Windows 7 Support Ends in Less Than 1 Year

You would have seen our previous blog about the upcoming Windows 7 end of life back in September 2018
It is now less than a year until January the 14th 2020, when Microsoft will be stopping extended support for Windows 7 and Server 2008 server. 

The 14th of January 2020 is now less than a year away, so if you manage Windows devices on a network, you need start planning your upgrade.

The reason this is so important is because when support ends, Windows 7 will no longer get system updates most importantly, security updates. 

Not receiving these updates will make your network of devices much more vulnerable to malicious software. Much like with Windows XP in 2014, as soon as the support ends, known exploits that haven’t been fixed will be targeted by malicious individuals. 

Best practice is to upgrade to the latest platform, which currently is Windows 10, version 1809. Such a large change may cause compatibility issues with existing applications, so it’s important to do a full audit and carry out application compatibility reviews beforehand to make sure everything will continue to work. 

Some hackers have been known to make records of vulnerabilities for software, and kept them secret until the software has gone out of support. This means that there are potentially Windows 7 vulnerabilities that have been found by hackers, that are not even known by Microsoft themselves, and once it is out of support, these then may never be fixed leaving open holes in the software for the hackers to exploit. 

Upgrading may not be an option due to software compatibility constraints, or simply time constraints. While this isn’t ideal, there are steps you can take in order to reduce the risk of issues. While this won’t give you the lowest possible risk, it’s the best guidelines you can follow when you simply can’t upgrade.

It isn’t just Windows 7 going end of life, Windows Server 2008 is also on the list.

We are actively working with customers both existing and new to help them to plan for their upcoming migrations. If you would like to see how we can help you please give us a call, or email us at and we will arrange one of migration specialists to talk to you.

Online Safety – Black Friday

This year Black Friday is the 23rd November and Cyber Monday follows on the 26th November.  

Black Friday started in the US and is the informal name for the day following Thanksgiving, the fourth Thursday of November. This day is now regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season with Cyber Monday following it and they are two of the biggest shopping days of the year. This creates an unprecedented opportunity for Cyber criminals to have access to a huge number of potential targets compared to any other day of the year. 

During this period, it is highly probable that many employees will use their corporate IT systems to undertake some element of their online shopping. This will result in an increase in the risk of attacks aimed at the systems in use. Attackers will continue to tailor their phishing campaigns and social engineering campaigns to take advantage of vulnerable shoppers regardless of what IT systems they are using so both corporate and home users need to be vigilant.  

We have put together a great list of tips to help you to stay safe whilst shopping during this time and hope that you will share it, so your friends, family and colleagues can protect themselves during the upcoming online shopping season.  

  • Watch out for fake websites 
    It is very easy for criminals to create websites that look exactly like other retailers boasting some incredible deals to entice you in. The quality of fake sites varies; if you notice a spelling mistake or grammatical error then you are very likely not on the genuine website. Also make sure the URL looks correct, and you can check that you are on the proper website by going direct if you know it and not via any links on other web pages or pop-ups. 
  • If you can pay with credit cards 
    Credit cards give you protection if things go wrong with a purchase. If you have issues with the delivery and them not showing up or they are faulty then Section 75 of the Consumer Rights Act means you can claim the money back, the goods however must have cost more than £100 and less than £30,000. If the item was less than £100 you may still be covered by your bank, this is worth checking.  
  • When using public wifi make sure your devices are secure 
    Hotspots that are offered at many places e.g. coffee shops, retail stores, restaurants are so convenient these days, but they are can put you in a very vulnerable position. It doesn’t take much for a Cyber Criminal to use these networks to launch an attack and they can even create fake hotspots to lure you in. If you have to use them then make sure your device is protected with security software and don’t make any purchases. If you must make that purchase there and then, be sure to use your cellular network or a trusted VPN to be extra safe. 
  • Make sure that the site is secure 
    Never purchase anything that is from a site that doesn’t start with https at the start of the URL. By having https at the beginning of the URL means that the all communication between your browser and the website you are visiting is encrypted. It’s important to know that just because the site start with https, it does not guarantee it’s safe to use. Just like genuine shopping sites, Cyber Criminals will use https with their fake sites to make them more convincing. Remember to be vigilant and watch out for fake websites. 
  • Keep your eyes peeled for dodgy emails 
    Phishing emails are so common these days and they are very deceptive. They are designed to appear from a trusted organisation such as your bank or favourite online shopping website. Their aim is to dupe you into revealing your personal details that could then allow the attacker to infiltrate your online accounts. These emails normally contain links: Never Click On Them. Always double check the email address and also the link URL. Banks will never email you asking for personal details. Again, go direct to the bank’s website and login to check if you want to make sure and Never Click On The Link. 
  • If it looks too good to be true, then… 
    As the old adage, “if it’s too good to be true it probably is” is a good one, but these days there are a lot of good deals to be had especially during the upcoming weekend sales. Our advice is to make sure you do your research especially if you are buying online, also speak to friends or even seek advice from your IT security specialist to double check that the site looks genuine. It won’t take a lot of time and the deal should still be there when you return. 

There is some more great advice on the consumer website Which? and is definitely worth checking out 


The beginning of the NHS

This year, on 5th July, we celebrated the 70th birthday of the NHS. The NHS has been, for a long time now, at the centre of British society, a constant contention point in all general elections and even Brexit and immigration debates. Although the debate today generally revolves around money, and although we generally agree that the concept of universal free treatment for patients is a benefit, the beginning of the NHS was not without scandal itself.

On 5th July 1948, Sylvia Beckingham was the first patient admitted to hospital in Manchester treated on the NHS. The idea of uniting all the country’s hospitals into one state-run structure took shape during the Second World War and immediately after. Back then, Britain had 2,700 hospitals run by charities and councils. The sheer number of casualties during the war put immense stress on the hospitals and, combined with low funding, many hospitals were close to bankruptcy.

In 1945, the new government promised a revolution in healthcare. Aneurin Bevan, the charismatic Minister of Health, stated his ambition to build a new health service based on four principles: free to the point of use, available for everyone, paid for out of general taxation and used responsibly. Whilst today you might agree with his principles, 70 years ago a furious opposition comprising consultants, doctors and political rivals existed. The idea of the service being universal came under scrutiny, also its funding from taxation, rather than insurance. The initial rush of patients in the first months of the NHS was blamed by Bevan on the uncertainty of the service being free for long due to the pressure exacted by its opposition. 

In 1951, the vast expense tied to the NHS brought Bevan’s ministerial career to a premature end. With a new government in place, a committee led by Cambridge academic, Claude Guillebaud, was tasked with looking at different ways to pay for the nation’s health. To the government’s surprise, the committee came back with a report confirming that the NHS was an efficient, cost-effective way of treating healthcare, and so the NHS managed to survive its first perilous years and now reaches its 70th year of activity.

Now and then:

  • Life expectancy
    In 1948 the life expectancy for men was 65.9 and for women 70.3. Now it is 79.5 for men and 83.1 for women.
  • Infant mortality
    When the NHS was founded the figure was 34.5 per 1000 live births. In 2016 the figure for infant mortality is 3.8.
  • Prescriptions
    We are currently prescribing more drugs than ever before. In 1948 there were 225 million prescriptions in the UK; in 2016 we reached 1.3 billion prescriptions.
  • Nurses and doctors
    In 1949 there were 60,997 nurses in England and Wales, in 2017 there were 285,093 only in England. Also, the number of doctors dramatically increased, from 11,735 to 109,960. But what does this mean for the average person? Well, in 1949 there was one nurse per 641 people and one doctor per 3,328. Now the figure is much better – one nurse for every 174 people and one doctor per every 473.
  • Spending
    In 1949 we were spending 3.5% of the GDP on the NHS, totaling at about £400m, while in 2016-2017 we were spending 7.3% of the GDP, £144bn.

As we discussed in our previous blog, “Bismarck and the Beginning of Universal Healthcare”, as in that case for Germany, the initial steps of any nationwide healthcare system were a bit of a stumble, often driven or opposed by political considerations, rather than humanitarian ones. Although it might seem easy for us now to think of the nation’s health as a core state concern, a question that needs to be tackled and considered at the highest levels of government, we have to realise that for most of human history, health was considered a personal matter and only in cases of major epidemics would the state intervene. 

It took us millennia to think of the state as a gathering of people with shared cultural values, then as a piece of land defined by arbitrary lines in the sand drawn since time immemorial, and the same thing can be said about healthcare. It took us a long time to see it as the responsibility of the government to ensure the well-being of the nation.

MacOS Mojave: Everything you need to know!

At CTO Technologies we use a blend of Windows and Apple products to undertake our work. We see there are advantages and disadvantages to both products and utilise them to their strengths. We are both ready and prepared to migrate to Windows 10 but we are also getting ready to prepare ourselves for the upcoming release of MacOS Mojave.

After a run of mountain themes Apple have moved southward to the Golden States famed desert. Mojave as it is known has been available as a public beta release for a while but will have been released by the time you have read this.

This release will introduce lots of new features, a new dark mode which Apple has been asked to produce for a while, and we will also see some of our favourite iOS apps now taking their place in the new operating system. One of the features that have really interested us is the enhanced security that Apple is now employing to protect its users from being tracked on the web.

We have produced a small list of some of our favourite updates:

  1. Security Improvements – Security has been a hot topic during 2018 and Apple have made sure to touch upon that with their latest MacOS release. What they are aiming to achieve is to make all Apple products appear the same as any other when they are browsing the internet to reduce the ability to track. They are also increasing the security of Safari so that you can no longer be stalked by those adds that follow you around just because you looked at a new jumper that one time.
  2. iOS Apps – Craig Federighi strongly denied that the operating systems would merge saying that Apple loved MacOS and wanted to keep it running alongside their other mainstream iOS. Instead what Federighi said is that Apple would make it easier to port iOS apps across to MacOS to further enhance and create a cross platform layered approach. What we will see coming to Mojave is News, Voice Memos and Home, and also Stocks but I can’t say I have ever used it.
  3. Continuity Camera – This is a great feature. This will allow you to take a photo with your iPhone or scan a document and have it appear straight away on your Mac for access and editing. We use our iPhones a lot at CTO Technologies to take pictures of white boards and scan documents so we anticipate this feature will be used a lot.
  4. Dark Mode – With MacOS Mojave, you can now put the entirety of your desktop into darkness which is really cool. This means all your apps go dark as well as the top and bottom menus.
  5. Stacks – This is for all the people who have a cluttered desktop with lots of different files just all over the place. Guess what, stacks will organise your life! It will put all of the files into – you guessed it – Stacks! You will be able to organise the different stacks by file type, date, tags and much more.

The end of Windows 7 is coming, are you ready for it?

As you may already be aware, Windows 7 support from Microsoft will end on 14th January 2020. This isn’t something to fear, but what does this really mean?

The good news is Windows 7 will continue to function normally after this date and you will still be able to activate new installations. The bad news is Microsoft will no longer provide security updates or support. Therefore, as time progresses Windows 7 will become increasingly vulnerable to security risks.

In addition, Windows 7 is already only supported on Intel 6th generation (Skylake) processors and older. Many vendors are starting to see shortages of 6th gen processors so sourcing equipment still compatible with Windows 7 will become increasingly difficult. If you require Windows 7 compatible hardware, then our advice is to contact your suppliers as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

At CTO Technologies we still have some machines running Windows 7 but our migration to Windows 10 is already underway having run many pilots. We’re confident we’ll make the 2020 target date, but this has taken considerable planning and preparation. We also took this as an opportunity to adopt a cloud first approach, however that’s a topic for another time.

As much as we’d like to share our internal plan for you to use, most of it may not be relevant as there isn’t a one size fits all approach. Instead, we thought it best to outline the steps we have been through to formulate our migration plan. Please take from this what is relevant to you and your organisation and we hope it’s of some help.

In a simplistic overview, you will need to:

  • assess the compatibility of existing hardware with Windows 10
  • assess the compatibility of existing software with Windows 10
  • purchase new/upgrade existing hardware (if required)
  • purchase updated/replacement software (if required)
  • ensure sufficient Windows 10 licenses
  • prepare internal infrastructure (e.g. deployment and management tools)
  • test and decide an upgrade path (in-place or wipe-and-load)
  • provide end user training
  • trial Windows 10 with a small user group and troubleshoot
  • commence phased roll out of Windows 10 to a wider user base

We appreciate that’s a lot to achieve and dependant on the size of your organisation; doing so by the 14th January 2020 may not be feasible. Fortunately, as previously mentioned, Windows 7 will not stop working on this date. What this list has hopefully highlighted is that migrating to Windows 10 can be a complex task and your preparations should be started sooner rather than later.

With all this information in mind, what do we suggest? It’s time to stop putting off that migration to Windows 10. At the time of writing there is just over 15 months until Windows 7 reaches end of life, so if you haven’t already, it’s time to start planning.

If you need assistance with any aspects of your Windows 10 migration, then get in touch and see what CTO Technologies can do to help your organisation.

Electric Vehicles are the Future

You have more than likely heard of hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, or maybe even more modern electric vehicles, like Tesla’s line-up.  Even if you haven’t, I will be going over some of the details, and benefits/limitations of both.  

The Toyota Prius is a Hybrid car that was originally released back in the year 2000. It featured both a traditional combustion engine that is found in almost all modern vehicles, as well as a battery and electric motor alongside this. The engine and the motor could be used in unison, the car automatically switching when necessary, depending on conditions such as speed, or individually when needed. The primary advantage of this was fuel efficiency, with the electric motor taking over at low speeds, such as in traffic, and the engine only taking over when more power was needed, such as on a motorway. Another advantage is the fact that since it uses less fuel, there will be much less emissions from the vehicle. While the Prius was originally released in 2000, it didn’t pick up in sales until around the year 2004, where it sold over 7,800 units, and then it quickly climbed to almost 43,000 sales in 2010. While there are plenty of other hybrids on the market, this one was what caught people’s attention since it was more affordable and is often considered to be the cause of the hybrid and electric car revolution. These hybrid cars often function by having the user charge the car at home or at a charging point occasionally to make sure the battery is topped up; however, the cost of electricity is a lot cheaper than fuel.  

Ever since the popularity of hybrid cars spiked, there have been more and more efforts to make fuel efficient and ecologically friendly cars. These sorts of cars also often provide the benefit of reduced costs, since less money is spent on fuel. It is even possible to run some diesel cars on cooking oil, for roughly 18p a litre, saving on costs, and because it’s a biodiesel, it is more ecologically friendly. The most fuel-efficient cars are fully electric cars, simply because they don’t use fuel at all. Where Toyota brought attention to hybrid vehicles, Tesla have recently brought more attention to fully electric vehicles. They currently offer 3 different models of electric road car, with at least one more in development. As well as this they are now offering a fully electric semi-truck model for businesses.  There are now a number of electric vehicle models available, such as the Volkswagen E-Golf, and the BMW i3. However, electric vehicles are not just limited to cars, check out Zero’s range of fully electric motorcycles.  

Electric-Cars Zero

Now I am expecting some of you to be hesitant when it comes to electric vehicles, they are a new technology, and the history for them hasn’t always been great. Electric vehicles have often been lower powered vehicles, such as small mopeds and electric bikes, as opposed to fully-fledged vehicles. This being said, times have changed, and the modern electric vehicles now, in my opinion, have much more benefits over traditional combustion engine vehicles, that it may be time to switch.  

One of the biggest benefits to electric vehicles, that will speak to a lot of people, is the cost savings. As stated above, fully electric vehicles simply need to be charged via a socket of some sort to be functional. They do not use petrol in any way, so you immediately save this cost, and electricity is a lot cheaper than fuel. For myself I spend roughly £200 a month on fuel, and with current prices, it would cost me roughly £20 a month to charge a Tesla model 3. As well as this, the cost of electricity should only be decreasing now as we become more and more reliant on renewable sources, such as solar power, meaning the cost of charging will only go down. The cost savings are not limited to the fuel however. Due to the nature of electric vehicles, they are a lot simpler; the main components are the battery and the electric motors. This means there is a lot less maintenance that needs to be done to the vehicle. For example, one saving is the lack of a need for oil changes, since there is no traditional engine. There are some new technologies possible with electric vehicles, which also have the side effect of great savings. One of these is called regenerative braking. This technology will use the momentum of the car to re-charge the battery when you lift off the gas. This also has the effect of slowing down the car, reducing the need to use the traditional brake. Elon Musk has stated that due to this, the brake pads on the car will last the life of the car, meaning you will not need to change them nearly as often. Another big saving is the road tax. This will vary a lot based on which country you live in, but currently in the UK, electric vehicles are tax exempt. Also, over time, the cost of electric vehicles should drop as production increases. They are a lot easier to make as they are a lot simpler, and there are a lot more opportunities for cost reductions that are not present in traditional cars.  

The Teslas are also coming with some interesting technology and design choices. One of these is the new centre dashboard on the Tesla Model 3, replacing most of the instrument cluster that is present in most modern cars. Instead of using a lot of buttons and dials, most of these have been shifted into a large touchscreen interface to the right of the steering wheel. There are very few physical interfaces, the main ones being the pedals, steering wheel and the indicator stick. This choice may not be liked by everyone, but it helps reduce production cost, and makes making variations (such as right and left-hand drive) a lot easier to manage. Another interesting design choice is the key, or rather the lack of a key. The model 3 allows you to unlock, start and stop it using a credit card sized, NFC key of sorts. To unlock the car, you tap the card on the pillar between the doors, and to start it you simply place it between the front seats. However, this is the secondary method of entry, the true method is to install the Tesla app on your phone, and have the car detect when you are getting into it, and automatically power the motors once you are sitting down. Above we mentioned regen braking, which is a technology exclusive to electric vehicles. Due to the onboard computer having a direct connection to the motors, the software can manage different tasks when needed. This means safety features can be implemented, but the most exciting use case could be self-driving. This means the car could, in the future, drive you from place to place without the need for any human interaction. If you are interested in this, just wait for our upcoming blog on self-driving vehicles.  

One other big benefit, primarily for the car enthusiasts, are the performance benefits. Due to the nature of electric vehicles, they do not need any gearbox or clutch system in the vehicle. It uses a single drive system, meaning it essentially has one gear. Also, it doesn’t need to keep the combustion process running like in a traditional combustion engine. This means no clutch is needed to disengage the motor from the engine. The motor is directly connected to the wheels, and when the vehicle is stopped, it simply stops the motor. This is almost like a very simplified version of an automatic transmission. Since there is no clutch or gearbox system, there is no delay between the motor turning and the power being delivered to the wheels of the car. This means that the car will start moving as soon as you apply pressure to the pedal. Additionally, because there is no ‘ideal rev range’, the power is delivered the same amount throughout all the range of the motor, making overtaking a lot easier. This gives electric vehicles a very torque heavy nature, with the Tesla model 3 delivering a peak torque of 550 lb-ft with roughly 330bhp.  Earlier on I mentioned that Tesla were working on a new model of car. Here I was referring to the Tesla Roadster. With this car they are aiming to create an electric car, which beats all other production cars in all stats. This will include the top speed of over 250mph, 0-60 acceleration time of 1.9 seconds, wheel torque peaking at 10,000 Nm and a range of 620 miles. This will outperform the Bugatti Chiron, which has a peak torque of 1,600 Nm, 0-60 time of 2.4 seconds, and a top speed of 261 mph. The cost of the roadster is also about £200,000, as opposed to the Chiron’s cost of €2,400,000. 

Now, all electric vehicles do have some limitations and issues. The primary one of these is the range. The range does vary a lot from car to car, but some are now offering ranges of up to 300 miles. This will be more than enough for most people; however, this is still something to consider when looking up cars. As well as this, range is difficult to give an exact figure for as it is affected by many factors, including the size of the battery, the quality of the battery/motors, the type of driving you’d be doing, and the weather conditions that you’ll be driving in, as lithium-ion batteries perform better in warmer conditions.  Another concern people often have with EVs is the time to charge and where they can charge it. This is probably the biggest limiting factor of electric vehicles currently as there are not huge amounts of charging points, and while some charging points have the potential to fully charge the car in less than an hour, these are only at certain locations, so a lot of old, slow charges are still being used. 

If you’re still not 100% convinced, know that some governments are offering incentives for people to get electric vehicles. For example, here in the UK, the government is offering a subsidy on electric cars of 35% of the car’s cost, up to £4,500 (at the time of writing). As well as this the UK government is aiming for most new cars to be electric by 2030, and potentially banning non-electric vehicles by the year 2040. 

What’s Happening in the World of 3D Printing?

We’re all very excited about 3D printing and the potential it has to change our lives. When it first received widespread media coverage 5 years ago everyone imagined essentially having their own mini-factory in the home able to print any desired material object at the press of a button.

The head of the most powerful office in the world, at the time President Obama, even embraced 3D printing in his 2013 State of the Union address when he proclaimed, of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Ohio, “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionise the way we make almost everything.”

So, what has happened in the world of 3D printing since then?

The hype surrounding the technology has come crashing back down to earth owing to the realisation of the many hurdles that must be overcome before we see a 3D printer in every home. The graph below lists the share price of Stratasys, one of the key players in the manufacturing of 3D printers, and tells a story reminiscent of the dot-com bubble:

3D Printer Graph

That’s not to say there isn’t a market for the home consumer, but a very basic plastic-printing 3D printer model will set you back several hundred pounds and the better models will cost upwards of several thousand pounds, and this is before the added expense of materials and maintenance.

And even these printers are generally intended for printing prototypes of products due to their many limitations such as each printing in just one type of material, having difficulties with hollow objects, or printing objects with a poor-quality surface that requires finishing. Advances  are being made, but these are perhaps best observed in the many industries and research organisations in which 3D printing is being deployed.

In the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Stratasy’s aided the design and manufacture of the USA Luge team’s sled with Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printing technology, helping the country to their first ever medal in the men’s singles Luge (Chris Mazdzer – Silver).

Additionally, snowboarders using CAPiTA’s snowboards have profited in PyeongChang, the boards having been enhanced with FUS3D 3D printed sidewall technology. Furthermore, a collaboration between Belgian additive manufacturing specialists Materialise and Swiss boot designer Tailored Fits in August last year saw them 3D printing custom insoles for ski boots in time for PyeongChang much to the benefit of the wearer.

3D printing has revolutionised healthcare, used in the planning of surgical procedures and for building implants and prosthesis. Research is ongoing in the field of 3D bioprinting, whereby biomaterials and small units of cells are dispensed to form tissue-like structures with micrometre precision, for applications including artificial organ generation, drug discovery and in vitro disease study.

Archaeologists are also employing the technology to greatly enhance their forensic reconstruction capabilities. Just recently the University of Athens revealed the face of a woman who died nearly 9,000 years ago at the age of 18, whom they aptly named Avgi, the Greek word for Dawn. A team of archaeologists and medical experts scanned her skull, which was unearthed back in 1993, and used 3D printing to produce a model of the skull that was then built on top of. This is not the first use of the technology in this field with 3D printing used in many other forensic reconstruction projects, including in a reconstruction of the face belonging to the 9,500-year-old Jericho Skull a year prior.

Even certain foods are now being made using additive manufacturing, whereby the ingredients are squeezed out layer by layer into 3D foodstuffs such as pizzas, pasta, chocolate and candy.

With all the above-mentioned applications of 3D printing, which is by no means exhaustive, the effectiveness of the technology can only rise, with cause-driven innovations continually being made in the design of the 3D printer, the materials they are able to utilise, and the scope of their use. As breakthroughs on the industrial scale will naturally fuel the ability of businesses selling directly to the consumer to break down the barriers they face, it seems inevitable 3D printers will develop into something every household will wish to own, something capable of replacing factories with individuals able to print out everyday goods.

Certainly, the ability to print out replacement body parts in your own home is the most exciting and life-changing of the many uses the 3D printer could be developed for.

When this envisioned revolutionary level will be reached remains to be seen. Moreover, whether this anticipated technological change will bring with it a tide of downsides, such as dissipating the line between home and the workplace and counteracting globalisation as some have predicted, or just the advantages others have foreseen, such as introducing economies of scope to developing countries, is unknown.

Progress in the field of 3D bioprinting especially has sparked many to warn that the technology carries important ethical concerns and regulatory considerations that are presently being overlooked. But what is clear is that 3D printing is already making in-roads into the development of our goods and services, and that the future of technology in the world in which we live is therefore intertwined with the world of 3D printing.


Bismarck and the Beginning of Universal Healthcare

When learning about history, either through active searching or through opportunistically bumping into documentaries on TV, it usually takes you to the great events and personalities of history. While enormously fascinating the great wars, great generals and politicians of history are not the whole package, but rather the social consciousness of nations is just as much the driving force of history. Everyone who heard the name Bismarck in a historical context, besides the great second world war battleship, knows the great German politician as “the Iron Chancellor”, the man who through sheer willpower created the German Empire out of a hotchpotch of smaller states, a state builder. While this is an undoubtable historical merit, Bismarck’s ability to react to calls for social reform, as in this case regarding healthcare, had a great historical influence, felt now all around the world.

The year 1883 and Germany’s Social Health Insurance marks the first concrete stepping stone towards Universal healthcare and a landmark moment in the creation of welfare states.

It is very important to understand what triggered the implementation of the Social Health Insurance System; what were the political, social and economical circumstances which give birth to this necessity at this point in human history.

Germany in 1883 was one of the newest states that appeared on the map of Europe. Little over a decade before the German state didn’t exist, but rather it was a loose confederation of German kingdoms, duchies and free cities. In 1848 the German national sentiment really got going, and despite its defeat, the dream of a united German state did come to fruition in 1871, with the defeat of the second French Empire and the coronation of Kaiser Wilhelm I as emperor of Germany in the Versailles palace.

Despite Germany’s youth, it quickly become a European superpower, a player on the world stage and this happened thanks to its rapid industrialisation, especially in the Ruhr valley. Now, this rapid industrialization and the mass migration of people from rural to urban centres that it caused, gave birth to a powerful political movement that has shaped history since then, and it continues to do so: “socialism”.

Socialism is a very powerful political movement that started flourishing in the 19th century, along with the industrialization of the economy and the impact that it had on society. In 1883 the socialist ideals were represented in German politics by the Social Democratic Party(SDP), and this had the indirect effect on the creation of the German Social Health Insurance System by making it into a political tool.

Otto von Bismarck was in 1883 the long-time German chancellor, the very powerful office in the state, second only to the emperor. He managed to forge the German Empire through “blood and iron” and to set up the necessary diplomatic alliances to ensure its survival until the First World War.

Although, at first glance, you would consider the 1848 Revolution in Germany as more of a nationalistic and unionist movement, in 1949 Bismarck expressed the underlying social tensions inside German society by publicly saying “The social insecurity of the worker is the real cause of their being a peril to the state”. You should not be confused by this and consider Bismarck a socialist, or a politician with socialist inclinations. Bismarck was a conservator, with a strong Christian faith, belonging to the Prussian landowning aristocracy, but even he realised the growing political power of the working class, political power channelled especially by the Social Democratic Party, and the Social Health Insurance System set up in 1883 is an attempt to nullify the growing power of the SDP by resolving one of the main issues faced by the factory workers.

Many policies and mechanisms crucial to the SHI pre-date the 1883 Sickness Insurance Act. In 1838 Prussia (the main predecessor of the united German state) passed a law placing responsibility for workers’ injuries on the railroad companies unless they could prove negligence by employees. In 1871 this standard was extended to other industries, detailing responsibilities by occupation.

In the 19th century a system of mutual benefit societies already existed. Those organizations were the forerunners to modern unions and provided benefits, disability payments, pensions and support to widows. They were supported by contributions made by voluntary members. In 1854 membership was made compulsory and mandated employers to pay no less than half of what the worker was paying. In 1876, over 850.000 citizens had insurance coverage through more then 5.000 sickness funds.

Under the Social Health Insurance System, all members of a group contributed to an insurance fund that offered defined benefits. The members provided a steady stream of revenue, often via a portion of their wages.

Bismarck’s innovation in 1883 was the creation of the “sickness funds” that had mandatory enrolment and defined benefits. Unlike previous individual insurance funds, the new system covered members at a national level, but it must be said that this was only for about 10% of the population. The great majority were industrial workers, salt mine workers, metal workers, people working on railways, shipyards and power plants. The benefits included sick pay, free pharmaceuticals, death benefits.

Under Bismarck, the German state took steps towards the social protection in health. He solidified the previous vague principle of government involvement in private healthcare by specifying the mechanism that guaranteed funds and defined benefits. In the next century, Germany continued expanding the system to include more and more categories of workers until all Germans were covered. In 1911 agricultural and forestry workers were enrolled, civil servants in 1914, the unemployed in 1918, non-working wives and daughters in 1919, all primary dependents in 1930, all retirees in 1941, the physically disabled in 1957, students in 1975 and artists in 1981.

Although you would consider Bismarck to be a politician practicing power politics and not a social revolutionary, the step he took in 1883 served to be an example for other states to adopt his ideas and had the effect that today a great majority of European states have Universal Healthcare and a considerable number have it around the world too.

How Can Gaming be Turned Into Learning?

Video games are becoming increasingly popular from day to day. It used to be considered that video games were something children played to waste time; since then all age groups have been playing them. The games themselves have changed a lot, both technically in terms of graphics, and from a design point of view. Now there are competitive games which have million-pound tournaments and casual games which anyone can download onto their smartphone. More recently, games have started moving further and further into the world of teaching and learning. This is what I would like to address in this blog, as video games can be a great tool to teach students, or train employees.

Games can be used as a great learning tool to teach useful non-academic skills like hand-eye coordination, all the way to teaching them specific skills like guitar (Rocksmith is a great example of this). They can simply focus on teaching you one thing, for example, you can have a game that specifically teaches you a language, or even just a character set for a language (See Hiragana Pixel Party), or it can have a broader scope, like teaching you general concepts around a subject. It can also do this in a very basic level or very complicated. Rocksmith teaches you guitar, and it goes from the very basic, and follows you along, always pushing you to improve. With a bit of dedication, by the end you could be playing full songs perfectly.  

The way I see this is that there are two types of educational games. The first is “Here is something we want to teach, let’s make a game around it”, which involves taking a subject or skill that they want to teach, and making a game solely around that concept. This is often seen in educational flash games such as those listed on BBC bitesize. The other is “Here is a concept for a game, and it will happen to teach the player this”. This involves designing first and foremost a game, possibly without any idea of skill it wants to teach, then implementing a skill they want to teach as a core gameplay mechanic.  

A great example of this is Human Resource Machine. This is a puzzle game about taking some input and converting it to a specified output. The overarching objective of the game is to reach the top of the company’s building to the CEOs office. However, to reach the next floor you must complete a puzzle. The puzzles involve core programming concepts. While it does not specifically teach you a programming language, it teaches you the fundamental concepts which you would need to know regardless of language.  

There are plenty of games that teach either academic skills, like language, or instruments, or more functional skills, like hand-eye coordination, and typing speed. In fact, there are plenty of typing games online which can be used to monitor your typing speed, and accuracy. These usually give numerical values to score you, so you can compare against other users. Using these concepts, I believe it is possible, and maybe a wise future step to implement video games as a learning tool in the future of company training schemes.  

One example of where games could be a good learning tool is in the military. Very advanced weapons are being developed, but with that they are getting harder and harder to use. To solve this the US military employed the use of Xbox controllers as a method of controlling high end submarine periscopes. Creating a game could allow them to then train operators on how to use the periscope, without the need to have them in the submarine itself.   

Games can be a great way for employers to teach new employees the skills relevant to their job and have several benefits over more traditional methods. 

  1. They are less expensive, and more flexible. Businesses are always looking for cheaper ways to do everything. Games for learning are a great way to do this as games are getting cheaper to develop. Also, because they are in a digital format there is no need to have trainees go to a training centre.  
  2. They enhance motivation. This is more dependent on the game and the user, however when done correctly they can encourage the user to spend more time playing and therefore learning. One way to encourage the user is to give rewards for completing activities within the game, such as basic medals or points.  
  3. They create clear goals for education. There can be objectives listed in the game that the user should aim for and sets a clear end for the game or just each objective.  
  4. They help the company evaluate the learners. The games can report back to the developer or to the training company. It may give reports on progress and time, which will give a good indication of how well, and how thoroughly the player is learning the subject.  

While I have been talking about how games are a great tool for learning, there are also some disadvantages. A main one is that if a game requires a lot of time, or if it is just that enjoyable, they player may end up sitting in one position for a long time. This could cause physical strain; however, good practice is to take short breaks every one or two hours. If working in an office, they trainee would be encouraged to take 10-minute break every 2 hours.  

Another disadvantage could possibly be that it isn’t a universal method of learning. Everyone learns using different methods, and some that work for some people, are completely unsuitable for others. While implementing games as a method of training is good, it’s probably best to have other methods for people who are struggling. However, if you have a game that reports stats to you, you may already have an idea of who would need alternative methods.   

In conclusion, I think that using games is a great way to teach students or train employees, however this will depend on the game itself, and the learner. It won’t be a “one size fits all” solution, however it is cost effective, and could possibly be very effective for a large portion of the users.  There are plenty of learning and educational games, so give some a go and see if you can pick up some new skills. 

Here are some example games: 

All the games on BBC Bitesize, which are aimed at young children, but are designed to teach them basic academic skills in different subject areas – 

Human Resource Machine, which is developed by the Tomorrow Cooperation. This teaches programming techniques without directly teaching a programming language. You use something like machine code to do this. 

Kerbal Space Program, which was developed by Squad. On this base level, you design rockets to launch into space. And launch them yourself. However, you can consider weight, thrust, aerodynamics, and more. 

Democracy 3, which was developed by Positech Games. This game simulates government, and allows you to make changes, and see exactly how it would affect a country. While it may not be 100% accurate to the real world, it can give a general idea as to what can be changed, and what effect it would have. 

How Can Your Organisation Reduce the Risk of Cyber Attack?

The 2017 Cyber Security Breaches Survey* revealed that nearly 70% of large UK businesses have suffered data breach or cyber-attack in the last 12 months, with the average cost to each business affected totalling over £20,000. WannaCry, the most notorious of this year’s ransomware attacks, disrupted 34% of NHS Trusts in England, leading to thousands of operations and appointments being cancelled and five A&E departments unable to treat some patients**.

But with so much of our organisational data now stored online in the cloud, and IT systems and software driving virtually every business process, how can a company protect and preserve the integrity of their data without becoming so security-conscious that efficiency, productivity and budget is compromised?

The first step to reducing your risk is raising awareness of fraudulent emails. The Cyber Security Breaches Survey found that the most common form of cyber-attack is malicious emails purporting to be from a known person or organisation. These emails coax the recipient into revealing passwords or financial information (through fake landing pages, for example), or opening dangerous attachments which comprise trojan malware or ransomware leading to data breach. It’s important that everyone in your organisation is made aware of these risks and is actively encouraged to question the legitimacy of emails received before opening attachments or entering their personal or financial information.

A current example of ransomware being distributed through emails is the Scarab virus. While this virus was detected for the first time in June, in November it was sent to 12.5 million email addresses through the use of a spambot. Mimicking legitimacy, the email’s subject line was “Scanned from [printer company name]”, making it appear that the attachment was a scanned image or document sent directly from a multifunction device. However, the attachment instead installs ransomware on your machine which encrypts your data until a ransom is paid in Bitcoin – and even after payment, there is no guarantee that the decryption key will be sent.
Whilst training your team to be vigilant is extremely important in avoiding cyber-attack, it does not replace the protection that anti-virus software, firewalls, updates and patches provide.

Anti-virus software is a particularly important measure, and should be installed on every device used by your organisation – including smartphones. Ensure that your firewall is switched on to create a buffer between your network and the internet, and use the ‘automatically update’ option on PCs to apply the latest software and firmware updates provided by manufacturers and vendors. The WannaCry virus which caused such havoc earlier in the year was the result of a critical system vulnerability in the Windows Operating System which a Microsoft patch had addressed. However, due to a lack of resources and a desire to test new updates before pushing them out to all users, organisations had not yet applied the fix, which amplified the WannaCry impact. Applying the latest software and firmware as quickly as possible will minimise your exposure to risk.

Passwords and authentication are also important. Ensure that every device within your organisation is password protected, and avoid predictable passwords (like passw0rd or a family name). To protect particularly sensitive data like banking information, consider two-factor authentication to warrant against unauthorised access.

During the festive period, businesses are faced with another risk – employees who use company machines or mobile devices to buy Christmas gifts. Last year alone, the cost of online fraud was £16m – a significant increase of 45% on the previous year. Employees should be encouraged to check and verify vendors (being particularly mindful of ratings), and should carefully guard their PIN and passwords. Wherever possible, try to discourage employees from using company machines for their online shopping or any other personal business, as this only serves to increase your vulnerability to ransomware and cyber-attack.

Finally, whilst the measures described here will go a long way to protecting your data, it is virtually impossible to guarantee that your systems cannot be breached. In 2016, both the FBI and US Homeland Security were hacked, demonstrating that even those organisations with large cyber-security budgets and specialist cyber knowledge are vulnerable. Cyber attacks are like any other risk and have to be managed and mitigated. In addition to safeguarding against these threats using accredited processes, data also needs to be protected using a rigorous and robust daily back-up process, ensuring that a copy of the information most critical to your business is securely stored offsite, be it in the cloud or another remote drive. In this way, should your systems be compromised, you can at least access your data from a non-affected machine allowing day-to-day operations to continue and minimising downtime and associated cost.

To tackle the threat and impact of cyber-attack, the UK Government has recently opened a new National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which is tasked with providing expert advice to organisations and businesses in every sector of the economy and society. Their 10 Steps to Cyber Security document ( provides an excellent starting point for those organisations looking to implement low-cost, effective measures to reduce their risk. We would also recommend the Government’s Cyber Essentials Scheme ( as a way of demonstrating to your customers and stakeholders how seriously you take cyber-security and the safety of their data.


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