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Cybersecurity skills gap offers SA big 4IR opportunity

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By SANDRO BUCCHIANERI, Chief Security Officer of Absa Group.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is an opportunity for public and private businesses as well as government to influence the development of a talent pipeline to address our current and future needs. In seizing this opportunity, we have the chance to contribute to tackling the global cybersecurity skills shortage while addressing the unemployment of our youth and, in so doing, making an impact on people and the societies in which we live.

Youth aged 15-24 are the most vulnerable in the South African labour market. Statistics SA reported that the unemployment rate among this age group was 55% in the first quarter of 2019, while Cyber Ventures estimates that the global shortfall of cybersecurity jobs will rise to 3.5 million by 2021. It is a challenge partially rooted in the socio-economic environment, the growing void between youthskills, employer needs and because the South African education system is failing to train the next generation for the digital economy.  

South African youth from marginalised backgrounds are hungry for opportunities to develop skills that will result in employment. They are often unable to access tertiary education due to financial circumstances and without education their future is bleak and the cycle of poverty continues. Given the enormous need for skilled cybersecurity professionals locally and globally, we saw the opportunityto truly make a difference.

Addressing the global shortage of cybersecurity professionals is an urgent challenge. The estimated shortfall of 3.5 million jobs worldwide provides a startling statistic and a unique opportunity to make a difference. This gap must be filled to support the projected growth of the world’s cybersecurity sector over the next couple of years, but the talent pool is simply not keeping pace. In South Africa, the problem is compounded, as those who are trained in cybersecurity do not stay, as they are headhunted by global counterparts for premium packages.

Poverty and unemployment are at an all-time high. Limited access to formal education exacerbates the situation, and currently there does not seem to be a suitable solution in place to overcome this crisis. The 4IR is an exciting time for everyone, particularly the cybersecurity sector, as we are in desperate need of talent that is equipped to keep up with the industry.

To address its skills shortage, Absa has collaborated with the Maharishi Institute (MI) to set up the Absa Cybersecurity Academy. The programme is an externally focused, corporate social responsibility initiative aimed at empowering marginalised South African youth, who would otherwise not have had access to a tertiary education. The learners who participate become certified cybersecurity analysts.

The secret to the success of this programme is that we do not only focus on developing technical skills, we focus on creating a whole being through consciousness-based education. All the students who enrol in the Absa Cybersecurity Academy come from marginalised communities, 36% suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while 70% are females who have been abused in one way or another.

To make a success of the programme, we knew we had to develop each student holistically by balancing the technical, social and emotional skills required to ensure that they are not simply technically competent, but adequately prepared to succeed in the world of work.

The MI was created in 2007 with the ambition of making tertiary education accessible to South Africa’s youth by providing non-educational support to students wanting to access education through accredited educational partners. In so doing, it showcases South Africa as a leading innovator in education provision. The institute supports student learning that focuses on the student, rather than just books or information.

The partnership between Absa and the MI offers students accredited cybersecurity training, bridging courses and whole person development, including transcendental meditation and life and work-readyskills to make them “university ready”. It also includes financial support, including bursaries and work experience at MI’s call centres. Students receive a nutritious lunch daily as well as support through placement programmes, including the use of a “clothing library” for corporate interviews.

The founding principle of the academy is that everyone has the potential to be deemed “talent”. It is not necessary to have a wall hung with degrees to be a successful cybersecurity professional. Our first 24 students have just written their first internationally recognised exam, which they all passed. This is testament to not only the excellent education and training, but the holistic care for each student.

It is our job to prepare the youth for the 4IR. We need to invest in upskilling them for the future of work and to meet global cybersecurity demands. We can make South Africa and the wider African continent the hub of cybersecurity talent; we have the people, we just need to help them rewrite their futures.

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Did an earthquake take out SA Internet?

Seabed avalanches caused by an earthquake could have cut several undersea cables, leading to one of South Africa’s biggest Internet outages yet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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Picture by TooMuchCoffeeMan from pixabay.com

There is still no official explanation for freak breaks 11 days ago in two separate undersea cables that provide international access to South Africa’s Internet users. However, as reported in the Sunday Times yesterday, the most common causes of such breaks are damage by ship anchors and earthquakes at sea.

However, the freak occurrence of two separate cables being cut simultaneously far out at sea, as happened on the morning of 16 January, can only be explained by sea-bed activity.  One of the cables was cut in two places, and it is widely believed that a third major cable was also cut.

The cable damage mostly occurred in or near an area called the Congo Canyon, which starts inland and extends 220km into the sea. It is known for having the world’s strongest “turbidity currents”, underwater sediment avalanches over hundreds of kilometers, which are known to destroy undersea cables.

The most likely culprit is a 5.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the Atlantic Ocean near Ascension Island shortly before the cables were cut on the morning of 16 January. The earthquake occurred just before 8am South African time, and local ISPs reported losing international access from just before 10am. The epicentre of the earthquake was more than a thousand kilometres off the coast of Africa, but disturbances caused by seismic activity at sea become more powerful as they approach the coast. Combined with turbidity currents, this could well have taken out all cables in the area.

The West Africa Cable System (WACS) was cut in two places, and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT3) cable in one location. Industry insiders believe that the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable was also cut, but it has not been publicly confirmed.

South Africa is connected to the global Internet via seven such cables, with a total capacity of 42.3 terabits per second (tbps).  These cables, in turn, connect to additional cables connecting the West and East coasts of Africa, with a single cable running from Angola to Brazil providing another 40 tbps.

However, it emerged in the past week that smaller ISPs in South Africa had bought capacity on only one or two cables. In a freak occurrence, two of the most commonly used cables, the WACS and SAT 3 cables, were cut simultaneously, plunging millions of Internet users into data darkness.

Customers of the major mobile network operators – Vodacom and MTN – were largely unaffected, as these tend to have both part-ownership and access to most of the cables running up both the East and West coasts of Africa.

Visit the next page to read about how ISPs have battled to reroute access, how massive resources are needed to deal with these kinds of outages, and when the ship will reach the breakage points.

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Lenovo express-delivers new range from CES to SA

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Lenovo has unveiled its new range of ThinkBook laptops, barely two weeks after they were showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

The company’s newest sub-brand, ThinkBook, is intended to meet the demand for more aesthetically pleasing, yet agile and powerful devices.

The new range is aimed at small and medium enterprises. According to the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), there are more than 2-million SMEs in South Africa – although there are only 667,433 in the formal sector. This tallies with estimates in recent editions of SME Survey, produced by World Wide Worx, which suggest 650,000 active, formal businesses in South Africa. These SMEs employ about 14% of the South African workforce. 

Lenovo argues that access to affordable, yet efficient, technology is a crucial factor in aiding business success and contributing towards the success of the nation. The company has found, in its own research, that younger people prefer working, creating and communicating online “with stylish devices that make a statement”. This means they require streamlined laptops which can be used to collaborate from any remote location, to enhance productivity.

Lenovo said in a statement on Thursday night: “Backed by customer research, ThinkBook is specially designed for SMEs, who typically purchase consumer laptops for perceived design and price advantages but can no longer rationalise their lack of extended services and warranties – core needs of any business. ThinkBook allows growing firms to keep a competitive edge in attracting today’s young tech-savvy execs with trendy yet cost-effective devices. 

Thibault Dousson, general manager of  Lenovo for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said at the launch event: “With the capacity, SMEs have to grow and upskill the country’s workforce, they are perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between the public sector and large enterprise. Bearing in mind the demands of the digital economy, this sector needs skills and resources in order to compete, and that is where devices such as the ThinkBook come in.”

In South Africa, ThinkBook laptops are now available in 13-, 14- and 15-inch variants. The flagship ThinkBook 14 and ThinkBook 15 devices are powered by Windows 10 Pro and up to 10th Gen Intel Core processing, which Lenovo says combines high performance with intuitive, time-saving features. Options include Intel Optane memory, WiFi 6, and discrete graphics.

The ThinkBook 15 comes at just 18.9mm thin, while the ThinkBook 14 is a mere 17.9mm, both with FHD displays and two Dolby Audio speakers, dual-array, Skype certified microphones and a USB 3.1 (Gen2, Type-C) port.

Lenovo has also introduced the ThinkBook S series, including an elegant 13.3-inch ThinkBook 13s. The sleek and light device is constructed of a metallic finish on an all-aluminium chassis, alongside a narrow bezel display. As with the ThinkBook 14 and 15, the ThinkBook 13s also features advanced Intel processing and an FHD display, Dolby Vision and Harman speakers with Dolby Audio.

Visit the next page to read about the design and features of the new ThinkBook range.

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