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Resilience is the new cyber security

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Cyber security used to be all about prevention, but as breaches become a matter of when rather than if, the new watchword is resilience, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

There was a time when all one needed to keep computers safe was up-to-date anti-virus software.  Then the hackers upgraded their armoury and we needed firewalls for both networks and personal computers. Finally, cyber criminals developed an all-out assault, in which thousands of compromised computers would be roped in as “bots” to mass-attack a target. Known as a Distributed Denial-of-Service or DDoS attack, it has taken down even the mightiest technology champions like Facebook and Google.

As a result, for some years now, information security has been seen as an arms race between the hackers and the defenders. The latter have never been willing to acknowledge that the hackers tend to have the upper hand, but this reality is slowly beginning to dawn on them.

So, while up-to-date information security tools and defences remain critical, they can no longer define security strategy.

“People are realising there’s no silver bullet, no one technology that will help them clamp down on cyber threats,” says Heino Gevers, Customer Experience Manager at Mimecast South Africa, specialists in email protection and management. “The answer is not to use more technology, but to develop something called cyber resilience.”

This refers only partly to the ability to withstand attacks. Primarily, it deals with now one responds when an attack does take place, as well as what processes are in place to protect customer information, how these processes are documented, and whether the company has a strategy for evolving its responses.

Right now, for example, many companies are struggling to get to grips with the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act, which has been signed into law, but is not yet active due to provisions that have not yet been met. A key element of POPI is a requirement to disclose any security breaches that may have compromised customer information.

Last year, the Ster-Kinekor website suffered a major breach that resulted in millions of user names and passwords being exposed. The company was not obliged to report it, and it only came to light as a result of being given as a case study during a global cyber security conference.

Under POPI, not only would a company be obliged to disclose such a breach, but it would also have to explain what measures had been in place to protect its customers, and how it was addressing the consequences. In effect, POPI compliance would be a key step towards cyber resilience.

“Companies have to ask themselves the question: what have they done today to try to understand POPI and the new cyber laws, and what it means for their business,” says Gevers.

“A lot of it speaks to how you put measures in place, how you document those measures when there is a breach, and about the processes and people components. It’s not a nice-to-have: it’s going to be mandatory.”

Once a company start unpacking these demands, he says, it gets to the core of new cyber security demands.

“Firstly, there is no silver bullet. Secondly, a defensive strategy should evolve to a resilience strategy, ie instead of only trying to prevent it, know what to do when it happens and be able to answer the question: did you do everything in your power to protect customers, users and data?”

The concept can be extended to individuals as well. Everyone should have a plan in place for when things go wrong. For example, if a virus infects your computer or  smartphone, or you are conned into downloading software that locks you out of your computer, do you have a backup somewhere? Can you log into Microsoft OneDrive or GoogleDrive and get access to the latest versions of all your documents?

If you don’t have that kind of online backup, are you backing up onto an external hard drive or even USB flash drive? Are you able to change the password on your online bank account or social media network at a moment’s notice?

If none of that has even occurred to you, then you are not even close to cyber resilience. But with that checklist in hand, you can begin the process.

For companies, entire departments exist to take that responsibility off the hands of individuals, but every employee should be involved in the process.

“Cyber resilience is best deacribed as a famework consisting of five pillars,” says Gevers. “It makes it simple for organisations to understand where to start and to refine these pillars.”

The five pillars of cyber resilience can be summed up as:

  • Preparing and identifying what information is being processed in an organisation and ientifying what systems interact with that information. It should then be classified according to confidential company information, confidential customer information, or public knowledge.
  • Reasonable protection of the organisation, which includes having a clear understanding of the comapany’s information security needs.
  • Swift detection of a breach, on the understanding that, as Gevers put it, “the sooner you can detect a breach, the better you can mitigate financial damage”.
  • Swift reponse, which includes having a business continuity plan in place, and transparent communication with all stakeholders. “How do I repsond to inernal staff, and who owns that communication? It all has to be approved in advance,” says Gevers. “Don’t deal with the issue in isolation or sweep it under the carpet.”
  • How you recover is possibly the most critical pillar. “Most organisations don’t have a plan to restore operations. Most restore from a backup. They need to acknowledge that ransomware and other threats are evolving, so you cant recover in the way you did in past, if the criminals still have your intellectual property.”

 

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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