Zebras enlisted in IBM’s IoT-based battle to keep rhinos safe

IBM endangered rhinos, keeping them safe from poachers with the IoT

As part of the build-up to World Rhino Day on Thursday, IBM, African telecommunications giant MTN, Wageningen University and IT provider Prodapt have launched a ‘connected wildlife solution’ capable of combatting poachers in real time. The program is being trialed to protect endangered rhinos at the Welgevonden Game Reserve in South Africa. 

Anything can be connected these days. Just ask the zebras currently running around South Africa’s Welgevonden Game Reserve. Along with a large number of impalas, they’ve been unwittingly employed by IBM as part of an animal Internet of Things (IoT) to help protect rhinos from poachers.

Read more: Ocean Alliance deploys drones to gather whale data

Turning to technology in the fight against illegal poaching

It’s estimated that 70 percent of the world’s rhino population resides in South Africa. Because of continued poaching, their numbers are continuing to dwindle. In 2016, some 1,054 rhinos were reportedly killed in South Africa, according to figures from conservation charity, the World Wildlife Fund.

“Poachers have been increasing in numbers and they have become more militarized,” says Bradley Schroder, CEO of the Welgevonden Game Reserve. “The only way to stop them is to bring in technology and things that they do not have.”

One thing poachers certainly don’t have is the animals on their side. IBM is calling on the reserve’s other residents to form an early warning system that can help track poachers in real time.

The hiring of herbivore henchmen starts with a predictive capability developed by an animal sciences group at Wageningen University. According to the group’s research, prey-animals in the wild react in different ways depending on the threat they are facing. Lions or leopards will elicit a different kind of response to, say, the presence of poachers.

Wageningen University’s research is pivotal to the ‘Connected Wildlife Solution’, which combines IBM’s IoT technology, predictive analytics and MTN’s connectivity. Connected collars are attached to prey-animals in the area, such as zebra, wildebeest and impala. With the help of a LoRa network and MTN’s 3G and 4G capabilities, these transmit the animal’s movements back to a central platform.

Game reserve teams can then be alerted when these animals are behaving in a way that suggests poachers are in the vicinity. Zebras may move as a single unit to protect themselves from traditional predators, for example, but scatter at the site of a poacher. This allows conservation teams to respond proactively and be in the right place at the right time to keep rhinos safe.

zebra in the animal IoT, by IBM

Zebras are among the prey animals in the reserve that behave differently depending on nearby predators. Their reactions to poachers are being tracked.

Read more: London Zoo turns to IoT to tackle global poaching menace

A proactive solution to protect rhinos

Schroder sees the project with IBM as a breakthrough in tackling illegal poaching. “One of our primary objectives is to protect wildlife, especially endangered species. We were looking for a solution that would help us better understand possible threats and weed out those coming from poachers so we can react ahead of time and prevent harm to animals,” he said.

“This project will be a profound breakthrough in the creation of connected wildlife solutions, a wildlife management concept that aims to harness IoT technology to better manage and protect wildlife and other assets.”

Mariana Kruger, general manager at MTN Business, sees the connected wildlife solution as an upgrade on tracking technologies previously deployed in game reserves. “Over the years, we have seen that animal tracking technology has been used reactively in game reserves. Welgevonden needed a more proactive solution to take the fight to protect the rhinos further,” she said.

“With the solution designed for Welgevonden, MTN, along with our partners, can better predict and anticipate potential poaching activity. This allows the ranger to take pre-emptive action before any threat happens.”

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In headsets battle, augmented reality for business to dominate, says IDC

AR headsets for business dominate says IDC

Consumer devices for virtual reality may have led the way so far – but augmented reality headsets for businesses are likely to represent a bigger money-spinner over time, according to recent research from IDC.

Collectively, sales of headsets for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications are expected to grow tenfold to over 100 million units in 2021, from just under 10 million in 2016, say IDC analysts.

To date, virtual reality (VR) headsets have dominated device volumes. Within this category, screenless viewers powered by smartphones – the cheapest available form factor – have led the charge. The second half of 2016 saw a ramp up in volume from three highly publicized VR device products: the Sony PlayStation VR, the HTC Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift.

“The next six to 18 months will further stimulate the VR market as PC vendors, along with Microsoft, introduce tethered headsets and high-end standalone VR headsets also enter the market,” said Jitesh Ubrani, an IDC analyst.

“With lower hardware requirements on the PC and lower prices on headsets, VR will be more accessible than ever before. And the introduction of additional motion tracking and hand tracking will help further blur the line between digital and physical reality.”

Read more: PTC offers free trial of ThingWorx Studio for augmented reality

In the shadows, waiting to emerge

Augmented reality (AR), meanwhile, remains somewhat overshadowed by VR – not because it’s less important, IDC argues, but because compelling AR experiences are technologically harder to achieve.

The firm’s analysts reckon that VR headsets will continue to lead in terms of volume throughout the forecast (that is, between now and 2021), but that overall, AR will have a much bigger impact.

Consumers are more likely to have their first AR experience using a mobile phone or tablet – think of the Pokemon Go! craze, for example – than they are using a dedicated headset.

Instead, it’s businesses that will really exploit the headsets’ potential. Already, companies in healthcare, manufacturing, field service workers and design are investing and piloting AR, IDC reports. They’re using a wide range of hardware, some of which is commercially available, but much of which is manufactured by companies that IDC calls “non-household names.”

Use-cases might include, for example, applications that help surgeons prepare for particularly tricky surgery on a ‘virtual patient’ before they move on to a real-life one, or train manufacturing workers on the best way to add a particular component to a product on the production line.

Read more: Finger Food organises IoT augmented reality project – in a brewery

AR bigger than VR

“It is very clear to us that augmented reality is the larger of the two plays here when looking at AR and VR combined,” said IDC’s Ryan Reith. “Companies like Microsoft, Epson, Intel, Meta, ODG and DAQRI are already providing devices that are being deployed in real-time commercial projects with significant ROI [return on investment].”

We believe that many industrial jobs will fundamentally change because of AR in the next 5-years, and these are much more opportunistic markets for dedicated AR headsets than the consumer market. We expect commercial shipments to account for just over 80% of all AR headsets shipped in the next 5 years.”

Read more: Tobii Pro combines eye tracking with VR to understand human behaviour

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Persirai leads in botnet battle for connected cameras, researchers find

Persirai leads in botnet battle for connected cameras

Research conducted by security software company Trend Micro has identified four types of botnets affecting connected cameras.

The company used custom http servers to analyze the vulnerabilities of around 4,400 IoT-enabled cameras and found that just over half of them (51 percent) were infected with malware.

Hack opportunity

Persirai emerged as the most common type of botnet in Trend Micro’s research. An estimated 64.1 percent of the cameras were compromised by the botnet, the company revealed in a blog post on Thursday.

Discovered earlier in the year, this botnet compromises devices before stealing lucrative credentials and attacking other connected devices.

Writing in the blog post, the company’s researchers warned that an attacker is able to get access to passwords regardless of their strength. And that’s certainly worrying.

“One interesting feature of Persirai is that when it comprises an IP camera, that camera will start attacking others by exploiting three known vulnerabilities,” the company said.

“Through these vulnerabilities, the attacker will be able to get users’ passwords, and can deploy command injections, regardless of password strength.”

Other botnets

In addition to Persirai, three other common botnets were also detected, with the researchers finding cameras infected by Mirai (27.7 percent of those analyzed), DvrHelper (6.8 percent) and TheMoon (1.4 percent).

To create this study, the company used its own research, as well as the Shodan search engine, which helps identify connected devices. However, the company didn’t reveal when this analysis actually took place.

Mirai is probably the most well-known form of botnet, thanks to its use in the biggest DDOS attack in history last year

Since then, Trend Micro notes, the botnet has become more advanced. In October 2016, the developers behind the botnet published its source code, allowing others to create new and potentially more sophisticated versions.

Trend Micro’s researchers explained that Mirai is widening its distribution capabilities by making use of a Windows Trojan that can scan a wide range of network ports. 

Increasing threat from botnets

Since Mirai emerged, for example, a newer version has arrived on the scene: DvrHelper, detected by Trend Micro as ELF_MIRAI.AU, which according to the researchers, has advanced from its predecessor.

While companies around the globe have launched new DDoS prevention solutions following the Mirai attack, DvrHelper has upped the ante with eight more attack modules.

Trend Micro said it’s the first malware to compromise an anti-DDoS solution and boasts two methods to do so.

TheMoon, which Trend Micro calls ELF_THEMOON.B, is the oldest malware to target connected devices. It was first identified by SANS ICS in 2014 and continues to attack devices using updated attack methods.

“When we compared a newer version with an older variant, we noted that the C&C server port was changed. Also, in the later versions, a specific binary focuses on a specific vulnerability, and there are new iptables rules,” the firm wrote.

Read more: Dahua issues patches for internet-connected CCTV cameras

Action needed

Ken Munro, from ethical hacking company Pen Test Partners, told Internet of Business that connected devices commonly suffer from poor security and that action needs to be taken.

“IoT devices continue to exhibit common security flaws. Poor security on the mobile app, API or web interface, or on the radio frequency standard used to connect to the device all provide the attacker with an avenue to exploit in addition to weaknesses inherent in the hardware of the device,” he said.

“In terms of implications, it’s not just the device itself that’s at risk. IoT devices can be used to: compromise the network such as by leaking the PSK; carry out surveillance by capturing video and audio feeds; and, to manipulate the end user by enabling man-in-the-middle attacks.

“It doesn’t stop there, because IoT devices can also be infected not just with bot malware like Mirai but also ransomware. The Mirai malware that compromised thousands of devices last year signaled the beginning of IoT malware. Mirai was so successful because it was able to utilize the seldom used Telnet port.”

Read more: Search Lab finds numerous flaws in AVTech cameras and DVRs

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