Cyber security ministry was long overdue


Herbert Marufu Correspondent
President Mugabe reassigned 10 ministers and made eight new appointments in a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday. Former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa was assigned to head the Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation. The new ministry is mandated to deal with the growing abuse of the Internet.

Cyber threats are increasing at an alarming rate every year and the ability for organisations and countries to defend themselves against full-scale distributed attacks quickly and effectively is becoming more and more difficult. In order to be safe and secure on today’s Internet, organisations must learn to become more automated. This means being capable of characterising attacks across hundreds or even thousands of IP sessions and improving their ability to recognise attack commonalities.

With intrusion detection systems and trained network security auditors in place, organisations and nations have a reliable means to prioritise, and isolate only the most critical threats in real time. Chinamasa’s appointment to the newly created ministry was long overdue as governments across the globe are appreciating the seriousness posed by cyber threats.

The Government, by enacting the new ministry, has demonstrated its commitment to curbing emerging threats of regime change using various Internet platforms. Social media and digital technologies have become a new threat to the New World Order. In the wake of the Arab Spring protests of North Africa in 2011, a considerable amount of attention has been focused on the role of social media and digital technologies.

The use of social media platforms has shown how collective intelligence, dynamics of the crowd in participatory systems such as social media, have immense power to support a collective action such as fomenting political change. As of April 5, 2011, the number of Facebook users in the Arab world surpassed 27,7 million people. Some critics have argued that digital technologies and other forms of communication — videos, cellular phones, blogs, photos, emails and text messages — have brought about the concept of a “digital abuse” in parts of North Africa and South.

Facebook, Twitter and other major social media played a key role in the movement of Egyptian and Tunisian activists in particular. Nine out of 10 Egyptians and Tunisians responded to a poll that they used Facebook to organise protests. Zimbabwe has not been spared either as since last year the country has been under threat from the #Tajamuka/Sesjikile, and #downwitheGovernment protest groups among others.

Recently, Zimbabwe witnessed an arbitrary rise in the price of basic commodities, which was driven by social media-borne speculation of imminent 2008-type of commodity shortages. The establishment of the ministry is set to assist in dealing with the growing abuse of social media in the country.

During the Arab Spring, people created pages on Facebook to raise awareness about alleged crimes against humanity, such as police brutality in the Egyptian Revolution. Whether the project of raising awareness was primarily pursued by Arabs themselves or simply advertised by Western social media users is a matter of debate. Jared Keller, a journalist for The Atlantic newspaper, claimed that most activists and protesters used Facebook (among other social media) to organise.

He, however, argued that the sudden and anomalous social media output was also caused by Westerners who had interests and negative agendas, that broadcast them to further their interests. Zimbabwe’s detractors, who are bent on destroying the country, have realised that they have failed to effect regime change using their traditional modus operandi of strikes and demonstrations and have resorted to social networks.

Minister Chinamasa, therefore, has a mammoth task on his hands. Likewise, in Western countries, social media networks are sometimes the only instruments for rebels to co-ordinate their efforts and communicate among themselves.

The role of mainstream electronic media devices such as cellphones, emails and video clips (e.g. YouTube) remain very important in spreading word about the country to the outside world. These too have also been abused. This justifies the need for a ministry, which solely tackles the challenges posed by the various cyber activities of the country’s citizens and other interested groups.

Security concerns: The terminology
With the perpetual connectivity to the Internet through multiple devices, increasing cyber security concerns arise. Anyone can fall victim to cyber security attacks. Cyber security brings with it an ever-evolving library of terminology that at times can be difficult to understand. Below we attempt to demystify some of the more common terms utilised today.

Cyber crime: Cyber crime is the act of using a computer or other Internet technology as a tool to commit illegal acts. Examples include piracy, phishing, fraud and identity theft. Pwned: Commonly used by gamers, “pwned” is computer slang, meaning “own.” For example, if you’re playing a game and another player beats you, he can say that he “pwned” you. In cyber security, being “pwned” means that a hacker has gained control of your computer. Torrent files: Files that are constantly moving across a network. Torrents are tagged so that any particular torrent can be located from anywhere on the network with the correct software.

Malware: Malware (aka malicious software) is a software file or programme that has the power to contaminate your computer by infecting it with viruses, worms, spyware, trojans (malware disguised as legitimate software) and more. Malware can steal, delete, encrypt, hijack and alter sensitive personal data. Malware comes through the Internet via email, software downloads and torrent files. If you have frequent spam pop-ups, your computer is extremely slow or it crashes often, you’re likely a victim of malware.

Ransomware: Ransomware is a type of malware that locks your computer screen or files by freezing it, preventing access until a ransom is paid. This happens mainly with large organisations and companies like universities, hospitals and banks. Ransomware generally starts with the appearance of an unusual file or notification on the screen that will not allow you to use your computer, followed by instructions on how to pay the ransom.

Ransomware can be accidentally downloaded from websites, attachments from spam emails, or from a payload (component of a computer virus that executes a malicious activity). Ransom is asked in the form of money, gift cards and bitcoins so that the receiver cannot be traced. Paying the ransom does not guarantee your system will be unlocked.

To protect yourself from ransomware attacks, avoid clicking on links and opening attachments from strangers. Avoid any phone calls where the caller is demanding an immediate payment for a civil or criminal offense that they are claiming you are responsible. Consider all of your alternatives to ensure that you’re backing up your most critical data in the safest way possible.

DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) Attack: DDOS is a single attack on your computer system from multiple systems which have been compromised by malware.

This attack creates an overload of incoming traffic and messages, causing the system to shut down. DDOS attacks utilise botnets (machines that have been compromised) through attachments and emails containing malicious software. Once a system has been compromised, the attacker controls the systems, instructing them to flood your site with fake requests. The attack can last anywhere from minutes to months, depending on how long the attacker decides.

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