Lushen Padayachi, Head of Security at BT In Africa, stressed the need for digital businesses in South Africa to adopt a more proactive approach to cyber-security that entails a better understanding of the risks.
With the size of the internet economy alone estimated to be about $4.2 trillion in 2016 and online trade accounting for an ever-increasing share of global GDP, criminals inevitably see opportunities in the vulnerabilities of digital businesses. And although awareness of the threat has never been higher, the majority of businesses do not comprehend the methods and motivations of the attackers or fully understand the scale of this threat. In fact, according to research 97% of companies surveyed have been the victim of digital attacks, yet only 22% are fully prepared to deal with such incidents in the future.
This, Lushen believes, is reflective of global security trends where malicious users are targeting business and its sensitive back-end data, and businesses globally and locally are struggling to keep up with effective protection methods, tools and strategies.
“While there is increased awareness around security issues in corporate South Africa, a lot more work needs to be done to educate the market. Far too many companies adopt a reactive style of cyber-policing. While this might have worked a few years ago, the increasingly sophisticated types of attacks occurring means that it might take months before some data breaches are even discovered – and this can be fatal to a business’s operations,” says Lushen.
By then, the damage would be significant especially considering how data has grown in recent times and its importance to derive competitive advantage. In fact, digital crime currently costs the world in the region of $400 billion3 every year – a massive risk to the continued growth of our digital economy.
“With data playing such a critical role in the digital business, and the digital economy becoming a significant driver, corporates need to take cyber-security more seriously than ever before. In South Africa with its complex regulatory and compliance environment, the pressure is even more significant on ensuring that customer data is protected.”
Pointedly to this, businesses must be as agile and quick on their feet as their criminal assailants, but many feel that their response is hampered by regulation (49%2), lack of skills and people
(45%), reliance on legacy systems (46%), inflexible processes within the organisation (38%) and reliance on third parties (94%).
This, he says, plays to the fear of losing private data and what it means for not only consumers, but the organisations that need to safeguard it. Irrespective of the financial loss these breaches could have, the reputational ones are substantial.
“Security is about trust and transparency. Organisations who fail to develop a clear idea of the risks and the strategies that are required to protect data, will not survive long in this new digital age. One of the best ways to go about doing this is to understand how attacks take place. By taking the time to invest in understanding the threats, the organisation will be able to identify the weak points in its cyber-security policies.”
As with all things related to ICT, the security landscape is constantly changing. Companies therefore need to understand both the imminent threats as well as the ones they might face in two or three years’ time. Part of this is to conduct a thorough audit of the corporate network. By examining all channels associated to data input and output, the business will get a clearer idea of the security priorities.
“Thanks to the growth of internet connectivity in South Africa, the country is becoming less isolated in the global market. However, this also means that companies are likely to attract the attention of malicious users – many of whom might pursue a hacktivist agenda. Ultimately, behaviour needs to change when it comes to cyber-security. The way forward lies in ensuring the security is central to delivering strategic goals of the company. This takes us way beyond putting up fences. Companies need to take initiative and start being more proactive now,” concludes Lushen.