Stefan van de Giessen, General Manager: Cyber Security at value-added distributor Networks Unlimited Africa

Having their employees working from home during the current lockdown phase has become the current ‘new normal’ for many companies around South Africa, and indeed the world. And as much as people are trying valiantly, it is not quite ‘business as usual’. However, being able to use the right tools, and adjust our thinking, can help significantly while we wait, with hope, to get through the current COVID-19 pandemic.

This is according to Stefan van de Giessen, General Manager: Cybersecurity at value-added distributor, Networks Unlimited Africa. “People generally understand that this period of remote working, for most companies, is not part of the usual routine, but rather a phase of trying to work from home during a crisis period. While there are many organisations globally where working from home is more of a norm, whether full-time or in a flexi manner, here in South Africa it is not a relative norm except for a very few, and they are largely freelancers or consultants in the SMME space.

“And so, when employers try to keep the wheels of their businesses turning while their employees work remotely during this lockdown phase, it is important to consider matters from a holistic perspective. This includes considering factors such as using the right technology tools, being aware that many people will need to be able to work more flexible hours – for example, those who are now also looking after children at home – and having understanding and empathy while staff members try to get more settled.”

Van de Giessen says some employees will find the adjustment more difficult than others. “However, organisations that are able to give their employees the right tools can empower them in important ways, at least from a technology perspective.”

He explains that Networks Unlimited Africa itself is operating during this period with its team working remotely. “Networks Unlimited has been registered with the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission (CIPC) as an essential services provider. This allows us to continue to provide critical services to other essential service companies, and to play our part in helping to keep the wheels of industry and business turning over as best they may during this lockdown period.

“From a practical perspective, we use remote e-mail systems, of course, and also check in with each other and our vendor partners using online connectivity apps for online meetings. We do our best to make allowances for those with children, and everyone has become used to the sudden barking of dogs during an online meeting, or South Africa’s informal national bird, the hadeda!

“And as a company that distributes best-of-breed solutions within the converged technology, data centre, networking and security landscapes, we do of course practise what we preach by making sure that our employees are comprehensively covered from cyber security and bandwidth perspectives.”

Van de Giessen notes that unfortunately, malware attacks have increased enormously all over the world during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is borne out by a report from FortiGuard Labs, the threat intelligence and research organisation at Fortinet, which says it has documented many malicious attacks taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak theme, such as those appearing to be reports from trusted sources, such as governmental agencies and news outlets,” he says. “The issue has become so problematic that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a statement on their Web site titled: Beware of criminals pretending to be WHO. The UN also recently added an advisory on 29 February as well, reminding citizens to be vigilant of such scams.”

Fortinet, a vendor partner of Networks Unlimited Africa, is a global leader in broad, integrated and automated cyber security solutions, offering solutions that create an integrated framework to support remote working.

Van de Giessen continues: “It’s therefore critical to ensure that your employees working remotely are covered by adequate cyber security software. This includes all endpoint devices being used for corporate work such as laptops, mobiles and tablets, and ensuring software updates. It is also extremely important – now, perhaps more than ever – to make sure that employees do not click on e-mails from unknown or strange sources, which could be a phishing attack that is intended to introduce malware.”

In this regard, Networks Unlimited Africa’s vendor partner, Cofense, which is a leading provider of intelligent phishing defence solutions, has offered assistance during the COVID-19 global lockdown and isolation period by releasing its ‘Coronavirus Info Centre’ with the reassuring reminder to: ‘Keep calm. Don’t click.’

“Here, on this Cofense Web site, users are reminded that wherever there’s a major disaster, phishing e-mails follow, because phishers, unfortunately, play on human emotions like fear and urgency,” Van de Giessen explains. “Cofense provides accurate information to protect users and organisations, via a useful downloadable graphic, as well as a blog and newsfeed on misinformation around COVID-19 and IT issues. Security awareness teams are advised to focus on communicating what to look for in phishing e-mails, as well as basic security measures while working from home.

“Additionally, as a responsible global citizen, Cofense also provides useful links on the health pandemic itself, via links to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Van de Giessen adds that Fortinet’s solutions create an integrated framework to support remote working.

“Beyond offering the encryption of data in transit, via a VPN, Fortinet solutions offer a number of other features that can help an organisation to secure its remote workforce and allow both business continuity as well as security. These features include multi-factor authentication, data loss prevention and advanced threat protection.”

Fortinet advises organisations to consider the following key questions when planning how to increase existing capabilities to meet new requirements:

  • Can the existing infrastructure support remote users – and can it support a large increase in the number of encrypted tunnels?
  • Do all remote users need the same capabilities?
  • Is two-factor authentication a requirement?

“We are certainly living through unprecedented times, but we are encouraged by the way that President Ramaphosa has quickly embraced measures to try and deal with the spread of the virus. The vast majority of South Africa’s population is pulling together – as we are known to do in a crisis – and we are hopeful that the country will come through the crisis with as few casualties as possible, and of course, as soon as possible. In the meantime, those who work in the IT arena – around the world – are also facing up to the challenge,” Van de Giessen concludes.

To find out more, please contact Stefan van de Giessen, General Manager: Cybersecurity at Networks Unlimited Africa, at


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