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SE Asia Urged to Step Up Cooperation in Fight Against Cybercrime

Asia Pacific nations are facing rising challenges posed by cybercrime and security breaches amid escalating economic costs from cyber attacks. Regional businesses and governments say policy reforms are needed against a backdrop of a fast changing technological landscape and mounting vulnerabilities to cyber crime. Singapore has taken the regional lead to boost cyber security within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as promoting the island state’s technical resources. In October 2016, Singapore hosted the inaugural ASEAN Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity, announcing new initiatives to boost ASEAN’s capacity to deal with cyber threats. U.S.-based Honeywell, backed by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), is to set up a new industrial cybersecurity center of excellence for Asia Pacific. It will also feature development laboratories and advanced training in security services. Multilateral effort In June, Singapore and Australia signed a cooperation agreement to stem cybercrime, with Australia also signing pacts to boost cooperation with Thailand and China. Australia’s Ambassador for Cybercrime, Tobias Feakin, in Bangkok for official talks with the Thai Government, said regional cooperation was vital in the face of growing challenges posed by cybercriminal networks in Asia. “Criminals and nefarious actors can adapt and absorb all [this information] so much quicker than governments. So if we’re not talking about it, sharing best practice and keeping on the move as well then we will soon find ourselves behind by a quite a margin,” Feakin told VOA. A 2016 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warned cybercrime was growing in the Asia Pacific region, and evolving from an emerging threat to a criminal enterprise. The UNODC said cybercrime – or internet-related crime – includes identity theft, crime, scams facilitated through email and social networking sites, sex offenses and fraud, and can ensnare victims through social media websites and mobile phones as well as standard internet sites. UNODC Bangkok-based cyber technology analyst, Alexandru Caciuloiu said transnational crime accounts for the largest segment in cyber crime. “We have all types – we have the criminal element – which I say is the biggest part. Of course we have the corporate to corporate [hacking] – there is also the nation state – there are many players in this area. So in terms of the criminal element of course, they’re always trying to leverage with the new technology,” Caciuloiu said. Cyberattacks High profile cyberattacks have raised the awareness for the need for improved safety and security. The May unleashing by computer hackers of the WannaCry ransom malware affected 200,000 organizations in 150 countries, including Thailand. An executive with cybersecurity company, Trend Micro, was reported saying online extortion attacks had “increased dramatically”, with criminal elements causing millions of dollars in losses. In the Philippines, security analysts said businesses needed to step up security measures against cyber crimes and increasing global threats. In late May, reports said Vietnam-linked hackers had been targeting Philippines government agencies to gather intelligence related to the maritime dispute in the South China Sea. Australia, in pressing for an agreement with China, had accused China-based businesses of on-line intellectual property theft. “China is a huge economic partner [with Australia],” said Ambassador Feakin. “There are some areas – there is some differences and the fact that we got to a point of signing an agreement, which said we agree to not conduct cyber enabled intellectual property that, I think that’s a good point.” UNODC’s Caciuloiu said the challenge for South East Asia lies in the economic disparities in wealth and capacities to address the cybersecurity problems. “There are some countries where I will say they are very focused on cybersecurity, but some others there’s a pretty big lack of awareness within the government(s),” he said. International consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), in its 2017 Global State of Information Security Survey, called for a “unified front against cybercriminals” including collaboration and information sharing to enable organizations to understand risks with effective methods of response. Exponential increase in mobile phone use and tablet devices have added to the risks. “Cyber risk now encompasses more than our traditional view of computers a more than our traditional view of computers,” including increased attacks involving the so-called Internet of Things from cars to household devices. “Over the next decade, both the motivation and opportunity for malicious attacks on business and government will soar,” PwC said. Australia’s Feakin said there was a need to ensure development and increased connectivity are not hamstrung by a lack of international collaboration at all levels. “In this region we need more of that. Our concern would always be if we don’t make sure that the threats a managed, then that’s the danger we miss out on that golden opportunity,” he said. In a recent commentary, Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum at the Center for Security Studies, said the 2015 cost estimates of cybercrimes in the Asia Pacific stood at $81 billion, with the number of incidents growing.

Documentary "Zero Days" a Warning of Wide Scale Cyberattacks

The recent attack by the computer virus WannaCry infected more than 230,000 computers in more than 150 countries. It is not clear who is behind it, but the attack was hardly unexpected. Months earlier, award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney released his documentary "Zero Days," in which he warned of massive cyberattacks and their devastating impact on our way of life. VOA's Penelope Poulou has more.

Chinese Consumers Falling in Love with Gadgets

China's open policy toward technology firms is rapidly transforming its society into a Western-style consumer environment, ever hungry for new gadgets. As a casual visitor at this year's Shanghai Consumer Electronics Show could easily see, robots created the highest interest. VOA's George Putic reports.

Automakers Move Toward Automatic Braking at Different Speeds

Big automakers are rushing to launch self-driving cars as early as 2021, but the industry's major players are moving slowly when it comes to widespread deployment of a less expensive crash prevention technology that regulators say could prevent thousands of deaths and injuries every year. Nissan said on Thursday it would make automatic braking systems standard on an estimated 1 million 2018 model cars and light trucks sold in the United States,  compact sport utility vehicles, the Altima sedan, Murano and Pathfinder SUVs, Leaf electric car, Maxima sedan and Sentra small car. Nissan sold about 1.6 million vehicles in the United States last year. Rival Toyota has said it will make automatic emergency braking standard on nearly all its U.S. models by the end of this year. No rush Overall, however, most automakers are not rushing to make automatic brake systems part of the base cost of mainstream vehicles sold in the competitive U.S. market. The industry has come under pressure from regulators, lawmakers and safety advocates to adopt the technology, which can slow or stop a vehicle even if the driver fails to act. So far, only about 17 percent of models tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offered standard collision-avoiding braking. Many of the models with standard collision-avoiding brake systems are luxury vehicles made by European or Japanese manufacturers. The systems require more sensors and software than conventional brakes, and automakers said they need time to engineer the systems into vehicles as part of more comprehensive makeovers. Last year, 20 automakers reached a voluntary agreement with U.S. auto safety regulators to make collision-avoiding braking systems standard equipment by 2022. Safety advocates have petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to begin a regulatory process to require the technologies, but the agency has said the voluntary agreement will result in faster deployment than a formal rule-making process. NHTSA says the technology could eliminate one-fifth of crashes. Mark Rosekind, who then was NHTSA's administrator, told Reuters last year that with 5 million crashes occurring per year, a "20 percent reduction means 1 million less. Those are big numbers." Investment possibilities But customers would most likely experience the benefits of the technology infrequently. The technology to enable a car to drive itself is far more costly, but industry executives foresee autonomous vehicles driving revenue-generating transportation services that could be attractive to investors. General Motors offers automatic braking as optional equipment on about two-thirds of its models. The company did not say Thursday how many vehicles have the technology as standard equipment. GM has not made public its plans to make the technology standard across its lineup. "Any time you have a voluntary agreement you have a spectrum of implementation," Jeff Boyer, GM's vice president for safety, told Reuters this week. Asked when GM would roll out standard automatic braking, Boyer said, "Let's just say we honor the voluntary commitment." Ford "has a plan to standardize over time," the company said in a statement Thursday. Currently, automatic braking systems are optional on several 2017 Ford and Lincoln models, and will be offered on certain 2018 models, including the best-selling F-150 pickup truck. Fiat Chrysler offers automatic braking as optional equipment in seven model lines, using cameras and radar to detect hazards ahead. The company has said it will meet the 2022 target for making the systems standard. More expected As 2018 models roll out during the second half of this year, more vehicles will offer automatic braking, said Dean McConnell, an executive with Continental AG's North American business. Continental's automatic braking technology systems will be on certain Nissan models. "We see it accelerating," he said. "It varies. There are some [automakers] that are being aggressive" and others that are waiting. Nissan did not disclose how much prices for vehicles would rise to offset the cost of standard automatic emergency braking. Currently, Nissan, like most carmakers, offers automatic braking as part of a bundle of optional safety and technology features. A 2017 Nissan Sentra compact sedan has a starting price of $17,875. To buy the car equipped with automatic braking requires spending another $6,820 for a Sentra SR with a premium technology package. German auto technology suppliers Continental and Robert Bosch GmbH will supply the systems, Nissan said.

India's First Solar Satellite Television Service Brings 'Magic' to Villages

An Indian business has launched the country's first solar satellite television service, bringing clean-energy-powered entertainment to households and businesses through a pay-as-you-go payment scheme. Simpa Networks, which began operations in 2011, is one of thousands of enterprises in India tapping into the renewable-energy market in a country where one-fifth of the 1.3 billion population has no access to electricity. With the majority of those without power from poor communities in the countryside, the company focuses on selling solar-powered products such as LED lights, phone-charging points and fans on financing to rural homes and shops in northern India. "We see a tremendous opportunity in rural areas where demand for energy is growing even faster than supply," Simpa Networks CEO Piyush Mathur said in a statement. "Rooftop solar has a role to play in both off-grid and on-grid areas," Mathur said. "In many cases it's the fastest and least expensive way to get power into the homes and businesses in rural areas." "Simpa Magic TV" provides over 100 satellite channels with content that includes comedy, news, movies and music, and it costs 25,000 rupees ($390) — the same as a nonsolar equivalent. Solar panel, TV, battery, controller The system, which includes an 80-watt solar panel, 20-inch energy-efficient LED television, battery and solar charge controller, is available on a repayment plan of up to 36 months. Interest applies, but the company declined to provide approximate rates. Customers make an initial payment to have the system installed then use a pay-as-you-go model for the electricity. The payments contribute to total cost and, once fully paid, the customer owns the system and the electricity is free. The service, which was launched Wednesday, has about 350 customers so far in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Simpa uses its "SmartPanel" technology, which enables remote monitoring and control of the rooftop solar panel. Customers prepay for the energy; the SmartPanel delivers power until the prepaid credits expire, and the customer must then recharge. The company said the payment plan is effective because such technology would be unaffordable for most rural families. With no credit history, most are considered "unbankable" and would not be able to access loans easily, it said. Given solar television service is new and few know how to use and maintain it, the company said, Simpa has trained rural solar technicians who are responsible for installation, service and monthly collection of payments.

Companion Robots Featured at Shanghai Electronics Show

More than 50 companies are showcasing a new generation of robots at this week's Shanghai CES electronics show, built to serve as companions at home, attendants at shopping malls or just provide entertainment.  Chinese companies including Shenzhen-based startup Aelos Robotic Inc. are displaying robots with heightened dexterity and skills. Beijing's Canny Unisrobo Technology Co. Ltd. is a pioneer in the field, with its Canbot, produced in cooperation with Microsoft, having entered mass production almost a decade ago. Costs of $130 to $483 Sales manager Zhang Jianting said Thursday that annual sales are about 150,000 units, with the home companion robots selling for $130 to $483 depending on size. However, Zhang said the robot market is growing ever more crowded, with many more players entering this year alone. "The robot market in China is increasingly diverse," Zhang said. "However, there are still some rough edges in R&D and comprehensive abilities. Every company is at initial stage. We are still learning and making progress in terms of technology, R&D, and market." Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are also major features of the show, which features 400 exhibitors from 23 regions showing their innovations from June 7 to 9. Innovation For John T. Kelly, the senior director of CES Asia, the participation of more Chinese companies at global electronics shows illustrates how China is shifting from a manufacturing economy to one based on innovation. "Chinese companies continue to grow more and more in importance. They are creating partnerships with Western partners to really further their technology. So we are seeing development of technology advancing rapidly," Kelly said. Among those leading the charge for artificial Intelligence, or AI, is Rokid Corp., maker of the Pebble home companion device that can help seniors perform household chores, provide entertainment and help children learn new skills.  "AI makes our life simpler. AI is replacing human beings in more fields. It saves humans' labor, so we can do more creative work," said Li Yuanpeng, the company's product manager.

Lab Fire-tests New Building Materials

New, lighter, cheaper, sustainable and recyclable building materials are entering the market every day as developers try to lower costs and shrink their carbon footprint. But how safe are those materials? Are they resistant to fire? VOA's George Putic visited a new U.S. government facility that can provide scientific answers to such questions.

Facebook Launches Features to Connect US Users, Elected Officials

Facebook announced three new features Wednesday that are intended to boost civic engagement among users in the United States on its platform by connecting them more easily with their elected representatives. The new offerings come as the social media juggernaut has sought to rehabilitate its image as a credible source of information following a wave of criticism after last November's presidential election that the company did too little to combat misleading or wholly fabricated political news stories during the campaign. Among the features, Facebook will now allow a user to turn on a "Constituent Badge" to identify himself as living in his elected official's district. The opt-in badge will be visible when a user comments on content shared by his federal, state and local representatives. Facebook also announced "Constituent Insights," which allows elected officials and other users to find local news stories that are popular in their districts. "District Targeting" creates a new preset audience selection that lets politicians' pages target posts to people likely to be their constituents. Facebook has continued to come under attack from prominent Democrats and some technology experts despite a raft of changes it has made in recent months that seek to help users consume more legitimate political news. Hillary Clinton, who ran for president as a Democrat last year but lost to President Donald Trump, a Republican, said last week that Facebook was flooded with false information about her during the campaign and that people were understandably misled. She said she wanted Facebook to curate its network more aggressively.

Facebook to Provide Data Maps to Help Agencies After Natural Disasters

Facebook is working with three global relief organizations to provide disaster maps — close to real-time data about where people are, where they are moving, and whether they are in danger in the hours and days after a flood, fire or earthquake. The social networking giant — with nearly 2 billion users, or about 25 percent of the world's population — said it has agreed to provide maps to UNICEF, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the World Food Program, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations. "We are excited about this," said Tony Wicks, a data strategist at UNICEF. "Facebook has vast amounts of data." The company will provide maps of data in the aggregate. No Facebook user will be identified, the firm said. After a disaster, "the first thing you need is data, which is extremely scarce and perishable," said Molly Jackman, a public policy manager at Facebook. But Facebook, particularly in areas with a high concentration of users, can "present a more complete picture of where people are," she said. Types of maps Facebook will offer the organizations three types of disaster maps that will be updated as frequently as possible. Facebook's location density maps show where people are located before, during and after a disaster. In addition to using satellite images and population estimates, these maps also draw from Facebook users who have their location data setting turned on. Facebook's movement maps show how people move during and after a disaster, and can help organizations with directing resources. For example, Facebook created maps after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Kaikoura, New Zealand, last year to show where people were going in the days after the quake struck. Facebook's Safety Check maps are based on where Facebook users are when they use the firm's Safety Check service to tell friends and family they are safe. Facebook will create maps showing areas where people are declaring themselves safe and where help may be needed. For example, after a disaster, "we might know where the house is, but we don't know where the people are," said Dale Kunce, global lead for information communication technology and analytics for the American Red Cross. "Our first reaction may be to go to where the devastation happened," Kunce said. "But maybe most people are 10 miles away, staying with families when they reported they were safe. So the place to go may be where they are. We're excited to see what the possibilities and potential are." Snapshots Wicks, of UNICEF, said the partnership is at the beginning stages, but daily snapshots of where populations are have the potential to help his organization with disaster planning. For example, knowing how close people are to a health facility and how long it takes for them to travel to a medical clinic can help with decisions such as where to deploy medical services in case of a disaster. The data maps will be most helpful in places where internet connectivity is high and in regions with a lot of Facebook users, Wicks said. "Are these data representative of the populations we are trying to serve?" Wicks asked. "That's the key question." Facebook said that it intends to make it possible for other organizations and governments, including local organizations, to be part of the program.

Driverless Bus-train Hybrid Runs on Virtual Painted Tracks

A Chinese company has unveiled a driverless bus-train hybrid that uses white lines painted on the road to navigate. The company, CRRC, called the electric vehicle a “smart bus.” The Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit is made up of three cars, is 30 meters long and is capable of carrying about 500 passengers. It can reportedly reach speeds up to 70 kilometers per hour and can travel 25 kilometers on one 10-minute charge. It uses sensors to stay on the white line. The smart bus is much cheaper than building a rail track. This makes it ideal for cities that have growing demand for public transit, but not enough money to build subways. According to state media, Xinhua, it costs $102 million to build a kilometer of subway and only $2 million for the ART. The first line will be a 6.5 kilometer route expected to start running in 2018 in Zhuzhou.

US Army Base Goes Green With Renewable Energy Project

The U.S. military's biggest base on American soil has begun drawing nearly half of its power from renewable energy, days after President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of a global agreement to fight climate change. Fort Hood, in Texas, has shifted away from fossil fuels to wind- and solar-generated energy in order to shield the base from its dependence on outside sources, a spokesman said. "We need to be autonomous. If the unfortunate thing happened and we were under attack or someone attacked our power grid, you'd certainly want Fort Hood to be able to respond," Chris Haug, a spokesman for Fort Hood, said in a phone interview. The project brings the Army base, home to 36,500 active-duty personnel and some 6,000 buildings, in line with the Department of Defense's decade-long effort to convert its fossil fuel-hungry operations to renewable power. It comes in the wake of Trump's decision last week to withdraw the United States from a landmark global agreement to fight climate change, the Paris accord, a move that drew condemnation from world leaders and heads of industry. The project is already fully operational. Its 63,000 solar panels, located on the base's grounds, and 21 off-base wind turbines provide a total of some 65 megawatts of power, according to an Army statement. Previously, some 77 percent of base's energy was generated by fossil fuels, a 2015 draft report assessing the renewable energy plan shows. Burning fossil fuel generates greenhouse gases that are blamed by scientists for warming the planet. The Paris accord aims to reduce such emissions, including by encouraging a shift to clean energy. Fort Hood's new solar field and wind farm will result in savings of more than $100 million over some 30 years, the Army said. Over the last decade, the U.S. military and intelligence officials have developed a broad agreement about the security threats that climate change presents, in part by threatening to cause natural disasters in densely populated coastal areas, damage American military bases worldwide and open up new natural resources to global competition. The number of military renewable energy projects nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015, a Reuters analysis of Department of Defense data previously showed. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a Department of Defense agency assisting the Army in its renewable-energy shift, is also working with the U.S. Air Force on long-term renewable energy projects, a DLA spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Chinese Firms Help Government Monitor Citizens with Big Data

A Chinese city is using big data provided by a phone company to track the movement of its migrant worker population, expanding the many ways China is using big data to not just enhance performance but also track the daily lives of its citizens. "When you buy a mobile phone SIM card, you need to register your identity information," said an officer of China Mobile designated at the company's booth during the recent Big Data Expo in southwest China's Guiyang city. He was explaining how the mobile phone company is assisting Guiyang police about the movement of migrants in the city on a real-time basis. "So, we can obtain information about the people in a given area and details like whether they are men or women, their age, and where they come from," he said. Very suddenly, big data is set to take up many of the responsibilities of the Communist Party's feedback mechanism. It is also expected to act as feedstock for the anti-corruption campaign, which has been using information about spending on wines and luxury buying for the purpose of investigations. Social profiling China has already introduced a system data-driven social credit rating system in 40 towns and cities, which will be expanded to the entire country by 2020. Information about a person buying expensive wine, foreign luxury goods or an air ticket would be fed into a giant system which will analyze blocks of data to keep the government informed about the situation on the ground. The tracking of people posting critical comments in social media is already going on and social media data will also be fed into the system, which goes far beyond financial credit ratings practiced in developed countries. Here, the system isn’t focused entirely on debts and earnings, but on economic and social behaviors with an intention to allocate rewards and punishments. China's Internet-based companies are eagerly joining the government's grand experiment. Mobike, a bike hiring company is giving out award points for bicycle users to voluntarily inspect parked bikes and inform the company about the misbehavior of other bikers. A big data based information system might help improve the working of the police force in some respects. Officials in the government's education and health departments said big data is being introduced as a tool improve delivery systems. Risks for many But it can also help authorities in tracking the movement of political dissidents, journalists, NGO workers, foreign companies and individuals, analysts said. "For international companies operating in China, the Social Credit System poses significant challenges," Mirjam Meissner, an expert with Mercator Institute of China Studies in Berlin, said. "They will probably be fully integrated into the system’s mechanisms and could see their freedom of decision-making in China significantly constrained," she said. At the same time, the rating system could create a more level playing field, since both domestic and international companies would be subject to the same rating mechanisms, Meissner said. Kweichow Moutai Group, which produces high-end wines, has introduced a mobile phone app and encourages buyers to make online purchases. "We monitor online sales to analyze the proportion of our potential users and our actual users. So, we can allocate our promotion efforts in different regions based on the information," an official posted at the company's booth at the Guiyang Big Data Expo said. "The data is only for decision-making support to our company, and our data is not being made public," he said. However, officials from several companies confirmed that they routinely share data with government departments. For instance, the government's tourism department collects data from online ticket selling companies and airlines to determine the flow of Chinese tourists to specific countries, and judge which destination is attracting high-spenders. This information is seen as a major asset for the government, which is anxious about the movement of money and talent out of China. In addition, China is widely believed to use tourism as a political lever in dealing with foreign governments. For instance, it is believed to have actively discouraged the movement of Chinese tourists to South Korea during the recent controversy over the installation of the U.S.-made THAAD anti-missile system. China and South Korea are now discussing the resumption of tourist flows as part of a new effort to mend forces.