Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The Cisco Catalyst 3850 Series: Is it time to upgrade?

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Cisco 3850 series review
Photo by Jordan Harrison on Unsplash

Have you thought about upgrading from slow or older network hardware? If not, you should and now is the time. Prices on one of the Cisco Catalyst 3850, one of the premier lines, have dropped significantly. Cisco is one of the most respected brands in the networking world and delivers superior products as a result of constant innovation and a commitment to excellent performance.

The Catalyst 3850 series gives you simple and reliant converged wireless-wired access which enhances the mobility of your network infrastructure. The 3850 series offers superior performance and significant operational enhancements when compared with previous generations.

Is it time to upgrade to the 3850 series yet? Here’s a breakdown to help answer that question. 

1. What makes the Cisco Catalyst 3850 series stand out?

Most enterprise level switches are stackable, but the 3850 series stands out in its ability to manage wireless, as well as wired network traffic, in a single unit. It also converges wired-wireless connections which helps streamline incoming traffic. It has been on the market for over 5 years now, which makes it more affordable than the most recent models. The 3850 series is still in production, which means regular firmware updates and technical support. 

The Catalyst 3850 utilises 4 by 10 GE connections supporting up to 480G of network traffic. Additionally, it can manage up to 2,000 end users per stack and around 100 access points. The PoE+ on the 3850 can handle up to 60W per port.

The 3750 series supports network traffic at 64G. It supports PoE and maxes out at 30W per port.

2. Best environments for the 3850 series

The wireless networking capacity of the Cisco Catalyst 3850 series makes it an ideal choice for any network that acts as a genuine hub for sprawling network traffic. A single stack can handle massive and dense networks with ease. It offers PoE+ ports allowing a reduction in hardware without compromising on your network’s performance. The QSPF ports allow the 3850 series to advance further than the 100G networking standard. 

The Catalyst 3850 series is an excellent choice for data-rich environments such as data centers, hospitals and corporations.

3. The standard switches:  24 and 48 POE and non-POE

The Cisco Catalyst 3850 series offers both PoE and non-PoE options. If your model number had a letter ‘P’ in it, it means that the switch is a PoE model. 

Finding the right port size is also very important because it ultimately decides the amount of network traffic the whole setup can handle. The Catalyst 3850 models come in two port sizes:

  • WS-C3850-24P-S. This is a 24 port, PoE switch with a layer 3 infrastructure. It also has an IP base and can be stacked.
  • WS-C3850-24P-S. This is a 48 port switch which means it has 10/100/100*48 Ethernet ports. It is also Stackable and boasts a Layer 3 infrastructure.

4. Cisco Catalyst 3850 Stackwise technology

The Cisco Catalyst 3850 series operates on an innovative stacking technology called Cisco StackWise-480.

Cisco StackWise technology links multiple switches and unifies it into one logical switch.  With a bandwidth of 480 Gbps it can handle very high traffic without compromising on speed. It allows virtualization of networking devices, which is essential for mission-critical corporate networks. The parent switch acts as the management center for the whole system, which enables you to configure your priority end points.

If you want to increase the overall efficiency and output of your network, the Catalyst 3850 series is the perfect choice. It can handle heavy loads and the growth of your network. It also expands wired service and can manage robust wireless networks by itself.

Could AI find new purposes for medications?

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Various medications

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Scientists have developed a machine-learning method that crunches massive amounts of data to help determine which existing medications could improve outcomes in diseases for which they are not prescribed.

The intent of this work is to speed up drug repurposing, which is not a new concept – think Botox injections, first approved to treat crossed eyes and now a migraine treatment and top cosmetic strategy to reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

But getting to those new uses typically involves a mix of serendipity and time-consuming and expensive randomized clinical trials to ensure that a drug deemed effective for one disorder will be useful as a treatment for something else.

Ohio State University researchers created a framework that combines enormous patient care-related datasets with high-powered computation to arrive at repurposed drug candidates and the estimated effects of those existing medications on a defined set of outcomes.

Though this study focused on proposed repurposing of drugs to prevent heart failure and stroke in patients with coronary artery disease, the framework is flexible – and could be applied to most diseases.

“This work shows how artificial intelligence can be used to ‘test’ a drug on a patient, and speed up hypothesis generation and potentially speed up a clinical trial,” said senior author Ping Zhang, assistant professor of computer science and engineering and biomedical informatics at Ohio State. “But we will never replace the physician – drug decisions will always be made by clinicians.”

The research is published in Nature Machine Intelligence.

Drug repurposing is an attractive pursuit because it could lower the risk associated with safety testing of new medications and dramatically reduce the time it takes to get a drug into the marketplace for clinical use.

Randomized clinical trials are the gold standard for determining a drug’s effectiveness against a disease, but Zhang noted that machine learning can account for hundreds – or thousands – of human differences within a large population that could influence how medicine works in the body. These factors, or confounders, ranging from age, sex and race to disease severity and the presence of other illnesses, function as parameters in the deep learning computer algorithm on which the framework is based.

That information comes from “real-world evidence,” which is longitudinal observational data about millions of patients captured by electronic medical records or insurance claims and prescription data.

“Real-world data has so many confounders. This is the reason we have to introduce the deep learning algorithm, which can handle multiple parameters,” said Zhang, who leads the Artificial Intelligence in Medicine Lab and is a core faculty member in the Translational Data Analytics Institute at Ohio State. “If we have hundreds or thousands of confounders, no human being can work with that. So we have to use artificial intelligence to solve the problem.

“We are the first team to introduce use of the deep learning algorithm to handle the real-world data, control for multiple confounders, and emulate clinical trials.”

The research team used insurance claims data on nearly 1.2 million heart-disease patients, which provided information on their assigned treatment, disease outcomes and various values for potential confounders. The deep learning algorithm also has the power to take into account the passage of time in each patient’s experience – for every visit, prescription and diagnostic test. The model input for drugs is based on their active ingredients.

Applying what is called causal inference theory, the researchers categorized, for the purposes of this analysis, the active drug and placebo patient groups that would be found in a clinical trial. The model tracked patients for two years – and compared their disease status at that endpoint to whether or not they took medications, which drugs they took and when they started the regimen.

“With causal inference, we can address the problem of having multiple treatments. We don’t answer whether drug A or drug B works for this disease or not, but figure out which treatment will have better performance,” Zhang said.

Their hypothesis: that the model would identify drugs that could lower the risk for heart failure and stroke in coronary artery disease patients.

The model yielded nine drugs considered likely to provide those therapeutic benefits, three of which are currently in use – meaning the analysis identified six candidates for drug repurposing. Among other findings, the analysis suggested that a diabetes medication, metformin, and escitalopram, used to treat depression and anxiety, could lower risk for heart failure and stroke in the model patient population. As it turns out, both of those drugs are currently being tested for their effectiveness against heart disease.

Zhang stressed that what the team found in this case study is less important than how they got there.

“My motivation is applying this, along with other experts, to find drugs for diseases without any current treatment. This is very flexible, and we can adjust case-by-case,” he said. “The general model could be applied to any disease if you can define the disease outcome.”

• Emily Caldwell is a science writer and higher education communicator at Ohio State University. This article originally appeared on Ohio State News

Is the new device you got for Christmas giving your data away?

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Device data - a Woman holding a smart device to illustrate this Network Tigers News articles about protecting your internet-available device data

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

With the festive season having come to a close, consumers the world over will be playing with a variety of new tech toys.

In recent years, the most popular gadgets sold on Amazon have included a variety of smartphones, wearable tech, tablets, laptops and digital assistants such as Amazon’s Echo Dot.

And it’s likely our gifting habits over Christmas reflected this. But any device connected to the internet (including almost all of the above) exposes our personal data to a host of threats.

Few of us stop to consider how our new devices may impact our digital footprint, or whether they could build new channels between ourselves and cyber criminals.

With this in mind, here are some simple tips to help you lock down your digital footprint this year.

Use more sophisticated credentials

First, when it comes to setting up a new device and/or account, you should always use a unique password — every single time.

While this task may sound painful, it’s made much easier by password managers. Should your password for a particular account be stolen, at least the others will remain secure.

It’s also worth checking the Have I Been Pwned? website, which can reveal whether your online credentials have already been leaked.

And even if you’re using more sophisticated biometric-based approaches on a device (such as face or fingerprint login), you can still leave yourself exposed by having a weak password that can allow hackers to bypass the biometric.

Also, if you ever have to enter a credit card number or other financial details to set up an account, you may want to remove them through the service provider’s site or app.

Some services require ongoing payments, but deleting stored payment details where they are no longer needed will help protect your finances. Most services will provide an option to do this, although others may require you to get in touch directly.

You don’t always have to be transparent online

We constantly provide our personal information online in exchange for access to accounts and services.

Often this includes date of birth (to validate your age), postcode (to offer regionally locked services) or details such as your mother’s maiden name (to help restrict unauthorised access to your account).

Consider having a fake identity. That way, if your details are stolen, your real data will be safe.

You may want to set up a sacrificial email account, or even a temporary address (also called a “burner email”) to sign onto services that are likely to spam you in the future.

Apple device users may want to explore the “Sign in with Apple” feature. This restricts the amount of personal data shared with a service is being used.

It can also hide the user’s actual email address when registering — instead creating a site-specific alias that can later be blocked if necessary.

What happens to our old devices?

When new gadgets enter our lives, the old ones are often passed on to friends and family, sold to strangers, traded in, or simply recycled.

But before we discard our old devices into this growing technology mountain, we should make sure they’re clear of our data. Otherwise, selling an old phone may also mean inadvertently selling your private information.

Many modern devices, particularly smartphones and tablets, have a factory reset option that removes all user data.

 

You can erase content and settings (personal information) from an Apple device by going into ‘settings’, ‘general’ and then ‘reset’. Author provided 

For devices without a distinct wipe or reset option, you can consult with the user manual or manufacturer’s website (which will often have a copy of the user manual). If in doubt, there’s plenty of online advice on how to reset devices.

This video shows how to backup data from a PlayStation 4 console onto a USB drive, before completely wiping the console.

You may need to remove or unlink the old device from your online identities, such as your Apple ID.

It may also be necessary to delete cloud-based accounts — such as Dropbox or Google Drive — set up specifically for that device. And don’t forget about data stored on devices being returned to the seller (perhaps after Boxing Day sales).

A 2019 UK study examining second-hand phones on eBay found only 52% had been properly wiped or reset.

Moreover, 19% contained some form of personal information, ranging from active social media logins to bank account details.

Parental responsibility

Children (especially those in primary school) who use devices should be educated on safe internet practices and cyber safety.

While younger people are becoming increasingly tech-savvy with time, they don’t necessarily know the risks associated with using internet-connected technologies.

It’s important for parents to first learn about appropriate safeguards, and then remind their children of them regularly.

Don’t panic

The good news is you don’t need special cyber security training for each new tech purchase. The lessons above are transferable, so the key is simply to remember to use them.

There are plenty of sources for further learning, including UK Cyber Aware, the Get Safe Online initiative, and the Australian eSafety Commissioner’s website.

To quote from the film The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “don’t panic”. Just think carefully about how you use (or get rid of) your devices from now on.

Paul Haskell-Dowland is the Associate Dean for Computing and Security in the School of Science at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia. This article was co-authored by Steven Furnell. This article originally appeared on TheConversation

Here’s six cloud security threats you should know about

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graphic image of a lock in a cloud demonstrating cloud security for Network Tigers News

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay 

Organizations and businesses have had to turn to third-party cloud and managed security services to look for ways to bolster cybersecurity and shift from legacy to modern data platforms.

However, the sudden transition to the cloud has brought new security risks. This means that if your business or organization chooses to adopt cloud technologies and migrate your data over, you could be making a major mistake without being fully informed of the risks involved.

In this article, we will outline the six most significant cybersecurity threats for cloud networks that businesses face when migrating data or applications to the cloud. Take note that these cloud security threats are always evolving and the ones listed here are by no means exhaustive.

Top Cloud Security Threats

Data Breaches

Data breaches occur when unauthorized individuals access cloud systems and interfere with the data stored in them. Whether attackers view, copy or transmit data, an organization’s safety is not guaranteed once such individuals gain access.

Significant data breaches that have been costly to businesses include the mid-2018 Tesla cloud crypto-jacking that exposed sensitive telemetry data. This occurred due to the company’s failure to encrypt one of its cloud accounts.

The primary cause of data breaches is human error. Lack of knowledge or not educating your staff on how to keep data safe and secure can easily expose your business to a hacker. This is why providing sufficient cybersecurity education on data protection to your employees is crucial, as nearly 90% of professionals agree that improved data protection skills can significantly reduce risks and data breaches happening within their respective organizations.

Insider Threats

Sometimes, the biggest threats to an organization’s cybersecurity are internal. Insider threats are usually seen as more hazardous than outsider threats as they can take several months or years to identify.

The masterminds are usually individuals with legitimate access to an organization’s cloud systems. Whether they happen intentionally or maliciously, insider threats will cause a lot of harm to your cloud system. Therefore, it is essential to detect, investigate and respond to them as fast as possible.

The reason why these attacks can go undetected for long periods is that businesses lack the proper systems to identify these attacks and are unprepared to identify and resolve them. In addition, companies have little to no control over underlying cloud infrastructure. Traditional security solutions may not be effective as long as significant power remains with the vendors.

Monitoring user analytics and gaining visibility into behavioral anomalies can be a way to signal an active insider threat as well as putting employees and processes to the test with adversary simulation and control tuning.

Denial-of-Service Attacks

Due to the rise of cyberattacks brought on by the global pandemic, an increasing number of companies are shifting their data control to the cloud. However, this leaves most applications and essential internal functions that are cloud-based exposed to denial-of-service attacks.

In a denial-of-service attack, a hacker floods a system with more web traffic than it can handle at its peak. This results in operations stalling entirely, with internal users and customers unable to access the system, making it unable to operate the business.

Subsequently, companies need to find ways to stop denial-of-service attacks before they occur and cause serious setbacks. One strategy is to rely on dynamic application security tools, which will scan your web applications for threats while they are running and can identify denial-of-service attacks in their early stages or before they happen.

Insecure Interfaces and APIs

Software user interfaces and APIs are usually responsible for the provision, monitoring and management of cloud services. Cloud service providers are working tirelessly to advance APIs and interfaces, but this growth has also increased security risks associated with them.

Cloud service providers use a specific framework to provide APIs to programmers, which leaves their systems more vulnerable to attackers. As such, organizations risk improper authorizations, previously used passwords and anonymous access. The best way to solve this is knowing how to properly design your cloud security with a multi-layer approach, which is required to help curb unauthorized access and ensure that the software you create is secure.

Hijacking of Accounts

The growing reliance on cloud-based infrastructure has also contributed to a high number of account hijacking cases. Depending on the attacker’s intent and how they will use the accessed information, cloud account hijacking can have devastating consequences for a business, such as information being falsified or leaked to other parties.

Account hijacking attacks can also damage a brand’s reputation and the relationships they have with their customers. The integrity and good reputation a company has built for years can be destroyed with one cyberattack. Legal implications could also follow if customers decide to sue the company for exposing their confidential data.

Having rock-solid facilities that utilize electronic surveillance and multifactor access systems is important to minimize the risk of hijacking and disruptions to operations. Having a provider that also offers features such as secure data transfer, encrypted data storage and security logs will provide detection of brute-force attacks.

Misconfiguration

Misconfiguration is one of the leading threats businesses face in their cloud-based systems. Most business owners are inexperienced in matters surrounding cloud-based infrastructure, which exposes them to various data breaches that can impact their operations.

Misconfiguration often results from the need to make cloud data accessible and shareable. Limiting access only to eligible people and, depending on the cloud service provider, can impact a company’s ability to control these systems dramatically. Basic cloud storage services often come with critical security measures such as client-side encryption, intrusion detection systems and internal firewalls. Being familiar with vendor-provided security settings is critical.

Conclusion

Understanding the most significant threats that face cloud systems and networks is a crucial step toward preventing and stopping them in their tracks. Knowing which resources are right for your business will help you prevent these cloud security threats and take action. With the right defenses and responses in place, your business can enjoy the many advantages cloud systems bring.

Naha Davies is a software developer and tech writer. This article originally appeared on Security Boulevard

Meet ‘Smellicopter’ – an autonomous drone which uses a live moth antenna to hunt scents

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autonomous drone image, smellicopter for Network Tigers News
A team led by the University of Washington has developed Smellicopter: an autonomous drone that uses a live antenna from a moth (brown arc on top of the drone) to navigate toward smells. The researchers also added two plastic fins (shown here in blue) on the back of the drone to create drag to help it be constantly oriented so that it is facing upwind. Credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

An autonomous drone called Smellicopter uses a live antenna from a moth to navigate toward smells. It can also sense and avoid obstacles as it travels through the air.

One huge advantage of drones is that these little robots can go places where people can’t, including areas deemed too dangerous, such as unstable structures after a natural disaster or a region with unexploded devices.

Researchers are interested in developing devices that can navigate these situations by sniffing out chemicals in the air to locate disaster survivors, gas leaks, explosives, and more. But most sensors aren’t sensitive or fast enough to find and process specific smells while flying through the patchy odor plumes these sources create.

“Nature really blows our human-made odor sensors out of the water,” says lead author Melanie Anderson, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering at the University of Washington. “By using an actual moth antenna with Smellicopter, we’re able to get the best of both worlds: the sensitivity of a biological organism on a robotic platform where we can control its motion.”

The moth uses its antennae to sense chemicals in its environment and navigate toward sources of food or potential mates.

“Cells in a moth antenna amplify chemical signals,” says coauthor Thomas Daniel, a professor of biology who co-supervises Anderson’s doctoral research. “The moths do it really efficiently—one scent molecule can trigger lots of cellular responses, and that’s the trick. This process is super efficient, specific, and fast.”

Researchers placed moths in the fridge to anesthetize them before removing an antenna. Once separated from the live moth, the antenna stays biologically and chemically active for up to four hours. That time span could be extended, the researchers say, by storing antennae in the fridge.

By adding tiny wires into either end of the antenna, the researchers could connect it to an electrical circuit and measure the average signal from all of the cells in the antenna. The team then compared it to a typical human-made sensor, placing both at one end of a wind tunnel and wafting smells that both sensors would respond to: a floral scent and ethanol, a type of alcohol. The antenna reacted more quickly and took less time to recover between puffs.

Smellicopter hones in on odors

To create Smellicopter, the team added the antenna sensor to an open-source hand-held commercially available quadcopter drone platform that allows users to add special features. The researchers added two plastic fins on the back of the drone to create drag to help it be constantly oriented upwind.

“From a robotics perspective, this is genius,” says coauthor and co-advisor Sawyer Fuller, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “The classic approach in robotics is to add more sensors, and maybe build a fancy algorithm or use machine learning to estimate wind direction. It turns out, all you need is to add a fin.”

Smellicopter doesn’t need any help from the researchers to search for odors. The team created a “cast and surge” protocol for the drone that mimics how moths search for smells. Smellicopter begins its search by moving to the left for a specific distance. If nothing passes a specific smell threshold, Smellicopter then moves to the right for the same distance. Once it detects an odor, it changes its flying pattern to surge toward it.

Smellicopter can also avoid obstacles with the help of four infrared sensors that let it measure what’s around it 10 times each second. When something comes within about eight inches (20 centimeters) of the drone, it changes direction by going to the next stage of its cast-and-surge protocol.

“So if Smellicopter was casting left and now there’s an obstacle on the left, it’ll switch to casting right,” Anderson says. “And if Smellicopter smells an odor but there’s an obstacle in front of it, it’s going to continue casting left or right until it’s able to surge forward when there’s not an obstacle in its path.”

Thre smellicopter moth drone pictured here on network tigers news
A University of Washington-led team has developed Smellicopter: an autonomous drone that uses a live antenna from a moth (brown arc on top of the drone) to navigate toward smells (Image: Mark Stone/University of Washington)

No GPS needed

Another advantage to Smellicopter is that it doesn’t need GPS, the team says. Instead it uses a camera to survey its surroundings, similar to how insects use their eyes. This makes Smellicopter well-suited for exploring indoor or underground spaces like mines or pipes.

During tests, Smellicopter was naturally tuned to fly toward smells that moths find interesting, such as floral scents. But researchers hope that future work could have the moth antenna sense other smells, such as the exhaling of carbon dioxide from someone trapped under rubble or the chemical signature of an unexploded device.

“Finding plume sources is a perfect task for little robots like the Smellicopter and the Robofly,” Fuller says. “Larger robots are capable of carrying an array of different sensors around and using them to build a map of their world. We can’t really do that at the small scale.

“But to find the source of a plume, all a robot really needs to do is avoid obstacles and stay in the plume while it moves upwind. It doesn’t need a sophisticated sensor suite for that—it just needs to be able to smell well. And that’s what the Smellicopter is really good at.”

Joseph Sullivan, a UW electrical and computer engineering doctoral student, and Timothy Horiuchi, an electrical and computer engineering associate professor at the University of Maryland College Park, are also co-authors. This research was funded by the National Defense and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, the Washington Research Foundation, the Joan and Richard Komen Endowed Chair and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research with The Air Force Center of Excellence on Nature-Inspired Flight Technologies and Ideas.

• Author Sarah McQuate is a Public Information Specialist Engineering Writer at the University of Washington. This article orginally appeared on futurity.org via University of Washington

Are older adults handling Coronavirus better than young people?

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Photo by Matthew Bennett on Unsplash

Time in the era of COVID-19 has taken on new meaning. “Blursday” is the new time word of the year – where every day seems the same when staying home and restricting socializing and work.

As a public health and aging expert and founding director of the Texas A&M Center of Population Health and Aging, I have been studying the impacts of COVID-19 with an interest in debunking myths and identifying unexpected positive consequences for our aging population.

It is common to view older adults as especially vulnerable. Public health statistics reinforce the picture of older adults infected with SARS-CoV-2 as more likely to have serious complications, to be hospitalized and to die.

But what do we know about how older adults themselves are responding to social distancing restrictions in place to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19? And what does this changing sense of time mean for them?

Calmness, interest and gratitude

Despite popular notions that older adults would have more negative reactions to forced social isolationa recent national survey revealed that older adults – despite their awareness of increased risk – are generally not reporting more feelings of anxiety, anger or stress than younger age groups.

They are actually expressing more positive emotions – feelings of calmness, interest and gratitude. Indeed, other surveys suggest it’s the youngest adults – ages 13 to 23 – who are experiencing the most stress.

Older people are feeling less anxiety and stress. They also are reporting feelings of calmnessPhoto by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash

This surprising finding has been attributed partly to older adults’ perceptions of time and their coping mechanisms developed over a lifetime.

Many older people have redefined their experiences in terms of time left to live, and they focus on what is most meaningful now. They let go of what they can’t do anything about. Instead of looking back, older adults are motivated to enjoy the time they have left.

What have been difficult are the changing definitions of time and the persistence of a “blursday” existence. Being isolated during spring and summer seemed almost bearable. The uncertainty of knowing when – if – things will return to pre-COVID life is likely to be taking a toll on even the most robust older adults.

Older adults who have been self-isolating for months have been looking forward to getting together with their families over the holidays. Not seeing their families during the holiday season may be particularly difficult.

When I was talking to an older friend the other day, she indicated she was “basically doing fine.” She was staying in touch with her family through regular Zoom calls. But she was “a bit sad about the upcoming holidays,” and what she “missed most was not being able to hug” her children – “especially over the holidays.”

From expectation to reality

During a recent SiriusXM Doctor Radio show on which I was the guest “expert,” I heard many real-life challenges families face: An older woman with underlying health conditions worrying about not getting to travel to see her children and grandchildren. Adult children who were weighing what would be worse – possibly infecting their older relatives by visiting or not being able to see their elderly relatives in person for what could be the last time.

While vaccinations are now authorized for emergency use, their rollout will take time and we can’t expect them to be an immediate solution for such hard decisions.

Public health guidelines still recommend using face masks and adhering to social distancing rules. They also recommend limiting travel well into the new year.

This push-pull, from expectation to reality, can be an especially hard adjustment. Instead of a one-time cure, will we be thinking of COVID-19 vaccinations as a perennial event, like with flu shot, and COVID-19 precautions as a fixture in our everyday lives?

Grandma is on Instagram

Contrary to stereotypes that cast older adults as tech-phobic, many older people are learning new skills to become more familiar with technology. That way, they can stay socially connected and accomplish tasks of daily living such as bill paying and grocery shopping.

Some older adults are even more likely than before to communicate with their loved ones during COVID-19 times using social media platforms.

Older people aren't as tech-phobic as the stereotype tells us...Photo by Tiago Muraro on Unsplash

Health care changing with the times

Health and social organizations are more attuned to negative impacts of social isolation and are instituting screening tools and referral sources for care. For example, a social isolation risk screener asks brief questions to detect early signs of social isolation and link older adults to needed services.

Another silver lining: Mental health problems may not be so stigmatized when many people have such obvious reasons for unhappiness.

Health care itself is changing, with benefits for patients’ time. Instead of expecting older adults to spend hours getting up and out of the house for a 15- to 30-minute appointment, telemedicine has come into many older adults’ homes.

There is renewed interest in advanced care planning as well. While doctors, older adults and their families may have been previously uncomfortable about bringing up the topic, such discussions are becoming more common, due in part to the high number of serious complications and fatalities in the older population.

And finally, as an aging expert, I see one more positive change: a de-stereotyping of older adults.

Beyond the statistics portraying the seriousness of COVID-19 among older adults, there is also a growing recognition that older adults are not all the same. COVID-19 experiences will be affected by existing physical and mental health as well as the social conditions in which older adults live.

While many older adults may be coping well, it’s important not to overlook those socially isolated older adults with persistent mental health challenges or difficulties getting access to technologies that can help them connect to others.

Marcia G. Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H., is Regents and Distinguished Professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Texas A&M School of Public Health (SPH) in College Station, Texas. This article originally appeared on TheConversation

Post-pandemic – will our cities be healthier?

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Photo by Jonathan Dick, OSFS on Unsplash

Will the COVID-19 pandemic prompt a shift to healthier cities that focus on wellness rather than functional and economic concerns?

This is a hypothesis that seems to be supported by several researchers around the world. In many ways, containment and physical distancing measures have contributed to an increased recognition of the importance of public space as a gathering place and key tools for meeting people’s basic needs. Urban residents are more aware of the important role of this space as a living environment essential to their physical and psychological well-being.

I am the director of graduate programs at the Université du Québec à Montréal’s school of design, where I have been teaching environmental design for 19 years. I also hold a doctorate in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.

people enjoying sitting in an urban parkPhoto by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

Parks have become essential

Forced isolation and social distancing during the pandemic have exacerbated solitude and anxiety for part of our population. Numerous studies show that loneliness is linked to major health problems, including depression, heart problems and reduced life expectancy.

In recent decades, individualism, neo-liberal public policies and new technologies had already contributed to this isolation. Online shopping has gone so far as to deprive us of the micro-interactions that sometimes represented our only daily social contacts.

Many Montréalers in forced isolation were able to appreciate the qualities of the city’s urban space by using their balconies, front yards and alleyways, which enabled them to maintain certain close contacts and exchanges with neighbours while respecting physical distancing. From conversations from one balcony to the other to picnics at a distance between neighbours in the alley, the domestic environment has been able to broaden thanks to increased human contact.

Public spaces, especially parks, have also proven to be essential for socialization, especially for young people. Access to nature, wide open spaces and sports and leisure facilities has emerged as a vital need, with both individual and collective benefits. Walking, one of the only forms of exercise accessible to many people, has made it possible to escape from confinement with exposure to fresh air and sunshine.

The pandemic has shown the advantages of converting some major streets into pedestrian walkways, even temporarily, and the need for wider sidewalks. It has also demonstrated the importance of large linear parks, such as the very popular Promenade Champlain in Québec City and the banks of the Lachine Canal in Montréal.

Containment also revealed the importance of public spaces for pets, whose adoption has increased dramatically. More than just a source of companionship and affection for people suffering from isolation, pets are also a reason to get fresh air and walk and can serve as a social lubricant, providing an opportunity to socialize with other pet owners.

Initiatives around the world

Cities around the world have realized the importance of maximizing access to public space. Throughout containment, there have been a variety of creative and low-cost initiatives to make urban spaces safe and suitable. In this, the pandemic may have caused an unintended casualty: the motorist’s view of the city. The new health context has provoked a collective awareness of the excessive space devoted to the automobile and the interest in putting this space at the service of people.

Without wanting to eliminate the individual car from the urban landscape, cities have sought to promote a more equitable sharing of public space between different types of users and modes of mobility.

There has been a significant increase in pedestrian and shared-use streets and more bicycle lanes. In Rotterdam, cars are banned from some major arteries after 4 p.m. so that pedestrians can use them. In Oakland, Calif., streets are being transformed into “slow streets” — mixed-use areas where cars are tolerated but no longer have priority. Portland, Ore., is transforming large urban parking lots in low-income neighbourhoods into farmers’ markets. A paved access in Montréal’s Lafontaine Park is now devoted to bicycles. The transformation of on-street parking into temporary café patios — a common phenomenon in Montréal over the past decade — has multiplied around the world.

A cyclist in an urban environment Photo by Steven Lasry on Unsplash

 

The commercial success of pedestrianized streets throughout Montréal has ensured the survival of small businesses, bars and restaurants. Artistic practices have multiplied, whether it be music, theatre, dance or multimedia projections, allowing artists to showcase themselves and earn a few cents. For people with reduced mobility or unable to park nearby, creative solutions such as wheelbarrows and rickshaws have been proposed.

Being outside as much as possible

Another trend reinforced by the pandemic is that of urban agriculture, with a marked resurgence of micro vegetable gardens on balconies, in ornamental courtyards and alleyways. Across Québec and the rest of Canada, the demand for plots in community gardens is growing rapidly. It is not just a question of food self-sufficiency, but a need to touch the land, a kind of agricultural therapy and a desire to eat more healthily.

Other aspects of urban design could be affected by the pandemic, due to the risks of transmission. The slower rate of contagion in outdoor spaces means that it is safer to shop on a commercial street and in a public market than in a hermetically sealed shopping mall or large air-conditioned area.

Buildings will also have to be redesigned to offer more natural ventilation and outdoor spaces, be they individual or communal. These could take the form of rooftop terraces, courtyards and balconies. In the city, common spaces and facilities such as bus shelters, sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and rest areas will have to be redesigned in a sustainable way.

Some temporary re-allocations of car space may well become permanent after the end of the pandemic. There is already increased use of active transportation, which can have a positive long-term effect on urban congestion and public health. Many cities are rethinking their entire urban mobility system. Paris is already planning to remove 72 per cent of on-street parking spaces to make more space for bicycles.

The pandemic will thus have accelerated already emerging trends towards a healthier, more humane and active city, creating new habits that may outlive it.

Paradoxically, COVID-19 may also have long-term public health benefits, promoting a more active, self-reliant and supportive population.

Anne-Marie Broudehoux is a professor at UQAM School of Design. This article originally appeared on TheConversation

Six top tech trends for 2021 and beyond

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network tigers technology trends planet earth and a robot
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

It’s been a tough year. But there’s good news on the tech horizon.

As we all learned in the tumultuous, often tragic months of 2020, technology is essential to nearly every aspect of our lives — from health and learning to work and entertainment.

But while technology has been a lifeline for millions, it needs to get better. Way better.

That’s why I’m excited about what is to come. The pandemic drove technology adoption in amazing ways — indeed, the future arrived seemingly overnight. Networking, cloud, security, collaboration, and other digital technologies all played a huge role in keeping the world running.

Despite our current struggles, I see a time when we move past the pandemic and into that better world. Here are some of the top technology trends that I believe will lead the way towards a better future in 2021.

5G and Wi-Fi 6: A bridge over the digital divide

The COVID-19 pandemic put a glaring spotlight on the biggest inequities in our society and around the world. Today, a lack of connectivity separates half the global population from opportunities in learning, business, and healthcare. In nearly every country, the digital divide affects rural communities and the poor disproportionately.

The next generation of wireless technologies —including 5G and Wi-Fi 6 — can go a long way towards closing the divide.

These technologies will raise the bar on bandwidth, speed, and latency, and reach areas where fiber is prohibitively expensive — including rural communities, from African villages to Native American reservations.

Frontline mobile workers, telehealth, manufacturing, and education will all benefit from next-gen wireless as well. We see pervasive wireless connectivity as the ultimate flattener of the digital divide as these new technologies spur growth, innovation, and opportunity for millions of people who are currently on the wrong side of the divide.

The rise of the sensors

We’ve been hearing about the promise of the Internet of Things for years. But lately, a confluence of innovations — including advanced network technologies, next-gen wireless, and AI, to name a few — are making it a reality. Add to that cheap, smart, and soon-to-be pervasive sensors, and we will be interacting with our world, our machines, and one another in exciting new ways.

The workplace is a great example. Data-based insights delivered by sensors will help provide a healthier, and more productive environment. Combined with WiFi, location technologies, and infused into collaboration platforms like Webex, they will identify underutilized or overcrowded spaces, while monitoring conditions like room temperature, humidity, air quality and light.

But the potential for sensors is even greater. For example, sports sensors will be alert for signs of concussion. And fatigue sensors will monitor alertness in potentially dangerous environments.

All of this data will be collected and turned into actionable, real-time insights, with AI playing an increasing role in keeping us informed for better decisions.

Security that’s simple, solid, and password free

Cloud and mobility were critical to the agility that kept the world going in 2020. But with so many far-flung workers and devices spread across multiple clouds, the very concept of a security perimeter has blurred — all in an environment where fast responses to security threats are crucial.

All that demands security that’s integrated, automated, and simple to use and monitor. In Cisco’s global 2021 Security Outcomes Study, a well-integrated technology stack was a top driver of success.

One of the biggest challenges in security is knowing what’s real and what’s a threat in complex environments.

Zero Trust was developed to ensure that nothing — and no one — gets by without verification. It reacts to a constantly changing environment, ensuring that only the right users or devices get access to your network. In the 2021 Security Outcomes Study, 39 percent of respondents said they were “all in” on zero-trust, while another 38 percent were “moving in that direction.”

At the same time, a password-free future is on the near horizon, as enabling technologies such as biometrics become popular with both consumers and enterprises.

AI future trends brain outline on a blue backgroundImage by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


READ MORE: Questions to ask before buying network switches for your company


Paying for the tech you actually need

Organizations have long invested in one-size-fits all tech solutions. That meant paying for features that users might never actually need. Today, software as a service enables organizations to pay for the features and capabilities they currently need, with the option to scale other services with great speed and agility, when needed.

Consumption models will continue to shift, especially as more and more features and capabilities are available via software, whether on site or in the cloud. The flexibility and cost savings that pay-as-you-consume models provide are simply too good to resist.

This shift to pay-as-you-consume spending gives organizations more flexibility and cost predictability to manage their IT spend — something that 85 percent of CIOs and IT decision makers in Cisco’s 2021 CIO and ITDM Trends Pulse report agreed is important to their business (43 percent called it very important).


Click to View: Networking for the digital age


Keys to the future: app-enabled agility and resilience

In the early months of the pandemic, organizations had to adapt quickly to meet highly unpredictable changes. Cloud was the critical enabler of this new agility. For many organizations, it was the only way to meet the rapidly shifting demands of their customers and employees, regardless of costs.

Ten months later, the applications at the heart of our businesses are highly distributed. Our workforces are more mobile than ever before. And the demands on our systems are unprecedented.

Looking ahead, IT teams will need even greater agility. With enhanced observability solutions, teams can shift from monitoring everything to monitoring just the data and insights that matter. Both insights and automation will be essential to future growth, competitiveness, and resilience.


Read More: Questions to ask before buying network switches for your company – Part II


From serving customers to delighting them

Today, mobile apps enable everything from shopping and banking to learning and well-being — and they’ve even helped track COVID cases. Mobile apps also enable both public and private-sector organizations to connect with and understand users in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

Of course, most business processes also run on applications.

The most advanced of these promise more personalized relationships, along with instantaneous responses. That demands the ability to turn masses of real-time information from the network into actionable insights. And to do it fast.

Armed with such capabilities, companies can respond to a customer even before they report an issue or a need. It’s this combination of immersive, intelligence-based personalization and experience that will transform baseline customer satisfaction into deep customer engagement, excitement, and loyalty.

With innovation accelerating at a fast pace, there’s a tremendous opportunity to use new technologies to create organizations that are more flexible, responsive, and resilient. At the same time, I believe our higher mission is to use technology to improve lives across the planet.

Which technology trends do you have on your radar?

• Author Gordon Thomson leads Cisco’s EMEAR Architecture and Sales Specialists organisation. His greatest passion is engaging closely with customers, partners and sales teams, and demonstrating how technology can navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead. Used with permission of The Cisco Network. 

It’s been a hard year – science-based tips on rebooting your brain

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graphic of a woman's face illustrating how to reboot the brain

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

There’s no doubt that 2020 was difficult for everyone and tragic for many. But now vaccines against COVID-19 are finally being administered – giving a much needed hope of a return to normality and a happy 2021.

However, months of anxiety, grief and loneliness can easily create a spiral of negativity that is hard to break out of. That’s because chronic stress changes the brain. And sometimes when we’re low we have no interest in doing the things that could actually make us feel better.

To enjoy our lives in 2021, we need to snap out of destructive habits and get our energy levels back. In some cases, that may initially mean forcing yourself to do the things that will gradually make you feel better. If you are experiencing more severe symptoms, however, you may want to speak to a professional about therapy or medication.

Here are six evidenced-based ways to change our brains for the better.

1. Be kind and helpful

Kindness, altruism and empathy can affect the brain. One study showed that making a charitable donation activated the brain’s reward system in a similar way to actually receiving money. This also applies to helping others who have been wronged.

Volunteering can also give a sense of meaning in life, promoting happiness, health and wellbeing. Older adults who volunteer regularly also exhibit greater life satisfaction and reduced depression and anxiety. In short, making others happy is a great way to make yourself happy.

2. Exercise

Exercise has been linked with both better physical and mental health, including improved cardiovascular health and reduced depression. In childhood, exercise is associated with better school performance, while it promotes better cognition and job performance in young adults. In older adults, exercise maintains cognitive performance and provides resilience against neurodegenerative disorders, such as dementia.

Photo by Holly Mandarich on Unsplash

What’s more, studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of fitness have increased brain volume, which is associated with better cognitive performance in older adults. People who exercise also live longer. One of the very best things that you can do to reboot your brain is in fact to go out and get some fresh air during a brisk walk, run or cycling session. Do make sure to pick something you actually enjoy to ensure you keep doing it though.

3. Eat well

Nutrition can substantially influence the development and health of brain structure and function. It provides the proper building blocks for the brain to create and maintain connections, which is critical for improved cognition and academic performance. Previous evidence has shown that long-term lack of nutrients can lead to structural and functional damage to the brain, while a good quality diet is related to larger brain volume.


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One study of 20,000 participants from the UK-Biobank showed that a higher intake of cereal was associated with the long-term beneficial effects of increased volume of grey matter (a key component of the central nervous system), which is linked to improved cognition. However, diets rich in sugar, saturated fats or calories can damage neural function. They can also reduce the brain’s ability to make new neural connections, which negatively affects cognition.

Therefore, whatever your age, remember to eat a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables and cereal.

4. Keep socially connected

Loneliness and social isolation is prevalent across all ages, genders and cultures – further elevated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Robust scientific evidence has indicated that social isolation is detrimental to physical, cognitive and mental health.

One recent study showed that there were negative effects of COVID-19 isolation on emotional cognition, but that this effect was smaller in those that stayed connected with others during lockdown. Developing social connections and alleviating loneliness is also associated with decreased risk of mortality as well as a range of illnesses.

Therefore, loneliness and social isolation are increasingly recognised as critical public health issues, which require effective interventions. And social interaction is associated with positive feelings and increased activation in the brain’s reward system.

In 2021, be sure to keep up with family and friends, but also expand your horizons and make some new connections.

5. Learn something new

The brain changes during critical periods of development, but is also a lifelong process. Novel experiences, such as learning new skills, can modify both brain function and the underlying brain structure. For example juggling has been shown to increase white matter (tissue composed of nerve fibers) structures in the brain associated with visuo-motor performance.

Photo by Burst on Unsplash

Similarly, musicians have been shown to have increased grey matter in the parts of the brain that process auditory information. Learning a new language can also change the structure of the human brain.


READ MORE: Neuronlike circuits bring brainlike computers a step closer


A large review of the literature suggested that mentally stimulating leisure activities increase brain-reserve, which can instil resilience and be protective of cognitive decline in older adults – be it chess or cognitive games.

6. Sleep properly

Sleep is an essential component of human life, yet many people do not understand the relationship between good brain health and the process of sleeping. During sleep, the brain reorganises and recharges itself and removes toxic waste byproducts, which helps to maintain normal brain functioning.

Sleep is very important for transforming experiences into our long-term memory, maintaining cognitive and emotional function and reducing mental fatigue. Studies of sleep deprivation have demonstrated deficits in memory and attention as well as changes in the reward system, which often disrupts emotional functioning. Sleep also exerts a strong regulatory influence on the immune system. If you have the optimal quantity and quality of sleep, you will find that you have more energy, better wellbeing and are able to develop your creativity and thinking.

So have a Happy New Year! And let’s make the most of ourselves in 2021 and help others to do the same.

Professor Barbara J Sahakian is based at the University of Cambridge Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute. This article was co-authored by Christelle Langley and Jianfeng Feng. This article originally appeared on TheConversation

Sunburst hack devastation – five cyber security expert observations

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sunshine bursting through clouds to illustrate sunburst cyber security attack
Photo by Ray Bilcliff from Pexels

So much remains unknown about what is now being called the Sunburst hack, the cyber security attack against U.S. government agencies and corporations. U.S. officials widely believe that Russian state-sponsored hackers are responsible.

The cyber security attack gave the perpetrators access to numerous key American business and government organizations. The immediate effects will be difficult to judge, and a complete accounting of the damage is unlikely. However, the nature of the affected organizations alone makes it clear that this is perhaps the most consequential cyberattack against the U.S. to date.

 

An act of cyberwar is usually not like a bomb, which causes immediate, well-understood damage. Rather, it is more like a cancer – it’s slow to detect, difficult to eradicate, and it causes ongoing and significant damage over a long period of time. Here are five points that cyber security experts – the oncologists in the cancer analogy – can make with what’s known so far.

1. The victims were tough nuts to crack

From top-tier cyber security firm FireEye to the U.S. Treasury, Microsoft, Intel and many other organizations, the victims of the attack are for the most part firms with comprehensive cyber security practices. The list of organizations that use the compromised software includes firms like MasterCard, Lockheed Martin and PricewaterhouseCoopers. SolarWinds estimates about 18,000 firms were affected.

As CEO of cyber security firm Cyber Reconnaissance Inc. and an associate professor of computer science at Arizona State University, I have met security professionals from many of the targeted organizations. Many of the organizations have world-class cyber security teams. These are some of the hardest targets to hit in corporate America. The victims of Sunburst were specifically targeted, likely with a primary focus on intelligence gathering.


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2. This was almost certainly the work of a nation – not criminals

Criminal hackers focus on near-term financial gain. They use techniques like ransomware to extort money from their victims, steal financial information, and harvest computing resources for activities like sending spam emails or mining for cryptocurrency.

Criminal hackers exploit well-known security vulnerabilities that, had the victims been more thorough in their security, could have been prevented. The hackers typically target organizations with weaker security, like health care systems, universities and municipal governments. University networks are notoriously decentralized, difficult to secure, and often underfund cyber security. Medical systems tend to use specialty medical devices that run older, vulnerable software that is difficult to upgrade.

Hackers associated with national governments, on the other hand, have entirely different motives. They look for long-term access to critical infrastructure, gather intelligence and develop the means to disable certain industries. They also steal intellectual property – especially intellectual property that is expensive to develop in fields like high technology, medicine, defense and agriculture.

The sheer amount of effort to infiltrate one of the Sunburst victim firms is also a telling sign that this was not a mere criminal hack. For example, a firm like FireEye is an inherently bad target for a criminal attacker. It has fewer than 4,000 employees yet has computer security on par with the world’s top defense and financial businesses.

3. The attack exploited trusted third-party software

The hackers gained access by slipping their malware into software updates of SolarWinds’ Orion software, which is widely used to manage large organizational networks. The Sunburst attack relied on a trusted relationship between the targeted organization and SolarWinds. When users of Orion updated their systems in the spring of 2020, they unwittingly invited a Trojan horse into their computer networks.

Aside from a report about lax security at SolarWinds, very little is known about how the hackers gained initial access to SolarWinds. However, the Russians have used the tactic of compromising a third-party software update process before, in 2017. This was during the infamous NotPetya attack, which was considered the most financially damaging cyber attack in history.

4. The extent of the damage is unknown

It will take time to uncover the extent of the damage. The investigation is complicated because the attackers gained access to most of the victims in the spring of 2020, which gave the hackers time to expand and hide their access and control of the victims’ systems. For example, some experts believe that a vulnerability in VMWare, software that is widely used in corporate networks, was also used to gain access to the victims’ systems, though the company denies it.


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I expect the damage to be spread unevenly among the victims. This will depend on various factors such as how extensively the organization used the SolarWinds software, how segmented its networks are, and the nature of their software maintenance cycle. For example, Microsoft reportedly had limited deployments of Orion, so the attack had limited impact on their systems.

In contrast, the bounty the hackers stole from FireEye included penetration testing tools, which were used to test the defenses of high-end FireEye clients. The theft of these tools was likely prized by hackers to both increase their capabilities in future attacks as well as gain insights into what FireEye clients are protecting against.

5. The fallout could include real-world harm

There is a very thin, often nonexistent line between gathering information and causing real-world harm. What may start as spying or espionage can easily escalate into warfare.

The presence of malware on a computer system that gives the attacker greater user privileges is dangerous. Hackers can use control of a computer system to destroy computer systems, as was the case in the Iranian cyber attacks against Saudi Aramco in 2012, and harm physical infrastructure, as was the case Stuxnet attack against Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010.

Further, real harm can be done to individuals with information alone. For example, the Chinese breach of Equifax in 2017 has put detailed financial and personal information about millions of Americans in the hands of one of the U.S.’s greatest strategic competitors.

No one knows the full extent of the Sunburst attack, but the scope is large and the victims represent important pillars of the U.S. government, economy and critical infrastructure. Information stolen from those systems and malware the hackers have likely left on them can be used for follow-on attacks. I believe it is likely that the Sunburst attack will result in harm to Americans.

• Article author Paulo Shakarian is Associate Professor of Computer Science, Arizona State University. This article originally appeared at TheConversation