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Nepal Solve-a-thon 2019: Young data enthusiasts tackle development challenges

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A two-day Solve-a-thon, the first of its kind, was organized by the World Bank and The Asia Foundation with support from UKAID at the Kathmandu University School of Management on 14-15 December. The event brought together data scientists, programmers, developers, researchers, and professionals with diverse backgrounds and provided them a platform to work collaboratively on data-driven projects to tackle developmental challenges. 

Youth in Nepal have immense potential to drive progress faster if they have access to data and proper mentorship,” stated Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Manager for Nepal. “Prototypes of products that came out of this two-day solve-a-thon validates that – from building a chatbot that lets Nepalis keep track of air quality, and a dashboard to monitor tourist flow in Nepal. To see how Nepal’s young data enthusiasts can come up with a range of solutions to help improve lives in Nepal is indeed fascinating.”

After a public call for application, the program received over 100 entries (individual and team applications combined) which were then screened based on the applicant’s technical and subject matter expertise along with their willingness and potential to continue contributing to the data space. A total of 55 participants and 14 mentors participated in the Solve-a-thon. Teams were formed based on the skill sets and expertise of the participants to ensure cross-pollination of ideas and effective collaboration. Over the two days, the participating teams worked with mentors and respective domain experts to come up with solutions, refine them and devise various prototypes.

The participants worked on nine different projects – three culminated from the 100-hour Nepal Data Literacy Program organized by the World Bank from June-November, three were proposed by the participants, and three selected by the team based on the pertinent developmental issues and availability of data. Participants tackled issues such as air pollution, tourism and women’s access to finance coming up with solutions such as autobots to communicate air quality and precautionary actions, a dashboard to visualize tourism data, and an app-based budgeting tool for women. 

Development work in Nepal brings up great opportunities but also many challenges. In the face of difficult or controversial issues, understanding and being able to use data and evidence empowers us to be brave – clearly setting out the issues at hand, identifying the priorities and holding ourselves, and others, to account to take the necessary steps,” stated Craig Irwin, Statistics Advisor at DFID.

At the end of the event, the teams presented their work via a series of lightning talks. Each team was provided with an opportunity to submit their detailed proposals and receive funding from the program to further develop their prototypes. The World Bank, jointly with The Asia Foundation, will select two to five proposals based on the availability of data for prototyping and its possibility to generate actionable solutions. In addition to receiving financial support, the selected proposals will also receive technical support for further development of the project.  

It is a pleasure to be part of this community working to make data accessible and open to all. We however, need to strengthen this community further. The open data expo was a great platform to connect the budding data enthusiasts with the existing data entrepreneurs,” highlighted Megan Nalbo, Country Representative for Nepal, The Asia Foundation.

The two-day Solve-a-thon concluded with an open data expo that brought together 14 local and regional organizations working in open data space. Organized to exhibit products and services based on an open-data model, the expo sparked a broader discussion on data usage to solve complex problems of everyday life. It attracted around 100 participants from the government, private sector, donor communities, academia, open data community, civil society and media. 

The expo helped to bridge the gap between data-based product and service providers, and their potential users. It was a pleasure to connect and network with other Nepali organizations who have been working to derive open-data based solutions,” shared a representative from one of the 14 participating organizations.  

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Deloitte Bolsters Cyber Threat Hunting Capabilities with Root9B Acquisition

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Deloitte & Touche LLP announced today its acquisition of substantially all the assets of Root9B, LLC (R9B), a leading provider of advanced cyber threat hunting services and solutions. The deal will bolster Deloitte’s existing Detect and Respond cyber client offering with R9B’s deeply experienced cyber operations professionals and its award-winning threat-hunting and risk assessment solutions.

“Commercial and government entities contend with cyber adversaries who use incredibly sophisticated technology to penetrate legacy defenses and take advantage of expanding attack surfaces,” said Deborah Golden, Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory Cyber and Strategic Risk leader and principal, Deloitte & Touche LLP. “The addition of R9B’s business will expand our complement of skilled cyber professionals and leading technologies, while also offering our clients an advantage against adversaries.  Our newly combined powerful and innovative solutions for preventing, detecting and mitigating cyber threats are unlike anything we’ve seen available in today’s market.”

Beyond offering tailored managed services and solutions focused on cyber threat hunting/detection and response focusing on unique organizational needs, R9B also offers tech-enabled vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, defense forensics and incident response, as well as defensive security and hunt operator training.   

With the addition of R9B’s business, Deloitte’s Cyber Detect and Respond offering will continue to help clients gain a leading edge in cyber defense, integrate fragmented security toolsets, achieve efficiencies in security operations programs, accelerate response time to potential threats and provide data-driven threat insights. 

“Deloitte continually works to provide outstanding value to our clients,” said John Peirson, Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory CEO.  “Adding R9B’s business to our existing cyber practice is just one more way we’re accelerating meaningful investments into the innovative approaches we offer our clients as they work to manage emerging threats.” 

R9B founder and CEO Eric Hipkins added, “Our shared commitment to our clients’ missions and recognition of the importance of combining exceptional technology, people and processes to solve the most challenging security problems of our day makes joining Deloitte a logical next step in our story. At Deloitte, we’ll be able to accelerate scaling and development of offerings we consider vital to proactive cyber threat hunting and remediation.” 

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‘Reset Earth’: Animation film & mobile game bring Gen Z into protecting ozone layer

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Image: UNEP/Ozone Secretariat

‘Reset Earth’ is an innovative educational platform for adolescents about the fundamental role of the ozone layer in protecting the planet. The platform launches on World Education Day (January 24th) with an original animation film that explores options for collective positive action. The film’s plot continues in a challenging mobile game for Android and IOS (February 10th). The platform is initiated by United Nations Ozone Secretariat to sustain the protection of the ozone layer through the sensitization and engagement of Gen Z.

Ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) like CFCs, HFCs, HCFCs have been widely used throughout the 20th century, mostly for refrigeration, in air conditioners and aerosol sprays. ODSs threaten the earth’s upper atmosphere, drive up temperatures and account for close to 11 per cent of total warming emissions to date. Since the 1980s, the international community has acted to protect the ozone layer by banning or strictly restricting the use and production of such super greenhouse effect gases. Consequently, the Antarctic ozone is expected to close by the 2060s (without action, it might have been 40 per cent larger by now) and other regions will return to 1980s values even earlier.

Meg Seki, Acting Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, said, “The protection of the ozone layer cannot be considered a done deal. It must be a continuous effort by us and by future generations. If our children learn about the grim consequences of a ruined ozone layer, they will act to keep it only as part of a fantasy game.”

Reset Earth begins a year-long education initiative by the Secretariat to raise awareness and inspire action among adolescents and parents about global ozone protection. Immersive, educational and thought-provoking, Reset Earth conveys a positive message around what can be achieved through collective action and cultivates a sense of environmental responsibility and ownership amongst the youth.

The Reset Earth animation film is set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world in 2084, where the ozone layer has been completely ruined and human life is under threat from an unstoppable virus called “The Grow”. It is the story of three teenagers who team up in an epic time-travel adventure to save the planet and what’s left of human life. Their mission is to find out what caused the “The Grow”. They travel back to critical historical moments in the story of the mysterious ‘ozone layer”, essential to stopping the virus, and learning as they go about the fundamental role it plays in protecting the health wellbeing of the planet. To save the ozone layer, they must jump back in time to ensure the signing of the Montreal Protocol agreement.

The Reset Earth mobile game is a single player platform game, combining a retro graphics style and hand-drawn artwork and aligned with the film’s storyline. Players – whether adolescent gamers or their parents – switch between characters and utilize their unique abilities throughout four levels of the game. Through unlocking puzzles, players learn about environmental history and the science of protecting the planet.

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Does Buying a Chinese Smartphone Pose a Privacy Risk?

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Chinese smartphones have garnered a pretty bad privacy reputation in the last few years, which stems from several issues, such as lack of consumers’ trust and the fact that global political events have not really been in China’s favor. Somewhere around the mid-2010s though, China’s global image changed a lot for the better, especially with their appearance in the smartphone industry and when it comes to advances in 4G and 5G technology.

The smartphone industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global technology industry. Particularly in the last decade, which gave us the smartphone revolution, global device sales have skyrocketed from just 100 million in 2007, to over 1.5 billion today. Smartphones are also the most popular way through which people access the internet, which makes this sector critical for tech companies.

14 years ago now, we experienced the launch of the first Apple iPhone in 2007, which would undoubtedly mark the beginning of a new Information Age. As the years went by, we have seen big players such as Samsung entering the market, as well as most recently Chinese companies like Huawei and Xiaomi eating up global market share with their very affordable smartphones. It isn’t just Huawei and Xiaomi, though, let’s not forget Oppo and Vivo too, who have held small but stable market share, even gaining popularity in the United States.

Apple never really took off in China like it did in the rest of the world, as the nation favoured national production and local brand loyalty, but Apple has always been in demand there. Outside of China though, Apple had absolutely dominated the smartphone market for a long time with the entire world anxiously awaiting their next press conference, and what their new iPhone would be like. The market dominance then switched hands between Apple and Samsung for a few years, with Samsung being dominant most of the time.

Now, however, the global smartphone market has changed. With so much competition on the horizon (Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei), as well as Apple charging very lofty prices for their latest offerings (and having lost some of their charm along the way with radical design changes), Chinese players have adapted and grasped a firm hold on the market for the foreseeable future. Offering familiar minimalist design approaches that Apple is known for, as well as having totally revamped their marketing, Chinese smartphone brands are now a true contender to the established giants. Ultimately, the most important target market for Chinese smartphones is the US and EU markets.

There is a big problem there though, it looks like there are serious privacy issues that plague Chinese smartphones and their reputation. Let’s look into this below.

What Is The Problem With Chinese Smartphone Brands?

With news of Huawei being banned (Xiaomi is also blacklisted) from Western countries, their reputation is not in a good place. Today, there are many Chinese smartphone brands available, with Huawei and Xiaomi being the most recognizable internationally -the ones that have sold the most outside of China. Some of the other ‘budget’ brands are Honor and Realme, for example, which may not be known to most people. There are many more Chinese smartphone brands, but way too many to list.

With so much political tension between the US and China, what does this mean if you are planning to buy/already own a Chinese smartphone? Unfortunately, it is a fact that Chinese smartphones have experienced many privacy and security related issues with their devices, which fall into the categories;

  • Pre-installed spyware
  • Malware vulnerabilities
  • Data theft
  • Hardware ‘Backdoors
  • Weak encryption

Beyond pre-installed malicious software in Chinese smartphones, there are additional risks from installing very popular Chinese-made social media apps, such as;

  • TikTok
  • WeChat

Takeaways For Your General Smartphone Security

Having covered why there is so much negative buzz around Chinese smartphones and their privacy risks, let’s remember that a lot of it comes from the political tension between China and the US. There have been countless allegations of spying, hacking and data risks. Beyond this, there is a more important fact for the regular user. It is that Chinese phones are Android-based, which has a much larger user base and is as such more susceptible to attacks.

Let’s emphasize one thing; yes, that doesn’t mean that these devices are safe, but what is safe nowadays? Should this deter you, a regular citizen, from buying a Chinese smartphone? It is difficult to say what is considered ‘safe’ nowadays, and depends a lot on who you are and whether your data is so sensitive that governments will try to access your phone (for most people, this is not an issue).

However, for the privacy conscious individuals out there, there are some things you must implement for your safety and peace of mind, no matter what kind of device you use, or which country it comes from;

  • Always use a trustworthy Virtual Private Network, or VPN
  • Consider that iOS may be safer than Android overall
  • Make sure that you have a strong password on your phone
  • Ensure that you have multi-factor authentication at every juncture
  • Do not share sensitive information online if possible
  • Always keep your smartphone software up-to-date
  • Never download unverified software, or access third-party app stores

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