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Technology has played a vital role in how businesses have enabled their employees to work productively from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. For those of us who can do our jobs from home you only have to look at the ‘Zoom Boom’ to see how much our working lives have changed compared to the beginning of the year. Despite the fact that those companies that can are now productively and efficiently operating remotely, the country is now facing the next challenge in this crisis: how to safely reopen workplaces for those who can’t. There is no argument that the economy hasn’t taken a hit during this unpredictable time. Shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities have been forced to close, and 23% of the country’s workforce (6.3 million people) has been furloughed. It’s no surprise that the Bank of England has warned that the UK is heading towards its sharpest recession on record. To counter this economic risk, the government is taking steps to slowly and cautiously reopen the economy by easing lockdown measures, sending people back to work and allowing businesses to reopen. With non-essential retail outlets now able to open from the 15th June, the question business owners face is how to operate safely and maintain social distancing practices, which are set to remain in place until such time as a vaccine is widely available. With lockdown easing and a ‘new normal’ on the horizon, the health of the country’s workforce mustn’t be forgotten in a bid to save the economy. This is why technology that can allow for a controlled return to work, while mitigating any risks to the health of consumers and employees, must play a part in the easing of lockdown. Temperature screening in the new normal Elevated temperature screening is one technology that should play a key part in return to work strategies and the safe reopening of businesses. This valuable solution uses a thermal and optical camera to analyse body temperature, which is a key indicator of the presence of a potential illness, and discreetly alerts the operator when the set temperature threshold is exceeded by someone screened by the tool. With temperature screening technology in place, the exposure of potentially infected individuals to others can be dramatically decreased and the risk of a localised outbreak minimised. Furthermore, for businesses such as retailers whose success is dependent on customers feeling safe to visit the premises, it has the added benefit of giving them additional assurances that visible measures for their protection are in place. In combination with other solutions, such as vigorous testing and screens to protect employees and customers, returning to work can be safe and controlled. With temperature screening technology in place, the exposure of potentially infected individuals to others can be dramatically decreased The reality of a ‘new normal’ may already be visible in some industries, such as grocery retail where one-way systems, plastic screens and constant cleaning are already in place. However, elevated temperature screening has countless applications for both essential and non-essential industries, ranging from offices and train stations, to hospitals and pharmacies. This screening technology allows businesses to take preventative steps to minimise the chances of the wider workforce and customers coming into contact with someone exhibiting symptoms of a potential illness. A number of businesses are already deploying this technology, such as Vodafone, which has deployed heat detection cameras at key UK sites to protect its employees. The camera used by the telco can screen up to eight people at once and 100 people per minute, while judging body temperature in less than half a second – all of which makes it ideal for congested and high traffic areas. Not all solutions are created equal Over the past few months, we have been inundated with images and videos of temperature screening taking place within key industries, which have continued to operate through the pandemic. However, the hand-held thermometers commonly being used require the device to be within an extremely short range of the subject and are only able to screen one person at a time. This is why remote elevated temperature screening solutions are so valuable – especially given that social distancing guidelines are unlikely to be relaxed in the near future. Stand-off solutions can enable temperature screening to take place without the need for close human interaction, further safeguarding employees and reducing the risk of contact with potentially infected individuals. Elevated temperature screening has countless applications for both essential and non-essential industries, ranging from offices and train stations, to hospitals and pharmacies Along with remote capabilities, there are a number of other crucial factors to take into account. The solution must be quick and easy to implement, as well as being highly accurate. When paired with a blackbody, the accuracy of temperature screening solutions can be within 0.3°C. Connectivity is also key and adopting an end-to-end solution linked to a centralised command and control location is invaluable. With holistic connectivity, these solutions can encompass cameras installed in multiple locations, and alarms can be viewed locally, remotely or on a smartphone app. This means that staff don’t need to provide direct supervision to the device on-site. With the guidelines regarding which industries and sectors can reopen changing on an almost daily basis, it’s important that these protective solutions can be installed without overhauling the surveillance infrastructure already in place. Looking ahead, adopting a solution with an upgrade path to other enhancements, such a facial recognition, is favourable as they can be used in conjunction with future and existing security measures. Shop local Stand-off solutions can enable temperature screening to take place without the need for close human interaction Businesses have plenty on their minds as they prepare for the uncertainty that is sure to continue throughout the rest of the year and beyond. However, due diligence can’t be left to the wayside when looking to adopt an elevated temperature screening solution. There are high-risk vendors present in the market, many of which have been blacklisted in the US, and they must be given a wide berth. Buying British-made technology can alleviate these security concerns, as well as avoiding any logistical issues caused by the breakdown of global supply chains. As the economy cautiously reopens, the country will have to adapt to a ‘new normal’ over the coming months. Elevated temperature screening solutions should be implemented by businesses to protect the health of the workforce and customers alike – ultimately paving the way to a safe and controlled return to work.
Companies are following government guidance and getting as many people as possible working from home. Some companies will have resisted home working in the past, but I’m certain that the sceptics will find that people can be productive with the right tools no matter where they are. A temporary solution will become permanent. But getting it right means managing risk. Access is king In a typical office with an on-premise data centre, the IT department has complete control over network access, internal networks, data, and applications. The remote worker, on the other hand, is mobile. He or she can work from anywhere using a VPN. Until just recently this will have been from somewhere like a local coffee shop, possibly using a wireless network to access the company network and essential applications. CV-19 means that huge numbers of people are getting access to the same desktop and files, and collaborative communication toolsBut as we know, CV-19 means that huge numbers of people are getting access to the same desktop and files, applications and collaborative communication tools that they do on a regular basis from the office or on the train. Indeed, the new generation of video conferencing technologies come very close to providing an “almost there” feeling. Hackers lie in wait Hackers are waiting for a wrong move amongst the panic, and they will look for ways to compromise critical servers. Less than a month ago, we emerged from a period of chaos. For months hackers had been exploiting a vulnerability in VPN products from Pulse Secure, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks, and Citrix. Patches were provided by vendors, and either companies applied the patch or withdrew remote access. As a result, the problem of attacks died back. But as companies race to get people working from home, they must ensure special care is taken to ensure the patches are done before switching VPNs on. That’s because remote desktop protocol (RDP) has been for the most part of 2019, and continues to be, the most important attack vector for ransomware. Managing a ransomware attack on top of everything else would certainly give you sleepless nights. As companies race to get people working from home, they must ensure special care is taken to ensure the patches are done before switching VPNs on Hackers are waiting for a wrong move amongst the panic, and they will look for ways to compromise critical serversExposing new services makes them also susceptible to denial of service attacks. Such attacks create large volumes of fake traffic to saturate the available capacity of the internet connection. They can also be used to attack the intricacies of the VPN protocol. A flow as little as 1Mbps can perturbate the VPN service and knock it offline. CIOs, therefore, need to acknowledge that introducing or extending home working broadens the attack surface. So now more than ever it’s vital to adapt risk models. You can’t roll out new services with an emphasis on access and usability and not consider security. You simply won’t survive otherwise. Social engineering Aside from securing VPNs, what else should CIO and CTOs be doing to ensure security? The first thing to do is to look at employee behaviour, starting with passwords. It’s highly recommended that strong password hygiene or some form of multi-factor authentication (MFA) is imposed. Best practice would be to get all employees to reset their passwords as they connect remotely and force them to choose a new password that complies with strong password complexity guidelines. As we know, people have a habit of reusing their passwords for one or more online services – services that might have fallen victim to a breach. Hackers will happily It’s highly recommended that strong password hygiene or some form of multi-factor authentication (MFA) is imposedleverage these breaches because it is such easy and rich pickings. Secondly, the inherent fear of the virus makes for perfect conditions for hackers. Sadly, a lot of phishing campaigns are already luring people in with the promise of important or breaking information on COVID-19. In the UK alone, coronavirus scams cost victims over £800,000 in February 2020. A staggering number that can only go up. That’s why CIOs need to remind everyone in the company of the risks of clickbait and comment spamming - the most popular and obvious bot techniques for infiltrating a network. Notorious hacking attempts And as any security specialist will tell you, some people have no ethics and will exploit the horrendous repercussions of CV-19. In January we saw just how unscrupulous hackers are when they started leveraging public fear of the virus to spread the notorious Emotet malware. Emotet, first detected in 2014, is a banking trojan that primarily spreads through ‘malspam’ and attempts to sneak into computers to steal sensitive and private information. In addition, in early February the Maze ransomware crippled more than 230 workstations of the New Jersey Medical Diagnostics Lab and when they refused to pay, the vicious attackers leaked 9.5GB or research data in an attempt to force negotiations. And in March, an elite hacking group tried to breach the World Health Organization (WHO). It was just one of the many attempts on WHO and healthcare organisations in general since the pandemic broke. We’ll see lots more opportunist attacks like this in the coming months. More speed less haste In March, an elite hacking group tried to breach the World Health Organization (WHO). It was just one of the many attempts on WHOFinally, we also have bots to contend with. We’ve yet to see reports of fake news content generated by machines, but we know there’s a high probability it will happen. Spambots are already creating pharmaceutical spam campaigns thriving on the buying behaviour of people in times of fear from infection. Using comment spamming – where comments are tactically placed in the comments following an update or news story - the bots take advantage of the popularity of the Google search term ‘Coronavirus’ to increase the visibility and ranking of sites and products in search results. There is clearly much for CIOs to think about, but it is possible to secure a network by applying some well thought through tactics. I believe it comes down to having a ‘more speed, less haste’ approach to rolling out, scaling up and integrating technologies for home working, but above all, it should be mixed with an employee education programme. As in reality, great technology and a coherent security strategy will never work if it is undermined by the poor practices of employees.
Imagine a home surveillance camera monitoring an elderly parent and anticipating potential concerns while respecting their privacy. Imagine another camera predicting a home burglary based on suspicious behaviors, allowing time to notify the homeowner who can in turn notify the police before the event occurs—or an entire network of cameras working together to keep an eye on neighborhood safety. Artificial Intelligence vision chips A new gen of AI vision chips are pushing advanced capabilities such as behavior analysis and higher-level security There's a new generation of artificial intelligence (AI) vision chips that are pushing advanced capabilities such as behavior analysis and higher-level security to the edge (directly on devices) for a customisable user experience—one that rivals the abilities of the consumer electronics devices we use every day. Once considered nothing more than “the eyes” of a security system, home monitoring cameras of 2020 will leverage AI-vision processors for high-performance computer vision at low power consumption and affordable cost—at the edge—for greater privacy and ease of use as well as to enable behavior analysis for predictive and preemptive monitoring. Advanced home monitoring cameras With this shift, camera makers and home monitoring service providers alike will be able to develop new edge-based use cases for home monitoring and enable consumers to customise devices to meet their individual needs. The result will be increased user engagement with home monitoring devices—mirroring that of cellphones and smart watches and creating an overlap between the home monitoring and consumer electronics markets. A quick step back reminds us that accomplishing these goals would have been cost prohibitive just a couple of years ago. Face recognition, behavior analysis, intelligent analytics, and decision-making at this level were extremely expensive to perform in the cloud. Additionally, the lag time associated with sending data to faraway servers for decoding and then processing made it impossible to achieve real-time results. Cloud-based home security devices The constraints of cloud processing certainly have not held the industry back, however. Home monitoring, a market just seven years young, has become a ubiquitous category of home security and home monitoring devices. Consumers can choose to install a single camera or doorbell that sends alerts to their phone, a family of devices and a monthly manufacturer’s plan, or a high-end professional monitoring solution. While the majority of these devices do indeed rely on the cloud for processing, camera makers have been pushing for edge-based processing since around 2016. For them, the benefit has always been clear: the opportunity to perform intelligent analytics processing in real-time on the device. But until now, the balance between computer vision performance and power consumption was lacking and camera companies weren’t able to make the leap. So instead, they have focused on improving designs and the cloud-centric model has prevailed. Hybrid security systems Even with improvements, false alerts result in unnecessary notifications and video recording Even with improvements, false alerts (like tree branches swaying in the wind or cats walking past a front door) result in unnecessary notifications and video recording— cameras remain active which, in the case of battery powered cameras, means using up valuable battery life. Hybrid models do exist. Typically, they provide rudimentary motion detection on the camera itself and then send video to the cloud for decoding and analysis to suppress false alerts. Hybrids provide higher-level results for things like people and cars, but their approach comes at a cost for both the consumer and the manufacturer. Advanced cloud analytics Advanced cloud analytics are more expensive than newly possible edge-based alternatives, and consumers have to pay for subscriptions. In addition, because of processing delays and other issues, things like rain or lighting changes (or even bugs on the camera) can still trigger unnecessary alerts. And the more alerts a user receives, the more they tend to ignore them—there are simply too many. In fact, it is estimated that users only pay attention to 5% of their notifications. This means that when a package is stolen or a car is burglarised, users often miss the real-time notification—only to find out about the incident after the fact. All of this will soon change with AI-based behavior analysis, predictive security, and real-time meaningful alerts. Predictive monitoring while safeguarding user privacy These days, consumers are putting more emphasis on privacy and have legitimate concerns about being recorded while in their homes. Soon, with AI advancements at the chip level, families will be able to select user apps that provide monitoring without the need to stream video to a company server, or they’ll have access to apps that record activity but obscure faces. Devices will have the ability to only send alerts according to specific criteria. If, for example, an elderly parent being monitored seems particularly unsteady one day or seems especially inactive, an application could alert the responsible family member and suggest that they check in. By analysing the elderly parent’s behavior, the application could also predict a potential fall and trigger an audio alert for the person and also the family. AI-based behavior analysis Ability to analyse massive amounts of data locally and identify trends is a key advantage of AI at the edge The ability to analyse massive amounts of data locally and identify trends or perform searches is a key advantage of AI at the edge, for both individuals and neighborhoods. For example, an individual might be curious as to what animal is wreaking havoc in their backyard every night. In this case, they could download a “small animal detector” app to their camera which would trigger an alert when a critter enters their yard. The animal could be scared off via an alarm and—armed with video proof—animal control would have useful data for setting a trap. Edge cameras A newly emerging category of “neighborhood watch” applications is already connecting neighbors for significantly improved monitoring and safety. As edge cameras become more commonplace, this category will become increasingly effective. The idea is that if, for example, one neighbor captures a package thief, and then the entire network of neighbors will receive a notification and a synopsis video showing the theft. Or if, say, there is a rash of car break-ins and one neighbor captures video of a red sedan casing their home around the time of a recent incident, an AI vision-based camera could be queried for helpful information: Residential monitoring and security The camera could be asked for a summary of the dates and times that it has recorded that particular red car. A case could be made if incident times match those of the vehicle’s recent appearances in the neighborhood. Even better, if that particular red car was to reappear and seems (by AI behavior analysis) to be suspicious, alerts could be sent proactively to networked residents and police could be notified immediately. Home monitoring in 2020 will bring positive change for users when it comes to monitoring and security, but it will also bring some fun. Consumers will, for example, be able to download apps that do things like monitor pet activity. They might query their device for a summary of their pet’s “unusual activity” and then use those clips to create cute, shareable videos. Who doesn’t love a video of a dog dragging a toilet paper roll around the house? AI at the Edge for home access control Home access control via biometrics is one of many new edge-based use cases that will bring convenience to home monitoring Home access control via biometrics is one of many new edge-based use cases that will bring convenience to home monitoring, and it’s an application that is expected to take off soon. With smart biometrics, cameras will be able to recognise residents and then unlock their smart front door locks automatically if desired, eliminating the need for keys. And if, for example, an unauthorised person tries to trick the system by presenting a photograph of a registered family member’s face, the camera could use “3D liveness detection” to spot the fake and deny access. With these and other advances, professional monitoring service providers will have the opportunity to bring a new generation of access control panels to market. Leveraging computer vision and deep neural networks Ultimately, what camera makers strive for is customer engagement and customer loyalty. These new use cases—thanks to AI at the edge—will make home monitoring devices more useful and more engaging to consumers. Leveraging computer vision and deep neural networks, new cameras will be able to filter out and block false alerts, predict incidents, and send real-time notifications only when there is something that the consumer is truly interested in seeing. AI and computer vision at the edge will enable a new generation of cameras that provide not only a higher level of security but that will fundamentally change the way consumers rely on and interact with their home monitoring devices.
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