The unstoppable march of technology into a pillar of our society has unleashed a lot of forces, both positive and negative, and created many problems that are well documented – the impact of social media on mental health, the evolution in the way we process information, and the instant access culture being a few notable examples. A raft of reactionary cultural movements has also been spawned – mindfulness, minimalism and social protest among them. The more negative of these aspects tend to be what gains the most press, as a spiral of sensationalist, click-bait headlines compete for our fractured attention, so the echo chamber about the unsavoury effects of technology amplifies. However, there can be little doubt that a lot of the technological leaps currently being made are of huge benefit for our safety, health and wellbeing, Each month brings breakthroughs and positive developments driven by the power and speed of technological development. Here are just some of the headline advances making the world a safer place:
York University hit the headlines recently for the development of robots that can assist at volatile crime scenes, most especially those that are hazardous to human workers such as those with chemicals or biological weapons. A range of cameras, sensor and gauges provide detailed live data feedback to skilled operators to interpret. They can even construct 3D maps of environments that are hostile to human investigation. The technology will also be of enormous help in disaster relief efforts and may help rescuers to locate casualties with much more accuracy and speed than is currently possible.
There May Be Trouble Ahead
When disaster strikes, it is unexpected by its very nature, a fact which puts relief operations very much on the back foot. But a wave of developments is giving authorities the tools to detect emergencies and disasters before they occur. There are now advances that can accurately predict landslides, as well as technology that can give early warning of forest fires – which are increasing due to global warming and kill over 400,000 globally each year – via reliable, low-cost wireless sensors developed by KUAST in the Middle East which monitor gas emissions and combine a huge range of data on temperature and humidity levels. The more ‘big data’ gathered by these sensors, the more accurately conditions that lead to these disasters can be identified. Emergency response can then be prepared in advance of a disaster happening – and this technology holds developments that could also be applied to the prediction of other, more abstract threats such as crime and illness as well.
Cars That Talk To Each Other
Sentient cars may be a trope that we more usually think of as belonging to comedy movies, but the tech behind getting vehicles to communicate with each other has the potential to save millions of lives each year by preventing road accidents and also taking the sting out of a daily commute by reducing congestion. A vehicle-to-vehicle dialogue exchanging vital data on direction, speed and positioning is fast becoming a reality, due to cutting-edge research in the US. And this prospect isn’t just a faraway dream – Volkswagen has forecast that they will have road-ready ‘talking’ vehicles by next year.
The City That Knows Your Name
Like something out of a sci-fi novel, advanced technologies are being piloted with hopes of making our cities safer too. Singapore may already have one of the lowest crime rates in the world, but that is being further supported by a pilot programme called Safe City being carried out by the government there and technology consultancy Accenture. Video analytics applied to the city’s network of CCTV is being used to identify gang members and wanted criminals, deploying policing resources much more effectively and saving civic cost and disruption in the process. Data generated by movement is used to pick up patterns that alert authorities to a crime being committed. And although some find this use of technology distinctly Orwellian, biometric data such as this is already in use via our chipped passports. This sits alongside the development of a sophisticated audio technology called ShotSpotter that can pinpoint the sounds of gunfire and alert police, giving them a greater chance to catch the suspects in robberies and homicides.
On The Homefront
While many of us may feel ambivalent about our biometric data being used by the state, we may be more sanguine about using it to protect our homes. Existing technology is having a huge impact on home security, with fingerprints and retina scans viable alternatives to mortice locks in giving access to our houses. The Intel Security True Key app can memorise the mathematical proportions of your facial structure and act as enhanced security. Use of an app can now allow you to remotely lock entrances and arm or disable a security system from anywhere in the world, while allowing for house sitters, family members and dog walkers to gain entry. These systems can also remotely monitor and alert you to any unauthorised entry to your home or even your car, meaning that you can stay vigilant and protected at all times.
High Tech Health
As the recent mania for fitness trackers has shown, we’re all keen to use technology to gain insights into our personal health and wellbeing, from scales that analyse our body fat percentage to DNA kits that give custom diet and health advice. A growing number of apps are now focused on our health and wellbeing. ShopWell provides custom dietary advice and helps you build shopping lists and a healthy eating plan, Headspace can proactively manage stress and anxiety, while MySugr helps diabetics to track their glucose levels to support the work of their health professional. Meanwhile, smartphones are also making it easier to access instant medical advice via platforms such as PushDoctor, meaning conditions are more likely to get diagnosed and managed earlier by those with busy lifestyles who never find the time to make it to a doctor’s office. MedAdvisor is a prescription management tool for those on complicated medical regimes. Whatever your health concerns, a raft of tailored support apps are out there – with more being developed all the time.
The Impact of Blockchain For Businesses
Throughout the years, the concept of blockchain technology has gradually overtaken the business world. But no longer is it only being associated with cryptocurrency. Now it’s finding its way into other industries such as eCommerce and logistics management.
Helping to digitize businesses, it’s a popular technology due to its ability to solve challenges such as security breaches. But that’s not the only benefit that comes with investing in blockchain technology. If your business is interested in investing in enterprise software development and in blockchain in particular, then the following information can prove to be invaluable.
What is it?
Before getting into the advantages, it’s important to first understand exactly what blockchain is. Arguably one of the most disruptive technologies, it’s something that should no longer be ignored. To put it simply, blockchain is a collection of digital technology information which is stored within a database. This will typically include:
- Information about certain customer transactions including key data such as the time, monetary amount, date and more.
- Information about exactly who is buying your products or services. Revealing shopping behaviors, it’s stored with a digital signature rather than a specific name.
- Unique blocks of information – which can easily be distinguished from one another. For example, if one customer buys one item and then in the future buys a different one, they will be in different blocks.
What Are The Benefits?
- An Increased Level of Efficiency
One of the most important benefits that come with implementing blockchain technology within your business is the elevated level of efficiency it can provide. Removing the need for a third-party due to its more decentralized design, it will make your operating processes far more streamlined.
With blockchain technology, you can step away from the more traditional, time-consuming processes that were rife with human error and automate them. Ensuring that they are completed more quickly and accurately, you can spend the time that you saved on other areas of your business.
As well as making the overall process more streamlined and convenient, it allows for everyone to access the same information at one time – making financial record-keeping more trustworthy in the long term.
One industry that could particularly benefit from faster payments and transactions is the real estate market. With a simpler system of ownership records, it will make the process of selling properties far easier. It will also open up the possibility of automating agreements between tenants and landlords, which will similarly speed up the process.
- Greater Transparency Overall
A notable characteristic that blockchain has is its ability to be transparent. As the technology is a type of a transaction or distributed ledger, it allows those within a network to share all of the same documentation instead of individual copies.
By making this open to viewing, it directly adds a remarkable layer of accountability, giving each sector within the business the responsibility to act correctly towards the company’s growth and its customers. The fact that each document can only be updated through the agreement of all participants also ensures that no illegitimate changes can be made. More consistent, transparent and accurate, the staff will perform better together in the long run.
- An Increased Level of Security
As aforementioned, an increased level of security is one of the key benefits that come with blockchain technology. Far more secure than the more traditional record-keeping systems, it will ensure that each transaction that’s made is heavily encrypted and linked to the last transaction. But how does it do this?
Without getting too technical, blockchain technology is created with several ‘blocks’ which are formed by a computer network. Once created, they are added to a ledger which fuses a chain of information. As it is such a complex technology that exists across several serves rather than one (as most traditional technologies are), it’s one of the most protected from breaches.
This level of security is particularly important for businesses that store sensitive customer data such as – healthcare, within the government and in financial services.
- Reduced Costs
For many businesses, it’s important to cut costs where you can. And with blockchain technology, you can do exactly that. Although the initial investment might seem expensive, the benefits that come with it make it more than worth it for many businesses. As mentioned above, it removes the need for third parties. And because of this, you can work directly with your clients and customers.
This will, in turn, help to reduce your overall costs. With this new automated technology, you also no longer have to review information separately. Helping to save time and therefore save money. You can then reinvest the money that you’ve saved by not having to deal with third parties in other aspects of your business – such as marketing or IT.
- Enhanced Traceability
Traceability is key within many businesses – as without it, you can’t identify transactions. With blockchain technology, you can reap the benefits that come with an enhanced level of traceability. For example, every time that someone purchases a product from your business, it will create a digital audit trail which is recorded within the blockchain. Showcasing who and when they were bought, it can easily be traced if need be.
Helping to prevent fraud (if you have a business that’s involved in exchange), verify the authenticity and improve security, it’s an essential addition for many. In particular, this heightened level of traceability can be ideal if your business traditionally deals with products which are traded through a very complex supply chain – such as within medicine. Tracking exactly who manufactured and distributed each item, it will be easier to recall products if need be.
The impact that blockchain technology can have within a business is clear. A type of technology that is ever-developing and growing in popularity, it’s something that’s here to stay. Of course, before you invest in the technology, it’s vital that you thoroughly research the pros and cons and how it could directly affect your business’ operations.
Inside the New WhatsApp Buffer Overflow Vulnerability
Facebook’s WhatsApp mobile app has had a rough time lately with regard to software vulnerabilities. In November 2019, the social media company quietly issued a security patch for a buffer overflow vulnerability contained in their messaging application.
However, the vulnerability disclosed in November 2019 is not the only recent vulnerability discovered and patched in the secure messaging application. Earlier in 2019, another buffer overflow vulnerability was discovered and patched by the company. Both of these vulnerabilities are rated as “severe” due to the fact that an attacker exploiting them can run malicious code on the target device.
To make things worse, the vulnerabilities in WhatsApp can be exploited by an unauthenticated attacker. These vulnerabilities were discovered in functions that process data sent by another WhatsApp user to the target. By taking a simple action – initiating a WhatsApp call or sending an MP4 video to the target – an attacker can trigger the vulnerability, giving them control over the device. These vulnerabilities can then be exploited to place spyware on the victim’s device and to view the user’s messaging history within the app.
A Brief History of WhatsApp Security
The recent WhatsApp vulnerability is not the first buffer overflow contained within the mobile app. In May 2019, a different buffer overflow vulnerability was discovered in how WhatsApp processed the data contained within an incoming call.
This vulnerability was created because WhatsApp uses a special binary format for sending data between devices and then unpacks this data at the recipient device. If an attacker sent a specially formatted packet, which lied about the length of a certain field, the recipient’s WhatsApp would unpack the data into a place on the stack that did not have sufficient space for it. As a result, the attacker would have the ability to write to memory that should have been outside of their control. This vulnerability was concerning since it allowed remote code execution on a target device without any user interaction required. The malicious packet was sent as part of initiating a call, so, even if the user rejected the call, the damage was already done.
This past WhatsApp vulnerability has been the source of significant controversy. While Facebook was in the process of patching the vulnerability, they observed someone trying to exploit it on the device of a UK-based human rights lawyer. Additional investigation pointed to the use of the vulnerability to spy upon individuals who would be of interest to certain governments.
The Israeli-based NSO Group is well known for developing and selling exploits to governments for use in surveillance activities that fall outside the scope of law enforcement activities. This, and the fact that the observed attack used infrastructure previously linked to the NSO Group, has led Facebook to believe that the company was beyond the exploitation of the WhatsApp vulnerability. As a result, Facebook has begun a lawsuit against the NSO Group for exploitation of a vulnerability in one of their products.
The Newest WhatsApp Vulnerability
The buffer overflow vulnerability disclosed in May was not the last such vulnerability in the WhatsApp platform. In November 2019, Facebook patched another vulnerability in WhatsApp that was similar in scope, severity, and potential impact.
This vulnerability dealt with how WhatsApp handled MP4 video files. Along with a video file comes a stream of metadata containing details about the file. When parsing this metadata, WhatsApp is vulnerable to a stack-based buffer overflow attack. This would allow the attacker to perform a Denial of Service attack (crashing the app) or to run attacker-controlled code on the app that could give access to previous conversations that the user has performed on the app. Exploitation of the vulnerability only requires an attacker to know the phone number of the victim and to send them a malicious MP4 video via WhatsApp.
Luckily, while the new vulnerability had the potential to be at least as damaging as the previous buffer overflow flaw, it appears that this one was not being actively exploited by attackers prior to being patched by Facebook. However, this demonstrates the importance of keeping such applications up-to-date (so that Facebook-provided security patches are applied) and to consider the risks associated with using these applications for personal communications.
Protecting Against Buffer Overflow Vulnerabilities
Buffer overflow vulnerabilities are nothing new. They are extremely simple vulnerabilities – only involving a failure to properly manage memory and user input – yet they can be extremely difficult to detect. A wide range of buffer overflow vulnerabilities exist, and sometimes apparently “safe” code can be vulnerable since another vulnerability can be exploited to bypass existing protections against buffer overflows.
The two major WhatsApp vulnerabilities disclosed and patched in 2019 demonstrate the potential impact of a buffer overflow vulnerability in a critical application. Both of these vulnerabilities could be exploited without user interaction, and enabled an attacker to run malicious code within the victim application. In one case, the vulnerability was exploited multiple times to spy upon parties of interest to various governments, leading to a lawsuit by Facebook against the suspected perpetrator.
Protecting against buffer overflow vulnerabilities requires the ability to identify and block potential exploits before they reach a vulnerable application. Deploying a strong web application firewall (WAF) to protect an organization’s web presence and runtime application self-protection (RASP) for critical or potentially vulnerable assets is an important first step toward protecting an organization and its software assets against exploitation.
3 2020 Developments That Could Make Your Life Easier
There are many systems under development right now that could eventually make your life easier – but below, we’re going to look at 3 of them. We could be using these developments a lot sooner than you think!
Why do we need 5G when we have 4G – 4G is fast enough, right? People are worried about the health implications, but everybody seems willing to look past that to get more speed. More speed could really help businesses. Also, while 5G is generally operating from the same infrastructure as before, mass adoption will cause issues for data centers. This could make the situation both better and worse in some respects.
Virtual reality is already being used by many people, but it could actually be put to good use soon. When it comes to simple things like shopping, you could make your life so much easier and more enjoyable. Whether you’re shopping for furniture or clothes, virtual reality could mean checking out the fit easily. Try on clothes in the comfort of your home without even ordering them first. See what a sofa looks like before you buy. The options are endless!
We’re still going to need human intelligence, but AI can have a huge impact in our personal and working lives. In work alone it could mean enhanced automation with no need to do tedious tasks. Then, there’s next gen disaster response. It’s the technology of the future!
With these developments in mind, what are some of the most important developments in human history? Check out the infographic to find out!
check out an infographic about human history
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