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Internet-Enabled Devices Will Shape Global COVID-19 Recovery

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As the world awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, attention is focused on how to track and safely deliver these temperature-sensitive vaccines to billions of people. Sensors and internet-enabled devices are expected to play a central role in this process, much as they have throughout the pandemic.

COVID-19 has accelerated global trends towards remote working, telehealth, distance learning and automation, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Global Internet of Things (IoT) Council and PwC. The pandemic is also boasting adoption of wearable technologies like fitness trackers and smart-home devices. As the dependency on connected technologies increases, so do the associated risks and the need for good governance.

“The maturity of governance continues to lag behind the pace of technological change,” said Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies of South Africa and Co-Chair of the Global IoT Council. “We must come together and act now to ensure these technologies become a force for shared societal benefit, as opposed to exacerbating existing inequalities.”

According to the State of the Connected World report, strengthening security and privacy is not the only priority to realize the potential of our 22 billion internet connected devices. As IoT continues to expand and provide new benefits to individuals, businesses and communities, the ability of these connected devices and systems to fairly benefit and protect society was highlighted as the largest governance gap, based on surveys and interviews with more than 400 subject matter experts worldwide.

Report findings highlight the need to mobilize in five critical areas:

  • building transparency and trust into the heart of IoT technologies
  • ensuring public privacy and security is protected
  • providing equal access for all
  • incentivizing the use of IoT to help solve humankind’s biggest challenges
  • bringing people together to create a global consensus on these critical issues

To advance these five actions and shape the future development of the IoT, the World Economic Forum has brought together 37 world-leading initiatives in six continents as part of a multi-year, global action plan. These new initiatives include:

  • Consumers International, Carnegie Mellon University, Zigbee Alliance, UL, Arçelik A.Ş. and Libelium are launching a global coalition to improve the trustworthiness of consumer IoT devices and help consumers better understand the benefits and risks associated with these products. Action will focus on building consensus on device safeguards and standards throughout the ecosystem of internet-enabled consumer electronic devices, such as voice assistants, security cameras and wearable technologies.
  • This work will be complemented by an emerging public-private partnership includingHelpful Places, Digital Public Square and the City of Boston, which are working to increase transparency and signage for the use of digital technologies in public spaces.
  • Brazil, Colombia, Kazahkstan, South Africa and Turkey are working together to help build the technological capacity of small and medium-sized enterprises. The partnership aims to reach more than 5,000 companies within the next three years with new training and support services.
  • 36 cities around the world including Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, Medellín and Mexico City, will pioneer a global policy road map for the responsible and ethical use of connected technologies as part of the G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance. This includes the launch of new policies related to privacy, security and digital infrastructure.

The World Economic Forum aims to develop this work through a year-long series of activities, which formally begin on 10 December 2020. An initial report to document progress on the global action plan will be shared as part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Technology Governance Summit on 6-7 April 2021.

“With the emergence of 5G and IoT, we are on the cusp of unleashing the power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and enabling the digital transformation of industries around the world,” said Cristiano Amon, President of Qualcomm Incorporated and Co-Chair of the Global IoT Council. “The combination of these essential technologies has the potential to shape the future of the internet, connecting everything to the cloud. Through the Council’s close collaboration with ecosystem partners, governments and policy-makers, we strive to ensure privacy, security and equity in the design and deployment of IoT systems.”

“As the internet of things becomes a part of our daily lives, it is essential that we build upon the last three decades of learning from the World Wide Web, ensuring that these technologies create a digital future that is safe and empowering for everyone. Governments, companies and citizens need to work together in innovative public-private partnerships to create this digital future” said Adrian Lovett, President and Chief Executive Officer of the World Wide Web Foundation and Co-Chair of the Global IoT Council.

“This report highlights the enormous potential for IoT to accelerate sustainable and equitable growth, especially as it relates to equipping the next generation with critical skills to take advantage of these emerging technologies,” said Mohamed Kande, Vice-Chair, Global Advisory Leader, PwC. “These insights couldn’t be more timely as IoT has been used to reduce business interruptions and improve workforce safety during the COVID-19 pandemic with contact tracing and other preventative applications. It will also have a critical role to play in solving the global challenge to manufacture and distribute COVID-19 vaccines.”

What global leaders are saying about this initiative

“As the world and everything around us becomes smarter and more aware through rapid advancements of IoT technologies, our lives will be increasingly impacted by decisions made by these smart systems. It is therefore crucial for governments, corporations and innovators to be aware and actively engage in safeguards and measures that would detect and eliminate propagation of and any built in, usually unintentional biases,” said Anousheh Ansari, Chief Executive Officer, XPRIZE Foundation.

“COVID-19 has accelerated digitalization at all levels in our society, which is a great opportunity to deal with world challenges. However, in order to make technology accessible it is absolutely necessary to ensure inclusive and understandable privacy at all levels, making sure that nobody is left behind in this process,” said Alicia Asín, Chief Executive Officer, Libelium.

“Companies have tried to build the best experience for their customers with their connected product portfolios. It is clear that trustworthiness is as important as the quality of products. To enable a more connected world, a multistakeholder community is critically important to improve trust globally,” said Nihat Bayiz, Head of Research and Development, Arçelik A.Ş.

“The internet of things presents society and the economy with endless opportunities, but to realize the benefits of these new technologies they must be developed and adopted safely and securely. With these new opportunities come new cybersecurity challenges that must be addressed by collaborative work between the public and private sectors. The PETRAS National Centre of Excellence, the world’s largest socio-technical research centre focused on the future implementation of the IoT, has made great strides in this area and looks forward to engaging with the Future of Connected World initiative,” said Madeline Carr, Professor of Global Politics and Cybersecurity, University College London.

“The inevitably more connected world requires us as business leaders to take responsibility and protect the privacy and dignity of the consumers and enterprises we serve. Businesses have a distinct opportunity to surprise all the stakeholders in their ecosystem by adopting voluntary guardrails respecting the rights of all parties. The Future of Connected World is a profoundly relevant initiative to guide all stakeholders to fulfil these shared responsibilities,” said Fadi Chehade, Co-Chief Executive Officer, Ethos Capital.

“A critical report if you want to put IoT at the service of society. As the use of IoT grows and its presence becomes increasingly more ubiquitous in different areas of our lives, this report tells us both about the benefits and societal challenges of IoT,” said Cristina Colom, Director, Digital Future Society, Mobile World Capital Barcelona.

“A trusted safe and secure connection and communication between the humans and internet of things will enable global collaboration and eliminate the borders by creating smart citizens in a virtual world,” said Sridhar Gadhi, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Quantela.

“More than just digital infrastructure, IoT is a pathway to addressing humanity’s most critical challenges and a global opportunity to democratize access to innovation and technology at a pivotal time for our society. Carnegie Mellon is pleased to be a part of this important initiative and to celebrate the release of the World Economic Forum State of the Connected World report, which will help leaders in government, industry, NGOs and academia come together around a common vision and action plan for maximizing the extraordinary potential of IoT,” said Farnam Jahanian, President, Carnegie Mellon University.

“Global collaboration to accelerate connectivity in under-resourced and underserved parts of our world through new funding models, incentives and capacity building will serve to rebalance profit sharing in the general interest and to harness our awareness of the interconnectedness towards a reality of shared destiny, in which technology becomes a driver for social, economic and environmental sustainability in the Great Reset,” said Fanyu Lin, Chief Executive Officer, Fluxus.

“Recent history has shown how important it is to have honest conversations about the potential negative impact of technology and take action before the worst happens. The Global IoT Council is the best place I can think of to host many of these conversations and prepare the much needed action plans to preserve a Human Rights by Design internet,” said Julie Owono, Executive Director, Internet Without Borders.

“Today, businesses throughout the entire world are connected by IoT,” said Richard Soley, Executive Director, Industrial Internet Consortium. “The next step is leveraging IoT for better business outcomes, or digital transformation, which is the main focus of the Industrial Internet Consortium.”

“A common part of everything we do as humans each day hinges on digital connections; as we evolve that global IoT existence, it’s critical we work across academia, industry, public and private sectors to help build consumer trust, ensure the right levels of security, and provide transparency along the way,” said Tobin Richardson, President and CEO, Zigbee Alliance. “From a connectivity standards perspective, our Alliance bears a major responsibility in unifying and simplifying the internet of things, and we look forward to contributing our collective expertise to the Trustworthy IoT Coalition by working alongside Consumers International, Carnegie Mellon University and other industry colleagues to advocate for smart, safe connections.”

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Is your security compromised due to “Spy software” know how

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Spy software is often referred to as spyware is a set of programs that gives access to user/ administrators to track or monitor anyone’s smart devices (such as desktop, laptop, or smart phone) from anywhere across the globe.

Spyware is a threat, not only to businesses but individual users as well, since it can steal sensitive information and harm anyone’s network. It is controversial due to its frequent violation to end user’s privacy. It can attack user’s device, steal sensitive data (such as bank account or credit card information, or personal identity) or web data and share it with data firms, advertisers, or external users.

There are numerous online spyware designed for almost no cost, whose ultimate goal is to track and sell users data. Some spy software can install additional software and change the settings on user’s device, which could be difficult to identify.

Below are four main types of spyware, each has its unique features to track and record users activity:

Tracking cookies: These are the most common type of trackers, these monitor the user’s internet usage activities, such as searches, downloads, and history, for advertising and selling purposes.

System monitors: These spy software records everything on your device from emails, keystrokes, visited websites, chat-room dialogues, and much more.

Adware: This spyware is used for marketing purpose, it tracks users downloads and browser history, and suggests or displays the same or related products, this can often lead to slow device.

Trojan: This spyware is the most malicious software. It can be used to track sensitive information such as bank information or identification numbers.

Spyware can attack any operating system such as windows, android, or Apple. Windows operating systems are more prone to attack, but in past few years Apple’s operating systems are also becoming vulnerable to attacks.

According to a recent investigation by the Guardian and 16 other media organizations, found that there is a widespread and continuous abuse of NSO’s hacking spyware Pegasus, on Government officials, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists worldwide which was only intended to use against terrorists and criminals.

The research, conducted by the Pegasus technical partner Amnesty’s Security Lab, found traces of the Pegasus activity on 37 out of the 67 examined phones. Out of 37 phones, 34 were iPhones, and 23 showed signs of a Pegasus infection, while remaining 11 showed signs of attempted infection. However, only three out of 15 Android phones were infected by Pegasus software.

Attacks like the Pegasus might have a short shelf life, and are used to target specific individuals. But evidences from past have proved that attackers target large group of people and are often successful.

Below are the most common ways devices can become infected with spyware:

  • Downloading software or apps from unreliable sources or unofficial app publishers
  • Accepting cookies or pop-up without reading
  • Downloading or watching online pirated media content
  • Opening attachments from unfamiliar senders

Spyware can be extremely unsafe if you have been infected. Its damage can range from short term device issue (such as slow system, system crashing, or overheating device) to long-term financial threat.

Here’s what you can do protect your devices from spyware:

Reliable antivirus software: Firstly look for security solutions available on internet (some are available for free) and enable the antivirus software. If your system or device is already infected with virus, check out for security providers offering spyware identification and removal.

-For instance, you can install a toolkit (the Mobile Verification Tool or the MVT) provided by Amnesty International. This toolkit will alert you with presence of the Pegasus Spyware on your device.

-The toolkit scans the backup file of your device for any evidence of infection. It works on both Apple and Android operating systems, but is more accurate for Apple operating system.

-You can also download and run Norton Power Eraser a free virus removal tool.

Update your system regularly: Set up an update which runs automatically. Such automatic updates can not only block hackers from viewing your web or device activity, but can also eliminate software errors.

Be vigilant of cookies compliance: Cookies that records/ tracks users browsing habits and personally identifiable information (PII) are commonly known as adware spyware. Accept cookies only from reliable sites or download a cookie blocker.

Strong authentication passwords: Try to enable Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) wherever possible, or if not possible create different password for all accounts. Change your password for each account after a certain period of time.

-Password breaches can still occur with these precautions. In such case change your password immediately.

Be cautious of free software: Read the terms and conditions on software licenses, before accepting. Free software might be unlimited but, your data could be recorded with those free software’s.

Do not open any files from unknown or suspicious account: Do not open any email attachments or text on mobile from a suspicious, unknown, or untrustworthy source/number.

Conclusion:

Spyware could be extremely dangerous, however it can be prevented and removed by being precautious and using a trustworthy antivirus tool. Next gen technologies can also help in checking and removing malicious content. For instance, Artificial intelligence could aid the organizations identify malicious software, and frequently update its algorithms of patterns similar to predict future malware attacks.

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Implementation of virtual reality and the effects in cognitive warfare

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Photo: Lux Interaction/Unsplash

With the increasing use of new technologies in warfare situations, virtual reality presents an opportunity for the domain of cognitive warfare. Nowadays, cognitive skills are treated equally as their physical counterparts, seeking to standardize new innovative techniques. Virtual reality (VR) can be used as a tool that can increase the cognitive capabilities of soldiers. As it is understandable in today’s terms, VR impacts the brain directly. That means that our visual organs (eyes) see one object or one surrounding area, but brain cells perceive and react to that differently. VR has been used extensively in new teaching methods because of the increased probability of improving the memory and learning capabilities of students.

Besides its theoretical teaching approach and improvement of learning, VR can be used systematically towards more practical skills. In medicine for example students can have a full medicine lesson on a virtual human being seeing the body projected in 3D, revolutionizing the whole field of medicine. If that can be used in the medical field, theoretically it will be possible to be used in combat situations, projecting a specific battlefield in VR, increasing the chances of successful engagement, and reducing the chance of casualties. Knowing your terrain is equally important as knowing your adversary.

The use of VR will also allow us to experience new domains relating to the physical health of a person. It is argued that VR might provide us with the ability to effectively control pain management. Since VR can stimulate visual senses, then it would be safe to say that this approach can have higher effectiveness in treating chronic pain, depression, or even PTSD. The idea behind this usage is that the brain itself is already powerful enough, yet sometimes when pain overwhelms us we tend to lose effectiveness on some of our senses, such as the visual sense. An agonizing pain can blurry our vision, something that we cannot control; unless of course theoretically, we use VR. The process can consist of different sounds and visual aids that can trick the mind into thinking that it is somewhere that might be the polar opposite of where it is. Technically speaking, the mind would be able to do that simply because it works as a powerful computer, where our pain receptors can override and actually make us think that we are not in such terrible pain.

Although the benefits of VR could be useful for our health we would still need to deal with problems that concern our health when we use a VR set.  It is possible that the brain can get overloaded with new information and the new virtual environments. VR poses some problems to some people, regarding the loss of the real environment and creating feelings of nausea or extreme headaches. As a result, new techniques from cognitive psychologists have emerged to provide a solution to the problem. New technologies have appeared that can desaturate colors towards the edge of the headset in order to limit the probability of visual confusion. Besides that, research shows that even the implementation of a virtual nose when someone wears a VR headset can prevent motion sickness, something that our brain does already in reality.

However, when it comes to combatants and the implementation of VR in soldiers, one must think of maybe more effective and fast solutions to eliminate the problems that concern the confusion of the brain. Usage of specific pharmaceuticals might be the key. One example could be Modafinil which has been prescribed in the U.S. since 1998 to treat sleep-related conditions. Researchers believe it can produce the same effects as caffeine. With that being said, the University of Oxford analyzed 24 studies, where participants were asked to complete complex assignments after taking Modafinil and found out that those who took the drug were more accurate, which suggests that it may affect higher cognitive functions.

Although some of its long-term effects are yet to be studied, Modafinil is by far the safest drug that can be used in cognitive situations. Theoretically speaking, if a long exposure to VR can cause headaches and an inability to concentrate, then an appropriate dose of Modafinil can counter the effects of VR. It can be more suitable and useful to use on soldiers, whose cognitive skills are better than civilians, to test the full effect of a mix of virtual technology and pharmaceuticals. VR can be a significant military component and a simulation training program. It can provide new cognitive experiences based on foreign and unknown terrains that might be difficult to be approached in real life. New opportunities arise every day with the technologies, and if anyone wanted to take a significant advantage over adversaries in the cognitive warfare field, then VR would provide a useful tool for military decision-making.

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Vaccine Equity and Beyond: Intellectual Property Rights Face a Crucial Test

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research coronavirus

The debate over intellectual property rights (IPRs), particularly patents, and access to medicine is not new. IPRs are considered to drive innovation by protecting the results of investment-intensive R&D, yet arguably also foster inequitable access to affordable medicines.

In a global public health emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic, where countries face acute shortages of life-saving vaccines, should public health be prioritized over economic gain and the international trade rules designed to protect IPRs?

The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs), to which all 164 member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are a party, establish minimum standards for protecting different forms of IPRs. 

In October 2020, India and South Africa – countries with strong generic drug manufacturing infrastructure – invoked WTO rules to seek a temporary waiver of IPRs (patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and industrial designs) on equipment, drugs, and vaccines related to the “prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19.” A waiver would mean that countries could locally produce equipment and vaccines without permission from holders of IPRs. This step would serve to eliminate the monopolistic nature of IPRs that give exclusive rights to the holder of IPRs and enable them to impose procedural licensing constraints.

Brazil, Japan, the European Union (EU), and the United States (US) initially rejected the waiver proposal. That stance changed with the rise of new COVID-19 mutations and the associated increase in deaths, with several countries facing a public health crisis due to vaccine supply shortages. The position of many states began shifting in favor of the India-South Africa proposal, which now has the backing of 62 WTO members, with the US declaring support for the intent of the temporary waiver to secure “better access, more manufacturing capability, more shots in arms.” Several international bodies, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have voiced support.

Some countries disagree about the specific IPRs to be waived or the mechanisms by which IPRs should be made available. The EU submitted a proposal to use TRIPS flexibilities such as compulsory licensing, while others advocate for voluntary licensing. The TRIPS Council is conducting meetings to prepare an amended proposal to the General Council (the WTO’s highest-level decision-making body in Geneva) by the end of July 2021.

The crisis in India illustrates the urgency of the situation. India produces and supplies Covishield, licensed by AstraZeneca; and Covaxin, which is yet to be included on the WHO’s Emergency Use Listing (EUL). Due to the devastating public health crisis, India halted its export of vaccines and caused a disruption in the global vaccine supply, even to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) program. In the meantime, the world’s poorest nations lack sufficient, critical vaccine supplies.

International law recognizes some flexibility in public health emergencies. An example would be the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health in 2001, which, while maintaining the commitments, stresses the need for TRIPS to be part of the wider national and international action to address public health problems. Consistent with that, the body of international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), protects the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

But as we race against time, the current IPR framework may not allow for the swift response required. It is the rigorous requirements before a vaccine is considered safe to use under Emergency Use Authorizations and procedural delays which illuminate why IPR waivers on already approved vaccines are needed. Capitalizing on the EUL’s approved vaccines that have proven efficacy to date and easing IPR restrictions will aid in the timely supply and access of vaccines.

A TRIPS waiver may not solve the global vaccine shortage. In fact, some argue that the shortages are not an inherent flaw in the IP regime, considering other supply chain disruptions that persist, such as the ones disrupting microchips, pipette tips, and furniture. However, given that patent licensing gives a company a monopoly on vaccine commercialization, other companies with manufacturing capacity cannot produce the vaccine to scale up production and meet supply demands.

Neither does a temporary waiver mean that pharmaceutical companies cannot monetize their work. States should work with pharmaceuticals in setting up compensation and insurance schemes to ensure adequate remuneration.

At the College of Law at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, our aim is to address today’s legal challenges with a future-oriented view. We see COVID-19 as a case study in how we respond to imminent and existential threats. As global warming alters the balance of our ecosystem, threats will cascade in a way that is hard to predict. When unpredictable health emergencies emerge, it will be human ingenuity that helps us overcome them. Even the global IP regime, as a legal system that regulates ideas, is being tested, and should be agile enough to respond in time, like the scientists who sprang into action and worked tirelessly to develop the vaccines that will soon bring back a semblance of normal life as we know it.

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