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How the Internet is being reshaped

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The Internet Society (ISOC) has released a report aimed at exploring the future of the Internet. It highlights the need to do more to prepare the Internet for the future and poses questions into our readiness for what’s next.

What factors will shape the future of the Internet?

The Internet Society (ISOC), a global non-profit dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution and use of the Internet, thinks it knows. In its 2017 Global Internet Report, entitled “Paths to our Digital Future,” it sees a mix of challenges and opportunities in safeguarding the Internet for the next generation.

The report considers the many forces that are shaping the Internet today, from Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber threats, Internet standards and the Internet of Things (IoT), to the Internet economy and the rising role of government. It explores how these forces will impact key areas including digital divides, personal freedoms and rights, as well as media and society.  Taken together, these forces will change the Internet in dramatic ways over the coming years.

Some of the key findings contained in the report include:

·         AI and IoT alter lives but could result in a “surveillance society”

Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things hold huge potential to simplify and enhance people’s lives – but only if ethical considerations steer technology development and guide its use.  As AI and IoT enable the collection of massive amounts of personal information, there is a risk that without appropriate safeguards and user control, a “surveillance society” could emerge.

·         Increased security concerns could undermine personal freedoms and rights

Cybersecurity issues will pressure governments to take decisions that could erode the open and distributed global governance of the Internet.  Measures that may be intended to secure cyberspace may undermine personal rights and freedoms. Without a change of course, online freedoms may be nearing a point of irreversible decline.

·         Optimism still reigns

Younger users and those in developing countries are particularly optimistic about the future of the Internet and the ability to use the technology to better their lives and create their futures.

·         The nature of the digital divide will change

As the Internet transforms every sector of the global economy, the digital divides of the future won’t just be about access to the Internet, but about the gap between the economic opportunities available to some and not to others.  The link between security and economic prosperity will grow, leading to the potential of a security divide that separates those individuals or countries who can protect their digital assets and those who cannot.

Outlined in the report are key recommendations for businesses, advocacy organizations, governments and other stakeholders to help ensure that the future Internet remains user-centric and that it continues to work for the benefit of all.

The report notes that advanced deployment of the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence will transform whole economies and societies in the coming years through automation and the convergence of the physical and digital worlds. This transformation will change the nature of the digital divide as it has been historically defined – i.e. those that have access to the Internet versus those that do not.

While many in the Internet Society’s global community shared the view that the Internet is facing a period of unprecedented change, they also reaffirmed their belief in the core ideas that have shaped the Internet to date.

“Our extensive research clearly shows that just as when the Internet Society was founded 25 years ago, people believe that the Internet’s core values still remain valid— that it must be global, open, secure, and used for the benefit of people everywhere in the world,” said Sally Wentworth, Vice President of Global Policy for the Internet Society.

Many of the thoughts expressed in the report illustrate a strong, commonly-held belief in the potential of the Internet to continue to bring positive change to people’s lives. Respondents –particularly youth in developing countries–pointed to growth in new technologies and applications as evidence that the Internet continues to fuel innovation, and to the benefits that connectivity can deliver for education, health, economic prosperity and social change.

However, these hopes and beliefs are countered by wide-ranging fears that there are significant forces at work that may undermine the promise of the Internet for future generations . For example, many believe that Internet freedom will continue to decline around the world due to widespread surveillance, Internet shutdowns and content regulation. There is also the view that the media landscape will become more difficult to navigate and that separating fact from fiction will become ever harder.

Some are worried about the threat of new divides and how these will not only deepen existing gaps between countries, but also across society as a whole. In particular, the report explores the emergence of a new security and trust divide characterized by cyber threats that continue to multiply, and a growing rift between users who are security-aware and those who lack the skills, knowledge and resources to protect themselves online.

“We found that people share a sense of both optimism and disillusionment for the Internet’s future in equal measure. While there are no guarantees of what lies ahead, we know that humanity must be at the center of tomorrow’s Internet. The Internet must continue to benefit people and create new social and economic possibilities to fulfill the premise on which it was built. We should heed the warnings in this report and begin to take the actions today that will help to keep the Internet working for everyone, everywhere far into the future,” added Wentworth.

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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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