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How to secure the Smart City

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Smart cities will help both the private and public sector excel in many areas, but as helpful they are, they also come with many security risks. PERRY HUTTON, Regional Vice President – Africa at Fortinet, outlines five security areas CIOs need to watch out for.

Car navigation systems that can predict where and when traffic jams might occur, by siphoning data from sensors in roads and other vehicles. Cameras that can spot litter in public places and call in the cleaning crew. Self-adjusting street lamps.

These are just a few of the scenarios that could become commonplace as smart cities take hold over the next few years. Driven by rising urbanisation and fuelled by technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics, smart cities are on the cusp of explosive growth. Glasgow, Barcelona, Nice, New York City, London and Singapore have already embarked on the trek. The smart city technology market could be worth US$27.5 billion annually by 2023, according to Navigant Research.

Smart city initiatives are driven by public sector initiatives. However, they will have a big impact on businesses. CIOs will have to learn how to tap on the new connected city infrastructure for their business. Smart city technologies like IoT and data analytics are expected to drive innovative business ideas in the future.

But the new wave of smart city services and technologies are also expected to create new security vulnerabilities. Here are five areas CIOs should watch out for.

1.  A further fragmentation of IT

The last few years saw a rapid proliferation of cloud services and mobile device adoption in the workplace. The trend has transformed business productivity. But it has also wrecked the tight-fisted control that CIOs used to be able to exert on their IT systems.

CIOs now have to grapple with the idea of employees using unsanctioned cloud services via unsecured phones to hook up to corporate servers and accessing sensitive business data. The expected explosion of IoT devices − researchers estimate that by 2020, the number of active wireless connected devices will exceed 40 billion worldwide − will result in a further fragmentation of IT in businesses.

Instead of fighting the losing battle of trying to lock down devices and services, CIOs should look at protecting the data. Look for IoT devices that offer device-to-device encryption. Consider implementing − as well as bolstering − comprehensive encryption schemes to protect data in networks, cloud services and endpoint devices.

2. Device vulnerabilities

In the past year, security researchers have exposed holes in Wi-Fi-enabled Barbie dolls, Jeep Cherokee cars, fitness trackers and other new-fangled connected devices. Fortinet’s FortiGuard Labs already see IoT based attacks on the radar and happening in real time around the world. This shows the risks that are coming as toys, wearables, cars and power grids get attached to sensors that are linked to a common network and the Web.

IoT will bring forth a larger surface attack. Hackers will eye IoT devices as a launching pad for ‘land-and-expand’ attacks. One scenario: hackers take advantage of vulnerabilities in connected consumer devices to get a foothold within the corporate networks and hardware to which they connect.

So how do CIOs protect against the risks of connected devices and their own IoT implementations? Short of physically separating such devices from all other network systems, they can consider deploying network-based protection schemes. Internal segmentation firewalls, or ISFWs, for instance, can mitigate the proliferation of threats inside the business network. They also need to employ an IoT network security solution which is capable of mitigating exploits against this growing and vulnerable attack surface. IoT vendors need to harden their products and develop proper product security (PSIRT) teams.

3. IoT gateways can be exploited

In a typical IoT deployment, the majority of connected devices will be always connected and always on. Unlike mobile phones and laptops, such devices are likely to go through only a one-time authentication process across multiple sessions. This will make them attractive to hackers looking to infiltrate into company networks, as it allows easy  control and sniffing of traffic.  Shoring up the security of the gateways that connect IoT devices is therefore a must. CIOs should map out where these gateways are and where they are linked to − they can reside internally or externally, and even be connected to IoT device manufacturers. There must also be a sound plan for updating security patches on these gateways, as well as the IoT devices.

4. Big data, more risks

If there is a constant in smart city deployments, it is that more data will be generated, processed and stored. Connected devices will generate huge data repositories. Businesses that adopt big data systems will see an even larger data deluge. Unfortunately, such data will also become attractive targets for corporate hackers. To protect huge amounts of data with large inflows and outflows, the bandwidth capabilities of security appliances will come to the fore. And when dealing with data analytics, it often isn’t just a single data set, but multiple repositories of data that may be combined and analyzed together by different groups of people. For instance, a pharmaceutical company’s research efforts may be open to employees, contractors and interns. This means individual access and auditing rights.

5. A new can of worms

New worms designed to attach to IoT devices will emerge − and they could wreak more havoc given the extended reach of the new converged networks. Conficker is an example of a worm that spread on PC’s in 2008 and is still persistent and prevalent in 2016. Likewise, worms and viruses that can propagate from device to device can be expected to emerge – particularly with mobile and the Android operating system. Embedded worms will spread by leveraging and exploiting vulnerabilities in the growing IoT and mobile attack surface. The largest botnet FortiGuard labs has witnessed is in the range of 15 million PC’s. Thanks to the internet of things, this can easily reach in excess of 50 million if the spread of IoT worms is not properly mitigated. Patch management, and network based security inspection – particularly intrusion prevention systems or IPS – that can block IoT worms is a must.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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