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Cybersecurity is the biggest trend, and threat, in the...

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Opinionista

Cybersecurity is the biggest trend, and threat, in the new world of remote working

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Toby Shapshak is publisher of Stuff (Stuff.co.za) and Scrolla.Africa.

For once, making annual tech predictions is easy. As in 2020, next year’s tech trends will revolve around remote working, video conferencing apps, streaming services, e-commerce and faster, better internet access (via fibre or 5G).

The unexpected Covid-19 lockdowns around the world have greatly reduced the variables for the “future casting” that tech columnists are asked to do each year by editors.

WFH is now a bona fide acronym (for work from home) — at least in the tech industry, where I see it used with as much regularity as well-known acronyms like SMS or OTP. It’s the new work movement.

But, like much else that exploded into the mainstream this year, it’s been a long time coming. I first wrote about “telecommuting”, as it was then called, in the late 1990s; before it evolved through several iterations of distributed workforce to plain old WFH.

The lockdown and resultant germaphobia might have knocked the nascent office-sharing firms like WeWork, but it might also ultimately boost this kind of shared office environment. We closed our Stuff magazine offices during the depths of the winter lockdown, as did many companies that leased large office spaces. Instead, many have opted for shared-space arrangements, saving money while getting greater flexibility in how far-flung staff work by using the branch closest to them.

Either working from home, or at a shared space, or actually going into the office, most people are going to be using a laptop instead of a desktop – if that wasn’t already the case. Large swathes of us already use them – lawyers, bankers, coders and anyone in IT, journalists and anyone who runs their own business.

And changing where we called “work” was often a matter of upgrading home spaces. This cued a boom on extra monitors and keyboards (I chose Samsung and Logitech, respectively), and noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones (Sennheiser). Many people set up lights (I recommend Manfrotto) and an extra webcam (Logitech) for video calls. I recommend a good Bluetooth speaker kit, like Sennheiser’s SP30T or Jabra’s 710, if you’re on endless conference calls.

Not much will change in 2021, I suspect because nothing entirely different will happen in terms of WFH trends. The major change will be how frequently people start working from offices again – and how many marriages recover as a result.

Meanwhile, as 5G networks and handsets become more prevalent, this lovely and fast new technology will move from hype to reality. We may be years off self-driving cars – which will require such speedy networks with low latency – but the other benefits will be immediately felt, with faster speeds and a rejuvenated mobile experience.

I have upgraded my Vodacom package to include more data as I ordered my iPhone 12 Pro, conscious of that need. As a consumer, I am pleased my previous package with unlimited calling has been upgraded with more data but at a decently reduced monthly saving.

Expect to see more of that in 2021 too. Competition always brings greater consumer choice. For the cellular network, there’s feisty competition from the upstart, data-only operator Rain, which counts celebrity banker Michael Jordaan among its founders and offers amazingly good value-for-money uncapped packages.

One fascinating trend to watch will be how the arrival of electronic SIM cards, or eSIMs, change the status quo. These are not physical SIM cards you stick in the phone, but a clever linking via software. I’ve been using a great service for years called KnowRoaming from Telna for all my international data roaming, for $5 a day of uncapped data.

I also use an eSIM from Vodacom in my Apple Watch, which can function as a Dick Tracy-esque wristwatch phone with downloaded podcasts and my Spotify playlists using Bluetooth earpods (Jabra still have the best sound quality).

MTN announced their offering this year, while all eyes are on disruptor Rain. If it offers an uncapped eSIM, what’s to stop all high-end smartphone users (the only devices with eSIMs in at the moment) from all using Rain’s R300 a month uncapped package for a single smartphone?

The best quote I saw all year was a GP in London telling the New York Times how rapidly “telemedicine” had developed. “We’re basically witnessing 10 years of change in one week,” said Dr Sam Wessely way back in April. Similar happened across all industries.

Personal tech skills, by necessity, had to be upgraded. And people overcame their fear, phobia and resistance to learn how to do more with their tech. Never before have so many grandparents mastered a new technology platform than the Zoom Class of 2020. Well, not since Facebook at least.

But the biggest problem will continue to be security. As people left the confines of their corporate offices, and very strict corporate cybersecurity setups, they exposed themselves to more cyberattacks. Security firm Kaspersky reported a 220% increase in attacks on remote desktop protocols (RDP) in South Africa over the previous year, reaching 22.8 million attacks. 

They were not alone. The US Treasury and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration have been the most recent high-profile hacking targets, the attacks reportedly coming from Russia.

This unfortunate aspect of our digital world – cybercriminality – is only going to get worse in 2021. DM/BM

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