Information technology developments in Africa have long lagged behind those in other parts of the world. But the transformation being brought about by the widespread adoption and use of mobile phones – each one a mini-computer – and the expansion of undersea fibre optic cable connections to Africa are creating the conditions for an exciting new phase of computing growth on the continent.
Despite the global economic crisis, Africa is on course to see annual consumer spending reach US $1.4 trillion by 2020, nearly double the US $860 billion in 2008 (McKinsey). On top of this, by 2050, a projected 63 per cent of Africa’s population will be urban dwellers. With Africa’s middle class the fastest-growing in the world – doubling in less than 20 years – matching computing power with this consuming urban population could unleash a treasure trove of opportunity for information technology entrepreneurs.
These developments are creating the conditions for game-changing computing in the next years. And this is encouraging the creation of a new supercomputer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercomputer) for Africa in Kenya that will double the total number of supercomputers in Africa. Hugely powerful compared to personal or commercial computers, supercomputers use cutting-edge technology to carry out high-speed calculations involving vast quantities of data.
Expanded supercomputing power brings numerous advantages to both economic and human development. It will radically alter what can be accomplished in Africa – allowing mass data processing to be done, highly complex and data dense applications to be run, and very large research projects to be conducted on the continent rather than overseas.
Increasing computing power in Africa will bring in its wake, it is hoped, a surge in economic and research opportunities.
It will help African researchers and scientists to undertake globally competitive projects, rather than seeing this work done overseas. It will also open up a vast range of possibilities for African entrepreneurs and businesses to do complex data processing, modelling and research and will enable them to become more sophisticated operations.
The new supercomputer, the iHub Cluster, is being built in the Kenyan capital by one of Africa’s pioneering information technology hubs – iHub Nairobi (http://ihub.co.ke/pages/home.php) – in partnership with Internet products and services company Google and microchip maker Intel Corporation.
Africa’s first supercomputer is located in South Africa and is ranked 497 in terms of computing power on the list of 500 supercomputers in the world (http://www.top500.org/).
It is located in the “Tsessebe cluster” in Cape Town’s Centre for High Performance Computing (http://www.chpc.ac.za/).
“With mobile devices coming in multiple cores, it is important for developers to be exposed to higher performance computing; we are hoping to debut at a higher level than ‘Tsessebe cluster’,” Jimmy Gitonga, the project team leader for the iHub cluster, told Computer World.
Africa suffers from poor supercomputer capacity and this has had a knock-on affect on everything to do with economic development. The iHub supercomputer hopes to help universities and colleges to gain competitive edge and be able to undertake more complex research in the fields of media, pharmaceuticals and biomedical engineering.
“In Africa, we need to be on top of the mobile scene, its our widest used device,” Gitonga told Computer World.
Some of the practical applications for the iHub supercomputer in East Africa and the Horn of Africa include improving weather forecasting and drought prediction, increasing the ability to give advance warning of droughts and famines in the region.
“Most of the United Nations agencies and international agencies operating in the region have extensive field research on how to tackle natural disasters in the region. Imagine if they had affordable space where they can meet with developers and test resource-hungry applications,” Gitonga said.
The iHub also wants to offer the services of the supercomputer to researchers and organizations who have had to go abroad to have their data processed. The iHub supercomputer hopes to be used by mobile phone developers, gamers, universities and research institutions.
In the last two years, China had pushed the United States out of the number one spot for supercomputers. The Tianhe-1A located at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin (http://www.nscc-tj.gov.cn/en/), China, was the fastest computer in the world from October 2010 to June 2011.
For those looking to see how they can make the most of the growing supercomputer capability in Africa, examples from other countries offer a good idea. Supercomputers can be used for weather forecasting, climate research, oil and gas exploration, physical simulations like when testing aircraft, complex modelling for medical research, processing complex social data necessary for delivering effective social programmes or running modern health care systems.
If you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.
MI6 chief Richard Moore to BBC News (30 November 2021).
Data. The United Nations (UN) has always gathered data and published it. But since the advent of the digital revolution, data collection has taken on new forms. It is now gathered 24/7 and sits in databases – or on somebody’s smartphone. It flows in, and flows out. Some call it a ‘data deluge’. Since 2000, despite various initiatives (irritating ‘cookies’ warnings before you can interact with a web page, or the more legalistic General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy in the European Union and the European Economic Area) data has become incontinent: it leaks out everywhere.
An orgy of cross-border data collection and harvesting has only increased in its intensity in the past 20 years. And the UN and other international organisations have played their part.
But what most of us do not want to think about is this: that data is power and when it is parsed and sifted by algorithms and AI (artificial intelligence), it allows the entity doing this to engage in event-shaping. How much of our lives is being shaped by digital ‘voodoo dolls’ in a cyber centre somewhere?
And, as the head of the UK’s MI6 intelligence service says, “over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.” In short, you’ve been hacked.
“Cyber-security experts have unveiled one of the biggest computer hacking campaigns to date, releasing a list of 72 organisations whose networks were attacked over a five-year period. Victims include the UN and several governments.
REUTERS – Security experts have discovered the biggest series of cyber attacks to date, involving the infiltration of the networks of 72 organizations including the United Nations, governments and companies around the world. …
In the case of the United Nations, the hackers broke into the computer system of its secretariat in Geneva in 2008, hid there for nearly two years, and quietly combed through reams of secret data, according to McAfee.”
“If there are no consequences for the [UN] agencies for failures like these … there will be more breaches.”
“About this investigation: While researching cybersecurity last November, we came across a confidential report about the UN. Networks and databases had been severely compromised – and almost no one we spoke to had heard about it. This article about that attack adds to The New Humanitarian’s previous coverage on humanitarian data. We look at how the UN got hacked and how it handled this breach, raising questions about the UN’s responsibilities in data protection and its diplomatic privileges.“
“In summer 2019, hackers broke into over 40 (and possibly more) UN servers in offices in Geneva and Vienna and downloaded “sensitive data that could have far-reaching repercussions for staff, individuals, and organizations communicating with and doing business with the UN,” The New Humanitarian reported on Wednesday.”
“Oz Alashe, CEO of CybSafe, says that the unintentional disclosure of this cyber attack on such an important institution last year is concerning.
“This delay, and the fact that the UN did not report this attack to any governing authority – or even their own staff – may have put victims at unnecessary risk. Not only were staff passwords stolen, system controls and security firewalls were compromised too which could have led to the critical confidential reports falling into criminal hands,” he pointed out.
This attack could end up undermining trust in the UN – trust that they are able to keep sensitive information safe and trust that they will notify affected individuals when they fail.”
“I am very honoured to join you today in this inauguration ceremony of the Regional Hub for Big Data in China, in support of the United Nations Global Platform. The inauguration of this Regional Hub is most important, and timely.
The demand for data, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is greater than ever. Governments are in need of detailed data on the spread of the virus and its impacts on society. Under these challenging circumstances, statistical institutes have had to respond urgently to the demand for data, and to present innovative solutions. Consequently, in these times of need, the statistical community is now able to effectively use Big Data and advanced technologies.
For example, census data – together with detailed geospatial information – can help identify the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. And, real-time data on the position and movement of ships, for example, can estimate the volume of cargo being transported, and thus help produce estimates on the state of the economy. These real-time shipping data are available as a global data set on the United Nations Global Platform, and can be accessed by the whole statistical community.”
“Around 2013, U.S. intelligence began noticing an alarming pattern: Undercover CIA personnel, flying into countries in Africa and Europe for sensitive work, were being rapidly and successfully identified by Chinese intelligence, according to three former U.S. officials. The surveillance by Chinese operatives began in some cases as soon as the CIA officers had cleared passport control. Sometimes, the surveillance was so overt that U.S. intelligence officials speculated that the Chinese wanted the U.S. side to know they had identified the CIA operatives, disrupting their missions; other times, however, it was much more subtle and only detected through U.S. spy agencies’ own sophisticated technical countersurveillance capabilities.”
A United Nations research institute is being set up in China that will amass and analyze huge amounts of data from around the world on sustainable development goals. Chinese researchers are expressing the need for data in order to analyze human behavior.
“China’s influence is undoubtedly growing in the United Nations, with four of the 15 specialized agencies of the intergovernmental organization being led by Chinese nationals. Beijing seized the “absence” of the United States, accelerated by the Trump administration’s disdain for the U.N., to extend its tentacles to unexpected places.
A plan to set up the first U.N. big data research institute is underway in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. Officially, it would facilitate U.N. operations by amassing and analyzing huge amounts of data from around the world on sustainable development goals (SDGs) to tackle global issues such as starvation and climate change.
One cause for concern is that Chinese researchers are expressing the need for data in order to analyze human behavior. The United States, which is wary of any data leaks to China, is raising alarms against the plan. In an October 7, 2020, article inThe Wall Street Journal,Hudson Institute fellow Claudia Rosett warned that the plan would enable China to collect data from U.N. member states and set the standards for data collection.”
“The data privacy and security of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has reportedly been jeopardised by the UN Refugee Agency. In an exposé published on 15 June by Human Rights Watch (HRW), UNHCR stands accused of improperly collecting the Rohingya’s biometric information and later sharing it with the Myanmar government without the Rohingya’s consent. Refugees said they had been told to register to receive aid, but the risks of sharing their biometrics had not been discussed, and the possibility this information would be shared with Myanmar was not mentioned.
The potential harm of sharing information with a regime that has a long history of manipulating registration systems to exclude and marginalise Rohingya populations is obvious. That biometrics are involved makes it worse. Unlike names or other personal information, biometrics are sticky – it’s not something you can change or escape.”
“People in Afghanistan are fearful of the Taliban accessing personal information captured and stored by aid agencies including biometric data which could be used to identify individuals. Experts have raised concern that approaches used by security firms and United Nations development agencies could prove problematic for refugees and vulnerable groups, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable trust of Thomson Reuters.
The Intercept reported that equipment used by the U.S. army for biometric collection has already been seized by the Taliban. Biometric data on Afghans who assisted the U.S. were widely collected, making anybody identified vulnerable to persecution from the Taliban.
Sources told the Intercept that there was little planning for such an event, while the U.S. Army plans to continue to spend another $11 million on biometrics capture equipment including 95 more devices.
The UNHCR has been using biometrics in the region since 2002 when it tested iris recognition technology on Afghan refugees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Aid agencies praise biometric technology’s anti fraud and contactless capabilities.”
“Hackers breached the United Nations’ computer networks earlier this year and made off with a trove of data that could be used to target agencies within the intergovernmental organization.
The hackers’ method for gaining access to the UN network appears to be unsophisticated: They likely got in using the stolen username and password of a UN employee purchased off the dark web.”
“Organizations like the UN are a high-value target for cyber-espionage activity,” Resecurity Chief Executive Officer Gene Yoo said. “The actor conducted the intrusion with the goal of compromising large numbers of users within the UN network for further long-term intelligence gathering.”
“A spokesperson for the United Nations has confirmed that the organization was breached by hackers in early 2021, and that attacks tied to that breach on various branches of the UN are ongoing. The data breach appears to stem from an employee login that was sold on the dark web. The attackers used this entry point to move farther into the UN’s networks and conducted reconnaissance between April and August. Information gleaned from this activity appears to have been put to use in further attacks, with attempts made on at least 53 accounts.”
UN data breach creates long-term havoc for organization
“The UN has a unique need for cutting-edge cybersecurity given that it is one of the world’s prime targets for hackers, and that it fields regular attacks from advanced operators. Many of these go unrecorded, but the organization has weathered some high-profile attacks in recent years.”
At some of the world’s most sensitive spots, authorities have installed security screening devices made by a single Chinese company with deep ties to China’s military and the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party
China has barely scratched the surface of its potential to carry out a “people’s war” on global public opinion.
“China’s propaganda machine also has over 1 million journalists and reporters tasked with the mission to “tell China’s story well.” Armed with AI and bots, China’s huge internet army could hobble global social media platforms with a large-scale flooding attack to win the CCP’s public opinion war.”
“Based on the cases he investigated over a period of six years, award-winning Dutch journalist Huib Modderkolk takes the reader on a tour of the corridors and back doors of the globalised digital world. He reconstructs British-American espionage operations and reveals how the power relationships between countries enable intelligence services to share and withhold data from each other.”
“Surveillance Capitalism: A new phase in economic history in which private companies and governments track your every move with the goal of predicting and controlling your behaviour. Under surveillance capitalism you are not the customer or even the product: you are the raw material.”
warned China has the capability to “harvest data from around the world” and uses money to “get people on the hook” …
“Speaking about the threat posed by China, Mr Moore described its use of “debt traps and data traps”.
He said Beijing is “trying to use influence through its economic policies to try and sometimes, I think, get people on the hook”.
Explaining the “data trap”, he said: “If you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.
“That’s something which, I think, in the UK we are very alive to and we’ve taken measures to defend against.”