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Ukraine accuses Russia of cyberwar amid new attacks on its power grid  

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Key security officials in Ukraine have accused hackers aligned with the Russian government of targeting its critical infrastructure, including the power grid and the financial systems, using a strain of malware previously linked to a major state-sponsored cyberattack.

Ukraine’s security chief, Oleksandr Tkachuk, said on 15 February the attacks were linked to a gang that uses a type of computer malware dubbed BlackEnergy. In an unprecedented attack, the attackers allegedly used it to cause a widespread electricity blackout in Kiev two years ago.

“Russian hackers [have] become an important tool of the aggression against our country,” Tkachuk said, as reported by Reuters.

He said the latest round of cyberattacks used a type of malicious software called Telebots with the aim of infecting its national infrastructure.

In late 2016, Slovakian cybersecurity firm Eset, which has previously tracked the BlackEnergy gang, said Telebots malware was used in “targeted cyberattacks against high-value targets in the Ukrainian financial sector.” Its main aim was simple: cyber-sabotage.

“It’s important to say that these attackers, and the toolset used, share a number of similarities with the BlackEnergy group, which conducted attacks against the energy industry in Ukraine in December 2015 and January 2016,” Eset experts wrote in a blog post. “In fact, we think that the BlackEnergy group has evolved into the Telebots group.”

The BlackEnergy and Telebots groups are known to use the same tactics, usually spear phishing emails with malicious Microsoft Excel documents attached. As with many nation-state backed cybercrime groups, the victims of these campaigns are usually highly targeted.

This week, a separate US-based cybersecurity firm called CyberX, which specialises in critical infrastructure research, found another espionage campaign in Ukraine that had successfully compromised over 70 victims. It named the scheme Operation BugDrop.

The firm described it as a “large-scale cyber-reconnaissance operation” designed to eavesdrop on sensitive conversations by remotely controlling PC microphones – in order to snoop on its targets. The hackers used Dropbox to store any exfiltrated data.

Targets – while unnamed – included a firm that nakes remote monitoring systems for oil and gas pipelines, a company that designs electrical substations and an international organisation that monitors human rights, counter-terrorism and cyberattacks in Ukraine.

“The operation seeks to capture a range of sensitive information from its targets including audio recordings of conversations, screen shots, documents and passwords,” the team said.

“Unlike video recordings, which are often blocked by users simply placing tape over the camera lens, it is virtually impossible to block your computer’s microphone without physically accessing and disabling the PC hardware.”

Chief Technology Officer Nir Giller told Reuters he was unsure who exactly was behind the attack, but suspected it was part of a reconnaissance mission.

“Its goal was to gather intelligence about targets in various domains including critical infrastructure, media, and scientific research,” the CyberX team said.

“We have no evidence that any damage or harm has occurred from this operation, however identifying, locating and performing reconnaissance on targets is usually the first phase of operations with broader objectives.”

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Cloud Storage vs. Cloud Computing: What’s the Difference?

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Cloud storage (Image Credit: DepositPhotos)

Cloud storage and cloud computing have become fairly ubiquitous terms. The chances are that if you’ve done any sort of remote correspondence over the last few years, you have probably come across these terms countless times. 

Even if you don’t fully understand the concept, you are probably engaging in some sort of cloud storage, file sharing, or computing. Cloud technology has become such an important part of modern computing, to have no experience with it is incredibly doubtful.

What is “The Cloud?”

Before delving deeper into the differences between cloud storage and cloud computing, let’s make sure we know exactly what we mean when referring to “the cloud.” 

The cloud, ominous and mysterious as it may sound, refers to a remote server system where a user’s or business’ data is stored. If you own an Apple product, you have probably been prompted endlessly to set up your iCloud account. This service allows you to back up files, such as photos, music, and documents, on Apple’s proprietary server. This takes a lot of the heavy lifting off of your personal computer, creates backups of your files if any system failure occurs, and makes your files available through any computer with an internet connection.

The Difference Between Cloud Storage and Cloud Computing

Now that we have a better idea of what the cloud is, we can look at what cloud storage and cloud computing are and how they are different.

What is Cloud Storage?

Cloud storage is the computing process in which files are stored remotely on a network of external servers. By doing this, cloud storage allows users to accomplish various things that would otherwise be impossible, one of which is cloud file sharing.

If you run a business where the bulk of your employees are working remotely or even just involved in some manner of correspondence that necessitates the swift transfer of files, being able to store and access important documents from wherever you are is a huge convenience. Essentially, your office becomes anywhere you can access the internet. 

Another reason you might consider cloud storage is if you are dealing with high traffic and large file sizes. Your resident computing infrastructure may be unable to cope with such demand. And the cost and upkeep of additional on-premise equipment, not to mention the toll of an expanded IT team on your payroll, may prompt you to look for the best cloud storage providers to implement a hybrid cloud solution.

By outsourcing some of your storage to a cloud provider, you can rest assured (in most cases) that your data is in good hands. These providers, be they Apple, Google, Carbonite, Bitcasa, etc., devote vast amounts of resources to making sure your data is safe from system failures as well as hacking.

What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing comes in several different forms, ranging from the everyday to the very complex. In its simplest terms, cloud computing allows users to access and use a cloud hosting provider’s software services. It takes data that is already stored in the cloud and enables certified users to access and manipulate that data from wherever they are.

Think, for example, a shared document on Google Docs. The software used as the medium for the data is hosted by Google, as it is not stored in the users’ computers, and data can be added, removed, changed, and tracked in real-time. This allows for greater collaboration and transparency between users. This form of cloud computing is called software as a Service (SaaS).

Cloud computing also comes in the form of workflow management apps like AirSend. AirSend, and its competitors, provide an interface for real-time communication between individuals in a company. It allows file sharing, cloud storage, general and private chat, video and audio calls, and software integration.

In COVID, where users are predominately operating remotely, cloud computing has experienced a considerable increase in popularity. Using standard software that interconnects everyone involved in a project, individual users can collaborate and communicate in real-time. It has drastically reduced the need for people to be in the same room as one another.

Another form of cloud computing is concerned with harnessing a remote computing system’s processing power or specialized applications. For example, a company that is inundated with a vast amount of data may purchase the services of a cloud computing provider to process the raw data into whatever form they need. This takes the load off their local computing infrastructure, which may not handle such a massive influx of information.

The Difference in Cost Between Cloud Storage and Cloud Computing

Comparing the cost of cloud storage to the cost of cloud computing is tricky because there are so many different services provided through cloud technology, and the degree to which they are offered varies based on each client’s needs.

Cloud storage allows you to only pay for what you need, whether five terabytes or 5 petabytes. The critical thing to remember about cloud storage costs is that it is a passive service. One does not have to actively engage with cloud storage for it to provide any benefit. By simply storing your data safely and making it retrievable when needed, cloud storage fulfills its duties.

The same does not go for cloud computing. Cloud computing is only worth the money put into it if its services are being used. In cases where you are utilizing another system’s processing speed for raw data rendering, you often pay for a small time frame of maybe a few hours. This situation should be pretty self-explanatory. However, for services with monthly subscription fees, if cloud computing applications go overlooked, you will be hemorrhaging money for no reason.

For cloud storage and cloud computing, one must also look at the costs they are offsetting. By employing a cloud server to store data, you are reducing the costs of keeping and maintaining local servers. As with cloud computing, you may occasionally need the processing power of a highly sophisticated computer system but not on a regular basis. In this sense, while still costing a fair bit, cloud storage and computing are far less expensive than housing and expanding local systems.

The Future is Cloud

Cloud storage and cloud computing are ubiquitous in today’s business world, but the degree to which they are used is another question. At their most rudimentary levels, their cost is either free or negligible, and they offer great convenience to both the personal user and small businesses. However, as needs increase, cloud services such as cloud storage, cloud computing, and cloud file sharing become more costly and serve a greater purpose in the makeup of a well-functioning company.

Author: Abhishek Bakshi 

 

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Caching and Why it is so important

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Image: Hubspot

Have you ever noticed that when you frequently visit a website it loads a lot faster than the first time? That is due to a little something called caching. This is the process of storing copies of website files into a temporary storage location (called a cache), so that future requests for that data can be loaded faster. Web browsers such as Google Chrome or Firefox and the webserver make a cache to ensure the website performs faster.

If you’re implementing caching properly your website visitors will not only love the faster experience but this improved performance comes with improved conversions. A conversion for example is an online sale, a booking confirmation, a lead generation request or a general enquiry, depending on the website and what they’re selling. 

Let us dive into the two types of Web Caching: 

  1. Browser Caching

Browser caching, (also called client-side caching), is where the web browser application performs caching processes. When you visit a website, the web browser doesn’t just need to retrieve all the content on the page that you are seeing, like images and text, it also needs to download other things, such as Javascript files, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), fonts, etc. Browser caching works in a clever way by storing many of these resources / files for a time period (which can be configured) so that they don’t need to be downloaded again when someone visits your website for a subsequent time. This means that the first time someone visits a website it will be slightly slower (we’re talking seconds here) as the web browser is requesting and downloading these needed resources.

  1. Server Caching 

Websites and web applications are hosted on servers. On these servers, we can also take advantage of technologies and settings to set up server caching. Server caching is another technique to make your website or web application faster. In a nutshell, this is how it works: when website visitors request to view a specific page on a website, the webserver then processes this request. After the first request is completed by any user, the server will then remember this request so that next time it gets the same request it can deliver the same result or data to the website and much faster.

Benefits of caching

The clear benefit of caching is that we’re able to provide users with a faster loading website and provide the user with a great user experience (quick loading time) This applies to websites that are loaded both on desktop devices and mobile devices. Another big benefit that many people overlook or aren’t aware of is that search engines such as Google and Bing also give preference to websites that load really quickly when it comes to ranking higher Search Engine Results Pages. The improved speed contributes to the improved SEO score of your website. This can be crucial to obtaining higher traffic to your website and ultimately better conversions and more money to your bottom line.

Is caching effective?

People often question the effectiveness of caching and if it should be implemented on their website. Its aim is to speed up your website and reduce load speeds, for both your website visitors and search engines. This is a clear advantage and therefore definitely effective. The shaved offloading time can have a direct impact on your website’s performance, especially with heavy traffic loads and improve your SEO rankings. It’s important to remember, caching needs to be implemented correctly and properly for it to be effective. Applying caching rules on the web browser or implementing the technology on the server in the wrong way can also be counterproductive and detrimental to your website and business. Only experienced web developers should be trusted with the implementation of caching solutions on websites and web applications.

Is there a downside to caching?

If the website goes through a lot of changes then there is a chance that the user will see the old version instead of the updates. With client-side caching the browser might load an old version of the CSS, Javascript or images. What we do to get around this is to append a query string after the filename which is normally used to pass extra information to pages. So this tricks the browser in thinking that it’s a different file and loads it. 

For example:

/css/style.css?v=2

Anything after the question mark is the query string. Putting any random text after it would work as long as the end URL looks different: So “/css/style.css” is not the same as “/css/style.css?v=2” and the browser will load the updated style.css file. Alternatively, the user will have to do a cache refresh (ctrl+f5 on windows) or wait for the cache to eventually expire. Server-side caching all depends on how it’s implemented and where it’s stored. It might take a script to clear the cache, deleting a folder on the file server or clearing a database table. If the website is on a CDN then you have to use that service’s control panel to force each endpoint to update with the latest files and clear the cache.

When should caching NOT be used?

There’s no reason not to use client-side caching because why redownload the assets if it’s going to remain the same? Server-side validation on the other hand means you have dynamic content and you want to be careful what exactly you cache. You could be caching complex statistics and graph data that only change once a month. This could take several minutes to generate, which you don’t want your user to wait for, caching this makes sense. But what if that data is updated frequently then caching the end result is not an option because some users will see the outdated results. In this scenario, caching isn’t the solution and you’ll have to find a different way to present this to the user. We’ve seen in different projects that we’ve taken over that many inexperienced developers rely on server-side caching far too much. This is because they can’t efficiently write queries and source code to solve the problems, but turn to caching the data on the server to make it load faster (but not correctly). 

But what if my content changes? 

We know what you may be thinking: caching has many benefits to make my website load in a super-fast response time, but what if I have caching enabled and I publish new items or my content changes, then what? Will these new changes not be cached and therefore not unseen to website visitors? Caching systems that are set up properly are able to deal with these types of scenarios. Not only does caching systems consist of ways to store data for speedy display but they are also capable of emptying the cache when certain criteria are met. The cache can then be regenerated once the cache has been emptied.

Last but not least…

Caching is a very sophisticated technology that increases the speed at which your website or web application can load, without requiring additional processing power. Implementation of caching can be tricky and needs to be done properly. Once done it will result in faster load times and reduce the strain on your server. A faster website or web app means that your users will love browsing around and Search Engines will also appreciate this loading speed, giving you a boost on your SEO score.

Article by: Angelo Zanetti

 

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Ericsson Mobility Report: Sub-Saharan Africa to reach 70 million 5G subscriptions by 2026

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Ericsson South and East Africa Head and VP, Todd Ashton (Image: Ericsson)

Ericsson projects that 5G mobile subscriptions will exceed 580 million by the end of 2021, driven by an estimated one million new 5G mobile subscriptions every day. The forecast, which features in the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, confirms the expectation that 5G will become the fastest adopted mobile generation. 5G is expected to surpass a billion subscriptions two years ahead of the 4G LTE timeline for the same milestone.

The report features breakout statistics from Sub-Saharan African markets where around 15 percent of mobile subscriptions were for 4G at the end of 2020. Mobile broadband subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa are predicted to increase, reaching 76 percent of mobile subscriptions by 2026. However, 5G volumes are not expected to grow in the region for 2021 but are likely to reach around 70 million 5G subscriptions in 2026.

Separately, the Global Telecom Market Report (GTM) also known as “The Future of Urban Reality Report” was also recently launched by the Ericsson ConsumerLab, to assess the penetration of 5G and the tremendous potential it holds to markets around the world.

The latest Ericsson ConsumerLab report is Ericsson’s largest consumer study to date, revealing key insights about what Sub-Saharan African consumers believe will happen beyond the pandemic, into the year 2025, through surveying a sample of 1,000 to 2,000 respondents between the ages of 15–79.

The report found that, when entering the “next normal”, consumers in Africa will have added an average of 3.4 online services to their daily online activities, while also increasing the time they spend online by 10 hours per week by 2025, in comparison to their pre-pandemic habits.

This move is also expected to bridge the gap between moderate and advanced online users, with the more moderate online users having introduced more online services in their daily life over the course of the pandemic.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of online education at schools and universities as well as remote working has increased to 87 percent and 63 percent respectively. Going forward online education and remote working are collectively expected to remain at a level of 51 percent.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of online shopping stood at 28 percent out of the total number of all shopping events, both online and at physical stores. During the COVID-19  pandemic, this figure increased to 47 percent. Consumers anticipate their habits around online shopping will remain at a level of 37 percent after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.

Todd Ashton, Vice President and Head of Ericsson South and East Africa says: “The recent reports have demonstrated the success of setting #AfricaInMotion. Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to see continued growth in mobile broadband thanks to the young population, increased coverage, and more affordable smartphones. By 2025, we will be looking at a new normal with online activities becoming more common daily. 4G will become more pervasive and 5G will start to grow. As a result, we will definitely see increased economic growth and an acceleration in Africa’s digital inclusion.

Ericsson has found that despite the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, service providers continue to switch on 5G, and more than 160 service providers have launched commercial 5G services.

 

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