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Prepare for life in 360 degrees

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A flood of 360 degree cameras has arrived to feed the content machines of Facebook and Youtube, among other. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK highlights some of the best options.

It’s not quite virtual reality, but 360 degree photos are the closest we can get to immersive content without wearing goggles or downloading apps. We see them reflected in all settings: exotic destinations, extreme sports and live music, and even family dinners.

The reason that these seemingly high-tech images are becoming so commonplace is simple: 360 degree cameras are becoming more common by the month. And the reason for that is even simpler: the world’s two biggest content platforms, Facebook and YouTube, now support the format.

Most 360 degree cameras work on the principle of a round device with front and rear wide-angle lenses, producing dual 180 degree images which are stitched together by the increasingly mundane magic of automated software.

The first of these devices were so expensive, they were out of reach of most consumers. Ironically, that was good for the category, as it meant that most of the early images were shot by professionals and therefore of high quality. There is nothing like perception of perfection to get a technology off the ground.

Before long, as happens in any expanding gadget category, prices began coming down fast, and the format exploded. Today numerous consumer electronics brands have added 360 degree cameras to their ranges, resulting in a wide range of styles, shapes and claims for market leadership.

This is all rather useful for consumers, who can choose devices that suit their pockets, both cost- and format-wise.

Here we focus on three devices that cover a wide price range as well as a range of user requirements. Two of them, the Samsung Gear 360 and LG 360 Cam, were both launched at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona a year ago, and remain popular choices. The third? That’s a story all on its own:

LyfieEye Spherical 360

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The LyfieEye Spherical 360 camera was launched as a fundraising campaign on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform in October last year with a target of $25 000 to build the device. It raised more than $53 000, and the finished product was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January this year.

Its standout differentiator may well be its price – a competitive $129 – but more important is the fact that it is small enough to plug into a smartphone. Unusually nowadays, it was launched first for Android devices, reflecting the dominance of the Google mobile operating system across the world, including in South Africa.

Testing it for a few weeks has made it clear that its sheer convenience, portability and direct integration with a smartphone gives this device an edge over almost all other competitors. The highly compact package includes a 7-inch extension called a LyfieLink, which allows it to be positioned a small distance from the smartphone for greater versatility. A USB 2.0-to-Type-C Converter means it can be fitted to the latest devices that use USB-C ports.

It offers both still and video recording, with immediate playback. The playback modes include flat and spherical 360 degrees, as well as virtual reality. Videos can be trimmed during playback. It allows pinch-zooming to zoom in and out of a video, which are recorded at 30 frames per second in 1920 x 1080 high-definition.

Via the smartphone’s own connectivity and apps, the images can be uploaded instantly to Facebook 360 and YouTube 360, or shared via instant messaging apps like WhatsApp. It is also compatible with all virtual reality headsets.

“Preview, record, and share the entire moment,” ran the Kickstarter marketing, and it lives up to this promise. It is available for online purchase from anywhere in the world for $129 at www.lyfie.com.

LG 360 Cam

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LG made a big splash at last year’s Mobile World Congress with the roll-out of its virtual reality ecosystem, including an LG 360 VR headset that is one of the lightest in its class. The big excitement, though, was sparked by the 360 Cam, which can create content both for the VR headset and for the Facebook and YouTube 360 platforms.

The device is compact, elegant and appealing, suggesting an intense focus on cutting edge industrial design. It captures images and videos onto a Micro SD card, hekped along by dual 13 megapixel lenses and 2560 x 1280 or 2K video recording.

At that resolution, it is one of the best value for money 360 degree cameras available, but both the app and the resultant quality clearly need work. One hour battery life is not bad for a device that can easily be recharged with a portable battery back, but that can become a problem out in the field.

It retails in South Africa for R3500 upward, meaning it won’t fit all budgets, but is great as a bundled device with smartphone contracts.

In the next few weeks, LG is expected to up the ante on its VR family, so look out for both new models and enhancements to this one.

Samsung Gear 360

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The market leader in South Africa despite a steep price, the Samsung Gear 360 is the evidence that appetite for the format is unquenchable. At a retail price of R6999, it is a high-end purchase, aimed at the same market that has made the high end Samsung S6 and S7 phone ranges among the most popular flagship handsets in this country. In fact, it is only compatible with these phones, along with the Note 5.

The shape of the device, a spherical ball on a tripod, gives it the appearance of a robot, but also speaks to the versatility of the dual fish-eye lenses. The lenses have 15 MP sensors, and support 30 MP stills. They record video at 30 frames per second in 3840 x 1920 – or 4K – resolution, making it the Rolls Royce of 360 video shooting.

The user can also choose to use a single lens to shoot in 180 degrees. The best of both worlds, one could say.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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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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