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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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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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