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March 10th, 2020

Security grammar: Are you insecure when writing about unsecure technology?

Security grammar: Are you insecure when writing about unsecure technology?

At Prompt we spend a lot of our days writing about technology – big data, data warehousing, BI, CRM, BPM, ERP, API – you name it, we’re ITK. If it’s got an acronym, or a set of acronyms associated with it, then we’ve written opinion pieces, whitepapers, case studies and news releases about it.

One area that’s always hot – whether the underlying topic is mobile, cloud, BYOD, SQL injections, risk or compliance – is security. Which brings us to a very specific grammar question. Do you ever find yourself pausing and asking yourself, the people around, or the grammar gods: “Is it unsecure or insecure?”

At first, this appears a very easy question. ‘Unsecure’ can surely be eliminated – after all the word doesn’t appear in either Merriam-Webster or the Oxford English Dictionary. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a great deal in the constantly changing world of tech speak. In the technology sector, words and phrases are coined and adopted at the drop of a Zune –  just consider the use of the words ‘virtualized’, ‘de-duplication’ or ‘phablets’.  At Prompt we have to stay current with the market and all of its constantly ‘evolving’ terms and phrases (but we don’t have to like ‘em).

The problem with this example is that while insecure can be used in both US and UK English to mean something that is not adequately protected – for example an ‘insecure investment’ – it is more typically used to describe a lack of emotional confidence or certainty. Yes, some dictionaries will go as far to state the example of ‘an insecure computer system’ and there’s a whole Wikipedia page on ‘Computer Insecurity’, while ‘Computer Unsecurity’ clearly does not earn a Wikipedia page at all. But for many of us ‘insecure’ just doesn’t sit very, um, securely in a sentence.

We can’t help think that an insecure computer system sounds a little self-conscious about the size of its processors, or needs a reassuring reboot up the backend. So where to go?

Well, we like to use either of the phrases ‘non-secure’ or ‘unsecured’. Both pass dictionary scrutiny, and each can be used quite literally to mean ‘not made secure’, which we think is a good fit for a computer system that hasn’t been protected with security measures.

Unless you are an absolute stickler for academic grammar (and if you are then tech buzzwords are going to destroy your finely balanced sensibilities in about a picosecond anyway), then you could arguably use any of the terms mentioned in this post to get your point across. The most important thing then, as is generally the case with most copywriting best practices, is that you are consistent. So pick a term, add it to your company style-guide, share it with your team, marketing contacts and agency – and then be secure in your decision.

Follow Hazel on Twitter at @HazelButters

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March 2nd, 2015

The Prompt Byte – Rising Stars: Riskified

The Prompt Byte – Rising Stars: Riskified

Working in technology hubs on either side of the pond, at Prompt we’re always keen to get to know more about the innovators on our doorsteps in Boston and London. Each week, we’ll interview a local startup to learn more about technology and inspiration that can be found at home.

We caught up with Andy Freedman of Riskified; a company dedicated to eliminating the security risks and inefficiencies in the world of eCommerce. The Israeli startup has recently opened a new Boston office and we’re here to find out why.

  1. Tell us a bit about what Riskified is all about and how it got started. Riskified is an end-to-end risk management solution. We help more than 2,000 eCommerce merchants to prevent online fraud by reviewing, approving and guaranteeing their orders. We launched Riskified with a goal to build the world’s best eCommerce fraud team. We stop online fraudsters and allow merchants to focus on growing their business without fear of fraud.
  1. What does innovation mean to you? 
Innovation is the ongoing process of solving real customer pain. It involves endless iteration, learning by doing, and constantly validating your product or service by maintaining an active conversation with customers.
  2. Why is Boston such a hotbed for innovation? 
As an Israeli startup opening our first US offices in Boston, there are several similarities between our two vibrant startup communities. As well as boasting a wealth of talent, Israel and Boston also share a sense of passion and pride for their local ecosystem. Each community seizes every opportunity to collaborate, rejoice in success and be vocal advocates for startups on a global scale.
  3. Do you have any concerns about Boston’s growth and innovation culture?
I think it is natural to fear that successful Boston startups will be lured away into other markets on the promise of greater exposure and financial gains. However I believe that a key driver for the incredible growth we are seeing in Boston is a shared sense of pride in making Boston a global powerhouse across a wide-range of industries.
  4. What are some of the trends and challenges you’ve seen in the Boston tech scene?
Having spent time living in both Palo Alto and Tel Aviv it has been fun to watch Boston’s emergence as a consumer technology powerhouse, alongside traditionally strong industries like SaaS, biotech and robotics. I look forward to seeing Boston continue to attract tech companies of all stages from other global communities – like Israel, Europe and Asia – and continue to expand our international reputation.
  5. If you weren’t based in Boston which city and/or country would you want to be based in and why?
I may be a bit biased but Tel Aviv, hands down. Despite the massive weather upgrade (it will be in the 70s and sunny all next week), the number of game-changing products and services being built in such a small country is inspiring to be around.
  6. Name a piece of technology you’ve bought personally that you love – either recently or in the past – and why you bought it. 
I finally started using my Cuisinart Food Processor that was given to me as a wedding present almost 4 years ago. Now I’m addicted. I’m looking for any recipes to try, so if you’re reading this and have any suggestions, I’m all ears!

To learn more about Riskified, browse their site or follow them on Twitter.

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October 2nd, 2013

Updating your WordPress site – Are you scared to press the update button to reach 3.6.1?

Updating your WordPress site – Are you scared to press the update button to reach 3.6.1?

There’s been a lot of press coverage about WordPress security this week, including this piece in Information Week and this one in Techworld.

If you’re a WordPress user there are several things that you can do to secure your site – but one of the biggest (and easiest) is to keep your WordPress site updated with the latest version of the software.

Seems simple enough and yet it seems that WordPress users aren’t keeping up to date: research from EnableSecurity found out that only 7,814 WordPress websites upgraded to the latest WordPress 3.6.1 a day after it was released – that’s out of 42,106 WordPress websites ranked in Alexa’s top 1 million websites. That’s a shocking less than a fifth, or 18.55 percent, of users.

It’s not as if updating your WordPress version is tricky – it is (literally) the push of a button.

So why the reluctance to update? From our experience of training people in WordPress, whether it’s in-person or our classroom-style online courses, we find that many WordPress users are hesitant to update their WordPress blogs because they’re worried the update may cause problems, or they see warnings about backing up (and many people we talk to aren’t even sure if they are backing up…) and they worry they will screw their site up. So the update is simply ignored.

Well, while we’ve found it to be rare that a WordPress upgrade can go wrong, we would agree with those warnings – it’s important to back up your site anyhow, and there’s lots of options including plugin such as backWPup.

Unsure if you’re backing up? Or how to backup? Or you’re pretty sure you’ve backed up but are still feeling scared about pressing the update button? Don’t be – if you want to understand how to back up your site and confidently press that update button, sign up for one of our online classroom-style WordPress training courses to improve your WordPress skills. Or just sign up for our free weekly WordPress tips below!

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January 30th, 2013

Watching the Detectives

Watching the Detectives

This week back in 1952, the first TV detector van – a brand new way of tracking owners of unlicensed television sets in the UK – was demonstrated in front of Postmaster-General, Lord De La Warr.

A 1952 BBC TV licence detector van

A 1952 BBC TV detector van

Now, although this may just sound like a quirky historical technology milestone, we think that detector vans deserve a little more explanation – both for our readers outside of the UK, and for those among you who have never quite been convinced that this method of detection was all that it seemed. So here’s some brief background.

In 1926 the British Broadcasting Company – a British commercial company formed in 1922 by British and American electrical businesses trying to sell their innovative products to radio buyers – was wound up. All of its assets were transferred to the non-commercial, royal chartered British Broadcasting Corporation, or the BBC as we know it today. With the advent and wider adoption of TV broadcasting, the British government decided to introduce a licence fee payable by all TV set owners, who by necessity were viewers of BBC programming, the only show in town.

Introduced on 1 June 1946, the licence covered a single channel, black and white BBC television service, and it cost £2 per year. In 1968, a ‘colour supplement’ of £5 was added to the then £5 monochrome licence, making a full-colour licence fee £10 per annum. Today the equivalent fee for every UK household (with a variety of exceptions) receiving television broadcasts is £145.50 (£49 if you’re still watching solely in black and white) – and that includes the use of devices such as computers, tablets and smartphones. In 2011–12, declared licence fee revenues were £3.681 billion – the lion’s share of the BBC’s total income of around £5 billion. The licence fee is classified as a tax set by the UK’s Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, with the BBC authorised to collect fees by the Communications Act 2003. Evasion remains a criminal offence, and nearly every household in the UK routinely pays their licence, with many believing that detector vans will find them out if they don’t.

But would they? Really?

The 1952 detection equipment was developed at experimental Post Office labs in Dollis Hill, London. Contemporary photos show three horizontal loop aerials slung on the roofs of old trucks. These detector vans were apparently designed to receive signals from TV sets in homes using internal or external aerials, and were said to patrol Britain’s streets regularly, pin-pointing signals and matching them against a list of licensed homes before making doorstep demands.

And here’s the rub. Although most Brits grew up watching foreboding adverts of a slow moving but scarily sophisticated fleet of vans, and have dutifully paid their fees in fear of detection, an increasing number of people today have stopped believing in them entirely. It began when I was young, when I was told that what the licensing people actually did was just randomly knock on the doors of households with rooftop TV aerials  and spot checked licences, solely to keep the detection van myth going. This cynicism has grown and grown, and today it is generally accepted that if there really is a fleet of vans, then it probably fits in one pretty small lock-up garage, and only exists for PR purposes, if at all.

What is almost certain, is that the vast majority of licence evaders these days are not tracked by tricksy vans with special equipment on their roofs at all, but by unpaid direct debit records, tracked against an historic database, and prompted by renewal letters. In fact the only time I’ve ever heard of friends having their licences checked is when moving house, which again doesn’t demand much investigation by the BBC, and certainly not a spy vehicle of any kind.

So what do you think, really – 60-odd years of expensively maintained vehicle fleets and armies of personnel roaming the British countryside fingering licence evaders, or an evolution from random checks with clipboards into routine checks with databases and bank records? High-tech mobile surveillance, or a deterring veil of Orwellian scare tactics? Every opinion from every angle can be found online, of course (some pretty definitive, actually), but sometimes it’s more interesting to ask yourself – what do you really think? Had you even bothered to question the existence of detector vans?

Oh, and don’t forget to tell us!

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November 30th, 2007

Powerful Playstation Processor Penetrates Password Protection

Powerful Playstation Processor Penetrates Password Protection

Sony’s Playstation 3 is currently experiencing something of a resurgance. It’s not unfair to say that the games console has had a troubled first year. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 enjoyed a significantly earlier launch, and Nintendo’s family friendly Wii captured the imagination of casual gamers across the world, but a prohibitive price tag, a lack of exceptional exclusives, and a late arrival onto the market has meant Sony have been forced to play catch up.

But things are looking up for the PlayStation 3. A price reduction has seen sales of the powerful console rocket. According to new figures, monthly sales of the PlayStation 3 have overtaken the phenomenally successful Nintendo Wii for the first time in its home territory of Japan. But it’s not just gamers who are enjoying the powerful capabilities of the PS3.

The powerful chip that lies at the heart of the PS3, the Cell chip, is being put to use in ways that are more… practical than gaming. The BBC reports that Aukland-based security researcher Nick Breese has been using a PS3 to crack eight character passwords. Typically, it could take days to crack these passwords, but the power of the Cell means it is able to crack these passwords in mere hours.

The reason for the Cell’s amazing performance can be attributed to the fact that it is designed with one thing in mind – brute force. Each chip has multiple processing cores, allowing it to go through over 1.4 billion cycles per second. As a point of comparison, a powerful Intel chip is capable of 10-15 million cycles a second.

Mr. Breese was quick to point out that although passwords could be cracked with the console, stronger encryption systems remained safe.

This is not the only example of the Playstation 3 being used outside its usual remit of games and films. FAH (Folding@Home) is a distributed computing network, harnessing the power of over 700,000 PS3s to research how the shapes of proteins influence diseases such as Alzheimers. The network has recently been recognised by Guinness World Records as the most powerful distributed network in the world.

Sony is making progress with the PS3, but it continues to lag behind its rivals. While it seems as if gamers have yet to take the expensive machine to their hearts, the scientific community certainly has. The Cell chip is an astonishingly powerful piece of technology, and it is being deployed in a wide variety of scenarios, from password cracking to supercomputers. Whatever happens to the PS3, it looks like the Cell is here to stay.

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