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Tips to stay cyber-safe

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As technology progresses so too do the security risks some of it brings with – making it difficult to keep yourself safe. JACKY FICK, head of Cell C’s Forensic Services, offers some tips to keep smartphone data safe.

Every few months, concerns around online scams and theft are raised as a new wave of victims come forward. It seems almost seasonal. But the truth is that cybercrime never goes away. Every day, new victims fall for schemes. There are stories of people losing large amounts of money – even their life’s savings.

It can leave one feeling very vulnerable and uncertain. But a little knowledge goes a long way in this fight.

Secure your phone

It is vital to make your smartphone secure and, in case of theft, useless. The most obvious precaution is to lock the device with a password, swipe gesture or fingerprint reader, says Jacky Fick, head of Cell C’s Forensic Services and an expert in cybercrime.

“We often think our phones can’t contain too much interesting information. But it’s like losing your house keys. Your phone can open a lot of doors for cyber criminals. Once they have their hands on things like phone numbers and home addresses, they can find ways to hijack your financial accounts.”

If the phone is stolen, it can be remotely wiped and even disabled. This depends on the type of phone, but can also be done with third-party apps if they are installed.

Beware of Phishing

When fishing, as in angling, a lure is dangled in the water, made to look like a delicious piece of food and not plastic with a sharp hook. In on-line phishing, a piece of correspondence is made to look like news warranting attention, but can hide a host of dangerous electronic traps.

Such provocative messages contain an opportunity or impending disaster. An email could offer supposed LOTTO winnings, unclaimed tax refunds or a surprise inheritance. Phishing often mimics banks: an SMS offering a raise in a credit card limit or a formal email requesting an update of your details. Whatever the message, the goal is to steal information by posing as something else. Fick has three rules to help avoid such an attack:

“The first rule is that if you get an offer that seems too good, then it is. Always be suspicious. The second is to check the source. If the message looks like it came from a bank, call the bank. Third, never share personal information with someone who contacted you. If they called you, call back using the official company hotline number, not one they provide. Don’t click on links in emails or instant messages that look suspicious. Delete them immediately. Institutions such as banks will not request personal information in that way. They will request you visit a branch.”

Avoiding Sim Swaps

We have become very reliant on our phones as gatekeepers of our financial mobility. You cannot add beneficiaries or do certain transfers without a phone to supply one-time pins or approval. This is why sim card swaps are so attractive to criminals: they represent the keys to the city.

The number on a phone is based on the sim card inside. But that number can be electronically transferred to another sim. Anyone who has held onto their number for several years will have used a sim swap service. It’s a legitimate service, but can be manipulated to make an unauthorised swap. This is often done over the phone, with a criminal posing as the sim card’s owner.

“It’s important to know sim swaps happen at an advanced stage of the crime,” says Fick. “If they are attempting a sim swap, it means they already have things like banking details. They may also have enough personal information to try and get through the security questions. This is why phishing is so dangerous, because it can open the door to this kind of thing.”

Common Sense Still Applies

Keeping safe with technology is not impossible, but it requires device owners to be proactive. Other than the advice above, Fick offered the following:

●        Avoid installing unofficial apps: these can be used to sneak bad software onto your device. Use the official app stores, where apps are checked and secure.

●        Apply patches to software, particularly updates to your phone’s system. These often contain fixes for problems that criminals could use to access your information.

●        Email is not the only danger. Any type of link or file attachment can be dangerous. If you receive offers or request for information over SMS, WhatsApp, MMS or other means, don’t click on any link it contains. Delete the message instead.

●        Take care with public WI-FI and unsecured internet connections. Information sent over such networks can be intercepted.

●        A handbag or wallet contains a lot of useful information for identify theft and other cybercrime. Keep your personal possessions safe and in sight.

●        Phones attract more cybercrime, but computers remain a target. Always run antivirus software that is up to date and be sure to apply system updates regularly.

●        If you think something is wrong, do not hesitate. Contact your mobile service provider or bank’s hotline immediately if you notice odd behaviour.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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