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Tips to stay cyber-safe

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As technology progresses so too do the security risks some of it brings with – making it difficult to keep yourself safe. JACKY FICK, head of Cell C’s Forensic Services, offers some tips to keep smartphone data safe.

Every few months, concerns around online scams and theft are raised as a new wave of victims come forward. It seems almost seasonal. But the truth is that cybercrime never goes away. Every day, new victims fall for schemes. There are stories of people losing large amounts of money – even their life’s savings.

It can leave one feeling very vulnerable and uncertain. But a little knowledge goes a long way in this fight.

Secure your phone

It is vital to make your smartphone secure and, in case of theft, useless. The most obvious precaution is to lock the device with a password, swipe gesture or fingerprint reader, says Jacky Fick, head of Cell C’s Forensic Services and an expert in cybercrime.

“We often think our phones can’t contain too much interesting information. But it’s like losing your house keys. Your phone can open a lot of doors for cyber criminals. Once they have their hands on things like phone numbers and home addresses, they can find ways to hijack your financial accounts.”

If the phone is stolen, it can be remotely wiped and even disabled. This depends on the type of phone, but can also be done with third-party apps if they are installed.

Beware of Phishing

When fishing, as in angling, a lure is dangled in the water, made to look like a delicious piece of food and not plastic with a sharp hook. In on-line phishing, a piece of correspondence is made to look like news warranting attention, but can hide a host of dangerous electronic traps.

Such provocative messages contain an opportunity or impending disaster. An email could offer supposed LOTTO winnings, unclaimed tax refunds or a surprise inheritance. Phishing often mimics banks: an SMS offering a raise in a credit card limit or a formal email requesting an update of your details. Whatever the message, the goal is to steal information by posing as something else. Fick has three rules to help avoid such an attack:

“The first rule is that if you get an offer that seems too good, then it is. Always be suspicious. The second is to check the source. If the message looks like it came from a bank, call the bank. Third, never share personal information with someone who contacted you. If they called you, call back using the official company hotline number, not one they provide. Don’t click on links in emails or instant messages that look suspicious. Delete them immediately. Institutions such as banks will not request personal information in that way. They will request you visit a branch.”

Avoiding Sim Swaps

We have become very reliant on our phones as gatekeepers of our financial mobility. You cannot add beneficiaries or do certain transfers without a phone to supply one-time pins or approval. This is why sim card swaps are so attractive to criminals: they represent the keys to the city.

The number on a phone is based on the sim card inside. But that number can be electronically transferred to another sim. Anyone who has held onto their number for several years will have used a sim swap service. It’s a legitimate service, but can be manipulated to make an unauthorised swap. This is often done over the phone, with a criminal posing as the sim card’s owner.

“It’s important to know sim swaps happen at an advanced stage of the crime,” says Fick. “If they are attempting a sim swap, it means they already have things like banking details. They may also have enough personal information to try and get through the security questions. This is why phishing is so dangerous, because it can open the door to this kind of thing.”

Common Sense Still Applies

Keeping safe with technology is not impossible, but it requires device owners to be proactive. Other than the advice above, Fick offered the following:

●        Avoid installing unofficial apps: these can be used to sneak bad software onto your device. Use the official app stores, where apps are checked and secure.

●        Apply patches to software, particularly updates to your phone’s system. These often contain fixes for problems that criminals could use to access your information.

●        Email is not the only danger. Any type of link or file attachment can be dangerous. If you receive offers or request for information over SMS, WhatsApp, MMS or other means, don’t click on any link it contains. Delete the message instead.

●        Take care with public WI-FI and unsecured internet connections. Information sent over such networks can be intercepted.

●        A handbag or wallet contains a lot of useful information for identify theft and other cybercrime. Keep your personal possessions safe and in sight.

●        Phones attract more cybercrime, but computers remain a target. Always run antivirus software that is up to date and be sure to apply system updates regularly.

●        If you think something is wrong, do not hesitate. Contact your mobile service provider or bank’s hotline immediately if you notice odd behaviour.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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