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A hunting ground for cybercriminals

download-2The interconnectivity of social media means it is a perfect hunting ground for illegal activity, and increasingly people are realising that their “friend” many not actually be their friend.

Cybercrime on social networks can be broken down into three categories:

  • the traditional broad-sweep scams, trying to lure you to click on something or visit pages that will push malware on to your computer
  • searching for careless public exposure of personal data
  • using social media as a platform to connect, exchange ideas and trade stolen information

Malware, scams and ransomware

The first category is the most widespread.

“The problem with social media is that people have an inherent trust,” explains Mark James, security specialist with IT security firm ESET. “And that is what is being tapped into by those cybercriminals.”

“People still believe that you have to click on something and download a file to be infected,” he says.

“This really isn’t the case anymore. There are things like drive-by-downloads, infected adverts and things like that. It’s very easy to be compromised on your machines.”

In many cases the initial malware is just a gateway into the system. It doesn’t do any real harm, yet. But once a back door is established to the infected computer, that access may then be put up for sale.

A package of data offering, of access to thousands of infected computers, will be snapped up by another criminal for use in a variety of ways.

With access to the computers received, criminals may then install software which, say, hijacks the victim’s online banking, or reads usernames and passwords.

One of the most profitable scams is installing ransomware, malicious software that encrypts the data on a victim’s computer and then asks for payment before restoring the system to its original state.

Reconnaissance

Social media is also an ideal hunting ground for anyone who has a clear target to attack, be it an individual or a company.

If you want to see who works in which company and in which position, or who they are friends with professionally and privately, this information can often be easily picked up on social media.

Any attack on a specific individual will be much easier if the target has made a lot of private information publicly available on their profiles.

If the target is a corporation, it is easy to single out an individual or a group of employees, and then target their machines in a focused attack. And once one machine in a network is affected, getting access to the entire structure is not difficult.

“There’s such a big crossover between your personal social media accounts and the impact you can cause within a corporate environment,” warns Michael Sentonas, vice president of technology strategy at cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike.

“Most organisations allow their users to connect to Facebook, to Instagram, to Twitter and other platforms and that’s where an attack – even if it was targeted at a home user – can have a significant impact on the workplace.”

Putting up defences

“Our only effective protection is a multilayered approach,” Mr James of ESET explains. “There’s no single protection anymore, there’s no magic bullet or single piece of software that’s going to protect us.”

While security software is important, it’s only a first step. It is a cat and mouse game where the bad guys produce the malware and the good guys try to produce the means to stop it.

Chose to read this article

But in truth, you are probably manipulated into doing so by publishers using clever machine learning algorithms.

The online battle for eyeballs has gone hi-tech.

Every day the web carries about 500 million tweets, 430,000 hours of YouTube video uploads, and more than 80 million new Instagram photos. Just keeping up with our friends’ Facebook and Twitter updates can seem like a full-time job.

So publishers desperately trying to get us to read and watch their stuff in the face of competition from viral videos and pictures of cats that look like Hitler are enlisting the help of data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).

But do these technologies actually work?

A question of timing

Recent start-up Echobox has developed a system it says takes the human guesswork out of the mix. By analysing large amounts of data, it learns how specific audiences respond to different articles at different times of the day.

It then selects the best stories to post and the best times to post them.

Echobox claims its system generates an average 71% gain in referral traffic from Facebook and a 142% increase from Twitter. The software is already being used by publishers such as Vogue, Le Figaro and Telegraph Media Group.

“Imagine a superhuman editor with an incredibly deep understanding of its audience, but 100 times faster,” says Antoine Amann, Echobox founder and chief executive.

“The data we use is both historical and real-time. For instance, our system will have a strong understanding of what type of [publishing] times worked well in the past, whilst at the same time analysing what’s currently trending on the web.”

Anne Pican, digital publisher at French daily newspaper Le Figaro, one of the firm’s clients, says they have already seen benefits.

“Social media optimisation has been a major headache,” she says. “Not only is it extremely complex but it’s a lot of guesswork and requires a more scientific approach.

“Since using Echobox we’ve seen a major upswing in our traffic and saved valuable time.”

Blossoming

Traditional newspapers facing dwindling print circulations are particularly keen to attract new digital audiences.

The New York Times (NYT), for example, has built Blossom, an intelligent “bot” constructed inside the messaging app Slack.

It uses machine learning to predict how blog posts and articles will perform on social media. It can also tell editors which ones to promote.

If a journalist sends Blossom a direct message, such as “Blossom Facebook?”, the bot will respond with a list of links to stories it believes will do well on the social media platform at that time.

According to its developers, Blossom posts get about 380% more clicks than ones it doesn’t recommend.

Which headline?

What this type of historical and real-time analysis shows is that certain headlines, photos and topics attract more attention than others on different devices at different times of the day with different audiences.

Predicting this without the help of machine learning computers is very tricky.

Programs such as Chartbeat and Echobox also give publishers the ability to test different headlines and promotional tweets for the same story in real time.

And programs like SocialFlow – used by some sections of the BBC website – apply algorithms to try to anticipate when the social media audience will be most receptive to an update.

It can then automatically post the message at the “optimum” time, measure how many people look at the post, and crucially, how many bother to click through to the original article.

Marketing hype?

But does using data analytics to learn about reader and viewer behaviour, then make publishing decisions based on that analysis, really count as AI?

The NYT is staying tight-lipped about the exact workings of the bot, citing intellectual property reasons, but Colin Russel, a senior data scientist at the newspaper and Blossom’s main designer, says: “We do characterise it as AI.

“We’re emulating what a team of editors would do if they had the time enough and a whiteboard big enough to observe and enumerate all the stories, all their history of posting, and all possible places they could be posted.

“It’s definitely an artificial intelligence.”

Echobox also describes its service as “artificial intelligence meets online publishing”.

But Tom Cheesewright, a futurist and head of consultancy firm Book of the Future, describes such tech as “more of a tool than an intelligence”.

“I’d argue this is probably the very outer edges of what might be called AI. Here, a more prosaic term like machine learning or predictive analytics might be more appropriate.”

Semantics aside, Richard Reeves, managing director at the Association of Online Publishers, believes this kind of tech could have a positive impact on the industry.

“Publishers are faced with the dual challenge of increased competition for user attention and a diminishing pool of resources.

Athletes are using tech to win medals

Likewise, when German sailor Philipp Buhl takes to the water, he will be able to predict accurately how the current will affect his boat as he whips along Rio’s Guanabara Bay.

This is because technology – and data analytics in particular – has made great strides since London 2012.

“Real-time data analytics may not seem like a big leap from an innovation point of view, but it has the potential to enable yet more records to be broken in 2016,” says Dr Helen Meese, head of healthcare at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Data collection and analysis is having an impact on almost every sport.

Fighting fit

For example, Team GB’s boxers have benefited from this type of analysis, using “iBoxer” software developed in conjunction with Sheffield Hallam University.

The performance analysis system makes use of a wealth of data on Team GB’s boxers and their opponents, including detailed fight analysis that reveals threats and opportunities for the fighters, helping them refine their tactics.

And the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has co-developed a database in which Australia’s National Sporting Organisations closely monitor approximately 2,000 athletes each week.

“In athlete groups where there is really high engagement with data entry, we have been able to provide coaches with advice on training loads that have seen a reduction in injury and illness,” says Nick Brown, deputy director, performance science and innovation, at the AIS.

“The tech part of this solution is the database, smart data analytics, and in some cases, the use of wearable sensors to bring in training data.”

Two wheels good

Professor Steve Haake, director of Sheffield Hallam’s Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, has been working with UK Sport since 2000.

He says his team’s work has moved increasingly towards this kind of data-driven performance analysis.

For example, in cycling there is less need to focus on the mechanical aspects, he says, because “bikes are optimised now – they have bearings and gear sets which are 99% efficient”.

Instead, “most of the work we have done in the last two Olympiads has been interrogating how well these things actually work when you get out there in the field.

“It’s about data acquisition and complex databases that draw information from lots of places,” Prof Haake says.

Team USA track cyclists have even been interrogating live data during training using augmented reality glasses developed by Solos.

Data collected from bike sensors, such as power, speed and pedal revolutions, are beamed wirelessly to the cyclist’s glasses via IBM’s cloud platform. As the athletes pedal furiously they can view their key stats without taking their eyes off the track.

“With the ability for the athlete to receive real-time feedback via the Solos smart glasses, they can now adjust on the fly,” says Ernesto Martinez, a director at Solos.

“For example, if Sarah [Hammer] or Kelly [Catlin] need to meet a specific lap time or power metric during an exchange or portion of the race, they will be able to see whether they are hitting the mark or not and adjust accordingly.

“This real-time feedback and adjustment capability will enable faster riding times.”

But the cyclists will not be able to wear the glasses during the Games themselves.

Team effort

Sports the world over are looking to other industries for inspiration, not least the technology and engineering sectors.

For example, Sailing Team Germany (STG) partnered with business software firm SAP in 2011 in an effort to arrest the nation’s decline in the sport after Sydney 2000.

“The goal is to develop technology that helps the sailors train better, perform better and learn quicker,” says Marcus Baur, STG’s head of technology.

A key component of this is building virtual models based on real data, enabling tricky, ever-changing conditions such as currents and wind to be analysed.

Book your dream holiday for you

Now imagine being able to stop the action, ask your smart TV for the location, then have it work out how to get there, including flight and accommodation details.

It may sound far-fetched, but this kind of “joined-up” travel tech is closer than you think.

It’s all part of an effort by airlines and other transport providers to broaden their appeal and compete with the new app-based travel companies, such as Airbnb and Booking.com.

They want to give us the tools to turn our wanderlust into reality.

And travel inspiration can come from anywhere – even episodes of the seminal TV series, Sex and the City.

Madrid-based travel technology company Amadeus noticed that during one episode in which the lead characters went to Jamaica for the weekend, there was “an interesting spike in search activity for destination during the programme’s ad break”, says Rob Sinclair Barnes, strategic marketing director for the firm’s IT Group.

“This started us thinking about how we could implement the technology to build on it.”

Amadeus was then approached by US carrier United Airlines to develop a product that could exploit emerging technology from the likes of Apple TV and others.

The prototype makes use of GPS location tracking embedded in the filming process. By integrating airline data into the coding, the viewer can be given information on the best flight options and travel deals.

This level of personalisation may not be mainstream reality yet, but it’s an indication of where we’re heading. And with the data analytics and machine learning capabilities we have these days, we may soon find ourselves booking holidays to destinations we didn’t even realise we wanted to go to.

“Personalised technology will become so sophisticated that travellers will be offered what they want, when they want it, before they even need to ask,” says Mr Sinclair Barnes.

“We’re seeing massive growth and spending in this area over and above others and that’s healthy for the travel industry as a whole as it will stimulate continual technology advancements and improve the experiences for everyone.”

‘Worst case scenario’

In another example, German airline Lufthansa has opened up its huge passenger and flight status databases to about 400 third-party app developers, allowing them to access the data through an open API (application programming interface) and integrate it into a new range of travel apps.

This is a first for the airline industry.

Lufthansa’s Reinhard Lanegger says that these days for an airline to be known only for operating passenger planes is “the very worst case scenario”.

“We looked at how Amazon uses its data and it really made us think about how we interact with start-ups. You can fence yourself off from them or become an active partner to achieve the level of customer service that is now expected,” he says.

Planning a trip is not just about getting from A to B. There are recommendations to read on social media and travel review sites; bookings to be made, often for multiple forms of transport and different types of accommodation; routes and itineraries to be planned; insurance to be bought; pets to be fed and walked when you’re away.

All these elements are coming closer to being integrated to create a near-seamless travel experience.

Mr Lanegger envisages apps that “heat up your house based on the estimated time of arrival” or “alert your car to rebook the flight when you are too far away to reach the airport in time”.

He says such services will enable the airline “to transform our offering and better reach the younger demographic that now lives online”.

Mums and dads more paranoid

A growing number of tech entrepreneurs believe they have an answer.

But does using more technology offer time-starved parents valuable new ways to interact with their kids or simply make them more paranoid?

Molawa Adesuyi is co-founder and chief executive of Mytoddlr, an app that gives you updates on what your little one is up to at nursery or creche. He is in no doubt about the usefulness of such tech.

“Most working parents drop off their children in day nurseries as early as 8 or 9am, and can’t pick them up till 5 or 6pm,” he says.

“And in this time, they have absolutely no way of keeping in touch or staying abreast of their children’s welfare all through the day. This is a major, major problem.”

With the Mytoddlr app and website, nurseries input data about the child’s routine and behaviour throughout the day – from potty breaks to naps – and parents receive these updates in real time on their phones or computers.

 

“The nursery is happy, parents are happy, it’s a win-win for everyone really,” says Mr Adesuyi.

But isn’t this an extra administrative burden for nursery staff?

Mr Adesuyi claims not, as it can actually reduce paperwork and provide an easier, faster way of communicating with parents, he says.

“There are such great apps out there now for parents… solutions to real problems parents have. It’s just nice to see technology change parenting,” he concludes.

Launched in 2015, Mytoddlr is being used by 2,000 parents in Lagos, Nigeria, and is currently being trialled by some nurseries in London.

Paranoid parenting?

Harsh Songra, 19-year-old founder and chief executive of smartphone app My Child, was inspired to launch his child development monitoring app after having dyspraxia when growing up.

This developmental disorder affecting co-ordination and movement can be difficult to diagnose if parents don’t know what to look out for.

“I have known the struggle of a family where the child has a disorder,” he says. “It took my parents over nine years to figure out the specific problem, and I still go through some health issues,” says Mr Songra.

The My Child app helps parents monitor the development of a child up to 24 months old, asking questions, aggregating relevant content, and identifying local experts.

Launched in early 2015, the app has been downloaded more than 11,000 times in over 140 countries, and is particularly popular in the US, India, Singapore and the UK.

Mr Songra believes technology is a useful parenting tool, but concedes that it may sometimes interfere with the work of professionals.

“At times it does affect their relations with doctors, because parents become paranoid about their child because of what they searched on Google,” he says.

“The problem is that we tend to believe the content of one link over 100 others, and then take actions based on that knowledge.

“But we believe all this will surely change with time, as there is going to be more awareness about these issues in the future.”

Picture perfect

Parenting apps – from webcam baby monitors to location-tracking services, interactive games to health checkers – are definitely on the rise, as busy parents integrate the latest tech into their lives.

One woman in Australia even used Siri, Apple’s voice-activated iPhone assistant, to call an ambulance when her toddler daughter stopped breathing.

But for New Jersey-based entrepreneur Amit Murumkar, the motivation for creating an app was purely practical.

“My daughter was three… and would bring a piece of art back daily from her Montessori school, but there is only so much you can put on a refrigerator door,” he says.

“I also was a good artist as a kid, and when I became a parent I thought, ‘If only I could show the art I did to my own kids.'”

So he built a smartphone app called Canvsly, that allows parents to capture these works of art on the app, organise them into albums, and invite grandparents or other family members to see and comment on them.

The artwork can also be printed through the app and used to create gifts. As long as you trust the app’s cloud storage provider, you could then ditch the originals.

“Parents can go guilt-free and clutter-free,” Mr Murumkar says, adding that the app has been downloaded in more than 100 countries.

Anesu Charamba, a tech analyst at research consultancy Frost & Sullivan, believes such apps are helping parents raise and interact with their children in “new and exciting ways”.

Shopping website to load

Apparently, nearly half of us won’t wait even three seconds.

If a shopping website doesn’t load its content within that time, many of us are so impatient we’ll immediately jump ship.

And that means a lot of lost business for the online slowcoaches.

According to research from digital performance measurement firm Dynatrace, just a half second difference in page load times can make a 10% difference in sales for an online retailer.

Yet retail websites around the world have actually been getting slower over the last year, not faster, says Dynatrace, despite the general increase in connectivity speeds.

Why?

“It’s mainly because of all the third-party connections to Google, Facebook and Twitter,” says Dave Anderson, the tech firm’s vice president of marketing. “These, and chat functionality, are slowing things down, particularly for Australian sites.”

This is because data travelling between the US and Australia have to cover huge distances, causing a delay, or latency.

Australian retail websites have seen average load times increase from 5.4 seconds in 2015 to 8.2 seconds in 2016, says the tech firm – a debilitating time-lag for impatient shoppers.

In the US, the very home of e-commerce, average homepage response times have increased by half a second over the last year, from 3.4 to 3.9 seconds.

And globally, the average page load time has gone up by 7% compared to last year – from 4.2 to 4.5 seconds.

So, ironically, retailers who have been trying to offer a more interactive, personalised multimedia online experience for their customers have been shooting themselves in the foot.

All these add-ons have got in the way of the main aim – to sell stuff. Fast.

“With consumers used to lightning-fast speeds through the use of tools such as Google search, expectations are higher than ever, meaning even the slightest glitch or delay can leave them feeling disgruntled,” says John Rakowski, director of technology strategy at AppDynamics, a performance monitoring firm.

“The level of choice at the fingertips of today’s consumers means they will simply go to a competitor to complete the transaction, causing the sale to be lost forever. And convincing them to come back for another purchase will be an uphill struggle.”

Split second

But can fractions of a second really make that much of a difference?

In a word, yes. North American fashion retailer Nordstrom saw online sales fall 11% when its website response time slowed by just half a second, says Gopal Brugalette, who was the retailer’s senior applied architect in performance engineering at the time.

When you have total annual sales in the region of $14bn (£10.6bn) across 121 stores in the US and Canada, that’s tens of millions being lost.

The bigger the size of a digital file, the longer it will take to load on the page.

An innovative online “dressing room” seemed like a great way to impress customers, he says, but it didn’t work because it slowed the website down too much and sales dropped.

Page load times will vary depending on the type of products customers are looking at, the speed of the networks and devices they’re using, and how far they are from the retailer’s web servers, says Mr Brugalette.

“There’s a lot we can’t control. No two customers will have the same web experience at the same time, because an image of a multi-coloured dress will take longer to load than a plain one,” he explains.

Nordstrom believes a page load time of 2.5 seconds or below strikes the right balance between functionality and speed.

But the bottom line is that “if our site goes slow, our sales will drop, which is why we monitor our performance 24/7”.

Conversely, the faster you make your website or app, the more likely it is you’ll make more sales. Office stationery retailer Staples, for example, saw its online sales increase 10% after speeding up its website by a second.

Balancing act

Retailers face the almost impossible task of offering a fast, stable, easy-to-use website or app that is also visually rich and integrated with social media.

“Personalisation requires the use of scripts, images and integrations with other applications and systems, and this can take its toll on performance, especially during busy retail periods such as Black Friday or the Christmas season,” says Mr Rakowski.

To make things more difficult for them, many don’t even know that their sites are running slowly because their IT teams are concentrating more on keeping the service up and running than on speed and performance, says Mr Brugalette.

But website architects are now getting very clever at fooling customers into thinking pages are loading faster than they really are, he says.

“Say you Google search for ‘brown shoes’ then click on a link. If brown shoes are the first thing you see on the page you feel that the page has loaded fast, so it’s important to make sure the page loads in a particular sequence.”

So online shoppers want speed, simplicity, and reliability all wrapped up in a fun, multimedia experience. Retailers that can offer all this – however technically difficult – will be on to a winner.

Transforming the global conversation

No wonder so many of us blunder into lamp-posts and each other rather than looking where we’re going.

But which dedicated chat app do you use? WhatsApp, Snapchat, Viber, Line? That largely depends on where in the world you live.

In China the biggest chat network is WeChat; in Japan the market leader is Line; KakaoTalk rules OK in Korea; Kik is huge in Canada and the US; Hike bosses India; while in the Arab world niche networks such as Palringo and Soma dominate.

And the number of chat platforms continues to proliferate, as tech companies aim to emulate the eye-watering valuations achieved by the leaders.

Snapchat was recently valued at nearly $20bn (£15bn). Facebook bought WhatsApp for $22bn in 2014 and this week changed the app’s privacy policy to allow businesses to message its billion-plus users directly.

In July, Line raised about $1.3bn in a stock market flotation that valued the company at around $6bn. And now chat networks are even investing in each other, with China’s WeChat recently leading a $175m funding round in India’s Hike network.

But can the market sustain so many platforms? Can we have too much chat?

Talkaholics

In 1993, US researchers James C McCroskey and Virginia P Richmond created the Talkaholic Scale, a method of identifying people who were aware of their tendencies to “over-communicate in a consistent and compulsive manner”.

Initially it was SMS and text messaging that made such communication compulsive. Then it was instant messaging with text, photos and videos.

And now you can access banking, shopping and other services within these chat apps.

“WhatsApp, WeChat, Line, Snapchat and a handful of others would seem to have the platform side sewn up as we head towards a one-stop-shop approach, where messaging apps become almost a command line for people’s lives,” says Eamonn Carey from Techstars, the tech start-up accelerator.

So how do the newcomers differentiate themselves in such a crowded market and keep their users loyal?

Chat goes niche

The trend is towards chat that can be conducted in a safe place by users who share a common interest.

“Niche networks will have a big role to play in what otherwise is a saturated market,” says Mr Carey.

For example, London-based Palringo is a social chat platform that helps people find games that can be played in chat groups of up to 2,000 people.

Stealing all your firm’s secrets

These days, you don’t need to sit outside in a van with your headphones on, listening to static for an hour before the battery runs out and the tape recorder gives a tell-tale clunk.

Tiny matchbox-sized gadgets are now capable of transmitting audio and video for hours on end to the other side of the world.

Not only that, but we are all constantly connected to the internet via mobile phones and computers, and happily share details of our work and home life on social media – all valuable information for spies.

For experts like Alex Bomberg, whose company International Intelligence provides counter espionage services to large organisations, the result is that the threats to company security are now almost too many to count.

He is casting his eye over one corporate head office to demonstrate the kind of things he “sweeps” for when giving security advice.

The organisation doesn’t want to be named – no-one is keen to have their security weaknesses pointed out publicly. Despite having identity passes and security guards, the company is still vulnerable, he says.

Traditional vulnerabilities, such as sensitive documents casually thrown into the bin or poorly paid cleaning and security staff being bribed to steal secrets, are now being amplified by technology.

Almost every meeting room is furnished with a conference phone that could be hacked. Anyone with a portable memory stick and a few minutes at a work station could download vast amounts of data or upload a virus. If you chuck out an old photocopier these days, the hard drive can hold years of stored data.

And corporate spies are continually developing new tech-based tricks.

“You pre-load a USB [memory] stick [with malware], and leave it where someone will find it,” says Mr Bomberg. “It’s human nature to wonder whose it is… especially if it says Accounts or HR on it.”

And then there’s the smartphone.

“They are very, very dangerous things,” he says. “You are bringing basically a transmitting device into a building.”

We are all effectively carrying the perfect James Bond gadget in our pockets.

“A lot of the larger companies now are creating sterile areas in which to hold a meeting. You can’t even take your mobile phone in, which is very good practice, because what have we got on our phones? A microphone.”

When it comes to business travel, executives are routinely advised nowadays to check a hotel suite thoroughly for listening devices, not to leave their laptop unattended, and to shun public wi-fi networks.

‘They’re investigating you’

But the most effective corporate espionage attacks of recent times have relied as much on human frailty as technology.

Former FBI agent Eric O’Neill is National Security Strategist at the Washington-based cybersecurity company, Carbon Black.

He says the race between virus and antivirus software has reached a stalemate – the new battleground is personal.

“Today, attackers are using sophisticated, ‘spear-phishing’ attacks,” says Mr O’Neill.

 

These are emails that have been carefully tailored to chime in with your own interests and experiences, using personal details gleaned about you from social media and elsewhere.

“They’re investigating you,” he says. “They’re learning about an individual and putting together emails that people will click on.”

The email might suggest your local golf shop is having a sale, for example, or that the renovation work on your office building is near completion. The aim is usually to entice you to click on a link containing malware.

In 2014, the US accused five Chinese military officers of spying on US industrial giants – including Alcoa, Solarworld, US Steel and Westinghouse – by sending emails that appeared to come from executives within the company, the US indictment said.

Hech helping Your Work

But not through my ears. I’m wearing a SubPac, which is strapped on to my back and allows me to feel the beat of the music as it thumps through my body.

Chris is trying to replicate what it would feel like if, like him, I were deaf. And this is his aim – to give the opportunity for deaf dancers in his classes to feel the music so they can learn his choreography with ease.

“Dance classes are always so fast-paced, and without being able to hear the music you end up just being out of time,” says Chris.

The SubPac, which is widely used in the music world to help music producers feel the music without damaging their ears, works by transferring low, bass frequencies directly to your body, providing the physical dimension to sound.

As soon as his aunty introduced him to music videos, dancing became a passion for Chris. But when he became deaf at a young age, after having meningitis, he thought his dreams of dancing and choreography were over.

Through his love of dance, Chris persevered, joining dance classes at the back and allowing his natural ability to shine through.

But he knew that not every deaf dancer would be as confident as him without being able to hear the music.

James Williams, who does business development for SubPac, tells the BBC: “Giving Chris, and those with hearing impairments the ability to experience something that we all take for granted is a rare opportunity.

“Since the focus is on physicality, the SubPac is great for helping dancers with hearing problems to dance in time to the beat.”

Sport for all

And technology is giving people with all kinds of disabilities the chance to stay active and keep fit.

Take Simon Wheatcroft, who lost his sight at 17.

Simon was born with the genetic degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which causes gradual deterioration of the retina. But that hasn’t stopped Simon becoming an ultra-marathon runner.

“I started running for something to do. I used a guide dog to run outside or went running with other people,” he says.

 

He has run the New York marathon and many much longer races, normally with a human guide. But what happens when you want to run solo?

In a bid to do a 155-mile ultra-marathon in the Namibian desert this May he turned to IBM Bluemix – the tech giant’s app development arm – to help him create an app.

Called eAscot after his guide dog, the app uses sensors, similar to car parking sensors, and satellite navigation to help him stay on course.

A desert race can be broken down into a series of straight lines, each with its own bearing on a compass. If he veers off to the right, the app emits a high-pitched beep that increases in frequency the further away he goes. If he runs too far left, low pitch beeps warn him.

Silence means he’s heading in the right direction.

“I was tired and in pain after the marathons, but I was also happy knowing I had achieved something that once seemed impossible, made possible thanks to technology,” says Simon.

“What sticks with me is the feeling of accomplishment,” he adds. “Being able to do something that had never been done before. To create an application in a matter of weeks that changed what was possible for visually impaired runners felt even better than completing any race.”

In it to win it

Paralympians, too, are using technology to help them compete at the highest level.

Advances in 3D printing, lightweight materials and computer design are having an impact in a number of areas, from tailor-made racing wheelchairs to aerodynamic prosthetic limbs.

“The technology being used, such as 3D tech, is evolving every year and we will see a wide range of new advancements at the upcoming Paralympics that will aid those competing to achieve even greater records across all disciplines,” says Nick Braund, head of tech and innovation at PHA Media.

Designworks carried out full body scans of track and field athletes in the US Paralympics team to create the sporty racing wheelchairs.

But what about assistive technology for everyday sports?

Firms cash to fraudsters

“Hi, are you busy? I need you to process a wire transfer for me urgently. Let me know when you are free so I can send the beneficiary’s details. Thanks.”

Many of us would jump to it, eager to please.

But this message has all the hallmarks of CEO fraud, one of the most common forms of business email fraud targeting thousands of companies around the world every day.

Last year, Barbie manufacturer Mattel sent more than $3m (£2.3m) to a fraudulent account in China, after a finance executive was fooled by a message supposedly sent by new chief executive Christopher Sinclair.

Mattel eventually got its money back from China – where the company has significant business interests – but most companies usually have to take the hit after falling victim.

Earlier this year, for example, Austrian aerospace parts maker FACC fired its president and chief financial officer after losing a thumping €42m (£36m) in a business email fraud.

Some smaller companies targeted have gone bust as a result.

“Criminals have realised that hitting businesses rather than individuals can mean much bigger wins,” says Orla Cox, director of security response at cyber security specialist Symantec.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says CEO fraud has shot up by 270% since January 2015 and has cost businesses around the world at least $3bn (£2.3bn) over the past three years.

Out of control

Simply tricking companies into sending invoice payments to the wrong people costs UK companies about £9bn a year, according to research from invoicing company Tungsten Network.

And procurement fraud – charging for stuff that was never delivered; taking a bribe for awarding a contract to a particular supplier; or encouraging suppliers to charge over the odds then creaming off the difference – accounts for 88% of total UK fraud losses.

“Procurement fraud is becoming a big problem, with at least 20% of corporate spend categorised as ‘unmanaged’,” says Philip Letts, chief executive of enterprise services platform, Blur Group.

‘Unmanaged’ means there is insufficient monitoring of the tendering process and whether the terms of the contract have been fulfilled, for example. Quite often smaller jobs are given to suppliers without any written contract at all and paid for cash-in-hand.

“This puts businesses at high risk of procurement fraud,” says Mr Letts.

Lots of such payments add up to a big amount of cash potentially lost down the back of the corporate sofa.

Blur’s platform helps companies find vetted service providers and manage the entire contract from pitch to payment, theoretically making invoice fraud easier to spot and harder to perpetrate.

‘Suspicious’

Most business email fraud is relatively lo-tech, relying on psychological manipulation and people’s willingness to get the job done.

But Jim Wadsworth, managing director at Accura, the data analysis arm of payments giant VocaLink, believes his company’s hi-tech solution could prove the best way to combat it.

Called Accura Invoice Payment Profiling, it is an anti-fraud analytics system that uses VocaLink’s massive store of payments data to identify and flag fraudulent payments before the money is even transferred.

“We are working with one of the country’s largest banks to prevent these frauds by scanning transactions and contacting the bank directly when we see something suspicious,” Mr Wadsworth says.