The cybersecurity of your front door key

Cybersecurity is one of my main interests, so when I spotted this article by Davey Winder titled “How Hackers Use Sound To Unlock the Secrets of Your Front Door Key’, I was intrigued, not least because smart houses are something of a passion of mine.

The smart lock is the risk in question, and Winder remarks that when he asked 549 security professionals if they would use a smart lock, 400 of them said ‘No’ and “get in the sea.”

What are the smart lock security issues?

Reports suggest that smart locks have a number if vulnerabilities, from snooping via WiFi to smart hub weaknesses. One expert, Craig Young from tripwire, found that one smart lock could easily be bypassed by a hacker with “a media access control (MAC) address and a smartphone app.” Young himself says that he generally doesn’t advise consumers to use internet-connected locks. “If the risk of strangers finding and opening your lock isn’t enough discouragement,” Young says, “just consider what you will do if you’re locked out because the lock maker got hit with ransomware or simply pushed a bad update.”

Winder poses another question: “what if hackers had figured out a way of unlocking the secrets of your actual, physical, door key just by listening to the sound it makes when being inserted into the lock?”

Hackers show how simple it is to open the door

Thankfully a group of ‘hackers’ at the National University of Singapore have developed an “attack model” they call SpiKey, which determines the key shape that will open any tumbler lock. They say SpiKey “significantly lowers the bar for an attacker,” when compared to a more traditional lock-picking attack. Their methodology is surprisingly simple in that it is a matter of listening for the sound of the key as it moves past tumbler pins when the key is inserted.

The Singapore ‘hackers’ have been using “a simple smartphone to record the sound of the key being inserted, and withdrawn, with a smartphone and then observe the time between each tumbler pin click using their custom key reverse-engineering application,” as reported by Hackster.io. ” The group’s research paper states, “SpiKey infers the shape of the key, it is inherently robust against anti-picking features in modern locks, and grants multiple entries without leaving any traces.”

Of course, the real world presents other challenges, the biggest one being “that the current attack mode requires the threat actor to be within a few inches of the lock to make that recording,” which means they need to be literally outside your front door.

However, if you already use a smart lock, don’t panic. For the moment, a smart lock that isn’t connected to any network, is still doing a job of protecting you and your property.

The Covid-19 Crypto Craze

You might have noticed when you checked the price of Bitcoin (BTC) on 27th July that it had tipped over the $10,000 point and is continuing to rise. It was pretty unusual for a Monday, as there is usually a dip after a weekend. Not so in July..

Ron Shevlin is just one of the fintech writers and Snark Tank analyst who saw this shift as ‘The Coronavirus Crypto Craze’. He asked, “Where is this Coronavirus-fueled trading volume coming from and who will drive the future growth?” It was, and still is, a good question.

According to Cornerstone Advisors, 15% of Americans now own crypto in some form, and just over half of these people invested in cryptocurrency for the first time during the first six months of 2020. Furthermore, these new investors obtained roughly $67.5 billion in cryptocurrencies, averaging out at around $4,000 per person. 

This new penetration in the USA brings it into the Top 10 countries when it comes to crypto ownership, although it still has surpass Turkey (20%) Brazil and Colombia (18%), Argentina and South Africa (16%).

Who is buying crypto?

But what we all want to know is this: who has been on a BTC buying binge during the months when the pandemic forced people to stay at home across the world. Although, of course, if you’re at home, that’s the perfect place form which to buy crypto.

High-income men with postgraduate degrees account for eight in 10 buyers, and have an annual salary of around $130,000. Then there are the Millenials and Gen Xers. Millennials (26 to 40 years old) comprised 57% of the consumers buying cryptocurrency in 2020 with Gen Xers (41 to 55 years old) accounting for 30%. Baby Boomers hardly feature accounting for only 3% of crypto consumers, and Gen Zers are similarly thin on the ground at 7%.

Significantly, the majority of buyers are customers of traditional banks rather than the new digital challengers, which is surprising. Shevlin reports, “Of the consumers buying cryptocurrencies during the Bitcoin binge, almost half—47%—are customers of Bank of America.” By contrast only 6% of the 2020 BTC buyers use a digital bank as their primary bank.

Financial health and first time buyers

Another interesting revelation from the study is, “44% of Americans who have already invested in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies said that their financial health is “much better” since the beginning of the Covid crisis,” whereas only 5% of all other US consumers agreed with this statement.

The first time investors are an interesting group. In some ways similar to established crypto owners, they differ in one respect: they’re changing up the financial institutions they do business with.

Half of the first timers switched their primary banking relationship in the past six months—one-third did so in the past three months alone.

The key takeaway from all this is, as Shevlin says: “

 All banks—in particular, community banks and credit unions—should look at opportunities to provide Bitcoin wallets and other cryptocurrency trading services as a way to differentiate their services.”

Fintech and the startup movement

According to Alex Lazarow the startup movement is growing like daisies. Indeed, there has never been a better time to launch an entrepreneurial, technology-led project anywhere. Why is that?

To start with, the cost of cloud computing has dropped significantly and this enables startup growth with fewer barriers to entry. As Lazarow comments, anyone can now rent Google’s enormous computing power by the hour, eliminating the need to purchase and maintain your own server. Telecoms costs are also heading downward and when combined with collaboration software, it is easier now for teams to enjoy frictionless remote work.

Global markets are also looking more attractive for startups thanks to the five billion mobile phone users worldwide and the two billion people with online identities on social media all ready to be the consumers that “ over 480 innovation hubs globally and over 1.3 million venture backed companies” are looking for.

Furthermore, according to the 2020 edition of Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report there is exciting news about the future potential for innovation ecosystems globally.

Highlights of the Startup report

  1. The incidence of ‘unicorns’ (companies valued at over a billion) has increased. They used to only be found in Silicon Valley, but there are now 400 of them spread around the world and fintech is the core component of their success.
  2. The report ranks the tech hubs around the world, and shows that the challengers to Silicon Valley are muscling up at pace, with New York, London and Tel Aviv amongst the big contenders, including the Asia Pacific region. Indeed, Asia Pacific accounts for 30% of the leading ecosystems.
  3. Covid-19 has presented a challenge, especially in the tougher, less resource-rich ecosystems around the world. Venture Capital investment has dropped by 20% globally, plus over 72% of startups saw their revenues drop. The knock-on effect of this is the loss of employees in 60% of startups.

The way forward for fintech startups

Future success will require resilience, and Lazarow suggests it also requires a new playbook, something he explores in his recently published book : Out-Innovate: How Global Entrepreneurs – from Delhi to Detroit – Are Rewriting the Rules of Silicon Valley (HBR Press).

As he points out, it is vital that startups get it right this time round, especially as entrepreneurship is “the largest force of job growth globally.” In a positive way, this is a good time to rethink how to be an entrepreneur, rather than follow the old routes, because it’s a good time to act for success and join the startup movement.

Can AI reduce the world’s food waste?

Here is a shocking statement: “We waste 1.6 billion tons of food every year while 25 million starve and another billion are malnourished.” It should make us all pause to consider.

However, as John Koetsier writes, there is a Berlin startup with a possible AI solution to the complex problem of food waste.

It is a complicated situation because of the vast numbers of farmers involved in the global supply chain. As Koetsier says, “Tens of millions of farms feed millions of grocery stores and restaurants, which in turn supply almost eight billion people their daily food.” Add to that the transport companies, wholesalers, distributors, processors, and delivery companies and you have a massive web that needs to communicate effectively, and it has to do its best to preserve perishable products. And that is what startup company SPRK.global, is trying to fix.

The company was among eight winners of the Extreme Tech Challenge. Some 2,400 entrants sought to deliver solutions to global challenges and SPRK got the judge’s approval. Its goal is to “use AI to understand the flow of food and reduce waste.” Its theory is that this should stop over-production of food and reduce hunger at the same time.

SPRK’s CEOAlexander Piutti told Koetsier: ““Half of the food that gets produced gets wasted sooner or later. Once you move into understanding patterns — why there are food waste cases — you understand these patterns and see they come in a regular fashion … we can move from reactive to proactive, to anticipating, to predicting with a certain probability.”

Food waste is also an environmental problem. Overproduction uses resources like fuel, water, fertilizer and it increases greenhouse gas emissions, because when you waste food it goes to landfill and it emits more CO2.

How can AI fix food waste?

First it has to understand the supply chains and food economics. Oversupply is likely to be given to NGOs and food banks rather than competitors, and SPRK has to take account of this in the rules for its AI system. “Once we have these rules, we can inject them into the technology,” Piutti says. “The technology takes over … and matching between oversupply and demand … becomes more intelligent over time.”

It is starting with the foodbanks, which are typically low-tech. SPRK is building software for food banks that they can use to manage their own operations as well as collaborate with others, sharing being the key aim here. Piutti also says the software will give food banks better ways to access food at lower prices.

He said of the food banks: “They purchase food in a very normal fashion, they don’t get discounts. If we can connect the dots conceptually and say like, well, what if we distributed this food oversupply to the folks in need … they become a volume partner.” He says AI software can manage all this and save NGOs around 50% of the money they spend and reduce food waste at the same time.

As for SPRK, its CEO said, “Our vision is a world without food waste where everyone — including future generations — have enough to eat and thrive.” It’s an admirable goal!