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Cybersecurity in Africa – Practical & Simple Tips on How to Protect from Online Threats

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By Paul Beyleveld – Cybersecurity Consulting Systems Engineer, Cisco Southern Africa

At Cisco Connect Kenya 2017 that was held on the 8th & 9th Feb 2017, Security was one of the key focus areas in the Keynote sessions and demos. The reason being that the cybersecurity world is abuzz and we see related headlines in the news more and more often. Cyber criminals are exploiting an ever-growing pool devices and vulnerabilities, today it is no longer a matter of “if” but rather “when” we will be affected by a cyber-attack and what the impact of such an attack would be.

Ransomware, phishing, botnets, Trojans, phishing, exploit kit’s and the list goes on we simply have to protect ourselves from cyber threats as far as we can. Unfortunately, in cyber space things completely outside of our control can affect you. We cannot control everything but the reality is that good computer hygiene, usage routines and a backup plan will significantly improve our security posture.

Ransomware is a particularly visible and troublesome problem at the moment. For those less familiar, Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts a user’s files and then request them to pay a ransom in order to receive the decryption key. Better to avoid having to pay a ransom in order to get those photos of your son’s first birthday back.

I would like to offer some tips to keep in mind for your general every day computer usage, really targeting the end user for home or at the office. There are probably a million similar articles written, but security professionals will keep on writing them because we cannot over stress how important this is. In corporate environments, companies often implement solutions to automate and enforce security controls however home users are often left to
their own devices leaving them vulnerable and often do not even know where to start.

Furthermore, simply having an updated anti-virus program installed is simply not sufficient.

To DO list:

  • Have an “offline” backup plan.

Cloud based backups are great because of their convenience but if ransomware strikes it will probably affect your cloud backups since encrypted files will automatically be synced, overwriting good ones. Subscribing to a professional cloud storage offer with extended file version history support could be one approach; another could simply be making regular backups to an external USB drive.

  • Upgrade to the latest version of your operating system and keep it updated / patched regularly.
  • Activate built-in operating system security controls including Anti-Malware, Firewalls etc.
  • Invest in a cloud based advanced malware prevention solution.

Legacy Anti-Virus is not enough; rather invest in an advanced detection tool. I will list some free tools at the end of this article.

  • Regularly update software like Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Silverlight and Sun Java. It is safer to uninstall this software when you no longer require it.
  • Enable DNS based security controls at home to protect all your devices including, ipcams, routers, home automation, cctv etc. from becoming part of a botnet.

Things NOT to do

  • Use the same or weak password for all your social media and web site accounts. Password managers can be a tremendous help.
  • Execute any file sent via email.
  • Click on a link asking you to provide personal information or to change your password from your financial institution. Financial Institutions will never send you an email asking for this.
  • Click on a link on a suspicious but almost real email.
  • Allow macro enabled office documents to execute macro’s. In fact, if you are unsure about this then always disable a macro if prompted to run a macro.
  • If the offer seems too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.
  • Accept browser certificate warnings as normal. If while banking or shopping online, you notice a browser certificate warning close the browser window then do not proceed.
  • Use pirated software.
  • Jailbreak your phone.
  • Install applications from untrusted sources i.e. non vendor application stores.

Cisco offers very many solutions for enterprises while also heavily contributing to open source cyber security initiatives like snort, clamav, opensoc to name but a few. In addition, we offer some free tools essential for everyone. Take 10 minutes, install these tools and benefit from the same great end-to-end protection our enterprise customers receive.

  • Download and install Immunet: http://www.immunet.com Immunet® is a malware and antivirus protection system that utilizes cloud computing to provide enhanced community-based security. Join the Immunet Community today and help make the internet safer for everyone.
  • Sign up for OpenDNS Home: https://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security/ It allows you to protect every device in your home, instantly. Not only does it allow you to protect your family from questionable internet content, it also protects you from cyberattacks on the internet regardless of the protocol.

Over and above, make sure to read the Cisco Annual Cybersecurity Report 2017 that was released end of January that explores the push-and-pull between adversaries and defenders. Understand the challenges you must overcome to close the windows bad actors work to exploit so you can reduce costly breaches. You will also learn how your peers assess the state of security in their organizations. Download report


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