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Bill Bennett

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Author: Bill Bennett

Not actually a geek, more a chronicler of geekdom. Still mainly a journalist, sometimes a blogger.

National Cyber Security Centre reports growing online crime

Lisa Fong (National Cyber Security Centre)
Lisa Fong (National Cyber Security Centre)

Criminal cyber attacks targeting Aotearoa New Zealand skyrocketed in numbers over the last year and continued to grow in sophistication.

At Reseller News Rob O’Neill writes: National Cyber Security Centre reports a surge in criminal cyber attacks.

While the proportion of state-linked malicious cyber activity was down slightly from last year’s 30 per cent, this was because of the greater proportion of criminal incidents recorded.

The report showed there were 404 incidents affecting nationally significant organisations in the 2020/21 year, a 15 per cent increase on last year.

These numbers reflect the NCSC’s focus is on incidents affecting New Zealand’s nationally significant organisations, and on incidents likely to have a national impact, which means the numbers represent just a small proportion of the total incidents affecting New Zealand

This squares with anecdotal evidence from New Zealand businesses that they are now constantly under attack.

When it comes to government and large scale business systems, it is likely the attackers are already inside the systems waiting for an opportunity.

Everyday crime rates are dropping in most rich countries like New Zealand. There’s a clear switch from activities such risking your life with weapons to rob a a physical bank and getting online to steal money. Computer fraud is on the rise everywhere.

Technology doesn’t help. Bitcoin, a cryptocurrency, may not have been invented to smooth the way for criminals, but it is used by the underworld to move money around. Drug gangs are carrying fewer suitcases full of banknotes and dealing with more crypto transactions. Encrypted messaging services are used to communicate.

While these tools have legitimate uses, criminals have embraced them and depend more on them.

Ransomware remains the biggest threat. Criminals lock up data or disrupt systems until victims pay them, almost always the transaction is in Bitcoin.

At first ransomware gangs targeted small business. It turns out that was all about learning their trade. Today they target government departments, a DHB in New Zealand, police departments overseas.

They operate on an industrial scale and there are well established digital underworld supply chains.

We know most of the gangs are based in a small number of countries. Officials don’t like to talk about this because of diplomatic niceties. As a journalist I can tell you that Russia, other parts of eastern Europe and China are the main sources. We also know some states turn a blind eye to the activity so long as the gangs focus on foreigners. There’s evidence criminal gangs and state hackers co-operate.

Governments have been slow to focus on fighting cybercrime. We can expect that change, but don’t expect a let up from the gangs.

Zettabytes of rubbish data

Last year the world created or replicated 64.2 zettabytes of data. The number comes from IDC, a market research firm.

The figure is remarkable considering three years earlier IDC was forecasting the 2020 number would be 44 zettabytes.

A zettabyte is a trillion gigabytes.

In part IDC puts the faster growth down to the Covid-19 pandemic: a “…dramatic increase in the number of people working, learning, and entertaining themselves from home.”

IDC says: “…less than 2 percent of this new data was saved and retained into 2021 – the rest was either ephemeral (created or replicated primarily for the purpose of consumption) or temporarily cached and subsequently overwritten with newer data.”

Between now and 2025 the amount of data is set to grow at a compound annual rate of 23 percent.

The fastest growing source of data is the Internet of Things, not including surveillance video cameras. Social media is the second fastest growing source.

IDC says the amount of data generated is growing faster than our capacity to store data. The world had around 6.7 ZB of storage and that is growing at 19.2 percent year on year.

Which means we save less and less of the generated data.

This is less of a problem than it might appear because a large fraction of data is useless. A decade ago experts found as much as 90 percent of stored data was rubbish. It can include empty files, duplicates… or many multiple copies of identical files and temporary files that were never deleted.

When the internet disappears 

And the artifacts it leaves behind.

Kate Lindsay writes about The internet that disappears. at Embedded. She says all that talk about the internet being forever is wrong.

Instead: “…It’s on more of like a 10-year cycle. It’s constantly upgrading and migrating in ways that are incompatible with past content, leaving broken links and error pages in its wake. In other instances, the sites simply shutter, or become so layered over that finding your own footprint is impossible…“.

This squares with my experience.

I have written close to a thousand stories for the New Zealand Herald over the years. Many of them are lost to posterity. That’s not the whole truth, I have copies on my hard drive. But readers won’t see them. They’ve gone.

It’s worse at other sites I’ve written for. Although, it can be uneven. I sometimes stumble across stories I wrote 40 years ago before the internet was even a thing.

And there are examples like this published at the Sydney Morning Herald 14 years ago: Keeping in synch. That link may not last much long. As an aside, I wrote this when I had been back living and working in New Zealand for four years. The SMH kept my column going for ages after I move to Auckland.

Some of the disappearing internet is deliberate. I’ve done this myself.

Over the last year I culled some out of date stories on this site. Not because there was anything wrong with them, they were about topics that are no longer relevant, about technologies or products that have gone to the great recycle bin in the sky. Who cares today about Evernote‘s plan to reduce its free service and push users to paid plans?

Again the original copy sites in my laptop’s storage and in my cloud back-ups, but it’s not available for the world to marvel at.

In hindsight I wish I had never culled the material. It’s not on a par with destroying or rewriting history, but it is a crime against something.

The other way this affects me is with link rot. That’s when I link to a story elsewhere from this site only for the link to vanish. About once a month I check for broken links. There are always some. A few more linked stories have disappeared.

I’m guilty of this myself. There are links elsewhere online to the stories I’ve culled.

There’s a lot of advice from search engine optimisation types for publishers, in a modest way I’m the publisher of this site, to cull old material. Apparently it detracts from the more up to date material. I’ve no idea if this is true, but it could explain why so much vanishes without a trace.

 

Technics AZ60 review: Premium Noise cancelling earbuds

Technics AZ60 airportWhile Technics’ AZ60 are not special enough to disrupt the crowded wireless earbud market, they offer a solid premium alternative at a decent price.

There are two new wireless earbud models from Technics. The AZ60 with active noise cancelling (ANC) tested here sells for around NZ$330.

If you don’t want to pay for ANC, consider the $230 AZ40 option.

Apple wasn’t the first company to offer wireless earbuds, yet it set the pace with the original AirPods. Technics came later. Now, like Apple, it is on its third earbuds generation.

Premium earbuds

When it comes to the specifications, Technics AZ60 earbuds are closer to Apple’s premium AirPods Pro ($450) than the AirPods.

Like Apple’s ANC earbuds they come with a rechargeable case and a variety of eartips to help you get a better fit.

Apple offers three sizes, Technics offers seven.

Beyond that there are few similarities. You couldn’t describe Technics earbuds as AirPod Pro clones. They don’t look similar, sound similar or behave similar.

A better comparison would be with Sony’s $400+ WF-1000XM4, which, like Technics, aim to give audiophiles a better sound than other earbud brands.

Although Technics doesn’t match Sony’s WF-1000XM4 earbuds, they come close enough and cost around $100 less depending on where you shop. That makes them an worthwhile bang for buck trade-off.

Sound quality

Technics’ sound is solid. The AZ60 earbuds are a clear step up from the AirPods Pro which are now two years old and will soon be due a refresh.

A lot has happened to earbud sound in the last two years. The pace of product development is impressive.

Technics coaxes a clearer sound from its earbuds than Apple. They offer more definition at the bass end than the AirPods Pro. They do this without overwhelming the ears – always a danger when pushing bass through in-ear speakers. The effect is to give more depth to music.

For me, classical music and jazz are the best tests for headphone or earbud sound quality. Rock and pop are more forgiving.

Technics AZ60

Subtlety

The AZ60 earbuds shine where there’s a wide dynamic range. They are good at dealing with subtlety. You’ll hear more than you might with other earbuds.

I’m no audiophile, but I’d rank the listening experience above the AirPod Pros and beneath the WF-1000XM4.

Sony’s earbuds feel more musical and crisper, but unless you are a fussy listener you’ll find little to complain about with the AZ60.

The relative price difference between the WF-1000XM4 and the AZ60 earbuds is a fair reflection of the sound quality.

Noise cancelling

My AirPods Pro are good enough to let me watch SparkSport in peace on my iPad oblivious of my neighbour’s power tools, the lawn mowing contractor or nearby building work. They are great on bus rides and airplanes – not that there is much flying these days.

If anything, Sony delivers the best active noise cancelling of the three earbuds. This applies to both music and making phone calls.

Technics uses four microphones per earbud to feed its noise cancellation. Two of them work when you make phone calls using the earbuds. They reduce the amount of noise for the person at the other end of the phone call.

This doesn’t always work as well in practice as the marketing material might suggest, but that applies to all earbuds. Every brand oversells the technology.

ANC and voice calls

I tested the earbuds when calling for my regular radio slot a few weeks ago and the engineer asked me to remove them because something was creating a problem with the sound of my voice. It wasn’t good enough to go on air.

I’ve used Sony and Apple earbuds in the past without a problem.

That said, there are zero issues when making normal phone or video calls with the AZ60.

Likewise the ANC is first class when you play music. Again, I’d say the WF-1000XM4 does a better job, but if you didn’t have the two to make comparisons, you’d be more than happy with the AZ60 performance.

Ambient mode

Technics lets you adjust the strength of noise cancelling and, as with all other ANC earbuds, there’s an ambient mode that allows you to switch to hearing sounds around you. If, say, a colleague steps up to your work desk or a flight attendant offers you a drink you can quickly flip to hearing what they say.

At least that’s the idea.

At this point I’m going to confess that testing so many different headphones and earbuds in the last year has left my head spinning when it comes to remembering which gesture does what.

This won’t be a problem if you buy the AZ60 earbuds and learn their controls.

Technics gives you the option to customise its controls, which, in theory helps, but in practice adds a further layer of complexity.

Technics’ app

There’s a downloadable app which includes a handy find my earbuds feature. It gives control over many features. If you like to tinker there are hours of entertainment here.

Personally I can do without the fuss although the Technics app is one of the best and most complete I’ve seen to date. It isn’t optional, the app’s battery life indicator is essential.

When I installed the app it went through a lengthy firmware update before I could anything. While that’s a minor irritation, it indicates that Technics is active with updates. That’s more than can be said for some earbud and headphone brands.

Design and features

Technic’s charging case feels tackier than either the Sony or Apple cases. It lacks the heft and solidity. They may all be made of plastic, but this feels more ‘plasticky’ if that makes sense.

AZ60 comes in a variety of colours including black, white and, depending on how you see things grey or silver. The are easy to wear, mine went in first time, no need to deal with the tips.

They fit fine. If anything they are more comfortable over the long haul than with the Apple or Sony earbuds. Technics says they are waterproof, but I didn’t have a chance to test that.

Technics AZ60 verdict

If you are wedded to Apple’s world, you may find the AirPods a better choice even though Technics gives you better sounding music. The value of Apple’s smooth integration might outweigh pampered ears.

On the other hand, if music quality is everything and your ears are sophisticated enough, you might prefer to spend extra and choose the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds.

Technics AZ60 offers a better-than-Apple treat for the ears at a lower price than Sony’s earbuds. They are comfortable, have good ANC, great sound and all the features you might need.

Download 2.0 – Commerce Commission wants marketing code, better dispute resolution

New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau facility in Waihopai.
One last chance to show a photo of New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau facility in Waihopai.     Photo from Schultz.

Commerce Commission wants marketing code, better dispute resolution

On Monday the Commerce Commission instructed the telecommunications industry to develop a marketing code. On Thursday it called for improvements to the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme.

Both moves are part of a larger ComCom project to reduce the remaining customer pain points.

The Commerce Commission wants to see a marketing code that gives customers all the information they need to make informed buying decisions.

It issued a set of marketing guidelines and told the Telecommunications Forum (TCF), the industry body, it has 60 working days to turn these into a retail service quality code.

Accelerated process

That timetable will mean working through the summer months. In part that’s because there is pressure to move fast.

Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson says there’s increased marketing active thanks to Chorus starting to remove the copper network and Spark retiring the old public switched telephone network.

Although it will take time to develop the code, Gilbertson wants telcos to move their marketing in line with the yet-to-be-developed code as we head into Christmas. This is traditionally a busy time for sales in the sector.

When the code is developed, the Commerce Commission wants it to be binding on TCF members.

Specific guidelines from the Commerce Commission include:

  • Making sure consumers have sufficient notice of changes to copper service so they are not rushed into decisions.
  • Telling consumers about the full range of available alternatives. In most cases this won’t square with what their existing providers want them to buy.
  • Information on the performance of alternative services. The Commerce Commission wants to see the end of claims of speeds “up to” and theoretical maximums.

Upgrading disputes resolution scheme

New Zealand’s 14-year old Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme (TDRS) is about to get its first upgrade.

Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson wants to see improvements to raise the profile of the TDRS with consumers and lift its performance.

He says: “Our work shows… that most consumers have never heard of the scheme and, even if they have, they can find themselves locked out because many basic issues, including speed and performance problems, are currently excluded.”

This means there is a fragmented way of dealing with telecommunications complaints.

His plan is to upgrade the scheme to make it “a one stop shop for fast and effective resolution” of complaints.

One key change is to make the TDRS independent of the Telecommunications Forum. The TCF is made up of telecommunications service providers which can make for blurred lines of accountability.

TCF chief executive Paul Brislen says his organisation has started working on the TDRS upgrade.

He says; “…consumers are given contradictory messages about who to contact if they have issues with their provider. We want to make these processes as clear as possible for consumers and we support the Commission’s desire to have a one-stop shop for consumers to resolve their complaints.”

There are a lot of complaints. The TCF says it handled 2812 complaints and enquiries from customers last year.

Brislen says 98 percent of these were resolved promptly with service providers working with the customers.

2degrees hits new revenue high in Q3

2degrees services revenues hit $148 million in the third quarter. That’s an increase of 7 percent on the same period a year earlier. The company has reported record revenues for three quarters in a row.

The numbers reported by Trilogy International Partners, 2degrees’ parent company, show an eight percent year-on-year rise in postpaid connections. That’s an indiction 2degrees is earning better margins.

Broadband connections are up 13 percent and revenue from the broadband part of the business is up 15 percent year-on-year.

In the announcement 2degrees said its 5G network will launch in the first quarter of 2022.

Sky to join TDL contributors

Spark, Vodafone, Chorus and 2degrees will continue to pay the largest share of the government’s Telecommunications Development Levy (TDL). But there’s a new name on the contributor list this year: Sky TV, which is now a significant player in the broadband market.

This year’s TDL is $10 million, down from $50 million in recent years. The levy is used to pay for essential, but not commercial, infrastructure and services such as rural broadband, a relay service for deaf users and 111 emergency calling.

The Commerce Commission has issued a draft determination and is looking for submissions by November 23.

Spark signals 5G progress

Speaking at Spark’s AGM, CEO Jolie Hodson said the company now has 5G coverage at nine locations. As previously noted in the Download 2.0, Spark is accelerating its 5G roll-out.

Hodson told shareholders Spark will spend an extra $35 million in this financial year bringing the total 5G investment for the year to $125 million. The plan is for nationwide 5G coverage by the end of 2023 although that depends on spectrum rights.

Elsewhere at the AGM, Spark said its Skinny Jump connections for low-income families now has 15,121 active connections.

Mattr to provide My Vaccine Pass plumbing

Spark-owned Mattr won the closed competitive tender to provide the technology underpinning the Ministry of Health’s My Vaccine Pass. The pass is a QR code that shows a person’s vaccine status. Having a pass will let people into shops, other businesses and events.

Waihopa spy site has done its dish

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) is to close the Waihopai satellite communications interception station. Announcing the closure, GCSB minister Andrew Little said the site is no longer needed and is close to obsolete.

In other news

Immarsat has merged with Viasat. The satellite companies both planned to start LEO networks next year to rival Starlink.

Weta Digital is the latest New Zealand technology business picked up by an overseas buyer. The buyer is Unity, a US-based 3D content specialist. Reseller News says the deal is worth $2.3 billion.

At the New Zealand Herald Chris Keall reports that Privacy Commissioner John Edwards’ move to the plum UK privacy role is now official.


 

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