International Cyber Security Awareness Month falls every October with the aim of informing the public of the importance of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks.
This month, international attention is focusing on how governments, corporations, and mass global populations can invest in important technological innovations, such as use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and cryptocurrencies. All these form part of what the World Economic Forum named the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (4IR). At the same time, these entities have a vital role in defending our vulnerable infrastructures from both cyber-terrorist attacks and financial cyber-crimes.
African countries suffer from high rates of hacking and cybercrimes as much as, if not more than, other nations. As a result, Africa provides this year, and specifically this month, a full agenda of conferences and activities to help guarantee that the continent’s governments can face the digital challenges that accompany the leap into the 4IR.
“African leaders cannot bury their heads in the sand when it comes to cyber threats, whether terrorist attacks or financial cyber-crimes,” says Neil Walsh, head of cybersecurity and fraud at the United Nations (UN) Office on Drugs and Crime.
“These computer networks and mobile phones can turn into offensive tools, with a lack of adequate expertise to contain these attacks. It opens opportunities to meddle in elections, steal data or seek ransom funds from targets that may include governments, utility providers, the military and manufacturing and commercial players,” Walsh wrote in a recent UN report.
The latest statistics support Walsh’s findings, as Africa is home to a population of about 1.21billion, of whom nearly 400 million are online users, mostly under 20 years old. Africa has the youngest population in the world, with a median age of 19.5 years. These numbers, highlighted by security analysts, are an obvious indicator of the heightened vulnerability to cyber risks by excessive sharing of sensitive data.
The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) stated in a recent report that “the African market is already saturated with cyber hackers, who are constantly developing new techniques to access valuable data for blackmail of governments and companies.”
Such cyberattacks can potentially cripple African economies without the existence of strong defensive cyber mechanisms in place. To quantify what is at stake, African countries have lost $2bn in cyberattacks since 2016, with major losses in Nigeria reaching $550 million, in Kenya $171 million, and in Tanzania $85 million.
African governments embraced these challenges in the latest African Cyber Security Conference, under the title Africa’s Roadmap to the 4th Industrial Revolution: Digital Transformation & Cyber security, held in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire on October 3rd-4th, 2019.
About 52 governmental representatives discussed cyber security lapses in Africa, and how they hinder the growth of its digital economic landscape. In order to counter cyber threats, Africa needs coordinated and targeted strategies to implement cyber security-by-design and pave the way to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The conference, supported by the United States Embassy in Cote D'Ivoire and the Ministry of the Digital Economy, brought together enterprise leaders, regulators, and internet security experts to renew the collective focus on collaboration, communication, and unity towards a safer cyber experience in Africa.
Last May, African leaders called for a common Digitalization Agenda in the ‘Transform Africa’ Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda. They called on governments to collaborate and work with the industry to make the necessary investments for citizens to benefit from the digital economy.
At the event, the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy Amani Abou-Zeid highlighted the process led by the AU Commission to develop a comprehensive Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa to guide a common, coordinated response to reap the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for Africa’s socio-economic development.
The Digital Transformation Strategy “led by Africa’s Institutions, is embedded in Africa’s realities and will unleash the African spirit of enterprise and creativity, to generate more home-grown digital solutions and content,” Abou-Zeid said.
The next step for African countries to propose further solutions to meet the challenges of cyber-crime will be at the 4th International Conference on the Internet, Cyber Security and Information Systems, (ICICIS). This meeting is co-hosted by the University of Johannesburg and the University of Botswana and will be held from October 31st to November 1st, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
As with the other three conferences, ICICIS 2019 aims at presenting cutting edge research in cyber security, information security, the internet and new emerging issues in information systems. The conference brings together national and international researchers and practitioners. This year’s theme considers how information and cyber security has been shaped by emerging new trends in the 4IR.
The ICICIS 2019 conference will provide an academic forum for researchers and graduate students who seek to share their latest research findings and to identify future challenges in the broad areas of 4IR that will influence the disciplines of marketing, information systems, information and knowledge management and cyber security.