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Data kidnapping erupts

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A recent report has revealed that hackers are obtaining compromising material and then holding it hostage until their demands are met. IHAB MOAWAD sheds some light on this new tactic that many are calling “sextortion.”|A recent report has revealed that hackers are obtaining compromising material and then holding it hostage until their demands are met. IHAB MOAWAD sheds some light on this new tactic that many are calling “sextortion.”

In April Trend Micro released a research paper about sextortion: the means through which cybercriminals obtain compromising personal images or videos of Internet users – which they then hold hostage until their demands have been met. Fast forward to July and we have seen the hack of controversial adultery/dating site, Ashley Madison. Cybercriminals wreaked havoc as they threatened to slowly leak the data of the adulterers using the site, until it and its companion site, “Established Men”, shut down.

An article on time.com calls this tactic “hacking 2.0”, stating that this new hacking method is not about the data, but the context. Making money from stolen data, like credit cards, is a lot of work and cybercriminals have latched onto the fact that they have a larger pay cheque to gain from those that stand to lose more than just money. Hence, a hack like Ashley Madison’s that could – and has – destroyed reputations and families is a gold mine for the team responsible for the hack (The Impact Team).

Now, moral opinions about Ashley Madison aside, I’m sure that no one appreciates any of their personal information being kidnapped and held for ransom. But cybercriminals are cunning and they know that if they keep the sums low enough, people that stand to lose more than money would rather pay up. In this case, the Ashley Madison hackers offered users the ultimatum of paying $19 to have all their information wiped off the site or having it leaked. But there is of course, no guarantee that you can trust a cybercriminal.

How does data kidnapping affect my business?

According to time.com, there is a new reality that’s making matters worse for corporate security teams and it’s that in recent years, there has been heavy investment in protecting financial data – spending money to fortify the most valuable data. So while credit cards may be protected, email servers may have been left in the lurch, but this will slowly change as personal data of different contexts becomes a bargaining chip for cybercriminals.

Ashley Madison is just one example of an enterprise that has been targeted in this manner. Another example is the malware Cryptolocker which forced victims to pay a sum to unscramble their data and subsequently made $27 million in just the first two months from small home owners and businesses. And then there was the Sony hack in December 2014, in which cybercriminals stole corporate emails and embarrassed the company. In hacking 2.0 cybercriminals don’t need to steal your money, all they need is any data that is valuable to you.

This means that executives should be working tirelessly to do an honest assessment about what their enterprise’s valuable data really is.  Then wise investments need to be made in protecting data that might seem inconsequential if stolen in one context, but a disaster if stolen in another. The bottom line? Every company will now have to plan for ransom and extortion scenarios.

So what now?

In addition to a stealthy security policy, companies now need a data kidnapping and extortion policy in order to properly protect themselves. This is on top of robust business security solutions. Employees, and in turn the business, for example, could benefit from having Trend Micro Security 10 on the mobile devices of employees. Trend Micro Security 10 is a recently launched security and privacy tool that’s fully compatible with Windows 10.

The new version’s security features are simple-to-use, yet provide state-of-the-art protection for employees’ data, delivered with optimal performance. This allows users to securely connect and engage safely online – on the company network – while protected from today’s evolving threat environment. The software will feature protection from exposing private information or becoming susceptible to data-theft and other malicious online threats on both personal and business devices.

Trend Micro Deep Discovery is also an option for business as is detects, analyses and responds to today’s stealthy targeted attacks in real time and then Deep Security delivers automated and highly scalable cloud security. But really, what you should do is speak to a Trend Micro professional about a customised security solution for all your business’s security needs. As is the case with any form of cybercrime, prevention is better than cure, and you don’t want to wait until you’ve had data kidnapped to react to hacking 2.0.

* Ihab Moawad, Vice President MMEA and CIS at Trend Micro

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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