Who Owns Whom

The battle of wits

Advances in technology are linked to the evolution of cybercrime and crime syndicates, who stay abreast of these advances and change the way they operate in response.

Before the explosion of technology in its daily use by individuals, cheque fraud and manipulation were common. The movie Catch Me if You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a brilliant forger, whose skill at cheque fraud had netted him millions of dollars in stolen funds, is a good example of crime at the time. Today’s potential loot from victims of fraud on the internet is beyond comparison in size and impact.

Source: Trend micro data for South Africa, January to June 2023

In January 2024, Bob Dyachenko, owner of SecurityDiscovery.com, and a team of researchers from Cybernews discovered a data breach on an unsecured web instance of over 26 billion records. Interestingly it was found that Leak-Lookup, a data breach search engine, was the holder of the leaked dataset. “The dataset is extremely dangerous as threat actors could leverage the aggregated data for a wide range of attacks, including identity theft, sophisticated phishing schemes, targeted cyberattacks, and unauthorised access to personal and sensitive accounts,” the researchers said. This demonstrates how complex the issue of cybersecurity has become.

Privacy legislation, such as the POPI Act is meant to prevent unauthorised use of identities and private information, yet private information sits on multiple servers and hard drives that, with enough effort and astute access, can be copied. Municipal accounts, bank accounts, cloud storage of files on laptops or PCs, VISA or Mastercard account information, retail loyalty programmes with Pick n Pay or Shoprite, patient information stored by medical aids and home affairs ID information are all a target of professional hackers who are continually attempting to steal it.

The impact of cybercrime on the economy

According to Billy Petzer, research group leader: cyber security systems, at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the impact of cybercrime on the economy is estimated at R2.2bn per annum.

At corporate level, successful hacks can become very expensive, paralysing a company’s networks and data access. A WOW report on the information technology industry indicates that increased spending on cybersecurity solutions represents a growing opportunity for providers of IT services. The report referred to a February 2023 survey of 163 IT and security professionals by cybersecurity consultant Artic Wolf undertaken for ITWeb, which revealed that 74% of respondents said that their cybersecurity budget for 2023 would increase. Altron reported in the year to end-February 2023 that small to medium size companies that are listed as a vendor for a major enterprise supply chain may need to meet the cybersecurity standards of the enterprise to comply with vendor security requirements.

What can be done to counter the sophisticated growing industry?

Today, half of all the personal information of individuals, including bank account numbers South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) pay-out information and passwords, are stored on their mobile phone, an item that is purposefully targeted by thieves.

Some data or information is unavoidably necessary to function in society, and cell phones have become instrumental in transaction security checks. Everybody has a debit or credit card linked to a bank account and other accounts, home loans, car loans, investments etc. How do we shop without a card? To store all one’s data on a hard drive or keep it in a safe and only do cash transactions has become impossible. Woolworths will no longer accept cash for a coffee as cards and digital tools become the norm.

Online payments request all your card detail information without signature or other physical intervention. Payment systems get hacked, and recipient cell numbers get altered with painful consequences.

Relentless crime warriors are helping with cybersecurity

Cybersecurity has become a battleground of cybercrime syndicates and advancing technologies by software developers.

It has become an elaborate and intricate web of controls and checks to keep predators at bay. The relentless software updates even by the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Samsung to plug “vulnerabilities” demonstrate that the sophistication of cybersecurity defences is ever evolving.

To find out more about this growing industry and sector, purchase WOW’s full report on the IT industry in South Africa.

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