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Week Ending: 30th August - A Roundup in I.T. & Tech News

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It has been a busy week for I.T. and tech news this week, but don’t worry if you missed the top stories enjoying the sizzling Bank Holiday sun, you can catch up right here. From French police preventing what could have been a catastrophic attack on the Internet, to NATO standing in unity against cyber-attacks, and finally, an announcement from the BBC introducing its new digital assistant.

French police prevent the Internet from being brought down

This week a team of French police known as "cybergendarmes", assisted by the FBI in the USA, has finally destroyed a virus that infected more than 850,000 computers worldwide over the past three years. The network of infected computers, known as a botnet, was controlled from France and is thought to have made millions of euros from fraud.

France’s C3N digital crime-fighting centre was alerted back in spring to the possible existence of a pirate server that had sent a virus – Retadup – to hundreds of thousands of Windows-operating computers, in over 100 countries but mainly in Central and South America.

Following the tip-off, the French team located and dismantled the pirate server in the Paris region. They then went on to successfully disinfect the computers around the globe. Astonishingly 850,000 infected computers are enough firepower to bring down every single (civilian) website on the planet. Even well-protected institutions were at risk of being paralysed.

Officials explained that the virus was sent via an email offering easy money or erotic pictures and through infected USB drives. Read more here.

NATO announces it will defend member states in case of cyber-attack

NATO has announced that all 29 member countries would respond to a serious cyber-attack on one of them. In an article in Prospect Magazine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said such an incident would trigger a "collective defence commitment" known as Article 5 of its founding treaty.

The last time Article 5 was triggered was following the 9/11 terror attacks on the US in 2001. Stoltenberg said NATO has a “designated cyber-space domain in which it will operate and defend itself as effectively as it does in the air, on land, and at sea."

This idea – that an attack on one is an attack on all – underpins NATO, however, adapting it to cyber-space raises complicated issues. For example, an attack on Estonia in 2007 saw its infrastructure hit through cyber-space. This was blamed on Russia, but it was unclear whether this was the Russian state or "patriotic hackers" operating within Russia and at whose direction.

Another issue is the threshold for considering something an attack. Russia was accused of turning off a power station in Ukraine in December 2015. The crippling of infrastructure is one possibility for reaching a threshold for Article 5 and had Ukraine been a NATO member, this would potentially have triggered. However, in 2017 Russia is alleged to have launched the Notpetya computer virus against Ukraine. This then spilled over into other countries (including NATO members) damaging businesses at a cost of billions of dollars, but Article 5 was not triggered.

BBC plans to rival Alexa

The BBC has announced plans to launch a digital voice assistant next year. Rather than creating a hardware device in its own right the corporation says it is being designed to work on all smart speakers, TVs and mobiles.

The plan is to activate it with the wake-word Beeb and BBC staff around the UK have been invited to record their voices to help train the programme to recognise different accents.

Experts have expressed concern at the announcement claiming the BBC may find it difficult to compete with the tech giants already in this market, such as Amazon, Google and Apple. The likes of Google and Amazon are investing huge sums of money to solve the challenges presented by regional dialects and still face problems, these sorts of funds are not available to the BBC so it could struggle.

There is also scepticism around the wake-word as voice assistants generally use a multi-syllable word or phrase such as Alexa or Hey Google to ensure accurate identification, as such Beeb may well end up being unreliable.

The BBC did say that the word had worked well in research, but that Beeb was not a final decision.

It said that having its own assistant would enable it to "experiment with new programmes, features and experiences without someone else’s permission to build it in a certain way."


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