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Secret of email scams: gullibility

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The weakest link in most security defences are the people sitting behind a computer being gullible or greedy. BRANDON BEKKER, MD of Mimecast South Africa, believes companies need to keep their security systems up to date to protect both their data and employees.

The ‘Nigerian Prince’ or ‘419’ email scams we’ve all seen take advantage of the age-old premise: people can be greedy and gullible. Or to put it more positively – people are intrinsically positive about the motives of others and are not on the lookout for scammers and criminals in every email exchange.  But the sad truth is we all need to wake up to the threat in our email. To heighten our security awareness. The world has moved on and despite significant security efforts and new technologies in recent years, there remains a prolific and lucrative cybercrime industry attacking people and organizations alike. Today the weakest link in any security defences are people so protecting data and systems also means protecting people.

The recent history of cyber security shows that all too often it is the employee that opens an organisation up to attack. In most cases (despite high profile insider attacks like Snowden in the US) employees are not willingly participating in an attack. They may not even know they are the unwelcome target of a hacker’s attention and that their online behaviour might be risky. Employees have limited knowledge of the cyber security risks they face (or create). Email scams take advantage of this lack of security knowledge. The cost to an organisation of this knowledge gap is an increased security threat.

Cyber security is a constant game of cat and mouse. As people woke up to the threat from simple email scams like the ‘Nigerian Prince’ its effectiveness declined so the attackers moved onto new techniques. Phishing in its many forms has grown in popularity. Here the attacker sends email to lots of people with a malicious web link to steal credentials for logins or a malware-laden attachment to infect a machine. They know that someone will click through and activate their attack. Then there is spear-phishing, where targets are more carefully targeted to improve effectiveness and a new, and damaging, variant of this called CEO Fraud or whaling where social engineering is used to really target a specific individual within a target organisation. Individual emails are created that look legitimate, they often even get into a conversation with the target pretending to be their boss, before hitting them up for fraudulent wire transfers of cash or confidential data.

These attacks on email are on the rise and are a significant concern. Recent research from Mimecast showed that 83% of IT security pros consider email to be the most common source of the attack and 64% believing the attacks to pose a high or extremely high threat.

These attacks also work. Sad but true.  People are being duped every day. The FBI reported recently in the U.S. that losses from whaling or CEO fraud attacks alone grew by 270 percent from January to August 2015 with reported losses of $800 million in just six months from August 2015. Our own research showed that in the first three months of 2016, 67% of organisations had seen an increase in attacks designed to extort fraudulent payments and 43% saw an increase in attacks specifically asking for confidential data like HR records or tax information.

Clearly investing in up-to-date technology to defend your organisation is critical but remember that employees are the first line of defense and educating them regularly about potential cyberattacks is vital. As is telling them what to do when they spot a problem or feel they many have been duped. A culture that encourages and supports employees in being open (and fast to act) when they have made a mistake is important.

So in the battle of organizations versus the email scammers it will be employees armed with great technology that will make the difference.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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