As foreign travel becomes more of a mission than a pleasure, sites and services are emerging to help reduce inconvenience, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Foreign travel should be fun. But, in recent years, security controls, delays, high cost and the pervasive bureaucracy of airlines and airports has turned it into a trial. Add business travel to the mix, when you have to lug equipment with you worrying about compatibility with power supplies around the world and it becomes almost a matter of luck whether a trip will be successful.
At the same time, though, more and more resources are emerging to reduce the element of luck, and help travellers regain control. Here are some of the best I have found.
Power socket guides
Not sure what plug you will need for what country? Or whether you need to take extra plugs at all? One of the best resources in the world to keep this one firmly plugged in is at http://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity.htm. The site provides a comprehensive country chart with the types of plug in use in each country. For a point-and-click option, it includes a colour-coded socket map of the world, along with both diagrams and photos of each type of socket and plug.
Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_power_plugs_and_sockets) provides a less structured approach, but offers far greater depth as it drills down into the detail of each plug and explains the history and standards behind each.
Too much information? Not when you’ve been stuck with a powered down laptop in a foreign country where the nearest electronics outlet is at the airport the one you just left behind..
Nothing can make or break a long trip more than having a good or bad seat on a flight. With most airline web sites allowing online booking only in the last 24 hours before a flight, it is usually a matter of luck to get an aisle seats or one of the emergency row seats.
However, if you know in advance what type of aircraft you will be boarding, you can identify ideal seats by their exact seat numbers. Your airline won’t tell you? There is a site for that. Visit Seatguru.com, type in your flight number and date of flight, and it will not only tell you what plane you will be boarding, but will also show a detailed seat map.
Seating plans are available for every aircraft in use by commercial airliners. The map even flags problem seats as well as those with special benefits, like extra legroom. It is invaluable in preparing for long flights, indicating power supply in seats and even Wi-Fi on board along with advice on where to sign up in advance for special deals. Want to strategise getting an aisle seat on the exit row? This is the blueprint.
Assuming you’re a member of a frequent flyer programme if you’re not, do sign up call the programme’s support line and request pre-allocation of the specific seat you have identified. This may not always be possible, but it is the single travel act with the highest return on effort.
Choosing a hotel
There isn’t yet a seatguru equivalent for hotels, but Tripadvisor comes close. Travellers themselves supply reviews and ratings by category of travel, which means you can see a hotel through the eyes of a business traveller, a family or an elderly couple, for example. This means that ratings go beyond one person’s viewpoint, bringing relevance to your needs to the fore.
Tripadvisor has become such a standard tool, many hotels have its plaque at their entrance, with the average stars awarded on the site replacing traditional tourism association star ratings.
Using digital maps in foreign countries can consume huge amounts of data if you’re using wireless roaming. Prepare for bill shock on your return, unless you’ve learnt this little trick and have a phone with built-in GPS navigation: While in a WiFi zone, i.e. with data access that doesn’t incur extra cost for how much you use it, call up the map of the area you are most likely to explore, ensuring that you explore the map to download all likely areas in which you will move around. On an iPhone, don’t close the map, so that the data remains active. In Android, the map data should remain active as long as you don’t switch off the phone or manually stop the app from running. Now, with mobile data disabled, the phone’s GPS will continually show you where you are on the map.
There is an app for almost every travel need, from airport gate maps to flight trackers to weather. Simply search the app store linked to your device, and the choices pour out.
There is one final rule: most of these work only if you plan in advance. This, by definition, does not include starting once you’re at the airport. More on the topic next week.
¬∑ Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee
Scammers cleaning up with gullible computer users
Kaspersky experts have detected a two-fold rise in the number of users being attacked with fake system cleaners – fraudulent programmes designed to trick users into paying for alleged serious computer issues to be fixed. The number of users hit reached 1,456,219 in the first half of 2019, compared to just 747,322 for the same period in 2018. During this time, some of the attacks have become more sophisticated and dangerous.
A slow-working or poorly performing computer is a common complaint among PC users, and there are many legitimate tools available to solve such issues. However, alongside genuine system cleaners, there are fake ones developed by fraudsters that are designed to trick users into believing their computer is in critical danger, for example through memory overload, and needs immediate cleaning. The attackers then offer to provide such a service in return for payment. Kaspersky defines and detects such programmes as ‘hoax system cleaners’.
Upon receiving user permission and payment, the fraudsters install the hoax programmes that claim to clean the PC, but which often either do nothing or install adware – an annoying, but not critical, storm of unsolicited advertising – on the computer. Increasingly, however, the cybercriminals are using the installation of hoax cleaners to download or disguise malware such as Trojans or ransomware.
The countries most affected by attacks with hoax cleaners in the first half of 2019 show how geographically widespread the threat is; leading the list is Japan with 12% of affectedusers, followed by Germany (10%), Belarus (10%), Italy (10%) and Brazil (9%).
“We’ve been watching how the phenomenon of hoax cleaners has been growing for the last couple of years, and it is a curious threat. On the one hand, many samples that we have seen are spreading more widely and becoming more dangerous, evolving from a simple ‘fraudulent’ scheme into fully functioning and dangerous malware. On the other hand, they are so widespread and seemingly innocent, that it is much easier for them to trick users into paying for a service, rather than frightening them with screen blockers and other unpleasant malware. However, these two ways end up with the same results with users losing their money,” says Artemiy Ovchinnikov, security researcher at Kaspersky.
Kaspersky detects hoax system cleaners as:
To avoid falling victim to hoax threats, Kaspersky researchers advise users to:
- Always check that the PC services that you are about to adopt are legitimate and easy to understand. If it sounds confusing, use a search engine to find out more about the service as there may be a more detailed explanation available
- Use a reliable security solution for comprehensive protection with a clean-up function for a wide range of threats and PC cleansing, such as Kaspersky Security Cloud.
- If you are purposely looking for a PC cleaner, use reliable, IT-targeted sources of information for recommendations, with a long-built reputation and software reviews.
Read the full report on Kaspersky Daily.
Trend Micro unveils security suite for Azure in Africa
Cybersecurity leader Trend Micro Incorporated has announced highly optimised security solutions for Microsoft Azure workloads for customers in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Trend Micro Deep Security suite takes into consideration that a customer needs to approach cloud security differently than one would traditional security. As a result, it is fully optimised for Microsoft Azure. The suite ensures that a customer can tap into a solution that provides flexible, scalable protection of operating systems, applications, and data without slowing you down.
“Microsoft is an important partner to Trend Micro and as a result we have built a series of technologies that support their position in the cloud,” says Indi Siriniwasa, vice president at Trend Micro Sub-Saharan Africa. “Our security solutions are uniquely optimised for Microsoft Azure and complement Microsoft Azure Security Centre so customers across the world continue to turn to Trend Micro to help better secure their Azure real estate. With Microsoft Azure now available from new cloud regions in South Africa, customers can rest assured that we support the use of Microsoft to streamline provisioning of security for Windows virtual machines and SharePoint workloads.
“This will help customers to ensure that their security follows them from their physical environment to the cloud and back again, customers can automate security with Microsoft PowerShell scripting to streamline provisioning of security for Windows virtual machines and SharePoint workloads plus many other orchestration tools for Azure, including Chef, Puppet, and RightScale, we can also help clients to better automate security control deployments.”
With Deep Security for Azure, businesses can detect and protect against intrusions as well as protect their business against serious vulnerabilities with intrusion detection and prevention (IDS/IPS). The solution will also help uncover suspicious changes to a system and immediately highlight and alert the business to these activities – without security admins having to manually sort through logs.
It also has the ability to keep malware off of workloads by using predictive machine learning mechanisms to detect unknown threats and prevalent attacks, so that a user can identify and then remove malware and blacklist domains known to be command-and-control (C&C) servers. Customers can also stop applications attached with IPS rules that block XSS or SQL attacks and other serious vulnerabilities until systems can be patched, as well as increase application visibility and control.
A particularly relevant feature within the South African context is that Deep Security is able to speed up a client’s route to PCI DSS compliance. The Deep Security solution allows a client to meet multiple PCI requirements with a single product, including intrusion detection and prevention, file integrity monitoring, and log inspection.
“Trend Micro’s integration with Microsoft Azure reduces the dependence on multiple point security tools, helping you to identify and address security and configuration issues quickly,” says Adwait Joshi, director, Azure Product Marketing at Microsoft Corp.
Trend Micro provided the following information:
Trend Micro’s Deep Security currently secures more servers globally than any other solution and specialises in protection for cloud and virtualised workload. It acts as part of the Trend Micro Hybrid Cloud Security solution, powered by XGen and provides comprehensive, flexible security for Azure workloads in a single product, so you can build new applications or move existing resources to the cloud with confidence.
Deep Security protects workloads by:
- Defending against network threats with intrusion detection and prevention (IDS/IPS)
- Immediately protecting against vulnerabilities like Shellshock and Heartbleed
- Keeping malware off Windows and Linux workloads
- Alerting when unplanned or suspicious changes are made to systems
- Stopping SQL injection and XSS attacks on applications
- Gaining visibility and control of elastic workloads with application control that fits DevOps
Local Trend Micro customers can also turn to the company’s Trend Micro Cloud App Security which is directly integrated into Office 365 via APIs. This includes advanced email protection, as well as compliance on third-party cloud file sharing services such as: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business.