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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.

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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