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Why SMEs and ransomware go together

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SMEs believe they are not vulnerable to ransomware attacks mainly due to the fact that they think they are unlikely targets. This is however a dangerous misconception, writes BRIAN TIMPERELY Managing Director and co founder of Turrito Networks.

Over the past year, cyber security experts and analysts have been warning businesses and individuals about the growing threat of ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system and data until a sum of money is paid (usually in bitcoin). On Friday May 12, all the doomsday predictions of crippling global cyber fraud became a rather frightening reality, as ransomware dubbed ‘WannaCry’ infected 114 000 Windows machines in just 24 hours. The attack quickly spread to over 150 countries, affecting hospitals, interior ministries and major corporations – with hackers demanding US$300 in bitcoin per machine, to unlock encrypted data.

As the global fallout from what has been called the worst ransomware attack in history continues, it provides a stark wake up call for businesses of all sizes to begin to take this threat very seriously….

1. Acknowledge that you are a target

Arguably, SMEs are currently the most vulnerable to ransomware attacks. This is simply because many businesses believe that they are unlikely targets. Indeed, there is a mistaken belief that banks and major multinationals are primarily the ones who have to worry about vicious cyber fraud. This is a dangerous outlook! Cyber criminality, and ransomware in particular, is about volume – it’s a numbers game. Attacks are conducted at random, on mass, and these criminals do not discriminate between size, sector, individuals, business, etc.

Worryingly, most local SMEs are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to ransomware – and are consequently placing themselves at massive risk. They are just as vulnerable, if not more so, than the bigger corporations and organisations that have very publicly come under attack.

2. Partner with a business Internet provider

On a very practical level, one of the factors currently leaving many SMEs at risk is their choice of Internet providers. All too often, small businesses look to keep costs down by choosing a provider that specialises in consumer solutions – instead of choosing a provider that specialises in business solutions. By opting for cheaper consumer solutions, SMEs do not get the built in security features and support – such as automatic data backup, firewalls, cloud-based systems, etc – that business providers offer. The consequences of this decision can be disastrous. If an SME falls victim to ransomware (or other types of cyber attacks), the costs extend far beyond the initial ransom that has to be paid for the data to be released. The business will experience extended downtime, damaged brand equity and a considerable loss of trust in the marketplace. Added to this, a compromised business tends to overreact to the attack and then overspend on security solutions thereafter.

In reality, guarding against ransomware is both straightforward and relatively inexpensive. It does require, however, partnering with an Internet provider who will take a consultative (as opposed to purely transactional) approach to your business. The right partner will understand both your needs and risks as a business, and then provide solutions that protect your data from day one.

3. Call your provider (today)

Finally, understand that there are no symptoms or warnings that come attached to ransomware. If you are attacked, your data will be held ransom until the fee is paid. No one can unlock the data once it has been encrypted. This means that preventative action is everything. Either take the threat seriously, today, or run the risk of finding a ransomware note splashed across your desktop.

On the other hand, if preventative measures are in place, and your data has been properly backed up by a trustworthy provider, then a ransomware attack need not bother your business at all. You can simply refuse to pay the ransom, and call your provider for support. Your data will be safe, and immediately accessible.

The more businesses and individuals that take this approach, the less powerful and common ransomware attacks will be. Cyber criminals are getting their way because people and businesses have yet to attach real value to their data. But once this connection between money and data has been made, and preventative measures are put in place, ransomware will lose its power.

So call your Internet provider today. There is only one question to ask: Can you assure me my data is safe? If they are not able to help you here, immediately find another provider who can.

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Cape Town not so calm – if you’re a driver

Cape Town drivers lose on average 162 hours a year to traffic jams, so will need some tech and a few tips to stay calm

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Cape Town drivers lose, on average, 162 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, and the city is ranked 95th out of around 200 cities, across 38 countries surveyed globally, in terms of congestion issues.

That’s according to the latest INRIX 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, which is an annual analysis of mobility and congestion trends. The study provides a data-rich evaluation of information collected during peak (slowest) travel times, and inter peak (fastest point between morning and afternoon commutes) travel times. Together they provide a holistic account of congestion throughout the day, delivering in-depth insights for vehicle drivers and policy-makers to make better decisions regarding urban travel and traffic health.

Of the further five South African cities surveyed:

  • Pretoria drivers lose, on average, 143 hours a year stuck in traffic jams, ranking as the 64thmost congested city
  • Johannesburg drivers lose an average of 119 hours annually, ranking 61st
  • Durban drivers lose 72 hours, ranking 141st
  • Port Elizabeth drivers lose 71 hours, ranking 75th
  • And Bloemfontein drivers lose 62 hours, ranking 165th

If these hours sound horrific, spare a thought for the poor drivers in Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá who lose, on average, a whopping 272 hours a year stuck in traffic jams!

On average, drivers’ commutes increase by roughly 30% during peak versus inter-peak hours. And the reality is that congestion issues aren’t going away anytime soon. Not here in SA, or anywhere else in the world. So what can we, as drivers, do to make the situation easier to cope with on our daily commute?

Change of mindset

Stressing about the unavoidable, the inevitable, and all the things that are out of our control – like congestion caused by accidents, faulty street lights, or bad weather – is a waste of energy. We should try finding ways of using that time in our cars more productively, to create a less tense, more positive experience. Learning to change our perspective about this challenging time, and associating it with something enjoyable, can drastically alter our reaction to and engagement with it. Rather than expending all our energy on futile anger and frustration, we can channel our focus on things that relax or energise us instead.

Just one more chapter

Being stuck in traffic usually aggravates us because it feels like a huge waste of valuable time. But like a wise man once said, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. Listening to a podcast or audiobook can not only be entertaining, but also educational, which is a brilliant use of your time. Ifyou think of your car as a ‘learning lab’, a mobile university of sorts, and your time spent inside as away to exercise your brain and grow intellectually, you may even find yourself wishing for bad traffic so you have an excuse to carry on listening to your podcast or audiobook.

Tame your inner Hulk

Pulling up a playlist of your favourite, feel-good songs can do wonders to combat stress levels. Downbeat music has been proven to have a mellowing effect on drivers. Making a quick switch to downbeat music shows measurable physiological improvements, with drivers calming down much sooner, and making fewer driving mistakes. So the next time you feel your inner Hulk emerging, crank up the volume on your favourite tunes.

The power of ‘caromatherapy’

There are numerous studies on aromas and their impact on human emotion, behaviour, and performance. Researchers have found that peppermint can enhance mental and athletic performance and cognitive functioning, while cinnamon may improve tasks related to attentional processes and visual-motor response speed. A study from Kyoto University in Japan revealed that participants reported significantly lower hostility and depression scores, and felt more relaxed after awalk through a pine forest. It makes sense then, to incorporate some ‘caromatherapy’ into our lives. There are plenty of off-the-shelf car diffusers available, or you could add a few drops of essential oil to DIY felt air fresheners. Citrus scents like orange or lemon can provide a boost of energy, while rosemary can relieve stress and anxiety. Take care not to hang anything that might obstruct your field of vision though, and always make sure to test out essential oils at home first, in case a scent makes you dizzy or overly relaxed, which could affect driving focus.

Contemplate your navel

The mind is a powerful thing, and simply willing yourself to relax might be the most effective method of all. While we don’t recommend meditating while driving due to safety reasons, breathing exercises can help you stay focused and feeling calm. One useful practice is the one-to-one technique – breathing in and out for the same count with the same intensity. Deep, measured breaths facilitate full oxygen exchange, helping to slow down the rate of your heartbeat and stabilise blood pressure, as opposed to shallow breathing, which doesn’t send enough air to the lowest part of your lungs, causing you to feel anxious and short of breath. Just always keep your eyes on the road, and take care to ensure you’re not so busy counting breaths that your concentration is compromised.

Not all those who wander are lost

Some of our best ideas come in those moments where we’re alone with our own thoughts, able to really reflect on the ideas we have without having something immediate that needs our attention. Allow your mind to wander, and do a little brainstorming. Alternatively, use the time to simply day dream. Remember, downtime is not dead time. It is both necessary, and important for your mental health. Use this time as an opportunity to take care of yourself.

In-built vehicle tech

“As we spend more and more time commuting, cars are being designed to accommodate longer periods behind the wheel,” says Kuda Takura, smart mobility specialist at Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa. “Ford uses human-centric design to deliver vehicles that are inviting, accommodating, and intuitive. For example, our SYNCT infotainment system offers nifty, hands-free functions, like allowing drivers to listen to their texts, change music or climate settings, and make phone calls easily with voice control. Our range of driver-assist technologies, like Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Semi-Auto Active Park Assist, are also designed to take some of the stress off city driving. If our lifestyle means that we might be spending more time in our cars than we do on holiday, then we should make sure we make the most of that time.”

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Vodacom exits Africa biz services

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Vodacom Group has sold Vodacom Business Africa’s operations in Nigeria, Zambia and Cote d’Ivoire to Andile Ngcaba’s Synergy Communications. The two entities are in the process of concluding the acquisitions, which are subject to the approval of the regulatory authorities within these markets.

Vodacom says the transaction supports the Group’s enterprise strategy in Africa, which has been refocused to grow and strengthen its core business. It will no longer directly service global enterprise customers in these three markets but will rather continue to operate as a pan African telecommunications networks provider through local relationships, like the one with Synergy Communications. 

This acquisition represents a significant milestone in Synergy Communication’s quest to be a leading provider of cloud and digitally based services in key markets across sub-Saharan Africa and provides key additional assets in its build out of a regional footprint. Synergy Communications currently has operations in Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique.

Andile Ngcaba, Chairman of Synergy Communications said: “This is an exciting landmark transaction for Synergy Communications, providing us with additional momentum in the delivery of our strategy as a pan-African enterprise digital Services Provider. Synergy Communications will partner with major global cloud providers and deliver platform-based services to both multi-nationals and local enterprises.”

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, said: “Vodacom has a clear vision for strengthening our position as a leading pan-African business and will work with local service providers like Synergy Communications to grow in these markets. Crucially, Vodacom is not exiting any of the territories related to this transaction and remains focused on continuing to deliver exceptional service to our global and multinational clients in these markets through long-term commercial agreements. 

“To support the sustainable growth of pan African digital economies and building connected societies, Vodacom will, via local service providers, continue to service clients in each market. We seek to leverage the collective strengths of Vodacom and Synergy Communications to meet the changing requirements of clients across each of these markets.”

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