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Gap in SA’s IT skills – and policy

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There is an immediate unsatisfied need for skills in the ICT sector that is only going to get worse – and demands sustained investment in education and training. It also demands that government policy be translated into capacity building.

These are key conclusions from the seventh skills trends survey in the South African information and communications technology (ICT) sector, conducted by Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) . The survey is part of the JCSE’s continuous effort to create a meaningful representation of South Africa’s ICT skills landscape and provide an outline of the current skills priorities and gaps in the sector.

Adrian Schofield, the JCSE’s manager of Applied Research and author of the report, says South Africa continues to fall behind its African peers while the state of the local economy sees the sector’s clients cut back their own expenditures. He adds that the lack of improvement in South Africa’s basic education remains a major concern. “Exposure to and familiarity with ICT for all learners is essential. Some laudable initiatives have appeared, such as the use of tablets in Gauteng schools, but they have yet to reach a sustained, critical mass for all grades of learners.”

Trends in technology adoption place increasing emphasis on ICT sub-sectors such as cloud; big data/analytics; mobile; security and the “Internet of Things”.  The 2016 survey once again identifies six leading priorities for managers of ICTs, with Information Security emerging as the clear leader, followed by Network Infrastructure, Software as a Service/Cloud Computing, Database Development and Application Development. Owing to its growing profile, the report separated sixth place Big Data/Internet of Things from the Business Intelligence/ Knowledge Management category, which now appears in seventh place.

“Many of the characteristics of the global ICT sector that were mentioned in our 2014 report remain true in 2016,” Schofield explains. “What were then emerging technologies, such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), have become mainstream and the issue of cybersecurity has risen to top-of-mind for many senior executives.” In the report the JCSE says technology developments have reached the stage of being referred to as ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, signalling the disruption of business models and labour dynamics.

While the introduction and increased use of new technologies will inevitably reduce the demand for labour used for white-collar roles and repetitive tasks, there will be a converse demand for the specialised skills that create, implement and maintain these new technologies. Schofield says the message to decision and policy makers seems clear. “There is an immediate unsatisfied need for skills in the

ICT sector that is only going to get worse in the medium and long term. Significant and sustained investment in education and training is required to have any hope of alleviating the skills gap.” Professor Barry Dwolatzky, Director of the JCSE, says previous editions of the survey referred to the optimism of potential growth in the African economy and the opportunity for investment in ICTs to fuel growth. “There continue to be hopeful signs that the potential can and will be fulfilled. IBM has opened its second Research Laboratory on the continent, at the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein,

Johannesburg. SAP has achieved remarkable success with is Africa Code Week events, and Amazon which has run a development centre in Cape Town since 2004, has opened an office in Johannesburg,” says Dwolatzky.

Despite some positive developments, the report notes that political turmoil continues to bedevil the lives of many Africans, often exacerbated by the effects of floods and droughts, while in South Africa the economy shows worrying signs of sliding into a recession. Similarly, political uncertainty and poor leadership are having a negative impact on many sectors. As an example, the report cites a failure to implement vital projects in the ICT sector, such as the switch to digital terrestrial television services and the implementation of the national broadband network. “Our view is that the ICT skills gap in South Africa is a reality that continues to haunt the country’s ability to lift its performance across all sectors to the level that will sustainably address the unacceptable burdens of poverty and unemployment,” Dwolatzky adds.

The 2016 JCSE ICT Skills Survey suggests various players in the South African ICT sector including government departments and agencies, commercial enterprises, non-profit organisations and associations form a cohesive and coordinated team in order to meet and overcome challenges and address the skills gap. “We urge all stakeholders to take the opportunity to translate the policy into capacity-building by ensuring that coordinated skills development provides the building blocks for creating the dynamic, sustainable ICT sector that will support the growth of South Africa’s economy and the improvement in the lives of all who live here,” concludes Schofield.

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Cons exploit Telegram ICO

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Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.

In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.

Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.

The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.

Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.

“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:

  • Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
  • Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
  • Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.

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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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