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Corporate SA catches up on security

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The IT security concerns, challenges and investment by South African enterprises is closely aligned with those of their international counterparts, according to a new global survey by Fortinet.

“Where as recently as two years ago, South Africa lagged the rest of the developed world in terms of IT security focus, we now see local enterprises closely following international trends on the IT security drivers, investment and challenges they face,” says Paul Williams, Country Manager – Southern Africa at Fortinet.

Announcing the findings of Fortinet’s 2017 Global Enterprise Security Survey in Johannesburg this week, Williams said South Africa, included in the international survey for the first time, was stepping up its focus on IT security largely due to high profile breaches and the growing move to the cloud.

The survey, which polled over 1,800 enterprise IT decision makers in 16 countries during August this year, found that the transition to the cloud as part of an organisation’s digital transformation journey was a catalyst for an increased focus on security. 71% of South African IT security decision makers believe that cloud security is becoming a growing priority – slightly less than the 74% global average. As a result, 56% of the South African respondents, compared with 50% globally, are planning investment in cloud security in the next 12 months.

“IT security has always been something of a ‘grudge purchase’, and we still see enterprises spurred to action after a breach or high profile incident has taken place,” says Williams.  “Our research found that 82% of local enterprises and 85% of global enterprises had experienced a security breach in the past two years. 55% of South African IT decision-makers (vs 49% internationally) said there had been an increased focus on IT security following global cyberattacks such as WannaCry. The scale and profile of global cyberattacks is bringing security to the attention of the board.”

Increased pressure from regulators has become an important driver of board awareness, said 35% of local and 34% of international respondents. Despite the spiralling cybercrime risk, IT decision makers still feel that board members do not prioritise IT security as they should. 41% of local respondents and 48% of international respondents said they believe that IT security is still not a top priority discussion for the board. 74% of the South African respondents and 77% of international respondents said cybersecurity should become a top management priority.

This doesn’t seem to affect budgets, since 61% of enterprises, both in South Africa and internationally, stated that they spend over 10% of their IT budget on security. 76% of the local and 71% of international respondents said their IT security budget had increased from the previous year.

Williams says: “As organisations embrace digital transformation, we see IT decision-makers emphasizing that cybersecurity is a strategic business investment. It is interesting to note that South Africa has progressed in recent years, with local enterprise executives increasing their focus and investment on IT security. The key challenges they face now appear to include the ongoing vulnerability posed by employees, high-level information security skills shortages and buy-in from executive level.”

Research Highlights:

82% of South African enterprises surveyed (vs 85% international average) have been victims of a security breach in the past two years. Top threats experienced in the past two years among South African companies were malware and ransomware, reported by 55% of respondents (vs 47% international average). This was followed by internal or external data breaches, reported by 46% of South African respondents (vs 37% international average).

IT security spend: In South Africa, key investment areas were upgrade of security solutions, reported by 81% of South African and 67% of international respondents, followed by new security solutions and services, reported by 56% of South African respondents (vs 60% internationally). 54% of South African and 52% of international respondents had invested in staff training and certification and employee education, while 28% of South African respondents and 23% of international respondents had invested in new hires in IT security.  Implementation of security policies and processes was an investment by 50% of South African respondents (vs 57% internationally)

Report Methodology

The 2017 Fortinet Global Enterprise Security Survey was undertaken on behalf of Fortinet by independent market research company Loudhouse to examine the changing attitudes towards security in business in July/August 2017. The global survey of IT decision makers with responsibility/visibility of IT security, received 1,801 anonymized respondents across 16 countries (US, Canada, France, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Middle East, South Africa, Poland, Korea, Australia, Singapore, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia). Respondents to the online questionnaire were not aware of the purpose or sponsor of the report.

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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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