Tag: space

Hackers could shut down satellites

By William Akoto for The Conversation

Last month, SpaceX became the operator of the world’s largest active satellite constellation. As of the end of January, the company had 242 satellites orbiting the planet with plans to launch 42,000 over the next decade. This is part of its ambitious project to provide internet access across the globe. The race to put satellites in space is on, with Amazon, U.K.-based OneWeb and other companies chomping at the bit to place thousands of satellites in orbit in the coming months.

These new satellites have the potential to revolutionise many aspects of everyday life – from bringing internet access to remote corners of the globe to monitoring the environment and improving global navigation systems. Amid all the fanfare, a critical danger has flown under the radar: the lack of cybersecurity standards and regulations for commercial satellites, in the U.S. and internationally. As a scholar who studies cyber conflict, I’m keenly aware that this, coupled with satellites’ complex supply chains and layers of stakeholders, leaves them highly vulnerable to cyberattacks.

If hackers were to take control of these satellites, the consequences could be dire. On the mundane end of scale, hackers could simply shut satellites down, denying access to their services. Hackers could also jam or spoof the signals from satellites, creating havoc for critical infrastructure. This includes electric grids, water networks and transportation systems.

Some of these new satellites have thrusters that allow them to speed up, slow down and change direction in space. If hackers took control of these steerable satellites, the consequences could be catastrophic. Hackers could alter the satellites’ orbits and crash them into other satellites or even the International Space Station.

Commodity parts open a door
Makers of these satellites, particularly small CubeSats, use off-the-shelf technology to keep costs low. The wide availability of these components means hackers can analyse them for vulnerabilities. In addition, many of the components draw on open-source technology. The danger here is that hackers could insert back doors and other vulnerabilities into satellites’ software.

The highly technical nature of these satellites also means multiple manufacturers are involved in building the various components. The process of getting these satellites into space is also complicated, involving multiple companies. Even once they are in space, the organisations that own the satellites often outsource their day-to-day management to other companies. With each additional vendor, the vulnerabilities increase as hackers have multiple opportunities to infiltrate the system.

Hacking some of these CubeSats may be as simple as waiting for one of them to pass overhead and then sending malicious commands using specialised ground antennas. Hacking more sophisticated satellites might not be that hard either.

Satellites are typically controlled from ground stations. These stations run computers with software vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers. If hackers were to infiltrate these computers, they could send malicious commands to the satellites.

A history of hacks
This scenario played out in 1998 when hackers took control of the U.S.-German ROSAT X-Ray satellite. They did it by hacking into computers at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. The hackers then instructed the satellite to aim its solar panels directly at the sun. This effectively fried its batteries and rendered the satellite useless. The defunct satellite eventually crashed back to Earth in 2011. Hackers could also hold satellites for ransom, as happened in 1999 when hackers took control of the U.K.‘s SkyNet satellites.

Over the years, the threat of cyberattacks on satellites has gotten more dire. In 2008, hackers, possibly from China, reportedly took full control of two NASA satellites, one for about two minutes and the other for about nine minutes. In 2018, another group of Chinese state-backed hackers reportedly launched a sophisticated hacking campaign aimed at satellite operators and defence contractors. Iranian hacking groups have also attempted similar attacks.

Although the U.S. Department of Defence and National Security Agency have made some efforts to address space cybersecurity, the pace has been slow. There are currently no cybersecurity standards for satellites and no governing body to regulate and ensure their cybersecurity. Even if common standards could be developed, there are no mechanisms in place to enforce them. This means responsibility for satellite cybersecurity falls to the individual companies that build and operate them.

Market forces work against space cybersecurity
SpaceX, headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif., plans to launch 42,000 satellites over the next decade. Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY
As they compete to be the dominant satellite operator, SpaceX and rival companies are under increasing pressure to cut costs. There is also pressure to speed up development and production. This makes it tempting for the companies to cut corners in areas like cybersecurity that are secondary to actually getting these satellites in space.

Even for companies that make a high priority of cybersecurity, the costs associated with guaranteeing the security of each component could be prohibitive. This problem is even more acute for low-cost space missions, where the cost of ensuring cybersecurity could exceed the cost of the satellite itself.

To compound matters, the complex supply chain of these satellites and the multiple parties involved in their management means it’s often not clear who bears responsibility and liability for cyber breaches. This lack of clarity has bred complacency and hindered efforts to secure these important systems.

Regulation is required
Some analysts have begun to advocate for strong government involvement in the development and regulation of cybersecurity standards for satellites and other space assets. Congress could work to adopt a comprehensive regulatory framework for the commercial space sector. For instance, they could pass legislation that requires satellites manufacturers to develop a common cybersecurity architecture.

They could also mandate the reporting of all cyber breaches involving satellites. There also needs to be clarity on which space-based assets are deemed critical in order to prioritize cybersecurity efforts. Clear legal guidance on who bears responsibility for cyberattacks on satellites will also go a long way to ensuring that the responsible parties take the necessary measures to secure these systems.

Given the traditionally slow pace of congressional action, a multi-stakeholder approach involving public-private cooperation may be warranted to ensure cybersecurity standards. Whatever steps government and industry take, it is imperative to act now. It would be a profound mistake to wait for hackers to gain control of a commercial satellite and use it to threaten life, limb and property – here on Earth or in space – before addressing this issue.

How Edcon is shrinking its footprint

By Glenda Williamns for Fin Week

Edcon’s current restructuring process includes significant space rationalisation.

JSE-listed real estate investment trust (REIT) Attacq, owner of Mall of Africa, announced that Edcon exposure, (25 499sqm at 31 December 2018, down from 29 262sqm at 30 June 2018) will settle at 22 945sqm of primary gross lettable area (PGLA) by 1 October 2019 for an estimated 3% of the REIT’s effective PGLA. Contractual gross monthly rental at this time will be R3.2m, down from R4.1m at 30 June 2018.

Owner of Sandton City, Liberty Two Degrees’ (L2D), says Edcon currently occupies 5.3% of its current portfolio, which is expected to reduce to 4.3% of gross lettable area (GLA) by 31 December 2019.

Redefine Properties, SA’s second-largest REIT and owner of Centurion Mall, has a hefty retail portfolio that at 31 August 2018 comprised 1.4m sqm of GLA.

The REIT is a significant landlord to Edcon with GLA exposure of 78 760sqm (down from 122 856sqm at August 2018) housing the Edgars and Jet brands.

Redefine’s equity contribution will amount to R54.6m, the REIT says. As a consequence, Redefine will receive 100% of its rental due from Edcon on 56 788sqm representing in force leases for profitable Edcon stores.

Redefine has also agreed to rental reductions up to a maximum amount of R13.8m over a two-year period in respect of leases totaling 21 972sqm.

Other major players in the listed property sector have yet to make their formal announcements on the recapitalisation process.

Some like Hyprop Investments Limited, owner of super-regional mall Canal Walk, have significant exposure to Edcon.

At 31 December 2018 that amounts to 9.4% of GLA (66 781sqm) and 7.6% of gross income.

Speaking at Hyprop’s interim financial results for the six months to December 2018, newly-appointed CEO Morné Wilken says that almost 7 600sqm of Edcon’s total 67 000sqm floorspace has already been taken back and mostly re-tenanted.

Hyprop has, in principle, agreed to support the Edcon restructuring proposal with a reduction in rentals, compensated for by equity participation in Edcon, says Wilken.

“While that will impact distributable earnings in the 2019 and 2020 financial years by 0.8% and 2.3% respectively, it is considered an acceptable limitation of the risk,” he says.

Others like top-performing SA REIT and low-LSM focused Fairvest Property Holdings have insignificant Edcon exposure.

In Fairvest’s case that’s a mere 0.8% and exposure is only to the still well-trading Jet Stores. “That,” CEO Darren Wilder tells finweek “was not by chance, but by strategy.”

Remote work is a global, growing phenomenon that only seems to be gaining in acceptance but there are many misconceptions about it from thinking it’s a way of skiving off or that it leads to employee disengagement.

There are eight things about remote work you probably didn’t know:

1. It can increase worker productivity
Companies and employees alike say remote work is a boon to productivity. Said Trim: “Distractions like water cooler gossip, impromptu meetings, and loud colleagues are a non-existent.” According to data from SurePayroll, a payroll provider, two-thirds of managers say employees who work remotely in co-working spaces increase their overall productivity.

2. It drives employee efficiency
Fewer diversions for remote workers can lead to higher efficiency, says a survey from ConnectSolutions. Some 30 percent said it allowed them to accomplish more in less time, while 24 percent of those surveyed said they were able to accomplish more in about the same amount of time.

3. It’s often how project and consulting teams prefer to work
Teams tasked with special projects or consultants advising a company, often find it best to work away from the home office even if space is available there. Said Trim:” There is often a benefit to be away from the office and look at things from a distance and fresh eyes. Co-workings spaces are particularly well resourced for special team projects.” These teams are often exposed to like minded professionals in co-working spaces that often spark new ideas.

4. It reduces employee turnover
Offering work at co-working spaces reduces staff turnover, and job attrition rates fell by over 50 percent, according to a study published by Stanford University. “This is obviously a massive cost saving to companies because it takes a lot of time and money to continually look for new talent,” Trim noted.

5. It decreases real estate costs and overhead
Companies of all sizes report significant decreases in operating costs, remote work stats show. According to a Forbes magazine report, Aetna (where 14,500 of 35,000 employees don’t have an in-office desk) shed 251 000 square metres of office space, saving $78 million. American Express reported annual savings of $15 million thanks to its remote work space options.

6. It often leads to greater employee engagement
It seems counterintuitive, but remote workers are often more engaged with colleagues and supervisors than in-office workers, Harvard Business Review concluded. “Technological tools like Slack and easy video conferencing offered by co-working offices like FutureSpace that help workers stay connected makes all the difference,” Trim added.

7. It positively impacts the environment
For many employers, going green is a big incentive in the shift toward remote work. Studies show that employers who don’t travel in to an office have helped reduce their carbon footprint.

8. It meets demands of younger workers
Sixty eight percent of millennial job seekers said an option to work remotely would greatly increase their interest in specific employers, according to a survey by AfterCollege, a US career network for college students. Policies that cultivate a “flexible, fun, and casual” work environment have a positive impact on young people’s interest in specific employers the survey found.

Co-working spaces are now one of the fastest growing sectors of real estate worldwide in anticipation of the growing demand for a new way of working.

Open plan layouts are the Marmite of the office

Open plan offices are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. And they continue to strongly divide opinion in the workplace.

But one thing is for sure, they are likely to be around for a while as businesses struggle to balance the tension between the need for immediate collaboration and the demand for individual, quiet spaces where people can concentrate.

Richard Andrews, MD of Inspiration Office, says that his company continues to install both open plan offices and private office spaces in equal measure despite the growing global pushback against open plan.

“It’s a horse for courses situation. There is no cut and dried winner in the debate. It really does depend on whether open plan is best for your employees and the way they work rather than a philosophical debate.”

Andrews does acknowledge however that there is a growing body of recent evidence that shows open plan makes it harder to work.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that studied 40 000 workers in 300 US office buildings concluded that enclosed private offices outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of Indoor Environmental Quality – namely in acoustics, privacy and proxemics (how uncomfortable people feel when forced into close proximity to other people) issues.

Said Andrews: “Benefits of enhanced ‘ease of interaction’ were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration.”

Another study by SP Banbury and DC Berry showed that loud noise has become one of the greatest irritants at work. It revealed that 99% of employees reported that their concentration was impaired by various types of office noise, especially telephones left ringing at vacant desks and people talking in the background. A further study showed that 68% of those surveyed become frustrated when sounds levels rise above normal conversation level.

Even employees at Apple, which just spent $5 billion and six years building a centralised campus around the open-plan office concept, are reportedly dissatisfied. Some are said to have insisted on their own space outside of the new spaceship style building.

“But, just like a taste for Marmite, many businesses have a definite passion for the lack of walls or other physical barriers in open plan offices.

“Open spaces makes it easier for employees to interact with each other on a regular basis. The constant intermingling not only generates a sense of camaraderie, it also enhances the flow of information and teamwork.”

Andrews noted than another benefit which may not immediately spring to mind is that of budget.

“Having an open plan office can save the company money, as costs are reduced on construction, utilities and office equipment. It is more efficient to have everyone in one room in terms of utility bills and office supplies. It also provides the best flexibility to accommodate extra capacity for when the company grows as desks can easily be reconfigured.

“It really comes to how your company works best,” Andrews concluded.

Mining asteroids in space

For most, an area much smaller than the surface of the planet Earth is considered home. For many, Earth is their favourite planet- as I once heard an astronaut say at an astrobiology conference. But for those few who feel a curiosity, an affinity and indeed a sense of belonging with that overwhelming majority of what is beyond, Earth is but a pale blue dot in a universe of starstuff waiting to be known.

Our increasingly complex use of natural resources is making a strong call for fast-tracked exploration and mining in space. At the turn of the last century, fewer than a dozen materials were in wide use, among them wood, brick, iron, copper, gold, silver, and a few plastics. In contrast, a single modern computer chip uses more than 60 different elements of varying scarcity. Increased societal demand and insufficient recycling of rare resources is putting pressure on local supply chains, which in future could slow down growth and expansion as demand outstrips supply. Most importantly, there is only so much stress our unique biosphere here on Earth can take- all living systems share the same set of finite resources, while human population and associated material needs grows exponentially.
Asteroid mining has been heralded as one of the world’s first multi-trillion dollar industries with the potential to transform the global economy in the 21st century. One near-Earth asteroid that caught the eye of astronomers and prospectors, Anteros, is so packed with rare minerals that it has been valued at $5.57tn, or more than twice the GDP of the entire African continent.

Global innovators reaching for the stars
Leaders in the aerospace industry including Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, among others, are making strides towards initiating an off-Earth economy, and the extraction of resources in space is an essential step towards this future. While bringing asteroid resources back home will contribute to the cost-effectiveness of initial missions, the real potential of asteroid mining is in realising humanity’s next great ambition: the exploration and settlement of space. In combination with technologies such as 3D printing, resources extracted from asteroids can be used to create tools, machines, and even habitats, making crewed space exploration and the establishment of the first extra-terrestrial research settlements feasible.
The most important resource for space exploration is water, which aside from its uses in life support and food cultivation also can be broken up into its constituent parts – hydrogen and oxygen – to create rocket fuel and breathable air. This is an essential step to extending the range of crewed space travel: water currently costs around $50m per tonne to launch into space, so finding and extracting water found in space will essentially turn asteroids into fuel stops for crewed space missions.

A new way of prospecting
In a collaboration with MineRP, SAP Africa participated in a series of co-innovation projects that sought to integrate technical and business planning processes in the mining industry. By broadly grouping the industry into two domains – the science of mining and the business of mining – we jointly developed solutions that overcome the disconnect between technical and financial planning by enabling companies to run fully simulated financing and technical planning scenarios.

We focused on the SHEPHERD asteroid retrieval conceptualisation, a leading contender in terms of mission design which focuses on encapsulating each asteroid for resource utilisation extraction, which is essential for providing protection from loose rubble and dust, capturing volatiles from icy objects, and enabling the use of reactive gasses in processing the asteroid material. Spectral analysis of metals extracted can provide a real-time profit estimate, powered by SAP’s digital core and supported by advanced real-time analytics. By looking at criteria such as the estimated content – type, grade and volume – of an asteroid, as well as the feasibility of its extraction plan and the energy required to enter or exit Earth’s orbit, mining prospectors can make accurate predictions of profitability to ensure no efforts are wasted.

Space mining – and traditional mining – are similarly at a crossroads. Without proper and accurate modelling and simulation, both industries will fail to attract the investment they need to sustain and grow. But by bringing together the science and business of mining through the use of technology, the mining industry can continue to innovate and support humanity’s greatest ambitions.

By Dr Adriana Marais, Head of Innovation at SAP Africa

Top five SA workplace trends in 2017

South African offices are changing rapidly as the workplace continues to shift from a utilitarian place where you earn your money from 9 to 5 to a much more people=friendly, welcoming space where we will spend more than 50% of our time during our working lives.

Emma Leith, Interior Decorator at workplace specialists Giant Leap, shares her top five workplace trends in South Africa for 2017:

The end of fixed workspace layouts

Creating multifunctional community space as well as a diverse selection of areas is becoming increasingly important in order to accommodate constantly changing needs; allowing people to have greater fluidity, mobility and flexibility in the workspace.

“This trend can be seen in the form of modular furniture, work benches and sit-stand desks. Communal areas are becoming an important part of the workplace where people can get together for an informal meeting, to simply enjoy a cup of coffee alone or with a college or to collaborate across teams,” says Leith.

The Modern Office: A Home Away From Home

The office fit out is becoming increasingly geared towards creating a more lived in and homey feel.

“It’s a home away from home type of scenario. This is created by providing cosy, welcoming lounges, communal canteens, and comfy break out areas.”

Leith says that this ultimately provides for a better working environment allowing for greater employee satisfaction. This trend interlinks with point one above as people now have the option to work in more relaxed, comfortable environments.

“Residential furniture is another element that is being used more and more to create that warm, never-want-to-leave-the-office feeling,” Leith added.

Private Areas

The growing trend towards the open plan office generates the need for private pods/ areas, as the open plan concept does not always provide for the best working environment.

“Private pods are needed whether it be to have a quiet phone call, meeting or place to work with no distractions.  Therefore a combination of spaces is essential in the modern workplace,” notes Leith.

Private areas can be innovatively designed telephone booths, sound proof quiet rooms and sound proof space dividers. Increasingly, various new “pods” are being installed in the workplace in South Africa.

“Secluded pods allow office workers to meditate, smash things or scream and will be commonplace in two years time,”  Leith notes.

Themed Meeting Rooms To Portray Company Identity

Themed meeting rooms are becoming important areas for companies to portray their identity, values and what they do.

This may be in the form of wallpaper, graphics, furniture, lighting, or colour.

This allows for each meeting room to take on a certain personality, ultimately making them more interesting and inviting spaces to be in, as well as emphasising the firm’s identity.

Play Space

Not just for trendy companies like Google any more or start ups burning through cash.

“Games such as pool and Ping-Pong are also being brought into the communal areas which allow colleagues to interact with other on a more relaxed level as well as help them to relax.

“This trend is growing in South Africa is an effective way to break the office stress cycle and rest the brain, “ Leith concluded.

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My Office News Ⓒ 2017 - Designed by A Collective


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