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Security gaps mean companies get repeat attacks

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Businesses that suffer ransomware attacks don’t always learn from the experience, and are often vulnerable to repeat exploits. This is a central finding by global network and endpoint security leader Sophos, from a survey called The State of Endpoint Security Today.

The survey polled more than 2,700 IT decision makers from mid-sized businesses in 10 countries worldwide, including the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, UK, Australia, Japan, India, and South Africa. The survey concluded that, despite the high profile headlines of 2017, businesses are still not prepared to face today’s fast-evolving threats.

Ransomware continues to be a major issue across the globe with 54 percent of organizations surveyed hit in the last year and a further 31 percent expecting to be victims of an attack in the future. On average, respondents impacted by ransomware were struck twice.

“Ransomware is not a lightning strike – it can happen again and again to the same organization. We’re aware of cybercriminals unleashing four different ransomware families in half-hour increments to ensure at least one evades security and completes the attack,” said Dan Schiappa, senior vice president and general manager of products at Sophos. “If IT managers are unable to thoroughly clean ransomware and other threats from their systems after attacks, they could be vulnerable to reinfection. No one can afford to be complacent. Cybercriminals are deploying multiple attack methods to succeed, whether using a mix of ransomware in a single campaign, taking advantage of a remote access opportunity, infecting a server, or disabling security software.”

This relentless attack methodology combined with the growth in Ransomware-as-a-Service, the anticipation of more complex threats, and the resurgence of worms like WannaCry and NotPetya puts businesses in serious need of a security makeover, according to Sophos. In fact, more than 77 percent of those impacted by ransomware were running up to date endpoint protection, confirming that traditional endpoint security is no longer enough to protect against today’s ransomware attacks.

“Organizations of all sizes are starting 2018 with inadequate protection against ransomware, despite last year’s international headlines,” said Schiappa. “Given the ingenuity, frequency, and financial impact of attacks, all businesses should reevaluate their security to include predictive security technology that has the capabilities needed to combat ransomware and other costly cyber threats.”

According to those impacted by ransomware last year, the median total cost of a ransomware attack was $133,000. This extends beyond any ransom demanded and includes downtime, manpower, device cost, network cost, and lost opportunities. Five percent of those surveyed reported a $1.3 million to $6.6 million as total cost.

Two-Thirds of IT Admins Surveyed Don’t Understand Anti-Exploit Technology

IT professionals also need to be aware of how exploits are used to gain access to a company’s system for data breaches, distributed-denial-of-service attacks, and cryptomining. Unfortunately, Sophos’ survey revealed considerable misunderstanding around technologies to stop exploits with 69 percent unable to correctly identify the definition of anti-exploit software. With this confusion, it’s not surprising that 54 percent do not have anti-exploit technology in place at all. This also suggests that a significant proportion of organizations have a misplaced belief that they are protected from this common attack technique yet are actually at significant risk.

“The lack of awareness and lack of protection against exploits is alarming. We’ve seen a resurgence in cybercriminals looking for vulnerabilities to actively use in countless attack campaigns. Five or six years ago we saw one per year, and last year as many as five new Office exploits have been used for cybercriminal activity, according to SophosLabs,” said Schiappa. “When cybercriminals are deliberately seeking out both known and zero-day vulnerabilities and an organization has a deficit in defenses, it adds up to a bad security situation.”

Intrusions from exploits have been happening for years but are still a prominent threat and often go undetected for months, if not years. Once inside a system, cybercriminals use complex malware that can hide in memory or camouflage itself. In many cases, businesses do not know they’ve been breached until someone finds a large cache of stolen data on the Dark Web.

“It’s time to disrupt these intrusions,” said Schiappa. “Since traditional endpoint technologies are often unable to keep up with advanced exploit attacks used to compromise a system, Sophos has added predictive, deep learning capabilities to the newest version of its next-generation endpoint protection product, Sophos Intercept X.”

Although 60 percent of respondents admitted their endpoint defenses are not enough to block the attacks seen last year, only 25 percent have predictive threat technologies, such as machine or deep learning, leaving 75 percent vulnerable to repeated ransomware attacks, exploits, and evolving advanced threats. Sixty percent plan to implement predictive threat technology within a year, yet confusion about it persists. Of those surveyed, 56 percent admitted that they do not have a full understanding of the differences between machine learning and deep learning.

“Given the speed at which cyber threats have evolved it is not surprising that many IT managers are unable to stay ahead of the next-generation technology required for security. Yet this knowledge gap could be placing operations at risk. Organizations need effective anti-ransomware, anti-exploit, and deep learning technology to stay secure in 2018 and beyond,” said Schiappa.

The State of Endpoint Security Today survey was conducted by Vanson Bourne, an independent specialist in market research. This survey interviewed 2,700 IT decision makers in 10 countries and across five continents, including the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, UK, Australia, Japan, India and South Africa. All respondents were from organizations of between 100 and 5,000 users.

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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