Public sector must respond to online threats in real time

Issue 2/3 2023 Government and Parastatal (Industry), Information Security

Carlo Bolzonello.

Despite its various structural challenges, the South African economy continues to grow. Over time, this resilience and further potential for growth has attracted the attention of global cyber criminals. Trellix SA Country Lead, Carlo Bolzonello, argues that we should not wait until the economy gains its maximum momentum but prioritise now the necessary implementation of the most up-to-date smart cybersecurity systems, to protect our existing investments and infrastructure.

The launch of the Cybercrimes Act is a very telling indicator of the fervour with which global threat actors are eyeing South Africa as a target for online exploitation. The act seeks to expand jurisdiction for law enforcement to investigate and regulate cybercrime, allowing the government to enter into agreements with foreign states and be better able to detect, prevent and mitigate potential attacks.

With the South African economy growing, although currently at a slow pace, there is more money in the pocket of the average citizen. Inevitably, this attracts interest from not just the locals, but global threat actors as well.

The February 2023 Threat Report, produced by Trellix Advanced Research Centre (ARC), described an environment in which governments are becoming increasingly digitised, while dealing with scarce resources to build a future-facing cybersecurity strategy.

The situation is similar here in South Africa, where ransomware and email threats remain the most common methods of infiltrating systems. For hackers, their most prized prey is the South African government, followed by the financial sector.

With President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing that R1,5 trillion will be invested in new sectors of the economy over the next five years, such as renewable energy, green hydrogen, electric vehicle fuel cells, and more, digital systems will need to be fortified through robust and modern cybersecurity platforms to protect these investments.

Already, major private and public sector institutions are breached more frequently. While a legislative framework is a positive step, ensuring the security of our state resources and vast amounts of data on each citizen requires the appropriate online tools.

Challenging the state, as well as the corporate sector, is the limited available high-level cybersecurity skills, as well as the mounting cost of technology, mainly the traditional anti-malware software, especially as some tools will work in one area but not another.

Fortunately, artificial intelligence has stepped into the fray, with modern systems doing away with the old model of buying an array of products, hoping they will all work. Inevitably, this rising complexity means you have to hire more dedicated resources to oversee security and other related tech functions. The vast requirements of large-scale cyber security have seen the development of a ‘living security’ system, embedded into your organisation. This living, learning ecosystem grows stronger, smarter, and more agile every day, adapting alongside the ever-evolving threat landscape, to give you greater visibility and superior detection through a constantly evolving platform.

The development of extended detection and response (XDR) platforms has now changed how businesses will manage their security, allowing them to better protect their data in a managed central system powered by AI, which grows and adapts alongside organisations, in real time.

As it collects data from previously separate tools, XDR allows for easier and faster investigation of threats and breaches, as well as advising on the best response based on previous results across a much wider network.

With attacks often targeting individual members of an organisation, training staff members on its own can go a long way in securing the environment.

This, together with the support of XDR systems that instantly analyse data from across the organisation to predict and prevent emerging threats, identify root causes, and respond in real time, is the path of action we need to take in the South African public sector to protect our industries and economy.

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