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Cyber intelligence reveals #FeesMustFall agenda

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Cyber intelligence and analytics specialist, Snode, recently used its tools to analyse the #FeesMustFall protest and delve deeper within Twitter, offering enriched insight beyond 140 characters.

Social media platforms such as Twitter may be divisive, but its significance cannot be overlooked. Cyber intelligence and analytics specialist, Snode, believes the potential applications for social media are yet to be fully realised. “As a source of intelligence, Twitter is a valuable source of intelligence and it should be utilised by business and law enforcement. It is an open-source data-rich platform and needs to be leveraged in the best way possible,” notes CIO and co-founder of Snode, Nithen Naidoo.

Using the recent #FeesMustFall protests as a case study to showcase the enriched capabilities of cyber intelligence, Snode was able to apply its analytical tools to delve deeper into the anatomy of the Tweets, and even discover that outside influencers were making an impact.

The university fee protests are a hot topic of conversation in South Africa. The dialogue is been most prevalent on Twitter, where numerous messages have been exchanged under the guise of creating a discourse around the cost of tertiary education. Interestingly though, Snode’s analysts have unearthed some other key insights not obvious to most people.

Delving deeper

To gain a deeper understanding of the underlying forces driving the #FeesMustFall protests, Snode analysts have fused various social media conversations to identify emerging trends associated with, and patterns of behaviour fuelling, this massive campaign.

The most telling finding is that many of the tweets did not originate from the same location that the message was referencing. In particular, the majority of tweets mentioning the University of Witwatersrand were found to have been sent from Pretoria, nearly 65 kilometres away.

In fact, Snode detected an anomaly in which tweets from South Africa’s capital with the #FeesMustFall hashtag referenced Wits 14 times more than they did in their own city’s university protest. Accompanying this anomaly was the fact that only 3% of #FeesMustFall tweets came from users linked to the @WitsUniversity handle, as opposed to a staggering total of 94% from politically affiliated Twitter accounts.

According to Naidoo, it can be inferred that there was another agenda being played out, and the #FeesMustFall protests are being abused by some social media users to draw attention to other topics, ultimately misrepresenting the true aim of students.

True potential

While the potential for social media to be misused by a small percentage of users, Snode says that victims of crime and law enforcement have the ability to fight back. The company’s real time processing for example, can dissect a myriad of information contained within a Tweet, including a Twitter user’s (real) name, origin of the Tweet (longitude and latitude), device type (iPhone or Android), and place of residence (e.g. city or hometown).

“If users share an image on Twitter for example, the metadata contained within that photo can offer us a wide ranging array of insights,” says Naidoo. “There are a host of AI applications available, such as Russia’s FindFace, which allows users to scan a digital image of someone and then discover their online profile. There are therefore a number of tools on hand to benefit law enforcement as much as they do criminals,” he continued.

In the right hands, this kind of machine assisted analytics can empower social media platforms such as Twitter to help make data-driven decisions, notes Naidoo. In the US, a number of American agencies are already using deep analysis within Twitter to track down dissidents, according to Saudi scientist Hala Al-Dosari in a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.

“South Africa needs to use available technology correctly, especially when it comes to tackling issues like crime within the country. With regard to socially relevant topics such as the student protests, having cyber intelligence at work can assist in gleaning vital insight. At Snode, we believe having such knowledge can not only help us understand the climate better, but also assist law enforcement and government services to predict and respond to critical events more efficiently,” says Naidoo.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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SAFTA awards get first streaming video nominees

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The 2019 nominations for The South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) were announced late last week, and for the first time in the 13-year history of the awards, a TV series produced for a video-on-demand service was in contention. The result was a surprise boost to streaming service Showmax.

The comedy series Tali’s Wedding Diary, which premiered in December 2017, represented a major step for the then two-year old streaming service. It was the debut Showmax Original, the first time Showmax ventured into producing its own content. The gamble paid off, with the show becoming the most watched of any series on its first day on Showmax, and now Tali’s Wedding Diary has been further recognised with seven SAFTA nominations, making it this year’s most nominated comedy.

“When we first floated the idea of Tali’s Wedding Diary, we joked about winning awards,” says Candice Fangueiro, Showmax’s head of content. “At that point, just getting our first Showmax Original off the ground was already a major challenge and it was more than we could hope for to actually hit it out of the park. I was stunned when I heard the news about the nominations – it’s amazing to be considered in the same company as these other shows and thanks to this we’re already seeing a fresh spike in Tali views.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary was also a first for co-creator and star Julia Anastasopoulos, who until then was best known as YouTube star SuzelleDIY. “I am so thrilled about the SAFTA nominations for Tali’s Wedding Diary,” says Julia, who is up for Best Actress – TV Comedy and Best Achievement in Scriptwriting – TV Comedy, along with her husband Ari Kruger and Daniel Zimbler. 

“It was such a big and daunting step to create a full TV comedy series and intro a brand-new character. I really didn’t know how it would be received and am so happy to have received such positive feedback for the show and the Tali Babes character, along with the nominations. It feels so good to be recognised for something we poured our hearts into. None of it would have been possible, of course, without the incredible hard work and vision of my husband Ari and the incredible team, cast and crew that were part of the show. And a huge thank you to Showmax of course for making it all possible. Congratulations and best of luck to the entire team and to all the other nominees.”

Tali’s Wedding Diary is a mockumentary that follows Tali, a self-obsessed Joburg princess who’s moved to Cape Town and is planning her wedding to property-agent fiancé Darren (Anton Taylor). The series was inspired by Julia’s own wedding to Ari, her SuzelleDIY and Tali’s Wedding Diary co-creator, who is also up for Best Achievement In Directing – TV Comedy.  

In addition to Julia and Ari’s nominations, Tali’s Wedding Diary is up for Best TV Comedy, Art Direction (Keren Setton),  Cinematography (James Adey), and Editing (Richard Starkey). Winners will be announced on 2 March 2019 at Sun City Superbowl.

Following the success of Tali’s Wedding Diary, the second Showmax Original, The Girl From St Agnes, was released earlier this month. A third Showmax Original, Trippin With Skhumba, is slated for release at the end of February.

“With three Showmax Originals now under our belt and more on the way, we’d like to think this is the start of many more SAFTA nominations for shows from a streaming service,” concludes Candice.

South African content currently on Showmax has 110 nominations and includes the most nominated movie (Five Fingers With Marseilles), telenovela (The River), drama (Lockdown) and soap (Isibaya), with more SAFTA nominees scheduled for the coming months.

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