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Cybercrime a threat to Africa digital space

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By Usman Oladimeji

Over 10 percent of Africa's 2021 GDP diminished by cybercrime.

With more Africans and businesses embracing digital technology leaving behind cybersecurity concerns, they are increasingly becoming vulnerable to cyberattacks as they expand. Particularly, major businesses in the energy, financial services, manufacturing, technology industry, and any other money operating firms, are the prime targets due to their extensive online presences. Crimes committed by hackers or cybercriminals via a connected network or online computer network are collectively referred to as cybercrime, and are typically perpetrated for financial gain.

Africa’s digital economy is projected to reach $180bn a year by 2025, but this growth could be bogged down due to the meager efforts to thwart security breaches in the region. INTERPOL African CyberThreat Assessment Report shows that more than 90% of African businesses don’t have the digital safety procedures they need in place. In the absence of these procedures, perpetrators of the threats can take advantage of more and more security holes as they keep coming up with creative methods to attack via the internet. Most prevalent cyber risks in Africa are online scams (like phishing), digital extortion, compromised business emails, ransomware, and botnets.

Millions of threats in Africa from Jan 2020 – Feb 2021.

In 2021, Cybercrime diminished Africa’s GDP by over 10 percent, costing the region an estimated $4.12 billion, according to research by Serianu, a Kenyan IT security firm. From January 2020 to February 2021, Trend Micro, an INTERPOL partner, discovered millions of threats in Africa across many channels, including email (679 million), files (8.2 million), and the web (14.3 million). Total threat detections in South Africa came in at 230 million, with Kenya and Morocco far behind at 72 and 71 million respectively.

Moreover, cybercrime may have far-reaching effects on enterprises, not just money-wise. Although complicated to measure precisely, the damage done to a company’s reputation as a result of a major cyberattack can be substantial. Customers and even merchants may be hesitant to entrust sensitive data to a business that has experienced a data breach in the past. For fear of cyber threats, some businesses have even ceased their online stores. Businesses need to re-evaluate their data collection and storage practices to reduce the risk of exposing sensitive customer information.

Governments need to enforce enhanced regulations and measures.

Huge talent gap in the continent’s cybersecurity industry is a major concern. Fewer than 7,000 qualified cyber security specialists were working in Africa in 2018, according to reports. The continent’s digital economy and population are grossly underserved by the anticipated ratio of 1 cyber security specialist for every 177,000 people. With a fast expanding pool of vulnerable companies, cybercrime is only expected to rise if the continent keeps attracting investment without making significant advances in cyber security measures.

Defending against cybercriminals requires investing in costly cybersecurity innovative technological tools like Firewalls and SonarQube, among others. Nonetheless, governments in the continent need to enforce enhanced regulations and measures to combat the rising cybersecurity risks. It is crucial that they make the necessary investments in academia to promote and enable a significant rise in the number of cybersecurity experts and professionals active in the continent. With this, governments will be doing their part in helping develop a talent pool.

Youths should be encouraged to acquire cyber skills.

The large number of youths in the continent should also be encouraged to acquire cyber skills, taking advantage of organized programs such as the newly launched Kaspersky’s cybersecurity course called Suricata, for Incident Response and Threat Hunting. It is aimed to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to create and execute Suricata rules to detect and block even the most sophisticated threats. Google also recently launched 2,000 scholarships funding for Cybersecurity Certificate on Coursera. All this can be tapped towards developing young talents to meet the growing demand of cybersecurity expertise in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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