Cybercrime a catastrophic threat to Africa


Cybercrime is one of the biggest challenges in our hyper-connected age and it is putting Africa’s security under threat.

Social media platforms, smart phones and increasing reliance on credit cards are making the mother continent – Africa increasingly vulnerable to cybercrimes.

Cybercrime, according to The Penguin English Dictionary, refers to computer-based crime such as computer hacking, financial fraud and the dissemination of illegal pornography through the Internet.

Without doubt, cybercrime affects business directly and indirectly, with direct losses including electronic cash theft, identity theft, information theft, deleting information from systems and rendering systems unworkable.

The indirect effects includes the cost of securing against intrusions, replacing equipment, appointing specialist security staff, compensation to clients who suffered losses, insurance costs and loss of customer confidence.

Beza Belayneh, a high-level information security and cybersecurity expert, believes cybercrime is a national as well as a continental crisis.“Cybercrime is no longer a criminality, it is a national crisis. Governments are hacked, police websites are hacked, banks are losing millions…and now it threatens human life,” said Belayneh.

Sharing same views, Verine Etsebeth, a lecturer in information security and data protection at the University of the Witwatersrand, added that cybercrime is also bigger than the global black market in marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined.

She added that in early 2013, there were twice as many cybercrime victims as newborn babies.

Accordingly, a lot of work needs to be done to curb this cancer before it ravages Africa and her citizenry.

This means Africa more than elsewhere in the world, should as a matter of urgency offer individuals, organisations and States measures, procedures and tools for more effective management of technological, informational and legal risks.

Charles Goredema of the Institute of Security Studies said since knowledge is vital in pre-empting and minimising cybercrime, more information is needed to craft effective ways to combat it.

“More information is required on forms and trends of cybercrime. This might stimulate an improvement in cyber-crime reports, which will enable better databases to be compiled. Enhanced databases can support more pro-active investigation, as well as the identification of crime networks,” said Goredema.

Africans must not despair in the fight against cybercrimes.

The good news is that the African Union has drafted a Convention on the establishment of a legal framework conducive to cybercrime in the continent.

As a starting point, the objective of the Convention is to propose the adoption at the level of the African Union, of a Convention establishing a credible framework for cybersecurity in Africa through organisation of electronic transactions, protection of personal data, promotion of cyber security, e-governance and combating cybercrime.

Since African Union Heads of State meet in Ethiopia from the January 24-31 to discuss and vote for this draft, they should vote wisely with the aim to protect countries within and across Africa from cyber-attacks.

The draft convention includes sections on electronic commerce, personal data protection, cybercrime – with a special focus on racism, xenophobia and child pornography – and national cybersecurity; and it encourages member states to promote cybersecurity education for IT professionals and to add offences for hacking computer systems to their criminal codes.

Tim Akano, CEO of New Horizon Nigeria, an IT training company, said Africa has information technology professionals but lacks well-trained cybersecurity experts.

“Cyberspace has become the centre of gravity as far as national security is concerned.

“A country without cyber warriors, without a national cybersecurity centre, is like a nation in the 1940s in Europe without national soldiers. The funding has not been felt. There are cyber professionals but they are not groomed, motivated and mobilised in a way that will make them become national assets,” he explained.

African countries should therefore undertake measures to develop capacity-building measures with a view to offering training that covers all areas of cyber security in appropriate government institutions, and set standards for the private sector.

Such training should help to promote information exchange among experts and security vendors, ICT owners, managers and users.

More so, African countries should undertake measures to promote technical education for information and telecommunication technologies professionals in and outside government structures through certification and standardisation of training; categorisation of professional qualifications as well as development and needs-based distribution of educational materials.

Since fighting cybercrimes requires a multi-stakeholder approach, governments and security organisations must put in place a national cyber security policy, which recognises the importance of essential information infrastructure for the nation, identifies the risks facing the nation in using the all-risk approach and broadly outlines the way by which the objectives of such policy are to be implemented.

As the cost of cybercrime is bigger than the global black market in marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined, Africa must treat cybercrime as a continental crisis and react urgently to curb it.

January 2014
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