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When biometrics go bad

Inadequate biometrics systems could be creating a false sense of security in banks, security estates and office blocks, and in effect rolling out a red carpet to criminals, writes MARIUS COETZEE, MD of Ideco.

Biometrics-based security devices, in particular fingerprint readers, are now widely in use across South Africa. But in many cases, they could be creating a false sense of security among enterprises, and worse – serving to enable criminal activities.

This is because not all fingerprint readers are created equal. Although all fingerprint readers use minutiae points to match fingerprints, not all have the ability to detect the difference between real minutiae of a fingerprint and spoofed minutiae. Typically, enterprises investing in fingerprint readers believe the biggest risk facing them is a scenario in which a fraudster or criminal replicates someone else’s finger or fingerprint, and uses it to gain access to a premises or to authenticate their identity. But because most fingerprint readers are manned by cashiers, tellers or security guards, the chances are slim that the fraudster will have an opportunity to introduce an entire fake finger into the process unnoticed.

A lesser known risk, and one far easier for villains to employ, is to fake or ‘spoof’ minutiae. The simplest methods are simply to wind thin thread around the fingertip, or to introduce a series of cuts to the fingerprint. This creates scores of new minutiae points, increasing the risk that the spoofed fingerprint will be a close enough match to that of an authorised person on the estate or bank database. No one should underestimate the ingenuity of criminals – they know the reader uses minutiae points to match them against a profile, and they also know that by introducing a lot of false minutiae points, they will increase the chances of their matching an existing profile on the system. Only the most advanced technology has the ability to differentiate between typical cuts and true minutiae to determine whether a fingerprint has been spoofed or not.

Performance requirements and consequential recourse

Another major risk lies in the fingerprint system’s performance and standards: in many cases, the images they produce are of a low quality and characterised by noise, or they simply do not meet the standards required by law enforcement agencies and courts. This means that in the case of fraud or a criminal opening a bank account using such a fingerprint reader, the biometric records and images generated cannot be processed against the SAPS criminal record system, or indeed most international law enforcement systems.

Equally concerning is the fact that these systems produce images that are of a quality too poor to be admissible as evidence in a court of law. The mere fact that many fingerprint readers used today are not compliant to international standards for evidence and criminal investigation defeats the entire objective of using fingerprints for proof of identity in the FICA or RICA process.

Inadequate biometrics-based identification and security systems therefore, could not only give villains access to accounts and assets; they could also help them to avoid prosecution.

Organisations need be very careful in their choice of biometric devices deployed for customer identification, security and protection of assets, to ensure they are compliant with all key standards and legislation, and that the systems deliver the security they promise.

When selecting systems, organisations need to ask:

–          Is it fit for purpose at the site, and for effective governance, risk and compliance?

–          Does it fully adhere to regulatory requirements from the process of taking the customer aboard through to post-event audits?

–          Can it be spoofed by added minutiae caused by thread, cuts, wrinkles and blisters?

–          Does the technology discard false minutiae and only process true minutia?

–          Is the data collected by the device, including all records and images, fully compliant to all international standards?

–          Can this data be processed against the SAPS criminal record system?

–          Is this data accepted as evidence in a court of law?

Always remember that mass adoption does not constitute great technology, but rather great sales effort. A simple “show me how accurate it is”, is always recommended.

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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