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Execs get into blockchain

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In the largest study to date among C-Suite executives seeking their perspective on blockchain, one third of almost 3,000 executives surveyed are using or considering blockchain in their business.

In the largest study to date among C-Suite executives seeking their perspective on blockchain, one third of almost 3,000 executives surveyed are using or considering blockchain in their business. According to the new IBM study, eight in ten of those exploring blockchain are investing either in response to financial shifts in their industry or for the opportunity to develop entirely new business models.

The study, part of a series of C-Suite studies, is based on findings from interviews with C-Suite executives across industries on how they intend to operate, generate revenue, and respond to customers, partners, and competitors alike using blockchain.

Conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value, the global report compares the organisations that are actively experimenting with, piloting or implementing blockchain the Explorers – with those not currently considering blockchain.

Historically, the biggest business risk was a competitor with new and disruptive goods or services. Today, new and non-traditional competitors with completely different business models intend to topple the incumbents. That’s why some surveyed CxOs are counting on blockchain technology to foster a new generation of transactional applications that are designed to establish trust, accountability, and transparency among an ecosystem of partners, to provide them with a competitive advantage.

“With blockchain, everyone is looking at the same thing at the same time. These new trusted transactions will spawn new business models, processes and platforms where all ecosystem participants can be connected to create new value,” said Brigid McDermott, IBM Vice President for Blockchain Business Development. “Consortia, regulators, and innovators will help create new standards across industries and geographies. Early adopters need to move fast to help shape how these platforms evolve.”

Creating new platform business models is not for the faint of heart as six in ten Explorer CIOs surveyed admit they aren’t yet fully prepared to build blockchain platforms that connect customers and partners across an ecosystem.

Yet, at the same time, some key findings from the study show:

·         Of almost 3,000 cross-industry C-suite executives surveyed, 33 percent are already actively engaged or are considering using blockchain

·         100 percent of Explorers expect blockchain to support their enterprise strategy in some way; 63 percent aim to use it to increase transactional transparency

·         78 percent of Explorers are investing in blockchain either to respond to financial shifts or to develop new business models

·         Of those whose business models are under threat, over half of the Explorers expect to launch an entirely new business model either within their own industry or in that of someone else’s

·         71 percent of those actively using blockchain believe industry consortia are important to advance blockchain efforts

·         78 percent of those actively using blockchain believe customers are important to advance blockchain efforts

CxOs Relying on Blockchain for Business Model Innovation

The biggest strategic advantage of blockchain is enabling business model innovation, which, as one retail CMO from the United Kingdom said, “could replace the centralised business model that most companies follow today.” Every Explorer surveyed expects to use blockchain to support a new enterprise strategy. And as blockchain increases trust and transparency across value chains, organisations and individuals will collaborate and compete in ways that can’t yet be foreseen. For example, as evident in the IBV’s prior “Healthcare rallies for blockchains: Keeping patients at the centre” study, healthcare is setting a fast pace for blockchain adoption in 2017. If every vital sign or piece of wearable health data could be stored on the blockchain, the quality and coordination of care would be expected to rise and costs to fall, causing a potential shift to a patient-centric healthcare and personalised patient services.

Opening the Door to Collaboration

Since blockchain creates new ways of working, they are also springboards capable of launching organisations in new directions. Though eight in ten Explorers admit they aren’t accustomed to collaborating, even selectively, with their competitors, sixty-six percent are experimenting with or implementing a new platform-based business model. By linking people, resources, and organisations in an interactive ecosystem, businesses can create entirely new forms of value. For example, organisations could support micro-payments and skip the fees imposed by intermediaries or put different types of media into the direct control of their creators, which could solve the challenges associated with global licensing and royalty payments.

IBM is working with Everledger on a new service built on a blockchain, which has adopted an ecosystem approach. Everledger can trace an individual diamond across the supply chain, from rough stones certified conflict-free to the same diamond as it’s cut, polished and sold. Partners on Everledger’s blockchain include insurers, financial institutions and diamond certification houses. Through Everledger’s application programming interfaces (APIs), each partner can access and supply data that helps track a diamond over its lifetime. Police reports, insurance policy information and other sensitive information can be kept private and permissioned.

The business model that CEO and founder of Everledger Leanne Kemp envisions would allow all participants to reduce risk, in addition to establishing new revenue models and financial services. Banks could better finance the diamond supply chain; insurers could choose to cover the lifetime of a diamond, rather than its current owner. “We are not a disruptor,” says Kemp. “We are co-evolving the industry.” Everledger, she points out, demonstrates the “power of what happens when consortia come together.” To date, more than a million diamonds are being traced on Everledger, with a beta project for provenance tracking in the fine wine industry launched in November 2016.

Today’s news is supported by the expansion of the IBM blockchain ecosystem, with new services to help industry leaders quickly develop and deploy blockchain solutions for their business.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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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

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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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