By: Hannes Gredler, founder and CTO of RtBrick.
Homes are overflowing with connected devices. Everything from “smart” televisions, speakers, light bulbs, and even smart microwaves have surged in popularity in the past several years – with over 10 billion IoT devices expected to be in use worldwide this year. Many of these devices are always-on and always-connected, ready to be used at the utterance of a simple voice command. This means that even when they aren’t “on,” the devices are still consuming data. This explosion in data consumption comes at a cost, however, and so far, telecommunication companies have borne the brunt of it.
Data isn’t free. Increased network capacity takes power, and power costs money. Multiplied across the millions of customers in a company’s network, the effects become significant. Most broadband plans offered by telecoms operators allow unlimited data access for a set monthly price, with packages priced by bandwidth rather than total data usage. This is great for consumers who continue to stream more and add new connected devices to their homes, but still pay the same price for internet. For the companies providing the network, every additional bit of data consumed comes at a cost.
Most consumers are not prepared to pay more for this increased data that fuels their IoT devices and allows Netflix to be binged for hours on end. This leaves telecom companies in a predicament. How can they keep customers happy without raising prices, while not becoming overwhelmed by the large increases in data being consumed thanks to the influx of connected devices?
The complications of growing data needs
Network service providers can typically expect a 35 to 40 percent growth in their network traffic each year, a number that will only continue to climb as connected devices become more prevalent. This traffic is mainly delivered using CDNs (Content Delivery Networks), which hold copies of popular content in servers embedded throughout the network. Although this mitigates investment in the core of the network, it doesn’t help reduce costs in the access networks, which are consuming an increasing amount of data and power.
When it comes to data consumption, not all connected devices are created equal either. Some only consume data in short bursts when being used – like a laptop used for web browsing. Smart TVs, on the other hand, are some of the biggest offenders when it comes to data consumption, with an HD TV stream using 5 Mbps and a 4k stream using 10 Mbps. This is constant whenever the television is in use, making the total data sent quickly amass as consumers stream episode after episode.
Other devices that come in high on the data usage list include video chat services like Skype and Zoom, gaming, a CCTV security camera backing up to the cloud, and smart home devices that are always on and connected, even when no one is home. This last group is often overlooked when it comes to data consumption. While it’s easy to understand how streaming HD TV for hours can consume a lot of data, many people don’t realize that their smart speakers, lightbulbs, doorbells and other home IoT devices are constantly pinging data to their respective servers. This is why they’re always ready to use at a moment’s notice, but also what makes the addition of each new device to a home so costly from a network perspective.
The social distancing measures being used to mitigate the current Covid-19 pandemic are an example of what happens when this growth in data consumption occurs quickly. People are staying home and working remotely in high numbers – and using their home networks much more than usual. In Europe, networks haven’t been able to handle this influx, forcing content providers to only allow video to be streamed in standard definition. While this heightened network load is being caused by a serious situation that requires sacrifices, it also provides a look into the future at what can happen as the number of devices in use surges. Remote working was already a benefit gaining popularity before this current crisis, and its proving that networks will need to increase their efficiency and ability to scale to cope.
Overcoming the growth barrier
With data needs only set to increase as connected devices rise in popularity, telecom companies need to be able to scale their networks to accommodate the increasing data load, while cutting costs. The power behind networks is always going to come with a price, but the systems distributing the data across the network can be made more effective. Restructuring, reorganization and efficiency measures have their limits to solving the issue, however.
Telecom companies have been following the same network building playbook for years, but it unfortunately no longer works in the age of connected devices. To adapt networks so they can handle modern technologies, telecom companies should follow the path of their more modern, cloud-native counterparts. These companies have exceled by building their infrastructure using off-the-shelf hardware, running independent software, and deploying it using zero-touch-provisioning systems. Just think about how easy it is for Facebook to roll out a new feature or scale their platform that can handle influxes of use with relative ease.
There’s no reason that telecom companies can’t emulate this and look to build their networks in a similar way. Formally, this is known as network disaggregation. Simply, it means that networking software and hardware are purchased separately. In the past, networking infrastructure and software has been only sold as a package, but as networks modernize and look to model themselves after internet-natives that’s changing. Aside from being able to scale and update with ease, the main benefit of the disaggregated model is that its costs are greatly reduced. This will be vital as the number of connected devices surge.
Network service providers also need to plan better to ensure they aren’t caught in a situation where they can’t keep up with rising data consumption. Passing costs onto consumers will not be an option as competition and innovation in the space continues to progress. Knowing that data usage will only continue to surge, telecom companies need to plan for the future and adopt a network structure that will allow them to make upgrades to provide more data and increased bandwidth for devices that require it. This means looking beyond the typical network upgrade cycle that happens every few years and shifting to a model that allows scaling and software upgrades to happen in a quicker and more cost-effective manner.
Connected devices don’t have to mean the downfall of traditional telecoms companies and their networks, but their near exponential growth will require a new mindset when it comes to building access networks.
Ways for remote workers to stop cybercriminals
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way humans interact with each other across the board, handshakes have switched to fist bumps, massive conferences have gone digital in the form of webinars, and more importantly, employees have built makeshift offices within the comfort of their own homes.
According to Shefali Roy, former CCO & COO at TrueLayer, a UK-based FinTech firm, working from home has become the new norm.
“People are working longer and harder, which can be a big cause for concern with regards to employee burnout since they’re on high alert at all times due to the sudden merge of workstations and home comfort,” Roy said during a the MoneyFest 2020 webinar.
Thus, it isn’t strange for employees to start asking their employers about their work-from-home policy.
While remote working offers safety from a physical virus, it exposes employees to threatening digital viruses. Cybercriminals have taken advantage of this shift in the workplace and have targeted their sights around remote employees across the board.
According to a report published by Kaspersky there have been almost 726 million confirmed cyberattacks since the beginning of the year; “This has put 2020 on course to rack up somewhere in the region of 1.5 billion cyberattacks for the year,” the report stated.
While some companies have rejuvenated their IT security teams to deal with threats, many other companies haven’t and a big number of businesses are exposed to these breaches every day.
This leaves workers to fend for themselves against sophisticated cybercriminals’ intent on stealing their information and wreak havoc on businesses.
Fret not, according to the National Cyber Security Alliance, a U.S.-based cybersecurity non-profit, there are a number of ways that can help you protect your sensitive company information while venturing out of the digital safety of the office:
- Think before you click. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of people seeking information on COVID-19. They are distributing malware campaigns that impersonate organizations like WHO, CDC, and other reputable sources by asking you to click on links or download outbreak maps. Slow down. Don’t click. Go directly to a reputable website to access the content.
- Lock down your login. Create long and unique passphrases for all accounts and use multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. MFA will fortify your online accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as biometrics or a unique one-time code sent to your phone or mobile device.
- Connect to a secure network and use a company-issued Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access any work accounts. Home routers should be updated to the most current software and secured with a lengthy, unique passphrase. Employees should not be connecting to public Wi-Fi to access work accounts unless using a VPN.
- Separate your network so your company devices are on their own Wi-Fi network, and your personal devices are on their own.
- Always keep devices with you or stored in a secure location when not in use. Set auto log-out if you walk away from your computer and forget to log out.
- Limit access to the device you use for work. Only the approved user should use the device (family and friends should not access a work-issued device).
- Use company-approved/vetted devices and applications to collaborate and complete your tasks. Don’t substitute your preferred tools with ones that have been vetted by the company’s security team.
- Update your software. Before connecting to your corporate network, be sure that all Internet-connected devices ‒including PCs, smartphones, and tablets ‒ are running the most current versions of software. Updates include important changes that improve the performance and security of your devices.
While employees can arm themselves with these helpful tips to fend off cyberattacks and breaches, remote workers can still educate themselves on how to spot phishing and ransomware attempts.
There are more than a handful of hints that could flag emails as suspicious or malicious, such as:
- Strange requests: these types of emails tend to give out information that’s out of the ordinary, maybe an unexpected request or one that isn’t directly relevant to you. The most likely case is that it’s a typical phishing email, even if the domain came from within your very own organization, call the sender and ask.
- Generic salutations: If someone is sending you an email and not addressing you personally, then chances are the sender doesn’t know who you are. Best-case scenario, it could be a marketing campaign, or the worst-case scenario is that you’re being targeted.
- Spelling errors: especially during emails, people will always double and triple check their emails for typos and spelling errors to remain professional. Thus, finding these errors are ‘phishy’ so beware!
- Be wary of attachments: this is exactly how cybercriminals worm their way into computers, which is why if the sender or email seems suspicious, chances are, the virus is laying in wait in the attachment.
- Shady URLs: hiding or spoofing links is the easiest thing to pull off, since the URL could take you to a different destination to where a link reads; although staying away from it is the best course of action, you could always hover over the link to check if the destination leads to where you expect it to.
- You’ve won our competition:while these traps can obviously be spotted, people are still falling for these schemes in 2020. Always remember, if it’s too good to be true, then it most likely is, so stay away.
- Scaremongering: A common approach used by cybercriminals is to claim something like “your account has been breached!”. This creates a sense of urgency and vulnerability and can prevent people from thinking clearly. If the claims in the email were true, would the sender really tell you in this way? Always check through a different means of communication.
- Change of behavior: Maybe you’ve received an email from somebody you trust such as your boss, or colleague, but the language used is different from normal. Maybe it’s too formal or informal. Maybe the email signature isn’t the normal one used. You’re probably used to the way these individuals talk to you, so if it’s not normal, something weird might be going on.
As time passes, and technologies get more and more advanced, so do cybercriminals, as they stay up to date with the technological winds of change to further find their weak points. Thus, employees who choose to stay remote have a responsibility toward their employers to remain safe online, as the damages are no longer measured on an individual level, but can take down entire organizations.
The importance of IoMT security across the healthcare system
In our hyper-connected world, advancing technology in IoT is bringing promise to many systems across industry sectors.
The Internet of Medical Things or IoMT which is a subset of the Internet of Things is one of the many emerging technologies that has impacted the healthcare system and our lives.
Hospitals and medical centers depend on smart devices for doctors to monitor their patients and their medical situations quickly and efficiently. In addition, these devices offer more precise analysis and earlier recognition of medical issues with the help of information flow.
According to a report published by Deloitte, “Hospitals in the U.S. have an average of 15 smart medical devices per bed, while the IoMT market is expected to reach $52 billion by 2022.”
Security risks for smart devices
IoMT, like any other technological device, is also subject to security risks such as cyberattacks. Malicious activities have increased in number in the last few years targeting medical institutions and being the cause of major disruption in the healthcare system, financial losses, which has lowered patient’s confidence in healthcare.
For example, hackers disabled computer systems at Düsseldorf University Hospital in Germany last September and led to the death of a patient while doctors attempted to transfer her to another hospital. The ransomware attack scrambles data, making computer systems inoperable.
The hospital’s President Arne Schönbohm said hackers took advantage of a well-known vulnerability in a piece of VPN (virtual private network) software developed by Citrix and warned other organizations to protect themselves from the flaw.
The need to implement robust IoMT security solutions in the medical industry has never been more important. Encryptions and conducting a secure boot – making sure that when a device is turned on, none of its conﬁgurations have been modiﬁed – are some of the basic yet fundamental security measures providers and manufacturers of IoT devices can take.
Other important security measures:
- A defense strategy should be put in place and implemented with multiple layers of security available to protect against any risk. Make sure that authentication is properly followed, device access is limited, and device-to-device communication is monitored carefully.
- The IoT device should be tested before it is put into production. Monitoring device security should be done throughout its life cycle to ensure fewer vulnerabilities. After the machine has been produced, security measures should be incorporated into its design such as conducting a risk assessment before the device is released for use in the market. Authentication measures should be built into the device.
- Create an environment for teaching the culture of security, where the IT department can inform employees about issues and their dangers on the system or company they work for. In addition, conducting regular trainings to recognize vulnerabilities, cyber threats, risks and anomalies will speed up breach response.
Cyberattacks will never simply vanish. No matter the level of precautions we take, there will always be a degree of risk but making sure devices are secure and teams are vigilant and prepared, may help reduce overall disruption caused by cybercrime.
Taiwan: plans that will enable Fintech firms to access more customer data
An open database of information is highly relevant for enterprises to get an idea of people’s needs and preferences which will give companies a chance to improve the quality of their products and services and help cultivate new ones.
The Joint Credit Information Center (JCIC) in Taiwan is planning to establish a database for local financial technology firms to obtain information on consumers’ credit risk information, the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) reported.
One of the ways in which financial service providers tend to use or deliver innovative services, is by adopting new technology. This has led Taiwan financial industry to spend over $700 million in 2017, on FinTech R&D and solutions in the areas of AI, AML, biometrics, blockchain, cloud services, cybersecurity, data analytics, payment, among other tech initiatives.
More info, better service
Taiwan’s information technology infrastructure is well-developed, with 90% 4G penetration and 80% mobile penetration, according to the International Trade Administration. “Taiwan is a strong market for e-commerce, online entertainment, mobile payment, and other technology-driven services.”
According to FSC Banking Bureau, electronic payment users exceeded eight million people in April 2020.
Respectively, information about consumers is a crucial part in company’s businesses and continuity as well as its success, that is why sharing is essential to progress.
After Fintech companies held a meeting in June 2020 with Taiwan’s Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) Chairman Thomas Huang, suggestions circulated during the discussion noting that the center should make its data accessible to the fintech firms for the fact that the type of information it provides could help with developing various financial products or services.
As plans go ahead, the database would be launched in October 2021, according to the Banking Bureau, adding that fintech companies could also use the National Development Council’s open data service.
According to the Taipei Times, up until this time, 426 financial sector companies including local banks, securities firms, credit cooperatives, insurance providers and credit card issuers are among the businesses that have benefitted from JCIC’s raw data – currently not including Fintech enterprises.
Consumer approval before gaining access
Accessing information related to consumers is not as simple as one might think because it depends on customer approval and whether they agree to share their personal preferences online for a specific service.
Banking Bureau Chief Secretary Phil Tong said, “With consumers’ approval, the agency (JCIC) would provide their lending and repayment data to the companies, including how much money they have borrowed, what kind of loans they have taken and whether they have repaid on time.”
According to sources, the new database will not include consumers’ raw data and will follow personal data protection rules. The JCIC doesn’t share customers actual financial records.
Obviously, the new normal in business practice is for companies to obtain information about their customers, whether by their own efforts or by the help of a third party. Today, data enables growth.
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