A decentralised solution

Did you know that there are still more than 700 million people in the world who live in extreme poverty? These people must scrimp, starve and struggle to survive off less than $1.90 per day. By 2030, the World Bank estimates that more around 90 percent of those people will be concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is perhaps one of the greatest developmental failures of the modern world. Despite the continent’s expansive natural resources and increasing connectivity, foreign actors still feel it’s too risky to heavily invest in their markets.

Blockchain, however, could be the key to changing that! 

Bitcoin and “Blockchain” were created in the mass wave of distrust in banks after the 2008 financial crisis. Therefore, the technology enables individual, distributed data storage that could become the perfect evidence base and financial infrastructure for a developing country.

With the right implementation, Blockchain holds the potential to completely revolutionize and revitalize such economies, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So, what is this Blockchain?

How Blockchain works

Blockchain is essentially a kind of decentralized database that allows individuals to have a safe, secure way to handle their data without the need for third parties.

For example, people with Bitcoin can make or accept payments in real-time without needing a centralized bank.

“[It is] a way for one Internet user to transfer a unique piece of digital property to another Internet user, such that the transfer is guaranteed to be safe and secure, everyone knows that the transfer has taken place, and nobody can challenge the legitimacy of the transfer,” said software entrepreneur Marc Andreessen.

“The consequences of this breakthrough are hard to overstate.”

Why Blockchain could be the perfect fit for Africa

Until the mid-twentieth century, most of Africa was ruled under a colonial system meant to exploit the people and the resources for European benefit. However, they were rushed into development according to European standards rather than homegrown ones.

The legacy of rapid development, distrust and corruption left behind an economic system failing to recover in the 21st century.

While the World Bank celebrates a decrease in global poverty levels, the number is expected to remain stagnant in Africa. Today’s poorest people are living in places with the least economic growth. Sadly enough, poverty and lack of investment in many developing countries stem from how they were integrated into the world system.

The land was cut into countries according to European treaties and agreements, rather than by traditional and tribal land divisions. This situation worsened upon the handover of colonial power to so-called “democracies,” where power often shifted to the ethnic groups that former colonizers favoured.

Corruption multiplied in the form of bribes, political persecution, rigged elections and a massive wealth gap—all of which still affect the wealth distribution and investment potentials of many developing countries.

Of course, this created a lack of trust in banks and government throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa. During a 2012 study conducted in rural Western Kenya, Stanford University researchers waived the costs of opening a basic savings account for a number of unbanked individuals.

While 63 percent of the subjects opened an account, only 18 percent of them used the accounts. This was likely due to three factors: a lack of trust in banks, unreliable service and prohibitive withdrawal fees.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of unbanked individuals in the informal sectors scares off foreign investors, who heavily rely on transactional evidence to make investments. Otherwise, pouring money into markets is too risky. That’s where Blockchain comes in.

How would it work?

SmartContracts


Blockchain can host an entire evidence base of transactions, loan repayments and asset titles. The technology is also decentralized and requires individual confirmation, creating an element of trust and transparency beyond traditional banking systems.

According to Victor Olorunfemi, Director of Products for Pan-African tech and cryptocurrency exchange, KuBitX, Blockchain’s major benefits lie in “frictionless P2P and cross-border payments, transparent elections, land registry management [and] transparent crowdfunding.”

Let’s look at some of the different ways Blockchain could benefit developing economies, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

1. Creating financial infrastructure and accountability

According to a study by the Milken Institute, viable financial markets require consistent, accurate data on assets and credit histories. Luckily, Blockchain may fulfil these needs.

The use of Smart Contracts technology is ideal in areas lacking accountability, such as the real estate or land/agricultural sectors. In Africa, a lack of record-keeping practices often leads to “missing” or non-existent title deeds. In some cases, this is intentional.

Title deeds “go missing,” only to end up in the hands of benefactors other than the rightful owners. Smart Contracts could eradicate these issues through the use of special tokens that cannot be duplicated, changed or removed. See the article on tokenization.

Likewise, Bitland, a company in Ghana, currently helps individuals record deeds and land surveys. By resolving land disputes, Bitland creates more stability while accurately recording land asset data.

Blockchain has the potential to build up individual credit histories, as well. An individual could record on-time bill repayment or smaller transactions to obtain loans.

“There’s a massive number of people in the informal sector, but there’s not much data being collected on them right now,” said Merit Webster, co-president of the MIT Sloan Africa Business Club.

“That means you don’t have that credit history or payment history for them. If you have a decentralized approach to collecting data, you end up with more malleable data. [This] is very valuable for creating credit histories.”
The agricultural industry also has the potential to thrive using Blockchain.

“In the case of small-scale farmers, Blockchain technology helps with transportation logistics,” said Webster. “Blockchain could be used to track goods around the world. This allows farmers to earn a fair wage for their goods.”

Also, farmers could use record-keeping technology to streamline the supply chain and document resources. This would lead to better efficiency, lower transactional costs and improved logistics—especially for commercial farming activities that invariably contribute to exports.

2. Security in banking

According to the World Bank, there were 1.7 billion people with no bank account in 2017. This situation is worst in developing countries, especially African ones. For example, over 62 million of these people lived in Nigeria.

Besides, data from Google Trends reveal that Lagos, one of Nigeria’s biggest cities, ranks globally as the number one city based on the volume of online searches for Bitcoin (BTC). Clearly, for the city’s 21 million-odd people, there an immense interest in some form of an accessible payment system.

N26 Bank
N26 Bank

Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect bank branches to magically appear in every remote corner of the world. However, a digital database using Blockchain technologies has the potential to reach far beyond physical banks.

Many Africans value trust and transparency. In developing countries, this lack of trust goes beyond the Internet. Developing countries with less industrialization tend to have higher levels of corruption. This reduces national investment opportunities in the public sector and instils a lack of trust in centralized oligarchs handling international investment.

Because its power lies within the community of users, Blockchain can combat these trust issues. All data logs and amendments must pass through this community and identification confirmation tests.

Blockchain technology also secures its data incredibly. Hacking and data breaches are all too common nowadays. In 2017, for example, around 3 billion Yahoo user accounts were stolen. When information is stored in the same place, hackers have one, easy target. In contrast, Blockchain is a distributed entity. This dissemination of data leaves it far less vulnerable to cyberattacks.

3. Fostering Entrepreneurship

Coupled with the Internet, Blockchain technology could be the perfect platform for aspiring African developers. Because the ‘source code’ is free of charge, skilled coders can adopt, create and configure special applications, called DApps, via Crypto platforms provided by companies like Ethereum, Tron and even a South African firm specializing what they called the Keto-Coin.

Rather than waiting for governments to drag their feet trying to create jobs—which they tend to do—individuals on the continent can form small firms that build and sell Crypto-based Apps locally or abroad.

“Despite the frictions and impediments mentioned,” said Olorunfemi. “Blockchain can still provide an avenue for promising African tech (and even non-tech) projects to access capital (foreign direct investments) via token offerings on digital assets exchanges.”

Many courses are even readily available online to quickly learn about the new technology. Microsoft, for instance, offers a platform via Azure to build and learn about the Blockchain.

One-man shops in countries with unfavourable economic systems, like Zimbabwe, can also adopt smaller, stable, Crypto-built Apps/coins to facilitate or replace payment systems. In cases of rampant inflation, Cryptos can temporarily act as a store of value or help pay for things until the currency stabilizes again.

As with the Venezuelan hyperinflation case study, Cryptocurrency intervention could help many developing countries troubled with economic instability.

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There is also the option of Crypto-mining. Now before you pull out the high-energy (electricity needed to power PCs that mine Cryptocurrency) argument, think outside the box for a moment. What about energy sources that are free and available nearly 24/7? Like water and the sun!

The African continent is full of capable scientists and mechanical engineers. One could build special solar-powered energy centers to power Bitcoin-mining.

And without the expertise, governments or private companies could alternatively just invite Crypto companies with abundant financial resources to mine (cleanly) for a special tax/fee while creating jobs for the locals.

4. Elections

In addition to the financial side of things, Blockchain technology could help eliminate some forms of corruption. For example, many African countries’ elections are incredibly vulnerable to the social scourge. In some extreme cases, some officials change or forge written ballot votes to rig elections.

Corruption


To combat this, Blockchain databases could record votes, which are nearly impossible to tamper with using Smart Contract technology. Having fair elections improves infrastructure, which then increases development and economic dependability.

Blockchain non-profit company Cardano, this year, has partnered with the Ethiopian government to battle these issues specifically.

5. Leapfrogging

While some might see Africa’s economy as underdeveloped, others might see it as a blank canvas well-suited for a large-scale implementation of Blockchain. Economic and governmental systems are shifting and slightly shaky in many Sub-Saharan African nations.

MPesa

Although these facets have been detrimental in the past, this also means that there is no rigid current economic system to upend to implement Blockchain.
Don’t just take our word for it—African nations have often implemented new, practical technologies before the Western world. Let’s look at the example of M-Pesa. Back in 2014, Americans and Europeans were amazed by Apple Pay’s launch.

However, this mobile payment system wasn’t exactly “new.” By that time, Kenyans had used M-Pesa, a very similar technology, for years.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to leapfrog the way the West developed and have these more unique African solutions, but it needs to come from within,” said Webster.

“It needs to come from entrepreneurs in the continent who want to implement these solutions. It’s important to engage people very early on. Systems incubated in the West don’t stand as great of a chance to work as African ones do.”

With the possibility of an experimental, large-scale takeover of Blockchain technology to improve African infrastructure, the nations there could leapfrog in development and growth, surpassing current World Bank expectations and its developing national counterparts.

This must begin internally. According to Olorunfemi, “Education—of policy makers and other stakeholders—which is often ignored has to be a critical factor in paving the way for the acceptance and adoption of new technologies and the accompanying investment.”

The results in Sub-Saharan African countries could help eliminate much of the world’s poverty, along with remnants of mistrust and corruption left behind by the days of colonial exploitation.

While there are some obstacles to large-scale Blockchain implementation, we can’t think of a better benefactor than there. The possibilities for business using the Blockchain are endless!

To learn more about how to get started with Cryptocurrency mining or purchasing, visit our resources page for useful links and guides.


Additional input by Bobby Quarshie (BQ). 

Citations: Christopher Lee and Jackson Mueller. 

Swan, Melanie. “Anticipating the Economic Benefits of Blockchain.” Technology Innovation Management Review 7.10. Oct. 2017.

Bitcoin Lessons from Venezuela, Where Hyperinflation Reigns. Online Source: https://www.lathropgage.com/newsletter-237.html

The Online Threats of 2019

How you can stop them from happening.

Like a biological virus mutates – as technology advances, so does the complexity of phishing and identity theft schemes. With major services adopting cloud technologies and storing private data online, anyone is vulnerable to hacking.

To make matters worse, hackers continue to come up with some pretty creative ways to profit from stolen information.

Without wasting time, these are the things you should already be doing to avoid being exposed to hackers in the first place:

In order to keep these cybercriminals out of your lives and computers, let’s take a look at some of the actual schemes to watch out for in 2019.

Hacking

We all know what hacking is by now – the term has almost become synonymous with internet security. So a question is: do you love watching movies on Netflix or jamming out to your summer playlist on Spotify? If the answer is yes, then you’re at a pretty high risk of getting hacked.

DynaRisk, a UK cybersecurity firm, recently found that cybercriminals most commonly target these brands, along with adult-oriented sites (you know what we mean) and then, online gaming services.

Identity Theft

A few weeks ago, authorities caught a New York-based gang who had used identity theft to steal over $19 million worth of iPhones. Quartz reported that this operation ran for seven years.

So-called “Top Dogs,” the ring leaders, would organize lower level members of their organization to steal identities and create clone credit and identity cards. Then, affiliates fanned across the nation, signing up for mobile phone plans to acquire iPhones, which were later sold for a profit by the Top Dogs.

Because phone payment plans take the shape of nominal fees over the course of several years, victims often wouldn’t notice the fraud until it was too late. Learn how another scheme dubbed sim port attack works in the diagram below:

Ransomware

Hacking can happen to anyone – including our favorite bands. In early June, a hacker managed to steal the minidisk archive of Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead. This included previously unreleased demos and audio material from around the time of “OK Computer,” the band’s 1997 worldwide hit album. The hacker then demanded $150,000 on the threat of releasing it.

Holding files for ransom is so common nowadays that it even has its own name: “Ransomware.” Either pay over the ransom or lose your files—or, even worse, have them released onto the unforgiving Internet.

In response, Radiohead released all 18 hours of material on Bandcamp themselves, winning against these ransom hackers.

Most security experts recommend the same route as Radiohead—never pay the ransom, because there’s no guarantee you’ll recover files or prevent their release.

Sextortion

If you think ransomware is bad, there’s an entire subgroup of it aimed to profit off sexual shame. Cheekily named “Sextortion,” some hackers creatively upgraded the classic email phishing scam to scare victims into handing over Bitcoin.

According to Fortune, hackers have already racked up over $900,000 with sextortion. In these phishing emails, the sender claims to have spied on you while you watched porn—and has webcam footage of the salacious deeds. The message then demands a Bitcoin ransom, or else face the social and professional consequences of this lewd video getting sent to all your contacts.

To make the threat even more believable, the sender references a previous password tied to the user’s email account. According to Krebson Security, a sextortion phishing message might look a little like what’s written in the sidebox.

In rare cases, the threats are real—and hackers get their hands on some sexually explicit photos. Recently, American actress Bella Thorne fell victim to sextortion. Last Saturday, she took a similar, albeit more risqué, route as Radiohead, opting to release her nude photographs on Twitter in order to take the power away from her hacker.

Last thoughts..

So, what’s the best way to avoid your personal, or, business from costing thousands in virtual currency? Since most of these emails are fake, you can just avoid them with a spam filter. And you should probably buy a webcam cover…just to be safe. When it comes to general browsing- we suggest using a VPN.

Read more about VPNs here

There are now more secure anti-hacking tools that use the Blockchain and offer great protection especially against identity theft. Have a look at our feature on Tokenisation.

Most online services now like mobile banks, offer App-based 2-factor authentication. This should now be regarded as the minimum security for ANY online account or App.

To avoid hacking or phishing scams in general, optimizing your cybersecurity and using online common sense will save you loads of time, trouble and money.

Cybersecurity by Acunetix

Cloud-hosted services square up

Running your business requires choosing the right tools for you and your employees. In order to streamline work-related productivity, many organizations are migrating to cloud-based office suites—specifically, Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s G Suite (formally known as Google Apps).

Both products boast a variety of helpful productivity tools and the latest remote collaboration technologies. While it’s impossible to say which one is “better,” this head-to-head comparison can help you decide which office suite is a better fit for your business.

What are G Suite & Office 365?

Office 365 and G Suite are suites, or packages, of powerful business tools that facilitate you and your employees day-to-day tasks using the cloud. They even provide business email addresses (i.e. name@yourbusiness.com), along with apps for creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, video conference calls, shared calendars and notes.  

In addition, storing information on Google or Microsoft servers, rather than your own via these suites, can also save your business a lot of money when it comes to IT costs and maintenance.  

Plans and Pricing

First, let’s look at plans and prices. It’s important to note that Microsoft requires an annual commitment, while Google offers you the option to make monthly payments if you prefer.

Contact our sales to get a formal quote for your business
GooglevsMicrosoftSuites
Cloud packages head-to-head

Email

While both Office 365 and G Suite offer web and mobile apps (Outlook and Gmail, respectively) for email, there are some subtle differences.

One plus-side to Office 365 is the desktop version of Outlook, which is incredibly feature-rich and lets you sort and group emails with ease. Gmail, on the other hand, is widely used throughout the world. For this reason, a variety of third-party app options (like WordPress) can be linked to it to enhance its capabilities.

Cloud Data Storage

For the entry level plans, Office 365 Business Essentials wins out with 1 TB (terabyte) of storage per user, while the G Suite Basic plan only offers 30 GB. To make matters worse, G Suite includes emails in this storage limit, whereas Office 365 provides extra storage for email files and has an added archiving feature.

However, G Suite’s upgraded plans beat out most of Microsoft’s storage offerings. So long as your business has more than five employees, G Suite Business and Enterprise provides unlimited cloud storage (although, businesses with less than 5 employees on the “Business” plan are capped at 1 TB). Only Microsoft E3 plans and higher offer the same unlimited cloud storage.

Applications

Applications are the cornerstones of a suite’s functionality. G Suite and Office 365 offer you a variety of comparable apps for word processing, creating spreadsheets and presentations, all on the cloud!

While both services offer mobile and online apps, one major benefit of Office 365 is its desktop applications.

This means every user gets a free desktop version of the Office suite (i.e. Microsoft Word, Excel) to download.

These feature-rich apps expand far beyond the capabilities of the mobile and online versions, and are available on every plan except the ‘Business Essentials’.

Collaboration

These online applications make both suites ideal for remote collaboration. Microsoft Teams lets facilitates this with tools like real-time co-authoring, mentioning users by name and chat capabilities while working on OneDrive. Microsoft now lets you collaborate using its desktop apps, too, although the updates to shared files are a bit sluggish compared to its online apps.

Similarly, G Suite offers Hangouts for chats, and Google Drive for real-time collaboration. Google’s online and mobile apps were created with cloud collaboration in mind, so some might find them a bit more user-friendly.

For remote meetings, G Suite and Office 365 both offer group video conference calls. If you plan on large-scale video conferences, then Office 365 offers far more for your money: most plans have a 250-participant limit, while the E3 plan increases to an astounding 10,000-person limit.

Meanwhile, G Suite’s Google Meet allows up to 25 participants on the “Basic” plan, 50 on the “Business” plan and 100 on the “Enterprise” plan.  

Security

Cloud services are running into a variety of security issues, and these suites are no exception.

A 2019 Barracuda Networks’ report found that a large percent of ATO (account takeover) attacks were targeted at Microsoft Office 365 accounts after businesses migrated emails to the service. These attacks prompted the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to issue a set of best practices to help organizations migrate their email services while avoiding risks and vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile, Google recently announced that a cloud storage feature for encrypted passwords on its “Enterprise” plans was faulty. As a result, some user passwords were stored in plaintext on Google’s servers!

While cloud computing has its risks, the two suites do have impressive security features. G Suite is comparable to Google’s own level of security, and offers AI detection of suspicious activity, Two-Factor authentication and data leak protection—in which admins can block outgoing communication determined by set keywords.

On the other hand, Office 365 has the option of Multiple Factor Authentication, along with detection of malware, viruses and suspicious activities. Microsoft also provides data loss protection, and admins can restrict access to company-issued devices only.

Ease of Use

So, which is easier to use? Well, it depends on who you are, and your ability to grasp software quickly.

If you’re accustomed to working with MS Word or Excel documents, and edit them for work on a regular basis, then Office 365 and its desktop-to-online formatting compatibility will probably be your best bet. This is especially true if your company solely computes with Windows PCs.

However, new users might find G Suite apps easier to learn, as the tools are a bit simpler and straightforward.

Which is best for you? A Summary:

Some key benefits of each suite: Firstly, Office 365 offers feature-rich apps, and most of its plans come with desktop version of MS Office applications—a definite advantage over its competitors.

Its entry level plan is far more generous in terms of data storage than G Suite’s “Basic” plan. In addition, businesses that already exclusively use Windows technology are likely to find Office 365 better-suited for their needs.

With that said, G Suite was originally designed as a cloud collaborative productivity tool. Therefore, its features might be easier for collaboration and can be used among a wider variety of Windows and Mac devices. In addition, G Suite “Business” plans and above outdoes Microsofts’ when it comes to unlimited cloud file storage.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which of the two is “best.” But, with this knowledge in mind, you can make an informed decision to choose the best cloud suite for you.