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Race for trust and time

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Technology has changed all aspects of our lives, including the way we transact. In our digital economy, money is not the only currency consumers place value in as they also see trust, time and treasure as important drivers, writes Intel’s TREVOR COETZEE.

In the conventional economy, money is the only currency. But we are increasingly inhabiting a world comprised of the cloud, mobility, the Internet of Things and an infinite number of goods and services that are exchanged online.

In this so-called Second Economy, money isn’t the only currency. In this technological and social realm, trust, time and treasure are the new currencies – and one of them is worth a lot more to cybercriminals than money.

Trust

The Second Economy is built on the psychological currency of trust. When we transact online, we trust that the company we’re dealing with will protect our information.

But trust is under relentless attack and is the prime casualty of cyber conflict. Hacktivists aren’t after money. Rather, they want to embarrass their targets and reduce their brand value by sowing mistrust. Each attack serves to erode the trust of customers in a company’s ability to withstand future breaches and protect their interests. And when trust is lost, it can do as much damage as lost funds, if not more.

A cyber defence focused primarily on protecting financial assets is therefore insufficient. The problem, however, is that public concern about personal data loss is falling despite a rise in data thefts. Also, breach victims are not typically penalised, even when their own negligence contributes, which suggests that breach costs should be evaluated in the Second Economy.

Time

In the Second Economy, time matters more than money.

On the one hand, cybercriminals, or black hats, have time on their side. They design their attacks at leisure, crafting carefully thought out and executed strategies that can sometimes go undetected within a network for months, even years.

They also use time to their advantage in ransomware attacks by attaching deadlines to ransom pay-outs for the safe return of data. Under such immense time pressures, victims are more likely to respond impulsively and pay the ransom.

On the other hand, victims, or white hats, are in a constant race against time and are always reacting under pressure. When a breach occurs, time is the ultimate weapon – detecting and remediating threats as quickly as possible becomes the goal in a race where every second counts and time most certainly is money.

The time it takes an organisation to respond to breaches depends on the tools, policies and political structures that are in place before the notion of a threat is even recognised.

But the status quo in most organisations is that separate divisions have separate security policies, which slows down their response times. An IT strategy that allows for new technology to be rapidly onboarded will ensure that new software releases will not hinder productivity and that software updates are not time-consuming.

Treasure

In the Second Economy, money – or profit – is not the only treasure that black hats are after. When it comes to sowing mistrust, cybercriminals could be motivated by principle – as it often seen in attacks by ‘hacktivist’ group, Anonymous – while nation-states identify targets to expand their province.

Whatever their treasure, black hats have clear incentives motivating their next move, and with each attack, the trust economy is ultimately corroded. These fast-moving, fast-adapting black hats govern the terms of cyber conflict and control the pace of innovation and the nature and timing of assaults. Organisations play a perpetual game of catch-up, yet they consistently ignore or rationalise the risk.

This must change.

Gaining the upper hand

Individual users cannot shirk responsibility for helping safeguard the Second Economy and, at the strategic level, today’s siloed, reactive, barely collaborative defence posture must yield to a new white hat paradigm that is adaptive, aggressive, proactive, newly generous on information-sharing and unpredictable.

If we are to secure the now indispensable, Interned-based Second Economy, we have to reject conventional defence paradigms in favour of radical new thinking. Where we have relied on old playbooks, we must be newly unpredictable; where we have hoarded information, we must become collaborative; where we have undervalued cyber defence, we must prioritise it.

A good start is at the organisational IT level through adopting technology platforms that accept new security software quickly and result in a better-aligned ecosystem. We need to develop a whole spectrum of response plays and not simply plan for an unlikely worst-case scenario.

No single solution can eradicate all threats. We need a superior platform that allows for swift on-boarding of new technologies, over an architecture backed by common tools and workflows, along with automation and orchestration capabilities – one that doesn’t multiply operational complexity for already overburdened staff. An integrated platform also offers the benefit of tapping into aggregate innovative capabilities of hundreds of potential players, all connected over the same infrastructure. This gives white hats a fighting chance at making time their ally.

Cyber security professionals with a more simplified back office infrastructure, as provided by fewer vendors in their environment, report experiencing fewer threats, better detection times and more confidence in their security posture than those with a more fragmented, multi-vendor approach.

There also needs to be organisational change. CEOs must advocate for more strategic, proactive defence while end-users must develop better security consciousness.

Finally, we need bold information sharing. By hoarding information, we make the Second Economy more vulnerable. Better defence depends on better sharing impulses. Bold, perhaps altruistic information sharing gestures by cyber defence organisations can change the culture.

Our economy is no longer a physical one but one of connected networks and systems where cybercriminals have put us on the defensive. We now live in a world where more than money is at stake and where we’re fighting against time and working to justify trust.

If we’re going to win the race, we need to abandon old security playbooks to become more unpredictable and collaborative and make cyber defence a priority.

* Trevor Coetzee, regional director, South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, Intel Security

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Get your passwords in shape

New Year’s resolutions should extend to getting password protection sorted out, writes Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET Southern Africa.

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Many of us have entered the new year with a boat load of New Year’s resolutions.  Doing more exercise, fixing unhealthy eating habits and saving more money are all highly respectable goals, but could it be that they don’t go far enough in an era with countless apps and sites that scream for letting them help you reach your personal goals.

Now, you may want to add a few weightier and yet effortless habits on top of those well-worn choices. Here are a handful of tips for ‘exercises’ that will go good for your cyber-fitness.

I won’t pass up on stubborn passwords

Passwords have a bad rap, and deservedly so: they suffer from weaknesses, both in terms of security and convenience, that make them a less-than-ideal method of authentication.  However, much of what the internet offers is independent on your singing up for this or that online service, and the available form of authentication almost universally happens to the username/password combination.

As the keys that open online accounts (not to speak of many devices), passwords are often rightly thought of as the first – alas, often only – line of defence that protects your virtual and real assets from intruders. However, passwords don’t offer much in the way of protection unless, in the first place, they’re strong and unique to each device and account.

But what constitutes a strong password?  A passphrase! Done right, typical passphrases are generally both more secure and more user-friendly than typical passwords. The longer the passphrase and the more words it packs the better, with seven words providing for a solid start. With each extra character (not to mention words), the number of possible combinations rises exponentially, which makes simple brute-force password-cracking attacks far less likely to succeed, if not well-nigh impossible (assuming, of course, that the service in question does not impose limitations on password input length – something that is, sadly, far too common).

Click here to read about making secure passwords by not using dictionary words, using two-factor authentication, and how biometrics are coming to web browsers.

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Code Week prepares 2.3m young Africans for future

By SUNIL GENESS, Director Government Relations & CSR, Global Digital Government, at SAP Africa.

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On January 6th, 2019, news broke of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans to announce a new approach to education in his second State of the Nation address, including:

  • A universal roll-out of tablets for all pupils in the country’s 23 700 primary and secondary schools
  • Computer coding and robotics classes for the foundation-phase pupils from grade 1-3 and the
  • Digitisation of the entire curriculum, , including textbooks, workbooks and all teacher support material.

With this, the President has shown South Africa’s response to a global challenge: equipping our youth with the skills they’ll need to survive and thrive in the 21st century digital economy.

Africa’s working-age population will increase to 600 million in 2030 from a base of 370 million in 2010.

In South Africa, unemployment stands at 26.7 percent, but is much more pronounced among youths: 52.2 percent of the country’s 15-24-year-olds are looking for work.

As an organisation deeply invested in South Africa and its future, SAP has developed and implemented a range of initiatives aimed at fostering digital skills development among the country’s youth, including:

AFRICA CODE WEEK

Since its launch in 2015, Africa Code Week has introduced more than 4 million African youth to basic coding.

In 2018, more than 2.3 million youth across 37 countries took part in Africa Code Week.

The digital skills development initiative’s focus on building local capacity for sustainable learning resulted in close to 23 000 teachers being trained in the run-up to the October 2018 events.

Vital to the success of Africa Code Week is the close support it receives from a broad spectrum of public and private sector institutions, including UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Cape Town Science Centre, the Camden Education Trust, 28 African governments, over 130 implementing partners and 120 ambassadors across the continent.

SAP’s efforts to drive digital skills development on the African continent forms part of a broader organisational commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically Goal 4 (“Ensure quality and inclusive education for all”)

A core component of Africa Code Week is to encourage female participation in STEM-related skills development activities: in 2018, more than 46% of all Africa Code Week participants were female.

According to Africa Code Week Global Coordinator Sunil Geness, female representation in STEM-related fields among African businesses currently stands at 30%, “requiring powerful public-private partnerships to start turning the tide and creating more equitable opportunities for African youth to contribute to the continent’s economic development and success”.

Click here to read more about the Skills for Africa graduate training programme, and about the LEGO League.

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