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Ransomware evolves in 2018

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If 2017 is remembered for anything in the cyber sphere, it is remembered as the year of malware with high-profile breaches like WannaCry and NotPetya. The question is, what can we learn from last year to improve things for this year?

One thing is clear: ransomware is evolving and is being deployed with more regularity. While targets, attack groups and tactics may change, there is growing concern that ransomware could easily be combined with nation-state developed exploits to spread through networks at an alarming rate. An example of this would be the Bad Rabbit attacks which were specifically designed to infect a large number of networks, using watering hole attacks.

“What we are learning from these attacks is that it is vital to patch any known vulnerabilities the moment a fix is available. At the same time, it’s important that we understand how security can be undermined and to research the exploits that are available for popular software,” advises Anvee Alderton, Channel Manager for Trend Micro Southern Africa.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is also one of the major threats that many organisations may encounter. The FBI reported that between October 2013 and December 2016, $5.3bn was lost due to BEC. Predictions are that this number may increase to $9bn this year.

“BEC is actually one of the easiest attacks to prevent. BEC relies on social engineering and with better staff education and something as simple as ensuring two finance managers need to sign off on the transfer of large sums can mitigate the damage that such attacks could incur,” Alderton continues.

Last year saw big name firms such as Yahoo, Uber and Equifax come under attack. What this has highlighted is that it’s important to get the basics of cybersecurity right – no matter what size your organisation. The cost financially, as well as to a company’s reputation, can be irreparable.

Another great concern is the advent of the implementation of GDPR across Europe. Worryingly, a lack of interest from senior executives means that more than half shun responsibility for it. This is of particular concern since organisations have to comprehend what data they hold and be able to produce a breach notification plan. This is in addition to implementing top shelf technology to prevent cyber-attack.

“It really doesn’t matter when it comes to the size of the firm or whether the breach occurs through IoT or the cloud, or through social engineering. Vulnerabilities are the biggest threat all companies face. If there’s a hole in your security, someone will find a way through it. Use those patches as soon as they become available and educate staff. There is no better cure for attack than prevention and being prepared,” says Alderton.

New vulnerabilities and attack methods emerge daily – some of which could be devastating for the security of a company’s networks and systems. This is the year for CISOs to become hypervigilant and ensure that they have the right patch available at the right time, as well as the ability to respond to threats swiftly and efficiently.

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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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