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Education needs rethink for digital future

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Africa faces a set of potential scenarios brought on by the disruption of digital technologies. But we need a workforce that has the skills and understanding to drive these potentials and bring them to reality, writes SIMON CARPENTER, Chief Technology Advisor at SAP Africa.

Africa faces a set of potential scenarios brought on by the disruption of digital technologies. This in turn provides the continent exponential opportunities for transformation in every aspect of work and life. But we need a workforce that has the skills and understanding of digital technologies to drive these potentials and bring them to reality.

The world of work now faces unprecedented disruption. There is no profession that will be untouched by the advances in machine learning and AI: a recent PwC report on the impact of automation found that 38% of jobs in the US are at risk. As far back as 2012, Dr Thomas Frey has predicted that more than 2 billion jobs will disappear by 2030 thanks to technological advances.

The skills imperative

Africa largely missed the Industrial Era; since the continent is immensely rich in mineral wealth and arable land, most countries had little need to industrialise. This has left most African countries underdeveloped and lacking the infrastructure that has made more developed nations so wealthy. As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is optimistic talk about Africa taking a leap forward in its development to not only catch up but surpass some of its Western peers.

But unless we drastically accelerate STEM skills development, Africa will be left trailing in the dust of global progress for decades. New skills such as computational biology, data science, and algorithmic programming will replace huge numbers of middle class occupations. Without a solid grounding in science, technology, maths and engineering, young workers will simply not have the skills needed to survive – and thrive – in tomorrow’s economy. Initiatives such as Africa Code Week, which is this year aiming to teach basic coding skills to half a million youngsters, and the so-called MOOCS (massive open online courses) such as Coursera and OpenSAP will become invaluable to educators as the pace of change outstrips governments’ and education departments’ ability to maintain a relevant and future-looking curriculum.

Rethinking how we prepare our children for the future of work

While technology poses risks, its potential benefits are immense. The same machine learning technology that is making many jobs irrelevant could be deployed to understand how children learn at an individual level, allowing educators to tailor the classroom experience and curriculum to maximise each unique child’s talents.

Teachers need to be equipped with the tools and content that will inspire a new generation of learners to be curious, learn, and apply new technologies to solve problems that are not even known to us yet. Without great teachers, great teaching is impossible. Clever use of gamification, video content, augmented and virtual reality, and social media can transform the learning and teaching process and inspire learners and teachers alike.

As technological progress further accelerates, we will need to continuously learn new skills and update and augment our knowledge. In the 1950s, the half-life of what you learned at university was as much as 30 years. Today, it’s closer to 5. If you want to work for what we now consider to be a normal working life of 40 years, you need to keep learning or face irrelevance.

The new face of work

The inevitable result of this is that a new type of worker will emerge, challenging organisations by forcing them to radically rethink not only their employment policies but their entire business vision. We are already seeing how the hyper-connected millennial workforce is upending long-held beliefs of what constitutes meaningful and worthwhile work.

These Millennials are generally not interested in the accumulation of material goods at all costs. The hallmark of the 80s and roaring 90s was an accelerating consumerism as technology enabled us to provide convenience and luxury at an unprecedented scale. This new generation demands more from companies and governments: matters such as environmental sustainability, social impact, and equitable distribution of wealth take priority over capitalism’s “profit at all costs” approach.

This has given rise to a new type of organisation, one that strives for a purpose that transcends pure profit. It’s no longer enough to show only positive bottom-line results: if your business is harmful, inequitable, discriminatory, or otherwise counter to prevailing ethical behaviour, you will soon find yourself unable to compete with more socially conscious companies that are able to attract the very best in digital talent.

All exponential organisations have a massively transformational purpose that extends beyond pure profit. SAP’s is to help the world run better and improve peoples’ lives. And, like any organisation, our ability to fulfil that purpose rests wholly on the digital workforce we have to invest in today.

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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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