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The impact of the COVID-19 on e-commerce and its interplay with cybersecurity and privacy

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Due to the COVID-19 emergency, this year, the UNCTAD’s E-commerce Week was conducted over Webex videoconferencing from 27 April-1 May 2020. The conference convened stakeholders from different sectors to discuss the role e-commerce can play in supporting communities in addressing various challenges in these unprecedented times.

UNIDO and the Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS), as full members of the ‘e-trade of All Initiative’, organized a webinar session on 1 May to discuss the value of cybersecurity and privacy in digital and e-commerce space. This topic was of particular importance because e-commerce offers nations an avenue to sustain economic activities during times of crisis but, the fundamental bottleneck of increasing in cybercrimes and data theft needs to be tackled, especially in developing countries. This session drew over 400 registrations.

Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, representing UNIDO, stressed that the current COVID-19 situation has resulted in the growing use of e-commerce and home-based business continuity for enterprises to sustain themselves. He said that to promote functional and reliable implementation of digital technologies and platforms, privacy/data protection and cybersecurity frameworks need to be strengthened.

Calzadilla stated that citizens should have freedom to decide upon the use of their data, saying,the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation is emerging as a template about data privacy issues,” However, he cautioned, that the increasing compliance cost due to such regimes  may be tough for small businesses. Flagging the presence of strong interplay between regulation and standards vis-a-vis privacy and cyber security, he argued against “over-regulation in the digital space”. He emphasized that UNIDO has the capacity to develop good governance guidelines in the space of cyber-security and data privacy. It has already developed a “Good Governance Framework” to support digital enterprises conduct themselves in the digital space, with an emphasis on the E-commerce.

Shamika Sirimanne, representing UNCTAD, noted that only two-thirds of countries in the world have a data protection regime and remarked that the situation is much less than desirable with respect to cybersecurity laws. Even where laws are in place, many countries are lacking adequate resources and skills for their efficient enforcement. She remarked that “weak legal and regulatory framework exposes consumers and businesses to cybercrime and privacy breaches,” adding that “these are global issues and hence requires global cooperation.” She concluded by stating that there is need for a UN framework that can provide guiding principles, which in turn can shape domestic regimes on privacy and cybersecurity.

Mmabatho Mokiti and John McDonald, founders of an online eE-commerce platform. RedShift, shared their experiences on how they created this platform during the Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa. They provided some practical insights on how the lockdown was threatening the closure of small businesses and preventing consumers’ access essential goods. To secure ‘digital trust’ among its stakeholders, RedShift adopted a security-by-design approach by weaving the best and most secured e-payment gateways available in South Africa into their platform. Both founders acknowledged that data collected on this platform was not monetized and used for research purpose – stressing that “protection of data and cyber security is a core facet of the platform.” 

Speaking on India’s viewpoint on ‘privacy’ and ‘cyber-security’, Karti Chidambaram, a member of the Lower House of the Indian Parliament and a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, said,  “There is no one view on this, since privacy is largely a concern for the upper class Indians and the general mass hardly bother about privacy. though they are concerned about e-payment frauds.” He elaborated on the data protection and utilization capacities of the ‘Aarogya Setu’, app developed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India for the purpose of tracing people with symptoms of COVID-19.  

Marilia Maciel, from the Geneva-based Diplo Foundation, presented an overview of cyber security regimes around the world including developments in related international and regional rules with respect to Internet governance. She underlined the importance of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime but, pointed out that there is no international instrument with global reach at the moment. She expressed her caution about situations where artificial intelligence can pose cybersecurity concerns by creating sophisticated malwares that are very hard to detect. When even large firms can take around three months to detect, one can imagine the vulnerability of small businesses.

This session highlighted the various facets of cybersecurity, data privacy and protection. Participants agreed that to promote digital trust the development of multilateral frameworks, good governance and norms on cybersecurity and data privacy is pivotal. It was also recognized that a strong social security system is mooted to mitigate gig workers’ vulnerabilities, especially due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

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900 suspects detained with the help of Moscow Metro’s face recognition system

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Photo: Vladimir Gerdo / TASS

Since the beginning of September, about 900 suspects have been detained in Moscow with the help of face recognition, said the Head of Moscow Metro’s Security Service Andrei Kichigin in an interview with Lenta.ru. The arrested people were suspected of committing serious crimes, including those related to drug trafficking, theft, causing grievous bodily harm and other violations.

Mr. Kichigin underlined that the face recognition system does not include any personal data. “The face recognition system does not know neither names nor other personal data. Only wanted people are checked, if they are in the law enforcement services’ database. If a person is not in the base, there is nothing to compare to”– says Andrei Kichigin.

According to Moscow Metro, cameras also help to find lost child renor elderly people. Since September 2020, the facial recognition system has helped find 25 children and minors. Another way to use the technology is to evaluate the work of metro employees and remotely monitor the quality of the cleaning service: for example, the quality of cleaning in cars and at stations. The cameras will also help improve the work of the service for assessing the load of cars.

In general, all our actions are aimed at improving the passenger experience of using transport. This is the main goal of all the changes: the installation of CCTV cameras, face recognition and new digital services. We need to make sure we use efficient tools to ensure a safe and comfortable metro environment, – says Andrei Kichigin.

Finally, Mr. Kichigin noted that face recognition will enable the launch of the FacePay service, which will allow paying for travel by “face” at turnstiles and at cash desks. The system is being tested and will be available to passengers throughout the metro by the end of 2021. Andrey Kichigin notes that a similar identity verification system for purchases using Face ID has long been used by smartphone owners.

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Antivirus and Firewall “Security” Measures are OBSOLETE in 2021 – and it’s getting worse

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“Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean Someone Isn’t Trying to Hack You.”

Last year was “perhaps the most active year in memory” with regard to cyberattacks, according to Sunnyvale, California-based cybersecurity technology company CrowdStrike, a respected firm providing cyberattack response services, threat intelligence, and an annual Global Threat Report (paywall) on the state of web security. The world went through hell with Covid in 2020, but for web miscreants, the year was awesome as they preyed on our misery, pretending to offer information, and impersonating important global pandemic responders such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Malicious actors had a phishing field day in 2020 – which, naturally, works best when there an emotional connection. How many times have we heard of someone losing money to fraud after getting an email from a “friend in distress”?

Of course, it’s a good bet that CloudStrike’s 2022 report will list ’21 as the “most active year” since…well, the year before. Moore’s Law and all the fun math of exponentiality doesn’t only apply to things we enjoy such as Apple’s M1 processor, but also to the malware, cyberattacks, and security breaches that come with technological advances. Nearly every, if not every, electronic device that has an internet connection can be hacked; and can often be hacked when it’s either on or offline.

Many are switching to safe browsers such as Firefox Focus or Qustodio Free. Experts, however, are recommending adding even more layers of protection to your digital life by installing a safe browsing app that works with all the big browsers. Safe browsing apps – many of which are free to download – double-check that the site you’re visiting is legit, vet and scan apps and files in real-time, protect your Wi-Fi network, offer anti-phishing protection, and allow you to build a “blacklist” of sites you want blocked – keeping your kids safe from “adult content.” Using a safe browser app is proactive – stopping things before they happen, not catching them after the fact.

So-called “malicious actors” (simply put: bad guys) have and are stepping up their game. CloudStrike’s report noted that in 2020, there was a significant increase in extortion and blackmail techniques all nicely bundled into ransomware operations. The security firm warns that 2021 will likely see more of what it terms, “big game hunting” – e-criminals going after larger firms as the potential return is larger. Also of interest was a note on malicious actors forming alliances; working in tandem to level up and coordinate their attacks.

However, even if you don’t happen to be the CEO of a large corporation with data that would be worth ransoming, cybersecurity gurus are warning anyone with a computer to start realizing that “the good old days” of flying under the radar with half-baked security measures are gone for good – you might not even be the target but could end up being used by identity thieves to cause serious harm to a friend or acquaintance. You don’t need to be “someone” or even have valuable data to be targeted, and to think otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand how wild the web of the 2020s has become. Think back to the last time a friend of yours told a tale of their account being hacked. Weren’t you somewhat surprised as they aren’t famous or rich? – When was the last time you gave serious thought to the safety of your personal data? If your company hired a “white hat” to stress test your firm’s web security, how well do you think it would hold up? The question ‘Is this website safe?’ is getting harder to answer.

Too many downplay the risks of a data breach. “Why would anyone want my ‘boring’ info?” people ask. Well, there are serious reasons such as identity theft, fraud, or phishing attempts, but there’s also a lot of money to made in collecting information. Harvesting data is big business. They’ll take info on everything from the language you use, your screen resolution, operating system, time zone, active plugins, browser type…you name it. By breaking down you – and the millions of others like you – into data points that can be categorized, you are now a target for precision missile advertising strikes. Being tracked keystroke by keystroke as you shop, bank, email, and enjoy online entertainment isn’t just creepy; it’s potentially dangerous. Predators prey on the weak. Why allow yourself to be a target?

There are some scary stats out there: 300,000 new pieces of malware are reportedly created every day. Cybercrime is more profitable than the illegal drug trade! Over 60 percent of businesses that get hacked say they aren’t sure they’ll ever fully recover. Anti-virus software or firewalls are as effective as a sieve, etc. It’s human nature to overestimate one’s web knowledge. Sure, you don’t click on links that look fishy and, heck, you might have even ponied up for a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN, however, only conceals your location, data-in-transit, and IP address. VPNs are not the fortresses we think they are, however. Via browser fingerprinting (look that term up if you’ve never heard of it) a leak that shows your online identity is still a possibility. You need multiple layers of protection, and you need them now. To paraphrase a famous quote, “You Might Be Paranoid, but that Doesn’t Mean Someone Isn’t Trying to Hack You.”

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Moscow innovation ecosystem became prize-winner of Quality Innovation Award 2020

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The Moscow Innovation Ecosystem program dedicated to testing innovative solutions became a prize-winner of the international Quality Innovation Award Forum in the Public Sector Innovations category.

The program lets designers test their technologies at the city and business sites. Over 50 draft solutions were tested in the course of the program existence.

The program makes it possible for designers to test their technologies at the city and business sites before being released to the market, and for the authorities and potential contractors — to analyze the effectiveness of those technologies.

‘The project makes it possible to study Russian and international practices in the field of smart cities and state management, analyze impact of different technologies on the quality of life in the city. Piloting of projects helps evaluate the practical use of new solutions for citizens,’ remarked Eduard Lysenko, Minister of the Moscow Government, Head of the Moscow Department of Information Technologies.

Among those tested projects are a self-driving taxi, a hand exoskeleton, a spatial reasoning system for persons with sight disability, VR-technologies in education, an application for museum visitors that allows uploading information about exhibits to a smartphone.

‘The jury of the competition underlined the unique conditions that Moscow created for the authors of high-tech solutions. The prize-winner program gives designers a chance to test the viability of their solutions and get comprehensive feedback from the target audience. Last year, we got over 600 requests from entrepreneurs for testing various products,’ Natalya Sergunina, Deputy Mayor of Moscow said.

The framework of the program lets the dedicated specialists choose the most promising and urgent projects. Once the project is chosen, a testing site shall be determined.

‘Thanks to the Moscow innovation ecosystem, the capital of Russia is one of the most active cities in terms of innovations that undergo testing. Today, over 100 state and business sites participate in the program. Banks, retail chains, communication services providers, production enterprises, medical institutions, high schools, IT corporations and other companies are among them,’ added Alexey Fursin, Head of the Moscow Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovative Development.

While testing, the designers get the expert support, access to the infrastructure in order to test the solution practically with many potential users and recommendations for adapting the product for certain clients.

The Quality Innovation Award has been held since 2007 by Finnish Association for Quality in cooperation with partner companies from Russia, China, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and other countries. Over 400 innovations were submitted for awarding in 2020, 25 of them were prized.

The Moscow Agency of Innovations is the operator of the pilot innovation testing program. It unites representatives of the authorities and business society with technological companies so that they could jointly create, testing implement innovative solutions.

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