Hong Kong’s online TV shambles

hong kong skylineI’ve just finished a feature slightly out of my comfort zone – Hong Kong’s online TV market, or lack thereof.

The Chinese SAR has a huge appetite for net TV – you just have to get onto an MTR, visit a dim sum restaurant or try and get past a local ambling on the pavement whilst staring at their phablet, to realise that.

The former colony also has an ideal set-up – 4G is commonplace; the locals are pretty tech-savvy early adopter types relative to the rest of Asia; and broadband penetration is amongst the highest in the world.

Yet thus far it still doesn’t have its own online TV service. Hongkongers have to get their content from mainland China or further afield to satisfy their lust for internet telly.

Local entrepreneur Ricky Wong tried his best with HKTV but hit a brick wall in the form of a government shamelessly protecting the vested interests of the region’s incumbent broadcasters.

It’s a shame because this model of broadcasting, whilst probably never fully replacing traditional modes, will definitely come to play a major part in our content consuming lives over the next decade.

Gartner’s Terick Chiu explained to me that it’s not just the online TV players and content producers who stand to benefit.

“In their efforts to drive engagement with consumers, both incumbents and new entrants are likely to invest in the technology of second-screen applications. These applications are built on top of automatic content recognition (ACR) technologies, which enable an application to detect content metadata — usually contained in a digital watermark — and synchronise the application with the on-screen programming,” he said.

“For service providers and advertisers, these second-screen apps will become an important element of the future of TV, given their ability to provide an ongoing stream of information about consumer preferences and interests. These apps also enable a form of e-commerce or ‘embedded merchandising’, which links a viewer to products/services that are featured in video programming”.

IDC’s Greg Ireland, meanwhile, argued that internet TV would “usher in a new wave of competition” in the broadcast industry – which should spell good news for viewers.

“One item to watch is how these services, or other new services, emerge as ‘true’ competitors to traditional pay TV,” he told me. “That is, will any begin to license linear content and offer a pay TV service of live and on-demand content entirely over the internet?”

It’s going to happen sooner or later in Hong Kong, as around the world, so the government might as well get out of the way and let it happen now.

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Russian mega-hack: time to get serious about alternatives to passwords?

padlockAll the talk this week has been of the Russian mega-hack. A data breach revealed first in the New York Times by a security firm called Hold Security of an estimated 1.2 billion username and password combinations and 500 million email addresses.

So what can we say about it?

Well, according to the security experts I spoke to we can summarise as follows:

  • It won’t be enough to push website owners into adopting more secure authentication mechanisms like two-factor authentication; passwords are just too user friendly and the alternatives would be too expensive.
  • The best we can hope for is it will encourage people to use password managers, or at least stop sharing passwords across sites, and improve the strength of those passwords.
  • It’s still not clear if this was as big a breach as claimed. We don’t know whether the details are current passwords, where they were obtained and exactly how. Fixating on the size is also missing the point a bit, as there are huge breaches every year.
  • Online firms should see this as a wake-up call. Patch those SQL flaws and keep passwords more secure – by doing this you’ll remove the “lower hanging fruit” these Russian attackers clearly went for.

Beyond that, Thales UK head of cyber security, Peter Armstrong told me he was disheartened to see Hold Security already trying to monetise its findings by charging for breach notification services.

“Once of the key building blocks that underpins the improvement in the global cyber defence posture is the preparedness of organisations to share threat intelligence. The creed and ethos here is we are only strong if we are strong together,” he added.

“Threat Information Exchange must remain a philosophy of openness and community benefit not individual benefit. This organisation [Hold Security] has derived benefit historically from this free information exchange helping them to amass the capability and intelligence to make this discovery in the first place. This kind of behaviour is likely to trigger black listing of organisations for bad behaviours from a community perspective and under those circumstances it is only the cyber criminals who benefit.”

For KPMG cyber security director, Tom Burton, the main issue here is whether passwords are still fit for purpose. He thinks not.

“The pervasive nature of the internet means mere mortals cannot possibly remember a different password for each and every website they have registered with, let alone passwords with strength,” he told me by email.

“In the short term, individuals must take a more risk based approach, maintaining strong and unique credentials for those sites that would create the greatest impact if breached (bank accounts and email accounts are two such examples) while being pragmatic and using common passwords for sites that really would be little more than an irritation if breached.”

For CISOs it comes down to risk management, and in many cases fortifying the organisation against such breaches may come higher on the agenda than dealing with advanced targeted attacks, he argued.

“It is too easy with modern processing to crack a large file of password hashes, and there will always be vulnerabilities that enable criminals to gain access to those hash files,” concluded Burton.

“If there is one thing that I feel is certain it is that this is unlikely to be the last announced breach of this kind, and is probably not going to be the largest.  If it doesn’t prompt businesses and individuals to rethink how they are protecting themselves then the criminals will have a bright future ahead of them.”


Malaysia: another contender for Asia’s ICT crown?

malaysia flagIDG Connect has just published another of my forays into Asia’s ICT markets, this time focusing on Malaysia and whether it can possibly sneak in to take the crown of regional digital hub from its rivals in Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere.

The truth is that the country has flown under the radar for much of the past 20-odd years, although in reality the government had been pushing for foreign investment there since the early 1970s, when Intel and six other firms set up facilities in what was once nothing more than mud and rice fields.

Fast forward to today and Malaysia has something of an image problem, according to Ng Wan Peng, COO of Malaysia’s Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the government agency leading the charge.

“While the country is fast-becoming viewed as a top Asian holiday destination, with beautiful beaches and luxury hotels, it doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a place for foreign firms to invest or in which to establish their Asian hub,” she told me.

Its efforts to change this and help the country move up the ICT value chain were spearheaded by the founding of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) – a hi-tech investment zone running from Kuala Lumpur airport into the city centre. It’s designed to spur foreign investment (33% of which comes from the UK) and encourage that transformation into a “digital economy” by 2020.

The Malaysian government has put together a very generous set of inducements to invest here, including a “Bill of Guarantees” which promises MSC-status companies: a 10-year income tax “holiday” or investment tax allowance for up to 5 years; freedom of ownership; strong cybersecurity laws; and no internet censorship, according to Peng. The government also offers unrestricted employment of foreign knowledge workers, cutting visa-related red-tape.

So what else? This is what Peng had to say:

The answers range from the economical, to the cultural, to the financial. For one, we are politically and socially stable. We also believe our multi-cultural society holds a business advantage – we Malaysians are used to sitting across the table from someone of a different ethnicity to us from an early age, so we’re used to conducting business with people from all geographies and walks of life. Being a largely English-speaking population is also attractive to Western investors, while our world-class infrastructure helps to facilitate global commerce without fear of being disrupted by natural disasters.

So far so good. But there are challenges, as Frost & Sulivan APAC associated director Pranabesh Nath explained to me.

“Areas that stand out as challenges include inadequate technology infrastructure, lack of sufficient talent, small domestic market, and not enough ‘knowledge jobs’,” he argued. “Adoption of technology for consumers in terms of usage, and lower e-commerce penetration provides additional growth challenges. The government, though, recognises these shortcomings and is expect to be implementing policy to overcome them.”

Indeed, Peng explained separately without prompting that these areas of concern are being addressed by the government.

There’s certainly a will from the top to make this work which is heartening to see and some impressive growth stats already. Yet I wonder whether the problem Malaysia might face is in that delicate balance between encouraging foreign investment via tax breaks and other inducements and nurturing its home-grown companies.

“There are frameworks and policies since the ’90s on encouraging home grown companies, however these don’t seem to have worked very well,” Nath argued. “Technology and markets have also changed rapidly in the last 20 years and it is always hard to keep up to date with the latest development and growth areas.”

However, he was optimistic of a way to surmount this problem and accelerate Malaysia’s ICT growth without this coming at the expense of home-grown companies.

“The internet of things and its applications in industry sectors such as automobiles, healthcare and consumer are enabling new business models and use-cases such as wearable technology. These highly integrated solutions use all key tech areas such as cloud, big-data and high speed connectivity,” he explained.

“A strong emphasis being a leader in this area, coupled with a focus on generating a knowledge intensive economy can propel Malaysian ICT to much greater growth in the next five years. Both foreign investment and local companies’ incubation can be simultaneously pursued in these cases. Now we just need strong policies that can implement the above.”