Bitcoins Losing Value for Cyber Thieves

Bitcoins Losing Value for Cyber Thieves
The falling value of bitcoins have made them much less attractive to cyber-thieves, claims a security expert. The anonymity of the virtual cash has made it a favourite with thieves who blackmail victims with viruses.

Now hi-tech gangs quickly convert payments into other currencies, said IBM security expert Etay Maor in an interview with The Register.

One bitcoin is now worth £155, much lower than the £728 value it hit in late 2013.

Scrambling data with malicious programs known as ransomware – which demand payment from victims to decrypt data – has been popular with some hi-tech criminals over the past few years. The gang behind the notorious cryptolocker program is believed to have made about £2m from victims before it was broken up.

Bitcoins have been the preferred payment method, said Mr Maor, but the volatility of the currency and its falling value has forced criminals to convert it into other forms of cash as soon as possible. “Most of them won’t keep bitcoins – they don’t like the valuations bitcoin has – so they just use it as a layer of obfuscation, and move it to a different form of money,” Mr Maor told The Register during an interview at the RSA security conference in San Francisco.

Many ransomware gangs use people not directly connected with the gang, known as mules, to clean up the cash by paying it into a legitimate bank account. Mules generally get a 20% cut as a fee.

Police forces and computer security firms have scored some successes against ransomware gangs. Computers involved in the cryptolocker malware were seized and the encryption system for the program broken so victims could get their data back without paying any cash. In addition, Dutch police have worked with security firm Kaspersky Labs to analyse a server seized during an operation against the coinvault ransomware. This led to the creation of a program that can decrypt scrambled data. The firm has also retrieved lots of encryption keys that can be used to unscramble data.

Air Passenger Duty Refunds Inconsistency

Air Passenger Duty Refunds Inconsistency
Parents due partial refunds on their children’s air tickets face a variety of ways to claim the money.

Air passenger duty (APD) for children under the age of 12 on economy travel will be abolished from 1 May. That means some passengers who have already booked and paid for flights that take off after 1 May are due a refund of the duty.

Some airlines are giving refunds automatically, but others require passengers to fill in a claim form. “Some airlines are operating a refund by request system and this could be one extra job that many parents never get around to doing, leaving much of the money stuck in APD limbo,” said Hannah Maundrell, of comparison website Money.co.uk, which has a guide to the changes.

“Airlines are already awash with consumers trying to reclaim money for delays, these new applications for APD refunds could simply add to the administrative nightmare. The important point here is that anyone that’s booked a flight for a child aged two to 11 for after 1 May must check whether they paid APD. If they did, they need to make sure they get the money back from either the airline or the travel agent.”

The British Air Transport Association (BATA) said the different systems of refund were the result of airlines requiring different levels of information at the ticket booking stage.

Some ask for the age of the passenger when a ticket is booked, so these airlines have been able to make automatic refunds. Others may not ask for the age until passengers confirm details closer to the flight departure, in which case parents might need to actively make a refund claim for children aged under 12. Some airlines have automatic refunds, some may require a refund claim to be made online, while others ask passengers to follow email or booking account instructions.

The APD cut was announced in December’s Autumn Statement, and followed an announcement in the previous Budget to scrap two APD tax bands.

Air passenger duty is charged on all passenger flights from UK airports. The rate of tax varies according to where the passenger is going, and the class of travel. The amount paid in duty can range from £13 to £71. From May 2016, APD for children under 16 will also be abolished.

The changes will cost the Treasury £40m in 2015-16. The cost will jump to £80m the following year, and rise to £95m in 2019-20.

HSBC Considering Moving HQ out of the UK

HSBC Considering Moving HQ out of the UK
HSBC has said it is considering moving its headquarters out of London. The bank said the review followed “regulatory and structural reforms” since the financial crisis.

HSBC’s board has asked its management to “look at where the best place is for HSBC to be headquartered in this new environment,” the bank said. “The question is a complex one and it is too soon to say how long this will take or what the conclusion will be; but the work is under way.”

Shares in the company jumped 3.7% higher on the news. “Clearly their investors are saying ‘maybe you should just get out of London and have a fresh start’”, said BBC business editor, Kamal Ahmed.

The bank may decide to sell its retail bank, originally called Midland Bank, he added. HSBC, along with the UK’s other banks, will be required to separate its British retail business from the rest of the group by 2019.

The review also follows plans announced in the Budget to increase the bank levy from 0.156% to 0.21%.

The bank has had its headquarters in the UK since 1992 but it makes most of its money overseas. Asia accounts for about 80% of its profit.

HSBC’s profit dropped 17% in 2014. HSBC blamed its “challenging year” on the $2.4bn it was forced to pay in fines and settlements in relation to foreign exchange manipulation and mis-selling of payment protection insurance. The scandal-hit bank has also faced allegations that it helped people evade UK tax using hidden HSBC accounts in Geneva.

When asked about his view on HSBC’s potential move on 5Live, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: “They can make their own mind up… but I hope they will stay in the UK.”

UK Retail Sales Fall in March 2015

UK Retail Sales Fall in March
UK retail sales fell 0.5% in March from February, dragged down by a 6.2% fall in sales at petrol stations, the Office for National Statistics said. Excluding petrol, sales rose 0.2% in March, against a 0.6% rise in February, which has been revised down from an initial estimated of 0.7%,

For the first three months of 2015, sales rose 0.9%, down from 2.2% in the first quarter of 2014.

The figures show consumers are still cautious about spending, analysts said.

Keith Richardson, managing director for retail at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, said: “Even with continued falls in fuel and food prices, consumers are responding to this current period of uncertainty by being just as careful about their own spending as they have been for the past few years. “Despite the fact that Mother’s Day fell in March and Easter fell early in April, this wasn’t enough to bring forward any boost in spending into March, doing nothing to allay fears that while consumers may have a little more money in their pockets, they are spending it on leisure treats like eating out and going on holiday, rather than on High Street goods,” he said.

UK economic growth figures for the first three months of 2015 are due to be published next week. Economists said the retail data could herald slower growth.

Alan Clarke, at Scotiabank, said: “The monthly data all point towards sluggish Q1 GDP next Tuesday, not the sort of reading that the coalition government will be hoping for.”

But Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said that although the retail data was “disappointing”, wage growth and low inflation should bolster consumer spending over the coming months. “Despite March’s weaker-than-expected performance, the prospects for retail sales and consumer spending look bright, as purchasing power has strengthened and should continue to do so,” Mr Archer said.

Plantation Shutters for your Home

Plantation Shutters for your Home
With the economy finally beginning to recover, homeowners across the UK are increasingly taking on home improvement projects that were largely put on hold during the recession, and one of the more popular choices among homeowners wishing to “start out small” is an upgrade to plantation shutters.

The reasons for improving one’s home with plantation shutters are just as varied as the homes that have them and the possible style and colour combinations. Chief among those reasons are:

Cost. Many homeowners approach home improvement projects with the mistaken notion that they will see a return on their investment when the home is sold in the future. The unfortunate truth is that, with the exception of a kitchen or bathroom remodel, homeowners should view home “improvement” projects more as home maintenance.

That said, plantation shutters offer many of the same benefits as a more costly window replacement – improved looks, increased energy efficiency – at a fraction of the cost. If you do have plans to paint your home or have the hardwood floors refinished for your own enjoyment or before listing your home for sale, then that would also be an excellent time to improve the look of your home with top-quality plantation shutters.

Curb Appeal. Unlike many cheaper, flimsier blinds, plantation shutters tend to improve the look of your home even from the street. A neighbour walking the dog will undoubtedly notice and appreciate your effort to keep up appearances, as one home’s resale value affects everyone else’s.  Likewise, any home shoppers who notice the “for sale” sign in front of your home will also see your plantation shutters in your front windows while passing through and will likely want to inquire further about your home – even if they can’t quite put their finger on what it was that they liked so much about your home.

The Beautiful Shutter Company
The Beautiful Shutter Company has been installing plantation shutters for years. Whether you are ready to sell your home or simply to improve the look of your home for your own enjoyment and that of visiting family and friends, we can help guide you through the selection process and install the perfect plantation shutters for your home.

For more information about the different types of plantation shutters available or to book your free appointment, call us today on 01642 688049 or visit the Beautiful Shutter website today.

Local SEO – Helping Locate New Business

Local SEO – Helping Locate New Business
The economy is finally recovering, people are buying homes again and, with spring here and summer just around the corner, more and more people will be taking advantage of the warmer weather to tackle projects around the house or flat that are best done in weather when one can have one’s windows open for ventilation. These often include home renovations for which homeowners call upon skilled tradespeople to carry out most or all of the work.

This is all good news for tradespeople targeting a local market, but there’s something else to consider: that local market can be challenging to reach through the phone book and through traditional forms of advertising because people aren’t using the Yellow Pages like they once did for locating people who can do household repairs, fix the air conditioning or plumbing and so forth. As with everything else, people are now doing simple Internet searches (local SEO) to find everything they need.

This is particularly true now that smartphones have become the norm. If your potential clients have Android phones, for example, you want them to be able to find your details simply by typing in “plumbers Newcastle” or “home renovations North East” from the Google search field on their phone.  The right key phrases will do the job just like magic.

This magic is called Search Engine Optimisation or SEO.

How SEO works is simple: the mysterious powers behind the Internet and major search engines such as Google and Yahoo rank the results of certain keywords, and top-ranked results based on those keywords or key phrases are displayed most prominently in search results. Going back to the plumber in Newcastle example, let’s say that you already rely somewhat on word-of-mouth advertising and have been recommended by past clients who remember which street your business is located on. Since the odds do not favour the presence of multiple plumbing companies on the same street, a key phrase such as “plumber (street name) Newcastle” is likely to reveal only one accurate search result, and this is the one that will lead today’s Internet- and smartphone-savvy individuals in Newcastle who have plumbing problems to pick up the phone and call you for their repairs.

But how do you gain this type of visibility on the Internet, you ask? In brief, you do so by developing relevant online content that Internet users will be directed to when they type in relevant keywords and key phrases. The expertise of an Internet marketing consultant can be invaluable to your business if growth is what you desire.

Direct Submit Internet Marketing Services has been developing SEO marketing campaigns for businesses across the UK for over a decade. Our client-focused Internet marketing services are highly effective, even on a small advertising budget, and will have a significant impact on the growth of your small business for a fraction of the cost of television or other, more traditional forms of advertising. By taking advantage of our service, you can expect to see your business grow and revenues soar.

For more information on how we can help you develop your local SEO marketing campaign, call us today on 0845 272 2350 and let one of our Internet marketing consultants help your Internet marketing and SEO project make your business more successful than you ever thought possible.

Shop Local and Make the Right Choice

Shop Local and Make the Right Choice
Whether you’re looking for a handmade wedding cake, the location of a nearby beauty spot, or a local tradesman to help with looking after your garden – you’ll find the small shops and local businesses all likely listed on the Internet in the Search Engines.

What’s more, as many of us now search online for that business or service we are looking for, then for a local tradesman or business then you really do need to have your business online. A fairly simple website that won’t prove too costly is all that is typically required. Often referred to as a ‘Brochure Website’, such a website provides content that describes what you offer together with relevant contact details.

Call the Local SEO specialists, Direct Submit now on 0845 272 2350 and ask them about their well proven and very costs effective SEO services. After all, shouldn’t your website be working harder for you.

Ellen Conlin Beauty Salon Glasgow

Hair and Beauty Treatments for the Summer
Spring is finally here, which means that summer is just around the corner. That means going on holiday and being invited to outdoor gatherings at the beach and elsewhere. And we all know that before we show up at the party in a bikini or any outfit that shows off our legs, there are things that need to be attended to. By taking care of your skin and hair and getting any necessary beauty treatments now, you can rest assured of looking your best on any summer outing.

Hair Removal & Brazilian Wax
This one’s pretty obvious. No one wants to show up on a beach in the south of France looking like they’ve just come out of hibernation, do they? Shaving the legs is all well and good, but suffice it to say that hair removed from any part of the body with a razor will grow back pricklier, itchier and faster than if it were removed by getting, say, a Brazilian or Hollywood bikini wax. Don’t take this one into your own hands; for all those areas where you want to be hairless and gorgeous, professional assistance is the way to go.

Exfoliation & Facial
Harsh winter weather wreaks havoc on your skin, causing it to peel and flake. It can take considerable effort to get rid of dead skin in early spring, so consider a professional exfoliation treatment such as an antioxidant peel so that your skin will be radiant and glowing and you’ll be able to step out in style this summer. A prescriptive facial can also help to reduce fine lines and other signs of stress and aging so that you can look and feel fresh and beautiful while you’re on holiday or going out on the town on those warm summer nights.

Ellen Conlin Beauty Salon Glasgow
Ellen Conlin Hair and Beauty offers these services and many more. Our Glasgow-based hair and beauty salon provides hair styling and beauty treatments in a five-star atmosphere at rates that work with almost any budget.  Our advanced beauty therapists can assess your skin and recommend individualised treatments to bring out your natural beauty before spring turns to summer.

Ellen Conlin Hair and Beauty provides these and many other services. For hair and beauty treatments that will leave you looking and feeling your very best, call our Glasgow salon today on 0141 339 8223 or visit the Ellen Conlin Hair and Beauty website today to make your appointment with a new look.

IBM & Apple to Consider Sharing “How You Are” with Others

IBM & Apple to Consider Sharing “How You Are” with Others
IBM has launched a health unit to make sense of the wealth of data created by the boom in fitness trackers and apps. Watson Health aims to create “a secure, cloud-based data sharing hub” that can feed analytic technologies, it said. It could provide diagnoses or health alerts which could also be sent to doctors, carers, or insurers for example, with the user’s permission.

IBM has teamed up with Apple and wants to launch “new employee health and wellness management solutions”.

The company says it is buying two firms to help with its goal: Explorys which has one of the largest healthcare databases in the world and Phytel that works with digital medical record systems to reduce hospital readmissions and automate communications.

IBM says it wants to provide “individualised insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people’s health”. There has been concern over personal technology being used to help diagnose an individual’s condition.

In the US, some apps that claimed to diagnose cancer, for example, have been criticised by the Federal Trade Commission. There is also concern over the sharing of health data. Companies including Jawbone are talking to firms about how personal fitness trackers could be used to monitor a workforce.

Christopher Coughlan, a UK solicitor who has written on the subject advises bosses considering such a move to be careful. “If you rely on consent it must be freely given. This means a worker must be able to say ‘no’ without a penalty being imposed and must be able to withdraw consent once given. A person is more likely to be in this position at the recruitment stage than when they are employed.”

Insurers are also interested in monitoring customers. UK health insurance firm Vitality is incentivising policy-holders to take up a more active lifestyle by offering rewards for certain tasks that can be tracked through personal fitness devices.

GP Dr Ellie Cannon welcomed the move by IBM. “It is always difficult to gauge how much exercise or calories a patient is describing and this is an accurate way to know. On a larger scale the data could provide evidence to back up or dispute well-known health claims such as how much sleep we need or which exercise is most effective.”

That could be aided by Apple’s announcement today that its ResearchKit software that helps gather health data from iPhones is now available to anyone. It’s already been used to develop apps to study asthma, breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, says Apple.

EU Tackles Google over Search Results Complaints

EU Tackles Google over Search Results Complaints
The European Union has filed a complaint against Google over its alleged anti-competitive behaviour. The competition commissioner said she had issued a “statement of objections”, stating that the firm’s promotion of its own shopping links amounted to an abuse of its dominance in search.

Margrethe Vestager said Google now had 10 weeks to respond. She added that she had launched an investigation into Google’s Android operating system.

It follows a five-year EU investigation into the company and could ultimately lead to billions of euros of fines.

Google has yet to give an official response, but has told its staff that it has a “very strong case”.

The Commission is responding to complaints that Google, which accounts for more than a 90% of EU-based web searches, favours its own products in search engine results.

The European Commission has investigated the antitrust allegations made by Microsoft, Tripadvisor, Streetmap and others since 2010. They object to the fact that the firm places reviews from Google+, directions from Google Maps, music and videos from YouTube, and adverts from its Adwords platform ahead of others’ links in relevant searches.

“At the core must be the fundamental principle that Google must not abuse its power in general online search to give preferential treatment to its own separate services,” Icomp, a lobbying group representing the complainants, said earlier this year. “If Google takes the view that users are best served by search results that integrate additional services, Google must choose the services that benefit consumers most, even if the services are not its own.”

Last year, Google agreed to alter the way it displayed its search results, but the changes it suggested were deemed to be insufficient.

The previous competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, asked the company to come up with a new plan. He left his post without resolving the matter, and was criticised by some politicians for not having taken a firmer stance. Ms Vestager, his successor, has taken a tougher line by issuing a “statement of objections”. This involves sending a letter that sets out all the objections the commission can base its final decision on, and is a legal requirement, providing Google an opportunity to respond before action is taken.

Google could face huge fines and be ordered to reshape its business in Europe.

In recent years, the Commission has imposed antitrust penalties on other tech giants, ordering Intel to pay €1.1bn (£793m; $1.2bn) in 2009 and Microsoft €516m in 2013.

Thomas Vinje, spokesman for FairSearch Europe, said issuing a statement of objections would “represent a significant step towards ending Google’s anti-competitive practices, which have harmed innovation and consumer choice”.

But one independent expert said that the matter could take years to resolve. “Google’s search engine makes it a gatekeeper to different markets in which Google itself also operates,” said Paul Henty, a lawyer at Charles Russell Speechlys who has previously worked for the European Commission.

“I think the Commission will want to send an unequivocal message that it has a special responsibility to give its rivals fair and equal access to customers. But I can’t see that this will be a fast process given the complexity of the subject matter, what’s at stake and the likely level of the fine.”

In an internal memo to its staff, Google insisted that competition to its search business was “thriving” despite allegations to the contrary.

“People can use Bing, Yahoo, Quora, DuckDuckGo, and a new wave of search assistants like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana,” it said. “In addition, users increasingly turn to social networks like Facebook and Twitter to find news and suggestions where to eat or which movies to watch. Mobile is changing everything – with the explosion of apps taking people directly to the information they want.”

The EU’s investigation is not the only one Google is facing. Investigators at India’s Competition Commission delivered a report last week after carrying out a three-year probe into claims of unfair business practices. Their counterparts in Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan and Canada have also opened investigations. However, the US Federal Trade Commission dropped its own probe at the start of 2013 after Google made several non-binding commitments.