It’s become a cliché that the smart fridge – one with sensors inside and connection to the Internet on the outside – will one day automatically order milk or replenish other items before they run out.
The reality is not only different, but also darker: smart appliances have little protection from hackers, and may be a way for cybercriminals to hijack devices, as well as invade privacy. Especially as smart TVs become standard – both in South Africa and across the world – we are exposing ourselves to dangers we don’t even know exist.
From TVs and fridges to security cameras and Wi-Fi routers, the very devices that are meant to make our lives easier are also the ones that make us more vulnerable. And this is not theoretical. As long ago as 2014, cybercriminals created a “botnet” – when a large amount of hacked computers are used in concert to mount a spam or other attack – which hijacked 100 000 devices, including routers, TVs and even a fridge.
“For some time we’ve seen attacks on security cameras, routers, and networking equipment,” said Marco Preuss, head of research at cybersecurity leaders Kaspersky Lab. “There are a lot of things happening to abuse these devices for malicious activities against other users, but also using them as entry point to the owner’s system.”
Preuss was speaking at the recent Kaspersky Transparency Summit in Zurich, when the company announced the opening of a Transparency Centre in Switzerland for regulators and other organisations to view its software code directly.
A panel discussion during the event, on the risks and rewards of transparency in cybersecurity, highlighted the absence of trust in technology. In the past, if a cybersecurity company said one could trust them, most people believed it. But that time is past, said Jan-Peter Kleinhans, project director for a project called Security in the Internet of Things at a German think tank, Stiftung Neue Verantwortung.
“The term ‘trust me’ is 1990s cybersecurity,” he said. “If someone says trust me, I want proof of it. How do we trust them?”
This problem will become far worse once we cannot trust even appliance makers, he said in an interview after the event.
“In the future every product will be connected. For commercial off-the-shelf devices (COTS), we already see rapidly increasing demand for voice assistants, smart lighting, and Smart TVs. So the question is not IF something gets connected but WHEN.
“All these devices will be vulnerable. Here the question is more how easy it is for criminals to exploit those devices – right now it’s extremely easy. For COTS devices I think the biggest problem are botnets that form a globally distributed botnet that the criminal can rent out for attacks against websites or credit card fraud or attacking production servers.”
The worst of it, he said, is that there is little the consumer can do. Kleinhans called on regulators to steps in, and pointed to the European Union’s Cybersecurity Act as a potential solution.
“It focuses on voluntary certification and security standards in the hopes that manufacturers see IT security as a competitive advantage. I don’t think voluntary certification by itself is enough, but it’s a solid first step. At the same time there is a growing debate about ‘software liability’ in many European countries. I think over the next five years we will see tighter and clearer regulation regarding IT security in general.”
In the meantime, it is not only the home user whois at risk, said Preuss.
“It affects everyone from consumer to small and medium businesses to enterprises. There is no limit in this whole environment, because more and more gets connected. In Germany you have smart connected production facilities, and public infrastructure like power plants and water supply that gets more and more connected, so that one can control what power needs to be produced to keep the network as stable as possible.”
The danger will escalate as energy production shifts from “classic nuclear and coal power plants” to solar and wind-based energy systems, which all depend on smart connected systems to pull their energy into the grid and keep it stable, said Preuss.
“Every company is an IT (information technology) company nowadays, whether they are working with wood or stone or clothes. The problem is everybody still does not realise they are an IT company, because most are still in the mindset of just working with wood and creating furniture, for example. No, you’re an IT company, because all your machines are connected, all your manufacturers are connected, and all your customers are online and connected. You have all this customer information digitalised.”
Preuss outlined a wide range of potential cyber attacks in this environment, from ransom attempts by encrypting company data to stealing company information to pretending to have cracked your account through password leaks and demanding payment not to publish sensitive information.
“The borders between consumer, small and medium business, enterprise, and government are less and less visible, ands everyone of us is now a node in the whole network. On the Internet, there is no longer a difference anymore between personal and business life. When I am private on a social network, I can still be targeted by people trying to get into my company. Everything is connected.”
The best known example of a potential danger is the idea that smart fridges can be accessed by hackers and pulled together into a massive network, or botnet, that launches what is known as a DDoS, or distributed denial of service attack, when a large number of computer attempt to connect to the same computer at the same time, causing it to crash. The most widely distributed software used for this is called Mira (see sidebar), which looks for unprotected Internet of Things devices. It is available as open source software for any hacker to download.
Said Preuss, “Mira was automated to spread on web cameras connected to the Internet by using default user name and password combinations. In most cases, users don’t change the default user name and password or don’t know how or are not aware that they should. Many of these systems also ship with very old hardware and you can’t update them, or updates are not shipped by vendors.
“The result is that you have less control of these devices. Just on the consumer level, you already probably have a router, smart TV, and smart security system. You may have smart controllers in kitchen. We’re talking a lot of different devices and platforms from a lot of different vendors.”
The home user, said Preuss, needs to be like system administrators from enterprises in the past, but the home user is not an IT expert.
“Yet these devices still do not offer the ease of use or functionality, by design, to make them more secure by ease of update and configuration.”
What can consumers do?
“Consumers can think about which device they buy, ask about security, ask about transparency, what happens with data, and do I need to connect it to the Internet? Just because a fridge has Wi-Fi, doesn’t mean I need to connect it.”
How to create an esports team
2018 was a landmark year for South African esports as one of the country’s best teams took the battle overseas and made waves in the international scene. A year ago Bravado’s top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team relocated to Arizona in the U.S., a venture dubbed Project Destiny, where they used the opportunity to train as full-time professional athletes and conquer the best teams out there.
Project Destiny was a massive success. A year later and Bravado’s CS:GO team had carved a name for itself through several high-profile victories and invitations to top tier tournaments. Clearly this is not the end of the story and the team has been reflecting on the lessons and opportunities.
Team captain Dimitri “Detrony” Hadjipaschali helped lead Project Destiny and gleaned a considerable amount on what needs to go into an esports team.
Team for the right reasons
For aspirant pro players who want to up their game, pun intended, he advises starting at the basics: why do you want a team?
“In recent times, people want to create a team with no direct intention, not knowing if they want to do this casually and socially, or professionally. Doing this professionally requires risk. It depends on how much work and sacrifices are contributed to the cause of creating a team. Playing socially is fine, part-time, as many people do, but playing professionally and wanting to reach the top one day, purely depends on your dedication, motivation and intention.”
Put in the hours
Like any aspirant pro athlete, preparation requires hours of training. Bravado’s players all put in several hours of training daily, 7 days a week, and Project Destiny’s full-time pros worked multiple training sessions every day, usually in the morning and afternoon for 4 hours each, as well as competitive matches in the late evening.
But even Bravado members who are not full time still put in hours of training every day. Serious players need to find the time and build up their dedication because this level of performance is simply the bar set in esports. Said Dimitri:
“The general esports title or game a team competes in will require anything, if not more than, a traditional sport outside of esports would require to get to the top.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to go all-out from the start. Esports are tiered with the top players in the highest tiers. So there is space to cut your esporting teeth while making room for it in your life. But never forget that to be one of the best means no half-measures. In esports, you have to commit to win.
“A good team player is an individual who views his team as a single unit and not just himself as an ‘individual player’ in the bigger picture,” said Dimitri. “They put their team first and before themselves. This is the first main fundamental of a mindset required for a team player.”
Pro teams shouldn’t be mistaken for gaming clans, which are more casual and where gaming is a hobby. Even though they can be very competitive, clans mostly play for fun and entertainment, whereas a professional team is highly competitive with goals that it sets out to accomplish.
This is important because it helps the team members agree on the importance of those goals and the focus required. If you are not willing to show up every day to play the same game, partake in training exercises and learn from feedback, a pro career won’t work for you:
“Playing professionally requires aligned individuals where they share common goals and have equal intentions to realize what they want to achieve and what it takes to compete at a high level.”
Professional athletes aren’t created overnight. It takes many years of focus and dedication while also pursuing studies or working at a day job before someone manages to ascend into a paid career. Esports is the same and demands patience alongside dedication.
Esports teams amplify this requirement. While in Arizona, Bravado applied the maxim “Teams who work together win together.” Household chores were divided up between players, creating a sense of common responsibility. This repetitive reinforcement of team values is crucial for success, whereas impatience for a team to ‘click’ is a recipe for disaster:
“Often, teams do not achieve their desired results and achievements in the short run and immediately resort to a roster change. Or someone in the team is replaced without a completely valid reason. This underestimates the importance of sticking together to create synergy in the long run.”
He also added that using time smartly is perhaps even more important than the amount of time spent on training. The team under Project Destiny used a full-time coach who helped set routines, objectives and priorities:
“The mistake with teams struggling to improve these days is that they do not know and understand how to work with limited time, and how to do this best and constructively as possible. Often teams that aren’t at a top competitive level yet arrange bootcamps, but set the limited time they have with each other incorrectly, or rather not to the best potential.”
When Bravado embarked on Project Destiny, it aimed to put South African esports on the map and serve as role models for aspirant players in the country. By those measures, it has been a huge success and Bravado continues to grow and educate. Through the ongoing support of sponsors Alienware and Intel, Bravado continues its mission of creating esporting excellence and opportunity for South Africans.
Learn more at bravadogaming.com or contact Bravado’s players directly via their social media accounts.
Opera reveals SA browsing habits
Opera, one of the world’s major browser developers, and leader in AI driven digital content delivery and discovery, has released its State of Mobile Web 2019 report, revealing that nine out of ten people in South Africa use their mobile browser every day.
Other Key findings from the report include:
- Internet users in Africa use their browser to access social media domains such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, followed by entertainment and search websites
- Opera News users in Africa spend 50% of in-app time watching videos
- South Africans pay six times more per gigabyte of mobile data than people in India
- Opera Mini saved users nearly 100 million USD in mobile data in 2018
The report reveals that the Opera mobile browsers and standalone news app were used by nearly 20 million internet users in Africa and by more than 350 million people globally in the first quarter of 2019. The State of Mobile Web 2019 report also shows that Opera experienced a growth of more than 26 percent of its user base year on year, compared to the first quarter of 2018 in Africa.
“We are thrilled to see that our mobile browsers and news app have grown by 25 million monthly users in the last year, ” said Jørgen Arnesen, Head of Marketing and Distribution at Opera. “The new Opera News app has led this positive growth, as well as the introduction of new features to our mobile browsers like built-in VPN and crypto wallet. The successful partnerships Opera has with major smartphone manufacturers in Africa have also contributed to this massive growth”.
The 2019 edition of the State of the Mobile Web report looked into the use of the Opera Mini browser and the Opera browser for Android, and it shows that mobile browsing is one of the most popular online activities among African internet users. For example, in South Africa, nine out of ten people use their mobile browser every day, an activity they prefer over the use of other applications like YouTube.
The report also revealed that on average, Africans using Opera spend more than 30 minutes browsing online each day. The most browsed category of websites was social media platform domains such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, followed by search engines like Google, and entertainment and sport websites.
100 million dollars saved on mobile data
In the State of the Mobile Web 2019 report, Opera gives detailed insight into the use of the data savings feature in the Opera Mini browser, and compares the average price of mobile data in 20 countries in Africa. The results revealed that the data compression mode in Opera Mini saved users nearly 100 million USD of data in 2018.
In this analysis, Opera also compared the costs of data in some African countries with the cost of mobile data in India and Germany. The outcome of this analysis showed that South Africans pay six times more per gigabyte of mobile data than Indians and almost the same price as Germans for one gigabyte of mobile data.
Rapidly changing news and video consumption landscape
The report takes a look at the trends of news and video consumption across Africa. This includes analyzing the usage of its standalone Opera News app, which grew from launch to over 20 million users in a period of one year. Categories like breaking news, local news, and entertainment were the favourites among users in the first quarter of the year.
Video content is also becoming more popular among people who use the Opera News app. The report shows that people spend 50 percent of in-app time inOpera News watching videos on Instaclips, the recently added video feature on the news app.
The usage of Instaclips keeps growing since its test launch in December 2018: in Q1-2019, Instaclips registered a total of 122,000 videos uploaded in different languages such as English, Portoguese, French, Arabic and Swahilli.
Expanding beyond browsing to fuel digital transformation
Opera’s commitment to digital transformation in Africa is ongoing. Beyond the development of its mobile browsers and standalone news app, Opera has made major investments on the African continent, expanding its services to other technology areas such as FinTech and digital advertising.
In 2018, Opera announced the launch of OKash, a fintech micro-lending solution that quickly gained traction among mobile internet users in Kenya. Today, OKash ranks among the most downloaded micro lending applications among Kenyans and its user base keeps on growing.
In May 2019,Opera announced the introduction of Opera Ads, a new advertising platform that allows media agencies and publishers to run more targeted marketing campaigns through the Opera platforms.
The full version of State of Mobile Web 2019 report is available to read online or for download by clicking here.