The cost of cybercrime in Africa

April 12, 2021 | by: David Kodjani

African governments face very rapidly evolving cyber threats: espionage, sabotage of critical infrastructure, organized crime and undermining of innovation.

The current threats facing the African continent

  • Espionage

Espionage or hacking of "enemy" computer systems in order to extract sensitive or protected information is the means most used by States in cyberspace. The rapid spread of cyber tools and surveillance techniques gives many actors present in Africa or targeting it the means to engage in computer espionage. For example, Pegasus spyware, one of the most sophisticated spyware programs, has recently been discovered to have infected the computer systems of 11 African countries. The perpetrators of these attacks, not content to spy, are also reportedly carrying out surveillance actions. They seem to come from African countries or even countries outside the continent and some would sometimes have several countries as a target.

The biggest fears related to computer espionage in Africa can be traced back to China. In 2018, information was relayed that all the content of the African Union (AU) headquarters servers had been systematically transmitted to Shanghai. Network engineers note a peak in use between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Despite the replacement of these servers by African engineers, Chinese hackers were able to continue to spy on the UA thanks to the capture of recordings from surveillance cameras. They managed to go unnoticed by passing the information on to China during normal business hours.

The threat posed by Chinese espionage on the African Union is of great importance given the role played by China as an ICT infrastructure provider to the African Union. The African Union headquarters was built by the Chinese, which allowed them to insert back doors into its servers and install eavesdropping devices. It is not excluded that China has acted in the same way in other African countries, since it is at the origin of 80% of all the existing telecommunications networks and has set up the systems of communication. public information in more than 20 countries.

  • Sabotage of critical infrastructures

Any infrastructure connected to a computer network (energy distribution networks, telecommunications networks, banking, government and military systems) is vulnerable to sabotage, because it can cause the network to fail. The most sophisticated and destructive cyberattacks, such as the Stuxnet attack (which affected Iranian nuclear sites) and the Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine in 2007 (which reportedly caused damage of up to 10 billion dollars and the shutdown of the radioactivity monitoring system at the Chernobyl nuclear site), are the result of acts of sabotage by States.

Africa is witnessing an increase in attacks directed against critical infrastructure. Banks in particular are common targets, and thefts and outages cost them billions of dollars. Nigeria 's National Security Agency and the Municipality of Johannesburg have both been victims of attacks resulting in the disruption of services or the leakage of sensitive information. With the rise of cyber attacks on maritime infrastructure, which range from hacking to the theft of transaction logs, experts fear that African ports and shipping industries may be the target of an attack that could severely disrupt trade. and trade.

As internet penetration increases and systems become more interconnected, Africa's critical infrastructure is increasingly at the mercy of cyber attacks that could prove costly and pernicious.

  • Organized crime

Malicious acts via cyberspace are often driven by financial motives. Cybercrime is of great concern to African businesses, which in 2017 lost an estimated $ 3.5 billion in online fraud and theft, and which consistently rank cybercrime among the biggest threats they face. . Smaller cybercrime, such as illegal spamming or Sim Box fraud, does not pose a significant risk to national security in Africa.

However, the development of cyberspace gives rise to new destabilizing forms of organized crime, exponentially growing and transnational in scope. Over the past decades, the number of attacks by fraudsters against Business Email Compromise (BEC) has grown so much that it is today one of the most profitable and important threats. , which caused $ 26 billion in losses internationally between 2016 and 2019. The fraudsters behind these attacks are loosely linked to transnational networks using state-of-the-art malware and phishing methods allowing them to steal data from unsuspecting companies, governments and organizations. One of the most active groups in this area, SilverTerrier is made up of several hundred individuals, most of whom reside in major cities in Nigeria. The others are scattered around the world, including the United States, the second most affected country in this area. SilverTerrier has created more than 81,000 malware and carried out 2.1 million attacks, with billions of dollars in damage to individuals and organizations in and outside Africa.

  • Impairment of innovations

ICT and associated technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence and the expansion of 5G networks have increasingly important consequences for military operations and tactics adopted on the battlefields, whether acts of air or land combat. Although not yet widely disseminated or fully integrated into modern combat, emerging technologies, which are experiencing a veritable proliferation, are expected to increase the importance of artificial intelligence, precision and precision. automation in the wars of the future.

Computer systems are both an intelligence advantage and a vulnerability if law enforcement relies too heavily on them when they can be hacked, inactivated or transformed. Azerbaijan recently offered a telling example: in the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the country owed in part its superiority to the deployment of drones and other autonomous weapons that escaped Armenian air defense and military systems. electronic warfare.

The technology that is likely to transform the way warfare in Africa the most over the next decade will be drones. These are already used by 14 African countries and have been acquired and used for intelligence purposes by African extremist groups.

According to the analyzes of the Moroccan company Dataprotect of January 2021, concerning 148 banks of the European Union, UEMOA, Gabon, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 85% of their financial institutions declare have already been the victim of one or more cyberattacks resulting in damage, sometimes repeatedly.

It is first of all fraud on bank cards (in 30% of cases) or phishing.

The cost of cybercrime is estimated at 3.5 billion euros in Africa.

Only 6% of incidents are discovered by cybersecurity employees, and 55% of financial institutions outsource their cybersecurity activities.

According to the French magazine Jeune Afrique, between January and August 2020, 28 million cyberattacks took place in Africa.

In this time when the Covid-19 pandemic spares almost no corner of the earth, many governments have advocated protective measures encouraging online transactions. Financial institutions were not necessarily prepared for this rise in digital transactions, nor were populations made aware of the various threats linked to the use of digital.

With this increase in digital transactions, an increasing volume of sensitive digital data is growing exponentially. This increase is likely to continue and with it the potential to impact data breaches on people and systems. It therefore becomes imperative to build capacity and invest in measures to protect against illicit access to such data.

Return to pre-Covid-19 level will be slow, but investments in modernizing technical capabilities will help reduce risks in the digital age.

The opportunity offered to companies thanks to digital is the same for cyber attacks.

The financial sector, including banks and other financial institutions, suffers about 300% more cyberattacks than any other sector.

According to Dataprotect, the average losses of banks reporting cyberattacks are estimated at 770,000 euros (approximately 852,350 US dollars) for the last few years, while the average cost of each computer infection due to malware is 9,000 euros (approximately US $ 9,963) to businesses.

Too often companies do not think about allocating a dedicated budget for IT security thinking it is a superficial cost. The same study noted that the banks surveyed invest at least 500,000 euros (approximately $ 553,475) each year to deal with cybersecurity threats, while 50% of them indicated an annual investment of between 100,000 and 500. 000 euros (approximately between 110,695 and 553,475 dollars). Budgets are smaller than losses.

Financial institutions should assess their level of cyber readiness, determined using the FFIEC Cyber ​​Security Assessment Tool at least annually.

Although different financial institutions protect themselves alone or develop protection mechanisms, collaborative management in the face of cyberattack risks is essential to ensure everyone's cybersecurity: experience sharing.

In the UEMOA zone, institutions should create an environment for sharing lessons learned, people involved and operating procedures with their colleagues operating in the financial services sector but also with regulatory bodies because cybersecurity cannot be improvised. .

Knowledge sharing would make it possible to exploit synergies and develop common products. For this, it is important to work on strengthening the skills of human resources in order to be up to the giants of the cyber attack.

Need for strengthening of laws on cybersecuritycybersecurity

The problem is thatis not very present in West Africa or even non-existent.

The absence of laws on this issue is partly responsible for this situation.

According to Verengai Mabika, Senior Policy Advisor for Africa with the nonprofit Internet Society, "many countries have yet to ratify the African Union Convention on Cyber ​​Security and Privacy, known as the "Malabo Convention", which could provide a framework to respond to these threats ". According to him, cyber security does not appear to be a top priority for most African countries.

Indeed, the regulatory framework still seems to be a building site. Among the 55 African countries, only 14 have signed this convention (including Benin, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal, Tunisia and Togo) and only 3 have ratified it (Senegal, Togo and Mauritius).

A study by International Data Group Connect estimates that cybercrimes cost the South African economy $ 573 million and the Kenyan economy $ 36 million each year; another estimate, for Nigeria, shows $ 500 million in losses suffered annually by the economy of that country.

What cybersecurity during and after Covid-19?

The digitization of finance, both for individuals and businesses, can lower costs and open up new opportunities for markets and livelihoods - helping countries to rebuild better after Covid-19.

It seems inconceivable to us today to imagine a life without the Internet, the current health situation shows it all the more to us, but the other side of the coin is the improvement of hackers who target better and better and in a better way. more and more subtle their prey. Companies must turn around very quickly to face this security problem.

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