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Mayday! Mayday! I’ve Been Hacked

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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.

Petya Or NotPetya: Why The Latest Ransomware Is Deadlier Than WannaCry

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).

Web Vigilantes

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.

Making Millions From Paranoia

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.”

Industrial Thief On The Line, How Can I Rob You?

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:

2017: 32%

2016: 28%

2015: 25%

2014: 22%

Source: The 2017 Harvey Nash/KPMG CIO Survey

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‘AI Is A Powerful Tool’

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Research forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. Murat Sonmez, member of the managing board, and Head of the Centre for the WEF Fourth Industrial Revolution Network, expands on the role humans might play.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is at the center of the current economic frontier. In reality, is Africa prepared for such changes?

Moving quickly and being agile are key principles of success in the 4IR. Any country can succeed if they take on this mindset. A few years ago, Rwanda saw the opportunities drones, a 4IR technology, brought to their country.

They helped save over 800 lives by delivering blood to remote villages. To scale this, the government worked with the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) drones’ team to create the world’s first agile airspace regulation. Now, we see countries in Africa and around the world looking to the Rwandan model.

READ MORE | 5 Ways Tech Can Revolutionize Education

What feasible solutions can  artificial intelligence (AI) offer in terms of forecasting natural disasters, droughts food security on the African continent?

AI can help predict diseases, increase agriculture yields and help first responders. It is a powerful tool for governments and businesses, but it needs a lot of data to be effective.

For AI to be all that it can be, countries and companies need to work together to build frameworks for better management and protection of our data and ensure that it is shared and not stored in silos. Data is the oxygen of the (4IR). If countries do not leverage data and have their policies in place, they will be left behind.

There is a growing concern that the 4IR will strip people of jobs, of which there is already a shortage. How true is this?

The world is going through a workplace revolution that will bring a seismic shift in the way humans work alongside machines and algorithms.

Latest research from the WEF forecasts that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans, compared to 71% being performed by humans today.

READ MORE | Roadmap For African Startups

The rapid evolution of machines and algorithms in the workplace could create 133 million new roles in place of 75 million that will be displaced between now and 2022.

Consumers have real concerns around the potential harm technology can cause in areas such as privacy, misinformation, surveillance, job loss, environmental damage and increased inequality. What ethical precautions are being considered in the robotics space?

Now more than ever, it is important to incorporate ethics into the design, deployment and use of emerging technology. Innovating in the 4IR requires addressing concerns around privacy and data ownership, while attracting the skills and forward-looking thinkers of the future.

There are big challenges and bigger opportunities ahead. We have seen many companies and countries create ethical and human rights-based frameworks. What’s important is they are co-designed with members of both communities along with academia, civil society and start-ups.

A multi-stakeholder approach will result in a more holistic set of guidelines and principles that can be adopted in many different industries and geographies.

READ MORE | It’s Time For Africa’s Gazelles To Shine

What changes need to take place for the African continent to be on par with global developments, and are there tangible goals set?

The 4IR provides governments the opportunity to be global leaders in shaping the next 20 to 30 years of science and technology. It is important they create an environment where companies can innovate.

The other tenet is to be open to working across borders and learning from each other. The global health industry has access to mountains of data on rare diseases, but it is trapped within countries and sometimes even within the hospital walls.

If we can build trust and find innovative ways to share the data while protecting privacy, we can employ tools like AI to help us cure disease faster. Countries and companies need to have the right governance frameworks and mechanisms in place for these breakthroughs to happen. It is possible to do these things now, but we need to work together to make it happen.

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Businesses At The Heart Of A Greener Future

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With every day that passes by it becomes more apparent that the Earth is deteriorating and time is running out to save it. Scientists have estimated that we have less than a decade to save the planet before it is irreversibly damaged, mainly due to climate change.

Businesses claim the largest percentage of global emissions (at approximately 70% since 1988, according to The Guardian) which is an alarming statistic, especially in a time when the planet’s well-being is being compromised.

Many large business corporations are hastily coming on board with operating sustainably by transforming their practices and placing business ethics at the forefront of their priorities.

READ MORE | The Most Sustainable Companies In 2019

Last week, a round table discussion was held at the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel, Sandton hosted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM) – the world’s largest sustainability consulting firm. Their aim was to discuss how imperative it is for African businesses to get on board with sustainability.

“We have been talking about how to be sustainable for a long time but now it is time for us to do sustainability,” says Thapelo Letete, Technical Director of ERM.

An engaging and thought-provoking panel discussion ensued with representatives from ERM and mining companies, Anglo American and Gold Fields. They emphasized the importance of sustainability being recognized by investors, especially in mining and oil companies that rely solely on Earth’s natural resources.

Civil society has a colossal role to play in ensuring the sustainability of businesses. Due to the law of supply and demand in production, consumers are being urged to be mindful of their buying habits and to make sustainable decisions. These are as simple as minimizing the utilization of plastic straws by replacing them with metal or paper straws and reusable shopping bags and by recycling selected items.

READ MORE | Challenging The Gender Divide

“Research suggests that socially and environmentally responsible practices have the potential to garner more positive consumer perceptions of (businesses), as well as increases in profitability,” according to an entry in Sage Journals published in May.

The advancement of science, artificial intelligence and the rapid growth of the technological industry make it an undeniable fact that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. Many businesses across the globe seem to be well prepared for this change. However, businesses in Africa seem to be vulnerable. 

“It is difficult to say that all businesses in Africa are prepared for it. It is not a country specific thing but it does vary across corporations. There will be businesses that are well prepared and businesses that are not so well prepared,” says Keryn James, CEO of ERM.

A large part of sustainability also relies on empowerment and equality. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of female-owned businesses who contribute a large amount of money towards their respective countries’ GDPs. However, most of these businesses struggle with the issue of scaling.

“Women sometimes underestimate their ability and they don’t necessarily  have the confidence that they should have about the value that their businesses present. Women often take less risks than men,” says James.

“The issue of scaling is one that we see globally. One of the issues are access to funding to support in the investment and growth of their businesses.”

READ MORE | Mastercard: Diligent About Digital In Africa

Going forward, the availability of mentorship programmes and skills development opportunities for women, especially black women in business should be encouraged.

According to a study done by the UN Women’s organization, an average of 3 out of 7 women score higher in performance when they are placed in senior managerial positions. Additionally, if more women work, the more countries can exponentially maximise their economic growth.

Women will be empowered when given the correct skills and opportunities to be able to run their own businesses independently which would ultimately lead to the scaling of female-owned businesses in Africa and sustainable development.

The Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards aim to recognize the efforts of businesses that operate sustainably and to encourage other corporations who intend to adopt more sustainable strategies into their practices. Initiatives such as these prove that business value also depends on how sustainable they are.

It is clear that the prioritization of sustainability and accountability in businesses is the only way forward in the midst of this global crisis. With a combination of will and the rigorous work that African businesses have put into sustainability initiatives and strategies, it is easier to be optimistic about our planet’s wellbeing.

-Buhle Ntusi

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Ex-Google Staffer Says After Split With Chief Legal Officer David Drummond: ‘Hell Does Not Begin To Capture My Life’

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Former Google employee Jennifer Blakely has written a scathing blog post with allegations about how her affair with chief legal officer David Drummond unfolded.


A former member of Google’s legal team who says she had a child with the company’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, has written a scathing blog post about the way that their relationship unfolded within the search engine giant, including that he issued “terrifying threats” to take custody of their child after initially refusing to pay child support.

In a Medium post, Jennifer Blakely says that she was inspired to detail her experience after an explosive New York Times story last fall put a spotlight on how the company shielded top executives from harassment claims and sparked massive employee protests.

“Looking back, I see how standards that I was willing to indulge early on became institutionalized behavior as Google’s world prominence grew and its executives grew more powerful,” Blakely writes.

READ MORE | Google, Facebook, Twitter Fail To Live Up To Fake News Pledge

“Women that I worked with at Google who have spoken to me since the New York Times article have told me how offended they were by the blatant womanizing and philandering that became common practice among some (but certainly not all) executives, starting at the very top.” 

While her relationship with the married Drummond was included in the Times story and first reported byThe Information in November 2017, this is the first time Blakely has written about the experience herself.

Drummond is one of several current and former Google executives who has reportedly had relationships with employees or extramarital affairs, including Eric Schmidt, Sergey Brin, and Andy Rubin.

READ MORE | Calling Out Sexual Harassment

Blakely alleges that after their relationship ended, Drummond had another relationship with a subordinate, which is against Google’s workplace policy. He is still employed by Google and made more than $47 million last year. 

Blakely says that she started working in Google’s legal department under Drummond in 2001 and that after he told her that he was estranged from his wife, they began a relationship in 2004. She says the two had a child together in 2007 and that Google’s human resources department then told her that one of them had to leave the department.

She moved to sales, an area where she had no experience, and subsequently struggled with her work. Blakely alleges that after she ultimately left the company at Drummond’s urging in 2008, but that while they were living together in Palo Alto, he broke off their relationship via text message.

“‘Hell’ does not begin to capture my life since that day,” she writes. “I’ve spent the last 11 years taking on one of the most powerful, ruthless lawyers in the world. From that fateful night forward, David did things exclusively on his terms.” 

She alleges that Drummond initially refused to see their son or pay child support, and then fought against her in a custody battle. While she says they ultimately reached a settlement and he began paying child support, she writes that “months or years” would go by when he wouldn’t see their son. In 2014, Drummond allegedly showed her an article about Eric Schmidt’s reported history of extramarital affairs during an argument, implying that the executive’s position granted him impunity.

READ MORE | Young women in Soweto, South Africa, say healthy living is hard. Here’s why

“His ‘personal life’ (which apparently didn’t include his son) was off limits and since I was no longer his ‘personal life’ it was time for me to shut up, fall in line and stop bothering him with the nuisances or demands of raising a child,” Blakely writes.

Blakely’s story is the latest in a string of public posts from former Google employees highlighting issues with the company’s culture and policies (or their lack of enforcement).

One of the women who helped organize last fall’s protests, Claire Stapelton, recently wrote about her experience with retaliation, another employee detailed the disappointing way the company’s human resources department dealt with her harassment reports, and former senior engineer Liz Fong-Jones posted about “grave concerns” with the company’s decision making in general.

The outspokenness of Google employees exemplifies — and has helped spur — a broader activism in the tech sector that has seen workers speaking out against their employer’s internal policies and business decisions.

Blakely’s post also taps into the larger #MeToo movement which has drawn attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across industries.

“Until truth is willing to speak to power and is heard, there’s not going to be the sea change necessary to bring equality to the workplace,” she writes.

Neither Google nor Drummond immediately responded to a request for comment. 

This story is developing.

-Jillian D’Onfro; Forbes

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