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Cloud gets critical in SA

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Developments in the local ICT sector are beginning to converge, signifying a major change for cloud computing, says KABELO MAKWANE, Managing Director of Accenture Cloud First business in South Africa.

A number of recent developments in the broader information and communication technology (ICT) sector have converged, signifying a massive step change for cloud computing in the country.

Of great importance, has been the aggressive expansion of terrestrial fibre networks across South Africa’s major metros by numerous infrastructure providers, which has given businesses of all sizes, including those in decentralised locations, access to high-speed, uncapped broadband.

The continued roll out of high-speed wireless broadband in the form of 4G, and now 5G in certain areas, has also contributed to an increase in the adoption of basic cloud-based services such as web applications or smaller production systems.

In addition, and somewhat interrelated, is the impact and influence that workforce mobility has had, predominantly the ’bring your own device’ (BYOD) workplace paradigm. This trend is being driven by employees who want to use personal smartphones and tablets to access company networks, and the desire by businesses to improve workforce productivity and efficiency by ensuring on-demand access to applications and mission-critical systems and information.

Finally, in what is potentially the most significant recent development, and undoubtedly marks the tipping point for mainstream cloud adoption locally, Microsoft announced that Microsoft Cloud — including Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics 365 — will, from 2018, be delivered from local data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

The arrival of this in-country public cloud infrastructure, coupled with reliable, high-speed, end-to-end fibre access into the Microsoft data centres, means local businesses will soon lead in the New IT with access to a comprehensive cloud solution that answers many of the regulatory issues previously faced with off-shore hosting, such as data sovereignty and security.

Accordingly, Microsoft customers, which predominate business and public sectors, will now be more inclined to consider cloud computing, given the alignment of these factors, and the fact that vendor software licensing models have also evolved to preference cloud-based usage.

And the value proposition of Microsoft’s Azure cloud offering – a flexible, integrated platform that can operate as a full public or hybrid cloud solution, with enormous scalability – is even more enticing for customers that currently run on-premise SAP ERP solutions. Many organisations running legacy ERP systems are in need of an upgrade. They should therefore already be considering the next evolution of their core business systems, which form the heart of their everyday business operations.

If cloud computing in not already part of their next upgrade path, be it a full public solution or a hybrid model, then these companies are failing to grasp the magnitude of recent developments.

Firstly, the on-premise model often does not make business sense, both from a cost and an operational perspective. Cloud computing, on the other hand, enables businesses to leverage the investments, innovations and developments that cloud providers have already made. This negates the need to commit capex, and the considerable time and energy needed to develop standalone, on-premises solutions.

Secondly, many organisations using SAP as their core ERP system are, more than likely, already running specific elements in the cloud, with software-as-a-service solutions such as SAP SuccessFactors for human resources, or SAP Ariba for procurement. And SAP S/4HANA’s capabilities and suitability for cloud platforms as a ‘next generation’ ERP solution are accelerating the need to migrate to the cloud, to gain the flexibility and agility that required by successful businesses in the digital age.

Similarly, new companies or rapidly growing start-ups that are considering large-scale investments into core business systems for the first time are ideally placed to deploy out-of-the-box solutions into the cloud, fully bypassing the onerous on-premise approach, which today makes the most financial and operational sense. This also offers scalability, to facilitate any rate or degree of future growth due to the economies of scale that can be achieved in data centres.

There are also companies that may be in the process of a major ERP implementation, and are busy fine-tuning customisation. During this process they will need to consider how to achieve this in the most cost effective and efficient manner. The application development, testing and commissioning phases require significant computing real estate to succeed, with the public cloud environment is the best placed to facilitate this process in the most cost effective and efficient manner.

Accordingly, whatever position a company may find itself in, the cloud computing discussion currently taking place around boardroom tables needs to shift from a hypothetical debate, to one that seeks to define a strategy for the adoption of cloud computing and the migration of core business systems into the cloud.

Faced with the facts and the cumulative effect of recent develops, there can be little doubt left that for businesses in South Africa, all roads now lead to the cloud. And when it comes to provisioning cloud-based SAP solutions, Accenture believes that Microsoft Azure is a compelling value proposition. It offers cost benefits, and Azure is an open Microsoft platform, enabling greater interoperability with other systems and native integration with a variety of developer tools, including open source variants.

The time has therefore come for businesses to commit to a cloud strategy by first assessing their current core system lifecycle and subsequently developing a roadmap, ideally with a strategic cloud partner that understands every facet of the journey to cloud adoption, from the application assessment and cloud value realisation strategy, cloud transformation and migration, to ultimately cloud management and optimisation.

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Which IoT horse should you back?

The emerging IoT is evolving at a rapid pace with more companies entering the market. The development of new product and communication systems is likely to continue to grow over the next few years, after which we could begin to see a few dominant players emerge, says DARREN OXLEE, CTOf of Utility Systems.

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But in the interim, many companies face a dilemma because, in such a new industry, there are so many unknowns about its trajectory. With the variety of options available (particularly regarding the medium of communication), there’s the a question of which horse to back.

Many players also haven’t fully come to grips with the commercial models in IoT (specifically, how much it costs to run these systems).

Which communication protocol should you consider for your IoT application? Depends on what you’re looking for. Here’s a summary of the main low-power, wide area network (LPWAN) communications options that are currently available, along with their applicability:

SIGFOX 

SigFox has what is arguably the most traction in the LPWAN space, thanks to its successful marketing campaigns in Europe. It also has strong support from vendors including Texas Instruments, Silicon Labs, and Axom.

It’s a relatively simple technology, ultra-narrowband (100 Hz), and sends very small data (12 bytes) very slowly (300 bps). So it’s perfect for applications where systems need to send small, infrequent bursts of data. Its lack of downlink capabilities, however, could make it unsuitable for applications that require two-way communication.

LORA 

LoRaWAN is a standard governed by the LoRa Alliance. It’s not open because the underlying chipset is only available through Semtech – though this should change in future.

Its functionality is like SigFox: it’s primarily intended for uplink-only applications with multiple nodes, although downlink messages are possible. But unlike SigFox, LoRa uses multiple frequency channels and data rates with coded messages. These are less likely to interfere with one another, increasing the concentrator capacity.

RPMA 

Ingenu Technology Solutions has developed a proprietary technology called Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) in the 2.4 GHz band. Due to its architecture, it’s said to have a superior uplink and downlink capacity compared to other models.

It also claims to have better doppler, scheduling, and interference characteristics, as well as a better link budget of 177 dB compared to LoRa’s 157 dB and SigFox’s 149 dB. Plus, it operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which is globally available for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so there are no regional architecture changes needed – unlike SigFox and LoRa.

LTE-M 

LTE-M (LTE Cat-M1) is a cellular technology that has gained traction in the United States and is specifically designed for IoT or machine‑to‑machine (M2M) communications.

It’s a low‑power wide‑area (LPWA) interface that connects IoT and M2M devices with medium data rate requirements (375 kb/s upload and download speeds in half duplex mode). It also enables longer battery lifecycles and greater in‑building range compared to standard cellular technologies like 2G, 3G, or LTE Cat 1.

Key features include:

·       Voice functionality via VoLTE

·       Full mobility and in‑vehicle hand‑over

·       Low power consumption

·       Extended in‑building range

NB-IOT 

Narrowband IoT (NB‑IoT or LTE Cat NB1) is part of the same 3GPP Release 13 standard3 that defined LTE Cat M1 – both are licensed as LPWAN technologies that work virtually anywhere. NB-IoT connects devices simply and efficiently on already established mobile networks and handles small amounts of infrequent two‑way data securely and reliably.

NB‑IoT is well suited for applications like gas and water meters through regular and small data transmissions, as network coverage is a key issue in smart metering rollouts. Meters also tend to be in difficult locations like cellars, deep underground, or in remote areas. NB‑IoT has excellent coverage and penetration to address this.

MY FORECAST

The LPWAN technology stack is fluid, so I foresee it evolving more over the coming years. During this time, I suspect that we’ll see:

1.     Different markets adopting different technologies based on factors like dominant technology players and local regulations

2.     The technologies diverging for a period and then converging with a few key players, which I think will be SigFox, LoRa, and the two LTE-based technologies

3.     A significant technological shift in 3-5 years, which will disrupt this space again

So, which horse should you back?

I don’t believe it’s prudent to pick a single technology now; lock-in could cause serious restrictions in the long-term. A modular, agile approach to implementing the correct communications mechanism for your requirements carries less risk.

The commercial model is also hugely important. The cellular and telecommunications companies will understandably want to maximise their returns and you’ll want to position yourself to share an equitable part of the revenue.

So: do your homework. And good luck!

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Ms Office hack attacks up 4X

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Exploits, software that takes advantage of a bug or vulnerability, for Microsoft Office in-the-wild hit the list of cyber headaches in Q1 2018. Overall, the number of users attacked with malicious Office documents rose more than four times compared with Q1 2017. In just three months, its share of exploits used in attacks grew to almost 50% – this is double the average share of exploits for Microsoft Office across 2017. These are the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q1 IT threat evolution report.

Attacks based on exploits are considered to be very powerful, as they do not require any additional interactions with the user and can deliver their dangerous code discreetly. They are therefore widely used; both by cybercriminals looking for profit and by more sophisticated nation-backed state actors for their malicious purposes.

The first quarter of 2018 experienced a massive inflow of these exploits, targeting popular Microsoft Office software. According to Kaspersky Lab experts, this is likely to be the peak of a longer trend, as at least ten in-the-wild exploits for Microsoft Office software were identified in 2017-2018 – compared to two zero-day exploits for Adobe Flash player used in-the-wild during the same time period.

The share of the latter in the distribution of exploits used in attacks is decreasing as expected (accounting for slightly less than 3% in the first quarter) – Adobe and Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making it difficult to exploit Flash Player.

After cybercriminals find out about a vulnerability, they prepare a ready-to-go exploit. They then frequently use spear-phishing as the infection vector, compromising users and companies through emails with malicious attachments. Worse still, such spear-phishing attack vectors are usually discreet and very actively used in sophisticated targeted attacks – there were many examples of this in the last six months alone.

For instance, in late 2017, Kaspersky Lab’s advanced exploit prevention systems identified a new Adobe Flash zero-day exploit used in-the-wild against our customers. The exploit was delivered through a Microsoft Office document and the final payload was the latest version of FinSpy malware. Analysis of the payload enabled researchers to confidently link this attack to a sophisticated actor known as ‘BlackOasis’. The same month, Kaspersky Lab’s experts published a detailed analysis of СVE-2017-11826, a critical zero-day vulnerability used to launch targeted attacks in all versions of Microsoft Office. The exploit for this vulnerability is an RTF document containing a DOCX document that exploits СVE-2017-11826 in the Office Open XML parser. Finally, just a couple of days ago, information on Internet Explorer zero day CVE-2018-8174 was published. This vulnerability was also used in targeted attacks.

“The threat landscape in the first quarter again shows us that a lack of attention to patch management is one of the most significant cyber-dangers. While vendors usually issue patches for the vulnerabilities, users often can’t update their products in time, which results in waves of discreet and highly effective attacks once the vulnerabilities have been exposed to the broad cybercriminal community,” notes Alexander Liskin, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

Other online threat statistics from the Q1, 2018 report include:

  • Kaspersky Lab solutions detected and repelled 796,806,112 malicious attacks from online resources located in 194 countries around the world.
  • 282,807,433 unique URLs were recognised as malicious by web antivirus components.
  • Attempted infections by malware that aims to steal money via online access to bank accounts were registered on 204,448 user computers.
  • Kaspersky Lab’s file antivirus detected a total of 187,597,494 unique malicious and potentially unwanted objects.
  • Kaspersky Lab mobile security products also detected:
    • 1,322,578 malicious installation packages.
    • 18,912 mobile banking Trojans (installation packages).

To reduce the risk of infection, users are advised to:

  • Keep the software installed on your PC up to date, and enable the auto-update feature if it is available.
  • Wherever possible, choose a software vendor that demonstrates a responsible approach to a vulnerability problem. Check if the software vendor has its own bug bounty program.

·         Use robust security solutions , which have special features to protect against exploits, such as Automatic Exploit Prevention.

·         Regularly run a system scan to check for possible infections and make sure you keep all software up to date.

  • Businesses should use a security solution that provides vulnerability, patch management and exploit prevention components, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The patch management feature automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and proactively patches them. The exploit prevention component monitors suspicious actions of applications and blocks malicious files executions.
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