Is Passwordless Authentication the Next Big Step?

Cyber criminals are daily finding new and inventive ways to breach our online defences, to hack our websites, to defraud us (and our customers, suppliers, employees and families), and to generally force us to spend more and more valuable resources on protecting ourselves.

The question is, are passwords still the answer? We start off with some concerning stats in this regard and a discussion on how having to constantly manage passwords is impacting on both our businesses and the global economy. Which brings us to the million dollar question: “Could passwordless authentication be the way to go?”

This is an evolving topic – don’t get left behind!

Consider these facts:

  • Over 80% of hacking is password related.
  • In the first world the average cost of fixing a successful hack is $3.9 million.
  • The average person spends 11 hours a year changing or resetting his or her passwords. For a company with approximately 15,000 employees, the cost of this is $5.2 million per annum, including a cost of $1 million for password resets alone.
  • This average person has between 25 to 85 passwords for the various applications he or she uses.
  • In online retail, 90% of attempts to get into the website are by hackers who have a success rate of about 1%.

The implications for world economic growth and for business

These statistics adversely impact customers who find using the internet a stressful experience and thus often limit the time they spend on the Web. Research indicates that most consumers will pay a premium to have a pleasant online experience – no passwords expired, no one time pins etc.

For businesses the main issue is the time spent in ensuring their internet gateways are safe from hackers to avoid the reputational and other damage they will suffer if they are hacked. Invariably, this leads to more complexity which scares off customers, encourages hackers to find flaws and so the spiral continues.

Nor is this only dragging down businesses, it also has a sizeable effect on the global economy. Just look at the world’s ten largest companies:

The seven companies shown in blue above are based on a “platform model”, highlighting the importance of this issue to the world’s economy. With seven of the companies in the tech sector and two in financial services (Berkshire Hathaway, J.P. Morgan), it is obvious just how important their internet platforms are to their success.

The solution

A good solution will need to have the following elements:

  1. Security, for obvious reasons.
  2. Privacy – with the pending full commencement of the Protection of Personal Information Act this will become an even more important element.
  3. Sustainability – it needs to be robust, flexible and long lasting.
  4. Inclusive – with the rapid breakout of people into distinct groupings (LGBT, #Metoo etc), the solution must cater for all these needs.
  5. Scalability – as the world is making greater use of the internet, any new system must be able to rapidly scale up.
  6. Pleasant user experience – it needs to be easy to use.

This solution should move away from passwords towards alternatives like biometrics (facial recognition, fingerprint authentication and the like), QR code authentication and even to the system recognising unique habits you have like how you toggle a mouse.

These solutions are becoming more available and in the US companies which have moved away from passwords are finding their sales line growing, costs being reduced, productivity rising and happy customers.

Make sure you don’t lag behind your competitors in this important developing field.

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Tips for Managing your Staff Working from Home

One of our new realities in this topsy-turvy world of global crisis is the many businesses that have had to close their offices and work remotely.

The resultant explosion in the number of people working from their home environments brings with it many serious challenges for businesses. Fortunately however there is a lot of guidance available on how to maintain high levels of morale, loyalty and productivity amongst your work-from-home employees. For example, researchers at Harvard University have identified five main areas as key to achieving the best possible results from a remote working situation. Read on for some thoughts on them.

In this brave new world of COVID-19, many people are working from home. Even after there is a cure for the virus, this trend will likely continue. Researchers at Harvard University have come up with some good ways to ensure you get maximum productivity and loyalty from your employees working remotely.

Key Points

  • Both managers and staff miss face to face meetings – managers worry how effectively their people are working and employees miss the support and guidance they get from managers. Managers should introduce structure and discipline into their interactions with their staff – setting up a time each day (or whatever is needed) to connect to each other and, possibly, the team the employee is in. This can cover all the employee’s and team’s work requirements, bringing them up to date with events in the company. Not only does this improve productivity but it increases staff morale and loyalty.
  • Access to information can become difficult between staff members – for example, a relatively new employee asks a staff member for information who initially ignores the request until the new staff person starts sending out more aggressive emails. Managers need to be aware of this type of conflict and focus on new employees to iron out any potential difficulties.
  • Employees get lonely and can over time feel they’ve been cut adrift which is bad for their stress levels and can lead to a drop in productivity. If managers don’t have good listening skills and empathy, then they need to add these to their armoury and be on the lookout for loneliness manifesting in people who report to them. In the initial stages, it may pay to also have Human Resources contact employees working remotely.
  • Home distractions. Working from home can lead to distractions of members of staff by spouses and family. The company needs to ensure that the employee has the required technology and IT security in his or her home. Having a separate office in their homes is also important.
  • Staff need time to catch up with their colleagues’ personal lives and the manager should allow time for this when there are video calls. This will reinforce that employees belong to and are part of a team.

There is much to learn in terms of skills and keeping staff morale and productivity at high levels, when employees work from home.     

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Be Ready for a SARS Lifestyle Audit

Being suddenly subjected to a SARS “Lifestyle Audit” is a nerve wracking business with the risk of penalties of up to 200%, backdated interest, and criminal prosecution.

What external sources of information does SARS have access to? How does SARS select targets for lifestyle audit? If you are unlucky enough to be selected, what will happen and how can you be prepared? Can you refuse to co-operate and/or demand access to information from SARS before complying? We address those questions and discuss a High Court decision in which an individual faced the imprisonment for failing to answer a lifestyle questionnaire.

We read about Eskom staff having to undergo lifestyle audits so that corruption can be identified and stamped out.

SARS have been conducting lifestyle audits since 2007. These audits are conducted when SARS suspects that the taxpayer is not declaring all his or her income and thus is underpaying tax due.

SARS have access to many sources of information

Data can be accessed from:

  • Your banks
  • The Deeds Office for property transactions
  • Financial institutions for mortgage loans or motor vehicle finance
  • Vehicle registrations
  • Social and other media where your lifestyle can be ascertained
  • Perhaps most significantly jealous neighbours or “friends” who tip off SARS that your lifestyle exceeds the purported income you earn (SARS actively encourage people to tip them off when they think people they know are living beyond their means).

How do SARS select people for lifestyle audits?

SARS does not disclose the criteria it uses to start probing taxpayer’s affairs or how it selects those who have to complete a lifestyle audit. If you are selected, you have to complete the audit in the time set out by SARS.

One individual selected demanded to know the reasons why he was picked, and refused to complete the 26 page “lifestyle questionnaire” sent to him by SARS (seemingly after a ‘third party’ tip off). He had never registered as a taxpayer, nor had he ever submitted tax returns. The matter went to the High Court which rejected the individual’s right to demand “SARS confidential information” and ordered him to provide the information required by SARS, on pain of committal to prison for contempt of court until he submitted the lifestyle questionnaire.

What to expect if you are selected

You will need to provide details of day to day living expenses including rent or bond payments, groceries, entertainment, vehicle expenses, holidays – in fact every item of cost you and people related to you incur. These will be reconciled to bank statements. In addition, SARS will probe all sources of your income.

In doing this process SARS can request information going back five years. If you don’t have the necessary documentation to justify income or expenditure, then SARS can levy taxes on these amounts. Keep good records.

It pays to be honest and as thorough as possible when completing this process. As noted above SARS have many sources of information to check the data provided by you.

The bad news

If a taxpayer has been under-declaring income or cannot justify expenses that have been claimed, then SARS will issue assessments for these amounts. Penalties of up to 200%, plus interest may be levied by SARS who can also report the taxpayer to the National Prosecuting Authority for potential criminal proceedings. The only bit of good news is that SARS do not use search and seizure operations when conducting lifestyle audits – these are for criminal cases that SARS pursues.

Lifestyle audits are nerve racking and risky for taxpayers. Keep good records and consult your accountant before submitting information to SARS.

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Businesses: How to Survive the Coronavirus Panic

No one knows for certain just how serious the eventual economic fallout from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic will be, but at the very least businesses will face their most challenging times since 2008. Quite possibly it will be a lot worse.

For the moment you will want to concentrate on business survival, to which end we share some practical ideas on how you can respond to the crisis. Businesses that react calmly and sensibly in this time of panic won’t just maximise their chances of survival; they could even end up strengthening their position in readiness for the inevitable recovery and upturn…

“Never let a good crisis go to waste”

Winston Churchill

Globally, the COVID-19 coronavirus has spread panic amongst societies and markets. Businesses are suffering their most challenging times since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

This is the time for urgently reviewing how events have affected your business and how you can respond to the seeming chaos.

Cash is King

When faced with great uncertainty, conserve cash and shore up all your credit lines. This will give you greater flexibility when strategizing a response to the Coronavirus. You may, for example, be able to buy a crucial stock item for a discount from one of your suppliers, thus ensuring that you can continue operating. Apart from strengthening your position with your competitors, this could help the supplier to remain in business – relationships are important, and this supplier will be grateful to you.

Trim costs wherever you can – some of this is being done for you as many companies are cancelling travel, resulting in many meetings and conferences being called off. Capital expenditure is being pruned globally and there may be opportunities to delay some of your current capex.

Keep your Staff Healthy

Apple has already told staff to work from home to reduce the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus. Desks are being spaced to reduce the possibility of catching the virus and meetings are being cancelled or are taking place electronically.

Make sure the risk of staff catching the virus is minimised and have a succession plan if some key members are incapacitated by the coronavirus. Take particular care of staff members who have health issues, as they could become seriously ill or die if they catch the virus. As health authorities are advising people to frequently wash their hands, ensure that you have enough hand washing dispensers.

As many of your staff will be working from home using smart phones and their own desktops, have your IT department mitigate the risks of hacking or computer viruses getting into your IT platform.

Perhaps, most importantly, communicate often with your employees and managers. Regularly follow updates from the World Health Organisation and the local Department of Health. This is a time of uncertainty, as there is no definitive knowledge on how the coronavirus will evolve and thus sharing the information you gather on the disease, will improve the health and morale of staff in your business.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act imposes obligations on employers to provide a healthy environment for their staff. Much of the above is in line with ensuring that you comply with that Act’s requirements, but you need to ensure your organisation is compliant with the legislation.

Your Supply Chain

This is clearly a key area and working out the risks of suppliers and contractors being unable to supply you is a key task. Some of the important areas will be changing your safety stock holdings, reviewing your contracts with stakeholders and assessing the risks and the consequences of default. This is where it really pays to have cash.

As we said above, keep in mind the long term relationships with suppliers.

You also need to review your insurance policies – will they pay out if certain scenarios unfold? Do you need to take out different policies?

Reacting, planning and preparing strategies will ensure you have the agility to ride out this crisis and may even strengthen your position with competitors. 

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