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Why you can’t ignore ransomware

City Power’s recent cyber attack has shown businesses the cost of not having good cybersecurity, writes AMIN HASBINI, head of the Global Research & Analysis Team for META at Kaspersky

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Utility organisations, like other businesses and institutions, depend on computers and software for many operational critical functions, and can be a prime target for cybercriminal activity – especially given the potential damage and destruction that interruptions in services or a complete shutdown and being offline can cause.

One of South Africa’s power suppliers was hit with a ransomware attack on Thursday, the victim organisation stated databases, applications and network were encrypted. While the incident did not impact the personal data of the clients, it affected clients’ ability to pay their bills and many were cut out from power.

Ransomware attacks across markets are on the rise. In fact, according to Kaspersky Security Network, for Q1 2019, ransomware attacks were defeated on the computers of 284,489 unique users. Ransomware is a type of Trojan that modifies user data on a victim’s computer so that the victim can no longer use the data or fully run the computer. Once the data has been “taken hostage” (blocked or encrypted), the user receives a ransom demand. This tells the victim to send the malefactor money, in return for the cybercriminal sending the victim the means to restore the data or restore the computer’s performance. The reality, however, is that there is no guarantee that the cybercriminals will restore the data after the targeted victim or business has paid the ransom.

With the inability to operate its business normally, the victim organisation of a targeted ransomware attack will not only experience a loss of money but faces further potential loses, as particularly in the case of utilities and the nature of their services, an unplanned/unscheduled interruption can cause damage to its physical infrastructure. Additionally, there is the risk of reputational damage and loss, not to mention the cost of removing the malware and restoring data. And, there is also the risk that the criminals may use the stolen data for further cybercriminal activity.

Kaspersky previously investigated a number of attacks that were used to disrupt operations in private or public organisations, employing ransomware or similar malware to achieve their goals. Shamoon and Stonedrill, for example, targeted the Middle East with wipers and ransom malware, encrypting tens of thousands of systems in government organisations in an attempt to block their operations. Another example, Blackenergy is also a malware that was investigated as it was employed in attacks on the critical infrastructure in Ukraine and caused multiple cities to be cut out from power for hours! The Olympic destroyer is also another example of malware which was used in an attempt to disrupt the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

To avoid falling victim to such cybercriminal activity, all organisations whatever their business should:

  • Secure all endpoints
  • Apply operating system and application updates as soon as they are available
  • Backup data regularly and keep backup drives safe or offline
  • Don’t routinely assign staff admin rights on computers; and limit access to data to those who really need it
  • Educate staff about the tactics employed by attackers.  This includes:
    • Never clicking on unverified links
    • Never opening untrusted emails
    • Only downloading from trusted and verified websites

It should also be noted that while paying the extorters seems like the best option and easiest path to get the data back, it is never guaranteed that the data will be retrieved. There have been cases in the past where the attackers do not restore the data; and other cases where they restore some of the data and then demand further payment before restoring the rest of the data. Paying only encourages the cybercriminals to continue to develop ransomware-based attacks.

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Millennials turning 40: NOW will you stop targeting them?

It’s one of the most overused terms in youth marketing, and probably the most inaccurate, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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One of the most irritating buzzwords embraced by marketers in recent years is the term “millennial”. Most are clueless about its true meaning, and use it as a supposedly cool synonym for “young adults”. The flaw in this targeting – and the word “flaw” here is like calling the Grand Canyon a trench – is that it utterly ignores the meaning of the term. “Millennials” are formally defined as anyone born from 1980 to 2000, meaning they have typically come of age after the dawn of the millennium, or during the 21st century.

Think about that for a moment. Next year, the millennial will be formally defined as anyone aged from 20 to 40. So here you have an entire advertising, marketing and public relations industry hanging onto a cool definition, while in effect arguing that 40-year-olds are youths who want the same thing as newly-minted university graduates or job entrants.

When the communications industry discovers just how embarrassing its glib use of the term really is, it will no doubt pivot – millennial-speak for “changing your business model when it proves to be a disaster, but you still appear to be cool” – to the next big thing in generational theory.

That next big thing is currently Generation Z, or people born after the turn of the century. It’s very convenient to lump them all together and claim they have a different set of values and expectations to those who went before. Allegedly, they are engaged in a quest for experience, compared to millennials – the 19-year-olds and 39-olds alike – supposedly all on a quest for relevance.

In reality, all are part of Generation #, latching onto the latest hashtag trend that sweeps social media, desperate to go viral if they are producers of social content, desperate to have caught onto the trend before their peers.

The irony is that marketers’ quest for cutting edge target markets is, in reality, a hangover from the days when there was no such thing as generational theory, and marketing was all about clearly defined target markets. In the era of big data and mass personalization, that idea seems rather quaint.

Indeed, according to Grant Lapping, managing director of DataCore Media, it no longer matters who brands think their target market is.

“The reason for this is simple: with the technology and data digital marketers have access to today, we no longer need to limit our potential target audience to a set of personas or segments derived through customer research. While this type of customer segmentation was – and remains – important for engagements across traditional above-the-line engagements in mass media, digital marketing gives us the tools we need to target customers on a far more granular and personalised level.

“Where customer research gives us an indication of who the audience is, data can tell us exactly what they want and how they may behave.”

Netflix, he points out, is an example of a company that is changing its industry by avoiding audience segmentation, once the holy grail of entertainment.

In other words, it understands that 20-year-olds and 40-year-olds are very different – but so is everyone in between.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Robots coming to IFA

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Robotics is no longer about mechanical humanoids, but rather becoming an interface between man and machine. That is a key message being delivered at next month’s IFA consumer electronics expo in Berlin. An entire hall will be devoted to IFA Next, which will not only offer a look into the future, but also show what form it will take.

The concepts are as varied as the exhibitors themselves. However, there are similarities in the various products, some more human than others, in the fascinating ways in which they establish a link between fun, learning and programming. In many cases, they are aimed at children and young people.

The following will be among the exhibitors making Hall 26 a must-visit:

Leju Robotics (Stand 115) from China is featuring what we all imagine a robot to be. The bipedal Aelos 1s can walk, dance and play football. And in carrying out all these actions it responds to spoken commands. But it also challenges young researchers to apply their creativity in programming it and teaching it new actions. And conversely, it also imparts scholastic knowledge.

Cubroid (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Korea starts off by promoting an independent approach to the way it deals with tasks. Multi-functional cubes, glowing as they play music, or equipped with a tiny rotating motor, join together like Lego pieces. Configuration and programming are thus combined, providing a basic idea of what constitutes artificial intelligence.

Spain is represented by Ebotics (Stand 218). This company is presenting an entire portfolio of building components, including the “Mint” educational program. The modular system explains about modern construction, programming and the entire field of robotics.

Elematec Corporation (Stand 208) from Japan is presenting the two-armed SCARA, which is not intended to deal with any tasks, but in particular to assist people with their work.

Everybot (Stand 231, KIRIA) from Japan approaches the concept of robotics by introducing an autonomous floor-cleaning machine, similar to a robot vacuum cleaner.

And Segway (Stand 222) is using a number of products to explain the modern approach to battery-powered locomotion.

IFA will take place at the Berlin Exhibition Grounds (ExpoCenter City) from 6 to 11 September 2019. For more information, visit www.ifa-berlin.com

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