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Smartphone sales slow across Africa

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Africa’s smartphone revolution is showing signs of a slowdown according to the latest figures compiled by International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting services firm says the continent’s smartphone market totaled 95.37 million units in 2016. And while this is up 3.4% year on year, it represents a considerable deceleration from the double-digit growth rates seen in the previous two years, with demand being hampered by the currency fluctuations that are affecting the continent.

Overall, 215.33 million mobile handsets were shipped in Africa during 2016, up 10.1% on the previous year. However, it was feature phones that were largely responsible for this growth, with shipments increasing 16.1% year on year in 2016 to total 119.97 million units. This growth saw feature phones increase their unit share of Africa’s overall handset market from 53% in 2015 to 56% in 2016.

“Africa has always been a tough market for mobile phone companies to crack, and in 2016 that challenge got even harder,” says Simon Baker, program director for mobile devices at IDC CEMA. “Many African economies struggled throughout 2016, and this had an inevitable knock-on effect on the smartphone market, which had previously experienced a very strong 2015. It was a particularly tough year in Nigeria, with the devaluation of the naira causing a drop in confidence in the distribution channel. And while North African markets saw an increase in overall handset shipments in 2016, the pace of growth slowed year on year due to exchange-rate fluctuations in Egypt and security issues in Algeria.”

Samsung continued to lead the African smartphone market in 2016, largely through a reworked product portfolio that now includes more mid- to low-range models. However, at 28 million units, its 2016 smartphone shipments in Africa showed little growth from the figures recorded in 2015. The second-placed smartphone vendor was Transsion, widely known throughout Africa via its itel, Infinix, and Tecno brands. And in terms of feature phone shipments, Transsion comfortably outperformed its main competitors in 2016.

Chinese vendors have been showing more interest in the African market in recent quarters and expanding into new countries. However, this expansion strategy is delivering mixed results across the continent. Of the big international Chinese vendors, Huawei posted year-on-year shipment growth to remain as Africa’s number-three smartphone vendor in 2016, while Lenovo saw flat growth and ZTE and Alcatel both suffered slight declines.

“Price competitiveness has become a key issue in many African markets,” says Ramazan Yavuz, research manager for mobile devices in Africa at IDC CEMA. “To grow significantly in these markets, vendors have to be able to address the continent’s large low-income population by providing phones that are priced very competitively. As such, global vendors are cautious of the lower-priced Chinese brands now entering the market and are keeping a close eye on them.”

3G handsets continue to account for more than half of all new smartphone shipments in Africa, although 4G devices saw year-on-year growth of more than 50% in 2016. IDC is predicting that 4G handsets will account for more than half of new smartphone shipments in Africa by 2018, as prices for entry-level 4G phones drop and the number of 4G networks across the continent grows. For example, Egypt saw the launch of a major 4G network towards the end of 2016, and more countries are set to follow suit in 2017.

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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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