Why Africa Must Get Better At Defending Against Cybercrime

Written by Tom Jackson

Cybercrime is on the charge globally, and Africa is no exception. South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of cybercrime, with 8.8 million people falling victim in 2016, according to online security company Norton.

In West Africa, research released by Trend Micro Incorporated in collaboration with The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) found scams targeting individuals and businesses have grown exponentially since 2013.

Nigeria is especially affected, with cybercrime costing its economy $500 million each year

With the growth in mobile and internet penetration, these issues are likely to get worse before they get better. And new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) are opening up even more avenues for cybercriminals.

Governments talk about tackling the issue, but the fact is skills are lacking. The shortage of cybersecurity professionals is a threat to both the private and public sectors.

This being the case, businesses will have to adapt for themselves. As the world settles into the fourth industrial revolution, businesses are faced with a new set of digital challenges, which includes the increased prevalence and sophistication of cyberattacks.

This is according to Jeremy Lang, regional general manager at South African risk finance firm Business Partners.

“2017 saw an upsurge in cyberattacks – from ransomware to phishing – and it is imperative that small business owners realise that their businesses are just as much on the radar of a cybercriminal as larger enterprises,” Lang said.

“Although cyberattacks on bigger companies are more publicized, the National Cyber Security Alliance revealed that more than 70 percent of attacks in America target small businesses. This is because, unlike large corporates, smaller businesses tend to have less security, making them easy targets.”

In addition to posing a major threat to the reputation of a business and, in turn, consumer confidence, a cyber-attack can also cost a business millions of rands to rectify, said Lang.

As small business owners are already under significant pressure to stay financially afloat, it is important that they are adequately protected in this regard – and he mentions a number of cost-effective ways to do so.

“It’s vital for small business owners to plan ahead, and when it comes to cybercrime, it should not be considered as a “what-if”, but rather a “when”,” he said.

“If the budget does not allow for costly systems or IT consultations, there are many free tools online such as malware, spyware and firewall protection programmes. For example, most email programmes offer the option to install a two-step verification on the business’ emails which adds an additional layer of security. In order to sign in, a verification pin is then also sent to the user’s cell-phone, decreasing the risk of it being hacked.”

Educating staff about cybercrime

Lastly, Lang said that as important as it is for a small business owner to be educated on how to protect their business from cybercrime, this means very little if their staff are not equally as careful.

“Every cyberattack begins with a weakness in human behaviour within an organization. Avoid human error in this respect by making staff aware of all the types of cybercrime that exist, as well as what warning signs to look out for, such as suspicious emails which may contain ransomware if opened,” he said.

“Small business owners and their staff should also be wary of downloading suspicious files, enabling macros on Microsoft word documents and opening a programme or document sent from an unknown source, and should steer clear from pirated software.”

Regarding ransomware, which is spread through spam and phishing emails, if a computer becomes infected, immediately shut it down, disconnect it from the network and storage devices and take it to an IT professional, he said.

“People need to be aware that although cybercrime has been around for many years, it is expected to continue escalating, becoming more advanced with damages expected to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021,” Lang said.

“As such, it is imperative for small businesses to stay on top of their game and ensure their systems and staff are always up-to-date regarding the latest cyber threats.”

Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.