SA hackers as good as international cyber criminals

Cape Town - South African hackers are equally skilled to those in the rest of the world, potentially causing alarm for cyber security, experts said.

While there are no doubt fewer hackers with high-level skills in SA than in other countries, experts agree that local hackers are equal in their ability to the best in the world.

"Although there aren’t as many of the skilled and efficient hackers in South Africa as you would find in other parts of the globe, the ones we know of who do operate out of South Africa are just as skilled as the ones you will find in other parts of the world," Drew van Vuuren, CEO of information security and privacy practice at 4Di Privaca, told Fin24.

"The South African hackers are just as good, and some might even be better than those in Europe. I don't think the level of your skill as a hacker has any correlation to where you live in the world," agreed Philip Pieterse, senior security consultant at Trustwave.

Both companies specialise in bespoke security solutions and are familiar with the operations of local hacker groups.

Specific targets

The recent rise of Anonymous has placed security professional on notice that groups intent on disrupting business operations could have a significant impact on the way a company operates.

This could have consequences for customers who could see their accounts compromised or communications with organisations disrupted.

The "unchained" nature of the internet means that cyber criminals from anywhere in the world could direct their attention to specific targets.

"In this day and age, with technologies like the internet, it breaks down traditional borders. And it is much different from years back, where it was not so easily possible to communicate across borders," said Pieterse.

The company's 2014 Global Security Report revealed that the source of the top three IP address locations were the US (19%), China (18%) and Nigeria (16%).

But Pieterse cautioned against rash conclusions regarding the data.

"It's also very difficult to determine the accuracy of these attack source locations, as there are various methods that cyber criminals can use to hide/obfuscate their source IP addresses."

Political positions

International groups like Anonymous have used their ability to take political positions, and Van Vuuren said that the association with local groups was beneficial to the local hacker skill set.

"Obviously the notoriety associated with being part of the collectives that are present on the net allows for the local hackers to maintain and increase their skills by association with the hackers in the rest of the world."

He added that the local organisation of groups like Anonymous means that local hackers could be more organised than previously thought.

In SA during 2013, IOL, the online division of Independent Newspapers, was hit by an attack in retaliation for publishing an article deemed supportive of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe.

Anonymous also took down the websites of several Israeli government websites recently as the hacker group protested the war in Gaza.

"Anonymous has a South African chapter as it is, and they seem to be as active as other chapters internationally," Van Vuuren said.

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