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Securing the blockchain

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Cryptocurrencies are on the increase, with at least 100 active, suitably valuated cryptocurrencies being used as tender. However, as some cryptocurrencies have discovered, they are not completely infallible, writes SAURABH KUMAR, CEO of In2IT Tech.

The benefit of Bitcoin, and other virtual digital cryptocurrencies, lies in their anonymity, and with blockchain-based technologies, they are typically thought to be incredibly secure as well. However, as some cryptocurrencies have discovered, they are not completely infallible – and this is doing some damage to the blockchain’s reputation.

What makes the blockchain so secure?

“Normal” transactions, using traditional currency, require a verification process between two parties, typically institutions such as banks or the Reserve Bank. Blockchain based transactions are no different, however the verification process is decentralised and spread across multiple verification points, or nodes. No single party controls any or all aspects of the transaction and verification takes place based on consensus.

Due to the sheer number of nodes that need to verify and approve a transaction, it is incredibly difficult to hack, breach or otherwise intercept a transaction on the blockchain. This has resulted in financial institutions across the globe exploring the blockchain’s potential in other applications.

So why the concern?

Recent hacks that have led to losses of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency, have stirred up uncertainty within businesses who are exploring the blockchain for trading requirements as well as other areas of business.

In May 2016, the DAO (Decentralised Autonomous Organisation) was launched, and hacked. This project uses cryptocurrency platform Ethereum to crowd fund a decentralised venture capital fund. $70 million dollars in Ether (Ethereum currency) was stolen. At the end of July 2016, Bitfinex, a cryptocurrency exchange, experienced a serious breach resulting in the theft of 120 000 bitcoins. Also in July 2016, Steemit, a blockchain-based blogging platform, was hacked. This hack resulted in the loss of approximately $85 000 in cryptocurrency. Other cryptocurrency platforms to fall victim to hacks include Krypton and Shift, two Ethereum-based blockchains.

While hacking, or otherwise breaching and intercepting, the blockchain is incredibly difficult, these examples show us that it is not impermeable. Companies need to bear in mind that cryptocurrency – successfully implemented in the blockchain –  is still a relatively new technology and, as with any less-than-fully-mature technology, its flaws are yet to be fully realised.

That doesn’t mean that the technology should be discarded or that blockchain investments should be abandoned. Indeed, it is only through continued exploration and ongoing use that one will discover the weaknesses in the blockchain’s armour – and make it stronger than ever.

Addressing the flaws, as they stand

One of the inherent flaws of cryptocurrency lies not with the transactional phase, which takes place on the blockchain, but with its storage. The actual transaction is incredibly secure but, once the transaction has occurred, the parties need to store their cryptocurrency. In a world where everything is connected and touches the Web, storage systems for cryptocurrencies are no different – and are, therefore, accessible by determined cybercriminals. Many large organisations are addressing this by revisiting a siloed approach to storage, using cold storage that is completely cut off from the Internet

Broad-level security on either side is also a concern. Again, while the actual transaction may be secure, the end points might not be. It is possible to intercept the transfer or receipt of cryptocurrencies at either end of the transaction, so trust between parties remains of paramount importance. To respond to this, businesses are looking at private blockchains and not public ones. Private blockchains require a more interpersonal level of transaction and all nodes are known, and pre-approved prior to transacting.

Finally, because the technology resides on underlying networks, the networking design needs to be well thought out and planned with security as top-of-mind. Security must form part of the initial architecture, catering for all manner of current and potential threats so as to minimise any risk of breach through touchpoints on the network.

The future of the blockchain

There are exciting times ahead, for both the future of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain. The world consists of a series of transactions and exchanges, and the blockchain can be applied to virtually every single use case, with careful planning and consideration.

With care and foresight – and an in depth knowledge of the current security landscape of the blockchain – businesses can leverage this technology in a safe, secure and successful fashion, enabling a world of possibilities.

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How we use phones to avoid human contact

A recent study by Kaspersky Lab has found that 75% of people pick up their connected device to avoid conversing with another human being.

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Connected devices are becoming essential to keeping people in contact with each other, but for many they are also a much-needed comfort blanket in a variety of social situations when they do not want to interact with others. A recent survey from Kaspersky Lab has confirmed this trend in behaviour after three-quarters of people (75%) admitted they use a device to pretend to be busy when they don’t want to talk to someone else, showing the importance of keeping connected devices protected under all circumstances. 

Imagine you’ve arrived at a bar and you’re waiting for your date. The bar is busy, and people are chatting all around you. What do you do now? Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know? Grab your phone from your pocket or handbag until your date arrives to keep yourself busy? Why talk to humans or even make eye-contact with someone else when you can stare at your connected device instead?

The truth is, our use of devices is making it much easier to avoid small talk or even be polite to those around us, and new Kaspersky Lab research has found that 72% of people use one when they do not know what to do in a social situation. They are also the ‘go-to’ distraction for people even when they aren’t trying to look busy or avoid someone’s eye. 46% of people admit to using a device just to kill time every day and 44% use it as a daily distraction.

In addition to just being a distraction, devices are also a lifeline to those who would rather not talk directly to another person in day-to-day situations, to complete essential tasks. In fact, nearly a third (31%) of people would prefer to carry out tasks such as ordering a taxi or finding directions to where they need to go via a website and an app, because they find it an easier experience than speaking with another person.

Whether they are helping us avoid direct contact or filling a void in our daily lives, our constant reliance on devices has become a cause for panic when they become unusable. A third (34%) of people worry that they will not be able to entertain themselves if they cannot access a connected device. 12% are even concerned that they won’t be able to pretend to be busy if their device is out of action.

Dmitry Aleshin, VP for Product Marketing, Kaspersky Lab said, “The reliance on connected devices is impacting us in more ways than we could have ever expected. There is no doubt that being connected gives us the freedom to make modern life easier, but devices are also vital to help people get through different and difficult social situations. No matter what your ‘connection crutch’ is, it is essential to make sure your device is online and available when you need it most.”

To ensure your device lifeline is always there and in top health – no matter what the reason or situation – Kaspersky Security Cloud keeps your connection safe and secure:

·         I want to use my device while waiting for a friend – is it secure to access the bar’s Wi-Fi?

With Kaspersky Security Cloud, devices are protected against network threats, even if the user needs to use insecure public Wi-Fi hotspots. This is done through transferring data via an encrypted channel to ensure personal data safety, so users’ devices are protected on any connection.

·         Oh no! I’m bored but my phone’s battery is getting low – what am I going to do?

Users can track their battery level thanks to a countdown of how many minutes are left until their device shuts down in the Kaspersky Security Cloud interface. There is also a wide-range of portable power supplies available to keep device batteries charged while on-the-go.

·         I’ve lost my phone! How will I keep myself entertained now?

Should the unthinkable happen and you lose or have your phone stolen, Kaspersky Security Cloud can track and protect your device from data breaches, for complete peace of mind. Remote lock and locate features ensure your device remains secure until you are reunited.

 

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Five key biometric facts

Due to their uniqueness, fingerprints are being used more and more to quickly identify and ensure the security of customers. CLAUDE LANGLEY, Regional Sales Manager, for Africa at HID Global Biometrics, outlines five facts about the technology.

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How many times in a day are you expected to identify yourself? From when you arrive at work you are required to sign in, visiting your bank, receiving healthcare services… The list is endless. When a system knows who you are, you are able to do any number common, everyday activities. Your identity is unique and precious. It is also easily stolen and the target of many hackers across the globe. Technology is constantly evolving alongside the criminal element, always looking for ways to protect data and identity. One such solution happens to be biometrics and it is rapidly gaining traction in our increasingly complex modern world.

Reliable, secure and fundamentally YOU, unique biometric traits such as fingerprints are being used by banks, enterprises and consumers to verify identity. Biometric solutions offer significant identity protection because they use unique biological details to ensure an account is only accessed by the account holder, a door only opened by the owner. Here are five things that are little known about this technology…

  • The uncut identity. Your fingerprint is unique to you. Nobody can use a copy of it to impersonate you. Good technology is capable of scanning down into the layers of the fingertip to differentiate unique elements of a person’s fingerprint, this data is then encrypted and used as a key to unlocking whichever physical or virtual door that the biometric system protects.
  • The living proof. No, there is nothing to the stories of fingerprints being used without their owner’s knowledge or permission. Biometric solutions can use specific variables to determine if the finger used to access the system is that of a present, living person.  A copy or a fake cannot be used to access a cutting-edge biometric solution.
  • Easy and convenient. Queues and documents and paperwork may well be a thing of the past should biometrics take a firmer grip of government and banking systems. The process of registering is easy, and access to identity documents and records is yours alone.
  • Security blanket. A thousand passwords and a hundred post-it notes stuck on walls and drawers.  An excel file with a list of sites and applications and their corresponding passwords, all a thing of the past.  Nobody needs to remember their password with biometrics, they only need to show up.
  • Anywhere is cool. Schools, airports, networks, offices, homes, toilets, banks, libraries, governments, border controls, immigration services, call centres, hospitals and even clubs and pubs – knowing “who” matters and biometrics can quickly and conveniently confirm your identity where needed.

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