Cyberspace is constantly flooded with information generated by individuals, corporate organisations, state institutions and businesses on a daily basis. This information is easily processed, transferred or stored for use in our everyday personal and business activities. As the global application of Information Technology (IT) continues to expand rapidly, so also do the number of data breaches continue to rise each year.
Painfully, cybercrime is increasingly causing grave damage to individuals, businesses and economies across the globe. Now, cybercrime remains the greatest threat to safe and seamless activities in cyberspace.
The number of cyber attacks keeps rising every day because cyber criminals are not relenting in their destructive efforts. Certainly, the rising level of cybercrime is equivalent to the increasing use of IT applications across cyberspace.
A few days ago, Russian-based multinational, cyber security and anti-virus provider, Kaspersky, issued a press release warning that serious cyber security threats are looming over most African countries. Kaspersky specifically listed Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya as the countries mostly targeted by cyber mercenaries.
It noted that Africa is vulnerable to hacking-for-hire threat actor groups, who are developing more ingenious techniques and tools to continue stealing sensitive information from government, education, healthcare, immigration, law enforcement and military systems.
Nigeria has continued to suffer from the activities of cyber criminals, which are mostly committed through phishing and identity theft. Such illicit activities include the invasion of privacy, spamming, fraudulent electronic mails, identity theft, ATM spoofing, piracy, hacking, among others.
Cyber criminals steal private information from banks, financial firms, businesses, rich institutions and others in order to access the huge flow of money and information in those organisations.
However, beyond the stealing of sensitive information, cybercrime also involves any use of information technology i.e. online and offline applications to commit or cover up an offence.
Despite innovations, it was reported that commercial banks in Nigeria lost N15 billion (US$39 million) to electronic fraud and cybercrime in 2018, while over 17,600 bank customers and depositors lost N1.9 billion to cyber fraud within the same period. There was an increase of 537 per cent in 2018, in comparison to the N2.37 billion lost in 2017.
Unarguably, cyber criminals are exploiting the outbreak of and current uncertainty pertaining to COVID-19 to launch cyber attacks on individuals and businesses in Nigeria. Most of them hide under the excuse of the coronavirus to target specific companies and impersonate brands, mislead customers and employees, steal sensitive information, and thereby causereputational damage to individuals and businesses.
Globally, the month of October is set aside, every year, as the National Cyber Security Awareness Month, for raising awareness about cyber security and to provide the public with general knowledge and tools required for online safety.
During the month, consumers are empowered through awareness and sensitisation campaigns, by providing information on both the positive and negative potentials available online, as well as measures required to safeguard themselves and their loved ones.
In commemoration of October as Cyber Security Awareness Month 2020, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) flagged off a four-day awareness summit to ensure citizens’ safety and security online. It is targeted at parents and children, youths, public and corporate organisations in the country.
The awareness campaign is expected to direct citizens’ attention to issues such as securing information assets in the digital economy; cyber security career opportunities; as well as to encourage youth participation in cyberspace.
Other topics include child online protection; creating a cyber-secure home for children and parents; and protecting your online presence, while executing your mandate in the Digital Economy Era.
Also, a cyber security campaign, capacity building for legislative officers, a sensitisation summit, a nationwide cyber security awareness campaign and a webinar series are slated to hold during the month.
Obviously, the awareness campaign is majorly concerned with sharing simple, easy-to-understand resources and tips to help people ensure safety and security online. So, these resources are geared to help provide citizens’ with the skills they need to make more informed decisions when using the internet.
According to the director-general of NITDA, Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi, the four-day virtual summit with the theme: “Cyber-Aware Citizenry: A Foundation of the Digital Economy”, became necessary owing to the ever-growing rate of dependence on technology and the galloping rate of cyber attacks in recent times.
Abdullahi noted that the new economy thrives on trust and a safer cyberspace, hence the agency is using the annual campaign to further build trust for the guaranteed development of Nigeria’s Digital Economy.
From the foregoing, trust and safety are the key foundations of the successful implementation of the digital economy. And this calls for strategic and collective efforts of relevant stakeholders in the public and private sectors of the country’s economy.
Cyber criminals are obstacles to Nigeria’s effort to create national economic prosperity and growth of the digital economy. The absence of trust and safety in country’s cyberspace will hamper the productive engagement by stakeholders and operators in the IT sector.
Although NITDA has achieved a lot in the enforcement of the Nigeria Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) on defaulting data controllers and ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government, stronger collaboration between public and private stakeholders may be the key to a more effective enforcement of the safety and security of data.
Therefore, while advising internet users to observe exceptional online discipline and cyber hygiene, there is also the urgent need for NITDA and other relevant institutions to ensure the strict enforcement of standards. These will help forestall cyber crime, cyber attacks and even cyber terrorism.
This can only be achieved when greater collaboration among stakeholders in the public and private sectors, on the basis of mutual trust to address the threats posed by cyber criminals. Such collaborative efforts will serve as platforms for stakeholders to share information on technologies and applications to help mitigate the risks of compromise, loss and theft of data.
Furthermore, start ups and small businesses should undergo training on cyber security so as to prevent data breaches, while also encouraging stakeholders to work in synergy to secure IT infrastructure. When information infrastructure or facilities are secure, it becomes easier to quickly detect cyber attacks.
In conclusion, NITDA should use the Cyber Security Awareness Month 2020 to build constructive partnerships with educational institutions for the sensitisation of students on the importance of cyber security. A robust media-backed campaign on both traditional media (television, film, radio, newspapers) and social media platforms would surely make citizens become more conscious of their safety and security online.
About the Author: Inyene Ibanga is resident of Abuja and he writes from Wuye District, Abuja.