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Digital lives still need human touch

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Despite the rise in digital customer service channels and options, 79% of consumers prefer the human touch to remain a part of customer service when engaging with brands and service providers.

The results of a large-scale study of more than 24,000 consumers in 12 countries, including South Africa, shows that although businesses are responding to the increasing digital world by offering their customers new ways of engaging with them, most consumers worldwide choose using the phone (24%) or going in-store (23%) as their primary way to interact with brands or service providers.

“As consumers become more digitally savvy, organisations are considering and even implementing more cost-effective digital channels as part of their evolving customer engagement strategies. However, the message from consumers is clear. They still want human touch as an option in many customer service scenarios,” explains Dave Capuano, global vice president, integrated marketing, Verint. “This dynamic means that businesses considering more cost-effective, digitally-driven channels need to ensure they understand customers’ channel preferences and the influence they have on customer behaviour and engagement. Those organisations that tip the balance in favour of digital at the expense of traditional service may risk not keeping their customers happy in the long run.”

In terms of preferred digital customer service channels, 22% of consumers want access to an online account, 14% want the ability to communicate with a customer service agent via email, and 9% cited that they prefer to connect using mobile apps.

The study, published today by Verint Systems, with support from Opinium Research and research and advisory firm IDC, identifies a tipping point between digital and traditional customer service with more than four in five (83%) consumers that believe speaking with a person will always be an important part of the customer service equation. In terms of leading customers on a digital journey, speed, insight and desired outcomes are the biggest factors. Over two-thirds (67%) state that customer service online and via mobile devices should be faster, more intuitive and better able to serve their needs.

The Digital Tipping Point: How Do Organisations Balance the Demands for Digital and Human Customer Service? report shows the complexity of the service requests heavily influences whether a customer will choose digital or more traditional channels, such as phone or in-store, to fulfil their needs.

Complexity Drives the Tipping Point

Consumers engage with brands and service providers for multiple reasons, and their channels of choice, whether digital or traditional, are quite often determined by the complexity of their requests. In fact, this Digital Tipping Point research reveals that when consumers have a simple customer service request or enquiry, the phone is the most popular option for (22%), while email and SMS come in second place (19% each).

However, as customer service requests become complex, reliance on human interaction increases. More than a third of customers prefer to go in-store (34%) for complex enquiries, while another third prefer to connect by phone (33%). The closest digital channel for complex customer service situations is email, but only 7% of consumers opt for this channel.

The research also highlights that consumers are more likely to behave favourably towards brands following instances of good customer service in-store or on the phone. A quarter of respondents would give a positive review, and almost a fifth (18%) would renew products or services, even if they aren’t the least expensive option. This compares to 21% of those who would write a positive review and just 13% who would renew products or services following good customer service on digital channels.

What Do Businesses Say?

Alongside the consumer research, Verint also ran comparative research with businesses, asking 1019 organisations worldwide about the digital and traditional customer service channels they are prioritising and investing in. In contrast to customers’ preferred options, these businesses reported they are investing least in traditional channels, such as the phone or in-store.

When exploring attitudes towards service channels, almost seven in 10 consumers (68%) believe that they are more likely to negotiate a better deal in person rather than online. However, only 47% of businesses surveyed offer the availability to speak to someone in-store, relying on other methods of communication with customers such as web chat and email. Businesses also acknowledged that digital customer service needs to improve, with 91% agreeing that customer service online and via mobile devices should be faster, more intuitive and better able to serve customer needs.

“This study represents a call-to-action for businesses to better understand their customers’ engagement preferences in order to better serve them,” says Mary Wardley, vice president, enterprise applications and CRM software, IDC. “There continues to be much discussion about the rise of digital and proliferation of mobile. However, as this research shows, human contact is still critical for consumers, increasing the stakes for businesses to strike the right balance in order to effectively service and retain customers, influence sales, and heighten engagement and loyalty.”

Rachel Lane, director of customer analytics, EMEA, Verint adds, “This research across a dozen countries points to some misalignment of priorities in terms of which channels businesses plan to focus on in the future and how customers prefer to engage. The organisations that understand the needs and wants of their customers, along the entire customer journey, will be well positioned to meet customers where they wish to engage, whether in-person or via digital channels.”

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Crouching Yeti strikes

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Kaspersky Lab has uncovered infrastructure used by the Russian-speaking APT group Crouching Yeti, also known as Energetic Bear, which includes compromised servers across the world.

According to the research, numerous servers in different countries were hit since 2016, sometimes in order to gain access to other resources. Others, including those hosting Russian websites, were used as watering holes.

Crouching Yeti is a Russian-speaking advanced persistent threat (APT) group that Kaspersky Lab has been tracking since 2010. It is best known for targeting industrial sectors around the world, with a primary focus on energy facilities, for the main purpose of stealing valuable data from victim systems. One of the techniques the group has been widely using is through watering hole attacks: the attackers injected websites with a link redirecting visitors to a malicious server.

Recently Kaspersky Lab has discovered a number of servers, compromised by the group, belonging to different organisations based in Russia, the U.S., Turkey and European countries, and not limited to industrial companies. According to researchers, they were hit in 2016 and 2017 with different purposes. Thus, besides watering hole, in some cases they were used as intermediaries to conduct attacks on other resources.

In the process of analysing infected servers, researchers identified numerous websites and servers used by organisations in Russia, U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America that the attackers had scanned with various tools, possibly to find a server that could be used to establish a foothold for hosting the attackers’ tools and to subsequently develop an attack. Some of the sites scanned may have been of interest to the attackers as candidates for waterhole. The range of websites and servers that captured the attention of the intruders is extensive. Kaspersky Lab researchers found that the attackers had scanned numerous websites of different types, including online stores and services, public organisations, NGOs, manufacturing, etc.

Also, experts found that the group used publicly available malicious tools, designed for analyzing servers, and for seeking out and collecting information. In addition, a modified sshd file with a preinstalled backdoor was discovered. This was used to replace the original file and could be authorised with a ‘master password’.

“Crouching Yeti is a notorious Russian-speaking group that has been active for many years and is still successfully targeting industrial organisations through watering hole attacks, among other techniques. Our findings show that the group compromised servers not only for establishing watering holes, but also for further scanning, and they actively used open-sourced tools that made it much harder to identify them afterwards,” said Vladimir Dashchenko, Head of Vulnerability Research Group at Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT.

“The group’s activities, such as initial data collection, the theft of authentication data, and the scanning of resources, are used to launch further attacks. The diversity of infected servers and scanned resources suggests the group may operate in the interests of the third parties,” he added.

Kaspersky Lab recommends that organisations implement a comprehensive framework against advanced threats comprising of dedicated security solutions for targeted attack detection and incident response, along with expert services and threat intelligence. As a part of Kaspersky Threat Management and Defense, our anti-targeted attack platform detects an attack at early stages by analysing suspicious network activity, while Kaspersky EDR brings improved endpoint visibility, investigation capabilities and response automation. These are enhanced with global threat intelligence and Kaspersky Lab’s expert services with specialisation in threat hunting and incident response.

More details on this recent Crouching Yeti activity can be found on the Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT website.

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R5m in software fines

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South African companies paid almost R5.2 million in damages for using unlicensed software in 2017 up from R3.6 million in 2016.

This is according to data from BSA | The Software Alliance, a non-profit, global trade association created to advance the goals of the software industry and its hardware partners.

The significant increase in unlicensed software payments – which includes settlements as well as the cost of acquiring new software to become compliant – is the result of more accurate leads from informers, says Darren Olivier, Partner at Adams & Adams, legal counsel for BSA. In 2017 BSA received 281 reports in South Africa alleging the use of unlicensed software products of BSA member companies – this up considerably up from 230 leads in 2016.

“BSA’s recent social media campaign also helped to create awareness among local companies about the need to comply with existing legislation in order to avoid legal action,” Olivier says.

The result has been a 13% increase in settlements paid in 2017, with the settlements total reaching almost R2.5 million.

While the average settlement paid by companies in 2017 was around R36 094, in some cases the amount owed was far greater, as is evidenced by Shereno Printers, a print and design company based in Gauteng, which ended up paying a hefty settlement amount of R260 000 last year in an out of court settlement.

The company’s case was in line with a broader trend, which saw the print and design industry as a whole rank among the top sectors plagued by unlicensed software.

Aside from settlements, companies also paid more than R2.6 million in licenses purchased to legalise their unlicensed software.

And the ramifications of software piracy extend beyond financial implications. “It also results in potential job losses and loss in tax revenue. This is not to mention the financial and reputational damage brought about by security breaches and lost data,” comments Olivier.

As unlicensed software has not been updated with the latest security features, it leaves businesses vulnerable to cyberattack, he explains.

This is a particular problem for companies operating in South Africa where economic crime has recently reached record levels, according to the Global Economic Crime Survey. Indeed, 77% of South African organisations have experienced some form of economic crime. What’s more, instances of cybercrime totalled 29% of economic crimes reported.

This in turn, raises questions around government policy and the adequacy of existing copyright legislation, which only enables the registration of copyright in films, but not in computer programs.

Olivier notes that it is likely the percentage of unlicensed software on South African computers has increased over the past year. “We received many more leads this year, which is an indicator that the amount of pirated software is greater than in previous years,” he comments.

Often unlicensed software is not so much a case of deliberate piracy as it is a result of poor software asset management (SAM).

“For this reason, the BSA encourages all businesses to ensure they have effective SAM practices in place. Companies should be able to confirm what software they are using and are licensed to use – this will help them to identify unlicensed software and can also bring about cost savings. Even the most basic SAM practices such as regular inventories and software use policies can help,” says Chair of the BSA SA Committee, Billa Coetsee.

With this in mind the BSA offers a range of SAM solutions, not only to help organisations reduce legal and security risks, but also to create business value.

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