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Hacking mine safety

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The Mine.D: Zero Harm hackathon, hosted by the Tshimologong Precinct and the Research Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (RIIS), has announced the three overall winners of the digitally-inspired hackathon.

Focused on Mixed Reality (MR) and Internet of Things (IoT) within the health and safety space of the mining sector, the teams that entered were exposed to the wonders of technology, including demonstrations and one-on-one coaching from industry experts.

Lesley Williamson, CEO, Tshimologong Precinct, says that the top three entries were inspiring and very relevant to the health and safety of the mining environment: “I was impressed by the depth of knowledge and skill of the entrants. As we hoped, the results address very real issues and concerns within the mining environment and all utilise technology in innovative ways.”

While she says the judging process was not easy, the first place was awarded to team SystemDex (Sikhanyiso Ngetu, Mosima Matlhwana, and Menzi Mohlobo), which simplified big data into a mixed reality interface with an added feature of monitoring the health vitals of miners. By using a low-cost sensor system, they are able to track health and environmental management in real time.

In second place was team SixUp (Aaron Tseke, Andile Mutono, and Gift Mogeni), which tackled rock seismic activity with a preventative warning system. The system is able to warn miners of rock movements and give them immediate insight into the potential danger of rock fall, depending on the speed and distance of the seismic activity.

The third place we awarded to team Looksee.do (Dean Hodgskiss, Dylan Holshausen, Chris Behrens, Shaun Lottering, and Jaco Wilters), which solved health and safety training challenges through an affordable mixed reality method, costing a fraction of a traditional system. It allows miners to be trained in a safe virtual environment through a gamified system with in-built health and safety challenges to overcome.

Highlights of the programme included, visiting a mock mine at the Wits Mining Institute as part of the immersive context setting. The mock mine takes the participants into a mock tunnel resembling those in underground mines. The tunnel led the participants to a 1.5 m high rock face, which shows how miners work underground. They got to experience the heavy equipment, narrow tunnels and potentially dangerous conditions miners work in. The participants also enjoyed being exposed to a mock control room, showing all the data that is collected in a mine.

Participants also found the context sessions on Augmented and Virtual Reality and IoT to be very helpful. These sessions gave the participants a deeper understanding of how they can use these emerging technologies for digital innovation in the mining industry. A demo showing cutting edge mixed reality technology helped participants to tinker and contextualise the potential of the technology they were applying at the hackathon.

The prizes for the Hackathan included a membership at the Tshimologong Precinct, mentoring from Mixed Reality and IoT experts and an introduction to the innovation and technology divisions at South African mining companies.

Davis Cook, CEO, RIIS, says that Mine.D was an outright success: “Our aim was to use technology to address current issues and this was achieved. The teams developed some exceptional work and we are very happy with the outcome and potential of this type of hackathon.”

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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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