Distributed ledger technology like blockchain was only associated to the financial services until recently. However, companies in other industries are starting to understand its power, write MARY ANN FRANCIS and GILLES GRAVIER of Wipro.
Distributed ledger technology has, so far, been largely discussed only in the context of the financial services industry, specifically in the area of payments. Blockchain technology was popularised by its application in the wildly-popular new crypto-currency Bitcoin, for example.
But blockchain has many wondrous applications in a variety of other industries as well; where visionary firms are starting to understand its power to transform their operations.
Essentially, blockchain allows for the creation of timestamped digital assets, and digital records, which are impossible to tamper with, delete, or edit, commonly referred to as immutable.
So, for a vastly different scenario than moving currencies – imagine a diamond producer leveraging holographic identity technology, where a record of all transactions could be connected to this holograph, and entered into a blockchain. Consumers could see the public record of all prior transactions, and get assurance that the diamond was sourced ethically.
Following the same principles, a blockchain could be used by fine art distributors to confirm the validity of its pieces, or by lawyers to validate the accuracy of photo and video evidence, or by governments when issuing title deeds to homeowners.
The possibilities are endless. There are already companies, start-ups, offering products that cover these specific use cases.
Transparency and efficiency
As a distributed ledger, blockchain technology presents companies with an opportunity to fundamentally re-architect many of its internal processes, and the ways in which they interact with partners, suppliers, distributors, and others in the varied ecosystem.
Whether the use-case is smart-contracts, cryptocurrencies, proof-of-assets, or anything else that blockchains enable, companies are able to interact in a more collaborative, but highly-secure, trusted, manner.
But many CEOs remain reticent to seriously look at adopting blockchain technologies into the company’s business strategies. And it’s true that this area of technology seems to be moving at a rapid pace – zooming into mainstream conversations on the back of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies. To some, blockchain looks volatile, uncertain, risky.
However, blockchain technology can be applied to businesses in South Africa, to improvise record management and transactional efficiency in a wide range of different processes and value chains.
So just how quickly could blockchains take off in SA, considering the very many possibilities for the technology? At this year’s Gartner Symposium/ITxpo Africa, held in late-September in Cape Town, conference delegates showed overwhelming interest in its use.
From keynotes to sideline discussions, the enthusiasm for blockchain technology was palpable, making analysts more bullish on the prospects for blockchain in the short-term. Very possibly, the technology could grip the imaginations of business in a similar way to the Cloud revolution, for instance.
The best starting point is to research blockchain deeply and widely, understanding potential use-cases for your industry; and then looking at which internal processes and external transactions could potentially be improved. Which areas would benefit from greater transparency, greater collaboration?
Every company is different. Some rely more heavily on digital assets and services than others, others have embraced connected sensors and devices (the “Internet of Things”) more warmly than others, and some naturally have a more innovative leaning.
But in our experience there are exciting blockchain-related opportunities in even the most traditional organisations.
Following this discovery phase, it is critical to partner with an objective blockchain specialist that can help to craft the strategy. Firms that try to ‘rate their own work’ in this field often miss opportunities, or create blockchain plans that fail to respond to the most urgent business priorities. As we find ourselves in the top of the hype-cycle for blockchain, we still find ourselves in search of the app that brings maximum ROI.
It is recommended that businesses look for three key competencies in a blockchain partner:
• Thought-leading advisory and consulting services with the ability to design, implement and support blockchain initiatives, along with rich domain expertise in use cases across various industry verticals
• A deep pool of partners, start-ups and innovators with whom solutions can be created and tailored to the organisation’s unique needs
• The execution capability to actually run blockchain PoCs and evolve them into fully-fledged solutions – integrating the technology into existing operations.
With blockchain, the traditional principles governing ‘systems of record’ are fundamentally reversed, and many business leaders are still somewhat confused about how this highly-sophisticated shared ledger technology actually works.
But while it’s essential to read deeply and understand blockchain principles, for one’s end-client, we can refer to the analogy of the internet to explain why we don’t have to wait for clients wrap their heads around the technology.
Most of us do not understand the technicalities of the TCP/IP protocol, but that doesn’t hinder us from surfing the web and exchanging emails. In the same way, clients will come to trust blockchain, in the same way they trust the Internet.
Those organisations starting now on a blockchain journey will have a first-mover advantage over slower-moving peers, getting a jump start on the competition and repositioning themselves for a future where blockchains govern all sorts of interactions and transactions in the future. Scale use of blockchain is still a 3-5-year journey – starting now will lessen the urgency some are experiencing now.
* Mary Ann Francis, Executive Advisor and Practice Partner for Global Treasury, Payments and blockchain at Wipro Limited, and Gilles Gravier, Director and Senior Advisor for Open Source and blockchain at Wipro Limited
Which IoT horse should you back?
The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.
But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.
Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).
Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:
SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.
It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.
LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.
Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.
Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.
It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.
LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.
It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.
Key features include:
· Voice functionality via VoLTE
· Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over
· Low power consumption
· Extended in‑building range
Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.
NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.
The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:
1. Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations
2. The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies
3. A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again
So, which horse should you back?
I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.
The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.
So: do your homework. And good luck!
Ms Office hack attacks up 4X
Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.
Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.
The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.
The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.
After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.
For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.
“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.
Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:
- Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
- 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
- Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
- Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
- Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
- 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
- 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).
To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:
- Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
- Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.
· Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.
- Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.