Growing cybercrime demands firm African response

As Africa’s internet revolution continues, cybercriminals are poised to strike. Governments and businesses must build their defences

Opinion by

Image : smolaw11 / Adobe Stock

As millions of new African citizens connect to the internet every year, governments and businesses are making enormous strides in digitisation, bringing the continent into the mainstream of globalisation and spurring enormous economic growth. 

Analysis by the IFC and Google finds that Africa’s internet economy has the potential to reach $180bn by 2025, accounting for 5.2% of the continent’s GDP. By 2050, the projected potential contribution could reach $712bn, 8.5% of the continent’s GDP. 

But the rise of the internet also has a dark side, with the growing risk of private citizens, businesses and governments falling victim to cybercrime. 

According to Kaspersky, a Russian firm that provides anti-virus software, analysis has revealed that attacks related to data loss threats – including phishing, scams and social engineering (in which users are lured to a site and tricked into entering personal information) – increased significantly in Africa in Q2 2022 in comparison with the previous quarter. 

The company detected 10,722,886 phishing attacks in Africa in Q2. Kenyan users were influenced the most by this type of threat: there were 5,098,534 phishing attacks detected in 3 months – a growth of 438% when compared with the previous quarter. Kenya was followed by South Africa (4,578,216 detections and a growth of 144%) and Nigeria (1,046,136 detections and a growth of 174%).

Surveys have placed the annual cost of cybercrime in Africa at over $3.5bn a year – a number only likely to increase as more Africans use the internet for commercial transactions, banking, entertainment and general communication. Without serious cybersecurity efforts, opportunistic criminals around the world stand poised to reap the benefits of Africa’s internet growth story. 

Fighting back against the scammers

Fortunately, a number of initiatives are being launched to help the continent fight back against the scammers. The Organised Crime: West African Response on Cybersecurity and Fight Against Cybercrime project, which works in the member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and Mauritania, held an e-evidence and first responders training workshop in Cabo Verde in late July. 

The one-week training programme strengthened the capacity of representatives from law enforcement entities from Cabo Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

In her opening remarks, Folake Olagunju, principal programme officer for internet, cybersecurity, and e-applications at the Ecowas Commission, underscored the significance of having a coordinated and collaborative approach towards a more secure regional cyberspace. 

She highlighted the need for participants to share their national perspectives and experiences and said the event was an opportunity to cooperate on future partnerships. 

Such regional initiatives to help train experts, build capacity and share expertise are encouraging. Not all support needs to be high tech and expensive – education and awareness can also help to teach individuals and businesses new to the internet about the importance of basic online safety. 

But there is also a need for governments to boost their cybersecurity budgets to ensure that government departments and strategically important industries are protected from malign actors. As Africa leapfrogs to the latest iteration of the internet, policymakers and business leaders have access to increasingly sophisticated tools – but so do the hackers. They must make sure they are prepared for the fight.

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