innovateAFRICA.fund has selected 22 digital projects for $1-million in seed grants and technology support to tackle issues faced by digital journalism and civic technology ideas.
innovateAFRICA.fund has selected 22 digital projects for $1-million in seed grants and technology support to tackle issues as diverse as fake news and frontline war reporting, as well as innovative ways for watchdog media to use bots, drones and sensors to improve their reportage.
The projects, which include both digital journalism and civic technology ideas, were selected from 736 applications from across 49 African countries. Proposals underwent an intensive two-month technical review process that concluded this week with a final evaluation of the 73 strongest ideas by an independent jury of international experts (see a list of the judges below).
“The world is facing challenging political and socio-economic realities. We need the media and other civic watchdogs to provide the checks and balances needed to help us navigate an uncertain future. It has therefore been fantastic to see not just the superb quality and range of entries, but also the diversity of ideas and collaboration that innovateAFRICA has fostered across the region,” says juror and Omidyar Networks director of investments for Africa, Ory Okolloh. Prior to joining Omidyar, Okolloh cofounded the pioneering Ushahidi crowdmap platform, along with a string of other ‘hacktivist’ initiatives.
The 22 innovateAFRICA projects will spend the next month refining their implementation plans and budgets, before receiving seed grants of between $12,500 to $100,000 each, along with engineering support from Code for Africa’s civic technology labs across the continent.Projects will also benefit from business development and other strategic mentorship from global experts at the Media Development Investment Fund and Global Editors Network.
“We’ve selected some of the brightest innovators in this space to experiment with leapfrog technologies, but the real focus is to help teams build real-world solutions to real-world problems that can immediately be adopted and scaled by mainstream media companies and civil society,” explains innovateAFRICA founder, Justin Arenstein.
innovateAFRICA is currently the largest fund for digital journalism experimentation in Africa, and is managed by Code for Africa, as part of the International Center for Journalists’ (ICFJ) wider data journalism initiative in Africa. Arenstein is an ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow.
While only 22 projects qualified for seed funding, innovateAFRICA will also help the other 51 shortlisted projects explore alternate funding, industry partnerships and community-driven collaboration.
The winning projects target a number of common themes: from ways to use new technologies such as drones / sensors / satellites to produce real-time reporting in difficult-to-reach places, to new ways to harness artificial intelligence (AI) and web robots (bots) for improved news gathering and audience engagement. A number of projects will also strive to improve visual storytelling in Africa, combining cartoon illustrations with viral video techniques, along with data visualisations and immersive storytelling that includes 360° and virtual reality imagery.
“These projects represent exciting new approaches to tackling the challenges that face today’s media, both in Africa and around the world. The increasing threat of fake news is particularly troubling because it undermines the free flow of credible information that underpins modern societies,” says Jerri Eddings, a juror and senior program director at ICFJ. “We need innovative solutions to such problems, and it is heartening to see that innovateAFRICA has surfaced so many creative ideas for facing these challenges.”
The grantees are:
- afriBOT, by the European Journalism Centre & The Source (Namibia + Zimbabwe)
“We will build an open source newsbot to help African news organisations deliver personalized news and engage more effectively with audiences via messaging platforms.”
- africanDRONE, by WeRobotics & UnequalScenes (pan-Africa)
“We will establish Africa’s first drone journalism hub, in Tanzania, as the basecamp for the continent wide africanDRONE community of certified drone journalists, mappers, and story-tellers.”
- ATLAS, by Quartz Africa / Atlantic Media (pan-Africa)
“We will bring Quartz’s chart-building and data visualisation platform, Atlas, to newsrooms and organizations across Africa for free, and will build a database of Africa-focused data sources and visualisation templates to make data journalism more accessible.”
- Blast Tracker, by Sophie Tremblay (Tanzania)
“We will establish Africa’s first investigative sensor journalism initiative, installing underwater microphones along Tanzania’s coast to track and map explosions from dynamite fishing in real-time, supported by camera drones to speedily identify and track boats involved in the explosions.”
- Bot Starter-Kit, by HEI-DA.org (pan-Africa)
“We will develop an easy-to-use sensor journalism starter-kit for small to medium sized African newsrooms, that will include hardware/software, to help journalists establish their first ‘citizen data’ projects.”
- #CartooNews, by AfriCartoons (pan-Africa)
“We will digitize the existing AfriCartoons archive of 1000s of news cartoons and will redevelop our existing fanbase of 400,000 people on Facebook to supply African online audiences with ready-made and bespoke graphic content: editorial cartoons, comics, animations, caricatures, illustrations, and line-drawn infographics.”
- CHECK, by PesaCheck & Meedan (Kenya + Tanzania + Uganda)
“We will implement a cloud-based workflow system and collaborative workbench for the regional PesaCheck fact-checking network to improve news verification in three East African countries.”
- CitizenScience, by Open Data Durban (South Africa)
“We will create a citizen science network in Durban’s shantytowns that uses air and water quality sensors to boost data-driven science journalism and real-time civic activism, through a network of clubs at schools and civic labs for adults.”
- DollarStreet Africa, by Gapminder Foundation (Kenya + Nigeria + Tanzania)
“We live in a globally connected world. But we do not understand it, and it scares us. DollarStreet will expand its use of photos as data to show how people on the same income level live very similar lives across Africa and the globe.”
- ENGAGE, by the Engage Video Group (South Africa)
“We will use our proven expertise at creating viral audiences around social video to build an African version of Buzzfeed/Vice that combines hard-hitting journalism with video-first formats.”
- FOI Portal, by mySociety and Article 19 East Africa (Kenya)
“We will launch East Africa’s first online portal for Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in Kenya to help journalists and citizens use new access to information legislation to create high-impact public interest stories.”
- FRONTLINE, by African Defence Review (South Africa)
“We will transform the well-established African Defence Review (ADR) into an African version of https://www.bellingcat.com/ that uses satellite images and other digital ‘open intelligence’ sources to shine a light on African war zones and the murky economies that fund conflict.”
- Graphic Journalism Hub, by ONA Systems (Tanzania)
“We will establish Africa’s first Graphic Journalism hub for visual storytelling, using graphic novel / comic animations, to produce news as mobile-optimised social video and graphic novels for multiple African media partners.”
- Hospital Helper, by Health-E News (South Africa)
“We will create South Africa’s first geo-data tools and journalism for checking the safety / health rating of your local hospital or clinic, based on official government audits or inspection results.”
- InfoFinder, by AfricaCheck (Kenya + Nigeria + South Africa + Senegal)
“Africa is awash in unverified data. We will further develop AfricaCheck’s ‘info finder’ tool by expanding the number of pre-verified data sources to help media and the public to check claims.”
- LiveWire, by Grass Root Nation (South Africa)
“Mainstream media is out of touch with grassroots communities. We will build on our popular petition and community mobilisation tools to create a crowdsourced ‘PR Wire’ service that alerts mainstream broadcast and print media about mass events (pickets, marches, protests) by grassroots communities.”
- MembaO, by Code for Sierra Leone (Sierra Leone)
“We will build West Africa’s first data-driven platform that uses parliamentary records and investigative research to strengthen citizen oversight of elected politicians and Parliament itself.”
- MeshNews, by Outernet & DataZetu (Tanzania)
“Much of Africa is still offline. Outernet will harness satellite and radio technologies to broadcast digital news and interactive data journalism content to rural audiences in Africa who don’t have traditional Internet coverage.”
- NewsBot, by Atchai & Star (Kenya) & Punch (Nigeria)
“We will pioneer rapid-deployment news gathering tools using Facebook / SMS based chat-bots, that will help journalists quickly collect opinion data and eyewitness accounts though polls and surveys.”
- Overlay, by Paul Watson (formerly of Storyful) (pan-Africa)
“We will tackle fake news and ‘post-fact’ information in the news reportage by creating a journalist-sourced verification information network integrated directly into social media platform timelines.”
- OpenGazettes, by AfriLII & the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (Nigeria)
“Government gazettes are a goldmine of actionable information. We will liberate Nigeria’s gazettes by digitising and turning them into structured searchable data for free access by journalists, activists and business users.”
- DECLARE, by Media Monitoring Africa (South Africa)
“We will create Africa’s first interactive site for journalists and media organisations to disclose their interests to help combat conflicts of interest and to help fact-checkers identify credible media professions in their fight against fake news.”
“Journalism is no longer just about reporting the news. It is an industry that has evolved as significantly as any other — from banking to taxi hire — and has as many challenges. Not least of these is how varied the ways are that people access their news, be it via mobile, radio or via the web. Just as varied are the many new fields journalism needs to report on, including newly opened government data. The advent of drones, data-journalism and mobile have fundamentally changed what journalists can do, and how citizen journalists can contribute,” says juror and publisher of Stuff magazine in South Africa, Toby Shapshak. “The winners this year represent a broad range of smart ways to solve all of these new challenges and new opportunities; and wonderfully demonstrate Africa’s renowned problem-solving reputation.”
innovateAFRICA runs alongside a $500,000 companion fund, impactAFRICA, which makes story grants of up to $20,000 for journalists to get out into the field for pioneering digital reporting projects. impactAFRICA has just announced its second cohort of 13 grantees.
Both initiatives have partnered with CFI, the French agency for media cooperation, to boost involvement of digital pioneers across Francophone Africa through a series of digital journalism and civic technology workshops. Participants at the events, including similar d|bootcamps hosted by Hacks/Hackers in Anglophone Africa, received help to build project teams and to develop project ideas. Both organisations will continue to offer assistance to innovateAFRICA applicants in the coming months.
Cons exploit Telegram ICO
Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.
In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.
Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.
The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.
Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.
“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.
Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:
- Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
- Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
- Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.
Crouching Yeti strikes
Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.
According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.
Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.
Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.
In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.
Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.
“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.
“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.
Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.
More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.