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Africa’s threat landscape

Organisations need to take a step back, re-strategise their security infrastructure and plan for a post-coronavirus world.

Johannesburg, 27 Aug 2021
Read time 4min 20sec
Brandon Rochat, Sales Director: Africa, Cybereason.
Brandon Rochat, Sales Director: Africa, Cybereason.

“Living in South Africa, many people believe that because we’re a ‘third world’ country, nobody is interested in us. They have this real feeling that it won’t get here, yet the exact opposite is happening,” says Brandon Rochat, Cybereason’s sales director for Africa. “What the bad guys actually thrive on are big data highways with a population that is security-inexperienced.”

Africa’s threat landscape is growing as a place to attack, but also be attacked, from. According to Rochat, attacks are not only happening throughout Africa, they’re being launched from the continent “using our highways and our computing power”, which is why we need to start taking cyber crime seriously.

“South Africa is probably the worst hit in Africa because we have some of the best infrastructure with regards to highways, computer equipment and connectivity. But our approach to threats wasn’t proactive, it was always reactive,” adds Rochat. “And there are two major reasons that we are reactive versus proactive.”

One of these reasons is that many businesses still see cyber security as a grudge purchase. Companies are reluctant to spend money and only do so because they’re told it is important. If your business has never been hit by a ransomware attack, being proactive around information security adoption can often feel counter-productive.

“Secondly, there also haven’t been strong regulations in the country around securing data for a long time – the dog was there but it had no bite – but with PCI DSS compliance and the POPI Act, there are some very good regulations in place now as well as a regulator who can actually enforce them,” explains Rochat.

POPI security safeguards are an essential part of compliance with the POPI Act and what many companies haven’t realised is that cyber security insurance is often dependant on security infrastructure – in 2020, cyber policies climbed nearly 30% to $1.62 billion.

“Quite a few cyber insurance companies will not actually give you insurance, or will hike your premiums if you don't have a set amount of security built into your organisation. They simply won’t cover you,” says Rochat.

Cyber crime has evolved. It’s no longer what Rochat describes as a ‘youngster playing in a garage’ to global organisations turning over billions of dollars in revenue. Organised cyber crime is changing the threat landscape in Africa because we’re now getting targeted, organised attacks unlike anything the continent has seen before – and at scale.

“And because of that, the solutions that we thought were working are definitely not working right now. Every organisation needs to relook at what’s happening, go back, start again and make sure they’re covered as best as possible,” advises Rochat.

“The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped the situation either because people who were sitting in an office behind security platforms, firewalls or data loss prevention software are now sitting outside of those offices. They're connecting from home or from coffee shops and all the security layers that we used to have, we don't have anymore.”

From pandemic-related malicious domains to browser-based vulnerabilities, an increase in ransomware and phishing campaigns, COVID-19 has not only increased the threat landscape, it has completely changed how companies operate – regardless of the size of the organisation. As cyber crime evolves, cyber security has to adapt and technology has an important role to play.

“The bad guys are getting a lot faster, a lot more intelligent and a lot more automated. We have to do the same – we cannot rely on a human being sitting behind a desk to make decisions fast enough to defend ourselves. AI, machine learning and automation have a big role to play going forward, otherwise we won’t be able to keep up,” says Rochat.

How can Africa become more resilient? Rochat believes we need to stand up and take ownership. Instead of simply taking for granted that the organisation we’re working for is secure, we need to get involved and ask questions.

“How are you securing my information? How are you securing the network? You’ve got to be proactive; you've got to ask the questions… security is personal. You could sell somebody a printer, or a PC, and if it breaks it doesn't really matter – you go buy another one,” adds Rochat.

“If you put a security solution into an organisation and you say to them ‘we will help you’ and you don't, it gets personal. It’s not about finding the right security solution, but rather finding the right family. That’s how you’ll find the right cyber security strategy to counter Africa’s changing threat landscape.”

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