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Back to segmented networks?

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Organisations need to move back to the days of segmented networks, to gain full visibility of network traffic and combat growing threats inside their networks, says JOHN WARD, Systems Engineer, Africa at Fortinet.

The risks inside a corporate network are usually far greater than organisations think. In fact, there may be more threats within an organisation’s perimeter defences than outside of them.

Mobile devices used in unsecured environments may bring malware directly into the core networks. Cybercriminals who gain access to the network have free access to everything once they bypass the perimeter firewall. Internet of Things devices and cloud connected printers connected to the network are typically left unsecured and unmanaged.

In addition, a poorly managed network that offers little or no visibility typically performs badly, impacting productivity and efficiency and the overall cost of doing business. This too, should be considered a serious business and productivity risk.

Information security professionals and risk managers are well aware that an ‘insider threat’ exists, but typically don’t have the resources to effectively mitigate the risk, and often they do not realise how network configuration impacts their threat exposure. Most organisations put in bare minimum perimeter firewalls to meet auditor requirements, and run flat layer 2 networks for cost control and ease of administration.

In an environment fraught with increasingly advanced threats, this architecture can prove to be a costly mistake. Consider for one minute that any users’ pc could unknowingly be directly tethered to the internet via their phone yet still be connected to the internal LAN.

In many consultations with potential clients, we have discovered perimeter firewalls up to ten years old and long out of their support contracts, still in place as the organisation’s only network defence. When we put FortiGate behind these incumbent firewalls into the core to analyse the state of the network, we almost always turn up issues the organisation knew nothing about.

There may be broadcast storms impacting users across the network; there may be old applications still running that IT management thought were long since phased out; there are frequently configuration issues and legacy systems impacting the overall network performance and increasing its risk profile.   At least 60% of the time, when organisations get their first true view of network traffic, they are unpleasantly surprised.

To address the threats inside the network and optimise network performance, organisations need to move away from the flat layer and back to the segmented network model of the past. Only this time, they need to lock down the segmented network without compromising performance, for example by installing Fortinet’s FortiASIC powered internal segmentation firewalls.

Deployed transparently in L2 mode or bump in wire and ASIC driven wire speed capable, these do not require extensive network overhauls. They simply plug into the network to deliver visibility into network traffic as well as application control, web filtering, advanced threat protection, mobile security and antivirus.

However, it is crucial that these internal segmentation firewalls do not cause bottlenecks that slow down the overall performance of the network. An effective internal segmentation firewall should support wire-speed internal traffic with multi-tens-gigabit performance, sitting at strategic choke points of the internal network. There, it provides policy-driven segmentation, instant visibility of traffic in and out of the network asset and real time protection of the asset, serving as an important component of the overall security suite. If required, these firewalls can even provide a secure ring around the legacy equipment to assure security and control.

With segmentation and full visibility, organisations are able to significantly improve governance and risk management, monitor and manage threats in real time, and optimise network performance by discovering where to clean up the network, or reconfigure and remove redundant systems.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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