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PC slump in E Africa

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The East Africa PC market – comprising Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda – declined -8.6% year on year in Q4 2016, according to the latest figures compiled by IDC.

The global technology research and consulting services firm says shipments for the quarter fell to 113,303 units as a combination of political, monetary, and economic factors inhibited the PC market’s performance.

“East Africa’s biggest PC market, Kenya, continues to be hampered by political uncertainty in the build up to general elections scheduled for August 2017, while the government’s introduction of monetary policy changes has tightened access to credit,” says Kirui Andrew, a research analyst for systems and infrastructure solutions at IDC East Africa. “The region is also coming under mounting pressure from the influx of gray imports from the UAE. These imported PCs often evade VAT, particularly in Kenya and Tanzania, making them a cheaper alternative that local channel partners simply cannot compete with.”

IDC’s data shows that commercial PC shipments in East Africa fell -9.1% year on year in Q4 2016, due mainly to reduced investments by small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Meanwhile, the consumer segment saw shipments fall -7.5% over the same period, in part due to the aforementioned competition from gray imports.

In terms of the overall PC vendor landscape, Dell overtook HP Inc. in Q4 2016 to become the region’s leading PC supplier with 30.1% unit share. Second-placed HP Inc. saw its share fall to 22.3%, while Lenovo remained in third position with 19.6% share of the market.

Looking at Kenya in isolation, PC shipments declined -16.6% year on year in Q4 2016, primarily due to weaker consumer spending and a reduction in commercial sector investments. Monetary policy changes implemented by the Kenyan government have made it more difficult for SMBs to access financial services, leading to a more cautious approach to investing in PC hardware.

Conversely, the Kenyan tablet market saw explosive year-on-year growth of 230.5% in Q4 2016 to total 149,906 units, although much of this growth stems from purchases for the government’s Digital Literacy Program, which is scheduled to end in H1 2017. Excluding the education sector initiative, consumer spending on tablets in Kenya fell -11.3% year on year in Q4 2016, primarily due to high inflation. Positivo BGH and JP SA Couto, the main vendors for the Digital Literacy Program, led Kenya’s overall tablet market in Q4 2016 with shares of 37.4% and 36.7%, respectively. Samsung placed third with 6.1%.

In Ethiopia, there was encouraging PC growth of 18.0% year on year in Q4 2016, despite ongoing political instability. One driver of this growth was a major commercial deal secured by Lenovo. Ethiopia continues to see double-digit annual economic growth, propelling increased investment in the commercial space. Dell, Ethiopia’s leading PC vendor, has boosted its marketing, leading to impressive results in the consumer segment.

Elsewhere, the Tanzanian PC market suffered the region’s biggest year-on-year decline in Q4 2016, with shipments falling -29.0% following the introduction of strict government public spending cuts. There was better news in Uganda, however, as a recovering economy and improved political stability saw PC shipments increase 12.5% year on year.

Looking ahead, IDC expects the East Africa PC market to see marginal growth in 2017, with a year-on-year increase in shipments of 2.0% forecast for the year as a whole.

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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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