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Tackling Digital Deserts: Launch of First Cross-Sector Alliance to Close the Digital Divide

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Access to digital technologies has enabled many to work, learn and live during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing gaps and inequalities: almost half of the global population, some 3.6 billion people, remain offline and broadband services are too expensive for 50% of the population in developed countries. These “connectivity deserts” hamper access to health, education and economic inclusion.

To ensure global and equitable access to the digital economy, the World Economic Forum is launching the Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network, or EDISON Alliance. The Alliance will work with governments and industries to accelerate digital inclusion. Its goal is to ensure an unprecedented level of cross-sectoral collaboration between the technology industry and other critical sectors of the economy.

A multi-sector Board will steer the Alliance. Hans Vestberg, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Verizon, will serve as Chair of the Alliance and Board. He is joined by Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation; Ajay Banga, Mastercard Executive Chair; Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice-Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Group; and Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. The World Economic Forum will serve as the secretariat and platform for the Alliance. A wider group of Champions Leaders will advise and support the Alliance.

“This marks the first time so many private and public sector leaders from across industries are coming together to close the digital divide. Accelerating affordable access to digitally enabled services – like healthcare, education or financial services – is foundational to economic recovery and social cohesion. Achieving this will take deep, sustained collaboration. It is critical that we move together and that we move fast.” Derek O’Halloran, Member of the Executive Committee, Head of the Digital Economy at the World Economic Forum.

The EDISON Alliance will prioritize digital inclusion as a platform of partners with a common purpose for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2021, the Alliance will focus on increasing digital inclusion in healthcare, education and financial services.

Quotes from the EDISON Alliance Board Members:

Hans Vestberg, Chairman and CEO, Verizon – Chairman of The EDISON Alliance: “Over the past ten months we have seen just how impactful connectivity and access to digital technologies is to working, learning and transacting. I’ve long believed that mobility, broadband, and cloud services are the 21st century’s infrastructure, but to use them to their greatest impact, we need to galvanize both the private and the public sectors. This is a critical moment for leaders across all sectors to join forces and recognize access and affordability to digital services as a top priority for recovery in every country.”

Ajay Banga, Mastercard Executive Chair: “There is no Internet of Everything without the inclusion of everyone. But by putting our collective capabilities to work connecting people and businesses in the right way—with secure access and informed usage—we can start to tackle other barriers, like access to capital, and provide other opportunities for growth. Digital Inclusion sets people up for so many other kinds of inclusion.

Paula Ingabire, Minister for ICT & Innovation, Rwanda: “We have seen tremendous collaborations during the pandemic to enable greater access to digital services. Moving forward we need even greater mobilization of all levels of government and private sector organizations to develop impactful solutions that will ensure equitable and affordable access to broadband connectivity, in order to achieve the targets set for 2025.”

Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice-Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals: “The age of health IOT was propelled to warp speed during the Covid pandemic across the globe. Geography, distances and convenience converged to make teleconsults available not only to those in distant locations, but also to cities in lockdown. In the US, telehealth usage jumped from 11% in 2019 to 46%, whilst in India, there was a massive jump of 300%in online consultations. Digital health is on trajectory to make health & well-being ubiquitous, affordable and life enhancing and as we transition to the post-Covid world, we will need to accelerate this effort through value-based digital services.”

Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Vista Equity Partners: “Connectivity is oxygen for opportunity. The global pandemic laid bare the divide between those who are connected and the billions who are not. Just as we push for equitable access to clean air and water, we also need to scale up access to broadband, devices, and digital literacy, which are onramps to education, healthcare, financial services, and human empowerment. This will require investment and coordination across countries and sectors, and the EDISON Alliance is an important platform to advance this mission.”

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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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