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Java security hole could leave a billion computers at risk of infection

Published on September 28, 2012
Tags: Internet Security

A security hole has been discovered at the heart of a type of computer code which is used on more than a billion PCs and Macs worldwide. The critical hole, which has been called the ‘zero day’ vulnerability, exploits all versions of Oracle’s flagship Java software and could potentially allow hackers to take control of a user’s system.

 Java is an extremely common programming language which is used by many websites and pieces of desktop software and includes cross-browser integration with Safari, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox. The implications of the security hole could be massive due to the wide-ranging use of Java on computers across the world.
The security hole was discovered by Adam Gowdiak, the CEO of Security Explorations, a Polish firm which seeks to discover and fix holes in popular pieces of software and programming languages. The news comes hot on the heels of another ‘zero day’ discovery in Java last month. The security holes are named ‘zero day’ because there is no known cure available, which is even more worrying news for Oracle and users of the Java platform.
It is thought that no hackers have access to the vulnerability yet, and the source code has been sent back to Oracle for analysis in the hope that a patch can be released in order to plug the security hole. Oracle are yet to make a statement on the matter, but it should be noted that they were quick to push out an emergency fix last time such a bug was discovered.
Oracle was founded in June 1977 in Santa Clara, California, with Oracle Version 1 being released the following year. Introducing SQL database systems in 1979 as well as a number of other groundbreaking technologies, Oracle has risen to become the industry leader in patent enterprise systems. In January 2010, Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems, becoming a manufacturer of both hardware and software. It was Sun Microsystems who originally developed the Java environment in 1990 as an alternative to the C++ and C programming languages. The bulk of Java implementation was released under the GNU General Public License (GPL) in November 2006.
It has come under fire a number of times in the industry due to its design choices and handling of certain aspects of software. Performance was a major factor in the early days of Java, but it is now considered one of the fastest language platforms available in recent benchmarking tests, often up to three times faster than C/C++. Security holes in Java began to be exploited in 2010 when the environment became a common target for computer hackers, targeting the Java virtual machine in particular. Oracle has encouraged its users to always update Java in order to ensure they are protected by the latest security fixes.
However, surveys have shown that many users are unaware of what Java is and many do not even know they have it installed, with the majority not knowing how to update it. As many corporate firms and businesses restrict software installation on their computers, updates are often slow to be deployed which can affect security enormously in corporate environments. However, with Java being able to run on any system due to its cross-platform capabilities, it is widely used as a platform in more than a billion computers worldwide. The platform is even used in many types of mobile phones as well as routers and mainframes, requiring very few adjustments. Its far-reaching nature and worldwide appeal is what can often make it an appealing target for hackers. This is widely assumed to be a primary reason for it having been a target in recent months and years.
This latest security hole will affect worry the majority of users since it is believed that no hackers have actually managed to exploit the hole. With Oracle widely expected to release a security patch in due course, there should be no risk to users but it is unlikely to inspire confidence in those who use the Java platform regularly, particularly after a number of security risks and threats in recent months and years. 

By Chelsey Evans

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HTML4, HTML5 or HXTML? A web development dilemma

Published on September 21, 2012
Tags: Web Development London

HTML, or hyper-text mark-up language, the building block of the web, has been evolving ever since its initial introduction. There have not been any major differences between different versions of HTML, each incarnation simply improving upon the previous one as new technologies and website requirements come into play.

However, with the introduction of HTML5, the playing field looks set to change. The majority of new browser releases now support HTML5 and it is being used increasingly regularly amongst web developers. But is it necessarily the best mark-up language to use in web development? We have taken a closer look at all three mark-up languages in order to form an opinion.
HTML4, it may surprise you, was first developed in 1990 - over twenty-two years ago. Syntax is generally very loose, with closing tags being optional and upper/lower-case syntax being entirely optional. This made it very difficult for browsers to accurately render pages and, as a result, many websites appear completely differently across different browsers and platforms. On the plus side, though, it is very easy to learn and adopt.
In order to counteract the negative downsides of HTML4, XHTML was introduced. Technically, XHTML is a dialect of XML, adapted for website markup. It standardises much of HTML, including stating that opening tags must be closed and certain tags cannot be nested within each other. These restrictions tend not to be prohibitive, but instead make for a more professionally coded website. XHTML is now the language of choice for most professional web developers for this reason.
HTML5 is a relatively new markup language, which is becoming more and more popular all the time. The updated markup language gives new functionality to web developers in terms of designing for the mobile web and even going so far as to replace Flash and other multimedia plugins with an inbuilt multimedia platform. It also supports geolocation and canvas imaging for graphic designers. The markup has been kept simple - even the DOCTYPE has been simplified to <!DOCTYPE html>. Compare this to the XHTML 1.0 Transitional DOCTYPE, which looks akin to this: <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> and you can see how the new markup language might be more convenient.
Older versions of HTML are also supported in HTML, and it is entirely up to you as to how strictly you write the code, rather than having to choose a level of strictness in XHTML. Combined with the addition of dynamic image creation, multimedia encoding and new accessibility attributes, it certainly seems as though the future is bright with HTML5. For this reason, we would recommend that new websites be developed using HTML5 as opposed to XHTML or, definitely, HTML4.

By Chelsey Evans

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Social media: How to capitalise on the new side of the web

Published on September 21, 2012
Tags: Internet Communication

Although the vast majority of businesses will now have a website, many would love to get involved with social media but are either unsure as to how to start or, in many cases, do not fully understand or appreciate how social media can help their business.

When approaching social media, the first thing you should consider is what you want to get out of it. Are you simply looking to advertise your business or do you want to engage with customers and add a personal front to your business? Social media allows you to interact with your target audience and adds a human face to your company, which will help your reputation immensely. Social media is very easy to use once you know the basics, but it can be quite a time consuming pursuit, especially so in the early days. Early on, it can feel as though you’re getting nowhere but persevere as the rewards can be huge.
The main social networks to consider are Facebook, blogging platforms, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Each of these websites are distinctly different and have completely different purposes and functions. If social media is completely new to you, you should choose just one website to begin with and start off with a personal account - rather than a business account - so you can get a feel for the system before you dive straight in with your business account.
Twitter is particularly easy to find your way around, especially if you start by following people you know or your favourite celebrities or news feeds. Once you are familiar with the concept, you can begin to tweet yourself and join in the conversation. However, as Twitter is the fastest-paced of the social networks you will need to be sure you can check and update it regularly.
Facebook, on the other hand, allows you to set up a page for your company (be sure to do this as a Page as opposed to a Profile; they are completely different). Facebook will allow you and your company to post news, photos and other information to fans of your page. You can also create advertising campaigns through Facebook in order to promote your business. Blog platforms, such as Wordpress, are also a good way to post regular news although they can be quite complicated and limited in their scope.
YouTube is a dedicated video hosting platform, allowing you to post and share videos with other users. Posting videos or reviews of your products or interesting content could really help to promote your business to web users. A final mention must go to LinkedIn, a business social network which can help you to get in touch with people who work in the same field, or people who might be potential business contacts. It’s generally frowned upon to advertise blatantly on LinkedIn, although its whole purpose of being targeted towards business users can be very handy indeed.

By Chelsey Evans

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How a content management system could help your website

Published on September 13, 2012
Tags: Web Development London

When you come to have a new website built for your business, it is important that you are aware of the various options available to you in terms of the structure of your website. If you are looking for a simple advert-style website then a flat-file system is a straightforward and cost-effective of getting your company on the world-wide web. However, if you need a little more advanced functionality then a content management system could be just the thing you’re looking for.

A content management system, or CMS, does exactly what it says on the tin. Broadly, it is a system which is designed to help you to manage content on your website. Content management systems come in all shapes and sizes, from blog management systems to eCommerce packages, simple page-updaters to dynamic content generation systems. The term is all-encompassing. What they have in common, however, is the way in which they are able to store, retrieve and manage data with ease.

A content management system will consist of the front-end system, enabling you to manage your content and the end user to view it and utilise it on your website; the back-end system, which retrieves data and manipulates it in such a way that it can be easily utilised by the front-end; and the database, which stores the data and allows it to be retrieved by the back-end system. Common database formats include MySQL for Unix-based systems and Microsoft SQL Server for ASP-based systems.

A common use of content management systems is that of blog management. Blog management systems, such as Wordpress, have a wide range of uses nowadays - far beyond that of maintaining a blog. Wordpress, in particular, is very popular as a generalised CMS, allowing users to create simple text pages and interlink them in a way which makes maintaining their website much easier than it otherwise would be. Widgets, plugins and themes make setting up and maintaining a website with Wordpress a breeze, and it is an increasingly popular option as a generalised CMS.

Of course, blog management systems such as Wordpress are the best option if you are looking to set up a blog-based website. The management of blog posts is fully taken care of, from category management to sorting and ordering, archiving and commenting. Although your website may seem impressively complicated, a high quality content management system can make the whole process a breeze.

If you are looking to sell products through your website, you will almost definitely need an eCommerce system. Popular eCommerce packages, including osCommerce, make it easy for you to set up an online store and integrate your products with a payment acceptance solution. Services such as PayPal and WorldPay are relatively simple to set up and will allow you to accept payments safely and securely through your website in order to begin selling products and making money through the web. An eCommerce content management system will allow you to add, remove and update products with ease and makes managing your online store incredibly simple.

Whether you are looking to launch a blog, an online store, or even if you are just simply looking for a way to update your website’s content with ease, a content management system could be just the right solution for you. You do not need any particularly advanced technical expertise in order to operate a well set-up content management system and can administrate an advanced form of website with relative ease. All content management systems come with easy-to-use front-end systems which will make updating your website, adding pages and tweaking products a breeze.

Content management systems do tend to be more expensive than simple flat-file websites due to the time they take to set up and calibrate, but the power which lies behind a good content management system is truly unbeatable, and you’ll have a website which can maintain products and content easily for many years to come. If you’re looking for a more powerful solution than a simple website, a content management system might be just the thing for you.

By Chelsey Evans

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Balance your website’s design with search engine optimisation in mind

Published on September 12, 2012
Tags: SEO, Web Design London

When having a new website designed for your company, organisation or business you will have to make that crucial decision: do you opt for prioritising design or SEO? In practice, it need not be quite so black and white, as there are a number of ways in which you can balance the design aspects of your new website with the search engine optimisation considerations you will want to take into account.

Put simply, there are two major aspects to a successful website. Of course, your website needs to be attractive, easy to navigate and enticing for your potential customers. However, have you ever considered that that might all be completely futile if your potential customers cannot actually find your website? It is a little like setting up a wonderful shop full of every product every customer could ever want, then putting it up a long-forgotten back street with absolutely no advertising. You might have the best shop in the world, but who is going to know it is there?

That is where search engine optimisation comes in. Search engine optimisation, or SEO, is the online equivalent of moving your back street shop to the high street, potentially allowing all passers-by to know your shop is there, thereby increasing footfall, trade and profit. Losing the allegory, search engine optimisation consists of optimising your website for a number of popular key phrases which your potential customers will be using to search on search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.

A well carried out search engine optimisation strategy will ensure that your website ranks higher in search engines for these terms, meaning that more of your potential customers will find your website, thereby visiting it any buying from you rather than your competitors. The result is increased profit and business. With the vast majority of internet users using search engines to find the products and services they are looking for, it is absolutely vital that you are on the first page of Google for your related key words and products. If you are not, those internet users will find your competitors instead.

Of course, it is pretty useless being top of Google for all of your key terms if your potential customers do not like the look and feel of your website or do not feel comfortable buying from you. That is why it is vital to be able to balance search engine optimisation factors with design considerations in order to ensure that your increased footfall equates to increased business. An attractive, well designed website can help to convert those additional visitors into customers, ensuring that your competitors do not take advantage of the extra business.

It is perfectly possible to have a well-balanced website which takes both design and search engine optimisation considerations into account. A simple, elegant design which complements and leads the content will actually help your search engine optimisation efforts, allowing you to concentrate on your website’s content - one of the major considerations of SEO and increased rankings. If your website is well-designed and easy to navigate for your users, it will also be easy to navigate for search engine spiders, which will increase your chances of being ranked in the associated search engine.

Search engines do not tend to view colour as a factor, so you are free to choose your own colour scheme - but make sure it is one which your visitors will find visually appealing. If the colours you use tend to give off the wrong signals, you could put off a lot of visitors and fail to make the most of your website’s increased footfall. Using colours which match the message you are trying to put across, and instilling trust in your potential customers is vital in order to make the most of your new visitors and try to convert them into paying customers.

So, you need not think you have to struggle to make the decision between a good-looking website and one which is well optimised for search engines. In fact, you can have your cake and eat it. A good web development company will be able to ensure that your website is appealing to both search engines and potential customers.

By Chelsey Evans

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