As a little girl in the village of Mhangweni in Tzaneen, Limpopo, Gladness Baloyi would sit and listen to her grandmother interpret life traditionally. But she decided that when she grew up she would become a scientist, writes AMANDA KHOZA.
At the weekend Baloyi, now 24, was among leading scientists and astronomers who gathered for the two-day Third Annual Astronomy meeting in Umhlanga, Durban.
She told News24 on Sunday that she was an example that “where you come from does not determine where you are going”.
Raised by a single mother, Gloria Bvuma, who died in 2009, Baloyi said she always had big dreams.
“My mother had a spaza shop in the village and she used all the money she got to support me and my younger sister, Glacious,” said Baloyi.
“When we were growing up we used to spend a lot of time with my grandmother who used to tell us these traditional tales and she would interpret them traditionally. One day I told her that I wanted to be a scientist so that I could interpret things scientifically.
“I told my grandmother that things had changed and that we were living in the modern times and that there was technology.”
After high school Baloyi applied for a bursary but she did not receive a reply so she applied for a student loan at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
“I realised that my mother had saved up enough money for me to register so I went to the University of Limpopo and applied to study for a Bachelor of Science and I was accepted.”
Baloyi said she remembers assisting other pupils in Maths and Science in high school.
“Today I am a graduate and an intern at the Department of Science and Technology because I persevered,” she said shyly.
Baloyi started working for the department in April.
“We do research in astronomy. I am looking at furthering my studies so that I can become an astronomer. People in my village lack information and some of them don’t imagine themselves out of the village and beyond their circumstances.
“Everyone in the village wants to be a nurse or a teacher. People should dream big and stay away from social networks. That is what is killing our youth today,” she said.
Baloyi said the youth should rather focus on doing research into their careers.
“One day I want to pass on the knowledge I have to my family. I think my mother is very proud of me where she is,” said Baloyi.
Chair of the South Africa’s committee of the International Astronomical Union Professor Patrick Woudt, who also heads the University of Cape Town’s astronomy department, said the two day meeting brought together astronomers and policy makers from the department and the National Research Foundation.
“We come together once every two years to discuss developments, new initiatives and share ideas of where we are going in the future and the capacity development is the most critical part of it.
“Young people need to be excited about astronomy. The discussions also focused on the efforts made by the community as well as the support from the department in developing capacity in astronomy.
“We also discussed the vision of astronomy, where we see ourselves in five to ten years… because there is a lot of investment that is made by the country and that investment needs to be matched by a clear vision and strategy,” said Woudt.
Crouching Yeti strikes
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.
R5m in software fines
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.