Happy 10th Birthday iPhone!

The iPhone is 10 years old!  June 29th 2017 marked the tenth anniversary of what has become a 21st century icon and the apple of Apple’s eye.  Beyond its luring magnetic draw as an object of desire and its smart functional capability (yes – there’s an app for everything), the iPhone is a symbol of digital liberation.  The freedom from the wired and tethered world is a natural function – the true affordance is the capability and empowerment that this brings: the fluidity and ease with which we access and navigate the digital ecosystem and how we have come to live and behave in context of this.  The world is at our fingertips and in our hands.  The push-pull relationship and deterministic nature of technology is one of debate – have we reached a point where we have become entirely dependent on, and perhaps even addicted to our smartphones and other devices?  Would you relinquish your smartphone for even 24 hours? Perhaps reflect on this, and the reasons for your answer.

The ubiquity of connections and the penetration of smartphones is no less than phenomenal.   According to the GSMA ‘The Mobile Economy 2017’ report there were 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers in 2016 – projected to rise to 5.8 billion by 2020.  In terms of SIM connections, these were reported at 7.9 billion in 2016 – projected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2020.  To put this in context there are, according to a range of sources, over 7.3 billion people on the planet.  In other words, there are more connections than people.  The mobile industry is one of the most disruptive forces that we have ever seen – not only technologically, but also in terms of the societal impact at all levels: individual, group, community, region & country and in personal, social and corporate contexts.  ‘Mobility’ has become firmly entrenched in virtually all aspects of our lives.  Devices and the construction of our future in terms of physical and virtual environmental infrastructure and the way in which we digitally engage with this are also intrinsically related – ‘smart’ has not only become a prefix for ‘phone’ but also for ‘home’, ‘city’ and ‘environment’.

Smartphones and ‘mobility’ have changed or created new behaviours, language and even laws – ranging from the urban pat-down digital dance ritual before leaving the house: tapping parts of your apparel and body to ensure that you have your phone, keys and wallet/purse, thru 2 new sms & txt spk lol! and legislation that governs the usage of handsets in vehicles.  They have influenced the creation of new models of interaction and the creation or disruption of markets – look to mobile banking, contactless payment systems, transport (e.g. UBER), social media and gaming for examples.

It’s also important to reflect on and understand the role that we play as consumers of the technologies.  On one hand, we are exactly that: consumers.  On the other hand, we are the creators and generators of data: stats relating to app usage, network usage, our location through geocoded data, the length of time we spend on calls, who we call, fitness data, health data – the list goes on.  We are an inherent part of the mobile ecosystem that is fuelling the innovation.  We are generating big data, and at the risk of politicising the matter – the democratisation of digital, paradoxically, has created an ecosystem where the digital proletariat are feeding the digital bourgeoisie.  From a more cultural perspective, we are recording the world in a manner that has never been recorded before with our smartphones – creating a digital multi-dimensional imprint of 21st century earth.

At Staffordshire University, we’re proud to have a history in Mobile Computing.  In 2001 we created what was then reported as the first BSc Mobile Computing degree in the UK.  Since then we have been agile and moved with the industry to keep abreast of developments in the mobile ecosystem.  Aspects of mobile computing are taught across modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.  We have dedicated mobile app development laboratories in the Department of Computing in Stoke-on-Trent, and we teach iOS, Android & Microsoft app development.  Many of our students produce excellent final year dissertations in this subject area.

I’ll end this article, with a quote from Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google (extracted from the GSMA 2017 report): “The last 10 years have been about building a world that is mobile-first, turning our phones into remote controls for our lives. But in the next 10 years, we will shift to a world that is AI-first, a world where computing becomes universally available.”

Happy 10th Birthday iPhone!

Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer/Academic in the Department of Computing, School of Computing & Digital Technologies, Staffordshire University, UK. @K_Hameed

NHS Cyber-Attack 12th May 2017

On Friday 12th May 2017 we heard the shocking news that the NHS had been subjected to a large-scale ransomware attack which rendered essential healthcare services unavailable. According to media reports up to 39 NHS organisations and several GP Practices were affected.  NHS Digital (the organisation that exists to ‘improve health and care by providing national information, data and IT services for patients, clinicians, commissioners and researchers’) said that there was no evidence that data had been compromised.  Earlier this year on the 13th January, Barts Health Trust was also subjected to a ransomware attack.

A ‘ransomware’ attack is a form of cyber-attack that aims to have a debilitating effect by denying key digital resources to the user and literally holding the user to ransom by demanding payment to release those resources.  A user might be an individual user/consumer, a commercial business, or a service.  In the case reported today we see what appears to be patient data (the key digital resource) affected.  This has resulted in the inability to deliver essential healthcare services to patients and with payment being demanded from the NHS organisations to release that data.

The debilitating impact is caused by encrypting the data in a form that renders it unusable (essentially useless) to the systems that use that data.  For example, a clinician will need to see a patient record containing essential information on their screen during a clinic session.  If this data is inaccessible (because it’s been encrypted) then the consultation is compromised.  The ransom demand for payment is to decrypt the data ‘back to normal’.

Ransomware attacks are abhorrent and what is particularly repugnant about this attack is that it has affected our National Health Service which everyday innocent citizens rely on.  It has potentially put the lives of those citizens at risk: new-born babies, children, the elderly, the vulnerable and the sick.  At this point it may also not be entirely clear if the affected systems can be re-instated to the consistent form they were in before they were hijacked, or if there is any associated long-term impact.  This is yet to be determined.  The nature of the data in question is also of critical concern e.g. personal sensitive data about individuals, their medical conditions, diagnosis, blood test results, prescribed medication etc. Data that cannot be more personal in nature.  Whilst there is no indication at this stage that data has been leaked (i.e. that theft of data has occurred), there is always the risk of further nefarious activity embedded within ransomware attacks that might seek to do this.  The thought of this type of data in the public domain is alarming.

Every system is subject to attack with motives including financial gain, political advantage, vanity, revenge, sabotage and espionage.  The impact and cost can be disastrous: financial loss, loss of reputation, loss of trust, loss of data – and loss of life.  A report published by Symantec last year (2016) summarised that ransomware had reached a new level of maturity and menace, with targeted attacks on business organisations on the increase. Whilst attacks against the Healthcare sector had been widely reported in recent months, it did not appear to be the most frequently targeted sector.   This attack is said to be part of an un-targetted wider attack affecting organisations around the world. The real extent of ransomware attacks is perhaps unknown, as there are likely to have been many unreported by organisations for fear of damage to reputation, erosion of consumer confidence, financial loss, and litigation.

The NHS has made significant and commendable strides in embracing the digital ecosystem, including the morphing of the Health and Social Care Information Centre to NHS Digital, and the publication of Local Digital Roadmaps which aim to deliver, ‘primary care at scale, securing seven day services, enabling new care models and transforming care in line with key clinical priorities.’  My hope is that this work continues to grow and strengthen, and in doing so fortifies the digital fence that protects our healthcare service and data, and weakens the efforts of those that seek to harm it.

Links:

NHS Digital

NHS England (Local Digital Roadmaps) 

An ISTR Special Report: Ransomware and Businesses 2016, Symantec

 

Digital Transformation: Digital Leadership

Isolated transformation of Lime Butterfly ( papilio demoleus ) on white with clipping path

On the 1st March 2017, the Government published its UK Digital Strategy – seven strands of digital thread woven together to provide a framework for action to address digital transformation in the UK.  The ambition: “to create a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone” [1].  The strategy aims to build on the very strong and credible position held by the UK in the digital sector, and to create an economy which “is resilient to change and fit for the future” [2].

The seven strands of the new UK Digital Strategy are:

  1. Connectivity – building world-class digital infrastructure for the UK
  2. Digital skills and inclusion – giving everyone access to the digital skills they need.
  3. The digital sectors – making the UK the best place to start and grow a digital business
  4. The wider economy – helping every British business become a digital business
  5. A safe and secure cyberspace – making the UK the safest place in the world to live and work online
  6. Digital government – maintaining the UK government as a world leader in serving its citizens online
  7. Data – unlocking the power of data in the UK economy and improving public confidence in its use

The UK’s current digital stronghold is reported in the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) which tracks the evolution of EU member states in digital competitiveness.  The Index is an element of the Digital Single Market programme – one of the European Commission’s top priorities.  This perhaps provides a somewhat nostalgic reassurance of the UK’s position in an EU context, and its future post-Brexit potential in its drive to grow as a world-leading digital economy.

‘Digital’ is not just about the technology stack – it’s about the harmony and congruence of a range of cross-disciplinary concepts and the technology to yield affordances of: inclusivity & connected communities, efficiencies & productivity, service innovation & value, competitiveness & strategic advantage, empowerment, and releasing the full potential of human capital across the spectrum of personal, social and corporate life. Transformation can manifest through small-step changes or macro-level disruptive intervention.  ‘Digital’ is sometimes referred to as the 4th Industrial Revolution, and like any revolution it can have transformative impact.

We see and experience transformation all around us: in a personal context as we progress through life, at our place of work as it responds to sector-specific demands, and in nature as the seasons change.  Transformation can be disruptive & challenging, but the results can be beautiful – like a butterfly that emerges after the four stages of metamorphosis, governed by the laws of nature.

Governance of digital transformation is an interesting matter.  We have seen a significant ‘democratisation of digital’ in recent years, and this has seeded the growth of a fertile digital economy and ecosystem – an open playing field for a game that is still evolving, and in which the role and position of players is yet to fully emerge.  Perhaps it is then not so much about governance of (or within) this evolving landscape – but much more about digital leadership.

The new UK Digital Strategy provides a well-constructed and harmonised framing mechanism – seven strands which, individually and compositely, provide the basis for achieving digital transformation for the UK.  Leadership that translates this into implementation at national, regional, local, and institutional levels is perhaps the key to digital success.

The definition of digital leadership is somewhat embryonic and evolving.  Attributes cited include that of: having transformative vision (this is frequently referred to); being a forward-thinker; capable of creating a distinct and effective digital culture; having a change-oriented and ‘can-do’ mind set; the capability to inspire; to be able to manage complexity, and to understand digital congruence & alignment [3].  Other attributes and capabilities cited include: the ability to frame the digital challenge and to assess organisational digital maturity; focusing & targeting investment; understanding internal & external governance; implementing strong enterprise-level governance; engaging the organisation at scale, and sustaining the transformation [4].  The definition of digital leadership in context of CxO-type roles is perhaps a matter for debate, and on this note – it’s interesting to observe the prefixing of the term ‘Digital’ to a range of jobs across industry sectors.

Finally, the UK Digital Strategy refers to the UK’s proud history of digital innovation and the early of days of computing.  We’re very proud to be part of that history at Staffordshire University.  Last year we celebrated ’50 Years of Computing’ – a milestone of being at the forefront of computing education and one of five institutions that first started to offer degrees in computing in 1965.  Since then we have helped to create an international workforce of highly-skilled computing professionals who have applied their knowledge and skills to yield transformative digital solutions to solve society’s problems.   As an institution, we continue to pioneer in the world of computing and the digital economy – recently undertaking an institutional-level digital transformation programme to become a fully digitally-enabled University and digital leader in the HE sector.

The UK Digital Strategy can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-digital-strategy

[1] UK Digital Strategy, Ministerial Foreword, Published 01/03/17

[2] UK Digital Strategy, Executive Summary, Published 01/03/17

[3] Aligning the Organization for Its Digital Future, MITSLoan Management Review, Findings from the 2016 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project, Delloite University Press

[4] The Digital Advantage: How Digital Leaders Outperform Their Peers in Every Industry. MITSloan Management, Capgemini Consulting

Khawar Hameed is a Senior Lecturer/Academic in the Department of Computing, School of Computing & Digital Technologies, Staffordshire University, UK,

It’s Internaut Day!

Today is Internaut Day! It marks 25 years of public Internet access and recognition of the ground-breaking World Wide Web (WWW) work of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the results of which have had profound global impact and changed the way that we live. It is this aspect – the impact on our lives, that I want to focus on and celebrate in this brief article.

The web has bridged distance through telepresence. We can ‘be there’ without really being there.   Relationships have been maintained or formed through the Internet, and the emotive essence of dialogue has been strengthened through visual contact that goes far beyond the written or spoken word. Isolation has been transformed into a sense of belonging, community, and shared social experiences – the world has indeed become a smaller place where we have become virtual neighbours.

The web has changed how we work. Work is no longer a place that we necessarily ‘go to’, it’s what ‘we do’. Consequently, new patterns of how we work have emerged. Spaces morph – places of leisure become places of work and vice versa, and those places of work become decorporealised into a federation of physical and virtual fragments where the work ‘place’ can be accessed as long you have an Internet connection. The reach of the Internet and the decorporealisation of work enables reach into a workforce that would otherwise be difficult – it brings a true meaning to the word, ‘inclusive’

The web has changed how we learn. It has become our tutor, our encyclopaedia, and in many cases our first port of call when we need to know. The immediacy of information access accelerates the process of knowledge development – and knowledge is the keystone in a knowledge-based economy, where what we know is perhaps more valued than other skills and attributes.   Education has become more accessible and inclusive than ever before. Around the world it has allowed individuals to develop their knowledge and enabled host societies and communities to move forward – the divide between knowing and not knowing has been reduced. Every place has become a place of learning as connections and access to the Internet have become a common part of life.

The web has enabled voices to be heard. From the individual voice that needs the occasional virtual soap box to the vox pop that represents critical mass of thought and opinion – it has become our sounding board and our amplifier.   Sometimes the world listens, and sometimes it responds. It has created a virtual platform where all citizens can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with politicians and leaders to engage in constructive debate through accessible channels.

The web has changed how we value space. In addition to valuing the worth of real estate in conventional terms we also now value in terms of connections.   The real estate may, in those conventional terms, be extremely valuable but if you are disconnected in a connected world then that space is of no value to you – the feeling and reality of disconnection is perhaps too much to bear.   Thus we think about the world around us in new ways. We consider the ‘space of flows’ (Castells) in contemporary ways – in ways that are fundamental to the digital citizen and a new society.

I’m going to leave the final word of this article to the Black Eyed Peas and their ‘Now Generation’ lyrics. You can look them up on the web…

Happy Internaut Day!

Apple Says ‘No’ – The Threat to Data Security

Consider a world where your fundamental existence is enabled and underpinned by an array of connected devices and systems, and the totality of your life and virtually every aspect of what you do is reliant on these devices and systems.  Consider a future where you live in smart cities and environments and your future urban life is constructed from interacting digital systems that provide the core functionality for your every day common activities and behavior – such as how and what you buy via online shopping, or where you go using intelligent transport systems, or what services you consume – such as healthcare.  Consider your own home, digitally alive and connected to the ether of the Internet via your high-speed broadband and the laptop, tablet, and all your other screens through which you immerse yourself into the virtual world – your connected smart TV, the smartphone in your hand – without which you would cease to function, and the webcam looking at you right now from the top of your screen.  Now consider this – that every aspect of your digital life – your existence as a digital native, your entire digital footprint created through your interaction with devices and systems – what you buy, where you go (in reality and virtually), who you talk to, what you watch – and who’s watching you, plus a great deal more including your online banking might be accessible by cybercriminals and government agencies.  How would you feel?  Shocked, to say the least.

That world is, effectively, the world that we live in today and we are starting to live that future as we transform into digital citizens living in a connected environment – one where digital capital will grow as technologies and systems such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) proliferate and become a ubiquitous and seamless aspect of life.  Beyond the individual digital footprint, there’s also the aspect of Big Data – massive data sets that are generated as a consequence of interactions and which provide the basis for analytics and intelligence at a macro level.

Security is therefore key.  It’s one aspect that we expect and rely on to protect our digital assets and our digital lives.  Beyond the specific and significant technical aspects of implementation, it’s an enabler – it enables us to engage with and interact with the digital ecosystem with confidence, leveraging the full affordances of such a system to live contemporary lives without fear and constraint – in education, business, leisure & entertainment, healthcare, and across private and public sectors.

However, we face a challenge – that of the use of digital capital and infrastructure for nefarious purposes.  Security provides a cloak, and perhaps protection, for perpetrators of crime.  On one hand, the principle and practice of security and protection is central to current and evolving digital engagement.  On the other hand, it is this very aspect that can be employed to conduct illicit activities, with devastating impact.

So the question arises: should Governments be able to wield and exercise power that forces the hand of technology companies?  Should Governments be able to intervene and impose measures that create a potential negative disruptive impact on the technology landscape and threaten the fundamental principle and practice of data security?  Yesterday, Apple responded to this question with a ‘no’.  On the Apple website, Tim Cook stated that, “We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand. This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.”

And what is at stake?  Fundamentally, the right to privacy? Access to your entire digital DNA? A digital State where the imprint of your every action can be accessed? The creation of a back-door platform for cybercriminals to exploit all of this?  Maybe, and probably a lot more.

You can read the full statement from Apple here

Apple’s approach to privacy can be found here

 

Find out about our computing courses here.