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Shadow IT make you wannacry

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The opinion of shadow IT, or the installation of unauthorised apps in an organisation is divided. Some believe that it answers the need for agile solutions, while others think in increases security risks. SIMEON TASSEV, MD and QSA at Galix Networking sets the record straight.

There are mixed opinions about implementing unauthorised, IT applications (apps) within the organisation, a practice known as Shadow IT. Opinion on Shadow IT is divided into two camps. Some believe that due to the fast pace of business, demands are exceeding IT capability, Shadow IT answers the need for fast, agile solutions and encourages innovative thinking. However, others suppose that Shadow IT causes a breakdown in traditional yet necessary processes, opening up the scope for risk.

While the market has driven the need for Shadow IT to play a role, the risks cannot be overstated. There has been a significant rise in cyber-crime activity over the last few months, with malware such as the WannaCry Ransomware, and the more recent Petya and NotPetya attacks, making news headlines due to the damage caused on a global scale.

Shadow IT, Ransomware and the missing link

Many businesses lost crippling sums of money and critical data due to these attacks, with some being forced to shut down for an extended period.  In an environment where malware can be introduced on any devices, businesses cannot afford not to be fully cognisant of everything that touches their network. So, does this mean Shadow IT is the cause by being the key that unlocks the door to virulent network attacks?

Today’s average user is far more technologically savvy than ever before. The range of apps available across a range of devices means that it is fairly simple for an employee to discover one which they believe addresses a business requirement better than what their current IT department provides. Often, employees are able to better understand what they need from a technology to improve productivity. In fact, Shadow IT may help users to more effectively do their jobs and, if formally introduced, could help businesses to innovate quicker.

However, in many cases where users implement applications or systems without permission, or notifying their IT department, these apps and systems cannot be effectively monitored or controlled. Data moving across these systems is therefore equally unmonitored. The business has no control over where their data is, who has access to it, and what the safety measures are around it. Ultimately, this can be very dangerous.

What can be done?

IT departments should ensure that they conduct regular audits for unauthorised applications and systems to ensure that the business remains secure. Once completed, any discovered (and unapproved) apps need to be discarded or integrated into the existing IT ecosystem, based on their benefits. The IT department should also educate users on the risks of Shadow IT.  Making them aware of their potential to unwittingly introduce malware such as ransomware or other cyber-threats.

Hooked on Shadow IT?

Users often become dependent on the apps and systems that are introduce independently. When the IT department becomes aware of their use, it may be too late to stop use of the app without negatively impacting productivity and functionality. In fact, employees usually search for these kinds of tools in order to boost their productivity in specific areas where the individual may slack. In addition, the tool or app used may not necessarily work for the business or other co-workers and cannot be implemented on a whim.

When the IT department, or the business, is unaware of systems and apps being used for business purposes, they are unable to apply the necessary threat prevention and other security measures that will ensure the safety of not only the business, but also the user. Thus, the user assumes responsibility for any security breach that may occur through their use of an unauthorised app.

A positive spin

Conversely, Shadow IT can only be helpful for the business, however, only if it is carried out in collaboration with the IT department. Users can be empowered to identify and recommend apps and systems which may ease common business pains, which also alleviates the pressure on IT departments while fast tracking innovation. Simultaneously, IT departments retain a say in what will or won’t work with existing infrastructure and security systems.

In conclusion, although Shadow IT can definitely open up the scope for risk within the business, the IT department within the organisation can collectively work with employees to mitigate security risks. The result is a solution that answers the needs of the user and the business, while still falling within the control of the IT department, and under their security umbrella. There are, therefore, no unidentified or insecure points for malware to enter the business’s systems and the responsibility for the protection of company data still resides with the IT department. Finally, IT should become involved in the assessment of these ‘Shadow IT’ apps and systems, and perhaps it should be touted as ‘Collaborative IT’.

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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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