South Africa to develop three more nano-satellites worth R27 million

The Department of Science and Technology (DST), director general, Dr Phil Mjwara, announced earlier this week that the department is committed to support the development of a constellation of satellites through the investment of R27 million.

The director general announced this at a plenary briefing that was hosted by the Cape Peninsula University of Cape Town (CPUT), after the successful launch of the country’s second nano-satellite, ZACUBE-2, which is considered the most advanced on the continent.

“We have contracted CPUT to develop three more nano-satellites to the value of R27 million to be launched by 2020. This investment will allow us to take full advantage of SA’s vast and exclusive economic zone, our oceans, which have the potential to add R177 billion to the country’s gross domestic product and create over 1 million jobs by 2033,” Mjwara told IOL News.

The nano-satellite named ZACUBE-2 is funded by DST in support of Operation Phakisa, to provide cutting edge, high frequency data exchange communication systems to maritime industry and it will monitor the movement of ships along the coastline with its automatic identification system (AIS).

ZACUBE-2 is the predecessor of ZACUBE-1, which was developed by CPUT space programme graduates four years ago, and continues to transmit space weather data.

“Currently South Africa purchases its AIS data at huge cost from outside service providers, and we are now in position to provide our own data but at present only twice. Once we have a constellation of satellites providing a constant flow of data, it will go towards proving SA has the indigenous knowledge to provide this technology for our country,” concluded CPUT head of space programme, Prof Robert Van Zyl.


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Huawei & Rain announce launch of South Africa’s first commercial 5G network

At MWC 2019 local service provider Rain has announced that it has launched the first 5G commercial network in South Africa in partnership with Huawei.

This move would make South Africa one of the first countries in the world to launch 5G, with Rain slating a rollout of the network by mid-2019, with areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town being the first two metropoles to receive it. 

With Huawei’s end-to-end 5G solutions, Rain will be able to build the 5G network using its 3.6GHz spectrum, the company has explained. In the first phase of rollout, Rain has already deployed a number of new base stations in Johannesburg and Cape Town. 

Huawei and Rain execs following their 5G network announcement at MWC 19. “The network will provide fibre-like speeds without the installation complexities, time delays and cost of laying fibre in under-serviced areas,” notes Rain CEO Willem Roos.

Apart from deploying new base stations, Huawei’s says its solutions will enable Rain to fully leverage its existing LTE network and allocated spectrum for 5G deployment, the Chinese firm says.

“It is an important step working with Rain to build the first 5G network in South Africa. With our solutions, we are committed to working with operators to build future-oriented networks that will give them the maximum value from their investment and give their customers the best user’s experience,” Shi Jilin, president of Huawei Cloud Core Network Product Line.

According to their plan, Rain will continue to cover major areas in South Africa with 5G networks, including Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, with a specific focus on services to homes and enterprises.

In September, Rain expects to release 5G products and plans to further promote 5G-enabled applications in terms of industry video, remote driving and smart manufacturing. For now, there is no precise detail on pricing for packages with the company expected to release more information closer to the mid-2019 rollout.

“Rain is very optimistic about the business prospects of South Africa’s 5G network, and will continue to invest more in 5G networks and better serve users,” concludes Roos.

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How cryptography is a key weapon in the fight against empire states

The original cypherpunks were mostly Californian libertarians. I was from a different tradition but we all sought to protect individual freedom from state tyranny. Cryptography was our secret weapon. It has been forgotten how subversive this was. Cryptography was then the exclusive property of states, for use in their various wars. By writing our own software and disseminating it far and wide we liberated cryptography, democratised it and spread it through the frontiers of the new internet.

The resulting crackdown, under various "arms trafficking" laws, failed. Cryptography became standardised in web browsers and other software that people now use on a daily basis. Strong cryptography is a vital tool in fighting state oppression. That is the message in my book, Cypherpunks. But the movement for the universal availability of strong cryptography must be made to do more than this. Our future does not lie in the liberty of individuals alone.

Our work in WikiLeaks imparts a keen understanding of the dynamics of the international order and the logic of empire. During WikiLeaks' rise we have seen evidence of small countries bullied and dominated by larger ones or infiltrated by foreign enterprise and made to act against themselves. We have seen the popular will denied expression, elections bought and sold, and the riches of countries such as Kenya stolen and auctioned off to plutocrats in London and New York.

The struggle for Latin American self-determination is important for many more people than live in Latin America, because it shows the rest of the world that it can be done. But Latin American independence is still in its infancy. Attempts at subversion of Latin American democracy are still happening, including most recently in Honduras, Haiti, Ecuador and Venezuela.

This is why the message of the cypherpunks is of special importance to Latin American audiences. Mass surveillance is not just an issue for democracy and governance – it's a geopolitical issue. The surveillance of a whole population by a foreign power naturally threatens sovereignty. Intervention after intervention in the affairs of Latin American democracy have taught us to be realistic. We know that the old powers will still exploit any advantage to delay or suppress the outbreak of Latin American independence.

Consider simple geography. Everyone knows oil resources drive global geopolitics. The flow of oil determines who is dominant, who is invaded, and who is ostracised from the global community. Physical control over even a segment of an oil pipeline yields great geopolitical power. Governments in this position can extract huge concessions. In a stroke, the Kremlin can sentence eastern Europe and Germany to a winter without heat. And even the prospect of Tehran running a pipeline eastwards to India and China is a pretext for bellicose logic from Washington.

But the new great game is not the war for oil pipelines. It is the war for information pipelines: the control over fibre-optic cable paths that spread undersea and overland. The new global treasure is control over the giant data flows that connect whole continents and civlisations, linking the communications of billions of people and organisations.

It is no secret that, on the internet and on the phone, all roads to and from Latin America lead through the United States. Internet infrastructure directs 99% of the traffic to and from South America over fibre-optic lines that physically traverse US borders. The US government has shown no scruples about breaking its own law to tap into these lines and spy on its own citizens. There are no such laws against spying on foreign citizens. Every day, hundreds of millions of messages from the entire Latin American continent are devoured by US spy agencies, and stored forever in warehouses the size of small cities. The geographical facts about the infrastructure of the internet therefore have consequences for the independence and sovereignty of Latin America.

The problem also transcends geography. Many Latin American governments and militaries secure their secrets with cryptographic hardware. These are boxes and software that scramble messages and then unscramble them on the other end. Governments purchase them to keep their secrets secret – often at great expense to the people – because they are correctly afraid of interception of their communications.

But the companies who sell these expensive devices enjoy close ties with the US intelligence community. Their CEOs and senior employees are often mathematicians and engineers from the NSA capitalising on the inventions they created for the surveillance state. Their devices are often deliberately broken: broken with a purpose. It doesn't matter who is using them or how they are used – US agencies can still unscramble the signal and read the messages.

These devices are sold to Latin American and other countries as a way to protect their secrets but they are really a way of stealing secrets.

Meanwhile, the United States is accelerating the next great arms race. The discoveries of the Stuxnet virus – and then the Duqu and Flame viruses – herald a new era of highly complex weaponised software made by powerful states to attack weaker states. Their aggressive first-strike use on Iran is determined to undermine Iranian efforts at national sovereignty, a prospect that is anathema to US and Israeli interests in the region.

Once upon a time the use of computer viruses as offensive weapons was a plot device in science fiction novels. Now it is a global reality spurred on by the reckless behaviour of the Barack Obama administration in violation of international law. Other states will now follow suit, enhancing their offensive capacity to catch up.

The United States is not the only culprit. In recent years, the internet infrastructure of countries such as Uganda has been enriched by direct Chinese investment. Hefty loans are doled out in return for African contracts to Chinese companies to build internet backbone infrastructure linking schools, government ministries and communities into the global fibre-optic system.

Africa is coming online, but with hardware supplied by an aspirant foreign superpower. Will the African internet be the means by which Africa continues to be subjugated into the 21st century? Is Africa once again becoming a theatre for confrontation between the global powers?

These are just some of the important ways in which the message of the cypherpunks goes beyond the struggle for individual liberty. Cryptography can protect not just the civil liberties and rights of individuals, but the sovereignty and independence of whole countries, solidarity between groups with common cause, and the project of global emancipation. It can be used to fight not just the tyranny of the state over the individual but the tyranny of the empire over smaller states.

The cypherpunks have yet to do their greatest work. Join us.

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Is Vumacam making South Africa a safer place?

Andre Botha from Constantia Kloof writes:

Like many residents in Constantia Kloof, we now have a shiny new pole in place for high-definition cameras, right in front of our home.

It is a pity this new pole does not match the black creosote poles that already carry the double washing line of fibre. Despite being paid-up members of the Constantia Kloof Residents Forum, the first we ever heard of these decorations was when they showed up to actually plant the poles, and by then no amount of protesting made any difference.

During the last day or two, I have been trying to pinpoint what really worries me about the new cameras. Is it all the privacy issues that have not yet properly been debated by South Africans? Is it the fact that no studies have been conducted within South Africa to ascertain the potential effects of these cameras in our unique, ultra-violent crime setting? (Incidentally, several overseas studies indicate that such networks of cameras have some potential to displace crime, but none to prevent it.)

Or is my concern merely because I do not like some artificial intelligence to tailor the adverts I receive according to where I go shopping, what car I drive, when I leave and return home, etc? No, that’s not it. All of that I can probably live with, in the hope of being a little safer. And indeed, Vumacam seems to be promising us that we will all sleep more soundly, once their initiative is making proper money.

So what is it then that is bothering me? Well, for me, it is all of the above, and this: how long will 30 hours feel to someone who has been quietly hijacked and taken prisoner (if not killed), while the hijackers are waiting for Vumatel to delete all evidence of their crime? Before our cameras come online, it would be nice to know the current percentage of male and female drivers who have managed to escape from residential hijackings. Call me paranoid if you like, but I have a bad feeling that these percentages will soon become much smaller.

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Wow, fancy that. Web ad giant Google to block ad-blockers in Chrome. For safety, apparently

If the overhaul goes ahead, Adblock Plus and similar plugins that rely on basic filtering will, with some tweaks, still be able to function to some degree, unlike more ambitious extensions, such as uBlock Origin, which will be hit hard. The drafted changes will limit the capabilities available to extension developers, ostensibly for the sake of speed and safety. Chromium forms the central core of Google Chrome, and, soon, Microsoft Edge.

In a note posted Tuesday to the Chromium bug tracker, Raymond Hill, the developer behind uBlock Origin and uMatrix, said the changes contemplated by the Manifest v3 proposal will ruin his ad and content blocking extensions, and take control of content away from users.

Content blockers may be used to hide or black-hole ads, but they have broader applications. They're predicated on the notion that users, rather than anyone else, should be able to control how their browser presents and interacts with remote resources.

Manifest v3 refers to the specification for browser extension manifest files, which enumerate the resources and capabilities available to browser extensions. Google's stated rationale for making the proposed changes, cutting off blocking plugins, is to improve security, privacy and performance, and supposedly to enhance user control.

"Users should have increased control over their extensions," the design document says. "A user should be able to determine what information is available to an extension, and be able to control that privilege."

But one way Google would like to achieve these goals involves replacing the webRequest API with a new one, declarativeNetRequest.

The webRequest API allows browser extensions, like uBlock Origin, to intercept network requests, so they can be blocked, modified, or redirected. This can cause delays in web page loading because Chrome has to wait for the extension. In the future, webRequest will only be able to read network requests, not modify them.

The declarativeNetRequest allows Chrome (rather than the extension itself) to decide how to handle network requests, thereby removing a possible source of bottlenecks and a potentially useful mechanism for changing browser behavior.

"The declarativeNetRequest API provides better privacy to users because extensions can't actually read the network requests made on the user's behalf," Google's API documentation explains.

Whose privacy exactly?

But "better privacy" here means privacy as defined by Google rather than privacy defined by a third-party extension developer. That's fine in scenarios where Google is more trustworthy than a third-party developer; but if Google and its ecosystem of publishers and advertisers are the problem, then users may prefer allowing a third-party to filter network requests, even to the extent such intervention interferes with webpage functionality.

"If this (quite limited) declarativeNetRequest API ends up being the only way content blockers can accomplish their duty, this essentially means that two content blockers I have maintained for years, uBlock Origin and uMatrix, can no longer exist," said Hill.

The proposed changes will diminish the effectiveness of content blocking and ad blocking extensions, though they won't entirely eliminate all ad blocking. The basic filtering mechanism supported by Adblock Plus should still be available. But uBlock Origin and uMatrix offer far more extensive controls, without trying to placate publishers through ad whitelisting.

Don't forget, Google and other internet advertising networks apparently pay Adblock Plus to whitelist their online adverts. Meanwhile, Google has bunged its own basic ad blocking into its browser.

Several other developers commenting on the proposed change expressed dismay, with some speculating that Google is using privacy as a pretext for putting the interests of its ad business over those of browser users.

Hill, who said he's waiting for a response from the Google software engineer overseeing this issue, said in an email to The Register: "I understand the point of a declarativeNetRequest API, and I am not against such API. However I don't understand why the blocking ability of the webRequest API – which has existed for over seven years – would be removed (as the design document proposes). I don't see what is to be gained from doing this."

Hill observes that several other capabilities will no longer be available under the new API, including blocking media elements larger than a specified size, disable JavaScript execution by injecting Content-Security-Policy directives, and removing the outgoing Cookie headers.

And he argues that if these changes get implemented, Chromium will no longer serve users.

"Extensions act on behalf of users, they add capabilities to a 'user agent', and deprecating the blocking ability of the webRequest API will essentially decrease the level of user agency in Chromium, to the benefit of web sites which obviously would be happy to have the last word in what resources their pages can fetch/execute/render," he said.

"With such a limited declarativeNetRequest API and the deprecation of blocking ability of the webRequest API, I am skeptical 'user agent' will still be a proper category to classify Chromium."

Google, however, may yet be willing to address developers' concerns. "These changes are in the design process, as mentioned in the document and the Chromium bug," a Google spokesperson told The Register via email. "Things are subject to change and we will share updates as available." ®

Updated to add

Following a huge outcry from plugin developers and netizens, Google has reiterated that the proposed changes are not set in stone, and are subject to revision. While the internet goliath wants to rein in the level of access granted to Chrome browser extensions, it is prepared to work through the messy matter with third-party coders – who will have to rewrite parts of their software if this all goes ahead.

Also, we're happy to clarify that while Adblock Plus is affected by the draft changes, it will not be whacked as hard as other extensions, such as uBlock Origin, due to ABP's relatively simplistic filtering.

Indeed, the proposed API appears to promote ABP's simple filtering mechanism, rather than support the advanced content blocking other extensions offer. The sticking point is whether or not the proposed limit of 30,000 filter rules will be enough for the likes of Adblock Plus. ADP developers say it won't: their filter list has more than 70,000 entries.

"Adblock Plus is, of course, affected by this proposed change, because it would replace the main API that we (and almost all other content blockers) use to block requests with something a bit watered down," a spokesperson said.

"Even though we don't know the exact plans for this proposed change, should it get implemented we'll make sure ABP is available for Chrome users."

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