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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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Small South African town goes smartphone-only

Vodacom partners with farming business to upgrade all residents of Wakkerstroom from 2G devices to smartphones

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All residents of the small town of Wakkerstroom, which straddles Mpumalanga and kwaZulu-Natal provinces, have had their 2G feature phones upgraded to 3G devices.

The initiative is a result of Vodacom partnering with BPG Langfontein, a farming business that employs the majority of the people living in Wakkerstroom. It is now the first smartphone-only town in South Africa. This is a model the network provider says it hopes to replicate across the country as part of its mission to connect people who live in deep rural areas and are still dependent on 2G networks.

Wakkerstroom, is the second oldest town in Mpumalanga province, on the KwaZulu-Natal border, 27 km east of Volksrust and 56 km south-east of Amersfoort.  

“There are growing expectations for big corporates the size of Vodacom to serve a social purpose, and for us to use our resources and core capabilities to make a significant contribution in transforming the lives of ordinary people,” says Zakhele Jiyane, Managing Executive for Vodacom Mpumalanga. “We are helping to remove communication barriers, so that citizens in the area can be part of the digital revolution and reap the associated benefits. By moving the more than 1400 farm workers from 2G to 3G devices, this will also free much needed spectrum and this spectrum can be re-farmed to provide for faster networks such as 3G and 4G.

“Crucially, the move opens a new world of connectivity for farm workers in Wakkerstroom. As a result, most people in the area will now be able to use the Vodacom network to connect on the net and access online government services, eHealth services such as Mum&Baby and eCommerce. Learners can now surf the internet for the first time and access Vodacom’s eSchool free of charge and those who are actively looking for jobs can start using their smartphones and tablets to apply for jobs over the internet on Vodacom’s zero-rated career sites. This will be key for driving growth to the benefit of people living in this area.”

Vodacom has already deployed 4G base stations in Wakkestroom as part of this initiative.

For the next phase of this project, says Vodacom, it is going to educate the farm workers about data and the benefits of the Internet. Vodacom will also look at various ways in which it can help empower members of this community in areas of education, gender-based violence and health.

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10 more African countries join Facebook fact-checking

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Facebook today announced the expansion of its Third-Party Fact-Checking programme to 10 additional African countries, which now join  Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Cameroon and Senegal in the project,

In partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP), the France 24 Observers, Pesa Check and Dubawa, this programme forms part of its work in helping assess the accuracy and quality of news people find on Facebook, whilst reducing the spread of misinformation on its platform.

Working with a network of fact-checking organizations, certified by the non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network, third-party fact-checking will now be available in Ethiopia, Zambia, Somalia and Burkina Faso through AFP, Uganda and Tanzania through both Pesa Check and AFP, Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire through the France 24 Observers and AFP, Guinea Conakry through the France 24 Observers, and Ghana through Dubawa.

Feedback from the Facebook community is one of many signals Facebook uses to raise potentially false stories to fact-checkers for review. Local articles will be fact-checked alongside the verification of photos and videos. If one of our fact-checking partners identifies a story as false, Facebook will show it lower in News Feed, significantly reducing its distribution.

Kojo Boakye, Facebook Head of Public Policy, Africa, said: “The expansion of third-party fact-checking to now cover 15 countries in a little over a year shows firsthand our commitment and dedication to the continent, alongside our recent local language expansion as part of this programme. Taking steps to help tackle false news on Facebook is a responsibility we take seriously, we know misinformation is a problem, and these are important steps in continuing to address this issue. We know that third-party fact-checking alone is not the solution, it is one of many initiatives and programmes we are investing in to help to improve the quality of information people see on Facebook. While we’ve made great progress, we will keep investing to ensure Facebook remains a place for all ideas, but not for the spread of false news.”

When third-party fact-checkers fact-check a news story, Facebook will show these in Related Articles immediately below the story in News Feed. Page Admins and people on Facebook will also receive notifications if they try to share a story or have shared one in the past that’s been determined to be false, empowering people to decide for themselves what to read, trust, and share.

Providing fact-checking in English and French across eight countries, Phil Chetwynd, AFP Global News Director said: “AFP is delighted to be expanding its fact-checking project with Facebook. We are known for the high quality of our journalism from across Africa and we will be leveraging our unparalleled network of bureaus and journalists on the continent to combat misinformation.”

Eric Mugendi, Managing Editor from Pesa Check who will provide fact-checking services in Swahili and English added: “Social networks like Facebook haven’t just changed how Africans consume the news. Social media is often the primary access to digital content or the ‘Internet’ for many Africans. They shape our perceptions of the world, our public discourse, and how we interact with public figures. This project helps us dramatically expand our fact-checking to debunk claims that could otherwise cause real-world harm. The project helps us respond more quickly and directly. We’re seeing real positive results in our interactions with both publishers and the public itself. The project also helps our fact-checks reach a far larger audience than we would otherwise. This has helped us better understand the information vacuum and other viral dynamics that drive the spread of false information in Africa. Our growing impact is a small but tangible contribution to better informed societies in Africa.”

Caroline Anipah, Programme Officer, Dubawa (Ghana) said: “Dubawa is excited to be in Ghana where the misinformation and disinformation have become widespread as a result of technological advancement and increasing internet penetration. Dubawa intends to raise the quality of information available to the public with the ultimate aim of curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation and promoting good governance and accountability.”

Derek Thomson, editor-in-chief of the France 24 Observers, said: “Our African users are constantly sending us questionable images and messages they’ve received via social media, asking us ‘Is this true? Can you check it?’ It’s our responsibility as fact-checking journalists to verify the information that’s circulating, and get the truth back out there. Participating in the Facebook programme helps ensure that our fact-checks are reaching the people who shared the false news in the first place.”

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