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How This Egyptian Entrepreneur Is Tackling The Talent Problem In The Cybersecurity Industry

Nzekwe Henry August 22

Heard about the Australian kid who got a bite off the Apple? Well, here’s a dose of reality; just a few days back, Australian newspaper, The Age, covered a story about a 16-year-old boy from Melbourne who for the better parts of a year had apparently been strutting his way in and out of the private servers of the world’s first trillion-dollar public company: Apple. Yes, you got that right; Apple!

Now, this is not one of those “kid-caught-with-hands-in-the-cookie-jar” moments; this is much bigger. The teen, whose name is being withheld for legal reasons, is reported to have retrieved over 90 GB of private information over the course a year after he somehow managed to bypass the company’s security protocols; a move that granted him wanton access into the company’s internal file systems and information that is believed to be classified. It appears he did all of it for fun, though, as he is quoted as saying he  “dreams of working for Apple as he is a big fan of the company.” Lucky break for Apple as opined in some circles.

Although the activities of this precocious hacker have since been detected by Apple who eventually shut him out before alerting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who subsequently signaled the Australian Federal Police (AFP) – a move that resulted in the discovery of materials tying him to the server breach and arraignment before the Children’s Court where he has since pled guilty and is now awaiting sentencing – it really does call for concern. During the hack, the schoolboy is reported to have successfully accessed “authorized keys” that are believed to be “extremely secure.”

Reality Check: How Secure Is “Extremely Secure”? The whole Apple teen hack scenario just begs the big question. If a Fortune-500 technology giant like Apple with all its cutting-edge systems and high-caliber personnel can have a teen sneak in under the radar, breach its defenses, and cart away valuable information right from under its noses, how about a full-blown hack attack on perhaps a government server holding tons of sensitive information?  Is it really far-fetched to assert that there might be no such thing as unbreachable and invulnerable? Well, now you get the idea: the web is not the impregnable fortress we thought it to be, we need cybersecurity professionals to keep it secure, and one Egyptian entrepreneur is on a mission to unearth and engage some of the best of them.

Such has been the reach of technology and the internet that both elements virtually now have control over very vital aspects of our daily lives. For enthusiasts, neutrals, and even naysayers alike, the power the web that now wields in almost every facet of life is all-encompassing and undeniable.

It has been something akin to an invasion of our world by otherworldly elements – only that this time, we are not talking aliens, robots, or cyborgs. These days, it is about gadgets, and gizmos, and the intricately-connected nexus which forms the labyrinth of fiber-optic internet cables that drives them. And this time around, it is not really an invasion; it is more like innovation that has unfolded right before our eyes and under our very noses, mostly out of our own creation.

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Winners Of The 2018 Egypt National Cybersecurity CTF Competition Organized By CyberTalents

Image Source: Seekurity

The web is now something of a go-to repository for all kinds of information and knowledge. And why wouldn’t it be when its capacity is limitless and its reach boundless?! From classified government records (information that can potentially make or mar the current world order), through sensitive company data, to even information on social media platforms (which a large chunk of the 7 billion people on the planet already have their digital footprints on); the web can be considered to have several terabytes of vital human data locked away in some kind of digital vault – one that is not impregnable.

Yes, that last phrase may come across as eerie and pessimistic but it does hold water to some extent, especially when thought is given to the idea that no man-made system can be classified as utterly infallible. Humans created the web and put in place measures to impart a reasonable degree of security. The keyword here is ‘reasonable degree of security,’ which is a long way off from ‘absolute security.’ And that’s just for starters.

For every data storage system that is regarded as iron-clad unbreachable, there is always a good chance that there is an ingenious hacker somewhere trying to exploit the half-chance that there is a backdoor or trapdoor through which they can gain unrestricted access and wreak various shades of havoc.

Even the much-talked-about decentralized blockchain system which governs bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, for all its promises of security, impregnability, and immutability, is not without flaws and certainly not immune to the occasional breach – as is highlighted by the infamous 2016 hacking incident in which Bitfinex; one of the largest U.S dollar bitcoin exchanges, announced that it had lost as much as USD 69 Mn in one day after the platform’s firewalls, fool-proofs, and fail-safes were overridden by some extraordinary hacking – an incident which resulted in a drop in bitcoin’s market rate by as much as 20 percent and amounted to huge losses for so many people in the aftermath.

And how about the well-documented Careem hacking incident which happened earlier this year? A cyber attack that reportedly resulted in the data of over 14 million customers and captains getting compromised and leaked? Sure looks like there is a myriad of ways in which this could get worse.

Even though the cryptocurrency and the ride-hailing service has since recovered somewhat, the whole scenario further underlines the untold damage that can be orchestrated when the power held by the web and all its data storage systems is wielded by the wrong people. Data is power, the internet has tons of it – perhaps, even too much of it – and in the wrong hands, the devastation could get a lot worse than losing millions of dollars and having data leaked.

This informs the need for gatekeepers; sentries to hold down the data fort that we have inadvertently built. We may never be able to completely stop the activities of unethical hackers, but the one thing we can certainly do is make their job several geometric progressions harder and virtually impossible. And one man is making it his business to groom outstanding talents to effectively neutralize every rogue genius.

Moataz Salah is an Egyptian entrepreneur who has made it his mission to keep the security of web and cloud data storage systems intact. With over a decade of experience in the field of cybersecurity under his belt while working directly with multinational companies like Intel and Valeo, it is quite fitting that he is the Founder and CEO of CyberTalents; a leading platform for top talents in the world of cybersecurity.

Since coming into inception in 2017, the startup has made significant strides in the aspect of unearthing some of the finest talents when it comes to cybersecurity and molding them into world-beaters that can hold their own against the craftiest and slipperiest of hackers. This it does by ranking cybersecurity professionals across the globe through Capture-The-Flag (CTF) contests, with a view to getting them snapped up by the top recruiters of cybersecurity talent.

Moataz’s creation was inspired by an apparent dearth in the global cybersecurity workforce. As indicated in an earlier publication by WeeTracker, when the CEO pitched the idea behind CyberTalents as one of ten startups that were graduated in the first cycle of EG Bank’s MINT Incubator which was concluded earlier this year, he pointed out that there was a shortage of personnel in the industry and there was an ever-growing need for highly-skilled cybersecurity talents; a point that is echoed by a global report which places the deficit in personnel at somewhere around 2 million. He also implied that with menacing and prowling hackers always on the clock and without enough cybersecurity talents to keep them at bay, the world was sitting on a tinderbox as it is. Thus, CyberTalents was birthed as his answer to question marks over cybersecurity; a way of beefing up the cavalry to keep the intruders away.

“We are on a mission to discover the young cybersecurity talents in this region, provide them with job opportunities, and help in closing the skills gap shortage that is hitting the cybersecurity market now with nearly 2 million job positions unfilled; a figure that is expected to reach 3.5 million by 2021 if the current trend is not checked,” the CEO offered in a conversation with WeeTracker.

He further revealed; “The cybersecurity market is growing tremendously. It is expected to reach USD 200 Bn by the year 2021, and it currently boasts a 10% Year-on-Year growth. With the continuous hacking stories on different businesses, enterprises, and government entities, the need for cybersecurity talents is increasing exponentially.”

And Moataz is looking to leverage the market opportunity while contributing his own quota towards solving a pressing global problem. By virtue of its business model, CyberTalents puts together CTF contests as a central feature of the platform, and these competitions are powered by large tech companies; ones whose interests are best served by the talents discovered in such contests.

CyberTalents CTF contests are all geared towards providing flawless solutions to very tough cybersecurity challenges, some of which might require several hours for a breakthrough. The startup ranks the cybersecurity professionals who participate in these competitions on the basis of how long it took to resolve a given problem and the results achieved by the solution. This information is, thus, used by large tech companies as a talent acquisition tool for recruitment purposes. The startup’s earnings come by way of commissions accumulated for all hires that take place via its platform.

“Africa and the Middle East hold a huge amount of potential in different fields including cybersecurity. Many top talents are in need of the opportunity to showcase their skills and become gainfully employed. We hope to achieve this through CyberTalents,” Moataz commented.

On the subject of funding, the CEO revealed to WeeTracker; “We launched a crowdfunding campaign during our initial stages so as to be able to validate the idea and launch the platform. Later, we were accepted into a local incubator. Currently, we are in the process of concluding our seed investment round.”

Moataz, however, cited the reactive, rather than proactive stance, which most firms assume on the issue of cybersecurity as a challenge to the business’ growth and expansion. According to him, companies are more likely to pay attention to the subject only in the aftermath of an actual attack – an apparent case of prevention being better than the cure for all things but this.

“Although a lot of hacking incidents like Careem and others have happened in the region lately, cybersecurity is still an emerging field in the MENA region. People would like to fix the problem after they have been hit by an attack, and not before it. Companies need to be proactive, not reactive, and that’s what we hope to make our customers understand.” It would appear the startup has its work cut out for it in the area of creating awareness on the need to constantly reinforce security protocols with up-to-date practices; a task which CyberTalents seems to be taking on with aplomb.

So far, Moataz has led many activities related to such matters as cybersecurity awareness, knowledge transfer, and building the cybersecurity community within Egypt and the rest of the MENA region. In 2010, he founded the Cairo Security Camp Conference, which could be considered one of the most valuable cybersecurity conferences in Egypt and the MENA region; an annual event that has discovered some remarkable talents and still runs to date. In 2011, the aforementioned conference held its first ever CTF competition for security professionals in the region. Most recently, Moataz and the rest of the Team at CyberTalents also received accolades from Abeer Khedr, Information Security Director at the National Bank of Egypt (NBE) for their role in putting together a remarkable Arab Regional Cybersecurity Capture-The-Flag Competition which came to a conclusion about a week ago via a LinkedIn post – in which she thanked the team for “organizing such challenging and motivating competitions to uncover hidden exceptional talents in the Arab world.” Currently, CyberTalents boasts a remarkable growth rate by way of talents discovered and revenue realized, with an average of 20% Month-on-Month since its official launch in March 2017.

Abeer Khedr At The Just-Concluded 2018 Arab Regional Cybersecurity  CTF Competition
Image via LinkedIn

“All talents login to our platform and go through four steps: practice, compete, get ranked and get hired. Every talent will get points for solving hands-on cybersecurity challenges in different categories and with different levels,” the CEO told WeeTracker. “Categories vary between web security, network security, mobile security, malware analysis, digital forensics, cryptography, and others. Best talents are ranked in their countries or across the world based on their skills. On the other hand, companies will be able to recruit the best talents who have showcased their cybersecurity skills to the fullest extent.”

Moataz Salah (First-Left) Alongside Winners & Stakeholders At The 2018 Arab Regional Cybersecurity CTF Competition
Image via LinkedIn

With this two-pronged approach which incorporates discovering talents and connecting them with employers, the platform truly stands out. CyberTalents is poised to bridge the apparent disconnect that exists between the talent pool and the companies that require such talents across the globe by serving up an automated medium which will enhance the creation of CTF contests and provide it as a service to unearth the best talents, rank them across the globe, and bring them into the big time.

The company’s vision is to build the largest cybersecurity community in the world so as to be able to tackle problems that exist in the form of a shortage of human resources in the field, as well as future problems that could arise in the world of cybersecurity.

South African VC Company HAVAIC Acquires Stake In Instant Property

Nzekwe Henry October 17

Havaic; a South African venture capital (VC) firm that is based in Cape Town has acquired a 10 percent equity stake in Instant Property; a commercial real-estate portal that has operations in South Africa.

According to the details of the acquisition, HAVAIC has acquired a 10 percent equity stake in Instant Property with the advancement of the first round of financing to that effect. By virtue of the agreement, there is also a clause which allows for follow-on funding at the discretion of Instant Property. If exercised, this allocation provides that up to 17 percent equity stake in the real estate portal will be transferred to the VC company.

Executive Director of Havaic, Grant Rock, is also expected to the join the Instant Property board in a non-executive capacity as part of the specifications and provisions of the deal. While the specifics of the deal as per the exact amount that was invested is yet to be disclosed at this time, the funds injected can be expected to go some way towards accelerating the growth of the real-estate platform, as well as develop its technology and facilitate expansion plans.

Instant Property; a Johannesburg-based property-tech startup that was established only a year ago by Wayne Berger, is known to have wrapped up an angel investment round earlier. And much like the current development, a coy stance was maintained with regard to the specifications of the deal in terms of valuation.

Since coming into existence around February last year, Instant Property currently boasts over 9 million square meters of commercial property listings on its portal. It also believed to lay claim to more than 2.5 million square meters of warehouse, office, and retail space which are currently available to let and for sale.

With the spate of significant investments, mergers and acquisitions witnessed in the South African realty space from both the existing players and international investors in recent times, it could be surmised that the sector is spoiling for a disruption and ripe for the taking. And with the potentials of the sector becoming quite evident amongst industry players who are beginning to get in on the act, it might not be long before we get to see that much-vaunted “property-tech boom.”

 

Feature image credit: Techfinancials

A Bittersweet Saga As Flutterwave Raises USD 20 Mn And Loses Its Founder

Andrew Christian October 17

After a year of raising USD 10 Mn in Series A, leading Nigerian fintech company, Flutterwave has extended the round, bringing the total investment to USD 20 Mn. But in the spirit of celebration and hope that the firm will spread its tentacles, the founder and high-profile CEO, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, announced his resignation from Flutterwave.  This marks Aboyeji’s second exit from a company he co-founded in less than five years.

This latest round of funding includes investments form MasterCard, CRE Ventures, Fintech Collective, 4DX Ventures, Raba Capital and others. This company, whose largest investors are Green Visor Capital and Greycroft Partners, was launched in 2016 to build a state-of-the-art payments technology and infrastructure for Africa to enable people and businesses connect with the global economy. Flutterwave’s solutions are tailored to allow for banks and merchants alike replace multiple payment integrations with a straightforward API, enabling the processing of payment forms anywhere in Africa.

With the latest development also comes the joining of a new member to Flutterwave’s board of directors. The current chairman and general partner of Green Visor Capital, Joe Saunders, who is Visa chairman and CEO emeritus, has taken a seat in the fintech company’s roundtable of directors.

The name Aboyeji cannot be argued off as one of the biggest names in Nigeria’s tech universe, even as he exits the role a little over 2 years after he co-founded this payments solutions startup. This unforeseen split mirrors his 2016 exit firm Andela – a company that trains software developers in Africa and pairs them with tech firms.  Andela said cheerio to the tech fever shortly after it raised USD 24 Mn in Series B led by the Chan Zuckerberg initiative.

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Flutterwave is one of the most revered startups in the fintech space of Africa, which has fast become a leading player in the aspect of online payments, processing 60 million transactions worth more than USD 2 Bn from global companies such as Uber, Booking.com, Jumia, Transferwise, and Flywire. The company has also strongly partnered with Ecobank, First Bank and Standard Bank.

Many may ask what’s next for Aboyeji. Well, he has been a serial entrepreneur since his undergraduate days, making it fair to assume that this will not be the last of his stints. This 27-year-old has said in a farewell tweet that he will spend his time pursuing family goals and consulting local startups. As his executive seat is being taken by cofounder Olugbenga Agboola, the entrepreneurial system of Nigeria is held from gasping, awaiting Aboyeji’s yet another dramatic business outplay. From Andela to Flutterwave, he has no doubt made great impact and henceforth will look to working with startups.

In a message, the new CEO wished Aboyeji good luck in his endeavors and expressed the moving forward excitement for the future of Flutterwave, as the new agenda is growing the company.

 

Entrepreneurs Bag USD 20 K In Rwanda’s YouthConnekt Africa Innovation Awards 2018

Kevin Gachiri October 17

The recently concluded YouthConnect Africa summit in Kigali featured a challenge for young people to give an investment pitch on their startup ideas falling under four broad categories namely Social Innovation, Green Growth Innovation, Pioneers for Prosperity and Digital Inclusion. This attracted the participation of various teams from Rwanda, Kenya, Mozambique, Angola and Nigeria with 18 projects competing for the final round.  During the winners announcement gala, Charles Umeh from Nigeria won the Digital Inclusion Award while Rusell Osah also from Nigeria won the Social Innovation Award. Green Growth Innovation Award was won by David Kinzuzi from Rwanda while Emma Stella Gakuo from Kenya was awarded in Pioneers of prosperity category. Each winner took home USD 5K that brings the total prize money of USD 20k going to young African entrepreneurs.

During one of the Money Matters sessions  Isaac Nkusi who is a Personal Money Management Consultant and Trainer  implored on the teams of young budding entrepreneurs to focus on building value in their enterprises  which is the magnet that pulls customers. Emma from Kenya through her “Maziwa plus Cooling System” was able to sail through using the proposed solution that provides mobile cooling systems powered by solar and mounted on motorbikes for easy mobility in the rural areas. The mobility provides transport solution in delivering the milk to the dairy collecting centres.  David Kinzuzi on the other hand focussed on his project which is dubbed “My Green Home” in Rwanda which is an idea based on creating green cities that he started together with his colleague Rosette Umuhoza They are still undertaking their studies at  Kigali-based Kepler University.  From Nigeria Charles Umeh sailed through his project JARACARE that  provides access to verified doctors at the touch of a button cutting the need to wait in long queues to see a health specialist. Rusell Osah sailed through by proposing to build 10,000 affordable houses for low income families in Nigeria.

Image Credit: The New Times Rwanda

Google Announces USD 900 K Grant to train Kenyan Farmers

Kevin Gachiri October 17

Over the next one year the digital skills of 100k Kenyan farmers is set to change following the announcement of a USD 900 K training grant by Google.org in partnership with One Acre Fund.  This training will help the farmers acquire top tech skills necessary for them to tap into knowledge and connections available in the digital world to transform their livelihoods through increased production. One Acre Fund which is based in the Western Kenya town of Kakamega has already gained eleven years of  experience in providing training to small scale  farmers in this area in addition to giving them products and services on credit. The mode and depth of the Google training was not immediately disclosed.

This development is in line with Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta whose big-four agenda includes boosting food security. Farmers’ ability to access information, keep records on farm production and market access will go a long way in impacting skills that would help them increase their productivity, connect with peers, access latest farming information and even fetch better prices for their produce. In its website, One Acre Fund reports that more than 50 million smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa are locked in annual cycles of hunger because they’re unable to grow enough food to feed their families. This Training is therefore an important step in improving their livelihood through necessary digital skills that are part of today’s modern world.

Google Kenya Country Manager Charles Murito is reported noting that “Agriculture sector employs over 40 per cent of the total population, contributing to 30 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Kenya. We want to see the power of technology elevate small scale farming. We hope that through this initiative, we will see a positive impact on food security, job creation and GDP growth”  This development will also benefit startups in the ecosystem that either provide or sell training equipment and services as well as extension services for animal and crop health. Those in the fiend of payments to farmers will also benefit as this forms part of the scope covered by the grant.  Google’s initiative in Kenya has already seen  over 200,000 job seekers receive training  and over 400,000 businesses impacted  on various digital skills relevant to their career goals and business needs. In March this year, their Launchpad Accelerator Africa program provided  over USD 3 mn in equity-free support to Kenyan startups including Pezesha, Flexpay, Cloud9xp, and PayGo Energy.

Image credit: One Acre Fund

South African Supply-Chain App Khula! Wins Grand Prize Worth USD 14 K As MTN Business App Of The Year

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Khula!; a South African app that serves to link up farmers in emerging markets with the formal marketplace, has clinched top honors at this year’s edition of the MTN Business App Of The Year Awards.

In addition to being named the Business App of the Year, the platform has also received recognition in a special category dubbed; Best Agricultural Solution, as it has also emerged the winner in that category. As part of the perks that come with clinching the award, the developers of the app are now entitled to a trip to Silicon Valley in the U.S., worth up to USD 14 K in cash.

The app, Khula!, is known to facilitate delivery on bulk orders from supermarkets, restaurant chains, and even homes. This it does by effectively creating “one big virtual farm” which is basically comprised of multiple emerging farms for the purpose of crowd-sourcing produce to meet demands.

The platform’s complete software suite also incorporates an eCommerce web platform which makes it possible for clients to place orders from farmers. It also comes with an on-demand logistics solution which allows for the completion of deliveries by independent contractors.

According to Wanda Matandela, CEO of MTN Business, the awards afforded the telecommunications company the chance to place innovative solutions on the front burner and render support to these innovations with a view to helping them scale and go fully commercial, as well as help foster job creation in South Africa.

Industry experts, app developers, and past recipients of the award were amongst the panel of judges who selected and scrutinized the offerings of the shortlisted candidates of this year’s MTN Business App of the Year Awards.

Amongst other winners in the latest edition of the award were Pineapple (Best Consumer Solution),  Cowa Bunga (Best Enterprise Solution), Digemy Knowledge Partner and Besmarter (Best Incubated Solution), and Bestee App (Most Innovative Solution/Best Breakthrough Developer).

Other award recipients included such names as Stokfella (Best South African Solution), Difela Hymns (Women in STEM Solution), The African Cyber Gaming League App (Best Gaming Solution), dbTrack (Best Health Solution), Ctrl (Best Financial Solution), and Xander English 1-20 which took home the award in the Best Education Solution category.

 

 

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