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How to stay one step ahead of cyber threats

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Just under half of the companies surveyed in South Africa and the Middle East said they detected 50 or more threats in the last year. BRENDAN MCARAVEY, Country Manager, Citrix South Africa provides some tips on how to keep up with the cybercrime world.

In the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Global State of Information Security Survey 2016, 41.44% of companies in South Africa and the Middle East reported that they had detected 50 or more cybersecurity incidents in the past 12 months. This was in comparison to the global total of 31.59%. A further 17.47% of South African and Middle Eastern companies had identified between 10 and 49 threats in the same time period.

These statistics are indicative of a constantly evolving beast – today’s information security landscape. As attack vectors continue to grow, assaults become more frequent and attackers become even more sophisticated. The need to continually adapt to an increasingly hostile environment has resulted in a significant change from the familiar security measures that kept us “comfortable” a mere five years ago. Although these measures are still valid, the reality is that they are nowhere near sufficient to combat the dangers of today’s increasingly complex threats.

Here are seven recommendations to help you keep up with the rapid pace of change in cybersecurity:

1.       Say goodbye to generic “best practices” security

Compliance is not a security programme – it’s a starting point. Any organisation that is still just ticking the boxes on their audit report is getting breached. Have this conversation in the boardroom and use it to drive the culture towards security that is specifically tailored to the business.

2.       Patching is a daily event

Flaws in applications, services such as DNS and foundational software, including OpenSSL, mean that, unlike a few years ago, we can’t wait a month or more for patches.  Ensure your organisation can respond with instant remediation across workstations, mobile, servers and clouds. Manage at the application level to respond without having to push new desktop images.

3.       Security just got personal

Targeted attacks go after specific individuals with personalised messages and payloads from an apparently trusted source. It’s getting more and more difficult – even for security professionals – to differentiate the malignant from the benign. And the highly rare APT ups the ante when the attacker has found a truly valuable target. More education is necessary, but can only go so far. Hardening must reduce the default attack surface as much as possible, and containment strategies further sandbox attacks.

4.       Breaches are to be expected

Formerly denied and only discussed in secret, breaches are now a reporting requirement for many organisations. A prescribed approach to incident management includes both technical and reputational responses. Containing breaches and their impact has been a deciding use case for app virtualisation across governments, healthcare and financial services. Virtualising all browser-based access is a leading practice for containing attacks against one of the most popular entry points for organisational breach.

5.       End-to-end strong encryption is mandatory

Encryption is no longer just for networks and hard drives. Encryption must protect sensitive data within and between applications, from desktops to mobile. Criminals have also recognised the value of encryption, with ransomware leveraging encryption as a weapon. And, as the painful death of SSL has shown, outdated encryption can be as bad as no encryption at all. Ensure that you control encryption for endpoints through app and desktop virtualisation, on mobile devices with enterprise mobility management, and for cloud and web apps with an application delivery controller with embedded web app firewall.

6.       Security begins with access 

A deep knowledge of situational context is necessary to control identity, authentication, authorisation and access control. Focus on the 5Ws of Access for employees and non-employees – who needs access, what are they accessing and when, where do they need access from, and why do they require access. Use virtualisation to provide fine-grained access control for privileged users and to ensure that there is no direct access to sensitive data.

7.       IT has competition

End users think they can do computing better themselves. And in some ways, they can. But not security. Ensure that Shadow IT, unsanctioned BYO and the use of consumer-grade apps, clouds and services for sensitive data are replaced with IT-controlled and sanctioned offerings. Simplify things for users by enabling single sign on, improving their access and automating a superior experience across devices.

This is by no means a prescriptive list. Information security teams should remain on guard at all times and aim to stay one step ahead of those who will take advantage of any negligence or ignorance. Nobody can afford to stand still. Attack vectors and exploitation methods will increase alarmingly, as more devices, people and locations become connected. And, as IoT becomes more of a reality, the need for sophisticated cybersecurity will increase exponentially. It’s time to keep watch, with both eyes open.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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