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WhatsApp faces possible regulation in South Africa

Over-the-top internet services, such as WhatsApp, could be regulated in South Africa depending on the outcome of planned Parliament hearings this month, writes GARETH VAN ZYL.

Over-the-top services – which range from WhatsApp to Skype and Google Hangouts – allow users to make messages and calls over data networks – often at comparatively lower costs than traditional telephone calls or SMS.

OTT services like WhatsApp have rocketed in usage in South Africa with over 10 million users in the country, according to a recent report by World Wide Worx and Fuseware.

Amid this growth, South Africa’s two biggest mobile networks Vodacom and MTN last year called for regulation of OTT services in South Africa.

Subsequently, the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services has confirmed to Fin24 that it has scheduled hearings into the possible regulation of OTT services in South Africa on January 26.

A notice of the planned hearings, which was sent to relevant stakeholders, says the hearings are set to discuss “necessary policy interventions on how to govern OTTs, regulatory interventions on the guidelines to regulate OTTs” and the “impact of OTTs on competition”.

Another topic to be discussed at the hearings is whether “there (is) a need for the OTTs to be defined as telecom services (voice or data) or telecom infrastructure, and thus whether they should be subject to licensing and regulatory obligations (such as legal intercept and emergency call access) or not?”

The committee is trying to secure a venue for the hearings which are planned to be open to the public, the secretary of the committee, Hajiera Salie, told Fin24. More details about the hearings will be provided later this month, Salie added.

It’s unclear who will be presenting at the hearings at this stage.

Regulation risks being “ludicrous”

Dominic Cull, who is a communications regulatory expert at Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, said he has received a notice of the hearings.

Cull said it looks as if mobile networks “still have some lobbying power in terms of getting these matters before bodies like Parliament”.

“WhatsApp is obviously in the forefront. You know why the mobiles (mobile networks) are upset: It’s a revenue question. But we’re also talking about TeamViewer, Google Hangouts, Viber etc,” Cull told Fin24.

Cull said a challenge about regulating OTT is that “just about everything provided over the network could be regarded as an OTT”.

“Once you can’t divide them up, it obviously becomes ludicrous to try and regulate them,” Cull added.

He further said that there are two “fascinating” points to watch regarding the OTT regulation hearings later this month.

“The parties which are in the firing line here – in terms of the regulation – are not the usual suspects such as ISPs (internet service providers) and smaller players looking to compete. We’re talking about Facebook, Google, Microsoft and the like,” Cull told Fin24.

“So, we’re talking about substantial multinationals that have an interest here.

“And the second thing is that this is one of the rare telecommunications issues which people get. So, they understand WhatsApp. They know what it means to the spend on communication,” Cull said.

Fin24

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http://www.fin24.com/Tech/News/whatsapp-faces-possible-regulation-in-south-africa-20160113

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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