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By 8 May 2020 | Categories: feature articles

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Amid the turmoil produced by the current pandemic, two technological considerations are rising to the fore: remote working, and with it, cybersecurity. Along with addressing the former in an ongoing series, recently we had the opportunity to speak to F5 Network’s district manager for sub-Saharan Africa, Alain Tshal on the latter.

He began by noting that unfortunately, South Africa is now experiencing the same attacks that were largely confined to the developed world. Automated attacks, botnets and fraud are each on the increase on the local cybersecurity landscape. As well, the theft of credentials is also increasing, like an untended fungus, with the resulting fraud resulting in the loss of money for individuals and enterprises alike. And that is happening at a time when people, and companies, can least afford to bleed money.

Nor, noted Tshal, is the predominance of fraud limited to the financial services sector. Adding insult to injury is the fact that enterprises affected by cybercrime also have to contend with reputational damage as well.

This year though, F5 has been making some targeted acquisitions, and one of these was Shape Security, a leader in online fraud and abuse prevention, as part of its bid to combat the increase in fraud. This, Tshal explained adds protection from automated attacks, botnets, and targeted fraud to F5’s portfolio of application services

Staying safe at home

Exacerbating matters of course, is the current Coronavirus pandemic. One of the many impacts of the virus is that it has resulted in more people relying on remote working. However, this brings with it the need to be doubly as vigilant, especially with regards to credential theft. Conceivably, hackers who have successfully stolen an employee’s credentials could log onto a company’s network remotely and do considerable damage.

“The weakest link for cybersecurity is still the human factor, and educating workers as to how to build a strong password and how they keep it secure from falling into the wrong hands, is imperative, “ he stressed. 

Practical advice

How then, do large public organisations keep themselves secure, bearing in mind that those still operating will have teams and employees working remotely? 

Tshal stressed that beyond keeping their own network secured, companies also need to be able to identify the right person (a valid employee) from the wrong one (a hacker or malicious player). Most important, he stressed, is that organisations have tools in place that  can see into the traffic that is coming into their network. 

Furthermore they also need to have solutions in place that can not only see who is coming into their network, but they need the insights and tools that are able to decrypt and view exactly what is inside that traffic. 

An app-titude for security

But it is not just network traffic that needs to be secured. So do applications. Tshal explained that organisations, whether in the public or private sector, are using applications to meet their business needs. The importance of applications has risen for a simple reason:  applications, he noted, are the path to transformation.No surprise then that use of applications has grown significantly in the past few years. 

“In 2018 there were 250 million applications in use; this year that number is expected to total 1.7 billion,” he added.Here is the good news from an African perspective: apps, according to the recent  F5 State of Application Services (SOAS) study, are fuelling a boom in digital transformation across the continent. 

More specifically, the study found that along with Europe and the Middle East, Africa is leading the charge when it comes to digital transformation execution. Furthermore, a thriving app economy has prompted 91% of surveyed Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) organisations to declare that they now have specific digital transformation execution plans in progress. This compares to 84% in the USA and 82% in the Asia Pacific, China and Japan (APCJ) region.

“Digital transformation is a profound opportunity to change business as usual in Africa. Crucially, it is driving the growth of application portfolios and changing the way in which individual apps are developed, delivered, integrated, and ultimately even consumed,” he elaborated

The main reasons EMEA organisations are embracing digital transformation include increasing the velocity of new product or service introductions. This is followed by being better able to respond and adapt to new buyers' behaviors and emerging competitors.

Positioning for the future

Bearing in mind the rapid growth of apps, Tshal reassured that F5 Network’s focus has long been on ensuring applications could be available, efficient and secure.

That was part of the rationale behind another of F5’s recent acquisitions, when the company completed the acquisition of NGINX, an open source leader in application delivery. The result was a combined company that could  enable multi-cloud application services across all environments, while delivering the scale, security, reliability and enterprise readiness that network operations teams demand.

This was followed by the launch of the first major product to come from the combined company, NGINX Controller 3.0. This, he explained, is the first in a new series of releases designed to provide a cloud-native application delivery platform that empowers enterprises to deploy apps and services in any type of environment.

The world we left behind

It is fair to say that at the moment there is a pre-Coronavirus world, and we all await with bated breath and a mask-covered face, for the emergence of a post-Coronavirus one. Trying to predict what the latter will look like is anybody’’s  guess. But one common denominator between the two is that cybersecurity will be present in each. 

As a closing thought, Tshal offered his take on what we can expect. “What this unfortunate situation has taught us is that we can actually achieve a great deal when it comes to connecting people across the world. I believe that in due course we will still travel the world, but we have discovered that we can reach each other and work remotely using technology. I think that will remain past this crisis,” he concluded. 

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