Cybersecurity and employee wellbeing go hand-in-hand, says Gerhard Swart

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The CTO believes frustrated employees are soft targets.

Gerhard Swart, chief technology officer (CTO) at Performanta South Africa, spent 15 years working in the cybersecurity space. He worked himself up the Dimension Data corporate ladder, before joining Performanta in 2012 as a firewall techie. Later he became the head of sales engineering, then CTO.

For most IT leaders, deciding which route to take as a tech professional is never easy: you can either go the managerial route or the specialist route. On one hand, the management route requires excellent people skills and on the other, the specialist route mainly focuses on technical skills, working in isolation with very little exposure to people. But in Gerhard’s case, he does both.

“Being in a cybersecurity organisation, you have to assume both roles,” he says. “Even when you’re a manager, it’s all hands on deck, especially if there is a data breach. I actually got into management because I grew tired of the late nights and travelling ─ I needed a change,” he says.

Leading a team was nothing new to Gerhard, as he was also a rugby coach, which contributed greatly to his people skills. “Performanta was my first managerial role, I relied on my coaching experience to help me in this regard,” he says.

Some phishing and ransomware

According to Gerhard, the two most prevalent attacks in South Africa are phishing and ransomware attacks. Early detection is critical, he notes, “Unfortunately, as cybersecurity specialists, we try our utmost to prevent or at least respond to these attacks, but the criminals are always one step ahead of us. Cyber warfare is a massive organisation, in fact I’d say it is essentially organised crime and puts us on the back foot. Our industry is three million people short – that’s how serious the situation is.”

Security awareness campaigns are a must

Every organisation should therefore have formal security awareness training, says Gerhard, since these initiatives can play a critical role in preventing such attacks and teaching employees to be vigilant.

“Employees should always be cautious of unusual communication, particularly emails coming from their CEO or CFO, especially if this is not the normal communication and should investigate and ask if that email did actually come from them. This is particularly prevalent in the finance or HR departments,” he cautions.

Strangely enough, Gerhard notes, the landscape has changed and criminals are no longer targeting money, but data. “Transunion is one such example: they stole people’s personal information and identification, allowing them to commit identity fraud. Data is the new gold for criminals.”

“Although the criminals don’t try to steal money, they use the data to hold organisation ransom to pay them money in exchange for their data,” he notes.

He went on to say that our biggest problem, not just here in South Africa, but globally, is that we tend to think that we can all do security by ourselves. Collaboration is crucial, he stresses. “This is World War Three. There’s even a study that revealed that the dollar value of cybercrime translated already supersedes the amount that World War Two cost the global economy.”

According to Gerhard, remote work is not a new concept. However, what organisations overlooked was the remote user and how they could implement the right security controls while working at home. “The more technology that is deployed to a user, the tougher it is for that user to do their work. As a result, this caused great frustration and the hackers were monitoring this angst via social media, a place where the employees were most likely to voice their frustrations,” he explains.

Gerhard concludes that these overworked workers are more susceptible to bogus emails because their working hours are erratic, their minds are working overtime and don’t even have the energy to verify information, a win for criminals. However, a real focus on mental health, he says, through employee check-ins, is a win for organisations.

 

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