As our dependence on digital goes up, for everything from banking to buying groceries, so does our vulnerability to cybercrime. Individuals and businesses are increasingly at risk from cyberattack, whether from ransomware, identity theft or other online scams.

According to the Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report, 330-million people were victims of cybercrime in 12 months of 2020-2021, and the threat of cybercrime continues to grow. South Africa has not dodged this scourge. In fact, the country currently has the third-highest number of cybercrime victims worldwide according to Accenture, with cybercrime costing South Africa R2,2-billion per year.

Protecting against these risks can be difficult enough for any business, but for non-profit organisations, where budgets are tight and security expertise may be in short supply, defending against hackers and criminals can be exceptionally challenging. With NPOs that support local communities and provide vital services, any interruption to business or loss of data can have a devastating impact. The potential exposure of important donor information is also an enormous risk that needs to be mitigated.

Operating in Diepsloot since 2013, the Wot-if? Trust is a non-profit organisation that focuses on socio-economic and enterprise development. The Trust manages several programmes built around the needs of entrepreneurs and the local community in Diepsloot, one of the most densely populated townships in South Africa. The key focus is on developing entrepreneurship and skills development in women and youth, nurturing education, and ensuring the creation of opportunities and sustainable businesses for the community.

The Diepsloot facility provides platforms, services, and workspaces for up to 40 small businesses and over 500 youth and children in various programmes and the centre supports local people with essential technology access and internet connectivity. Locals even work outside the building at night, using connectivity to conduct research, look for jobs, and study for exams.

Gail Styger, founder and Trustee at Wot-if? says, “After a number of malware and cyber-attacks, we needed an effective way of bolstering our defensive measures beyond the traditional anti-virus. Our facilities in Diepsloot serve the community in several ways, but that opens the machines up to viruses, malware, and cyberattacks.

“Many businesses might be tempted to pay ransomware just to get their information back, but that is not a sustainable approach, especially for a non-profit,” Styger adds. “It was therefore imperative to bolster our organisational defences against the threat of future attacks that might have a negative impact on our ability to digitally uplift the Diepsloot community.”

The solution

Cisco is already a supporter of the Wot-if? Trust, donating networking resources to the centre as part of its commitment to digital inclusion in Africa, so when the company learned of the challenge that the Trust was facing in securing itself against cyberattack, the team came to the rescue with a new deployment of cybersecurity and physical security solutions.

As part of the security rollout, Cisco implemented the free version of its Umbrella cloud-based secure internet gateway platform. Cisco Umbrella is a fast, flexible cloud-delivered security platform, designed to provide multiple security functions in one solution, so that organisations such as Wot-if? Trust can manage protection across different platforms, devices, and locations. As a cloud-based solution, cyber defences can be extended quickly and easily to cover all threats and sources of attack. This has provided a vital first layer of defensive measures for Wot-if?

Cisco also deployed the Meraki platform to run the full networking stack of the non-profit. The platform connects data-powered products including wireless, switching, secure SD-WAN, smart cameras into a single cloud-managed environment. This gave Wot-if? the ability to monitor their entire cybersecurity environment from a centralised dashboard, enabling secure user experiences while seamlessly managing their network and its users.

In addition, Cisco introduced video security solutions at the Diepsloot site to provide Wot-if? with a way to monitor physical security at its premises. The Meraki smart camera system and Vision portal will send alerts to Wot-if? Staff if something suspicious is detected on site.

Styger says: “Now we can focus on creating an even more engaging and effective environment for our community members. Already, the benefits of the Cisco solutions have been significant. We can even manage internet usage on an individual level. For instance, someone might need more bandwidth to edit online videos while another person, who is doing research for a project, might need less. People are doing productive things with the internet we are providing, and this can now happen more securely than in the past.”

Conrad Steyn, chief technology officer for Africa at Cisco, comments: “Whether you are running a small, non-profit organisation, or a multinational one expanding around the world, nobody is safe from cyberattacks. Even individual users are being targeted. In our experience, the cyberthreat landscape has evolved rapidly since the pandemic struck, with big financial institutions, governments, and non-profits being affected. If you connect to the internet, either as an individual or as an organisation, you are a target.

“The Cisco technology deployed for Wot-if? Trust is benefiting the community at large – these are not just switches and hubs and cybersecurity solutions, but a way of empowering people with internet access – so we can achieve our aim of powering an inclusive future for all,” Steyn adds.