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Protect against the threats of open Wi-Fi

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Open Wi-Fi or unencrypted Internet access may sound enticing, but there are thousands of threats that come with it. BRENDAN MCARAVEY, Country Manager at Citrix South Africa, believes it is imperative for users to protect their devices before taking any chances.

“Open”, Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere, different cities have their own implementation strategies. While cities like Cape Town have implemented a strategy where the city owns and manages WiFi points to the value of R10 million. Tshwane on the other hand has relied on their private sector partner, the NGO Project Isizwe for their roll out. And, City of Johannesburg in January 2017 rolled out 1 000 WiFi hotspots in public areas.

Open Wi-Fi is generally defined as wireless networks that provides free, unencrypted access without the need to identify yourself, or for the Wi-Fi access point to identify itself (authentication). Providing open Wi-Fi is considered a value-added service or feature of many consumer-oriented businesses today. Combined with sometimes unacceptable cellular bandwidth or signal strength, and data plan limits, it is difficult to resist the lure of open, free Wi-Fi.

But in life, cause and effect is a reality virtually everyone acknowledges. The convenience of open Wi-Fi (cause) introduces security threats (effect), and places the responsibility of safely utilising these services on the end user (effect). The principal threat impacting users of open Wi-Fi is traffic sniffing, or eavesdropping, whereby an attacker “listens” in on wireless traffic that is not encrypted, potentially providing access to sensitive data. Probably the best public display of the consequences surrounding the use of unencrypted, open Wi-Fi is the “Wall of Sheep”, a staple at the DefCon security conference in Las Vegas for more than fifteen years.

The Wall of Sheep tracks people (sheep) at the conference that use open, unencrypted Wi-Fi to send email, login to websites, message their friends, etc. These sheeple (Riverside’s term, not ours) are publicly shamed by posting redacted login details for each of their infractions on the “wall of sheep”. In virtually every case, these conference attendees connected to either DefCon-Open, the purpose-built open Wi-Fi network hosted at DefCon for catching unsafe Internet users, or a researcher or attacker’s “rogue” open Wi-Fi. DefCon attendees can connect securely to the official, encrypted DefCon Wi-Fi network by downloading their certificate.

The above mentioned dangers of using ‘Open Wi-Fi’ are fast becoming a reality in South Africa as well.  The high cost of data often forces people to use these hotspots, most often, for job searches, banking and other essential activities which are also be data intensive. This highlights that there is a growing need to create awareness among South Africans that; security of personal information is at high-risk when using these hotspots.

Citrix has educated customers about wireless security since at least 2010. Today, customers have several options available to help secure end users’ Wi-Fi use when outside the office. One of the easiest and best-known solutions is utilising NetScaler Gateway, which provides network protection via Full VPN access to its users. In addition to encrypting traffic from the remote device to the NetScaler, access profiles can be configured to forward (proxy) traffic to a content filtering system or other security infrastructure for inspection.

After all, there is more to networking than HTTP and HTTPS (“HTTP/S”). In fact, some mobile applications don’t use HTTP/S at all. Organisations may never know all of the apps a user has installed unless a full device management solution is deployed, encrypting all traffic with Full VPN is a more sensible choice. And with NetScaler Gateway, organisations can keep track of these remote users effectively.

We do not live in a perfect world, and cyber-attacks are now more frequent than ever before. It is essential for people to know that getting access to open WiFi does make life easier, but it can soon turn into a problematic situation as well. It is imperative that people become aware of the dangers and protect themselves accordingly.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read about Netflix’s international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement,” he adds. “To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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