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Securing the blockchain

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Cryptocurrencies are on the increase, with at least 100 active, suitably valuated cryptocurrencies being used as tender. However, as some cryptocurrencies have discovered, they are not completely infallible, writes SAURABH KUMAR, CEO of In2IT Tech.

The benefit of Bitcoin, and other virtual digital cryptocurrencies, lies in their anonymity, and with blockchain-based technologies, they are typically thought to be incredibly secure as well. However, as some cryptocurrencies have discovered, they are not completely infallible – and this is doing some damage to the blockchain’s reputation.

What makes the blockchain so secure?

“Normal” transactions, using traditional currency, require a verification process between two parties, typically institutions such as banks or the Reserve Bank. Blockchain based transactions are no different, however the verification process is decentralised and spread across multiple verification points, or nodes. No single party controls any or all aspects of the transaction and verification takes place based on consensus.

Due to the sheer number of nodes that need to verify and approve a transaction, it is incredibly difficult to hack, breach or otherwise intercept a transaction on the blockchain. This has resulted in financial institutions across the globe exploring the blockchain’s potential in other applications.

So why the concern?

Recent hacks that have led to losses of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency, have stirred up uncertainty within businesses who are exploring the blockchain for trading requirements as well as other areas of business.

In May 2016, the DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) was launched, and hacked. This project uses cryptocurrency platform Ethereum to crowd fund a decentralised venture capital fund. $70 million dollars in Ether (Ethereum currency) was stolen. At the end of July 2016, Bitfinex, a cryptocurrency exchange, experienced a serious breach resulting in the theft of 120 000 bitcoins. Also in July 2016, Steemit, a blockchain-based blogging platform, was hacked. This hack resulted in the loss of approximately $85 000 in cryptocurrency. Other cryptocurrency platforms to fall victim to hacks include Krypton and Shift, two Ethereum-based blockchains.

While hacking, or otherwise breaching and intercepting, the blockchain is incredibly difficult, these examples show us that it is not impermeable. Companies need to bear in mind that cryptocurrency – successfully implemented in the blockchain –  is still a relatively new technology and, as with any less-than-fully-mature technology, its flaws are yet to be fully realised.

That doesn’t mean that the technology should be discarded or that blockchain investments should be abandoned. Indeed, it is only through continued exploration and ongoing use that one will discover the weaknesses in the blockchain’s armour – and make it stronger than ever.

Addressing the flaws, as they stand

One of the inherent flaws of cryptocurrency lies not with the transactional phase, which takes place on the blockchain, but with its storage. The actual transaction is incredibly secure but, once the transaction has occurred, the parties need to store their cryptocurrency. In a world where everything is connected and touches the Web, storage systems for cryptocurrencies are no different – and are, therefore, accessible by determined cybercriminals. Many large organisations are addressing this by revisiting a siloed approach to storage, using cold storage that is completely cut off from the Internet

Broad-level security on either side is also a concern. Again, while the actual transaction may be secure, the end points might not be. It is possible to intercept the transfer or receipt of cryptocurrencies at either end of the transaction, so trust between parties remains of paramount importance. To respond to this, businesses are looking at private blockchains and not public ones. Private blockchains require a more interpersonal level of transaction and all nodes are known, and pre-approved prior to transacting.

Finally, because the technology resides on underlying networks, the networking design needs to be well thought out and planned with security as top-of-mind. Security must form part of the initial architecture, catering for all manner of current and potential threats so as to minimise any risk of breach through touchpoints on the network.

The future of the blockchain

There are exciting times ahead, for both the future of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. The world consists of a series of transactions and exchanges, and the blockchain can be applied to virtually every single use case, with careful planning and consideration.

With care and foresight – and an in depth knowledge of the current security landscape of the blockchain – businesses can leverage this technology in a safe, secure and successful fashion, enabling a world of possibilities.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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