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5G. The Evolution Of Speed and Surveillance

5G Speed and Surveillance

One can only begin to imagine the possibilities of 5G network connectivity when one has a more in depth understanding of how network or mobile connectivity has evolved to get to the point where it is. To begin to understand 5G let’s take a dive into the world of cellular network connectivity.

Generation 1

The first generation (1G) of mobile network connectivity was introduced in Japan in 1979 by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) at a whopping sign-up cost of $2000 per user. By today’s monetary equivalent that would set you back around R110 000, and that was only the cost of signing up. Then there was the rental of the phone which was around a present-day value of R16 000 a month.

Now, the value that you got from those exorbitant costs were as basic as it gets. 1G only allowed for voice calls and someone with the correct know how could easily listen in on your call if they wanted to. Even though you were paying the price of a small car there was no data encryption for 1G connectivity.

The Next Generation

2G was the next generation of mobile connectivity. This generation did have the capability of being encrypted. This meant it was much harder for an eavesdropper to listen in on your private calls. Encryption scrambles communication between two devices, meaning an unauthorized third party would not be able to understand what was being said between you and whoever was on the other end of the call.

2G started with encryption before 5g
Encryption Started With 2G

Then Came 3G & 4G

In 2001, 3G came to the forefront of mobile networking technology. With this advancement in technology came the ability to access the internet using mobile phones. 3G got the ball rolling in terms of how powerful smartphones would become in the hands of their users. Not only that, a user’s internet surfing habits and search history could now be recorded by cellular companies as well as government agencies and, it has only gotten worse from there.

4G made way for the use of mobile apps which became an integral part of the smart device user experience. Developers and companies saw the value in the information that apps are able to collect about their users from your location to your favourite flavour of ice-cream.

Apps Advanced Data Collection Capabilities
Apps Advanced Data Collection Capabilities

The Personal Cost of Improved Technology

With each new generation of mobile network connectivity that is released, not only does your internet experience improve, but the effectiveness of companies to capture and document information about you, like the things you like, the places you go, the goods and services you purchase online and even the people you socialize with, improves with it, whether we like it or not.

There is a price to pay when using modern-day technology it seems and that is why some people are hesitant about 5G. Because what is the real cost of adopting something now more powerful than 4G. What is possible with the fifth generation of mobile network connectivity?

5G Superiority

There is no question that 5G is a major breakthrough in terms of cellular and mobile network connectivity. 5G has far superior potential compared to its predecessor. For example, 4G had a download speed of about 150Mbps. 5G is said to have ten times that speed ranging from 1Gbs to 10Gbs.

Latency with 5G connectivity will also be much lower than with 4G connectivity. Latency is the time it takes for your computer to send a signal to a server, or another computer, and then for the server or computer to send that signal back to your computer measured in milliseconds.

5G and Surveillance

Due to its enhanced communication capability and speed, 5G will allow improved performance in terms of surveillance. Many security systems communicate to a server via cellular communication and due to the performance 5G offers, security will be augmented in such a way that allows for instantaneous communication.

In essence what will change is the time delay between the action and response. 5G could allow for faster communication to alert emergency services of a potentially dangerous situation. However, not all surveillance is, or will be ,beneficial to you.

Should We Be Concerned?

Obviously there are concerns about surveillance of your personal device and one should proceed with caution however, the silver lining is that 5G is said to have superior encryption capabilities. Smart devices collect data such as voice commands, location, search preferences and even the way your voice sounds, so that it can identify you who are with more accuracy.

Information such as your location could be used against you in some circumstances. Even though police would need a subpoena to obtain such information, it is not entirely impossible. Police would then be able to put you in a certain place and time should they need to, just by looking at the data records from your smart phone.

5G Will Provide Faster and More Accurate Information
5G Will Provide Faster and More Accurate Information

Nothing is ever really deleted. Your data could be stored on servers for years. In this day and age, to be completely free of being monitored or tracked, you would have to move to the middle of the Amazon forest, and even then, you may not be completely off-grid.

If you think the SAPS would never be able to see your data, think again. There is something called the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT). So, for example, if the SAPS needed data extracted from your phone, say from Hong Kong, China they could use the MLAT to ask the companies for access to your data stored on their servers. This is the type of surveillance that is making people nervous.

5G and Me

As mentioned, your download speeds will be nothing like you’ve ever experienced before. The rate at which you can communicate with other devices will exponentially increase and so will the amount of information your device is able to share with friends and family.

Connectivity of other smart devices will also improve. For example, we are already seeing the advent of smart phones connecting to cars whereby you are able to switch your car on and warm up the seats (if you that fancy) from anywhere in the world.

More Powerful Connectivity Means More Inter-connectivity
More Powerful Connectivity Means More Inter-connectivity

All these great advancements seem to come with a price. The amount of data that will be available about you will be vastly scaled. It’s not the end of the world though, it just means you need to be more careful about the information that you store on your devices and what permissions you allow apps to have. If this is a real concern for you then our blog posts on how to create a strong password and how to avoid being tracked online will be a good read for you.

History Repeating

People had the exact same worries about 4G as they currently do about 5G. People like to create panic, and history has a tendency of repeating itself so don’t believe everything you read or hear about 5G and how the government will be able to ‘read your mind’ while connected, even if in the Amazon.

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Digital Payments in South Africa and Using them Safely

Digital Payments in South Africa and how to use them safely

With the Fourth Industrial Revolution upon us, we are moving closer and closer to becoming cashless societies. The advancement in technology with how we transact and pay for goods and services is rapidly evolving. Digital payments in South Africa and around the world are being adopted rapidly and not many people carry cash around with them anymore. I keep thinking about what that means for the man on the street, but I digress…

Common digital payments currently in South Africa

Today, for most people in First World and Middle-Income Countries, the preferred method of payment is some sort of electronic payment mechanism for convenience, improved user experience and safety reasons.

Companies are adopting new technologies at a rapid rate and are becoming more and more innovative with how they process customer payments. Some of the new forms of digital payments in South Africa include things like QR codes, you know, the funny looking barcode on the bottom of your bill. When making this type of payment you simply whip out your phone, open your payment app, like SnapScan, scan the code and, voila! Payment accepted.

The most common form of digital payment in South Africa that we have become used to is probably your bank card that allows you to simply tap your card on ‘The Machine’. As a word of caution, you should keep your bank cards in a RFID (radio-frequency-identification) safe wallet. This type of wallet protects your card from being randomly scanned through your pants or coat pocket by opportunistic criminals.

Digital Payments in South Africa
Make sure your wallet is RFID safe

Bank cards are becoming a thing of the past

Although for now you need to keep your bank cards safe, they are also rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Banks are now beginning to offer digital cards that you can carry on your smartphone. There will soon no longer be a need to carry your bank cards with you on a night out with the family.

Digital bank cards will be available on your smartphone

Other digital payments in development

1. Contactless payments

The latest global digital payment trends are slowly making their way into South Africa. A contactless payment is almost like tapping your card without needing your card. Huh? You can simply use your phone, or smart watch, to pay for your goods and services. You can load your card details onto your device and when you need to pay you simply wave your phone or watch near the terminal and using NFC (Near Field Communication) your device will successfully make the payment.

This form of technology is still in the early testing days for most banks accepting digital payments in South Africa, but many banks have expressed their interest in adopting these payment options as soon as they are available to better service their clients.

Men, just think, you would only need to carry your phone, car keys, reading glasses, sunglasses, house keys and face mask. Ah yes, one less item to remember before heading out the door.

2. Biometric authentication:

Biometric authentication is a verification method which involves biological and structural characteristics of a person. These verification methods include fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, iris recognition, heartbeat analysis, and vein mapping.

Biometric scanning will really go a long way to curb the massive problem of identity theft in South Africa and make payments efficient and safe. You may have noticed your online banking app asking you to set up biometric identification on your mobile phone.

3. EMV (Europay, Mastercard, Visa)

Traditionally, bank accounts were recognised by a unique code of numbers that were static. EMV uses codes that are unique for each transaction. The numbers vary from transaction to transaction thereby scrambling the numbers, which drastically improves security. If a hacker cannot get a hold of what a number is before it changes they will find it very difficult to get into your bank account and steal your funds.

4. Smart Speaker Systems

Smart-home systems like Alexa allow you to give voice commands and receive a verbal response to that command. You can give commands like to turn on your favourite music or switch the lights off when you go to bed at night.

It is also possible to order goods and services and make the payments through smart speakers like for an Uber ride. There are still many security and privacy concerns and the adoption has been slow as a result. However tech-companies like Google, Amazon and  Apple are in a race to develop this technology into safe-to-use devices that will make transactions secure and efficient.

Biometric authentication
Biometric authentication, very cool.

What about my other cards, will they go digital?

These are just a few of the current and developing digital payments that will become available in South Africa in the near future. But what about things like my driver’s license, my 50 loyalty cards and my gym card? I need to be able to keep those somewhere too. The good news is that there are trends emerging where these services are also becoming digital in South Africa. Your loyalty cards will be on your smartphone, like the Checkers, Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths loyalty card. There is no reason why the rest won’t follow suit. What a pleasure!

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How to avoid being tracked online by tech companies

How to avoid being tracked online by tech companies

As human beings, our privacy (including how to avoid being tracked online) and personal boundaries are inexplicably linked to our human dignity, our independence and our freedom. Privacy and the ability to decide who to let in and when, is critical to being able to be separate from others and to maintain self-determination.

There has been a lot of news coverage with the ‘Big Tech Antitrust Hearing’ happening in the USA. The whole hearing is really about whether we as consumers can trust big tech companies. Trust is the foundation of all lasting and healthy relationships. Without trust there can be no progress. Perhaps the big tech companies, in order to earn our trust, should be the one’s telling us how to avoid being tracked online?

We have put together a guide on how to avoid being tracked online in light of all the information that has come out about these tech companies and their anti-trust practices.

The disappointing realisation from the efforts of the US government to begin regulating these tech companies is that they too are under scrutiny for tracking their citizens (see the PRISM program for more information). If it is happening in one nation, it is happening in others too. So, it seems, we need to take responsibility for ourselves to avoid being tracked online while surfing the internet and we ‘trust’ that this guide will assist you in your efforts to do just that.

Just remember, that although these tactics will go a long way to keeping the spies at bay, nothing is ever 100% full proof (our little disclaimer).

How to avoid being tracked online by tech companies
We have a right to online dignity

Is it true I need to avoid being tracked online through my computer’s camera?

Sad, but true. Hackers can gain access to your camera through the internet and watch every move you make in front of that little lens. It is possible that you may notice this happening by the little camera light switching on unexpectedly but, that is not always the case. There are techniques that hackers use to avoid being detected. So, when you are not using your laptop to surf the internet, then close it, disconnect it from the internet or place one of those small round stickers over the lens when not in use to avoid being tracked online through your camera.

Avoid being tracked online through your computer’s camera
Avoid being tracked online through your computer’s camera

Just when you thought cookies gave you a warm, comforting feeling?

Remember Hansel and Gretel? In the story, Hansel and Gretel leave behind breadcrumbs so that they can find their way home again after their perilous journey. Unfortunately, the breadcrumbs get eaten by birds, so they could no longer find their way back home.

Similarly, when browsing the internet using a search engine, the websites you visit leave behind cookies on your computer like the trail of breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel. The cookies then keep track of everything you do, from where you shop online, to the articles you are reading on the internet, to the links you are clicking on. They find their way back to your IP address, which is like your home address on the internet.

These cookies are also what allow you to seamlessly login to your most recently visited accounts without having to enter your username and password. Cookie anyone?

The websites you visit leave behind cookies on your computer
The websites you visit leave behind cookies on your computer

Like the birds, you can avoid being tracked online.

One way on how to avoid being tracked online through cookie detection is to clear out your internet browsing history after each session as well as set your browsing options to private. You can also use a website called CCleaner to delete those hard-to-reach cookie ‘crumbs’ from your internet browsing history and so be extra safe.

Also, don’t rely on internet web browsers to keep a record of your usernames and passwords and to keep your information safe. Read our article on how to create a strong password for increased security measures and internet password management.

Another way you can avoid being tracked online is to use alternative internet search engines like StartPage or DuckDuckGo. These search engines allow you to browse the internet without worrying about them tracking you.

Next, you can use a tool called Tor which scrambles your IP address thereby masking your online ‘residential’ address making it difficult for any website to track you. The Tor VPN is even used by Edward Snowden. Need we say more?

Clear your browsing history to remove cookies
Clear your browsing history to remove cookies

Social media platforms and mobile phone apps

Did you know, that mobile phone apps – and not just the big tech companies – can track every phone call you make? They also have the ability to view every photograph on your phone, they can view all of your contacts, complete information on your phone for you, track all of your internet web browsing activity and also track the places you physically visit.

One of the ways they do this is with social media voting buttons or analytics tracking scripts. They do this to build a database of you around your likes and dislikes for advertising targeting purposes. But who knows what else they use the information for and whom they sell it to, without your consent?

We know it can be a drag, but when you register your details on a new website, make sure you read the terms of service first and take steps to protect your online privacy.

Beware the social media voting buttons
Beware the social media voting buttons

Other ways on how to avoid being tracked on your phone.

The only types of apps you should be using on your phone are mobile browser apps.

Only login to websites on your phone when you absolutely have to and then log out again when you done. If you stay logged in, these apps will extract information from you that you probably don’t want them to, including gathering information through your phones microphone, ‘Enemy Of The State’ type stuff. The best way to stay logged out is to delete the cookies on your phone regularly.

Also, disable the location services on your phone. You can disable these services under your phone settings.

If you are using native phone apps (apps developed for a specific platform) then please know that a VPN (virtual private network) won’t be able to protect you from revealing your location.

One last tip: Platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter use cross-site tracking scripts or pixels which are used in social sharing and voting buttons to gather all sorts of data about you. These types of tracking efforts can be blocked using services like Disconnect.

If you have some favourite apps that you use every day for recreational purposes, and you can afford to, then have a dedicated device for these apps. Perhaps a tablet that you can set up with all the security advice and features mentioned in this blog that stays at home and you only connect to the internet when in use. Trust us, it’s worth it.

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What is the cloud and how to make the most use of it

What is the cloud and how to make the most of it

When asked the question ‘What is the cloud?’ you may have looked up at the sky and responded with ‘Well, first of all there isn’t only one, and it depends; it could be cumulus, stratus,  stratocumulus or cumulonimbus?’ But this isn’t a lesson from your primary school Geography lesson days.

I’m sure at this stage of the digital evolution you know a little bit about what the cloud is, and hopefully your grandmother has heard of the term too, not when discussing the weather, but within the context of the ICT (information and communication technology) sector.

How did the cloud originate?

In the beginning, the ‘cloud’ was something that people almost feared. It was seen as mystical and dangerous and almost seemed to be out of a fairytale book. There was uncertainty about security and where it was actually located. “It can’t just be up there, hanging in cyberspace, what is it going to do with my files and how do I get them back down again?”

What most people don’t realise is that they are probably already using the cloud without even knowing it. What it is, in a nutshell, is software and services that run on the internet rather than on your computer or those really expensive servers businesses use to store their company files.

The cloud originated from the idea that businesses and people needed a more efficient way of storing information. A way that was secure, cost-effective and easier to manage than your own servers or external hard drives.

The cloud is efficient and secure
The cloud is efficient and secure

What can I use the cloud for?

  • The great thing about the cloud is you can access files and systems from anywhere, as long as you have a good fibre internet connection. The computing power is also far superior to any internal office network you may have set up and you can buy as much space as you want. You don’t need to worry about things like storage space limits.
  • Although you can deploy cloud computing in several different ways you need to take into consideration where the services are hosted, security requirements (read our blog on how to create a strong password as a start), customisation capabilities, to meet the unique needs of your business, management services and online support.
  • Think of platforms like YouTube. When you upload a video to YouTube of your cute, furry kitten chasing a ball of wool, that video is hosted on the cloud. When you download that video again you download it from the cloud otherwise, how would you be able to get millions of views of that cute ball of fluff? You are not hosting that video for viewers on your computer nor are you hosting the video on your server at the office, no; it is being hosted “in the cloud”.
Your YouTube videos are hosted in the cloud
Your YouTube videos are hosted in the cloud

There are three types of cloud deployment

  1. Public deployment
    Where the services are provided off-site over the internet. Although this cloud service, like Google Drive, is really efficient, they are not as secure as private cloud services.
  2. Private cloud services
    These are maintained on a private network. These cloud services offer better security measures and a sense of control but they will cost you more. An example is Microsoft Office 365.
  3. Hybrid cloud services
    This is a blend of both public and private cloud computing services. The hybrid option is nice because you can spread your needs out across different options and then start to reduce your costs. Some of the challenges may be integration between the different platforms including different security measures.

Some other cool things about our white, puffy friend

  • Another cool thing about cloud-based services is that you pay monthly and when you want to cancel, you cancel. Wouldn’t it be great if some of the bigger cellular network companies operated like that.
  • Also, for personal use, a lot of the services available have free options that are more than sufficient. Just remember though that if you are using a mobile device the cloud does chow your data while using it.
  • Lastly, and most importantly, if you use the cloud and your device is suddenly destroyed by a meteor, not to worry, your information like photos, videos, music, writing and important business documents doesn’t go with it because, it’s all in the cloud, and your information can still be accessed when you up and running again.
If your computer or servers get destroyed you still have your information
If your computer or servers get destroyed you still have your information

Final thought

Don’t be afraid of what the cloud is, it’s not pie-in-the-sky stuff, it really works well and makes you and your business or schoolwork or personal administration at home much more efficient and safer.

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How to create a strong password and keep your digital profiles safe

How to create a strong password and keep your digital profiles safe

If you want to know how to create a strong password and keep your digital profiles safe, then you are on the right blog.

Creating a strong password can be an administrative nightmare as you could end up with numerous accounts with numerous usernames and passwords. The average number of passwords that every online user holds is 26 per person. Gasp! Yes, 26! Keeping track of all of them and ensuring that they are all hack-proof is a juggling act.

What generally tends to happen is that when we don’t know how to create a strong password or feel the one we have is ‘good enough’, we take a blanket approach and either use the same passwords for different accounts or create similar versions of the same password.

Although this approach may seem adequate to you, we  all need to remember that there are hackers “out there” that start with this exact approach when targeting your accounts i.e. they target common passwords or passwords that begin with a capital letter, or ‘admin’, or ‘password’ – yip, people do that. Insane, I know.

How to create a strong password.
Hackers target common passwords

If you want to run a check to see if your passwords have been breached in any way check out this website haveibeenpwned.com.

What hackers are capable of

Hackers are getting smarter and smarter and know that most web users don’t really know how to create a strong password.

They first target the easiest and most commonly used passwords. After that they move onto passwords with the least amount of characters. The more characters you use in a password the harder they are to break. It has been discovered that a password with 7 characters can only take 0.3 milliseconds to crack, but a password with 12 characters, can potentially take up to 200 years to crack.

Think of a safe with a combination lock. If you use your birthdate and a safe cracker starts with that because they have your Identity Number, then no problem to break in right? But if you used a combination of eight numbers that were randomly selected by rolling a dice, then not so easy to break.

Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters
Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters

The different types of hacking attacks

We could write a full article on the different types of attacks you may experience but this article is about how to create a strong password. So here is a snapshot of the most common attacks and some tips on how to safeguard against them

  1. Keylogger attacks – the action of recording the key strokes a person is making while typing on their keyboard.
    Tip – use a password manager so your password is auto-filled and not typed.
  2. Brute force attacks – a bot uses common passwords like ‘password’ or ‘1234’ and enters them into your login page. There are multiple attacks over time and if the bot hits the right password, they are into your account.
    Tip – use a lockout policy i.e. if there are for e.g. 3 failed login attempts it locks out anyone from entering a password again until it is reset.
  3. Dictionary attacks – a bot uses all the words from a dictionary and enters them into your login page. There are multiple attacks over time and if the bot hits the right word, they in. Just ask LinkedIn, they had six million passwords hacked in 2012.
    Tip – Don’t use predictable words or common passwords.
  4. Phishing attacks – Hackers masquerade as ‘legitimate’ businesses and get users to open attachments, click on links or download malicious files.
    Tip – Never click on links, download files, or open attachments from unknown senders and always verify requests for payments or updating your bank details by calling your service provider. Contact them directly to verify an email. Also, never email personal or financial information even to those you trust, as your email can still be breached.
Phishing is a common type of hacking attack
Phishing is a common type of hacking attack

How to create a strong password and other tips to protect your digital profile

Password creation:

  1. Use your web browser to create randomly generated passwords. Your favourite web browsers now offer random password suggestions when you create a new account on any platform
  2. Use an excel spreadsheet and then go mad with typing random letters, numbers and symbols into different blocks. Spread your fingers across your keyboard so as to avoid common typing patterns.
  3. Use a combination of letters in both lower-case and capitals and avoid common capitals e.g. using a capital at the beginning of your password.
  4. Use numbers and symbols when creating a new password.
  5. Fourteen characters is ideal and eight characters is the minimum to use when creating a new password.

Protecting your digital profile:

  1. Us a VPN (virtual private network) – the only way to cloak your web activity (including from your ISP) is to connect to a VPN. Here is a list of tried and tested VPN’s from security.org.
  2. Use identity theft protection  – there are some good identity theft protection software packages that you can use like from this local security company.
  3. Two factor authentication – try using two factor authentication for the most sensitive of accounts. You can set this type of security up at authy.com.
  4. Store your files in the cloud. Use cloud based services to store your information. You can use platforms like Google Drive for personal information and for more advanced features you can use a platform like Microsoft Office 365. For more information on the cloud read this blog post – What is the cloud and how to make the most of it.
Make your password as secure as possible
Make your password as secure as possible

How to keep all your passwords safe

Now that you know how to create a strong password, you need to keep them safe.

  1. Avoid using an excel spreadsheet – this method is far too common when making sure all your usernames and passwords are secure. What if you forget that one password or your laptop gets stolen or lost?
  2. Rather use one of these tools to secure all your passwords:

Lastly and most importantly

Your first line of defence is your device (phone, laptop etc.). Make sure you know how to create a strong password for your device that is the most complicated password of all. If someone gets into your device and you have saved all your login details within your browsers well then, game over.