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Massive profits for hackers

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With automated tools and hackers for hire, cybercrime has turned into a game for profit. Recent research from F5 Labs shows that out of 429 reported breaches studied between 2005 and 2017, hackers gained $2.75 billion on the black market.

The digital world has opened the door to unprecedented levels of malicious attacks, putting applications, corporate data, operational infrastructure, and reputations at risk. The consequence is that many CISOs and C-Suite executives are falling on their swords due to serious data breaches. In addition, cuts to IT budgets and slashes in resources mean the onslaught of cyber-attacks is leaving many organisations vulnerable.

Offensive Moves

New cloud-based apps create a host of complex challenges and new risks. Hackers thrive in this fast-paced environment of uncertainty and development. In fencing, a “disengage” is a move used to trick the opponent by attacking a specific target and moving in a semi-circle arc to strike a different area. Today’s hacker is similarly deceptive, wielding seven common threat techniques for maximum disruption and profit. Their key offensive moves include Malicious Bots, Credential stuffing, DDoS, Ransomware, Web fraud, Phishing, and Malware.

What do these attacks have in common? They are frequently associated with malicious bots as the delivery mechanism or the exploit kit. According to Verizon’s latest Data Breach Investigations Report, 77% of web application breaches were associated with the use of botnets to carry out the attacks.

On the web fraud front, attacks often stem from Man-in-the-Browser Injection techniques, delivering a Trickbot via phishing, drive-by-download, or SMB ports. Java-script is then injected into users’ browsing e-commerce or banking sites. This allows attackers to access credentials and steal from bank accounts.

Phishing scams are also on the rise. Attackers typically use this method to trick people into clicking on a link that can infect their system with malware or take them to a fake website designed to steal personal information. In the first quarter of 2017, a new specimen of phishing and malware emerged every 4.2 seconds.

Credential stuffing is another growing concern. Here, cybercriminals turn to the dark web to purchase previously stolen usernames and passwords. They then make repeated attempts with automated tools to “stuff” the login fields of other websites with the credentials to gain access to accounts held by corporate users or customers. If users reuse their passwords, then the likelihood is that their credentials have already been stolen.

DDoS, meanwhile, is here to stay and becoming increasingly tricky to defend against. These days, attacks can range from prankster activity to targeted acts of retaliation, protest, theft and extortion. Attackers often use readily available DDoS tools to disrupt service availability and businesses’ performance. There are four main types of attacks: volumetric (flood-based attacks), asymmetric (invoke timeouts), computational (consume CPU and memory), and vulnerability-based (exploit application software). The most damaging DDoS attacks mix volumetric attacks with targeted, application-specific attacks.

Defensive moves

Security experts recommend that a robust web application firewall (WAF) is the first piece of your armour against credential stuffing attacks. It is the equivalent of the fencer’s “riposte” – an adroit transformation defence into attack. A full-featured modern WAF, enables businesses to tackle offensive moves head on with advanced bot detection and prevention. This is essential as most attacks are launched using automated programmes. By analysing behaviours, such as IP location, time of day, and connection attempts per second, a WAF can help your security team identify non-browser login attempts.

It is also important to ensure that data in the browser or on your mobile applications is encrypted, protecting all the information transferred from users and rendering any intercepted data worthless. As an added layer of security, you can force the form parameters to be encrypted using a client-side function. Automated credential stuffing tools will be hard-pressed to properly execute the page to encrypt the form fields and send the correct secure channel cookie. When the bots submit unencrypted credentials, it will trigger a system alert to let your security team know that a credential stuffing attack is taking place.

Set up policies that make it easy for users to change passwords regularly so they avoid repeat usage on multiple sites and can report an incident to IT immediately if they think they have clicked on a malware link in a phishing email.

A smart move

In the cut and thrust of cybercrime, threat intelligence is fundamental. Greater visibility, context, and control are critical to protecting infrastructure, applications, and sensitive data. It is vital to adapt your strategy to fortify applications with cutting-edge security tools, and shift resources to deliver a swift blow to malicious moves from hackers, ensuring operations remain smart, fast and safe – On guard!

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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