$2 Million Worth of PCs Stolen for Bitcoin Mining

Thieves in Iceland stole about 600 computers to mine cryptocurrencies, according to police.

 

Thieves stole about 600 computers from data centers in Iceland, with the goal of using them to mine cryptocurrencies.

The computers are worth about $2 million; none have been found, but police have arrested 11 suspects, including a security guard, according to the Associated Press. The burglaries took place in December and January.

“This is a grand theft on a scale unseen before,” Olafur Helgi Kjartansson, a local police commissioner told the AP. “Everything points to this being a highly organized crime.”

Iceland has become a haven for bitcoin mining, given the country’s relatively low electricity costs. Currently, one bitcoin is worth $11,000, so with enough time, a mining venture can generate a fortune. However, all that mining is starting to strain Iceland’s energy needs; a local firm warned that it’s gobbling up the country’s power resources.

Police might use that to their advantage in this case, though. According to the AP, investigators are hoping to nab the culprits by monitoring electricity consumption in the country. A spike might very well indicate that mining is taking place.

Local police have taken to Facebook for help on the investigation, too. They’ve been looking tips from companies that deal with web hosting, landlords that might be housing the computers, along with “electrical contractors.”

Enthusiasm for cryptocurrency, meanwhile, has led to a graphics card shortage. But as HotHardware reports, Monero is based on a CPU-optimized algorithm, and “AMD’s Threadripper family of processors is relatively adept at mining it.” For more, check out the site’s breakdown of how Threadripper performs with a CPU-optimized algo versus other many-core processors.

 

The Best Keyboards of 2018

Finding the Right Fit

Maybe your old keyboard has typed its last letter. Perhaps your gaming ambitions have left you dissatisfied with the mediocre model that came with your desktop PC. Or maybe the one you have still works fine for what it is, but isn’t as comfortable and sturdy as you’d prefer. Whatever the reason, anyone can benefit from a better keyboard. After all, is there any part of your computer more hands-on than your keyboard? For these reasons, and more, it pays to know what makes a one a good fit.

Keyboards come in a variety of types, from those optimized for efficiency to sculpted ergonomic designs that cradle your hands and relieve stress on the joints. When shopping for a keyboard, here are a few specific features to look for.

Connectivity Options

The simplest way to connect a keyboard to your PC is via a standard USB port. Keyboards are usually plug-and-play devices, with no additional software to install (with the exception of driver packages for some gaming models), meaning that plugging in the keyboard is all the setup you’ll need. Unlike wireless keyboards, a wired model will draw its power over USB, so there are no batteries to worry about. Wired connections are also preferred for gaming use, as they are free from the lag and interference issues that wireless alternatives are prone to. Some motherboards still come with an older-style PS/2 port for plugging in a keyboard without needing USB; if you go this route, which many gamers prefer for performance reasons, you’ll probably need a USB-to-PS/2 adapter. (Some gaming keyboards come with these.)

If you want more freedom and less cable clutter on your desk, however, it’s hard to beat a wireless keyboard. Instead of a wired connection, wireless keyboards transmit data to your PC through one of two primary means: an RF connection to a USB receiver, or Bluetooth. Both have their pros and cons, but if you want to reduce the number of cables on your desk and gain the flexibility to use your keyboard at a distance—whether it on your lap at your desk, or from across the room—wireless is the way to go.

Most wireless keyboards connect to a PC via the same 2.4GHz wireless frequencies used for cordless phones and Wi-Fi Internet. A dime-size USB dongle—small enough to plug in and forget about—provides the link to your PC. Companies use proprietary connections like these because they allow for optimal battery life. These USB dongles also provide connectivity to more than one device, meaning you can use the single adapter for your wireless keyboard—or keyboards, if you have one at work and one at home—as well as one or more computer mice, assuming that all are the same brand.

Bluetooth options are regaining popularity of late, largely because they don’t monopolize a USB port and because Bluetooth connections are stable, easy to manage, and offer compatibility with more mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets. In regular use, a Bluetooth connection gives you roughly 30 feet of wireless range, but may not match the battery life offered by devices with a USB dongle. New innovations, including hand-proximity sensors tied to power and connection management, improve the battery life over older Bluetooth devices, which maintained an always-on link, draining battery quickly.

Layout and Ergonomics

Not all keyboards are created equal. In fact, not all keyboards are even laid out the same beyond the standard QWERTY keys. Roughly half of the keyboards available offer a 10-key numeric pad, even though it’s an ideal tool for anyone who frequently needs to tally numbers or enter data into a spreadsheet. Smaller distinctions include placement of the arrow, Page Up and Down, and Home and End keys. Additionally, most current keyboards have basic media features such as playback controls and volume up and down.

In order to help users stave off carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress injury, many keyboards are available with designs that put your hands into a neutral position as you type. The result is not only greater comfort, but reduced stress to the joints and tendons, ultimately helping you to avoid painful inflammation and expensive surgery. Ergonomic features can range from the simple—like padded wrist rests—to the elaborate, with keyboards that curve and slope.

 

 

Keys and Switches

One aspect of keyboard design that you’ll see mentioned in reviews—but that most people don’t give a second thought—is the type of switches used for individual keys. You may not care about the specific mechanisms that reside beneath the keys, but you will certainly feel the difference. The three primary types of switches are silicone dome switches, scissor switches, and mechanical switches.

Budget keyboards, such as those that come bundled with new desktop PCs, generally use silicone-dome switches, which use two dimpled layers of silicone membrane that form a grid of rubber bubbles or domes as the switch for each key. The springiness of the silicone rubber makes for a soft, mushy feel as you press each key. The switch type also requires you to “bottom out” with each keystroke, pressing the key to the bottom of the key well to type a letter. And because repeated flexing of the rubber membrane causes it to break down, silicone dome switches lose their springiness and responsiveness over time.

Some newer keyboards mimic the low-profile, chiclet-style keyboards found on full-size laptops and ultraportables. While a few of these use plain silicone dome switches, many use a scissor switch, which adds a mechanical stabilizer to each key for a uniform feel, and an attached plunger under each keycap allows for shorter key travel. As a result, scissor-switch keyboards have a shallow typing feel, but are generally more durable than rubber dome switches alone.

Mechanical Keyboards

Most keyboard enthusiasts, however, won’t have much to say for either style—instead, they’ll be singing the praises of mechanical keyboards. The switches used in these are a bit more intricate, with a spring-loaded sliding keypost under every key. There are several variations available, each tweaked to provide a slightly different feel or sound, but generally, mechanical switches provide better tactile feedback and have more of the “clickety-clack” sound that many associate with typing. The sturdy switch mechanisms and springs are significantly longer lasting, and can be more easily repaired. These switches also register each keystroke with a much shorter amount of travel, making them ideal for touch typists.

The downside to mechanical switches is that they usually require a lot more space than silicone dome switches, which means that you won’t often find them on shallower keyboards. That could change now that venerable switch maker Cherry has introduced a new low-profile mechanical switch.

 

Nixeus Moda Pro

 

Gaming Keyboards

While all keyboards offer the necessary keys for typing, sometimes typing isn’t your main concern. Gaming keyboards are designed for competitive use, equipped for maximum specialization and control, optimized for specific styles of gameplay, and built to exacting standards of responsiveness and durability. They also appeal to the gamer aesthetic, with designs that impress and intimidate with pulsing backlighting and dramatic color schemes.

Premium gaming models almost exclusively use high-grade mechanical key switches and sculpted keycaps, and offer numerous customizable features, like programmable macro keys, textured WASD keys, and swappable keycaps. There are others that let you tweak the color and intensity of the backlighting to make finding certain keys faster and to personalize the look of your keyboard. Anti-ghosting is an essential feature, allowing multiple keystrokes to be registered simultaneously—something standard keyboards can’t do. Other extras include pass-through USB ports or audio connections on the keyboard, which simplifies the process of connecting peripherals to a desktop PC that may not be easily accessed.

Finally, gaming keyboards are often outfitted with software and extra keys for macro commands, letting you prearrange complex strings of commands and activate them with a single press of a button. The number of macro commands that you can save, and the ease with which they can be created, vary from one model to the next, but it’s a valuable tool. These aren’t the sorts of bells and whistles everyone will use from day to day, but for players that invest time and money into gaming, these keyboards offer a competitive edge.

There are certainly a lot of choices out there, so start your search with our roundup below of the best keyboards available. In the market for a mouse as well? Then check out our top picks, as well as our favorites for gaming.

Thermaltake Adds Voice Control to its PC Lighting System

Change the color of all your Thermaltake PC components and accessories with a voice command.

 

You can’t fail to notice how many of the PC components and peripherals we buy today have lights embedded in them. Not just one color, but the full RGB spectrum of colors, and at the higher end of the scale you can even pick your own color scheme. Now Thermaltake is adding voice-controlled color changes into the mix.

Thermaltake offers a range of products that include lighting as part of the TT RGB Plus Ecosystem, which are controlled using the TT RGB Plus Software. It allows you to adjust lighting across a PC chassis, power supply, coolers, fans, waterblocks, radiators, and even peripherals such as a keyboard. The lighting can also be synchronized for games, music, even CPU temperature.

Rather than just interacting with the software to make these changes, Thermaltake is introducing voice control with a TT AI Voice Control app. It’s currently only available on iOS devices and only works with TT RGB Plus Software version 1.1.5 or later. The Android version is promised soon, though.

As the video above shows, saying “Hello TT” will get a reaction from all your synchronized PC lights and even your fan speeds if you so wish. There’s also the option to turn the lights on or off, switch light modes, dim the lights, change all lights to a specific color, or adjust the light speeds.

If you just have the one Thermaltake component with lighting in your PC then the voice control is going to be of limited use. However, if your entire rig is a light show, then you”ll probably appreciate having quick vocal control of all those lights.

 

The Best Mechanical Keyboards of 2018

Why Go Mechanical?

If you’re a computer user “of a certain age,” you know that there was a time when room-filling clicking was as synonymous with typing as words appearing… uh, on a sheet of paper. But the typewriters on which generations of office workers and aspiring novelists learned to type weren’t the only places you’d find mechanical keyboards. Even throughout the 1980s, they were as common a part of computer setups as floppy disk drives—because the people who were creating and using them knew what typing could, and should, be.

Sadly, with the explosion of the home PC market in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, these sturdy fixtures fell by the wayside as manufacturers looked for cheaper mass-market solutions to getting tens of millions of more people on their machines and online. Typing, that most common of computing activities, became something you and your fingers had to endure.

Luckily, things have swung back around over the last decade, and mechanical keyboards are once again viable, even popular, alternatives to the cheap keyboards that used to be ubiquitous. If you want to buy one, whether because you care about how you type or because you want something that’s better designed to withstand the rigors of everyday use to which many users subject their keyboards, here’s what you need to know in order to make the right choice.

The Basics

First and foremost, the thing that defines a mechanical keyboard is the key switch it uses. Most budget keyboards today use dome-switch technology, which registers a keypress when you type and push down a silicone dome and connect two circuit board traces. Though this style is easy and inexpensive to manufacture, it requires a relatively large amount of force, which can result in a heavy and mushy feel to the user and a lack of either tactile or auditory feedback when you type. Plus, after a fairly short time (five million keystrokes, give or take), the domes can collapse and either work less well or stop working altogether, so you’ll probably have to replace the keyboard at least once or twice over the life of the computer you use it with.

Mechanical switches, by contrast, avoid the silicone altogether. Pressing down on the key activates a real, physical switch that registers what you type. Because the parts used are much more substantial than those in dome-switch keyboards, mechanical keyboards typically have a much longer life span (many boast ratings of 50 million keystrokes or more per switch, and may well outlast the first computer—or two—you use them with), and create a more direct relationship between the person who’s typing and what appears on the screen. Because of the hardware involved, mechanical keyboards tend to be thicker, heavier, and more expensive than their dome-switch counterparts, making them more of an investment, if one that’s likely to pay off if the quality of typing really matters to you.

When shopping for a keyboard, pay attention to the kind of switch it uses, whether it offers auditory feedback (in other words, it makes a click you can hear) or tactile feedback (a “bump” you can feel), and the amount of pressure the switches require to activate (the actuation force), will greatly affect its functionality.

 

 

Cherry MX Switches

The best known and most frequently encountered mechanical key switches come from a company called Cherry. These Cherry MX switches come in a range of styles that offer different operation and feedback to better match with your own personal preference and the work or play you plan to do most on them (though all have an actuation point of 2mm). This rundown of the most common Cherry switches will help you better match what you need with the keyboard you buy. Keep in mind that although these details may differ somewhat in switches of a similar style made by companies other than Cherry, almost every manufacturer maintains the same basic color scheme to help keep confusion down.

Cherry MX Blue: A close approximation of the old-school buckling spring switch (see below) but with a new-style mechanism, Cherry MX Blue switches are both tactile and clicky, so you can feel as well as hear the completion of a keystroke. These are ideal for serious typists (many of whom insist the switches deliver a turbocharging bounce you can’t get anywhere else), but not best for gaming applications, as they have a rather high actuation force (of 50 centi-Newtons, or cN) than you might prefer in a fast-twitch gun battle. Another potential downside: Some people find the keys’ audible click quite loud and annoying, which may cause problems in close quarters, whether at the office or at home.

Cherry MX Black: With the highest actuation force of the standard Cherry varieties (60cN), the Cherry MX Black switch can come across as stiff and thus wholly unsuitable to the kind of nimble key work most speed and touch typists depend on. But this makes Black an excellent switch for cases where precision is paramount: entering mission-critical data, say, or gaming, as you will seldom have to worry about accidentally striking a key twice. Cherry MX Black switches are also neither tactile nor clicky.

Cherry MX Red: Similar to Black, Cherry MX Red switches lack both tactile and auditory feedback. But they have a lower actuation force (45cN), so they can be hit more quickly and more often, giving you the edge in any title demanding ultra-quick input. These same qualities, however, keep them from being a good choice if typing is your primary activity, as they make it a lot easier to register more keystrokes than you intend.

Cherry MX Brown: If you spend about as much time scribing emails and Word documents as you do mowing down charging enemies in first-person shooters, the Cherry MX Brown switch may be for you. Its 45cN actuation force is identical to what you get from the Red switch and, like it, the switch isn’t clicky, but it gives you the same typing-boosting tactile bump you get from Blue.

Other Cherry MX switches: Though the above switches are the kinds you’re most likely to find in a keyboard you purchase today, Cherry’s rainbow does extend a bit further. Clear switches are tactile like Brown, but possess a higher actuation force; Green switches can be considered stiff Blues, both tactile and clicky; and White switches are quieter Greens. Several other types have specialized uses (such as on space bars), but will rarely be identified as such on any package or marketing material.

 

Unicomp Ultra Classic - Buckling Spring

 

Other Switches

A number of companies make switches that either mimic or try to improve on the Cherry MX functionality. Some gaming keyboard switches, for example, have shorter actuation points to launch you into the action faster, and Razer recently developed a hybrid “Mecha-Membrane” variety that uses mechanical means to activate a silicone dome switch. (So far, we’ve only seen this in the company’s Ornata Chroma, though it’s likely to show up in other models in the future.) None of these has become as popular or widespread as the Cherry MX switches, though, so for the most part they’re not worth discussing in depth. If you come across a keyboard brand using an unfamiliar switch type, try to determine both its actuation force (explained above) and its actuation point (when what you type is registered). Compare these values with those of the Cherry switches, and you should get an idea of what you’re in for.

One of the most unusual switches you can find is, in fact, a quintessential mechanical example. The buckling spring switch was used in the now-legendary IBM Model M keyboards that made such an impact in the 1980s—and some of which are still in use today!—and can still be found in keyboards from the company that acquired the manufacturing rights to it, Unicomp. (The company’s Ultra Classic definitely lives up to its name.) Buckling spring keyboards use a genuine spring to activate the switch; when it buckles in the middle as you press it, it causes tactile and aural feedback (the latter from the spring hitting the wall). Keyboards using this style of switch are rare these days, but they’re prized for their unparalleled typing capability and psychological satisfaction: With no other type of mechanical keyboard do you hear the switch actuate at the same instant it actually does.

Additional Features

Their switches aside, mechanical keyboards are otherwise just like other kinds, and can sport the same sorts of features. You may want backlighting, whether of one color or an entire spectrum you can program at your whim. Multimedia controls, whether they’re activated by pushing separate buttons or using a Function key to access a secondary ability on one of the standard keys, can make it easy to adjust volume or move backward and forward in your track list while playing music. Dedicated macro controls can be a real boon in games, saving you the trouble of having to type out long strings of commands every time you want to perform a common action.

In any case, whatever you want from a keyboard, you can find a mechanical keyboard capable of making it a reality—with more heft, longevity, and style than you may have thought possible. Mechanical keyboards are back and here to stay, and likely to only get better as more consumers realize the benefits they offer to laser-focused typists, hard-core gamers, and everyone in between.

If you’re not wedded to mechanical key switches, check out our overall roundup of the best general-purpose keyboards we’ve tested, as well as the best gaming keyboards. And if you’re in the market for a pointing device to go with your keyboard, check out our looks at the best computer mice and the best gaming mice.

PC Building Simulator Enters Steam Early Access

When it goes right, building a PC can be a very satisfying experience. However, when it goes wrong there’s a mix of anger and realization that, yes, you may have just fried that $300 Core i7 processor everyone suggested you buy. If such mistakes worry you enough to never attempt building a PC, fear not, there’s now a way of simulating it instead.

As Blue’s News reports, last year developer Claudiu Kiss launched a demo for PC Building Simulator through itch.io and it quickly became one of the most downloaded free games on the platform. Because of that, development continued and an Early Access version of the full game just appeared on Steam.

The game allows you to build a computer repair enterprise, repairing common problems in existing PCs as well as creating your very own from scratch. Unlike the real-world though, the cost of the build is only $19.99, which is the price of the game. However, during Early Access there’s a 10 percent discount making the game only $17.99 until April 3.

Developer The Irregular Corporation has partnered up with most of the major PC component brands, including AMD, Arctic, CoolerMaster, Corsair, Cryorig, EVGA, Futuremark, Gigabyte, In Win, NZXT, MSI, SilverStone, Raijintek, and Teamgroup to offer parts that match their real-world equivalents. So you should be able to build your perfect virtual PC then go out and buy the parts to really make it if you so wish.

While the thought of running your own PC business will attract some players, it’s the ability to build your own dream PC and learn from your mistakes that’s the real draw. If you screw up, it doesn’t matter and nothing expensive gets broken, but you’ll learn what you did wrong and hopefully build up the courage to build you own PC. You can even experiment with overclocking and watercooling, as well as benchmark the system created.

Lauri Love escaped extradition to the US

In what has been hailed as a landmark decision, the High Court refused to allow the extradition of UK citizen Lauri Love to the USA for offences of cyber theft, activating the forum bar for the first time since its inception in 2003.

Back in October 2013, the FBI asked the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) for assistance in their investigation into the activities of Love, whom the FBI suspected was involved in hacking US computers and stealing confidential data.

The NCA in turn started their own investigation and that same month executed a search warrant at an address in leafy Suffolk, where Love lived at home with his parents. Less than a year later, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute, and instead let the US investigation take priority. The US authorities subsequently sought Love’s extradition so that he could face trial in America.

Following a contested hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, a judge ruled in favour of the United States and held that Love’s case should be sent to the home secretary for her decision. Love appealed to the High Court, relying on a concept called the forum bar.

The forum bar prohibits extradition to a category 2 territory – a list of over 100 countries including the USA – if it would not be in the interests of justice due to forum considerations. He also argued that it would be oppressive, in all the circumstances, to extradite him.

In support of the defence arguments, his lawyers called expert evidence from doctors, a psychologist and a US prison expert, who testified about his acute suffering with eczema, his struggles with Aspergers Syndrome, his precarious mental health and the risks of suicide, were extradition to be ordered.

The Lord Chief Justice presided over the case, with the High Court ultimately overruling the Magistrates Court decision in favour of Love.

The Forum Bar

The forum bar as a defence to a person’s extradition was introduced in 2003 following the refusal by the then Home Secretary Theresa May to order the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the United States for computer hacking offences.  McKinnon, like Love, had Asperger’s syndrome and suffered from depression. The forum bar requires a court to consider a number of individual factors as part of any request for extradition to a category 2 territory, namely:

(i) The place where most of the harm took place;

(ii) The interests of any victims;

(iii) Any belief of a UK prosecutor that the UK is not the most appropriate jurisdiction;

(iv) The availability of evidence for a prosecution in the UK;

(v) Delay in either jurisdiction;

(vi) The desirability of all prosecutions taking place in one jurisdiction;

(vii) Connection of the defendant with the UK.

In Love’s case, the High Court found in favour of the United States on (i) above – the place where most of the harm took place being, of itself, a weighty factor in support of extradition. However, it found in favour of Love on (ii) – since it held that were extradition to be ordered there was a significant risk that  Love would be unfit to stand trial in the US, (iii) – there was no such evidence from a UK prosecutor and (vii) –  Love’s “entire well-being” was bound up with his connection to his parents here in the UK. The court remained relatively neutral on (iv), (v) and (vi).

Ultimately, the court found that whilst the considerations in (ii) and (iii) would not, on their own, have persuaded them, combined with (vii) – Love’s connection to his parents in the UK as a result of his particular physical and mental attributes – this was sufficient to operate the forum bar and decline to order his extradition.

Oppression

In addition to the forum bar arguments, Love’s defence team advanced submissions that he should also be discharged under the provisions of the Extradition Act 2003 already dealing with oppression, specifically “if the physical or mental condition of the person is such that it would be unjust or oppressive to extradite him”.

There was extensive analysis of the medical and prison evidence, with the High Court coming to the conclusion that any measures taken in the US to prevent Love from committing suicide would invariably involve him being separated from others and as a result of his own particular mental health difficulties would have a seriously adverse effect on his very vulnerable wellbeing.

As a result, in addition to succeeding under the forum bar, the High Court found Love’s very particular circumstances to be such that it would be oppressive to order his extradition.

Where does this leave extradition?

While this case has demonstrated that, in the right circumstances, the forum bar is an effective tool to fight extradition, it does not mean there will be a successful flurry of cases as a result. Love’s physical and mental condition was such that the court had real concerns he would be unfit to stand trial in the United States, and his connection to the UK through his heavy, almost childlike, reliance on his parents was particularly strong.

Oppression, as a bar to extradition, also continues to require a very strong threshold and it was only Love’s combination of circumstances that caused the court to rule in the way they did. It may also be that the facts of Love‘s alleged conduct amounted to the “right type of offence” to allow the forum bar to be utilised in this country.

Despite the gravity of the allegations, the courts of England and Wales have historically had a more complicated relationship with white-collar offending – including computer hacking – than its counterparts in the US. The forum bar may have been lowered, but only for the “right” type of case.

Joanna Dimmock is a partner in the White Collar team at law firm White & Case

Cyber security a shared responsibility, says Amber Rudd

Business owners, cyber security experts and individuals all have a role to play in reducing the cyber crime that is costing billions globally, according to UK home secretary Amber Rudd.

“In the same way that shops protect themselves from burglary with locks, alarms and security guards, I expect businesses to take equivalent precautions digitally,” she told the CyberUK 2018 conference in Manchester attended by more than 2,000 specialists from across government, industry and law enforcement.

Similarly, the home secretary said when customers trust a company with their data it should be kept safe by putting in place strong cyber security measures, personal cyber security needs to be something which staff at all levels are taught about, and businesses making internet-connected products should factor cyber security into the design.

“It sounds really obvious, but we must all remember to install the latest software and app updates and to use strong passwords. All of these seemingly small things can really make a difference.

“And if you have cyber skills, then my plea is that you’re generous with them. There’s valuable technical cyber expertise in the private sector which can be harnessed by law enforcement in the fight against cyber crime,” said Rudd.

At the heart of the wide-ranging speech, the home secretary announced the allocation of £50m in the next year to bolster cyber capabilities within law enforcement.

This includes £9m to enable UK law enforcement to tackle those who use the anonymity of the dark web, £5m to be invested in local and regional policing to help set up dedicated cyber crime units in every police force in England and Wales, and funding to develop a new national training programme for police, as previously reported by Computer Weekly.

She also announced plans to run the UK’s first live national cyber crime exercise to test the response of security and intelligence agencies, police and first responders, in the event of a large-scale cyber incident.

Underlining the scale of the cyber crime threat, Rudd said nearly 7 in 10 large businesses have been affected, with an average cost of £20,000 per business. “Some breaches leave companies on their knees. Cyber breaches are serious, costly and disruptive.”

On a positive note, the home secretary highlighted some recent successes of UK law enforcement against cyber criminals, including the conviction of Essex based Goncalo Esteves for selling criminals services to get around antivirus software; the conviction of a Manchester gang for selling more than £800,000 worth of drugs on the dark web; and the conviction of Matthew Falder, a prolific paedophile operating on the dark web.

Increase in malicious cyber attacks

Over the past year, Rudd said there has been a “significant increase” in the scale and severity of malicious cyber activity globally.

“We have been clear that we will not tolerate this. We know that there are several established, capable states seeking to exploit computer and communications networks to gather intelligence, personal information and intellectual property from the government, military, industrial and economic targets to advance their strategic goals,” she said.

Although hostile states, groups and individuals are using cyber tools to commit crimes, to project power, to intimidate their adversaries, and to influence and manipulate societies in a manner which makes definitive attribution difficult, Rudd said the UK has started identifying those responsible.

“We called out Russia for meddling in elections. We called out Russia again for the destructive NotPetya cyber attack of June 2017. And we called out the North Korean actors known as the Lazarus Group for the WannaCry ransomware campaign,” she said.

“Chairing the first ever cyber COBR after the incident really brought home to me how damaging attacks like these can be and how important cybersecurity is. It was sobering to learn that the National Audit Office’s conclusion was that the NHS could have avoided the crippling effects of the ‘relatively unsophisticated’ Wannacry ransomware outbreak with ‘basic’ IT security.”

In the past six months, Rudd revealed that the National Cyber Crime Centre (NCSC) has responded to 49 incidents associated with Russian cyber groups, some of which have hundreds of potential victims.

“Russian actors have systematically targeted the UK among others, expanding the number of sectors targeted, in addition to the energy, telecoms and media sectors that the prime minister highlighted last November,” she said.

“That’s why I am the first home secretary to have regular cyber briefings with the NCSC and the NCA. Because in the same way that I check in with MI5 and counter-terrorism policing to make sure I know everything there is to know about the terrorist threat, I want to know all I can about the cyber threat too.”

Vowing to ensure government will continue to “tighten the net” on the “cowardly keyboard warriors” and those who wage state-sponsored cyber warfare, Rudd said the government will not allow the internet, which can be such a powerful force for good, to become a “place where evil can fester”. She added that the government cannot do it alone, however, reiterating her call for everyone to play their part.

Call for collaboration

Responding to questions from the media, Rudd said engaging strongly with Europol will be important going forward in light of the fact that the UK cyber threat intelligence capability is widely admired internationally.

“It is my commitment to ensure that as we leave the European Union, we do have arrangements with organisations like Europol to ensure that we continue to keep this country safe. Being able to share data across boundaries is incredibly important in terms of cyber crime as well as any other crime,” she said.

Asked whether the just-announced funding was adequate considering the economic impact of cyber crime, Rudd said the funding comes after “substantial” investment in online skills and protection.

“We have Action Fraud and we have Cyber Aware, but this funding is particularly focused on ensuring that every police force has the necessary skills because we recognise the scale of the growth of online crime,” she said.

“At the moment, only 30% of police forces have the required skills to address the need of the victims. I want to make sure we reach 100%.”

Asked about the significance of the newly announced GCHQ site planned for Manchester, Rudd said it reflects the fact that the government is investing more and that it wants to grow the UK’s cyber capability and to make more facilities available and have the best expertise at scale to counter the cyber threat.

Commenting on the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data exploitation scandal, Rudd said: “Facebook has some questions to answer, and I hope that both companies will engage with the inquiry that the information commissioner has already started.”

The home secretary went on to say that she believes there is a sea change taking place in terms of the public’s awareness of what is happening with their personal data and what they are trading for their free access to social media sites.

“I also think that social media sites like Facebook and other major [service providers] like Google have been taking many more steps than they have in the past in terms of engaging with what needs to be done to clean up their sites.

“When I called last year for the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism to make sure that the terrorist material was taken down, everybody scoffed at me, to start with. But, actually, they did set it up and demonstrated that they are doing it,” she said, adding that social media sites are waking up to the fact that they do have much more of a responsibility to ensure illegal activity does not take place online.

Siemens success sets the scene for growth in process mining

When global manufacturing giant Siemens created a central data lake, it had no idea it would generate such positive business benefits. Compliance was the main reason it started to collect data from its disparate ERP and finance systems and put them in one place, from 2008 using an Oracle database, and then from 2012 using SAP’s Hana technology.

But from 2014, it began to realise the data could do more than help the organisation mitigate risk and provide financial reporting. Using a technique called process mining, the company began to reveal inefficiencies in the way it pays its suppliers, organises logistics and runs its order-to-cash process, creating savings for the business in the 10s of millions of Euros.

Siemen’s success, primarily by using tools from software provider Celonis, could pave the way for a broader application of the technique and provide a foundation for robotic process automation, according to analysts.

Dr Lars Reinkemeyer, head of process mining for Siemens IT, says: “Building a global infrastructure for the data lake has been a major investment. It was a good investment at the time, mainly for compliance, but we are leveraging it for much more now and getting good payback.

“The additional cost of Celonis for process mining has been well invested, and now we better understand our complexity to help us design and manage business processes. But it all comes back to having the infrastructure in place and leveraging it.”

Siemens started using the Celonis analysis and visualisation tools to understand how quickly it pays its suppliers. Some suppliers offer early payment discounts, which Siemens was sometimes missing out on due to late payment.

To understand why, it needed to gather data from accounting, ERP and payment approval systems. Siemens has expanded the programme to tackle inefficacies in order-to-cash processes: the way it takes orders from, and is paid by, its customers.

The SAP Hana data lake has grown to more than 30 terabytes (TB), extracting data from more than 60 ERP systems and several other enterprise applications.

“From the user’s point of view, it appears seamless, but the information is coming from different sources across the business. We are able to visualise end-to-end through an entire process and the users identify where we have bottlenecks,” says Reinkemeyer.

The challenge is to track orders as they are received from the customer, and include every step until payment is received. Siemens deals with millions of customer orders every year and has identified around 70 different activities involved in the whole order-to-pay cash process. It uses the Celonis tool to visually map these processes through the organisation and, at a management level, identify which steps are ineffective or manual steps, taking too much time and effort.

“This is complemented by all the detailed information from every single order,” says Reinkemeyer. “The system gives you the tools to dig in to understand what is going on and where you are going wrong. It helps create measures that will help you to improve the KPIs. You used to have the case where management thinks you can do better, but nobody knows where to start. But with these tools its shows you where the problem is, and you can start straight away.”

Given the demonstrable success of process mining, Reinkemeyer’s team is now getting more demand for the business to analyse other processes, such as manufacturing plant processes. But it was a risk basing the project on technology from Celonis, a relatively small software firm founded in 2011.

“With a company like SAP, it is easy to say it is a competent partner. When we signed with Celonis, they were small and it was a risk. But we felt that the management team and the founders were very strong. They put a lot of effort to responding to requirements and they have grown with the project,” he says.

Smart algorithms

Siemens is now moving from analysing and mapping business processes to modelling them using a Celonis tool called Pi Conformance and Machine Learning. The aim is to predict which customer orders will be likely to arrive late based on smart algorithms which continuously learn from Siemens’ performance.

Although business units are initially very impressed when they see the capabilities of process mining, IT teams still need to identify a “process hero” in the departments to ensure projects maintain momentum,” says Reinkemeyer.

“There is often the desire for action, but it is more difficult to get going in the business department,” he says. “A process hero is willing to take the new technology and drive its adoption in their area of responsibility. Some people are not interested enough to change, or they don’t want the spotlight shone on the dust in the corner. You need to find the right people to rock the organisation, make changes and drive processes with the tools.”

Celonis describes itself as the leader in the nascent field of process mining. The company was born in 2011 from a research project at the Technical University Munich. In an effort to simulate processes at a local broadcasting company, the Celonis’ founders realised they needed much more information about how processes worked in real life, rather than how employees described them, says Remy Lazarovici, senior vice-president for business development at Celonis. It started to follow a digital trail of application data and understand how a process is carried out.

Cenolis’ next move was to build visualisation technology on top of its analytics tools to help lay users, rather than data experts, understand business processes. Its big break came in 2015 when it struck a reseller agreement with enterprise application giant SAP. Celonis provides online training as well its software and out-of-the-box data connectors for popular business applications including SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce.

“In a very short time, you can get insight into business operations that before you either needed a lot of time to achieve, or never able to establish. You can confirm gut feeling and find areas where you can improve. Our customers are often surprised that all this insight comes from the data that they already have stored but never got the value from,” says Lazarovici.

“When people first see processes visualised, it is eye-opening. They see lots of things they would not have expected and say, ‘that cannot be true… there must be a mistake in data!’ But in reality, the data never lies. Once they start trusting the data and they can look for the business improvement, that can help convince wider business users. Sometimes, some people know there is a problem, but nobody believes, so it can be difficult to convince people to change processes,” he says.

Gap between belief and practice

Businesses have always tried to understand their processes, which can often change without management oversight, says Marc Kerremans, a research director at Gartner. “The problem is, if you interview three different people about a task they perform, then they can come up with three different answers. It has a lot to do with bias and interpretation.”

On average, there is a 46% gap between how businesses believe processes are carried out, and how they are done in practice, he says.

Celonis seems to be the leader in process mining technology, with about 70% market share, but there is a raft of competitors coming into the market, says Kerremans. Others include Finnish firm QPR, Italy’s Cognitive Technology and Fluxicon in The Netherlands. Meanwhile, Deloitte has business unit addressing process mining, and Phillips and Samsung have also worked with similar techniques, he says.

The challenging part of a process mining project can be getting the data and cleansing it, he says. Technology teams can use application log files, but in Siemens’ case, 80% of the information came from SAP’s system, to which Celonis provided a direct connection. If projects need data from a more diverse set of applications, including legacy banking applications, getting and using the data can be more difficult, he says.

After managing the data, it is also important to build a user community around process mining so that the project can engage with the wider business,says Kerremans. “Building that sense of collaboration with the business: that is why Siemens has been so successful.”

Driving out inefficiency

Process mining has been successful in driving out inefficiency in processes and providing baseline data and ongoing metrics for business process re-engineering, says Kerremans. But it also becomes essential to underpin the rapidly developing field of robotic process automation, as it will improve the accuracy of businesses’ understanding of tasks before they automate them.

“This is where process mining will come into its own. It will become the sister of RPA [Robotic Process Automation]. If you can combine the two techniques, you can improve your rate of success,” says Kerremans.

As the market for RPA tools alone will be worth $2.9bn by 2021, according to Forrester, process mining is likely to attract increasing interest. But companies will only succeed if they have the process data in a fit state to mine. And for that, if lessons from Siemens are anything to go by, they need the right infrastructure.