Brexit winners? Hackers.

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Plus: Say hello to the payment ring, but goodbye to the headphone jack

 

Brexit may have snuck in under our radar last week, what with all the political drama from presidential hopefuls and gun control sit-ins by members of Congress. But we were sure paying attention Friday as we watched stock markets tank right along with the British pound sterling.

But one economic sector had to be quite pleased with how things were playing out: hackers.

The cryptocurrency Bitcoin rose in value to $686 from $550 just a day prior to the Brexit vote. As readers of this column know, ransomware is the fastest-growing cybercrime in the world. More than 93 percent of malware embedded in phishing emails will trigger software that encrypts your data and holds it for ransom. And new features in the ransomware universe include the ability to migrate across the network to infect attached or connected devices, like external hard drives, USB keys and servers.

Ransomware is a business model most of us would envy. It’s growing exponentially and continually improving in delivery, impact and net results. That all adds up to bad news for our businesses. Learn more about ransomware at bit.ly/DM-ransomware.

If you do get “datanapped,” you will pay for your freedom in the coin of the cybercriminals’ realm: bitcoin. It’s a bit complicated to figure out how to convert your hard-earned dollars into bitcoin, but ever-helpful hackers provide you with links in the splash screen that will be stuck on your computers until you pay up.

Just like any nation’s currency or the tumbling value of the pound, you can check the bitcoin exchange rate online at bit.ly/bitcoin-rate.

Here are a couple of other interesting news items from the week.

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Are you ready for wireless headphones?

 

Oh sure, you probably already have a pair. But we’re talking about only being able to use wireless headphones. The tech press that spends an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out the specs of upcoming Apple devices is continuing to feed rumors that Apple is eliminating the headphone jack in the next generation of iPhones.

There are several problems with a wireless-only world.

First, there’s battery life. Your wireless headset is powered by a battery that is no match for the battery life of your smartphone. Listen to an album or two on a flight, watch a few episodes of “Mr. Robot,” and you’ll run your headphone battery dry. Now it’s midflight or mid-workday and you have to a) have your charger cable with you and b) have a power source to plug into. That’s a problem on a plane, and most definitely while biking the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

And consider how many pairs of relatively inexpensive wired headphones you have stashed away, so you’ve always got a pair handy.

Apple-heads will point out that the company plans to deliver high-quality audio through the lightning port. So there! Well great, but that does mean buying a brand new pair of headphones (what do you want to bet they say “Beats” on them?) — or multiple pairs. Which, if Apple pricing holds up, will no doubt be significantly more than most 3.5 mm pairs cost now.

More importantly, why would Apple do this? To create a unique and proprietary business opportunity for its newly acquired Beats brand? To make room on the iPhone7 for a wraparound screen? To deliver a stupendous increase in quality video and audio that will make the next iPhone a must-buy? Or, my personal pick, just because they can? Read more at bit.ly/apple-headphones.

Your ring is your credit card

 

Visa is everywhere you want to be, and this summer, that’s at the Rio Olympics. Threats of the Zika virus, warnings of poor security and polluted water features aside, there is one really cool thing going on: Visa is testing its new “payment ring.” Designed based on input from Olympic athletes, the ring appears to be a picture of simplicity.

Powered by a tiny chip, it draws just enough power from proximity to a payment terminal to complete a transaction. So no batteries to make it heavy or require recharging. The data on the chip is tokenized, replacing sensitive payment information, such as the 16-digit account number, with a unique digital identifier that can be used to process payments without exposing actual account details.

No fancy designs here yet; the ring is fairly Spartan. But it is also waterproof to 50 meters. And it can be deactivated with a smartphone app if it is lost or stolen.

The Olympics will be a proving ground for the newest in wearable and secure contactless payments. So lessons learned in Rio will go to make the next iteration ready for prime time. Of course, with the slow adaptation of merchants to new technology, such as accepting the much more secure chip-enabled cards, it may be some time before you can actually buy something with a wave of your hand. Learn more at bit.ly/payment-ring.

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