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The Era Of Ultra Fast Ubiquitous Broadband Coming To Zim: The Cyber Security Concerns

Currently there are so many initiatives and developments by some of the big players in the networking and mobile industry in Zimbabwe such as Econet, Africom, AfricaOnline, MWeb, Powertel and other ISPs to establish high speed broadband internet in Zimbabwe…..Isn’t this magical and wonderful… last we will connect to the world faster and easily and hope so cheaply.

One thing though I haven’ t heard about in all this broadband initiatives talk is the security consideration both from the provider’s and end user’s (customer) perspectives. I am troubled, is this just one of those business or marketing initiatives to be carried out at the expense of the customers (Households and organisations)?

The availability of symmetric, high speed, ubiquitous broadband will lead to a big increase in cyber crime, according to several cyber security experts. An explosion in broadband speeds and access — and the inherent increases in wireless access and peer-to-peer (P2P) content services — would result in an increase in bot-infected computers, targeted data theft and general cyber crime.

I will quote from one of the huge proponents of high speed broadband: “It turns out that in an environment where slower connections and, in some cases, slower machines are prevalent, it’s kind of an odd defence. The robot zombie army that’s out there doesn’t want you… [you’re] no good to the bot-herder if you’re a on a slow machine or a slow connection.”

Those conducting cyber crimes and bot-based attacks target high-speed environments to use in attacks. This could be facilitated by an increase in P2P services, as hackers proliferate malware-infected content through services like BitTorrent {link to ikipedia torrent}, rather than through more traditional means like phishing sites and spam mail

While the regular risks remain for average consumers, targeted attacks on specific companies and data will only increase as hackers are afforded an increased ability to gather specific knowledge of employees through social networking (a good attacking battleground for spam and malware), online gaming, and other means.

Increases in upload speeds… have interesting applications because data exfiltration gets a lot faster, and as users purchase faster computers to complement the faster bandwidth. There is also risk that the poor security awareness/skills may lead to malware, botnets, and other forms of applied persistent threats proliferation. Users will be able to access a lot of content on the internet at faster speeds whether it is the social networking, gambling, music, movie downloads or XXX sites and this may result in activities such as data theft going unnoticed until it is too late.

From a business perspective high speed broadband will bring lots of yummy and great benefits to most of the Zim organisations such as advanced e-marketing capabilities, enhanced speeds for  carrying out online transactions, multi-party videoconferencing and uploading and transferring large files….Believe you me every organisations would want to enjoy such high speed internet benefits.

I am not sure how the broadband providers plan to deliver broadband to the home users …..The Zimbos. But I would want to believe that there will be various plans for the Fibre to the Home (FTTH), ADSL2+ (1Mbps) or WiMax plans ranging maybe from 3gig to 10gig per month and also some fast WiFi too… my dream hey.

However, though I am a big fan of high internet speed, I feel there is a dark lining in the silver cloud especially for the general consumers who will be at risk. Most are not aware of how to secure their devices (laptops, pcs, smart phones etc) either by using personal firewalls, anti-virus/malware, and applying appropriate security patches.

It is because of this lack of security awareness and preparedness that cybercrime will be on the increase in Zimbabwean homes and more so the businesses as long as they connect to the rest of the world using the ubiquitous broadband access.

Therefore the providers should ensure the existence of basic Antivirus protection and also that relatively affordable Antivirus products should be readily available from the local resellers of Symantec, McAfee etc. At the same time, businesses should ensure that they have appropriate internet and boarder security controls/filters to minimise the risk of being victims of the various forms of cyber attacks. Remember, as soon as fast broadband is available, we will be prone to all forms of threats that affect the rest of the world. South Africa and Kenya have already learnt a bit from their own experiences.

Finally, the Broadband providers should work together to provide a form of unified force to ensure that they are prepared to handle any security incidents especially the destructive Denial Of Service attacks or other severe outages. Also, providers should play their social role by at least providing the basics of online safety/security awareness to their customers either by sending regular emails or through broachers whichever is cost effective…

At the same time, there has to be a set of rules and guidelines for how things can be done to best practice, to minimise the security risks they will come into the picture due to the diversification of ultra fast broadband….and as the blablabla song goes — you can’t eliminate all the risks.

Play it Safe

Broadband connections have high speed which makes attacks easier. The risks for possible virus attacks, loss of data, or your computer being used to launch attacks or to monitor or to send out spam emails are much higher using a broadband connection. The higher speed of a broadband connection is more attractive to a hacker than a dial-up connection.

Therefore users should play it safe and act as the first line of defence by applying at minimum the following controls:

Use strong passwords, not so easy to guess but one you can remember

  • Secure your computer with a firewall, anti-virus program, anti-spy ware program
  • Apply security updates as they become available.
  • Do not visit dodgy sites or click embedded links
  • Understand the basics of the threat landscape (Phishing, Scams, Trojans, Bots, etc) by reading security bulletins
    Disconnect from the internet or turn off your computer when not in use.

For the big organisations, it is advisable to invest in good security software/tools, Intrusion Prevention, Content Filters, Unified Threat Management, Network Access controls, Web Application Firewalls etc…..and build a layered defence to protect your company’s critical information assets.

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