The Biggest Online Threats; Robots Help Sick Kids Attend School

Posted February 22nd, 2017 at 12:00 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

(VOA/Mark Sandeen)

The 15 Biggest Threats Online, Ranked

A new report from the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security puts hacking for profit at the top of a list of leading online threats. The report says the trend will continue, aided by new tools and malware to boost the criminal business. Malware and unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) devices that give hackers an opportunity to control them are also high on the agency’s list.

Child Too Sick for School Long-term? Send a Robot Instead

Children with long-term illness that prevents them from attending school now have a solution from Norwegian company No Isolation. The company’s AV1 robot, a simple contraption that looks like a stylized head, is designed to help sick children stay in touch with their classmates. The robot has a loudspeaker and its eyes light up when a child is connected. An additional light goes on if the child wants to participate and raises his/her hand.

Humans Don’t Want Robots to Help Them Shop

The latest craze these days seems to be chatbots or robot assistants coming to a store near you, at least in the United States and Japan. Some robots now greet customers at the door or offer advice on what gifts and products customers should buy.  But in many cases, shoppers don’t know the technology exists or just want to pick up what they need as quickly as possible and leave. In one instance, a customer service robot asked the shopper for all kinds of personal information just to look up what kind of advice it should give.

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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.

The Benefit – or Not – of Health Trackers; Kaspersky Launches New OS

Posted February 21st, 2017 at 1:03 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A man wearing a tracker and calorie counter, wipes his face during a workout at the Center for Fitness and Health in Rostraver, Pennsylvania. (AP)

FILE – A man wearing a tracker and calorie counter, wipes his face during a workout at the Center for Fitness and Health in Rostraver, Pennsylvania. (AP)

Scientists Warn Health Apps Could Be Doing More Harm Than Good

Health apps might encourage better lifestyles, but researchers warn many of the thousands of available apps – ranging from fitness trackers to insulin monitors often are not based in real science. Researchers say there is no way to determine if the apps are causing good or harm without scientific trials. Others are concerned apps that dose medications like insulin could be more harmful than fitness trackers that might or might not be suitable for individual needs.

Technology Is Defining the Office of the Future

According to a new report from Samsung called The Open Economy, the static office is a thing of the past. More people work anywhere and at any time, using a mix of business and personal devices to get things done, essentially taking the office with them. While this shift makes security a major concern, the report suggests biometrics and behavioral analytics could help keep an eye out for uncharacteristic or threatening behavior as machine learning improves.

Russian Security Company to Compete With Microsoft With New OS

After almost 14 years in development, the new operating system from cybersecurity firm Kaspersky is focused on tighter security for Internet of Things devices and industrial systems. The company’s CEO Eugene Kaspersky said the OS is built from scratch, meaning it is not based on the Linux kernel or other earlier foundations.

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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 Goes to Work to Help Europe’s Refugees Assimilate

Posted February 17th, 2017 at 11:29 am (UTC-4)
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 Students attend an IT class at a Restart bootcamp in the Netherlands. (Restart Network)

Students attend an IT class at a Restart bootcamp in the Netherlands. (Restart Network)

Technology is finding ways to bridge cultural gaps and help refugees from the Middle East and North Africa assimilate in Europe while giving back to their host countries.

When millions of refugees began to wash ashore in Europe in 2015, so did myriads of challenges – meeting basic needs, education, healthcare, jobs, safety, and mitigating cultural divides. But it’s a two-sided coin. And recognizing this, some of Europe’s innovators found ways to harness the potential of young, skilled immigrants to solve some of the old continent’s problems.

In some cases, those innovators were the refugees themselves.

Take for instance MigrantHire, a website co-founded by Hussein Shaker, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Germany in 2015 with more than a million others like him. Eighty percent of them were under the age of 35, many with much-needed skills. Shaker helped start MigrantHire to connect them with potential employers in the tech sector looking for new talent.

Like Shaker, Teodor Cataniciu, founder and chairman of the Dutch nonprofit, Restart Network, recognized both the opportunity and the need. There were plenty of apps and websites to help refugees with accommodations, local languages, cultures and customs, but to find jobs, they needed training, particularly in countries with older populations like the Netherlands and Germany, where hundreds of thousands of IT positions remain unfulfilled.

The IT skills gap problem is global. But Europe alone is expected to face a shortage of 900,000 IT specialists by 2020, according to Restart.

To improve the refugees’ chances of landing some of these jobs, Restart has partnered with tech players like IBM and Facebook to host coding bootcamps on its campus in Rotterdam.

“We saw … millions of refugees arriving on our continent who want to start again and thought we could create something that is part of the solution,” said Cataniciu in an email. “Our school is surrounded by more than 100 tech companies, and we work closely with industry leaders and experts to really create a different type of school.”

Cataniciu said he believes good education should be available to anyone with “grit and passion,” and that money “shouldn’t be the currency dictating someone’s future opportunities.”

The three-month classes are the world’s first crowdfunded bootcamps. The students, fluent in English, learn Dutch and become junior developers, with a potential for landing jobs in the Netherlands.

*The school has already graduated 100 refugees. And according to Restart, 90 percent of its graduates already have jobs or are continuing their education.

There’s an app for that

Earlier in the migrant crisis, Germany and Austria, both overwhelmed by an influx of refugees, released a mobile app to educate immigrant children and speed up their assimilation. The app, called “hallo App Deutsch,” uses words, sounds, and pictures to teach kids who can’t read roman script.

Other apps include Refugermany, which provides information about asylum procedures, housing, culture, jobs and education, and Denmark’s ligeret.nu, or Equality for All, available in Danish, English, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Turkish.

The Danish government launched the app to help address some of the key challenges countries like Germany and Denmark face as they receive more migrants, particularly with regard to gender equality, sexuality, sexual harassment and assault- themes that ligeret.nu tries to address.

The app’s website cites statistics from Denmark’s Ministry of Justice showing that 43.5 percent of all people convicted of rape between 2013 and 2014 were immigrants or their decedents.

While ligeret.nu includes resources about citizenship, jobs and various aspects of Danish life, it is focused on bridging cultural gaps with information about gender equality, sexuality, and individual rights and responsibilities.

*Editor’s note:

Teodor Cataniciu has added the following correction: “The correct numbers are 40 started, 25 graduated in 2 classes so far. With the next class of 25 people these numbers will increase a bit but still not be at 100 until the end of the year. “

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.

Twitter Restricts Abusive Users; IBM, VISA Team Up for IoT

Posted February 16th, 2017 at 12:56 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - An illustration picture shows a man starting his Twitter App on a mobile device in Hanau near Frankfurt, Germany. (Reuters)

FILE – An illustration picture shows a man starting his Twitter App on a mobile device in Hanau near Frankfurt, Germany. (Reuters)

Twitter Starts Temporarily Restricting Abusive Accounts

Twitter will now temporarily restrict users who engage in abuse and sexual harassment online so that only their followers are able to see their tweets. The move also prevents these tweets from being retweeted to non-followers. This is the latest in a series of measures Twitter has implemented to combat online trolls and harassment.

IBM and Visa Want You to Pay From Your Car

IBM’s cognitive computing program Watson and Visa have teamed up to provide a more secure payment environment to Internet of Things devices, including cars. The collaboration was announced in Germany, where BM is opening its Watson Internet of Things headquarters. Hypothetically, a connected car can alert its driver that it needs a certain part. The driver then can push a button to place the order and arrange for its installation. But instead of using a credit card, the payment is made with a unique digital identifier that does not expose account information.

Americans More Concerned About Online Privacy, Security Than a Year Ago

A new study from secure access specialist AnchorFree found that 84 percent of surveyed Americans are worried about their online privacy, security, and government snooping. The survey of about 1,000 users also found that 64 percent of respondents are more concerned about safeguarding private data under the new U.S. administration, while 50 percent are more concerned with privacy due to the proliferation of connected devices containing private data.

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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.

Suspected Russian Hackers Target Macs; a Visor for the Legally Blind

Posted February 15th, 2017 at 1:04 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - A guest points to a MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino, California, U.S. Oct. 27, 2016. (Reuters)

FILE – A guest points to a MacBook Pro during an Apple media event in Cupertino, California, U.S. Oct. 27, 2016. (Reuters)

Russian Cyberspies Blamed for US Election Hacks Now Targeting Macs

Bitdefender cybersecurity researchers have uncovered a Mac OS Trojan that probably was used by the Russian hackers blamed for breaching the U.S. Democratic National Committee last year. The program, called Sofacy or X-Agent, has been around for other operating systems, but researchers believe this is the first Mac version. The malware can probe the system and grab passwords, among other things.

This ‘Star Trek’-like Headset Helps Legally blind See Again

Remember Geordi La Forge in the sci-fi TV series ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, a blind character with a visor that helped him see? Well, there is now a similar device in real life called the eSight 3. The headset relies on a camera, high-resolution displays and optical prisms to render a video image to users with low vision. Liquid lens technology in the visor helps focus the camera very quickly and allows legally blind users on the move to have access to peripheral vision.

Apple Fights Back as Shareholders Demand More Diversity

Lack of diversity is a real problem in the tech industry, and not just in Silicon Valley. But tech giants, including Apple, say they are making progress. Some Apple investors, however, are trying to force the company to speed up its diversity initiatives, but say that Apple is trying to shoot down a proposal to diversify its board and senior management. Apple argues it has “much broader” diversity efforts underway and that it has made “steady progress in attracting more women and underrepresented minorities” in the past three 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.

Cameroon Internet Blocked; Hidden Sensors Track Employees

Posted February 14th, 2017 at 12:55 pm (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - An image showing Ethernet cables used for internet connections. (Reuters)

FILE – An image showing Ethernet cables used for internet connections. (Reuters)

Cameroon’s Internet Outage Is Draining Its Economy

Cameroon is under international pressure to restore internet services. Up to 20 percent of Cameroon’s population has been denied internet access since January, and the problem persists. By all accounts, the internet disruptions are thought to be politically motivated, targeting long-marginalized English-speaking populations in the country’s northwest and southwest. Neither the government nor internet providers have released any statements regarding the outage.

Microsoft Calls for ‘Digital Geneva Convention’

Microsoft’s president Brad Smith urged tech companies to declare themselves neutral in cases of cyberwar, while committing to 100 percent defense and zero percent offense. Speaking at the RSA computer security conference in San Francisco, Smith called for the creation of a “digital Geneva Convention” to define the rules for cyberwarfare.

New Office Sensors Know When You Leave Your Desk

The British newspaper Telegraph did this about a year ago. Employees discovered little black boxes installed under their desks that were keeping track to see if they were at their stations or goofing off. After the National Union of Journalists complained, the devices were removed. But the reality is there are more than 350 companies today tracking their employees with hidden sensors planted in lights, ID badges and other inconspicuous spaces, allegedly to maintain efficiency. Legally, the companies are within their right – to a point.

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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.

Google Wi-Fi Goes to India; Stuxnet-like Malware Spreading Worldwide

Posted February 9th, 2017 at 11:51 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE – An Indian traveler uses a free Wi-Fi service to browse the net at Mumbai Central Train Station in Mumbai, India, Jan. 22, 2016. (AP)

Google Wi-Fi Station Project Is Coming to India First

Google Station, a project that aims to bring fast Wi-Fi connectivity to railway stations and other public places, will launch for the first time in Pune, a city southeast of Mumbai, India. The project is a collaboration between several local and international tech and IT companies, as well as local governments. According to Google, the aim is to create an internet for the “next billion users.”

Anyone Could Become an Online Troll?

A new study from researchers at Cornell and Stanford universities suggests that, depending on mood swings, anyone can become an online troll. Internet trolls are people who post inflammatory comments or off-topic remarks that disrupt other people’s conversations and upset them. Study participants who took either easy or difficult tests, were then asked to comment on online content. Thirty-five percent of the more docile group posted trolling comments, while nearly 50 percent of those who took the difficult test or saw trolling posts were inclined to troll.

Malware Related to Stuxnet Infects More Than 100 banks Around the World

New memory-based malware discovered by Kaspersky Lab has gone mainstream and hit in 40 countries and up to 140 organizations. The malware is related to Stuxnet, a worm used against Iran’s nuclear facilities seven years ago and largely believed to have been created by the U.S. and Israel. The new malware derives from that strain and has already infected more than 100 financial institutions around the world.

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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.

‘Invisible’ Malware Circulating Globally; China to Control Citizens’ Apps

Posted February 8th, 2017 at 10:46 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

FILE - DRAM memory chips are pictured in Taiwan. (Reuters)

FILE – DRAM memory chips are pictured in Taiwan. (Reuters)

‘Invisible’ Memory-based Malware Is Infiltrating Organizations Worldwide

Kaspersky Lab’s cybersecurity researchers have discovered that hackers are using legitimate software and tools to hide malware in the memory of targeted computers to infiltrate organizations. The attacks are thought to have targeted 140 organizations, including banks, telecommunications companies and government organizations as criminals search for login credentials and financial data.

China Wants to Control Its Citizens’ Apps

Western companies, like Google, are having a tough time taking their app stores to China as the government tries to control what apps its citizens install on their devices. The Cyberspace Administration of China had ruled that app stores have to register with the government to curb fraud and copyright infringement. But the registration also requires app stores to keep track of user activity for 60 days and hand over to police anything Beijing deems as “illegal content.”

US Considers Asking for Social Media Passwords for Visa Applications

People looking for an entry visa into the United States might have to provide social media details if they are from Muslim-majority countries included in the U.S. travel ban, currently being challenged in court. The countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the move is being considered in an effort to toughen measures to screen out visitors who might be a potential threat. Those who refuse to provide social media credentials would be denied entry, according to Kelly.

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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.

Feb. 7 Is Safer Internet Day; Some iOS Apps Put User Data at Risk

Posted February 7th, 2017 at 11:48 am (UTC-4)
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Today’s Tech Sightings:

An internet user gets ready to use Google search in this photo illustration taken in Brussels on May 30, 2014. (Reuters)

An internet user gets ready to use Google search in this photo illustration taken in Brussels on May 30, 2014. (Reuters)

On Safer Internet Day, Here’s How to Get Your Online Life Secured

February 7, 2017 is Safer Internet Day, which shines a light on unhealthy online habits and promotes better privacy and safety practices. Your Google searches – and trips to various ad-funded websites – tip off advertising companies to all sorts of information about where users have been and how they behave online. But there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

Dozens of Popular iOS Apps Leave User Data Vulnerable to Attack

Some iOS apps that should encrypt user data have misconfigured encryption settings, according to Will Strafach, CEO of Sudo Security Group. Strafach claims that programming code has been accidentally misconfigured to accept invalid security certificates in 76 apps, which were downloaded 18 million times.

Fighting Fake News Isn’t Just Up to Facebook and Google

Google and Facebook just joined forces to fight online fake news, introducing filters and tools to track how fake news content is generated and to keep some of it out. But academics and researchers doubt these tools will put an end to fake news and argue that the fight isn’t just up to social media and tech players. Education and awareness, they say, are the key to fostering a critical mind that questions news sources and explores alternative ones.

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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.

Education Tech Pulls Children’s Future Out of Rubble of War

Posted February 3rd, 2017 at 11:30 am (UTC-4)
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FILE - Children watch volunteer teachers perform a puppet show inside a mobile educational caravan for children who do not have access to schools on the outskirts of Saraqib, Idlib province, Syria, March 10, 2016.

FILE – Children watch volunteer teachers perform a puppet show inside a mobile educational caravan for children who do not have access to schools on the outskirts of Saraqib, Idlib province, Syria, March 10, 2016.

Wars around the globe have left 24 million children in 22 conflict-plagued countries with little hope for an education or a future. But through a host of partnerships, mobile technology and digital learning are finding a way to salvage that future.

Responding to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a call to companies to align their work with sustainable development goals, several nonprofits and organizations are working on education in conflict zones, where nearly one in four out of 109.2 million primary and lower-secondary school children are not going to school, according to UNESCO.

In Italy, utility firm Enel is working with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on the Educate a Child program to guarantee primary school access to Syrian refugees. And in East Africa, where power is often unreliable, nonprofit Maendeleo Foundation provides low-income areas with mobile solar computer classrooms, and training programs in schools and communities across Uganda.

Another solution comes from Brck, a team of African developers and technologists who developed kits and tablets that can be recharged wirelessly. The units are designed to introduce digital education to African classrooms. While not free, they come with digital books, videos and other learning material applicable to the region.

One Laptop per Child

FILE - Abelbech Wagari sits near her son, Kelbesa Negusse as he plays with a tablet computer given to him by the One Laptop Per Child project in the village of Wenchi, Ethiopia. (AP)

FILE – Abelbech Wagari sits near her son, Kelbesa Negusse as he plays with a tablet computer given to him by the One Laptop Per Child project in the village of Wenchi, Ethiopia. (AP)

Operating out of Florida, nonprofit One Laptop per Child (OLPC) partners with local groups to provide laptops and educational material in communities around the world with little or no access to technology, be it as a result of conflict or poverty.

“We developed a laptop computer that was designed specifically for educational use by children,” said OLPC’s legal counsel, Leah Shadle. “And we have developed a comprehensive educational program that comes with the laptop that includes things like teacher training, technical support, monitoring and evaluation services.”

The tailored content “aligns with each school’s existing curriculum,” she said. It is not a substitute for federal and state curricula, nor are the laptops intended to replace existing educational tools.

“It’s just meant to be … an additional tool to enable teachers to keep the content that they already have to teach, but to do so in a really innovative and creative way,” she said.

A child uses a laptop provided by One Laptop per Child at a public library in Kigali, Rwanda. (OLPC)

A child uses a laptop provided by One Laptop per Child at a public library in Kigali, Rwanda. (OLPC)

One of the group’s projects in Rwanda is being implemented in collaboration with the government.

“We … maintain … a corner in the Kigali city library where our computers are available for children,” said Shadle. “… There have been refugees from Burundi who have moved into Kigali and then come to the computer lab at the library and who also are attending school once we have the program implemented.”

Call to action

These are just a few of the businesses and nonprofits tackling the education gap in conflict zones in collaboration with the United Nations and its partners.

UNGC, Sustainia, an international sustainability think tank, and DNV GL, an advisory and risk-management company, collaborate on an annual Global Opportunity Report that scouts out opportunities for businesses to implement sustainable development projects in areas of conflict.

“Children trapped in conflict, which is half out of school children in the world – they live in conflict areas. So for us to deliver on the sustainable development goals that’s really important,” said Marianne Haahr, Project Director at Denmark-based Sustainia.

The Global Opportunity Report queries thousands of business leaders about potential partnerships in high-risk markets. “And what surprised us the most was for sure that the business leaders across the globe see especially delivering digital learning tools to children in conflict as a very promising market opportunity,” she said.

Haahr is optimistic that education technologies, particularly personalized educational content and tailor-made algorithms that adapt to the needs of the child can help bridge the gap. But she cautioned that delivering this type of digital content will be a challenging task where public infrastructure has broken down.

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.