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Somewhere in CIP’s busy IT department lurk four hackers, dedicated men who know how to infiltrate the Center’s IT security protocols and bring the department to its knees. But these are no ordinary hackers; they are hackers with ethics.

“Hackers with ethics?” you might be thinking right about now. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”

Not if you’re a Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). Just ask CIP IT experts Dante Palacios, Peter Valdivieso, Roberto Del Villar Prado and Rolando Navarro Jara. These four men were recently certified by the EC-Council (The International Council of E-Commerce Consultants) and are now armed with the same tools that a malicious hacker would use. But with one huge difference: they use those tools to protect their Center’s information assets. After all, to catch a hacker, you need to think like a hacker.

From left: Rolando Navarro Jara, Roberto Del Villar Prado, Anthony Collins, Peter Valdivieso, Dante Palacios

From left: Rolando Navarro Jara, Roberto Del Villar Prado, Anthony Collins, Peter Valdivieso, Dante Palacios

Although the Americas chapter of the Enterprise Security and Business Continuity (ESBC) project of the ICT-KM Program supported these specialists in their certification bid, it was their determination and hard work that led to the quartet’s success.

Like his three colleagues, Dante Palacios, a Systems & Server Administrator with eight years’ experience at CIP, decided to take advantage of the CEH introductory course offered by the Project. He took about six months to cover the necessary course work, juggling his studies with his duties at the Center. It was only in the run up to the exam that he took time off to study.

“Personally, the certification brings me great satisfaction and, of course, it improves my professional career,” says Dante of his achievement. “It will also help CIP to increase its level of professionalism and enable the Center to address CGIAR ICT security issues.”

Peter Valdivieso, CIP’s Helpdesk Administrator, feels that the certification gives an added dimension to his five years’ experience at the Center and allows him to work with his three colleagues to “monitor CIP’s networks and systems more intensively.”

Peter also mentions CIP’s IT Manager, Anthony Collins, who spearheaded the recently completed ESA Project, for his invaluable support during his studies.

CIP’s Systems & Server Manager, Roberto Del Villar Prado, became interested in the certification while participating in the ESA Project last year.

“I can now evaluate and establish security controls in CIP’s ICT infrastructure,” he says of the result. “I also devote more time to review, analyze and evaluate security risks. We are working on strengthening controls in perimeter security, antivirus alerts, and USB security threats with USB flash drives.”

Rolando Navarro Jara, Network & Systems Administrator, has been with CIP for three years and works with his colleagues on IT security assessments.

“My role involves maintaining information confidentiality, reducing risks, and preventing attacks,” he says. “Because CIP is a member of the CGIAR, I think there is a good opportunity for us to share the knowledge with other Centers.”

Rolando feels that he has benefited tremendously from the topics covered during the studies, such as: gathering information, vulnerability analysis, viruses/worms, Web and Linux analysis.

The Americas chapter

The Americas chapter of the larger ESBC was designed to assist the CGIAR in achieving its end goal of protecting valuable information assets developed, maintained and owned by all the Centers, and managing information security risks across CGIAR by implementing secure information architecture. One of the broad objectives of the Project was to promote the training of ICT systems security administrators with international qualifications such as the CEH.

The Program would like to extend its heartfelt congratulations to Dante, Peter, Roberto and Rolando on their success.

Using satellite imagery for counting crop acreage

A conversation with Lieven Claessens, of the International Potato Center

Sweet Potato

Sweet Potato

Let’s say you have a wonder food—or anyway, a crop you’re promoting or tracking. Other than a laborious foot trek, how do you know how much of it people are really planting in a region–especially if farmers grow a complex mosaic of crops?

Yes, district officers estimate acreage devoted to various items. But how good are those estimations?

CIP, the International Potato Centre, promotes sweet potato for its high Vitamin A content and other nutrients. CIP wanted to know how much sweet potato was being planted by farmers in eastern Uganda.

So they developed a way to use satellite imagery to peer closely into fields. Until recently, most thought it wouldn’t be possible to differentiate food crops in a complex farming system. But for this project researchers tuned the satellite cameras to pick up not what the human eye would see–a tangle of green—but wavelengths we can’t see, mostly “infrared.”

Satellite images of infrared are similar the infrared film you (or more likely your parents) may have experimented with in the ’60s or ’70s– trees and grass came out in reds and violets.

Each species reflects its own “signature” colour. Using a hand-held sensor, researchers figure out what that colour is, for, say, sweet potato, as well as crops planted next to or near it, so they can differentiate them. Then they check for those colours in the satellite images.

The result? According to CIP researcher Lieven Claessens,“We discovered that only 63 percent of sweet potatoes in the field showed up in the national statistics. In other words, sweet potatoes were undercounted by nearly 40 percent.”

Improving the accuracy of counting by such a large percentage could be a boon to agriculture researchers worldwide. One more win for “the eye in the sky.”