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eWaste dumped in Africa

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Africa is fast becoming the dumping ground for eWaste with a growing amount of computer equipment from Western nations is being found on toxic eWaste dumps throughout Africa.

A computer monitor from a prominent Australian bank was recently found on a toxic eWaste dump in Ghana. This raises serious questions about the integrity and regulations of Australia’s growing eWaste problem and even though it is illegal to export redundant computer equipment, that is considered hazardous waste, it is still happening.

In South Africa, there are laws that regulate the disposition of eWaste, these include Protection of Personal Information Act 2013 (PoPI 2013), the National Environmental Waste Management Act 2008 (NEMWA 2008) and the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (CPA).

Xperien CEO Wale Arewa says penalties for poor disposal of redundant IT assets could be costly but this could be prevented by adopting an IT asset disposition policy. This can be helpful in managing the decommissioning of IT devices and their contents appropriately.

Most companies have masses of eWaste waiting to be discarded, this could include servers and storage devices, computers, tablets, phones and fax machines. They have the option of donating them to charities, throwing them away or selling them, but the penalties for poor disposal could be costly.

“The biggest problem is the information stored in these devices. When we discard any IT equipment, we also release that information. Companies don’t really know what information is stored on a specific device,” he explains.

Information stored on the IT equipment can lead to the loss of other information and a company’s reputation can be damaged. Regaining that reputation can be costly, time-consuming and maybe not even possible.

eWaste may contain information such as databases, personal data, private information, passwords, application IDs, links to secure websites and information, financial data, intellectual property, healthcare information and data on friends and relatives. Losing intellectual property information could result in severe revenue damage.

Arewa points to IT asset disposition policy (ITAD) as a documented process for determining the effectiveness of IT organisations and their ability to protect their business. “Companies need to decommission IT devices and their contents effectively. A proper policy includes the need to control the data that is stored on the IT equipment, its disposition, removal, and transfer.”

He says there are two reasons for having an IT asset disposition policy. “You need to track your assets and ensure you efficiently use them during their normal life. This is a matter of ensuring that your investment is successful.”

“Also, the ability to ensure that you comply with the increasing number of regulations and compliance requirements surrounding IT assets. IT asset disposal is also a concern to environmental organisations so you need an enforceable policy with standardised practices across your organisation to make this work,” he adds.

Creating a policy means one should develop a set of best practices and a framework that includes documenting all the IT assets. More importantly, one needs to set up policies for data destruction, asset tracking, complying with data security standards, and regulatory compliance requirements.

“Discuss the ITAD policy with others in your organisation including procurement, finance, facilities management and legal. Security may have the most to contribute. Also, do not underestimate the potential risks, plan for IT disposal as you plan for the lifecycle of the IT devices,” he adds.

“Finally, use your employees to help flag violations. Also ensure that your employees know that when they do not adhere to the policy, there will be penalties,” he says.

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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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