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Simple Steps to Stay Safe Online

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By Tomas Foltyn, Security Writer at ESET

October is recognised as European Cyber Security Month in Europe and as National Cyber Security Awareness Month across the pond, giving us all ample opportunity to pause to think about the growing importance of cybersecurity and about ways to stay safe online.

And that’s not all as far as special dates go. October 5, also happens to be World Teachers’ Day. Frankly, the timing for recapping, or brushing up on, some of the most essential cybersecurity skills could hardly be better. In line with ECSM’s theme, “Practice basic cyber hygiene”, here are a few basic tips for staying safer online.

Tomas Foltyn, Security Writer at ESET.

Know the Risks
It all starts with the awareness of the risks along with the realization that everybody is a potential target. Much of what we do every day involves the internet positively in one way or another. On the other hand, the digital world is also inhabited by criminals who never miss a chance to steal fellow netizens’ data or money, or both. First of all, then, it pays to be clear-eyed not just about the benefits, but also about the security and privacy risks of cyberspace.

This ties in with the fact that attackers deploy ever more advanced tools and techniques to attack their targets. While we hold no sway over attackers’ capabilities and incentives, we can make their “job” harder by acknowledging and addressing the vulnerabilities in ourselves, as well as in our devices and software.

To err is human, but …
Speaking of our weaknesses, attackers are keenly aware of them, too. You’re too trusting, curious or willing to help, you’re prone to panicking and making rash decisions, and so on: these are some of the most common traits in human behavior that are exploited by phishing campaigns.

Phishing scams are designed to steal your sensitive data and/or money through malicious emails, websites or text messages that have the look and feel of official communications from legitimate entities. And, due to their effectiveness, these scams are a constant threat.

The key line of defense is not to blindly trust any message you receive and beware anything that can be clicked, such as links or attachments. Indeed, you’re best-advised not to click anything in messages that arrive out of the blue or sound too good to be true, as a click or two can have far-reaching consequences. Double-check that the message and its sender are legitimate. If in doubt, throw it out and never look back.

Keep it current
You know that already but, still, for what it’s worth: software is not free from flaws, either. However, installing updates and patches for all your software as soon as they’re released is a rather effortless way to reduce the number of openings that attackers can use to compromise your systems. Regardless of whether it’s your operating system or the myriad applications along with their plugins and add-ons, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t apply the fixes in prompt fashion.

Left unpatched, the vulnerabilities can act as an easy entry into your devices. This is doubly true for software that is known to often contain vulnerabilities exploited by cybercriminals. The easiest way to plug known holes in your software, in home settings anyway, is enabling automatic updates.

In addition, it is extremely important to enable auto-updates also for your dedicated security software. A reputable security solution uses multiple layers of defense and a variety of detection techniques with an eye towards preventing the increasingly sophisticated and constantly evolving threats of today from compromising your machine.

Play safe on social
A great deal of the internet’s appeal involves connecting with people, including those we rarely see in real life, as well as with complete strangers. It’s only natural that such networking commonly involves the sharing of seemingly innocuous but still rather personal information. On social media – where the atmosphere is often casual and where we are surrounded by pals (and “pals”) – we’re prone to relaxing our vigilance.

However, the resulting blithe (over) sharing of details from one’s life can backfire if the information ends up in the wrong hands. Social platforms are a trove of valuable information for scammers, who can leverage information divulged by the victims in order to orchestrate effective spearphishing campaigns that can lead to account takeovers.

Additionally, if one of our friend’s accounts is taken over, it can be further misused to spew out malicious messages or links to contacts or followers. The hack of the Twitter account belonging to Kevin Bacon – who doesn’t happen to be our friend – from a few years back provides a good example.

The key preventive measure is to be sensible when it comes to divulging private information online. Also, review your accounts’ privacy settings on a regular basis and, ideally, limit who can see what you’re up to.

Lock down your logins
Passwords are often keys to your online identities, which alone is enough to highlight their importance. Choose strong and unique passwords or passphrases, especially for accounts that are home to sensitive information about you, such as email, social media, or banking accounts. Refrain from re-using your password, since that puts other accounts of yours at risk, too. Should you fall prey to, say, a phishing attack and one of your accounts is taken over, having a unique and complex password for each account significantly bolsters your defenses from credential stuffing. More than four out of every ten login attempts globally were recently found to be made by automated tools deployed to break into users’ accounts.

Moreover, it’s worth enabling an extra layer of security beyond the password by adding an extra authentication factor. While not a panacea, two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication will normally go a long way towards shielding your valued online accounts from harm. In fact, in a world where login credentials are stolen or leaked by the millions and phishing campaigns are rampant, a failure to implement 2FA on valuable accounts can be seen as tantamount to asking for trouble.

With information technologies increasingly woven into the fabric of society, going about our days without the internet is next to unthinkable. That alone is, in fact, enough of a reason to make sure that, whenever you navigate the internet, security is – and remains – your top-of-mind concern.

You may also want to read our brief reflection from earlier this week on why being cyber-smart is important and why it is a shared responsibility.

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‘Black Panther’ and its Science Role Models Inspire More Than Just Movie Awards

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Written by Clifford Johnson, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

It has been said many times that the Marvel movie “Black Panther” is an important landmark. I’m not referring to its deserved critical and box office success worldwide, the many awards it has won, or the fact that it is the first film in the superhero genre to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards.

Instead, I’m focusing on a key aspect of its cultural impact that is less frequently discussed. Finally a feature film starring a black superhero character became part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – a successful run of intertwined movies that began with “Iron Man” in 2008. While there have been other superhero movies with a black lead character – “Hancock” (2008), “Blade” (1998), “Spawn” (1997) or even “The Meteor Man” (1993) – this film is significant because of the recent remarkable rise of the superhero film from the nerdish fringe to part of mainstream culture.

Huge audiences saw a black lead character – not a sidekick or part of a team – in a superhero movie by a major studio, with a black director (Ryan Coogler), black writers and a majority black cast. This is a significant step toward diversifying our culture by improving the lackluster representation of minorities in our major media. It’s also a filmmaking landmark because black creators have been given access to the resources and platforms needed to bring different storytelling perspectives into our mainstream culture.

2017’s “Wonder Woman” forged a similar path. In that case, a major studio finally decided to commit resources to a superhero film headlined by a female character and directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. Female directors are a minority in the movie industry. Jenkins brought a new perspective to this kind of action movie, and there was a huge positive response from audiences in theaters worldwide.

And beyond all this, “Black Panther” also broke additional ground in a way most people may not realize: In the comics, the character is actually a scientist and engineer. Moreover, in the inevitable (and somewhat ridiculous) ranking of scientific prowess that happens in the comic book world, he’s been portrayed as at least the equal of the two most famous “top scientists” in the Marvel universe: Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). A black headlining superhero character written and directed by black artists is rare enough from a major studio. But making him – and his sister Shuri – successful scientists and engineers as well is another level of rarity.

Scientists On Screen

I’m a scientist who cares about increased engagement with science by the general public. I’ve worked as a science adviser on many film and TV projects (though not “Black Panther”). When the opportunity arises, I’ve helped broaden the diversity of scientist characters portrayed onscreen.

Jason Wilkes is a black scientist on ‘Agent Carter,’ whose character emerged from the author’s talks with the show’s writers.
Panels from ‘The Dialogues,’ including a black female scientist. ‘The Dialogues,’ by Clifford V. Johnson (MIT Press 2017).

I’ve also recently published a nonfiction graphic book for general audiences called “The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe.” Its characters include male and female black scientists, discussing aspects of my own field of theoretical physics – where black scientists are unfortunately very rare. So the opportunity that the “Black Panther” movie presents to inform and inspire vast audiences is of great interest to me.

The history and evolution of the Black Panther character and his scientific back story is a fascinating example of turning a problematic past into a positive opportunity. Created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he’s the first black superhero character in mainstream comics, originally appearing as a guest in a “Fantastic Four” Marvel comic. As a black character created and initially written by nonblack authors, guest-starring in the pages of a book headlined by white characters, he had many of the classic attributes of what is now sometimes controversially known as the “magical negro” in American cultural criticism: He ranked extremely highly in every sphere that mattered, to the point of being almost too unreal even for the comics of the time.

Black Panther is T’Challa, king of the fictional African country Wakanda, which is fathomlessly wealthy and remarkably advanced, scientifically and technologically. Even Marvel’s legendary master scientist – Reed Richards of the superhero team Fantastic Four – is befuddled by and full of admiration for Wakanda’s scientific capabilities. T’Challa himself is portrayed as an extraordinary “genius” in physics and other scientific fields, a peerless tactician, a remarkable athlete and a master of numerous forms of martial arts. And he is noble to a fault. Of course, he grows to become a powerful ally of the Fantastic Four and other Marvel superheroes over many adventures.

While likening Black Panther to a ‘refugee from a Tarzan movie,’ the Fantastic Four marveled at his technological innovations in ‘Introducing the Sensational Black Panther.’

The key point here is that the superlative scientific ability of our hero, and that of his country, has its origins in the well-meaning, but problematic, practice of inventing near or beyond perfect black characters to support stories starring primarily white protagonists. But this is a lemons-to-lemonade story.

The Fantastic Four were amazed by the scientific ingenuity of Wakanda in ‘Whosoever Finds The Evil Eye.’

Black Panther eventually got to star in his own series of comics. He was turned into a nuanced and complex character, moving well away from the tropes of his beginnings. Writer Don McGregor’s work started this development as early as 1973, but Black Panther’s journey to the multilayered character you see on screen was greatly advanced by the efforts of several writers with diverse perspectives. Perhaps most notably, in the context of the film, these include Christopher Priest (late 1990s) and Ta-Nehisi Coates (starting in 2016), along with Roxane Gay and Yona Harvey, writing in “World of Wakanda” (2016). Coates and Gay, already best-selling literary writers before coming to the character, helped bring him to wider attention beyond normal comic book fandom, partly paving the way for the movie.

Through all of the improved writing of T’Challa and his world, his spectacular scientific ability has remained prominent. Wakanda continues to be a successful African nation with astonishing science and technology. Furthermore, and very importantly, T’Challa is not portrayed as an anomaly among his people in this regard. There are many great scientists and engineers in the Wakanda of the comics, including his sister Shuri. In some accounts, she (in the continued scientist-ranking business of comics) is an even greater intellect than he is. In the movie, T’Challa’s science and engineering abilities are referred to, but it is his sister Shuri who takes center stage in this role, having taken over to design the new tools and weapons he uses in the field. She also uses Wakandan science to heal wounds that would have been fatal elsewhere in the world.

Black Panther isn’t an isolated genius – his half-sister Shuri is a technological wiz herself.

If They Can Do It, Then Why Not Me?

As a scientist who cares about inspiring more people – including underrepresented minorities and women – to engage with science, I think that showing a little of this scientific landscape in “Black Panther” potentially amplifies the movie’s cultural impact.

Vast audiences see black heroes – both men and women – using their scientific ability to solve problems and make their way in the world, at an unrivaled level. Research has shown that such representation can have a positive effect on the interests, outlook and career trajectories of viewers.

Improving science education for all is a core endeavor in a nation’s competitiveness and overall health, but outcomes are limited if people aren’t inspired to take an interest in science in the first place. There simply are not enough images of black scientists – male or female – in our media and entertainment to help inspire. Many people from underrepresented groups end up genuinely believing that scientific investigation is not a career path open to them.

Moreover, many people still see the dedication and study needed to excel in science as “nerdy.” A cultural injection of Black Panther heroics helps continue to erode the crumbling tropes that science is only for white men or reserved for people with a special “science gene.”

The huge widespread success of the “Black Panther” movie, showcasing T’Challa, Shuri and other Wakandans as highly accomplished scientists, remains one of the most significant boosts for science engagement in recent times.

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TP-Link to Showcase Neffos X20 and X20 Pro at MWC 2019

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Neffos, TP-Link’s sub-brand for smartphones, will be exhibiting at the Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, Spain, on February 25. The theme for the year’s biggest technology convention for mobile products and innovations is intelligent connectivity, which is in line with TP-Link’s slogan of “Faster Wi-Fi, Better Signal Phone, Smarter Home.”

At the MWC 2019 tech show, Neffos will display Neffos P1 as well with a built-in projector feature for beaming HD content onto a large wall. Neffos P1, which adds a laser projector that can throw a picture as large as 200 inches wide onto a wall or any flat surface in high resolution.

For the first time, the company will also showcase its new Neffos X20 and X20 Pro flagship phones. The two models are expected to hit the market sometime in June, along with Neffos’ own NFUI 9.0 software based on the Android 9.0 Pie operating system. As NFUI 9.0 hasn’t launched yet, the X20 and X20 Pro will be the first devices to run the latest user interface out of the box.

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OPPO’s VOOC Charging System Gets TÜV Rheinland’s Certification

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OPPO has received a new safety certification for its proprietary flash charging technology known as VOOC, which can charge a flat smartphone batter up to 40% in just 10 minutes. “The company recognizes that fast charging is now one of the most important demands from smartphone users globally who want a device that can fully charge in minutes, not hours,” said the company in a statement.

OPPO’s VOOC flash charging uses a special adapter and cables to charge devices safely at 25W without overheating—far above the industry standard. The company also offers a Super VOOC system that boosts the charging power to a massive 50W, capable of charging a flat battery to a full charge in just 35 minutes. Most high-end smartphones today take around 2 hours to fully charge.

The latest certification from renowned international safety authority TÜV Rheinland acknowledges that OPPO’s VOOC charging system has undergone rigorous testing across multiple sessions and test cycles to ensure its safety for daily usage. The VOOC system also allows users to safely use their smartphone during charging without it overheating.

OPPO’s VOOC flash charge technology is already used in more than 100 million smartphones worldwide including several models available in the Middle East today. The system is featured in OPPO’s flagship premium handset, the OPPO Find X, as well as its mid to high-end OPPO R17 and R17 Pro devices.

“Such innovations will continue as OPPO plans to raise its global R&D investments to around $1.43 billion in 2019, a 150% year-on-year increase,” said the company.

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