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IBM tackles cross-border payments with blockchain

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IBM has announced a new blockchain banking solution that will help financial institutions address the processes of universal cross-border payments, designed to reduce the settlement time and lower the cost of completing global payments for businesses and consumers.

Using IBM Blockchain, and in collaboration with technology partners Stellar.org and KlickEx Group, the solution is intended to improve the speed in which banks both clear and settle payment transactions on a single network in near real time.

Today, making international payments can be costly, laborious and error-prone. Transactions in different currencies can require multiple intermediaries and take days or weeks to complete. According to the World Bank, initiatives to modernize payments and provide financial access could improve the flow of currency and commerce, and help achieve the goal of extending financial services to one billion people by 2020*.

The solution is already processing live transactions in 12 currency corridors across the Pacific Islands and Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Using a blockchain distributed ledger, all appropriate parties have access and insight into the clearing and settlement of financial transactions. It is designed to augment financial flows worldwide, for all payment types and values, and allows financial institutions to choose the settlement network of their choice for the exchange of central bank-issued digital assets.For example, in the future, the new IBM network could make it possible for a farmer in Samoa to enter into a trade contract with a buyer in Indonesia. The blockchain would be used to record the terms of the contract, manage trade documentation, allow the farmer to put up collateral, obtain letters of credit, and finalize transaction terms with immediate payment, conducting global trade with transparency and relative ease.

IBM has convened an initial group of diverse banking leaders as part of the development and deployment process, including Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, Bank Danamon Indonesia, Bank Mandiri, Bank Negara Indonesia, Bank Permata, Bank Rakyat Indonesia, Kasikornbank Thailand, Mizuho Financial Group, National Australia Bank, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Philippines, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, TD Bank, Wizdraw (HK) of WorldCom Finance, and other financial institutions.

“With the guidance of some of the world’s leading financial institutions, IBM is working to explore new ways to make payment networks more efficient and transparent so that banking can happen in real-time, even in the most remote parts of the world,” said Bridget van Kralingen, Senior Vice President of IBM Industry Platforms. “Making distributed ledger technologies more interoperable is the latest example of IBM’s leadership driving the rapid advancement of blockchain.”

“TD Bank is pleased to participate along with fellow banking leaders to observe how IBM Blockchain can support more secure and effective payments solutions,” said Rizwan Khalfan, EVP and Chief Digital and Payments Officer, TD Bank. “We’re focused on innovation that adds value for our customers and our business, and blockchain presents a tremendous opportunity to transform and enhance payment systems, enabling us to continue to evolve the products and services we can offer.”

In keeping with IBM’s commitment to open source, the solution is run from the IBM Blockchain Platform on Hyperledger Fabric and was built in collaboration with Stellar.org, a non-profit organization and associate member of Hyperledger, and KlickEx Group, a regional financial services company in the Pacific region. Stellar is an open-source blockchain network that is purpose-built for the issuance and exchange of digital assets. Digital assets are issued on the Stellar network as a foreign exchange bridge to allow for near real time settlement. KlickEx Group serves as the founding financial institution for the region, servicing banks, retail clients and consumers using this new network.

IBM will continue to advance the solution with the goal of expanding capabilities in order to support central bank-issued digital currencies, securities, bonds and structured financial assets. IBM Blockchain provides high performance orchestration to move payments among parties. Each payment is immutable once recorded, and settlement instructions are provided via smart contracts on Hyperledger Fabric. Initially, Stellar will provide the network and digital asset to facilitate the settlement of transactions cleared on Hyperledger.

“This new innovation and collaboration represents a significant milestone for Stellar as well as the financial technology industry as a whole,” said Jed McCaleb, co-founder of Stellar. “We are using blockchain technology in production to facilitate cross-border payments in multiple integrated currency corridors. Currently, cross-border payments tend to take up to several days to clear. This new implementation is poised to start a profound change in the South Pacific nations, and once fully scaled by IBM and its banking partners, it could potentially change the way money is moved around the world, helping to improve existing international transactions and advancing financial inclusion in developing nations.”

The network is currently in use by Advanced Pacific Financial Infrastructure for Inclusion (APFII) members, a public-private partnership initially funded by the United Nations and SWIFT. It is expected to process up to 60 percent of all cross-border payments in the South Pacific’s retail foreign exchange corridors including Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga by early next year. Commercial banks such as Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, Bank Danamon Indonesia, Bank Mandiri, Bank Negara Indonesia, Bank Permata, Bank Rakyat Indonesia, Kasikornbank Thailand, Mizuho Financial Group, National Australia Bank, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Philippines, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, TD Bank, and Wizdraw (HK) of WorldCom Finance will be invited to join the network and help it expand in different parts of the world beginning in 2018.

“This is the first time anyone has made blockchain work at an institutionally viable scale,” said Robert Bell, Chairman of APFII and founder of KlickEx Group. “Through KlickEx, the Pacific has had relatively low-cost, real-time, multi-currency payments for most of the past decade, and this project was a natural next step following our work to create seamless and borderless payments across the Pacific. We look forward to the results with using IBM Blockchain as we continue to push forward with our mission to remove payment friction across borders.”

This production blockchain network with KlickEx and Stellar is one of many blockchain projects underway by IBM in financial services including foreign exchange payments netting, private equity administration, securities lending and trade finance.

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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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