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South Africa’s giant data breach: how to stay safe

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NordVPN offers some online safety tips after South Africa was hit by the biggest data breach in its history.

South Africa was recently hit by the worst data breach in its history. The personal information of more than 30 million South Africans – more than half of the total population – has leaked online, potentially causing identity theft for each one of the affected individuals. The leaked data includes names, ID numbers, income information, employment history, phone numbers and home addresses of everyone on the list.

The leaked information, contained in a 27GB file dating to 2015, was discovered by an Australian Internet security provider, Troy Hunt.

“When a huge amount of personal information is stolen, it can be used to steal bank account information or open bank accounts in that person’s name, “ said Marty P. Kamden, CMO of NordVPN (Virtual Private Network). “Cyber criminals are not different from thieves who break into someone’s house – they just operate on a much larger scale, and are therefore even more dangerous. Governments still struggle with solutions for such massive-scale hacks, so our advice is for people to take their privacy into their own hands.”

NordVPN recommends these steps post-data breach (these are general safety tips that should be followed by every Internet user regardless if their privacy has been breached or not):

1. Use only https URL. Make sure all websites that you give your data to have the secure https URL. The ‘s’ in the URL means that it is a secure protocol and your data is encrypted properly.

2. Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). VPNs connect you to the Internet through an encrypted tunnel. VPN server acts as a relay between the Internet and a company’s device, so nobody can see what data is being shared over the Internet. All that can be seen is that you are connected to a VPN server. A VPN service provider, such as NordVPN, can offer multiple benefits to small businesses and individuals, including secure data connections for remote workers and increased safety for business owners to share sensitive company data via an encrypted connection, so it’s not seen by any third parties.

3. Avoid downloading files from unknown senders. The rule is simple: if you are not familiar with the sender, better don’t click to download any attachments or any links they might be sending.

4. Update your firewall. Most systems have an automatically installed firewall–just make sure you follow up with its regular updates.

5. Use antivirus. Use an updated virus protection to make sure your system is protected from malware such as malvertising (advertisement online with malicious codes).

6. Strong passwords. Perhaps the most basic requirement for any online account setup is using strong passwords. Weak passwords make it simple for hackers to break into your system and cause severe damage.

7. Update your operating system. It sounds simple and easy to do, but sometimes we ignore the pop-up reminders for software updates. However, it’s one of the most important things to do with a computer, as the updates fix security vulnerabilities and system bugs.

8. Secure your mobile. If you are happy that your system is now secure, you might be forgetting one important part – your mobile devices. You probably store important passwords on your smartphone and other sensitive information, therefore, remember to encrypt your phone either.

9. Do not provide your private information to any third party. When you need to enter your personal data anywhere online, provide it only if it’s absolutely necessary. You never know where it will end up.

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Homemation creates comfort through smart homes

Home automation is more than just turning the lights on and off, Homemation’s Gedaliah Tobias tells BRYAN TURNER

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The world is taking interior design notes from the Danish, in a style of living called hygge (pronounced hoo-gah). Its meaning varies from person to person: some see hygge as a warm fire on a cold winter’s night, others see it as a cup of hot coffee in the morning. The amount of “good feelings” one gets from these relaxing activities depends on what one values as indulgent.

But how does technology fit into this “art of feeling good”?

We asked Homemation marketing manager Gedaliah Tobias to take us through a fully automated home of the future and show us how automation creates comfort and good feelings.

“The house is powered by Control4, which you can think of as the brain of the smart home,” says Tobias. “It controls everything from the aircon to smart vacuum cleaners.”

The home of the future is secured by a connected lock. It acts like other locks with keypads and includes a key in the event of a power interruption. The keypad is especially useful to those who want to provide temporary access to visitors, staff, or simply kids who might lose their parents’ house keys.

“The keypad is especially useful for temporary access,” says Tobias. “For example, if you have a garden service that needs to use the home for the day, they can be given a code that only turns off the perimeter alarm beams in the garden for the day and time. If that code is used outside of the day and time range, users can set up alerts for their armed response to be alerted. This type of smart access boosts security.”

Once inside, one is greeted with a “scene” – a type of recipe for electronic success. The scene starts by turning on the lights, then by alerting the user to disarm the alarm. After the alarm is disarmed, the user can start another more complicated scene.

“Users can request customised scene buttons,” says Tobias. “For example, if I press the ‘Dinner call’ scene, the lights start to flash in the bedroom, there’s an announcement from the smart speakers, the blinds start to come down, the lighting is shifted to the dinner table. Shifting focus with lighting creates a mood to bring the house together for dinner.”

Homemation creates these customised scene buttons to enable users to control their homes without having to use another device. In addition to scene buttons, there are several ways to control the smart home.

 “Everything in the smart home is controllable from your phone, the touchscreens around the house, the TV, and the dedicated remote control. Everyone is different, so having multiple ways to control the house is a huge value add.”

We ask Tobias where Homemation recommends non-smart home users should start on their smart home journey.

“Before anything, the Control4 infrastructure needs to be set up. This involves a lot of communications and electrical cabling to be run to different areas of the home to enable connectivity throughout the home. After the infrastructure is set up, the system is ready for smart home devices, like lighting and sound.”

“For new smart home users, the best bang for their buck would be to start with lighting once the infrastructure is set up. Taking it one step at a time is wise.”

•    For more information, visit https://www.homemation.co.za/

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Face App grabs SA attention

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South Africans generated more than 100 000 search queries for “Face App” on Wednesday, while only generating 50 000 for “Mandela Day”. The Internet wentcrazy over the two-year-old app, which uses artificial intelligence to create a rendering of what users might look like in a few decades. Face App went viral as users posted their aged likenesses on social media in the #faceappchallenge. Privacy experts, however, warned that the app (made in Russia) may pose a threat to users’ privacy as it stores photos on its servers, with US Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, appealing to the FBI to investigate the app. 

In other top searches on Google this week, “Johnny Clegg” garnered more than 500 000 search queries on Tuesday as the news of his passing broke. The ‘White Zulu’ of Juluka and Savuka fame was an internationally acclaimed musician who was also an important figure in the fight against apartheid. Tributes to Clegg have been flooding media and social media over the past couple of days. Clegg succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 66.

More than 200 000 search queries were generated for “Mark Batchelor” on Monday after the former soccer star was brutally gunned down outside his Olivedale home in Gauteng. Investigations into the shooting are still ongoing. Batchelor played for Orlando Pirates, Wits University, Kaizer Chiefs, Mamelodi Sundowns, Moroka Swallows and Bafana Bafana. 

“Jacob Zuma” also garnered more than 100 000 search queries on Monday as he made his first, much-anticipated appearance in front of the Zondo Commission on state capture. 

On Sunday “Macdonald Ndou” picked up more than 10 000 search queries after reports of theMuvhango actor’s arrest made the rounds. Ndou was held on various charges including extortion and kidnapping. The Hawks have reportedly provisionally withdrawn charges against the TV star, but a spokesperson said the decision to withdraw does not mean the charges will not be reinstated.

“Serena Williams” garnered more than 50 000 searches on Saturday as the tennis superstar suffered a 6-2, 6-2 defeat against Simona Halep in a Wimbledon final that lasted just 56 minutes. Williams later told Agence France Presse, “She [Halep] played out of her mind” and “I was like a deer in headlights”.

Last Friday, South Africans produced more than 20 000 search queries for “Duduzane Zuma” as the Randburg Magistrates Court found the former first son not guilty of a charge of culpable homicide. In February 2014, Zuma was involved in a car crash that took the life of Phumzile Dube when his vehicle crashed into the taxi she was travelling in.

Search trends information is gleaned from data collated by Google based on what South Africans have been searching for and asking Google. Google processes more than 40 000 search queries every second. This translates to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year, worldwide. Live Google search trends data is available at https://www.google.co.za/trends/hottrends#pn=p40 

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