10 Things To Know About Cyberattacks Targeting Africa

Written by Peter Pedroncelli
cybersecurity South African Banks
African countries have been described as low hanging fruit for hackers from across the globe looking for systems vulnerable to cyberattacks. An employee of Global Cyber Security Company Group-IB develops a computer code in an office in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017.  Image: AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin

African businesses and banking systems have been described as low hanging fruit for hackers from across the globe seeking systems vulnerable to cyberattacks.

African countries are more vulnerable than most developing countries to sophisticated cyberattacks due to the lack of cybersecurity infrastructure and expertise, according to the Global Cybersecurity Index, released by the International Telecommunications Union, an agency of the U.N.

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Here are 10 things to know about cyberattacks targeting Africa.

Cyberattacks increasing in Africa

A rise in cyberattacks in Africa is attributed to vulnerable systems and lax cybersecurity practices. African businesses and banking systems are low hanging fruit for cybercriminals, according to TandFonline. Cyberattacks in Africa increased by 20-to-30 percent for the year ending October 2018, according to the Africa Cyber Security Conference held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in 2018, News24 reported.

African banks are under attack

In January 2020, global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky said that its researchers had flagged thousands of notifications of attacks on major banks across sub-Saharan Africa. While it did not specify the countries where these attacks were taking place, Kaspersky said that “the attacks are ongoing and persist in targeting large banks in several countries.” The firm went on to suggest that a Russian hacking group called Silence — known to be responsible for the theft of millions of dollars from banks globally — was behind the attacks.

Ransomeware attacks demanding bitcoin are becoming more common

In 2019, South African banks and the systems belonging to the city of Johannesburg were hit by ransomware attacks. These attacks involve a hacking event such as overloading servers with requests to make them crash or stealing sensitive data and demanding a ransom to stop the attack. In October 2019, perpetrators demanded payment of two bitcoin, worth around $15,000, in order to stop attacks on several banks, according to IOL. In the same month, a group calling itself the Shadow Kill Hackers demanded a bitcoin ransom worth $30,000 after claiming to breach the Johannesburg local government network, Biznews reported. In both instances, no ransom was paid.

African countries targeted by other countries

In 2019, five African countries were affected by cyberattacks launched by North Korea in an effort to raise funds for weapons of mass destruction. South Africa, Nigeria, Gambia, Liberia and Tunisia were targeted, alongside 12 others including India and South Korea, in cybercriminal activities that have raised up to $2 billion for North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, according to an unpublished U.N. Security Council report seen by Reuters.

Cyberattacks disguised as fake dating apps

One of the ways in which hackers are managing to compromise devices and hack into them is by using the allure of dating apps to catch unsuspecting victims. The app and website designs of popular dating apps used worldwide, such as Tinder, Bumble or Zoosk, are copied to convince victims into thinking that the app or website that they have created to look like the original is legitimate. In 2019, cybersecurity firm Kaspersky detected 1,486 threats under the guise of more than 20 popular dating apps in Africa, leading to more than 7,700 attacks on 2,548 users, according to AfricaNews.

Cybercrime is costing Africa a fortune

Kenya–based information technology and business advisory firm Serianu has determined that cybercrime cost African economies $3.5 billion in 2017. Nigeria was the hardest hit by cybercrimes with losses estimated at $649 million, and in Kenya, that figure was around $210 million. The South African Banking Risk Information Centre calculated that South Africa loses around $157 million annually to cyberattacks.

The rise of cryptojacking

As ransomware attacks become overpriced and overcrowded, global cybersecurity company Symantec has found that hackers are turning to cryptojacking as an additional revenue stream in Africa. Cryptojacking is a type of malware that hides on your device and steals its computing resources in order to mine for valuable online currencies like bitcoin, making the computer incredibly slow and often unusable.

Africa is fighting back through legislation

In response to the growing threat of cyberattacks, a number of measures have been taken to address and improve cybersecurity in Africa. Many countries — such as South Africa, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zambia — have developed legislation to fight cyberthreats. They have also strengthened enforcement measures and are working with international partners to strengthen legislation and enforcement frameworks.

The private sector is getting involved alongside government

While governments are doing more to protect their people and infrastructure from cyberattacks, private sector efforts have also been undertaken to strengthen cybersecurity. African business owners who attended the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town in 2019 flagged cybersecurity as the biggest threat to business in Africa. Those attending the forum agreed that a partnership between private and public enterprise was necessary to efficiently and effectively combat rising risks to cybersecurity.

African countries with the most pirated software are at risk

Unlicensed software programs are attractive to cybercriminals because they present an easier way to infiltrate a computer or network of computers. This is because pirated software products cannot take advantage of updates from manufacturers and they accelerate the spread of malware. Libya and Zimbabwe are two African countries that are at high risk because the proportions of unlicensed software in the two countries were 90 percent and 89 percent respectively, according to 2017 data from Business Software Alliance.