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Smart cities must prepare for cyber war

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IoT and Smart Cities have become terms we are all too familiar with, but looking at the rate at which they grows, we cannot ignore the growth of the attack areas, writes PAUL WILLIAMS, Country Manager SADC, Fortinet.

Smart cities are being planned the world over. Technology development always goes through two phases for any new discipline: First – tools are developed, and infrastructure is built and enabled. And second – the technology is scaled up. In the case of smart cities, we are in the first phase, where many of the kinks and challenges are still being ironed out.

Here are some examples of services a smart city might provide:

·         Coordinated energy control of air conditioners at homes during hot summer days to manage and preserve city power resources

·         Directed local discounts in retail and restaurants to avoid city congestion

·         An automatic fee for driving a vehicle during highly congested periods

·         A smart directed parking app that automatically discounts congestion charges for parking in specific parking lots

·         Real-time sensor data to warn citizens affected by allergens and irritants

·         Real-time sensor data of standing water for mosquito breeding, etc.

·         Vehicle-to-vehicle communication, autonomous driving technology, and infrastructure with embedded sensors to warn of things like imminent traffic jams, construction, best routes for navigation during emergencies, etc. based on real-time traffic patterns.

To enable such services, smart cities will need to deploy plenty of IoT devices and services for metering, sensing, and controlling.

The Attack Surface of Smart Cities

The increase in the size of a smart city’s IoT device footprint corresponds to an increase in the size of its attack surface.

As was seen recently in a series of IoT-based denial of service attacks, IoT devices can be compromised and hijacked into a Shadownet (an IoT-based botnet that can’t be seen or tracked using normal browsers or tools) and controlled by a command and control (C&C) center run by hackers. Alternatively, these devices and services may be attacked in order to deny services to legitimate users.

Here are some examples of what hackers and attackers can do:

·         Take control of parking, traffic lights, signage, street lighting, and automated bus stops, etc. For example, changing highway signs to read “terrorist threat in area” or “danger, toxic spill ahead” could seriously disrupt traffic and cause panic among drivers.

·         Direct all cars and buses to a specific area to create congestion and gridlock.

·         Disable local transportation, thereby disrupting businesses and services, such as banking, because employees can’t get to work.

·         Open causeways to spill sewage and untreated waste water into parks, rivers, and communities.

·         Cut off access to drinking water.

·         Send fake SMS directing to people to a specific location, such as a targeted business or government agency

·         Remotely switching off air conditioners or furnaces during extreme temperature days

·         Randomly turning on fire and burglar alarms throughout the city

Increasing the Security in Smart Cities from the Inside

While it’s not possible to secure every possible security breach in a totally connected environment, it doesn’t mean we need to go back to the Stone Age. Instead, it’s possible to take some key initial steps to strengthen the smart city’s security posture and architecture:

·         Use strong encryption

·         Design systems that have strong protection against tampering.

·         Provide strong access control, authentication, and authorization

·         Maintain detailed logging of activities

·         Segment services for individual sub-systems, and then aggregate and pool data that you want to make publicly accessible

·         Create centralized management, analysis, and control systems through segmented and secured administration channels to troubleshoot problems

·         Set baseline standards that trigger alarms or require manual override when thresholds are crossed or anomalous behavior is detected, such as rerouting traffic or disabling water treatment.

Segmentation is the Key

With a complex smart city network, segmentation is the key. For example, the Smart Transportation network needs to be logically segmented from other smart networks, such as user services, websites, or energy networks, etc. This aids in isolating an attacks, and allows for the advanced detection of data and threats as attacks and malware move from one network zone to the other. This also divides the smart city network into security zones, which aids in compliance, monitoring internal traffic and devices, and preventing unauthorized access to restricted data and resources.

Such segmentation will ensure that the majority of the IoT components deployed across the smart city only communicate with those devices and systems they should, and only talk in the protocols they have been assigned. This will also ensure that the interior network doesn’t get hacked and can’t participate in a DDoS attack.

In a similar way, other smart networks in the city can be segmented and isolated from each other, thereby avoiding the spread of malware and reducing the impact of any hacks and attacks. Further, smart cities must make include the ability of IoT equipment to support and control such traffic an essential purchasing requirement.

Increasing the Security in Smart Cities from the Outside: DDoS Attacks

While network segmentation will ensure that the internal network is protected and its integrity and availability are preserved, we need to increase the availability of the smart city’s Internet facing properties. DDoS attacks can be easily used to overwhelm this infrastructure. Depending on the size of the pipe, and expected worst-case scenarios, city IT teams must develop and implement and effective DDoS attack mitigation strategy. This may be comprised of either an over provisioned appliance solution, or a hybrid solution consisting of appliances combined with a cloud based scrubbing center.

An over provisioned appliance solution enables you to manage DDoS attacks that are larger than your normal bandwidth usage. For example, if your normal user traffic is 1 Gbps, develop a plan for a 20 Gbps DDoS attack that includes deploying an appliance to mitigate such attacks, and provision for such potential bandwidth requirements from your service provider. If the actual attack is expected to be larger than your service provider bandwidth, however, you may need a hybrid solution that includes a cloud-based scrubber that works closely with your DDoS appliance solution.

From Smart to Smarter

As time passes, smart cities will become even smarter as they learn from researchers, from each other, and from incidents that are bound to happen.

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Samsung clears the table with new monitor

For those who like minimalism and tidy desks, Samsung’s new Space Monitor may just do the trick, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The latest trends of narrow-bezels and minimalist designs have transcended smartphones, spilling into other designs, like laptops and monitors. 

The new Space Monitor line by Samsung follows in this new design “tradition”. The company has moved the monitor off the desk – by clipping it onto the edge of the desk.

It can be put into three configurations: completely upright, where it sits a bit high but completely off the desk; half-way to the desk, where it is a bit lower to put some papers or files underneath the display; and flat on the desk, where it is at its lowest.

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The monitor sits on a weighted hinge at the edge of the desk, providing sturdy adjustment to its various height configurations. It also swivels on a hinge at the point where the arm connects to the display. This provides precise viewing angle adjustment, which is great for showing something on screen to someone who is standing.

Apart from form factor, there are some neat goodies packed into the box. It comes with a two-pin power adapter, with no adapter box on the midpoint between the plug and the monitor, and a single cable that carries HDMI-Y and power to prevent tangling. 

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However, it’s slightly disappointing that there isn’t a Mini Display Port and power cable “in one cable” option for Mac and newer graphics card users, who will have to run two cables down the back of the screen. Even worse, the display doesn’t have a USB Type-C display input; a missed opportunity to connect a Samsung device to the panel.

A redeeming point is the stunning, Samsung-quality panel, which features a 4K UHD resolution. The colours are sharp and the viewing angles are good. However, this display is missing something: Pantone or Adobe RGB colour certification, as well as IPS technology. 

The display’s response rate comes in at 4ms, slightly below average for displays in this price range. 

These negatives aside, this display has a very specific purpose. It’s for those who want to create desk space in a few seconds, while not having to rearrange the room. 

Final verdict: This display is not for gamers nor for graphic designers. It is for those who need big displays but frequently need to clear their desks.

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Can mobile fix education?

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By Ernst Wittmann, global account director for MEA and country manager for Southern Africa, at TCL Communications

Mobile technology has transformed the way we live and work, and it can be expected to rapidly change the ways in which children learn as smartphones and tablets become more widely accepted at primary and high schools. By putting a powerful computer in every learner’s schoolbag or pocket, smartphones could play an important role in improving educational outcomes in a country where so many schools are under-resourced.

Here are some ways that mobile technology will reshape education in the years to come:

Organisation and productivity

For many adults, the real benefit of a smartphone comes from simple applications like messaging, calendaring and email. The same goes for schoolchildren, many of whom will get the most value from basic apps like sending a WhatApp message to friends to check on the homework for the day, keeping track of their extramural calendar, or photographing the teacher’s notes from the blackboard or whiteboard. One study of young people’s mobile phone use in Ghana, Malawi and South Africa confirmed that many of them got the most value from using their phones to complete mundane tasks.

Interactivity

One of the major benefits smartphones can bring to the classroom is boosting learners’ engagement with educational materials through rich media and interactivity. For example, apps like Mathletics use gamification to get children excited about doing mathematics—they turn learning into a game, with rewards for practicing and hitting milestones. Or teachers can set up a simple poll using an app like Poll Everywhere to ask the children in a class what they think about a character’s motivation in their English set-work book.

Personalisation

Mobile technology opens the doors to more personalised and flexible ways to teach and learn, making more space for children to work in their own style and at their own pace. Not very child learns in the same way or excels at the same tasks and subjects – the benefit of mobile phones is that they can plug the gaps for children seeking extra enrichment or those that need some additional help with classroom work.

For example, teachers can provide recommended educational materials for children who are racing in ahead of their peers in some of their subjects. Or they can suggest relevant games for children who learn better through practical application of ideas than by listening to a teacher and taking notes. 

In future, we can expect to see teachers, perhaps aided by algorithms and artificial intelligence, make use of analytics to track how students engage with educational content on their mobile devices and use these insights to create more powerful learning experiences. 

Access

South Africa has a shortage of teachers in key subjects such as mathematics and science, which disproportionately affects learners in poor and rural areas. According to a statement in 2017 from the Department of Basic Education, it has more than 5,000 underqualified or unqualified teachers working around the country. Though technology cannot substitute for a qualified teacher, it can supplement human teaching in remote or poor areas where teachers are not available or not qualified to teach certain subjects. Video learning and videoconferencing sessions offer the next best thing where a math or physical science teacher is not physically present in the classroom.

Information

Knowledge is power and the Internet is the world’s biggest repository of knowledge. Schoolchildren can access information and expertise about every subject under the sun from their smartphones – whether they are reading the news on a portal, watching documentaries on YouTube, downloading electronic books, using apps to improve their language skills, or simply Googling facts and figures for a school project.

Take a mobile-first approach

Technology has a powerful role to play in the South African school of the future, but there are some key success factors schools must bear in mind as they bring mobile devices into the classroom:

  • Use appropriate technology—in South Africa, that means taking a mobile-first approach and using the smartphones many children already know and use.
  • Thinking about challenges such as security – put in place the cyber and physical security needed to keep phones and data safe and secure.
  • Ensuring teachers and children alike are trained to make the most of the tech – teachers need to take an active role in curating content and guiding schoolchildren’s use of their devices. To get that right, they will need training and access to reliable tech support.

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