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Data science interns tackle Cape Town water crisis

Cape Town’s Day Zero for running out of water may have been postponed for 2018, but for interns at the Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) in the city, their project was an opportunity to take existing data and derive fresh insights into the City’s water crisis.  

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The question posed to the students was: “What are the supply and demand factors affecting the Cape Town water crisis?

Using publicly available data, they showed that the blame cannot be attributed to any single cause, but that multiple factors in varying degrees each contributed to the water crunch.

The students concluded that a combination of low rainfall, population growth, shifting consumption levels as well as evaporation, were all factors affecting the City’s critical dam levels.

The project was the first to be set by the Academy, and was handed to the first intake of 100 students on their first day at the Academy in January this year. They were given two months to work on the problem, with the EDSA supporting them with the necessary skills to tackle the problem.

“In essence, data science is about taking real world problems and finding real world solutions,” said Aidan Helmbold, co-founder of the EDSA.

“The water project required our interns to make use of various available data sets and technology to analyse the City’s water consumption, and to make these insights available so that the City could better understand the underlying dynamics,” Helmbold added.

Students had to analyse the main supply and demand factors affecting the water crisis.  Demand side factors were drawn from water consumption data available on the City of Cape Town’s Open Data portal.

On the supply side, factors such as dam levels, and the impact of weather data, such as rainfall, temperature and windfall patterns on water evaporation, were considered.

Analysis of water demand also took into consideration population figures from the 2011 census, the impact of water leaks as well as usage from sources other than households, such as industries and farms.

“I think the most astounding aspect for us as education providers was to see how much 100 young minds can achieve with only three months of data science training behind them,” Helmbold said.

“We were also amazed at how quickly the students were able to adapt to the softer skills, such as teamwork and the realities of managing multiple project deliverables.”

“Many of these young people come from very humble circumstances and have only a matric to their name. Yet they have demonstrated through the project, their ability to get to grips with complex problems and to come up with life-ready solutions to them. ”

The EDSA will present the data finds to City of Cape Town officials early in June.

“Ideally, the EDSA would like to partner with the city to contribute to deepening the understanding of the role of data and the value its insights can bring to the decision making process,” Helmbold said.

CoCT and CiTi’s #newnormal – Cape Town Water Saving Design Sprint

In a separate but related endeavour, the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTI) together with the City of Cape Town, recently held a weekend-long hackathon to come up with solutions that would engage and encourage Capetonians to continue to save water and remain conscious of their water habits.

In order to address this challenge, a two-day design sprint was held at the Woodstock Bandwidth Barn. Participants were given the challenge to ‘Design a digital campaign, tool, game or app which will help make water-saving the new normal’.

Drawing on the City’s Open Data portal, this event challenged teams to come up with ideas on how to use technology to motivate long-term behavioural change regarding water saving and to propose solutions that were relevant to the wider community.  Participants were also briefed by Green Cape and behavioural design professionals.

The aim of the user-centred design hackathon was to bring together people from diverse backgrounds, experiences and skill sets.  About 60 members of the public including 30 of the EDSA’s interns were involved in the design sprint.

The weekend-long event was facilitated by experienced design thinking professionals who took teams through a structured process.

“This allowed people to participate in the event without already having a solution in mind, focusing rather on getting teams to understand the problem from a user perspective first,” said Michelle Matthews, Head of Innovation at CiTi.

This user-centred approach included having participants’ interview members of the public, to help participants propose solutions, which citizens might actually need and adopt.

One of the EDSA teams came up with an idea for a Sims-like game that tracked an individual’s water consumption rates, rewarding them with points for saving water and connecting them with others with similar household set-ups to benchmark usage and share tips.  This team eventually came third in the event.

“We were delighted by the calibre of solutions that the teams demonstrated, which had the potential to be applied to one of the biggest issues facing the city,” Matthews said.

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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.

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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 

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.

LORA 

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.

RPMA 

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-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

NB-IOT 

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.

MY FORECAST

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!

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Ms Office hack attacks up 4X

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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.

·         Use robust security solutions , which have special features to protect against exploits, such as Automatic Exploit Prevention.

·         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.
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