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Encryption will be key to compliance under new laws

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With consumers required to divulge personal details to access many apps, ensuring the safety of data has become a collective responsibility. NEIL COSSER, Identity and Data Protection Manager for Africa at Gemalto, believes encryption is key to safeguarding data.

As technology continues to shift and shape how we connect with each other and brands, personal data has become a highly valuable and lucrative commodity. With consumers required to divulge personal details to access most of the plethora of apps available, ensuring the safety of data has become a collective responsibility: shared between service providers, app developers and the individual themselves. What does this mean for mobile providers, banks, government and brands, especially as South Africa starts grappling with the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI)? And what does it mean for consumers and corporates doing business across our shores, many of whom are still blissfully unaware of the risks involved?

Driven by relentless news of security breaches and data loss, many governments around the world are considering introducing or are in the process of introducing legislation that will help protect the personal data of their citizens. For example, the European Union has adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in April 2016. There are obvious signs that significant risks lie ahead if companies do nothing to change how they protect data because the new regulation will have major implications for all the ways in which data is collected, stored, accessed and secured.  Locally, certain sections of the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA) have already commenced (under proclamation No. R. 25, 2014).

But what does compliance mean for local businesses?

Given the proliferation of technology and what it has come to mean for companies, it is now an imperative for businesses to deploy suitable mechanisms to process personal information of employees, customers or other business stakeholders. This is done with the view to implement organisation-wide privacy initiatives in order to comply with the conditions of the Act. Compliance will have an impact on the processes, technology and manner in which stakeholders – particularly within the employer and employees parameters – handle and process personal information.

According to renowned provider of legal solutions, Michalsons, GDPR’s grace period has been earmarked to end on 24 May 2018 – thus making it legally enforceable from that period onwards. Locally, we can expect PoPI’s grace period to end soon after the GDPR’s. Organisations that have to comply with both the PoPI Act and the GDPR might focus on complying with the GDPR first and then POPI second. Taking this approach could offer prudent lessons for businesses through the compliance of GDPR that can be applied to PoPI.

The writing on the wall

The release of Gemalto’s 2016 Breach Level Index (BLI) report has offered an intriguing backdrop to the issue of data management (particularly where data protection is concerned) in the local context. A key takeout from the 2016 report highlighted that that we cannot argue that we have a growing data security crisis evidenced by the almost 1.4 billion records being compromised during 2016. The sad truth is that this number is actually higher, because most breaches go unreported worldwide. This is particularly worrying given the impact that a data breach can have on an organisation’s reputation and ultimately revenue.

The Ponemon  2016 Cost of Data Breach Study indicates that the average cost of a data breach to a businesses now stands at $4 million (average cost per record $158), with reputation and the loss of customer loyalty most heavily impacting the bottom line. In fact,  our research revealed that two thirds (66%) would be unlikely to do business with organizations responsible for exposing financial and sensitive information.

It’s all about action

The debate surrounding data protection vs. impact on reputation and revenue is not a new one but it seems that many executives agree that the issue is of data security is still taken for granted by those businesses with a big user base. This was the sentiment shared by the panelists who formed part of our Gemalto BLI roundtable event hosted on 28 March 2017 in Johannesburg.

Justin Williams, Executive: Group Information Security at MTN reiterated that consumer data is a prized commodity and it cannot and should not be taken for granted. “There is a concerning lack of regulation in Africa. Beyond the strict requirements of the regulations, what companies really need is to shift to a new data security mindset,” he explained. He added that now is the right time for businesses to start taking steps now to prepare for implementation of the new rules.

Williams’ advice begs the question, what should organisations do to limit their risk of breaches and ensuring that consumer data is protected against all odds. The answer to this is simple; securing a breach is the first point of call. Organisations should consider three factors when building a comprehensive data protection strategy. Firstly, we need to analyse where data being stored – is it in a database, file servers, virtual environments or the cloud? Secondly, how and where are encryption keys being secured? Finally, who’s accessing the data and more importantly, how is this access being controlled?

Once these three factors have been understood, this can then be converted into a three-step approach to data protection which includes encrypting all sensitive data, storing and managing encryption keys and lastly, controlling access.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Today’s security strategies are dominated by a singular focus on breach prevention that includes firewalls, antivirus, threat detection and monitoring. But, if history has taught us anything, it is that walls are eventually breached and made obsolete.

The next and last layers of defense need to be around both the data and the individuals that access the data by surrounding them with end-to-end encryption, authentication and access controls that provide the additional measures necessary to protect customer data.

Security professionals will always need to consider the need to perform specific risk analysis in order to implement the organisational and technical measures that are needed to prevent, detect, and block data breaches. Data encryption solutions provide an essential basis for achieving reliable data unintelligibility. When encryption is combined with other measures, such as secure key management and access controls, these mechanisms provide a robust foundation for achieving compliance with applicable EU data protection laws.

The reality is that our world is quickly becoming an Internet of Things where every person, place, thing and organisation is connected to each other through the Internet. The proliferation of the cloud, digital content, mobile device usage, online banking, e-commerce, and social media means that we are creating, accessing and storing data and conducting transactions in more places than ever before.  We simply have more to manage and more places of exposure.

For Joe Pindar, Research & Development Director: Identity & Data Protection at Gemalto, transparency is the best paved road to ensuring consumer trust. Security should be a key consideration for all businesses going forward. Telling customers about the security measures your organisation has put in place to protect their data can go a long way in cementing customer loyalty. “If you are doing something better than the rest of the industry, like encrypting data end-to-end, then you might be seen as a trusted innovator.”

In conclusion…

As we look towards the future of data management and in order to be ready for upcoming legislative changes, companies need to start taking steps now and change their security mindset about protecting customer data. The signs for taking action are obvious. It’s clear that being breached is not a question of “if” but “when. Companies should move away from the traditional strategy of focusing on breach prevention, and move towards a ‘secure breach’ approach. This means accepting that breaches happen and using best practice data protection to guarantee that data is effectively useless when it falls into unauthorised hands. Traditional approaches to data security do not work anymore, and if companies don’t wake up to this new reality soon, the consumer revolt will come.

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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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