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Cyber arms race escaletes

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In the ongoing, constantly-escalating security arms race, what do new vulnerabilities in our networks and data-centers look like?  Doros Hadjizenonos, country manager, Check Point SA offers his predictions.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s famous line resonated back in the 19th century Parisian literary circles, and it resonates today in the 21st century cyber security industry. With every new tool and technology introduced into the business IT environment, new vulnerabilities follow — ripe for cybercriminals and hackers’ hopes of making either a dishonest dollar or cause disruption, fear, uncertainty and doubts in the minds of the general public.

In this ongoing, constantly-escalating security arms race, what do new vulnerabilities in our networks and data-centers look like?  Here are Check Point’s predictions for 2018.

Ransomware & Malware Multiply

Ransomware has been a cash cow for criminals, as well as a disguise for more destructive purposes; for example, Petya looked like ransomware but caused damage by locking up data.  All types of users – from consumers to corporations – have fallen prey to ransomware, causing reasonable suspicion that it will continue to grow.  We can expect to see large, orchestrated worldwide outbreaks along the lines of the early 2017 WannaCry attack.  We can also expect to see criminals getting creative in their extortion tactics, tactics such as “if you infect two contacts, we’ll give you your data back at a lower cost.”

Overall, as operating systems beef up their security, we expect to see a decline in the use of exploits to target vulnerabilities, in favor of an increase in the use of human-error driven basic hacking techniques. However, targeted attacks using sophisticated, nation-state sponsored weaponized tools are emerging, and the rate of attack is likely continue to rise.

Cloud Concerns

Utilization of server-less computing and data storage in the cloud is becoming more widely adopted in business. However, it’s worth remembering that cloud technology and the infrastructure that supports it is relatively new and evolving, and that there are still serious security concerns that provide a backdoor for hackers to access enterprise systems and spread rapidly across networks.  Misconceptions about the responsibilities and level of security needed operate safely within a cloud environment are common – as are misconfigurations – which leave the door open to breaches.

During 2017, over 50% of security incidents handled by Check Point’s incident response team were cloud-related, and more than 50% of those were account takeovers of SaaS apps or hosted servers.  With the increased use of cloud-based file sharing services, data leaks will continue to be a major concern for organizations moving to the cloud. This was seen most recently when a breach at consultancy firm, Deloitte  enabled hackers to access confidential records of several clients.

The growing adoption of SaaS-based email such as Office 365 and Google’s G-Suite makes for attractive cybercrime targets, and we expect cybercriminals to ramp up their cloud attacks during 2018.

Mobile mishaps

Mobile devices are part of the business IT fabric everywhere, yet they continue to be rarely, if ever, secured appropriately, in light of the vulnerability risk they present. We’ll continue to discover flaws in mobile operating systems that highlight the need for organizations to take a more serious approach to the protection of their mobile infrastructure and end-point devices against malware, spyware, and other cyber-attacks.

Mobile malware will continue to proliferate, especially mobile banking malware, as Malware as a Service (MaaS) keeps trending upward.  MaaS allows threat actors of lower the technical barriers to launching attacks.  Cryptominers also gained prominence in 2017, and we can expect to see more cryptomining malware being dropped onto mobile devices to harvest cryptocurrencies for criminals in the near future.

Critical Infrastructure

The majority of critical infrastructure networks were designed and built before the threat of cyberattacks. Whether the target involves telephone/mobile phone networks, electrical grids, power plants, or water treatment plants, it speaks to our good luck that there hasn’t been a large-scale, successful attack on critical infrastructure that impacts millions of people… yet. The DDoS attack against domain directory service DynDNS in 2016, which caused an internet outage affecting users of large web businesses such as Netflix and Amazon, provides a glimpse of what is possible in critical infrastructure cyberattack.  An attack of this type and scale will happen, and it would not be surprising to see it happen in the next 12 months.

Internet of (Insecure) Things

As more smart devices are built into the fabric of enterprise networks, organizations will need to start using better security practices for their networks and the devices themselves.

The potential attack surface expands with the growth of IoT device usage, and attacks on compromised IoT devices will continue to grow. We will see more variations of the Mirai and BlueBorne attacks coming our way in 2018.    Better security practices in IoT will be critical for preventing large-scale attacks – and may even need to be enforced by international regulation.

For every business opportunity that our hyper-connected world is creating, that same hyper-connectivity creates criminal opportunity for cyber attackers. Every environment is a potential target:  enterprise networks, cloud, mobile, and IoT connected devices.   Defending these networks require proactivity: pre-emptively blocking threats before they can infect and damage.  By using threat intelligence to power consolidated, unified security measures, businesses can automatically protect against new and emerging types of attack, across all environments.  Proactivity coupled with innovation marks the path to winning the cybersecurity arms race.

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VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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