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Flawless phishes coming

What lies ahead for companies, governments and individuals regarding cybersecurity in 2019? Will we see the EU government forcing US data centers to hand over data? Will the European Union issue its first major fines for organisations in contravention of its General Data Protection Regulation? Will our growing dependence on social media expose us to unwanted risks as our accounts become compromised? BRIAN PINNOCK, cybersecurity specialist at Mimecast, gives his opinion.

The World Economic Forum recently placed cybersecurity as the fifth biggest global risk for doing business, with 19 countries ranking it as their number one concern, including 14 in Europe and North America, as well as Japan, India, Indonesia, Singapore and the UAE. As the political climate around the world continues to create volatility, growing numbers of connected global citizens will turn to the Internet to have their message heard. The growth in connected devices– from consumer wearables to industrial IoT to medical devices – is compounding the security challenge as each device represents a potential cybersecurity risk.

Here, we take a global look at some of the key developments we expect to see on the cybersecurity front in 2019.

More effective, not different, cyberattack types

Throughout 2019, the most insidious development won’t be new attack types but rather improved execution of existing attack types, especially those delivered via email. Better social engineering, more advanced phishing attacks, increases in credential stuffing attacks, and more complicated malware with multiple stages and different form factors for transmission, will make threats incredibly tricky to detect.

Phishing techniques like the use of homoglyphs, elongated URLs, the use of legitimate certifications (green lock), and credential-harvesting sites will increase. Flawless phishes will continue to prey on the gap in human firewalls, pivoting internally around organisations and intensifying efforts to better educate all staff. Cybersecurity awareness training, which according to a global Mimecast and Vanson Bourne study is only continuously conducted by 11% of global organisations, will receive renewed attention as organisations bolster the capabilities of their first line of defence: their employees.

Cybercriminals will also shift focus to weaker countries and industry verticals that lag in their adoption of more advanced cyber defences. More industrialised countries are investing heavily in cybersecurity, making them less attractive to cybercriminals. Companies in particularly the Middle East and Africa often assume their security is sufficient without realising that the threat landscape is drastically shifting. This makes them easy targets for cybercriminals who tend to follow the path of least resistance. Attackers will also continue to shift their attention away from larger organisations to small and medium businesses.

Monetisation of data breaches

There have been several highly successful high-profile data breaches over the past few years. From Equifax to Facebook, eBay to JPMorgan, hackers have made off with sensitive data for hundreds of millions of user accounts. Just recently, Marriott announced that its Starwood database was hacked for approximately 500 million guests – one of the largest breaches in history. With global cybercrime organisations’ growing in maturity and sophistication, many are now acquiring capabilities that were once the sole reserve of nation states. We’re likely to see these cybercriminals use stolen credentials from the past few years’ data breaches to compromise the security of even the most secure organisations. Even companies with good cyber protection have little protection against the reuse of passwords that have been collected in other breaches.

The evolution of cyberattacks has also created entire ecosystems of fraud. Stolen personal health information, for example, could be used to gain insight to patients’ ailments and likely treatments. Hackers could use this information to obtain prescriptions for strictly controlled medication that is then traded or sold illegally. It’s no longer just about a straightforward cyberattack: cybercrime is fast becoming a trickle-down economic system with multiple layers of fraud and criminality built into its very fabric.

Intelligence becomes ‘intelligent’

Organisations will realise the importance of threat intelligence and will talk about the need for an intelligence function. What they really mean is that they want some insight from their vendors around the huge amounts of threat data they’re acquiring. There may be a handful organisations who will stop recasting threat data as intelligence and instead focus on generating actionable insights from this data, the prerequisite for ‘threat intelligence’. Unfortunately, the vast majority still won’t take any action from the data presented, which means they won’t actually have any intelligence –only an interesting storyline.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will play a more prominent role as the velocity and variety of attacks makes conventional approaches – such as blacklists – outdated and ill-equipped to deal with modern cyber threats. The average phishing site, for example, is only online for a few hours. With such a crowded domain space, attackers have to be clever about the domains they register and exploit. Luckily, these domains generally have certain characteristics, which machine learning algorithms can exploit and detect, while other properties of attack vectors can also be recognised by appropriately trained AI.

AI will also be used to detect break-ins, spam, phishing and more. Although it will mostly work well, look out for the occasional mistake: these will be utterly incomprehensible to humans, and very hard for vendors to explain to their customers.

From financial gain to life-and-death

As our world becomes increasingly digitised and connected devices continue to permeate every aspect of our daily lives, the risks posed by cybercriminals are escalating. A large-scale attack on critical infrastructure such as energy services, water supplies or even hospitals could cause massive damage and even loss of life. Autonomous vehicles, although not prevalent on our shores yet, are attractive targets for the more ruthless type of cybercriminal. And with the growth in digital medical devices, hackers could directly target an individual and interfere with their pacemakers or heartrate monitors.

Privacy will also become a key concern: consumer connected devices such as cameras, microphones and wearables will become a major security issue as hackers discover ways to see live audio and video of unsuspecting people’s lives. The fallout of such an incident being exposed could drastically erode trust in technology and make people treat technology with greater caution as they realise the devices they have enjoyed without concern, carry immense risk to their personal privacy and security.

Even though the threat landscape keeps changing what seems to be the common thread is that email continues to be the most common – and least protected – attack vector. We can’t predict exactly what 2019 threats will look like, but we can predict that while email remains vulnerable it will continue to be the preferred entry point for criminals to deliver threats to your organisation.


Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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