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PCs still fall in Mid-East, Africa

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) PC market experienced a mild decline of 1.8% year-on-year (Y-o-Y) in Q4 2016 to total 3.2 million units, according to IDC.

The decline stemmed from the desktop segment, as weak commercial demand saw shipments fall -10.0% Y-o-Y to total 1.2 million units for the quarter. Notebook shipments were up 3.6% to total 2 million units, driven primarily by demand from the consumer segment.

“The narrowing price gap between desktops and notebooks was one of the key factors driving this trend,” says Fouad Charakla, senior research manager for client devices at IDC Middle East, Africa, and Turkey. “The gap narrowed because the overall notebook market average street price (ASP) experienced a considerable decline, while the desktop market ASP experienced marginal growth.

“The region’s single biggest market, Turkey, experienced significant growth year on year, as vendors continued to push volumes into the market, catering to demand from year-end festivities, and companies continued to liquidate their budgets, some of which went towards IT investments. At the same time, there was a spate of government-driven initiatives aimed at triggering a positive outlook for the country’s economy, and this also helped spur PC demand.

“Other key markets, namely South Africa, the UAE and the Rest of Middle East (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan), all remained close to flat, while Saudi Arabia experienced a Y-o-Y decline. With the Kingdom’s heavy dependence on oil combining with low oil prices, government spending in the country continues to be constrained, which is causing a similar spillover effect on other sectors as well.”

The top vendor rankings remained unchanged, with all top five vendors maintaining their positions from the previous quarter. The top three vendors combined, namely HP Inc, Dell, and Lenovo, accounted for almost 73% of commercial demand for PCs in the region during Q4 2016, which validates their decision to focus largely on serving the commercial segment. Conversely, the other key market players in the region remain largely focused on addressing consumer demand.

As was the case in previous quarters, the overall market share of local assemblers in the MEA region continued to contract as a growing portion of end users opted for multinational brands, with some even shifting towards refurbished PCs.

Middle East & Africa PC Market – Vendor Shares, Q4 2015 vs. Q4 2016
Vendor Q4 2015 Q4 2016
HP Inc. 25.1% 26.3%
Lenovo 19.5% 20.5%
Dell 14.5% 14.0%
ASUS 7.2% 8.7%
Acer Group 4.8% 5.7%
Others 29.0% 24.8%

Source: IDC EMEA Quarterly PC Tracker, Q4 2016

HP continued to lead the MEA PC market in Q4 2016 in terms of share, after experienced a slight increase in overall shipments. Despite suffering a decline in commercial shipments, the vendor continued to comfortably dominate the commercial segment. Lenovo led the consumer space in terms of unit share, while Dell experienced a strengthening of its position in the commercial space and a loss of traction among home users.

Taiwanese vendors Asus and Acer placed fourth and fifth, respectively, with both experiencing strong Y-o-Y growth. The most significant increases for both vendors were seen in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ market. While it features much further down the vendor rankings ladder and is growing from a small base, i-life experienced the strongest shipment growth Y-o-Y. With a sub-$200 price point on the majority of its products, the UAE-based vendor has been able to catapult itself to notable market share in the region.

“With crude oil prices not showing any signs of strong growth in the near future, PC demand in several parts of the region is expected to suffer,” says Charakla. “This will include Nigeria, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and several other Gulf countries, as well as some countries within the Rest of Middle East sub-region. Exchange-rate fluctuations and currency weaknesses continue to be another key inhibitor in several countries across the region and are expected to hinder PC demand over the coming quarters. Two of the most affected countries in this respect are Nigeria and Egypt.”

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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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