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Hacking has changed – and so must you

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According to F5 data that tracks the 25 largest security breaches between 2000 and 2015, an astounding 72 percent of today’s attacks target identities and applications, not the network.

The changing face of IT security is seen in such factors of modern life as the pervasiveness of the Internet, the sheer abundance of mobile devices, the rise of social media, and dramatic shifts in web and cloud-based technology.  The Internet of Things (IoT) adds another layer of complexity in which applications are at the core of this changing landscape. According to F5 data that tracks the 25 largest security breaches between 2000 and 2015, an astounding 72 percent of today’s attacks target identities and applications, not the network.

This is according to Simon McCullough, major channel account manager at F5, who says, “This shift has come about because data is what hackers are after, and the most direct pathway to data is through user credentials and applications. In this complex and vulnerable environment, applications and corresponding data can be anywhere and everywhere.

“The traditional network perimeter has dissolved in this online, interconnected world, and so, in an attack on applications, traditional network firewalls are not enough of a defence. However, according to F5 research (specifically, marketing sizing estimates aggregated from global research firms), 90 percent of today’s IT security budget is spent on perimeter solutions, leaving minimal budget on protecting user identities and applications, where 72% of today’s attacks take place .”

McCullough says that in this new, borderless security landscape, it’s important to know your company’s threat profile. He clarifies, “In this regard, you need to understand the likelihood of exploitation at all of your network’s entry points – users, applications, data centres, and network infrastructure – and the resulting impact if these entry points get hacked. Your threat profile is a key element in determining that likelihood. Could your business be a target because of such factors, for example, as its geographic profile, industry, systems, software, or data?”

McCullough offers the following 10 useful focus areas to consider in order to help businesses strengthen their security programmes and risk mitigation strategies.

1. Understand the enemy

Although hackers today include less-skilled novices who are out to cause malicious chaos, as well as those who are driven by social and political agendas, the majority of today’s hackers are cybercriminals who are motivated by money. Although they have a reputation for sophisticated methodology, in fact, many of their methods are actually relatively unsophisticated, and they tend to take the path of least resistance, going after easy targets.

2. Sort out your cybersecurity budget properly, including cyber insurance

As outlined previously, applications and user identities form around 72 percent of today’s IT attacks, yet this is not generally reflected in IT budget allocations. Spend your security budget in the right way, and ensure that you have cyber insurance as part of your budget. Data breaches will cost you money, and insurance here is as necessary as household insurance for a homeowner facing the aftermath of theft.

3. Train all employees to understand that security is everyone’s responsibility  

Awareness training makes everyone more alert. Train your users to recognise and curtail factors such as spear phishing attempts and social engineering. Help them understand the importance of proper password management. Train developers in secure coding so that your web applications don’t have coding vulnerabilities.

4. Properly control access

·        Remember that access is a privilege. Strictly manage what your user identities are authorised to access, so that when an identity is compromised, a threat actor doesn’t have unlimited access within the network.

·        Manage your volume of user identities. Enable single sign-on to reduce the number of passwords that are stored insecurely or repeated across multiple critical systems.

·        Implement multifactor authentication (MFA) for accessing your network and applications, because identities get compromised and MFA will help to protect data from being breached in the event of user credentials being compromised.

·        Tighten up on username and password combinations: Don’t use weak or default combinations, and implement account lockouts after six failed login attempts. Also, implement stronger encryption methods on password databases.

5. Manage your vulnerabilities

·        Have a scanning solution for every network, system, and software type; don’t limit yourself to externally facing IPs.

·        Scan inside your network, and do black box and static code analysis of your apps. Layer your tools, because no single tool can universally find everything.

·        Scan, test, and scan again. Have a continual testing process aligned to your development cycles and patch releases of your vendors.

·        Implement a consolidated reporting platform that tracks all vulnerabilities by system and can produce valuable improvement metrics over time.

·        Prioritise web application vulnerability management. You can get extremely good guidance from the OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) Top 10, which describes today’s most critical web application security risks and how to mitigate specific types of attacks.

·        Automate web application vulnerability management. Allow Web Application Firewalls (WAF) to patch a vulnerability automatically. A WAF requires routine attention by an experienced engineer. Many organisations are opting for managed WAF services versus hiring in-house expertise.

·        Patch everything monthly, including desktops, laptops and servers, and especially if you are running Windows. Don’t skip important patches, as they will ultimately be required later in a queue chain of dependencies.

·        Keep it updated: Don’t allow end-of-life software or hardware in your network.

·        Force updates to Adobe Flash, Oracle’s Java, and don’t allow old versions of Internet browsers to run on company computer assets.

6. Ensure you have the required visibility 

You can’t manage what you can’t see. It’s particularly important to make sure you have the visibility you need into your critical data. It’s important to properly architect, implement and continually manage intrusion detection/ prevention systems (IDS/ IPS), Security Information Event Managers (SIEM), data loss prevention (DLP) systems, and others. These systems need to have access to all parts of your network, systems, data, and data centres, and encrypted and non-encrypted traffic. Pay special attention to visibility within new virtualisation software.

7. Consider embracing the dark side… at least briefly

If you have an application that could cause significant harm to your business if it were compromised, it’s worth hiring an engineer to try to hack it. If hiring a hacker doesn’t sit comfortably, implement a public bounty programme.

8. Use the experts to help you

Compliance and incident response are two key areas for using the guidance of experts.

·        Security as a service is a great option for effectively managing high-risk controls that require immediate response by highly skilled engineers.

·        Test the effectiveness of your controls and control operators. Don’t let poorly designed controls or inadequate operators become the culprit.

·        Get help in the event of a breach. Get the professional experience you need after a breach so that they can make the important decisions that could have a material impact on the outcome of the incident.

9. Have a DDoS strategy

The DDoS attack landscape has shifted rapidly. No longer are complex, expensive attacks launched only at high-value targets. Today’s reality includes bots with plug-and-play attacks that criminals can rent at low cost, as well as IoT botnets that are easy to make and capable of launching terabyte-per-second attacks. Having a DDoS plan is critical.

10. Tell the ‘big shots’ about the likelihood and effect of a breach

Communicate the possibility and subsequent effect of a breach to your board of directors, senior management and others who need to be in the know. They need to be armed with this information rather than being hit with the reality of a breach that they never imagined. Properly done, this should also support your budget requests.

Anton Jacobsz, managing director at Networks Unlimited, a value-added distributor of F5 in Africa, concludes, “Few organisations today have the internal resources required to fight cyber threats on their own. They need intelligence from outside sources, and this is where the Networks Unlimited partnership with F5 can help. F5 was founded 20 years ago and understands applications and the network at the deepest levels. Together with its threat research and intelligence team, F5 Labs, the company works to provide the security community with threat intelligence about current cyber threats and future trends to help them stay abreast of the security landscape.”

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Now for hardware-as-a-service

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Integrated ICT and Infrastructure provider Vox has entered into an exclusive partnership with Go Rentals to introduce a Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) offering, which is aimed at providing local small and medium businesses (SMEs) with quick, affordable, and scalable access to a wide variety of IT infrastructure – as well as the management thereof.

“Despite an increasingly competitive business environment where every rand counts, many business owners are still buying technology-based equipment outright rather than renting it,” says Barry Kemp, Head of Managed IT at Vox. “The problem with this is that the modern device arena has grown in variety and complexity, making it more difficult to manage, and to reduce the overheads of controlling these devices.”

According to Kemp, there is a global trend being observed in businesses moving away from owning and managing IT infrastructure. This started with the move away from servers and toward cloud-based subscription services, and now organisations are looking to do the same with the remaining on-premise hardware – employees’ desktop systems.

The availability of HaaS changes the way in which local businesses consume IT, by allowing them to direct valuable capital expenditure toward the more efficient and competitive operation of their organisation, rather than spending on hardware products. 

“The rental costs are up to 50% lower than if they buy these products through traditional asset financing methods. Furthermore, using HaaS gives businesses the ability to scale up and down depending on their infrastructure requirements. Customers on a 12 month contract can return up to 10% of the devices rented, while those customers on 24 and 36 month contracts can return up to 20% of the devices – at any time during the contract,” adds Kemp.

More than just a rental

HaaS gives business access to repurposed Tier 1 hardware from vendors such as Dell, HP and Lenovo, equipped with the required specifications (processor, memory, and storage), and come installed with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system, unless an older version is specifically requested by the customer.

Kemp says: “Where HaaS is different from simply renting IT hardware is that businesses get full asset lifecycle management, such as having all company software pre-installed, flexible refresh cycles and upgrades, support and warranty management and transparent and predictable per user monthly fees.”

The ability to upgrade during the contract period means that businesses can keep pace with the latest in technology without needing to invest on depreciating equipment, while ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency for employees. Returned devices are put through a decommissioning process that ensures anonymity, certified data protection, and environmental compliance. 

Businesses further stand to benefit from Vox Care, which incorporates asset management and logistical services for customers. This includes initial delivery and setup in major centres, asset tagging of all rented items, creation, and the repair and/or replacement of faulty machines within three business days – again in the main metropolitan areas. 

Vox Care also assists in the design, testing and deployment of custom images, whereby HaaS clients can have the additional programmes they need (security, productivity tools, business software, etc) easily pre-installed along with the Windows operating system, on all their machines.

Kemp says HaaS customers can get further peace of mind by outsourcing the day to day management of their desktop environment to Vox Managed Services, as well as leverage the company’s knowledge and expertise to manage and host workstation backups to ensure business continuity.

Says Kemp: “Hardware-as-a-Service allows businesses to reduce the total cost of ownership of their hardware and ensure they only pay for what they use. Making the switch to a service model helps them take advantage of the global move in this direction, and to turn their business into a highly functional, flexible, low cost, change your mind whenever you want workplace.”

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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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