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1.3m African kids learn to be coders

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With an target of training half a million African youth between 18 and 25 October, Africa Code Week again this year exceeded all expectations by empowering 1.3 million youth across 35 countries with basic coding skills.

This is also a 203% increase over the 2016 iteration, which had seen nearly 427 000 youth trained across 30 African countries.

Launched in 2015 by SAP CSR EMEA in partnership with the Cape Town Science Centre and the Galway Education Centre, Africa Code Week is an award-winning initiative that is now actively supported by UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), 15 African governments, over 100 partners and 100 ambassadors across the continent.

Claire Gillissen-Duval, Director of EMEA Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP and Global Project Lead for Africa Code Week, noted that “Participation in the Southern African region increased by nearly 142, with more than 116,800 youth trained in total. We also saw unprecedented collaboration between our public and private sector partners, as well as from NGOs such as Code For Change that leveraged their participation in Africa Code Week 2017 to scale coding classes across 100 secondary schools in South Africa over the next 12 months.”

In 2017, Africa Code Week and key partner UNESCO joined the #eSkills4girls initiative launched by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to overcome the gender digital divide. The latter awarded 20 grants to 20 organisations, improving digital skills and employment perspectives for 8,259 girls and women in emerging and developing countries.

“With an average ratio of 43% female participation in coding workshops, Africa Code Week 2017 unveils a huge appetite for digital skills development among Africa’s girls. Female representation in African companies in STEM-related fields currently stands at only 30%, requiring powerful public-private partnerships to start turning the tide and creating more equitable opportunities for African youth to contribute to the continent’s economic development and success,” says Gillissen-Duval.

With the highest engagement ratio of 1,622 youth per 100,000 population and a total of more than 390 000 introduced to coding during this year’s edition, Cameroon wins the Africa Code Week 2017 championship. While Morocco’s total engagement of 378,000 placed it second for overall participation, Mauritius sported the second-best engagement ratio of 1,545 youth engaged per 100,000 population. Botswana took third place with an engagement ratio of 1,168 per 100,000.

Key highlights from Southern Africa include:

  • 8,348 teachers trained in Train-the-Trainer workshops held across the region
  • Over 39% of Southern African participants in this year’s Africa Code Week were girls

One of the key strengths of Africa Code Week is its focus on collaboration and partnership with a variety of public and private sector stakeholders – such as Google that supports Africa Code Week as part of its own commitment to preparing 10 million people in Africa for tomorrow’s workplace. This year, 60 Google Micro Grants were awarded to community organizations in 10 African countries running initiatives to expose over 83,800 students to computer science.

The Botswana Ministry of Basic Education also partnered with Africa Code Week in 2017 to provide coding training to 80 teachers and 100 pupils in preparation of Africa Code Week. More than 500 teachers in Botswana have been trained in basic coding skills over the past three years.

According to Claas Kuehnemann, Acting Managing Director of SAP Africa, much of Africa Code Week’s success lies in the strength and support of its partners and collaborators. “Over the past three years Africa Code Week has grown into one of the best-supported and most far-reaching digital skills development initiatives on the African continent, with a broad range of governments, NGOs, private sector companies, educators, students and scholars all contributing to empowering one of the largest and most youthful workforces on the planet. We extend our gratitude to everyone who made this year such a resounding success, and look forward to building on its best practices over the years to come.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

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ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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