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You’re not that private!

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Images, locations and health issues are just some of the bits of data that are sent to the cloud – sometimes out of our control. But, have you wondered who has access to this data? VINCE RESENTE of Intel explores these issues an how we can address them.

You’re watching your son play a school soccer match. Your camera is ready when he scores the winning goal, taking his team to victory. You’re so proud; you can’t wait to share the news. Along with the picture, you write: “The goal that made Sunny Hills Primary School winners today; well done, Peter!”

A few hours later, you get this message: “I saw Peter’s goal for Sunny Hills – amazing! I was on the other side; you have to see this angle.” You probably won’t think twice about clicking on the link in the message – obviously the person sending the message was there, how else would he know your son’s name, his school and that he scored the winning goal?

Two months later, you can’t understand why you’ve been blacklisted and the bank won’t grant you a personal loan.

Hackers are using social engineering methods such as these, which prey on our willingness to share our lives online, to access our personal information. They trick us into following links that give them access to our phones, which these days store everything from our social media profiles, which are always logged in, to our GPS apps that have our home addresses already saved. It’s become almost too easy to steal someone’s identity.

IoT?

With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), we’ll soon be sending a lot more personal information to the cloud. Wearable devices that monitor our heart rates, blood pressure and glucose levels are becoming as common as regular wristwatches, while apps like Waze and Foursquare let anyone know where we are – and when we’re not at home, which is practically an invitation to burglars.

Where is all this information going and who has access to it? At the moment, too many people.

I don’t mind if my doctor can see my health data, but I have a problem with my medical insurance company using it to hike my premiums because my heart rate never goes past resting. And I certainly don’t want hackers getting their hands on it.

By default, our IoT DNA should be locked down in a virtual vault for which only we have the password. Only we should decide who can access what information – like an opt-in system – and block access to everyone else.

But passwords are inherently insecure, especially when we use the same one for multiple accounts. Anti-virus software and firewalls don’t offer sufficient protection as they’re easily breached and rely on users to regularly update them.

My eyes only

Everyone in the value chain has a responsibility to protect users’ information, from the users themselves and device manufacturers, to software creators and security providers.

We’re already seeing promising developments in the security industry. Soon, our faces or fingerprints will be our passwords, while password repositories will store passwords for the sites we use most often, and will only allow us to access those sites once we’ve supplied a ‘master’ password.

Device manufacturers and software vendors are also addressing flaws in existing security systems. Intel Security (previously known as McAfee), for example, is no longer just concerned with viruses and firewalls. It now checks multiple entries for infiltration and records common patterns. Anything out of the ordinary – if your computer pings every other PC on the network, for example – will get blocked and reported.

Soon we won’t need anti-virus software because the processor will be doing the smart thinking to flag suspicious behaviour. Every PC will be equipped with a software appliance that will operate as the firewall instead of having to load software onto an operating system.

In the past, we could walk the streets at night and not continually look over our shoulders. Today, we jump at every sound and take precautions to protect ourselves. We’ve adapted to changes in our physical security; we need to apply that same vigilance to cyber security.

* Vince Resente, Enterprise Technology Specialist at Intel Corporation

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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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