Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The private and public sectors need to move with the times and start training employees — the new weak point in an organisation’s information technology (IT) defences — in how to deal with cyber threats, experts say.

There has been "a seismic shift in how we work", with mobile devices allowing remote work to increasingly become the norm, says David Emm, a UK-based principal security researcher at cyber security firm Kaspersky Lab.

That means the old model of building security "moats" around company networks no longer works, and many businesses have not moved on from that strategy.

Emm says the shift to working on mobile devices — phones, tablets and laptops – means hackers have more entry points into a company’s network.

Riaan Graham, Ruckus Networks sales director for sub-Saharan Africa, agrees. "With mobile devices becoming effectively a computer in your pocket and where a lot of your communication happens on a daily basis, I think the one thing all corporates are guilty of at some level is the lack of training given to employees regarding cyber security," says Graham.

Since all employees have access to a company’s network, if a cyber criminal hacks into a staff member’s device, "their work’s already half done".

"So I think the first thing that’s needed is continued training with regard to security risks for employees, from the base all the way up to C-level employees. All of them need to understand the threats out there today," Graham tells the Financial Mail.

Employees should be trained in how to deal with possible malware, spyware or "rogue security software", for instance.

"The software might tell you to update or remove certain functions, and if the employee is not aware of the company’s policies regarding change control, they might click and say ‘yes let’s update’, and then open up the whole network to a virus or a Trojan horse," Graham says.

Some hackers are even penetrating networks by leaving corrupted memory sticks in a company’s parking lot in the hope someone will pick them up and insert them into their computers, according to Paul Williams, Fortinet’s manager for Southern Africa.

Service providers and outsourcers are also a prime target due to their trade secrets and intellectual property
Mark Thomas
Dimension Data’s group cybersecurity strategist

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the hype around bitcoin and other digital currencies, Williams says hackers are also hijacking companies’ computers to mine cryptocurrencies.

He says "cryptojacking", or the unauthorised use of someone else’s computing resources to mine cryptocurrencies, has become a major threat to both consumers and enterprises.

It is an attractive ploy for cyber criminals as it does not require strong technical skills and, unlike ransomware, offers a potential 100% payout ratio, Williams says.

Meanwhile, besides their employees, companies’ supply chains are also being identified as a weak link by cyber criminals, according to a recent Dimension Data report.

Mark Thomas, Dimension Data’s group cybersecurity strategist, says there are many moving parts to supply chains and outsourcing companies, and these often run on disparate and outdated networks, "making them easy prey" for the cyber criminals.

"Service providers and outsourcers are also a prime target due to their trade secrets and intellectual property," Thomas says, adding that businesses "need to wise up".

New data protection rules in SA and Europe could prompt businesses to do just that, according to Roy Wright, head of risk solutions at financial advisory group GTC.

Wright believes companies should be taking out insurance against cyber attacks because they need to safeguard themselves against lost income from systems outages, costs associated with identifying and rectifying a breach, litigation costs, and possible extortion from ransomware attacks.

He says cyber-insurance will probably be taken more seriously following the introduction of laws to ensure the protection of personal data including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the Protection of Personal Information (PoPI) Act in SA.

The PoPI act will oblige companies to report and publish any data breaches as and when they occur. Organisations will also have to publish their strategies to rectify a breach and their plans to mitigate against such risks in the future.

"Companies that fail to comply with these requirements will be issued with fines, which will significantly impact small to medium businesses," says the risk expert.

Meanwhile, as organisations move their workloads into public cloud infrastructure, they will gain the added benefit of having better security.

This is because cloud vendors have to spend substantially more money on their security than most companies would ever choose to, says Richard Levine, co-founder and MD of Executive Solutions.

Cloud computing providers such as Microsoft and Amazon also fork out a lot more than most companies can for the skills to manage and support these security technologies, Levine says.

"Companies moving to the cloud therefore benefit from economies of scale via their cloud vendor on all fronts, including IT security."