Google Teaches Kids About Online Safety; Email Scams on the Rise

Posted June 6th, 2017 at 12:35 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

A Google icon is shown on a mobile phone in Philadelphia, April 26, 2017. (AP)

A Google icon is shown on a mobile phone in Philadelphia, April 26, 2017. (AP)

Google Is Using Games to Teach Kids About Online Safety

Learning how to watch your step online to avoid malware and other pitfalls is an acquired skill. And Google has just launched a new program called “Be Internet Awesome” to teach young people how to make smart decisions online. The program includes a game, along with a curriculum for schools and a video series for parents to watch with their children.

Amazon, Kickstarter, Reddit, Mozilla Are Staging Net Neutrality Online Protest

Several big internet names have declared July 12 a “day of action'” to protest the rollback of net neutrality rules by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC’s decision cancels rules introduced by the Obama administration to regulate internet providers and the way they use consumer data. Amazon, Kickstarter and Mozilla are some of the participants who will change their websites on July 12 to raise awareness about the FCC’s decision.

Email Impersonation Attacks Rise 400 Percent

A new report from cloud email management firm Mimecast found a 400 percent increase in email impersonation attacks during the last quarter. What happens is that hackers or criminals impersonate business employees, executives or partners to trick a victim into sending wire transfers or data that can be sold or monetized. The company said billions of dollars have been lost to these scams in recent years.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

‘CrowdGuard’ Fights India’s Sexual Violence, Bystander Apathy

Posted June 2nd, 2017 at 11:30 am (UTC-4)
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A screenshots from a recent CrowdGuard presentation shows the app's user interface. In cases of danger, the user gets an alert that displays information about another user in need of help. (CrowdGuard)

A screenshot from a recent CrowdGuard presentation shows the app’s user interface. In cases of danger, the user gets an alert that displays information about another user in need of help. (CrowdGuard)

India has witnessed some harrowing acts of sexual and gender-based violence in recent years, some occurring in front of witnesses who watched, but did nothing. To combat this apathy, a social enterprise has come up with a crowdsourced solution that harnesses a trusted community to help people under attack.

Philip Sunil Urech has seen it all before, especially in India. “I observed a lot of situations … where people were actually requiring help,” he said, but bystanders and civilians passing by simply ignored the situation.

“I later learned that this was a cultural norm,” said the CEO of Crowdtect, a for-profit firm that develops human emergency response systems. People are taught from an early age “not to interfere” with others beyond their extended family “even if they are facing a very hard time or are in real danger.”

Inspired by the experience, Sunil co-founded CrowdGuard, a smartphone and Internet of Things (IoT) platform that mobilizes a community of trained students, volunteer organizations, commercial venues, and work places to respond quickly in emergency situations.

“Every user is a potential helper,” he told Techtonics, “but every user also potentially can reach out for help.”

Amit Ratnakar, Crowdtect UI Designer, works on the CrowdGuard app interface, in West Delhi, India. (CrowdGuard)

Amit Ratnakar, Crowdtect UI Designer, works on the CrowdGuard app interface, in West Delhi, India. (CrowdGuard)

The mobile app connects all of these communities and offers users several easy ways to send out an emergency appeal when in danger. A user can press an emergency button, pull out the headphone jack, or press the power button three times to send an emergency alert.

The alert sends the location and identity of the person in danger to the community. Users in proximity can meet up with others as they navigate to the scene. And if potential helpers are farther away, the app increases the search radius to alert the nearest available members of the community to the danger.

Once on the scene, the crowd serves as a witness and a potential deterrent to the assault until police arrive. A chat function gives all users an all-clear alert when the situation is resolved. And a built-in mechanism keeps track of related police work.

The platform consists of several other layers, including education and compliance.

The education side is crucial to changing the bystander effect. Bystanders in a large crowd are unlikely to take action in an emergency either because they believe others will act or because they would rather wait to take the cue from those around them. CrowdGuard helps users understand crowd dynamics and raises awareness about safe intervention, citizen rights, sexual and gender-based violence, and filing complaints with police.

CrowdGuard storytellers Leena Wadhwa (L) and Garima Bansal (C) engage college students in New Delhi about the CrowdGuard app and their personal role in providing community safety as active bystanders. (CrowdGuard)

CrowdGuard storytellers Leena Wadhwa (L) and Garima Bansal (C) engage college students in New Delhi about the CrowdGuard app and their personal role in providing community safety as active bystanders. (CrowdGuard)

On the compliance side, the platform ensures that local laws against sexual harassment are being observed.

“We support these communities in becoming compliant with the POSH Act – the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act of 2013 – which obligates basically every organization in India to implement certain measures to prevent sexual harassment,” said Sunil. “And we did that in order to leverage the inter-personal trust and [assist] communities.”

But reaching out for help on smartphones has its limitations, he said. “We are sometimes facing the issue that smartphones which run CrowdGuard applications and which connect to the CrowdGuard platform have no power left after a long day … or we have the issue that there is no mobile phone network.”

While the app also uses SMS messaging as a backup for emergency alerts, Sunil believes using an IoT device to house CrowdGuard is a better alternative.

A wearable IoT device running on a small battery and very little energy can reach farther if the user is underground and can connect over longer distances, he said. Crowdtect’s device, still in development, would not be tethered to a smartphone.

“We have to put it in a shell,” he added. “Most probably it will become an amulet that you wear around your neck or attach it to your bag. And we’re having two trigger mechanisms.”

The technology is still being tested for reliability, but it is in the final stages of development. Crowdtect has just wrapped up an eight-week mentoring program in Washington with PeaceTech Accelerator, a partnership between PeaceTech Lab, C5 Accelerate, and Amazon Web Services dedicated to scaling startups around the world.

“They are preparing for launch, virtualizing the existing education parts,” he said. “We are in the pilot stage, and we are increasing the network of community partners. … So once we launch, we have a minimal density in the urban areas of Delhi, and we are kind of building up.”

Sunil hopes CrowdGuard will have a “social impact on the ground” and help build a network of safe spaces which would benefit everyone, even if they’re not connected through the application.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

India Mobile Use on the Rise; China’s New Law Expands ‘Great Firewall’

Posted June 1st, 2017 at 12:35 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

A Kashmiri shopkeeper browses internet on his mobile phone as he waits for customers outside his shop in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, April 26, 2017. (AP)

A Kashmiri shopkeeper browses the internet on his mobile phone as he waits for customers outside his shop in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, April 26, 2017. (AP)

Internet Trends Report: India Is Definitely World’s Next Major Tech Market

Thanks to cheaper smartphones and data plans, India now has 355 million internet users. That’s about 27 percent of its population of 1.3 billion – up from 277 million in 2015. That means mobile internet use is also on the rise, accounting for up to 80 percent of all web traffic, which is higher than the global average of 50 percent. There are challenges, however, before India becomes that much-coveted market, including education and infrastructure, lack of purchasing power, stringent regulations and expensive registration for startups, to name a few.

EU: Social Networks Are Getting Better at Reviewing Hate Speech

European Commission officials say social media giants have responded to calls to act on hate speech. According to the officials, Facebook did a better job at tackling hate speech complaints in the last six months than Twitter, YouTube, and Microsoft and responded on them within the EU’s specified 24-hour window. The companies registered a 40 percent improvement over the past year in terms of reviewing and removing hate speech.

China Cybersecurity Law Will Keep Citizens’ Data Within the Great Firewall

China’s new cybersecurity law went into effect Thursday. It mandates that all personal information and data used by citizens and companies be stored on Chinese servers in the country. The law imposes severe restrictions on the transmission of scientific or technological data overseas and applies to a wide range of social media and internet firms, including foreign entities. Companies that fail to seek permission before exporting data overseas or violate the new rules risk being blacklisted or having their license revoked.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Uzbekistan Bans 34 Video Games; North Korea Reinvents the ‘iPad’

Posted May 31st, 2017 at 2:07 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - People stand near 'Sims 4' game characters on a wall during the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, in Los Angeles, California June 11, 2014. (Reuters)

FILE – People stand near ‘Sims 4’ game characters on a wall during the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3, in Los Angeles, California, June 11, 2014. (Reuters)

Uzbekistan Bans 34 Games, Including The Sims 3 and 4, for ‘Distorting Values’

The Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan has banned The Sims video simulation game, among a growing list of video games deemed bad for the country’s values. The list also includes Mass Effect and Call of Duty: Black Ops, among others. Writer Rob Thubron suggests banning the Sims – virtual interactive families and individual characters controlled by players – might have something to do with the game’s depiction of same-sex relationships. Uzbek authorities say the games could be used “to propagate violence, pornography, threaten security and social and political stability,” among other reservations.

Berlin Court Rules Parents Have No Right to Dead Daughter’s Facebook Account

The parents of a 15-year-old girl who reportedly was struck by a Berlin subway train have been trying to gain access to her Facebook account to determine if she had committed suicide. But a German appeals court overturned an earlier lower court order that gave them permission to access the account. Facebook had appealed the lower court ruling, arguing that giving the parents access would endanger the privacy of the girl’s Facebook contacts.

North Korea Reinvents the ‘iPad’ – Again

North Korean state-owned tech company, Myohyang IT, has just announced it is developing a new tablet – and it’s calling it the ‘Ryonghung iPad.’  The iPad, if you have not been paying attention, is developed by U.S. tech firm Apple. The tech giant has not commented yet on this trademark violation, although this is not the first time North Korea blatantly clones its products.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Getting ‘Personal’ With Google Search; Germany Unveils Robot Priest

Posted May 30th, 2017 at 12:54 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A computer user poses in front of a Google search page in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, Belgium. (Reuters)

FILE – A computer user poses in front of a Google search page in this photo illustration taken in Brussels, Belgium. (Reuters)

Google Search Just Got a Lot More Personal

If you are using any of Google’s products, then everything you do is being tracked so advertisers can pay big money for your data.  But the information also allows Google to personalize your search. A new “Personal” tab in the search menu shows you results based on words you use in Google Photos, Calendar and Gmail. If you don’t fancy being tracked to this level of detail, you can adjust search settings to prevent the use of private data.

​Android Creator Andy Rubin Wants Essential Phone to Fix ‘Weird World’

Former Googler and Android creator Andy Rubin holds himself partly responsible for helping create a “weird new world where people are forced to fight with the very technology that was supposed to simplify their lives.” His new Essential Phone, unveiled Tuesday, is a modular device with clip-on parts, and its screen extends to both side edges and the top. But the phone is noteworthy because of its ‘modular’ feature. Google tried its hand with modular devices for a while with Project Ara, but later abandoned the effort.

Robot Priest Unveiled in Germany to Mark 500 Years Since Reformation

Germany’s small town of Wittenberg is celebrating the birth of the Reformation movement that started 500 years ago when Martin Luther King called for church reform in Europe. Marking the occasion is BlessU-2, a robot priest on exhibition that dispenses blessings in five languages and emits light from its hands. Appropriately, Blessu-2’s mission is to challenge Europe’s religious institution once more, raising questions about its future in the age of artificial intelligence.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Tech Giants Tap Into Autism Community for Fresh Talent

Posted May 26th, 2017 at 1:30 am (UTC-4)
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Software engineer, Philip Jarvis, who has Asperger's Syndrome, works on Microsoft's HoloLens mixed-reality device at Redmond, Washington. (Microsoft © Brian Smale)

Software engineer, Philip Jarvis, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, works on Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed-reality device at Redmond, Washington. (Microsoft © Brian Smale)

One percent of the world’s population is on the Autism Spectrum Disorder, a group of complex brain development disabilities. Most are unemployed or under-employed. But several tech companies are now actively courting autistic workers for their unique skills, particularly suited for computing.

Adults on the Autism spectrum excel with analytical skills. They have an eye for detail, exceptional focus, and tolerance for repetition that wears down non-autistic workers. These individuals “tend to thrive in tech-related professions,” said Oliver Thornton, CEO and co-founder of Coding Autism, a for-profit social enterprise that trains adults on the autism spectrum in technology-related skills.

“Someone on the spectrum tends to be more prone to focusing for a longer period of time and not having the mental fatigue to be able to do that task exceptionally,” he said in an interview with Techtonics.

Despite their academic achievement and intelligence, more than 80 percent of autistic adults around the world are either unemployed or underemployed, by U.N. estimates. And the numbers are rising.

“What’s going to happen in 15, 20 years,” asked Thornton, “… when we have a major population on the autism spectrum and they can’t find jobs adequately?”

“There’s a very significant and under-utilized source of talent out there – people that have the right education, the right experience, the right credentials, and that could add value to our companies every day,” said Jose Velasco, head of the Autism at Work program at SAP, a firm that creates software solutions for businesses.

Most of these candidates don’t even make it past the job interview process.

To tackle the problem, several tech companies, including SAP, Microsoft, and Coding Autism, have put in place training and hiring initiatives to attract autistic individuals as part of a much larger effort.

An employee demonstrates a Lego Mindstorm robot he built as part of the Autism at Work training curriculum intended to see how prospective employees problems. (SAP)

An employee demonstrates a LEGO Mindstorm robot he built as part of the Autism at Work training. The curriculum is designed to see how prospective employees tackle problems. (SAP)

Coding Autism plans to train a maximum of 15 students later this year or early next year. Its specialized curriculum teaches autistic students skills that are in high demand and that “align with their characteristics,” said Thornton, who is also on the autism spectrum. The training helps them find jobs in web development, quality assurance, advanced software skills, and cybersecurity, to name a few.

Students also learn social and job skills, financial management, and career counseling to help them look for work in the technology sector and make it through the job interview process.

Microsoft, SAP, and Hewlett Packard have similar programs with strong support systems. According to Thornton, a lot of the talent these companies look for is in cybersecurity. HP, he added, was so impressed with the outstanding performance of autistic employees that it ramped up recruiting for adults on the spectrum with cybersecurity skills.

Launched in 2013, SAP’s Autism at Work program was driven by a number of factors, including high turnover rates in the tech industry and the significant cost of replacing departing employees – somewhere between “40 to 100 percent of a person that is productive already – yearly salary,” Velasco said in an interview with Techtonics.

Autism at Work trains and hires adults on the autism spectrum in nine countries, including India, Argentina, and Brazil, the U.S., and several European countries. The program prepares candidates for job interviews and provides them with the resources and structure they need to succeed in software testing, graphic design, customer support, software development, cybersecurity, and other areas.

Jeff Wang, a SAP employee participating in the Autism at Work training program, learns how to use presentation tool Prezi and shares an overview of what he learned in training with a room full of managers. (SAP)

Jeff Wang, a SAP employee participating in the Autism at Work training program, learns how to use presentation tool Prezi and shares an overview of what he learned in training with a room full of managers. (SAP)

It is a surreal feeling of not only making a living, but also feeling valued that I get [to] share my perspectives and learn new skills,” he said in an email. “It also means feeling assured that I have a strong support system and resourceful connections who [are] always willing to help – SAP Employee Jeff Wang

“We are capturing really very smart, very brilliant people,” said Velasco. “… Our colleagues are doing a fantastic job because they have a very strong attention to detail on tasks that require a lot of concentration.”

For a high-tech company like SAP, fresh talent and perspectives are crucial for innovation. “New products are only created when you bring in different perspectives into the creative process,” he added.

“The diversity of our workforce and inclusion of talented people from different backgrounds is the fuel that keeps the engines of innovation and growth running,” said Microsoft’s Director of Inclusive Hiring and Accessibility, Neil Barnett, in an email.

Microsoft, which started an autism hiring program in 2015 to increase workforce diversity and utilize untapped potential, already has 32 autistic candidates on board as software engineers and data scientists, among other roles. They receive the same benefits and compensations as full-time employees.

“People with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft, such as pattern recognition, the ability to think at a very high level of detail and depth, and/or excel in math or code,” said Barnett.

The program was created with a focus on adjusting Microsoft’s hiring process “to better suit the needs of people with autism.” It is “a unique way to find qualified candidates who were not making it to Microsoft through a traditional interview process,” he said.

Microsoft’s autism program and those at SAP and Coding Autism are slowly falling under a bigger umbrella – a nascent school of thought that argues that “neurodiversity” is a natural condition of the human genome.

Earlier this year, SAP held its second Autism at Work Summit, with participation from technology and private firms, the public sector, academia, and philanthropy to promote neurodiversity and encourage more companies to consider hiring autism spectrum job seekers.

“It is not only the right thing to do,” said Velasco, “but it’s going to accelerate the implementation of these programs and also the accuracy – the way in which they are implemented.”

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

‘WannaCry’ Clues Point to China as New Vulnerability Raises Red Flags

Posted May 25th, 2017 at 1:32 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

A screenshot of the warning screen from a purported ransomware attack, as captured by a computer user in Taiwan, is seen on laptop in Beijing, China, May 13, 2017. (AP)

A screenshot of the warning screen from a purported ransomware attack, as captured by a computer user in Taiwan, is seen on laptop in Beijing, China, May 13, 2017. (AP)

WannaCry Ransom Note Analysis Points to Chinese-speaking Perpetrator

Cybersecurity experts continue to comb through evidence to identify the criminals who launched the global ‘WannaCry’ ransomware attack. While initial speculation linked the attackers to North Korea, researchers at cybersecurity firm Flashpoint now say Chinese speakers could be behind the English and Chinese versions of the ransom notes that popped up on computer screens in 28 languages. Minor typos in the Chinese version suggest the ransom note was typed on a Chinese-language input system, and a grammatical mistake in the English version suggests the author is not a native English speaker.

Newly Discovered Vulnerability Raises Fears of Another ‘WannaCry’

Researchers at cybersecurity firm Rapid7 have detected a vulnerability in Samba networking software that could leave thousands of computers vulnerable to attack. Rapid7 found more than 100,000 Linux and UNIX computers running Samba around the world. If exploited, the vulnerability could allow hackers to take remote control of affected computers.

Study Suggests Users More Rational on Smartphones Than PCs

A new study featured in the journal Computers in Human Behavior hypothesizes that people are likely to make more rational decisions on smartphones that focus their attention on a single task, blocking out outside information. The researchers say PC users are more open to outside information and tend to rely more on emotional decision making.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Social Media Access Urged After UK Attack; New Ransomware Detected

Posted May 24th, 2017 at 2:10 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - 3-D plastic representations of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube logos are seen in front of an IS flag in this photo illustration shot. (Reuters)

FILE – 3-D plastic representations of Twitter, Facebook and Youtube logos are seen in front of an IS flag in this photo illustration shot. (Reuters)

UK Takes on Social Media Giants After Manchester Terror Attack

U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has urged social media services like Facebook and Twitter to tackle terrorism posts and give law enforcement access to encrypted messages. The appeal followed an Islamic State terrorist attack at a Manchester pop concert that left 22 people dead on Monday. Facebook and Twitter declined to comment.

New Major Ransomware Threat Appears Days After ‘WannaCry’

Researchers at ESET security firm have discovered a new ransomware threat dubbed XData. The malware started showing up on May 17 and has been largely observed in Ukraine. The virus spreads through a Ukrainian document automation system used in accounting. ESET, which has been tracking XData, says infection rates are still low. Some decryption keys for this ransomware already exist on the BleepingComputer.com forum.

10 Ways to Protect Your Windows PCs Against Ransomware

Ransomware attacks are on the rise, and you’ll find yourself in a trouble if are caught off-guard without a separate, viable backup of your computer files. Writer Jesus Vigo offers some guidelines to help PC users protect themselves before any ransom demands pop up on their computer screens.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Samsung’s Iris Scanner Fooled; N. Korea Denies ‘WannaCry Role’

Posted May 23rd, 2017 at 12:25 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

The iris scanner function of the Samsung Galaxy S8 is displayed, Monday, April 17, 2017, in New York. (AP)

The iris scanner function of the Samsung Galaxy S8 is displayed, April 17, 2017, in New York. (AP)

Hackers Unlock Samsung Galaxy S8 With Fake Iris

Samsung’s latest Galaxy S8 smartphone includes an iris scanner for users to lock and access their devices. But as previously demonstrated with fingerprints, biometric security measures can also be hacked. Researchers from the Chaos Computer Club were able to do just that. They took a night-mode picture of the target, manipulated it for depth, and then put a contact lens of top of it, thereby fooling the iris scanner and unlocking the smartphone.

Facebook Responds to Leak of Its Moderator Rules: ‘We Get Things Wrong’

Facebook’s head of global policy management, Monika Bickert, has responded to Monday’s report by The Guardian that published leaked documents about what content should or should not appear on the social network’s website. In her response, Brickert said Facebook sometimes gets things wrong, but it is “constantly working to make sure that happens less often” and finding the right answers to address issues relating to graphic content or other objectionable material making it to the site.

Cybersleuths Find More Clues Linking WannaCry to North Korea

Cybersecurity firms Symantec and FireEye say new evidence links North Korea to the massive ransomware attack known as WannaCry or WannaCrypt that wreaked havoc around the world. Symantec and FireEye researchers say the software code used in the attack is identical to earlier versions used by hacking group Lazarus, which is linked to the North Korean government. But Symantec also says the WannaCry attack is more typical of a cybercrime and does not bear “the hallmarks of a nation-state campaign.” North Korea has denied the allegation.

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Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.

Junub Games Reaches for Peace as South Sudan Wages War

Posted May 19th, 2017 at 11:30 am (UTC-4)
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A screenshot from the mobile game 'Salaam' or 'Peace.' The game encourages players to be peacemakers as they destroy the implements of war. (Lual Mayen)

A screenshot from the mobile game ‘Salaam’. The game encourages players to be peacemakers as they destroy the implements of war. (Lual Mayen)

Political feuds and ethnic violence in South Sudan have displaced more than 1.5 million people. Among them is a software engineer determined to push past hate to promote peace through games.

“Hate is one of the things that is inciting violence in South Sudan right now,” Lual Mayen, a game developer from Juba, South Sudan, told Techtonics.

Living in a refugee camp in Uganda, Mayen saw first-hand the consequences of hate-mongering and ethnic conflict, undeterred by numerous cease-fires and peace talks. All efforts to reconcile the Dinka and Nuer tribes, at odds since former Dinka Vice President Salva Kiir was dismissed in 2013, had failed. Change was necessary. As a game developer, Mayen was determined to help educate the country’s youth.

Two thirds of South Sudan’s population is under the age of 30. “They are not educated,” he lamented, “and their [lack of knowledge] is killing the country.”

So he founded Junub Games, a nonprofit organization that turns out video and board games with a singular focus on peace building. Within months, he released ‘Salaam,’ a mobile game whose name means ‘peace.’

A child play's 'Salaam,' or 'peace', a game intended to encourage children to fight hate. (Lual Mayen)

A child plays ‘Salaam,’ a game intended to encourage children to fight hate. (Lual Mayen)

The game lets users play as one of South Sudan’s warring parties. But it also gives them the opportunity to push for peace – and rewards them for it.

“It’s a game that made the player to become a peacemaker,” he said. “So I designed it in a way that it is a war game. And the wars will come – they can destroy the buildings and also destroy the people. But as a player … you have to stop all the war tools for world peace.”

Players earn points for destroying all the tools of war. If you win, “the game congratulates you as a peacemaker and also congratulates you with different types of peace messages,” he said.

A screenshot from Junub Games' the mobile Game 'Hate Cop.' (Lual Mayen)

A screenshot from Junub Games’ mobile app, ‘Hate Cop.’ The game is still being developed. (Lual Mayen)

Mayen’s latest crowdfunded mobile game, ‘Hate Cop,’ teaches young people about the dangers of hate speech. Players can take on the roles of opposing tribes or play as members of the same tribe. They rack up points when they get peace words and lose points for every hate word they draw.

The words were compiled from a lexicon on hate speech with help from PeaceTech Lab, a nonprofit that works to inspire “a new industry of peacetech entrepreneurs,” much like Mayen.

When he was in Uganda, one of Mayen’s friends told him about a partnership between PeaceTech Lab, C5 Accelerate, and Amazon Web Services called PeaceTech Accelerator, an international, eight-week mentoring program dedicated to scaling startups around the world.

Startups are selected based on their ability to produce innovative technologies that manage, mitigate, predict, or prevent conflict and promote sustainable peace.

Mayen applied and was recently in Washington D.C. to learn from TechAccelerator’s mentors about managing and expanding his business, and publishing games to the cloud.

During his stay, he had access to “potential investors, free office space, and entry into the Accelerator’s alumni network,” said Nancy Payne, PeaceTech Lab’s Vice President, in an email.

Mayen hopes this puts Junub Games on a path to change the “hearts and minds” of people and teach them to forgo hate and violence, not just in South Sudan, but eventually in other regions as well.

Aida Akl
Aida Akl is a journalist working on VOA's English Webdesk. She has written on a wide range of topics, although her more recent contributions have focused on technology. She has covered both domestic and international events since the mid-1980s as a VOA reporter and international broadcaster.