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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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Vodacom cuts cost of smallest bundle by 40%

The country’s largest mobile operator has kept to a promise made last month to slash the price of entry-level data packages

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Vodacom has cut the data price of its lowest-cost bundle by 40%, reducing the price of a 50MB 30-day bundle from R20 to to R12. This follows from the operator’s promise in March, when it announced a 33% cut in the cost of 1GB bundles, to reduce prices of all smaller bundles by up to 40%.

Vodacom’s various 30-day data bundle prices will be cut across all of its channels, with the new pricing as follows:

30-day bundle size New Price Reduction
50MB R12 40%
150MB R29 33%
325MB R55 33%
500MB R79 21%
1GB R99 34%
3GB R229 23%
5GB R349 14%
10GB R469 22%
20GB R699 31%

Vodacom confirmed it will provide free data to access essential services through Vodacom’s zero-rated platform ConnectU with immediate effect. The value of these initiatives, it says, is R2.7-billion over the next year.

“Vodacom can play a critical role in supporting society during this challenging time and we’re committed to doing whatever we can to help customers stay connected,” says Jorge Mendes, Chief Officer of Vodacom’s Consumer Business Unit. “Since we started our pricing transformation strategy three years ago, our customers have benefitted from significant reductions in data prices and the cost of voice calls. Over the same period, we invested over R26 billion in infrastructure and new technologies, so our customers enjoy wider 2G, 3G and 4G coverage and vastly increased data speeds.”

The latest data reductions will complement the discounted bundle offers that will also be made available to prepaid customers in more than 2,000 less affluent suburbs and villages around the country. For qualifying communities to access further discounted voice and data deals, they need to click on the scrolling ConnectU banner on the platform via connectu.vodacom.co.za

ConnectU – which is a zero-rated platform – also went live this week. It will provide content aimed at social development and offers a variety of essential services for free. Learners and students enrolled in schools and universities can access relevant information for free, with no data costs. The ConnectU portal includes a search engine linked to open sources such as Wikipedia and Wiktionary as well as free access to job portals; free educational content on the e-School platform; free health and wellness information and free access to Facebook Flex, the low data alternative to Facebook that enables customers to stay socially connected.

Vodacom’s popular Just4You platform has been a significant contributor to the approximately 50% reduction in effective data prices over the past two years. Substantial cuts in out-of-bundle tariffs and the introduction of hourly, daily and weekly bundles with much lower effective prices have also driven increased value and affordability, resulting in R2-billion in savings for customers in 2019.

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OneBlade shaves price of electric precision

Electric razors and their blades are usually quite expensive. But the Philips OneBlade shaves the cost, writes SEAN BACHER

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Electric razors come in all shapes and forms and their prices vary as well. When your nearest electronic retail outlet opens again, you will be able to pay a small fortune for a wet and dry razor that cleans itself, shows you when it needs to be recharged, and tells you to replace the cleaning solution – all via a little LCD panel in the handle.

But does everyone want that? Does everyone need that? Surely there must be customers who want an easy-to-use, no-mess, no-fuss razor that gets the job done just as well as a “smart razor”?

With this in mind, Philips has launched its OneBlade wet and dry electric razor. The razor is dead simple to use. It comes with three stubble combs – 1mm, 3mm and 5 mm –  which can be clicked onto the head much like one would with a hair shaver. Should you want a really close shave, simply the combs off. I found this to be the most effective as I don’t have a beard.

The razor’s blade is the size of the striking side of a matchbox and has 90-degree angles all round. This offers precise shaving and, because of its small size, it is able to get just about anywhere on a person’s face.

The blade has a usage indicator that shows when it is time to replace the blade – usually after four months – and an additional blade is included in the box.

The OneBlade’s battery takes up to eight hours to charge, and will give up to 45 minutes shaving time.

Overall, the Philips OneBlade will give a man a comfortable and precise shave. Its battery life, combined with its size, makes it a perfect travel companion as it is no bigger than an electric toothbrush. Its relatively low price compared to other electric razors also counts in its favour.

The One Blade can be bought from most electronic retailers or can be ordered online from websites like takealot.com. The razor retails for R650 and a set of two new blades will cost around R450.

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