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How to prepare for the Internet of Things attacks

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Internet of Things is a term we are all hearing – but very few people know what it means, or know what the dangerous impacts it brings with it regarding security.

Something major happened in 2017. Internet of Things (IoT) devices were exploited by cybercriminals and turned into a rogue and malevolent army. A series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks affected websites connected to the cloud-based internet performance management company Dyn, including Amazon, Twitter, Reddit, Spotify and PayPal. It’s was possibly a watershed moment.

Here are 10 things you need to know about IoT.

1.       Wait, what’s IoT?

Definitions vary, but the ‘Internet of Things’ refers to ‘smart devices’ like refrigerators that will tell us when we’re out of milk. But also, many smaller less outlandishly smart objects, such thermostats, coffee machines and cars. These gadgets are embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity so that they can connect to the internet.

2.       So, what’s the problem?

Anything that connects to the internet, even if it doesn’t contain your medical records, poses a risk. The October 2017 attacks were made possible by the large number of unsecured internet-connected digital devices, such as home routers and surveillance cameras.

The attackers infected thousands of them with malicious code to form a botnet. Now, this is not a sophisticated means of attack, but there is strength in numbers. They can be used to swamp targeted servers, especially if they march in all at once.

3.       How did the attacks actually happen?

Remember that bit in the instruction manual where it told you to change the default password? Well, if you didn’t, then chances are your IoT device could spring to life as a cyber zombie. The DDoS-attackers know the default passwords for many IoT devices and used them to get in. It’s a bit like leaving your house keys under a flowerpot for anyone to find.

Anyone putting an IoT router, camera, TV or even refrigerator online without first changing the default password is enabling attacks of this type.  ESET research suggests at least 15% of home routers are unsecured – that’s an estimated 105 million potentially rogue routers.

 

4.       Wait, do I need IoT devices?

Some people dismiss IoT devices as gimmicky; others believe that in a few years we’ll all have smart cupboards that tell us what we can have for dinner. But there are numerous discernible benefits, such as the sensors in smartphones and smartwatches that provide real information about our health. Or the “blackbox” telematics in cars which can prove how safe or unsafe our driving is and thus help with insurance claims.

5.       So, this is a new problem?

Nope. The possibility for exploitation of this kind has been common knowledge since, well, the dawn of IoTs. But, we didn’t realize quite how vulnerable we were until last year’s attack. Malicious code infecting routers is nothing new, as this ESET research clearly demonstrates.

The advice to change the default passwords on these devices is not new and has been reiterated many times. Yet you can lead a horse to water, but there’s no making them drink. Years ago WeLiveSecurity reported on the existence of 73,000 security cameras with default passwords.

6.       How far does it go back?

The IoT actually goes way back as far as the 1980s. But in a slightly Back to the Future iteration. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University first came up with an internet-connected Coke vending machine in 1982.

7.       Surely, internet giants have the power to stop this?

Sure, they do. But that doesn’t mean some of them haven’t left gaping holes available for malicious exploitation. At the Black Hat security conference last year, security research students from University of Central Florida demonstrated how they could compromise Google’s Nest thermostat within 15 seconds.

Daniel Buentello, one of the team members, was quoted as saying in 2014: “This is a computer that the user can’t put an antivirus on. Worse yet, there’s a secret backdoor that a bad person could use and stay there forever. It’s a literal fly on the wall.”

8.       What can I personally do to stop this?

Look at IoT devices like any other computer. Immediately change the default password and check regularly for security patches, and always use the HTTPS interface when possible. When you’re not using the device, turn it off. If the device has other connection protocols that are not in use, disable them.

These things might sound simple, but you’d be alarmed by how easy it is to opt for convenience over good sense. Only half of respondents to this ESET survey indicated that they’d changed their router passwords.

9.       What can companies do to stop this?

You might think, ‘What’s the point? If an attacker can breach Amazon, then what hope does my firm have?’ Well, don’t give up hope. Organizations can defend against DDoS attacks in a range of ways including boosting the infrastructure of their networks and ensuring complete visibility of the traffic entering or exiting their networks. This can help detect DDoS attacks, while ensuring they’ve sufficient DDoS mitigation capacity and capabilities. Finally, have in place a DDoS defense plan, which is kept updated and is rehearsed on a regular basis.

Think of it like a fire drill for your network. Also, watch out for Telnet servers. These are the dinosaurs of the digital universe and as such should be extinct, because they’re so easily exploited. Never connect one to a public-facing device.

10.   But … and this is a big but …

The tech might have been around for a while but these kinds of attacks are brand new. As such there are no agreed best practice protection methods for stopping an IoT from turning against you.

At least, not ones that the experts can agree on. Some believe you should apply a firewall in your home or business and to regulate control of them to authorized users. However, another method would be to apply a certification approach: allowing only users with the right security certificate to control the devices and automatically barring any unauthorized profiles. If in doubt, unplug it.

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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