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Meet the fact-checker’s fact checker

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At a conference running in Johannesburg today and tomorrow, one of the speakers will bring a new perspective to fact-checking and fighting the fake news onslaught, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Nechama Brodie doesn’t look like a private investigator or a secret agent. Nor, at the other end of the career excitement scale, does she look anything like an accountant or bookkeeper.

Yet, she employs skills central to all of these professions in her quest to perfect the art of fact-checking.

At the Liberty Vuka Knowledge Summit running today and tomorrow at the Sandton Convention Centre, she will teach attendees practical methods for how to question information, and hopes to inspire them to ask better questions.

“The secret in life is not to know everything,” she says. “But how do we learn just enough to ask the right questions from the right people?”

Nechama Brodie. Image by Sarah de Pina

Nechama Brodie.
Image by Sarah de Pina

It is just this dilemma that inspired her, in 2015, to launch TRI Facts as the research and training division of Africa Check, a respected and independent fact-checking agency. Brodie’s earlier work at Africa Check ranged from investigating crime and security statistics to researching politics and policy. She even explored the urban legends around Johannesburg being the world’s largest urban forest.

Heading up TRI Facts now gives this part-time musician the opportunity to share her methods, as well as her unusual perspective on information.

“The current epidemic of fake news, especially via social media, is a consequence of relying on the wrong people to tell us what is right and what is wrong in the media. But even mainstream media doesn’t always get it right.

“Even the term fake news is very problematic, because the media and politicians are both abusing the term. By calling it fake news, they are shying away from calling political propaganda what it really is: propaganda.”

The ordinary member of the public is fodder for this propaganda mill, especially in a time of social media’s ascendancy as a news source.

“There’s a decline in trust in the media. People trust their friends and family more. But generally, your friends and family are not necessarily that smart, so why do you trust them more? So I’ll be looking at the structures of who we choose to trust and why.”

Brodie makes a fascinating connection between distrust of media and the distrust of science that is currently fashionable in various constituencies in both the United States and South Africa.

 

“We’ve distorted media literacy, so that the concept of questioning media has been distorted into mistrust of media. That, then, also translates into people rejecting science.

“Of course science is not infallible, but fallibility is a process and it’s built into the scientific method. But now people say that, if one thing is wrong, it’s all wrong. As a result, they replace acceptable sources with unacceptable sources.”

This is not a new phenomenon, but social media has given it wings.

“It’s not very different to what we used to get from friends and family and neighbours before social media. But the timeline has collapsed, and we now get that information much faster.

“The Internet is a fantastic source of good information. But, when you start asking the how and why, how do you learn to ask better questions, and who can you ask? A hundred years ago scientists were experts in multiple areas; these

days they are expected to be experts in one specialist area. The original scientists were polymaths and real geniuses, not the geniuses we make ourselves out to be on Twitter. We confuse reading stuff on the Internet with making ourselves experts.”

This malaise has spread to journalists, who will now take legal documents to colleagues for opinions rather than calling lawyers. Brodie knows from her own experience how dangerous this can be.

“In my early 20s, when I was starting off as a writer, I had a strong assumption that I was always right. In retrospect, I was very lucky I didn’t make major errors. As I get older, I double-check everything. But not just by using Google. I make phone calls. I call universities, find professors, and meet people.

“The great thing about experts is that they refer you to knowledge, and don’t only give you their opinions. It becomes a knowledge tree.”

TRI Facts primarily offers research and training to journalists, analysts and government officials, among other. Its training includes understanding what facts can and cannot be checked, how bias can affect the ability to find and interpret data, how to find local data, and how to fact-check multimedia sources.

However, it also teaches a simple methodology that can be use anywhere by anyone if they are dubious about information. Brodie will share this approach during the Liberty Vuka Knowledge Summit.

“There is no magic to fact-checking. We teach that you can never be an expert, but that it’s okay. Your job is to find people who do know, and sources that are credible.”

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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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