6 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Beware of Cyber-Terrorists


Of late Zimbabwean websites have been under siege, with more than 10 reputable companies' websites having already been hacked this year. Some got defaced or were taken offline under various methods of denial of services though attacks similar to those that were prevalent during the past year.

I strongly feel that most organisations in Zimbabwe do not take their online presence seriously let alone even consider going online.

Website designers and hosting companies are proliferating through creating and hosting both good and sub-standard websites that go live without any checks and balances, which is fuelling calls for the regulation of the web services industry.

In this information age, it is naïve to operate a business without a website. We have moved from the analogue, banners and flyers to an era where customers and would-be potential investors who want to quickly know about you simply go online.

Although the traditional way of marketing products still has its place in our system this should never be misinterpreted as a comfort zone as technology is quickly reshaping the future. Organisations that do not move with the time risk going bust as was the case with Kodak, which has had to grapple with serious technological advancements that were forcing it out of business. Flyers, banners and posters are OK, but in this day and age where more than one billion people are on Facebook, hundreds of millions are on Twitter, Google plus, Linkedin and now moving to Whatsapp, companies need to move with the times.

This should be an obvious sign that there is now a global shift worth serious attention.

Your website is your virtual office, your homepage is your reception. It's your biggest advertising tool, which we should seriously be motivated to update and readjust.

I have visited renowned companies websites which nonchalantly display data, which was last updated more a year ago. Honestly, those who only use the internet as their source of information will never think twice about ever contacting you.

It seems we are slowly adapting to the need and urgency of going online with both the private and public sector needing to buckle up and tighten their belts. Your website should be elaborate, the customers should get the information in a few clicks and should they need timeous response they should be granted that.

The Contact Us page is not just a traditional tab or button, but should be the link to actually communicate with the world.

Zimbabweans are moving from the brick and mortar system of having to travel to different parts of the country to a central place for a meeting.

The internet poses a great deal of potential. Web seminars (webinars) and live conferencing are other forms of seriously communicating online though they do not solely depend on your hosting website.

263chat, an initiative by our own Zimbabwean youth better known @SirNige, has been running some constructive online discussions including Diasporans, virtually bringing every one closer proving the point of harnessing the opportunities presented by the internet and web-based services relevance to Zimbabweans.

HerZimbabwe, another local initiative tackling women's issues, has filled a specialised gap online with a plethora of social and entertainment websites following suit.

Companies like Zimhosts and Webdev have secured their places as the leading web- based service providers while new local players are also coming in as serious contenders.

Even after setting up a properly defined website and hosting platform, security should be one of the most important aspects.

Inasmuch as we all secure our premises, offices and data, the same approach has to be taken with our virtual office, which is the website. Hackers will always hack websites for a variety of reasons.

Of course, before you go through the headaches of a secure website it is also vital than one knows what information to put or never to post online.

Hackers are lured by content too and you should never be found to be a source and like I have always said no system is perfectly secure because as long as there is a motive and enough time, information can be cracked.

What information are you hiding on websites, have you ever ascertained its value should it fall into the wrong hands of your competitors or foes, simply save yourself by keeping it offline before you make the next WikiLeaks headlines.

This is exactly the opposite for those hosting websites with less sensitive or vital information but that does not always deter crackers from attacking your websites.

Lately, we had some entertainment and social websites in Zimbabwe which were ravaged by international hackers all with different intentions so security that should never be compromised.

I vividly remember a local website which was hacked, then defaced with a "Free Israel" message meaning the hackers did not even care about the content of the attacked website, but rather all they wanted was way to broadcast their message.

Some financial institutions, media houses and Government websites were also not spared from the spontaneous attacks leaving some of them extremely exposed.

Of course, in most cases these were innocuous but irritating random unsolicited attacks with a sole purpose of identifying vulnerabilities.

Real attacks were also witnessed where some companies mottos and payoff lines were twisted to say otherwise and all this seems to have been swiftly swept under the carpet with no one really willing to come out and confirm the attack.

Joomla-based websites have been facing a lot of these unsolicited attacks yet our designers or websecurity "experts" sit back and wait to be attacked only to react afterwards.

Of course, this does not mean word press or drupal-based websites by default are any better. Joomla is way featuristic though this writer finds most of the word press ready to install plug-ins worth the job to secure platforms though hackers are now using the same plug-ins to create their own back doors in.

Without bombarding or confusing the reader with lots of the technical jargon, always remember that your website is busy marketing or destroying your organisation depending on how you choose to present it today.

Not having a website on the basis of the risks associated with being online is just as good as refusing to ride in a car, preferring to travel on foot for fear of road accidents.

It is just an excuse of the uninitiated individuals who no longer deserve to be given critical posts in this information age.

The writer is the founding editor with TechnoMag.

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