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Russian COVID-19 Vaccine; Hit or Miss?

Mounir Jamil

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Russian COVID-19 Vaccine; Hit or Miss

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin said that a locally developed COVID-19 vaccine has been granted regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on human participants. Putin claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine has passed all required checks, and he is confident in it enough that his own daughter has been given the vaccine.

Officials have mentioned that they plan to start mass vaccinations starting October. However, experts have voiced their concerns regarding how fast Russia developed the COVID-19 vaccine, implying that researchers might have cut some corners. In a response that expresses concern for safety measures, the World Health Organization (WHO) beseeched Russia earlier last week to comply with international guidelines for producing a COVID-19 vaccine.

Earlier this week, WHO commented that they are in talks with Russian authorities regarding a review of the vaccine, which has been dubbed Sputnik-V. Right now, the Russian COVID-19 vaccine does not fall under the WHO’s list of six vaccines that has reached phase-three clinical trials; a phase that involves more participants and randomized, double-blind trials.

Currently, more than 100 vaccines around the world are in the early development phase, with some of them even being tested on people in clinical trials. Despite the rapid progress being made, most experts believe that any COVID-19 vaccine won’t become widely available until mid-2021.

President Putin dubbed the vaccine that is being developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya  as a world first solution that offers “sustainable immunity” against Coronavirus. Putin claimed that he knew the vaccine was “quite effective” without adding any further details, and he stressed that it has successfully passed “all needed checks.”

What we know so far is that Russian scientists have completed early-stage trials of the vaccine, and results were positive. The Russian COVID-19 vaccine uses adapted strains of the adenovirus, a virus that typically results in the common cold, to trigger an immune response. However, the vaccines approval by Russian regulators comes prior to the completion of a larger study involving thousands of people, known as a phase-three trials.

Russian officials said the COVID-19 vaccine has been named in honor of the world’s first artificial satellite – Sputnik-V.

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Cybersecurity

Ways for remote workers to stop cybercriminals

Yehia El Amine

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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Feature Articles

The importance of IoMT security across the healthcare system

Karim Hussami

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IoMT

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.

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5G

The global fight to regulate 5G is happening right now

Yehia El Amine

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5g-in

Almost everywhere you look, there’s a story about 5G and its impact on humanity from every conceivable aspect.

The fifth generation of mobile networks has dominated tech headlines far and wide, where every telco, tech news outlet, and private tech firm has flooded the Internet with 5G content as far as the finger can click.

No one is challenging the basis of these claims since they’re true.

Ubiquitous 5G coverage will proliferate new services and will be necessary to accommodate the growing Internet of Things (IoT), which provides constant broadband connections to a variety of new devices and applications.

From telcos and ISPs to startups and governments, retailers harnessing the power of machine learning, all business models and operations will be touched by a new era of ultrafast connectivity, and an explosion of devices.

Investors from all walks of life are looking at each and every opening to sync their teeth into a newly connected future that promises major returns, no matter the industry.

Because of that, 5G will not be a niche regulatory issue – all parts of the global economy and political landscape will be affected.

The 5G race is currently in its prime both domestically and internationally; which is why governments around the world are starting to take action to spur deployment while simultaneously looking at regulatory solutions to remedy privacy, security, and safety concerns.

Thus, the impact of regulating the fifth generation of mobile networks will cause a ripple affect shaping how we deal with the technologies of the future, as countries weigh the balance between the public and private sectors.

The UK has been fierce in its attempts to ensue safety on it’s 5G capabilities, and has introduced a new bill giving the government the power to leave out any vendor it deems as high-risk to it’s telecoms infrastructure.

High-risk vendors are being categorized as those who pose large security and resilience risks to UK telecoms. The telecoms security bill aims to forge national security powers to be able to control if a telecoms firm can use materials supplied by outside vendors.

Previous rallies against Huawei in the UK have increased in the past couple of months, with British premier Boris Johnson imposing a ban on the tech titan’s involvement in the country’s 5G infrastructure, while tasking local telcos to remove and replace current Huawei equipment from usage on a deadline set for 2027.

In parallel, a group of British lawmakers published a report citing 5G security concerns relating to Huawei’s collusion and close ties with China’s “Communist Party apparatus,” as they urged the PM to shorten the banning period.

In other words, the UK has publicly declared Huawei to be person non grata within their future plans.

The bill being studied in parliament also contains security protocols that would fine UK networks of 10 percent of turnover or £100,000 a day for those who do not meet the new standards.

The country’s communications regulatory body, Ofcom, is set to be tasked with monitoring and assessing security protocols among telecom providers.

“We are investing billions to roll-out 5G and gigabit broadband across the country but the benefits can only be realized if we have full confidence in the security and resilience of our networks,” Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden told reporters.

Dowden added that this bill will give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and would allow for necessary action to protect their networks.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sports (DCMS) issued a statement saying that the current “self-governance laws in which telecoms providers were responsible for setting their own security standards, did not work.”

A statement echoed by the country’s Telecoms Supply Chain Review, considered that self-regulation offers little incentives to adopt the best security practices.

The 5G security concerns, which were ignited by the Trump administration’s trade spat with China, includes espionage, sabotage, and blackmail. The U.S. government considers Huawei as a security risk and has urged allies to shun its equipment over fears it could serve as a Trojan horse for Chinese intelligence services.

Ironically, while initial pressure to cut off Huawei and the likes have originated from the United states, there doesn’t seem to be serious talks or bills of regulating 5G networks across the Atlantic Ocean.

While U.S. Congress, from both sides of the aisle, have agreed on the importance of American 5G from a technological standpoint, the importance of protecting these networks from prying eyes and cyberattacks have barely scratched the surface.

There is no doubt that the United States is playing catch-up compared to its competitors such as China, but it’s also playing the same game with its allies.

At least 23 legislative items that specifically mention or address 5G—10 in the Senate and 13 in the House—have been introduced in the 116th Congress. Most are bipartisan and many are also bicameral, meaning the same text is supported by both Democrats and Republicans and has been introduced in both the House and the Senate.

But many have doubted the capability of the 116th Congress to be able to forge any response that will realistically change the course of US 5G deployment and security of its networks.

Experts forecast that 5G will remain a private-sector-led initiative in the US; especially since there doesn’t seem to be consensus on whether regulations will address sensitive issues such infrastructure installation, equipment to be used, pricing, security, or privacy.

In retrospect, a Biden presidency doesn’t exactly translate into a more lenient view of Huawei, regardless of the fact that the president-elect will be more consistent in his approach with the East Asian powerhouse.

However, not all of the U.S.’s rivals are technologically flourishing like China.

Russia, on the other hand, has imposed tight exposure limits for radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs), which have been laid out by the country’s Digital Economy Program, which sees much more stringent standards than what’s internationally accepted.

This has pushed GSMA to publicly advise Russia to relax those measures, since these overly strict regulations will hinder the country’s 5G deployment, forcing it to fall behind other countries with regards to its digital transformation.

“While Russia’s standards reflect public concerns about the relative safety of mobile technologies, the GSMA stresses that the risk is extraordinarily low, and that studies have shown that using a mobile phone or living near a base station does not lead to any adverse health effects,” GSMA said in a statement.

The organization specifically cited the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, which published new international guidelines after analyzing 20 years of health research. Those guidelines are far more permissive than Russia’s, which the GSMA argues are not based on medical evidence.

“The updated international safety guidelines were adopted this year by Poland and Lithuania, among others,” GSMA VP and Europe, Russia and CIS Policy and Regulation Head Daniel Pataki, was quoted saying, adding that, “Russia has a critical opportunity to spur growth if leaders enact reforms now.”

Despite the potential hiccups, GSMA expects 5G to account for 20 percent of the mobile connections in Russia by 2025. The organization nevertheless believes that the country’s rules for the operation of radio facilities will slow the growth of the network, as will the country’s bureaucratic approval process for development projects.

Zipping back to the heart of the EU, Germany is currently battling to reach a consensus within the government that a telecoms vendor poses a national security threat in order to exclude its equipment from national 5G networks, according to draft legislation reviewed by Reuters.

The latest version of the IT Security Law follows months of wrangling in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, which has been split over how to craft a political mechanism for judging whether a vendor can be trusted or not.

The consensus will prove vital for the future of China’s Huawei on German land, as the bill attempts to form a bridge between Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is for close trade relations with China, and her coalition partners in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who, led by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, are hawkish towards Beijing.

As governments around the world attempt to set the stage for the next generation of mobile networks, the decisions made now, and in the near future, will most likely shape our interactions with the technological world as we know it.

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