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Security camera networks open to hi-tech hackers

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Kaspersky has revealed that security cameras designed to protect people from criminals can be misused by hackers and the video made available to anyone who wants it.

It’s like something out of a hi-tech crime movie. Security examination of a working city video surveillance system by Kaspersky Lab has revealed that networks designed to help protect people from criminals and terrorists could be misused by a third party exploiting system configuration flaws.

It is no secret that police departments and governments have been monitoring city streets for years, with security cameras proving invaluable in crime investigation and prevention. However, as a result of research conducted by Kaspersky Lab researcher Vasilios Hioureas and his fellow researcher Thomas Kinsey from Exigent Systems, these systems could also be used in a harmful way.

As part of their research, the authors examined the security video surveillance network in one city. Surveillance cameras were connected via a mesh network – a type of network in which nodes are connected with each other and serve as stepping stones for data (video feed in this particular case) on its way from a node to the control center. Instead of using a Wi-Fi hotspot or wired connection, nodes in such networks simply transmit data to the closest node which transmits it further through other nodes right to the command center. Should an intruder connect to just a single node in the network, they will be able to manipulate the data transmitted through it.

Mesh-network based video surveillance systems are, in general, an inexpensive alternative to surveillance systems which require either multiple hotspots throughout a city, or miles of wires. But the security of such networks is heavily dependent on how the whole network is set up.

In the case investigated by the researchers, the network of cameras used no encryption at all. After purchasing equipment similar to that used in the city, Kaspersky Lab researchers discovered that sufficient encryption tools are provided, but they were not being used correctly in this case. As a result, clear text data was being sent though the network and made freely available to any observer who joined.

The researchers quickly realised that creating their own version of the software used in the network would be enough to manipulate the data traveling across it. After recreating the network and software in the lab, they were able to intercept the video feeds from any node and also modify them e.g. exchange the real video from the camera with a fake one.

The researchers shared their findings with the company that had set up the surveillance network in the city. Since then, the necessary changes have been made to the vulnerable network.

“We undertook this research to highlight that cybersecurity also affects physical security systems, especially critical public systems like video surveillance. When building a smart city, it is extremely important to not only think about the comfort, energy and cost efficiency that the new technologies will bring, but also about the cybersecurity issues that might arise. Although the findings of this research were presented last August we have reasons to believe that its findings are still useful for city authorities that are planning to implement mesh-network based surveillance systems or  have implemented it already,” – said Vasilios Hioureas, Junior Malware Analyst at Kaspersky Lab and a co-author of the research.

In order to avoid the security vulnerabilities associated with mesh-networks, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following measures:

·         Although still potentially hackable, Wi-Fi Protected Access with a strong password is the minimum requirement needed to stop the system from being an easy target.

·         Hidden SSID (public names of a wireless network) and MAC filtering (that allows users to define a list of allowed devices on the Wi-Fi network) will also weed out unskilled hackers.

·         Make sure that all labels on equipment are concealed and enclosed to deter attackers who do not have insider information.

·         Securing video data using public-key cryptography will make it almost impossible to manipulate video data.

The research was originally presented at DefCon 2014. It has been published as part of Kaspersky Lab’s contribution to the knowledge base of Securing Smart Cities – a global not-for-profit initiative that aims to solve the existing and future cybersecurity problems of smart cities through collaboration between companies, governments, media outlets, not-for-profit initiatives and individuals across the world.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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