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SA phished with ‘sextortion’

Report reveals weaknesses in secure e-mail gateways and illustrates imperative role of human intelligence in phishing defence.



“Your device has been compromised with malware. We’ve stolen passwords or other personal data. We’ve been watching you and have webcam footage from visits to dubious sites. Pay up in Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency and your secret is safe.” 

These arresting words appear on page 10 of the recently-released Cofense report, Phishing Threat and Malware Review 2019, amid a section of the report outlining the top four most common types of e-mail phishing threats. The chances are, though, that if you have an e-mail address, you have already seen a similar version of this in your own mailbox, and it was more than likely personally addressed to you. 

Cofense notes that sextortion e-mails often include usernames, passwords and other personal information, which cybercriminals have gleaned from legitimate sites or the dark web to make the e-mails look credible. Over 2018 and this year, South Africans were not exempt from the sweeping global trend of ‘sextortion’ by cybercriminals. For most people, it is disconcerting – to say the least – to receive such an e-mail. 

Cofense says that sextortion, which is the practice of extorting money or sexual favours from someone by threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual activity, ‘pushes two buttons, fear and urgency, that cause people to act before they think…’. And this makes the practice of sextortion via e-mail one of the top four types of phishing threats getting through to people’s mailboxes – the other three being outlined in the report as credential phishing, business e-mail compromise, and bomb threats. 

According to Cofense, although e-mail filtering catches many sextortion phishing e-mails, many are still getting through to people’s mailboxes. Also, cybercriminals are no longer using only text-based e-mails, but other methods too. These include Base64 encoded HTML message content; body text as embedded images rather than plain text, to minimise the risk of content scanning; and the use of an embedded QR code image for the bitcoin address. Cofense also believes that automation is being used to prepare and deliver such sextortion campaigns Cofense.

 “This just shows how phishing threat actors continue to evolve their campaigns in an increasingly sophisticated and effective manner,” said Stefan van de Giessen, general manager: cybersecurity at value-added distributor Networks Unlimited Africa, a distribution partner with Cofense in sub-Saharan Africa. 

“This latest Cofense report reveals how threat actors have an ever-growing repertoire of tactics and techniques, allowing them to breach the perimeter controls to users’ inboxes and deliver malware into a network system, or extort money from individuals. The report – which featured data from 1,400 customers in 50 countries – found that between October 2018 and March 2019, over 31,000 malicious e-mails were reported by end users after delivery to the inbox, and of these, 90 percent were found in environments running one or more secure email gateways (SEGs).” 

The 2019 report showed that threat actors are innovating relentlessly, including using public, open source tools to evade detection, as well as genuine Office 365 accounts to harvest credentials and increase their chances of reaching the victims’ inboxes and deliver malware Cofense. 

Additionally, it revealed that SEGs play a role in phishing defence, but are not infallible. The report shows that SharePoint, OneDrive and ShareFile have been abused by threat actors to enable malware to slip through an SEG’s defences Cofense. 

Van de Giessen said: “As Cofense outlines in this report, human intelligence is vital to phishing defences. It is absolutely critical to educate users through a phishing awareness program, and this should include a focus on threats that are using the latest tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs). This allows employers to make employees their best defence against phishing, rather than being the weakest link – even in the alarming face of a sextortion attempt.” 

To learn more about Cofense’s phishing incident solutions, please visit:


Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA



Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit

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