For years, security experts warned Africa’s slumbering companies of cyberattacks. On May 12, many woke up. On this day cyberattacks struck 150 countries, infecting more than 200,000 computers and holding multi-billion-dollar businesses, like France’s Renault, Britain’s National Health Service, Spain’s Telefónica, the United States’ FedEx and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn, to ransom.
Behind it is WannaCry. This malicious software (malware) encrypts your computer files until a ransom of $300 is paid in the virtual currency, bitcoins. In simple words, it spreads like worms in a bag of rotten apples.
Experts say the reason why this malware squirmed easily into so many companies is that they see cybersecurity as a joke. Many hadn’t updated their security in over two months.
This made it easy for hackers to exploit Microsoft Windows XP operating systems by bypassing security checks. Once into the core, the malware can search for other files to exploit.
“Africa, in fact the whole world, is woefully unprepared. Traditional security measures aren’t keeping up with the emerging threats. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult, economically, to keep throwing money at the problem, when [top level management] doesn’t necessarily understand the difference between defending against attackers versus defending against auditors, all the while, tightening the purse strings and treating security as a grudge purchase or necessary evil,” says Tim Morty, Cyber Security Specialist at Information Security Architects (ISA).
When your computer is under attack, Morty is the kind of guy you want at you back. For 10 years he has battled cyberattacks on the frontline in Africa, from Botswana and Namibia to Mauritius, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa.
“Until not too long ago, the prevalent opinion was that only the big corporate and financial institutions had a need to protect their data against corporate espionage, which many considered the main external threat over and above the usual defences against spam and malware. That has changed in recent times. Cybercriminals have not only expanded their reach, they have also found a ready market in our personal data,” says Morty.
Often it can be your employees and their cell phones that make you vulnerable.
“Careless posting on social media is a major concern, as is the use of corporate resources on non-corporate networks. Let’s face it, we all love free WiFi! However, do you really know who is behind the connection, and what are they doing with the information that you are transmitting or receiving?”
One reason why Africa is so vulnerable is many of its people are still learning how the internet works.
“We need to begin learning how to survive in the virtual worlds we have created. Cybercriminals have rapidly adapted to the virtual world and are using the advantages they have developed to thrive, while others are still taking their first tentative steps in this new frontier.”
It was not long ago that businesses, according to KPMG’s 2016 Global CEO Outlook study, considered cybersecurity as an afterthought. The study found cybersecurity has become a major concern for many CEOs. One in five business leaders now list information security as the risk they are most concerned about, while a third sees cybersecurity as the issue with the biggest impact on their company.
The study is made from the views of nearly 1,300 CEOs from companies across 11 industries in 10 countries. Cyberattacks loom larger in Africa when many businesses are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the age of machine learning, cognitive computing and artificial intelligence, play over the internet.
“Cyberattack is like cancer, there is not one form of cancer and cybersecurity has a lot of different areas. It’s one thing for somebody to steal your Mastercard and cause you aggravation, but stealing a vaccine for something like a virus, could be worth billions,” says J. Patrick Michaels Jr, the founder at Communications Equity Associates (CEA).
Michaels founded CEA in 1973 as a US Cable TV brokerage firm. Nearly half a century later, it has investments of $1.3 billion in private equity wealth across 60 countries.
Known as a globetrotting investment banker, Michaels learned of cybersecurity in his days as Vice Chairman of the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Naval Academy. Michaels believes small businesses in Africa are prime targets for cyber blackmail.
“Hackers are starting to target the smaller companies to freeze up their businesses. A lion isn’t going to attack an elephant, when maybe a water buffalo or springbok is easier prey,” says Michaels.
“If you hijack the IT systems for a corporation, the impact on that company’s shares would be crippling. We could be sitting in Prague, sending a message to this company that to unfreeze their systems, the payment of $100 million to various bank accounts around the world would be appropriate. $100 million would be nothing compared to how much they would lose on the JSE stock markets if they were shut down for just 10 minutes.”
On the ground in Africa, Morty warns cyberattacks are on the rise because businesses can’t foot the bill.
“South Africa is, on average, ahead of the curve, in terms of Africa, although we’ve still got a lot of room for improvement… Economically, it is sometimes prohibitively expensive to keep up with the latest and greatest technologies. For those that can afford it, the next challenge is staff upskilling and, often, retention, in a market where skilled individuals are always sought after,” says Morty.
“There have been a few occasions when we have documented some major security concerns while working with a client; from open wireless access points and often basic networking flaws at one financial institution to simple lack of visibility and understanding of the client’s environment, with the security role being taken care of by networking staff with minimal training or understanding of the technologies in use.”
External threats are only part of the problem. Disgruntled employees or moles find it easy to expose weaknesses from within.
“The typical image, often conjured by media, of hooded figures hunched ominously over a laptop keyboard, is quite misleading. Threats from within are a reality; sometimes with intent, sometimes through neglect, often by accident, especially due to poor user education about a topic that isn’t always user friendly,” says Morty.
“Rapid adoption of social media has contributed to security woes, as its users willingly provide attackers with a wealth of information to use against both organizations and individuals alike, making reconnaissance, planning and execution of social engineering attacks that much easier.”
According to the 2017 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey, the world’s largest survey of IT leadership, cybersecurity vulnerability is at an all-time high, with a third of IT leaders (32%) reporting their organization had been subject to a major cyberattack in the past 24 months – a 45% increase on 2013.
Only one in five say they are very well prepared to respond to these attacks, down from 29% in 2014. Despite very visible headline-grabbing attacks, such as the recent WannaCry ransomware attack, the biggest jump in threats comes from insider attacks, increasing from 40% to 47% over the last year.
So should we be spending millions on encrypting our phones and protecting computers from hackers?
“Oddly enough, I’m inclined to say no. Throwing money at the problem will only help up to a point. What we need to do is change the way we work. Educate our users about what it means to be part of the connected world; illustrate what the risks are as well as what can be done to protect themselves, and teach good security practices rather than dictate an intimidating list of do’s and don’ts,” says Morty.
It will take a while yet for online security to become second nature. Until then Africa’s blind spot could be expensive.
Relentless rise of organizations being subject to major cyberattacks during past four years:
TikTok Launches $200 Million Fund To Finance Up-And-Coming Stars
TikTok will begin financing emerging creators on its short-form video platform with a $200 million fund that it announced today, an unusual move by a social media company and one that comes after several weeks of concerns about TikTok’s future.
The company, which is owned by China-based ByteDance, didn’t provide many specific details about how it will give out that money or who may qualify for it. It may be directed toward users from minority groups—with the press release about the fund’s debut singling out creators like Boman Martinez-Reid, a LGBTQ comedian who has signed with CAA, and Tabitha Brown, who’s become famous for her videos about family life and veganism.
TikTok is in a multi-front battle right now. The Trump Administration is considering banning the app over concerns it may share data with the Chinese government, and the users who flocked to TikTok over the past year have been exploring other platforms for their content. In the past few weeks, TikTokers have posted videos urging their fans to also follower them on apps like Instagram, while others have turned to rival music-and-video apps such as Dubsmash and Byte to produce work.
The best way to keep them on TikTok is to offer a clear path toward earning money. Instagram and other social platforms have struggled to do that, and YouTube’s ad-sharing scheme—based on the views generated by someone’s videos—remains the quickest and simplest monetization for influencers. Companies such as Chipotle and E.L.F. cosmetics are already paying for sponsored content on TikTok, where influencers post videos advertising these companies for a fee, as much as six figures now for the top stars. But those deals are typically hashed out between the brands and the influencers without the social media companies getting involved.
TikTok’s $200 million fund is a different step, something neither Instagram nor YouTube have done. It theoretically would allow more creators to flourish as they start out and begin searching for commercial work, such as the sponsored content posts.
The Billionaire’s Startup
The world is awash in streaming services, and Meg Whitman already had her fortune — but then Jeffrey Katzenberg came calling with a mobile-focused startup. With nearly $1.8 billion raised and America on lockdown, consumers may have no choice but to try Quibi.
Minutes after Meg Whitman announced she was stepping down as CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in November 2017, her phone rang. It was Jeffrey Katzenberg, whom she has known since they both worked for Disney in the late 1980s and early 1990s — Whitman was in strategic planning; Katzenberg ran the film studio. ‘What are you doing?’ ” Whitman remembers her friend asking. “I don’t know,” she replied.
“I’m the chairman of Teach for America. I’ll probably do stuff with my husband and travel.” She continues: “He goes, ‘No. What are you doing tonight?’ And I said, ‘Knowing you, Jeffrey, I’m having dinner with you.’ ”
Katzenberg flew to Silicon Valley and, over dinner at Nobu in Palo Alto, pitched his idea for bringing high-caliber entertainment to mobile phones. For Whitman, the idea checked all her boxes: The potential market for the service was huge, prevailing trends were right and it occupied a unique niche.
“I ultimately said, ‘You know what? I think I have another startup in me,’ ” says Whitman, 63, who first got rich (she’s worth $3.3 billion) working with another visionary founder, Pierre Omidyar. She helped build eBay from 30 employees and $4 million in revenue when she joined in 1998 to more than 15,000 employees and $8 billion in revenue when she left a decade later.
“We’re pioneering into a space that only exists because of two things: YouTube, and Steve Jobs and the iPhone,” Katzenberg says. “Those two things have now created a new piece of real estate, and that real estate is 7 in the morning until 7 at night… That’s the thing that’s exciting to me.”
Two years after that dinner, Quibi (an awkward portmanteau of quick and bites) is poised to launch its mobile streaming service offering original movies, reality TV, comedies and news edited into bite sized nuggets of 10 minutes or less, optimized for viewing on phones.
Many in Hollywood think it’s a terrible idea. At a time when viewers are awash in entertainment options, many of them free, who is going to pay for another? “If I’m going to watch Game of Thrones in eight-minute chunks, what’s the difference between what he’s doing and me hitting the pause button?” scoffs one powerful Hollywood insider, who requested anonymity because his clients sell shows to Quibi. Barry Diller, perhaps the greatest Hollywood visionary of his generation, recently called Quibi a “gutsy speculation” for his former protégé (Katzenberg, 69, worked for Diller at Paramount in the ’70s). “He’s so naked out there with this.”
It’s not a new idea. Back in 1999, Katzenberg tried something similar with Pop.com, which was supposed to deliver short animated and live-action films across the internet. With the technology for viable video streaming still in its infancy, it was an uncertain notion at best. Despite being backed by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Paul Allen, Pop.com was dead within a year.
This time around, Katzenberg raised enough money to play it out, including $1 billion in August 2018 from the likes of Alibaba, Disney and Sony. It fortuitously wrapped up a $750 million follow-on round in March, just days before the coronavirus froze the country. “I’ve never seen an environment change this fast,” Whitman says. “Every day is a new day, with new data and new concerns.” Luckily, Kevin Hart and Jennifer Lopez already finished work on their shows, and Spielberg has a movie in the works, attracted by a “cash plus” deal that lets them retain rights to their material. After two years, they can stitch together their “quick bites” and release them as a full-length movie.
Inadvertently, America’s lockdown might have created the perfect moment for Quibi. Nielsen projects media viewing will spike by as much as 60% due to COVID-19. People will certainly know it’s available: Quibi is spending a gargantuan $400 million to promote its new service and in mid-March announced that it will offer the service free for three months.
“This is a moment in time in which we have a chance to do something that is putting some happiness and some joy and some fun and some laughter into people’s hands,” Katzenberg says.
Quibi also has the advantage of being loaded with fresh content just as the production of all new shows and movies has been stilled by the pandemic. Quibi has been stockpiling programming since last September in anticipation of a possible writer’s strike, fearing a replay of 2008, when a union walkout halted new production for 100 days.
The service debuts on April 6 with 50 original shows, including movies offered in cliff-hanger chapters such as the thriller Survive, starring Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) and Corey Hawkins (BlacKkKlansman); 120 reality shows and documentaries; plus news, weather and sports. In all, Quibi promises to deliver 8,500 quick bites from 175 shows in its first year.
But the $1.8 billion question remains: Will anyone pay to watch them? Some Hollywood players are adopting a “DBA Jeffrey” — Don’t Bet Against Jeffrey — attitude.
“Jeffrey has only taken a couple of big swings in his life, and he’s hit it out of the park,” says a senior executive at one of Hollywood’s major talent agencies. “If you had blindly bet on Jeffrey Katzenberg for the past 30 years, you’d have made a lot of money.”
– Dawn Chmielewski
‘WFH’ here to stay?
The home will be hub and flexible working the norm. The result? Renewed employee trust, wellness and cost savings, say more companies.
Even the words out-of-the-box seem out of date at a time when shipping containers are turning into ICU hospitals and arms firms are making ventilators and personal protective equipment.
If technology is being repurposed, so too homes and humans.
Over the last few months the world over, the pandemic-induced ‘new normal’ has seen homes turning into head offices, with the volatile economy forcing businesses to rethink long-term strategies in a work from home (WFH) environment that looks here to stay.
Even the big corporates say this could extend post-pandemic.
Barclays CEO Jes Staley said its staff will not revert fully to its pre-January work habits. “There will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy; the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” he said after the company reported its first quarter profits for 2020.
Internet giant Google said all staff are expected to work from home until 2021, according to a May 2020 report in Bloomberg. S,imilarly, Facebook will let staff work remotely through 2020. Twitter, on the other hand, announced a short while later it would let staff work from home “forever”.
Euromonitor International’s Global Consumer Trends 2020 report has highlighted areas that Covid-19 will have an impact for the year ahead. Some of these include multi-functional homes where, in the long-term, the home becomes the hub and businesses will adapt accordingly; private personalization, which will put privacy concerns on hold in the short term but will return in the long term; and inclusivity for all would see disabled communities benefitting from technology.
In South Africa, the government has stipulated five levels of lockdown dictating how businesses may be carried out, including which sectors can operate as levels change. This requires flexibility and being able to adapt from one week to the other.
Jordan Rittenberry, Edelman Africa CEO, says the company’s transition towards more flexible working policies has been sped up by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the process has been a success with renewed trust in employees.
“We believe that flexibility, particularly in the current environment, is a useful way for companies to treat their staff right and foster mutual trust,” he tells FORBES AFRICA. “The pandemic has required a rapid mind-set change as companies take on new responsibilities towards the people that work for them and employee wellness is the first port of call as we navigate these uncharted waters.
“Every crisis presents opportunities and new ways of doing things. The shift we are seeing now is one of those that could help to meaningfully improve employer-employee relationships if managed carefully.
“As more people work from home, we will naturally require less space over time and this will yield cost savings to the business that can be passed on to clients.
“Besides employee costs, real estate is our biggest expense,” he says. Pieter Bensch, Executive Vice President at Sage Middle East and Africa, has come to a similar conclusion. “We realized that we do not need as much office space going forward and working remotely using cloud technology tools has maintained productivity levels from our colleagues,” says Bensch to FORBES AFRICA.
“Our entire workforce began working remotely before lockdown and are in no rush to return until it is safe but have encouraged video calls so they can see each other.
“Our cloud accounting and payroll product sales have increased, which is a clear indication that our customers now understand the power and benefits of cloud solutions to maintain business continuity.”
The mental wellbeing of employees has also been top priority. “All Sage colleagues received a free subscription to Headspace, a brilliant award-winning app and guide to everyday mindfulness,” adds Bensch. The company also formed a ‘[email protected]’ community for staff looking for peer support on how to adapt with differing family needs and challenges.
A Johannesburg-based agency called BetterWork that specializes in design thinking for human resources has been hosting weekly lunchtime Zoom calls since the beginning of lockdown in South Africa. Attendees include a mix of its professional network, members of The GoodWork Society and other members of the general public. Some of its takeaways have proven that WFH is more productive than working in the office, which cited minimal distractions and the extra hours gained from not having to sit in traffic. Additionally, introverts seem to be thriving and tend to feel more comfortable with contributions to teamwork. On the other hand, BetterWork says parents on the call have expressed being overwhelmed with not just their own work but also the additional responsibility of being teacher-guides to their children.
The company believes the home-office is now the responsibility of the employer where people-focused services such as tele-therapy, support for parents and social programs become an additional duty to ensure a healthy, productive team. It adds that an obvious benefit would be the compensation or subsidizing of laptops, stable internet connectivity, webcams, etc.
Palesa Sibeko, Co-founder of BetterWork, says offices are typically expertly assessed and constructed to suit an organization’s work activity needs, but the same is not true for the millions of homes that are now acting as places of work. “There is not a concerted effort to view home-work life more holistically, to identify the needs and address them to create environments conducive to doing great work.” BetterWork says it is currently looking into how to support organizations on this important mission.
– Nafisa Akabor
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