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World War III may be breaking out online

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The digital transformation of our lives and economies has led to great advances, but at the same time it has resulted in increased exposure to a range of threats and given rise to new vocabulary such as shadow IT, phishing, ransomware and botnets, writes TINUS JANSE VAN RENSBURG, Cisco Regional Manager of Security Africa region

The digital transformation of our lives and economies has led to great advances in communication and productivity, but it has also created a great dependency on Internet connectivity across industries and individuals. This has resulted in increased exposure to a range of threats and given rise to new vocabulary such as shadow IT, phishing, ransomware and botnets.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has radically improved lives, but has also created a new set of challenges that come with the ubiquity of networks; starting with their protection. Technology is ingrained in every aspect of today’s economy with many core assets now digital in nature, and susceptible to attack. While conventional wars saw planes, ships and tanks controlled by pilots, sailors and soldiers, today’s agents of destruction include laptops, mobiles and an Internet connection. The virtual ‘theatre of war’ now includes elusive forces capable of violating companies, governments and individuals with an array of digital weapons that can be automated to amplify the impact. Today, a few strokes on a keyboard can destroy an individual’s reputation, affect stock prices, and even the fate of nations.

The scale of the challenge is sobering. Every day over 20 billion cyber-threats (almost three for every man, woman and child on the planet) are blocked by Cisco. Last year, the global incidents of distributed denial-of-service attacks (which inundate network servers with junk Web traffic), jumped by 172%. This is expected to more than double to 3.1 million attacks by 2021. What these statistics do not provide, however, is the increasing levels of sophistication used by online perpetrators and sophisticated syndicates that make stealing data, disrupting networks and extorting money their business.

Today’s Allied Forces

Fortunately, forces are aligning to protect citizens, companies and governments from elements that aim to undermine the so-called ‘free world’ of the 21st Century. The Allied Forces of today are members of the private and public sector who are coming together to fight a ‘silent war’ against an enemy that is often faceless and operating from a borderless territory. While wars have typically been based on gaining or protecting territories and resources, the cyber war of the present is about maintaining and protecting the digital circulatory system of the global economy, and in some cases, the integrity of political systems.

For example, earlier this year two technology giants – IBM and Cisco –announced an agreement to work together in a number of areas, including ‘threat intelligence’. Apart from integrating various security products and services, the two companies have agreed to share their expertise in order to better detect and mitigate threats, as well as creating integrated security tools offering automated threat responses with greater speed and agility. Such a coordinated response is necessary given that 65% of organisations are using up to 50 different security products, with many of these organisations migrating security infrastructure to public and private cloud providers.

Apart from software and hardware companies collaborating, we are also seeing new organisations and forums being created to share information such as the Internet Watch Foundation, and the Cyber Threat Alliance. The scourge of cyber-threats has caused cybersecurity experts from diverse organisations in the ICT industry to work together in good faith to improve the broader defense capabilities.

‘Art of War’

In these days of digital warfare and the potential for digital infiltrations to spread quickly, being responsive is paramount. Fortunately, with more organisations collaborating and new technologies being applied, (such as machine learning), response rates to digital threats have improved dramatically. For example, between November 2015 and May 2017, Cisco decreased its median time to detection from just over 39 hours to about 3.5 hours. Beyond detecting threats and responding, today’s Allied Forces are pre-emptively blocking online incursions. For example, on a daily basis, the global threat intelligence company Talos inspects over 600 billion email samples and collects in excess of one billion malware samples.

Given the scale of cyber threats, it is essential to automate the detection and handling of threats and to secure ‘peripherals’ such as mobile devices. Using Artificial Intelligence, one new countermeasure is a technology called Cognitive Threat Analytics (CTA).  Developed by Cisco, CTA continuously learns from the massive amounts of data it analyses, making it possible to identify threats and distinguishing them from normal online traffic, thereby offering a ‘smart defense’ against malicious network behaviors at a scale and speed unmatched by humans. Another advancement that was introduced in February this year, is the first Secure Internet Gateway (SIG) in the cloud.  Designed to address the inherent security risks in an increasingly mobile workforce, it protects employees – whether they are on or off the corporate network – providing a ‘safety net’ that covers 100% of mobile traffic, without the need to install hardware and or manually update software.

Becoming battle-ready

The day-to-day activities of all countries in the modern economy are part of a hyper-connected, global system.  As a result, all individuals, companies and countries are potential targets for organisations with nefarious intentions.  Being ‘battle ready’ is critical. This entails education, training, equipment, technology and specialised services to protect against digital attacks. It also demands a coordinated and collaborative defence across industry, government and society as part of taking a proactive stance to safeguard digital communication systems.

Security is everyone’s concern and protecting ourselves can no longer be conducted in isolation. With this is mind, it is useful to ponder the timeless words of Sun Tzu – the 500 B.C. Chinese philosopher and military strategist and author of The Art of War:

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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