The Ugly Exploitation of 5G Fears

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be a fertile breeding ground that has brought together disparate groups, including anti-vaxxers and the anti-5G movement, on any platform they can find to share their conspiracy-based views. One of the most prominent claims is that 5G technology spread the coronavirus, even though 5G is not available ‘everywhere’.

Before that became a widely shared theory, we already knew that those who don’t want to see 5G launched had been pushing out information about the alleged dangers of 5G. We were all about to be ‘wi-fried’ by it, and children would be particularly vulnerable. I’m not here to debate the claims of the anti-5G movement, but I would like to alert people to one of the dangers that this kind of scaremongering can produce: the opportunity to be scared into buying into a health scam.

A Forbes story by John Koetsier illustrates it perfectly. It concerns a ‘5G Bioshield’ that is being sold for $350 per unit. The USB stick boasts features such as “quantum oscillation” and “restoring coherence of atoms” as well as “emitting life force frequencies.”

This is what the company selling it claims on its the website:

“Through a process of quantum oscillation the 5G BioShield USB Key balances and reharmonizes the disturbing frequencies arising from the electric fog induced by devices, such as laptops, cordless phones, wi-fi, tablets, etc., The 5G BioShield USB Key restores the coherence of the geometry of the atoms, which allows a perfect induction for life forces, by (re-)creating a cardiac coherence, via plasmic support and interactivity.”

It sounds like the answer to all those fears about the health damage that 5G is purported to inflict. It must be a very special USB stick to do all the above, must it not? You’d like to think so for $350.

The expert analysis

But when Pen Test Partners reviewed the stick’s properties, it “revealed nothing more than what you’d expect from a regular 128MB USB key,” states its blog. And they went on to say: “Usually with USB devices, one can look at the properties and it will list the manufacturer and extra information about the device. However, we found that all the default values remained. This is often an indication of cheap, unbranded devices.”

So, basically it is a $6 USB stick being sold for $350. Furthermore, the founders of the 5G Bioshield don’t appear to exist. Koetsier says, “A search for “Dr. Ilija Lakicevic,” listed on the website as one of the founders of the company, turns up nothing on LinkedIn. A search for him on the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, where the 5G BioShield website says he worked, also turns up no results.”

Have they sold any? Yes. To the city of Glastonbury in the UK, which issued a statement saying, “We use this device and find it helpful.” It is also worth mentioning that other health protection used in Glastonbury include Shungite, a mineral which is said to have healing powers that one “healing crystal” company says “span the board from purity to protection.”

Whether you agree with the theory that 5G is a health danger or not, I expect you can agree that paying $350 for a $6 product is quite simply — exploitation!

5 fintech trends for 2020

As we approach the end of 2019 it’s the time of year when sector pundits start to look at trends for 2020. You’ll find these within nearly every imaginable product group, and fintech is no different. This year, as in mnay others, the trends are identified at the major conferences, such as Money 20/20, which took place in Las Vegas in October.

1. Product bundling

Fintech startups have typically released single products. Transferwise is an example. As a result, what a bank offered had been ‘unbundled’ by the fintechs. Now there is a move to rebundling products to provide a one-stop experience, but it’s still early days.

2. An holistic experience

Fintechs were initially about financial inclusion and affordable options, but now there is a move towards creating an holistic customer experience that focuses on financial health. Financial health is becoming more vertically focused. This trend includes companies that target specific demographics (e.g. seniors or kids), job categories (e.g. gig economy) and industries (e.g. dental practices).

3. A more global vision

US-based conferences in the past tended to focus on the domestic market, but this year has seen attendees arrive from around the major world regions. It forces the Americans to think more globally and recognise that some of the largest fintechs in the world are global, including the neobanks, such as Nubank in Brazil. We will definitely see an acceleration in the growth of fintech globally, as Asia and Europe are already outperforming North America.

4. More focus on security

Cyber threats are certain to rise, not least because quantum computing is about to come into play and its method of computing will upset the current cryptographic security.

5. From vertical to horizontal

In the beginning fintech startups were vertical, as they travelled alone, so to speak. But the big news is that in the next few years, it will look at horizontal integration as it introduces its innovative ideas to other industries, and also make it possible for non-financial firms like Amazon to offer financial products. It was apparently noticeable that a significant number of C-Suite execs from other industries were at the Las Vegas event.

Of course, fintech is still in its infancy, and we will see many more changes, probably in the not too distant future, as fintech evolves to meet a range of needs worldwide.

What’s up with Whatsapp?

Image result for whats app

You may have seen the numerous press articles this week advising you to update your Whatsapp. The advice came from Whatsapp, which has 1.5 billion users and is owned by Facebook.

The reason for asking people to update the app on their smartphones was the discovery that hackers had been able to remotely install surveillance software on phones via a “major vulnerability” in the app. According to the BBC, WhatsApp said the attack targeted a “select number” of users and was orchestrated by “an advanced cyber-actor”.

Facebook discovered the flaw in the technology earlier this month. It threatened to break Whatsapp’s promise to its users of being a secure” communications app with messages that are end-to-end encrypted. This means they should only be displayed in a legible form on the sender or recipient’s device. However, the surveillance software would have let an attacker read the messages on the target’s device.

The Whatsapp team found a fix for the problem last Friday, after which people could download the new app without the ‘bug’, although some users appeared to be disgruntled that Facebook hadn’t published any notes about the fix itself.

It is likely that those whose phones may have been targeted by the hackers are “Journalists, lawyers, activists and human rights defenders,” Ahmed Zidan of the Committee to Protect Journalists told the BBC.

How did hackers use the security flaw?

One thing they did was use Whatsapp’s voice call function to ring a target’s phone. Even if the target didn’t answer the call, the surveillance software was installed on their phone. Furthermore, the call was removed from the call log, so the person who didn’t answer it, wouldn’t even see that they had missed a call from an unknown number.

Facebook and Whatsapp told the press on Monday: “The attack has all the hallmarks of a private company reportedly that works with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems.”

It also issued a briefing to security specialists stating, “”A buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP [voice over internet protocol] stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of SRTCP [secure real-time transport protocol] packets sent to a target phone number.”

The attack was old-fashioned

As Professor Alan Woodward pointed out, this is a “pretty old-fashioned” method of attack. He explained what happened: “A buffer overflow is where a program runs into memory it should not have access to. It overflows the memory it should have and hence has access to memory in which malicious code can potentially be run. If you are able to pass some code through the app, you can run your own code in that area. In VOIP there is an initial process that dials up and establishes the call, and the flaw was in that bit. Consequently you did not need to answer the call for the attack to work.”

We don’t know how many people were targeted in this attack, and there are some questions that remain to be answered about whether updating the app on your phone effectively removes the spyware in its entirety. Furthermore, WhatsApp has not said whether the attack could extend beyond WhatsApp and reach other personal data on the phone.

But, even if you are not a journalist, a lawyer or a human rights activist, download the new version of the app, because as always it is better to be safe than sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 technologies disrupting banking by 2023

Over the next five years banking is going to change dramatically and will be nothing like we know it today. The changes will come due to technology and will provide financial institutions with both opportunities and challenges.

The global recession put a spotlight on banks; these institutions were largely responsible for the near-collapse of economies and although they have weathered the storm, people’s trust in them has not been restored.

Out of the failure of financial institutions came the bitcoin protocol and blockchain technology. This was followed by the arrival of fintech startups and neobanks, both of which threaten the consumer account monopoly enjoyed by retail banks, which is referred to as ‘legacy’ in the financial media. According to various consultancies, new players could capture up to a third of incumbent banks’ revenues in the next 2–3 years. If banks don’t respond to this, they are in danger of disappearing.

However, there is good news for the traditional banks: the new technologies that are threatening the banking industry also present significant opportunities. They can leverage big data and advanced analytics to improve customer experience, as well as build trust, loyalty and revenues. Dan Cohen, SVP at Atos, said: “Banks are at a crossroads. Continuous fintech innovation and new technologies such as blockchain are disrupting the market. While it creates threats, it also opens multiple opportunities for financial services to reinvent themselves and thrive.”

Here are five of the technologies that will advance fintechs and potentially cause more disruption in the banking sector, unless the banks are agile enough to incorporate them.

1. A hybrid cloud

Cloud computing tech has gone mainstream in banks pretty fast. It was found that at least 75% of bankers said their most successful cloud initiatives had already achieved expansion into new industries, creation of new revenue streams, and expansion of their product/services portfolio.

2. APIs

The combination of open platform banking and open APIs will change the entire banking ecosystem in its current state. In this scenario, the bank will serve as a platform, on top of which third-party companies can build their own applications using the bank’s data.

3. Robotic process automation

Robotic process automation (RPA) has helped banks and credit unions accelerate growth by executing pre-programmed rules across a range of structured and unstructured data.

4. Instant payments

Consumer demand for instant payments is on the increase. With instant payments, more transactions will be made digitally instead of in cash, which means that payments will become less expensive and more user friendly.

5. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The benefits of AI in banks and credit unions are widespread, reaching back office operations, compliance, customer experience, product delivery, risk management and marketing to name a few