Manila – IT security news  

Yes the main news is all about the WannaCry global ransomware attack that kicked off on 12 May 2017 encrypting user files till they paid a fee.

In other recent news emanated from the technology sector in Manila – a local software firm had unearthed the existence of a group of cyber criminals. These unsavoury individuals have been conducting espionage via a particularly virulent strain of malicious software. So far this has spread to an estimated 31 countries, with every indication that this tally is set to increase.

The so-called malware has been given the name ‘careto', this being the Spanish name for ‘mask'. The relatively innocuous-sounding component is actually reckoned to be one of the most advanced of its kind, and computer network managers throughout the world have every god reason to be treating the potential threat from this latest online baddie with the utmost attention.
According to one expert, a spokesman from Kaspersky Labs, who was summarizing a report published on its own computer security website: ‘the mask is one of the most advanced threats at the current time. This and several other factors make us believe this could be a state sponsored operation. We observed a high degree of professionalism in the operational procedures of the group behind this attack, including monitoring of their infrastructure, shutdown of the operation, avoiding curious eyes through access rules, using wiping instead of deletion for log files, etcetera. This level of operational security is not normal for cybercriminal groups'.
Exactly who is behind the mask software remains open to speculation. But the list of intended targets is both extensive and diverse. Over 1,000 IP addresses have been infected to date, with that number growing regularly. By far the most infected country has been Morocco with 380-plus instances, or over one-third of the total mask attacks. Other countries that have suffered similarly have been Brazil with 173 infections, the UK with 109, Spain with 61, France with 52, Switzerland 33, Libya 26, and the USA with 22. Those IP addresses that have been affected include websites relating to government institutions, foreign embassies and diplomatic offices, energy companies, research institutions and private equity firms.
Kaspersky went on to underline exactly how dangerous this type of viral infection could be for the respective network infrastructures. ‘For the victims, an infection with careto is disastrous. The malware intercepts all the communication channels and collects the most vital information from the infected system. Detection is extremely difficult because of stealth rootkit capabilities. In addition to built in functionalities, the operators of careto can upload additional modules which can perform any malicious task. Given the nature of the known victims, the impact is potentially very high'.
The mask has been out there since at least 2007, and could well have infected Windows, Apple, Linux and Android operating systems. This also includes the likelihood of having spread to mobile devices.
Given the increasingly complex nature of malware attacks, it goes without saying that computer security organizations must work doubly hard at keeping one step ahead. As has happened on numerous previous occasions, the lure of the substantial remuneration available from Apple or Microsoft might inspire many of these villains to jump ship and become ex-hackers working for the other side?


Online relationships – texting versus talking  

One long-term debate about relationships in the modern world concerns an age-old question. In the context of online communication, is it better for people looking for partners to text, or to talk? The end results of both means of message transmission are the same, but which is really best when it comes to the desire to make a good impression on someone?
Texting is most certainly a sign of the times. Young people today are used to living in an increasingly homogenized society, where they are far more likely to follow the pack in terms of their musical and other cultural tastes. Social media ensures that there are recommend films and television shows they should be watching because ‘everyone else is'. Fashion icons leap from magazine pages – and for all the taglines about being ‘bold' or ‘energetic' or autonomous', there is a far stronger prevailing desire nor to look too out of place. What this all means for today's singletons is that their attitude to romance is very often far more disposable than their parents' generation.
The celebrated ‘first date' is easily conquered in the world of texting. Where people are using websites or apps to engage with potential partners, a lot of those awkward first questions can be dealt with in the privacy of the home. Where chemistry was once relied upon to inform the decisions about whether or not someone was suitable material for a ‘second date', a series of brief text exchanges can accomplish the same process.
For many youngsters, actually going out on a social engagement with someone who is, to all intents and purposes, a stranger, is simply a bizarre concept. Nowadays social media allows for all sorts of subtle interrogation techniques to be enacted. A Facebook profile reveals a lot about someone's personality, interests, hobbies and friends. This platform also allows for informal get-togethers that can be conducted under the cover of private messages. These exchanges can allow individuals to determine the suitability of potential partners, without the social awkwardness of embarrassing confrontations.
There are a hundred and one reasons why texting is preferable to talking. Some people are socially awkward, through natural shyness, or perhaps some disability. Same sex partnerships can be explored in an avenue that is completely free from the disapproving looks of narrow-minded onlookers.
Using social media, people can be far less inhibited in their interactions. This can lead to truer images of their personalities shining through. In the more traditional notion of blind dates, there can be a tendency to put up a defensive front.


Philippines business news - gaming   

According to statements released by three international credit rating agencies recently, the gaming sector in the Philippines will continue to experience a double-digit revenue growth. The main reason for this is the anticipated opening of additional privately-owned casinos in the country. Fitch Ratings, who published its ‘Eye in the Sky Series: Philippines' report, this expansion will continue to be driven along by government-owned Philippine Amusement, and Gaming Corporation's – or Pagcor's – gaming complex Entertainment City.

The report outlined the fact that: ‘The initial results of the first two casinos operated under provisional licenses granted by Pagcor, namely Resorts World Manila and Solaire, are encouraging relative to the investments made. Fitch Ratings expects double digit gaming revenue growth to continue. City of Dreams Manila is unlike anything you have experienced before. Envision a world of exhilarating gaming spaces, world-class dining experiences, 5-Star accommodations, iconic architectural art such as the Fortune Egg and the world's first, DreamPlay. City of Dreams Manila provides exhilarating gaming facilities, international standards of retail, world-class hospitality and other innovative lifestyle and entertainment offerings.
Macau casino giant Melco Crown Entertainment are behind the City of Dreams Manila project. They recently announced that their luxury hotel chain Nobu Hotel will become the second major hotel brand at the casino it is currently building in Pasay City's gaming complex.
Fitch Ratings did underscore their comments with a note of caution, stating that the Filipino gaming growth trajectory beyond 2017 would be much harder to forecast. This was because of the constraints and risks that are liable to be in place once the next wave of Macau projects commence operations.
A spokesman stated: ‘We think it will be difficult for the Philippines to surpass Singapore in terms of gaming revenues - roughly $6 billion - before the end of this decade'.
Nevertheless the Philippines does enjoy a reputation for being a relatively sure gaining market. Several diverse forms of gambling are available to customers, including casino-based games – operated by Pagcor.
At present the main operators who are licensed to operate in Pagcor's Entertainment City. This includes Travellers International Hotel Group, a joint venture between Genting Hong Kong and Alliance Global and Enrique Razon's Bloomberry Resorts Corp, a local Filipino conglomerate.
As well as these gaming enterprises there is also a joint venture between Melco Crown and Henry Sy's Belle Corporation; as well as Kazuo Okada's Tiger Resorts. Pagcor happens to be the key regulator in the Philippines, operating a dozen casinos, a quarter of which are in the capital, Manila.
Recently, the Pagcor chairman and chief executive, Cristino L. Naguiat Junior, stated that Philippines gaming industry was on track to hit its 25 percent growth. This was mainly due to the opening of billionaire Enrique Razon Junior's Solaire Resort.
Philippines business trends – the way forward for   

An excellent litmus test of how business is evolving in the Philippines is to consider call centers. The Philippines now has the greatest number of individuals involved in this key 21st century industry anywhere in the planet. Examining how managers are balancing the increase in demand with the need to continually improve the customer service their businesses offer is key to understanding business developments.
The way call center staff interact with their customers is now based on taking on-board a host of factors that are now prevalent in the contemporary world, such as the fact contact is just as likely to be made via social media outlets, web browsers or tablets as by telephone. Coping with variations in customer demand is causing call centers to undergo a dramatic shift.
One of the fundamental ways in which managers Philippines call centers are now acting differently than they did as recently as two or three years ago is in the degree of outsourcing. This has given rise to a phenomenon known as ‘business process outsourcing' (BPO), providing a service that, on the surface looks and acts like a call center, while actually being something altogether more complex. A BPO outlet will certainly satisfy customer demand as its ‘raison d'etre'. But in doing so it employs a diverse arsenal of tools and traits. It will include finance, accounting and human resources specialities; even, where required, a degree of paralegal work. For many onlookers, this is where the future lies for customer service.
In this respect it is worth considering the experience of India. Currently the Philippines employs far more call center agents than its distant Asian neighbor. However, India has a higher percentage of employees who work in BPO outlets. As time moves on, more and more of these agents are moving away from ‘traditional call center' type activities, and taking positions within BPO organizations which offer non-voice based work. This demands higher skills levels, as well as being more lucrative.
By considering the revenue potential of BPO compared to call centers, business leaders in the Philippines can see the obvious benefits to the economy. India's total revenue from BPO in 2010 was $70 billion, compared with the Philippines total of a mere $9 billion.


Philippines call centers – increased help  

Avaya are the communications development company currently providing assistance to major Philippines call center operators, such as Teleserv. Amongst the services they are promoting is the ‘Click to Chat' facility. This is available to customers in real-time, accessible via their browsers. If there's anything they don't understand on the screen, or that they are hearing in the introductory telephone spiel, then they therefore have the option to get this sorted on the spot. This will also explain how to navigate to the most appropriate area.
The benefits of having this service at the customers' fingertips are immense. One of the commonest gripes amongst customers is the fact that while they are engaged in a phone call, if there is something they don't understand they must wait until there is an appropriate point for seeking assistance or clarification. During this time the original purpose of their call can slip by the wayside.
Click to Chat couldn't be simper. All the customer has to do is to input the query into a box, click the appropriate button, and then wait a short while to read the agent's reply. As well as this facility, Avaya have been developing video-based help products to empower their customers like never before.
One example cited was the case of a major client – a printer company – who were the reason for a high volume of call center traffic (principally from customers wishing to find out how to replace a particular cartridge). When this was realized, Avaya have commissioned a short film that focuses on the correct way to deal with this issue.
So rather than spending a deal of time on the phone with a call center agent, trying to explain a situation while a customer tried his best to follow the oral instructions, a video could be dispatched. In this way the problem was ticked-off at the agent's end in seconds, rather than much longer periods of time. The saving in terms of man hours has been considerable.
For the customer, there is also the sense of being a valued client, since receiving a video is a much more personalized commitment than having an agent offer a series of suggestions down a phone line. Practically, it is not always easy for a customer to hear instructions, and then enact them, especially if there are a series of steps to be followed. A video allows for a far more logical and less time-consuming step-by-step process to be enacted.


Philippines call centers and labor costs  
Speaking of reasons for the current buoyant state of the Filipino call center market, Teleserv's Raffy David explained the benefits of low labor costs. He said that his company now had the leeway to devote capital to new technologies – something they had been investing in for the best part of a decade in any case.
Apparently someone manning the phonelines at his organization earns around $4,800 per annum, so a substantial portion of the money saved in paying operator salaries can be ploughed directly into investing in the new technologies that are all geared towards improving the customer experience. He underlined this attitude: ‘It's all about enhancing the customer's experience. We want to give them a fast, efficient and highly personalised service.'
Another interesting point to note is the fact that Teleserv staff do a lot more than simply manning phone lines – even if these are frequently queuing with eager caller queries. Call centers are now dealing with increasingly frequent levels of enquiry that arrive via email. To deal with this phenomenon, call centers are now developing systems hat allow emails to be filtered. In this way, common subjects can be batched together, which enable any one agent to deal with multiple enquiries efficiently.
An all-pervasive aspect of 21st century mass communication is, of course, social media, and this too has had a significant effect on call center traffic. Because more and more customers are taking the opportunity to make direct content via Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, the call center organizations have had to respond to enable them to meet this increasing need.
At Teleserv, another innovation is a system that brackets all social media into one easily manageable folder. All staff can have instant access to enquiries coming into the center, no matter through which channel they actually arrive. Keeping on top of all this sometimes means that some outsourcing of responsibility is required. Teleserv employ third parties, such as Avaya, who have a proven track record in providing solutions to telecommunication issues.
Edgar Doctolero of Avaya Philippines stated that customer service had to step up to the plate when it came to dealing with the increasing demands of social media. ‘Especially now, with so many people using social media, businesses have to be very careful that their service is good. It's so easy for people to post opinions - either good or bad - on Facebook or Twitter, and their message can go viral really quickly. Imagine the impact that can have on a contact center?'
Philippines employment news  
Hot topics in Manila just now include the trends affecting call center employment. For some time now the Philippines have been at the epicenter of a technological revolution when it comes to satisfying customer demand by imposing a layer of dedicated help staff. However, analysts are commenting on the increasing evidence of a seismic shift in this sector of the labor market.
The voice-based services that have been the mainstay of call centers in Manila and elsewhere in this part of the far East are being replaced. The paradox is, that although this evolution in the ways call centers deal with customer demand is aimed at providing greater customer satisfaction at a cheaper rate, it will require more staff training, and increased investment in the appropriate hardware.
Head of the Contact Center Association of the Philippines, Jojo Uligan, underlined what the new, holistic approach to customer services, or ‘business process outsourcing' (BPO), would mean for the future of the Philippines technology-driven workforce. His projections indicate that the nation is set to more than double its number of BPO employees, rising to around 1.3 million by 2016. This represents a climb of over 100%.
Uligan has been working with the Manila government to ensure that the Philippines' often fragile infrastructure is robust enough to absorb such an acute expansion. The fact is that the shift from voice-based technologies to a more generic approach, which would through a host of services into the mix – including accounting and human resources – is happening all over. While Manila and Cebu are certainly the traditional hubs for call center activity, the same factors are having an impact throughout the country.
Philippines has a relatively high unemployment rate, and call center jobs are particularly sought-after because they are continually in demand, and are also considered to be amongst the better-paid for workers at the lower end of the specialized skill scale. The Filipino government recognizes this, and is therefore offering extra incentives to BPO's who are considering setting up here, such as fast-tracked working permits, tax breaks and other perks. Government officials also published the ‘Philippine Digital Strategy' last year, specifically aimed at promoting the benefits of modern communication networks.
The benefits of harnessing the potential of BPO's are there for all to see, and its gratifying to know the government are listening to the advice they have been receiving for some time. Because under-employment is an issue in these islands, the jobs that can be provided by BPO's are most welcome. The one thing employers will be keeping an eye out for is the fact that western governments, especially Barack Obama's administration in the USA, are becoming increasingly committed to reduce job outsourcing and bring jobs back to local employers. So while the emphasis must be on providing value for money, this can't be done at the expense of excellent service.
Relationships and technology  
One of the driving forces of technology in the modern age has been in interpersonal relationships. Social media has had a massive impact on rendering the internet an interactive tool. Technological advancements have had one eye on commercial aspects for a long time, while the other has increasingly focused on making communication ever more streamlined. This has really benefited those who would previously have relied on the cumbersome procedure of sticking hopeful adverts in the ‘lonely hearts' pages of their local newspaper.
Technology has opened up a universe of possibilities for dating in the Philippines and beyond. The advent of slick, instant but, crucially, completely anonymous means of sending messages has meant that there can be few excuses for not wanting to embrace social media.
Instead of sending love letters, singletons or, indeed, not-necessarily singletons, still rely on the power of the written word, only how their thoughts are transmitted has entered a whole new dimension. Some lament that the accessibility of dating websites that allow potential partners to cut to the chase, has effectively muscled romance out of the picture. For those with no interest in a relationship beyond the casual fling, going online presents so many possibilities for embracing the ‘no strings attached' arena. However, this is balanced in the websites catering for individuals genuinely looking to go through the motions of being introduced to ideal partners.
The internet has shrunk the world considerably. Where people once had pen-pals, now they can have full-blown relationships with people living on the other side of the globe, the webcam providing an instant entrance point into their world. There is something so much more exciting about having such a degree of choice at your fingertips, of having literally thousands of websites and apps to sift through as opposed to a couple of newspaper columns of singletons exclusively in your vicinity.
For every detractor remaining unconvinced about the likelihood of online dating ever rising above a matchmaking service for people looking for a quick route to casual sex, there are people who not only meet their soul-mates, but end up marrying. The fact that websites allow users to spend a long time getting to know one another through email exchanges, and then Skype calls or web chats means that it is possible to get a far better idea of the characters, good points (and not-so-good points) of the person at the other end of your texts. Composing emails also gives the writer a sense of making sure that they come across as genuine. There is greater editorial control, rather than conversation, where it can be far easier to put your proverbial foot in it!
Results of mobile device user survey  
McAfee recently undertook an extensive survey of mobile device users' habits. Given that the number of users in the Philippines, and the Far East in general, is rising all the time, these figures make for interesting reading for a variety of reasons.
Device protection
The survey revealed that more men than women chose to protect their devices (the figures were 74% compared to 65%). This desire to ensure the content of their phones were screened from prying eyes gave rise to two-thirds stating they had considered investing in ‘biometric' security, such as face, voice or fingerprint recognition software.
Post-relationship issues
The survey revealed that 96% of adults admitted they trusted their partners with intimate content or classified information, yet this figure slumped to 32% for those asked who stated they would ask a partner to delete this material after a relationship had finished. Many couples also committed the cardinal error of sharing passwords. Around half of the respondents admitted that they shared mobile phone contents, while as many as 48% shared email accounts.
Another telling statistic that emerged from the survey was the fact that 25% admitted to having checked out their partner's mobile devices in order to look at messages or photos. A fifth said that they would be likely to use their partner's Facebook login details to check out messages and posts, and to perform this activity at least once a month. When it came to admitting stalking ex partners through social media, although the figure dropped, there was still a relatively high proportion (30%) who were undertaking this form of ‘online voyeurism'. By far the highest numbers who were taking part in this somewhat questionable activity fell into the 18 to 24 year old category.
Online affection
While this survey demonstrated significant figures for people involved in what could be termed ‘anti social relationship activities', such as stalking or disseminating private information, it was pleasing to note high returns for those who were, statistically speaking, very romantic! 91% of those taking part in the survey said that they would be using Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to celebrate Valentine's Day. 76% stated that the intended to post direct messages to others, while 58% admitted that they would be sending photographs. The gender balance between men and women celebrating their love through social media every February 14 was 72% versus 80%.
Tech reviews – recommended speakers  
With music performing an important component of leisure time for a wide variety people, it's no wonder that design companies are putting a lot of effort into creating the perfect audio product. When it comes to an ever more accurate reproduction of sound, regardless of the genre of music, it is the speakers which are at the forefront of any listeners experience. In the Philippines, as with other parts of the Far East and, indeed, the global market, speakers are becoming more and more sophisticated. After all, there is no point designing a fantastic system if this part is not given maximum attention.
There can be a tendency for speaker design to be flash, intended to draw admiring glances as customers browse shelf displays. For most music systems, there aren't that many variations between one base unit and the next; for speakers, sometimes the notion exists that the more eye-catching the better. But quality will always beat quantity hands down.
Take the Harman Kardon Esquire. This is so much more than just a speaker. Durable and tough, it comes with a high degree of precision engineering beneath the bonnet. Designed to operate wirelessly, it actually resembles a bit of an old school boom box. But just as those doyens of 1980s rap music were capable of producing thunderously loud beats, this contemporary version benefits from the buttons on top that give it that retro feel. Surrounded by sleekly efficient ultra-modern design variations, based on cylinders or other geometrical shapes, the defiantly box-like structure of this speaker is a fairly bold statement. It is saying to the consumer that what counts, above all, is the sound quality itself. Any other consideration is simply gimmicky.
As described, the Harman Kardon Esquire is one of the most robust speakers you'll get for your money. Its design relies on leather and aluminium to give it, practically, a sturdy build and, aesthetically, a professional look and feel. It is a heavy speaker, meaning that it will sit far better on your shelving at home than as a portable device. Having said this, it is easily transportable. Its symmetrical shape means that it is relatively easy to pack away in a suitcase or rucksack, compared with some of the more awkward cylinders on the market. Above all, its shockproof nature means that it can cope with the inevitable bumps that come with moving hardware from A to B – although try not to make a habit of treating this faithful speaker too roughly!
Other benefits of this speaker include Bluetooth and NFC connectivity for maximum adaptability. There is also a noise-cancelling microphone should you wish to use this device in conferences. At the end of the day, it's the sheer clarity of the sound reproduction that really make the Harmon Kardon Esquire a speaker that is highly recommended, whether you intend using it in a large room, or your bedroom back home. Fully-charged its power will last for anything up to nine hours, making it perfect for a full day at the office, or for providing gentle background ambience as you chill out or even sleep at night.
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