Covid-19 sparks the tech trends of 2021

This year, 2020, has been such a disaster that looking forward to 2021 is our only option. Of course, while making predictions used to be a fairly safe occupation, now it feels slightly dangerous. Furthermore, as Bernard Marr reminds us in Forbes, “tech has been affected just as much as every other part of our lives.”

It is also true that tech promises to play a major role in adapting to whatever the future may now look like. As Marr says: “From the shift to working from home to new rules about how we meet and interact in public spaces, tech trends will be the driving force in managing the change.”

You would be correct in thinking that Covid-19 has accelerated tech advances that were already in the pipeline, due to our increasingly digital lifestyle. Now they will happen quicker, because necessity is driving the change.

In Marr’s latest book, Tech Trends in Practice, he has identified some of the things we may see in 2021, many of which will support the recovery from the effects of the pandemic on almost every part of our lives.

He identifies Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a leading tech trend. In 2021 “it will become an even more valuable tool for helping us to interpret and understand the world around us.” We have seen an unprecedented amount of data collected around Covid, and machine-learning algorithms “will become better informed and increasingly sophisticated in the solutions they uncover for us.” Some of the AI tools Marr envisages include “ computer vision systems monitoring the capacity of public areas to analyzing the interactions uncovered through contact tracing initiatives, self-learning algorithms will spot connections and insights that would go unnoticed by manual human analysis.”

The provision of services that we need to live and work through cloud-based, on-demand platforms, known as ‘as a service’ providers are also key. Just look at how quickly Zoom entered our personal and business lives during the last few months.

5G is another key tool, and not just so you can download films faster. 5G will support services relying on advanced technologies, such as augmented reality and virtual reality (discussed below) as well as cloud-based gaming platforms, and it will likely make cable and fibre-based networks redundant.

Extended reality, virtual and augmented reality that uses glasses or headsets to project computer-generated imagery directly into the user’s field of vision is growing. Emergency services have already been using it for training during Covid, as real-life training situations for firefighters and police were not feasible. We may also see it used more in medical diagnostics, as face-to-face consultations decrease.

There will be many more tech advances as we grapple with an uncertain future. The aim is to make everyday activities safer for everyone, and to allow business to continue as we negotiate our way through a new environment.

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.

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.

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!