Ultra-fast 5G mobile and data communication is coming – perhaps as early as this year to some parts of the country. What it will mean to business owners and consumers remains somewhat unclear until we answer the question: What do we want to do with it?
We know that our kids will start asking for phones with operating systems running 5G (the fifth generation of wireless technology). You can explain that unless they regularly download movies or play live-action games, they don’t need one right now. And phones may evolve quickly to adapt to the new protocol, making the first 5G versions quickly old-fashioned.
For business, the benefits may come in the near future. Or, at least, some businesses will benefit fairly soon as 5G enables improvements that can be imagined but so far not put in place because of limits of capacity, speed and accuracy in the current technology for wireless transmission of data.
If you operate an intranet in a large building, for instance, 5G will increase communications speed and capacity by twice or more. That’s because 5G relies not on large cell towers but small communication nodes similar to routers. These “pods” filled with antennae will be placed throughout a building to transmit high-frequency signals from floor to floor.
A benefit of 5G is that it will simultaneously download and transmit data at very high speeds — gigabytes instead of megabytes. As a result, you can download a movie, if you wish, in seconds rather than minutes. With that capability, 5G might offer a reasonable replacement for current cable or DSL.
Connecting everything to everything
Self-driving cars are a focus of 5G because the protocol will allow nearly instant communication between vehicles, traffic signals down the road and unseen traffic jams.
The Internet of Things will continue to grow exponentially as small sensors gain the ability to communicate even faster with each other and their computer bases. Aircraft, for example, will become more autonomous and safer as every system in the airframe is connected and reporting its status second-by-second.
Widely used software from Drupal and Jupiter Networks – two companies known for helping businesses create web pages and improve connectivity – were hacked in the past month, causing potentially serious damage to their client companies and, just as important, demonstrating that you can never let down your guard.
Drupal offers content management software. Many business sites, particularly those that use sophisticated interactive content, such as e-commerce, are powered by Drupal. The software was infected with a virus that hackers can use to take over a Drupal-powered website.
Drupal issued a patch to prevent infection, but users must install the solution themselves, which probably means many of the million Drupal sites are still infected.
Juniper Networks is famous for creating faster routers and taking on Cisco. Juniper now offers a suite of networking software and hardware for businesses.
Last month, Juniper issued patches to fix several problems on its operating system. The most serious could allow hackers to take over devices and sites at companies using Juniper software.
Assessing the danger
These security breakdowns are of course only the latest in a series of worrisome hacks of important software providers. And they illustrate that criminals are always working to find new ways to access your company’s information – and possibly cripple your operation.
Drupal and Juniper won’t be the last examples, either. Here are some actions you can implement to protect your company and your own clients from attacks.
Software that runs your website and other operations should require users to identify themselves with a sign-on and password at various levels of authority.
You are responsible for educating employees about how to create a hard-to-crack password and to recognize phishing attacks from outsiders.
You have heard of machine learning, in which a computer gains “knowledge” and expertise as it tries and fails at a human-designed task until it learns the correct approach. That type of machine learning is still being used, but it could soon become very old-school. Some day, generative adversarial networks will take over, as two computers test each other, with little human intervention, to come up with a solution.
Of course, humans still must program the computers before they start on their task, but with generative adversarial networks, or GANs, the computers then test themselves to develop solutions that have minimal human input.
GANs are confined at the moment mostly to creating paintings and simulated photographs, but scientists say the technology could blaze the path to computers that think like humans – or come so close most of us won’t be able to tell the difference.
Positive or negative?
If you dread the singularity, when we become one with technology, this might be the time to start hoarding the freeze-dried food pellets at your mountain hideaway.
If you are more optimistic, you might see GANs as moving us closer to a world in which information technology is maximized to help us solve more of humanity’s problems.
In generative adversarial networks two computers teach each other to solve problems. With conventional machine learning, a human feeds labeled information to a computer until the machine learns a task.
Here’s a scary fact if you are responsible for your company’s security: Some phishing emails encourage a nearly 100 percent open rate.
Apparently, emails are irresistible when they pretend to inform recipients of a new evacuation plan for their workplace. The same is true for fake password update alerts. According to Wombat Security’s annual “State of the Phish” report, users open virtually every one of these type of scam notices.
What happens when one of your employees clicks on that authoritative-sounding message? They begin on a path that could lead to the theft of their personal information or worse – the company could lose valuable, even crucial, data.
Train and then train some more
You can’t stop the criminal activities of those trying to infiltrate your company. But training has proven effective in helping your employees recognize phishing scams and to report them.
Happily, it is not necessary to make everyone an IT specialist to avoid trouble. It’s enough to educate them on the latest scams and how to look for telltale signs that certain emails are likely to be trouble.
The frequency of training is key.
Everyone knows Facebook has a problem. The headlines are relentless and appear day after day. If you only read the headlines, though, you might have an uneasy feeling, without knowing exactly why.
Here is a primer on what’s been happening recently, what’s gone wrong, and how it might be addressed.
Facebook collects a lot of information about everyone who uses it. Or to be more precise, we give Facebook the information. We provide a partial biography when we join. Then we create a network of Facebook friends, who have also provided hints about their preferences. Then we “like” some of their posts and share other posts with our network. Now Facebook knows a good amount of what we say we value, and it can discern more about our leanings by who we interact with, and how.
Most of us provide that information without thinking too much about it. But we assume, perhaps naively, that Facebook will keep the information safe. At the same time, Facebook makes money by analyzing our information so it can sell advertising targeted specifically toward us. Facebook is using our preferences so others can sell us stuff.
As it turns out, people are generally OK with that proposition. What we might question is Facebook giving that information to other companies. Well, it turns out that is what happens, even to this day.
Who else is looking at you?
The recent big news stories concern such sharing. In 2014, a company enticed more than 200,000 people to fill out a quiz on Facebook and then download an app. The app scoured data from all of the contacts of those original 200,000. In the end, information from about 50 million people was downloaded and most of them had no idea that Facebook had allowed it.
As if the internet weren’t already a scary enough place, with cybercriminals lurking everywhere and unleashing malware at the rate of hundreds of thousands a day, the holiday season can be the stuff of nightmares. Cybercriminals really ramp up their wicked game on CyberMonday and during the holiday season – knowing full well more people are shopping online.
Their goal – the dupe you into giving them what they love most – your personal information. With it, they can scam you a thousand ways to Tuesday. But there are ways to protect yourself – and most involve simply being aware of their schemes and tactics.
Watch for emailed coupons that claim to come from a legitimate retailer. You’ll most likely see it in your email as a notification from someone you’ve done business with before, but in this case, the sender might be waving a $100 coupon in front of you. When you click to redeem it, you’ve just opened yourself up to malware that can give cybercrimnals access to your private information.
Keep your eyes open for fakers. Many fraudsters will play with the spelling of popular sites, such as Amazon or Walmart by adding a letter, word or phrase, such as Amaazon.com or Walmart-outlet.ct. And, with URL shorteners being so prevalent, it’s easy to fall prey to a fake site that doesn’t have the typical “.com” extension. Again, visiting such a site can be dangerous.
Be Reasonable. Be Wise. Would Target reeeeally be sending you a $100 gift card for no reason? Redeeming such offers will require you to go to a site where you’ll be asked to enter your email address and password. Legitimate sites will never ask you for that info, or your SS #, bank account info, etc.
A new cyber threat emerged recently, and it puts any person using a wireless network, even one with a secure password, at risk of being hacked.
The bug, called KRACK (Key Reinstallation Attack), is essentially a fundamental flaw in the WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) encryption that is used on all modern Wi-Fi routers. This security protocol, an upgrade from WEP, is used to secure communication between all the players in a network – routers, mobile devices, the Internet of Things. The issue in question with this threat is a flaw in the four-way handshake that permits devices using a pre-shared password to join a wi-fi network.
It gives anyone with malicious intent, and the physical proximity to the network, the ability to hack into a device that’s logged in to the system. They can then exploit that flaw to decrypt traffic like credit card information, hijack connections and passwords, and eavesdrop on communications sent from that WPA2-enabled device.
Vendors have been in the know about this for a while, and most have rushed into action to prepare patches and prevent masse exploitation of the bug. So far, so good.
But this newest vulnerability – one that could potentially affect millions of casual users at the local coffeeshop or restaurant – simply points out the fact that cyberthreats will never be eradicated. As soon as one issue is resolved, cybercriminals will be searching for the next flaw, bug or vulnerability to attack.
So how can we stay protected? Staying on top of security measures is imperative:
You may have noticed that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have taken off this year. Their market capitalization went from about $18B in January 2017 to more than $110B in June. The foundation of such digital currency is built on a technology called ‘blockchain.’ This is the foundation that enables users of the digital assets to trust that the asset actually exists. In other words, it establishes trust in an otherwise most untrustworthy environment, such as the internet. How does it do that? Blockchain can also be described as ‘distributed ledger.’ The ledger of transactions in a blockchain is public; anyone can see them. You can’t see details (such as people’s names), but the transaction itself is public. For Bitcoin this basically means that amount ‘X’ was transferred from ‘wallet A’ to ‘wallet B.’
Blockchain technology establishes trust by having computers equipped with lots of processing power (aka miners), to validate that information in the chain has not been tampered with. The motto is ‘easy to validate, hard to break.’ As transactions are recorded, they are written into blocks of data that are pre-determined sizes. Once the block is filled, it is encrypted so the contents of the block can’t be read or modified. A hash is then generated from the encrypted block and written into the header of the next block. This is the part that creates the ‘chain’ in blockchain. Now that the hash is written into the header of the next block, if anything is changed, the hash won’t match – effectively breaking the chain and making it blatantly obvious that data has been tampered with.
The blockchain itself is stored in full on millions of computers around the world. These are the miners responsible for validating the data in the chain and adding new transactions to the blocks. The reason for so many copies of the blockchain is so if someone does manage to crack the encryption of a block and change data, it would immediately be detected by the rest. They would form a ‘consensus’ saying that block of data was tampered with, and overwrite it. The ‘consensus’ part is just as important to the trust as the encryption.
Cryptocurrencies – aka ‘digital assets’ – have been growing in popularity since Bitcoin was created in 2009. Its creation was based on a white paper that described a currency immune to manipulation by using mathematical algorithms as a method of regulation. Since then, thousands of cryptocurrencies have popped up; some survive, others have died. Today we’ll explore what cryptocurrency is, and how you use it.
A cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin is designed to be regulated by mathematical algorithms to both generate units of the currency as well as secure it. This is as opposed to a central bank providing these functions. There are currently about 16.5M bitcoins in circulation and only 21M will ever exist. Bitcoins are generated as transactions are processed, but a logarithmic function cuts production in half every time 210k ‘blocks’ of data are processed. This function combats inflation, since more bitcoin cannot simply be ‘minted,’ as is the case with a fiat currency. All of this happens on a network that is decentralized, thus ensuring that no one entity can make a change to bitcoin. Depending on what a proposed change is, it may require as much as a 95% consensus among individuals that process bitcoin transactions before a change can be implemented. These individual transaction processors – aka ‘miners’ – are scattered around the world. This decentralization makes it impossible to change the way the currency operates in a way that is unfair to any group. To provide security, every miner has a full copy of the entire ledger of previous transactions as they validate new transactions, adding them to the ledger. This layer provides the security necessary to make sure the previous transactions have not been tampered with, that funds are available, and that they can prevent things like double spending. Compare this to a centralized processing agency like Visa/MasterCard, where all transactions are processed by a central authority in order to validate funds and prevent double spends.
To transact in cryptocurrencies, you’ll need a ‘wallet’ in which to store your money. This wallet consists of a unique address or identifier. The most common way to fund your new wallet is by exchanging US dollars for cryptocurrencies through exchanges such as CoinBase. When funds are added to your wallet, the transaction is written to the public ledger aka ‘blockchain’ (more on this in an upcoming blog).