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Cyber intelligence reveals #FeesMustFall agenda

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Cyber intelligence and analytics specialist, Snode, recently used its tools to analyse the #FeesMustFall protest and delve deeper within Twitter, offering enriched insight beyond 140 characters.

Social media platforms such as Twitter may be divisive, but its significance cannot be overlooked. Cyber intelligence and analytics specialist, Snode, believes the potential applications for social media are yet to be fully realised. “As a source of intelligence, Twitter is a valuable source of intelligence and it should be utilised by business and law enforcement. It is an open-source data-rich platform and needs to be leveraged in the best way possible,” notes CIO and co-founder of Snode, Nithen Naidoo.

Using the recent #FeesMustFall protests as a case study to showcase the enriched capabilities of cyber intelligence, Snode was able to apply its analytical tools to delve deeper into the anatomy of the Tweets, and even discover that outside influencers were making an impact.

The university fee protests are a hot topic of conversation in South Africa. The dialogue is been most prevalent on Twitter, where numerous messages have been exchanged under the guise of creating a discourse around the cost of tertiary education. Interestingly though, Snode’s analysts have unearthed some other key insights not obvious to most people.

Delving deeper

To gain a deeper understanding of the underlying forces driving the #FeesMustFall protests, Snode analysts have fused various social media conversations to identify emerging trends associated with, and patterns of behaviour fuelling, this massive campaign.

The most telling finding is that many of the tweets did not originate from the same location that the message was referencing. In particular, the majority of tweets mentioning the University of Witwatersrand were found to have been sent from Pretoria, nearly 65 kilometres away.

In fact, Snode detected an anomaly in which tweets from South Africa’s capital with the #FeesMustFall hashtag referenced Wits 14 times more than they did in their own city’s university protest. Accompanying this anomaly was the fact that only 3% of #FeesMustFall tweets came from users linked to the @WitsUniversity handle, as opposed to a staggering total of 94% from politically affiliated Twitter accounts.

According to Naidoo, it can be inferred that there was another agenda being played out, and the #FeesMustFall protests are being abused by some social media users to draw attention to other topics, ultimately misrepresenting the true aim of students.

True potential

While the potential for social media to be misused by a small percentage of users, Snode says that victims of crime and law enforcement have the ability to fight back. The company’s real time processing for example, can dissect a myriad of information contained within a Tweet, including a Twitter user’s (real) name, origin of the Tweet (longitude and latitude), device type (iPhone or Android), and place of residence (e.g. city or hometown).

“If users share an image on Twitter for example, the metadata contained within that photo can offer us a wide ranging array of insights,” says Naidoo. “There are a host of AI applications available, such as Russia’s FindFace, which allows users to scan a digital image of someone and then discover their online profile. There are therefore a number of tools on hand to benefit law enforcement as much as they do criminals,” he continued.

In the right hands, this kind of machine assisted analytics can empower social media platforms such as Twitter to help make data-driven decisions, notes Naidoo. In the US, a number of American agencies are already using deep analysis within Twitter to track down dissidents, according to Saudi scientist Hala Al-Dosari in a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.

“South Africa needs to use available technology correctly, especially when it comes to tackling issues like crime within the country. With regard to socially relevant topics such as the student protests, having cyber intelligence at work can assist in gleaning vital insight. At Snode, we believe having such knowledge can not only help us understand the climate better, but also assist law enforcement and government services to predict and respond to critical events more efficiently,” says Naidoo.

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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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