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Why cyber criminals love your smartphone

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Smartphones have become a central part of our lives. But, while they aim to heighten convenience, there is a real feeling that smartphones are becoming a bigger target for cybercriminals, says CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, ESET South Africa CEO.

So, why are criminals eager to get into our devices?

A smartphone knows everything about us

The amount of information stored on a smartphone has skyrocketed in recent years.  The connectivity of apps means we supply nearly every piece of information about ourselves, whether its bank account details or our preferred taste in pizza.

For a cybercriminal potentially wanting to commit identity theft, a smartphone is a goldmine.

It’s a way into companies and other organisations

The use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has become one of the most prominent trends for companies around the globe. Cybercriminals are viewing these devices as an ideal gateway into stealing valuable corporate information.

Security can be lax

The rise of BYOD has also caused plenty of headaches for a number of companies in various industries, mainly due to difficulties in rolling out a unified approach to security.

In a recent Tech Pro Research survey of CIOs, tech executives and IT workers, 45% of respondents said mobile devices posed the greatest risk to a company’s infrastructure, with the fragmented nature of some mobile platforms cited as a primary reason.

Autofill has become our best friend

One of the reasons our phones are carrying more personal information than ever before is primarily down to our desire for convenience.

With our devices now handling a myriad of services and subsequent apps, we find ourselves with a larger number login details than ever before.

It’s a route into your wallet

Our phones can be used to transfer money, pay our bills, and are even being used as a method of payment.

Apps such as SnapScan and FlickPay are pushing mobile payments into the  mainstream, and some experts expect it to be a trend that will continue over the next few years.

Of course, the only drawback is that they are likely to catch the attention of cybercriminals.

Phones know where you are and where you are work

In many circumstances, the reason behind tracking your device are entirely innocent, such as helping you get the most out of your data and your apps.

For example, if you’re out and about, you can check out restaurant or business recommendations with just a couple of swipes.

However, hacking a device’s GPS capabilities is not seen as a difficult task, with many gamers using it to cheat at the popular augmented reality game Pokémon Go in the hands of the criminals, a compromised GPS could be an unnerving prospect.

Bluetooth

For several years now, Bluetooth has been a regular feature on smartphones and other mobile devices. Yet, like GPS, it is still seen as a potential entry point for cybercriminals.

The effects of such an attack can result in Bluesnarfing – where a phone’s private information is compromised, or Bluebugging, which allows a criminal to take complete control of your phone.

But while there is a risk, these methods are becoming increasingly harder for hackers to exploit.

Some scams are specific to mobile

There are several well-known ways in which cybercriminals can use your smartphones to make quick cash.

In countries like China, for example, malware can be used to access devices and force them to call premium numbers that charge large amounts.

These scams are not only potentially lucrative, but can also spread across large numbers of devices.

They’re a great way of sending spam

Everyone hates spam. Well, apart from cybercriminals, anyway.

There are several reasons why a criminal would want to send spam, but many of them see smartphones as the ideal platform for sending these communications.

This is mainly because it is much harder for service providers to track down and block offenders.

Users are ignorant about the dangers

Many of the most seasoned tech users are now well acquainted with best practices when it comes to using laptops or desktops, but smartphones often slip down the list of priorities.

Which, in some ways is surprising, given that smartphones have increasingly been targeted since as early as 2005.

However, as the threat is more visible than ever, we’re slowly beginning to understand that security matters. Let’s treat them with the importance they deserve.

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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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