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Now hotels face ransomware attacks

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A recent audit has reveled that hotels are doubly vulnerable to ransomware attacks as they may not only impede their own systems but they also could seriously impact on their guests by preventing them from using the hotel’s facilities.

South African businesses are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the 400% growth in global ransomware extortion attacks.

According to audit, tax and business advisory firm Grant Thornton, businesses need to act now to ensure that their digital systems are protected and that critical systems are taken offline.

Simple ransomware attacks are relatively straight forward – victims receive an email with a link that contains software that encrypts files on their computer. These victims are then held to hostage until they pay a ransom.

Recently an upmarket hotel in Austria had its electronic key system compromised by hackers who locked management out of its own computer system. Guests were unable to access or leave their hotel rooms and this led to the hotel being forced to pay a ransom of two Bitcoins – an electronic currency that is difficult to trace – equivalent to about $1,800 (R20, 000) to gain access to their system.

Martin Jansen van Vuuren, Director: Advisory Services at Grant Thornton says that the Austrian attack indicates just how easily hotels’ systems can be infiltrated from cyber space.

Jansen van Vuuren says: “Hotels are doubly vulnerable because ransomware attacks may not only impede their systems but they also could seriously impact on their guests by preventing them from using the hotel’s facilities. Part of Hotel management’s risk mitigation should be to work out exactly how these malicious cyber space attacks can affect their operations and even their customers.”

“The security of convenient computer-driven systems is vital because everything from air-conditioning and room management, to sprinkler systems suddenly become vulnerable to external attacks. There is a need to give particular consideration to these risks as we become more reliant on technology in the guest experience.”

Jansen van Vuuren says mobile phones, used as keys in many hotels these days, are also vulnerable as they often do not have the same level of security as a desktop system.  Hackers could steal “door keys” via cyber space or simply disable keys causing huge inconvenience. Open WiFi systems, that are by their nature made easy to access for hotel guests, are another potential source for hackers if they are linked to systems which can be used to gain entry to devices and then to lock out users or steal data.

“The biggest weakness for hotels is their public interfaces such as booking systems that need to connect the internal systems and users to third party applications and ultimately customers. The booking system is therefore particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks and hackers,” said Jansen van Vuuren.

“Many hotels do not have on-site IT support and rely on the Hotel chain’s head office or an external service provider to attend to IT issues. This centralised approach places individual properties at additional risk of attack, as a cyber-attack may not be picked up quickly enough leading to a delay in combating the cyber-attack” he says.

Ransomware attacks quadrupled in 2016 to 4 000 a day

Grant Thornton’s Director of IT Advisory Services, Michiel Jonker, says that while the hotel industry is in the public eye, following the most recent high profile attack, it has to be borne in mind that every industry is at risk.

According to data from the United States Justice Department, ransomware attacks quadrupled in 2016 to an average of 4000 a day. The F.B.I. said the costs to victims of such attacks rose to $209-million (R2, 7bn) in the first three months of 2016, compared with $24-million (R312m) for the whole of 2015.

“Ransomware syndicates are extremely sophisticated, even hosting their own ‘call centres’ which assist you to access your decryption key and undertake not to attack you with the same ransom. They even use algorithms to determine your particular industry, and the ransom price is based on your industry’s perceived ‘wealth’,” says Jonker. “You can’t really prevent these attacks; you can only reduce your attack vulnerability to some extent. Preventive controls are not enough. Organisations will have to rely on corrective controls, most notably backups and disaster recovery plans.”

He says corporate executives have to start seriously considering how their companies will respond to malicious attacks and whether their systems – both critical and simple – are designed to minimise risk to the impact of hackers and ransomware.

He says that Grant Thornton’s IT Advisory team advises clients to take, among many other things, the following steps in order to minimise the risk to some extent:

·         Remove admin rights for laptop users to prevent users from inadvertently downloading malicious software;

·         Ensure that all systems undergo well-structured  backup processes  and that they are recoverable;

·         Segregate networks so that different network segments are limited to different groups of authorised users;

·         Provide database access only to those people who require access; and

·         Install antivirus software on all devices including laptops; smart phones and other wearable technologies; and finally

·         Use low-code programming platforms to develop apps, as we do, where security has already been incorporated into the platform.

Jonker says that while prevention is better than dealing with the effects of a cyber-attack, it is best practice to isolate certain high risk and critical (especially national) infrastructure networks and systems, so that they are off the grid and entirely inaccessible from cyber space.  They only ever link intermittently via a small ‘sterile’ middle system, with neither linked system connected at the same time – a bit like an airlock in a submarine.  So an hotel’s external public reservation system might interface hourly via such a sanitised link only.

“At the end of the day you balance security with the need for convenience, availability, functionality and innovation,” says Jonker. “To produce leapfrog new technology most developers are focused on building systems that work, not systems that are secure. We need to change mind sets so that we don’t focus exclusively on functionality but ensure that we build systems that enhance security and privacy in equal measure.

“We believe that technology advances can be hugely beneficial for hotels in creating great guest experiences, but the systems must always be developed with security considerations fully understood and mitigated,” Jonker says.

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Huawei goes ultra-premium

Porsche Design and Huawei have launched the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS in South Africa exclusive to MTN and retailing for R 26 459.

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The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS boasts features like the world’s first dual fingerprint design, including an in-screen fingerprint sensor, the world’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI) processor and Leica triple camera with 40MP image capture.

“After the overwhelming success of the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 10 Pro in South Africa, we now bring you our latest offering, a perfect blend of innovation in a smartphone and luxury design,” said Likun Zhao, Vice President of Huawei Consumer Business Group Southern Africa. “From three-point security feature including facial recognition, rear fingerprint scanner and the new innovative in-screen fingerprint to the Leica triple camera system. it culminates in an unprecedented experience for our customers.”

The device incorporates Porsche Design’s signature design language and Huawei’s breakthrough technology.  The phone has a 6” 2K curved OLED screen and symmetrical look, minimalist feel and 8-edged 3D curved glass body.

High performance is symbolised by the naming of the smartphone: the term “RS” in the world of Porsche motorsport stands for outstanding racing performance.

Huawei provided the following information on The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS benefits and features :

·         The world’s first dual fingerprint scanner for enhanced convenience, allowing users to wake and unlock the device simply, thanks to an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Hover to wake the device, touch to unlock it

·         The winning combination of Leica triple camera with 40MP RGB sensor technology and exceptional photography powered by Master AI. This combination puts effortless, eye-catching photography at the fingertips of those looking to immortalise their favourite moments. Combined with 5 x hybrid zoom, and the world’s first AI image stabilisation on a smartphone camera ensures photography lovers can capture the best shots with exceptional clarity in almost any situation

·         The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS is the first Huawei handset to allow quick wireless charging, making it even easier to keep the phone topped up and ready to go and, thanks to its long lasting battery, users will easily be powered through the busiest of days

·         An ‘intelligent’ smartphone, the powerful AI processor automatically tailors the performance of the phone according to how it is used – constantly learning, understanding and anticipating needs, it is the perfect personal assistant for the pocket

·         256GB of internal storage means those constantly on the go and constantly on their phone can be worry free

·         Dual SLS (super linear system) speakers with DOLBY ATMOS enable users to have a superior experience, with the best immersive surround sound and entertainment on the go

·         Splash, water and dust resistant, which means there is no need to worry about damaging the device in the rain or accidentally dropping it in water

Jan Becker, CEO Porsche Design Group, said: “Both Porsche Design and Huawei seek to imagine and develop products that stand for precision and perfection, intelligent functionality and highly sophisticated design. Our aim was to create an outstanding device that goes one step further. We believe we have reached this goal by taking our partnership to the next level.”

Porsche Design and Huawei have worked in tandem to develop a smartphone that fuses together the two brands’ DNA, wealth of experience in design and technology, industry-leading expertise and exceptional performance. Through the use of colour in the device’s body, software themes and accessories, the new handset is accentuated with Porsche Design’s distinguished aesthetic and purist, minimalist feel.

The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS will be available to purchase exclusively from MTN at R 26 459.

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Cross-channel chat launched

Clickatell has launched a cross-channel live chat service, Touch Go, that transforms omni-channel customer care.

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It enables live chat across a company’s website as well as social platforms (Twitter and Facebook) and mobile apps, bringing customer care and engagement into a single business platform.

“Today’s consumers expect to engage with your brand on the digital channel of their choosing,” says Deon van Heerden, Clickatell Engage CEO and Group CFO. “They want to message your business and instantly have queries resolved, find the information and services they are looking for, without the need for a voice call. Clickatell’s Touch Go makes that happen with the right level of capabilities for businesses of all sizes.”

Businesses can start using Touch Go immediately, with a free Starter option. Touch Go requires no credit card for sign-up and is fully featured with a simple setup process. It offers customisable branding, a unified chat desk business application as well as reports and analytics.

As the business scales up its digital customer care, it can opt-in for the Touch Enterprise offering. Touch Enterprise is designed for scaling up customer care efforts through advanced capabilities including AI driven virtual agents, sentiment analysis, automated workflows, enterprise integrations and in-channel mini-applications.

“Customer care has become a defining factor for sustained business success ” says Nirmal Nair, Clickatell Engage EVP Product & Marketing. “In an ever-increasing mobile native world, customers often choose to interact digitally, but they also expect to be able to reach a human immediately, should they need. Monitoring multiple channels and providing immediate action becomes challenging with siloed deployments. Touch’s unified solution allows businesses of all sizes to provide the customer delight in a simple modular approach.”

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