Microsoft and the FBI, aided by authorities in more than 80 countries including Australia, have launched a major assault on one of the world's biggest cybercrime rings, believed to have stolen more than $US500 million from bank accounts over the past 18 months.
Microsoft said its Digital Crimes Unit has successfully taken down at least 1000 of an estimated 1400 malicious computer networks known as the Citadel Botnets.
Citadel infected as many as 5 million PCs around the world – including here in Australia – and, according to Microsoft, was used to steal from dozens of financial institutions, including American Express, Bank of America, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, eBay's PayPal, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Canada and Wells Fargo.
While the criminals remain at large and the authorities do not know the identities of any ringleaders, the internationally co-ordinated take-down dealt a significant blow to their cyber capabilities.
"The bad guys will feel the punch in the gut," said Richard Domingues Boscovich, assistant general counsel with Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit.
BBM is so convincing that we can let it live on its own merits now, says BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins.
The popular instant messaging service that has kept BlackBerry firmly on the smartphone map in SA and worldwide – BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) – is going to be made available for Android and iOS devices within the next three months.
“We are giving the power of BBM to Android and iOS users,” proclaimed BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins at the close of his keynote at BlackBerry Live in the US city of Orlando this morning.
According to Heins, BBM will become a free messaging app for its smartphone rivals’ users “during the summer”.
An unexpected move, Heins says it is ultimately a statement of confidence. “The time is right for BBM to become an independent messaging platform.”
Heins says the company is making BBM “more powerful than ever before” by leveraging its popularity and giving it to users of other operating systems. He says there are currently over 60 million active BBM users worldwide.
Heins says BlackBerry is more confident than ever before, thanks to its re-engineered BlackBerry 10 platform – a stance evident in his latest announcement.
“We have a solid foundation and a vision that spans next 10, 20 years. We believe in power of BlackBerry 10.”
The intelligent assistant app provides yet another Google software alternative for iOS users.
Google Now, Google’s intelligent assistant app, is available for iOS, reports the official Google Blog.
Unlike the iOS assistant Siri, Google Now is future-focused, attempting to provide users with information to help them make decisions and plan their lives. The app gathers data from the user, such as calendar entries or Web searches, to predict what information will be useful. For example, after searching for a restaurant’s opening hours, Google Now will provide directions to the restaurant, as well as traffic information for the route.
The system works by displaying a series of cards on the Google Now screen. Information can include anything from weather and sports scores, to a summary of a user’s physical activity over the last month, to a digital boarding pass and flight information. Certain cards may trigger a notification.
Users can choose to add functionality to the application by allowing certain data, such as Gmail accounts, to be used, adding cards such as parcel tracking to the Google Now screen. As the app is used, it gathers more data and becomes capable of predicting a user’s needs more accurately.
In addition to its predictive tools, Google Now incorporates a voice-activated search and personal assistant tool, positioning the app as a direct competitor to Siri. Taken in conjunction with the introduction of Google Maps for iOS in December 2012, the availability of Google Now for iOS extends the option for iPhone and iPad users to choose Google’s software over Apple’s on their devices.
Larry Page, Google CEO, identifies Google Now as one of the avenues Google is using to “focus on the big bets that will make a difference in the world”.
“Our goal is to get you the right information, at just the right time,” he says. “Launched nine months ago, Now provides boarding passes, delivery updates, and traffic conditions… without you having to ask first.”
Android has overtaken iOS in the tablet market and several key markets in the mobile sector.
Android increased its share in the tablet market by just over 17% to 56.5%, compared to the first quarter of 2012.
Following predictions from various pundits and international research companies, Google’s Android has taken over from iOS as the top operating system in the tablet market.
The most recent International Data Corporation (IDC) report shows worldwide tablet shipments increased 142.4% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2013. Tablet shipments totalled 49.2 million units, surpassing that of the entire first half of 2012.
Android increased its share in the tablet market by just over 17%, to 56.5%, compared to the first quarter of 2012. Meanwhile, Apple’s iOS lost more than 18% of its market share year-on-year for the first quarter of 2013.
While iOS might be falling behind, Apple is still the number one vendor in the tablet market, with 19.5 million units shipped. The number two vendor, Samsung, performed above expectations and increased its shipments over the fourth quarter of 2012, as the manufacturer’s smaller-sized tablets began to gain momentum in the market.
Tom Mainelli, research director for tablets at IDC, says sustained demand for the iPad Mini and increasingly strong commercial shipments led to a better-than expected first quarter for Apple.
"In addition, by moving the iPad launch to the fourth quarter of 2012, Apple seems to have avoided the typical first-quarter slowdown that traditionally occurred when consumers held off buying in January and February in anticipation of a new product launch in March."
The growth of Android continues in the mobile market, with the latest smartphone sales data from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech revealing Android continues to dominate the number one spot in the UK, with 58.4% of the market, and 49.3% in the US. According to Kantar, these figures are set to grow with new smartphone releases.
Dominic Sunnebo, global consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, says Android is the top-selling OS across key global markets, only beaten by iOS in Japan, and now accounting for 93.5% of the Spanish market.
“We expect to see a further spike in its share in the coming months, as sales from the HTC One start coming through and the Samsung Galaxy S4 is launched. This will pile pressure on Apple, BlackBerry and Nokia to keep their products front of consumers’ minds in the midst of a Samsung and HTC marketing blitz,” he adds.
Sunnebo says it is clear that one of the key drivers of Samsung’s performance is how targeted each device is. “Kantar Worldpanel ComTech data clearly shows that different Samsung models are appealing to a very different type of consumer. The Galaxy Note 2 is popular with affluent 25- to 34-year-old males, the Galaxy S3 Mini appeals to younger females, the Galaxy Ace to older females, while the Galaxy S3 has broad appeal.”
He adds that the fact that Samsung has so many models available in the market is not indicative of a scatter-gun approach, simply a realisation that different consumers demand different handsets, both in functionality, design and price.
When looking at the download of apps, Apple still has the stronghold. According to Canalys’ App Interrogator research, released last month, Apple’s App Store accounted for the largest proportion of revenue between the four app stores, with 74%.
Meanwhile, the Google Play store saw the greatest number of downloads, accounting for about 51% of the stores’ collective total, with Apple falling just behind.
Commenting on the battle for app download supremacy between Apple and Android, Adam Daum, chief analyst at Canalys, says it comes with its own challenges for app publishers, carriers, investors and device vendors. “So there is intense interest in the possible emergence of a third ecosystem.”
Handling With Care
Entrepreneur: Ashley Mulligan
Company: Kushesh Trading
You have to hand it to Kushesh Trading, a specialist courier service for medical consumables. In just four years, this player has expanded in size and reputation so much so that it’s taking business away from competitors of various sizes, including from the larger multinational companies.
But, it wasn’t always easy. In its early days, the firm, founded in 2008, worked on building an impressive system and carving a niche for itself. No doubt, the strategy wasn’t only innovative and unique (in the consumables arena) but also appealed to the medical manufacturing market. Still, no client signed up. And, there was no income to speak of, but that didn’t deter the husband-andwife team. “For the first two years we ate brown bread and water,” quips Ashley Mulligan, Kushesh MD and co-founder.
That was then. The business is now marching ahead with confidence. Kushesh, whose staff complement has grown to 20, with the number of vehicles up from a mere two in the early days to almost 20 now, is on a steady trajectory. However, management isn’t resting on its laurels.
Organic growth is part of the game plan. Part of this would help the firm achieve critical mass, but would also involve setting up new branches and eventually achieve a national footprint. While branching out comes with high costs, it’s outweighed by the potential benefits that come with a widened footprint.
“We’ve built a strong business, done much to discern ourselves from the rest and feel a sense of achievement. But, we’re nowhere near what we’d like to achieve,” says husband Ashley, with co-founder Tania Mulligan noting that Kushesh is well positioned for expansion. “We’re also helping with the delivery of healthcare to more people because some of the areas we stretch to aren’t easily accessible or weren’t previously reached (through other formal platforms).”
While noting that the company is still addressing some challenges, by way of footprint, the Mulligans credit the Finweek/Aurik Business Accelerators programme – which offered bursaries to 10 high-impact entrepreneurs on a specialised two-year business development initiative – for powering Kushesh to the success story it is now.
“The programme has helped us to identify some problems in terms of our structure and systems. The process also helped us identify some solutions,” Ashley Mulligan explains. “Before the programme, we were deeply involved in our business, the day-to-day issues. We were bogged by such issues but that didn’t allow us to develop a broader outlook, strategy or expansion and growth. Now we can, now we’re able to focus on the bigger picture.”
Now, the co-founders are focused not only on client acquisition and client retention but on acquiring more accounts. Broadly, Kushesh’s client base has risen to 20 accounts of varying sizes. It’s no mean feat in such a fickle industry. The couple gave a glimpse of their bigger plans in the medium term. It’s a promising story. Nevertheless, it’s notable that, at this pace, there’s a risk of Kushesh finding itself completely overwhelmed and failing to deliver.
“Aurik has enabled us to understand our capacity, we know how to push for expansion without lowering our standards,” Tania Mulligan says, adding that existing clients, as a form of tribute, tend to raise the percentage of work Kushesh does for them thanks to the firm’s unique offering in what’s known as the “last mile”, the point between medical suppliers and hospitals or pharmacists. “The last mile is one of the most critical parts. People come to us because of the peace of mind our service offers,” she says.
The model enables them “to deliver products in the right condition, on time, and knowing that consumables [relayed by Kushesh] aren’t contaminated because we specialise and keep to procedural requirements at hospitals,” Ashley Mulligan says. “We work with people’s lives and take that very seriously, so we’re not about dropping off boxes. The market knows we’re experts.”
It’s little wonder then, as the Mulligans proudly point out, that the firm, which has not lost a single account, is being approached by a good number of suppliers who choose it as a service provider. It follows then that the four-year-old outfit has overtaken some of their larger rivals as suppliers continue to recognise it for its unique and winning delivery model.
Written By: Shoks Mnisi Mzolo
Information Taken From Finweek Magazine