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World War III may be breaking out online

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The digital transformation of our lives and economies has led to great advances, but at the same time it has resulted in increased exposure to a range of threats and given rise to new vocabulary such as shadow IT, phishing, ransomware and botnets, writes TINUS JANSE VAN RENSBURG, Cisco Regional Manager of Security Africa region

The digital transformation of our lives and economies has led to great advances in communication and productivity, but it has also created a great dependency on Internet connectivity across industries and individuals. This has resulted in increased exposure to a range of threats and given rise to new vocabulary such as shadow IT, phishing, ransomware and botnets.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has radically improved lives, but has also created a new set of challenges that come with the ubiquity of networks; starting with their protection. Technology is ingrained in every aspect of today’s economy with many core assets now digital in nature, and susceptible to attack. While conventional wars saw planes, ships and tanks controlled by pilots, sailors and soldiers, today’s agents of destruction include laptops, mobiles and an Internet connection. The virtual ‘theatre of war’ now includes elusive forces capable of violating companies, governments and individuals with an array of digital weapons that can be automated to amplify the impact. Today, a few strokes on a keyboard can destroy an individual’s reputation, affect stock prices, and even the fate of nations.

The scale of the challenge is sobering. Every day over 20 billion cyber-threats (almost three for every man, woman and child on the planet) are blocked by Cisco. Last year, the global incidents of distributed denial-of-service attacks (which inundate network servers with junk Web traffic), jumped by 172%. This is expected to more than double to 3.1 million attacks by 2021. What these statistics do not provide, however, is the increasing levels of sophistication used by online perpetrators and sophisticated syndicates that make stealing data, disrupting networks and extorting money their business.

Today’s Allied Forces

Fortunately, forces are aligning to protect citizens, companies and governments from elements that aim to undermine the so-called ‘free world’ of the 21st Century. The Allied Forces of today are members of the private and public sector who are coming together to fight a ‘silent war’ against an enemy that is often faceless and operating from a borderless territory. While wars have typically been based on gaining or protecting territories and resources, the cyber war of the present is about maintaining and protecting the digital circulatory system of the global economy, and in some cases, the integrity of political systems.

For example, earlier this year two technology giants – IBM and Cisco –announced an agreement to work together in a number of areas, including ‘threat intelligence’. Apart from integrating various security products and services, the two companies have agreed to share their expertise in order to better detect and mitigate threats, as well as creating integrated security tools offering automated threat responses with greater speed and agility. Such a coordinated response is necessary given that 65% of organisations are using up to 50 different security products, with many of these organisations migrating security infrastructure to public and private cloud providers.

Apart from software and hardware companies collaborating, we are also seeing new organisations and forums being created to share information such as the Internet Watch Foundation, and the Cyber Threat Alliance. The scourge of cyber-threats has caused cybersecurity experts from diverse organisations in the ICT industry to work together in good faith to improve the broader defense capabilities.

‘Art of War’

In these days of digital warfare and the potential for digital infiltrations to spread quickly, being responsive is paramount. Fortunately, with more organisations collaborating and new technologies being applied, (such as machine learning), response rates to digital threats have improved dramatically. For example, between November 2015 and May 2017, Cisco decreased its median time to detection from just over 39 hours to about 3.5 hours. Beyond detecting threats and responding, today’s Allied Forces are pre-emptively blocking online incursions. For example, on a daily basis, the global threat intelligence company Talos inspects over 600 billion email samples and collects in excess of one billion malware samples.

Given the scale of cyber threats, it is essential to automate the detection and handling of threats and to secure ‘peripherals’ such as mobile devices. Using Artificial Intelligence, one new countermeasure is a technology called Cognitive Threat Analytics (CTA).  Developed by Cisco, CTA continuously learns from the massive amounts of data it analyses, making it possible to identify threats and distinguishing them from normal online traffic, thereby offering a ‘smart defense’ against malicious network behaviors at a scale and speed unmatched by humans. Another advancement that was introduced in February this year, is the first Secure Internet Gateway (SIG) in the cloud.  Designed to address the inherent security risks in an increasingly mobile workforce, it protects employees – whether they are on or off the corporate network – providing a ‘safety net’ that covers 100% of mobile traffic, without the need to install hardware and or manually update software.

Becoming battle-ready

The day-to-day activities of all countries in the modern economy are part of a hyper-connected, global system.  As a result, all individuals, companies and countries are potential targets for organisations with nefarious intentions.  Being ‘battle ready’ is critical. This entails education, training, equipment, technology and specialised services to protect against digital attacks. It also demands a coordinated and collaborative defence across industry, government and society as part of taking a proactive stance to safeguard digital communication systems.

Security is everyone’s concern and protecting ourselves can no longer be conducted in isolation. With this is mind, it is useful to ponder the timeless words of Sun Tzu – the 500 B.C. Chinese philosopher and military strategist and author of The Art of War:

“The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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