Data for sale on eBay

When eBay launched it became the go-to place for buying electrical items at vastly reduced prices, amongst other things. Its auction bidding style provided an element of excitement where the user could become a ‘winner’ by making the best bid. Counting down the hours and minutes until the sale closed could be a nail-biting affair.

Since then eBay has vastly expanded the range of items for sale and it is a marketplace where any individual can set up their stall. Now something rather interesting about eBay has come to light, according to a Forbes article; around 42% of the hard drives sold on the site contain sensitive data.

The analysis came via Ontrack research for a Blanco Technology Group report. It revealed that hard drives bought in the USA, UK, Germany and Finland contained sensitive data as well as personal information.

Birth certificates, passports and more

The researchers spoke to sellers, all of whom claimed they had used proper “data sanitisation methods” to ensure no data remained on the drives. The report showed this was clearly untrue. It showed, “One drive belonged to a software developer “with a high level of government security clearance” that still contained scanned images of family passports and birth certificates along with financial records.” And they also found,” a drive with 5GB of archived internal office email from a major travel company, 3GB of data from a freight company including documents that detailed shipping schedules and truck registrations, university student papers and associated email addresses and school data that was comprised of photos and documents with pupil names and grades.”

Fredrik Forslund, vice-president of cloud and data erasure at Blanco remarked on the situation: “Selling old hardware via an online marketplace might feel like a good option, but in reality it creates a serious risk of exposing dangerous levels of personal data.”

This is not a case of widespread data theft, or intent to damage a specific business. For criminals to benefit from this information, they would have to buy a lot of hard drives and even then they cannot be sure what data they will get, or indeed if there is any on the hard drive.

But Tim Erlin, vice-president of product management and strategy at Tripwire, warns that although this might make it seem as if there isn’t a problem, “it might lower the concern, but it shouldn’t eliminate it.”

How to avoid selling data on eBay

Getting rid of a hard drive requires care and any business should have a process in place for removing any sensitive data. Old processes, such as using magnets are outmoded, and Solid State Drives (SSDs) require a different approach altogether. Tim Mackey, senior technical evangelist at Synopsys suggests that in order to ensure certainty data cannot be recovered, physically destroying, or shredding, the drive is the answer.

It is likely that large organisations have the systems in place to perform this kind of data sanitisation effectively, but small and mediums sized businesses may not. And it is likely that the majority of the hard drives for sale on eBay come from those businesses who see selling old hard drives on the site as a way to recoup some money.

We need to be more aware than ever of the value of data and the importance of data security. If you are getting rid of a hard drive connected to business use, ensure it is properly destroyed and that you have confirmation of its destruction. Don’t let it end up on eBay where you have no idea who might find that it still contains valuable information.

Protecting humanity as AI grows

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going through the process of evolution. To date we have seen the emergence of artificial narrow intelligence (ANI), and artificial general intelligence (AGI) to artificial super intelligence (ASI). Those working in the field predict that it won’t be long until AI is able to “combine the intricacy and pattern recognition strength of human intelligence with the speed, memory and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence,” as Jayshree Pandya writes in his recent Forbes article.

One of the upshots of this progress is that people feel less insecure and fear what this may mean for their future, particularly with regard to employment. After all if AI can replace most manual and mundane work that will affect a significant number of people in manufacturing industries. As Pandya points out, “with all these new digital assistants and decision-making algorithms assisting and directing humans, more complex day-to-day work for humans is being greatly lessened.” It would be nice to think that this will mean humans can put their feet up and relax, but who will fund that? The robots won’t pay for sure.

Of course, there is hope for humans, because no mater how much AI technology is hyped, it simply can’t replicate the human brain, because elements like memory and conscience are as yet a long way off and are only a part of some computer scientist’s dream of a human-like artificial intelligence.

Super scary Super ASI

Pandya believes that the “potential development of artificial super intelligence points to a frankly scary scenario in the coming years.” He thinks that the processing power of the human brain may not be able to match that of ASI in the long-term, which is indeed a frightening thought. It may well be inevitable that AI will reach a point where it will be able to improve its own software design and capabilities far beyond what its designers envisioned: like the monster that Dr Frankenstein could not control.

Will AI overtake human intelligence?

Another concern is that human intelligence may dumb down as AI takes over tasks. If the human brain is not allowed the opportunities to learn new skills, how will its development suffer? That is a tough question to answer. And the answer to it may define the future of humanity, which has for all of recorded history relied on the sophistication of human natural intelligence for survival. Pandya says, “the question everyone across nations needs to evaluate today is whether our efforts should be towards enhancing human intelligence or artificial intelligence.”

We need to start planning now for the future when our intelligence may be seen as inferior to that of AI. It sounds like science fiction, but we can no longer dismiss it as a scenario created by a novelist or Hollywood.

Don’t be afraid of robots, says World Bank

The World Bank has published a report annually since 1978. Each report focuses on a detailed analysis of one aspect of economic development and for 2019 the topic is robots and automation and how it is impacting on the world of work.

Bloomberg interviewed Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg, the World Bank’s Chief Economist, about the report and one of her first statements was: “This fear that robots have eliminated jobs — this fear is not supported by the evidence so far.”

The fear arises from the fact that in the first world a substantial number of jobs have been lost in the industrial sector, while in East Asia the there has been a rise in employment in industry. The World Bank report notes the anxiety about job losses, but claims “the number of jobs lost to automation is about equal to the number of jobs created, even if technology is changing the nature of those jobs in several ways.”

In the World Development Report 2019: The Changing Nature of Work, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said:

“The nature of work is not only changing — it’s changing rapidly. We don’t know what jobs children in primary school today will compete for, because many of those jobs don’t exist yet. The great challenge is to equip them with the skills they’ll need no matter what future jobs look like — skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration. By measuring countries according to how well they’re investing in their people, we hope to help governments take active steps to better prepare their people to compete in the economy of the future.”

Koujianou Goldberg also commented on the changing nature of work, telling Bloomberg: “This is the fourth industrial revolution, there have been three before, and in each case we managed to survive so it’s not the case that machines completely eliminated humans.”

However, not everyone agrees with the World Bank’s assessment of the situation with regard to a radical change in the types of jobs available. Gizmodo argues that the World Bank has not considered the quality of the jobs available, or the social and cultural impact of the loss of certain jobs and responds to the idea of robotics bringing a fourth industrial revolution as an idea to be treated with caution. Gizmodo also says, “There is a reason that many of the regions hit hardest by automation voted in the largest numbers for Trump.”

It also points out that reports like the one from the World Bank are useful as a window into how elites — i.e., those doing a lot of the automating — view mechanization.

What is clear that there are good arguments from both viewpoints and that what we need is dialogue between the two, so that we plan for an industrial revolution that is less harmful to those communities most affected by automation than in the past.

5 technologies disrupting banking by 2023

Over the next five years banking is going to change dramatically and will be nothing like we know it today. The changes will come due to technology and will provide financial institutions with both opportunities and challenges.

The global recession put a spotlight on banks; these institutions were largely responsible for the near-collapse of economies and although they have weathered the storm, people’s trust in them has not been restored.

Out of the failure of financial institutions came the bitcoin protocol and blockchain technology. This was followed by the arrival of fintech startups and neobanks, both of which threaten the consumer account monopoly enjoyed by retail banks, which is referred to as ‘legacy’ in the financial media. According to various consultancies, new players could capture up to a third of incumbent banks’ revenues in the next 2–3 years. If banks don’t respond to this, they are in danger of disappearing.

However, there is good news for the traditional banks: the new technologies that are threatening the banking industry also present significant opportunities. They can leverage big data and advanced analytics to improve customer experience, as well as build trust, loyalty and revenues. Dan Cohen, SVP at Atos, said: “Banks are at a crossroads. Continuous fintech innovation and new technologies such as blockchain are disrupting the market. While it creates threats, it also opens multiple opportunities for financial services to reinvent themselves and thrive.”

Here are five of the technologies that will advance fintechs and potentially cause more disruption in the banking sector, unless the banks are agile enough to incorporate them.

1. A hybrid cloud

Cloud computing tech has gone mainstream in banks pretty fast. It was found that at least 75% of bankers said their most successful cloud initiatives had already achieved expansion into new industries, creation of new revenue streams, and expansion of their product/services portfolio.

2. APIs

The combination of open platform banking and open APIs will change the entire banking ecosystem in its current state. In this scenario, the bank will serve as a platform, on top of which third-party companies can build their own applications using the bank’s data.

3. Robotic process automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) has helped banks and credit unions accelerate growth by executing pre-programmed rules across a range of structured and unstructured data.

4. Instant payments

Consumer demand for instant payments is on the increase. With instant payments, more transactions will be made digitally instead of in cash, which means that payments will become less expensive and more user friendly.

5. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The benefits of AI in banks and credit unions are widespread, reaching back office operations, compliance, customer experience, product delivery, risk management and marketing to name a few