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How to stay anon online

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Online security was a huge issue in 2016, and by the looks of things, this year looks to be much worse. NordVPN offers some tips on staying anonymous this year.

Online security is becoming a bigger issue than ever, as 2016 seemingly brought one of the worst years ever when it comes to staying secure and private online. 2017 is not promising to be any better, considering increasingly restrictive surveillance laws are being passed around the world and authoritarian regimes are increasingly censoring the Internet.

When it comes to using public Wi-Fi, and especially managing financial transactions,  it’s known that it’s not safe to use one’s credit card or to disclose any other personal information. For example, it has been shown that a Visa credit card can be hacked online in 6 seconds. Using cryptocurrency helps users stay anonymous to some extent– but what are the other ways to remain completely invisible online?

NordVPN, a Virtual Private Network service provider, identifies five key services that could significantly enhance your online anonymity and security.

Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a decentralized currency that does not belong to any country – just its user.  And when it comes to security, it’s hard to beat it. Bitcoin online transactions are conducted without disclosing any personal financial information. When it comes to privacy, it’s certainly reassuring that no one can trace who is the owner of a certain bitcoin account. However, not all merchants accept bitcoin. In those cases when using a credit/debit card is the only option – extra security steps should be taken.  Using strong passwords and updating them often, ensuring the websites are trusted (double check for https), being wary of any suspicious redirects and using trusted encryption services (i.e. VPN service) to protect one’s Internet traffic are bare minimum.

Encrypted Email. While bitcoin is great for financial transactions online, it’s advisable to stay private while conducting any other activities – such as emailing. Emails might also contain some private and sensitive information, which could be easily intercepted by hackers or any unwanted snoopers. The solution is to use one of the encrypted email services. There are a few good examples, including Tutanota, or the Gmail-like ProtonMail that offer an automatic end-to-end encryption, and no personal information is required to create a secure email account.

Encrypted Messaging. Everybody uses their mobile devices for instant messaging – but how safe are regular communication apps? For example, WhatsApp has received some harsh criticism for tracing user chats even after their deletion. Signal, on the other hand, is an encrypted messaging and voice calling app that provides end-to-end encryption by default to secure all communications. The app can also verify the identity of people one is messaging with and the integrity of the channel they are using. When texting with non-Signal users, one has an option to invite them to an encrypted conversation via Signal.

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). If a user is  looking for an advanced option to secure their communication and personal files, it might be wise to turn to PGP, which is actually one of the most popular encryption softwares used worldwide. OpenPGP is used to encrypt data and create digital signatures and could be used to encrypt your personal files or to exchange encrypted communication. It protects all communication with a digital signature and is available for all operating platforms.

VPN (Virtual Private Network). Anyone who is taking their online security and privacy seriously, will use a VPN – a Virtual Private Network. A VPN encrypts all user’s Internet data into a secure tunnel and creates a secure connection between one’s device and a VPN server. All the information traveling between the  user’s Internet-enabled device and the secure server remains invisible to any third party. Those who want a guaranteed protection, will be disappointed that not all VPNs accept bitcoin as method of payment – but there are a few that do. NordVPN, for example, allows to pay by bitcoin and, most importantly, does not store any logs. It also offers an option to encrypt all the data twice for extra safety, which is a rare feature for a VPN. A helpful kill-switch feature allows a user to select Internet programs that would be terminated if the Internet connection dropped for any reason, to make sure that no unprotected Internet activity was exposed. Privacy issues have taken another shape completely over the past year. 31% of Internet users used a VPN in 2016, and VPNs will be increasingly popular in 2017 as online security issues grow to monumental proportions.

In addition to these super tough security measures, anonymity-minded Internet users should be more vigilant, use extra caution when sharing information or opening messages from unknown recipients, while making sure that their device’s Firewall is turned on and a reliable anti-virus program is installed and kept up to date.

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How to rob a bank in the 21st century

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In the early 1980s, South Africans were gripped by tales of the most infamous bank robbery gangs the country had ever known: The Stander Gang. The gang would boldly walk into banks, brandishing weapons, demand cash and simply disappear. These days, a criminal doesn’t even have to be in the same country as the bank he or she intends to rob. Cyber criminals are quite capable of emptying bank accounts without even stepping out of their own homes.

As we become more and more aware of cybersecurity and the breaches that can occur, we’ve become more vigilant. Criminals, however, are still going to follow the money and even though security may be beefed up in many organisations, hackers are going to go for the weakest links. This makes it quintessential for consumers and enterprises to stay one step ahead of the game.

“Not only do these cyber bank criminals get away with the cash, they also end up damaging an organisation’s reputation and the integrity of its infrastructure,” says Indi Siriniwasa, Vice President of Trend Micro, Sub-Saharan Africa. “And sometimes, these breaches mean they get away with more than just cash – they can make off with data and personal information as well.”

Because the cyber criminals operate outside bricks and mortar, going for the cash register or robbing the customers is not where their misdeeds end. Bank employees – from the tellers to the CEO – are all fair game.

But how do they do it? Taking money out of an account is not the only way to steal money. Cyber criminals can zero in on the bank’s infrastructure, or hack into payment systems and even payment documents. Part of a successful operation for them may also include hacking into telecommunications to gain access to one-time pins or mobile networks.

“It’s not just about hacking,” says Siriniwasa.. “It’s also about the hackers trying to get an ‘inside man’ in the bank who could help them or even using a person’s personal details to get a new SIM so that they can have access to OTPs. Of course, they also use the tried and tested method of phishing which continues to be exceptionally effective – despite the education in the market to thwart it.”

The amounts of malware and available attacks to gain access to bank funds is strikingly vast and varies from using web injection script, social engineering and even targeting internal networks as well as points of sale systems. If there is an internet connection and a system you can be assured that there is a cybercriminal trying to crack it. The impact on the bank itself is also massive, with reputations left in tatters and customers moving their business elsewhere.

“We see that cyber criminals use multi-faceted attacks,” says Siriniwasa. “This means that we need to come at security from multiple angles as well. Every single layer of an organisation’s online perimeter need to be secured. Threat isolation is exceptionally important and having security with intrusion protection is vital. Again, vigilance on the part of staff and customers also goes a long way to preventing attacks. These criminals might not carry guns like Andre Stander and his gang, but they are just as dangerous – in fact – probably more so.”

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Beaten by big data? AI is the answer

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by ZAKES SOCIKWA, cloud big data and analytics lead at Oracle

In 2019, it’sestimated we’ll generate more data than we did in the previous 5,000 years. Data is fast becoming the most valuable asset of any modern organisation, and while most have access to their internal data, they continue to experience challenges in deriving maximum value through being able to effectively monetise the information that they hold.

The foundation of any analytics or Business Intelligence (BI) reporting capability is an efficient data collection system that ensures events/transactions are properly recorded, captured, processed and stored. Some of this information on its own might not provide any valuable insights, but if it is analysed together with other sources might yield interesting patterns.

Big data opens up possibilities of enhancing internal sources with unstructured data and information from Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Furthermore, as we move to a digital age, more businesses are implementing customer experience solutions and there is a growing need for them to improve their service and personalise customer engagements.

The digital behaviour of customers, such as social media postings and the networks or platforms they engage with, further provides valuable information for data collection. Information gathering methods are being expanded to accommodate all types and formats of data, including images, videos, and more.

In the past, BI and Data Mining were left to highly technical and analytical individuals, but the introduction of data visualisation tools is democratising the analytics world. However, business users and report consumers often do not have a clear understanding of what they need or what is possible.

AI now embedded into day to day applications

To this end, artificial intelligence (AI) is finishing what business intelligence started. By gathering, contextualising, understanding, and acting on huge quantities of data, AI has given rise to a new breed of applications – one that’s continuously improving and adapting to the conditions around it. The more data that is available for the analysis, the better is the quality of the outcomes or predictions.

In addition, AI changes the productivity equation for many jobs by automating activities and adapting current jobs to solve more complex and time-consuming problems, from recruiters being able to source better candidates faster to financial analysts eliminating manual error-prone reporting.

This type of automation will not replace all jobs but will invent new ones. This enables businesses to reduce the time to complete tasks and the costs of maintenance, and will lead to the creation of higher-value jobs and new engagement models. Oracle predicts that by 2025, the productivity gains delivered by AI, emerging technologies, and augmented experiences could double compared to today’s operations.

According to the IDC, worldwide revenues for big data and business analytics (BDA) solutions was expected to total $166 billion in 2018, and forecast to reach $260 billion in 2022, with a compound annual growth rate of 11.9% over the 2017-2022 forecast period. It adds that two of the fastest growing BDA technology categories will be Cognitive/AI Software Platforms (36.5% CAGR) and Non-relational Analytic Data Stores (30.3% CAGR)¹.

Informed decisions, now and in the future

As new layers of technology are introduced and more complex data sources are added to the ecosystem, the need for a tightly integrated technology stack becomes a challenge. It is advisable to choose your technology components very carefully and always have the end state in mind.

More development on emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT, virtual reality and others will probably be available on cloud first before coming on premise. For those organisations that are adopting public cloud, there are opportunities to consume the benefits of public cloud and drive down costs of doing business.

While the introduction of public cloud is posing a challenge on data sovereignty and other regulations, technology providers such as Oracle have developed a ‘Cloud at Customer’ model that provides the full benefits of public cloud – but located on premise, within an organisation’s own data centre.

The best organisations will innovate and optimise faster than the rest. Best decisions must be made around choice of technology, business processes, integration and architectures that are fit for business. In the information marketplace, speed and informed decision making will be key differentiators amongst competitors.

¹ IDC Press Release, Revenues for Big Data and Business Analytics Solutions Forecast to Reach $260 Billion in 2022, Led by the Banking and Manufacturing Industries, According to IDC, 15 August 2018

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