“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.”
Battery-free smart devices to harvest ambient energy for IoT
By MICHAEL ALLEN
Tiny internet-connected electronic devices are becoming ubiquitous. The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) allows our smart gadgets in the home and wearable technologies like our smart watches to communicate and operate together. IoT devices are increasingly used across all sorts of industries to drive interconnectivity and smart automation as part of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.
The fourth industrial revolution builds on already widespread digital technology such as connected devices, artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing. It is expected to be a significant factor in revolutionising society, the economy and culture.
These small, autonomous, interconnected and often wireless devices are already playing a key role in our everyday lives by helping to make us more resource and energy-efficient, organised, safe, secure and healthy.
There is a key challenge, however – how to power these tiny devices. The obvious answer is “batteries”. But it is not quite that simple.
Many of these devices are too small to use a long-life battery and they are located in remote or hard-to-access locations – for instance in the middle of the ocean tracking a shipping container or at the top of a grain silo, monitoring levels of cereal. These types of locations make servicing some IoT devices extremely challenging and commercially and logistically infeasible.
Mike Hayes, head of ICT for energy efficiency at the Tyndall National Institute in Ireland, summarises the marketplace. ‘It’s projected that we are going to have one trillion sensors in the world by 2025,’ he said, ‘That is one thousand billion sensors.’
That number is not as crazy as it first seems, according to Hayes, who is the coordinator of the Horizon-funded EnABLES project (European Infrastructure Powering the Internet of Things).
If you think about the sensors in the technology someone might carry on their person or have in their car, home, office plus the sensors embedded in the infrastructure around them such as roads and railways, you can see where that number comes from, he explained.
‘In the trillion IoT sensor world predicted for 2025, we are going to be throwing over 100 million batteries everyday into landfills unless we significantly extend battery life,’ Hayes said.
Landfill is not the only environmental concern. We also need to consider where all the material to make the batteries is going to come from. The EnABLES project is calling on the EU and industry leaders to think about battery life from the outset when designing IoT devices to ensure that batteries are not limiting the lifespan of devices.
‘We don’t need the device to last forever,’ said Hayes. ‘The trick is that you need to outlive the application that you’re serving. For example, if you want to monitor a piece of industrial equipment, you probably want it to last for five to 10 years. And in some cases, if you do a regular service every three years anyway, once the battery lasts more than three or four years that’s probably good enough.’
Although many devices have an operational life of more than 10 years, the battery life of wireless sensors is typically only one to two years.
The first step to longer battery life is increasing the energy supplied by batteries. Also, reducing the power consumption of devices will prolong the battery. But EnABLES is going even further.
The project brings together 11 leading European research institutes. With other stakeholders, EnABLES is working to develop innovative ways to harvest tiny ambient energies such as light, heat and vibration.
Harvesting such energies will further extend battery life. The goal is to create self-charging batteries that last longer or ultimately run autonomously.
Ambient energy harvesters, such as a small vibrational harvester or indoor solar panel, that produce low amounts of power (in the milliwatt range) could significantly extend the battery life of many devices, according to Hayes. These include everyday items like watches, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, hearing aids, carbon dioxide detectors, and temperature, light and humidity sensors.
EnABLES is also designing the other key technologies needed for tiny IoT devices. Not content with improving energy efficiency, the project is also trying to develop a framework and standardised and interoperable technologies for these devices.
One of the key challenges with autonomously powered IoT tools is power management. The energy source may be intermittent and at very low levels (microwatts), and different methods of harvesting supply different forms of power that require different techniques to convert to electricity.
Huw Davies, is chief executive officer of Trameto, a company which is developing power management for piezo electric applications. He points out that energy from photovoltaic devices tends to come in a steady trickle, while that from piezoelectric devices, which convert ambient energy from movements (vibrations) into electrical energy, generally comes in bursts.
‘You need a way of storing that energy locally in a store before it is delivered into a load, so you need to have ways of managing that,’ Davies said.
He is the project coordinator of the Horizon-funded HarvestAll project, which has developed an energy management system for ambient energy dubbed OptiJoule.
OptiJoule works with piezoelectric materials, photovoltaics and thermal electric generators. It can function with any of these sources on their own, or with multiple energy harvesting sources at the same time.
The goal is to enable autonomous sensors to be self-sustaining. In principle, it’s quite simple. ‘What we are talking about is ultra-low powered sensors taking some digital measurement,’ said Davies. ‘Temperature, humidity, pressure, whatever it is, with the data from that being delivered into the internet.’
The HarvestAll energy management integrated circuit device adjusts to match the different energy harvesters. It takes the different and intermittent energy created by these harvesters and stores it, for instance in a battery or capacitor, and then manages the delivery of a steady output of energy to the sensor.
Similarly to the EnABLES project, the idea is to create standardised technology that will enable the rapid development of long battery life/autonomous IoT devices in Europe and the world.
Davies said that the energy management circuit works completely autonomously and automatically. It is designed so that it can just be plugged into an energy harvester, or combination of harvesters, and a sensor. As a replacement for the battery it has a significant advantage, according to Davies, because ‘It will just work.’
The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Crypto Sustainability Coalition to Investigate Potential of Web3 Technologies in Fighting Climate Change
The World Economic Forum launched the Crypto Sustainability Coalition, which will investigate how web3 and blockchain tools can be leveraged to achieve positive climate action.
Web3, which includes technologies like blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs, has become a catch-all term for the vision of a new, better internet. Members of the coalition will explore the potential positive impacts these technologies can bring to environmental and social agendas.
The coalition launch is timely as there is an urgent need to support the decarbonization of cryptocurrency and ensuring the industry is part of the climate solution. Furthermore, there needs to be regulatory clarity that promotes web3 innovation, protects consumers, and improves financial inclusion.
“I am excited about the work we are expecting from the Crypto Sustainability Coalition. An important and unique aspect of web3 is that it uses technology to support and reward direct community engagement and action. This means we can coordinate the work of many individuals directly with one another, enabling collective action without centralized control – a powerful accelerator for grass roots action,” said Brynly Llyr, Head of Blockchain and Digital Assets, World Economic Forum.
The Crypto Sustainability Coalition is a public-private initiative hosted by the World Economic Forum and comprises 30 partners. It is convening working groups to tackle three specific issues:
- Energy usage – this working group will analyse the crypto industry’s consumption of energy and materials to build a clearer picture of its impacts on climate and nature.
- Web3’s potential for climate action – this working group will investigate ways in which web3 innovations could tackle challenges facing the low-carbon transition at the pace required to hit the Paris Agreement’s targets. For example, the decentralized nature of crypto-mining and its ability to operate at off-peak times may provide a new business model for utilities and investors looking to develop renewable energy microgrids.
- “On-chain” carbon credits – members of the coalition believe blockchain-based carbon credits could address current flaws in global carbon markets, including: the lack of transparency around carbon offsets for either providers or buyers; the failure of markets to remove carbon emissions at the scale and pace required; and the inability of millions of the world’s smallholder farmers, forest stewards and Indigenous communities to participate in or benefit from carbon credit markets.
The Crypto Sustainability Coalition will investigate, collate and highlight industry standards, best practices and examples of tangible action that attest to how web3 technologies can support communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The coalition’s wider aim is to foster a broad education campaign on what web3’s potential and capacity look like, to better inform governments on how they regulate these technologies and incentivize investment and research into their development.
The coalition’s partners include Accenture, Avalanche, Avatree, CC Token, Circle, Climate Collective, Crypto Council for Innovation, Emerge, Energy Web Foundation, eToro, EY, Flowcarbon, Heifer International, KlimaDAO, Lukka, NEAR Foundation, Nori, PlanetWatch, Plastiks, Rainforest Partnership, Recykal, ReSeed, Ripple, Solana, Stellar Development Foundation, STEWARD, Sustainable Bitcoin Standard, The Global Brain, Toucan Protocol, University of Lisbon, and Zero Labs.
The new coalition is part of the Crypto Impact and Sustainability Accelerator (CISA), a grant-funded initiative launched by the Forum in January 2022 with a mission to encourage a greater understanding of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts of crypto technologies.
Quantum Technologies Can Help Tackle Climate, Hunger, Disease
Quantum technologies offer huge potential for finding solutions to complex global challenges. But the focus on cybersecurity risks, which are solvable if decision-makers act now, is obscuring their application to the threats of climate, hunger and disease.
Moreover, demand for experts is outpacing available talent and companies are struggling to recruit people in this increasingly competitive and strategic industry. The World Economic Forum’s State of Quantum Computing report and Transitioning to a Quantum-Secure Economy white paper show how business and government leaders can take action.
The report and the white paper draw on insights from global experts and decision-makers among the Forum’s Quantum Economy Network. As investments in quantum technologies by businesses and governments worldwide totalled $35.5 billion by 2022, they show that while private investment is growing rapidly and shifting from venture capital to initial public offerings, companies and organizations are facing a serious shortage of talent.
The only people trained in quantum technologies are highly academic and businesses are struggling to upskill and find qualified individuals with experience in business or engineering. This skills gap means quantum computers, which are based on harnessing the properties of quantum states, will miss the promise of solving vastly complex problems exponentially faster than traditional machines.
Although the technology is nascent, the report and the white paper show how leaders can act now to secure their digital infrastructure from potential quantum computing attacks in the future. Three specific domains of research and industry, with significant economic, environmental and societal opportunities, are highlighted:
- Atomic, sub-atomic and molecular simulation leading to possible breakthroughs in materials science and biology
- Optimization and risk management in complex systems
- Impacts on existing technology areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity security and blockchain
Taken together, they show how businesses can assess quantum readiness and formulate a quantum strategy, build internal capabilities and align with top management and policy-makers on critical focus areas.
“Quantum computing is a fundamentally new way of computing and could dramatically recast our ability to tackle climate change, hunger and disease,” said Derek O’Halloran, Head of the Forum’s platform, Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation. “Its economic promise and potential to render common cryptographic technologies obsolete make it geopolitically strategic. But the knowledge gap and uncertainties that come with an emerging technology make it difficult for decision-makers to act. The report and the white paper aim to demystify quantum computing and give business executives and policy-makers worldwide informed opinion for fact-based decision-making.”
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