High profile UK data leaks show why Africa can’t let its guard down

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 15 Aug 2023
Venky Sundar, founder, and president of Indusface.
Venky Sundar, founder, and president of Indusface.

Recent news of data breaches at the UK’s Electoral Commission and Northern Ireland’s police service shows why cyber security experts remain concerned about under-staffed security teams and the challenge in having to apply firewall policies.

The UK’s election watchdog, the Electoral Commission, recently announced it had experienced a “complex cyber-attack” which exposed reference copies of electoral registers. The Guardian online reported that these registers included the name and address of anyone in the UK who was registered to vote between 2014 and 2022. The organisation said it did not know what information of the data representing 40 million people had been accessed.

Venky Sundar, founder, and president of application security firm Indusface, commented: “(The) data breach in the UK Electoral Commission is just one example and it is neither the first nor the last. One key aspect of remediation is updating firewall policies and there lies the challenge.”

Every security department is understaffed and even if they are staffed well, applying firewall policies can be tough as that needs extensive false positive testing and security teams are under constant pressure to delay them, he added.

Emerging markets like Africa have also experienced an increase in data leaks.

According to IBM Security’s annual Cost of a Data Breach Reportthe average data breach cost for South African organisations reached R49.45 million in 2023 – an all-time high for the report. This represents an 8% increase over the last three years and a 73% increase since South Africa was added to the report eight years ago.

The report is based on an analysis of real-world data breaches experienced by 553 organisations globally (including 21 in South Africa) between March 2022 and March 2023.

Indusface’s Sundar pointed to a recent study on the safest countries for remote work, based on input on parameters including compromised computers, botnets, malware hosting sites and DDoS attacks.

“While Senegal was ranked number 16 worldwide, (the) rest of the African countries, especially South Africa and Kenya, ranked among the lowest. To be specific, (according to) our Web Application Firewall, we don’t see a significant deviation on the threat vectors that impact Africa versus the rest of the world. We see DDoS as the number one threat and bot attacks are slowly rising. One more challenge that can stumble security initiatives in Africa is that all the major vendors are focused on either US or Europe. So, finding a security provider that caters to Africa’s needs is important."

Sundar added, “While we found that email hacking is the most prevalent, the way it is carried out is very versatile. Phishing is a much talked about threat, however, bot attacks such as account-takeover and credential stuffing could also be used to hack emails and get access to email accounts.”