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Opinion

Cyber Criminals Ramping up Phishing Attacks Amid COVID-19 Crisis

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Authored by Danielle Roth, Claims Manager, Cyber, AXA XL

In mid-March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was exploding in the US, the attack came. Hackers hit the Department of Health and Human Services with a breach of its systems, unleashing a disruption and disinformation campaign designed to undermine the US response to the pandemic.

As the country’s focus shifted to the health and wellbeing of residents and healthcare workers, cyber criminals shifted into overdrive, launching an increased number of attacks. Conference app Zoom, now being used by people to connect with friends, family, and coworkers, was the target of repeated hijackings, or “Zoom-bombing” events in which hackers gained access to private chats and broadcast inappropriate material to all participants.

At the same time, Maze ransomware attacks also increased. Maze attackers utilize multiple methods of intrusion to breach systems and encrypt data, which locks companies out of their systems and can halt business operations. However, there is an even more harmful risk in a Maze attack – the perpetrators also threaten to publicly release confidential and proprietary company information in order to extort a ransom payment.

Unfortunately, when a major event draws the attention and energies of the entire world, it is prime time for cyber criminals to wreak havoc. Almost as quickly as the virus grew in the US, hackers were taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, launching phishing attacks, trying to capitalize on the increased demand for information and guidance.

Those attacks are expected to continue to climb, particularly since more companies are encouraging employees to work remotely during the pandemic. As of March 17, 2020, 88 percent of companies were encouraging or requiring employees to work from home. That means computer and network security measures, including security guidelines, are more important now than ever.

With more employees working remotely, companies should expect more phishing attempts and more exposure to potential system breach. Yet while phishing methods have not changed, the messages hackers are using to breach systems are echoing current events.

In some cases, the security community is fighting back. Several security experts from top IT companies have formed a COVID-19 CTI (Cyber Threat Intelligence) League, focused on countering any attempts by hackers to exploit the current pandemic. The group announced that in just a few weeks, over 100,000 domains had been registered that contained the terms “covid,” “virus,” or “corona.” And while many of the domains may be legitimate, the team suggests all should be treated with suspicion until verified.

That becomes critical as hackers ramp up efforts to gain access through phishing emails. One study of phishing email volume and COVID-19-related threats reveals that the current pandemic represents the “largest coalescing of cyber attack types around a single theme” possibly in history.

Now is the time for companies to communicate the heightened threat and the need for extra vigilance to employees.

Some phishing attempts to watch out for include:

  • Official-looking emails purportedly from the Centers for Disease Control or World Health Organization that contain links
  • Online offers suggesting either COVID-19 treatments or prevention tips and products
  • Emails asking for donations to local or national charities
  • Free downloads or attachments of COVID-19 guidelines

Preventing breach

Fortunately, the same methods for preventing breach are ones that your company can apply right now to thwart the increased risks.

Business continuity planning: The most effective response to a phishing attack should begin before any attack occurs. Build a business continuity plan that helps your company both prevent and respond to cyberattacks or breaches.

Gather a designated team of key personnel assigned to specific response roles and conduct tabletop exercises. Your team can experience a breach scenario and learn how to work under the pressure of an event. Incident response planning, including tabletop exercises, will help your team understand common pitfalls and will help identify important facets of an actual event, including who needs to be part of the response team.

Employee education: The best line of defense in any phishing attempt is your employees. Take steps to increase your employees’ education in both recognizing and reporting phishing emails. We recommend the following vetting process:

  • Who is the sender? Check email addresses. Is the address recognizable? Is there a chance this email address has been spoofed?
  • Were you expecting an email from this person? When in doubt, call. Verify that the person listed actually sent the email.
  • Think before you click. When in doubt, don’t click on any links or attachments. Doing so could unleash malware.
  • Never download anything without verifying that it came from a legitimate source. If you can’t verify it, report it to the designated department.
  • Never share access, logins, financial data, or personal information.
  • Implement a two- or three-part verification system. Hackers have been known to spoof email addresses from managers, then request bank transfers. Have a process in place that requires two people within the company to verify by voice the request and require your financial institution to do so as well.
  • Avoid using emailed links as much as possible. Particularly with donation requests, hackers can obtain financial information by posing as a charity. Instead, go directly to the charity’s website and donate from there.

Keep software up-to-date

Even the basic practice of installing regular patches and updates can protect your systems from breach. Updates often contain fixes to security flaws and any bugs that could create open doors for hackers. Simply updating these programs regularly can strengthen your security.

Don’t be the easiest target

The easier your system is to breach, the less prepared your employees are against phishing scams, the more likely hackers will exploit these gaps in security. Making it more difficult for hackers to gain access means they are that much more likely to move on to easier targets.

Keep your security plan active. Require regular password changes. Get the buy-in of your entire organization and make security part of the culture.

Ongoing safety

Even in the midst of a global crisis, cyber thieves will continue to operate and even increase their activities. Your company should be aware that hackers have shifted the message to capitalize on the pandemic and our thirst for information and advice.

While their methods have changed, the advice for thwarting thieves remains the same, and already recommended best practices can help protect your company’s systems.

No matter what the crisis, expect hackers to be ready to exploit it. By strengthening both your employees’ training and your system readiness, your company can strengthen its security posture and help decrease the chance of a breach.

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Opinion

The inevitable rise of 5G Technology, edge and cloud computing and its impact on the digital transformation

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An introduction 

On the surface, 5G appears to just be a natural evolution to 4G/LTE; a way to download movies faster to your next-generation smartphone. While that is true, the real promise of 5G is much grander and will revolutionize the B2B space. 5G possesses some unique technical and business attributes that allow its potential impact to be truly massive. 5G has many attributes such as faster data rate, lower end-to-end latency, high reliability, support for a large number of IoT devices, network slicing and energy efficiency. The combination of these technical and business attributes will unleash a large number of  B2B applications. ABI Research projects the B2B 5G economy to  be $1.5T by 2030. STL Partners, a market research firm, predicts that industry verticals ranging from manufacturing, transportation & distribution, retail, healthcare, energy & extractives, construction, agriculture, and media, sports & entertainment will transform due to 5G.

Edge Computing

Edge computing is simply bringing cloud technologies physically closer to the end user, in order to cut latency, increase downstream bandwidth, reduce upstream bandwidth, or for compliance reasons. Edge applications range from AR/VR, 360° video, cloud gaming, ad insertion, AI/ML inference engines, CDN, drone control, robot control, IoT, edge analytics, and more. Chetan Sharma Consulting predicts that edge computing will grow to a $4.1T economy by 2030 as numerous applications start to be hosted on the edge. As compared to the cloud economy, this represents a 4x faster growth. Edge computing is independent of 5G, but there is a strong tie-in between them. Since 5G is software-driven, the radio area network (or RAN) components need an edge to run on.

In other words, 5G, by definition, requires edge computing. This enables the telcos to deploy services at a much faster rate and provides the agility needed to compete. Edge computing provides a way for quicker analysis and response times using automation tools, acting on the local data. With the advent of 5G, all network/telco services will run similar to cloud-based services, benefiting from the agility of deployment, scalability and so on. This is essential for digital transformation.  Edge computing refers to moving the computing to the network or cloud edge, closer to where the data is generated. This is as opposed to cloud computing where the data is moved to the central data centers.

Benefits of Edge Computing:

Wireless Connectivity – Environments such as factories have largely relied on wired technologies to get the appropriate network reliability, predictability, and latency characteristics. Wired networking technologies are expensive to install, require real estate, and need maintenance. Private 5G has the potential to replace wired technologies in these sensitive environments. Moreover, environments such as farms, oil fields, and mines may not even have connectivity to begin with since they are not well suited to wired technologies. Such environments can take advantage of Private 5G for solid networking connectivity.

Opex Savings – The next compelling benefit of 5G+edge computing is the promise to save operating expenses (OPEX). For a factory, this could be via robotics control, autonomous vehicles, AI/ML quality inspection, IoT management, and more. For hospitals, it could be through radiology anomaly detection at the edge. For precision agriculture, it could be via drone control and IoT management. Video surveillance applications could be used for retail store security to slash costs. Smart building applications could cut energy costs and optimize space utilization with 5G+edge.

New Revenue Streams – Depending on the industry, 5G+edge computing could bring in new streams of revenue. Areas such as sports, media & entertainment, education/training, and communication platforms could see increased revenue through applications such as CDN, AR/VR, tailored ad-insertion, 360° video, cloud gaming, and others. Stadium edge trials have shown higher engagement levels via edge applications that let attendees view the game from a large number of camera angles—which translates to more stadium-goers.

Customer Well-Being – Even if a particular application does not directly generate new revenue, it could boost customer well-being and satisfaction. VR pain or autism management edge applications have shown great promise in treating patients. A 2017 study published in JMIR Mental Health showed patients using VR reported a 24% drop in pain scores. A voice recognition edge application in a store answering common questions, such as the location of an item or a smart mirror allowing virtual clothing “try out,” will significantly boost customer satisfaction.

Rise of Edge and Cloud computing technologies

According to a recent survey conducted by Automation World’s 2021 Cloud & Edge, 62 percent of businesses are presently utilizing cloud technologies as part of their digital transformation roadmaps, up from 51 percent in 2019. Edge and Cloud computing technologies, as well as their adoption, have increased since the pre-pandemic research: Edge computing deployments increased to 55 percent of responding companies, up from 43 percent in the previous survey, and Cloud computing deployments increased to a quarter of companies surveyed, up from 20% in 2019.

The Impact on the Digital Transformation

While the global pandemic accelerated digital transformation across the board, it helped in the increased use of edge computing to accommodate remote management applications. In recent times, many industry players have stepped up their use of cloud technologies throughout the pandemic to deliver anywhere, any-time access along with real-time monitoring capabilities for critical automation systems, when many had to limit the number of personnel physically allowed on site. Industry players are not choosing between cloud and edge computing paradigms. They are using cloud and edge technologies according to their business requirements and business cases and are ultimately leveraging the paradigms as complementary.

To achieve the success of these technologies, start with small pilot projects, don’t just focus on collecting data from your  assets. The real advantage comes with knowing what you want to achieve, targeting the correct and specific data, and then putting it to work across the edge-to-cloud landscape. Now we have tons of data but we don’t know how to leverage it to drive real intelligence. We need to get access to the right data to solve business problems. by combining the data-gathering potential of edge computing with the storage capacity and processing power of cloud computing technologies.

Summery

The future of network infrastructure is unlikely to be found solely on the edge or in the cloud, but rather somewhere in between. As companies seek to transform and become more effective at incorporating these two models, they need to find new ways to get the most out of their respective advantages and use them to overcome their weaknesses. The Telcos need to invest in 5G technologies upfront, to reap the benefits of providing a much wider variety of services to customers, at a faster rate.

In addition to the benefits to the end-users (e.g. higher bandwidth, lower latency to the mobile users), this also enables Telcos to offer private 5G to Enterprises, which opens up many more avenues for revenues, and at the same time, helping the verticals such as Industry 4.0, Precision Agriculture and so on. This is a tremendous opportunity for the Telcos to offer a range of services that were not possible with earlier generations of technology.

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Opinion

The New Age Solution In Energy Storage: Sodium (Na)-Ion Battery

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Authored by Sandeep Maharia, Vice President, Head of Technology, Oorjan Cleantech

With the global focus on energy transition to nonconventional sources, the renewable energy sector has grabbed attention all over the world. The renewable energy (RE) sector has been experiencing continuous evolution in terms of technology, usage and regulations. A major concern in the RE sector is energy storage, wherein a lot of technology evolution has happened over the period of time. At Oorjan, we frequently come across customers looking to save their night time load through Solar and we have designed custom solutions post analysing the customer’s power consumption pattern. These include battery backed solutions, DG synchronization, Wind Solar Hybrid, etc. There are many more energy storage solutions that are globally popular like pumped hydro, flywheel, lithium-ion storage, etc. One such technology which is fast evolving as a cheaper, portable and efficient storage solution is sodium ion batteries a.k.a Na-ion batteries. Let us get into details of Na-ion technology and the story so far.

These days we routinely come across Lithium-Ion batteries for storage from calculators to mobile phones and EVs. However, back in the 60s, Sodium Ion batteries were extensively researched for its storage potential since sodium ionizes quickly. Meanwhile, after studying a few interesting characteristics of lithium ions in energy storage few scientists including John Goodenough replaced sodium element with Lithium element in batteries. With commercial viability and few important breakthroughs, Lithium took over Sodium in the energy storage world. The initial applications involved spacecrafts and slowly Lithium-ion batteries made their way to our mobile phones and EVs. However, the focus has come back on sodium in recent times mainly due to some interesting advantages over the lithium element. There is plenty of sodium available on the earth. It’s mainly extracted from so ash. It is also available in sea water in the form of salt from which pure sodium can be extracted. The process of sodium extraction is not difficult as compared to lithium from lithium ore. 

The cost of sodium ion battery designing could be inexpensive as the core raw materials such as iron, manganese and sodium required for sodium ion battery design are abundantly available. Another advantage is the safety of the battery as far as the handling is concerned. Due to the flammable property of the lithium element, the lithium ion battery poses a severe safety issue as it reacts with oxygen at the ambient temperature causing the chances of fire. It is also toxic when exposed to air and water causing environmental hazardous effects. The sodium on the other hand is environment friendly. Chemically, lithium is one of the most reactive elements putting it at the top most priority for cell designing. The reactiveness of sodium element could be improved by merging it with the elements of its similar properties. The hybrid elemental battery option could be implementable as it is being researched in most of the battery companies. The optimization of manufacturing cost and making the product more commercial is an ultimate aim of the companies. 

There are the patent of a newly discovered technology undergoes four stages post commercialization and those are emergence, growth, maturity and saturation. Nowadays, the lithium – ion battery technology is dwelling under the saturation stage. As the demand is very high and the limited availability of raw materials is putting constraints in the production of lithium-ion batteries. The cost has been increasing. Indeed, commercialization is the foremost priority of the companies. Hence due to the market constraint, the R&D on the other alternative gets affected. Battery recycling could be the solution of the existing technology but it is followed by environmental negative effects. The weighing up of the research in newly emerging technology should be entertained in the positive way parallel to commercialization.

The Na-ion battery was being researched extensively for a very long time. Many companies have been working on the Na-ion battery development. Many of these have been successful in developing the Sodium-ion battery by improving the characteristics like energy storage capability, performance, safety and sustainability. Presently, these batteries are the most utilizable for stationary energy storage. As there are inherent advantages of the sodium battery that it is non-flammable, it can be transported at zero voltage creating a safe environment while handling and easy recyclability paves the way to enter the energy storage market commercially. Economically, the Na-ion battery could be the more viable solution from a future perspective but still the extensive research work is yet to be done in the industries to bring the sodium-ion battery at the level of lithium-ion battery as far as the dynamically working performance is concerned. 

Though as on date, RE developers are opting for Lithium-ion batteries for energy storage, considering the focus on renewable energy transition, the need for cost effective and efficient energy storage, easy availability of raw material, commercial scalability, Sodiu-ion seems to be the future.

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Opinion

Dynamic Caching- Emerging Trend, Need of Tomorrow

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Authored by Amit Singh, Managing Director, Zenlayer India

Dynamic content caching is a term that’s synonymously trending with discussions around Content Delivery Network (CDN) industry. In fact, with the growing popularity around CDN Dynamic Content Caching is often the claim you will hear from most CDN players. Let me simplify for you how the modern technology makes caching of dynamic content possible.

Most content on the website is collection of both static and dynamic content pages. The word ‘static’ we know is something that remains constant. In computing, static content is any file that is stored in a server and is the same every time it is delivered to users like in the case of eBook, whitepaper, homepage of a website. On the other hand, dynamic content refers to any digital content that keeps changing based on factors specific to the user such as time of visit, location, and device. Text, audio and video formats are examples of dynamic content. This type of web content adjusts dynamically or in real-time allowing websites to individually adapt to different site visitors. Customised newsletters, emails are the most basic forms of dynamic content. Other examples include landing pages on website, forms and purchases, product pages with bounce offers like sales and coupons, targeted website advertisements, voice assistants, etc. 

Dynamic content furnishes different information based on who the viewer is. Online store experience is a lot different for a frequent shopper than a first-time user. Online news website that displays latest news and articles on its web pages, also has dynamic content that keeps getting updated. Your blog feed, social media feed, personalized emails, are other examples of dynamic content that look entirely different for every user. Even interactive content that engages the users allowing them to interact with the content in order to change it are mostly dynamic in nature, like the comment area of your blog, social media sharing buttons, call-to-action buttons on a website and the popular ‘facetime’ or video chat via smart devices. But how is this constantly changing dynamic content being displayed on webpages, tv or smart devices in real-time? This is where CDN industry services and dynamic caching jointly play their roles.

CDNs and Dynamic Caching

‘Caching’ in computing, refers to the process of storing data or copies of files in a temporary storage area called cache. A cache’s primary purpose is to increase data retrieval performance by reducing the need to access the underlying slower storage layer. Caching enables quick access to the stored or cached content. Dynamic content is mostly event-driven for each user implying that the same cannot be served to multiple users and hence is difficult to cache. However, caching dynamic content is now viable with advanced CDNs the right technology mechanisms in place.

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) which today is a vital component of almost any modern web application, is a network of powerful computers located in geographically distinct places. It is designed to serve web content to visitors with great performance and efficiency. Ecommerce or media sites utilize the power of CDNs to frequently update content such as latest prices, news, weather forecasts, articles, featured products, breaking news, video etc on their web pages. Majority of content delivery networks frequently manage caching for sites through a global server network. CDNs can be configured to retrieve data from the origin servers and deliver dynamic content that is unique to the requestor. Intelligent caches and CDNs are able to quickly inspect requests and modify the behaviour of the caching logic as per requirements.

How dynamic caching works?

The HTML document is the backbone of the any webpage and is the first connection point between website origin server and the browser. With a large number of visitors, there is stress on the origin servers. But when the HTML document is cached, the caching server is the only one making a request to the origin server irrespective of the number of visitors. Thus, the website servers are freed up for critical transactions. 

When a user visits a website using a CDN, and web traffic is geo-dispersed, it’s not always feasible and certainly not cost effective to replicate entire infrastructure across the globe.  The traffic routes through the server that is closest to the user and serves up cached or stored versions of the site resources. This allows the site to load faster and eliminate requests back to the origin server. For caching, CDN reduces load on application origin and delivers a local copy of the content from a nearby cache server. 

Role of cache servers

Proxy cache servers are the basic elements of a CDN’s network data centres, which are strategically situated around the world. Based on traffic patterns of individual regions, these points of presence (PoP) are chosen. Active locations with many users may have several data centres and remote locations with few users may have only one PoP to cover large geographic region. Cache servers act as a repository for website content, providing local users with quicker access to stored files. The cache server closest to the end user is chosen to reduce the connection time needed for transmission of website data.

Dynamic content is generated by running scripts in a CDN cache instead of a distant server thus reducing the response time to client requests and speeding up loading of dynamic web pages. It is served to client devices based on parameters like device type, time of day, user location, or data from third party APIs. Often, most content on a dynamic webpage is same for all users, and only few elements are dynamic. The dynamic content acceleration service leverages the high-quality connectivity between the network PoPs to improve response time. This service mainly takes advantage of the private back bone Software Defined Network (SDN) and achieves better ‘back-to-parent/origin’ network connectivity. 

Advantages of Dynamic Caching 

  • Improved data retrieval and application performance 
  • Reduced hosting and server costs
  • Reduced latency and improved IOPS for Q&A portals, gaming, media sharing, and social networking
  • Dedicated caching layer enables systems and applications to run independently 
  • Data can span multiple cache servers and can be stored in a central location 
  • Controls like TTLs (Time to live) for successful cache and cache miss
  • Decreased load on origin server
  • Faster loading of sites
  • Reduced bandwidth costs 
  • Improved access speed and user experience
  • Reliable content delivery
  • Highly resilient, secure and stable CDN cache servers 

Uses of Dynamic Caching

  • Website owners can gather visitor data like frequency of visits, pages visited etc and deliver personalized, dynamic web content at no additional cost 
  • Better interactive and personalised user experience
  • Reduced load on the backend database and reduced time to load site
  • Increased visitor time on site due to browser history insights and display of relevant content 
  • Increased conversion rates, bounce rates, and return visits
  • High performance and no page layout break on multiple devices
  • Easy maintenance
  • Predictable Performance during peak traffic events like IPL or festivals
  • Eliminate Database Hotspots
  • Increase Read Throughput (IOPS)- In addition to lower latency, in-memory systems also offer much higher request rates (IOPS)

With 5G reaching India soon, and some parts of the world heading towards 7G, we can soon expect video replacing voice, text, and everything in between. Dynamic Caching could become the panacea to avoid overloading of data.

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