Although wearable devices are still pricy and rather primitive with regards to their functionality, ANTON VAN HEERDEN of Sage believes that we will soon see better apps for them and perhaps even see business cases emerge.
Think back eight years to the launch of the original Apple iPhone – a device that seemed at the time like an expensive toy for the wealthy. Today, smartphones with fast LTE connections are pervasive in the workforce and we simply take it for granted that we will have access to documents, email, and company data wherever we are.
In much the same way, we’re only just seeing the wearable computing trend start to take root in South Africa, starting with the wealthier consumer. Many fitness fanatics track their runs, cycle rides and gym workouts with fitness bands such as the Fitbit and some early adopters are walking around with Apple Watches on their wrists.
Workplace adoption seems slow so far. Yet with more and more people relying on wearables in their personal lives, can it be long before these devices start creeping into business environments? Tech-savvy workers drove the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend when they started bringing smartphones to work; we should not be surprised if they bring about the rise of ‘wear your own device’, too.
Wearables in the office
For now, wearables face a range of barriers. Battery life for smartwatches and other wearables is poor, and the devices remain pricy compared to smartphones and tablets. Even more importantly, outside niches such as health and fitness, there isn’t a killer app for smart wearables to justify their cost.
Sure, it’s useful to get urgent messages on your smartwatch while you’re in a meeting, but is it worth paying upwards of R7000 for this functionality? Yet we can expect many of these obstacles to mainstream adoption to rapidly fall away. Remember how primitive, expensive and limited the first-generation iPhone really was?
In much the same way, wearable devices will get better and less expensive. Connections will become faster and more stable – you only have to compare the speeds of 3G and 4G to see how quickly the mobile world moves. And as prices fall and more people start using wearables, we’ll begin to see new apps and business cases emerge.
What this means for the entrepreneur
Business owners should be keeping a watchful eye on the wearables market to see how it evolves. From smart glasses and smartwatches, we can expect some interesting use cases to emerge in the next few years. Imagine, for example, the potential benefits of hands-free computing in businesses such as manufacturing or field service.
As prices of wearables fall, businesses may find that simple functions such as the unobtrusive alert of a smartwatch offer productivity, collaboration and efficiency boosts that justify their costs. For example, workers could have access to emails, calls, text messages and alerts with a quick glance.
Another potential spin-off comes from the range of location and contextual data businesses could collect from wearable computers. They could, for example, use this data to optimise their deployment of their mobile field sales and services teams or to track drivers who need to venture into dangerous areas.
Changing the way we work and how consumers behave
Though this may sound dystopian to some, using such data wisely can improve both business processes and working conditions. Research from PwC shows that more than three-quarters of South African employees would consider using a wearable device if their employer used the data to improve their conditions in the workplace.
Of course, small business owners should also be keenly watching their customers use wearable devices. Some life and health insurers are already taking note, offering people they insure incentives to wear fitness trackers and share their data. In time, smartwatches and other wearables could serve as electronic keys, digital wallets, and more.
For now, it might seem hard to imagine wearables as making the same impact as smartphones – but then again when we were texting and calling with the first mobile phones, could we have imagined the progression of technology to create what we have now?
At Sage, we believe the future is mobile and we are giving our customers the power to control their businesses from the palm of their hand. We see wearable computing as one of the most exciting developments in this time of seismic technological change and digital invention, and are looking for ways to use it to reinvent and simplify our customers’ businesses.
* Anton van Heerden, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of Sage in South and Southern Africa.
Which IoT horse should you back?
The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.
But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.
Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).
Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:
SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.
It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.
LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.
Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.
Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.
It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.
LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.
It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.
Key features include:
· Voice functionality via VoLTE
· Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over
· Low power consumption
· Extended in‑building range
Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.
NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.
The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:
1. Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations
2. The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies
3. A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again
So, which horse should you back?
I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.
The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.
So: do your homework. And good luck!
Ms Office hack attacks up 4X
Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.
Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.
The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.
The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.
After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.
For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.
“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.
Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:
- Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
- 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
- Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
- Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
- Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
- 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
- 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).
To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:
- Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
- Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.
· Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.
- Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.