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Internal cyber threats loom large in SA companies

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At its recent Cyber Security Weekend, Kaspersky Lab revealed that South Africa ranks high in the number of users affected by local threats.

In the third quarter of 2016, 33% of computer users in Europe and South Africa encountered security incidents related to local networks and removable media, and 15% faced web related threats, according to Kaspersky Lab’s analysis of IT threats.

The global cybersecurity company spelled out the implications of these numbers at its annual European Cyber Security Weekend in Malta from 20 to 23 October. The event brought together company experts, guest speakers from the Dutch National Police, journalists and business guests from across the European region, as well as Israel and South Africa.

Statistics from Kaspersky’s cloud service (Kaspersky Security Network) for July to September 2016 show that the Ukraine continues to have the highest number of users affected by local – i.e. internal company network – threats (57.9%), followed by Israel (38.5%), Serbia and Greece (37.6%), and South Africa (36%). The highest number of web threat incidents were reported in Slovenia (23.9% of KSN users) and Ukraine (21.8%), followed by Spain and Greece. The Netherlands, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic have somewhat lower threat levels: 7 to 10% of users were affected by online threats in those countries.

“Cyber threats evolve alongside technology, impacting all spheres of individual and business experience,” said Marco Preuss, director of Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team Europe. “Aside from simply rapidly multiplying, malware is also becoming more sophisticated, inflicting more damage. Ransomware is developing especially fast and is one of the main current IT threats. Our survey shows that 40% of users today are paying a ransom when their data is encrypted, which only serves to indulge the cyber criminals.

“Also, new risks, inspired by the Internet of Things, are appearing on the horizon; we have already seen how Smart TVs can be used to spy on their owners and how a smart door can be unlocked for unauthorised people. It’s imperative we prepare for both the current and future risks posed by these new devices.”

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In 2015 and early 2016, Kaspersky Lab registered more than 2 million cyber incidents involving ransomware, many of which have drawn a wide public response. Compared to the period of 2014-2015, the number of ransomware-based attacks on the corporate sector increased sixfold. Kaspersky Lab experts expect that with the increasing usage of ransomware by cybercriminals, this type of malware could even surpass banking Trojans.

According to the 2016 Corporate IT security Risks Survey, 20% of businesses across the world experienced a ransomware attack in the last 12 months. In Europe this problem appears to be even more prevalent with 28% of companies having experienced a threat. As for South Africa, the rate here is slightly lower – 19%. Ransomware is not only limited to PC users, but is also well developed on mobile platforms; in the second quarter of 2016 we detected 83,048 malicious installation packages developed for mobile.

To help more companies reduce the risk of ransomware infection, Kaspersky Lab has released a free Anti-Ransomware Tool for Business, along with special anti-ransomware features in its key solutions. As well as this, Kaspersky Lab, together with Europol, Dutch National Police and Intel Security, has launched the No More Ransom project – an online portal (www.nomoreransom.org) aimed at informing the public about the dangers of ransomware and helping victims to recover their data without having to pay a ransom to the cybercriminals. Among its current members are 14 different countries’ national law enforcement agencies.

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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