Contributing writer

New cross-sector alliance aims to improve cybersecurity for South Africa

Jan 16, 2022
Security Audits

Facing the continued evolution and growth of security threats in South Africa, the newly formed Cybersecurity Digital Alliance brings together the various stakeholders in the local industry with the goal of improving cybersecurity for everyone.

Data Secured
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Over the last two years, the problem of cybercrime has moved from being a serious but manageable problem to an existential threat with the potential to ruin businesses and destroy lives. There are many reasons for this: the shift to remote work, the mass cloud migration, untraceable cryptocurrencies and sophisticated, well-organised hacking groups have opened up new vulnerabilities and made robust cybersecurity one of the most important aspects of any organization.

That growing threat is one of the reasons that South Africa has seen the launch of a new cybersecurity forum that brings together the various stakeholders in the local industry. The founding of the Cybersecurity Digital Alliance (CSDA) demonstrates just how seriously the South African corporate sector is taking the threat of cyber-crime to today’s inter-connected digital economy. 

kerissa varma

CSDA chair Kerissa Varma.

Kerissa Varma

CSDA is a cross-industry forum that aims to foster sophisticated security partnerships that will benefit the whole country. The alliance is being chaired by Kerissa Varma, who recently moved from Old Mutual to take up the role of managing executive for cybersecurity at African mobile giant, Vodacom. 

“The alliance is built from the understanding that we are stronger together. That cybercriminals are diverse and driven, and in order to protect South Africa as a whole, we need cross-sector collaboration to make meaningful improvements in our cyber resilience,” Varma told CIO Africa.

Aiming to bolster security in a mobile world

The alliance has grand ambitions to tap into the pool of talent and shared experiences in the industry in order to raise cybersecurity controls at a critical time for corporations that are trying to embrace the mobile-first, always-on, digital work culture of the 21st century. 

Like much of the rest of the world, South Africa has been forced to contend with a rapid uptick in cyber criminality. Recent research revealed that the country is currently experiencing almost 600 malware attacks per hour, according to the CSDA, and the trend looks set to run well into the next few years.

The goal of the CSDA is to create a safer digital environment through policy advisory and support, mentorship, education and best practice sharing, and research. “We have some real heavy weights across the private and public sector joining forces to make this a reality and to uplift security across our beautiful nation,” says Varma.  

CSDA to share cybersecurity expertise from different sectors

“Cybercrime has become more prevalent in South Africa since the onset of the pandemic and the widespread move to working, learning and transacting online,” said Mandla Ngcobo, CIO at the Department of Public Service and Administration and a CSDA founding member, in a press release announcing the launch of the organisation.

Asked how the CSDA differs from other organizations, Varma explained that “there are a number of industry and sector level bodies that allow for collaboration and sharing of information. The CSDA is not industry specific or technology specific. It is a cross-sector body that aims to be completely inclusive. We have leaders from government, financial services, retail, telecommunications and academia as our governing members which ensures focus across a broad spectrum of South Africa.

On its website, the CSDA lays out four main policy areas that it is planning to tackle, including mentorship, education and best practice sharing, events, and research. Mentorship is vital in helping to improve the soft skills and business acumen for young security professionals, while encouraging a culture of sharing knowledge and events is key to providing nationwide cybersecurity. 

Varma brings a wealth of experience to the position, having worked in government, telecommunications, banking and insurance. At insurance giant Old Mutual, where she worked for five years, Varma started in risk management for the organisation, before graduating into an executive role and then moving seamlessly into the role of CISO. 

The leadership position at Vodacom is an exciting new challenge and represents a new chapter, both for the company, and for Kerissa Varma’s career. “Vodacom takes cybersecurity very seriously and considers it a critical business enabler and pivotal in maintaining our customers’ trust in us,” Varma says.

The CSDA is another important step in keeping the threat of cybercrime at bay and developing a safer and more collaborative business environment, which is key to combating the threat of online crime.