With the ongoing advancement of South Africa’s economy, infrastructure, digital systems and strategic global relevance, cybercriminals are increasingly targeting the country’s various public and private institutions.

Carlo Bolzonello, country lead for Trellix South Africa, discusses how the country can protect its valuable digital assets through the artificial intelligence-enabled extended detection and response (XDR) cybersecurity approach.

More and more of our lives are experienced and managed online. We save our passwords, personal photos, and sensitive work on a variety of devices that eventually send all this data to the cloud.

The online world has transformed to incorporate every aspect of an individual’s life, meaning a blurring between work and personal realms across integrated devices and an array of digital accounts. This opens a new door for potential threat actors to gain access to an organisation’s secrets – through its people.

As we come to rely so much more on these increasingly complex systems, it is now more vital than ever to ensure that they themselves are protected from malicious forces from inside and outside of South Africa, in real time.

In the latest Trellix Cyber Threat Report for the second quarter of 2023, the data measured by the company’s Advanced Research Center found that threat actors are now even targeting our government institutions in coordinated campaigns. Rather than random hackers in a basement, professional threat actors are backed by foreign nations and South African Government systems for the first time in 2023 experienced the highest activity, followed by business service providers, wholesalers, and utilities.

Consulting firm Kearney’s recently published white paper titled ‘Cybersecurity in Africa – a call to action’ reported that Africa is experiencing rapid growth in cybersecurity investments. This is in response to the region’s growing strategic relevance, due to its economic development and evolving digital landscape, making it a prime target for cyberattacks.

With these growing threats, South African members of parliaments proposed the establishment of a cyber commissioner, similar to a public protector or auditor-general, in the Cyber Commissioner Bill introduced in July.

Emerging attacks range from blocking legitimate users from their own platforms, to stealing of sensitive data, erasing data, remotely hijacking systems and a host of other actions, using increasingly sophisticated automated tools that can stay undetected on systems for months and even years.

Even our closest allies may have their own reasons to infiltrate our systems and exfiltrate data, possibly to gain an edge in negotiations to make sure we are not keeping secrets that may harm them.

Whatever reasons our enemies and friends may have on cracking into our digital spaces, we need to ensure that we keep abreast of the tools and tactics, so threat actors of all stripes are unable to do as they wish.

No longer will traditional anti-malware tools, sold as packaged software bundles, be enough to keep those determined enough to infiltrate the most secure online environments at bay, for a number of reasons that we need to urgently appreciate.

Shortcomings of traditional cybersecurity

Firstly, traditional software bundles, provided by some of the most well-known developers, are siloed. This means that they depend solely on their own limited resources and data to identify threats and hopefully deal with them.

Secondly, they cannot keep up with the rapid advancements that cybercriminals are making, especially those funded by nations that may or may not be friendly to South Africa. Organisations might wait weeks before an update is available, and even these may be dated when downloaded.

Finally, these individual solutions often need to be manually installed on each device, server and network, leaving entire segments of an organisation’s architecture vulnerable, should an oversight happen.

In the current landscape, where data is emerging as the new gold, system operators need to utilise the most comprehensive threat management tools that are updated with every new threat in real-time.