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Security camera networks open to hi-tech hackers

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Kaspersky has revealed that security cameras designed to protect people from criminals can be misused by hackers and the video made available to anyone who wants it.

It’s like something out of a hi-tech crime movie. Security examination of a working city video surveillance system by Kaspersky Lab has revealed that networks designed to help protect people from criminals and terrorists could be misused by a third party exploiting system configuration flaws.

It is no secret that police departments and governments have been monitoring city streets for years, with security cameras proving invaluable in crime investigation and prevention. However, as a result of research conducted by Kaspersky Lab researcher Vasilios Hioureas and his fellow researcher Thomas Kinsey from Exigent Systems, these systems could also be used in a harmful way.

As part of their research, the authors examined the security video surveillance network in one city. Surveillance cameras were connected via a mesh network – a type of network in which nodes are connected with each other and serve as stepping stones for data (video feed in this particular case) on its way from a node to the control center. Instead of using a Wi-Fi hotspot or wired connection, nodes in such networks simply transmit data to the closest node which transmits it further through other nodes right to the command center. Should an intruder connect to just a single node in the network, they will be able to manipulate the data transmitted through it.

Mesh-network based video surveillance systems are, in general, an inexpensive alternative to surveillance systems which require either multiple hotspots throughout a city, or miles of wires. But the security of such networks is heavily dependent on how the whole network is set up.

In the case investigated by the researchers, the network of cameras used no encryption at all. After purchasing equipment similar to that used in the city, Kaspersky Lab researchers discovered that sufficient encryption tools are provided, but they were not being used correctly in this case. As a result, clear text data was being sent though the network and made freely available to any observer who joined.

The researchers quickly realised that creating their own version of the software used in the network would be enough to manipulate the data traveling across it. After recreating the network and software in the lab, they were able to intercept the video feeds from any node and also modify them e.g. exchange the real video from the camera with a fake one.

The researchers shared their findings with the company that had set up the surveillance network in the city. Since then, the necessary changes have been made to the vulnerable network.

“We undertook this research to highlight that cybersecurity also affects physical security systems, especially critical public systems like video surveillance. When building a smart city, it is extremely important to not only think about the comfort, energy and cost efficiency that the new technologies will bring, but also about the cybersecurity issues that might arise. Although the findings of this research were presented last August we have reasons to believe that its findings are still useful for city authorities that are planning to implement mesh-network based surveillance systems or  have implemented it already,” – said Vasilios Hioureas, Junior Malware Analyst at Kaspersky Lab and a co-author of the research.

In order to avoid the security vulnerabilities associated with mesh-networks, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following measures:

·         Although still potentially hackable, Wi-Fi Protected Access with a strong password is the minimum requirement needed to stop the system from being an easy target.

·         Hidden SSID (public names of a wireless network) and MAC filtering (that allows users to define a list of allowed devices on the Wi-Fi network) will also weed out unskilled hackers.

·         Make sure that all labels on equipment are concealed and enclosed to deter attackers who do not have insider information.

·         Securing video data using public-key cryptography will make it almost impossible to manipulate video data.

The research was originally presented at DefCon 2014. It has been published as part of Kaspersky Lab’s contribution to the knowledge base of Securing Smart Cities – a global not-for-profit initiative that aims to solve the existing and future cybersecurity problems of smart cities through collaboration between companies, governments, media outlets, not-for-profit initiatives and individuals across the world.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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