorts and one HDMI
  • Ample connectivity; four USB 3.0, four USB 2.0, two RS232; M.2., Mini PCI-E
  • VESA mount compatibility
  • Available at Entaonline.com for £194

UK Culture Secretary Compares Ad Blocking to Music Piracy

Ad blocking plugins have become a topic which polarized opinions and causes some friction between content creators and their readership. Websites like eTeknix rely on advertising revenue to pay staff wages, and help produce detailed content. On the other hand, we always want to make sure that the experience is user-friendly and display ads in a non-intrusive manner. This is why we don’t use adverts which take over your entire screen and become an instant annoyance. It’s a difficult balancing act though because websites are struggling to make money, and there’s various instances of major publications being closed due to financial problems. This includes CVG, Joystiq and more. Recently, Wired announced a new plan to block users with Ad blocking software and offer an ad-free website for a subscription fee.

As an internet user, I can understand why people use Adblock because many sites and services really make such an awful user-experience. If possible, it’s so important to white list those websites you want to support, because collectively it makes such a difference! The UK culture secretary, John Whittingdale recently weighed in on this very important debate during a speech at the Oxford Media Convention and said ad blocking software:

“..is depriving many websites and platforms of legitimate revenue,”

“It is having an impact across the value chain, and it presents a challenge that has to be overcome. Because, quite simply, if people don’t pay in some way for content, then that content will eventually no longer exist.”

“And that’s as true for the latest piece of journalism as it is for the new album from Muse.”

“If we can avoid the intrusive ads that consumers dislike, then I believe there should be a decrease in the use of ad-blockers,”

“My natural political instinct is that self-regulation and co-operation is the key to resolving these challenges, and I know the digital sector prides itself on doing just that. But government stands ready to help in any way we can.”

Whittingdale even went onto compare ad blocking with illegal file sharing of films and music during the last decade. This is a very strong statement to make, and I believe it’s a little bit sensationalist. I personally see both sides of the arguments, and believe educating users about the importance of ads to help content creators is essential. At least Whittingdale did acknowledge that banning ad blocking software would be the incorrect approach.

Do you use ad blocking software?

Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Amazon Recalls Fire 7 Inch UK Power Adapters

When purchasing any electronic device, it’s imperative to use official AC adapters which meet the necessary safety standards and ensures your device is protected against surges. It can be really tempting to acquire a third-party charger from eBay due to the enticing price, and you can convince yourself that they are of a similar quality. However, in many circumstances, these chargers do not meet safety standards and have fake markings. As a result, they can be dangerous to both the end-user and the device in question. Usually, the quality of construction is abysmal, and known to become a fire hazard. To be clear, this isn’t every third-party charger from eBay I’ve tested, but it’s accurate for the overwhelming majority.

Every so often, even official chargers can experience problems due to an error in the production line. It’s incredible difficult to keep a close eye on the supply line, and one mistake can lead to catastrophic consequences. Today, Amazon sent an email to customers informing them of a product recall on the official charger for the Fire 7″ tablet, and Fire Kids Edition 7″ model. Here is the e-mail in full courtesy of HotUKDeals:

Thankfully, Amazon has adopted a transparent approach and taken the correct steps to put customer safety first. This is a fairly worrying development, but it’s important to remember that the cases will be rare. Despite this, if you have one of these chargers, please go through Amazon’s procedure to acquire a replacement.  This is happening more frequently and there’s been quite a lot of product recalls in the past 12 months. This ranges from food to consumer electronics. Perhaps, there’s a few teething issues in the production line which explains why some chargers could create an electrical shock! I applaud Amazon for sorting this out quickly and giving two options in case their official charger goes out of stock.

UK Needs Faster Internet Says Business Leaders Group

Buffering, downloading, pausing, even trying to make out the shapes on a low-resolution video have become common place for so many people as their internet speed caps out, normally before they are anywhere near their advertised (and purchased) speeds. It seems that we aren’t the only ones annoyed by this though as a group of business leaders have spoken out now, accusing the UK government of creating a “poverty of ambition” for internet speeds.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) is formed from business leaders within the UK, and in their report titled Ultrafast Britain, they state that the UK is lagging behind when it comes to enabling faster broadband connections. The government states that 90% of UK properties have access to superfast speeds, with that reaching 95% by next year.

The IoD don’t think this is good enough, with them calling for speeds of 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) by 2030. Currently, the government wants just 10 megabits per second by 2020, a speed which many are already getting.

This isn’t the first time that the internet as a structured provision has been discussed this week, with Ofcom telling BT that its cable network should be opened up to other companies. Currently, BT contains two parts, the core company and Openreach, the part of the company responsible for the cable, fibre and network infrastructure that the UK relies on for its internet.

What is your internet speed? Is it ever what you were actually advertised to be getting? Do you know anyone with super fast/slow internet and does it have a big impact on them?

BBC Micro Bit Shipping Date Revealed

BBC’s Micro Bit pocket-sized and programmable computer is an amazing little piece of technology, but the best of all is that one million of them will be given free to any year 7 pupils across the UK. Originally the BBC Micro Bit should have started shipping out October last year, but there were issues with the power and the project release got pushed back. At first, it was said that teachers should have the new units in December last year with students receiving them early this year. But that didn’t happen and it got pushed once again. Last month we got another minor delay as teachers already should have had their units ahead of the February half term, but that didn’t happen either.

Enough with the old bad news, time for the good news. The Micro Bit is ready and broadcaster has confirmed a countrywide roll-out of the one million devices for pupils will begin before easter. Naturally they won’t send out all at once, but they will start to ship officially on March the 22nd. So mark your calendars if you got children of that age, you might have new toys to play with soon.

Sinead Rocks, head of BBC learning, said: “It has been a joy to see these micro:bits make their way to educators across the country over the last couple of weeks. It feels like this adventure into the world of coding is really gaining pace. And so it’s with great excitement that we will be starting our delivery to pupils on March 22.”

The Micro bit (micro:bit) is a handheld and fully-programmable computer that encourages children to get creative with technology. The 4cm by 5cm device is the successor to the popular 1980s home computer, BBC Micro, and includes a Bluetooth antenna, USB plug and a processor, linked to a printed circuit board with 25 red LED lights which flash messages.

The BBC is yet to announce when the Micro Bit will be available for the public to buy and how much it will cost us ordinary mortals.

Trial by Combat – As Outdated As You Think?

We’ve all seen the dramas, times when people are insulted by another person or they’ve had some disagreement over actions someone has done. In modern days, this normally involves a few choice words and maybe a small brawl outside, but these can even end up in court, with people claiming financial revenge for their actions. One that is very rarely used, but is seen a lot on TV is trial by combat, but the tradition is all but dead.

Trial by combat was originally created in germanic law, with two people fighting in single combat, the winner being proven right in the eyes of the law and the witnesses. The tradition died off as legal systems relied more on facts and evidence, with it rarely ever invoked because of the “barbaric” nature of it.

Back in 2002, Leon Humphreys challenged the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) to trial by combat. His original charge was to pay a £25 motoring fine for not informing the DVLA about his motorcycle being off the road. The magistrates saw this as a waste of time though and fined him £200 with another £100 in costs; it didn’t quite work out for him.

In 2015, this came before the Staten Island Supreme Court when a layer cited the right in the case where he is being accused of helping a client commit fraud. Richard Luthmann states that trial by combat was never outlawed in New York state or even the United states. Luthmann, a Game of Thrones fan, stated that “They want to be absurd about what they’re trying to do, then I’ll give them back ridiculousness in kind”.

So while an old tradition, you never know who would invoke the right to single combat in order to defend their actions in the eyes of the law and their makers. Something work keeping in mind next time you’re stuck with an odd fine, just be ready to fight if they agree!

Contactless Payment Use Surged In 2015

Remember the days when you handed over coins and pieces of paper to buy everything from sweets to a new car. These days it’s all done via virtual currencies like bitcoins and small pieces of plastic that we keep in our wallets, or even our phones. You will soon be able to pay for your taxi without even handing over a single coin, so is it any surprise that the UK saw a boom in contactless payments in 2015?

According to UK Cards Associated, the UK conducted over one billion transactions using contactless technologies, with the total amount spent using this method totaling more than the past seven years combined!

With one in 13 payments being made using contactless, and the limit being increased to £30 from £20 per contactless payment it comes as no surprise that this technologies use has boomed since its adoption a few years ago. With contactless transactions totaling over £7.75 billion, you may see more and more people choosing to use this technology with Apple being one of many companies adding it to their phones.

Do you have contactless payment on your card or phone? If so do you prefer using it or are you one for the good old-fashioned cash and coin?

UK University Wins Funding for Robotic Stem Cell Factory

We as the human race are in an almost neverending fight with nature, although there really isn’t any doubt who will in the end. That doesn’t mean that we can’t put up a fight and make the best of everything until then. One of the main areas that we fight in are the diseases that plague us as a race. One of the ways that we combat this is with stem cells, but they are too costly, time-consuming, and labour intensive to be a viable solution for a mass production large enough to cover everyone.

One of the ways that this can be improved upon is with the use of robots that don’t need downtime, work more precise, and don’t require a salary either. The EU has set aside €6 million for the project and the Aston University in Birmingham is going to play a critical role in this project to develop a robotic stem cell factory, which will reduce the cost of manufacturing adult stem cells and open up the opportunity to produce new therapies for a range of conditions.

“Stem cell therapies have the potential to treat currently unmet patient needs and provide therapies for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s. However, current manufacturing methods for adult stem cells are costly, time-consuming and labour-intensive, so will be unable to satisfy the expected patient demand,” said Dr Qasim Rafiq, academic lead for the project at Aston University and Lecturer in Bioprocess Engineering.

The AUTOSTEM consortium, coordinated by NUI Galway in Ireland, has received the funding through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme to address the current challenges in manufacturing stem cells. The new system will be developed as a scalable, automated robotic system for the growth of adult stem cells.

The clinical product being developed involves isolating and purifying adult stem cells from the bone marrow before growing these in bioreactors to achieve sufficient numbers of cells to treat thousands of patients. This work will be conducted in a sterile, aseptic cleanroom facility operated by a robotic system. That’s another benefit of using robots over a human workforce.

Overclockers UK Announce Availability on Vertagear PL-6000 Gaming Chairs

Overclockers UK announced that they will be stocking the new P-Line gaming chairs from the renowned chair manufacturer Vertagear. Vertagear is no stranger in the warehouse of Overclockers UK who already have the S-Line gaming chairs in their line-up. You might remember them from our review a little while ago. The new P-Line series come in a variety of different colours and with new features such as the much-requested tilt locking mechanism.

The P-Line gaming chairs are designed for comfort and are the largest Vertagear chairs to date. The have a wider base and taller back and this XL sizing is designed for ultimate comfort and flexibility. A great gaming chair is worth a lot when you spend so many hours in it, and it’s something your body will thank you for in the long run.

The new series features the more stable and heavy duty base compared the S-Line and also uses Soft Polyurethane (PU) wheels that are perfect on both hard and soft floors alike. The previously mentioned tilt mechanism has been re-engineered and it can now be locked in the desired position. A chair has to either fit you right away or be customizable towards it.

 

The PL-6000 gaming chairs naturally also feature all the other things you’ll want from such a chair such as adjustable armrests, adjustable backrest, fully adjustable seat height, as well as comfortable and durable PVC Leather. There are also cushions for adjustable lumbar and head support.

The Vertagear PL-6000 chairs are available in a wide range of black and colour accent combinations, Black/Carbon, Black/Red, Black/Blue, Black/Green and Black/White.

The availability of the Vertagear PL-6000 series is set for March 2016, but they aren’t the cheapest of chairs and will set you back £319.99. A heavy price but one that might be worth considering if you spend a lot of hours in your chair.

GCHQ Hacking Deemed Legal by Tribunal

Today it has been announced that computer and smartphone hacks used by the intelligence agency GCHQ are legal according to the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal. The inquiry was launched after the extents of the agency’s hacking was uncovered by whistleblower Edward Snowdon, which led to GCHQ revealing that they had agents hack into devices both within the UK and aboard.

At the conclusion of the inquiry, the senior judges on the panel ruled that they were satisfied that GCHQ’s ability to forcefully gain access to devices in order to gather intelligence was striking a proper balance between safeguarding the privacy of individuals and the ability to investigate crime and protect the public. Understandably, Privacy International, the civil liberties group who launched the investigation said they were “disappointed” with the outcome and would continue to combat state-sponsored hacking.

GCHQ’s hacking efforts were reported to the tribunal as covering computers, smartphones, servers, routers and more. They were told that it was possible for the hackers to remotely enable microphones and cameras, log keyboard input, install malware, track locations and even copy documents from target devices. Currently, the only restrictions on hacking in place are laid out in the Home Office’s code of practice for hacking, or “equipment interference”, which is set to be expanded as part of the Government’s Investigatory Powers bill which is currently being drafted. These documents dictate that a warrant must be issued before any hacks can take place. The judges agreed that these codes had the right balance between the “urgent need for the Intelligence Agencies to safeguard the public and the protection of an individual’s privacy and/or freedom of expression”. These restrictions did not exist when the investigation was originally launched, however, which brings GCHQ’s previous actions into question.

Once again, the cyber security and privacy of citizens are under threat from government agencies, who strive to increase their own power and supposedly the safety of their people at the cost of their freedom. While in future GCHQ’s hacking is expected to be kept in check by codified legal rules, the fact that their previous actions were ruled to be lawful could set a dangerous precedent if a security agency tried to take advantage of the circumstance to work outside these laws.

Parliamentary Committee Tears UK Snooper’s Charter to Shreds

A new Parliamentary Joint Committee on the latest draft of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill proposal – colloquially known as the Snooper’s Charter, due to its wide-ranging powers of mass surveillance – has called for “significant changes” and “important clarity” to be added to the controversial proposal.

“The Government still needs to make explicit on the face of the Bill that CSPs (communication service providers) offering end-to-end encrypted communication or other un-decryptable communication services will not be expected to provide decrypted copies of those communications if it is not practicable for them to do so,” the Joint Committee’s report reads. “We recommend that a draft Code of Practice should be published alongside the Bill for Parliament to consider.”

The report also criticises those involved in the creation of the IP Bill, a proposal driven primarily by Home Secretary Theresa May MP, and their (mis)comprehension of the internet. “We recommend that more effort should be made to reflect not only the policy aims but also the practical realities of how the internet works on a technical level,” the report says.

Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister under the previous coalition government, and former leader of the Liberal Democrat party, branded the bill draconian, saying on BBC Radio 4 (via The Guardian), “Very few other countries other than Russia take this dragnet approach.”

Clegg was instrumental in the abandonment of the previous iteration of the Investigatory Powers Bill in 2012 and, despite being out of office now, his position on the proposals have not wavered. “Why there is this great congregation of concern from all wings of political opinion is because what the home office is in essence proposing is that in order to be able to surveil and analyse something they are saying they want to collect everything on everyone,” he added.

“This report shows just how much homework the Government has to do on this landmark legislation. Despite reams of evidence from the Home Office, the Committee finds the case for unprecedented powers to bulk hack, intercept and collect our private data has not been made,” Shami Chakrabarti, Director of human rights group Liberty, said. “The Government needs to pause, take stock and redraft – to do anything else would show astonishing contempt for parliamentarians’ concerns and our national security.”

Image courtesy of Londontopia.

UN Rules Julian Assange is Being ‘Arbitrarily Held’ And Deserves Compensation

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks caused a media frenzy by publishing classified documents about Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo. By 2015, Wikileaks has published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses, and has been described by Assange himself as “a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents” As a result, Assange was treated as a fugitive and subject to a prosecution by the Espionage Act of 1917. There’s also been a slur on Assange’s character which stems from allegations of a sexual assault against two women in Sweden. To properly hear the case, Assange has to leave his safe haven at the Ecuadorian embassy. Many argue this is simply the workings of a corrupt government trying to capture Assange by any means possible.

Today, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention made a landmark ruling and claimed Assange’s decision to reside in the Ecuadorian embassy was “arbitrary detention” and breached international law. Furthermore the UN suggested that Mr Assange’s detention “should be brought to an end, that his physical integrity and freedom of movement be respected”. Apparently, the Wikileaks founder was subject to “different forms of deprivation of liberty” and “… afforded the right to compensation”. It’s important to note that this isn’t a legally binding arrangement, and doesn’t alter Assange’s current plight. However, this should apply some pressure on the UK and USA governments to give Assange freedom of movement without any arrests occurring.

Mr. Assange reacted to the decision via a direct video link and said it was a “really significant victory that has brought a smile to my face”. However, the UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond dismissed these recent comments and claimed he was a “fugitive from justice” Not only that, Hammond said Assange could “come out any time he chooses” but would still have to face a trial.

Do you think Julian Assange is a hero or villain?

GCHQ-Developed Encryption System Has Built-In Backdoor

A security researcher has discovered that a telephone encryption system developed by UK intelligence agency GCHQ contains a backdoor that can be exploited by anyone who has its master key. Steven J. Murdoch, a Royal Society University Research Fellow in the Information Security Research Group of University College, found that the MIKEY-SAKKE protocol, based on the Secure Chorus encryption standard, can be bypassed using the private master key to decrypt and collect call data in bulk.

“The existence of a master private key that can decrypt all calls past and present without detection, on a computer permanently available, creates a huge security risk,” writes Murdoch, “and an irresistible target for attackers. Also calls which cross different network providers (e.g. between different companies) would be decrypted at a gateway computer, creating another location where calls could be eavesdropped.”

The existence of an encryption form that allows intelligence services to decrypt and access data comes as no surprise since the UK – in the form of both Prime Minister David Cameron and MI5 Director-General Andrew Parker – have declared war on end-to-end encryption as it prevents their mass surveillance efforts.

“GCHQ designs the encryption technology used by government to prevent unauthorised parties having access to classified information,” Murdoch added. “But GCHQ also wants the ability to examine how this encryption technology is used to investigate suspected leaks whether to companies, the press, or foreign intelligence agencies.”

EU Proposal Could Ban Geoblocking Across Europe

Following the news that Netflix has begun restricting VPN use to bypass its region locks, the UK government has initiated a public consultation regarding European Union proposals to outlaw all forms of geoblocking across all member states.

“The European Commission has recently published draft legislation that is intended to ensure that all digital services are portable within the European Union,” the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) consultation file on “cross-border portability” legislation reads [PDF]. “This would mean that a person who lives in the UK, and who subscribes to a digital content service there, would be able to be confident they can continue to access that service when they are elsewhere in the EU, provided they have the right level of internet connection.”

The IPO report suggests that the UK fully supports the EU proposal, saying, “The Government supports cross-border portability, and the Prime Minister welcomed these proposals on the day of their launch. We will now be working with other European partners to negotiate the detail of the Regulations so that they deliver the best outcome for businesses and consumers.”

How this proposal will affect the licensing deals negotiated by video-on-demand streaming services, such as Netflix, is yet to be determined.  “It is currently difficult to provide portability for some types of content because of territorial copyright agreements which govern where services can be accessed,” the IPO report adds.

The EU’s proposal to outlaw geoblocking follows its recent antitrust investigation into content providers restricting its content dependent on location within Europe.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

Banking Malware ‘Dridex’ is Back!

We’ve all had that moment, those unwanted pop-ups and advertisements on your computer that make you suddenly realise “I’ve got a virus”. It’s one of the things we tend to think happens to others but it can happen to anybody and with the internet it’s easier and easier to spread malicious software, or malware, around the world. One piece in particular has reappeared, this time targeting your online banking experience.

Dridex has made several appearances before, such as when the NCA estimated its cost to the UK was around £20 million. IBM’s X-force have found a more recent version of the malware and it features a whole new trick up its sleeve. By targeting something known as the DNS (Domain Name Service), instead of getting redirected to your banks website, Dridex will now send you to a fake site. From there, users enter their details believing everything to be okay, only to have then handed over their login details to the malware.

The issue with this is that you can be on the “right” website, the page looks normal, the web address is correct and everything else that makes you trust the site, but suddenly its only when you’ve logged in that you realise there is nothing right about the site.

13 of the U.K’s largest banks have had their websites replicated, which may not seem like many but if you count how many times people check their bank accounts online, even taking a few pounds from each of them could quickly reach millions.

The malware is spread through several ways, one of the most common being a manipulated Office document. As a result we remind our readers that attachments are like candy, never accept them from strangers and if you are not expecting them, be extra careful!

Scottish MP Give Vulcan Salute in Support of Europe’s First Spaceport

Scottish National Party Member of Parliament gave a Vulcan salute to support the building of Europe’s first spaceport in Scotland, an idea which has gained the endorsement of Star Trek’s Kirk and Sulu, The Guardian reports. The SNP’s Phillippa Whitford made the hand signal during a debate in the House of Commons, before which she made the case for establishing the spaceport in her constituency of Central Ayrshire. A statement from Star Trek veteran William Shatner, supporting the initiative, was read out in Parliament by Whitford. A tweet from George Takei also lent support to the endeavour, prior to the debate.

“During the election, whenever I talked to anyone about this they would always just laugh because to us in this country we think space is for other people, it’s for the big boys: north America, Russia, maybe even China – but not us,” Whitford said. “That is something we have to change. We need to believe what we can do. I think Major Tim Peake’s mission will achieve that. This is a real industry, not the ‘beam me up Scotty’ or fretting about the dilithium crystals that we see on the telly, but a multibillion-pound industry.”

“So I’d call on the minister to be imaginative and to be brave and to be boldly going where no minister has gone before. I call on the minister to please be imaginative, enable this industry across the entire UK so it can live long and prosper,” she added.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vcfGXRjylq8

Whitford then read out the statement from Shatner:

“Space is one of the last known frontiers mostly untouched by mankind and his politics. In opening a debate on this subject, my hope is you take the tenets of Star Trek’s prime directive to universally and peacefully share in the exploration of it. I wish you all a wonderful debate. My best, Bill.”

Before the debate, Takei made his approval of the idea known on Twitter:

The Department of Transport will be tendering bids for the spaceport following its appraisal of the technical specifications required to support any potential spaceport.

UK Market Gaming Stats Revealed For 2015

The games industry is the same as any other market when it comes to analysing the performance of titles, consoles and revenue with the aim of finding trends in consumer preferences and company performance. GfK Entertainment has made a wide range of information available concerning the shape of the UK gaming scene in 2015 via trade paper MCV, the results are quite interesting and I have conveyed a snapshot below,

First up is the total revenue for 2015, as you can see below it shows there has been a slight decrease in all categories except that of gaming accessories, which have seen a rise in overall revenue.

  • 2015 total revenue – £2,112,750,781   (2014: £2.3bn)
  • Entertainment Software – £927,663,843 (2014: £948 Million)
  • Console Hardware – £689,473,076 (2014: £915 Million)
  • Gaming Accessories – £495,613,862 (2014: £431 Million)

Next up is the software market percentage share by console (units) stats, these convey a picture of the PS4 dominating the UK scene with a market share of 36.3%, Microsoft’s Xbox One is second while the ageing last gen Xbox 360 is third, not surprisingly, the PlayStation Vita does not fare as well.

  1. PlayStation 4 – 36.3%
  2. Microsoft Xbox One – 29.7%
  3. Microsoft Xbox 360 – 12.5%
  4. PlayStation 3 – 7.1%
  5. Nintendo 3DS – 4.8%
  6. PC – 3.6%
  7. Nintendo Wii U – 3.5%
  8. Nintendo Wii – 1.0%
  9. Nintendo DS – 0.7%
  10. PlayStation Vita – 0.7%
  11. Others – 0.1%

Next is the software market share by console (Revenue). As you can see, the PlayStation 4 is again the winner with a substantial slice of 41.6%, second is again not surprisingly the Xbox One followed by the Xbox 360 in third.

  1. PlayStation 4 – 41.6%
  2. Microsoft Xbox One – 34.1%
  3. Microsoft Xbox 360 – 9.0%
  4. PlayStation 3 – 4.9%
  5. Nintendo 3DS – 3.7%
  6. Nintendo Wii U – 3.2%
  7. PC – 2.3%
  8. Nintendo Wii – 0.5%
  9. PlayStation Vita – 0.4%
  10. Nintendo DS – 0.2%
  11. Others – 0.1%

Next up is the software market share by publisher (revenue) top 10, as you can see Electronic Arts (EA) is not far off having twice the market share from second place; Activision Blizzard.

  1. Electronic Arts – 23.3%
  2. Activision Blizzard – 14.0%
  3. Warner Bros – 9.9%
  4. Take – Two 7.4%
  5. Bethesda – 7.1%
  6. Ubisoft – 6.7%
  7. Nintendo – 5.7%
  8. Microsoft – 5.2%
  9. Sony Computer Entertainment – 4.9%
  10. Bandai Namco Entertainment – 3.5%

Next up is a combined look at the top-selling games for all formats within 2015, this shows that FIFA 16 is the number one selling title on the PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360. This is what you would expect when you consider the release date of this title compared to that of say Fallout 4. It makes me chuckle to think that the highest selling game in terms of units for the PC is The Sims 4 followed by Football Manager 2016 and 2015.

Last up is the top 20 physical games of 2015 for all formats, the list is 50, but, I did not want to go on forever.

  1.  FIFA 16 (EA)
    2.  Call Of Duty: Black Ops III (Activision Blizzard)
    3.  Fallout 4 (Bethesda)
    4.  Star Wars: Battlefront (EA)
    5.  Grand Theft Auto V (Take-Two)
    6.  Batman: Arkham Knight (Warner Bros.)
    7.  FIFA 15 (EA)
    8.  Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Activision Blizzard)
    9.  Assassin’s Creed Syndicate (Ubisoft)
    10. Lego Jurassic World (Warner Bros.)
    11. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Bandai Namco)
    12. Battlefield Hardline (EA)
    13. Minecraft: Xbox 360 and Xbox One Edition (Microsoft)
    14. Minecraft: Story Mode (Telltale Games)
    15. Halo 5: Guardians (Microsoft)
    16. Minecraft: PlayStation 3, 4, and Vita Edition (Sony)
    17. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Konami)
    18. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection (Sony)
    19. Dying Light (Warner Bros.)
    20. The Elder Scrolls Online (Bethesda)

Glorious PC Gaming Race Now Available at Overclockers UK

Overclockers UK has brought quite a few brands to the UK and now they’ve added one more in the form of Glorious PC Gaming Race products. Behind the unusual brand name but well-known terminology, is a manufacturer of gaming surfaces and ergonomic wrist rests that so far has been taking on fans by storm. The brand has become a go-to for mechanical keyboard enthusiast communities and generally made a big impact in the USA. Now it is time for us on the other side of the pond to enjoy these products.

Glorious PC Gaming Race products are now exclusively available in the UK through Overclockers UK. The quality
of these surfaces is said to be fantastic with smooth cloth surfaces, high-quality anti-slip rubber bases, and stitched
edges on all products to avoid fraying.

All the wrist rests and mouse pads are black, except for one. There is a white full desk gaming surface available too. There are large and extra large surfaces as well keyboard wrist rests for both normal and compact sized keyboards. When considering the quality and size we get on the available Glorious PC Gaming Race products, the prices are more than fair. It starts at just £5.99 G-L Large Pro Gaming Surface and tops out at £19.99 for the G-XXL Tall Extended Full Desk Large Pro Gaming Surface.

Now, you might consider £19.99 a lot for a mouse pad, but it’s a lot more than that. The name already tells that it’s a full desk surface and it will cover about 92cm x 46cm (36″ x 18″ x 0.12″). That is a surface large enough to easily place both your mouse and a full sized keyboard with room to spare. I’ve long wanted a large surface for my entire desk, maybe this makes it the perfect time to get going with it and get myself some premium surfaces.

‘Snooper Charter’ Causes Issues With Google, Microsoft, Twitter And Others

The Investigatory Powers Bill (IP Bill for short) goes by another name, the Snooper Charter. The bill is aimed to help extend and update the government’s legislation surrounding their surveillance powers, this extension though is gaining more than a little public notice with more than a few people expressing how worried they are about these new powers. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter can now be added to this list of people that have issues with the current bill.

Listing their concerns, they state they understand the responsibilities of Governments to protect people and privacy, they continue by saying that they believe a legal framework can protect people, companies and the Government. They cite their membership to the “Reform Government Surveillance” (RGS) coalition before continuing in saying that any surveillance must be lawful, necessary, transparent and proportionate.

Current proposals look to force ISP’s to retain at least a years worth of data about sites you visit, an action that has raised concerns by ex-NSA director Bill Binney. The primary areas that they wished to bring into notice are the conflicting laws between the proposal and international law. Continuing on to state that an international framework, as suggested by Sir Nigel Sheinwald, should be established to help with issues and prevent the use of warrants on people based within the UK to attempt to extract information from a branch of the company in a different country.

One of the main issues is encryption with digital data and the bill states that companies will have “obligations relating to the removal of electronic protection applied by a relevant operator to any communication or data”, basically saying that any protection you have on your devices companies will need to be able to remove. This didn’t go down well in America when the government ordered Apple to unencrypt a phone while China’s new law forces companies to provide them with encryption keys.

I recommend reading through their concerns if you are interested and keep listening out for more information as it develops on the “Snooper Charter”, as no matter how you use technology, this law will impact everyone.

Overclockers UK Expands to Eight More GAME Stores

Overclockers UK launched their new partnership with GAME back in early December and it was a big success. The two companies joined forces in this partnership to bring an extensive range of exclusive gaming PCs, components, and accessories in a few selected GAME stores and GAME’s online site.

The partnership started relative small with just two shops setting up Overclockers UK displays, but that is about to change. The two initial stores will be expanded with eight more which makes it a total of ten GAME stores across the UK where you can find the great PC hardware provided by Overclockers UK. Today you can visit the Teeside Shopping Park and the Metro Centre and will be greeted with a shiny new interactive display from Overclockers UK. The display offers customers the chance to play the latest games on cutting edge PC hardware.

The two stores displays launched back in December are in Basingstoke and Manchester. Yesterday they opened up in Stockton and Newcastle Upon Tyne, and today it is Glasgow’s turn. Tomorrow it will be Chester, Friday it will be Cardiff and Gloucester while the last two shop displays will be launched on Saturday in Portsmouth and Bournemouth. You can find the full details to each of these locations below.

It is really great to see PC hardware making a comeback to the streets after so many years where we have seen a steady decline in the same. I have no doubt that this will continue to be a success for both GAME and Overclockers UK.

Launched in December:
BASINGSTOKE – Festival Place, Unit 15, Festival Place, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21 7BE
MANCHESTER – Trafford Centre, Manchester Unit L29, 46 Peel Avenue, Manchester, M17 8DF

Tuesday 5th January:
STOCKTON – Teeside Shopping Park, Unit 4B Teeside Park, Stockton, TS17 7BW
NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE – Metro Centre, Unit 23A, Gateshead, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE11 9YG

Wednesday 6th January:
GLASGOW – Braehead, Unit 57 Braehead Shopping Centre, Kings Inch Road, Glasgow, G51 4BP

Thursday 7th January:
CHESTER – Grosvenor Shopping Centre, 46 Forgate Street, Chester, Cheshire, CH1 1HA

Friday 8th January:
CARDIFF – St Savid’s Dewi Sant, 50 Grand Arcade, Cardiff, CF10 2ER
GLOUCESTER – Eastgate Shopping Centre, Unit 8B Market Way, Gloucester, GL1 1QH

Saturday 9th January:
PORTSMOUTH – Gunwharf Quays, 226 Commercial Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO1 1HG
BOURNEMOUTH – Castle Point Shopping Centre, Unit 21, Bournemouth, BH8 9UZ

Ex-NSA Director Warns UK Snooper’s Charter Will Kill People

The former Technical Director of the NSA has warned that should the UK Investigatory Powers Bill – nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter – pass into law that it will result in the deaths of innocent people. Bill Binney says that the sheer quantity of information that GCHQ analysts will be forced to sift through will actually distract them from protecting citizens, leaving the country more vulnerable to attack.

“It is 99 per cent useless,” Binney said in a letter to MPs leaked by human rights group Liberty (via InfoSecurity). “Who wants to know everyone who has ever looked at Google or the BBC?  We have known for decades that that swamps analysts,” adding that mass surveillance “costs lives, and has cost lives in Britain because it inundates analysts with too much data.”

While mass surveillance data has proved useful in the aftermath of, say, the World Trade Center attacks, to provide further background on the perpetrators, Binney argues that the act of collecting that data makes such an attack more likely to slip through the net.

“The net effect of the current approach is that people die first, even if historic records sometimes can provide additional information about the killers (who may be deceased by that time),” Binney wrote. “The alternative approach based on experience is to use social networks as defined by metadata relationships and some additional rules to smartly select data from the tens of terabytes flowing by.  This focused data collected around known targets plus potential developmental targets and represented a much smaller set of content for analysts to look through.”

Binney, who left the NSA in 2011 in protest at its mass surveillance program and became a whistleblower, will be speaking to MPs at the Joint Committee today (6th January) about the ineffectiveness of GCHQ’s BLACK HOLE data collection system which will support the IP Bill.

Image courtesy of The Independent.

UK Video Games Industry Set to Expand in 2016

The UK games industry is expecting to see significant growth in 2016, with many major businesses increasing their investment and seeking to hire new staff, according to UK video game trade association TIGA. However, many companies expect their overheads to rise, meaning that prices are set to increase to compensate.

A recent survey conducted by TIGA found that:

  • 60 per cent of respondents plan to grow their organisation’s workforce a little over the next year. 12 per cent expect their workforce to grow a lot.
  • 54 per cent of respondents to the TIGA survey said that the outlook for investment in their business (for example, in R&D, training, new games development, etc) was more optimistic than compared to 12 months ago.
  • 66 per cent of respondents to the TIGA survey forecast that the trend in their company’s net profits over the next 12 months would be up.
  • 67 per cent of respondents reported that their company was performing either ‘very well’ or ‘well’.
  • 46 per cent of the respondents to the TIGA survey said that the principal obstacle holding back their businesses was limited access to finance.  
  • 56 per cent of respondents anticipate that their company’s costs are likely to increase over the next 12 months.
  • 38 per cent of games businesses in our survey expect that their prices will increase over the next 12 months.
  • 63 per cent of respondents to the TIGA survey believe that the economic and business environment in the UK is favourable to the video games industry.

“The UK video games development and digital publishing sector is set to grow in 2016. Our survey shows that games businesses are planning to increase investment and employment. This growth is being driven by three factors,” Dr Richard Wilson, CEO of TIGA, said.

“Firstly, the consumer market for games is significant and growing. Already games are played in 70% of households, and over 50% of all UK adults are mobile gamers.”

“Secondly, the increasing prevalence of mobile and tablet devices, the new console generation, and the advent of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are stimulating investment in games.”

“Thirdly, Video Games Tax Relief, which TIGA played a critical role in achieving, is fuelling growth. Games Tax Relief effectively reduces the cost and risk of games development and it incentivises investment and job creation in the games industry. Games Tax Relief is predicted to create 2,700 new development jobs and £320 million in investment over the next five years,” Wilson said.

“2016 is set to be another good year for the UK video games industry,” added Jason Kingsley OBE, TIGA Chairman and CEO and Creative Director at Rebellion. “There are new start-ups, existing firms are expanding and new technologies are boosting innovation and growth in the sector. I am particularly pleased that Video Games Tax Relief, a measure that TIGA consistently campaigned for over many years, is having a positive impact on growth in our sector.”