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SA behind in SDN

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Software Defined Networks is taking the world by storm as organisations seek greater control over their data centre. However, research has shown that South Africa is behind the adoption curve, writes JOHAN DE VILLIERS, Managing Director, First Technology.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is taking the rest of the world by storm as organisations seek greater control, performance and management across the data centre and the network; and recognise the benefits SDN can offer in terms of cost savings on capital and operating costs, improved network performance, increased productivity, and improved security.

However, new research shows South Africa is behind the adoption curve. First Technology and Extreme Networks recently polled 200 South African business respondents, including 6 CIOs, 43 C-suite executives, 70 IT managers and 81 IT professionals on their views on SDN and the cloud, which is closely aligned with SDN.

Surprisingly, 30.5% of respondents said they didn’t know what SDN was; 27.38% had no plans to adopt an SDN strategy, and 11.81% did not believe SDN would benefit them.27.83% said their companies were not using SDN and had no plans to do so, 48.11% said their companies were currently embarking on SDN strategies, and 24.06% said their companies were already SDN-enabled.

In a market expected to top $132 billion globally by 2022, South Africa is lagging, even though local survey respondents said their top network priorities right now were performance (35.42%) and security (33.96%) – all areas where advanced new SDN platforms offer solutions. Extreme Networks’ EXOS Linux-based operating system, for example, supports fast and flexible yet consistent provisioning, programmability and heterogeneity across platforms.

The majority of respondents believed their companies were somewhat ready (41.06%) or completely ready (38.16%) ready for Software Defined Networking. However, 20.77% said their companies were not ready for SDN. South African IT professionals who had no SDN strategy reported that complexity (47.26%) and cost (40.93%) stood in the way of adoption.

As SDN maturity is closely linked with cloud adoption, South African respondents were also asked about their companies’ current level of cloud adoption. The largest proportion (37.71%) reported some private cloud use. 16.53% reported some hybrid cloud use, 15.68% said they made some use of public cloud, and only 14.83% reported that their companies made extensive use of the cloud.  15.25% reported that their companies made no use of the cloud at all. Respondents said the main factors hampering their companies’ optimal use of cloud technologies were security concerns (35.12%), control and management concerns (27.09%), cost (26.76%) and limitations caused by existing infrastructure (11.04%).

The SDN and cloud concerns can be easily overcome, however. Advanced new solutions such as Extreme Networks’ SDN deliver open-standards, comprehensive platform that makes it easy for any organisation to deploy SDN solutions, regardless of their size or in-house skills. Organisations can now migrate their existing networks without expensive forklift upgrades. They can accelerate application innovation and reduces risks for the entire network. They address complexity concerns through modular, open and standards-based development environments that integrate with existing infrastructure and avoid architecture lock-in, while also offering edge-to-core management that addresses enterprise concerns around security, control and management.

In the South African survey, respondents believed the top benefits of SDN were centralised security (22.77%), centralised network provisioning (22.28%), lower operating costs (15.35%), holistic enterprise management (12.87%), cloud abstraction (8.17%) and guaranteed content delivery (6.93%). These results are in line with international trends, where SDN’s benefits are well recognised.

A software-defined approach to business and IT accelerates digital transformation and addresses key concerns among South African IT managers and CIOs; and SDN is increasingly recognised as the architectural model most capable of aligning with the 3rd platform for IT. In a hyper-connected world, SDN has never been more important for keeping it all together, and South Africa needs to move faster to overcome its concerns and catch up.

 

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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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