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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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Now download a bank account

Absa has introduced an end-to-end account opening for new customers, through the Absa Banking App, which can be downloaded from the Android and Apple app stores. This follows the launch of the world first ChatBanking on WhatsApp service.

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This “download your account” feature enables new customers to Absa, to open a Cheque account, order their card and start transacting on the Absa Banking App, all within minutes, from anywhere and at any time, by downloading it from the App stores.

“Overall, this new capability is not only expected to enhance the customer’s digital experience, but we expect to leverage this in our branches, bringing digital experiences to the branch environment and making it easier for our customers to join and bank with us regardless of where they may be,” says Aupa Monyatsi, Managing Executive for Virtual Channels at Absa Retail & Business Banking.

“With this innovation comes the need to ensure that the security of our customers is at the heart of our digital experience, this is why the digital onboarding experience for this feature includes a high-quality facial matching check with the Department of Home Affairs to verify the customer’s identity, ensuring that we have the most up to date information of our clients. Security is supremely important for us.”

The new version of the Absa Banking App is now available in the Apple and Android App stores, and anyone with a South African ID can become an Absa customer, by following these simple steps:

  1. Download the Absa App
  2. Choose the account you would like to open
  3. Tell us who you are
  4. To keep you safe, we will verify your cell phone number
  5. Take a selfie, and we will do facial matching with the Department of Home Affairs to confirm you are who you say you are
  6. Tell us where you live
  7. Let us know what you do for a living and your income
  8. Click Apply.

 

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How we use phones to avoid human contact

A recent study by Kaspersky Lab has found that 75% of people pick up their connected device to avoid conversing with another human being.

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Connected devices are becoming essential to keeping people in contact with each other, but for many they are also a much-needed comfort blanket in a variety of social situations when they do not want to interact with others. A recent survey from Kaspersky Lab has confirmed this trend in behaviour after three-quarters of people (75%) admitted they use a device to pretend to be busy when they don’t want to talk to someone else, showing the importance of keeping connected devices protected under all circumstances. 

Imagine you’ve arrived at a bar and you’re waiting for your date. The bar is busy, and people are chatting all around you. What do you do now? Strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know? Grab your phone from your pocket or handbag until your date arrives to keep yourself busy? Why talk to humans or even make eye-contact with someone else when you can stare at your connected device instead?

The truth is, our use of devices is making it much easier to avoid small talk or even be polite to those around us, and new Kaspersky Lab research has found that 72% of people use one when they do not know what to do in a social situation. They are also the ‘go-to’ distraction for people even when they aren’t trying to look busy or avoid someone’s eye. 46% of people admit to using a device just to kill time every day and 44% use it as a daily distraction.

In addition to just being a distraction, devices are also a lifeline to those who would rather not talk directly to another person in day-to-day situations, to complete essential tasks. In fact, nearly a third (31%) of people would prefer to carry out tasks such as ordering a taxi or finding directions to where they need to go via a website and an app, because they find it an easier experience than speaking with another person.

Whether they are helping us avoid direct contact or filling a void in our daily lives, our constant reliance on devices has become a cause for panic when they become unusable. A third (34%) of people worry that they will not be able to entertain themselves if they cannot access a connected device. 12% are even concerned that they won’t be able to pretend to be busy if their device is out of action.

Dmitry Aleshin, VP for Product Marketing, Kaspersky Lab said, “The reliance on connected devices is impacting us in more ways than we could have ever expected. There is no doubt that being connected gives us the freedom to make modern life easier, but devices are also vital to help people get through different and difficult social situations. No matter what your ‘connection crutch’ is, it is essential to make sure your device is online and available when you need it most.”

To ensure your device lifeline is always there and in top health – no matter what the reason or situation – Kaspersky Security Cloud keeps your connection safe and secure:

·         I want to use my device while waiting for a friend – is it secure to access the bar’s Wi-Fi?

With Kaspersky Security Cloud, devices are protected against network threats, even if the user needs to use insecure public Wi-Fi hotspots. This is done through transferring data via an encrypted channel to ensure personal data safety, so users’ devices are protected on any connection.

·         Oh no! I’m bored but my phone’s battery is getting low – what am I going to do?

Users can track their battery level thanks to a countdown of how many minutes are left until their device shuts down in the Kaspersky Security Cloud interface. There is also a wide-range of portable power supplies available to keep device batteries charged while on-the-go.

·         I’ve lost my phone! How will I keep myself entertained now?

Should the unthinkable happen and you lose or have your phone stolen, Kaspersky Security Cloud can track and protect your device from data breaches, for complete peace of mind. Remote lock and locate features ensure your device remains secure until you are reunited.

 

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