New research from Microsoft reveals that attackers are increasingly making use of operational technology to gain new entryways into company networks.
Microsoft’s latest Cyber Signals report highlights how cybercriminals are using Operational Technology (OT) as gateways into an organization’s network. This comes at a time when IoT connections in the region are growing with the GSMA predicting that 1.1 billion IoT connections are expected by 2025 in MENA. It’s this growth in OT and IoT that has given cybercriminals more opportunities to breach an organization’s network.
Microsoft’s Cyber Signals report is a regular cyberthreat intelligence brief spotlighting security trends and insights gathered from Microsoft’s 65 trillion daily security signals and 8,500 security experts. The latest edition has found that converging IT, Internet of Things (IoT) and OT systems pose a wider risk to critical infrastructure.
For CIOs in the Middle East and Africa (MEA), the impact of a possible security breach is top of mind in an increasingly complex threat environment. This can be seen in the 11.2 percent rise in cybersecurity spending in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for 2022.
The growing rate of digital transformation within the African region is facilitating the emergence of new attack vectors and opportunities for cybercriminals. The Kenyan government has identified cybersecurity as a key enabler for digital economy. Kenya faces increased cybersecurity challenges and risks that threaten national security and the country’s digital transformation agenda. Cybersecurity statistics indicate that the number of cyber threats detected in Kenya has significantly increased in the last three years. The Communications Authority of Kenya reported 278,030,354 threats detected in the period from July to September 2022, an increase of 99.478% from threats detected between April to June of the same year.
The increase in digital transformation across the region has enabled organizations to manage their buildings, emergency systems and access control with smart devices connected to a network. In addition, we have seen an increase in IoT devices in the workplace to better enable hybrid work such as smart conference rooms with microphones and cameras.
As the threat landscape continues to expand and become more complex, organizations need to rethink their cyber risk approach to stay one step ahead of would-be attackers. Cyber Signals found that there are currently over 1 million connected devices publicly visible on the Internet running Boa, an outdated and unsupported software still widely used in IoT devices and software development kits.
“Organizations are more connected than ever before. From the humble Wi-Fi router to the everyday office printer, IT teams need to view their IoT devices differently and secure them as they would any company laptop to prevent security breaches,” says Phyllis Migwi, Country Manager for Microsoft Kenya. “Gaining complete visibility of an organization’s OT systems and protecting its IoT solutions will go a long way in preventing cyberattacks.”
An innovation by four university students that translates the local dialect into English or Kiswahili to make it easier for doctors to diagnose patients’ symptoms remotely has emerged as the overall winner of the fourth season of the Game of Learners (GOL) competition. The solution, dubbed ‘Jambo Care,’ was developed by Team Ruby, which beat 16 other teams from universities across Africa to win the season on Friday. This season’s challenge aimed to develop technological solutions for Africa’s health challenges and featured more than 80 students from 11 African countries, with an equal balance of men and women.
This season, the Microsoft African Development Centre (ADC) partnered with Population Services International (PSI) and AMREF Health Africa in a five-week hackathon to design and build technology solutions that make primary healthcare more accessible to people. This was informed by the fact that African healthcare systems face several challenges, including inadequate health infrastructure, a shortage of healthcare personnel, limited access to essential medicines, low health literacy, and poor health-seeking behaviour. This makes it difficult for individuals and communities to receive high-quality care. Increasing access to affordable digital technology provides an opportunity to address these challenges.
Jambo Care aims to bridge the communication gap whereby the healthcare provider and the recipient don’t have a common language of communication. This will ensure effective healthcare delivery. As part of the next steps, PSI will provide some students with internship opportunities to progress their knowledge in digital health. At the same time, AMREF Health will offer 3-months of technical support to the best two teams to advance their innovations.
Speaking at the Season Finale, Ruth Ferland, the Regional Head of Student & Community Engagements at Microsoft ADC, said: “As part of this year’s competition, we challenged participants to delve into the healthcare sector, identify a unique challenge, and design a tech-based solution. Through the competition, we can obtain what we hope will be a creative solution to one of our long-standing healthcare challenges and assist them in learning more about technology and how to use it for good.”
The Microsoft Africa Development Centre (ADC) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Department of Computing have reviewed the university’s Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Bachelor of Computer Technology curriculum to make them more relevant to industry demands.
The new curriculum will impact the delivery of 128 units within the university’s Computer science and Computer technology courses. The curriculum is expected to start with the September 2023 students intake.
The updated curriculum will assist in preparing students for the demands of a rapidly changing technology industry by emphasizing practical skill development and simulating real-world experience within the classroom. In addition to a refreshed approach to traditional technological concepts, the reviewed curriculum will introduce new and innovative concepts, including Applied Machine Learning, Virtual Reality, Quantum Computing, and User Experience Design, as well as industry-standard tools at the education level to improve student’s familiarity with them as they enter the workplace.
Catherine Muraga, the Managing Director at Microsoft ADC said that they are delighted to have partnered with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in the curriculum review process and have their experts contribute specialized knowledge that will allow for tech industry-ready students and use of improved standards of teaching. Globally employable Kenyans boost Kenya’s attractiveness as a destination for technology companies looking to invest here. The startup ecosystem, local businesses, and entrepreneurs working on transforming technology will also benefit.
The curriculum review process is part of the ADC’s larger goal of catalyzing digital transformation by providing opportunities for skill and practical knowledge acquisition to equip Kenyans to be competitive in the global digital landscape.
“The review process has been extensive, with invaluable insights and recommendations from experienced industry experts that will add significant value to classroom instruction. We look forward to providing our students with best-in-class education that integrates practical skills building and theoretical understanding as they prepare for success in the technology industry,” said Dr Lawrence Nderu, Chairman, Department of Computing at JKUAT.
Similar curriculum review initiatives will be implemented at other institutions of higher learning as part of efforts to bridge the ever-present gap between industry and academia, particularly in the technology sector.
“We believe that by partnering with educational institutions, from primary school to the university level, we can help create a future workforce equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in a digital age. We look forward to working with other institutions of higher learning to develop curricula that will improve the whole technology talent pipeline and grow the pool of tech talent in the country to benefit the whole ecosystem,” added Ms Muraga.
Kenya’s student team TAWI has qualified for the 2023 Microsoft Imagine Cup World Championship set to take place in May. The team emerged winners in the education category of the 2023 Imagine Cup world finals qualifying round. Beating 15 other teams to become the top-scoring team and 2023 Europe Middle East and Africa(EMEA) champions. They won USD5,000 in prizes.
Team TAWI also qualified from 48 competing global teams to be selected among the top 3 that will compete in the 2023 Microsoft Imagine Cup World Championship. Where they will compete for the Imagine Cup trophy, the grand prize of USD100,000 to develop their project, and a mentoring session with Microsoft Chairman and CEO, Satya Nadella.
Team TAWI consists of Muna Said Nomy, John Onsongo Mabeya, Syntiche Musawu, Applied Computer Technology, and Zakariya Hussein, Data Science and Analytics undergraduate students of the United States International University (USIU) – Africa in Nairobi, Kenya. Their innovative solution TAWI looks to make a difference in the lives of those who struggle with auditory processing.
The home-based software leverages real-time speech recognition technology to help children with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) communicate more effectively. Instead of traditional hearing aids, TAWI uses earphones to amplify speech and cancel out background noise, making it easier for children with APD to engage in conversations and interact with others. It includes noise cancellation, sound amplification, speech-to-text conversion, and auditory training exercises.
The team will present TAWI at Microsoft Build 2023 where the Microsoft Imagine Cup World Championship takes place. They will compete against the winning teams from the Americas and Asia regions. Eupnea from the United States and CS-M Tool from Thailand, both from the Health category.
Student teams, Smart Farmer and iBoost from Kenya also emerged as EMEA winners in the Earth and Lifestyle categories respectively.
Hongera to these incredible young developers and all the best to Team TAWI in the championship!🎉
University students from across Kenya and some parts of Africa can now apply to participate in season 4 of the Microsoft Africa Development Centre’s (ADC) Game of Learners (GOL) student hackathon competition. The GOL initiative provides an opportunity for African university students, aspiring software engineers, and solution builders to improve their technical and coding abilities while creating solutions to current challenges facing the continent and the world.
GoL student hackathon Season 4
In this year’s student hackathon competition, participants will be working to develop possible technology solutions that can address different health challenges, including how to improve healthcare service provision in their localities or other parts of the world. The program runs as a 5-week hackathon with teams captained by Microsoft Learn Student Ambassadors crafting the innovations while receiving technical training from Microsoft’s professionals.
“Since we launched Game of Learners four years ago, we have seen incredible development in the learner’ skills through each season as they create incredibly clever solutions to some of Africa’s pressing problems using Microsoft technology,” said Ruth Ferland, Senior Program Manager at ADC, and the founder of the Game of Learners Program. “This year’s theme will allow the participants to plug into an area that has enormous potential to impact lives across the continent and indeed around the world.”
The students will benefit from the instruction of 32 coaches and more than 20 advisors who will guide them through the process of learning new technologies and building their solutions. The coaches, mentors, judges, speakers, and trainers will consist of volunteers from Microsoft and partners, who for season 4 will include PSI and AMREF Health Africa.
At the end of the season, the winning team will be eligible for awards, including collaboration with GOL Season 4 partners to advance their solution and entry into the Microsoft Imagine Cup, where they will present their innovation on a global stage.
“This partnership with Microsoft is part of a larger initiative to increase the talent pool of individuals working in Digital Health across Africa”, said Martin Dale, Population Services International’s (PSI) Global Director of Digital Health. “There is so much talent graduating from our universities and Game of Learners is a great opportunity for students to dig in and create solutions that make health care more accessible to all.”, he continued.
Speaking about the initiative, Samuel Weru, AMREF Health Africa Group ICT Director, challenged students to apply for the program and be part of the drive towards creating home-grown solutions for Africa’s challenges.
“As a continent that has historically had serious healthcare challenges, we need the kind of ideas that can only come from the youth to revitalize healthcare service provision. There are myriad opportunities ranging from health informatics and telemedicine to big data analysis and system security for the learners to explore. We are eager to work with the teams to create solutions that have the potential to change Africa and the world,” said Weru.
GoL Season 4
In total, Season 4 will have 16 teams, each made up of 4 learners, 2 men and 2 women, drawn from all over the continent. The virtual student hackathon competition is open to students of accredited universities and colleges in sub-Saharan Africa, who will be vetted as per the requirements after submitting an online application.
“The program is designed to provide a fun, hands-on learning experience while creating a virtual environment that transcends borders to allow young minds to collaborate and drive the advancement of Africa into a global innovation hub. Having gender-balanced teams further ties into our mission of promoting diversity and inclusion within the tech industry,” explains Ferland.
Like a sports league, each 5-week season of Game of Learners follows up with a month-long season of GOL Clinic and GOL exhibitions to accord individuals seeking deeper hands-on technical experience and specialized training from Microsoft and GOL partners.