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Cyber whaling rises in SA

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Whaling is much like phishing, but hackers target more lucrative targets. Also, unlike phishing, whaling involves targeting fewer individuals and with more specific attacks. SIMEON TASSEV, offers some tips to prevent a company from becoming a whaling target.

One of the largest online security threats to individuals and businesses today doesn’t come from new sophisticated malware tools, but rather from distinctly low-tech phishing and whaling campaigns. A recent survey of IT experts from the US, UK, South Africa and Australia exposed the reality that cyber threats are increasing both in volume and size, and that up to 55% of organisations have seen a rise in whaling email attacks over the last three months of 2015. What is the difference between whaling and phishing? Realistically, “whaling” is just another term for “phishing”, the difference between the two lies in the size of the fish, and thus “whaling” refers to bigger, more lucrative targets.

Whaling involves targeting fewer individuals but the attacks are more specific. Whereas phishing is based on volume, whaling is the opposite and targets a much smaller audience, which is usually an organisation’s “big phish”. These are usually high-value individuals whose credentials or access to data, if compromised, could endanger the entire business; which is why these kind of attacks are also called “Business Email Compromise” attacks. These kinds of threats are harder to detect because they are stealthier and fewer in number than widespread phishing campaigns.   Targets of choice for whalers include senior executives and high-level officials in private businesses, as well as those with privileged access to government information.

The anatomy of a whaling attack

Whaling attacks are generally directed at business executives at large organisations and the intention behind these attacks is to trick financial staff into making fraudulent wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by whalers. How do these attackers get it right? Their targeted campaigns typically involve emails that appear to be from the CEO, Chief Financial Officer or other senior executive to an individual within the company who holds the authority to make electronic transfers on behalf of the organisation.

These emails make use of compelling language that conveys a sense of urgency to get the recipient to act as quickly as possible in response to the email. An example of such an attack is where an email comes through, purportedly from the CEO, asking finance staff to rush through a payment to a supplier that the executive cannot handle because they are out of the office.

Attacks from the inside

Research shows that most whaling attacks pretend to be from the CEO (72%), while 36% had seen whaling emails attributed to the CFO, which means that this type of targeted attack relies on a significant amount of prior research into the targeted organisation to allow attackers to identify their target correctly and obtain the most successful result possible. Whalers do their research on corporate databases and make use of social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to trawl for information. It is because whaling emails rely on social engineering to trick their targets into doing something, rather than tricking them to click on a hyperlink or malicious attachment, that whaling emails are harder to detect when compared to phishing emails.

Protecting your company from whaling attacks

From an organisational point of view, such attacks can be approached with the same mindset applied for corporate espionage security, as they are essentially the same. The controls are still along the lines of anti-phishing technology which is linked to email, but because of the targeted nature of the whaling attack, it can be a lot more difficult for technology to pick up, which is why it’s important to add an awareness element to preventive measures taken.

This means educating senior management, key personnel and finance teams about this specific kind of attack and asking them to be more suspicious of requests received through email. While there are technologies that can be used to confirm, for example, the originator’s email, it is incumbent on the recipient to confirm or identify the source of communication before they take action on the email and to this end, finance team procedures will need to be reviewed in order to prevent whaling, specifically how payments to external third parties are authorised.

Furthermore, senior executives need to be careful what kind of contact information is available for them in the public domain. This means that a company should have a policy in place which refers to access control to and disclosure of senior personnel contact information. Realistically, someone may not have an issue giving a contact number for the help desk, but they should have an issue giving a contact number for their senior executives and access controls should be implemented to hinder information gathering tactics.

It is also advisable to make use of various technological measures that simplify the matter. In terms of validating the source of emails, like with phishing, whaling emails can have the source of the email description and the technical structure of the email validated, using targeted threat prevention solutions integrated with email security.  Also useful is inbound email stationery that marks and alerts personnel to emails that have come from outside the corporate network. Additionally, domain name registration alerts can be used to notify an organisation when domains are created that closely resemble that corporate’s domain, making it that much harder for a whaler to launch a successful attack from within.

  • Simeon Tassev, Director and QSA, Galix Networking

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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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