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Cybercrime now enterprise grade

Attacks on enterprise are becoming cheaper and easier for agents to execute, writes BRIAN PINNOCK, cybersecurity expert at Mimecast

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Email attacks are cheap, easy, low risk and high reward. And based on the recently launched 2019 State of Email Security Report, they are on the rise: 53% of South African companies saw an increase in phishing attacks containing malicious links or attachments in the past year, and 63% reported increases in impersonation fraud.

Not only is the volume of attacks increasing, they are becoming more sophisticated and the pace at which criminals are innovating is cause for immense concern. A single email breach can hit your revenue and reputation hard. Protecting against this is not easy: the sheer amount of emails that pass through an organisation each day complicates the process of securing yourself from email-borne threats. In fact, Mimecast’s latest Email Security Risk Assessment, an aggregated report of tests that measure the efficacy of widely used email security systems, found that many email attacks ranging from opportunistic spam to highly targeted impersonation attacks are getting through incumbent email security systems. It found that 26,305,457 spam emails, 27,156 malware attachments, 55,190 impersonation attacks and 466,905 malicious URLS, were all missed by these incumbent providers and delivered to users’ inboxes.

Don’t underestimate the enemy

Are we – as business and IT leaders – sometimes guilty of underestimating cybercriminals? Thinking of them as lone thieves out to make a quick buck ignores the fact that cybercrime is now driven by criminal organisations that rival the drug trade in size and scope. It’s a well-oiled, thriving multinational criminal enterprise that is expected to cost the global economy $6-trillion by 2021. According to the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC) it costs South Africa R2.2-billion a year. In fact, South Africa currently has the third-highest number of cybercrime victims worldwide, with mobile banking losses alone increasing by 100% over the past year, according to the latest SABRIC data.

Thinking of cybercriminals as part of complex business structures that rival your own helps you keep up with them more effectively. Rather than thinking of a clandestine hacker working out of a basement, you need to see it for what it is: a sophisticated, professional operation working out of an office tower, replete with systems, top talent, and a drive to succeed. And since cybercrime is a highly lucrative business, you can assume they’re well-funded too.

Understanding cyber risks

To strengthen your cyber resilience, you need to first understand what the cybersecurity risks are, and that cyber resilience starts with email. Email is the number one channel for breaching organisations’ defences. Phishing is the leading email attack type: fraudulent emails written under the guise of an important stakeholder, such as a bank, SARS, or regulator that solicits an unsafe action from the recipient, for example clicking on a seemingly innocuous link that exposes personal or company information or triggers a malware install.

These types of attacks are untargeted and rely on volume and human weaknesses to break through cyber defences. The amount of information we readily share online, and the speed at which we use internet based services, leaves us exposed to clever tricksters.

Spear-phishing attacks are far more sophisticated. Emails are targeted at specific individuals or organisations for which the attacker has extensive information. Think of them as targeted ads for premium customers. There are significant increases in more sophisticated types of targeted attacks, such as impersonation fraud, recorded in South Africa.

Data from The State of Email Security Report shows that 38% of South African organisations saw an increase in impersonation fraud involving email-based spoofing of vendors or business partners asking for money, sensitive intellectual property, or login credentials. Thirty-three percent also saw an increase in impersonation fraud involving CEOs and other high-ranking company executives. Even the largest tech companies fall prey to this type of attack: workers at Facebook and Google fell for an impersonation fraud scam that nearly cost them $100-million.

Ransomware is one of the more well-reported types of attacks. The most worrying aspect of a Ransomware outbreak is its tendency to disrupt entire organisations by freezing critical IT systems. It is a type of malware that locks victims out of their IT systems or data; to regain access, you need to pay a ransom.

What you need to ask yourself to protect yourself

You need to adopt a competitive mindset if you’re going to have any hope of staving off the myriad cybersecurity risks endangering your data – and your business. Think: how would someone make money from attacking your organisation?:

  • What data or systems would fetch the highest ransom in the event of a successful attack? What is easiest to monetise on the black market?
  • Which employees hold the most financial power or influence? Who are their associates? How would you trick them into exposing sensitive information? How much information about them is available online, and can that information be used in the service of impersonation fraud?
  • Which systems, data or business process are absolutely essential to the organisation’s survival?
  • Which partners or suppliers have access to the organisation’s digital assets?

Once you can answer these questions, you can get to work on improving your cyber resilience. Starting with email, employ advanced security controls that include a modern, secure email gateway system instead of just an email security system that focuses purely on stopping spam or known types of malware. Threats are no longer just sent to all and sundry with a ‘hope-for-the-best’ attitude; cybercriminals are too clever for that. A standard email security system is not going to stop targeted threats.

Remember that security is a business problem more than it is an IT problem. Treat it as such. Understand the value of your data: after all, it’s the bargaining chip in every ransomware attack. Have powerful backup and recovery capabilities to restore systems and data quickly and with minimal interruption to the business. Are you patching your system vulnerabilities as soon as possible? Many attacks capitalise on unpatched systems. Abandon your old, unsupported operating systems and applications and never use pirated software.

Finally, remember that your employees are your last line of defence. Train them. Give them the knowledge and tools to spot and avoid cyber risks. Make security a critical part of your organisation’s culture. Only 1% of South African organisations think end-user training and awareness is not important; and yet, only 63% have included end-user awareness in their cyber resilience strategies. Your employees are your most valuable resource; they become even more valuable when they are clever and cautious.

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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The dark side of apps

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Mobile device security threats are on the rise and it’s not hard to see why. In 2019 the number of worldwide mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion of which 2.7 billion are smartphone users. So, if you are looking for a target, it certainly makes sense to go where the numbers are. Think about it, unsecured Wi-Fi connections, network spoofing, phishing attacks, ransomware, spyware and improper session handling – mobile devices make for the perfect easy target. In fact, according to Kaspersky, mobile apps are often the cause of unintentional data leakage.

“Apps pose a real problem for mobile users, who give them sweeping permissions, but don’t always check security,” says Riaan Badenhorst, General Manager for Kaspersky in Africa. “These are typically free apps found in official app stores that perform as advertised, but also send personal – and potentially corporate – data to a remote server, where it is mined by advertisers or even cybercriminals. Data leakage can also happen through hostile enterprise-signed mobile apps. Here, mobile malware uses distribution code native to popular mobile operating systems like iOS and Android to spread valuable data across corporate networks without raising red flags.”

In fact, according to recent reports, 6 Android apps that were downloaded a staggering 90 million times from the Google Play Store were found to have been loaded with the PreAMo malware, while another recent threat saw 50 malware-filled apps on the Google Play Store infect over 30 million Android devices. Surveillance malware was also loaded onto fake versions of Android apps such as Evernote, Google Play and Skype.

Considering that as of 2019, Android users were able to choose between 2.46 million apps, while Apple users have almost 1.96 million app options to select from, and that the average person has 60-90 apps installed on their phone, using around 30 of them each month and launching 9 per day – it’s easy to see how viral apps take several social media channels by storm.

“In this age where users jump onto a bandwagon because it’s fun or trendy, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) can overshadow basic security habits – like being vigilant on granting app permissions,” says Bethwel Opil, Enterprise Sales Manager at Kaspersky in Africa. “In fact, accordingly to a previous Kaspersky study, the majority (63%) of consumers do not read license agreements and 43% just tick all privacy permissions when they are installing new apps on their phone. And this is exactly where the danger lies – as there is certainly ‘no harm’ in joining online challenges or installing new apps.”

However, it is dangerous when users just grant these apps limitless permissions into their contacts, photos, private messages, and more. “Doing so allows the app makers possible, and even legal, access to what should remain confidential data. When this sensitive data is hacked or misused, a viral app can turn a source into a loophole which hackers can exploit to spread malicious viruses or ransomware,” adds Badenhorst. 

As such, online users should always have their thinking caps on and be more careful when it comes to the internet and their app habits including:

  • Only download apps from trusted sources. Read the reviews and ratings of the apps as well
  • Select apps you wish to install on your devices wisely
  • Read the license agreement carefully
  • Pay attention to the list of permissions your apps are requesting. Only give apps permissions they absolutely insist on, and forgo any programme that asks for more than necessary
  • Avoid simply clicking “next” during an app installation
  • For an additional security layer, be sure to have a security solution installed on your device

“While the app market shows no signs of slowing down, it is changing,” says Opil. “Consumers download the apps they love on their devices which in turn gives them access to content that is relevant and useful. The future of apps will be in real-world attribution, influenced by local content and this type of tailored in-app experience will lead consumers to share their data more willing in a trusted, premium app environment in exchange for more personalised experiences. But until then, proceed with caution.”

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