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Play it safe

E-sports and gaming online is all the rage at the moment, but it is imperative that people know how to stay safe while gaming online, says ANDREAS HADJIPASCHALI, CEO of Bravado Gaming.

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Get behind the wheel of a supercar, fight terrorists, score the winning goal, defend kingdoms against evil hordes, sink pirate ships, solve mind-bending puzzles, or just be the last one standing… in the world of online gaming, you are spoilt for choice. Age is not a factor, either: there are activities for young and old to enjoy. Online gaming can be exciting and a place to hang out with friends as well as meet new people.

But not all online experiences are alike and some can be troublesome. Unfortunately, there are people online who are not the right fit and can even be dangerous. Fortunately, they are far and few between, but it doesn’t hurt to take a proactive stance towards online safety.

The teams at Bravado Gaming have a lot of experience playing online, both with friends and strangers. They offer some advice on how anyone can start playing safely.

General rules of thumb

There are many types of games online, ranging from serious competitive PC titles to ad-hoc mobile sessions. Each is different and engages with different players online. Most happen on public servers, which means that people you don’t know might join the game. In some cases, you don’t even have direct contact with other players. But more and more titles are adding ways to communicate in the sessions, such as typing in a chat box or using online voice chat.

If there is communication, you should be careful about what you share, said Dillon ‘Lithium’ Charalambous, captain of Bravado Gaming’s Call of Duty team:

“Don’t give out any personal details on a public platform. Even if someone messages you directly, don’t give information out there. You don’t know who they are. Gamers have a long tradition of playing with nicknames or gamertags. Stick to those until you join a group where you get to know the people involved.”

On rare occasions, someone might try to provoke you into engaging with them directly. Just ignore this kind of baiting. If they persist, report them to administrators. But a more urgent concern is what people send to you, said Jana ‘SaltyMonkey’ Du Toit, captain of Bravado Gaming’s all-female team, Bravado Finesse:

“Don’t click on any links sent to you by people who are not your direct, real-life friends. Just like bad links on email and social media, these could be used to plant dangerous software on your system or send you to a dangerous website.”

Scams are becoming more common on gaming platforms. Some are designed to go after online valuables, such as rare items or high-level characters, which are sold illegally once stolen.

But criminal also use game interactions to access other information, such as your banking details. Phishing – a criminal tactic that uses a fake version of a real site, such as a banking login page – is very common. Gamers playing online titles such as Guild Wars and PUBG are frequently targeted with phishing messages and emails. It doesn’t help that many players often use similar emails addresses and passwords for their gaming as for their private and business credentials.

Find safe places to play

As mentioned earlier, most online gaming will happen on public servers. This means the game can be accessed by people other than those you know. The alternative is a private server or to play in private games that are protected by passwords.

“Playing public games is not a bad thing and even necessary if you want to take part in ranked matches,” said Bravado Gaming’s CEO, Andreas Hadjipaschali, referring to matches that raise your public rank for a game. “Good public game servers are policed by administrators and reporting tools. If someone bothers you or if something concerns you, contact one of the administrators. You can also report the person, though don’t do this for frivolous things or you could be marked as an abuser of the system.”

Most online games will connect to public servers that are hosted by the game’s developers or publishers – the people who build and sell the game. But some games allow third parties to create their own servers. Again the same rules apply: don’t share personal information and do engage with administrators if there are problems. If the problems don’t go away, change to a different server.

Gamers looking to play competitively will want to find servers that cater to that. These will often be hosted and supported by eSports teams and enthusiasts. To find those, plug into the relevant communities, said Wasim ‘Wass’ Rajah, captain of Bravado Gaming’s FIFA team:

“The main thing here is getting yourself onto social media. Once you are on there, the links open up. There are certain organizations from who, if you follow them, you’ll get word of most tournaments, like ACGL, Zombiegamer, Mettlestate and VS gaming.”

You can also follow Bravado’s social media accounts and women can reach out to the all-ladies team Bravado Finesse for a bit of feminine support and guidance.

Going online as a minor

If you are still very young – or you are concerned about your kids going online, there are a few extra precautions you can take. Though there are people online who prey on younger gamers, they are thankfully an extreme minority. Still, the above rules of careful communications are more important than ever.

As a parent, you should accept that online gaming is as part of a player’s world as being part of a sports team. So it is better to arm your child with the right skills, as well as keep open channels with them, said SaltMonkey:

“Urge your child to have an open and honest relationship with you in terms of their gaming. They should know that it is okay to speak to you about what is happening in the virtual world and that you won’t get mad. Therefore, be accepting of gaming and try to meet them halfway.”

It should also be a definite rule that only adults are allowed to install games and other software on the machine used for games. There is a real risk of dangerous software being sent through bad links, some masked as games. This is particularly dangerous on mobile devices, where it is not hard to disable safety measures and install unauthorised apps.

But even official apps and in-game purchases can be a danger – to your credit card! Even though some services have put measures in place to limit such activities, it’s prudent to keep an eye on credit card transactions. If a minor needs to make an online purchase, an adult should do it for them.

Finally, always set the profiles of young players to private, stopping anyone unauthorised from looking at their details. Even seemingly innocuous tidbits, such as the child’s age and gender, can be used against them. Staying anonymous is good.

Online gaming is a lot of fun. It’s a way to participate, to make friends, build confidence and blow off steam. Unlike the caricature of lone spotty teens hiding in basements, online gamers draw from every walk of life. That can spell danger. But take the right steps, keep the right attitude, and everyone can have a safe online experience.

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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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