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SA still not ready for threat to private data

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Digital businesses need to adopt a more proactive approach to cyber-security that entails a better understanding of the risks. This is according to LUSHEN PADAYACHI, Head of Security, BT in Africa.

With the size of the internet economy alone estimated to be about $4.2 trillion in 2016 and online trade accounting for an ever-increasing share of global GDP, criminals inevitably see opportunities in the vulnerabilities of digital businesses. And although awareness of the threat has never been higher, the majority of businesses do not comprehend the methods and motivations of the attackers or fully understand the scale of this threat. In fact, according to research2 97% of companies surveyed have been the victim of digital attacks, yet only 22% are fully prepared to deal with such incidents in the future.

This, Lushen believes, is reflective of global security trends where malicious users are targeting business and its sensitive back-end data, and businesses globally and locally are struggling to keep up with effective protection methods, tools and strategies.

“While there is increased awareness around security issues in corporate South Africa, a lot more work needs to be done to educate the market. Far too many companies adopt a reactive style of cyber-policing. While this might have worked a few years ago, the increasingly sophisticated types of attacks occurring means that it might take months before some data breaches are even discovered – and this can be fatal to a business’s operations,” says Lushen.

By then, the damage would be significant especially considering how data has grown in recent times and its importance to derive competitive advantage. In fact, digital crime currently costs the world in the region of $400 billion3 every year – a massive risk to the continued growth of our digital economy.

“With data playing such a critical role in the digital business, and the digital economy becoming a significant driver, corporates need to take cyber-security more seriously than ever before. In South Africa with its complex regulatory and compliance environment, the pressure is even more significant on ensuring that customer data is protected.”

Pointedly to this, businesses must be as agile and quick on their feet as their criminal assailants, but many feel that their response is hampered by regulation (49%2), lack of skills and people

(45%), reliance on legacy systems (46%), inflexible processes within the organisation (38%) and reliance on third parties (94%).

This, he says, plays to the fear of losing private data and what it means for not only consumers, but the organisations that need to safeguard it. Irrespective of the financial loss these breaches could have, the reputational ones are substantial.

“Security is about trust and transparency. Organisations who fail to develop a clear idea of the risks and the strategies that are required to protect data, will not survive long in this new digital age. One of the best ways to go about doing this is to understand how attacks take place. By taking the time to invest in understanding the threats, the organisation will be able to identify the weak points in its cyber-security policies.”

As with all things related to ICT, the security landscape is constantly changing. Companies therefore need to understand both the imminent threats as well as the ones they might face in two or three years’ time. Part of this is to conduct a thorough audit of the corporate network. By examining all channels associated to data input and output, the business will get a clearer idea of the security priorities.

“Thanks to the growth of internet connectivity in South Africa, the country is becoming less isolated in the global market. However, this also means that companies are likely to attract the attention of malicious users – many of whom might pursue a hacktivist agenda. Ultimately, behaviour needs to change when it comes to cyber-security. The way forward lies in ensuring the security is central to delivering strategic goals of the company. This takes us way beyond putting up fences. Companies need to take initiative and start being more proactive now,” says Lushen.

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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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