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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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