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The smart home: not always home sweet home

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Kaspersky Lab experts have found that a variety of seemingly safe products that are connected to the Internet can pose serious security vulnerabilities to a home owner.

Taking a random selection of the latest Internet-of-Things (IoT) products, Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered serious threats to the connected home. These include a coffeemaker that exposes the homeowner’s Wi-Fi password, a baby video monitor that can be controlled by a malicious third-party, and a smartphone-controlled home security system that can be fooled with a magnet.

In 2014, Kaspersky Lab’s security expert David Jacoby looked around his living-room, and decided to investigate how susceptible the devices he owned were to a cyber-attack. He discovered that almost all of them were vulnerable. Following this, in 2015 a team of Kaspersky Lab antimalware experts repeated the experiment with one little difference: while David’s research was concentrated mostly on network-attached servers, routers and Smart TVs, this latest research was focused on the various connected devices available on the smart home market.

The devices selected for the experiment were as follows: a USB-dongle for video streaming, a smartphone-controlled IP camera, a smartphone-controlled coffee maker, and a smartphone-controlled home security system. The investigation discovered that almost all of these devices contained vulnerabilities.

A baby-monitor camera in the experiment allowed a hacker, whilst using the same network as the camera owner, to connect to the camera, watch the video from it and launch audio on the camera itself. Other cameras from the same vendor allowed hackers to collect owner passwords and the experiment showed it was also possible for a hacker on the same network to retrieve the root password from the camera and maliciously modify the camera’s firmware.

When it comes to app-controlled coffeemakers, it’s not even necessary for an attacker to be on the same network as the victim. The coffeemaker examined during the experiment was sending enough unencrypted information for an attacker to discover the password for the coffeemaker owner’s entire Wi-Fi network.

When looking at a smartphone-controlled home security system, Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the system’s software had just minor issues and was secure enough to resist a cyberattack. Instead, the vulnerability was found in one of the sensors used by the system.

The contact sensor, which is designed to set off the alarm when a door or a window is opened, works by detecting a magnetic field emitted by a magnet mounted on the door or window. When the door or window is opened the magnetic field disappears, causing the sensor to send alarm messages to the system. However, if the magnetic field remains in place, no alarm will be sent.

During the home security system experiment, Kaspersky Lab experts were able to use a simple magnet to replace the magnetic field of the magnet on the window. This meant they could open and close a window without setting off the alarm. The big problem with this vulnerability is that it is impossible to fix it with a software update; the issue is in the design of the home security system itself. What’s more concerning is that magnetic field sensor-based devices are a common type of sensors, used by a multiple home security systems on the market.

“Our experiment, reassuringly, has shown that vendors are considering cyber-security as they develop their IoT devices. Nevertheless, any connected, app-controlled device, is almost certain to have at least one security issue. Criminals might exploit several of these issues at once, which is why it is so important for vendors to fix all issues – even those that are not critical. These vulnerabilities should be fixed before the product even hits the market, as it can be much harder to fix a problem when a device has already been sold to thousands of homeowners”, said Victor Alyushin, Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

In order to help users protect their lives and loved ones from the risks of vulnerable smart home IoT devices, Kaspersky Lab experts advise them to follow several simple rules:

1.      Before buying any IoT device, search the Internet for news of any vulnerabilities within that device. The IoT is a very hot topic and a lot of researchers are doing a great job of finding security issues in products of this kind: from baby monitors to app controlled rifles. It is very possible that the device you are going to purchase has been already examined by security researchers and it is possible to find out whether the issues found in the device have been patched.

2.       It is not always a great idea to buy the most recent products released on the market. Along with the standard bugs you get in new products, recently-launched devices might contain security issues that haven’t yet been discovered by security researchers. The best advice here is buy products that have already experienced several software updates.

3.      When choosing what part of your life you’re going to make a little bit smarter, consider the security risks. If your home is the place where you store many items of material value, it is probably a good idea to choose a professional alarm system, that can replace or complement your existing app-controlled home alarm system; or set-up the existing system in such a way that any potential vulnerabilities would not affect its operation. When choosing a device that will collect information about your personal life and the lives of your family, like a baby monitor, it may be wise to choose the simplest RF-model on the market, one that is only capable of transmitting an audio signal, without Internet connectivity. If that is not an option, than follow our first advice – choose wisely.

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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