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When biometrics go bad

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Inadequate biometrics systems could be creating a false sense of security in banks, security estates and office blocks, and in effect rolling out a red carpet to criminals, writes MARIUS COETZEE, MD of Ideco.

Biometrics-based security devices, in particular fingerprint readers, are now widely in use across South Africa. But in many cases, they could be creating a false sense of security among enterprises, and worse – serving to enable criminal activities.

This is because not all fingerprint readers are created equal. Although all fingerprint readers use minutiae points to match fingerprints, not all have the ability to detect the difference between real minutiae of a fingerprint and spoofed minutiae. Typically, enterprises investing in fingerprint readers believe the biggest risk facing them is a scenario in which a fraudster or criminal replicates someone else’s finger or fingerprint, and uses it to gain access to a premises or to authenticate their identity. But because most fingerprint readers are manned by cashiers, tellers or security guards, the chances are slim that the fraudster will have an opportunity to introduce an entire fake finger into the process unnoticed.

A lesser known risk, and one far easier for villains to employ, is to fake or ‘spoof’ minutiae. The simplest methods are simply to wind thin thread around the fingertip, or to introduce a series of cuts to the fingerprint. This creates scores of new minutiae points, increasing the risk that the spoofed fingerprint will be a close enough match to that of an authorised person on the estate or bank database. No one should underestimate the ingenuity of criminals – they know the reader uses minutiae points to match them against a profile, and they also know that by introducing a lot of false minutiae points, they will increase the chances of their matching an existing profile on the system. Only the most advanced technology has the ability to differentiate between typical cuts and true minutiae to determine whether a fingerprint has been spoofed or not.

Performance requirements and consequential recourse

Another major risk lies in the fingerprint system’s performance and standards: in many cases, the images they produce are of a low quality and characterised by noise, or they simply do not meet the standards required by law enforcement agencies and courts. This means that in the case of fraud or a criminal opening a bank account using such a fingerprint reader, the biometric records and images generated cannot be processed against the SAPS criminal record system, or indeed most international law enforcement systems.

Equally concerning is the fact that these systems produce images that are of a quality too poor to be admissible as evidence in a court of law. The mere fact that many fingerprint readers used today are not compliant to international standards for evidence and criminal investigation defeats the entire objective of using fingerprints for proof of identity in the FICA or RICA process.

Inadequate biometrics-based identification and security systems therefore, could not only give villains access to accounts and assets; they could also help them to avoid prosecution.

Organisations need be very careful in their choice of biometric devices deployed for customer identification, security and protection of assets, to ensure they are compliant with all key standards and legislation, and that the systems deliver the security they promise.

When selecting systems, organisations need to ask:

–          Is it fit for purpose at the site, and for effective governance, risk and compliance?

–          Does it fully adhere to regulatory requirements from the process of taking the customer aboard through to post-event audits?

–          Can it be spoofed by added minutiae caused by thread, cuts, wrinkles and blisters?

–          Does the technology discard false minutiae and only process true minutia?

–          Is the data collected by the device, including all records and images, fully compliant to all international standards?

–          Can this data be processed against the SAPS criminal record system?

–          Is this data accepted as evidence in a court of law?

Always remember that mass adoption does not constitute great technology, but rather great sales effort. A simple “show me how accurate it is”, is always recommended.

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Load-shedding leads
local searches

South Africans are searching in the dark, according to the latest Google Search trends.

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With more 1 million search queries generated in the space of 76 hours, load-shedding was by far the top trending search on Google South Africa this week.

Valentine’s Day came a distant second.

After news emerged last Sunday of the impending stage 3 load shedding, South Africans had generated more than 1-million load-shedding search queries by the time Tuesday came around:

  • “Loadshedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Eskom load shedding” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding Cape Town” – generated more than 50k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 400k on Monday
  • “Load shedding Johannesburg” – generated more than 20k searches on Monday
  • Load shedding schedule” generated more than 200k search queries on Tuesday

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, South Africans generated close to 300k search queries related to the romantic festival, including searches for quotes and gift ideas:

  • “Valentines Day” generated more than 100k search queries on Thursday
  • “Happy Valentines Day Images” and “Valentines Day Images” generated more than 10k search queries each on Thursday, with “Happy Valentines Day 2019” generating more than 20k search queries on Wednesday
  • “Valentines Day Specials 2019” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Love quotes” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Valentines Day quotes” generated more than 100k search queries and “Valentine messages” generated more than 50 000 search queries on Wednesday

Search trends information is gleaned from data collated by Google based on what South Africans have been searching for and asking Google. Google processes more than 40 000 search queries every second. This translates to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Live Google search trends data is available at https://www.google.co.za/trends/hottrends#pn=p40

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Showmax invites
student films

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Thanks to the growing popularity of video-on-demand services, there’s a new opportunity to help kickstart the careers of local filmmakers.

Numerous Hollywood blockbusters (District 9Tomb Raider 2018, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron to name a few) have featured substantial shoots in Johannesburg and Cape Town. While providing great opportunities for SA’s production talent, aspiring writers and directors don’t get the same benefit.

So where can local creatives showcase their work? Broadcast TV isn’t a natural home for unknown short films, and while self-publishing platforms are readily available hosting options, it’s tough to get noticed and get traffic when competing with videos from across the planet.

But with the emergence of video-on-demand services into the mainstream, there’s now a solution. The African film school AFDA has teamed up with the streaming service Showmax to give local talent a much larger platform than ever before. From 18 February, eighteen of the best recent short films made by AFDA students from their Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth campuses will be live on Showmax. Drama, documentary, fantasy, and animation are all represented, in pieces running from under eight minutes to almost half-an-hour long. The full list of movies is included below.

Teresa Passchier, CEO of AFDA, said: “AFDA, Africa’s number-one school for the Creative Economy, is proud to kickstart this exciting and meaningful journey with Showmax and AFDA students, ensuring emerging young African filmmakers’ voices are heard and given a platform. It’s ground-breaking to share young, local, culturally relevant content on the same platform as Hollywood blockbusters. I am certain that this unique initiative will serve to boost and develop the African film industry and the careers of many young South African and African students alike.”

Included in the short films coming to Showmax are the award winners Junior and O-PunchaJunior, directed by Bert Dijkstra, picked up the Audience Award in the Made in South Africa Competition at the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival Awards 2017. O-Puncha, directed by Adam Hansen, won two awards at the 5th annual Eldorado Film Festival: Best Student Made Short, and Best Editing – Alexander La Cock.

Another celebrated film is Sicela Amanzi directed by Mlu Godola, which talks to the subject of water shortage. The film’s heroine Zoleka is a mild-mannered young woman forced to go to extreme lengths when a small community’s only source of water unexpectedly collapses. The power of films like this is they shine a light on critical topical issues in new ways.

Speaking about working with the film school, Candice Fangueiro, Head of Content for Showmax, said: “There’s immense depth of filmmaking talent in Africa and it’s a privilege to be able to give that talent a home and a platform. Showmax is becoming part of the fabric of film and TV production in Africa, and importantly we’re doing this as a partner rather than just as a consumer. This is a key competitive advantage of being local and something we aim to continue to work on.”

AFDA is an Academy Award-winning institution, founded in 1994, and the first and only African film school to win an Oscar – for the Best Foreign Student film in 2006, the postgraduate film Elalini, directed by Tristan Holmes.

The full list of AFDA short films coming to Showmax is as follows:

Film titleDirectorGenre
Lullaby from the CryptKeenan Lott & Raven DavidsAnimation
Ko Ga CherenyaneSibonokuhle MyatazaDocumentary
IzilwaneKyllian RouxDrama
MallemeuleJaco Van BoschDrama
Canal StreetBrodie MuirheadDrama
On the FenceWarrick BewsDrama
The Righteous FewLindo LangaDrama
Hlogoma PeakLuke AhrensDrama
Frozen FlameCameron HeathmanAnimation
WolfBrett van DortFantasy
The Walk HomeSisanda DyantyiDrama
BearWesley RoodtDrama
JuniorBert DijkstraDrama
O-PunchaAdam HansenDrama
UmngenoSiphosethu NdungeDrama
DoreenLuvuyo Equiano NyawoseDrama
ForeverLindo LangaMusical
Sicela AmanziMlu GodolaDrama

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