ITWC Morning Briefing, August 6, 2020 – Talking exposure notification apps with Sophos’ Chester Wisniewski

To keep up with the firehose of news and press releases, we’ve decided to deliver some extra news to you on the side every Monday and Thursday morning. Some of it is an extension of our own reporting that didn’t make its way into a story, while others might be content we’ve bookmarked for later reading and thought of sharing with you. We’re doing a similar thing at Channel Daily News – check it out here. You can also view our previous ITWC Morning Briefing here. Today’s briefing is delivered by ITWC editorial director Alex Coop.

What you need to know, right now

It’s what you need to know right now in the world of IT and tech – ’nuff said.


Yesterday at its Galaxy Unpacked virtual event, Samsung unveiled the expected – its annual update to the Note line – and the unexpected – a sneak peek at the upcoming Z Fold2 folding phone – as it urged us to embrace the next normal. We saw new Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra phablets, Galaxy S7 and S7+ tablets, a much-improved S-Pen, two elegant (and very expensive) watches, and kidney-shaped Galaxy Buds Live, all offered in colours that are, Samsung says, “neither trendy nor fleeting”. But they’re all nice to look at.

You need a fat wallet to afford these devices. The Note20 line starts at $1399 Canadian, with the Ultra hitting an eye-watering $2030 The two Watch 3 models cost $550 and $600, the Buds are $250, and the S7 and S7+ models go from $920 to $1190 (keyboard extra).

What can we expect next? As Samsung mobile head TM Roh told us, “Going forward, 5G and foldable will be the major pillars of Samsung’s future.” So hang tight until Sept.1, when more info about the Z Fold2 will be on its way. (Submitted by Lynn Greiner)

Talking exposure notification apps and their effectiveness with Sophos’ Chester Wisniewski

Last week, residents of Ontario were the first in the country to be able to use COVID-Alert, Canada’s federally-approved COVID-19 exposure notification app. As of this morning, the app boasts a 4.3-star rating on Google Play and more than 500,000 downloads.

Chester Wisniewski is a principal research scientist at next-generation security leader Sophos.

The app is meant to supplement contact tracing efforts already in place by public health authorities, but more importantly, reduce the amount of time it takes to notify people who have been potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19. Chester Wisniewski,  a principal research scientist at next-generation security leader Sophos, describes the app as the “cherry on top,” an important tool that’s layered on top of Canada’s existing efforts to flatten the curve.

It’s unclear at this point how many people are actively using the app, but app reviews and a quick temperature check on online suggests a lot of people are relatively pleased with the app’s transparency and focus on privacy. Initially developed by Ontario’s digital service with the help of open-source code from the e-commerce platform Shopify, COVID Alert is based on the Apple/Google framework, which doesn’t upload personal or location data to a government or health authority server. This “decentralized” approach contrasts with the centralized model of some apps whose purpose is to help health authorities with contact tracing of those who have tested positive for the disease.

Wisniewski says anyone worried about COVID Alert failing them on privacy is wasting their time.

“The really important part about the design of this app is it cannot be centrally abused,” he told me in an interview shortly before the app’s official release. “All that data that goes back up into Apple-Google’s central cloud to enable the distribution of the list of sick people knows nothing about you. They don’t record any unique identifiers from your phone, and they don’t have your postal code or phone number, nothing. The only way it could be abused is if you go to a large mall and every camera was recording Bluetooth and video, you could maybe collect enough of those anonymous identifiers going from camera to camera. If I was in the U.K., I would be a bit more concerned, where there are cameras around every single corner. In Canada, I don’t see it becoming an issue.”

COVID Alert, while privacy-centric, isn’t very accurate either, he adds. As the country pushes further into phase 3, the lack of accuracy might become a greater issue.

“Bluetooth waves are 2.4 GHz, the same as WiFi waves. And they don’t go through bodies. Our bodies are just big sacks of water essentially, so those radio waves will have a hard time passing through us. When you’re walking around with your iPhone in your back pocket, no one in front of you is detecting your Bluetooth signal. Your body is blocking that signal.”

Wisniewski is impressed with the federal government’s rollout of such a privacy-centric app, but when it comes to tech giants like Facebook and Google throwing their weight around in Canada, he says politicians need to take greater initiative to protect people’s privacy.

“We’re a small country with very little market power,” he said, adding it becomes very difficult for politicians to scorn big tech when they put their foot in the door because who wants to be the politician that turns down jobs and economic growth because of some lingering privacy issues? “And historically, when we’ve tried to issue fines, they’ve largely been ignored.” (Ahem, Facebook, ahem).

In case you missed it

The recent news that we maybe didn’t get to yet, or it’s the news we’ve reported on and feel is worth resurfacing. Sometimes we’ll also feature awesome stories from other publications.


Earlier this year Google said it would begin to block third-party cookies in Chrome, and last week, developers got their first chance to test one of the proposed alternatives to tracking users surfing the web: trust tokens. Chetna Bindra, from Google’s user trust and privacy team, told us there’s a noticeable heightened sense of awareness around privacy among users. Searches for online privacy and privacy regulations have spiked by 50 per cent year-over-year, she says. According to Google, there are over 15 million user interactions per day with the Why this ad? feature.

Over the next few months, Google says it will add a new feature called About this ad, which will also show users the verified name of the advertiser behind each ad. About this ad will initially be available for display ads purchased through Google Ads and Display & Video 360, and then “delivered to other ad surfaces throughout 2021.”

But back to those Trust tokens – unlike cookies, trust tokens are designed to authenticate a user by sidestepping the need to know their identity. Bindra says Trust tokens would not be able to track users across websites, but they could still let websites prove to advertisers that actual users, and not those pesky bots, visited a site or clicked on an ad.


Canada has its issues when it comes to turning its startups into burgeoning scaleups, but a new ICTC study, Betting on Red and White: International Investment in Canadian AI, examines Canada’s opportunities for leveraging its strengths in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to attract high-quality foreign direct investment (FDI). And while the study does not directly take into consideration the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, some insightful takeaways remain. Many interviewees in this study highlighted that while Canada has developed draft strategies for AI regulation or policy, actual regulation around data collection and use of AI in Canada has been slow, with existing norms being unclear or difficult to navigate. There’s a lot to unpack in this report – we’ll be digging into this further – but if you want to take a look at the report, you can do so by clicking here.

A French-language version of this press release is available here.


The coronavirus pandemic has made it tough to get or keep certifications. To this point, Red Hat Certification has delivered exams in public and private classroom sessions and through individually-delivered exams at testing centers. Red Hat says they’ve considered online exams in the past but cheating was always a massive concern – it’s just too easy to do it. The IBM-owned open-source giant says exams are now delivered in a live environment, observed by a remote proctor. You’ll need an X86_64 Fedora-compatible system and a webcam.

These are the offerings currently available in the remote exam format:

More are expected to roll out, but Red Hat says those will largely be dictated by regional and global demand.


Dell Technologies hosted the first episode of their Canadian Thought Leadership Series, Bringing Masterminds, last week. The event focused on how C2C leadership can help businesses emerge through economic turmoil successfully. This was the first out of four episodes in this series. These episodes run once a month from July through October. Dell says the series dives into how C2C leadership embraces limitations, explores new insights, uncovers new opportunities, and helps organizations recalibrate to seize those opportunities. Other episodes will also touch on other topics to prepare for what’s ahead, such as the future of work and leading through change.


From Dark Reading – Microsoft Paid $13.7M in Bug Bounty Rewards in 2019-2020 [FULL STORY]

Over the past 12 months, Microsoft has awarded security research a total of $13.7 million in bug bounties, more than three times the $4.4 million it paid out over the same period a year prior.


From IT Business Canada – Zoho launches BackToWork to help companies return to the office safely [FULL STORY]

Throughout the pandemic, Zoho has offered free or discounted software to help companies remain productive as their employees transitioned to working from home. This week it launched a mini-suite of products designed to help businesses that need to return to their workplaces to do so safely.


From IT World Canada – Phil Schiller steps down as Apple’s marketing vice-president [FULL STORY]

Apple announced this week that Phil Schiller, Apple’s long-time marketing lead, has stepped away from being Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing and has been named an Apple Fellow.


From IT World Canada – Understanding Canadian Cybersecurity Laws: “Insert Something Clever Here” — Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (Article 5) [FULL BLOG POST]

This article in the Understanding Canadian Cybersecurity Laws series will focus on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), which is the federal law dealing with spam and other electronic threats and establishes rules for the sending of commercial electronic messages (CEMs) and the installation of computer programs.


From IT World Canada – 10 IT cost optimization opportunities for CIOs [FULL BLOG POST]

The process of IT cost optimization requires collaboration between the CIO and other executives to evaluate spending and cost drivers. This is typically done by calculating how IT costs impact the delivery of IT services, as well as their effect on business costs and revenue. Yet these discussions often neglect to evaluate the impact of IT spending across other business units (BUs) in the organization. CIOs who successfully optimize IT costs do so by teaming with other C-suite executives, particularly the CFO, to collaborate in enterprise cost optimization initiatives.

Here are 10 techniques for IT cost optimization that CIOs can explore to navigate budget constraints in today’s volatile business environment

Bookmarks of the week

A few bookmarked Tweets that we think are worth sharing with you.

An interesting collection of blockchain use cases from across the globe.


A funny. But true.


Ethics is indeed absent from the curriculum. There’s a point here.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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