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Fibre begins to take over from ADSL at SMEs

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In 2003 there was a massive technology shift from dial-up to ADSL. According to a SME Survey, another shift is on the horizon, but this time from ADSL to fibre.

The massive technology shift from dial-up to ADSL as the most common form of connectivity among small and medium enterprises is about to be repeated. Except that, this time, the shift will be from ADSL to fibre.

This is one of the major early indications of SME Survey 2018, in partnership with Intuit QuickBooks, which has achieved its target of interviewing 1 400 business decision-makers.

SME Survey is the original and largest representative survey since 2003 to measure the forces shaping SME competitiveness in South Africa. One of the great success stories is the manner in which it has tracked the rise and fall of comparative types of Internet connectivity.

According to Arthur Goldstuck, principal researcher for SME Survey and MD of World Wide Worx, the Survey has been in a position to track connectivity trends from the arrival of ADSL in this market in 2003, the same year the Survey began. As a result, it was ideally placed to track the transition from dial-up to ADSL that occurred among SMEs from 2003 to 2009.

“Because we were able to track adoption rates from the outset, we could demonstrate perfectly the rise of one technology and the decline of the other. We are now at the stage where we are beginning to witness the decline of ADSL, as it is replaced by fibre to the home or office. The interim SME Survey 2018 results therefore present a fascinating story of history repeating itself with regards to technology replacement,” he says.

“ADSL usage peaked at around 70% in 2009 and remained at this high until 2015, when fibre arrived. The latest figures from the Survey indicate that ADSL usage has now dropped to 56% among SMEs, while fibre has increased to 23% – this is exciting, because it means that the adoption of fibre is taking place even more rapidly than the adoption of ADSL did 15 years ago.”

Such rapid adoption is being brought about, says Goldstuck, by the rapid rise in availability of fibre across urban areas, coupled with the falling price of the technology. In conjunction with this, the increasing uptake and use of bandwidth-intensive technologies by SMEs has resulted in a perfect storm that is driving this desire for technology replacement.

“The switch from ADSL to fibre is being driven by much the same reasoning as the earlier move from dial-up to ADSL. In effect, when SMEs see a clear value proposition, one which can translate into the phrase ‘no-brainer’, they are more than willing to embrace it rapidly. On the other hand, when it has to be explained or demystified – as seems to have occurred with the concept of the cloud – they tend to stay clear of it for far longer. However, with fibre the value proposition is so obvious that SMEs are clear about how it will improve their business, and so adoption is taking off.”

“This is a huge shift and is extremely exciting for SMEs and accountants in South Africa,” says Wendy Walker, Head of Marketing at Intuit QuickBooks. “We have witnessed how the use of technology such as the cloud has reshaped and reinvigorated businesses across the globe and we have no doubt will we will see the same impact here. Whether it’s evolutionary or a new disruptive innovation, SMEs are always looking for technology that will help deliver better services and products, and of course, greater returns for their businesses. That’s what we are here to provide.”

Goldstuck  goes on to explain, that with fibre, the cost to speed relationship is vastly improved, while the quality of the connection is also higher, since fibre doesn’t have the same level of contention – the number of people using the same connection – as ADSL. This means, generally speaking, the speed you buy is the speed you get.

“Another aspect that differentiates fibre fundamentally from ADSL is that any service provider can supply connectivity and services over fibre. This is very different to the South African ADSL market, where there is essentially still only one provider for the technology. This diversity has clearly helped open the market, thanks to the increased competition.”

A key benefit SMEs obtain from switching to fibre, says Goldstuck, is that it enables SMEs to operate online without any of the performance and quality constraints they may have faced before. This means that their communications are significantly improved, enabling them to utilise solutions like video-conferencing and social media platforms to further their business. It also gives them more confidence in using the Internet for transactional purposes, thanks to the quality and speed of the connectivity.

“This quality and speed, coupled with much higher bandwidth caps, is opening these small businesses up to greater levels of collaboration and a range of new business possibilities,” he says. “Ultimately, fibre expands the vision of small business decision makers, while levelling the playing fields with large organisations in terms of access and collaboration. Furthermore, once SMEs get to grips with the many possibilities offered by fibre, they will be more confident in aiming for a higher digital level and will more fully embrace cloud platforms and solutions. This, in turn, means they will be well placed to compete more directly with big enterprises.”

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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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