EngineerIT Inbox, February 2014

February 14th, 2014, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


The February 2014 letters page looked at the issues of cybercrime in South Africa and copper theft.

Winning letter to the editor:

Recognition of cybercrime by South African SMEs

Dear Editor

Cybercrime in South Africa is at crisis levels, costing the economy billions of rands. Financial loss estimates that are reported in the media are conservative as cybercrime largely goes undetected and hence unreported. Cybercrime includes incidents such as theft, manipulation and deletion of information as well as denied access to information, sabotage of data networks and damage due to malware. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently listed South Africa in the top ten of countries where cybercrime is most active.

South African small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) engaged in e-commerce are on the front lines. They continually fall victim to targeted cyber-attacks which consequently affects their growth and, as a whole, the economic growth of the country. SMEs contribute significantly to the South African gross fomestic product (GDP) and are a major source of employment and income generation. Research I conducted (available at and other local research report on a few reasons why SMEs fail to detect or recognise cybercrime. Detecting cybercrime is the first step in addressing the problem. The research concludes that the primary reason is a lack of awareness of cybercrime and understanding what cybercrime is. Lack of awareness makes detection and subsequent analysis of information security data relating to cybercrime difficult and therefore the losses incurred as a result difficult to determine. In addition, it is important to keep business software, hardware and security software (e.g. anti-virus and anti-spyware software) up-to-date to ensure accurate and reliable reporting of security data for the purposes of analysis. Security software produce detailed scan reports on the frequency and nature of cyber-attacks which is helpful in detecting cybercrime, assessing the damage and the resulting financial loss. Many research findings also highlight the lack of information security skills in SMEs e.g. the ability to analyse and interpret information security data related to cybercrime.

SME security challenges can be addressed by creating greater awareness through education and training on electronic security, cyber-attacks and best practices in security record-keeping. This should not only be limited to the basic knowledge of password theft and anti-virus software. SMEs should understand the nature of advanced attacks (e.g. social engineering) and how these could be mitigated through effective good practices. SMEs can utilise resources that are freely available on the internet e.g. cyber security guides, the latest emerging cyber threats and podcasts on various cyber security topics. Moreover, well-structured computer security training and the legal implicationsthereof need to be taught to future business leadersin higher education institutions. Education can encourage business owners to embrace good security practices and to invest more resources in security. Government agencies need to incentivise SMEs to share cybercrime incidents in order to create awareness and better reporting on the losses. SMEs are reluctant to share this information due to potential loss of reputation, confidentiality and disruptions to business activities by law enforcement agencies.

Gino Bougaardt



Implement Scrap Metals Act to address copper theft

Dear Editor

Cable theft is putting a big dent in our industry and is causing loss of income. I started to look at other countries to see if this is also a big concern and did find some guidance to combat cable theft. I also spoke to a few inspectors in other countries and, as electrical inspectors (internationally), we all think the same. So our answer lies in the scrap metal industry.

The fact of the matter is that, if we do not restrict the trade in scrap metal we will keep on losing this endless fight. As with elephant and rhino poaching, there is a market for people to kill and steal.

The solution is quite simple: we implement a scrap metal Act which will control the scrap metal dealers in our country. This consolidates dealers and motor salvage operators under one licensing regime. It should be tough to get this licence, and councils or government should be allowed to revoke it. Sellers would be required to provide ID documents at the point of sale and have them recorded by the dealer. This would also make it easier for the police and the Department of Labour inspectors to inspect sites, to raise the level of fines, and it would create a central public register (hosted by the DoL enforcement inspectors) of all licensed dealers. It might not make the problem just disappear, but it would most definitely help.

So, will the Department of Labour heed our call or guide us in the right direction?

Nico van den Berg


No political will to curb copper theft

Dear Editor

We have known about the excess exporting of copper over regulated production for several years now. A large percentage of the excess must come from the theft of copper, which is to the detriment of every citizen of this country.

There is clearly no political will to curb this activity and one has to ask the question “why”?

I suspect that there are parallels to the Nigerian oil debacle where up to 30% of that country’s crude oil production is “lost” or can’t be accounted for (by whom, I wonder, and whose figures does one believe?)

The world’s largest cartel provides output figures and controls supply and prices. We have for years believed what we have been told by OPEC, but why should we continue to do so? Most civilised countries have punitive laws against collusion, price fixing, kickbacks and tender rigging, and that’s what OPEC does on a grand scale. Many of these pious countries are also part of OPEC or benefit from price rigging.

My experience in Nigeria more than ten years ago revealed that a certain percentage of Nigeria’s oil production is undisclosed and sold “under the table”, mainly to the Chinese at a few dollars a barrel less than the OPEC benchmark. The revenue derived doesn’t end up in the Nigerian treasury but in the pockets of a group of influential and extremely wealthy politicians, via circuitous routes involving money laundering on a massive scale which, in turn, proliferates corruption.

There is no reason to suppose that the theft of resources and infrastructure is any different here than further north – the incentives are just on a different scale, for now.

Bob Hughes


Copper theft: consider the social impact

Dear Editor

As an electrical engineer in the infrastructure sector, I comment as follows: When assessing the impact of copper theft, the financial implications comparison should also be taken into account, the impact on the economy of trains not running on time or cut telephone lines due to copper theft etc.

There is also a social impact that must be highlighted – for example, in my experience, I have seen the theft of streetlight cables resulting in an increase of after-dark rapes and muggings in poor areas.

A deeper understanding of the impact of copper theft should serve as a driver for government to take tougher action against the copper cartels.

Shaheed Jattiem