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Now hotels face ransomware attacks

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A recent audit has reveled that hotels are doubly vulnerable to ransomware attacks as they may not only impede their own systems but they also could seriously impact on their guests by preventing them from using the hotel’s facilities.

South African businesses are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the 400% growth in global ransomware extortion attacks.

According to audit, tax and business advisory firm Grant Thornton, businesses need to act now to ensure that their digital systems are protected and that critical systems are taken offline.

Simple ransomware attacks are relatively straight forward – victims receive an email with a link that contains software that encrypts files on their computer. These victims are then held to hostage until they pay a ransom.

Recently an upmarket hotel in Austria had its electronic key system compromised by hackers who locked management out of its own computer system. Guests were unable to access or leave their hotel rooms and this led to the hotel being forced to pay a ransom of two Bitcoins – an electronic currency that is difficult to trace – equivalent to about $1,800 (R20, 000) to gain access to their system.

Martin Jansen van Vuuren, Director: Advisory Services at Grant Thornton says that the Austrian attack indicates just how easily hotels’ systems can be infiltrated from cyber space.

Jansen van Vuuren says: “Hotels are doubly vulnerable because ransomware attacks may not only impede their systems but they also could seriously impact on their guests by preventing them from using the hotel’s facilities. Part of Hotel management’s risk mitigation should be to work out exactly how these malicious cyber space attacks can affect their operations and even their customers.”

“The security of convenient computer-driven systems is vital because everything from air-conditioning and room management, to sprinkler systems suddenly become vulnerable to external attacks. There is a need to give particular consideration to these risks as we become more reliant on technology in the guest experience.”

Jansen van Vuuren says mobile phones, used as keys in many hotels these days, are also vulnerable as they often do not have the same level of security as a desktop system.  Hackers could steal “door keys” via cyber space or simply disable keys causing huge inconvenience. Open WiFi systems, that are by their nature made easy to access for hotel guests, are another potential source for hackers if they are linked to systems which can be used to gain entry to devices and then to lock out users or steal data.

“The biggest weakness for hotels is their public interfaces such as booking systems that need to connect the internal systems and users to third party applications and ultimately customers. The booking system is therefore particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks and hackers,” said Jansen van Vuuren.

“Many hotels do not have on-site IT support and rely on the Hotel chain’s head office or an external service provider to attend to IT issues. This centralised approach places individual properties at additional risk of attack, as a cyber-attack may not be picked up quickly enough leading to a delay in combating the cyber-attack” he says.

Ransomware attacks quadrupled in 2016 to 4 000 a day

Grant Thornton’s Director of IT Advisory Services, Michiel Jonker, says that while the hotel industry is in the public eye, following the most recent high profile attack, it has to be borne in mind that every industry is at risk.

According to data from the United States Justice Department, ransomware attacks quadrupled in 2016 to an average of 4000 a day. The F.B.I. said the costs to victims of such attacks rose to $209-million (R2, 7bn) in the first three months of 2016, compared with $24-million (R312m) for the whole of 2015.

“Ransomware syndicates are extremely sophisticated, even hosting their own ‘call centres’ which assist you to access your decryption key and undertake not to attack you with the same ransom. They even use algorithms to determine your particular industry, and the ransom price is based on your industry’s perceived ‘wealth’,” says Jonker. “You can’t really prevent these attacks; you can only reduce your attack vulnerability to some extent. Preventive controls are not enough. Organisations will have to rely on corrective controls, most notably backups and disaster recovery plans.”

He says corporate executives have to start seriously considering how their companies will respond to malicious attacks and whether their systems – both critical and simple – are designed to minimise risk to the impact of hackers and ransomware.

He says that Grant Thornton’s IT Advisory team advises clients to take, among many other things, the following steps in order to minimise the risk to some extent:

·         Remove admin rights for laptop users to prevent users from inadvertently downloading malicious software;

·         Ensure that all systems undergo well-structured  backup processes  and that they are recoverable;

·         Segregate networks so that different network segments are limited to different groups of authorised users;

·         Provide database access only to those people who require access; and

·         Install antivirus software on all devices including laptops; smart phones and other wearable technologies; and finally

·         Use low-code programming platforms to develop apps, as we do, where security has already been incorporated into the platform.

Jonker says that while prevention is better than dealing with the effects of a cyber-attack, it is best practice to isolate certain high risk and critical (especially national) infrastructure networks and systems, so that they are off the grid and entirely inaccessible from cyber space.  They only ever link intermittently via a small ‘sterile’ middle system, with neither linked system connected at the same time – a bit like an airlock in a submarine.  So an hotel’s external public reservation system might interface hourly via such a sanitised link only.

“At the end of the day you balance security with the need for convenience, availability, functionality and innovation,” says Jonker. “To produce leapfrog new technology most developers are focused on building systems that work, not systems that are secure. We need to change mind sets so that we don’t focus exclusively on functionality but ensure that we build systems that enhance security and privacy in equal measure.

“We believe that technology advances can be hugely beneficial for hotels in creating great guest experiences, but the systems must always be developed with security considerations fully understood and mitigated,” Jonker says.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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Buy 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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Pizoelectrics: Healthcare’s new gymnasts of gadgetry

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Healthcare electronics is rapidly deploying for wellness, electroceuticals, and intrusive medical procedures, among other, powered by new technologies. Much of it is trending to diagnostics and treatment on the move, and removing the need for the patient to perform procedures on time. 

Instruments become wearables, including electronic skin patches and implants. The IDTechEx Research report, “Piezoelectric Harvesting and Sensing for Healthcare 2019-2029”, notes that sensors should preferably be self-powered, non-poisonous even on disposal, and many need to be biocompatible and even biodegradable. 

We need to detect biology, vibration, force, acceleration, stress and linear movement and do imaging. Devices must reject bacteria and be useful in wearables and Internet of Things nodes. Preferably we must move to one device performing multiple tasks. 

So is there a gymnast material category that has that awesome versatility? 

Piezoelectrics has a good claim. It measures all those parameters. That even includes biosensors where the piezo senses the swelling of a biomolecule recognizing a target analyte. The most important form of self-powered (one material, two functions) piezo sensing is ultrasound imaging, a market growing at 5.1% yearly. 

The IDTechEx Research report looks at what comes next, based on global travel and interviewing by its PhD level analysts in 2018 with continuous updates.  

Click here to read how Piezo has been reinvented.

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