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IT security starts with knowing your assets: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa

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IT security starts with knowing your assets: Europe, the Middle East, and Africa


Nations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are taking note: the European Commission plans to build a Joint Cyber Unit to tackle large-scale cyberattacks. The government of Saudi Arabia launched the National Cybersecurity Authority to enhance the country’s cybersecurity posture. And the African Union has identified cybersecurity as part of its Agenda 2063 for transforming Africa.

To explore the challenges facing today’s cybersecurity teams and the strategies they must embrace to protect the attack surface—the sum of points an unauthorized user can use to gain access to an organization’s systems— MIT Technology Review Insights and Palo Alto Networks conducted a survey of 728 business leaders. The survey was global, with 38% of respondents from Europe and 13% from the Middle East and Africa. Their responses, along with the input of industry experts, provide a solid framework for safeguarding against a growing battalion of bad actors and fast-moving threats.

But organizations themselves can also take critical steps to better understand where attacker entry points are in their information technology (IT) environments in a smart, data-driven manner.

The vulnerabilities of a cloud environment

The cloud continues to play a critical role in accelerating digital transformation. And for good reason: cloud offers solid benefits, such as increased flexibility, cost savings, and greater scalability. Yet cloud-based environments account for 79% of observed exposures, compared with 21% for on-premises assets, according to the “2021 Cortex Xpanse Attack Surface Threat Report.”

That’s concerning, given that 53% of survey respondents in Europe, and 48% of those in the Middle East and Africa, report that more than half of their assets are in the cloud.

“Many companies started their journey to the cloud because it made sense,” says Amitabh Singh, chief technology officer for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Cortex, Palo Alto Networks’ security operations platform division. But there are pitfalls, too, he says.

“With the cloud, the high wall around organizations’ core assets and infrastructure has melted away. As a result, some of the assets companies thought were secure may be exposed to vulnerabilities.”

Certainly, there are technologies that can bolster cloud security. But Singh says many organizations in Europe have been slow to adopt more innovative tools. “I still see companies struggling with old antivirus and anti-malware platforms,” he says.

Remote work has also contributed to increasing cybersecurity risks for cloud environments. Remote workers rely on the cloud to do their jobs, whether it’s corresponding with co-workers, collaborating on projects, or getting on video conferencing calls with clients. And when IT, now at a physical remove, is not responsive to their needs, remote workers can easily shop for their own online solutions to problems. It’s what’s known as shadow IT: it bypasses normal cybersecurity practices—and opens up a world of worry for IT teams.

Just ask Chris Sandford, director of industrial cybersecurity services at Applied Risk, an industrial cybersecurity consultancy in the Netherlands. Sandford says while work-from-home arrangements have long been common in Northern Europe, “there are many companies that weren’t ready for remote work and its associated challenges and vulnerabilities” when the 2020 coronavirus pandemic forced many employees to work from home. Case in point: the majority (53%) of respondents in Europe, and 35% in the Middle East and Africa, say they have experienced a cybersecurity attack originating from an unknown, unmanaged, or poorly managed digital assets.

Sandford provides the hypothetical example of an employee who uses an unsecured cloud server to access business applications without the necessary authentication or authorization measures in place. “How do you know someone’s not backtracking from that cloud back into your own network?” he asks. “There’s very limited visibility or understanding of that cloud service.”

A powerful action plan

Fortunately, there are steps organizations in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa can take to minimize exposure to cybersecurity threats and gain control of their cloud environments. Most survey respondents in Europe (70%) and the Middle East and Africa (89%) rely on continuous asset monitoring technology for protection. Long gone are the days when companies could take an ad hoc approach to identifying security risks.

“In the good old days, when we were managing vulnerabilities, we used to scan our infrastructure on a regular basis, find the vulnerabilities, and then patch them,” says Singh. “Now, we don’t have the luxury of time. If there are vulnerabilities, and we don’t manage them almost on an instantaneous basis, bad actors can exploit them.”

Download the full report.

Find out what organizations in other regions of the world are doing to understand and counter today’s cyberthreats.

This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

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The hunter-gatherer groups at the heart of a microbiome gold rush

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The hunter-gatherer groups at the heart of a microbiome gold rush


The first step to finding out is to catalogue what microbes we might have lost. To get as close to ancient microbiomes as possible, microbiologists have begun studying multiple Indigenous groups. Two have received the most attention: the Yanomami of the Amazon rainforest and the Hadza, in northern Tanzania. 

Researchers have made some startling discoveries already. A study by Sonnenburg and his colleagues, published in July, found that the gut microbiomes of the Hadza appear to include bugs that aren’t seen elsewhere—around 20% of the microbe genomes identified had not been recorded in a global catalogue of over 200,000 such genomes. The researchers found 8.4 million protein families in the guts of the 167 Hadza people they studied. Over half of them had not previously been identified in the human gut.

Plenty of other studies published in the last decade or so have helped build a picture of how the diets and lifestyles of hunter-gatherer societies influence the microbiome, and scientists have speculated on what this means for those living in more industrialized societies. But these revelations have come at a price.

A changing way of life

The Hadza people hunt wild animals and forage for fruit and honey. “We still live the ancient way of life, with arrows and old knives,” says Mangola, who works with the Olanakwe Community Fund to support education and economic projects for the Hadza. Hunters seek out food in the bush, which might include baboons, vervet monkeys, guinea fowl, kudu, porcupines, or dik-dik. Gatherers collect fruits, vegetables, and honey.

Mangola, who has met with multiple scientists over the years and participated in many research projects, has witnessed firsthand the impact of such research on his community. Much of it has been positive. But not all researchers act thoughtfully and ethically, he says, and some have exploited or harmed the community.

One enduring problem, says Mangola, is that scientists have tended to come and study the Hadza without properly explaining their research or their results. They arrive from Europe or the US, accompanied by guides, and collect feces, blood, hair, and other biological samples. Often, the people giving up these samples don’t know what they will be used for, says Mangola. Scientists get their results and publish them without returning to share them. “You tell the world [what you’ve discovered]—why can’t you come back to Tanzania to tell the Hadza?” asks Mangola. “It would bring meaning and excitement to the community,” he says.

Some scientists have talked about the Hadza as if they were living fossils, says Alyssa Crittenden, a nutritional anthropologist and biologist at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, who has been studying and working with the Hadza for the last two decades.

The Hadza have been described as being “locked in time,” she adds, but characterizations like that don’t reflect reality. She has made many trips to Tanzania and seen for herself how life has changed. Tourists flock to the region. Roads have been built. Charities have helped the Hadza secure land rights. Mangola went abroad for his education: he has a law degree and a master’s from the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program at the University of Arizona.

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The Download: a microbiome gold rush, and Eric Schmidt’s election misinformation plan

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The Download: a microbiome gold rush, and Eric Schmidt’s election misinformation plan


Over the last couple of decades, scientists have come to realize just how important the microbes that crawl all over us are to our health. But some believe our microbiomes are in crisis—casualties of an increasingly sanitized way of life. Disturbances in the collections of microbes we host have been associated with a whole host of diseases, ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer’s.

Some might not be completely gone, though. Scientists believe many might still be hiding inside the intestines of people who don’t live in the polluted, processed environment that most of the rest of us share. They’ve been studying the feces of people like the Yanomami, an Indigenous group in the Amazon, who appear to still have some of the microbes that other people have lost. 

But there is a major catch: we don’t know whether those in hunter-gatherer societies really do have “healthier” microbiomes—and if they do, whether the benefits could be shared with others. At the same time, members of the communities being studied are concerned about the risk of what’s called biopiracy—taking natural resources from poorer countries for the benefit of wealthier ones. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

Eric Schmidt has a 6-point plan for fighting election misinformation

—by Eric Schmidt, formerly the CEO of Google, and current cofounder of philanthropic initiative Schmidt Futures

The coming year will be one of seismic political shifts. Over 4 billion people will head to the polls in countries including the United States, Taiwan, India, and Indonesia, making 2024 the biggest election year in history.

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Navigating a shifting customer-engagement landscape with generative AI

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Navigating a shifting customer-engagement landscape with generative AI


A strategic imperative

Generative AI’s ability to harness customer data in a highly sophisticated manner means enterprises are accelerating plans to invest in and leverage the technology’s capabilities. In a study titled “The Future of Enterprise Data & AI,” Corinium Intelligence and WNS Triange surveyed 100 global C-suite leaders and decision-makers specializing in AI, analytics, and data. Seventy-six percent of the respondents said that their organizations are already using or planning to use generative AI.

According to McKinsey, while generative AI will affect most business functions, “four of them will likely account for 75% of the total annual value it can deliver.” Among these are marketing and sales and customer operations. Yet, despite the technology’s benefits, many leaders are unsure about the right approach to take and mindful of the risks associated with large investments.

Mapping out a generative AI pathway

One of the first challenges organizations need to overcome is senior leadership alignment. “You need the necessary strategy; you need the ability to have the necessary buy-in of people,” says Ayer. “You need to make sure that you’ve got the right use case and business case for each one of them.” In other words, a clearly defined roadmap and precise business objectives are as crucial as understanding whether a process is amenable to the use of generative AI.

The implementation of a generative AI strategy can take time. According to Ayer, business leaders should maintain a realistic perspective on the duration required for formulating a strategy, conduct necessary training across various teams and functions, and identify the areas of value addition. And for any generative AI deployment to work seamlessly, the right data ecosystems must be in place.

Ayer cites WNS Triange’s collaboration with an insurer to create a claims process by leveraging generative AI. Thanks to the new technology, the insurer can immediately assess the severity of a vehicle’s damage from an accident and make a claims recommendation based on the unstructured data provided by the client. “Because this can be immediately assessed by a surveyor and they can reach a recommendation quickly, this instantly improves the insurer’s ability to satisfy their policyholders and reduce the claims processing time,” Ayer explains.

All that, however, would not be possible without data on past claims history, repair costs, transaction data, and other necessary data sets to extract clear value from generative AI analysis. “Be very clear about data sufficiency. Don’t jump into a program where eventually you realize you don’t have the necessary data,” Ayer says.

The benefits of third-party experience

Enterprises are increasingly aware that they must embrace generative AI, but knowing where to begin is another thing. “You start off wanting to make sure you don’t repeat mistakes other people have made,” says Ayer. An external provider can help organizations avoid those mistakes and leverage best practices and frameworks for testing and defining explainability and benchmarks for return on investment (ROI).

Using pre-built solutions by external partners can expedite time to market and increase a generative AI program’s value. These solutions can harness pre-built industry-specific generative AI platforms to accelerate deployment. “Generative AI programs can be extremely complicated,” Ayer points out. “There are a lot of infrastructure requirements, touch points with customers, and internal regulations. Organizations will also have to consider using pre-built solutions to accelerate speed to value. Third-party service providers bring the expertise of having an integrated approach to all these elements.”

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