Big or small, data takes up valuable storage space. And once physical storage like hard drives are full, all that data needs to be stored somewhere. This is where the cloud and cloud storage solutions come in. It’s online, on-demand and on the rise globally — so what is the cloud?

How does the cloud work?

The cloud isn’t a place, but a name for the collective online, on-demand availability of services and applications. A global network of remote servers supports and hosts the cloud and allows access to storage wherever you are in the world. Tools like Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive & Dropbox are great examples of cloud data storage that you’re possibly using already. However, systems exist in the cloud to make processing this data easier — systems such as Software as a Service (Saas) applications, like Zoom, Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace.

Such systems can be split into categories:

Where is cloud data stored?

Traditional servers are bulky, take up physical space and need advanced cooling, leading to a bigger electricity bill as well as more square footage in your business. By switching to cloud computing and storage, you can save space and money while minimising your environmental impact. But where is the cloud, exactly? Your data is held in one or more data centres, and there are many different ones owned by large companies around the world. Google uses 40 data centre regions globally, Microsoft uses more than 200 centres as of 2023 but Cloudflare has a presence in over 300. The quantity and availability of data centres help the cloud to work as a fast, reliable tool for data storage and processing around the world.

How is the cloud protected?

Holding their share of the world’s online data is a big responsibility for all data centres. And for business customers, it’s crucial to know where that data is held and how it is used. We’ve explored cybersecurity in a previous blog, and some of these measures also apply to protecting the cloud. But what specific protections exist to keep the cloud safe? In the UK, the government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) explains 14 distinct cloud security principles, including:

These security principles give an easy-to-follow framework for any businesses using, accessing or storing data in the cloud. Encrypting data is another huge security aspect for anyone using cloud storage.

The future of the cloud

The cloud is infinitely flexible and provides businesses with a scalable model for data storage. So even if your needs change, there is always enough data storage in the cloud. As long as you have a reliable internet connection, with appropriate encryption and authentication to keep customer data safe, the opportunities are almost endless. 

Keep following our easy data series for more insights.

 

So you’re thinking of a career in web development, but not sure where to start? We sat down with our Technical Director Christopher Waite to see what advice he’d give to aspiring developers.

Web development offers great flexibility in how you work, either freelance or salaried and almost every industry requires development in some capacity, meaning you have endless options to build a career to suit you.

With the ever changing landscape, there’s always new things to learn so you’ll have the opportunity to push yourself and grow your expertise. That said, here are a few tips to get you thinking and hopefully give you the confidence to start…

  1. Equip yourself. Whilst there are many languages that can be used for web development, focusing on the core scripting languages is a good idea as they provide lots of versatility. These are HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  2. Focus on some programming basics. The majority of programming languages share common elements such as variables, methods/functions, and loops. Pick a language and learn these basics. Tip: The aforementioned JavaScript is a good choice with a low barrier to entry and few dependencies.
  3. Ask questions. Try to find your answers in official documentation but also don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone has a different path through learning and therefore different experiences. Tap into these to broaden your knowledge.
  4. More specifically, try to question Why? Don’t just learn what to type but also question why you are typing it. Understanding why something works the way it does will help you when creating your own solutions.
  5. Learn some supporting skills. There are several supporting skills that will aid you on your journey to becoming a web developer. These are things like Git (version control), SQL (query language for databases), Regular Expressions (concept for matching patterns within text), etc.
  6. Revisit basic concepts often. There is always something new to play with but try to revisit the things you think you know. As you gain experience you may look at these in a different light or discover things you missed.
  7. Consider how to factor security into your code from the ground up. Security of written code is going to be a big topic for years to come; simple things like fully understanding how best to handle user-provided data will pay dividends.
  8. Learn from others. After you’ve grasped the basics of programming, it’s a great idea to explore how professionals write code. You can learn a lot by looking at open source projects, which are like real-life examples of how coding is done in a professional environment.
  9. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You can often learn transferable knowledge by experimenting outside of your main technical set. For example, playing around with a Raspberry Pi may help to teach some Linux terminal basics.
  10. Embrace change. The world of the web is fast moving with new languages, frameworks, services, and products popping up every day. Explore some of these and be ready to adapt if they gain traction.

When we are working on a website or systems project we may use the terms “front end” and “back end” to describe what we’re working on.

Front End

The front end of a website or system is what the users interact with. That could be the images or text that they see on screen to describe a product or the buttons that they click to add something to their basket. The front end is what our designers have produced during their process of creating wireframes and visuals.

Once the designers have created the visuals for the site and the customer has signed them off the development team will move on to converting those designs into HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) or JavaScript code which are languages used by web browsers to display content on screen and make that content interactive for users. The front end of the website is responsible for sending messages to the back end of the website based on actions that a user has taken e.g. adding a product to a basket or saving their delivery information.

Back End

The back end of a website or system is where the information used on the website is stored and processed. Usually there will be a database that holds the information and some code that responds to the messages sent from the front end. For a website project this is often a CMS (Content Management System) such as WordPress which comes with lots of pre-defined functionality and a database structure which we then add to in order to meet the specific needs of a particular project. For a systems project the team will generally create a bespoke back end for the project including writing code and creating a database to hold the information required.

Both Together

For any website the front end and back end must work in harmony to produce the best outcome. A beautifully designed front end can still result in an unusable website for the client if the back end is too slow or fails to take the right action when a user tries to do something. Equally a smooth, quick back end will not be enough on its own to make a successful website if the front end doesn’t help users to do what they want to do, for example because the layout doesn’t work well on a mobile device.

At Infotex we aim to produce websites and systems that have well designed, mobile responsive front ends and efficient back ends to maximise the experience of users and the better the experience of the users the more likely they are to engage with the website and make a purchase or read the information you want them to.


This article is part of our blog series: Websites 101, lightly introducing and explaining important topics on everything to do with websites, including design, digital marketing, software, infrastructure and beyond. 

Got a question you want answered as part of the Websites 101 blog series? Get in touch to let us know. 

“When code is able to drive tech to achieve something, to make people’s lives a little bit better, that’s when the magic happens”- Moz

National Coding Week runs from 18 – 25 September, with the aim to inspire children and adults into careers in technology. In support of this, we sat down with our developers to find out what made them start coding and why they still love it…

Michael

Michael Letley

“There is always a new puzzle to solve.”

How did you get into web development?

My journey into programming was sparked by an early fascination with computers. Some of my earliest memories involve my dad teaching me how to set up and play games on our ageing Commodore 64. 

We decided to start a family business creating websites. I initially took on the hardware and support aspects, but as time went on, I started delving into the intricacies of software and how websites functioned, and started learning PHP, MySQL, and Linux. I have continued to work with these skills throughout my career in programming.

What do you love most about your job?

The day to day work is generally interesting, there is always a new puzzle to solve and with that comes a great sense of satisfaction when elegantly solving a challenging problem.

What has been your favourite project so far?

My favourite project I’ve worked on was IFLScience, mostly because of its scale and the challenges/solutions that come along with that. (I had nothing to do with the current site, all the parts I worked on have been relegated to history).

My favourite Infotex project would probably have to be the Children’s Commissioner site; it had some interesting challenges and was overall a fun project.

How would you describe your latest project to a 6 year old?

We used a tool called the WordPress Page Builder to help us make the website. It’s like building with colourful blocks, and it’s fun!

Moz

John Harman

“Pragmatic use of tech driven by code can help to progress a career.”

How did you get into web development?

I’ve had an interest since the 1990’s (before we had graphical interfaces), that started out as batch files and quickly turned into QBasic. At secondary school I unknowingly took the next step when I created a Visual Basic for DOS (disk operating system) maths educational program to fill a need for one of our teachers, who went on to use it more widely, to the annoyance of the IT department.

What do you love most about your work?

For me programming is a means to an end: when code is able to drive tech to achieve something, to make people’s lives a little bit better, that’s when the magic happens. At work that might be the ability for code to analyse a body of data that humans couldn’t practically do, or for a business to succeed in ways it otherwise couldn’t.

Outside of work I’ve long been fascinated by the interconnection between code and the real-world. Things like Raspberry Pi’s or Arduino’s that allow relatively small amounts of code to either control or monitor physical real-world items are a particular favourite of mine.

How would you describe your latest project to a 6 year old?

I used code to take thousands of news stories and changed them to work on a different system to help keep a little bit of car history alive.

Are there any next steps in your career that you’re excited about?

I’d look at it the other way: that pragmatic use of tech driven by code can help to progress a career.

The fact that things like Amazon’s solutions allow us to write just a few lines of code to create, and modify, entire virtual worlds is very powerful. It’s starting to become possible within the SME arena to couple things like this to some of the relatively large, even real-time, data processing systems. One can imagine some very cool solutions just over the horizon, allowing a few lines of code to determine how a structure should dynamically handle some event, that could, for example, allow a system to scale resources down to avoid wasting energy at quiet times, or could respond to a high load attack by filtering traffic and/or increasing capacity.

Gareth

Gareth Barnes

“I can’t choose a favourite project, it would be like picking a favourite child!”

How did you get into web development?

I was working in a company that made paint colour cards and various promotional materials and the production manager and I spent a lot of our time programming in Excel to handle customer stocks. I realised I preferred that to the rest of my job, so I left to do a MSc in Advanced IT, specialising in software development.

What do you love most about your work? 

I love the problem solving aspect of programming, I still get a buzz when I figure out a way of doing something that’s been puzzling me for a while.

What has been your favourite project so far?

I can’t choose a favourite project, it would be like picking a favourite child!

How would you describe your latest project to a 6 year old?

I’m working on an App that will help to make it easier for people to learn about forests and have fun outdoors.

Chris

Christopher Waite

That moment at the start of a programming project when there are so many possibilities is still very exciting”

How did you get into web development?

When I was a kid, we had an Intel 8088 machine which I used to write simple text adventures in GW Basic. It was a relatively simple programming language that taught me the basics of variable assignments and looping. I think we are missing something simple like GW Basic in today’s early learning.

What do you love most about your work?

Creating an empty folder and then structuring and writing files and code to produce something that people can interact with. That moment at the start of a programming project when there are so many possibilities is still very exciting.

How would you describe your latest project to a 6 year old?

I’m currently experimenting with ways to talk to a computer in English so that it can do complicated things for me in a program I’ve written.

Are there any next steps in your career that you’re excited about?

There are always new and interesting things to play with in development so it’s easy to find lots to be excited by.

I have a 4 year old and I’m looking forward to seeing how he interacts with computers. I hope that the modern curriculum places a greater emphasis on interacting with, and particularly programming, computers.

Outside of that I’m very interested in AI and how I can use it in my programming.

Jono

Jonathan Smith

“I enjoy seeing the end product and how it helps people out, making their lives easier”

How did you get into web development?

By accident. I had a degree in Economics, but didn’t want to go into finance.  I took a business NVQ while looking for a job, and ended up helping the other students with the computer parts of the course.  This led to a job in IT training, which was short lived, then to a job in software support, which slowly introduced software development.

What do you love most about your work?

When it goes well, I enjoy seeing the end product and how it helps people out – making their lives easier.

How would you describe your latest project to a 6 year old?

An application that is for the running of woodland courses, that allows users to register their interest in a course and then say how they feel each day of the course. 

Richard

Richard Scott

“I’m excited about seeing how AI will provide an opportunity to transform the way coding is carried out”

How did you get into web development?

My first experience with coding was as a child running simple commands using BASIC on my dad’s ZX Spectrum. As there were no formal coding lessons at school, it was not until university that I had the opportunity to explore programming in greater detail. It was there I started using FORTRAN to simulate Physics experiments and this was the point at which I developed a passion for coding. I much preferred this to the time consuming setup and repeat of experiments with physical equipment.

What do you love most about your work?

I enjoy the sense of achievement once something is working as it should, and the ability to connect different systems to allow them to communicate with one another. 

How would you describe your latest project to a 6 year old?

I have been working on a website which shows different items which can be bought from the website’s business.

I wrote a list of instructions which is called code. When a person visits the website the code that I have written will show the words in different sizes and using different colours. This code allows the people to view the website on a phone, tablet or computer and to have a clear layout on any device.

This coding also allowed information to be taken from the old website to the new one.

Are there any next steps in your career that you’re excited about?

I’m excited about seeing how AI will provide an opportunity to transform the way coding is carried out with the potential to aid debugging of issues and testing.

Read more about National Coding Week and see how you can get involved.

Often we’ll hear people describe their Excel spreadsheets as ‘databases’. Whilst an Excel spreadsheet can contain a treasure trove of vital information for a business, it isn’t, strictly speaking, a database.

As a system developer when someone says ‘databases’ to me, I think of them as a tool to organise data in a structured way that can protect it from inadvertent updates and deletions and make the data in it available to the right people in the right place at the right time.

A relational database allows data to be stored in one place but referenced in many others. As a simple example, there can be a list of customers in one table, and can then link one of those customers to a table of orders, and also to a table containing a contact history with that customer, so if we need to update anything for a customer we update it once and everything related will see that update.

Almost all the systems I work with are built using Microsoft SQL Server as a database (Gareth works in our Systems team, dealing with bespoke applications for the health sector). I’ve been working with SQL Server (pronounced ‘sequel’) since the year 2000. In those days I was taken into a freezing cold air-conditioned server room and told that the big box in the corner, which looked like a larger version of the PC on my desk albeit with a built-in tape deck for backup purposes, was the SQL Server. Even back then, we’d rarely interact physically with the machine itself, instead using tools on our own computers that could connect to it to get data from it or to write programs that inserted and worked with the data on it.

I learnt about how you could take backups of the data in your database as frequently as you wanted, and about a thing called a ‘transaction log’ which recorded everything that was updated in the database. You could even use it to almost go back in time to see what the database looked like prior to a change. I also learned that SQL Server could use things called indexes, a subset of your data that could be used to show things on screen or in reports much more quickly than you could do it if you were getting all of the data.

The systems we were building became more and more complicated and as they contained health related data we learnt how to encrypt data within the database so it was only accessible to people with the correct permissions level. With hundreds of users accessing data at the same time, all wanting instant responses we identified ways of getting data out of SQL Server as quickly as possible.

Nowadays there are many different ways of using SQL Server. Dedicated physical servers are less common with the flexibility offered by virtual servers and even cloud based servers meaning it is possible to have SQL Servers in different locations, even different continents, that synchronise data between them, making globally connected systems easy to implement. Microsoft’s Azure services involve a product called SQL Database with the ability to scale up the processing power available to it as a system grows. Microsoft take care of managing the availability of the database, and as developers we can concentrate on getting your system running as fast as possible.

So if you’re using Excel as a database or have spreadsheets that are becoming unmanageable, get in touch and we’ll help you to secure that important business data.

What is web accessibility? 

Put simply, web accessibility means ensuring that websites or mobile apps are usable by as many people as possible. This includes those with vision or hearing impairments, motor difficulties, and cognitive impairments or learning disabilities. 

Accessibility also refers to making websites and apps usable for people with more situational limitations, such as people using mobile phones, older people, people in locations where they cannot play sound, people with ‘temporary disabilities’ such as injuries or lost glasses, or people with socio-economic limitations such as slow Internet connection. 

Why is accessibility important?

Accessibility is important for ensuring that everyone has equal access to information online. It aims to remove barriers for users with disabilities and impairments who might otherwise struggle to access online content.  Around twenty percent of the UK population have a long term illness, impairment or disability.

Accessibility is particularly important for public sector websites and apps, because they often provide essential services that everyone must be able to access. 

On top of this, making your website or app accessible is beneficial to every user. Accessible websites are often faster, clearer, have better user journeys, and could rank higher  on search engine results.

Meeting accessibility requirements

All public sector bodies have to meet the accessibility regulations that came into force in 2018, unless they are exempt or partially exempt (such as schools). 

These requirements outline the need for websites and apps to be ‘perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust’ for as many people as possible. 

Non-public sector organisations and businesses are not required by law to reach these same accessibility standards for their websites. However, there are numerous benefits of making websites as accessible as possible:

Making your website accessible

There are many ways to make your website accessible, some are more simple than others. 

For a thorough look at what can be done, designers and developers refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  It is usually more effective to incorporate accessibility from the start of a project, rather than returning to re-do work.

If these guidelines seem a lot to take in… hear from one of our designers, Alice, for simple ways to make your website accessible

Got questions about the accessibility of your website or app? Don’t hesitate to get in touch

Example websites 

The Children’s Commissioner for England

Our recent launch of the new website for the Children’s Commissioner had to meet the WCAG AA Standard. The website audience is diverse, aimed at children and young people as well as teachers, parents and the media. Combining three priority areas identified by the Commissioner into one comprehensive website, it was vital that all of the detailed reports, articles and publications are easy to read and view across multiple devices, platforms and screen readers.

Green Suffolk

We worked with Suffolk County Council to create a new website promoting Suffolk as the ‘Greenest County’. With a wealth of content (totaling over 300 pages), the website needed to meet accessibility guidelines to ensure that everyone is able to read about their inspirational work. Check out their website: greensuffolk.org

Greenpixie provides cloud emissions data to help companies take control of their carbon footprint, reduce spending, and lower their emissions. 

We spoke to the CEO of the company, former Infotex employee John Ridd, to find out a bit more about his journey, cloud computing emissions, and Greenpixie’s mission to help reduce them. 

John Ridd

How did you come up with the idea for Greenpixie?

It would have been about two years ago from ideation when me and my co-founder, Will, CTO of the company, had the idea during a hackathon. We had heard about digital emissions making up over 2% of global emissions, which was more than that of the entire aviation industry.

We felt that there was a real business opportunity to quantify this issue and perhaps reduce it using the scalability of digital and the availability of data for this particular sustainability issue. 

We created an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and first focused on websites: we came up with a way to quickly estimate the emissions of our website homepage, which we sent out via email marketing and got a lot of responses – we thought, we’re onto something here! That started our journey into digital sustainability. It just so happened we didn’t end up doing websites, but cloud computing emissions, however the principles that we started with remained the same: a scalable way to measure and reduce digital emissions. 

Can you explain a bit more about where cloud computing emissions come from and why it’s such a big issue?

By 2030, digital emissions are predicted to be over 10% of global emissions due to continuing demand for data. A large amount of these digital emissions is cloud computing, but also the internet itself; Chat GPT, streaming services – it all ends up with data centres, which suck up an incredible amount of electricity. A lot of metals and rare minerals are used to create all this hardware server equipment and continually replenish it – I think the average lifespan of a server in a data centre for cloud computing is only about four years. A recent Telegraph article refers to data centres outside of London as ‘energy vampires’ because of their electricity usage impacting residential build plans. 

It’s a combination of those two things, the huge amount of electricity used, and the materials and minerals needed. There’s also a third dimension, which is water usage. Data centres take in a colossal amount of water in order to keep things cooled. One example is a data centre in Nevada, which was recently covered in BBC’s Panorama programme a couple of months ago, Is the Cloud Killing the Planet?,  which used one billion litres of water a year.

That gives you an idea of how our digital world and cloud computing actually causes a very big sustainability issue.

green-computing

What is the technology of the services that you offer at Greenpixie?

This problem is really a business and enterprise problem. It’s not going to change from us at home not watching Netflix so much, or reducing our own digital emissions, because that’s a drop in the ocean compared to where the problem lies, which is with businesses and enterprise. So we focus on cloud computing. 

Software engineers in companies essentially rent servers from data centres owned by Amazon, Google and Microsoft, such as Microsoft Azure or AWS. Hundreds or even thousands of tons of emissions are created from renting all these servers. Currently, there’s no real way for companies to have reliable cloud computing emissions data. This is due to cloud providers not being transparent enough to ultimately provide this information in a way that is really compliant with regulation due to multi-cloud setups within companies. 

Secondly, the big factor, which we focus on, is there’s a large amount of cloud waste in the way that enterprises utilise the cloud. Software engineers over purchase server space when they are building out the tech corporations for companies. This means that 30% of servers that are being turned on, left on and used, don’t need to be. So there’s 30% more emissions which also correlates with a 30% overspend, and the companies are paying.

What GreenPixie does is provide companies with the data needed to comply to the latest regulations. One of the big ones is CSDR coming through the EU, which makes companies responsible for their cloud computing emissions, and falls under Scope 3 (the supply chain) in the ESG framework. Secondly, we enable software engineers to reduce emissions at source: we quantify the emissions that are being wasted and then they can clean up the waste through the way that they’re building out their tech, saving money as they do that. 

Working in the space that you do, do you feel optimistic? Do you think we can keep increasing our use of cloud computing and also reduce emissions?

I would say when it comes to digital emissions, they’re very actionable and very measurable when the right tools are out there. I’m actually very optimistic that we can reduce this ‘10% or more’ figure by 2030. 

The truth is doing it for the good of the planet normally doesn’t fly when it comes to business priorities, because everyone has so many other priorities. Leadership teams in companies often need to have successful sustainability initiatives of reducing at source so there needs to be cost incentives, which we provide. We’re optimistic in our own focus that this is going to be adopted and there are going to be a lot of emissions prevented.

As a wider sustainability lens, there’s been a move away from offsetting, because really what that is in practice is companies outsourcing their responsibility. There’s been some high profile greenwashing legislation coming through, which it’s going to stop companies getting away with that. As long as companies are clever in trying to incentivize the enterprises to reduce their emissions, we can get there. Cloud is a really good example of that, I think. 

Greenpixie was one of the first voices talking about the sustainability of the cloud. How do you manage the certain sort of responsibility that comes with holding that space?

We covered cloud emissions at COP 27 for the first time. And we have a really amazing advisory board that opens up opportunities like this. 

There is responsibility when it comes to putting out the best information, but there’s a real network of businesses in industry sustainability at this point. So there’s institutions, such as the SDIA (Sustainable Digital Infrastructure Alliance) who are focusing a lot on the science behind this. There is also open source tooling, Cloud Carbon Footprint, which we’ve built upon and improved to be able to give emissions data. We’re connected into all the information to allow us to be leaders in this space. It’s also become more mainstream now, on BBC One a couple of months ago cloud computing emissions were covered as a top level issue. 

There is awareness now, but we were one of the first to build a business around this. 

What’s your future vision for Greenpixie?

We’re fundraising in order to bring this to market in a very big way, and we’ve already got this data product that brings transparency over the issue and allows software engineers to start acting on it.

So really we want to go down the route of growing out the team. We’ve got six full time currently, but we want to get a lot bigger than that now we’ve brought a product to scale. So hopefully we can be servicing hundreds of company’s cloud emissions in the near future, making enough revenue ourselves and ride the wave of what we’ve built.

And it all started with Infotex…?

Yeah, I have a lot to be thankful for for my time at Infotex. I actually did an interview fairly recently and I spoke about Infotex and about Tim Webster (My First Boss).

Infotex is a very giving company that enables companies like Greenpixie to emerge because of people like Tim. Infotex is generally very generous with their time and has this tech mindset that allows companies like this to be built. 

 

The General Data Protection Regulation came into effect on 25th May 2018. Its goal is to protect the rights of individuals where personal data is being used. It does this by outlining the rights of individuals, requiring a lawful basis for the processing of personal data, and placing expectations on how personal data is managed.

In practice, it can be time-consuming and difficult to adhere to GDPR and it is not always clear how specific scenarios should be interpreted. This sometimes creates a laissez-faire attitude towards it where it can be treated as a box-ticking exercise.

At its heart though GDPR, when implemented correctly, benefits us all. Fundamentally it is about understanding the breadth of the personal data that you are capturing and reviewing its journey from the individual through your business-controlled systems and processes and oftentimes its onward journey to third parties.

Contact form
A contact form is a common data capture location

Without this process, it’s very easy to fall into a situation where you are capturing personal data without even realising it. Keep in mind that GDPR takes a fairly broad approach to what constitutes personal data (including IP addresses and cookies where they can be utilised to identify an individual). Producing a modern website is complex and this complexity increases all the time. Whilst sometimes functionality is programmed from scratch for a specific website, there are also numerous choices when determining which 3rd party services to utilise or integrate with. Take something simple like an integration with a page-sharing service. Perhaps it utilises some embeddable code to render the icons and facilitate sharing. Innocent enough on the surface but is the script capturing any data? Is any of the data personal? Where is it sent? What happens to that data? How do we request its access/deletion?

Another common example is a contact form to capture a simple message (perhaps a name, contact number, and message). This seems relatively straightforward but there are a number of questions we should be asking such as, do we need all of that data? Where is the message being sent? Is it stored anywhere? Does it get sent via email to an email client? Is that being downloaded and stored? Is it passed on to other departments within your company or travel onward to other 3rd party systems? Would you be able to recover/delete that data if requested?

It’s important to state that GDPR does not stop you from doing these things. It asks you to consider whether you need to do them and, if you do, that you do so responsibly and transparently without infringing on the rights of individuals.

From a business perspective, there is great value in understanding your data:

We owe it to ourselves to carefully consider how we capture, process, and share personal data. We shouldn’t just implement a new service, integration, or tool without first looking at it through a data protection lens. A useful exercise is to consider whether you would be comfortable with your own personal data being processed in that way.

As a final thought, we are entering a world where AI is going to be a part of our everyday lives. AI systems require input in order to respond (either in the form of a question or, as another example, the context around something being analysed such as a piece of code). This input has the very real possibility to contain personal or sensitive data. Where does that personal data go? Who is it shared with? Can it easily be recalled/deleted? These questions do not have easy answers and it remains to be seen how AI will be regulated to provide the same protections currently offered by GDPR.

If you need help understanding your data please get in touch.

For those of us who live in the Microsoft world, .NET has been revolutionary over the last 20 years. 

It enables developers to collaborate easily and write, test and fix code efficiently, as well as supporting builds for a range of different applications, including desktop apps, mobile apps, and website apps. 

Our .NET applications are developed to sit behind the websites, processing data, integrating with other platforms and providing back office user functionality that is so important to make websites work effectively on the front end.

What is .NET?

Microsoft .NET is an open source developer platform that assists the creation of various types of applications. 

.NET has two main different versions: 

.NET Framework

.NET Framework is the original version that Microsoft introduced back in 2002. It was a replacement for Visual Basic, which was used by many developers to build applications for Windows.  Around this time was when Internet technology was really taking off, with many organisations building not only websites but Intranets as well.

Alongside .NET, Microsoft also introduced Visual Studio .NET, which was an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). This enabled developers to develop software code, build this code, and ultimately run it on their computers to debug before putting it live.  This IDE software is updated every couple of years.

The last version of .NET Framework 4.8 was released in April 2019, with an updated security version 4.8.1 in August 2022.

.NET Core

Microsoft has now retired the .NET Framework and moved across to what was known as .NET Core before this became .NET 5 in November 2020. Through this cross-platform version, Microsoft has expanded its platform to support .NET developers looking to leverage other platforms, and to attract customers looking to build apps with other tools including Node, PHP, and Java.

As with most things Microsoft, there are continual improvements and new versions being released each year.  .NET 7 was released in November 2022 with .NET 8 due to release in November 2023.

What does this mean for your applications?

What this means for us, as developers, is there is a continuous learning process to keep up to date and keep our software as up to date as possible, as unfortunately Microsoft doesn’t support their .NET versions for very long.  .NET 7 will stop being supported in May 2024.

For our customers, it means that we have to focus on keeping applications up to date, and occasionally having to rewrite these from scratch to be able to utilise new functionality and keep applications secure.

Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform which launched in February 2010. It is a collection of integrated services for building, deploying and hosting applications and services through a global network of Microsoft managed data centres.   

What is cloud computing?

The idea behind cloud computing is that it stops organisations having to have their own data centres or collection of physical servers, which both need to be managed and are very energy inefficient.  For example, data centres have to be air conditioned so that the servers don’t overheat.

It is the large-scale equivalent of your Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, which stores your files on big servers that you access via an internet connection, instead of on your own computer’s hard drive. 

Cloud software runs on a remote server belonging to the company who makes or operates that software, and when you want to use it you access your account online. 

A History of Azure

During the 1980s – 2000s, Microsoft’s Windows system was the go-to operating system, enabling home PC users and businesses alike to interact with their computers. But with the cloud computing revolution of the late 2000s, competitors like Amazon Web Services (launched in 2006) introduced online services for developers to make new websites and complex applications from one basic framework. 

To prevent being left behind, Microsoft launched Azure, a cloud platform for .NET and other developers to interact with. Microsoft has now opened up the Azure environment, adding support for non-Microsoft technologies in order to widen its appeal to all kinds of developers. Microsoft has also built a large number of technologies specifically for the Azure platform.

The benefits of Microsoft Azure

Compared to on-premises and some traditional hosting providers, Microsoft Azure can help increase efficiency and reduce costs. It is reliable, offering platform uptime guarantees of 99.95% and can be coupled with multi-region failover to further increase reliability.

Microsoft Azure offers a variety of services, including virtual machines, databases, storage, networking, analytics, artificial intelligence & Internet of Things (IoT). Infotex use many of the Azure services as part of our technical toolkit. For example, “WebApps” is used to power some of our web applications coupled to Azure’s cloud based SQL Server database.

If you would like to discuss what would be most suitable for your needs, speak to one of our experts today .

We talk about security a lot in the articles, but we talk about it even more internally as it’s vital we maintain safe and secure sites for our clients. 

The threat intelligence team at WordPress security experts Wordfence have recently released their annual report on the state of WordPress’ security. As hosts of many WordPress sites we have to understand the ever changing landscape in which these sites exist so we can combat likely intrusion points..

The key take-aways from this year’s report were:

An Increase in Vulnerabilities Reported

That sounds bad – more vulnerabilities means more problems? Not quite. There has been an increase in companies who are CVE Numbering Authorities. CVE stands for  “common vulnerabilities and exposures”, and is a publicly available catalogue of known security flaws. Historically many WordPress issues were not reported but because of the increase in the number and openness of these authorities, it’s made it much simpler for people to officially disclose security problems.

Security

As WordPress, and the majority of its plugins, are built within the open source ecosystem, anyone can download the code and analyse it. The more people who are looking, the more issues the more are likely to be found. Finding and reporting such issues is increasingly becoming a full-time (paid) occupation for many developers who are then paid through the “bug bounty” programs. These ensure that the bugs don’t end up in the hands of malicious entities therefore these being responsibility reported helps everyone within the ecosystem.

Out of the vulnerabilities reported the most common issue was Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), with over 1,100 reports in 2022 alone this accounted for nearly half of all vulnerabilities disclosed. Cross-Site Scripting attacks are a type of injection, in which malicious scripts are injected into otherwise benign and trusted websites. More than a third of the XSS issues required administrative permissions on the website itself in order to be successful, so the risk was greatly reduced. This does highlight why users should only be provided with the minimum level of access they absolutely need, WordPress has a strong permissions architecture with varying roles with Contributor, Author, Editor, Shop Manager and Administrator being the most common each with different abilities.

Despite the number of reported XSS vulnerabilities there were around 3 times as many SQL injection attacks as there were XSS. A SQL injection attack is when an attacker tries to run database commands through a website which has not taken care to sanitise what people are entering into forms etc. There was also a comparable number of malicious file upload or inclusion attacks, these might be where someone gains access to the administration area and uploads a script to gain them further access rather than the intended image or text.

Re-Using Passwords

There are more and more leaked password lists available online as more data breaches occur. Credential stuffing is where hackers are utilising usernames and passwords taken from these lists to try and log in to the admin area of your site. When directories like HaveIBeenPwned (enter your email to see what leaks your info has been a part of) over 12 billion compromised sets of credentials it is no wonder that Wordfence collectively blocked over 159 billion login attempts in 2022. Surprisingly, this is actually a slight decrease on 2021.

Password Strength

To keep your site safe please don’t use your WordPress login details on any other site, and make sure that when you create the password it is rated as Strong. These are good principals to apply to any site, and combining it with multi-factor authentication wherever it’s available will make it even more secure.

Updates & Maintenance

It has always been important to make sure that the core WordPress code, its plugins, and themes are kept up to date with the latest patches and it is no less true now. It’s obviously good practice for keeping your site secure, but also for extending its overall lifespan. Trying to upgrade very out of date plugins or WordPress code is very time consuming.

WordFence saw that most attacks targeting specific vulnerabilities were via known, and easily exploitable, flaws in this code on sites that had not received any recent updates. Infotex will take care of your site and make sure that it’s got the latest patches to keep things running smoothly. Indeed Wordfence stated “As such, the greatest threat to WordPress security in 2022 was neglect in all its forms“.

Webshells & Configurations

The second largest category of attacks was from known malicious “User Agents”. A “User Agent” is the formal term for a browser but also encompasses many other ways in which website content is processed. From Infotex’s own data around 60% of all requests are typically non-human in nature.

In addition to the more legitimate search engine robots (aka “bots”), many of these requests are from bot’s that have no purpose on a site or system other than to attack it.

A common task for these bots is looking for webshells – this is where an attacker has gained a foothold within a website and is intended to allow them to retain control and request the server to act on the attackers behalf, it’s commonplace for attackers to compete for access to webshells as nefarious access to one can cause huge problems for the site’s owner. Wordfence saw over 23 billion attacks of this type in 2022 across the 4 million+ sites they protect.

The full report is available to download via Wordfence.com

There has been a lot of noise in the media over the last month over the rapid rise of AI tools such as ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Microsoft Bing’s AI enhanced search. AI is nothing new, but ChatGPT reached 1 million users in less than a week and 100 million in under two months.

What is ChatGPT?

Basically it’s a chatbot. The tool lets you provide a natural-language prompt or question, and then ChatGPT responds back in natural-sounding language. The bot will use the previous questions / prompts to assist in responding to future questions on the same thread. Surprisingly (or perhaps to avoid the SkyNet of Terminator films), the bot doesn’t use the internet for its response – it’s solely based on the huge data set it has been trained on.

You can request it to answer questions or be creative by writing a poem on a specific topic. Many are using it to write covering letters for job applications,  solve maths problems with a step-by-step breakdown of the answer, and write code that goes into websites. 

At Infotex we polled the team as to how they’d been using it. So far they have: 

ChatGPT isn’t foolproof though, and even ChatGPT’s owners OpenAI note “It’s a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now. We have lots of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.”

Google Bard

ChatGPT’s rapid rise has prompted Google to expedite their new AI-powered search feature ‘Bard’. This uses natural language processing and machine learning to provide more relevant and insightful information to users.

I don’t expect it to replace the traditional ‘10 blue link results’ in Google but do expect the top section of the results pages to begin including AI-generated responses and answers to questions/queries.  

This could be game-changing for search in many ways:

One downside of these generated answers would be fewer clicks on the organic results, which would be frustrating for website owners looking for traffic. As it’s Google, I’d expect to see them protecting their more commercial search terms which would currently be occupied by paid ads. It wouldn’t be too difficult to keep commercial queries (“car insurance”) and general questions (“what is Newton’s third law”) separate. 

At the same time, Microsoft is also adding AI-generated answers to its Bing search results. Again, adding AI-generated responses to the search page results. 

These are just a few examples of the many applications and uses of ChatGPT. Its versatility and ability to understand and generate human-like responses make it a valuable tool for a wide range of industries and use cases.

Whatever you want to discuss, we’re here to help.

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