Rising Cyberthreats Against Africa’s Emerging Digital Infrastructure

Published: 29 October 2021

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Anonimous hacker; Image by Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay; free pix)

By Henry Pope

Amid a rising demand for online services in Africa, the continent has become particularly vulnerable to a variety of cyberthreats, since about 90% of African businesses are operating without adequate cybersecurity measures, an Interpol report warned.

The continent’s progression towards advancing their government, infrastructure, and banking services into the digital domain creates an urgent need to incorporate the necessary security parameters, lest cybercriminals be left unopposed in obtaining corporate and government secrets as well as people’s personal information.

According to the Lyon-based international police organization, the 500 million African internet users represent just 38 percent of the population. This leaves both enormous potential for economic growth, yet also disaster should their cyber security measures not be able to keep up with their growing digital infrastructures.

Cyberthreats can come in a variety of forms, such as scams which trick users into divulging personal or financial information, digital extortion by threatening to expose previously acquired sexually-revealing photos of the victim, or hacking corporate enterprises into acquiring their personnel and payment listings in order to trick employees into transferring large amounts of money to the criminals.

Reportedly, South Africa alone has had 230 million cyberthreat detections, while Kenya has had 72 million and Morocco 71 million.

This number obviously does not include the cyberthreats which went undetected by their security parameters already in place.

Such digital exposure has led to significant financial loss, according to Interpol. South Africa’s economy lost US$573 million to cyberattacks in 2016, while Nigeria’s losses were also in the $500 million range.

Another cybercrime which victimizes both individuals and corporate entities is ransomware, which is a form of malware that encrypts the victim’s data, rendering it inaccessible until the victim pays a ransom, usually in the form of untraceable cryptocurrency.

Cybercriminals are profit-driven by nature when it comes to selecting their methods of attack. Therefore, so long as victims continue to pay the demanded ransom in order to re-obtain access to their digital files, the problem will continue to persist.

“Ransomware has become too large of a threat for any entity or sector to address alone; the magnitude of this challenge urgently demands united global action which Interpol can uniquely facilitate as a neutral and trusted global partner,” Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock has said.

Another growing concern in digital security is cryptocurrency scams, according to Interpol.

Reportedly, South Africa is one of the world’s top ten countries when it comes to cryptocurrency scams.

In one Ponzi scheme, thousands of investors were defrauded of $588 million in Bitcoin in 2020 and in April this year, two founders of “Africrypt’, a trading company, allegedly absconded with $3.6 billion of their investors’ money in cryptocurrency.

Like all cybercrimes, the digital nature of cryptocurrency scams means that any location on Earth with a suitable internet connection can be host to a potential cybercriminal or victim.

Just like in one instance where cybercriminals stole almost $4 billion in 122 attacks on cryptocurrency platforms and holdings last year.

2021 organized crime threat assessment determined that “cybercrime is highly dynamic, exploiting rapidly advancing technologies,” and that “critical infrastructures will continue to be targeted by criminals in the coming years, which poses significant risks,” especially for sectors determined to be vulnerable.