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Cloud explosion in SA will demand cyber resilience

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by Mikey Molfessis, cybersecurity expert at Mimecast South Africa

Microsoft’s announcement that it has launched its first cloud data centres in Africa – one in Cape Town, another in Johannesburg – is a cause for celebration among South Africa’s business sector. As we hurtle into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, access to cloud infrastructure will be critical to power artificial intelligence and edge computing innovation. And while only Azure is supported at present, Microsoft plans to soon launch Office365 from these datacentres, offering organisations increased productivity. Amazon and Huawei also have plans to establish local data centres over the next few years.

However, organisations’ tendencies to rely exclusively on single cloud service providers for day-to-day operations have exposed them to undue risk. With services such as Office365, organisations are not only putting all their eggs in one basket: they are putting all their eggs in the same basket that everyone else is putting all their eggs. The volume of users on cloud-based email services like Office365 means there is more malware created for these environments. Criminals know they have only one lock to pick to gain access, so they focus their attention on these cloud services because of the potentially large payoff.

As more businesses move email and data to Office365, there’s an increased need to protect against malicious or accidental loss of data. Mimecast’s latest Email Security Risk Assessment (ESRA) report, an aggregated analysis of tests that measure the efficacy of widely used email security systems globally, including Office365, illustrated the scope of the problem. Of the more than 232 million emails inspected, organisations’ existing email security systems missed more than 26 000 malware attachments, 53 000 impersonation attacks and 23 000 dangerous file types.

Microsoft offers certain protection-of-data capabilities as part of its Office365 services, which are designed to protect against data loss caused by its own infrastructure failing. But these services don’t always offer protection against accidental deletion, data corruption, advanced cyberattacks, or malicious users or administrators. These can often lead to downtime which can bring business operations to a standstill. Continuity is essential to any modern organisation’s efforts to maintain productivity but is not always achievable when all business-critical applications run on a single cloud provider’s infrastructure.

It’s not only breaches, human error or technical error that can cause downtime for an organisation. Well-reported and widespread Office365 outages – the most recent of which took place in Europe in mid-January – highlight what can happen when email data becomes unavailable. As more organisations move to Office365, we’re likely to see South Africa featuring on Downdetector’s outage map. Outages pose serious productivity risks to users who rely on Software-as-a-Service monocultures to support their operations.  Even more concerning is the possibility that employees will turn to their unsecure personal Gmail or Yahoo Mail accounts when Office365 goes offline. You then have absolutely no control over email activity.

Important data stored on Office365 can also be lost due to accidental or malicious deletion or ransomware. If your organisation doesn’t have an independent backup in place, and deleted data passes through short term folders such as the Recycle Bin, Deleted Items folders or retention policies without being recovered, it is lost forever.

To mitigate the risks associated with cloud services, organisations should look to improve their cyber resilience. An effective cyber resilience strategy should include layered security protection, independent data storage and alternative access routes to key systems like email, for when the worst does occur. The cyber resilience strategy should further include a backup and recovery plan. This was always a priority for organisations when their systems were on premise. The fact that data is now in the cloud does not change this.

South African organisations are arguably a step ahead of their international counterparts in their cyber resilience efforts. The latest Vanson Bourne global data found that 49% of South African organisations have a cyber resilience strategy in place, against a global average of 46.2%. But this still means that half of organisations are yet to have a comprehensive strategy in place.

Recent Osterman Research titled “Why Your Company Needs Third-Party Solutions for Office365”, indicates that organisations globally are starting to supplement the service with third party products to achieve cyber resilience. The study found that nearly one-third of organisations implementing Office365 plan to use third-party solutions that will provide improved security, archiving or other capabilities, rather than relying on what is available natively in Office365. In fact, 37% of the typical Office365 budget in 2019 will be spent on a cheaper plan in conjunction with third-party security, archiving and other solutions.

Increased adoption of cloud services is a welcome development in the South African business sector and will support organisations as they strive for greater agility and scalability. But putting all your eggs in one basket – the same basket as everyone else – leaves you exposed to a broad range of risks that can have a debilitating effect on your operations. Using a third-party provider and having an effective cyber resilience strategy provides a safety net and enables organisations to quickly return to standard operations without losing critical data or productivity.

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Cape Town not so calm – if you’re a driver

Cape Town drivers lose on average 162 hours a year to traffic jams, so will need some tech and a few tips to stay calm

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Cape Town drivers lose, on average, 162 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, and the city is ranked 95th out of around 200 cities, across 38 countries surveyed globally, in terms of congestion issues.

That’s according to the latest INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which is an annual analysis of mobility and congestion trends. The study provides a data-rich evaluation of information collected during peak (slowest) travel times, and inter peak (fastest point between morning and afternoon commutes) travel times. Together they provide a holistic account of congestion throughout the day, delivering in-depth insights for vehicle drivers and policy-makers to make better decisions regarding urban travel and traffic health.

Of the further five South African cities surveyed:

  • Pretoria drivers lose, on average, 143 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, ranking as the 64thmost congested city
  • Johannesburg drivers lose an average of 119 hours annually, ranking 61st
  • Durban drivers lose 72 hours, ranking 141st
  • Port Elizabeth drivers lose 71 hours, ranking 75th
  • And Bloemfontein drivers lose 62 hours, ranking 165th

If these hours sound horrific, spare a thought for the poor drivers in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá who lose, on average, a whopping 272 hours a year stuck in traffic jams!

On average, drivers’ commutes increase by roughly 30% during peak versus inter-peak hours. And the reality is that congestion issues aren’t going away anytime soon. Not here in SA, or anywhere else in the world. So what can we, as drivers, do to make the situation easier to cope with on our daily commute?

Change of mindset

Stressing about the unavoidable, the inevitable, and all the things that are out of our control – like congestion caused by accidents, faulty street lights, or bad weather – is a waste of energy. We should try finding ways of using that time in our cars more productively, to create a less tense, more positive experience. Learning to change our perspective about this challenging time, and associating it with something enjoyable, can drastically alter our reaction to and engagement with it. Rather than expending all our energy on futile anger and frustration, we can channel our focus on things that relax or energise us instead.

Just one more chapter

Being stuck in traffic usually aggravates us because it feels like a huge waste of valuable time. But like a wise man once said, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Listening to a podcast or audiobook can not only be entertaining, but also educational, which is a brilliant use of your time. Ifyou think of your car as a ‘learning lab’, a mobile university of sorts, and your time spent inside as away to exercise your brain and grow intellectually, you may even find yourself wishing for bad traffic so you have an excuse to carry on listening to your podcast or audiobook.

Tame your inner Hulk

Pulling up a playlist of your favourite, feel-good songs can do wonders to combat stress levels. Downbeat music has been proven to have a mellowing effect on drivers. Making a quick switch to downbeat music shows measurable physiological improvements, with drivers calming down much sooner, and making fewer driving mistakes. So the next time you feel your inner Hulk emerging, crank up the volume on your favourite tunes.

The power of ‘caromatherapy’

There are numerous studies on aromas and their impact on human emotion, behaviour, and performance. Researchers have found that peppermint can enhance mental and athletic performance and cognitive functioning, while cinnamon may improve tasks related to attentional processes and visual-motor response speed. A study from Kyoto University in Japan revealed that participants reported significantly lower hostility and depression scores, and felt more relaxed after awalk through a pine forest. It makes sense then, to incorporate some ‘caromatherapy’ into our lives. There are plenty of off-the-shelf car diffusers available, or you could add a few drops of essential oil to DIY felt air fresheners. Citrus scents like orange or lemon can provide a boost of energy, while rosemary can relieve stress and anxiety. Take care not to hang anything that might obstruct your field of vision though, and always make sure to test out essential oils at home first, in case a scent makes you dizzy or overly relaxed, which could affect driving focus.

Contemplate your navel

The mind is a powerful thing, and simply willing yourself to relax might be the most effective method of all. While we don’t recommend meditating while driving due to safety reasons, breathing exercises can help you stay focused and feeling calm. One useful practice is the one-to-one technique – breathing in and out for the same count with the same intensity. Deep, measured breaths facilitate full oxygen exchange, helping to slow down the rate of your heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure, as opposed to shallow breathing, which doesn’t send enough air to the lowest part of your lungs, causing you to feel anxious and short of breath. Just always keep your eyes on the road, and take care to ensure you’re not so busy counting breaths that your concentration is compromised.

Not all those who wander are lost

Some of our best ideas come in those moments where we’re alone with our own thoughts, able to really reflect on the ideas we have without having something immediate that needs our attention. Allow your mind to wander, and do a little brainstorming. Alternatively, use the time to simply day dream. Remember, downtime is not dead time. It is both necessary, and important for your mental health. Use this time as an opportunity to take care of yourself.

In-built vehicle tech

“As we spend more and more time commuting, cars are being designed to accommodate longer periods behind the wheel,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Ford uses human-centric design to deliver vehicles that are inviting, accommodating, and intuitive. For example, our SYNCT infotainment system offers nifty, hands-free functions, like allowing drivers to listen to their texts, change music or climate settings, and make phone calls easily with voice control. Our range of driver-assist technologies, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist, are also designed to take some of the stress off city driving. If our lifestyle means that we might be spending more time in our cars than we do on holiday, then we should make sure we make the most of that time.”

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Vodacom exits Africa biz services

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Vodacom Group has sold Vodacom Business Africa’s operations in Nigeria, Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to Andile Ngcaba’s Synergy Communications. The two entities are in the process of concluding the acquisitions, which are subject to the approval of the regulatory authorities within these markets.

Vodacom says the transaction supports the Group’s enterprise strategy in Africa, which has been refocused to grow and strengthen its core business. It will no longer directly service global enterprise customers in these three markets but will rather continue to operate as a pan African telecommunications networks provider through local relationships, like the one with Synergy Communications. 

This acquisition represents a significant milestone in Synergy Communication’s quest to be a leading provider of cloud and digitally based services in key markets across sub-Saharan Africa and provides key additional assets in its build out of a regional footprint. Synergy Communications currently has operations in Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique.

Andile Ngcaba, Chairman of Synergy Communications said: “This is an exciting landmark transaction for Synergy Communications, providing us with additional momentum in the delivery of our strategy as a pan-African enterprise digital Services Provider. Synergy Communications will partner with major global cloud providers and deliver platform-based services to both multi-nationals and local enterprises.”

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, said: “Vodacom has a clear vision for strengthening our position as a leading pan-African business and will work with local service providers like Synergy Communications to grow in these markets. Crucially, Vodacom is not exiting any of the territories related to this transaction and remains focused on continuing to deliver exceptional service to our global and multinational clients in these markets through long-term commercial agreements. 

“To support the sustainable growth of pan African digital economies and building connected societies, Vodacom will, via local service providers, continue to service clients in each market. We seek to leverage the collective strengths of Vodacom and Synergy Communications to meet the changing requirements of clients across each of these markets.”

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