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African solar player in global debut

Sun Exchange, a peer-to-peer solar equipment leasing marketplace, has raised $1.6 million in seed financing from several strategic partners to accelerate global access to solar power. 

Partners include Network Society Ventures (New York City), Kalon Venture Partners (Johannesburg, South Africa) and three of the world’s leading technology accelerators, BoostVC (San Francisco Bay Area), Techstars (Boulder, Colorado) and Powerhouse (Oakland, California). This will boost Sun Exchange’s capacity to meet the demand for its pipeline of commercial-scale solar power projects, located in the sunniest regions of the planet.

Sun Exchange is the first marketplace of its kind and leverages blockchain technology to allow individuals to purchase solar cells in solar projects which are mostly situated in emerging markets that are solar-rich but power-poor. This makes solar panel ownership accessible to retail and institutional investors, worldwide, while giving businesses and communities in emerging markets access to fully-funded solar power plants to reduce running costs and drive sustainable development.

Sun Exchange has been leading in the African energy market since 2014, and has expanded globally with a United States headquarters in California and a regional operating office in Dubai.

Using its blockchain-based platform, Sun Exchange democratises the green economy by giving retail customers around the world the chance to lease solar cells bought on their platform to medium to large solar installations in emerging markets. Solar panels are sold by the single solar cell, reducing the cost of solar plant ownership to below $10.

“Solar power is the most promising technology to achieve a zero-carbon future,” said serial solar energy entrepreneur, Abraham Cambridge, CEO of Sun Exchange. “It’s the fastest growing source of energy, but billions of people don’t own their own roof or have the capital to get it.

“By breaking down solar panel ownership to a single cell we reduce the cost of going solar by two orders of magnitude and we’re utilizing empty roof space in some of the sunniest cities on the planet, such as Dubai and Johannesburg. To super-charge the process we’ve combined our solar leases with another breakthrough technology – blockchain, namely Bitcoin. Putting the two together empowers anyone to go solar and be part of the global solar energy transformation with just a few taps on a screen.”

David Orban, Founder and Managing Partner of Network Society Ventures, and member of the Board of Directors of Sun Exchange, said: “At the intersection of the exponentially growing technologies of solar photovoltaics, crowdfunding and blockchain, Sun Exchange is uniquely positioned to become a leading force in the profound transformation that we will witness as we build a global 21st century civilization.”

Sun Exchange leverages blockchain and Bitcoin to increase transparency and reduce the costs of the cross-border transactions, both problems that inhibit the majority of commercial solar projects from accessing traditional funding options. By presenting a simple and accessible opportunity for anyone to join the solar economy, Sun Exchange unlocks the potential for the construction of environmentally sound and socially responsible projects that would otherwise not see the light of day.

About Sun Exchange

With Sun Exchange anyone can buy remotely located solar cells and earn rental income from them. Assets are recorded on the blockchain, and income is paid in crypto-currency – streaming monetized sunshine around the world. Sun Exchange members can have their solar cells installed and rented to hospitals, factories, schools and rural communities in Africa and the Middle East, earning them decades of rental income from solar powering the developing world.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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