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IBM puts $70m into digital Africa

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IBM today announced the $70 million dollar (approximately ZAR 945 million) investment in building digital, cloud, and cognitive IT skills to help support a 21st century workforce in Africa.

IBM is investing $70 million (approximately ZAR 945 million) in building much-needed digital, cloud, and cognitive IT skills to help support a 21st century workforce in Africa. The initiative, “IBM Digital – Nation Africa”, provides a cloud-based learning platform designed to provide free skills development programs for up to 25 million African youths over five years, enabling digital competence and nurturing innovation in Africa.

This is part of IBM’s global push to build the next generation of skills needed for “New Collar” careers.  “New Collar” is a term used by IBM to describe new kinds of careers that do not always require a four-year college degree but rather sought-after skills in cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence, cloud, and much more.

For the youth of Africa to be able to benefit from a cognitive future there needs to be a much higher level of digital literacy. At the top of the skills pyramid are developers, who need to know how to create solutions that can leverage the power of cognitive, and entrepreneurs who are aware of the potential. IBM Digital – Nation Africa is designed to help raise overall digital literacy, increase the number of skilled developers able to tap into cognitive engines and enable entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs grow businesses around the new solutions.

Through a free, cloud-based online learning environment delivered on IBM Bluemix, the premier cloud platform for business, the initiative will provide a range of programs from basic IT literacy to highly sought-after advanced IT skills including social engagement, digital privacy, and cyber protection.

Advanced users will be able to explore career-oriented IT topics including programming, cybersecurity, data science and agile methodologies, as well as important business skills like critical thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The initiative aims to empower African citizens, entrepreneurs, and communities with the knowledge and tools to design, develop, and launch their own digital solutions.

Based on Watson, the cognitive online system will adapt and learn. It will review the multiple interactions the education initiative will have with students, to help direct them to the right courses and help IBM refine the courses to better adapt the material for the needs of the users. Watson will also create a depth of knowledge using anonymous information gathered from interactions with the students. This will help entrepreneurs and developers understand which current Bluemix solutions best meet their needs and refine their idea to help them design a solution that has greatest market potential.

With the aim of equipping as many as 25 million people with sought after IT skills over the next five years, the program will be launched from IBM’s regional offices in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, and Egypt. This will enable the expansion of the initiative across the continent.

Africa has approximately 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. By 2040, the continent is expected to be home to the world’s largest labor force, with an estimated working age population of 1 billion (*State of Education in Africa Report 2015). Yet many African companies cite a local skills gap as one of the major bottlenecks to growth. In South Africa alone, where more than a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, businesses struggle to find appropriate skills, particularly in the IT field.

“IBM sees effective, high quality IT education as a key driver of economic vitality in Africa. Through access to open standards, best practices, IBM tools, and course materials, the broad scope of this initiative will enable vital skills development”, says Hamilton Ratshefola, country general manager for IBM South Africa. “In order to find solutions to Africa’s challenges, industries across the spectrum need to enable the existing and future workforce to perform at the forefront of technologies such as cognitive and cloud computing. This will be the key to spurring economic growth.”

The initiative will provide access to thousands of resources, in English, free of charge, including:

  • Ready-to-use mobile apps
  • Guides – web guides, demonstrations, interactive simulations, video series, and articles
  • Online Assessments – A range of self-assessment tests to track the progress of individuals, together with industry recognized ‘Open Badges’ aligned to digital competencies. The badges can then be shared with prospective employers
  • Volunteers – Creation of a volunteer program to support and promote digital literacy within their communities
  • App Marketplace – Provision of a platform on which new applications can either be made freely available or sold.

 

The initiative will be supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which has a special focus on fostering market-driven ICT skills in Africa and the Middle East. IBM will collaborate with UNDP on opportunities for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills delivery, certification, and accreditation. UNDP will work with their network of existing government partnerships to extend the program throughout Africa.

UNDP’s 2015 Human Development Report highlighted that technology is affecting the nature of work by introducing new ways of communicating, new products and new demands for skills. New technologies are also reinforcing and deepening previous trends in economic globalization, bringing workers and businesses into a global network through outsourcing and global value chains.

“These processes are reshaping work and testing national and international policies. In an attempt to address this global challenge here in South Africa, as well as in other priority countries in Africa. UNDP is pleased to leverage its global presence, development knowledge, and long standing partnerships to provide context, traction and scale to this collaboration with IBM,” says Mr. Walid Badawi, UNDP Country Director in South Africa.

IBM has a direct presence in 24 African countries and has made several significant investments on the continent in recent years, including offices, innovation centers and other advanced facilities. The company has a research laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya and opened a second research facility in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016.

In 2015, IBM rolled out a major initiative to expand its Africa Technical Academy and Africa University Program, providing advanced skills in cloud, analytics, and big data technologies, reaching today to over 150 academic institutions, in the continent. In September 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training and IBM Morocco, for the launch of P-TECH program (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) in Morocco. P-tech is an innovative global education model, designed by IBM, in close partnership with American educators. The company is also working with dozens of start-ups in South Africa.

IBM has been present in Africa since the 1920’s, and has a long history of collaborating with educational institutions and providing transformational solutions focused on providing value to higher education and its contribution to society.

IBM engages with communities around the globe by offering its technology, services, and expertise to solve some of the world’s most complex problems, applying technology and expertise to societal issues such as education development.

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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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