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Why cyber criminals love your smartphone

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Smartphones have become a central part of our lives. But, while they aim to heighten convenience, there is a real feeling that smartphones are becoming a bigger target for cybercriminals, says CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, ESET South Africa CEO.

So, why are criminals eager to get into our devices?

A smartphone knows everything about us

The amount of information stored on a smartphone has skyrocketed in recent years.  The connectivity of apps means we supply nearly every piece of information about ourselves, whether its bank account details or our preferred taste in pizza.

For a cybercriminal potentially wanting to commit identity theft, a smartphone is a goldmine.

It’s a way into companies and other organisations

The use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has become one of the most prominent trends for companies around the globe. Cybercriminals are viewing these devices as an ideal gateway into stealing valuable corporate information.

Security can be lax

The rise of BYOD has also caused plenty of headaches for a number of companies in various industries, mainly due to difficulties in rolling out a unified approach to security.

In a recent Tech Pro Research survey of CIOs, tech executives and IT workers, 45% of respondents said mobile devices posed the greatest risk to a company’s infrastructure, with the fragmented nature of some mobile platforms cited as a primary reason.

Autofill has become our best friend

One of the reasons our phones are carrying more personal information than ever before is primarily down to our desire for convenience.

With our devices now handling a myriad of services and subsequent apps, we find ourselves with a larger number login details than ever before.

It’s a route into your wallet

Our phones can be used to transfer money, pay our bills, and are even being used as a method of payment.

Apps such as SnapScan and FlickPay are pushing mobile payments into the  mainstream, and some experts expect it to be a trend that will continue over the next few years.

Of course, the only drawback is that they are likely to catch the attention of cybercriminals.

Phones know where you are and where you are work

In many circumstances, the reason behind tracking your device are entirely innocent, such as helping you get the most out of your data and your apps.

For example, if you’re out and about, you can check out restaurant or business recommendations with just a couple of swipes.

However, hacking a device’s GPS capabilities is not seen as a difficult task, with many gamers using it to cheat at the popular augmented reality game Pokémon Go in the hands of the criminals, a compromised GPS could be an unnerving prospect.

Bluetooth

For several years now, Bluetooth has been a regular feature on smartphones and other mobile devices. Yet, like GPS, it is still seen as a potential entry point for cybercriminals.

The effects of such an attack can result in Bluesnarfing – where a phone’s private information is compromised, or Bluebugging, which allows a criminal to take complete control of your phone.

But while there is a risk, these methods are becoming increasingly harder for hackers to exploit.

Some scams are specific to mobile

There are several well-known ways in which cybercriminals can use your smartphones to make quick cash.

In countries like China, for example, malware can be used to access devices and force them to call premium numbers that charge large amounts.

These scams are not only potentially lucrative, but can also spread across large numbers of devices.

They’re a great way of sending spam

Everyone hates spam. Well, apart from cybercriminals, anyway.

There are several reasons why a criminal would want to send spam, but many of them see smartphones as the ideal platform for sending these communications.

This is mainly because it is much harder for service providers to track down and block offenders.

Users are ignorant about the dangers

Many of the most seasoned tech users are now well acquainted with best practices when it comes to using laptops or desktops, but smartphones often slip down the list of priorities.

Which, in some ways is surprising, given that smartphones have increasingly been targeted since as early as 2005.

However, as the threat is more visible than ever, we’re slowly beginning to understand that security matters. Let’s treat them with the importance they deserve.

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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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