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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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Welcome to world of 2099

The world of 2099 will be unrecognisable from the world of today, but it can be predicted, says one visionary. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK met him in Singapore.

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Futuristic structures tower over the landscape. Giant, alien-looking trees light up with dazzling colours amid the hundreds of plant species that grow up their trunks. Cosmetic stores sell their wares via public touch-screens, with products delivered instantly in drawers below the screens.

This is not a vision of the future. It is a sample of Singapore today. But it is also an inkling of the world we may all experience in the future.

Singapore was the venue, last week, of the World Cities Summit, where engineers, politicians, investors and visionaries rubbed shoulders as they talked about the strategies and policies that would enhance urban living in the future.

As part of the Summit, global payment technologies leader Mastercard hosted a small media briefing by one of Singapore’s leading thinkers about the future, Dr Damian Tan, managing director of Vickers Venture Partners. The company’s slogan “We invest in the extraordinary,” offers a small clue to Tan’s perspective.

“We look as far forward as 2099 because, as a venture capital firm, we invest in the long term,” he tells a group of journalists from Africa and the Middle East. “Companies explode in growth because there is value in the future. If there is no growth, they won’t explode.”

The big question that the Smart Cities Summit and Mastercard are trying to help answer is, what will cities look like in the year 2099? Tan can’t give an exact answer, but he offers a framework that helps one approach the question.

“If you want to look at 81 years into the future, and understand the change that will come, you need to double that amount and look into the past. That takes us to 1856. The difference between then and now is the difference you can expect between now and 2099.”

Click here or on the page link below to read on: Page 2: Soldiers and Health in 2099.

  •    Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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Street art goes electric

Kaspersky Lab and British street artist D*Face have unveiled the first-ever “art helmet” design at the Formula E finale for electric cars in New York.

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The ‘Save The World’ helmets will be raced by DS Virgin Racing’s drivers, Sam Bird and Alex Lynn, as they traverse the New York street circuit during the final races of the Formula E season.

The announcement signals the first art helmet by a Formula E team, continuing the heritage of art in motorsport and the cybersecurity brand’s commitment to contemporary art, creativity and innovation. D*Face took inspiration from Kaspersky Lab’s tagline, “A Company To Save The World”, and hopes that his colourful work will inspire people to take positive action.

D*Face will announce his first-ever art car design with a custom-made livery for the DS Virgin Racing Team. Its design will be released at the “Art Goes Green” event after Saturday’s race. The helmets and art car are the latest installations in the “Save the World” collection, following a major permanent public mural that was installed in Brooklyn, New York, in May.

D*Face, whose real name is Dean Stockton, said: “It is exciting to work with Kaspersky Lab on this project and create art with a real message of hope for a better future. After all, this is our world and we need to look after it. It will take every one of us to make a real lasting, impactful change. I love the mentality of the DS Virgin Racing Team and that of Formula E by showcasing sport in a way that doesn’t harm the environment, but is still just as exhilarating and fun.

“It is time for us all to stand together and make a change… be that stopping data steals, climate change, plastic waste or using damaging fuels. I want everyone to make a pledge to do one thing that will help make a change.”

As a sponsor of DS Virgin Racing Team, Kaspersky Lab is responsible for protecting the team’s devices against cyber threats. The company sees the technical environment in the global sport of Formula E as the next frontier in furthering its research and development of new technologies to keep vehicles secure in the digital world.

Sylvain Filippi, Managing Director at DS Virgin Racing, said: “The whole team fully supports this great initiative and our thanks got to Kaspersky and D*Face for their collaboration. It’s an honour to have such an innovative artist bring his talents to bear in our team ahead of the season-finale; the car, drivers’ crash helmets and mural all look amazing.”

Aldo Fucelli Pessot del Bo, Head of Global Partnerships and Sponsorships at Kaspersky Lab added: “There is a need for innovation on a global scale, both in contemporary art and in the fast-growing sport of Formula E. Now, for the first time ever, Kaspersky Lab is proudly bringing together the two sectors in an effort to Save the World and unleash creativity, encourage freedom of expression and further innovation.”

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