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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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